Thursday, June 18, 2020
(The following questions have been developed in order to unearth the answers to simple questions regarding how the Word is functioning, a principal concern of Law and Gospel preachers. For more information on this method, and Law and Gospel preaching in general, see my brief guide, Afflicting the Comfortable, Comforting the Afflicted, available at wipfandstock.com or amazon.)
1. How does the Word function in the text? In this text, the Word is functioning in all the ways it can. It opens with a clear call to obedience in verses 12-13: "Do not let sin exercise dominion... No longer present your members to sin... present your members to God." Then vs. 14 goes directly to the announcement of the Gospel: "..you are not under law but under grace." Verses 15-16 are rhetorical questions leading us to the second announcement of the Gospel in verses 17-18: "[you] have become obedient from the heart... having been set free from sin, [you] have become slaves of righteousness." Verse 19 returns to the imperative form where we have another call to obedience. Verses 20-21 are perhaps the strongest statements of Law in this text: "The end of those things is death." The final verses return to a statement of the Gospel, ending with the oft-quoted line, "The wages of sin is death but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord."
2. How is the Word not functioning in the text? Even though there is a hint of Law in verses 20-21, this text does not include a call to repentance or a point at which the text functions to point out our need for a Savior. That need is implicit in all that is said about "the wages of sin," but there is no direct call to flee from sin.
3. With whom are you identifying in the text? We are those to whom this is addressed. We know all about sin having dominion over us and leading us into a death spiral. We also know the joy of being freed from sin and given new life in Christ.
4. What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text? The text provides all the vocabulary we need for couplets in this case: death/life; bondage/freedom; law/grace.
5. Exegetical work: It is interesting how writers, from ancient to modern, note the incompatibility of living in sin with life under the realm of grace. Note what 4th century theologian, St. Chysostom has to say, "It is absurd for those who are being led toward the kingdom of God to have sin ruling over them or for those who are called to reign with Christ to choose to be captive to sin, as if one should throw down the crown from his head and choose to be the slave of a hysterical woman who comes begging and covered in rags." (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scriptures, NT, vol. VI, p. 163). The Spanish theologian of the Reformation era, Juan de Valdes wrote this: "Christians indeed abstain from things prohibited by the law, not because the law prohibits them, but because they are unsuitable to the man or woman who is dead to sin and alive to God." (Reformation Commentary on Scriptures, NT, vol. VII, p. 341). Ernst Kasemann, in his classic commentary, put it succinctly: "With baptism a change of lordship has been effected." (Commentary on Romans, p. 179). Finally, Paul Achtemier, writing in the Interpretation series, said, "If, by freeing us from the domination of sin bequethed to us as heirs of Adam... baptism alters our past, it also alters our future." "We are members of a new race, whose goal for the first time can be something other than rebellion against God and ensuing death." (Romans, p. 105).
6. How does the Crossings Community model work with this text? In 2014, Ron Starenko wrote an insightful analysis of this text called "Slaves, One Way or Another." He talks about the realm under which we live, whether it is the realm of sin leading to death, or the realm of Christ leading to life. The entire analysis may be seen archived under its reference at crossings.org/text-study.
Blessings on your proclamation!
Thursday, June 11, 2020
(The following questions are part of a method developed for Law and Gospel preachers around one main issue: how does the Word function in the text? The contention is that the way the Word functions is the way the sermon built on this Word must function - at least in part. For more on this method and on Law and Gospel preaching in general, 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 text is largely Gospel. We are told we have been baptized into the death of Christ, buried with him, and raised with him to walk in newness of life. We are also told that we will be united with Christ in a resurrection like his, that we are no longer enslaved to sin, that death no longer has dominion over Christ or us, and that we shall live with Christ. Certainly all this is good news.
2. How is the Word not functioning in the text? In a text that is so full of mention of sin and death, it seems strange to say that the Law is not present, but that seems to be the case. There is clearly acknowledgement that sin and death are powerful and working to undermine the work of Christ, but there is no word that calls us to repentance. The Word here is celebrating the end of the Law, which Paul will delve into more deeply later.
3. With whom are you identifying in the text? We are those who ask the rhetorical question that begins this text: "Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound?" Or, as one young boy said to the preacher on the way out of church one Sunday, "Now I get it: I like to sin, and God likes to forgive sin, so we're both happy!" We are the ones Paul addresses here, showing us how we must regard ourselves.
4. What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text? The call to obedience here is in the last verse: "So you must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus." This is a classic call to obedience where we are invited to live in a certain way in response to God's work in Christ. This is a command, an imperative, exhorting us to look upon ourselves anew.
5. What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text? All of the language for couplets is available right within this text: dead/alive; enslaved/free; buried/raised.
