Transforming History Into Theology (part 9 of what preachers do to the Bible to create sermons)

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This series of posts contains a list of some of the things preachers do to the Bible to create sermons. We perform all kinds of operations on the Bible so that it functions for the Church. One important thing preachers do is  turn history into theology. In our hands, narrative scenes and dialogue from the Old or New Testament go through a metamorphosis. History is transformed into theology, what God is saying to the Church or how God wants the Church to respond to Him.

A couple of weeks ago I reread sections of Buttrick’s, Homiletic, to review his idea of preaching in the mode of immediacy. In the book he says, “What the minister plots, then, is not a story, but a sequence of responses to a story as the story progresses” (p. 362). The sequence of responses to a narrative is another way of thinking through how the story is functioning for the Church. We do not simply retell the plot, but show how the plot conveys theology.

This is one of the most difficult parts of studying the Bible for sermons. Not much has been written to help us move from Text to theology without sacrificing the integrity of the Text. In other words, not all our timeless principles are actually taught in Scripture.

In Luke 14:15-24 Jesus teaches a parable to help us make sure we’ve really accepted God’s gracious invitation to experience LifePlus. This all began with someone exclaiming with dangerous optimism, “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” The parable adds a dose of sobering realism to such dangerous optimism. The sermon focuses on the theology in this dialogue: that many who have first heard the gospel will not experience eternal life. It’s possible that many of our congregants said “yes” to God once in the past, but are not following Him now (see all the excuses in vv. 18-20, “I have bought a field….I have bought…oxen….I have married…”).

Before Sunday, if your preaching portion contains a narrative, see if your sermon shows evidence of transforming the caterpillar of history into the butterfly of theology.

Preach well for the sake of God’s reputation.

Randal

Anticipate Push Back (part 8 of What We Do to the Bible to Create Sermons)

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Our preaching portions routinely contain truth that causes an allergic reaction in some of our listeners. So preachers will spend some time during sermon preparation anticipating push back. During delivery of the sermon we will actually talk to our listeners who have this reaction.

For instance, in Luke 13:34 Jesus says, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!”

Jesus is describing how He feels when we don’t let Him save/sanctify us. But, it’s extremely difficult for us to think that we are as bad as the inhabitants of Jerusalem. In order for this teaching to have full impact, it’s important to anticipate and address this push back: “Surely, we’re not as evil as those people were!”

Another example of the same concept is in Luke 19:14 “But his citizens hated him and sent a delegation after him, saying ‘We do not want this man to reign over us.’” It’s tough to think that such an extreme emotion is a part of our carnality. Our blatant disobedience and, seemingly less offensive, delayed obedience is equal to the hatred that ultimately crucified our Savior.

If you read Buttrick’s massive, Homiletic, he refers to this as a contrapuntal. It describes those minutes in the sermon when we talk to our listeners about their disagreement with what God is saying. He argues that if we do not address the possible push back, those listeners stop listening. Talking to them about their thoughts is one way to keep them listening to God’s Word.

Before Sunday, see if you can anticipate potential push back that will occur as your congregants hear God’s Word.

Preach well for the sake of God’s reputation in the Church and in the world.

Randal

Highlighting God’s Assumptions (part 7 of what we do to the Bible to create sermons)

Warning

Despite the conventional wisdom–never assume anything–expository preachers spend time highlighting major information God assumes in a preaching portion.

For instance, in 2 Timothy 2:25 Paul continues instructing Timothy: “correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth.” This paragraph provides instructions for one of the toughest parts of pastoral ministry: how we handle parishioners who are purposely or inadvertently causing trouble in church.

A major assumption in the instruction is that the parishioner is wrong and the pastor is right. That is not always the case. We’re not infallible (cf. 1 Timothy 5:19-20 for instruction on what to do when an elder sins). However, in order for this instruction to work, we have to assume that the parishioner in question is wrong and the pastor will be able to correct them. This is important because, if you’ve ever had to tangle with someone like this, you know they know they’re right. But, in this case, they’re wrong and need to be instructed. The instruction assumes this angle and it’s important to highlight the assumption.

