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The Rev. Dr. William H. Willimon The Rev. Dr. William H. Willimon

The Rev. Dr. William H. Willimon is Professor of the Practice of Christian Ministry at The Divinity School, Duke University. He retired after serving eight years as Bishop of the North Alabama Conference of The United Methodist Church.

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Duke Divinity School, Durham, NC


Bishop Will Willimon: Easter Preaching

March 29, 2010

The call of Paul the apostle was his experience of finding himself living in a whole new world. He changed because of his realization that, in Jesus Christ, the world had changed. It was not merely that he discovered a new way of describing the world but rather that his citizenship had been moved to a radically transformed world. Paul’s key testimonial to this recreation is in his Second Letter to the Corinthians:

So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation. (2 Cor. 5:17-18)

Verse 17, in the Greek, lacks both subject and verb so it is best rendered by the exclamatory, “If anyone is in Christ – new creation!”

Certainly, old habits die hard. There are still, as Paul acknowledges so eloquently in Romans 8, “the sufferings of the present time.” The resistance and outright rejection that preachers suffer is evidence that the church has not yet fully appreciated the eschatological, end of the age, transformed arrangements that ought to characterize the church. We always preach between the times and rejection is often a sign that the old age and the principalities and powers still run rampant.

That many of us preachers still preach using essentially secular (i.e. godless) means of persuasion borrowed uncritically from the world is yet another testimony to our failure to believe that God raised Jesus Christ from the dead, thus radically changing everything. In so doing we act as if Jesus were still sealed securely in the tomb, as if he did not come back to us, did not speak to us and cannot, will not speak to us today, as if preaching is something that we do through our strategies rather than through the speaking of the risen Christ.

Resurrection is not only the content of gospel preaching but also its miraculous means. Where two are three of us are gathered in his name, daring to talk about him, he is there, talking to us (Matt. 18:20). All the way to the end of the age, in every part of the world, in our baptism and proclamation, he is with us (Matt. 28:20).

I once heard a church growth expert declare, “Any church that doesn’t have a pull down video screen will be dead in ten years.” But I believe that better technology does not make sermons work. Lack of technology cannot kill a church. Only God can kill a church. Only a living Christ can make our sermons speak to a new generation.

Christian preaching can never rest on my human experience, or even the experience of the oppressed, as some forms of Liberation Theology attempt to do, because human experience tends to be limited by the world’s deadly, deathly means of interpretation. The world keeps telling Christians to “get real,” to “face facts,” but we have – after the cross and resurrection – a very particular opinion of what is real. I don't preach Jesus' story in the light of my experience, as some sort of helpful symbol or myth which is helpfully illumined by my own story of struggle and triumph. Rather, I am invited by Easter to interpret my story in the light of God's triumph in the resurrection. I really don’t have a story, I don’t know the significance of my little life, until I read my story and view my life through the lens of cross and resurrection. One of the things that occurs in the weekly preaching of the gospel is to lay the gospel story over our stories and reread our lives in the light of what is real now that crucified Jesus has been raised from the dead.

Will Willimon

[Taken by permission from "A Message from Bishop Will Willimon," March 29, 2010, North Alabama Conference of the United Methodist Church.]


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