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Today in the Mission Yearbook

Preaching that’s both prophetic and apocalyptic


The Rev. Dr. Neal Presa leads an insightful ‘Equipping Preachers’ webinar for the Synod of the Covenant

July 19, 2024

The Rev. Dr. Neal Presa

The Rev. Dr. Neal Presa recently spent 90 minutes  helping preachers in the Synod of the Covenant to embrace preaching that’s prophetic and apocalyptic.

Presa’s contribution to the synod’s “Equipping Preachers” series wasn’t the least bit scary. Rather, Presa — Moderator of the 220th General Assembly (2012) and the vice president of Student Affairs and Vocational Outreach and associate professor of Preaching and Worship at New Brunswick Theological Seminary, who’s recently been named executive presbyter at the Presbytery of San Jose — helped webinar attendees to, as he put it, “interrogate the dominant narrative” and “present an alternative vision grounded in the Scriptures.”

Apocalyptic preaching “follows the prophetic tradition of lament, anguish and holy indignation of the status quo,” Presa said. The preacher is saying, in no uncertain terms, “This is not the way it ought to be.”

Think of Micah, Amos and Presa’s favorite prophet, Habakkuk, whom he calls “Job minus the three meddling friends.”

Presa used clips of sermons preached by his students to illustrate just how powerful prophetic, apocalyptic preaching can be. In the first, the Rev. Robert Williams Jr. preached on Luke’s account of Simon of Cyrene being forced to carry Jesus’ cross.

Since Cyrene is modern-day Libya, “we know he was African,” Williams said.

“Simon was just minding his own business. Some might suggest Simon was in the wrong place at the wrong time. He should have known better. Who did he think he was?” Williams asked. “Simon was only guilty of being a Black man walking, similar to Eric Garner or Trayvon Martin.”

“The cross Simon was asked to bear wasn’t even his. It had the weight of the world on it. There was redemption wrapped up in it,” Williams said. But “God ordered his steps and used systemic evil to accomplish God’s purpose.”

“One day,” Williams said, “we’ll be able to breathe free and have eternal life. As for this Black man, I’m going to make my way to the presence of Jesus [as Simon did]. I’ll join my voice with the angels singing God’s presence in the homeland of my soul. I still want to meet that Simon fellow. Amen.”

What Williams did so effectively in his sermon was to connect contemporary realities to the biblical world, Presa noted. “He excavated the truth in both, then bridged the two together, using Simon of Cyrene to get at injustice, violence and being in the right place at the right time.”

The second sermon participants heard came from the Rev. Inés Velásquez-McBryde, who called her sermon based on Matthew 5:1–12 “Beatitudes are not for the Blessed.”

Jesus knows those who heard the Beatitudes for the first time “have been taxed heavily by state and synagogue,” she said. “He knows the emperor is too small a king.”

“As I have marched with African American sisters and brothers, I have listened, lamented and learned,” Velásquez-McBryde said. “May we as leaders listen, lament and enter into the mourning as we live into this blessed Beatitude.”

What if, she wondered, we prayed the Beatitudes backward:

  • “I want to inherit the kingdom of heaven, but I don’t want proximity to the poor in spirit.”
  • “I want to inherit the Earth, but the idea of being meek is revolting to my pride and ego.”
  • “I love to receive mercy, but I have been hurt and taken advantage of many times before, so I don’t want to be merciful.”
  • “I want to be called a daughter and a son of God, but I just want to keep the peace — not work for peace.”

“May you be prophetic pastors, preachers and commissioned ruling elders,” Presa said, “agents of God’s justice and agents of God’s truth and love.”

Mike Ferguson, Editor, Presbyterian News Service

Today’s Focus: Rev. Dr. Neal Presa leads an insightful ‘Equipping Preachers’ webinar for the Synod of the Covenant

Let us join in prayer for:

PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
John Matekovic, Vice President, Income Security, Benefits, Board of Pensions  
Karl Mattison, VP of Planning Giving Resources, Presbyterian Foundation 

Let us pray

Thank you, great God and Father, who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to your power that is at work within us. To you be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus, throughout all the world and all generations. Amen.