You will discover that highlighting the assumption God is making will add tension to the teaching. The assumptions also help clarify and intensify the teaching, as is the case in the example above.

So, before Sunday, take a look at your preaching portion and see if there are any assumptions that need to be highlighted. When you locate the assumption, plan on a minute or so in the sermon to flesh it out. It will add a measure of depth to the theology your communicating.

Preach well for the sake of God’s reputation in the church/world.

Randal

Communicating Through Contrasts: Part 6 of What We Do to the Bible to Create Sermons

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This series of posts explores what preachers do to the Bible to create sermons. It’s my attempt to expand my own understanding of rhetorical analysis (what preachers do during the sermon to affect those that have ears to hear). If you read the initial post in this series you may recall my confession that this area is probably the weakest area of my teaching. So, I’m committed this year to getting better at helping preachers craft the guts of the sermon.

One thing preachers do is explain through the use of contrast. (You can see the overlap with the first blog post in the series: preachers explain Scripture). Take for instance, 2 Timothy 2:23 “Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies…” After spending a minute making sure everyone’s clear on “have nothing to do with…”, try spending another minute or so talking about the opposite approach.

God knew that it would be very tempting for pastors to have a lot to do with these kinds of destructive conversations. God knew that our flesh would want to engage, that our sense of mission would push us to jump in. The next verses will teach us an appropriate response, but for a moment it’s important to note that we are being baited by our flesh, by our sense of mission, and by our opponent (see v. 25′s description, “correcting his opponents…”). So, it’s possible that, with good motives, we jump into the destructive debate and violate God’s will.

Before Sunday, see if segments of your preaching portion can be explored through contrasting or opposite attitudes or actions.

Preach well for the sake of God’s reputation.

Randal

One Sure Way To Communicate More Clearly

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This is the fifth post in a series that explores what we do to the Bible to create a sermon. When I listen to sermons I sometimes ask, “What’s that preacher doing at this moment? How is he preaching?”

If you listen to or read a sermon manuscript, you’ll probably see the preacher restating something. The preacher spends much time in the sermon saying the same thing with different words. Preachers will often repeat themselves too. So may this post should be retitled, Two Sure Ways To Communicate More Clearly. Those two ways would be repetition and restatement.

Repetition and restatement add clarity to any sermon when they are used at key…

  • terms
  • concepts
  • outline points
  • applications

So, for instance, while preaching on Luke 17:1-6, you might use repetition and restatement for the following:

“Temptations” (v. 1): enticements, lures

“Pay attention to yourselves” (v. 3): “Watch out for yourselves.” “Stay alert.”

“…you must forgive him” (v. 4): “…the issue is no longer an issue; you must let it go.”

Or, if point #2 in the sermon is: Handling someone else’s sin (vv. 3-6), you might want to restate the point with something like, “How are we supposed to act when someone else sins against us?”

I realize this concept of restatement is not difficult. But, before Sunday, locate the places in your sermon manuscript (you do write out your sermon, right?) where restatement can help you communicate more clearly. Then, your sermon will be as easy to understand as some destinations are to find: “You can’t miss it.”

Preach well for sake of God’s reputation in the Church and in the world.

Randal

What Do You Do to the Bible to Create a Sermon? (part 4) Fill in the Gaps

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Each week we perform some operations on our preaching portion to create sermons. We…

  • explain various terms and concepts
  • announce the shape our worship takes (what that Scripture is intending to do to the Church)
  • show the flow of thought or logical connection between the thought blocks

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The fourth operation we perform on the Bible to create a sermon is filling in important gaps. The meaning of some preaching portions are like a puzzle that is missing one piece. Expository preachers fill in that missing piece.

In Luke 16:19-31 Luke records Jesus’ teaching on the rich man and Lazarus. In Jesus’ story, the poor man dies and is “carried by the angels to Abraham’s side” (v. 22a). The rich man, however, dies and lands “in Hades, being in torment…” (v. 22b-23a).

Jesus doesn’t give any explicit explanation of why each man goes to his eternal destiny. But, we have to. We have to fill in this theological gap in the preaching portion. We explain (you can see the overlap in these operations) that the poor man is not saved because he is financially destitute. Likewise, the rich man is not condemned by God because of his wealth. There were wealthy characters in the Bible that did not end up like this rich man (folks like Job).

