Last night I was involved in a very enjoyable Bible study in Ephesians. After wrestling with the text together for a good while, we tried to summarize the section in one sentence. Having made a first pass at a summary statement (or main idea), I mentioned that now there is a chance we could preach the passage. A very perceptive (and tongue-in-cheek) question came right back at me. “How come if you can say it in one sentence, a sermon has to take half-an-hour?”
So, how come? How come we work hard to get the main idea of a passage and then take half-an-hour to preach a message that in theory can be stated in one sentence? Let us make a dangerous assumption for the sake of this post – let’s assume that we actually have a one sentence main idea statement of the message of the text. What do we do for half-an-hour?
Option 1. We carefully plan how to best drive that main idea home. What introduction will draw people forward into the message with genuinely piqued interest and a thirst for this part of God’s Word? When should the main idea be presented? Should we repeatedly drive it home using the text’s sub-points (not annoyingly like a child’s impersonation of a sub-machine gun, but like the carefully placed bullets of a sniper) or should we create anticipation so once the main idea is stated it goes deep (like a bunker-busting missile)? How can the main idea be supported by explanation of the text? How can the main idea be earthed in our lives through carefully developed application? Option 1 is to take half-an-hour and make that main idea so clear, so transformative, so evident from the text, so applicational for each life. Option 1 is about turning one sentence into a life-changing power-packed single message. Or there is option 2 . . .
Option 2. We use our half-an-hour to increasingly obfuscate the main idea. We provide a series of pieces of information, background descriptions, vaguely related cross-references, potentially amusing anecdotes, random highlights from our exegesis, etc. All of these could be helpful, but if we’re not careful they may simply provide a cover of smoke so that the main idea in no way hits home. Or we hide the main idea beneath three or four points from the text that do not hold together but function as a selection of messages from which our listeners can select their favourite. Often option 2 is selected by default. It is selected because the main idea is not fully crystallized in our minds so we spray random bullets hoping our listeners will make something out of it.
If a sermon can be stated in one sentence, why do we need half-an-hour? I suppose it depends on the preacher, and it depends on the sermon!