Scott Elmer is the Director of Evangelization and Family Life Ministries for the Archdiocese of Denver.
Since Pentecost (Around 33 A.D.), the Church has been preaching a message of salvation which we call the Kerygma. Simply, the Kerygma is the announcement about Jesus Christ, his life, mission, and saving actions. It is related to the “Gospel” which, before it was associated with Jesus, was associated with new emperors and kings to announce a new kingdom. That is precisely the way in which we, 2,000 years later, are still called to preach the Kerygma, to announce the Kingdom of Jesus Christ and invite all men and women into it.
Every single person is called to make a personal response to the saving message of Jesus Christ. This is constitutive of being a Christian. While it is true that the Gospel transcends time and culture, we can see historically that the way in which the Gospel is preached should be adapted to the culture it is seeking to enrich and transform. In light of this, I wish to offer some tips on preaching the Gospel to our current culture in this New Evangelization. I’m focusing on general themes/overtones and it should be assumed that when preaching the Kerygma, we are always proclaiming the salvific events of the Paschal Mystery.
1. God is good.
One of the best intros to a sermon I’ve ever heard was, “God’s in a good mood today.” Within the Church, we tend to have a distorted image of God’s goodness and believe he is punishing us or withholding blessings for past sins, or doesn’t want to help us because “it’s not his will.” In truth, God’s response to our sins was sending Jesus to die on a cross while forgiving the ones who made it happen. At Cana, Mary wasn’t concerned about it being God’s will to change water into wine, she just asked boldly in faith because she knows God is good. We can’t underestimate his goodness.
2. Jesus is the answer to every desire you have.
This proclamation combats the common belief that Church is always telling everyone how to live their lives and should mind its own business. There is not one desire in the human heart which is not meant to be fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Even sinful desires are expressions of your longing for what only God can give. Lust is generally a desire for intimacy, companionship, or power. Greed is a desire to be fulfilled completely. Wrath is almost always a desire for justice. Everything you desire can be found in the Kingdom of Heaven. People need to hear what God wants to do for them, not what they need to do to please God.
3. Call for a Response.
Many times, the message just isn’t enough. No one gets engaged by merely telling their girlfriend how much they love them, they ask them to marry them. We recently hosted an Unbound conference in Denver and after each talk the speaker gave, we had 20-25 minutes of “wall prayer” where people could just walk up to any of the prayer teams (Who were lined up along the wall) and pray with real people in response to what the Lord was moving in their hearts during the talk. So many times, we hear great talks or even give great presentations of the Gospel and then walk away from them without making an act of the will for Christ. When you tell someone how good God is, ask them if they want to receive more of his love and presence in their lives. Then pray with them right there. Simple prayers are just as effective as elegant ones and they take less time. I love “repeat after me prayers” because then the person chooses to pray with their own voice.
If you have heard the Kerygma and responded with your words and actions, the Kingdom of God is inside you. If you don’t know if the Spirit of God is living and active inside you, ask God for more. Ask God boldly for a greater outpouring of his Holy Spirit because he never tires of giving good gifts to his children. In this Easter season, let us stir into flame the gifts of the Holy Spirit, vow to take advantage of the next opportunity we have to tell someone what God has done for them., and continually pray, “More Lord.” Leif Hetland said it best: “You teach what you know, but you reproduce what you are.” Let your Kingdom come, Lord.