So why is the rich man condemned and the poor man saved? The rich man didn’t love God or neighbor (cf. v. 20 and the address of the poor man: “And at his gate was laid a poor man…”). And the poor man? He must have also been poor in spirit. His humble financial situation must have been matched by a humility in his heart that recognized his need of God’s mercy. That gap must be filled in in order for this preaching portion to be understood and acted upon. Everyone must know what it is about the rich man to be avoided and what it is about the poor man to be emulated.

Before Sunday see if your preaching portion is missing a vital piece of theology and if your sermon devotes minutes to supplying that missing piece.

Preach well for the sake of God’s reputation.

Randal

What Do You Do to the Bible to Create a Sermon (part 3)? Tracing the Flow of Thought

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My premise for this series is that we perform a series of operations on the Bible to create sermons. In its worst form, we may be committing malpractice through what Vanhoozer calls impository preaching. In its best form, we do things to the Bible to help communicate God’s truth in a way that facilitates worship during the teaching time.

So far we’ve briefly looked at (1) explaining the Text and (2) identifying and announcing the Text’s purpose. In this post we’re focusing on tracing the flow of the author’s thought. It’s a way of connecting the dots for our listeners.

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Our preaching portions look like this connect-the-dot picture. Or, we might say that the meaning of a preaching portion looks like this picture. Some of the connections are readily seen simply by reading the Text. However, some connections are not obvious.

Expository preachers consistently connect the dots for their listeners by displaying the flow of thought the author employs to make meaning. That’s an important realization: biblical authors make meaning through the way in which they logically convey their thoughts.

So, for instance, in Luke’s record of Jesus’ story about the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 19:19-31), verses 19-21 describe two different souls in life. Verses 22-31, however, describe two different souls in the afterlife. Of course, Jesus tells this story because He doesn’t want any of us to end up like that rich man (the purpose of the parable).

The first hour or so in my study each Monday morning is devoted to tracing the flow of thought of the biblical author. I want to know how meaning is made. That discover puts me on the path of discovering what meaning is being made in the preaching portion.

Before Sunday, see if you have traced the flow of thought in your preaching portion. Identify the major thought blocks in the Text and then write out the logical transition between those thought blocks. Watch how meaning unfolds as you connect the dots.

Preaching well for the sake of God’s reputation in the Church and in the world.

Randal

What Do You Do to the Bible To Create A Sermon? (part 2)

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In this series I’m exploring what I consider to be the most neglected part of my own teaching of Homiletics, how sermons are created. In order to create sermons, we all perform a variety of operations on the Bible (unless, of course, you simply read the Text and pronounce the benediction!). I expect that even radically different kinds of sermons on the same Text use similar rhetorical devises.

Part 1 listed explanation as the bread and butter or meat and potatoes of expository preaching. I want to spend a moment talking about preaching on purpose, announcing to our congregants the shape worship takes as we respond to God’s revelation in our preaching portion.

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Sermonic purpose is similar to application, maybe the second step of application (the first step being to urge Believers to believe the Gospel or, what I call, faith-first application; you can see this explained in earlier posts). Preaching on purpose means letting everyone know how your preaching portion generally functions for the Church. As a result of hearing God’s Word, those with ears to hear will think, feel, and act in ways determined by the preaching portion.

Lately, immediately after the corporate reading of God’s Word, I’ll begin my sermon by saying something like, “This is God’s Word. The shape of our worship this morning will be putting into practice Jesus’ instructions concerning handling our own sins and also the sins of others (from Luke 17:1-6).” At that moment, everyone in the house hears how this preaching portion functions in life. Throughout the sermon and, certainly near the end, I’ll restate this purpose. Other rhetorical devices such as illustration and explanation contribute to preaching on purpose. It’s difficult to overestimate its importance for soul-watchers.

Before Sunday see how God displays His intention (what your preaching portion is intended to do to the church) and clearly write out the broad shape worship will take.

Preach well for the sake of His reputation in the Church and in the world.

Randal