Several years ago, James Lipton of Bravo’s “Inside the Actors Studio” interviewed Sir Anthony Hopkins.
Mr. Lipton asked him the usual set of questions about the craft of acting–movie research, how he gets into character, what new skills he sets out to learn. Hopkins replied, “Well, it is really quite simple, actually. Know the script.”
Know the script. One could also say the same thing about the craft of preaching–know the text. Indeed, it really is quite simple, except that the simplicity of knowing the text is frequently complicated when we marginalize the text in favor of the “skills” we think we need to be better preachers. And so, we read words about the text rather than the words in the text. We mine the text for a nugget of meaning so as to make it applicable and palatable for our hearers rather than allowing the text itself to “re-language” meaning for a particular time, place, and people. We accede to oft-rehearsed and static theological assumptions about the text that take the place of a new incarnation of God in the revelatory and living word.
Of course, getting to know the text is not that simple, and perhaps that is at the heart of the problem. It takes time and effort to read and to give the biblical text a fair hearing. We tend to favor a neat, linear, clean reading that moves along at an acceptable pace and does not exceed a calculated reasonable amount of work. Knowing the text means slowing down the process of reading and letting God speak–in God’s time and not ours. It means not being so eager to get to the punch line. Linger, allow yourself to be interrupted or even disrupted. What pulls you up short? What makes you go back and reread? For the claim of the text that we so desperately want and need to hear will reveal itself not only in what the text says, but also by how it says. It is in knowing the text that our preaching becomes the craft we wish it to be.