In 2006 my wife and I moved our little family to Edinburgh. We lived there for three years while I was in grad school. When we first walked the streets of that beautiful city we could not have looked more out of place.
For one thing, we had tans.
We hailed from a Florida suburb where people believe that all castles belong to the Walt Disney estate. So, our early expeditions through storied Edinburgh were marked with wonder. An actual, free-range, castle sat right by our church, plain as day! Excitement over the “discovery” dominated our chats with locals, who had beheld that majestic structure so often that they were reportedly
“… sick of hearing about it, Tim.”
We boarded city buses like they were alien spacecraft: “Look honey! There’s a whole upstairs!” We gushed at the cool local accent, assuming that Floridians possess the pristine speech of Eden. Our well-worn city map unfurled in the wind like a creased flag. We claimed sidewalks in the name of tourism.
Fortunately, we were not alone. Tourists lay siege to Edinburgh, especially in the summer. But over time we felt ourselves identifying more with the locals than with newcomers. In fact, familiarity with the city meant that we could spot tourists immediately. The tell-tale sign?
Tourists look up. Locals look down.
Tourists can barely command their shuffling feet because their child-like minds are rapt in wonder at the shiny lights around them. The locals keep their eyes to the ground, deftly traversing familiar paths.
We also learned that both tourists and locals have their charms and they actually need each other. There would be no city to tour without the locals and the city would be less vibrant if tourists never came. Edinburgh runs as much on the tourists’ wonder as it does on the locals’ confidence.
Brace yourself for the abrupt transition:
The “tourist” wonder and “local” confidence belong in sermon preparation as well. They represent two approaches that work together to yield a healthy appreciation for the text.
The Wonder of the Tourist:
When I do the initial reading of the text, I really want to be amazed at what I’m reading. Wonder comes easily in the Gospels. But books like Leviticus present a few challenges in my quest. However, there is always something magnificent to see.
To a tourist, the intricacies of levitical regulations might form just one big idea, like the astonished man who looks at the Great Pyramid of Giza only to exclaim
“Man, that pyramid is great!”
His reaction seems childish and simplistic to the local. But hasn’t the tourist actually captured something essential? You haven’t really seen the Great Pyramid until you’ve seen it as great.
Likewise, the reaction of the tourist in Leviticus might be: “God is so holy!” Basic. Simple. Inescapable.
The tourist mindset seeks to capture the “essential impact” that the text can have on eager eyes.
The Confidence of the Local:
I say, “Yes! God is holy!” But then, with the confidence of a seasoned local, I want to guide the tourist to a more complete understanding. Leviticus can inspire awe because of its detail, but it is driving us to something amazing: the truth that Christ would fulfill all of the demands the law and that through Him we can be made righteous in God’s sight.
The intricate commands were actually revealing man’s inability to keep them perfectly. God still demands holiness. But He provides what He demands. His provision came through the death of His son, Jesus, our Great High Priest. We can still maintain the tourist’s wonder at God’s holiness, but the local has shown us that there is more than meets the tourist’s eye.
The local mindset works to gain meaningful perspective on the text, reading with confident understanding of the whole “city” of God’s counsel.
Tourists emphasize the grandeur or the emotional impact of a place, but they often lack perspective and miss crucial elements that locals have known for years. Yet locals can tend to think they’ve seen it all before, overlooking the initial impact of what they know so well. When they work together, wonder and confidence produce a message that inspires as much as it informs.