Sunday, August 17, 2008

Getting to grips with the text

I'm preaching on the story of David and Bathsheba this morning. This is one of those stories we know so well and yet it is one of the preacher's equivalents of climbing Everest.

It's very familiarity make it a challenge to preach. But more than that, it's a text with such breadth and depth that encapsulating it in a twenty minute monologue is an impossibility.

So we find ourselves reaching for generalities: what is the 'key' point of the text? What is the 'major lesson' of the story? Such questions diminish the Biblical text whenever we ask them as they seek to reduce the infinite complexity of the human and divine drama to a couple of easily-grasped maxims.

And yet... In twenty minutes we cannot hope to convey, to unravel, let alone explain the intricacies of the story. So maybe all we can do is offer signposts to help people's readings; ask them to notice things along the way through the narrative, things that might help them as they reflect on the story, its characters, their reactions, the consequences of their actions, etc.

One of the questions I'm always asking people to bear in mind is 'where do they think God is in this story?' It's never as easy to answer as some think. God is in the story of David and Bathsheba but he doesn't appear as a character until the final verse of chapter 11 and then it's not him as such but the narrator's spin on what God's attitude might be. It's only chapter 12 that reveals God's heart and mind (and then it's through Nathan and our reading of the story).

So, I'm praying that as I speak this morning, people's eyes will be opened to read the story and encounter the God of grace in its unfolding drama.

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