Saving Miss Piggy

As a jewel of gold in a swine’s snout, so is a fair woman without discretion.
~ Proverbs 11:22

It ain’t easy being green

“I wear rubber boots when it rains.” The kid to my right whispered in my ear. What should I do with that? I turned to the kid to my left and whispered to him, “I like to play in the mud when it rains.” My part was done. That kid turned to the kid to his left and relayed the message, and it kept going like that until the last one whispered to the teacher stationed at 12 o’clock. It’s called the gossip game and it was supposed to teach us some kind of lesson, but I guess it was lost on us. I remember playing a lot of group participation games like that in school.

Around fourth grade, or maybe it was fifth grade, I had the opportunity of taking a creative writing class at a local college. The class was taught by one of the professors there. She went on to get elected to the state house of representatives, so I guess our class was a great success. One day she had us participate in a group brainstorming exercise. She started off with a word and then gave us prompts and we were supposed to respond with the first thing that came to mind.

She was teaching us about the need for conflict in stories and the goal of the exercise was to setup a problem and each of us would have to write a story to solve that problem. The memory tends to fuzz and fray after a few years, so I can’t recall all the details. We ended up with Miss Piggy as a character and she was in trouble. She might have been stuck up in a tree and we had to get her out of the tree in our compelling short stories.

Up a Tree

Our brainstorming session is also what is known as free association, which is a common technique used in improvisation workshops for the training of actors. It is also a psychology tool made famous by Freud. In free association you respond to a word or action with the first word or action that comes to mind. The goal is to get a free flow of ideas without any structure, logic, examination, or judgment of the value of the idea. At the beginning of class, we had no notion Miss Piggy would be stuck up in a tree, but free association put her there by the end.

Free association may have value, like the usefulness of hose clamp pliers for removing hose clamps, but is not equally applicable to all needs. I’m juberous of declaring value of free association for the pulpit and sermon making. Sometimes preachers are quite open about their free association process for developing a sermon. A preacher was driving and got stuck in a traffic jam and had an idea for a sermon on getting stuck in life. Maybe the traffic jam was due to a highway accident and he thought of a sermon on making a wreck of your life. A preacher was shopping and passing all these signs advertising the best sale of the year and he got the idea for a sermon about not selling out.

At other times, preachers don’t take us along the development journey. He reads Luke 15:8-10, talks for a few minutes about the parable, and then announces he is going to preach on the thought: Have you lost your coin? Another preacher reads Mark 5:21-43 and says he will preach for a few minutes on this thought: How to get Jesus to come to your house. A preachers decides he wants to preach on the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God is a big subject with a lot of biblical information to work with, but the preacher starts associating. He thinks about what a kingdom is and what a kingdom needs. A kingdom needs a king, so he looks up some verses on kings. A kingdom needs subjects, so he looks up some verses. A kingdom needs laws, so he looks up some verses. A kingdom needs a throne, so he looks up some verses. He putters on along this line until his 45 minute quota is filled.

The Problem

A lot of preachers use this sort of free association exercise to develop their sermons. They setup the problem their sermon is going to solve. Sunday after Sunday they’re always saving Miss Piggy from the pulpit.

So, what’s wrong with preaching this way? Does free association or similar brainstorming have no place at all in developing sermons? The biggest problem with this approach to preaching is that saving Miss Piggy sermons are not text-driven, they’re idea driven. Rather than starting with the text of Scripture and asking, What has God said?, such sermons start with the free ideas of the preacher to setup a problem to solve that will more or less use some Bible verses. That’s just not preaching in any biblical sense of that term.

Preachers are called by God to preach his word and to work hard in his word and teaching (1 Timothy 5:17). The preacher’s primary job is not solving people’s problems, but preaching God’s book and giving them all his counsel (Acts 20:27; 2 Timothy 3:16-4:2). God’s word is inspired, inerrant, authoritative, and profitable. Your words are not. Your thoughts on how every Christian has an “Amen!” button are worthless in light of eternity. My thoughts on how to always have a smile will not save or sanctify anyone. Even sharing your personal journey is of limited value. Pastor Jason Shults wrote, “Your life story will only lead people to salvation to the extent that it points people to Jesus.”

