Truth by Surprise: Subverting Expectations of the Kingdom of God through Homiletical Humor
The congregants of First Baptist Church, Oak Ridge, Tennessee are like people in many churches around the United States. They are long-time church-goers who have attended Sunday school lessons and heard sermons on biblical texts enough to breed a familiarity that can prevent further insight. The preacher must find a way to bypass familiarity, allowing hearers to experience the text anew. This study measures how six sermons employing humor subvert expectations to give a renewed experience of Jesus’ descriptions of the Kingdom of God in the parables in Matthew’s Gospel. Twelve participants were interviewed in three sessions over six weeks to measure how effective humor is in communicating the complex and counter-cultural Kingdom of God that Jesus expresses in the parables. The group was interviewed together in three semi-structured sessions to allow participants to give their insights and experiences with limited researcher prompting. Participant responses indicate that humor indeed aided in experiencing familiar parables with a new perspective, a sense of personal interaction, and a desire to act upon the principles of the Kingdom as presented in the sermons. Humor can provide a fresh experience for preachers and congregations alike. Further study should be conducted in utilizing humor to preach texts of other biblical genres, such as the Hebrew prophets, proverbs, psalms, and epistles. Humor is a broad category, and some research into the congregation’s varied responses to specific types of humor (wit, anecdote, or satire) could be illuminating.