Let the story sing
I’m preaching on Judges 17-18 in a few weeks’ time – the story of Micah and his idols. Not a passage I would have chosen myself! It’s been a challenge to prepare and think about how to preach it. One of the key difficulties is that narrative is too easily robbed of its life and vitality by expository preaching. I say this should not be so – but we need to be honest and say it often is. Bible narratives are carefully crafted stories. They often contain twists and turns which bring the stories to life. There are details which add colour, even if they don’t have primary significance (ten cheeses, anybody? 1 Sam. 17.18).How can we preach to avoid draining the story of life?
I’m convinced that we must do so. For the power is in the text, so to speak. A sermon which has no connection with the text may sound impressive and even be very loud, but it cannot, ultimately have any power, for the preacher is the preacher of the word.
I’m also convinced that such narratives still call for expository preaching. I don’t care how many times I have to make this point, but expository preaching is a mindset not a method. Expository preaching is not reducing every passage down to three didactic points and I will challenge anyone who says so. Expository preaching is letting God say what God says: it is letting the text dictate the message and the tone. This last part is important. When we do sermon practice classes here at PT Towers, we have a series of questions: one of the most important is “Was the sermon true to the genre of the passage” – i.e. did it reflect the tone, pace, colour and life?
A narrative sermon which robs the narrative of these things is a poor sermon. God may use it, of course, but we should not excuse our preaching poverty. In the case of a passage like Judges 17-18. I think that means as much attention should be given to the reading of the passage as is given to the preaching. By which I mean, let people hear the story. Let people be drawn in and captivated.
Here’s just one example. The Levite in the story of Judges 17-18 turns out to be Levite royalty. He’s Jonathan, Moses’ grandson (Judges 18:30). This amazing detail is not revealed until the end – though it explains why the Danites recognise his voice (Judges 18:3). This twist in the tale serves an important purpose: it accentuates the depths to which Israel had sunk. Even the royal family is drawn in! It must not be revealed too early, or else the shock is lost.
Perhaps you’ve got a narrative to preach this weekend. Let the story sing.