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!
Saturday, December 2, 2017
(The following questions have been formed to get at some of the fundamental concerns of Law and Gospel preachers. For more on this unique genre of preaching, please 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? This is pure proclamation. As such it is a gospel function: the One for whom we have waited is coming! He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit! This is a new beginning! Lift up your heads, for your redemption is drawing nigh!
2. How is the Word not functioning in the text? There is no word of Law here, although there is a report of public repentance. This is interesting in that John the baptizer, who will speak a word of Law, is announced, but here there is no such word. That word of judgment, in fact, is completely absent from Mark's account. Matthew and Luke include John's dire warning to those who came out to be baptized, but Mark omits this. No word here of "the wrath to come" or of an "ax even now laid to the root of the trees," but only of the One whose sandal "I am not worthy to stoop down and untie."
3. With whom are you identifying in the text? As always we identify with those to whom the Word is addressed. This whole text is addressed to the reader, thus it is addressed to us. The announcement of the good news of Jesus Christ is coming to us. We are the ones who are told that the baptizer has appeared in the wilderness, signalling the end of our wilderness wanderings. We are the ones who are invited to be baptized in the Jordan, confessing our sins, and step foot into a new land on the other side of the Jordan. We are the covenant people of God!
4. What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text? The call to "prepare the way of the Lord" could be counted as a call to obedience, except that the call to obedience is always in response to God's work in Christ. Since all we have here is the announcement of Christ's coming, a call to obedience would be premature.
5. What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text? We will have to delve into the context of this passage in order to fashion some suitable Law/Gospel couplets. Remembering that Caesar is the one for whom the terms "son of god" and "gospel" were reserved we might imagine the following: false Christ/Son of Man; false gospel/Good News.
6. Exegetical work: I have always liked the quote attributed to Gregory the Great (d. 604): "Whoever preaches right faith and good works prepares nothing other than a road for the Lord to come into the hearer's hearts so that his gracious power might penetrate and the light of truth illuminate them. Thus may the preacher make straight the paths for God..." (Lamar Williamson, Interpretation, Mark, p. 33) Donahue and Harrington, in their commentary on this gospel, make note of the River Jordan, a "barrier between wilderness and land of promise," inviting we readers to hear this good news and enter into a new land ourselves. (Sacra Pagina, The Gospel of Mark, p. 63) This is a promising tack, given that a new Son of God, a new land, and a new life of repentance await us. I am intrigued by Eugene Boring's idea that this whole prologue in Mark's gospel (verses 1-15) are heard "offstage." Boring imagines a theatre audience hearing an "offstage voice of God speaking in words of Scripture." The action unfolds as Jesus is introduced. (The NT Library, Mark, pp. 33-37)
7. How does the Crossings Community model work with this text? In my analysis of this I highlight the ways in which we are seduced by false Christ's, passing on the untruths of the empire, and finding ourselves finally without a Savior. The word of the prophet that One has come who is truly Son of God frees us from our bondage and illusions. See the entire analysis at crossings.org/text study.
8. Consider the insights of the pioneers of the New Homiletic? Could there be any better time than this to do what Henry Mitchell always encouraged? Celebration! Celebrate this announcement! Christ is coming soon!
Blessings on your proclamation!
Saturday, November 25, 2017
(The following questions attempt to get at some of the fundamental concerns for Law and Gospel preachers, specifically concerns about how the Word is functioning. For more on this 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 is good news to "the elect". Verse 27 says that the Son of Man will come with great power and glory and "gather his elect" from the corners of the earth. This is a Gospel word to those who are enduring suffering. The text goes on to compare the present time to the ending of a season when the cold of winter is passing away and the summer is coming. This also is a message of good news. Even the word that "heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away" is good news to the suffering ones. In effect the message is, "Take courage. God's word is sure. Though you suffer in the night, grace comes in the morning."
