A Discipline of Form
Goal Malady Means: A Homiletic Method
The discipline of goal–malady–means focuses the preacher on the text and on the people.
Goal is what the text wants the pew sitter (and the preacher!) to do today and tomorrow morning. Faith or belief in a doctrine cannot be the goal of a sermon because these are gifts, not achievements. The goals of Christian life are acts of love and virtue, the responsibility of those faithful to the Covenant with the lord. They are actions or deeds that people are able to do, not feelings and emotions that people are able to fake. Being holy or saved or blessed, believing or having faith, accepting the Gospel, coming to Christ; all of these are gifts, acts of the Breath of Geshua, the lord's side of the covenant. What the Word does to us belongs in the means section, the goal section is for the human response. Some action, a specific deed within the reach of the people in the pew, is the only legitimate goal.
Of course the Ten Commands are important in this goal setting. But the preacher must be careful to make the commands goals, not accusations. For example,
Thou shalt not commit adultery. is not a goal.
Be loyal to your wife as our God is loyal to us. is a goal. And a means of reaching that goal!
The fundamental question to ask is
How do we show gratitude to our God for His sacrifice and gifts? Find it in the sermon text and the rest of the biblical propers. Find it in the practical and ordinary life of the people. Asking this question of the text often causes the preacher to study it and his people more closely, which is the reason behind the discipline.
The subject of every sentence of goal is the forgiven sinner (Always We!) and the object of every sentence of goal is that sinners neighbor.
Malady is the list of things we do or say or think that interfere with achieving the goal. It too is specific and must be found in the text. Murder is only a malady when preaching to murders and even then misses the point. The question is not what evil we do but why we do it. Ordinary pew sitters have less dramatic sins and the most common is hiding behind their religion.
I am a believer, the other guy is a sinner. Now there is an attitude that will definitely interfere with doing good deeds. The preacher must be specific so that the listener does not say,
I never did that. and go back to sleep. Fortunately the Bible is full of texts that condemn hypocrisy and arrogance, and those two never miss. Be sure that the malady is related to the goal and not just some generic
Sin is bad. declaration. Often a careful analysis of the goal will reveal why we do not achieve it and what specific problems prevent our doing this specific good.
A good place to look for blockages to gratitude is inside the preacher. Preparation of a sermon is going well when it leads to a felt need for repentance by the preacher. Notice that goal is aimed outward, that our gratitude benefits our neighbor, and that the malady is directed inward, the problems are our fault. Again we come to responsibility and response and run away from preaching that blames everything else but our sorry selves and attends to our needs instead our neighbors.
The subject of every sentence of malady is the unrepentant sinner (Always We!) and the object of every sentence of malady is the unrepentant sinner (Always We!).
Means is the part most often ruined by lazy preachers. The means is always an objectively real and physical medium for the love of Geshua toward the pew sitter (and the preacher) that provides a means of overcoming the malady and accomplishing the goal. It is not a doctrinal dissertation on how we are saved or a description of the blood and tears of the crucifixion. Please notice that even the old preachers in Europe understood the important and central nature of the objectivity of the Word and Sacraments, which Luther called the Means of Grace. God did not come to them in some spiritual way, He came to them in the physical medium of the written and spoken Word and the water, bread, and wine of the Sacraments. That may not be what a physicist means by objective, but it is sure closer to it than the claims of the spiritualist or medium. If anything in Lutheranism gave me a clue to this new understanding, it was this doctrine of the Means of Grace.
Law and Gospel are the sides of the Word. Law is always a command for deeds and behavior, with some internal states understood as behavior.
You have to believe. is law, not Gospel, and bad law at that. Any human activity is in the circle of law, even believing something or accepting something, either as a standard to follow or as an accusation of sin. The accusative function of law in the sermon, used in all three sections, is to crush self righteousness and the snobbery of the faithful. The guilty don't need the Law in this sense and nothing is more damaging to people than commandments laid on people who can't keep the ones they already know. The only people who need this law are those who don't think they are sinners.
It helps to see (at least) two forms or uses of the law: one exposes evil and the other teaches goodness. We use the Word of Law in the malady part of a sermon to indict the sinner and we use the Word of Law in the goal part of the sermon to show us opportunities to do good. But neither use of the Law is Gospel. That does not mean the human obligations of the Covenant are not mentioned in the means section of the sermon. In fact, it is important to tie the power of the Good News to the cure of the malady and the production of gratitude.
The Gospel is the proclamation of the love and forgiveness of the lord. We are always the object, He is always the subject, of any sentence that is Gospel. Free, by grace, without any merit or faith or action by us, He loves us and makes us free of guilt and sin. It is not that God loves us when we love one another, but that we are able to love because He first loved us. Gospel is unidirectional.
The subject of every sentence of Means is He, (Father, Son, or Spirit) and the object of every sentence of Means is we sinners whom He makes into saints.
The Whole Homily
And then there is this: Do not talk about Law and Gospel, proclaim it. It is not a lecture, it is a sermon. If you do not understand the distinction I am making, find another profession.