Preaching the Old Testament

For the second post in a row, I’m sending you off to read a little Books & Culture. Go read that review linked in the previous sentence. Done? That was Lauren Winner’s review of Fleming Rutledge’s book of Old Testament sermons called And God Spoke to Abraham. Since it came out, I’ve been receiving that book into stock regularly at the theological bookshop where I work. Every time it comes across my desk I think about buying it. I haven’t yet. There are other collections of Rutledge’s sermons I’d like to get first. I’ve been eyeing The Bible and the New York Times for some time.

Back to Winner’s review of Rutledge. It amazed me that Winner admitted to defaulting to the gospel reading when she preaches. Of course, loads of people do this, but I didn’t expect that Winner would. It made me smile to think she’s only preached once from the Psalms — and I used a section of her Girl Meets God to justify preaching a sermon on Psalm 103 on Pentecost last year. Oh the irony.

I preach the Psalms quite a lot — in fact, the Psalter is my default book to preach from, not the gospels. Why? you might ask. As always, I’m happy to tell you. Most Psalms are neat single-sermon-sized packages. They are complete in themselves, so there isn’t a lot of exegetical work to figure out if you’ve got an appropriately complete section of Scripture to preach from. Most often, I preach single sermons scattered through the year. If I have a few Sundays in a row, I might do a mini-series, but for a single Sunday, a Psalm is nice and complete and tidy. I also like the challenge of preaching from poetry. I like the dense structure of Hebrew poetry. I like unpacking the way the words are put together. I like seeing the layers of meaning.

It felt a little experimental the first time I preached a Psalm. Now I wonder if I’m turning there too often. There’s such variety in the Psalter though! I certainly haven’t begun to preach what is possible there. I have been jumping around a bit randomly though — which is one of the benefits of preaching in church that doesn’t use the lectionary. I’m thinking about trying to be more systematic in preaching the Psalter, but I’m not sure I want to start with Psalm 2 (I’ve done a sermon on Psalm 1 already) and march on through as opportunity arises. Maybe I’ll take a peek at the lectionary for some direction about which Psalm to choose when I preach next month. That has some sort of system to it.

(In case you are interested, here’s one of my Psalm sermons.)

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