Laying Tile and Making Sermons

Last night I finished a renovation to our master bathroom, in which we tore out the old, moldy carpet and laid ceramic tile. I was thinking about it today and thought the whole process served as a good illustration for sermon-making.

1. The first step in the renovation was tearing out the old carpet, which was filthy. The first step to sermon making is spiritual and intellectual rubbish removal. As preachers, we come to the text as sinners - sinners in our attitudes and sinners in our thinking. Repentance is needed in both instances. We must humble ourselves before the Word of God and the God of the Word, turn away from our fallen attitudes of arrogance, self-sufficiency, and know-it-all-ism, along with our fallen presuppositions which keep us from seeing what is in the text. We must be cleansed. Maybe that is why Peter saw putting aside malice in its many forms as a prerequisite to longing for true spiritual milk, like newborn babies and why James said that we must lay aside malice and the excess of wickedness before we can receive with meekness the implanted word. The old carpet has to be torn out.

2. In an upstairs bath, at least, the next step is putting in a sub-floor. There has to be an adequate foundation/surface on which to cement the tile. So I used Durock cement boards, which Tim Smith (a deacon in our church for you non-Fulkerson-folk) helped me install. I think that is analogous to the necessary background and exegetical work for preparing and preaching a sermon. There has to be a solid foundation, a sure footing, an underlayment to what is going to be communicated. Note, like my sub-floor, this shouldn't be visible in a good sermon, but the firmness and stability it adds will be felt. I think many preachers probably ignore this, rather like laying tile on wood. It may look good, but it won't be firm, won't stick, and won't last. On the other hand, some preachers do nothing except background/textual work and then present that as the whole sermon. That would be like having a bathroom floor made of cement board. Sturdy, but hardly attractive. (I don't think Holly would have gone for that!)

3. The third step is laying the pattern. Measurements of the room must be taken and a chalk-line dropped that will help keep the tile aligned correctly. A sermon also needs a pattern. And as one's chalk line is going to be laid off an outside wall (to keep things square), the pattern of the sermon should accurately communicate the meaning of the text. Expository preaching in a nutshell is this: "the meaning of the passage is the message of the sermon" (Bryan Chapell). So, when preaching from didactic portions of Scripture (like Paul's letters), the preacher wants to communicate Paul's flow of thought by working through the propositions of the text. The key propositions of the text often become the main points of the sermon. In working with narrative passages (many Old Testament stories, the Gospels, etc.), the movements of the story become the movements of the sermon. The pattern of the sermon traces the flow and development of the story, as the preacher attempts to help his hearers relive the drama, so as to perceive its meaning. In either case, the text determines the theme, structure, and thrust of the message.

4. Cementing the tile is step four. Piece by piece, each tile needs to be well-cemented to the floor. A sermon seeks to cement the truth to the minds, hearts, and lives of people. The mortar of application must be generously spread, and people (like tiles!) need to be firmly pressed into it. This is where contextualization and application become so important. It is not enough to have laid the foundation. Loose tiles on a cement-floor will slide around, chip, and break. People will do the same, unless they are pressed into the application of the text (and it pressed into them).

5. After that dries, the fifth step is grouting. Grout is the colored-sanded mortar-like substance that fills the cracks between the tiles. It makes the tile attractive, keeps it firmly set, preserves it from chipping, and keeps the dirt out. Maybe I'm stretching the analogy a bit, but I would liken this to the ethos of the preacher and the personal appropriation of the people. Our obedience is what adorns the gospel. The way we live can make the truth look good and attractive, and keep the dirt (of inauthenticity, hypocrisy, accusation, scandal) out. There is more for both preacher and hearer to do once the "sermon" is finished. The truth must now be lived (not just learned).

6. Then there are some finishing touches that really just complete the job. Sweeping and mopping. Putting the baseboards in place. A transition strip for the threshhold from bathroom to the bedroom. Perhaps these could be likened to the extra flourishes that make truth attractive and memorable in a sermon. Word choice, illustration, delivery style, etc. Lots of variety here, but not something to be neglected.

Well, that's my attempt to connect two parts of my world. More later.


mwh said...

Very creative. A nice paradigm for teaching, with some good insights. I particularly appreciated Point 1.

It's interesting how our minds connect various sectors of our life. Katie and I regular illustrate areas of theology with chemisty analogies. Unfortunately they don't tend to communicate very well to anyone else.

Robert Campbell said...

I appreciate you noticing the correlations and reflecting on them for us.

It reminds me of the way Vigen Guroian reflects on gardening.

Inheriting Paradise: Meditations on Gardening.

Brian G. Hedges said...

Interestingly enough, I read your post Robert after my post on gardening! (I promise - I wasn't copying!). Thanks for the comments.