So I am preparing to preach Ruth. I know that all preachers are tempted to overcome the perceived lack of relevance by multiplying applications from the details of the story. Yesterday I suggested that the details are there for the sake of the plot, rather than as automatic teaching points. But there is more to be said on this matter of applying the text.
Furthermore, (2) I have to remember that narratives were not given to us merely to instruct our conduct. It is not just conduct that matters in facing the horrors life can throw at us (Ruth 1), it is also truths applied at the level of personal belief, and even affection. Ruth didn’t cling to Naomi, and give up everything to go with her, based on knowledge of “the right things to do in this situation.” She did it all because of the God that had gripped her heart.
I don’t want my listeners to have lists of behavioural applications, but untouched hearts. That would make a mockery of the force of Ruth. Relevance doesn’t have to be just a to-do list. Relevance is more to do with the impact of the text on the heart of the listener so that they leave the service as a changed person.
Finally (although not definitively), (3) I need to recognize that the relevance in the text is not on a merely human level. It is tempting to look at people interacting with people and consider applications that can come straight over into our seen world. But all biblical narratives are about the seen intersecting with the unseen. There is a God alive and yet often not seen. The narrative is about lives lived under the constant question of trust or non-trust in the Word of God. If my listeners finish with great insight into an ancient narrative, but without a greater sense of God (both then and now), then I have failed to be truly relevant.
Tomorrow I’ll ponder another practical issue in preparation…