This blog continues to reflect on what Prof. Long has said in a slightly different direction. I didn’t write a Chinese article for this one, but here it is. This blog talks about the literary movement of a biblical text. This movement has to impact the sermon form. If not, then there is a dissonance no matter how “doctrinally right” (whatever that terms means to my readers) the preacher is. This installment then is about “matching” the form of the sermon with the content of the biblical text.
Long lists one of his favorite Good Friday sermons called “Friday is here but Sunday is coming” by Tony Campolo. The brilliance of this sermon is that the repetition of the title helps sets the tone of the author’s literary movement in any of the Gospel books moves just that way. The entire book guides the movement of this single sermon, as any sermon should. Even if we stick to “one” single book with “one” single text for sermon, we would have our hands full figuring out the movement without resorting to doing concordance proof texts from other parts of the Bible, but what about smaller units like the Psalms. The answer is quite a bit less complicated actually.
Long in his discussion uses Ps. 19 which is an all-time favorite Psalm for so many believers as an example. He notes that the Psalm has several movements, mostly likely indicating the well thought out compositional strategy of David. From Ps. 19.1-6, there’s a description of a heavenly song that no one can quite make out the words. After all, the heavens “declare” and the Psalms were originally set to music. What the heaven “says” and how their voice “goes out” in Ps. 19.1, 4, no one knows. However, the revelation of what it “says” is clear; God is glorious. David got the message. Then, the tone changes at Ps. 19.7-11, as David found real words from the Torah that could instruct him. Thus, the Psalm moved from a wordless and picturesque situation to a word-centered situation. The final move is in Ps. 19.12-14 where David ends in solemn prayer. In other words, the song moves from wordless to the Torah word to finally a personal word (“word of my mouth”). The movement of the Psalm starts light at the beginning and slowly moves with more gravity with the Torah and finally moves to a reflective prayerful mood.
Now, this is a great example of preaching the mood and form of the text. If we were to use all the rhetorical tools of the last installment of my articles, what could we do? We have to talk about what the audience needs. The sermon audience needs to have four things in order to understand any sermon according to Long: repetition; framework; transitions, and illustrations.
What should be repeated in order to show the real issue of this Psalm? I’m not going to provide an answer, but my readers should determine whether this Psalm is about the glory of God as Ps. 19.1 states or perhaps the importance of the Torah or the importance of both. Let me suggest some alternatives. If the thrust is about the glory of God, then, the repetition is easy. If it is about the importance of the Torah, then the repetition about the “heaven declares” ought to be followed by “more importantly, the Torah is where God’s will is really known”. If it is about both, then the repetition should be something like “since both the heaven and the Torah declares God’s majesty …” and then we put in an application or illustration right after.
We then have to decide the framework. What kind of framework fits the text of the Psalm? The answer is once again “It depends.” The Psalm has three movements which can create a three –point sermon, except the three points are not evenly distributed. Would a jewel pattern approach be better? Well, it depends on whether we see the text as having different aspects of “one major theme” from the beginning to the end. Would the “then and now” pattern fit? I suggest that this pattern is best served through historical narratives. Would the Hegelian “conflict and synthesis” pattern work? It may not unless we see the praise of heaven being in complete conflict against the Torah (some radical conservative may). Would the guessing game “Is the answer this, that, or the other?” work? I think the passage is clear enough to say that this guessing game approach does not work. So far, we can see that certain patterns work while others definitely do not.
We now have to decide the transition. Now, this step depends on the first step in terms of what needs to be repeated. The repeated phrase can be used to bolster the clarity of the outline so that the audience can follow the sermon. Finally, we have to pick illustrations. The illustrations can be an analogy, example or metaphor. The Psalms does not directly call for some ethical action, thus negating the need for plenty of examples for listeners to follow. Yet, the Psalm is highly descriptive of many images. So, a major metaphor may be easy to formulate. For example, when preaching this Psalm, I like to use the book as a metaphor with God writing a book of different chapters with first being nature and second being the Torah in order to show Himself. Thus, we can use this metaphor all the way through and use analogical stories about reading in order to enrich this sermon. This too would be most helpful.