There are probably as many types of homily as there are priests and deacons that preach in our churches. Everybody has their own style, their own preferred way of putting the message across, their own focus and priorities in what they want to say, and their own areas of expertise that they can bring to the homily. Some find preparing and delivering the homily a challenge, for others it comes a bit more naturally. But they all have one thing in common - the purpose of the homily is ‘to break open the Word of God.’
As many of you will recognise, one of my preferred options for hopefully helping to put my message across is the use of stories to illustrate my point, or give a different view of the same message.It is a technique that I find helps me to expand and explain a message in a way that means we can picture what is being said in a different way, perhaps making it more familiar and ‘real’ to the listener.
During the formation programme for deacons we are given instruction, and plenty of opportunities to try out various methods and receive constructive criticism or tips from our peers. As confidence grows each develops their own style. In many ways I was fortunate that I could transfer quite a few of my professional skills from my employment into that situation. As my use of stories became known, a couple of my fellow students ‘challenged’ me to get as many names of London Landmarks into one of my practice homilies. Using a tale of a trip along the Thames by boat, I was able to name 16 locations to help with a 5 minute homily about ‘Journeying with Christ’!
But I'm not the first to use stories to help explain a point. Perhaps the greatest example we have is Jesus Himself and His extensive use of parables. Across the three synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark & Luke) there are over 30 different recorded parables. Each time Jesus uses the technique of telling a story to help illustrate and expand on the message that he is trying to give. We hear in Mark’s Gospel (4:33-34) “With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.”
There are a couple of interesting points to consider about the parables that Jesus chooses to use. Firstly, they are stories to aid understanding, they don’t feature identified individuals, but rather rely on the listener/reader making their own image of the person/situation; Secondly, they are all based on situations that are familiar to those hearing the parables, agriculture & farming, family events (weddings etc...) and work or service, to name but a few. And, thirdly, the principle message of each of the parables can be easily transposed into a modern day scenario.
As we know the Word of God is timeless, the message doesn’t change, no matter how much society across the ages tries to influence it. And this is why I find that the parables can be a very useful aid to times of personal prayer. Reading and reflecting on the message of one of the parables can be very powerful in helping to focus when we might need some inspiration in our conversation and relationship with God.
Out of all of the different parables, each of us will have our own personal favourites. The top three that immediately spring to mind for me are, The parable of the sower, and where the seed falls (the Word of God), the parable of the Good Samaritan (Love your Neighbour), plus the parable of the Talents (Using and developing the skills I’ve been given). But others will come and go dependant on themes at the time.
What would you place as your top three personal favourites that speak most to you?
Another thing worth thinking about, and I’ve done this with a number of youth groups I’ve worked with, is to try and write a modern day parable. Taking an occurrence from our lives and turning it into a learning experience. A learning experience, expressed as a story, that we can easily relate to, but also gives an insight into the teaching of Christ. I invite you to have a try.
Stories, parables are about real life experience - what tells your story?
Deacon Ian Black