RE-TELLING IT LIKE IT IS: AN IMPORTANT PART OF NARRATIVE PREACHING

When I was a younger, more inexperienced preacher I made a grave and great mistake in my preaching.  That is not to say I no longer make mistakes, for every homily has its fair share of problems, but when I was new at this I made a mistake in my methodology.  That mistake is to assume that the people hearing my sermon were as familiar with the text as I was and therefore their minds were already prepared to move beyond basic comprehension.

The problem with that assumption is that it is not true.  It is not true for two reasons.  The first reason is that by the time I preach a text, I’ve spent 15-20 hours with it.  It is illogical to expect the people hearing it to have the same recent work with it.  Even if they know the basic story from previous studies and readings, it is most likely not fresh in their mind.  The second reason it is not true is that the Bible is a great mystery to most people.  Many are about as familiar with it as they are the Iliad.  Some maybe more familiar with the Iliad than the Minor Prophets and the majority are more familiar with Twilight than with Torah.

The issue is uniquely vital in regards to the Old Testament.  The stories of Jesus are familiar to most people–the Prodigal Child, Render to Caesar, and the Crucifixion are things even pagans know of.  The Old Testament, however, is a different story.  Its odd theological constructions, arcane language and practices, sociological distance, and unflattering heroes pose deep problems in comprehension.

For me the solution comes in making sure, if nothing else, that the audience has a basic comprehension of the storyline and plot of what takes place in the story.  The best way to do that is to retell the story.  It is not enough to read the text and then assume everyone is up speed.  That is what I used to be guilty of.  The story must be retold.

But it must be more than simply retold in a blow by blow style.  It needs to be jazzed up.  This is where real preaching happens–when the story comes alive and moves into the now and doesn’t just stay in the past.  I advocate that the best way to do this is by visual image or much embellishment.  By embellish I mean that Gideon didn’t tear down the Asherah poll, no, instead he desecrated and then burned the Seahawk 12th man flag.  Embellishment.

Visuals work too.  This past week I used digital slides, which is rare for me, to show what I call “fake archaeology.”  It uses stick figures in what I imagined would have been Ehud’s plan diagram in paleo-Palestine.  By moving through those few slides, I was able to retell the same story of Ehud, but without the formal language of the text and at the same time reset it in the present.  Ehud is Ethan Hunt from Mission Impossible and he is a double agent with secret gadgets strapped to him and then in his escape he swipes a motorcycle and dodges bullets.  Embellishment and retelling are vital in helping people process what the Bible is actually talking about.

THERE IS A NEW SHERIFF IN TOWN?

Yesterday I began a new sermon series on the book of Judges.   I started with Samson because he is the most famous.   I’ve had something come up for February 3, so I’ll have to rearrange a bit–but I originally wanted to cover Samson, Deborah, Gideon, Ehud, Abimelech, and Jephthah.  Now, someone has got to go (It will probably be Abimelech.)

Yesterday I told the Samson’s story pretty straight up–with a few twists–but I did drop a hint on something I’ve been thinking about for a while.  Woudn’t it be fun to rewrite the Judges stories but put them in the old west?  Ashkelon and Gath become Dodge City and Tombstone and Jerusalem and Shechem become San Francisco and Oregon Territory?

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DID GIDEON HAVE A BADGE?

In this rewriting the Philistines would have to be the Spanish-Mexicans moving up from the south and the Israelites would be Anglos moving in from the east.  The Canaanites are the American Indians and their various tribes.   I write this to not be racists or judgmental, but only because it seems to match the historical reality of ancient Palestine–two migrating groups (Hebrews from Egypt and Ur and Philistines from Greece) overrunning native inhabitants and their settlements.

Now, if we do that, then each judge becomes “Sheriff” and has control over a region or province.  So, what is the revised plot for Samson?

Sheriff Sam is a supernaturally strong man that has a taste for a good fight and for Mexican women.  He was raised by strict Methodists who told him the key to his strength was avoiding three things–booze, dead bodies, and barbers.  Sam’s first wife, a Mexican woman, is killed when he has a shootout with her family.  In between visits to brothels, he falls for a Mexican woman named Senorita Dee who betrays his trust and double-crosses her lover.  In one final bid for vengeance Sheriff Sam dies in a blaze of glory as he destroys the Mexican Garrison and kills the evil governor.

What about Ehud?

Ehud (Doesn’t the name Ehud just sound like the old west?) and his small town have been overrun by the Mexican army, who have in turn monopolized the railroad and the nearby ore mines–thereby controlling commerce and industry.  After seeing how this oppression has hindered his people, Ehud undertakes a daring and dangerous mission through Comanche territory to Texas to get a shipment of Six Shooters to help him in his cause of revolution.  Upon his return, he hides the powerful pistol under his Sheriff’s coat and sneaks into the Mexican Captains home, a man named El Gigante, and kills him while he is on the toilet.  Sheriff Ehud escapes from certain capture in a thrilling chase scene as the story climaxes.  Ehud rallies the men from every surrounding town and a few Comanche scouts to band together with their new revolvers and fight off the oppression of the occupying army.

When I read Judges, I see the Lone Ranger, Zorro, and Billy the Kid.  Your task as you think about Judges is to figure out who are the good guys and who are the bad guys, and why?