Thursday, January 18, 2018
(The following questions have been developed as a method for understanding some of the most basic concerns of Law and Gospel preachers. They are not meant to be exhaustive. My brief guide to Law and Gospel preaching, Afflicting the Comfortable, Comforting the Afflicted, is available from wipfandstock.com or amazon.)
1. How does the Word function in the text? The Word, in this case Jesus, functions to announce that no power, specifically no demonic power, has authority over Jesus. The unclean spirit recognizes Jesus' authority immediately and begs to be spared, but Jesus shows his authority by casting the spirit out. This is a gospel function, announcing the good news of Christ's authority.
2. How is the Word not functioning in the text? A word of Law, which exposes our need for a Savior, is hard to find in this text. Certainly the unclean spirit is evidence of spirits at work in the world who oppose Christ, but no one in the story is lifted up as in need of Christ.
3. With whom are you identifying in the text? We must, as always, identify with those whom the Word addresses; so, in this case, we are the man with the unclean spirit. Or perhaps we are the unclean spirit itself, trying to protect ourselves from the claims of Jesus. Perhaps we can imagine ourselves asking Jesus, if not in so many words, "Have you come to destroy us?" as we wrestle with the claims Jesus makes on us to "come and die." (Bonhoeffer)
4. What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text? It is clear that the situation presented here is a matter of life and death, so our couplet should reflect that. Some ideas: dying/made alive; in bondage/set free; living under the kingdom of Satan/living under the kingdom of the Son.
5. Exegetical work: The Greek Bible is most revealing here, as we see the presence of the word 'euthys' not once, but three times. This is the word translated in verses 18 and 20 as "immediately" but in this section it is either omitted completely (verses 21 and 23), or translated "at once". In doing this the reader is left unaware of the continuing frenzied pace of this narrative. It seems to me that all this immediacy is a direct result of the heavens being torn open and God's reign beginning. It is appropriate that things are happening immediately. Another word which is present more than once in this reading is the word exousia, translated 'authority.' According to Kittel's discussion around this word, this is the power to change things, to create, to destroy, to effect change, "to end life as we know it." Kittel ties this word to the reign of God when he notes that "a special feature in this exousia is that it is inseparable from the proclamation that the kingdom of God is near." (Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, vol. II, p. 566) Another perspective that is helpful in understanding this story is that of narrative criticism. In the appendix to his book, What is Narrative Criticism?, Mark Allan Powell, asks a series of questions about the event, characters, setting, and overall interpretation of the event in a text. One question he asks is "What conclusions can be drawn about the role this event plays in the overall story?" (p. 104) In answer to that we note that this event is establishing Jesus' authority early-on. This means that he will have conflicts with other authorities in the days ahead. Powell's method is well worth pursuing in narrative texts like these.
6. How does the Crossings Community model work with this text? In his analysis of this text, Fred Niedner does something rarely seen; he shows how we are mortified both as people caught in the Law's grip, and as people put to death and raised again in the death and resurrection of Christ. He identifies the way we resist this death, but how finally it is what saves us. Go to crossings.org/text study to see the analysis archived under the 4th Sunday after the Epiphany.
Blessings on your proclamation!
Saturday, January 13, 2018
(The following questions are a method for coming to terms with some of the fundamental questions for Law and Gospel preachers. They are meant to be used in conjunction with other fine sets of questions which open up a text for a preacher. To learn more about this unique genre of preaching, see my brief guide, Afflicting the Comfortable, Comforting the Afflicted, available from wipfandstock.com or amazon.)
1. How does the Word function in the text? The Word here functions in multiple ways. First, it is an announcement of the reign of God begun. It is also a call to repentance. Finally, it is a call to follow Jesus. What we have in this short text are examples of all the ways the Word can function. First, the announcement of the reign of God is gospel - good news. Then, the call to repentance reminds us of our need for a Savior, which is the function of the Law. Finally, the call to follow is what I have termed "the call to obedience" - the word which instructs us how we might live in response to the Gospel. What a rich text this is!
2. With whom are you identifying in the text? We are those addressed by the Word. That means that we are those who rejoice in the good news of God's reign begun; we are also those who see our own need for repentance and long to live our lives in the ways of Christ; finally, we are those who, amidst our busy lives, hear the call to follow Jesus and realize that that call may mean leaving even good things behind.
3. What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text? As always these couplets are a product of the text and our own imagination. Here are a few suggestions: John arrested/ Jesus on the loose; despair/hope; time unfulfilled/time fulfilled; living in sin/repentance and new life.
