Back in seminary, I made a pledge to myself.
“Self,” I said with great pomposity, “I know that you will never be like one of those preachers who are up late on Saturday nights writing their sermons. You will take time to get the sermon written early in the week, won’t you?”
After all, I had been around preachers for a while by the time I entered seminary. In fact, I was married to one, and I used to look down my nose with disdain on those Saturday nights when she was pulling her hair out in order to get something on paper (it’s a wonder that she’s not bald). “I will never do that,” I told myself. “I’m much more organized.”
Now, almost ten years into my ministry as a pastor, and after five years of preaching every Sunday for fifty weeks out of the year, I find myself again and again sitting down at the computer around 9 p.m. on Saturday night to finally get something on paper. So much for pomposity.
In my defense, I should note that it’s not like I am picking a topic on Saturday night. I do know what I’m preaching on, and have done some general work identifying themes in the text (I try to plan ahead quarterly). During the week I will be thinking about the text, and will be consciously looking for ways to bring the text alive. And, I usually review resources on the text, doing some basic research. So, when I sit down on Saturday, I usually have something to bring to the table . . . but there’s still a ways to go.
However, the task is made much easier with several online resources that have become absolutely necessary in my preparation process. These are resources that I use during the week, but that become especially crucial on Saturday nights when God is leading me to new thoughts and directions.
The best source for exegetical work and gaining insights about the biblical text is “The Text This Week” (www.textweek.com). This site is a gem of a resource run by Jenee Woodard, a graduate of the St. Paul School of Theology, and a self proclaimed “amateur” biblical scholar. Oh would we all be so lucky to have such amateurs in our churches! Jenee takes each week’s lectionary texts ans scours the internet for resources specifically directed on those texts, indexing and categorizing those articles. While this is a great resource for the lectionary preacher, she has been doing this long enough that one can search by biblical text and find great resources even when you aren’t preaching the lectionary. What I appreciate is her willingness to draw on historical materials, contemporary exegesis, and the sermons of others. She also includes links to children’s sermon resources, artistic interpretations of the text, and all sorts of other things that are infinitely helpful. In fact, there is so much stuff most weeks that it is impossible to review it all, but with a little practice, you will find that you have a clear idea of what to look at first.
One of the things that Jenee has added are links to the ATLAS Database, which is a database of academic articles administered by American Theological Library Database. Access to ATLAS requires a subscription which isn’t cheap ($99 per year), however many seminaries and theological schools provide access to ATLAS for their alumni (mine does) and access to these resources offers additional depth in your studies.
Another resource I find myself using more and more are the online bibles which allow searching and offer multiple translations. I tend to use “Bible Gateway” (http://www.biblegateway.com/) the most, as I generally lean toward the NIV and The Message translations in forming my preaching. Bible Gateway would be a complete resource if it included the NRSV, but it is a more “evangelical” based site (whatever that means these days) and it has not added the NRSV to its resources. There is an online NRSV at “oremus Bible Browser” (http://bible.oremus.org/) but I frankly don’t use it very much. Very often, I will open up multiple tabs in Firefox (my browser of choice) with the different translations so that they are always available in my writing process.
There are other resources that I use along the way, including the ever present Google search, but these two resources are the primary sources for study and research on the biblical text. Next time we will look at resources for illustrations and examples.