2. How is the Word not functioning in the text? The word of Law, announcing to us our need for Christ, is not overly present here. There is a word of judgment to "the powers in the heavens" and to any who stand opposed to this One who comes with great power and glory, but these opponents of the Christ are not really addressed. This is a word to God's people who are enduring suffering.
3. With whom are you identifying in the text? As always we are the ones whom the Word addresses, in this case, those who are longing for the end to come. Like the writers of the spiritual "My Lord, What a Mornin!'" we are the ones who are watching and waiting as "the stars begin to fall."
4. What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text? The second half of the text is a clear call to obedience. Because we are confident that the master of the house will return from his journey and bring with him gifts for all, we are commanded to each be about our work. Because we are servants of a good and generous master we are eager to have all things ready upon his return. We take joy in being about the work which is ours to do.
5. What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text? Since the Law is not overly present in this text we will need to provide that side of the equation. Some possible ideas: winter/springtime; ongoing suffering/the end of suffering; absence/presence.
6. Exegetical work: Don Juel, in his masterful analysis of Mark's gospel, quotes an article by Nils Dahl titled "The Purpose of Mark's Gospel." Juel points out that "rather than presuming a readership whose problem was persecution, [Dahl] argued that the Gospel addresses a church that has tasted success and found it satisfying. It envisions believers who have taken the gospel for granted, who no longer see the world painted in dramatic colors. The story of Jesus is retold to shock them into awareness." (A Master of Surprise, p. 87-88) Dahl's view is quite in contrast to the usual view, that the readers of Mark's gospel were enduring persecution and indeed even longing for the end of the world. Lamar Williamson pretty well sums up this consensus: "On either the literal, the pragmatic, or the existential interpretation, the vision of the future in Mark 13 serves to strengthen discipleship in the present. It arms us against the wiles of deceivers (vv. 5b-6. 21-23). It sustains us in whatever suffering or persecution we must endure (vv. 8c, 13b, 20b). It motivates us to get on with the preaching of the gospel to all nations (v. 10). It both ennobles and relativizes the common round of daily life by making each moment subject to the invasion of the Son of man, who comes to judge and to save." (Interpretation series, Mark, p. 242-243).
7. How does the Crossings Community model work with this text? Michael Foy, in his analysis of this text, centers upon the image of being watchful. He points out that we can be either those who watch in fear, or those who watch in faith. Christ's bursting in upon this world in power and glory is the event that changes our fear to faith, and liberates us to be watchers of the promise. Go to crossings.org/text study for the entire analysis.
Blessings on your proclamation!
Saturday, November 18, 2017
(The following questions have been developed to answer some of the concerns of Law and Gospel preachers. They are meant to be used in conjunction with many other fine sets of exegetical questions which attempt to get at other concerns. For more on this genre of preaching, please 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? There is no doubt that the Word is functioning as Law here. The final verse seals it: "And these will go away into eternal punishment but the righteous into eternal life." There is a strong sense of the Law functioning as mirror here, showing us our sin. We have all neglected those in need, and so we all stand under judgment. As the prophet said, "There is none righteous; not even one." But as St. Paul reminds us, the Law is meant to drive us to repentance, and so it does, urging us to take care of our siblings in need.
2. How is the Word not functioning in the text? Like the previous parables in Matthew 25, the Gospel is not immediately obvious. One important statement gives us a hint, however: "Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world." Notice that this inheritance was set up long before anyone had had an opportunity to earn it. It has been God's will since the foundation of the earth to keep in readiness an inheritance for the blessed ones. This inheritance is evidence of God's great love for all creation. It is equally important to note that the eternal fire is not prepared for the cursed, but for the devil and his minions.
3. With whom are you identifying in the text? We are those on the right and those on the left. We are those who both see the needy neighbor and those who are blind to them. We are those who are called to repentance by this parable. Again, there is none righteous; not even one.
4. What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text? This text, just like the previous two parables, can be understood as a call to obedience. Here we are called to minister to those in need in no uncertain terms. As recipients of God's grace, as joint heirs with Christ, we are compelled to reach out with compassion to our siblings in need.
