Jon provoked this series of posts by asking if it is possible to preach longer than five minutes on a proverb (particularly the two-line kind), without preaching topically through a whole subject. I believe it is. Not just in theory, but based on my experience as a listener. Two, perhaps three messages stand out to me, that have been on a single two-line saying, and have warranted the full sermon length they were given. So, two ways to pursue fully orbed Proverb preaching:
The Every Angle Jewel Explanation Approach. The message I have in mind is one I head a few years back from Dr Haddon Robinson. Seemed like a simple saying, until he started probing it. Like a connoisseur of fine jewels, Robinson took up that little saying and methodically turned it in every direction, probing each facet to gradually determine the richness of the meaning of the proverb. Technically he used carefully developed paragraphs of thought. Experientially it was like sitting at the feet of a wise sage giving a guided tour of a fascinating thought. In the process of explanation I learned about metallurgy, about Hebrew culture, about the language used, and most importantly, about myself as the light reflecting from that jewel shone into corners of my life. There was no bony structure sticking out, or jerky transition into time for an application. It was relaxed, it was measured, it was well-crafted, it was a message that marked me.
The Every Direction Intersection Application Approach. Ok, so my label is almost as long as a proverb, but I’m not Solomon. The message I have in mind is one I heard in seminary chapel over a decade ago. Dr Gene Curtis preached a masterpiece of a sermon that still influences my ministry today. A typical two liner. A full length sermon. A lot of marked listeners. How did he do it? He explained the proverb, which didn’t take long, but then he applied it. Then he applied it again. Then he applied it again. Multiple situational applications, all driving home the same point, the main point of the proverb. In this particular case he also used the first line of a children’s Sunday school song to reinforce the point and offer a musical memory marker along the way. If you can imagine a busy intersection in the centre of a large city, a roundabout/rotary with multiple roads leading off it, that was his sermon. He left the world of the Hebrew sage and entered the office of the pastor, the conversation of the spouse, the lap of the parent, the phone call of the friend, etc. Each time showing the relevance of the proverb, each time reinforcing the same point, each time returning to the text and then heading off on a different exit point. I would love to have preached a sermon so effective.
I was impressed recently with a sermon by Andy Stanley on a single proverb, which was excellent, but despite the impressive feats, perhaps it didn’t quite attain to the two I’ve described. (Or perhaps it had the strengths of both!)