Thursday, March 29, 2012

Reading the Bible in Church: Taking the story off the page.

Okay, so there's some liberalities in the story, but people who serve by reading the Bible publicly in church services could learn a lot from Mary Margaret.

Once you get beyond the cute kid thing, there's actually a lot of subtle storytelling skill occurring.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Sermon Feedback

I had the great personal privilege of getting to run through my upcoming Psalm 1 sermon in a college preaching group on Friday. If only I could just wrap this little group up and take them with me wherever I end up serving long term, then the congregation I serve would be so much better off.

They were at times blunt in their feedback. And they should have been. It was unedited, and I hadn't yet finished writing the end of the talk. In some ways this made it easier because I hadn't applied the polish myself then I was less personally attached to the words. The only problem was they were too apologetic about suggesting improvements. Stop apologising and give me more things to fix, people!

Here are some of the things I need consider:
  • I had broken down Psalm 1 into 3 couplets of comparison i.e. three stanzas which gave a positive and a negative (1+2, 3+4, 5+6). It was pointed out that the more obvious structure was 1-3 and 4-6, as the object of the sentences moved from the blessed one, to the wicked one. I think that we're both right. This has highlighted to me the delightful formation of the Psalm, which manages to offer these comparisons within each couplet of verses, but maintains the subject of the blessed man in 1-3, and the wicked in 4-6. It's as if someone thought about it before they wrote it.
  • The overall almost wisdom-literature-ish comparison of Psalm 1 between the blessed and wicked was lost as I exegeted in three sections rather than two.
  • My study had led me to suggest an outline of 'Healthy, Wealthy and Wise' as I outlined in my last post. This arose organically as I studied the passage, and worked as both a summary of the content of each section, as well as polemically as I wanted to undermine the phrase as it is traditionally understood. It was suggested it was too much of a squeeze to fit my points under these headings, and served to undermine my greater purpose of pointing people past the here and now. I thought it was a hook. Turned out to be more of an anchor weighing down the talk.
  • There were opportunities to keep a Christological focus throughout the talk, rather than just at the end. I'm still not certain of this advice. Partly because I want to model that the Psalms are David's, Israel's, Jesus' (the Christ's) and then ours. Yeah, yeah, like all of us I can get a bit used to Jesus being tacked onto the end of an OT talk, but I felt I did more than that. The feedback was that at a number of points I was on the precipice of saying, 'This is fulfilled in Jesus', but didn't actually get the words out. This was deliberate - in both wanting to model how to read the Psalms, and also keeping some punch until the end of the sermon which was: why on earth are you reading this as if you're the righteous one, you wicked fool.
  • There was no need to argue against financial prosperity in talking about verse 3 'In all that he does, he prospers'. Talk instead in the positive, and what it does mean, not what it doesn't. Again, I disagree with this feedback. When I read, 'In all that he does, he prospers', I think that in the very least this would mean financial. Therefore in such a materialistic society, this does need to be examined if people are thinking it. What I do need to fix up though, is not to let the disclaimer take away from the positivity of the statement overall.
  • Need fewer ideas and more time to taste what is there. Amen. Way too much in there. I think for the first time I finally understood what this advice meant (a perennial problem, it seems). Fewer ideas doesn't have to mean there is less depth. It doesn't mean a shorter talk. It means that the weight needs to be appropriately balanced. A worthwhile observation, could be done in a sentence rather than a whole paragraph. Some ideas need to be cut completely. But let the big idea drive what gets cut. If a superfluous idea is to be valuable, it needs to clarify the important idea. If something is important to communicate to understand the passage, it needs to have enough space around it to breathe. Sandwiching it between two minor points distracts from the filling.
  • Delete words which scream too loudly of your tertiary education. Tertiary, would be one of those words. In this case it was; stanza, ambivalent, and parlance. Okay, even I don't know how parlance got in there. I flinched as I read it. It was pretty much a first draft, give me a break.
  • I paused at appropriate points. Pause longer. Repeat more of my better lines.
  • I used the phrase "Our best guess" about the dating of the Psalms, and their final date of composition. Simply mentioning this could be unhelpful for some people and can introduce issues of the trustworthiness of Scripture. It could beat tender consciences. Fair enough. I hadn't thought of it that way. I don't think it is entirely irrelevant, especially amongst modern scepticism. But it could be pastorally insensitive, and could seriously detract from people hearing and responding to the word of God if they got caught up on this in my introduction. Deleted.
  • The phrase, 'Blessed is the man who does not stand in the way of sinners' could be interpreted as 'getting in their road to stop their sin', and what is wrong with that? Note to self: some people read poetry very literally. Note to self #2: Make sure these people don't leave thinking, 'If I want to be blessed I need to turn into a tree and plant myself near flowing water'.
Thanks preaching group! (They also said some nice things, but who wants to read about that?

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Phillip Jensen stole my introduction to Psalm 1

As my last few posts have indicated, I'm currently preparing a sermon on Psalm 1. Having spent a considerable time in the passage itself I thought it worth a glance at the commentaries before starting to write. Looking at my two commentaries on the Psalms, I was faced immediately with a translation issue which needed to be addressed: If the Psalm is all about the blessed life, what on earth does the word blessed mean? My Bible Speaks Today commentary on Psalm 1, suggested that alternate translations were happy or fortunate. Robert Alter's Psalms commentary translated the word as happy.

But my thinking was that I would steer away from the somewhat archaic and obscure language of blessing initially, and instead talk about the concept in modern parlance as 'The Good Life'.

