If you take a log, there are various ways to cut it. It doesn’t take much skill to hack at it and get it into chunks. But a skilled woodcutter can produce a beautiful slice showing all the rings. Or, they can produce a long plank of wood that reveals some of the grains working their way through the entire log.
Typically sermons are like slices. We take a unit of thought and seek to bring its impact into the lives of those listening. But there are times when we should be working with planks, and specifically, with tracing a grain or two through the whole book or Bible. Let’s probe issues of producing planks for the pulpit!
Today let’s think about working with a single book. Here are some thoughts:
1. Every book has grains working through it, and the best way to find them is to spend a lot of time in the book. Seems obvious, but if we preach after only spending time in a slice, we will miss the grains that are present. Be sure to read whole books multiple times.
2. Some grains will be more pronounced than others. It isn’t a competition between grains, but we should be alert to those that are real building blocks for a book. It would be a shame to spot the eschatological hope theme in Romans, but miss issues of justification, righteousness and faithfulness. In Mark a lot of comments go to the “immediately” and the “secret” themes, but we mustn’t miss the question of who is Jesus, or the issue of the cross.
3. Some grains will be located in a section, others will traverse the entire book. The theme of the eschatological city in Hebrews 10-13 is massively important for that section of the book, but it might not register in the earlier two-thirds. However the motif of forward momentum does carry the reader through the whole sermon to the Hebrews.
4. It won’t be possible to have every grain have impact in a sermon, so select carefully. For instance, in John’s gospel, themes abound including belief, glory, light/dark, world, truth, I am, the Spirit, abiding in, etc. To preach with all possible grains highlighted in any section will probably overwhelm listeners.
5. Tracing the grain can bring great variety to a series. Instead of just chopping a book into chunks, why not introduce and conclude with an overview that traces a particular grain through the whole. It will bring out a whole new dimension for people.
I’m pondering table fellowship in Luke, but also pondering how to not overwhelm with a theme that pops up in almost every chapter.