5. What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text? There are obviously some very neat couplets present in the text: cursed/blessed; shunned/embraced. We might explore others.
6. Exegetical work: Some of the details of this text appear noteworthy: One is the obvious same wording that is used when the king speaks to the faithful and to the unfaithful. Neither see Christ in their needy neighbor. Both encounter the same neediness; one ministers to them, one does not. One interesting detail is that the king describes "the least of these" as those who are "members of my family" in speaking to the faithful, while the king leaves out that detail in talking to the unfaithful. It makes me wonder if a key to a life of compassion isn't in seeing the needy as siblings of ours. Another interesting parallel, alluded to above, is that the eternal fire and the kingdom have both been prepared beforehand. The word could be translated "kept in readiness." God's kingdom is kept in readiness to be inherited by the blessed. The eternal fire is kept in readiness for the devil and his minions. Both have been kept in readiness since the foundation of the world. St. Chrysostom in commenting on this says, "He did not say [to the blessed] 'take' but 'inherit' as one's own, as your father's, as yours, as due to you from the first. 'For before you were,' he says, 'these things had been prepared and made ready for you, because I knew you would be such as you are.'" "But concerning the fire, he does not say [prepared for you from the foundation of the world] but 'prepared for the devil.' I prepared the kingdom for you, he says, but the fire I did not prepare for you but 'for the devil and his angels.' But you have cast yourselves into it. You have imputed it to yourselves." (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, NT, vol. 1b, p. 232-234)
7. How does the Crossings Community model work with this text? Jerry Bruce does a nice job of reminding us of the interrelatedness of all these parables in Matthew. He reminds us that, as I pointed out, Jesus' words in the Sermon on the Mount are echoed here. Finally, the good news is that we are not sheep or goats, but "members of God's family." That's the really good news. Christ has seen us in our hunger, thirst, nakedness, poverty, and imprisonment, and ministered to us. To that we say, Thanks be to God! See Jerry's entire analysis at crossings.org/text study.
Blessings on your proclamation!
Saturday, November 11, 2017
(The following questions try to address some of the central concerns of Law and Gospel preachers. For more about this unique genre of preaching, please 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 is lifting up faithfulness and condemning unfaithfulness. Because it is clear that the unfaithful are judged harshly, the Word is functioning as Law, reminding us of the ways that we "bury" God's gifts to us. The example of the unfaithful slave also lifts up the relationship of dread he has with the Master. Clearly he lives in fear of what the Master will do to him if he fails. Somehow, although he lives in the same home as the faithful slaves, he fails to trust or have faith in the Master and so his fear controls him.
2. How is the Word not functioning in the text? At first glance a Gospel word seems hard to find in this text, but if we take careful note of the faithful servants we catch a hint of Gospel. Noting the bold, adventurous, fearless actions of the faithful servants we might ask ourselves, how is it that they can act with such abandon? Answer: they have an absolute faith and trust in the mercy of the Master. They do not fear losing the Master's money - they know the Master to be generous and forgiving.
3. With whom are you identifying in the text? We are the slaves; which one we shall identify with is up to us. We might ask ourselves, "Which attitude characterizes my relationship with God?" Do I dread God's wrath? Or do I have confidence in God's mercy? Am I able to do what Luther advised: "Sin boldly, but believe even more boldly still"?
4. What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text? It could be argued that this whole parable is a call to obedience, a call to live faithfully, anticipating the Lord's return. How we serve, after all, is a response to God's grace, not what we do to gain it.
5. What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text? The contrasting attitudes of the faithful and the unfaithful provide us much fodder for our imagination: living in dread/living by faith; fearful/trusting; hoarding gifts/living with abandon.
