Saturday, February 17, 2018

Necessary Crosses

One writer has called the text for this First Sunday in Lent, Mark 8:31-38, the fulcrum of the gospel of Mark.  Here everything changes and even the opening words signal this:  "He began to teach them."  Suddenly the Cross is in full view, and the cost of following Jesus is stated plainly as never before.  Since we are only halfway through the Gospel of Mark we are left to find out how the disciples of Jesus will respond.  Indeed, how will we respond to this call to discipleship?

(The following questions attempt to answer some of the fundamental questions as to how the Word is functioning, a central concern of Law and Gospel preachers.  To learn more about this unique genre, see 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  is an exceedingly rich text in that the Word functions in all the ways it can.  First is the open statement of the Gospel, that Jesus will suffer, die, and be raised on the third day.  Then we see the Law in full force as Jesus rebukes Peter in strident fashion:  "Get behind me, Satan!  For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things."  Finally we get a full-fledged Call to Obedience as Jesus tells the disciples exactly what it will mean to follow him and what they stand to lose if they do not.  This is a rich text!

2.  With whom are you identifying in the text?  We are, of course, the disciples.  We  are those for whom Christ has died.  We are those who, out of our own fear, tempt Jesus to turn from the way of the Cross.  Finally we  are those who are called out of our fear to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Jesus.

3.  What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text?  One could think of a host of couplets to go with this multi-faceted text.  Here are a few suggestions:  rebuked as Satan/Satan rebuked; setting the mind on human things/The Divine mind set on human beings; trying to save one's life/Jesus saving us; worldly profit/eternal profit; ashamed of Christ/Christ unashamed of us.

4.  Exegetical work:  It is an interesting exercise to use Kurt Aland's Synopsis of the Four Gospels to see the differences between Matthew and Luke's reporting of this event and Mark's.  As noted above, Mark begins by saying that Jesus is "teaching" here.  No other gospel says it that way.  Also, these words are definitely meant for all of us, because Mark alone tells us that before Jesus issues the call to discipleship, he calls the crowd as well as the disciples. In other words, he wants all to hear this.  What is particularly noteworthy is that the actual call of discipleship (vss. 34-35) are exactly the same in all three gospels. That makes me wonder if this wasn't already viewed as a creedal formula.  Finally, only Mark identifies the era in which this is taking place as "an adulterous and sinful generation." Is that a clue to Mark's piety?  Or to the context in which this was written?  One observation that Donahue and Harrington make in their commentary is that this "journey narrative is introduced (8:22-26) and concluded (10:46-52) by episodes in which Jesus bestows the gift of sight on two blind men.  By following the journey narrative Mark's readers also come to see Jesus and his 'way' more clearly." (Sacra Pagina, The Gospel of Mark, p. 264)  Eugene Boring suggests that "Isaiah 55:8-9 ("my thoughts are not your thoughts") may be in the background here:  God's 'thoughts', God's 'way of thinking' is different from human thinking." (The NT Library, Mark, p. 242)  Finally, several ancient writers give us reason to celebrate the call to discipleship.  Augustine says, "For whatever seems hard in what is enjoined, love makes easy."  And Caesarius of Arles writes: "What [Jesus] commands is not difficult, since he helps to effect what he commands... Just as we are lost through loving ourselves, so we are found by denying ourselves."  (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scriptures, NT, vol. II, p. 111f)

5.  How does the Crossings Community model work with this text?  By going to crossings.org/text-study you will see that my analysis for this text centers around the word 'love'.  Self-love leads to destruction; God's love leads us to life.  Self-love deceives us; God's love reveals truth.  I encourage you to check out the multiple resources on this site to understand more about how Law and Gospel function in Scripture.

Blessings on your proclamation!

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

The Beloved Driven Out?

Having spent the greater part of the Epiphany season in the first chapter of Mark, we are back for one more look in the First Sunday of Lent, as the appointed gospel lesson, Mark 1:9-15, would have us ponder the brief account of Jesus' temptation in the wilderness.  What is striking is the juxtaposition of the voice from heaven which says, "With you I am well pleased," and the Spirit which immediately drives Jesus into the wilderness.  What kind of God drives the beloved into the place of desolation?

(The following questions are not meant to be exhaustive.  They have been developed to unearth some answers to fundamental concerns of Law and Gospel preachers.  For further study of this unique genre of preaching, see 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?  The Word functions here to tell us much about the Beloved Son of God.  He was baptized by John, the Spirit descended upon him, and he was driven into the wilderness in order to undergo the temptations of Satan.  We also learn that he was with the wild beasts and angels served him.  All this works together to tell us the good news that the Beloved Son of God also enters into the wilderness as we do.  This is a gospel function.

