"You Have Heard it Said...": The Power of Identifying and Breaking Patterns

Photo by  Daniel von Appen  on  Unsplash

"If the motorcycle was huge, it was nothing to the man sitting astride it. He was almost twice as tall as a normal man and at least five times as wide. He looked simply too big to be allowed."

What do you notice in the description of this man?

First, we're handed a snapshot, a picture that lets us visualize a comparison: an oversized motorcycle with a rider so big the rider still makes this cycle look small.

Next, the man's height is compared to a "normal" man. The author plants in our minds the picture of an average-sized man, let's say 5'10", set next to a man about ten feet tall with roughly the girth of a redwood tree. Our experience of a "normal" man is what makes the other man seem "abnormal."

The author goes on, however, to offer a value judgement. With the pattern of "man" not only  broken but shattered, this man was so immense he shouldn't even be "allowed."

Harry Potter fans will recognize J.K. Rowling's introductory description of Hagrid, the half-giant and groundskeeper at Harry's school, Hogwarts. In this scene, Hagrid's friends do "allow" and accept him as he is, giant size and all. But many others do not.

Because Hagrid doesn't fit the mold of "normal," anyone who encounters him has to decide whether he is a threat. There are many times Hagrid's friends have come to his defense, to say in essence, "You've heard it said that giants are a threat, but I say to you, Hagrid is not."

"You have heard it said...but I say to you...."

Sound familiar? Whether he said or showed it, in many ways this statement sums up Jesus's ministry.

You have heard it said following the law is sufficient, but I say to you, you must love your neighbor as yourself.

You have heard it said that you must forgive some things, but I say to you you must forgive all things.

You have heard it said that walking on water is impossible, but I say to you, in God all things are possible.

You have heard it said that death is the end of life, but I say to you, in me life goes on forever.

In word and deed, Jesus constantly showed that established patterns—patterns of religious law,  human laws, and even the laws physics—were upended in favor of God's Law of Love.

Sermons Reveal the Patterns of this World and Invite us to be Transformed by God's Laws of Love

"You have heard it said..., but I say to you..." is what a sermon reveals.

In our sermons, we hold up the patterns of this world, patterns like:

  • you're not lovable
  • you can't be forgiven
  • you're not good enough
  • you're too "X" to "be allowed"
  • or the "other" isn't lovable, can't be forgiven, isn't good enough, or is too "X" to "be allowed"

Next we hold up God's Law of Love.

God's pattern of love is that all are lovable, all forgiven, all good enough, all "allowed"—including Samaritans, women, tax collectors, children, refugees, the poor, the ill (physical, spiritual, and mental), and even those who orchestrated murder like St. Paul.

At Backstory Preaching, we notice, examine and contrast worldly patterns against God's patterns using lectio divina to pray a sermon into being. In this way, we cast a vision for God's kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. 

Preaching Patterns

Our parishioners aren't the only ones who grow from this process.

In fact, we'll be doing our "deep dive" into this process beginning in August in our online Sermon Camp. Based on our popular e-Course, Craft an Effective Sermon by Friday, over six weeks we'll consider patterns deeply:

  • we'll examine the patterns we use now for sermon prep and consider new patterns for sustainable, soul-feeding sermon development 
  • we'll identify patterns of fear about the reception our sermons receive and develop new mindsets to offer our sermons as prayer
  • we'll observe the patterns of how we read scripture texts now, and explore new ways to read them as if we've never seen them before 
  • we'll identify patterns of gathering information about the texts and add to that new methods that form us as well as inform us.
  • we'll also consider looking at scripture through the lens of worldly patterns compared to God's patterns that will help us bring fresh eyes—year after year—to the scriptures 

I hope you'll join us for Backstory Preaching's Sermon Camp, beginning the week of August 6th.