Saturday, March 27, 2010

The Preaching Imagination, Acts 2...

I've had the assignment on preaching from Acts 2, May 7, for about six months now. It's been hard to resist some sermon momentum. The first reading of the text introduced a set of images that immediately suggested a sermon. I've learned to admit these initial impressions, not suppress them. But I've also learned to question where they come from. These particular images centered on the relationship that Churches of Christ have had with Acts 2 through the years. It's a strong set of images and this still might be the way the sermon goes.

But it was obvious. And it was generated by a relationship outside the text, not so much from a dwelling in the text itself. So, I've been looking for other compelling images, other ways in.

This is important in relation to Acts 2 precisely because this text is familiar. There's not a person in Churches of Christ who can't quote Acts 2:38. And while this verse is huge in the scope of Peter's sermon, the larger setting is and rich and full and thinly interpreted in my opinion. I need something to jar listeners into a new reading.

So, I've been scrubbing the text to see what might fall loose. And I've been reading others who have read deeply as well. And today a new way in appeared.

It came while reading the quotation from Joel in Peter's sermon--a text I've read hundreds of times. But the question the apostles ask Jesus at the beginning of Acts has been framing my overall reading of this text in increasing measure. "Is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?" I am increasingly convinced that this is a crucial question in the narrative flow of Acts.

So, when I got to "your sons and daughters shall prophecy," two things hit me at once. Simeon and Anna are prophets, male and female. And they were looking for the "consolation of Israel" and the "redemption of Jerusalem" respectively. They are people of the Holy Spirit, living faithfully in expectation of the fulfillment of the promises made by God to Israel. They prefigure the Pentecost event. The same Spirit inspiring a specific hope in them is poured out by the risen Jesus on Pentecost.

Now, I know this might not sound like a lot. But suddenly my imagination started popping in two directions. First, it began to emerge like a golden thread from other familiar texts in Luke-Acts. Second, the significance of Simeon and Anna in light of Acts 2 for the self-understanding of the church today was immediately relevant and specific. I could identify Simeon and Annas. And I could tie them to the allusion that the twelve standing before the crowd were Galileans.

This may prove to be nothing but background to my sermon. But it might very well be a new way in. A surprise that brings the meaning of the event into different focus. This may prove to be only feeding that part of me that likes to be unique. But we'll see. I have time to play with it. Let's see where it goes.

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