4. Exegetical work: This brief text has few words which draw our attention, but two terms are exceedingly important in understanding this text; they are kairos and basileia. They both occur in verse 15: "The time (kairos) is fulfilled, and the kingdom (basileia) of God has come near." Gerhard Kittel's Theological Dictionary of the New Testament is exceptionally helpful in understanding these two terms, with extensive discussions of both. Here are a few excerpts: "Those who do not realise that they stand under the kairos of God think that they see a cosmic or human kairos in all the opportunities which seem to be favourable for the realisation of their cosmic plans (Ac. 24:25). But this is not a true, divinely given kairos. ...When autonomous man speaks of his kairos, he sees it in what he believes to be independent decision - and he remains blind. When Jesus waits for His kairos, He allows the Father to show it to Him, and He thus attains to genuine certainty." (vol. III, p. 460)
Regarding basileia: "From the direction in the summarised account at the beginning of the proclamation of the Gospel: [Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near] (Mt. 4:17), there arises the only question which can be and is relevant. This is not the question whether or how we men (sic) may have the kingdom of God as a disposition in our hearts, or whether we may represent it as a fellowship of those thus minded. The question is whether we belong to it or not. To try to bring in the kingdom of God is human presumption, self-righteous Pharisaism and refined Zealotism. From this standpoint, the supremely hard thing required of man is the patience by which alone may be achieved readiness for the act of God... The parables of the kingdom are spoken to drive home this point. The man who does not display a patient openness for God is like a man who sows, and then like an impatient and curious child - the seed grows he knows not how - he cannot allow it to germinate and grow of itself." (vol. I, p. 584-585)
5. How does the Crossings Community model work with this text? Carolyn Schneider, in her fine analysis of this text, emphasizes the double-edged sword of this announcement that God's reign has begun. In her diagnosis she highlights the fact that the beginning of God's reign means the end of ours. She goes on to show how when we insist on living under our reign and not God's, death comes to us. In her prognosis, the gospel is clearly shown, how Christ upends our designs on death and comes to reign and give us life. See the entire analysis archived under the Third Sunday after Epiphany at crossings.org/text study.
Blessings on your proclamation!
Saturday, January 6, 2018
(The following questions attempt to unearth some of the fundamental concerns for Law and Gospel preachers. They are meant to be used in conjunction with other sets of questions which illuminate the text. For more on this unique genre of preaching see my brief guide, Afflicting the Comfortable, Comforting the Afflicted, available from wipfandstock.com or amazon.)
1. How does the Word function in the text? Jesus is the Word in this text and his words to Nathanael are either affirming or outright promise, thus they are gospel in function. Also, the confessions of both Philip and Nathanael are gospel in function as they announce the identity of Christ: "him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote," also "Son of God", and "King of Israel."
2. How is the Word not functioning in the text? There is really no hint of Law here. Some readers find doubt in Nathanael's questioning of Jesus' hometown, but others suggest that he is simply expressing surprise since he knows that the Messiah shall come from Bethlehem. In any case, there is little here that hints to our need for a Savior.
3. With whom are you identifying in the text? We could identify briefly with Philip, but since the text is centered on Nathanael, it is he with whom we should identify. We are those who have heard the testimony of others concerning this Christ. We are those who have questions and are invited to "come and see." We are those who have seen signs of the Christ and have confessed faith. Finally, we are those who have received the promises that we are part of God's people.
4. What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text? The call to obedience comes early to Philip: "Follow me." This is the simplest form of Jesus' call to obedience.
5. What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text? Since no word of Law is present here, we shall need to imagine the Law to go with each couplet. Some suggestions: doubt/faith; defensiveness/confidence; you once were no people/now you are God's people.
6. Exegetical work: As context for this passage it is important to note that as John the Baptizer spoke of his own work earlier in this chapter he said that he came "baptizing with water for this reason, that [Jesus] might be revealed to Israel." (1:31) The role of Israel is definitely front and center in this passage. First, Philip announces that "we have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote," in other words, the One whom the Hebrew scriptures bear witness to. Then Jesus identifies Nathanael as "truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit." This suggests a connection to Jacob, whose name we know means deceiver. (Gen. 25:26) Next, Nathanael calls Jesus "King of Israel," a title which is included in no other confession. Finally, Jesus says, in a clear allusion to Jacob's dream in Genesis 28, that Nathanael will "see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man." Peter Ellis, in his composition-critical commentary on this gospel says the following: "The symbolism of the 'angels ascending and descending upon the Son of man' is to designate Jesus as the place (like Bethel - 'house of God') of God's full revelation. As Jacob said of his dream, 'This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.' (Gen. 28: 17)" (The Genius of John, p. 38) The other piece of this puzzle is Nathanael's identity. As noted above, why is Nathanael never included in the Synoptic lists of disciples? Could it be that the writer of the Fourth gospel is not introducing us to an actual apostle here, but to one who represents followers of Christ who form a "new Israel"? When we look at Genesis 28 we see that immediately following Jacob's dream, God made vast promises to him that would form the basis of the nation of Israel. Is it not worth considering that Nathanael is a new Jacob, one of the first called to be part of this new reign of Christ which is breaking into the world and calling us all to follow?
