SERMON: Under the Shadow of Elephants
Introduction: Tom Cochran has spent eleven years in youth ministry and three years as a Lead Pastor. He planted New Journey Church in Wabash, IN two years ago. The church consists of people who have walked with the Lord for some time, many who are new believers or have recently returned to Christ, and some who are not yet convinced of Christ. One piece of advice that I would give preachers is to know your voice as a preacher (find preachers who are similar to your voice to help sharpen your preaching), match your voice to how the people listen (learning how your people hear will sharpen you further), and then allow that to drive you to take risks from the pulpit.
Lenny: What was going on in your life and in the life of the church that caused you to preach this particular sermon from the book of Ruth?
Tom: Since the best messages are ones the preacher wrestles with first, I had recently faced an elephant whose shadow has covered the last nine years of life (infertility). To address this, God used great people around me to speak of how God’s grace and working have changed me for the better as a husband, a person, “an adoptive-father” to-be, and a pastor.
In my church, this whole series on Ruth was designed to address how many felt that they were stuck and had no traction to move forward to what God had for them in their lives, marriage, ministry, and family.
Lenny: You used the metaphor of being under the shadow of elephants to connect to Ruth and to the congregation. How does this metaphor bring together the plotline in the story of Ruth and the plotline in the stories of your congregants?
Tom: For Ruth, she was stuck as a widow that was going to live out the rest of her days on the leftovers from someone else’s field. If Naomi had not of spoken to that “elephant” for Ruth, she would have stayed in that place. For many in my congregation, they have learned to live their lives “stuck” under the shadow of their elephants: failed marriages, loss of job to now working jobs they hate in order to provide a living, and being labeled because of issues in their lives (drug addict, drunk, failure, unlovable, convict, etc.). It’s easy to adjust our lives to live under the shadows and never step out from under that covering to experience redemption and see all that God has in store for us.
Lenny: I love the way you describe how Ruth exchanged her covering for the fullness of what Boaz had to offer. How does this reality from Ruth’s story intersect our relationship with God through Christ?
Tom: I believe that Ruth experienced Redemption first hand. Her life changed the moment she transitioned from trying to do it herself to inviting Boaz to act on her behalf. In our world today, we find people doing the same thing. We either try to figure out our lives on our own or we ignore problems thinking they will go away. We have to come to a realization that through Christ we can have the “full” life that God desires for us to have.
The fact that we can find peace, rest, restoration, healing, and forgiveness at the feet of Christ if we simply ask him to cover us, is at the heart of Ruth’s story. Once we admit that we have lived under the shadows of our situations and need to exchange our old covering for his covering of new life, we find the hope that Ruth was living in by the end of chapter 3.
Lenny: You used the imagery from the text (i.e., threshing floor, covering) in a playful metaphorical way to lead listeners toward some important theological reflections. This allowed the sermon to be both biblical and relevant. Do you usually use an image from the text metaphorically to connect with the lives of listeners? If so, why?
Tom: I normally try to use a metaphor from the text. I do this for two reasons. 1) It helps me gauge the clarity of my sermon at the end of my sermon prep. If I can walk the metaphor back through the message and see it clearly I know that I am not muddying the waters for my people. 2) It helps my people recognize how they can experience God in their lives on a daily basis. I don’t know how many people share with me how they experienced the “metaphor” in their lives even weeks after the message. As they experience something in life that we have talked about on Sunday, they are able to recollect how Scripture speaks directly to their lives and to that specific situation.