Metaphors shape the way we think. Metaphors shape how we make decisions. Metaphors allow us to experience one thing in terms of something else.
The following is a sermon produced by a student in a course I teach on metaphor theory. The assignment was to put the basic elements of metaphor theory to use in a sermon.
In this case, the fairly broad conceptual metaphor LIFE IS A JOURNEY is used to think through a text from Galatians 5:1, 13-25. The preacher spends almost half of the sermon developing the logic and inference structures in the source domain of Road Trip (a kind of JOURNEY) so that the logic of driving, distractions, and mile markers can be applied via Galatians 5 to the lives of the hearers.
I like what he did here.
He starts with Evoking the Source in a couple of different storied settings with a particular emphasis on the conclusions he is able to draw from his experience of journey. Then he combines Mapping to the Target and Seeing with a New Lens: he identifies connection points and develops the reasoning from the source in the realm of the target.
That mapping of reasoning and inference is one of the strengths of preaching metaphor: what seems natural and obvious in the Source will seem natural and obvious in the Target. This sermon puts that dynamic of metaphor to good use.
The only metaphor move the student left out of this sermon is Testing the Limits. And that move is not always necessary. For more on preaching metaphor, go here.
Below is the student sermon. I bolded important phrases and added brief section headers. Try applying this technique either to a whole sermon or to one section within a different sermon structure. And if you do, focus on what makes the logic of the source available for reasoning in the target.
Evoke the Source (Part 1)
Describe the Source (in this case, JOURNEY) in such a way that the hearers not only identify a specific domain of knowledge and experience, but can begin to reason in terms of the dynamics of this domain.
It should be impossible to ever get lost in today’s world. Technology makes available to us information that would have taken a map, a compass, a calculator and a pen and paper to figure out. Now instead I simply have to punch in my destination and listen to a polite voice direct me straight to my destination.
If you are like me you like to see where you are going. I always find it easier to get back to a place once I’ve been there at least once. Just look it up on google and not only can you see it on a map, but you can see a satellite image of the area. Even more than that, for many locations you can zoom all the way in and get a street view of the location. You can even look around, rotate the camera, and figure out where you want to park, all from the comfort of your own desk chair. So how is it that somehow I still manage to lose my way sometimes?
With this much technology at our disposal to help us reach our destination, there seems to be even more trying to direct us elsewhere. Driving from my vicarage in Des Moines to visit my, then fiancé now wife, in Chicago I would be on 80 and 88 for most of the trip. So I’m in my car for about five hours traveling through western Iowa and eastern Illinois.
These are not typically considered hot spots for excitement or entertainment. There were in fact some cases where it would just be myself, a semi, and a farmhouse, that and a whole lot of corn. But then an exit would come up, and the signs would start. Some were helpful, mile markers, the exit number, but most, most were trying to tell me about the world’s largest thimble, or the world’s largest truck stop.
Some signs were full of color, some used clever phrases, others were videos playing short, silent commercials on massive screens. All were designed with one thing in mind, to get me to pull off the road. (The world’s largest truck stop did manage to pull me away a couple times, their sign said they had a Wendy’s and I just couldn’t say no to spicy chicken nuggets.)
Distractions abound and before we know it we have taken one turn too many looking for the world’s greatest doughnuts, and now we’re trying to figure out if we took one left and a right or two lefts. But that’s alright, because we have our GPS, and it will never fail us.
Evoke the Source (Part 2)
At least that was my confidence when a group of friends and I were driving across Germany. We knew the number of the highway, we knew the name of the town where we were heading and the signs were fairly intuitive but like any car trip we needed to eventually stop to get gas. It was getting late and was already dark outside, but the gas station itself was lit up like a Christmas tree. It was so bright though it was difficult to see anything other than what was lit up.
This stop off was huge, too; it had two levels, a hotel, and so getting back in our car we took a look at the GPS to see how much farther we had to go. Just a couple more hours, but in order to get back on the road it said we had to wind down to the other level and that from there we could get back on the highway.
