For every fourteen suicide deaths each year, approximately five hundred people attempt suicide, and three thousand people think about suicide. About 8 million Americans have suicidal thoughts each year.
The first time I preached a funeral for a victim of suicide, it was overwhelming, numbing, and I felt ill-prepared to care for the survivors afterward. That also describes every other time I have preached a funeral following a suicide. It’s easy to complain about the things we didn’t learn in Seminary. However, we are blessed with resources from experienced pastors and caregivers that continue to sharpen our service and give us the help we need to minister in the most challenging circumstances.
In the fall of 2020, I took a course in Creative Biblical Preaching at Lincoln Christian University. One of our assignments was to create an annotated bibliography for creative biblical preaching. There was too much good stuff here not to share. Hopefully, you’ll find some of this useful.
As I write this, we are just over a month away from the release of Tom Hanks’ new biopic, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. The trailer has sparked nostalgia for Mr. Rogers; drawing people back to his model of kindness, especially to children.
As a child of the times, I can tell you that Fred Rogers showed me kindness through a black and white TV screen that few adults ever showed me in real life.
And I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t have sicced bears on me.
Elisha was No Mr. Rogers
The second story in our journey through the Stranger Things from the Bible takes us to 2 Kings and the wicked city of Bethel. It’s here that newly appointed prophet, Elisha, is verbally assaulted by youths and responds with a curse. God hears his “prayer” and promptly responds by sending two bears out of the woods to maul them.
Disturbing story? You bet! Stranger thing from the Bible? Of course! But it’s a lot of fun to preach!
Timeless Lessons . . . and Bears
I had looked for an excuse to preach this story for years. At one time, I had considered preaching it with the title, “Bears Win by 42.” That’s perhaps a little insensitive to the heart of the story, though. Also, it would likely only appeal to Bears fans.
Still, it would be a lot of fun!
Part of the challenge of preaching it is the story is much broader than we first realize. This isn’t just about boys, bears, and a bald prophet. The story really begins at the start of the chapter, with Elijah’s assumption. It continues with a trip through Jericho and then finally the incident at Bethel. The bears are just the culmination of a really bad day and Israel’s rebellion into wickedness.
Check Your Presuppositions
There are a few issues that we need to check when reading the story. I cover them in the sermon as best I could at the time. The age of the “small boys” is one issue. The Hebrew would allow for them to be anywhere from 12-30 years old (and Elisha is likely only 25). This isn’t a matter of the man of God feeling threatened by the local elementary school thugs. And, of course, the text only tells us that 42 were mauled. It says nothing about how many were doing the actual jeering.
I wish I had read Derek Rishmawy’s excellent article on the passage before I wrote my sermon. He offers some intriguing takes on Elisha’s baldness and what it might mean. He’s researched the passage well and has much to offer.
Elisha and the Bears
This is, without a doubt, the most popular of the sermons from my Stranger Things from the Bible series. The audio file has been played three times as much as the other sermons. I’ve also found it’s a great sermon for when I’m a guest preacher. As I often say, “This one’s got legs.”
Our Bibles are not the clean, happy books we think they are. They’re full of scary stuff. Yes, there’s faith, hope, and love in those pages; but look hard enough and you’ll find witches, ghosts, dragons and things that go bump in the night. The Bible is full of strange things . . . and even stranger things.
In 2016, I spent October, a month we normally look for ghosts and goblins, digging into some often ignored passages. I titled the series Stranger Things from the Bible after the Netflix series that drew us into the Upside Down. There’s much in the Bible that might also seem upside down.
The Stranger Things series, set in the fictional small-town of Hawkins, Indiana. Hawkins doesn’t feel all that far removed from our own small-town in Illinois. I felt the similarities and the callbacks to the heydays of the 1980s would go over well with our crowd. I also hoped that the strangeness of the stories would disarm my hearers and allow the punch of the message to surprise them.
And it helps that I love these weird Bible stories!
These stories might make us uncomfortable, but that doesn’t mean they should be ignored. “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness”(2 Timothy 3:16), right? The Bible’s stranger things deserve our attention. We can gain much from these stories.
Saul and the Witch
I began the series with that bizarre story in 1 Samuel 28, when Saul consults a witch, asking her to bring up the ghost of his mentor, Samuel. The point of the story is not about being bewitched, bothered, or bewildered. Rather, the story calls us to consider just how far from God our disobedience can take us.
I preach in a town of about 800 people. In fact, I’ve lived here my whole life.
It’s easy to feel like God misplaced you when you’re in a small town. Every conference I attend has speakers from big cities. Every preacher whose books I read is from a church that has more people attending than we do in our entire town. In the meantime, there are days when counting the dogs that randomly walk into the building would be tempting.