Yesterday I pondered the challenges of unfamiliarity of context. When we preach from the Old Testament, if our listeners are more used to the New Testament, then this will be a challenge. We thought about the canonical context, as well as the historical context. There’s another challenge:
Low expectation of relevance. I have to remember that by the time I come to preach from Ruth, I will have spent many hours in studying it. It will have taken root in my heart again and God will have stirred me through His Word. This will not be the case for the listeners.
They will be coming into the meeting with minds and hearts on all sorts of things. They will be thinking of anything but pre-monarchical Israelite history. So if I start into the message with an assumption that Ruth is a motivating destination, I may well be starting into my message alone. I’d much rather take folks with me. How can I do that? A couple of thoughts:
1. Introduce with relevance. I have written this before, but I’ll reiterate because it is important. It is not dishonouring the text to start with an introduction before reading it. I think the text can be dishonoured by reading it before people care to hear what it says. So one approach is to craft an introduction that overtly seeks to connect the listeners and their current state of disequilibrium with the text as relevant to them. This is not to “pander” to felt needs, but to recognize the reality of life and what it is to be a listener. Getting relevance into the introduction makes all the sense in the world. The listeners need an early appreciation of the fact that the preacher is relevant, the message is relevant and the text itself is relevant.
2. Let the narrative bite quickly. This does not necessarily contradict with the previous point. With a narrative the preacher has the advantage of the inherently gripping nature of the genre. TV show producers know that there is a better way to grip viewers than a long series of opening credits with promises of big name actors and actresses (as they did thirty years ago!) The best way is to let the narrative begin and bite quickly. Once bitten, viewers will then tolerate the 40 seconds of opening credits (sometimes several minutes into the show). This illustrates what I am saying here. The listeners should be gripped if the first three or four verses of Ruth are presented effectively. Maybe it would be worth getting into the tension of the plot before pulling back to make sense of context, etc.