When the passage doesn’t produce a sermon – five useful questions to ask.

I took the passage to a local coffee shop, and watched the customers. What does this passage have to say to 21st century urbanites, most of whom gave up on the god-idea years ago? How does this prise open their questions, address their fears and hopes, shift their distracted focus onto Christ?

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This morning, I stared, blankly, at the passage. Again. I’ve run through all the major commentaries, and although they all had lots to say on the text, none of them has anything would really preach. Their stuff was interesting, closely observed, even, but not the kind of message to get people leaving their seats and walking down the aisles.

I wasn’t even sure it would get them walking down the aisles and into their seats in the first place.

A couple of commentaries had a homiletical focus –  any use?  Nope, they broadened the focus and smudged the text into other, similar passages.  Having to say something, but having nothing really to say, they bulked out their word count with cross references.

I recognised that cheap trick, because it’s one I’ve used too.

Several of my bibles have application as a focus – any use?  Nope, they all, irritatingly, give good insights on the sections either side of my preaching passage, and gave me nothing here.

So, I’ve gone back to the old questions again, for myself.

  • Why is this passage here?  Context, context, context.  It can’t simply be repetition (though it looks like it, initially), and it can’t be idling around waiting for the next section  to begin.  There has to be a reason for it being right here.  Find it.
  • I’m more persuaded than ever that no part of the Bible is there for mere information, even if that information is Christocentric.  It is always there to do something to us – move us to pray, to obey, to praise… something.  So, what is this passage designed to do to its reader(s)?  What is its designed impact?
  • What is its emotional range and tone?  Does it move us, change us, thrill us or scare us?  How does it leave us different?
  • What is unique?  What would I never know, if this wasn’t here?
  • Why should it grab our attention?  I took the passage to a local coffee shop, and watched the customers over a flat white.  What does this passage have to say to 21st century urbanites, most of whom gave up on the god-idea years ago?  How does this prise open their questions, address their fears and hopes, shift their distracted focus onto Christ?

These are old questions, of course.  But there’s something fruitful in forcing ourselves, occasionally, to be really precise with a pen and paper.

What are the old questions that you need to keep remembering?  Pile in!

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