Enacting the Word
Author: James O. Chatham (2002)
Publisher: Westminister John Knox Press
Review by Rev Ng Seng Chuan
This is another "useful" book. It appeals to me for several reasons. For one thing, it has to do with preaching. The subtitle is "Using Drama in Preaching". Anything to do with making preaching more accessible or effective has a special place in my heart. But there is another reason that reaches far back into my own history as a growing Christian.
It was in the late 1960s, when I was a fledgling Christian, and being specially nurtured by our Youth Fellowship programme. We had a pastor then, an OMF missionary from New Zealand (the Rev Wallace Marriott), who believed in "lay ministry" long before the idea even went into current use in print! He got a published programme from the US for the Youth Fellowship Ė actually some kind of Religious Education manual (much like Gospel Light or Scripture Press type of Sunday School material), except that this was for informal mid-week groups. The substance of it was a theme and biblical text that was supported by a host of skits or oral recitation and group activity.
I now recognize it as a kind of church "drama". But it set the YF abuzz with excitement and anticipation as different groups executed their programmes and the "drama" became the focus of the learning experience. Not one YF meeting was ever considered a boring one!
Forty years on, and I have met scores upon scores of church members who have voiced their dissatisfaction with the average Sunday sermon. Well, if you are a preacher, here is something to lift your heart and soul Ė and maybe the heart and soul of your congregation members as well! Enacting the Word provides a host of suggestions as to how specific texts of Scripture could be brought to life by being "enacted" i.e., acted out, by your members. They take ownership of the preaching, make your job easier, and add verve and zest to the communication of Godís truth. Howís that for a good deal?
No, you donít need to do that every Sunday. Just once in a month or two would bring in that sense of anticipation about how "different" sermons could be. I know of one pastor who uses powerpoint particularly effectively by illustrating his sermons almost every Sunday with allusions to art works. The "media", far from being the enemies of the Gospel, can actually be made our servants and allies! Just think about that!
Of the seven chapters on different biblical themes, three are from well known texts Ė the story of Jonah (pp.5-16), the story of Rahab (pp.25-30), and the story of the resurrection (pp.55-64). Allow me to illustrate the power of ideas from some segments of one little "skit". When the spies found their way to Rahabís house, the conversation went something like this:
Rahab: Why else did you come here? Too long in the desert! That lean and raunchy look! No matter where they come from, once they get in my door, they are all the same. Looking for one thing only! Someone back home would be awfully upset if she knew you were here!
Spy 1: At your pleasure, Madame.
Rahab: Itís not my pleasure! It stopped being my pleasure a long time ago.Itís your pleasure. To me itís just business, buster. You want to feel good; I want to eat. Itís that simple. Did you bring your money?
Later on into the service, the preacher would include the following observation:
Preacher: This is astounding! Astounding that Rahab is a central figure in the story of your salvation and mine. Astounding that through this woman of ill repute, blessing flows from heaven to earth. Ö The world shunned her; God claimed her. The world looked at her and saw evil; God looked at her and saw a servant. Astounding!
Just think! Long before "Pretty Woman" (via Julia Roberts & Richard Gere) became the rage, the Bible had a story of a prostitute with a heart! And a wonderful story that underscored Godís regard for scum of society enough to make them a part of His redemption theme! And you cannot communicate the "rawness", bitterness and irony of it all much better than the little skit I have just drawn your attention to.
James Chatham, the author, calls this genre "sermon drama", and shows how effective it can be as an integration of theology, anthropology (human behaviour) and ethic(s). He calls for caution so that this form of drama does not become cheap moralizing. Listen as he explicates the parameters and highlights the essence of this style of communication:
There are lots of people in our churches with potential and yen for sharing in the divine communication even if they are not preachers. This book is easy enough to use for experimentation. If you are a lay person, it may be something you could read and share with your pastor. Sermon hour could be more exciting than we dream possible!
Last week, Pastor Alby Yip described the frenzied excitement fans exhibited for the recent World Cup matches and asked if we, participants in that most fervent of all activities, the Holy Communion, also give to it the same heartfelt devotion. Referring to Matt 26: 36 Ė 46, he reminded us of the four imperatives that the Sacrament commands and sketched out the circumstances surrounding its institution.
First, we are called to carry our own crosses just as the Lord carried his alone. He received neither support nor comfort from his disciples as he agonised in the garden before his betrayal. Second, we are to yield absolute surrender to the will of God just as Jesus accepted his "cup" of suffering. Third, we are to be persistent and faithful, unlike the disciples who fell asleep when they should have been praying during that crucial time. Finally, like Jesus who went to the cross, we are to be bold in face of adversity.
The reflection brought afresh to us the challenge of staying true to Godís call to us to be faithful to His will. We were reminded to take our inspiration from and place our confidence in the example that Jesus set for us in going resolutely to his death on the Cross.
Chapel speaker on July 26 will be Mr Chris Chin. Chris will be speaking on the topic "The day the sun stood still (Josh 10:10-13): a scientific explanation?"
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