It is Tuesday morning and I am working on my sermon for next Sunday. I am preaching through the book of Ruth and the passage for this week is Ruth 3:1-5. This will be the third time I have preached through a book of the Bible, working my way through 1 Peter last fall and Colossians this past spring.
Chief among the reasons I have done this is because I was noticing a tendency to drift towards my favorite topics as I prepared to preach each week. I was using the Revised Common Lectionary to choose texts and it seemed that more often than not I was going after my favorite themes as I read the options for each week.
Not that there is anything inherently wrong with what my favorite biblical themes may be, but I am called to preach to a particular congregation and I should be bringing to them, and myself as well, a broader understanding of God's word than what I happen to like the best.
Preaching through a book may not seem to have much breadth, as books may have their own broad themes and be restricted by the specific things they deal with. But staying within a book and a particular passage forces me to look more closely at the teaching of the passage, and then to bring what I find there to the congregation on Sunday morning. I think of it as having the text drive the message, rather than the preacher's own personal preferences underlie the message.
This method of selecting a text has its clear advantage in directing my sermon away from my hobby horses, but it also has its difficulties. The primary difficulty emerged again as I began to prepare this week. As I read the text my first question was, "What on earth is the message of this text and how can I can bring to the congregation on Sunday?"
If you take a moment to read Ruth 3:1-5 you might see what I mean. It isn't the kind of piece where something clearly stands out to bring as a word of comfort, or direction, or encouragement, or any other purpose a sermon might have. At least it didn't for me. Not at the first reading. Or the second. Or the third.
Maybe I should pick a different text. Maybe this week I need to change my plan and expand the passage, until I find something I can clearly hang my sermon on. Maybe.
As I wrestled to find the message within this passage, two other pieces of scripture were floating through my head. One was Luke 24:27, where Jesus has been on the road to Emmaus and explains some things to the people He walked with. Luke writes:
"And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself."
And the other one was 2 Timothy 3:16-17, where Paul writes:
"All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work."
The Luke passage doesn’t teach that Jesus is in absolutely every little bit of the Old Testament, but it does encourage us to dig deeply in each part of the Bible to find those things that increase our understanding of Him and nurture our love for Him.
And the 2 Timothy passage reminds us that God gives us His word, all of it, so that we might grow as His children throughout our lives.
So I went back to Ruth 3. I prayed. I dug a bit more. I thought about it and prayed again. And I think I have found something that speaks to me, and that I can bring to the congregation on Sunday.
Open my eyes, Lord, that in your word I may see your Son.