Hearing Sermons and the Vision of God


The theme of our conference explores how the pictures of God that we create in a sermon relate to listeners that inhabit a fragmented existence. The human condition is fragmented in itself. We rather live in ruins, the late German practical-theologian Henning Luther emphatically states. We have lost the idea of a harmonious world and an idealized view of the coherence of human identity. Henning Luther’s insight into the human condition does not concern only highly individualized Western European societies. It also concerns the relationships among cultures, the fragments of world peace, and the ruins of justice for all. The world is only a shadow, or a fragment, of the shining beauty of the promised Kingdom of God. Preachers have the exciting and difficult calling to picture this Kingdom, to evoke a sense of salvation and the presence of Christ. In this light, the paper discusses two questions: are sermons capable of offering glimpses of God? And, how does that happen from the point of view of the listener? After a brief introduction in sermon reception theory, I explore some visual metaphors that are used by hearers when they talk about their listening experiences. Next, I put the empirical findings in a larger theological framework of the `vision of God’. Finally, I relate this eschatological idea with an homiletic epistemology and I discuss how sermons may generate religious knowledge in various degrees.

Preaching as Picturing God in a Fragmented World