Rehearsing Scripture: Discovering God’s Word in Community by Anna Carter Florence
Sunday is fast approaching, and you know you have to preach. The Lectionary passages of Scripture are very familiar, and you have preached them often. You feel you have said all there is to say. How can you say something new or at least with a note of live-giving freshness? Those of us who preach have sometimes found ourselves in that unwelcome place. If that is your experience you may well find delving into Rehearsing Scripture rewarding.
That may sound surprising, as this is a book obviously written not for preachers as such but for those who read and study the Scriptures in groups and for those who lead them. However, don’t dismiss this volume out of hand as if it has no relevance in the business of preaching. Many of the insights the author shares with us are applicable both to Bible Study Groups and to the Preacher. This should not surprise us, as Anna Carter Florence is the Peter Marshall Professor of Preaching at Columbia Theological Seminary in Georgia, USA.
The author offers two pieces of advice which run as a golden thread through her book. The first is the model of group Bible Study as a repertory theatre in which the whole cast engage together to read and work on the text of a play. The second is a call to focus not just on the Nouns in Scripture of which there are many nor just on the Adjectives of which there are fewer, but on the Verbs, words which are valuable in that they encourage us to focus not on static positions but on movement.
These two pieces of advice are applied to four particular passages of Scripture in a way that is insightful for preachers as well as for groups. Genesis 3 is the fascinating story of the representative characters of flawed humanity we know as Adam and Eve. The absurdity of them sewing fig-leaves together is suggestive of our frequent and futile human attempts at cover-ups and hiding, often motivated by fear.
2 Samuel 13 is the dark story of the rape of Tamar, probably rarely used in public worship and which most of skip over with embarrassment. Absalom’s words to Tamar regarding his abuse of her: ‘Be quiet for now’ sound uncannily like the treatment of victims of abuse in our own day, whether in society or, sadly, sometimes by those in the church who have misused their power. Only slowly have we recognised the need for victims of abuse to be heard.
Exodus 3, Moses at the burning bush, flags up the need, like Moses, to ‘turn aside and look’ in life, lest we fail to glimpse the glory. Finally, Mark 5, the stories of the Gerasene Demoniac, the Haemorrhaging Woman, and the Raising of Jairus’s Daughter by Jesus, indicate the value of reading Scripture for its own sake and not just looking for a sermon theme.
Even if some of us wince at the Americanisms (references to wolf suits, baby’s diapers, or the need to ‘buckle up’) the style is very readable, lively and refreshing. I would love Anna Carter Florence to write something about the supportive relationship between Bible Study Groups and Preaching Sermons. Definitely a book to put on your birthday list or go out and buy for yourself!
Review by Neville Manning, Retired Priest in the Diocese of Chichester assisting around Eastbourne
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