Of course, preachers get ideas all the time from various circumstances, and I’m not saying there’s no value in them. However, if you have an idea for a sermon, there should be a biblical text that actually speaks to it without ripping it out of context and writing extra stuff in your Bible margins to make it fit. Otherwise, it’s not biblical preaching and you’re just saving Miss Piggy, and I guess that makes you Kermit. So the next time you’re up a tree trying to prepare a sermon, just look for Jesus to come by. It worked for Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10).

To Preach a Book: Sermon 4 – Desperate Words of Wind

Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.
~ 2 Timothy 4:2

Follow one preacher’s journey preaching through a book.

In the fourth sermon, I finished Chapter 1, which is the opening of Scene 2. Here is where I picked up all of verse 19 and covered through verse 22 of Chapter 1. Scene 2 begins the middle section of this story. The middle consists of Scenes 2-4 covering the barley and wheat harvest in Judah. The inciting incident for the scene and the middle section is Naomi’s returning to Bethlehem empty. Their emptiness is contrasted against the beginning of the harvest in Bethlehem, so there is food everywhere and Bethlehem is full but they are empty. The story progresses through the middle until Ruth goes to the threshing floor at night to request redemption from Boaz. The middle resolves with Boaz’ agreement and his going off to settle the matter.

Sermon Introduction

I wanted to review Scene 1 and point out some ways it sets up the whole story and introduces the controlling, unifying theme as well as key themes for the entire story. I tried to draw attention to how this was accomplished by pacing and the characters’ choices and responses to the events. I also wanted to introduce Scene 2 and the opening image of the scene we were looking at in this sermon. Naomi is presented as a wisdom character, an archetypal sufferer wrestling with her situation. Further, she is depicted as a suffering widow of Israel, hinting at the Messianic and eschatological overtones of the book.

Verses 19-22 Naomi’s Return to Bethlehem

The opening image of Scene 2 has Naomi returning to Bethlehem with Ruth. The author notes how her return created a stir among the townspeople. The whole city gathered around them, which is a bit of hyperbole since we know Boaz wasn’t there. When he comes into the story, his knowledge of Naomi and Ruth is only what he has heard. We would naturally expect Naomi to be peppered with questions in a situation like that. Her explanation of her situation takes up most of this section.

In verses 20-21 Naomi speaks of her experiences and attributes the events in her life to God’s providence. Here Naomi sounds most like Job in his complaints. We can certainly see similarity in their circumstances, but there is an important intertextual connection as Naomi uses the name Almighty, El Shaddai, for God. The book of Job uses this title more than any other book, and especially in a similar attribution to God’s providence (Job 27:2). Naomi speaks explicitly to the unifying theme as she declares her own emptiness. I took the title for the sermon, “Desperate Words of Wind,” from Job 6:26.

Verse 22 closes the chapter and the opening image of Scene 2. The reader is reminded that Naomi had Ruth, so her emptiness was not quite as complete as it might seem. This short verse contributes to the theme of Ruth as a stranger, or foreigner. Her status in some ways contrasts with the wise woman in Proverbs 31, but also contrasts with the adulterous woman in Proverbs. The last phrase mentions the providential timing of their return, which is so crucial for the events to unfold as they do throughout the book and bring Naomi and Ruth to rest.

Sermon Conclusion

We need to be careful of hasty conclusions concerning Naomi. It’s early in the story and her character arc is by no means complete. Reading Naomi as Job-like sufferer also gives us pause before engaging in hasty condemnations. The author does not give any judgments about Naomi’s words, but the obvious connections with Job are certainly key to how we should think about her. The characters are dealing with great hardships in life and the story gives us direction on responding to those who are suffering and thinking about our own sufferings.

Links

You can listen to the fourth sermon in the series here.

Up Next

Next, I will look at the fifth sermon in the series.

This post is part a of series. To read the entire series from the beginning, go here.

To Preach a Book: Sermon 3 – A New Identity

Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.
~ 2 Timothy 4:2

Follow one preacher’s journey preaching through a book.