So I listened. I wound the car around and found myself on an onramp, saw the headlights of the cars on the autobahn in front of me a hundred yards away, and started speeding up. As I slowly curved along the onramp a guardrail suddenly appeared directly across the ramp in front of me.
Some burned rubber, a couple words that aren’t in the bible, and our little Ford Fiesta came to stop just feet from the rail. In the moment of silence that followed, our GPS in a very polite British accent informed us to go straight, merge onto highway. Sometimes sources that appear to be well informed can still lead us astray even in moments where we think we know exactly where we are.
So how do we find out whether or not we are going the right way? Those mile markers and exit signs I mentioned briefly, those signs we usually just ignore because they are so plain and boring, those are the same signs that let us know where we are and whether or not we are heading in the right direction. Chicago, 100 miles. Berlin, 250 km.
These signs aren’t flashy, they aren’t usually all that colorful, they are plain and simple. They are, however, clearly understood and clearly visible. Turn right, I 80 east, and I know where to go. And in the worst case scenario, I ask for directions. And let’s admit some of us might struggle with this more than others, but when it comes down to it, hearing directions can be the quickest way to get us back on track.
Map to the Target and See with a New Lens
Help the hearers see how the narrative relationships and inferences available in the Source Domain not only correspond to aspects of the Target Domain, but show how they help us think about, make decisions about, and experience the Target Domain differently.
In our text, we find Paul encouraging and warning the Galatians. His warnings are directed against the desires of the flesh, because they seek to guide them away from the Spirit. How often is this the case with us?
Just turn on a television and in just a few minutes you will witness advertisements for some things harmless and even helpful, but many that try to stir up desires that walk a different path than that of the Spirit. Gratuitous sex, violence, and the like are not only packaged in shows and movies but even in the very advertisements in between. Suddenly sex outside of marriage isn’t wrong or just something that is ok, it is commonplace, even expected. One wrong turn, and then another, and then another, and suddenly we are struggling to find our way back.
B. Unreliable Directions
So where do we turn from there? There are many people who claim to know the truth; many of them sound quiet impressive. There are countless religions, rational empiricists, many people who know a great deal more than we do about the world and many of them claim to have the truth.
And when we turn to them we hear a small voice say “recalculating” and then they turn us in a direction that may seem trustworthy. God could not have created the world in 6 days, science has proven this can’t possibly be the case. Or that humans just aren’t biologically inclined to be monogamist creatures. Truth is what you make of it, just do whatever makes you happy. God only lets good people into heaven so if you want in you had better make sure you do enough. The list goes on and next thing we know we’re staring a guardrail down.
So with all these competing distractions all threatening to lead us astray, how do we know where to go? How do we know how to live? The obvious answer is by the Spirit, that’s what Paul says, but how do we know what that is?
C. Reliable (but Ordinary) Directions
The answer is in the writing of the epistle to the Galatians itself. How did the Galatians know? Paul told them; a guy gave them directions. A guy inspired by the Holy Spirit that then passed the Spirit onto them by the Word in Baptism. A Spirit that is constantly at work against all the distractions we face daily on our journey. The Spirit who never tires of turning our eyes away from constant distractions and empty promises and instead keeps our hearts and minds fixed on our destination. We know our beginning and our end. Baptized into Christ we await His return. But in the meantime we are not left to wander alone.
Week after week the Word keeps us on the path directing us towards Christ. Jesus, that way. We are given directions in preaching, the sacraments, the big signs, but also in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self control. These are all gifts that we often overlook, mile markers that let us know we are walking in the way of the Spirit. And we know these are true signs we can follow, we can know that this guy Paul is giving good directions, we know we are going the right way when they align with the scriptures, when they point us back to Christ.
The Spirit works in many and various ways to fight off and drag us back from the many distractions and competing messages of this world. He brings the Word to us in the scriptures, through inspiring and guiding writers including Paul. He brings the Word in sermons where the Word is preached faithfully. He works through the sacraments bringing the gifts of God to His people. He works through our prayers and in ways I can only guess.
Every temptation we face, He is there guiding us along His path. Every false voice, He is there nudging the wheel back along the right road. And those times we find ourselves lost, He is there to guide us back to Christ and the promise of life in Him. Amen.