2.  How is the Word not functioning in the text?  While there is a call to repentance at the very end of the text, any word of Law is missing here.  There is no place where our need for a Savior is lifted up.

3.  With whom are you identifying in the text?  This is a rare text in that we are invited here, I believe, to identify with Jesus, in that we too are baptized, we too are called children of God by a voice from heaven, and we too are sometimes driven into the wilderness where we encounter the temptations of Satan.  In this text we are disabused of any notion we might have that the children of God do not undergo temptation.

4.  What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text?  The call to obedience  is the text functioning to invite us to live in a certain way in response to the gospel.  There is no such call here.

5.  What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text?  Since the Law is all but absent here, we shall have to imagine the first half of each couplet.  A few ideas:  unbelief/believing; orphaned/called child of God; in the wilderness alone/ministered to by angels.

6.  Exegetical work:  Looking at Aland's helpful synopsis you can readily see that Mark's language is much coarser than the language of either Matthew or Luke.  As we have seen elsewhere, Mark alone uses the word schizo for speaking of opening the heavens in verse 10.  This translates as the heavens were "torn apart" or "ripped wide open" or "split apart", a much stronger description than simply being "opened."  Again in verse 12 Mark uses a much stronger verb.  Matthew and Luke choose the words for being led or led up to describe the action of the Spirit in causing Jesus to enter the wilderness.  Mark uses ekballo, the word for being driven out or cast out or forced out, a word most commonly used for the casting out of demons.  Mark says "The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness."  And finally, Mark is unique in including the detail that Jesus was with the wild beasts.  What is that about?  Do they minister to him or are they another cause for fear?  (Synopsis of the Four Gospels, Kurt Aland)  Donahue and Harrington, in their commentary, remind us of a number of things regarding Jesus' wilderness experience:  1)  The verb ekballo, used frequently for the expulsion of  demons, has overtones of coercion; 2)  In Mark, Satan is the prince of demons (3:23), opposes the word (4:15) and leads disciples astray (8:23); and 3)  wild beasts are often associated in the OT with evil powers (Psalm 22, Ezekiel 34).  (Sacra Pagina, The Gospel of Mark, p. 66)  Lamar Williamson provides a hopeful commentary, reminding us that "Satan's power is real but limited" and Hebrew 12:6 says that "The Lord disciplines the one whom he loves."  He reminds us that we can expect to be driven into the wilderness as Jesus was, caught in the cosmic struggle between Satan and God.  This text is a warning (40 days of testing) and a promise (served by the angels.)  (Interpretation, Mark, pp. 38-39.)

7.  Consider the insights of the pioneers of the New Homiletic?  Henry Mitchell was big on celebration in the sermon.  How will we celebrate in this text?  There are plenty of opportunities, beginning with the voice that calls us beloved.

Blessings on your proclamation!

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Exorcist & Healer Without Peer

The Fifth Sunday after Epiphany in the Year of Mark continues our methodical journey through the first chapter of Mark.  Each week we see more evidence of the reign of God coming near as disciples are called, demons are cast out, and this week in Mark 1:29-39, healings occur.  Each is a further manifestation that the authority which the spirits of this age have is now being overcome by One whose authority is infinitely greater.

(The following questions seek to give an answer to some of the basic questions for Law and Gospel preachers, namely "what is the Word up to in this text?"  These questions have been designed 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?  The Word, here Jesus, functions in the same way it has earlier in this chapter, as an announcement of Jesus' power over the spirits of this age.  Whether it is the fever Jesus casts out of Peter's mother-in-law, or the demons which are cast out, or the diseases which are healed, each announces that Jesus has authority over all which would rob the human person of the abundant life God wishes for them.  This is a gospel function.

2.  How is the Word not functioning in the text?  There is really no word of Law here.  Persons are lifted up as in need of a Savior, in the sense of needing deliverance from sickness and demons, but not in the sense of being estranged from God.  There is no judgement here.

3.  With whom are you identifying in the text?  It is usually most helpful to identify with those whom are being addressed by the Word, but here those addressed by the Word are fevers, sicknesses, and demons.  It is probably difficult to identify with them.  We, however, could identify with those who are controlled by such afflictions and powers.  We then would be in the position to experience the liberation that Jesus brings.