For the third sermon, I chose to preach the rest of Scene 1, which is Ruth 1:6-18. You will notice on my scene sheets that I actually broke the scene in the middle of verse 19. I ended up putting verse 19 with Scene 2. It’s not a big issue, but the rest of verse 19 is part of the inciting incident for Scene 2. Verses 6-18 give us the turning point, crisis choice, climax decision, and resolution for the scene and moves the story into the middle. We learn more about Naomi and Ruth as characters in this story. I entitled the sermon, “A New Identity,” because the conversion of Ruth and Ruth’s identity which is a recurring motif throughout the story.

Verses 6-13 Naomi’s Choice

The opening of the story has left Naomi a childless widow in a foreign land. She lost rest, even the hope of rest, and she had to make a choice. She chose to return to Israel after she had learned the famine was ended and Judah had food. We are not told how she received this story revelation, but it creates the turning point in the scene.

She began the journey back and Ruth and Orpah accompanied her. Verses 8-9 give Naomi’s words to her daughters-in-law, which sets up their choice in the scene. She bids them to return to their homes and family. Naomi blesses and prays for them to experience Yahweh’s kindness. This is the first mention of hesed, which refers to covenant kindness or faithfulness, introducing an important theme.

This is also the first of four instances where Ruth is praised for virtuous acts, introducing her as a wisdom character. The book of Ruth obviously parallels Ruth with the virtuous/wise woman of Proverbs 31. The word for virtuous that describes the wise woman, used in Proverbs 30:10, and 29, is also used to describe Ruth in Ruth 2:1; 3:11; and 4:11. I needed to explore this, so I printed out the text of Proverbs 31:10-31 and read through it several times. I wanted to identify characteristics of the wise woman and noted those down the left hand margin. I identified ten different characteristics that were praised in that passage. I also wanted to note where Ruth was either praised for, or displayed those characteristics in the book of Ruth. I put this information on a spreadsheet and included there a contrast with the strange, or foreign, woman in Proverbs. The same word is used of Ruth to describe her as a foreigner, but she is obviously the antithesis of the Proverbs strange woman. You will find links for these sheets at the bottom of the post.

Verse 9 states the controlling theme for the story of finding rest. Finding rest is symbolized by family, the house of a husband. Ruth and Orpah both initially respond with their intentions to stay with her. In verses 11-13, Naomi responds to them in terms of finding rest and that she cannot provide it for them. Naomi is hopeless and is introduced here as a wisdom character, a Job-like suffering figure. She had endured extreme hardship. She acknowledged God’s hand of providence in her life and made a statement similar to Job’s statements about his sufferings in Job 6:4 and 19:21. She will have further statements establishing her as an archetypal sufferer.

Verses 14-18 Ruth’s Choice

The scene moves toward resolution as Ruth and Orpah must make a choice. Orpah returns to her people and provides a foil for illustrating Ruth’s conversion and character as she assumes a new identity. Ruth had already been praised for showing covenant kindness and the narrator describes that she clave to Naomi. Some translations have clung. The word for clave/clung is associated in the Old Testament with covenant faithfulness and describes what Israel was supposed to do (Deuteronomy 10:20; 13:4; Joshua 23:8). It sets up Ruth’s confession in verses 16-17 and her unwavering loyalty throughout the book.

Verses 16-17 are the familiar confession of Ruth, and are some of the most beautiful words in the Bible. The words demonstrate the conversion of Ruth and declare her loyalty to Yahweh, the God of Israel. Her loyalty, love, and faithfulness to Naomi are clearly seen as the fruit of her loyalty, love, and faithfulness to Yahweh. Ruth has a new identity, though her ethnic identity doesn’t change. Ruth’s identity is a recurring motif. The scene resolves with Naomi and Ruth returning to Bethlehem.

Sermon Conclusion

The conclusion needed to point out realities about faith. The book presents the characters, especially Naomi and Ruth, in such a way that their choices and actions are seen as actions of faith. Both Naomi and Ruth are in hard circumstances, with limited options. Ruth’s choice is enhanced by Orpah’s choice to return. For the two young widows, returning to their family homes seem the most promising. That is not what Ruth did.

We learn a certain lesson about faith, which is that faith is not merely knowledge or ideas. The Christian faith is not theoretical, abstract ideas we merely entertain, discuss, and play with. Faith in forms how we make decisions and how we live in this world.

Sermon Introduction

To introduce this sermon, I wanted to give a brief summary of the previous sermon. We covered the opening part of the scene. I wanted to point out important lessons there and connect it to the rest of the scene before us.

