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Textual Structures

Textual Structures


A textual structure emphasizes the content, the form, and/or the function of the text.  Here, the structure arises from the text itself.  Traditionally, this form has allowed the sequence of verses in the text to form the sequence of textual reflection and proclamation in the sermon.  More recently, however, the genre of the text has informed the sermon structure.  For example, the literary form of diatribe within a text might lead the preacher to incorporate the use of dialog in the sermon.

In textual structures, three matters are important to consider as the preacher develops the sermon.

First, the preacher wants to make sure that he is proclaiming Christ.  Lutherans practice a Christocentric interpretation of Scripture, and the textual structure offers a preacher the opportunity to model that type of interpretation for the hearers.  Sometimes, because a text does not mention Christ or focuses upon an oracle of judgment or a topic of sanctification, the preacher may be inclined to leave Christ out of the sermon.  The office of preaching and the practice of Christocentricity in interpretation prevent that from happening.

Second, the preacher will intentionally determine the limits of the text.  The way preachers use the word “text” can often hide the fact that what is being considered is only a small portion of Scripture, an artificial construction of the Liturgical Commission on Worship or of the one who planned the service.  For example, these five verses from Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians did not circulate alone as a text but, for the sake of time and liturgical theology, are being read in isolation of that larger context today on Advent 1 in Series C.  When this artificial construction of a “text” in the context of worship is not recognized, preachers can take “texts” out of context.  The preacher needs to be aware of the larger context within which this small portion of verses is situated and to discern purposefully and intentionally the limits of the “text” for this particular sermon.  Sometimes, those limits are going to be narrower than the “text” that was read.  Sometimes, those limits are going to be larger than the “text” that was read.  What is important here, however, is that the preacher recognizes how the limits one uses help to highlight a particular theme.  For example, one could preach on the temptations of Jesus by focusing on only one temptation (e.g., “turn these stones into bread”) or by focusing on all three temptations or by reading these temptations in light of earlier or later events in the gospel from which they are taken (e.g., the baptism of Jesus or the feeding of the five thousand) or by reading these temptations in light of the larger trajectory of the biblical narrative (e.g., the temptation of Adam and the temptation of Christ).  How one sets the limits of the “text” can shape the larger teaching of the sermon.

Third, the preacher will seek for coherence in the material that he presents to the hearers.  When working with a text, preachers can sometimes overwhelm their hearers with all sorts of information.  The sermon can sound as if it were an unorganized reading of the various study notes that are found in the margins of a study bible. Rather than overwhelm the hearers with a variety of information, the preacher seeks to focus their attention and guide their experience toward a purposeful end by carefully and intentionally selecting a coherent body of material that unfolds the text for the hearers.  All of the textual material that is present in the sermon should hold together to support one major idea or intention or experience for the sermon as a whole.

Textual structures include: