Of all the subjects that were required in middle school, reading was the one that I liked the least. The stories we read seemed to be vague and unbelievable, and many times the characters were not figures I could relate to in my adolescent life. During my studies at Trevecca Nazarene University’s School of Education, my classmates and I learned a reading strategy to help ease the struggle of those who find themselves struggling to understand literary passages.
By having students embody the persona of one of the main characters in the narrative they may gain additional insights into the setting, culture, and thematic climate of that persona’s world. Preachers are encountering congregations much like a middle school classroom. Week after week we are faced with the task of making a Biblical narrative that seems vague and unbelievable, clear and relevant. Yet, in all of our striving to produce an exegetically correct and homiletically effective sermon we often times forget to bring our listener into the world of the text.
During my life, I have seen few preachers embody the historical and literary themes of a passage. However, one of the ways I have seen the world of the text come alive is by preaching a sermon from the first person narrative perspective. A friend and mentor of mine, Pastor Charles E. Turner of the New Pleasant Grove Baptist Church in Houston, TX, preached a sermon seven years ago from the persona of Paul who has come back to encourage a local pastor on his pastoral anniversary.
From the persona of Paul he said that he understood the burdens that came with ministry as he recounted being shipwrecked and jailed. He expounded upon the trials and test that we face as believers as he told of the times of having no one to come to his defense. Yet, as Paul he concluded with his testimony from 1 Timothy 4 where he said, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. From now on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have longed for his appearing.”
This first person narrative was filled with sound Biblical exegesis and the socio-political history of Paul’s day. Yet, more than that Pastor Turner invited us into Paul’s world so that we may find new inspiration from an old narrative. May we as proclaimers of the Gospel be daring enough to clothe ourselves in the stories, struggles, and successes from our Biblical fore parents so that the congregations we are charged to serve may journey into this world with us.
 1 Tim. 4:7-8 (NRSV)