Monday, February 23, 2009

This week's sermon
  • Step One: fool around with the text
  • When I first began writing sermons, I was all business: checking commentaries, doing word studies, making outlines of the text's major points.

    I still do that -- but now I like to begin by just fooling around with the text.
    • First, I look it up on BibleGateway.com.
    • Then I'll paste a copy into Microsoft Word.
    • Finally, I'll spend an hour or so highlighting whatever words or phrases just happen to catch my eye.
    And no, at this point I don't know what I'm looking for. Maybe it's a phrase that keeps popping up; maybe it's a "digression" that turns out to be the main point -- or maybe it's something I thought was the main point that turns out to be a digression!

    Whatever. In a sense, I'm just rattling the text to see what falls out.

    In fooling around with this week's text, for instance, I noticed that Matthew 6:1-18 begins with a summary statement:
    "Be careful not to do your 'acts of righteousness' before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven" (Matthew 6:1, NIV).
    Jesus then follows this statement with three examples:
    • Giving to the needy.
    • Prayer.
    • Fasting.
    Each example follows the same pattern: a negative command, a warning, a positive command, and a promise.
    • The negative command: "Do not do ____ in such a way as to attract attention; this is what the hypocrites do."
    • The warning: "In doing so, the hypocrites have already received their reward in full."
    • The positive command: "But when you ____, do so in such a way that the only one who notices is your Father in heaven."
    • The promise: "If you do this, your Father will reward you."
    As part of this, God is twice referred to as "unseen." Just as we should do our good works in secret, in other words, it would seem that God does so too!

    At this point, I'm not sure how to handle verses 7-14.
    • This section contains the Lord's Prayer; as such, it is the most famous part of the text.
    • It also gives good advice on prayer, i.e. it's not our babbling that makes prayer powerful but God's generosity and love.
    • Then again, it seems to interrupt the train of thought Jesus has been developing here, i.e. "be careful not to do your 'acts of righteousness' before men."
    So . . . is this a digression I should deal with in a later sermon -- or does it tie in somehow with the point Jesus made in verse 1?

    We'll see what the experts say!

    Tomorrow: Checking commentaries.

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