Theological Reflection Statement
June 10, 2002
††††††††††† Iím like most ministers who serve a local church.† Every week is filled with an odd assortment of duties.† While many of them are planned an equal number are unplanned.† The leaking roof, the emergency heart by-pass, the jammed copier, the homeless veteran needing lodging too name a few.† Many days the list of to-do items is bushwhacked by such unexpected events.† Some days I feel like a fireman running from brush fire to brush fire.† Though Iím never bored with the surprises each day brings my preaching suffers because of it.† It becomes a last minute rush to the finish line.
††††††††††† On Sunday nights I select a text for the following Sunday from the lectionary.† On Monday morning I sit down with the text with a pen and pad in hand. Tuesdays is my day to connect the text to contemporary events. By Wednesday my rough outline needs to be completed.† When I leave the office Thursday the sermon should be completed and the title given to the secretary.† But as they say ďthe road to hell is paved with good intentions.Ē†
This almost never happens as one unplanned event after another pulls me away from my routine.† Instead, a week worth of preparation must be crammed into a few hours between hospital calls on Thursday. ††As a consequence, a meaningful engagement with the text gives way to a superficial last minute survey.† Of course, there are those rare weeks when everything goes as planned.† However, a snapshot of the past 15 years would suggest the latter is more often the rule.†
††††††††††† The discipline required to complete this course has been a blessing.† It forced me to carve out the time necessary to do the work each week. The six-step homiletical method canít be completed at the last minute.†† A little work must be done each day to complete it.† It was an impossible task on those days when I did wait to the last minute. What amazed me was the discovery that many of the little fires that pop up each day can wait. Actually many of those little fires resolved themselves on their own without my assistance. So much for the tyranny of the urgent.
The bigger blessing was a significant improvement in my preaching.† The time spent preparing was time well spent.† Each week I felt as if my preaching improved as I became more familiar with the method and settled into a discipline.† The last minute rush was replaced with a much more relaxed pace that allowed me to think more deeply about the claims of the text on my situation in ministry.† The discipline created a space where creativity is possible.† My experience in other areas tells me that creativity is silenced when time becomes an issue.† Maintaining the discipline will be a big challenge in the future.† The temptation to revert to old habits will be strong once we are no longer required to keep discipline.
Whatís amazing is that more attention was not paid to the discipline of preaching while I was in seminary.† It seems the homiletics department where I was trained lived in an ivory tower.† There were no building programs going on while we were writing our sermons.† There are no hospital calls to be made on a seminary campus. A lot of time was spent on the art of writing a sermon.† But very little time was spent discussing the management of our time.† Nothing was ever said about overflowing toilets. Dismissing a† custodian who drinks on the job wasnít mentioned.† This is a shame because the proper management of our time appears to be half the battle.† Sure I have those inspirational bursts when the words flow right out of my heart and onto the page.† But those inspirational moments are too few and too irregular count on.† Expecting them every Thursday morning between 7:30 am and 11:30 am is simply asking too much.
In the beginning I complained about the six-steps required by the method. It fit me like an exegetical straightjacket.† It was too much work and it took too long to complete.† Iím an impatient person who hates dealing with details. Iím the kind of guy who reads the beginning and end of a book and starts another one. One ďahaĒ moment occurs and Iím ready to write the sermon.† Skipping steps to get to the contemporary address is a strong temptation.†
On the other hand, I noticed three things when I submitted completely to the discipline.† First, when I followed the steps the time it took to write the sermon was greatly reduced.† It actually saved time.† By the time I completed each of the six-steps the outline for the sermon emerged out of the work.† Second, the time it took to write the sermon increased when I did not keep the discipline.† When I did not follow the method more time was spent staring at the ceiling, thumping my pencil, playing wastepaper basketball. Third, I felt better prepared for preaching when I followed the discipline from beginning to end.