6. Exegetical work: A narrative critical analysis of this parable reveals that the place where the most detail is shared is in the section about the unfaithful slave. Two verses are devoted to the conversation between the faithful slave who received five talents and the master. Similarly, two verses are devoted to the conversation between the second faithful slave and the master, with that conversation being a repeat of the first. In contrast, four verses are spent on the conversation between the unfaithful slave and master. This suggests that the key to the parable is here, which I believe it is. By the unfaithful slave's description of the master we see why he has acted as he has: he views his master as cruel, unscrupulous, and worthy of fear. Thus his decision to bury his master's money. And so we are warned, as Chrysostom did, that "it is not only the covetous, the active doers of evil things and the adulterer" who are condemned, "but also the one who fails to do good." (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, NT, vol. Ib, p. 221) As Douglas Hare points out, the unfaithful one's sin is not merely that he fails to use his gifts faithfully, but his failure to see the gifts as precious and, most importantly, his failure to know his master. (Interpretation series, Matthew, p. 287).
7. Consider the insights of the pioneers of the New Homiletic? Henry Mitchell was a master of celebration in his sermons. Perhaps a challenge we could take up here is that of finding a way to celebrate the Master's entrusting us with God's gifts, and celebrating those who throw caution to the wind in investing those gifts for others.
Blessings on your proclamation!
Saturday, November 4, 2017
(The following questions are an attempt to get at some of the foundational concerns for Law and Gospel preachers. They are intended to be used in conjunction with other sets of questions which have other concerns. They were 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? It is clear that this parable is a call to readiness. Similar calls in the preceding chapter provide the context. It is a call to be ready for the coming of the Son of Man. It is a call to those who have already been invited to the wedding feast - to those who are known by the bridegroom. That is why the final word, "I do not know you," is so startling.
2. How is the Word not functioning in the text? There seems to be a lack of Gospel in this text. We are exhorted to be ready for Christ's coming. We are told to be wise and prepared. We are told that there are some who have been invited to the feast who have finally been left outside. None of this sounds like Gospel, telling us what God has done in Christ.
3. With whom are you identifying in the text? We are, of course, the bridesmaids, either wise or foolish. We are those to whom the message comes, "Be prepared. Bring oil for your lamps. You know neither the day nor the hour."
4. What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text? It could be argued that this entire parable is a call to obedience. In other words, this text invites us to respond to what God has done in Christ by living wisely as we await the coming of the Son of Man. We might look at the passages immediately preceding this one to see what living wisely entails. These preceding passages suggest that working faithfully at our callings is the best way to be prepared.
5. What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text? Without gospel content we must use our imaginations to create the couplet. Possible examples: left out/invited in; having no oil/having an inexhaustible source of oil.
6. Exegetical Work: There has been a lively discussion down through the ages as to the allegorical identity of the various pieces of this parable. Augustine argued that both the wise and the foolish maidens were members of the Church, but that the wise maidens - the ones with oil in their lamps - were the members of the church who practiced an enduring love. He thought that the foolish maidens were those who were interested primarily in mere appearances, and they were even foolish enough to believe that works of charity could be purchased. They were foolish mainly then, because they believed that the appearance of charity was all the Lord required, rather than an enduring love. Augustine's entire discussion can be seen in the helpful collection Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, Vol. 1b, pp.214-220. Luther, not surprisingly, argued that the oil in the lamps was faith. According to Douglas Hare, the most popular suggestion regarding the oil is that it represents good works. He believes this comes from Jesus' words in the Sermon on the Mount, "Let your light so shine before others that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven." (Interpretation Series, Matthew, p. 285) In all cases, whatever the oil represents, it is considered essential in order to be admitted to the heavenly feast.
7. How does the Crossings Community model work with this text? Cathy Lessman, in a very clever analysis, also picks up on the oil in the lamps as a central element, highlighting the "energy crisis" we all share. She shows how Christ comes amongst us as the one who takes our place as one unknown by God. Our energy source is restored and we are freed to share our energy with others. See crossings.org/text study for the entire analysis.
Blessings on your proclamation!