4.  What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text?  More than one commentator has identified Peter's mother-in-law as an example of discipleship since she immediately serves Jesus and his disciples following her healing.  That she is a good example goes without saying.  However, there may be more there than is often assumed.

5. What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text?  If we enter into the experience of those persons in this story who are healed and freed we can imagine some helpful couplets:  sick/well; bound/free; possessed by evil spirits/possessed by the Spirit.

6.  Exegetical work:  It is noteworthy that, as several writers have pointed out, (Boring, Donahue, Harrington), only in the Book of Mark is confrontation with evil spirits the initial public act of Jesus' ministry.  This continues to a notable degree in this text as "casting out demons" is brought up no less than three times.  Kittel has some interesting things to say in his extended discussion of the term daimones (demons).  Here are several excerpts: "In the NT there are two kingdoms, the kingdom of the prince of this world and the kingdom of God."  "...in most of the stories of possession what is at issue is not merely sickness but a destruction and distortion of the divine likeness in man according to creation."  "The NT bears witness to the victory won by Jesus over evil spirits - a victory which is efficacious for the community and will preserve it through the temptations of the last time." (Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, vol. II, p. 18-19)  Eugene Boring, in his commentary on Mark, also notes the importance of exorcism in Jesus' ministry:  "Exorcism... is inseparably incorporated into Jesus' message. 'Authority' (exousia) is found nine times in Mark always with reference to Jesus... The same powerful word that calls people to discipleship (1:16-20) is present in Jesus' teaching with authority and conquest of the demonic element in human life (1:21-28), all of which is an aspect of the word of the dawning kingdom of God. (1:14-15)." (Mark, The NT Library, p. 63)  Boring also comments on the status of Peter's mother-in-law.  He explains that because of her fever she "is robbed of status and dignity, unable to offer hospitality in her own home."  "The fever 'leaves' her, like the unclean spirit in 1:25..."  "[Her service] means she is now restored to fullness of life, that she can serve guests in her own home." (Ibid, p. 66)

7.  Consider the insights of the pioneers of the New Homiletic?  How can we help our listeners recognize their shared story in this story?  That was the central question for Charles Rice and his colleagues.  In this text we might ask, "How can I as preacher bring the liberating Word to bear upon the shared story of suffering that our listeners carry?"

Blessings on your proclamation!

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Astounding Authority

Mark 1:21-28, the gospel lesson appointed for the 4th Sunday after Epiphany, is a continuation of the rapid-fire narrative Mark has set up by announcing that the heavens have been torn open, the time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near.  Because the reign of God has begun, all sorts of amazing things are happening.  It is the melting of the snow in Narnia.  It is the emergence of crocuses from the ground in the spring.  It is resurrection for the world.  What could be greater!

(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

News from On High

With his usual brevity, the Markan Jesus announces the content of the good news; it is this:  God's reign has come near us.  God's rule is breaking forth.  Things are no longer going to remain as they have been!  As Don Juel has said, "God, unwilling to be confined to sacred spaces, is on the loose in our own realm." (A Master of Surprise, p. 35)  This short account, found in Mark 1:14-20, is the gospel lesson appointed for the Third Sunday after Epiphany.  It is our decision whether our response to this announcement will be as Jesus exhorts us:  "Repent, and believe in the good news," or in some other fashion.  In other words, we are invited to embrace this announcement, or we may view it as a threat to our own power, and thus resist this news from the lips of Jesus.  It is our call.

(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

A Real Israelite

Nathanael, the follower of Jesus, introduced in John 1:43-51, the gospel lesson appointed for the Second Sunday after Epiphany in the Year of Mark, is a puzzle.  How is it that a person who gives such strong testimony to Jesus is never included in any list of the apostles?   Also, why is it that Nathanael includes the unique confession that Jesus is "King of Israel", a title only used mockingly by the unrepentant thief on the Cross?  These questions, and many others, lead us to believe that the writer of the Fourth Gospel is, true to form, up to something much greater than simply telling the story of the call of some disciples.  Could this be about our call?

(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

A Tearing and a Voice

Mark 1:4-11, the gospel lesson for the Festival of the Baptism of Our Lord in the Year of Mark, is a rapid-fire account of Jesus' baptism compared with Matthew and Luke.  John the Baptizer has little to say, and everything gets done in a big hurry.  What takes Luke seventeen verses to say and Matthew twelve, Mark says in seven verses.  It's as if Mark's favorite word - "immediately" - is already being introduced.  I wonder if Mark's urgency is born of excitement or of fear; maybe it's both?

(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!