Saturday, July 20, 2019
(The following questions have been developed as a way of getting at one of the central concerns for Law and Gospel preachers, i.e. how does the Word function? These questions are not meant to be exhaustive, but to be used with other sets of questions which explore other issues. For more on 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? I hear this text as Gospel: God will answer prayer; God does answer prayer; God stands ready to answer prayer. Verse 9 is the heart of this passage where we are assured that asking, knocking, and seeking will result in good things, specifically the giving of the Holy Spirit. (vs. 13).
2. How is the Word not functioning in the text? I do not hear a great deal of Law in this text, reminding us of our need for a Savior. What seems to be underlying this passage, however, is the tendency we have to doubt God's care for us. Because our prayers seem at times to go unanswered we easily conclude that God has not heard, does not care, and is not responsive to our prayers. Perhaps this theme can be explored as a way of preaching the Law.
3. With whom are you identifying in the text? We are the disciples who, at the outset of this passage, ask Jesus to teach them to pray. I suspect that they are not merely asking for technical assistance, but for a heart for prayer, for faith. This is, indeed, a need we all have.
4. What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text? The call to be persistent in prayer is certainly part of our call to obedience, but there is reason to think that this is not the point of this passage. The word that has been translated "persistence" is widely thought to be an inaccurate translation. Given that, we might need to seek other ways in which God calls us to obedience.
5. What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text? The text centers around faith in God's willingness to answer prayer, therefore some couplets we might explore are: doubt/faith; despair/hope; lostness/being found.
6. Exegetical work: Kenneth Bailey makes a very strong argument regarding the initial phrase of the first parable: "Understanding the phrase "tis eks umon" in Luke 11:5 as expecting an emphatic negative answer is crucial to the interpretation of this parable. Jesus is asking, "Can you imagine going to a neighbor, asking for help to entertain a friend and getting this response?" The Oriental responsibility for his guest is legendary. The Oriental listener/reader cannot imagine silly excuses about a closed door and sleeping children when the adequate entertainment of a guest is the issue." (Poet and Peasant and Through Peasant Eyes, p. 121) This is a crucial point for us in the West to understand. We hear the neighbor's request and we might well think, "How rude. I wouldn't get out of bed for that guy either!" But the Oriental response is the opposite. What this makes clear is that Jesus' listeners would have assumed that the neighbor's request was granted, irregardless of the inconvenience. Bailey then goes on to show how this fits in with the translation of "anaideian" in verse 8, which is often translated "persistence." He says, "The key to this parable is the definition of the word "anaideian". This word took on the meaning of "persistence". It is here more appropriately translated "avoidance of shame," a positive quality. The literary structure of the entire parable makes clear that this quality is to be applied to the sleeper. Thus the parable tells of a sleeping neighbor who will indeed preserve his honor and grant the host's request and more. Even so, man before God has much more reason to rest assured that his requests will be granted." (Ibid., p. 133) Bailey's work is supported by other writers as well (Scott, Jeremias, etc.) and helps clear up the confusion with the second parable. Now both parables proclaim the same thing: Since even a sleepy neighbor knows the duties of hospitality, and the loving parent knows what a child needs, how much more will your heavenly Parent give to those who ask.
Blessings on your proclamation!
Thursday, July 11, 2019
(The following questions have been developed to get at some of the fundamental concerns of Law and Gospel preachers, around the function of the Word. They are not meant to be exhaustive. 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? I hear this Word as a word of Gospel. The Lord is obviously concerned about Martha and her unending attempts to please him, and he says, in effect, "Stop being anxious. Only one thing is needed [and I have provided that in my person]."
2. How is the Word not functioning in the text? Even though many a Law-based sermon has been preached on this text, saying, "Repent of your busyness!" I don't believe it is warranted. I do not hear Jesus rebuking Martha, but rather showing her compassion. It is a little like his word to the crowds, "Come to me all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest."(Matt. 11) Or "Be not anxious for tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself." (Matt. 6)
3. With whom are you identifying in the text? Martha is the one being addressed by the Word (i.e. Jesus), thus we must identify with Martha. We, "good church folk" are often the ones scurrying around, in charge of everything from the patched together boiler to the cookie baking. We are the ones who need Jesus to free us from our anxious ways, to allow Him to take our burdens upon him.
