And this is how that same piece ends.
Posts in the Sermon Prep: Sodom series
- This morning’s sermon will be on …
- Sermon Prep (part 1)
- Sermon Prep (part 2): Lot
- Sermon Prep, part 3
- Sermon Prep: Finished!
(You can follow this whole thread by tracking the tag “sermonprep” in the site archives. Or, just click here.)
Remember how I decided to use all ya’ll to help me with my sermon prep? Well, the day is fast approaching, and I thought that, in the absence of any real content to add here at Addison Road, I would instead post my sermon prep here for you to peruse.
I imagine this will be similar to the sensation that most sane people have when they look at serial killer art: it wouldn’t be interesting, except that it comes from such a disturbed mind. Enjoy!
I start with a legal pad, a comfy writing utensil, and as many good verbal translations of the text as I can find. NASB is usually my first pick. Every major character or prevelant theme gets its own page in the pad, and I jot down clusters of questions or initial thoughts that come from the text. I tend to go translation by translation, and do a straight read-through rather than go verse-by-verse from translation to translation, scouring for distinctions in syntax. I’m not poking in the valleys yet, I’m looking for the mountains, the big things that were the most important to the author, and so should be most important to the reader trying to understand the text.
The text for this Sunday is going to be Genesis 18:16 – 19:29. So far, I have pages on my legal pad for Abraham, Lot, Sodom (city), Sodom (biblical references), What was Sodom’s Sin? (this one might stir up some firestorms), Justice and Righteousness, and Faith.
Here’s part one:
He’s the one already safe from harm in this story – the covenant is begun, promise given, he’s miles away from the city of Sodom.
18:17 What’s the significance of the Lord’s inner dialog on whether or not to tell Abraham? Perhaps he knows that Abrahams bargain will fail? The subordinating conjunction “since” seems to be a non-squitur here. How does Abrahams place in the covenant promise have any bearing on whether or not God reveals his plans to him? Is this just to highlight his position of safety in the narrative that follows?
He pleads for God’s mercy on behalf of the whole city, for the sake of the righteous.
Ink is significant – why is so much space devoted to Abraham’s “used car salesman” technique of bartering God down to 10 people?
18:25 “shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?” this looks like a common OT technique for petitioning Yahweh – appealing to aspects of his nature as the basis for him ammending his actions. c.f. Moses with Israel. Not “do this thing for my sake” but “do this thing for your own sake, since it is within your character to do so.”
What’s the right response of those who have already been saved from judgement toward those who have not? Interceding prayer, passionate concern. There is no room in this story for human judgement, for people standing on the sidelines and cheering on the destruction. If we can talk about God’s righteous judgement and great wrath without our hearts breaking, we have not understood how deeply his grace reached down to us.
19:28 The last thing Abraham knows in this story is that his intercession didn’t work. When the angels leave him, he knows that his bargain is in play, and the next thing he sees is the ash and smoke of the wreckage.
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Next in series: Sermon Prep (part 2): Lot
First, let’s clear some brush. Evangelical is not a political movement, it’s not a formula for church growth, and it’s not a hairstyle. It’s not a publishing slogan, a conference circuit, a musical genre, or a brand of SUV.
I am (still) an Evangelical, even though I have to parry and dodge assumptions whenever I use that term. I am (still) an Evangelical, because of the great hope to which the movement aspired at it’s founding. I am (still) an Evangelical, because, at it’s root, Evangelicalism is an ecumenical movement: an attempt to erect a large tent in the ground between the cultural withdrawal of fundamentalism, and the withering incredulity of theological liberalism.
Evangelicalism is a way of reading and understanding the bible, and I (still) believe that it is as close as we can come to a neutral hermeneutic, one that allows the text to breathe out its stories without being unduly constrained by our expectations of it. The evangelical hermeneutic rests on this assumption – that if God is omnipotent, present, and interested in revealing things about himself, we can expect His revelation to have certain basic characteristics. Things like:
1) Inspiration – God was involved in the production of the texts.