7. How does the Crossings Community model work with this text? Archived under the Second Sunday after Epiphany, you will find an analysis by Bill White which highlights how the Law might play out if we assume that Nathanael's statements veer toward unbelief. Clearly the emphasis of the text is on the gospel words which Jesus proclaims (as noted above), and in White's prognosis you can see this. Go to crossings.org/text study to see the entire analysis.
Blessings on your proclamation!
Saturday, December 30, 2017
(The following questions have been developed as a way of getting at some of the basic concerns of Law and Gospel preachers. They are simply a starting point for exegesis, which can enhance a number of other areas of inquiry. For more on this genre of preaching see my brief guide, Afflicting the Comfortable, Comforting the Afflicted, available from wipfandstock.com or amazon.)
1. How does the Word function in the text? The whole impression of the text is one of urgency. John the baptizer appears and all the people from the whole countryside come and are baptized by John, confessing their sins. John proclaims that One is coming who is powerful beyond imagination and this One will baptize with the Spirit. Suddenly Jesus appears and is baptized and a voice announces he is God's Son, the Beloved. This scene is functioning as both Law and Gospel as Jesus breaks into the world and causes both hope and fear.
2. How is the Word not functioning in the text? A word of Law which exposes our need for this Christ is hard to find here, although the Baptizer's announcement of the need for repentance is certainly that. To the reader/hearer of this story, however, a clear word of Law is not forthcoming.
3. With whom are you identifying in the text? We are members of the crowd addressed by John who come confessing our sins. We are those who hear that One is coming who will baptize with the Holy Spirit, and we look forward to this. We are those who see the heavens "torn apart" and wonder what that means. We might even be those who hear the voice that this is God's Son, the Beloved, with whom God is well-pleased. What joy we would take in that!
4. What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text? A call to obedience always follows a call to faith, so in this text that is not yet present. We are certainly being called to follow this One who will baptize with the Spirit, but that is not the call to obedience.
5. What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text? Since the Law is only hinted at here, we will have to use our imagination to come up with couplets. Some ideas: unforgiven/forgiven; looking for a Messiah/finding a Messiah.
6. Exegetical work: As was noted above, the pace of this story is remarkable. It is as if everything is being told at a breathless pace. Because of this it is all the more remarkable that in verse 6, Mark pauses to tell us in detail about the appearance of John the Baptizer. It's almost as if the action pauses as Mark points out that John wears camel's hair with a leather girdle about his waist, and eats locusts and wild honey. Clearly the purpose of this is to connect John to the prophet Elijah who is described similarly in II Kings 1:8. The return of Elijah, tradition had it, would precede "the great and terrible day of the Lord." (Malachi 4:5) Mark seems to be suggesting that such a day has come. This would explain Mark's urgency. Another telling detail in this text is Mark's choice of the word "skizo" instead of "anoigo"to describe the opening of the heavens in verse 10. Don Juel, in his fine commentary on Mark, notes that this word translates into the heavens being "torn apart." He notes also that this is in present passive form, indicating that this process is ongoing, not a completed action. The image, says Juel, is "strong, even violent". The heavens are "torn apart," and they "cannot be repaired." "The heavens understood as a great cosmic curtain that separates creation from God's presence, are in the process of being torn open." "God is on the loose." (A Master of Surprise, p. 34-35) It is also noteworthy that Mark only uses this "tearing" verb one other time, when the temple curtain is torn apart at the death of Christ. And there, as in this text, once that tearing happens there is a confession: "Truly this man was God's Son!" (15:38-39) The "skizo" of the heavens, in effect, bookends, the entire life and ministry of Christ. Finally, Kittel, in discussing the use of this word in the New Testament, has this to say: "Heavens torn open at the baptism of Jesus is a motif in eschatological revelation which God gives at turning points in the history of His people." See Isaiah 64:1, Ezekiel 1:1, Acts 7:56 and 10:11, and Revelation 4:11 and 19:11. (Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, vol. VII, p. 959f)
7. Consider the insights of the pioneers of the New Homiletic? Fred Craddock was always urging us to bring the experience of the text, not just its content to the listener. One of the challenges for the preacher this week will be to bring Mark's sense of urgency to the sermon event. How will that be accomplished?