4. What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text? The call to obedience is always the call to live in a certain way in response to God's work in Christ. Here, the call is to faith, not obedience. Jesus is saying, "Martha, Martha, trust that all that is needful has already been done."
5. What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text? Theologically, we could assign several couplets here: bondage [to fear/anxiety]/freedom [from fear/anxiety]; distracted and overburdened/freed for wholehearted service.
6. Exegetical work: Luther, in a sermon on this text, imagines that Jesus addresses Martha by reminding her of his preaching on the mountain: "Martha, you have many worries. I have preached the gospel before which says that one should not worry: one should work but not worry, and especially when the Word is brought forward, then one should neglect business... and only cling to the Word." ("On the Day of Mary's Ascension," Reformation Commentary on Scripture, NT, III, 229). Kittel has a brief article on merimnao, the word translated in verse 41 as "worried." This article is helpful, even though it does not address this text specifically, but refers to the Sermon on the Mount: "What makes a proper concern foolish is anxiety and the illusion to which it gives rise in its blindness, namely, that life itself can be secured by the means of life for which there is concern... Such anxiety is futile; for the future which they think they can provide for is not in their hands." (Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, IV, p. 592).
7. How does the Crossings Community model work with this text? Steven Albertin has several entries for this text, but the one entitled "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?" is the one that I believe gets at the heart of this text. Albertin points out that when anxiety overtakes us, it is because we think that "it's all on us." It's not, it's all on God. As a mentor of mine shared: "This is the 11th commandment: Thou shalt not take thyself so seriously." Go to crossings.org/text-study for this analysis and a number of fine other examples.
Blessings on your proclamation!
Wednesday, July 10, 2019
(The following questions have been developed to help preachers discover some of the fundamental concerns for Law and Gospel preachers; (i.e. how is the Word functioning?) These questions are not meant to be exhaustive, but may be used in conjunction with other fine sets of exegetical questions. For more on 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 early optional verses are clearly a call to obedience. Here Paul is exhorting his listeners to "fulfill the law of Christ", which is the law of love. In the middle section, Paul introduces the Law: "whoever sows to their own flesh, will reap corruption from the flesh." This is a warning to all to continue living in the Spirit. In the final section, Paul returns to the theme which is the occasion for this letter - circumcision and uncircumcision. He writes once more about the futility of the old system, but then suddenly breaks into a word of Gospel: "a new creation is everything!" Here it is, the announcement that Christ crucified has made all things new; we are new, the community of believers is new, all things are new in Christ.
2. With whom are you identifying in the text? We are the Galatians. We are those who are tempted to believe that sowing in the flesh brings life and peace and joy. We are those who "think we are something" and thereby deceive ourselves. We are those who easily forget that "making a good show in the flesh" is futile. We are those who have been made new in Christ.
3. What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text? Paul's theological argument suggests several couplets: sowing in the flesh/sowing in the Spirit; old creation/new creation.
4. Exegetical work: In the final verse, Paul refers to "the rule" of the new creation. The Greek word is kanon, from which we get the word "canon". Kittel has a fine article on this term which is very helpful: "Here Paul sums up not merely the content of the epistle but the whole doctrine of true Christian behavior. Redemption through the crucifixion of Christ takes the one who accepts it out of the world by whose concepts and standards he [or she] has previously lived and sets him [or her] in a new creation or a new reality...For the Christian there is only one canon, namely, that these concepts of the old world have become meaningless and that he [or she] allows his [or her] whole life to be determined by the new reality of the freedom given in Christ." (Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, III, p. 598). Luther also has much to say about this verse in his commentary: "To them which walk after this rule belongeth peace, that is the favour of God, forgiveness of sins, quietness of conscience, and mercy, that is to say, help in afflictions and pardon of the remnants of sin which remain in our flesh. Yea, although they which walk after this rule, be overtaken with any fault or fall, yet for that they are the children of grace and peace, mercy upholdeth them, so that their sin and fall shall not be laid to their charge." (A Commentary on St. Paul's Epistle to the Galatians, p. 565)
5. Consider the insights of the pioneers of the New Homiletic? When preaching on a non-narrative text like this, it is even more important than ever to remember the advice of David Buttrick who asked preachers to consider how many moves they were making in the sermon design. Too many moves leads to confusion and lack of focus, too few can produce sections which a listener has trouble attending to for length.
