My dad was a second-generation farmer in the Mississippi Delta. He took over the family farm shortly after his father died in the waning days of World War II. Ours was not a large place by Delta standards but it was good, productive land. It never failed to make a crop.
Nevertheless, during many growing seasons my dad leased other farmland in order to produce more and bolster his profits. At one point in time he even gave serious consideration to buying a nearby farm when its owners passed away. Leery of taking on too much debt, Dad passed on the opportunity. The opportunities to lease or buy other land evaporated as the years passed, and my father was left to work the land he had. He made the most of the situation. He tried and embraced new methods and techniques. He found ways to lessen his overhead and cut his input costs. As a result, he got more of out of that piece of ground than when first he started. He learned to work the ground he had, not the ground he didn’t have.
This practice holds true for preaching. Whether one preaches from the lectionary, develops series, or goes week to week, the key to effective preaching is to stick with the text in front of us and work it as hard as we know how. A text doesn’t yield its treasure apart from our determined attention. Effective preaching demands that we dig deeply into the text we’ve chosen by reading it in multiple translations, by letting its suggestive power fire our imaginations, and by allowing its sharp edges to hook our attention. Only then will it begin to work on us, and only then will it begin to produce something in us–something we can pass along to our listeners.
I say this not to criticize or demean the practice of utilizing biblical illustrations. Nor do I wish to minimize the fact that lectionary texts often provide helpful commentary. I am, however, calling attention to the fact that too many of us dilute the power of a text by calling attention to it briefly during the sermon and then taking a round-the-world trip to other texts to fill up the allotted time. I am simply asserting that we give ourselves to the discipline of working on the text right in front of us. If we diligently work the text in front of us, it will yield more than we can possibly imagine.