I wanted to introduce the last part of Scene 1 in terms of the important themes introduced at this point of the story. The controlling/unifying theme of the whole story is introduced here. The themes of wisdom and covenant faithfulness are also introduced. These themes are important for the shape of the story and informing how we read it.

Links

You can listen to the third sermon of the series here. You can download the markup sheet of Proverbs 31:10-31 here. You can download the spreadsheet of the parallels and contrasts of Ruth and Proverbs here.

Up Next

In the next post, I will look at the fourth sermon in the series.

This post is part a of series. To read the entire series from the beginning, go here.

To Preach a Book: Sermon 2 – From Life to Death

Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.
~ 2 Timothy 4:2

Follow one preacher’s journey preaching through a book.

Now 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.”

Sermon Conclusion

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.

Sermon Introduction

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.

Links

You can listen to the second sermon here. You can download the marked up journal I used throughout the entire study here.

Up Next

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.

To Preach a Book: Sermon 1 – Introduction to Ruth

Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.
~ 2 Timothy 4:2

Follow one preacher’s journey preaching through a book.

When I preach a message introducing a book and a verse by verse series through the book, I have few objectives. I want to give a big picture overview of the book. I want to mention the systematic and biblical theology of the book. I want to raise any issues or questions the book addresses. I want to give a brief outline of the book to show the flow of the book from beginning to end.

I want to work through this in this post in reference to my first sermon in the Ruth series. I’m going to look at these topics in the body of my sermon first and then I will look at the sermon introduction and conclusion.

Author, Date, and Place of Writing

Any book study needs to address the author, or writer, of the book, the date when it was written, and where it was written from. For some books, you also need to know whom it was written to. I’m looking for two types of sources—internal and external.

Internal sources refers to any references to these within the text of the book itself. I would also add here any references in the other biblical books relevant to the book I’m studying. The book of Ruth itself does not record any of these facts. No other biblical books give us information on it either. Ruth is only mentioned outside the book of Ruth in the genealogy of Jesus (Matthew 1:5), and Boaz is mentioned there with Ruth and in the genealogy of David in 1 Chronicles 2:11-12.

External sources refer to historical sources outside of the Bible. Such histories are not a part of the inspired record, but we can often identify reliable historical data. Historical sources are better the closer they are to the time of the original writing. We also want historical sources to have verifications. This is where Bible handbooks, commentaries, book studies, etc., can help by pointing to historical sources. In the case of Ruth, there is not much historical data to work with. We mostly find conjectures and speculations, but little that would have any credible foundation. Of course, you can always find liberal criticisms in this realm that seek only to destroy the views of verbal plenary inspiration, infallibility, and inerrancy of Scripture.

I also want to consider the canonical placement of the book. English translations followed the Septuagint’s book order by placing Ruth after Judges and before 1 Samuel. In the Hebrew Tanak, the book was placed in the collection of scrolls called The Writings. It was placed after Proverbs and before Song of Solomon. The book has been placed differently in some different collections, but these are the primary ones.

The events in the book of Ruth happened during the time of the judges and it ends with the ancestry of David, so historically, it naturally goes between Judges and 1 Samuel. The placement between Proverbs and Song of Solomon is a more thematic placement of the book, and makes sense from that perspective. Canonical placement does give us ideas on how the book was viewed and read historically. It is also a helpful key for considering the intertextuality of Ruth with other Old Testament books.

Classifying the Book

Anytime I begin studying a book, I need to know what kind of book I am working with. We call that the book’s genre, and the genre helps guide us in interpreting the book. Among biblical books, Ruth is classified as historical narrative. I am talking about the primary genre of the book. Books typically have a primary genre, but can also have sub-genres within them. A book may be primarily narrative, but also contain poetry or didactic prose.

Ruth is primarily narrative, but does contain instances of poetry that would be of the wisdom variety. It also has legal proceedings at the city gate and includes a genealogy list. Ruth can be further classified within narrative in literary terms. The narrative of Ruth is a love story and a morality redemption story. Ruth does contain conventions of those stories and the plot structure, or story arc, is comedy, since it generally progresses upward to what we call a happy ending.

