I wonder if woodworkers read the story of Noah building the ark or Oholiab building the temple articles with special interest. I wonder if doctors and reporters can identify with Luke, or if farmers love it when the whole Shepherd thing comes up, or if accountants seceretly giggle at all the monetary allusions in Matthew's gospel. For my part, I seem to identify with preaching passages in a different way - I of course try to grasp the content and importance of the sermon, but my mind wanders to homiletics (how to preach; or as we called it in seminary, sermonizing).
Acts 7 was on tap for devotions this morning; it contains Stephen's (rather long) speech/sermon to the high priest and the Freedmen who had captured him, deceitfully accusing him of blasphemy. Here's what struck me: Jesus is not specifically referred to until v. 52. The majority of his sermon is Stephen simply relating the history of Old Testament Israel to men who would have known it. He wasn't really telling them things they didn't know or would be surprised by. So why did they get mad? Because he was using truths they knew to be true to support his devotion to and previous teaching of Jesus. There's some power there...God's Word, and thus sermons, are designed to change people: their thinking, their emotions, etc. Change is more likely when we're working with material you already know to be true. That is, if I as a preacher, don't have to convince you of the truth of the Biblical material, we are in a much better position: me to bring God's Word as the agent of change and you to be changed. Application: We all need to study our Bible and believe it. This will not remove from us the need for sermons; it will prepare us to be changed more quickly and powerfully by the sermons.
Second point: The high priest asked Stephen (7:1), "Are these things so?" That is, "Is it true that you're speaking against the temple and the law of God and threatening that Jesus will destroy it and change our customs?" Those accusations could be partly true in a certain light, and Stephen certainly had a case to defend himself. Yet he never speaks of himself the whole sermon. He gives glory to God by pressing home the history of the Israelites to the Jewish leaders of his day - and what a kick he gives at the end, accusing them of grieving the Holy Spirit, killing the Righteous One, betraying and murdering the prophets, and disobeying the law delivered by angels. What a scene this must have been! This is a great picture of one called to preach, one who can't stop from preaching and even defaults to preaching when he might be saving his own hide instead. (Side note: for anyone who wishes every sermon was as fiery as Stephen's, remember that he was addressing avowed enemies of the Christ. When we think of what the proper tenor for sermons is, we should look more to the Psalms and the letters of Paul to the churches and the letters of Christ to His churches in Revelation.)
On a much different note, our softball team won the championship last night! We started off this season losing the first three games and things looked not well. We had a great turnaround, learning to play together and cutting down our fielding errors. The two games we played last night were great fun. The championship game was especially tense - we were tied going into the last inning and scored one final run in the bottom of the inning to win it. It sure is a lot more fun to win than it is to lose.