Blessings on your proclamation!
Tuesday, July 9, 2019
(The following questions are just a few of the questions a thoughtful scholar of scripture might ask. These were formulated to get at some of the fundamental concerns of Law and Gospel preachers regarding the function of the Word. For more on 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? This text looks in many ways like it is a call to obedience (i.e. Follow Jesus!) Specifically here, Jesus says, "Go, and do likewise. i.e. Be compassionate." But if we look at the economy or abundance of detail in the parable we see that there is little time spent here exhorting us to deeds of mercy. Indeed the main points of abundant detail are the extensive description of the beaten man's condition, and even more so, the extravagant description of the merciful deeds of the Samaritan. If this is a clue to the function of the text, then what we have here is a classic Law/Gospel text. We are the beaten one on the roadside, "half-dead" in sin, as St. Paul might have said, and God is the One who picks us up out of the ditch and gives us life. The text, seen this way, functions as a Gospel text, lifting up the extravagant mercy of God in Christ.
2. With whom are you identifying in the text? We have lots of choices in this text, but we must be wary of one character whom we are most easily drawn to - the hero of the story. The preacher's temptation to be the hero, or suggest to one's listeners that it is our job to be the hero is usually a bad idea. As above, we could do well to identify with the man beaten and left half dead. It would then be our task as preacher to help others identify with this beaten one. Or we could take up the identity of the priest or Levite - an unenviable role, to be sure, but that might be a good way to call attention to our love of piety over pity. Or we could identify with the expert in the law who started the whole discussion. Is he asking honestly or not? Luke says he is "testing" Jesus. We could ask our listeners to identify with him.
3. What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text? Lots of classic couplets come to mind with this text: dead/alive; lost/found; thrown aside/treasured; left for dead/given life.
4. Exegetical work: Mark Allan Powell's slender volume, What is Narrative Criticism? is an excellent resource for narrative texts like this. In the appendix to this work Powell gives a fine set of questions around events, characters, settings, and overall interpretation which help us see what is going on in a narrative text. The question "How is the event reported in terms of narrative time?" (Powell, p. 103) is the question which helped me see the Law/Gospel character of this story as outlined in question one above. Another resource which is better known, but also helpful in this story is The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible. The entries regarding Priests and Levites are telling: "The Levitical priesthood... embodies the duty, as well as the honor and privileges of the whole nation as the covenant people of God." "The essential function of the Levitical priesthood is therefore to assure, maintain, and constantly re-establish the holiness of the elect people of God." (IDB, III, p. 876f) It is also in this resource that the entry regarding lawyers makes the point that in Luke's gospel, with one exception, the word for "expert in the law" always has a bad sense. In short, they are opponents of Jesus. (IDB, III, p. 102).
5. How does the Crossings Community model work with this text? There are a number of fine analyses on the crossings community website, but the most recent one, by Brad Haugen, picks up on the emphasis I use above. According to Haugen, we are the ones left half dead on the roadside, and it is only because God refuses to have enemies, that we are saved. Go to crossings.org/text-study for the entire analysis.
6. Consider the insights of the pioneers of the New Homiletic? Eugene Lowry insisted that one of the main jobs of the preacher was to move one's listeners from disequilibrium to equilibrium. How might we do that here? It might happen, simply by identifying with the man on the roadside.
Blessings on your proclamation!
Monday, July 8, 2019
(The following questions are not meant to be sufficient of themselves, but they are meant to be used in conjunction with other fine sets of questions which an exegete might use. These questions simply help unlock some of the fundamental concerns of Law and Gospel preachers. For more on 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 first verse in chapter five sets the tone with its double imperative: "Stand firm...do not submit again to the yoke of slavery." This is clearly a call to obedience. Later, Paul lays it out: Verse 13b: "Through love become slaves of one another." Verse 16: "Live by the Spirit... do not gratify the desires of the flesh." Verse 25: "If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit." All of these verses are imperatives, calling the believer to live in response to the Gospel.
