Most preachers know the experience well. You’re chugging along, preaching your text, expounding and exulting (or trying to, anyway), and suddenly you hit the jet stream. Remember that scene in Finding Nemo when the searchers join the sea turtles and suddenly — whooosh! — they’re swept into a current that sweeps them along surf-style? It’s like that, isn’t it? There are moments where the Spirit just sort of anoints the experience, and the trajectory of the sermon starts to move in unanticipated but ecstatically orderly ways.
My latest experience of this was this past Sunday. I was simply minding God’s business in Ruth 2:1-13. In that text we find this verse: “Let your eyes be on the field that they are reaping, and go after them. Have I not charged the young men not to touch you? And when you are thirsty, go to the vessels and drink what the young men have drawn” (v.9).
I didn’t think anything “special” of that verse. I highlighted it simply as Boaz’s tender and protective concern for Ruth, his show of care and provision for her. But in a moment of gospel exultation near the end of the sermon, as I compared what Boaz the redeemer has done for this foreign widow to what Christ the Redeemer has done for we alien sinners, I was further comparing Ruth’s faithful hard work and our obedience, making it clear that we obey in faith as she obeyed in faith, and when the Redeemer rewards us, he reckons our having taken refuge under the Lord (v.12) as our righteousness — whooosh! — I was swept up into the jet stream and said something along the lines of, “The Father calls us to rest from our striving, to drink the water drawn by somebody else.”
That thought, that gospel angle on v.9, had not occurred to me prior to that moment. I wish I could say I saw that glaring up from the text in my prep. I did not. It hit me like lightning in that moment of gospel ecstasy. I stopped. I wanted the congregation to know it. So I noted it. “That wasn’t in my outline, by the way. That water thing. It just hit me. Isn’t that cool?” My congregation is not typically a very effusive one; we’re in Vermont, don’tchaknow? One guy said, “Amen,” a few gave murmurs of approval. I could see in many faces we were sharing a moment of awe in how the Spirit can illuminate a text to shine a light on Christ. It was super, for real.
I find that this happens most often when I am sticking to the text, not straying too far into my own thoughts or stories, and when I am showing both what the text immediately means and then secondarily how it might adorn the gospel. Finding the gospel spring in any text can be hard work, but once it’s found, Christological goodness just starts bubbling over. It rarely happens when I’m superimposing some other homiletical agenda onto the text, inserting my predetermined points and principles, molding the text to fit them. Instead, gospel momentum is found when we preach with the grain of Scripture. Let it rule and let it roll.