I did everything I should have done: sentence flow diagram (both Greek and English), translation comparisons, close observations, lots of observations, and the commentaries consulted. I prayed a lot, and talked about it with some others
There were some gnarly exegetical points, and some tricky issues of application, but come Thursday I had a publishable outline,and come Saturday lunchtime I had the full works: applications, difficulties addressed, and even a joke. Just the one.
But I couldn’t nail the introduction, and that troubled me. In previous lives, I used an introduction as a throat clearing exercise, like an easy way to get through the first fifteen seconds into what I really wanted to say.
For the last few years I’ve changed that I’ve been working much harder on the introductions, and my method has been to take the main line of application and chuck it up to the front, with a question mark. I want to raise the issue that the passage addresses, and put it in a way that people are hungry, desperate even, to find the mind of God.
So the fact I couldn’t nail the introduction flagged up to me that I wasn’t crystal clear on where the passage was driving, and that really niggled. I tried several ways through, and I landed on one that would do – I hate it when I have something ‘that will do’, because it’s a second rate, passion-less concept. But I couldn’t find the traction, the grip, the purchase that I needed.
I watched a podcast of a preacher I really admire to see how he began, and then I tried to write one in his style. Flat as a pancake.
I got up on Sunday, still dissatisfied. I tried out some more introductions, I sketched out several on the back of an envelope. Literally.
In the office of Sunday morning, half an hour before the service, I was sketching out another one on the back of an advert for a concert.
And the prayer that threaded through the week? “Lord, make these dry bones live.”
Which is pretty much the base line for any prayer a preacher prays, isn’t it? Our best thoughts, neatest application, sharpest asides, truest truths are nothing but filthy rags, cracked pots, and dead, dry bones. Our silliness is shown in that we only think that when we think our material is spectacularly rubbish. On other occasions we are so blind we think what we have is half-way decent.
But God specialises in raising the dead. His living, powerful Word will still address his people despite our awful inadequacy. And the more we believe in its sufficiency, finality, inspiration and clarity, the more he will honour his promises to do that.
God was kind on Sunday. In the end, I took the simplest of all the ideas I’d thought of, and ran with it. God spoke through his Word, and he used this weak preacher and my dead sermon to do that.