2) Infallibility – the texts do not err in their purposes.
3) Historicity – the texts were written at a place and time in history, by people situated in history, and as such, they are products of their historical/cultural perspective.
4) Textuality – text as text: the normal tools for interpreting meaning in any text are the appropriate tools for interpreting meaning in biblical texts. In other words, when we read “Joseph was lowered into the well”, the meaning is conveyed by the content of the words “Joseph”, “lowered” and “well”, just as it would be if those words were written in personal letter, a historical footnote, or any other work outside of the biblical canon. Attempts to use “secret codes” or numerological sequences to unlock the “true” meaning of the text are therefore inappropriate to interpretation (think Kabbala, or “The Bible Code“).
5) Data – the text is an robotic engineer on an ‘NC‘ class star cruiser with a positronic brain incapable of human emotion. Just checking to see if you were still with me.
The second and third stakes in the Evangelical tent are, to me, the most interesting. It is the 2nd stake, infallibility, that marks out the left most boundary of the evangelical hermeneutic – it is the essential difference between Marcus Borg (the Jesus Seminar) and Ben Witherington or Scot McKnight.
Likewise, the third stake marks out the right boundary. It’s the third stake in the Evangelical tent that we have a tendency to to forget, to our detriment, because it is the third stake that separates Evangelicalism from Fundamentalism.
Bill Nye, the Science Guy, was the subject of a public scorning a few months ago for daring to assert that the moon does not, actually, produce it’s own light. He dared to suggest that the moon’s light was merely a reflection of the light of the sun.
This is a problem for Fundamentalists. Because, you see, Genesis clearly states that God created two lights, one for the day, and one for the night, and fundamentalism requires a literalist reading of that text. There is no room for taking into account the historical or cultural situation of the author, and reading the text from within that perspective. A fundamentalist is fundamentally commited (get it?) to reading Genesis with the same kind of literalism with which one would read a newspaper article or, say, a science textbook. And so, Bill Nye’s assertion that the moon does not produce light becomes a contest of authority, between the literalism of Genesis and the literalism of Bill’s scientific data. And hey, look, if that’s really the fight, I’ll gladly put $20 down on God. $30 if my jury duty check has come and I have the extra cash.
But that’s not really the fight, is it? Evangelicalism isn’t bound in the same way that Fundamentalism is when it reads Genesis, because it recognizes that the author wrote from a certain cultural and historical perspective, and from his perspective, there was a bright light in the day, and a second light at night. A historical hermeneutic of Genesis also recognizes that the authorial intent matters to the interpretation – the point of the passage isn’t a scientific assertion about the origination of the light coming from the moon, it was that God made provision for human existence in the ordering of creation. We need light to see, so God instituted a means of light for day and for night. To agitate for a literal reading obscures the significant point of the passage.
Here’s why this matters – in the rush to defend the left flank against a diminishing view of scriptural accuracy, we have left undone the hard work driving in the right-hand peg, of teaching the people in our care how to read The Book with an eye toward the historicity of the authors. We’ve told them to believe it’s true, thundered that from pulpit and screen and print, but we haven’t taught them how to understand the thing about it that is true. A belief in the infallibility of scripture is a crippling kind of intellectual deprivation when coupled with the sort of literalism that fundamentalism espouses.
So, I am (still) an Evangelical, and not a critical deconstructionist, because I have to believe that an omnipotent God is capable of speaking an infallible truth into human experience, and I have to believe that a compassionate God would. But also, I am (still) an Evangelical, and not a fundamental literalist, because I have to believe that God’s dialog with humanity took place in time, in space, in history, and in the midst of the very real cultural features of our human existence. It is an unfolding story, whispered in human ears, etched on human hearts, and relayed through their hands.
This is the great strength of the Evangelical tent, and how it holds up so wide a canopy.