Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Making the Familiar Fresh

As a pastor I am always thinking about what I should be preaching about. Usually I have a long list of potential sermon topics and series ideas but sometimes choosing one to work on can be a challenge. For the last month or so (and for two more weeks) I’ve been preaching a series called “The Bible’s Greatest Hits.” The idea has been to teach on passages that are very familiar to many of us within the church and known to many outside of church from one setting or another. The idea was hopefully to make the familiar fresh. This is the list of “greatest hits” I came up with:

#1: Psalm 23
#2: The Ten Commandments
#3: John 3:16
#4: The Lord’s Prayer
#5: Isaiah 40 (especially verses 27 – 31)
#6: 1 Corinthians 13

Sometimes the challenge is that we’ve heard certain Scriptures read so frequently that we lose their meaning. I think this can be the case with Psalm 23 and John 3:16. With other Scriptures the challenge is to see the passage in its context, because we can have the tendency to interpret them independent of the chapters and verses that surround them. Given that 1 Corinthians 13 is often used at weddings proves my point since this chapter falls in the middle of Paul’s discussion of congregational worship and spiritual gifts. It is not first and foremost a description of marriage love even if we can apply the truth of that passage to married life.

Last week when I talked about The Lord’s Prayer I essentially made two points: First, prayer is a privilege that comes when we place our faith in Jesus. Being able to address God as Father, or Abba, is a privilege for those who, as Paul puts it in Galatians 4, “receive adoption to sonship.” Second, prayer has a pattern according to Jesus; that is, there is an order to our praying. Or there ought to be. Since so often our prayers are dominated by health issues and immediate circumstances, it’s important to observe that biblical prayers (I have the prayers of Paul in mind here) almost always have to do with growth in Christian maturity and growing closer to God—with putting God’s glory, kingdom, and will ahead of everything else.

We can also wrongly interpret passages or miss their depth when we isolate them from their context. Isaiah 40 is a good example of this. Verse 31, the one about eagles’ wings and one often embroidered on wall hangings or engraved on other decorative items, is indeed a comforting verse. But often we miss the fact that these words are at the end of a passage insisting that despite Israel’s experience of exile God is sovereign and powerful, that he intends to redeem his people, and that God’s people are being called to trust in him and draw comfort from the fact that contrary to outward appearances God remains in control. He has not forgotten his people and will eventually use them as a witness to his character and to display his glory.

Anyway, it’s been interesting and refreshing to take a look at these popular and well-known passages of Scripture. A series like this is particularly enjoyable for me as a pastor because of the variety of texts involved. This is especially so since at Easter I finished a series on Mark’s gospel that I began last September. What I’ll preach and teach about once I’ve gone through all these “greatest hits,” I haven’t decided yet. But the wonderful thing is that there is more than enough Scripture to choose from.

1 comment:

RebelAngel said...

I remember hearing from A about how she taught E the Lord's Prayer and what each line meant, how, without the familiarity of years of repetition and with the love and awe of a little child the prayer was very profound and sincerely heart-felt.