[ 3 minutes to read ]Follow one preacher’s journey preaching through a book. [N]ow I am ready to begin preaching the text of Ruth. I have the major divisions of the book in the form of six scenes to work with. I need to decide how to divide the actual preaching units. I suppose I could have preached one sermon for each scene. That’s a good way to preach the book, and especially when dealing with historical narrative books. I didn’t go that route, mainly because it’s not the detailed exposition I want to do when going verse by verse through a book.
Detailed, verse by verse exposition does present a problem in a narrative book. Preachers are generally more comfortable in prose portions of Scripture, like New Testament epistles. In the epistles, we are looking for thought units and think about essay paragraphs to divide the text for preaching. That doesn’t work with narrative because it is a different content genre. It doesn’t work with poetry either.
Narratives are stories and stories are about change. Change is what drives stories. Stories are made up of characters experiencing change, reacting, and either succeeding or failing. I’m generalizing, but change is what we are looking for in narratives, and as we classify those changes, we identify scenes. Scenes are made up of changes in the form of inciting events, progressive complications, turning points, crisis questions, climax choices, and resolutions.
You can see this break down in my scene sheets for Ruth. I use these sheets to help me to determine the preaching units. In each sermon, I want to capture significant change in the narrative, but I also need to know what form the change is in and how it contributes to the immediate scene and overall story.
I chose Ruth 1:1-5 as my first passage to preach. These verses form the opening image of Scene 1, but also the opening image for the whole book. These first five verses give all the necessary information and the changes that set this story in motion. The story unfolds with a chain of related events leading to the final image, which is a reversal of the opening image. The opening image shows how Naomi and Ruth end up as childless widows in Moab. The final image shows Naomi and Ruth in Bethlehem with Ruth married and having a son who legally stands as Naomi’s son and heir to her dead husband and son. The opening image contributes the setting, two of the main characters, important plot points, and the book’s message, or unifying theme.
Verses 1-2 Famine in Israel
The first words we are given in the book tell us the events happened during the time of the judges. This gives us the time period for the story, but also the cultural and environmental setting. I need to do some work in Judges to find and present relevant information for the book of Ruth. Obviously, Ruth is a stark contrast with Judges since Judges emphasizes covenant unfaithfulness and Ruth emphasizes covenant faithfulness.
Next, we learn a famine came to the land of Judah and a family left Bethlehem to live in Moab temporarily. This is the inciting event for the whole story. Everything that happens, all the way to the end of the book, is connected with this family leaving Judah during a famine. The famine, Bethlehem of Judah, and the country of Moab are all significant.
Verses 3-5 Emptied in Moab
The second part of the opening image shows how Naomi’s situation progressed downward. Her husband died. Her sons married Moabite women and then both her sons died. Though her sons had been married for ten years, they were childless.
The narratorial perspective has emerged by the end of this opening image in verse 5, as the events are told in relation to their effect on Naomi. “And the woman was left of her two sons and her husband.”
In the conclusion, I want to draw out what lessons are learned in this passage. I want to do that both, in relation to the immediate context and the greater context. I want to end with practical applications for the people who will be in front of me when I preach it.
To introduce the sermon, I want to tell about the passage and what part it plays in the scene and the story. I want to give people an idea of where we’re going and what we’re looking for. The aim is to give enough information to interest them in the sermon and to know where we are in the sermon as it progresses. As much as possible, I want to help them hear it.
In the next post, I will look at the third sermon.
This post is part a of series. To read the entire series from the beginning, go here.