People expect preachers to read, understand and preach from the text of Scripture. In some of our ecclesial and ethnic traditions, we are expected to powerfully “tell the story” as we have heard and understood it in the text. This is a call to preach both the unfamiliar as well as the familiar stories—you know, the stories that we have heard on many occasions.
Preaching familiar stories provide a benefit to both the preacher and the people. The people already know the story that you are seeking to proclaim. In addition, the preacher does not have to go looking in obscure sections of the Bible for something to preach. In addition, as Bishop Rudolph McKissick wrote, it will “increase [the people's] comfort as they listen to you.”
The New Spin
But if we are to preach familiar stories, we must listen to McKissick and attempt to “give the ‘old text’ a ‘new spin.’” That is not to say to make up something, but find something dormant in the text that needs unearthing.
Eugene Lowry, in the book The Homiletical Plot, writes about how to find this “new spin.” Lowry suggests that preachers “attend to every ‘insignificant’ line.” He is telling preachers that when they preach the familiar stories, don’t immediately jump towards the features of the text that you have heard preached repeatedly. Instead, go to those aspects that might otherwise be considered “insignificant.” Look at the text very closely. Look at every word. Often the preacher can discover an important sermon from looking more closely at the text.
I must repeat that I am not talking about pulling words out of context and building a sermon based on that misunderstanding of the text. I am talking about looking deeply at the text and finding aspects of it that have not been explored as much.
“Insignificant” Details Make Significant Points
Lowry gives the example of Nicodemus coming to Jesus “by night.” I admit that I have heard preachers build sermons on this feature of the text, but it does serve to demonstrate that small features of the text that might otherwise be considered insignificant can be very important and even guide a sermon.
Great preaching is not merely reading for surface. If the Bible writer chose to put it in the narrative, then it is truly worthy of exploration.
My fellow preachers, it is in the details where we find very important features that can strengthen our sermons immensely. Look at these details in your attempt to give that “new spin” to an “old text.”