Preachers and reporters often face the same challenge: to tell the same story in a new way.
Reporters sometimes have to cover the same stories for days, weeks, months, and even years on end. Most significant conflicts and crises do not find resolution within a single new cycle.
To keep people buying their papers and watching their networks, reporters have to find ways to make the content fresh—to keep it engaging and personal as new developments emerge.
One way they do this is to find different angles from which to tell the story. They dive into the perspective and viewpoints of individuals, organizations, and communities on all sides of a story. And three of the most foundational angles are to tell relevant local, national, and follow-up stories.
To tell these stories effectively, the best journalists do not assume they know the answers before they ask their questions. They ask questions honestly, genuinely following where they lead.
Preachers can use these same angles. Harnessing both scholarship and imagination, we can look at Scripture from these three angles, seeing old stories from fresh perspectives to find new ways to preach the Good News.
Likewise, we, too, must come to the text open. We must question the text with the curiosity and openness of a journalist. How God is revealing God’s self to those in the text, to ourselves, and to those around us?
Defining the Angles
The local angle examines how something of global or national importance affects the hometown crowd. For example, during the recent partial government shutdown, there were many stories about local concerns: people’s (in)capacity to buy groceries or medications, farmers’ (in)ability to get loans for planting this season’s new crops, travelers’ airport wait times, or air safety controllers’ concerns about flight safety. Finding the personal, human impact is what the local angle does best.
The national angle takes the 5000 foot view. Using the recent partial government shutdown again, the national angle looked at the impact of the shutdown on the national economy and debt—the long term challenges of catching up on weeks of work or getting tax returns issued in a timely manner. The national angle considers how news affects a larger population.
The follow-up angle looks at the myriad results of the initial story and what happens next. Are there lasting impacts? What's the outcome? Now that people are back to work after the shutdown, news stories are following up. Will the farmers be able to plant in time to salvage this year’s crops? How did people manage without their meds? Has TSA lost workers? What was the overall impact on the economy? As we face the possibility of another shutdown, what are the potential ramifications emotionally, economically, and politically?
Applying the Angles to Biblical Exegesis
Let's apply each of these angles to the story for Deuteronomy, Year C, Lent 1.
When you have come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance to possess, and you possess it, and settle in it, you shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from the land that the Lord your God is giving you, and you shall put it in a basket and go to the place that the Lord your God will choose as a dwelling for his name. You shall go to the priest who is in office at that time, and say to him, "Today I declare to the Lord your God that I have come into the land that the Lord swore to our ancestors to give us." When the priest takes the basket from your hand and sets it down before the altar of the Lord your God, you shall make this response before the Lord your God: "A wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien, few in number, and there he became a great nation, mighty and populous. When the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us, by imposing hard labor on us, we cried to the Lord, the God of our ancestors; the Lord heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression. The Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with a terrifying display of power, and with signs and wonders; and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O Lord, have given me." You shall set it down before the Lord your God and bow down before the Lord your God. Then you, together with the Levites and the aliens who reside among you, shall celebrate with all the bounty that the Lord your God has given to you and to your house.
Applying the Local Angle
The local angle will look at the individuals affected by the social and political change of newcomers taking over a land. It will zoom in on individual Israelites establishing their new home.
The preacher might ask:
How did the Egyptians manage without the forced labor of the Israelites? Who tended the fields and animals?
Who are the people whose land was taken over?
How might they have felt about the immigrants?
How might the people who were already there feel about the Israelites’ God?
How did the elderly feel about making it to the promised land?
How might young people feel about changing from a nomadic lifestyle to a settled one?
What was most memorable about the journey?
After living on manna for so many years, how did those first fruits taken from the ground taste?
How might the priest have felt the first first time those first fruits were brought into the temple and together they gave thanks to God for their deliverance?
Applying the National Angle
Taking the 5000 foot view helps us see the bigger picture of those who were affected. In particular, the story of Deuteronomy might make us wonder:
With a massive labor force suddenly unavailable, what happened to the economy of the country?
A great deal of expertise for fieldwork, animal training and husbandry suddenly exited the country. What difference did that make in the lives of those left behind?
As the Israelites wound their way through the desert trying to find their new home, what gifts and tribulations did that bring to the nations through which they passed?
What trends might have been seen among the Israelites’ theology? Overall, did their faith in God increase, decrease, or stay the same? How did their practices of worship change as a people?
How did the Israelites feel about incorporating the aliens in the land?
How did they feel about the leadership changing from Moses to Aaron?
Applying the Follow-Up Angle
Of course, when we look at a Bible story, we know the follow-up. However, we can ask questions that are based on the answers we might have discovered above:
As the Israelites incorporated the aliens in the land, how might this have changed their idea of what it meant to identify as God’s chosen people?
What new problems did the Israelites face as they settled into their new land? How did they solve them?
Depending on God during a transition is different from depending on God when things are settled and stable. How did the Israelites’ relationship to God change in the short-term?
How long did it take for them to settle into their new normal?
What helped–and hindered–them make the transition?
How did the Egyptians fare over time without the Israelites?
How did hundreds of years of slavery affect the Israelites’ understanding of themselves as God’s people? What did they learn? What scars did they carry?
How did the rituals of celebration affect them as a people and their relationship with God?
News matters because it has an impact.
It changes the way we understand the world, each other, and God. It affects the way we think, feel, and make decisions.
Interesting news is only that: a fun factoid for your next dinner party or trivia game.
News that matters—like Good News, like the Gospel—is recognized because it makes a difference.
The impact of the Gospel today can be discerned when we appreciate the impact of God’s actions on people back then. We can look at the local impact of God’s actions in scripture to better understand its local impact on us. We can ask questions about the broader picture for the communities of which we are a part, seeking to understand the global or national angle. And finally, when we've heard this good news before, we can follow up to ask what impact it has had since?
Dig into the Scriptures like a reporter and you'll come up with plenty of fresh angles for your own sermons.
Interested in another angle?
Join us for “The Gospel People Don’t Want to Hear: How to Preach Challenging Messages so They’re Heard”
Thursday, February 28th & Thursday, March 7th
4:00 to 6:00 p.m. CST
To better understand how God is affecting our local and national cultures, please join us for a two-session seminar based on my forthcoming book by the same title, “The Gospel People Don't Want to Hear: How to Preach Challenging Messages So They’re Heard.”*
the backstories behind challenging messages (that is, what makes challenging messages challenging)
how to build trust with listeners so they’re willing to listen to challenging messages
and how to craft sermons that can be heard.
By the end of the second session, you’ll have stronger skills and more tools to preach the sermon messages your listeners need to hear but may not want to—in a way that allows them to welcome the Good News.
Enroll by February 14th with code EARLYBIRDGOSPEL for the early bird price of $89.
*Working Preacher Books, anticipated 2019