I have had a book by Walter C. Kaiser Jr. on my to be read for so long it was collecting dust. I just picked up and read his chapter on OT Narrative. This chapter at least is excellent. His advice for reading a narrative and finding its intended meaning follows in my summary here.
At least half of the Bible is written in Narrative form. Much of my training in preaching assumed other genre such as gospel or epistle. My adult class will take September to practice these ideas. First sample will be Genesis 37 – the start of the Joseph cycle.
Preaching and Teaching from the Old Testament, p.76
- Identify each scene: every change in time or location.
- Analyze the plot: Beginning, Middle, End; Climax and Resolution.
- Determine the “point of view” – what is the focal point that gives the subject of idea that the story is trying to tell.
- Observe if there is dialogue and see if this contributes to the “point of view”
- How is each “scene” related to the “point of view.”
- What stylistic devices does the author use: repetition, key word, chiasm (ABCC’B’A’), irony, etc.
I’ll be preaching on OT Characters with the title of “Profiles in Courage” and then from Advent to Summer I will be in the Gospel of Matthew. Those items will most likely show the focus of this blog this year.
I enjoy the ESV Literary Study Bible, which noted that Matthew includes two stories in the Birth Narrative. the first of which is a very simple Birth story. We usually read Luke 2 at Christmas events bc it feels more substantial. What I noticed is that the long debates over the virgin births slightly miss Matthew’s point, which is that Jesus was conceived of the Holy Spirit. This is stated twice in such a way that the birth is seen as remarkable. The theology of Paul or the later church were not inventing theology when they debated Christology. The “Virgin Birth” puts the emphasis on Mary – who is a willing servant. Matthew puts the emphasis on the Holy Spirit – that is God has done this unprecedented thing.
Matthew 1:18-25 – ESV
18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. 20 But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:
23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall call his name Immanuel”
(which means, God with us). 24 When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, 25 but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus. ESV
Does this remind you of Dickens, “A Christmas Carol,” where Scrooge’s old partner comes and warns him of his fate? It seems Dickens and Abraham do not agree on this point.
‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house— 28 for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ 29 But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ 30 And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31 He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’
Abraham says that they have Moses and the Prophets (i.e. the Old Testament). If that is not enough, sending Lazarus will not help.
In the light of the fascination with media in churches, and with celebrity pastors and celebrity football players, or actors, or any other sort of famous person who is a Christian, whether we should heed the advice of Abraham, which is really the advice of Jesus, who is telling the story.
The scriptures, with we presume, the help of the Holy Spirit, carry the power of salvation. Special effects, specters from the dead, and the like may create excitement, but will they really accomplish anything?
I have a running gag on Facebook about the status of the Sermonizer. The name has it’s origins in the “transmorgifyer” in Calvin and Hobbes cartoons. One gets inspiration in many places. No one has seen the sermonizer.
Sermonizing is a complex process. It involves both analysis and study as well as a bit of artsy reflection on shape and form. It is important to think of the people who will be there on Sunday, which is a constantly changing mystery. The whole process should be started as early as possible, but usually isn’t. It is humbling to think, “Now that one is Gone” when we get to the final song. It is also humbling to think, “Oh, that is what I could have said!” after it is over.
All preachers should be Calvinists (not the kid with the tiger, the theologian from Geneva) when it comes to entrusting the effort we put in to the sovereignty of God. It is a fools exercise, but then as the text says, “the foolishness of God is stronger than the strength of man.”
This preacher has advice for you who listen: Take what you receive as the work of a servant; and pray for the preachers.