2. How is the Word not functioning in the text? Neither the Law (i.e. You need Christ!), nor the Gospel (i.e. Here is Christ!) get much of a hearing in this text. There is a stern warning in verse 21 that alerts us to the dangers of the works of the flesh: "those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God." Even here, however, we are not pointed to Christ. There is also a cursory mentioning of God's work in Christ in verse 24: "And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires." That we belong to Christ is certainly good news, but that also is only mentioned in a glancing manner. Perhaps the closest thing to a gospel verse is the first verse: "... Christ has set us free."
3. With whom are you identifying in the text? We are certainly among those whom Paul is addressing. We are the ones whom Christ has set free. We are those who are called to freedom. We are those who are exhorted to live by the Spirit and not by the flesh.
4. What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text? Even though this text is primarily a call to obedience, there are amidst it a number of helpful couplets: bound/set free; yoke of slavery/freed; subject to the Law/led by the Spirit; living in the flesh/living in the Spirit.
5. Exegetical work: Our old friend, Martin Luther, comes to our rescue in helping us notice one small thing upon which St. Paul's argument hinges. In his commentary on Galatians, Luther writes: "The Apostle saith not, the works of the Spirit, as he said the works of the flesh, but he adorneth these Christian virtues with a more honourable name, calling them the fruits of the Spirit. For they bring with them most excellent fruits and commodities: for they that have them give glory to God, and with the same do allure and provoke others to embrace the doctrine and faith of Christ. (A Commentary on St. Paul's Epistle to the Galatians, p. 523) Luther's lifting up of the terms "works" and "fruits" gives the preacher a place to stand in this text which seems bereft of gospel news. By using the term "fruits" for our virtues, Luther makes it clear that all our good works are a result of God's good work in us; they are not our works. Indeed, because they are fruits, the glory goes to the Vinedresser. Our "works", on the other hand, are our own, and as such must be repented of. The works of the flesh, in all of their hideousness, are ours alone.
6. How does the Crossings Community model work with this text? Lori Cornell uses a play on words to get at the heart of this text. A "free-for-all" she identifies as the license to self-indulgence that Paul warns against. But "free for all" is what Christ's gift is to the world. See her entire analysis by going to crossings.org/text-study, archived under the text.
Blessings on your proclamation!
Thursday, June 20, 2019
(The following questions have been developed to answer some of the fundamental questions for Law and Gospel preachers, especially concerning the function of the Word. For more on 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? Paul is simply announcing to us the gifts of grace: we are justified (i.e. put right with God) by faith, we are called children of God, we are clothed with Christ, we are no longer separated by cultural status, we belong to Christ, we are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to the promise. What a list of gifts this is! A gospel function, no doubt!
2. How is the Word not functioning in the text? The Law is not present except in the sense that it is referred to as our former state: "we were imprisoned and guarded under the law," "subject to a disciplinarian." In the preaching we will want to refer to this former state, but not issue a call to repentance, which is not here.
3. With whom are you identifying in the text? We are those being addressed here, therefore we are the ones formerly imprisoned by the Law, but now freed and heirs with Christ.
4. What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text? The call to obedience is always the text functioning to invite us to live in a certain way in response to God's work in Christ. Even though this call is not present in this case, we could well imagine an implicit invitation to live into our identity as people who are justified, children of God, clothed with Christ, no longer separated from one another by cultural status, belonging to Christ, and heirs according to God's promise.
5. What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text? Some of the most classic couplets come to mind with this text: imprisoned/set free; under the law/under grace; guilty/forgiven.
