Preaching the first person narrative sermon

The first person narrative sermon is one of the more difficult types of sermon to preach. In this form of preaching, the speaker takes on a character in a narrative and speaks in the first person as though he was the character, for example, Abraham or Apollos, Moses or Samson, Esther or Ruth. I have never done a first person narrative sermon before. But Christmas changed this.

Tom Cannon as Mordecai

Recently, one of my colleagues, Tom Cannon, did it and I was impressed by his sermon. He spoke as Mordecai, the uncle of Esther who was used by God to help save the people of Israel. He used an ingenious setting: the opening speech of the Purim festival where he narrated what had happened and why they are celebrating such a festival.

He had to know what he wanted to emphasize, the angle to approach the story. He had to memorize the script and rehearse it. Then he delivered the sermon with a colorful shawl around his shirt. Besides giving a creative kind of “book survey”, it ministered to people at levels beyond the main thrust of his message. This is to be expected, as the narrative sermon, like the parable, is rich and multi-layered in conveying truth.

The first person narrative sermon in the Christmas Service

At the end of the sermons, I got the pastoral team (already out of their costumes) to worship with the congregation

During the Christmas service on 23rd Dec 2017, the whole pastoral team decided to do five first person narrative sermonettes. It was called, “The Voices of Christmas”, with the tagline, five narratives, one story. The pastoral team did Mary, one of the shepherds, one of the magi, King Herod, and angel Gabriel. Each sermonette was about 7 minutes. The order of service began with three songs, followed by two sermonettes, another song, three sermonettes and a closing song. At the end, we had a quiz for the children who were within the service. We gave out gifts for correct answers. For fun, we had a quiz for the adults too. The service ended earlier than usual with O Come All Ye Faithful, and we ended with fellowship and good food.

The pastoral team enjoyed preaching the first person narrative sermons. It took a lot out of them but the sermons were well received by both adults and children. It was a good learning experience for everyone including myself as it was also a first time for me. Initially I baulked at it, and was supposed to summarize and thread together the various strands in a concluding sermonette. But it flashed on my mind that I could do that as Gabriel the archangel. It was nerve wracking and my first draft was too theoretical giving an overview of God’s eternal plan. I realized that at the full-dress rehearsal and so had to redo the whole message and bring it down to a more accessible and practical level. I cried to the Lord and he helped me. I saw that the main characteristic of angels is authority, so I had to sound confident and authoritative to convey angelic presence. I wore all white but could not find wings. It did not matter because it was a sermonette, not a drama. Just symbolic hints would do.

Interesting insights

There are many insights that arise to the fore when we enter the narrative as a character and see, hear, taste, smell, touch and feel. It’s a different kind of exegesis. One that uses the sanctified imagination. These insights are exposed that otherwise would have remained buried treasure if only exegetical analysis was used.

Have you done a first person narrative sermon before? What was your experience like?

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