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Bug Zapper, Unplugged Light, or Warm Fire–It Matters!

This sermon was preached on Epiphany by a good friend of mine, Pastor Steve Wiechman at Peace Lutheran Church, Hurst, Texas. Steve has read my dissertation and whether he meant to or not, he did a great job of putting theory into practice. Building on the Epiphany theme of light in the darkness, Steve invites his hearers to consider how they view God. He then shows how the way we conceive of God affects how we treat other people. The result is a great sermon that follows a Question Answered (Not This, or This, But This) structure and utilizes the dynamics of metaphor for preaching.

Comments on 0.00-1.15

The intro to this sermon was actually an overview of the sermon series and it is omitted here for time and clarity. When Steve turns to the theme of light in the darkness, he poses two questions: How do I view God? and How does this affect the way I view people? In the Not This, or This, But This sermon structure, posing a relevant question is part of the intro. Here Steve poses two related questions, giving the whole sermon a double helix kind of feel. He is going to answer both questions with help from images and metaphor theory.

Listen to 0.00-1:15:

Comments on 1.16-4:28

The first incorrect answer to the first question is given in terms of the image of the bug zapper. Notice that Steve evokes the source domain, maps to the target, and looks through a new lens (for more on these three basic moves of a homiletics of metaphor, click here). Instead of a whole sermon structured around these dynamics, however, one move within a broader structure utilizes these dynamics in a briefer format.

The Question Answered sermon structure explores one plausible answer and then shows why it is insufficient. Steve makes this move by showing how God can be like a bug zapper, but testing the limits of the metaphor (the fourth basic metaphor move for preaching). Notice how the Law/Gospel dynamic essential to Lutheran preaching is not relegated to a first half, second half, Law then Gospel structure, but permeates each of the individual moves that make up the overall progression of the sermon.

Side Note: Steve somehow manages to use the phrase “the Gospel predominates” and make it sound natural! Don’t try this at home!

Listen to 1.16-4:28:

Comments on 4:29-5:41

Following the Question Answered sermon structure, Steve introduces a second faulty way of thinking. He spends less time developing the source domain, but maps the inference structure nicely from the source to the target. The hearers should recognize themselves to some degree but also recognize this view as somehow faulty or deficient.

Though I treat God this way, putting it in terms of this metaphor helps me see why my typical world view is faulty. When I look through the lens of the God as Unplugged Light metaphor I both recognize myself and what’s wrong with my typical view. Just because the development is brief doesn’t mean it isn’t effective; there’s a lot of bang for the buck here.

Sermon Structure Note: the Question Answered structure typically moves from the least plausible toward the most plausible, though still deficient answer to the question before presenting the true or best answer. Here Steve moves from an image that can be true in the Bible at times to one that is flat out contradicted by the Bible. But I still think his order is right. Here’s why: though the Bug Zapper has some biblical truth, it is probably the least likely to be held widely or predominantly by the hearers. The Unplugged Light, though less biblical, is more plausible in the lives of the hearers, therefore belongs second on the list.

Listen to 4:29-5:41: 

Comments on 5:42-8:54

After dealing with two inadequate answers, the fullest answer to the original question is given. Because it is usually easier to find good and impactful images of the Law, the preacher wants to find images for the Gospel that are at least as vivid and alive as those for the Law, if not more so! (The Gospel predominates!) Here, however, the final answer seems a little anticlimactic. What went wrong? Metaphor theory points to an answer.

In the other two images, the preacher took time to evoke the source domain before mapping to the target. In the case of the bug zapper, the source domain was very well established in the memory and experience world of the hearers. The unplugged light domain was explored a little less and by the time we get to the warm fire, there is no development of the source domain at all (my only critical comment on what I view as an excellent sermon!).

The way to make this move in the sermon more effective is to take time to explore the kind of situation in which a warm fire would be seen as welcome, necessary, even life-giving, and then map the interference patterns that arise from that narrative structure onto the target domain of our relationship with God.

What Steve does exceptionally well in this section is use the metaphors as a way of viewing our own attitudes and actions. He is even able to move us toward repenting not only of a particular action or failure, but of a way of imagining the world. This is very effective use of metaphor’s power to shape the way we think and imagine reality. Therefore it is also very effective sanctification preaching. Steve is giving us tools for Christian living on the basis of metaphor.

Listen to 5:42-8:54:

Comments on 8:55-14:39

The first 2/3 of this sermon dealt with how we view God. Law and Gospel dynamic was present in each of the three major moves in that section. The preacher took time to develop the source domain in the thought world of the hearers before mapping narrative inferences from the source to the target. Now, however, Steve poses a new question: How does our view of God affect our relationship with other people? He doesn’t need to go back and develop the source domains again, he simply uses the same source domains to look at a new target.

The purpose here has also shifted to Sanctification preaching. Steve is asking the hearers to take what they have just learned about God and apply it to how they live out their lives in the world. The result is a very effective way of describing how we can view ourselves not only in relationship to God but to the people around us.

Hom Theory Note: The first major section of the sermon was marked by Hearer Depiction, Theological Confession, and Gospel Proclamation. This last section is characterized by Hearer Depiction and Textual Exposition. Notice how all four threads of discourse are woven together to make the tapestry of this sermon but notice also that they take an unusual pattern relevant for this particular sermon. When was the last time you mentioned your sermon text for the first time in the last 5 minutes of a sermon? You can begin with any of the four threads but you do want all four to be present, to varying degrees, in every sermon.

Listen to 8:55-14:39:

And here is the whole thing all together:

About Justin Rossow

Justin writes and talks at the intersection of Scripture, culture, and metaphor theory. As founder of Next Step Press, he helps people delight in taking a next step following Jesus.

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