Translating the text from the Greek was my biggest struggle.† I spent two years in college learning Greek.† But I havenít kept up with it and† I donít have the skills I need.† I know enough to bang around inside the Nestle text.† But I feel like a lawn mower mechanic working on a BMW.† I really donít know enough Greek to do an adequate job.† In most cases Iím forced to rely on the work of others.† Struggling with it as much as I did made me feel like my time could have been better spent elsewhere.† Most of the time I skipped over it, or focused on single word or phrase, or relied on a commentary. Of course, I can see the value of being able to read the New Testament in the language it was written in.† There is nothing better than being able to translate the text ourselves.† But the opportunity to learn Greek has probably passed me by.† Iím just not willing to make the commitment it would require to learn it and maintain it.
On another note, recording our personal interaction with text was the most helpful step.† Limiting this step to just one spot in the method is a mistake.† There is some merit to placing this step at the beginning.† Most of the time it is the first thing I do when I read a text.† When I read a text my initial instincts and reactions to the text need to be recorded.† There are questions that cannot wait for deeper study. As well, this is my closest connection to those who will hear the text when it is read in worship.† They have many of the same questions running through their mind.† Therefore, writing down my initial thoughts and feelings about the text seems to be the right thing to do.† This also allows me to get those first impressions out of the way for a deeper engagement with the text.† Until I write those feelings down it is hard for me to get past those first impressions.† Throughout the method I found myself returning to this step over and over again. More and more questions came up as I worked my way toward the contemporary address.†
†An important hermeneutical question deserves our attention.† When we use the method what are we doing?† Why do we do this work in the first place?† Are we trying to determine the original meaning of the author?† Reality dictates that we cannot discover the original meaning.† There are too many variables involved.† We might be able to get close to the original meaning of a text.† But determining what the author actually meant is an educated guess at best.† Likewise, when someone says I have conquered the text we should run for cover. So many abuses of power have taken place where people say they have the truth.
When a person reads a text and says; ďthis is what this text means,Ē he does so from a unique historical position.† It makes a significant difference if I am a white male reading a text in a planned community, where the average income is 125,000 dollars; or if I am a Hispanic woman reading a text in a ghetto in the third world, where there is not enough money to buy bread. Conscious or not of these facts, every interpretation of a text is deeply embedded in the readers personal and political situation.† Mary Ann Tolbert calls this the facts of blood and bread.
Why use the method at all if you canít uncover the original intent of the author? What difference does using the method make? A big difference if we use the method for the right reasons.† Searching for the original meaning of the text is wrong reason.† The best reason for using it is found in what the method forces us to do. The method forces us to wrestle with the text in ways we would not be able to do without it.† Using the method is much like a wrestling match between God and us. The method gives us some good holds to put on the text even though we know we will not be able to conquer it.†† But somehow in the midst of our defeat something amazing occurs.† Godís Word begins to emerge through the encounter. Furthermore, the more we make ourselves available and vulnerable to God in the encounter the more God reveals to us in the process.†
The experience Jacob had when he wrestled with God on the bank of the Jabbok River is a good metaphor.† In the middle of the night his adversary jumped him and took him to the ground.† Though Jacob put up a good fight he was unable to defeat his opponent or able to know him completely.† Even so, Jacobís life was transformed by the encounter. When we wrestle with a text to determine itís meaning the same thing happens to us. We will never determine the ultimate meaning of the text. But we will be transformed by the encounter.† We might even walk away with a limp. This is the best reason to use the six-step homiletical method.† The method is a means of getting inside a text so that we can wrestle with it.†
Linking ourselves together through the Internet is a great idea.† The feedback I have received has been valuable in my preparation.† Under the right conditions it would be helpful in the future.† However, my experience with bi216 suggests that some big changes would have to be made for the website to be useful.† The materials were not published in a timely manner. †By the time they were posted on the site several weeks had passed.† Some of the materials I sent in were never posted.† To be useful the exegetical material would have to be submitted a week before the sermon was prepared and it would have to be posted immediately.† Otherwise, no dialogue can take place that might impact the way I preach a text.† Dialoguing on texts that have already passed us by is of no real value to me.† I have my hands full with the text at hand and I donít have enough time to spare for conversations on texts that have passed us by in the cycle.† The website needs to be more interactive for it to work effectively.† The technology could be greatly improved.†
Overall, this was a great learning experience for me.† I want to thank all of you for your feedback and support.† Iím a better preacher for having spent this time with you.