I then begin to write out as many questions as come to mind from the text, without judging or evaluating the questions. I work from that large list of questions, praying for inspiration and guidance as to where the message is for the community to whom I will be preaching. There is a lot of praying and digging, as I flesh out the ideas that come to mind.
Preparing to teach a class is a bit different:
When I lead a "Scripture Encounter"^ (ie. a "Bible study") we read the text aloud and then I ask the class "what stands out to you from the text". I allow their questions to form the conversation at the outset. I may have my own insights, perhaps even an "agenda" which I want to close the conversation with, but my initial goal is to allow the participants to set the tone and become the excavators of truth for themselves. Together we dig into the text. Depending on their own depth of experience and familiarity with scripture we enter into great conversations. Those conversations are rich with a variety of viewpoints and experiences. In the process I feel an awareness that the Holy Spirit has been with us in that passage of time. That, my friend, is what Paul was suggesting in the idea of being led by the Spirit of God (Romans 8).
The Bible comes to us because of the dedication, the piety and devotion of men who through the ages worked to transcribe copies of the original manuscripts. For more than 1400 years every bit of it was done lovingly by hand. In many monastic communities a few with artistic gifts added to the beauty of the manuscript. Artistry accompanies the words, to provide what are known now as illuminated texts. If this blog seems curious to you because I highlight specific words or phrases, perhaps you can come to appreciate it against the backdrop of the more ancient tradition of illuminated texts.
In all situations, looking at the Gospels includes the following:
When I start to really analyze a piece of scripture from one of the Gospels, I run through a few things in my mind because it helps me as I look for the salient message and helps me avoid making wild claims.
First; I remember the general rule of all ancient writers, the center of the book really represents a turning point. The drama usually is gradually building up steam before the middle of the book but will truly shift in the dynamics of the story after the center of the story. The writers didn't really expect the Gospel Story to be read in bits and bites. It was originally probably expected to be heard, or possibly enacted, in one sitting, as the Ancient Greek Theater tradition was interwoven in the telling of Sacred History for the various cults.
Second; What came before the text is often an illuminating factor for the present text.
Third; What is the setting (location) of the story
Fourth: Who are the characters of the story
So, just to demonstrate with this passage, the Gospel of Luke is coded into 24 chapters.
What came before this story in Chapter 7 was the teaching Jesus gives out "on a mountain in chapter 6.
Present location: from outside of to within the town of Capernaum
Who are the characters in this cast?
The process I employ for this blog is an eclectic blending of the two processes, and allowing color to help highlight those concepts which stand out to me. Rather than trusting that the reader will be automatically moved in the same why that I have been, color and font size are my tools for pointing out what I have marked for inward digestion.
Now, oft-times there are questions about concepts that hold a specific meaning for the context of the original author which may or may not convey the same meaning or value in our present age. I look at the text with an awareness that this may always be the case. I provide a basic contextualization that will help a new student of the Bible.
Sometimes a text will just fall flat. What I mean is, sometimes there is no "good news" to be received in the particular analogy used for a specific reader. No amount of attempting to convince or explain the analogy will soften the bleakness of the personal past experience at the onset. Time might..prayer could..the Holy Spirit surely has the persuasive power to soften and salve the brokenhearted, but my insistence directly will possibly cause more harm than good. Of course, since we aren't sitting in the same room, it's quite easy for you, the reader, to simply walk away from what I have to offer.. Lord knows, I've exercised that freedom on many a blog posts also.. The alternative is that you could chose to seek dialogue, through the use of comments on particular posts.. The second option would be an ideal.
^Thanks to Rev. Robert Wicherts, Hesperia UMC for this language, and his modeling through weekly gatherings.