Crucial Elements

The setting of the story has to do with time in both the period when the story takes place and the length of time the events of the story take. The setting also has to do with general and specific locations. The general locations are Moab and Bethlehem. The specific locations are the field of Boaz, threshing floor, and city gates of Bethlehem.

The story also has an atmosphere in terms of whether events are on the natural plane only, or if they include supernatural acts. Ruth doesn’t have any supernatural occurrences, so the reality of Ruth is realism. This means the book portrays normal life with providential events and inferred Divine activity.

The point of view refers to the writer or narrator for the story. In Ruth, the narrator is the writer of the book. The narrator relays events and can also provide inspired commentary on the meaning of events and actions. As we read the story of Ruth, we see the writer using the device of dramatic irony, where the reader is given information the character or characters in the scene do not yet know.

Stories also have unifying themes, or a primary message to convey. It can be difficult to identify the controlling theme of a story. It often helps to look closely at the ending of the story to see how the story resolves and that gives us a good clue. The unifying theme unifies the various elements of the story, such as character development and plot points. Each main character will interact with the unifying theme and that theme will be present at different levels throughout the story.

In the book of Ruth, the unifying theme is finding rest. The concept permeates the story. Each of the main characters have arcs relevant to that theme. The story ends with all three main characters finding rest temporally and the genealogy of David points to the greater rest through the Son of David, the Messiah Jesus.

Characters

The main characters of a story are indispensable to the story and will experience change (character arcs) in terms of the unifying theme and other major themes of the story.

In the book of Ruth, Ruth, Boaz, and Naomi are the main characters. As the story unfolds from beginning to end, each of these characters experience change in terms of finding rest, going from death to life, famine to fullness, and expressions of love, loyalty, and self-sacrifice, or selflessness.

Commentators differ as to the one main character. When I analyzed the story, I saw the one, main character is obviously Naomi. She experiences the most dramatic change in terms of the story’s values. She is in nearly every scene of the story. The story is nearly 60% dialog, and Naomi accounts for almost one third of the dialog. She speaks the most of any character across the most scenes. Boaz does edge her out as speaking the most words, but that is mainly due two lengthy speeches in Scene 2 and 4. (You can find my overall dialog analysis here and my character dialog analysis here.) Many points in the story are told from Naomi’s perspective, or in relation to how events most affected her. The ending of the story is also related in terms of how the outcome related to Naomi more than the other characters.

The Sermon Conclusion

When I conclude the sermon that introduces the book of Ruth, I want to focus on application to the people listening to me. I don’t want to rehash everything I just said. I focused on how each of us relate to the unifying and major themes of the book of Ruth. This is what the book is mostly teaching us today. The message of Ruth is to trust God through our own problems and challenges. Like the main characters, we have temporal needs and greater, eternal needs. We could say physical needs and spiritual needs.

The Sermon Introduction

Knowing the substance of what I am going to say, the body of the sermon, and where I am going to end, the sermon conclusion, I am ready to open and introduce the sermon. I want to pique interest to draw people into the sermon and I want to introduce the sermon and the series in a way that helps them see the relevancy and usefulness of the study.

I opened with an illustration where I retold the story of Ruth in the broadest, most general terms I could think of. I wanted it to sound like I was pitching the story as a book or movie in the broad love story genre. I counted on this sounding familiar to the hearers. This might be the pitch for a novel they would find interesting, or movie they might like to watch. I turned the illustration in the end by stating the obvious—this is the biblical story of Ruth.

To further introduce the series, I wanted to raise and answer the question: Why should we study the book of Ruth? Or, What should we expect to learn from studying Ruth? This is another way to present the practical applications of the book as a whole and speak to ways the book is relevant to a modern reader. I also wanted to point to the greater Redeemer promised in the coming of Jesus Christ.

Reflections

I think I accomplished my main objectives in this sermon and I think it came out okay. It will not go down in history as the greatest sermon ever preached. It will not be accounted as even the greatest book introduction ever preached. That’s okay. I am not the greatest preacher to ever preach. Many have preached the book before me and many will preach it after me. As far as I can tell, it was helpful for the church I pastor, it was faithful to the text, and I am thankful for that.

