A friend of ours here in New Haven is preaching for the first time this Sunday, and from the lectionary she chose what is at once the most fitting but also the most difficult text available. In conversation with her this week I was reminded of a repeated theme in the writings of Robert Jenson on preaching difficult scriptural texts, and thought I'd share them here as I did with her:
"Do we, the congregation, as we sit there, witness the preacher
struggling to say what the text says and doing so whether or not he or
she personally likes the text? If texts are not determined by a
lectionary, do we witness the preacher sometimes choosing a text we know
must be difficult for him or her? If we do -- and, indeed, perhaps most
impressively, if we witness the preacher trying yet failing -- then we
experience the authority of Scripture."
--"Scripture's Authority in the Church," in The Art of Reading Scripture, eds. Ellen F. Davis and Richard B. Hays (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003), 36
"Scripture exercises authority to create faith when a hard text is
laid on the preacher and he or she tries to say what it says,
successfully or not."
--"On the Authorities of Scripture," in Engaging Biblical Authority, ed. William P. Brown (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2007), 58
"In the homiletical practice of worshiping
and teaching assemblies . . ., reading Scripture closely and seriously
means struggle, because lives and behavior are at stake and folk are not
going to let us off with evasions. If preaching and teaching are seriously and determinedly scriptural in our churches, we have to struggle to say what Scripture says, and by the act itself necessarily cling to the conviction that Scripture does say something.
The struggle itself is the hermeneutical principle. It is the parish
clergy, not the academics, whose labor to read the text closely, and
assumption of the struggle that means in the parish, will maintain the
authority of Scripture, and whose failure to read the text closely will
undercut the authority of Scripture."
--"Hermeneutics and the Life of the Church," in Reclaiming the Bible for the Church, eds. Carl E. Braaten and Robert W. Jenson (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995), 94-95