Blessings on your proclamation!
Tuesday, December 26, 2017
(The following questions have been developed in order to give preachers a way of getting at some of the underlying issues for Law and Gospel preachers. For a discussion of this unique genre of preaching you may see my brief guide to Law and Gospel preaching, Afflicting the Comfortable, Comforting the Afflicted, available from wipfandstock.org or amazon.)
1. How does the Word function in the text? The Word here functions as both Law and Gospel, in that it announces, through the words of Simeon and Anna, both who Christ is and our need of such a Savior. Neither Simeon nor Anna are speaking to anyone particular in their praises of God, although Simeon does address Mary directly saying that "a sword will pierce your own soul too." In other words, the sword of Christ's words which will pierce many hearts will also be Law to Mary.
2. With whom are you identifying in the text? We are those who overhear these words spoken in the temple courtyard that day. We are those who are "looking for the redemption of Jerusalem." We are those who both long to see the Lord's Messiah, and at the same time will oppose him. We are those whose hearts will be revealed.
3. What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text? There is an overlay of obedience to the Law throughout this story. Everything Mary and Joseph do is done in order to accomplish "everything required by the Law of the Lord." As Luther pointed out, there is no disorder in the wish to do everything the Law requires. The call to obedience, however, is the call to do all things in response to what God has done on our behalf in Christ.
4. What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text? There are a number of verses that suggest couplets here: darkness/light; seeing bondage/seeing deliverance; falling/rising.
5. Exegetical work: Don Juel, in his brief commentary, notes the Law in the words of Simeon: "The coming savior of Israel will not be hailed by everyone; his mission will not be one of unequivocal blessing. He may bring consolation to Israel, but he is 'set for the fall' of many in Israel. His advent will precipitate a crisis in which the 'thoughts of many hearts will be revealed.'" (Luke-Acts, The Promise of History, p. 24) Fred Craddock follows this theme, calling out our tendency as preachers to 'soft-pedal' the crisis Jesus brings: "As much as we may wish to join the name of Jesus only to the positive, satisfying, and blessed in life, the inescapable fact is that anyone who turns on light creates shadows." (Interpretation Series, Luke, p. 39) Two of our most formative reformers had their thoughts on Simeon's song. In a sermon from 1526 Luther saw in Simeon a model of one to whom Christ brings faith and hope: "Whoever can see and recognize this young Lord who became subject to the law for us, his heart will be made happy against all adversity." Calvin, on the other hand, focused on the word of Law: "Simeon calls Christ 'a sign that is opposed.' Therefore, because unbelievers are rebels against Christ, they dash themselves against him, which causes their ruin." (Reformation Commentary on Scripture, NT, vol. III, pp. 61-63).
6. How does the Crossings Community model work with this text? Paul Jaster does an excellent job showing how both law and gospel are present in this text. He divides his diagnosis and prognosis into two large segments, Our Hearts Revealed and God's Heart Revealed. Go to crossings.org/text study to see the entire, very helpful analysis.
7. Consider the insights of the pioneers of the New Homiletic? "Shared story" was the phrase Charles Rice used to describe the experience we want for our listeners. A challenge in this text will be how to help our listeners recognize how their own story intersects with Simeon and Anna's.
Blessings on your proclamation!
Saturday, December 16, 2017
(The following questions attempt to unearth some of the basic concerns of Law and Gospel preachers. These questions are not meant to be exhaustive, but they have been developed as part of my brief guide to Law and Gospel preaching, Afflicting the Comfortable, Comforting the Afflicted, available from wipfandstock.com or amazon.)
1. How does the Word function in the text? This word is pure good news. It is gospel in its purest form. The Son of the Most High is to be born to a human mother. Nothing will be impossible with God!
2. How is the Word not functioning in the text? There is almost no hint of Law here. We might note Mary's hesitancy to believe the angel and her skepticism regarding his announcement, but then again, who can blame her? Also finally she says, "Let it be with me according to your word."
3. With whom are you identifying in the text? We are either in the position of Mary or one who overhears this conversation between Gabriel and Mary. If we identify with Mary we might explore her response to Gabriel's words, "Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you," as well as her response to the announcement that she would be the mother of God's Son. If we identify with one who overhears this conversation we might explore our response to God's plan to restore to David's throne one whose kingdom will last forever.
4. What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text? Mary's final words are an example for us: "Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word." We live in response to the announcement of God's amazing love for the world.
