Friday morning is usually the day I sit and take some time to either put together some teaching for Sunday, or I begin to think ahead to the following Sunday and I do some preliminary work to get my head around ‘where to next’? This is all in between the various distractions of business emails, facebook forays, coffee making and staring out the window at the surf…
So in case you are curious about the ‘sermon making process’ then here’s kinda how it works for me…
The first task of a day like this is to turn wifi off and put the phone on silent. I can distract myself enough without any additional assistance. Inevitably a work email will come in with a person needing a ‘quick quote’… Facebook will tell me something trivial and banal has happened and I will feel compelled to look – now… Or I will wonder when the winds will again turn offshore and that will lead me to www.seabreeze.com.au which will link to some surf cams somewhere exotic and then to checking airfare prices to said locations…. no kidding…
I can’t work with wifi on.
I’m not a ‘sit in prayer for two hours’ before beginning kind of bloke. I am more the person who starts work and figures it out along the way listening to what I hope is the voice of the Spirit. I think both are equally valid methods – you just have to choose the one that works for you. There is much to be said for stilling your mind and focusing your thoughts, but there is also a case for listening to the Spirit as you work.
Today I am preparing for Sunday 19th which is 9 days away – so I have time. And its time I like to use to think broadly and listen for any ideas that might seem important.
My primary question when I’m doing this stuff is ‘God – what do you want to say to these people thru this passage of scripture?’ We are currently in the book of Luke at QBC (because we also have YCC on the go…) and I have scored chapter 5.
As I open it I realise its a big chapter and a lot happens here. I’m immediately a bit overwhelmed by the amount of content and the diversity of it. I know I don’t have to knit it all together into one neat coherent message, but I’d like to cover as much of it as possible. As a methodology we have chosen to simply run with ‘chapter slabs’ every week and the person teaching is free to dive deep into one story or to try and cover the whole chapter if that can work. There is no right way – or preferred way.
I have scanned this chapter a few times over the week and right now my gut feel is to run with the themes that emerge (but I could change that at any time…)
The simple content is:
- Jesus calls Peter to come ‘fish for men’ after sending him and his mates back out to catch a massive haul of fish despite their previous efforts being futile.
- A man chases Jesus down who is covered in leprosy – Jesus touches him, heals him and sends him back to the temple and tells him to keep it quiet
- Next is one of my all time favourite Bible stories of the young men who drop their mate thru the roof at Jesus’ feet to be healed – right in the middle of a room where Jesus is quietly being scoped out by Pharisees from near and far.
- Jesus calls Matthew and then a big party follows at Matthew’s place where he gets asked why he keeps hanging out with these people.
- The chapter closes with Jesus again be asked why his disciples don’t fast like other disciples do. He does the whole wineskin spiel.
There’s a lot there and each of those stories could form a message on its own quite easily. As I read I remember that I taught on the ‘haul of fish’ a few weeks back but to a slightly different crew – a combined QBC & YCC as we held a dedication event. Maybe some of that is still pertinent – but it may feel like a ‘repeat’ and I hate repeats.
I am instantly drawn to my favourite ‘lower him thru the roof’ story and I know I could make that one ‘work’ quickly and easily. I’m good at that one. The temptation to just do that is there. It would cut my prep time right down. But if the question is ‘what is God saying to these people?’ then I can’t just drag out an ‘easy preach’ and run with it. That’s cheating.
So I do what I often do and print the whole chapter out then make notes around it with a pen – observing what hits me and what strikes a chord in my heart.
Right now the ‘spark’ thoughts are:
‘but because you say so’ v 5
‘covered with leprosy’ v 12 ‘touched the man’ v 13
‘Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed’ v 16
‘They had come from every village’ v 17
‘Jesus saw their faith’ v 20
‘Levi held a great banquet’ v 29
‘But the time will come’ v 35
None of these phrases are focal / summary statements, but rather are just the phrases that struck a chord as I read. I find that because the Bible is so familiar now after so many years I need to ‘listen with the heart’ to what is fresh and then discern what to do with that – if anything.
I also see themes and motifs emerging that are worth paying attention to:
In the context of Luke’s story we have had the accounts of the miraculous children in ch 1 & 2, we have met John the Baptist in ch 3 and then Jesus baptism happens in ch 4 along with his statement of his core mission. Up to now it has felt largely preparatory, even under cover, but it now feels like Jesus has ramped things up a notch or two. He is ‘picking his team’, getting stuck into his work and making enemies with the Pharisees.
So from here I begin chewing on the thematic threads to see if anything fires:
- the calling of the unlikely ones
- rejection of the established paths and the opposition that brings
- the work / rest cycle in Jesus
- covert and overt identity claims – ‘Messiah’ / Lord
- the redefinition of holy / unholy and clean / unclean
- Jesus authority recognised by the ‘outsiders’ – rejected by the ‘insiders’
I wonder what does any of this say to a bunch of middle class white Australian/SouthAfrican/Pom Christians in the northern suburbs of Perth?
I also have to be aware of my own ‘issues’ – my pet peeves, annoyances and hobby horses that can so easily fuel my preaching.
Having got this far I instantly I want to reflect on what we can learn from those who not regular church goers about what it means to follow Jesus. What ‘fresh eyes’ can they bring to a story I have become so familiar with and even oblivious to? That probably reflects some of my recurring internal angst at the moment. I have read this Bible so much and so often over the last 40 years that I am over-familiar with it – bored with it at times – wondering what is there in here that I haven’t yet mined?
In these moments I occasionally wonder about a life that doesn’t involve leading a church – how that might shape my perception of scripture. Have I become so immersed in it for so long that it has lost some of its bite? When I think of mining operations I know there comes a point where you are no longer really drawing out what’s valuable – you’re just pulling up dirt. I sometimes feel like the teaching process has become this for me. Part of my struggle is that I find it hard to communicate ‘old truths’ – stuff that may be new to others but is old for me. I don’t find great joy in that and I find that my own teaching is most engaging when I am sharing stuff I am learning freshly.
I go back and read it again just to see what about the stories I find stirring:
- I see the massive haul of fish – until nets were breaking and I want to ponder that more.
- I see a leprous man seeking Jesus out even though he wasn’t allowed to and I want to consider that some more.
- I ‘feel’a showdown when Jesus heals the crippled bloke whose mates dropped him thru the roof. I see him going toe to toe with the guardians of tradition.
- I see a massive party at the home of an unlikely disciple and that makes me smile.
- I see a rabbi who doesn’t appear religious enough – and I feel like I want to dig into that a bit more
But the party at Matthew’s house is inspiring me… hmmm…
So that’s where I have got to today.
Overviews – themes – gut stirrings – curiosities and some inner worrying…
I will sit on this now for a few days and see what emerges as I let it percolate. I will read and re-read those stories probably another 30 or 40 times. I will read other people’s perceptions via commentaries and I will probably even do a quick sweep of my favourite bloggers in case there are any nuggets there.
As well as that I will chat my kids and my friends about these stories and ask them what they see. I will ask the questions that interest me and hear other people’s points of view.
Some time over the next 8 days a focus will emerge – one core idea to be communicated and I will then spend next Friday shaping that into something strong, sharp and valuable.
I work with three basic questions when I am teaching:
- what do I want them to know?
- what do I want them to feel?
- what do I want them to do?
It has to be more than knowledge – it must evoke some feeling that leads to action.
Right now its a mess of random thoughts and impressions, but give it time and it will shape up into something with potency. I have learnt that. No matter how messy it looks now I just need to wait – listen – ponder and reflect.
It will come… it always does.