I'm going to be bringing the message to worship in a few weeks. As a Quaker, in some ways it feels a little bit strange to be so certain that I'm going to be the one through whom God chooses to speak on that day, and yet, there's something cool about digging in deep to do the study, waiting, questioning, listening and writing that can allow God to speak through me and allow others to connect with God. I thought I'd write a little bit about my process of how I go about preparing to bring a message in a Quaker programmed worship context.
First, I chose a passage of scripture around which to speak. I don't always do this first--sometimes I have a thought or subject I want to talk about and find scripture that goes with it. But this time I'm speaking in a series that's leading up to Easter. The series is entitled "Wondrous Encounters," and on Sunday morning and Wednesday nights through Easter we're focusing on the Gospel of John, so I chose a passage from John. The passage I chose caught my attention because I don't get it. I have a lot of questions, and yet it's a story that seems to have a good deal of depth. I chose the story of Mary of Bethany anointing Jesus' feet with costly ointment, and Judas says, "Shouldn't she have sold that and given the money to the poor?" Jesus says, "The poor you always have with you, but you will not always have me" (John 12:1-8).
I looked at the Greek text and did my own interpretation. When I do translations I look for any words or phrases that are difficult for scholars to interpret, and any words that are in a tense that means they would have stood out to those hearing/reading. Words like these I look up in Kittel's Theological Dictionary of the New Testament to get more context, and I do further study in commentaries.
Then I went to the library. This is where I got a little giddy...I was walking to the library with my 3-month-old in a front pack, and I was just bouncing with excitement that I got to go to my college library, go to the biblical commentary aisle and grab some books out to use. Total nerd moment! Anyway, I found an article on the setting of this story in John, and I also made copies from some commentaries on this passage. The ones I usually use are Interpretation (which is pretty pastoral--not too technical, just a general overview and some thoughts on how to preach the passage), Hermeneia (this one is my all-time favorite!), the New Interpreter's Bible (this one is also fairly brief and easy to understand) and the Word Biblical Commentary (this one is pretty technical and gives WAY more information than one needs for preaching, but it's interesting--to me--and sometimes gives insights that help answer questions about particular words or idioms about which I'm confused).
I've begun reading the article and commentaries, so that's where I am right now. I still have a lot of questions and I'm not exactly sure what I'm supposed to focus on about the story, so my next step (after finishing the commentaries) will be to sit down and write out my questions and thoughts. I also think about the passage on and off throughout the day, so sometimes stuff will come to me when I'm not actually working on the sermon.
As a Friend, I think this allows me to mull over something for a long time and allow the Spirit to speak to me about it. Maybe I'll get to the day I'm supposed to bring the message and something will happen to show us that I'm not supposed to bring that message on that day. But usually when I try to prepare faithfully, I feel the power of the Spirit in me as I deliver the message with which I've been laboring.