If I could change one thing, I wouldn’t forget to add the outline of the book in the form of the six scenes I divided the book into. I don’t know how I overlooked that and forgot to include it. I hate that I left that out, but I am not a perfect preacher and I will never preach a perfect sermon. Besides that, I am sure the sermon could have been better and I am sure there are problems I am unaware of. Some blessed saint with the gift of helps will probably point them out to me sometime in the future.

You can listen to the first sermon of the Ruth series here.

Up Next

In the next post, I will look at the second sermon in the series.

This post is part a of series. To read the entire series from the beginning, go here.

To Preach a Book: A Tale Told

Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.
~ 2 Timothy 4:2

Follow one preacher’s journey preaching through a book.

I have divided up the scenes and am getting close to preaching the introductory message for the series through Ruth. I’m not there yet. I have found most of the heavy lifting for getting a book series off the ground is done up front, before the preaching begins. I have the scenes I need to work with, and I will work with those all the way through to the final message. I will make minor adjustments to those as I go along. Before I begin preparing to preach the introduction, I still have some work to do.

I have two tasks to complete before I am ready to start building the introductory sermon. I need to go through the whole story again and note the setting, plot points, and characters that constitute the story and I need to fill out what I am calling the book single sheet for Ruth. To explain what I’m looking for and why, I need to talk a little bit about biblical narrative.

Features of Biblical Narrative

I printed out the book of Ruth journal I downloaded from Sermon Audio and marked it up for setting, plot, and character. You can find a scan of what I did here. Rather than looking at every mark on those pages, I think we can discuss biblical narrative and that will explain what I was looking for.

Biblical narrative refers to a form of content in a book or particular part of the Bible. It is a Bible story, and narrative accounts for almost half of all biblical content. The book of Ruth is an historical narrative about certain happenings in Judah during the time of the judges. Identifying the book as biblical narrative means there are genre-specific conventions and features to look for in the book. I have identified eight features of biblical narrative and you can find the chart I made here. I am going to explain that chart as succinctly as I can, but I highly recommend “How Bible Stories Work,” by Leland Ryken, for further study. Ryken’s book is helpful on this subject, goes deeper than I will here, and provides examples from different places in the Bible.

Biblical historical narrative is accurate history, but it is also Scripture, meaning it is revelation. It is God’s revelation in narrative form. Biblical narrative tells a human story with people and events to communicate truth, reality, and life, and it is also a divine story revealing truth about God, his will, and work in the world to fulfill his ultimate purposes. I listed the features of biblical narrative down the left column: setting/time, plot, characters, devices, movement, theme, biblical theology, and systematic theology. Because biblical narrative is both a divine and human story, the narrative’s features will be present on both the divine and human level.

Using the work I have done, I can fill out a biblical narrative chart for the book of Ruth to identify how the book fulfills the conventions of biblical narrative on the divine and human levels. You can find that chart here. You will see the features listed down the right column with a Divine and Human column for each feature.

The Ruth Single Sheet

I am now ready to fill out the single sheet for Ruth. The idea here is to take all the work I have done to this point and put the necessary information for the whole book of Ruth on a single sheet of paper. I have divided the book into six scenes moving from inciting incident to resolution. I have the analysis sheet of the scenes and I have the biblical narrative chart for Ruth. I will pull from all those to fill out the single sheet. You can find the single sheet here.

The single sheet has two important functions. First, to get to the point where I can fill it out means I have to have a reasonable grasp on the book, what it is about, and how it communicates the truth to readers. Second, it is useful to have the book at a glance and it will be a guide for me as I progress through the exposition of the book. It is a part of the small library of my own resources for the book. It also gives me a way to analyze the book for myself before I read other books or commentaries on Ruth.

I am now ready to prepare the first sermon for the series, which will introduce the book of Ruth to the congregation and lay the foundation for our study of it. Every piece of information I have gathered at this point may not necessarily make it into a sermon. That’s fine, because it has been an essential part of my study to grasp the book. I am also ready to revise any of my work as I go through the book, if I see the need to do so. As I write this, I have actually finished preaching the series and I didn’t end up revising anything beyond minor adjustments and clarifications.

Up Next

In the next post, I will discuss the preparation and delivery of the first sermon of the series on Ruth.

This post is part a of series. To read the entire series from the beginning, go here.

Next Page »