Preaching biblical narrative

How can we turn biblical narrative into sermons and still retain a sense of the story?

This following material provides some simple techniques. It assumes a Christ-centred gospel hermeneutic. In particular, it assumes you have asked the question, Why? Why does the author say this? Why does he say it here? Why does he say it in this way? What response does he want from his readers? How does he aim to elicit this response?

This material focuses instead on creating sermon outlines and headings.

1. Creating an outline
Here are three approaches to creating an outline for sermons on biblical narratives:
1. Plot
2. Characters
3. Literary features or biblical allusions

1.1 Plot
Identify the key moments in the narrative. Plots often follow the pattern: equilibrium – tension – resolution (perhaps with a new equilibrium). But there may be other ways of breaking up the narrative. The paragraphing in our translations may offer some pointers. The movement between action and dialogue may also help highlight the key moments in the narrative. There may be a chiastic structure.

Summarise what is happening at each stage in the narrative and the overall message of the story. Use this to create an outline.

Example: Plot-based outlines for Mark 6:30-44
1. Jesus provided rest for his disciples (30-32)
2. Jesus provided bread for the crowd (33-44)
OR
1. Not enough (30-38)
2. Enough (39-42)
3. More than enough (43-44)

1.2 Characters
Identify the key characters in the narrative. Summarise the stance or contribution each character makes to the narrative. Or summarise the perspective or attitude they represent or exemplify. Use this to create an outline.

Example: A character-based outline for Mark 6:30-44
1. The people were in need
2. The disciples could not provide
3. Jesus could provide

1.3 Literary features or biblical allusions
Look for literary features or biblical allusions in the narrative. These might include:

  • repeated words or phrases
  • repeated imagery
  • repeated narrative patterns (like reversals or contrasts)
  • editorial comments or explanations
  • significant names or locations
  • inclusio (when a section is starts and finishes in a similar way)
  • sandwiches (when one narrative is contained within another so they mutually interpret one another)
  • quotes from other parts of the Bible
  • allusions to, or echoes of, previous stories in the biblical narrative
  • Identify a prominent repeated literary feature or repeated biblical allusions. summarise how each example functions within the narrative. Use this to create an outline.

Example: An allusion-based outline for Mark 6:30-44
1. Jesus is the new Moses (Exodus 16)
2. Jesus is the new Elisha (2 Kings 4:42-44)
3. Jesus is the new David (Ezekiel 34)
4. Jesus is the divine Shepherd (Psalm 23)

2. Creating headings for sermons on biblical stories
Use the section summaries you have created from plot, characters or literary features to create sermon headings. To form a bridge between the biblical narrative and your hearers create headings that are immediately descriptive of your hearers by doing the following:
1. Replace names with first person plural pronouns or generic terms
2. Replace the past tense with the present tense

2.1 Replace names with first person plural pronouns
Your summarises are likely to refer to the key characters in the narrative. Replace their names with first person plural pronouns – we, us, our.

  • E.g. God rescued Daniel -> God rescued us

You could also uses generic words and phrases like ‘the world’, ‘God’s people,’ ‘our enemies’ or ‘mediator’:

  • the crowd -> the world
  • the Israelites -> God’s people
  • the Philistines -> our enemies
  • Moses -> our mediator

2.2 Replace the past tense with the present tense
Your summarises are likely to be in the past tense because they are summaries of what happened in the past.

Both English and Greek often use what is called the ‘historic present’ in which we use the present tense to refer to past events in a lively way. E.g. We might say, ‘Paul says in Romans 8 …’ (present tense) instead of ‘Paul said in Romans 8 …’ (past tense). You can exploit the ‘historic present’ to write headings that simultaneously describe events in the narrative (in the past) and the situation of your hearers (in the present).

So create headings in the present tense, switching from the past tense if necessary.

  • E.g. God heard Daniel’s prayer -> God hears our prayers

Example: headings for Mark 6:30-44
1. We face a needy world (The people were in need)
2. We are needy people facing a needy world (The disciples could not provide)
3. We are empowered by a mighty Saviour (Jesus could provide)

Summary

1. Take a biblical story and identify sermon outlines using each of the following:

  • plot
  • character
  • literary features or biblical allusions

2. Convert your summaries into headings:

  • using first person plural pronouns or generic terms
  • in the present tense


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