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.

CASTING CALL–WHEN THE JUDGES SADDLED UP

This morning I have a lot work to do, but my mind is still on my “What if the Judges of Ancient Israel were recast as Sheriff’s in the Old West” from yesterday’s blog.  Originally I was thinking about books or a collection of short stories, but the more I think about it, these would work really well as feature length films.  I mean, the concept couldn’t be any worse than the very disappointing Cowboys and Aliens.

Now I turn my attention to, if they were films, who would I prefer to cast in the various roles?  Hummm…..

Samson--Sheriff Sam is strong, arrogant and has spectacular hair.  Obvious go to moves would be Arnold Schwarzenegger, but I think he is now too old to play the role.  I think we might have to tack a different direction–Sheriff Sam’s strength doesn’t come from his muscles, but from God, so we don’t have to make him a body builder.  So, what about Ashton Kutcher?  He has the fair for it, is about the right age, and would easily pass for an arrogant fool.  Delilah is a tart, so we need someone who could pull that off in a sleazy kind of way.  She needs to be young–almost late teens early 20’s.  How about Vanessa Hudgens?  If she’s not available, then maybe Scarlett Johansson?  On second thought, go with Scarlett–she would play a bad girl well.

Deborah–Sheriff Debbie or, as she’s known by the locals, “Little Debbie,” is older, matronly, and regal.  I think of her as Barbara Stanwyck in the old tv show, “The Big Valley.”  How about Judi Dench, especially now that she is finished with James Bond?  If she is unavailable, perhaps Betty White.  In the Deborah story it is important that we cast Barak, Jael, and Sisera.  Barak is easy–that is Bill Pullman.  Zoe Saldana would be a good fit for Jael.  For Sisera?  Antonio Banderas.  Yeah, Antonio Banderas.

Ehud–Sheriff Ehud is a spy who has recently been promoted to U.S. Marshall so he covers a large territory.  He should be in his mid 20’s and be athletic but not bulky because he has chase scenes and fight scenes.  We have a lot of options.  If we go with an earthy look, then Rupert Grint could do the trick, but I don’t know if he has the acting skills to mask that British accent of his.  If we want to go with the poster-boy, then Taylor Lautner.  Do we want to go techno geeky?  Then how about Michael Cera.  Do we want the character to have an urban hipness?  Then we crank it up with Corbin Bleu.  The one person, though, I forbid on my project is Shia Lebeouf.

Gideon–Sheriff Giddy is a reluctant war hero who is young, still under his father’s care so to speak when he starts out.  Gideon has doubt, but casts his doubts aside and moves forward in faith.  In my mind the character has a lot of Will Smith in him, but Smith is too old to play the part, unless we elongate the story over a period of years and have Will Smith’s son, Jaden, play the younger Gideon and then Will Smith play the older Gideon.  Nice. I like it.

I think each one of these should get their own film, and then we could tie them together with one final film in one large assault on the enemy fort—kind of like the Avengers did with their superheros.