6. Exegetical work: Charles Cousar, in his excellent commentary on the book of Galatians, makes an interesting comment regarding verse 24. He says that the verse which reads "Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came..." could just as accurately read "...with a view to Christ's coming." This, he says, establishes "an inner connection between the law and Christ." (Galatians, Interpretation Series, p. 79) This matches very well with the article in the lexicon regarding the term translated "disciplinarian." The word is paidagogos (from which we get the word pedagogue), which is "lit. 'boy-leader', the man, usu. a slave, whose duty it was to conduct the boy or youth to and from school and to superintend his conduct generally; he was not a teacher." (A Greek-English Lexicon of the NT and Other Early Christian Literature, Bauer, Gingrich, and Danker, p. 603) It seems then, that Paul is comparing the law to a tutor or mentor, a guide or custodian, who is not unaware of what is to come, but in fact, is preparing his charge for what is to come (i.e. Christ). In this view, the law is not something cast aside when Christ comes, but something that is appreciated for its role in preparing one well for Christ's arrival. It is true, as Paul says, that "we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian," but that does not mean that the giving of the law was in vain.
7. How does the Crossings Community model work with this text? Lori Cornell has taken this text and analyzed according to a classic law/gospel couplet. The Law disciplines and imprisons and eventually, condemns, while Christ pardons, frees, justifies, and sends us out to bear this good news to the world. See the entire analysis archived under chapter and verse at crossings.org/text-study.
Blessings on your proclamation!
Saturday, April 13, 2019
(The following questions have been developed as a way of getting at a fundamental concern of Law and Gospel preachers, i.e. how the Word functions. For more on 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? There is little doubt that this is a Gospel text: we proclaim the Lord's death whenever we eat and drink. What we proclaim is important: we proclaim that the Lord Jesus was "handed over" to death for our sins. It is important to note that in verse 23 the original text uses the word paradidomi when speaking of what happened to Jesus. This is most often translated "betrayed" but the Gospel function is much clearer when we understand that Jesus was "handed over" to death for our sake rather than simply betrayed into the hands of his enemies.
2. How is the Word not functioning in the text? There seems to be little hint of Law here except when we understand the context. In the verses surrounding this passage it is clear that Paul is very upset with the Corinthian church for showing "contempt for the church of God." (vs. 22) When the commands, in vss. 24-25, to "do this in remembrance of me" are read in this context they can sound like Law, where the hearers are reminded that the way they have been gathering and eating has not been done in a way that remembers the life of Christ.
3. With whom are you identifying in the text? We are those addressed by this text, the ones to whom the apostle hands over what he received from the Lord. We are also the ones who Paul says proclaim the Lord's death whenever we eat and drink.
4. What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text? As mentioned above, the context suggests that throughout this text we are being called to live as a community and not as the world does, with distinctions regarding wealth and class. This is certainly a call to obedience. Another possibility comes to us because of the ambiguity regarding verse 26. In Greek, the indicative and the imperative forms of verbs are often identical, and this is the way it is in verse 26. Given that, we might well translate the final verse as a command: "As often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, proclaim the Lord's death until he comes."
5. What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text? Again, the context provides some possibilities for understanding this text: schisms and distinctions/one community in Christ; in bondage to worldly status/freed to be one in Christ.
6. Exegetical work: I am indebted to Richard Hays for his insightful analysis of the contextual nature of this text. (First Corinthians, Interpretation series, p. 192-200) He points out how "the meal that should be the symbol and seal of their oneness has in fact become an occasion for some of them to shame others." (Ibid., p. 193) It is ironic how easily we could say this about the divisions around the Last Supper in our modern day, as some churches continue to deny table entrance to those who do not understand the Supper as they do. Hays explains how the typical Roman villa, where these suppers probably took place, had a dining room that could accommodate perhaps nine people. That meant that the other 30 or so people in attendance were left in the atrium, where they not could not share fully in the supper, but also likely were given poorer fare. Paul's point is that if it is truly the Lord's supper that you gather to eat, you must eat it in the manner that Christ offered it - all receive equally, all are honored at the table of the Lord. To be partakers of a new covenant means, according to Hays, that "the character of this new covenant should be sown forth in the sharing of the meal." (Ibid., p. 199)
7. Consider the insights of the pioneers of the New Homiletic? Henry Mitchell was always quick to point out that the preacher must be the first one to celebrate the good news, and always in the sermon, draw others into that celebration. What better time to celebrate than in this text where we proclaim again how Christ was handed over to death for us.
Blessings on your proclamation!