5. What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text? Because the Law is not present in this text we will need to imagine some fitting couplets. Here are a few ideas: unfavored/favored; barren/fruitful; nothing is possible/nothing is impossible.
6. Exegetical work: It is worth noting that Gabriel's promise to Mary that "the power of the Most High will overshadow you," uses the same word used in Genesis 1:2 which says that "the Spirit hovered over the formless matter when the miracle of creation took place." This suggests that "there is a new creative act of God when Jesus is born." (Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, vol. V, p. 835.) The apostles receive a similar promise when, just prior to Jesus' ascension, they are told, "And you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you shall be my witnesses..." (Acts 1:8) This overshadowing and emphasis on the powerlessness of those whom God chooses, is well noted in the words of 17th century Austrian Lutheran poet, Catherina Regina von Greiffenberg: "Who would believe that the King of kings, the Lord of all the potentates, would dispatch an angel as an ambassador to a poor maiden or the wife of an artisan? What is more absurd before the world and yet better disposed for the dispensation of heaven? Poverty and lowliness are no hindrance to divine calling: as little as they could take from her the right of inheritance of her royal birth from the house of David and still less the gracious election by God, whose piercing eyes see through all the mountains of misery the small flash of the metal of virtue that his hand has placed within them." (Reformation Commentary on Scripture, NT, vol. III, p. 15)
7. How does the Crossings Community model work with this text? Marcus Felde highlights Gabriel's words to Mary, "The Lord is with you," and shows how that announcement can be either a word of Law or of Gospel. Go to crossings.org/textstudy to see the whole analysis.
Blessings on your proclamation!
Saturday, December 9, 2017
(The following questions attempt to answer some of the fundamental concerns of Law and Gospel preachers. They are not meant to be exhaustive, but to be used with any of other fine sets of questions we might use to inquire of a text. To learn more about Law and Gospel preaching, see my brief guide, Afflicting the Comfortable, Comforting the Afflicted, available from wipfandstock.com or amazon.)
1. How does the Word function in the text? The Word functions here to proclaim. This word proclaims that one has come who is testifying to the light, "so that all might believe [in this light] through him." The Word also proclaims one who knows himself to be merely "a voice crying out in the wilderness," telling of the One coming later of whom "I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals." All of this proclamation, like other Advent texts, is the Word functioning as gospel bringing good news.
2. How is the Word not functioning in the text? A word of Law is not present here. That is to say, there is no word lifting up our need for Christ. Near the end of the text we hear John say, "Among you stands one whom you do not know." This is a hint of the need we have for a voice, for one pointing to the light. There is no judgment in this observation, however.
3. With whom are you identifying in the text? We are those who are questioning John: "Who are you? What do you say about yourself? Why are you baptizing?" We are the ones who do not recognize the One who stands among us, even though this One is the true light that enlightens all.
4. What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text? There is no call to obedience, per se, but John is an example for us in that we also have a name. We also are sent by God to be a voice in the wilderness. We also are called to testify to the One who has given us light.
5. What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text? There is language in the text that leads us to several ideas: darkness/light; lost [in the wilderness]/found; unknown/known.
6. Exegetical work: It is clear from the opening verses that this text is about testimony. John came to "testify to the light." Kittel reminds us of the meaning behind this Greek word, martys: "The witness is simply to the nature and significance of His person." "He is the Son of god. He is the light of the world. He is the Savior. He is the Lamb of God...etc." (Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, vol. IV, p. 498) The ancient writers were in one accord as to the importance of this testimony. Origen, writing in the third century said that "some try to undo the testimonies of the prophets to Christ by saying that the Son of God had no need of such witnesses... To this we may reply that where there are a number of reasons to make people believe, persons are often impressed by one kind of proof and not by another." Cyril of Alexandria, several centuries later, wrote: "[God] did not suppose that he ought, even if of gravest weight, to demand of the readers in his book concerning our Savior credence above that of the law, and that they should believe him by himself when declaring things above our understanding and sense." St. John Chrysostom, a contemporary of Cyril's, reminded us of the mercy God shows in using a witness: "[Christ] could have proven that he had no need of that [herald's] testimony by showing himself in his unveiled essence, had he so chosen, and that would have confounded them all. But he did not do this because he would have annihilated everybody since no one could have endured the encounter of that unapproachable light." (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, NT, Vol. IVa, p. 30).
7. Consider the insights of the pioneers of the New Homiletic? David Buttrick was quick to point out the need to limit our sermons to only the number of "moves" that the listener could keep in mind at once. Are we careful to consider the listener's capacity as we preach?
Blessings on your proclamation!