Tone and Nuance in Preaching


I’m beginning to think that tone and nuance have more to do with how a sermon is heard than almost anything else. People hear Law and Gospel, doctrinal content and statements and so forth, but hearing and receiving a sermon is more than just the content of the speech–the Law and Gospel are delivered with rhetoric which carries its own flavor and connotations and tone. Saying “This behavior is sin,” strikes much harder and different than describing the effects of the behavior and showing relationships fractured and undone by the sin. In matters of tone, concluding a thought with “this is sin” is different than beginning the thought or phrase/section/movement with the same sentence.

Having an ear for tone also means hearing what kinds of descriptive language the preacher uses. Does he use emotive language which draws in the hearer’s emotions and feelings? Does he use violent imagery, with Christ always “destroying” or “removing” or “breaking” sin or whatever? This is not to say only emotive language is good, or that violent or “masculine” imagery is better (or worse), but images and language and rhetorical approaches add up, and add up quickly to give an impression on the hearers.

Likewise with nuance, and by “nuance” I mean not having a finely tuned argument, or delving deep into the points and counter-points, but simply in acknowledging that a topic or doctrine or application of Law or Gospel is greater than bald sentiment or doctrinal thesis. For example, a sermon regarding predestination may not address all the nuances of single versus double predestination, but admitting there is more to the argument is helpful. Nuance in a sermon will acknowledge that our world is one where we can sin by good intent and by bad intent suffer good consequences. A nuanced sermon gives–at least–a tip of the hat to whatever cultural objections may be raised.

Add this together, square or cube the effects, and then you have how a sermon is heard by the people. But in this a balance must also be kept. A preacher is not a people-pleaser and should not write and structure and deliver his sermons with a good ear for tone and nuance in order to make people feel nice only. It has to be balanced so that the Law has the effect of driving people to the Gospel, that the Gospel will be heard as sweet and comforting, and giving power for our salvation, both now and in the Kingdom.  Sometimes this means crucifying sin and false gods and making people squirm for a bit. Always it means proclaiming that the Gospel comes in with the clearest tone possible. Sometimes it means “going easy” on a sin, in order for it to be heard at all. It always means going easy with the Gospel, for His yoke is easy and His burden light.

What is Worship?

The recent controversy in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod concerns our definition of “unionism” and “syncretism,” two “isms” we are bound to reject and refrain from as pastors and congregations in our Synod (if you don’t know what I am talking about, you are blessed and may google it on your own). What are these strange words? Unionism is worship with those Christians with whom we are not in theological agreement. Syncretism is worshiping with different faiths that worship other gods, i.e., trying to worship the Triune God in a worship service with  a Muslim who rejects the Triune God.

The issue is difficult for us, and most of the time we get caught up with trying to parse what the other people believe, and what the intent of the joint service is and the biggie: “What impression do I give by doing this?” This latter remark seems to drive most of the discussion in our church body.

But the real problem goes much deeper: what is worship, anyway? Do we even know what worship is so that we can define it in terms of necessary and sufficient conditions? Can we give any kind of criteria to measure and activity and be able to objectively say, “This activity was or was not worship?”

Is worship the Divine Liturgy? If so, then clearly many of us in the LCMS are not worshiping on Sunday mornings. If worship is only the Mass, then most of us aren’t doing it. Likewise, if worship is using any service or “order of worship” from the hymnal like Matins, then that doesn’t fit either. Plenty of congregations out there use no service from the hymnal, nor a service reprinted from the hymnal, nor a service with any particular liturgical order, and yet we don’t call what they are doing “not worship.” (I may not, but by myself I’m not the LCMS)

So is worship defined by some other sort of content? Prayer, readings and message or devotion? Is that sufficient for an activity to be a public worship service? If so, then what about a lecture given in a seminary classroom, beginning with prayer, involving a reading and discourse on the text? What is the difference between that lecture and public worship? Is going to a meeting with a Baptist who reads a meditation or devotion before the meeting an instance of worship?

Perhaps worship should be defined as sacred duties of prayer, reading Scripture or a homily while wearing liturgical vestments. That would fit the bill…except by a worship service led by a lay person, or a contemporary congregation led by a non-vested pastor or any other number of circumstances. And what do we call vestments? The clerical collar? Historically that was a uniform or street clothes, along with the cassock. Historically speaking only the surplice, stole, alb, maniple, chasuble were priestly vestments. Cassocks and clergy shirts were not. Is this the case today?

If worship cannot be necessarily defined by these things, can we arrive at any necessary condition for worship? If not, then what is the sufficient condition for worship: for a service to be named “worship” or “service” and mutually agreed upon by all? I’m not sure this is sufficient either. An Orthodox priest may attend and even offer a prayer at a Community Thanksgiving Worship Service but in his view, and the view of his Church, it is not worship because if he is not wearing his priestly vestments. In other words, even if an event is labeled “worship” it may not be so for us. If there is no invocation, Scripture reading or prayer, would it be worship for us even if it was labeled that? Regardless, many of these community events are called “vigils” or “prayer services” or simply “a prayer for…” or “Gathering” and intentionally shy away from calling it “worship.”

In other words, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod needs to determine what worship is before we can ever begin to intelligently discuss if this or that pastor is involved in syncretisitic or unionistic worship. And sadly, because of our inability to discuss or agree on any kind of rules without someone claiming “legalism” (a misnomer in this case) such a definition may never come.

Tank Stand

Last weekend I was able to build the first stages of the stand, using 2x lumber. I also built a stand for my water changing station, which is still in progress.

This week I will start “skinning” the stand, or as woodworkers would say, adding the face frame and start the trim project. If the weather is warm enough, I’ll paint the back of the stand and start thinking about the hood.

I’ve bought plumbing the hooking up the new sump and given thought to my algae turf scrubber as well, I may work on that when I get bored and frustrated with the stand.