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Scripture Crunching

Written by Tod & Ana Gobledale
June 24, 2008

Scripture Crunching*: A Preacher's Tool and a Bible Study Method for Everyone

Chairs scrape at 8:00 a.m. each Tuesday morning as we gather sipping steaming cups of coffee and tea. Voices hum as the scripture passage from the lectionary two weeks hence is read aloud. Then silence. A moment of reflection. But not for long!

 "My translation says something different."

 "Which verse?"

We're off! Engaged in lively, dynamic discussion, we explore the passage. A series of questions guides us, when we need guiding:

  1. What do you hear?
  2. What word or phrase stood out for you
  3. What does it say? (Does any word need to be checked out?)
  4. What do you think?
  5. What do you feel?
  6. Who is present? What is each person's perspective?
  7. Imagine...
  8. What questions arise for you?
  9. What does the passage make you think of, or remind you of?
  10. Where does the passage intersect with the world (news, art, music, sports, etc)?
  11. Where does the passage intersect with your life, or the life of someone you know?
  12. What's the context (what comes before and after)?

 "Has anyone seen 'Evan Almighty' [substitute the title of any recent film release]? The passage we just read reminds me of the struggles faced by the film's hero."

 "Yeah, exactly!"

 "Just yesterday, as I sat with a dying parishioner, we discussed the way God seems to challenge the faithful. This passage lifts up the same questions."

 "It reminds me of the parable about the banquet..."

The animated discussion touches on our daily experiences – mundane and profound, our reading, our film viewing, our faith.

When does sermon preparation commence? At the first reading of the text, as the scripture is "crunched," squeezed and teased. As ideas flash, criss-cross and engage. As possibilities are glimpsed. As insights are grasped! No weighty reference books, no expert opinions, no "right" answers – these come later in the process.

With scriptures alive in our minds two weeks before the sermon is to be delivered (this is not a Saturday evening night-before-I-preach exercise!), our eyes and minds become open to "sermon moments," moments when life collides with the passage, with the "word" with which we are engaged. We walk through our days open to moments of insight when the scripture's images and metaphors appear in the faces of people, in conversation overheard in the market or city streets, in the storm's torrent, in the morning news. The Holy Spirit does its work – engages mind and heart in reflection opening the eyes to moments of intersection when the Word and the World intersect, opening the mind to ways of sharing these insights with the listening congregation. We do our work, holding the Word close to our hearts and on our minds, open to inspiration and insight.

*This process, referred to as "Scripture Crunching" was formalized for the Practical Preaching class we taught at Churches of Christ Theological College in Mulgrave, Australia. We included it as the first step in the sermon preparation process introduced in the class. An informal group of students and ministers continued to gather weekly for 2 years. We have drawn significantly on the wisdom and creativity of B.N.B. Ngidi, now deceased (of the United Congregational Church of Southern Africa), who reminded us always to hold the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other when listening to the Word of God, those who created the Lectio Divina discipline, Fred Craddock and Kay Bessler-Northcutt (of the Disciples of Christ USA) whose articles on preaching and spirituality continue to inspire.

Ana & Tod Gobledale
...currently on missionary itineration with Global Ministries, serving the United Church of Christ USA and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) USA.  They are returning to local church ministry in the USA.


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