Wednesday morning at the Festival began with Fred Craddock (a rock star in the preaching world). Wednesday's events were all at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center, and the facility is fabulous. Great acoustics, great sound system, lots of space, just very comfortable. I really liked being there.
Craddock was fabulous, of course. He preached on John 21:24-25, “The Gospel as Hyperbole.” He preached on this short text from John, which reads: "But there are also many other things that Jesus did; if every one of them were written down, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written."
Craddock talked about the language of ‘sacred excess,' and how hyperbolic the language of faith is, and the language of the gospels. Did Jesus really do so many things that they couldn't actually be written down do to lack of space? That's hyperbole. Exaggeration.
He gave several examples from the scriptures and even from our hymnody: "O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing" - a thousand tongues? With faith the size of a mustard seed, we could move a mountain. Could we? Forgive seventy times seven? The parable where a servant is indebted to a king for the equivalent of 150,000 years in salary - that's hyperbole, he says. In the psalms, we find trees with clapping hands, earth trembling at God’s footsteps, earth convulsing. In Jesus' teaching, he talks about straining a gnat and swallowing a camel, or it being easier to put a camel through a needle's eye than for a rich person to enter heaven. Paul talks about "the peace that passes understanding" and has tightly reasoned arguments for chapters but they get away from him, and he bursts into song in his letters - hyperbole. Exaggeration.
Craddock said that there have always been critics of hyperbole – Aristotle said that hyperbole is for young people who don’t know any better who use exaggerated talk – one uses more calculated when older. Hyperbole is for unlettered and uncultured.
Craddock talked about the "reduction language" used by preachers – ‘promotional’ preaching. No surplus of meaning. Giving the impression “they walked all the way around God and took pictures.” Sermons just are not big enough, Craddock said, quoting someone (?) who said: “I’d rather be a pagan . . . just to have some size to faith.”
Craddock concluded by daring us to imagine what would happen if we actually believed all the hyperbole and exaggeration in the gospel. What if we took it all seriously? He was very facetious in his presentation here, and had us all laughing, at the same time we were soul-searching. "Go sell what you have and give to the poor." Some young foolish preacher took that seriously, Craddock said, and led his congregation to bring all their stuff to the church to sell, and they raised $2 million dollars. Didn't he know it was hyperbole? Dietrich Bonhoeffer read "Take up the cross," and he gave up his life. Didn't he know it was exaggerated speech? Craddock talked about William Sloane Coffin preaching on “Whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Craddock teased, "If you start saying whoever, whoever will show up!
Craddock's closing words: "Refuse to lose the hyperbole."