Now my mind clicked into gear, and I remembered a fantastic introduction from Phillip Jensen on Psalm 1 that I had watched online a number of years ago, where after dismissing a number of translation options Phillip said something along the line of, 'So we translate it blessed. We don't know what it means, but at least it's accurate.' It is such a succinct and beautiful little verbal flourish to drive home the point. That's why it stuck in my head. My intention was to wait until I'd written the bulk of the talk before trying to track down the exact quote, so as not to be influenced by anyone else's approach.

So having finished a first draft I looked over my introduction (sans quote),
1. Talk a bit about the Psalms generally
2. Then about the concept of blessing through the lens of translation (obviously influenced by Phillip, but trying to think through my own objections to the other options)
3. Finally I'd launch into the talk by talking about our idea of 'The Good Life'.

Okay, all written.

Go to listen and find the quote.

Phillip;

1. Talks a bit about the Psalms generally.
2. Then about the concept of blessing through the lens of translation (as I expected to hear)
3. But then he launches into the talk by discussing about our idea of 'The Good Life'.

Grr.

This is very frustrating. I listened to this sermon over three years ago. Once. And now it looks as though I ripped it off holus-bolus.

My academic conscience is clear, especially about the angle of 'The Good Life'. Even though it appears that subconsciously I plagiarised the entire thing.

My outline was even already set up.

Intro: The Good Life
1. Healthy v1-2
2. Wealthy v3-4
3. Wise v5-6
4. The Crossroad
5. The Cross Road

Of course under each of those points, all is not as it seems.

1. The 'Healthy' idea is that it's a bit of an anti-exercise routine, at least in the area of sin (the famous walk, stand, sit with sinners which the blessed person will not do), rather they delight and meditate on God's word (a holistic health approach dare I say?).

2. The 'Wealthy' section is about the tree imagery which prospers in all he does - though the Psalms teaches us this isn't financial, or even emotional hole-in-ones, but that a knowledge of the sovereign God gives a constancy of perspective and eternal significance to our actions - which is true wealth, opposed to the wicked who are like chaff.

3. The final section about 'Wise' is not about our own knowledge that will give The Good Life, rather it is that God knows the ways of the righteous. It is his knowledge, his choice to know our ways, to be the one who determines our righteousness that anyone has hope.

4. And so I would talk about the crossroads which this psalm presents the Israelite reader - and that both their knowledge of themselves and their history demonstrates that they, like us, are actually the wicked. Reading our Bible and acting like a tree won't get us to heaven.

5. And our hope is that of the cross. Jesus as the one (Gal 3:13) who redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us. It is the way of the cross, through which we see the true blessed man, who brings the wicked ones into the assembly of the righteous. The blessed life is knowing this one. And thus having been saved, we can see the benefit of the Good Life, as we understand God through his word, are given an anchor through the storms of life, and are known by the God who is the ruler of all.

So who cares if Phillip retroactively "stole" the bit of my intro that I thought I didn't steal from him (but it seems I actually did). I'm going to keep it anyway. As you'd expect, my effort is so completely inferior that no one would think I could do such a bad job of appropriating it, if it was deliberate.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Another Psalms Slogan

I think I got this one off Gordo.
Psalms rhyme ideas, not words.
Also, whilst I'm at it - I'm currently trying to work out a helpful way of moving to Jesus from Psalm 1. Any wisdom would be appreciated.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Psalms Slogans

In reading the Bible I have a number of little one-liners that I keep repeating to myself to assist my reading. They're half helpful mantras, half OCD mumblings. Things like "what is the therefore there for?" and "a text without a context is a con" (which is not correct mathematically, technically it's a negative con). Whenever I think about the covenant of circumcision I automatically say, "Get cut off or be cut off". They don't all have to be wordplays or jokes, even little things such as whenever I read the name Jacob I sing to myself to the tune of Takin' Care of Business, "Jacob's name is Israel", thanks to this Apologetix song.

In beginning my preparation for preaching Psalm 1 and 2, I started to think of the various one-liners that I had stored in my head for Psalms. This is all I can remember thus far:
  • Psalms is the hymnbook of Israel
  • Psalms belong first to David, then Israel, then Jesus, and then me.
I hope more will either be remembered or developed as I go along.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Psalms, psalms, so many psalms...

I have to pick two psalms to preach on in the upcoming school holidays. There are a number of ways to go about this task and the most obvious route is to pick the psalms most obviously about Jesus. Or at least psalms that are quoted in the New Testament (which often happen to be the same as those most obviously about Jesus).

The downside of this is that we know some 'important' psalms well, but we miss the breadth of the emotions expressed elsewhere. There are two ways to remedy this. The first is to arrange a series emotionally, which is kind of like that guy in that movie (John someone in High Fidelity??) who arranges his music albums autobiographically. But again, the temptation here is to encourage a superficial reading of Psalms which merely lumps them into categories without seeing the unique portrayals. The other course of action is instead to work your way through numerically.

In not wanting to cover recent ground I decided to go through the previous preaching programs to see what had been studied in the sporadic (did somebody say "filler"?) series on Psalms over the past decade. Over ten years, we have covered around 30 psalms (some weren't enumerated) with only 5 being repeated. Historically my church have done a bit of all three approaches. We've covered many of the biggies, looked at 5 emotions, but also for a time just started at Psalm 40 and worked through to the mid 50s.

In the end, seeing they hadn't been covered for about 8 years I decided to preach Psalm 1 and 2. Yeah. yeah, I know you're thinking 'Well that's original'. But why not? I haven't done them before, and they are both important in terms of biblical theology as well as in framing our understanding for all of Psalms.

The plan is that next year I'll do Psalm 3 and 4. If I average two psalms a year and Jesus doesn't come back I'll finish in 75 years. It will be 2087 and I'll be 102 years old. At least the psalms are all relatively short towards the end as I imagine standing for long periods of time may be a problem by then.