Finding the Pericopes in Jonah, Pt. 1
When my kids were little, they loved playing hide and seek. The game would always involve me going and hiding and then they would come and seek. The key to the game being really fun for them was the finding. The seeking couldn’t last too long, be too involved, or end in failure. My kids loved finding. As a result, my hiding wasn’t really hiding at all. My hiding would be best described as creatively designing ways to be found. The game should be called seek and find.
God has creatively designed the pericopes, or preaching units, of Jonah to be found. Yes, the preaching units must be sought after in order to be found, but those pericopes are not hidden. As preachers, we are able to find and unveil to the listeners what God intends to be found. Maybe the following thoughts will provide some encouragement as you seek and find.
Finding the pericopes in Jonah requires some time looking around in Jonah. Since Jonah is a relatively small book of the Bible, read through its entirety many times before you even begin planning your preaching calendar. Begin reading through Jonah several days per week over a couple months before you plan to begin preaching Jonah. As you read, build an observation journal for Jonah. Just write down thoughts, questions, impressions, and ideas that are sparked in your mind as you seek. Don’t worry about preaching units at this point. Just read the whole story again and again over a number of days. This pattern of reading the whole story will imprint the big picture of the story in your mind so that the steps into the details and pericopes of the story will not drift away from the bigger story found in Jonah. Try to read Jonah around fifty times. Looking around in Jonah, becoming very familiar with every corner of the story, will begin to unveil all the best finding places.
Since Jonah is a story, then your next step in finding the pericopes involves identifying the scenes in the story. In your Jonah journal, note all of the different scenes in the story. You probably have had plenty of practice identifying scenes in a story if you like to watch movies, TV shows or read novels. You likely have listened to and told quite a few stories yourself. God has designed us to love hearing and telling stories. We can readily identify scenes, changes in setting, characters or actions that demonstrate a move forward in the story or plot. For example, the first scene in Jonah is chapter 1, verses 1–3, when God speaks to Jonah, calls him to go to Nineveh and instead Jonah goes somewhere far from the Lord’s presence, or so Jonah believes. Even in this first scene, the tension can be felt. Can anyone really flee the Lord’s presence? Then the next scene opens up with God demonstrating that no one can flee from His presence. As you read through Jonah, just keep charting out the story, scene by scene, numbering or naming the scenes, creating a scene map of Jonah.
After you have identified the scenes, lump those scenes together into groups that create little stories inside of the bigger story of the whole book of Jonah. Narratives are groups of scenes, smaller stories, inside a big overarching story. For example, the first several scenes that make up chapter one create the first little story in Jonah. This first little story begins with Jonah fleeing the Lord’s presence and ends with an unforgettable description of how impossible it is to flee God’s presence. Your repetitious reading of the big story prepares you to see the little stories while still keeping in mind the big story. The little stories should not be preached without a clear connection to the bigger story. Once you identify the groups of scenes that create the little stories inside the bigger story, you have your preliminary list of preaching pericopes. This list is preliminary because finding your preaching pericopes require at least one more step.
With the big picture in mind, evaluate your groups of scenes to determine if the way you plan to preach the groups of scenes brings increasing clarity to the overall message of Jonah. You preach the little stories by themselves unless combining a little story with an adjacent little story is absolutely necessary to rightly see the Lord in Jonah. God designed the book of Jonah to reveal Himself so that those who look around in Jonah would find Him in the most wonderful ways. Your preaching pericopes should disclose something about the Lord tied ultimately to the bigger story, so that people find the Lord and walk away from the preaching moment wanting to do some seeking and finding on their own. Finding the pericopes is a step in the experience of seeking and finding the Lord. Ultimately, God has invited you to seek and find Him, so that you can help others enjoy the One you have found. Do the hard work of preparation because God has creatively designed the book of Jonah so that He might be found.
Kevin Ueckert is the Lead Pastor of the First Baptist Church in Georgetown, Texas.