6. Exegetical work: Scholars down through the ages have acknowledged the ongoing struggle we all have with sin, even as baptized people of faith. St. Chrysostom, 4th century theologian, wrote, "Paul says: Consider yourselves... because complete freedom from sin is not a reality as yet... We are told to live for God in Jesus Christ our Lord and to lay hold of every virtue, having Jesus as our ally in the struggle." (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, NT, vol. VI, p. 162). Martin Luther quotes Augustine who said, "Until our body is raised to life, and death is swallowed up in victory, our evil desires will afflict us." (Luther's Works, vol. 25, p. 308f) In a classic commentary, James G. Dunn, had this to say: "The very real dying of believers is a lifelong process: they do not sever all links and relationships with this world until the death of the body. How can they? But in the meantime they must let the death of Christ come to increasing effect in their own lives." (Word series, Vol. 38A, Romans 1-8, p. 331). Contemporary theologian, Michael Gorman, makes it clear that the dying and rising we experience in baptism have lifelong implications: "...the language of dying and rising with Christ in baptism is Paul's way of saying two main things: first, that initiation into Christ is a 'death' to one way of existence and a 'resurrection' to a new way of life; and second, that this initiation is a participation in the story of Christ." (Preaching Romans; Four Perspectives, Scot McKnight and Joseph B. Modica, eds. p 71). I like that; we now participate in the story of Jesus.
7. How does the Crossings Community model work with this text? Peter Keyel, writing an analysis in 2017, summed things up very nicely by showing how we go from thinking we are free to sin because of grace, to realizing we are free from sin because of grace. It is a very simple, straightforward analysis, which can be found archived under the reference at crossings.org/text-study.
Blessings on your proclamation!
Saturday, May 30, 2020
(The following questions are not meant to be sufficient in themselves, but are best used in conjunction with other fine sets of questions which exegetes can use to mine the treasures of a text. These questions are an attempt to understand how the Word is functioning in this text, a particular concern of Law and Gospel preachers. For more on Law and Gospel preaching and this method, 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 as both Law and Gospel, but in starkly varying amounts. The Law is present in only one place as the earth before creation is described: "the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep." This brief statement describes the earth in its most profound lostness. There is nothing, but this immense emptiness. It is beyond imagination, but it conjures up a feeling of abject despair. The Gospel, however, is everywhere, as God is creating and blessing and declaring good all things.
2. With whom are you identifying in the text? We are those privileged to overhear God speaking at the outset of creation. God is not speaking to us, yet we are recipients of this gospel word because by this word, we understand God as One whose only wish is to bring forth a good creation.
3. What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text? Although we are only overhearing God's speech, we understand through this word that we are to "be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it." This is a call to all humankind to be good stewards of the good creation which God has made, a form of a call to obedience.
4. What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text? We could perhaps think of many couplets but we can start with the language of the text: darkness/light; formless void/the heavens and earth; evil/very good.
5. Exegetical work: Ancient writers had much to say about the plural image of God in this text. Both Gregory of Nyssa and St. Chrysostom picked up on verse 26 where the cohortative ("let us") is used and insist that this was the Trinity in conversation. Gregory writes: "He did not say, as he did when creating other things, 'Let there be a human.' Instead, God deliberated about the best way to bring to life a creation worthy of honor." And so Chrysostom: "'Let us make' suggests deliberation, collaboration, and conferences with another person." (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, OT, vol. 1, p. 28) As noted above, Luther also believed that this plural language was significant. "But here, when He wants to create man, God summons Himself to a council and announces some sort of deliberation." (Luther's Works, vol. 1, p. 56). It is important to ponder this notion for when we understand ourselves made in God's image, we often think only that we are gifted with a special wisdom, insight, thoughtfulness, or God-awareness. What these writers suggest is that being created in God's image means that we are wired for collaboration. We are beings needing community, needing one another, unable to live fully while living apart from others made in God's image.
6. Consider the insights of the pioneers of the New Homiletic? Since this creation account is so full of the Gospel word that God is creating all good, it will be important to follow Henry Mitchell's advice to never short-change celebration in a sermon. Be the first to ecstasy, said Dr. Mitchell.
Blessings on your proclamation!
Monday, May 18, 2020
(The following questions have been developed as a way of answering some fundamental questions for Law and Gospel preachers, i.e. how the Word is functioning in the text. These questions are not meant to be exhaustive, but are best used in conjunction with other fine sets of questions which have other concerns. For more on this method or on Law and Gospel preaching in general, 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 opening verses lift up "the fiery ordeal" that these hearers are experiencing, and in so doing hint at their need for a Savior. These verses are not a word of Law, but remind us what is at stake. These opening verses also hint at what God is doing on behalf of these hearers, for example, reminding them that "the spirit of glory" rests on them. This is a hint of Gospel. The more explicit statement of Gospel is in the final verse, where we hear that God "will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you."
2. How is the Word not functioning in the text? As I said above, there is no clear statement of Law here, no Word that explicitly lifts up the hearers need for a Savior. There is no call to repentance or other clear Word that, as Luther might say, breaks the rock [of our heart] in pieces.
3. With whom are you identifying in the text? As per usual, we need to identify with those addressed by the Word. This may be difficult for some of us in this case, since many of us Christians in the West are hard pressed to call to mind a "fiery ordeal" through which we have lived. We will need the clear witness of persecuted Christians around the globe to help us hear these words.
4. What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text? This text, especially the second portion, is primarily a call to obedience. This is immediately obvious by the frequent use of imperatives in the second portion: "Humble yourself..., Cast all your anxiety on him..., Discipline yourselves..., Resist [the devil]." The tone is one of encouragement and consolation, yet it is a clear call to obedience, where the hearers are called to live faithfully in response to the trustworthy God who has claimed them as God's own.
5. What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text? In this text, couplets will make use of some of the language present in the text, but will rely on our imagination. Some possibilities: reviled/blessed; devoured/rescued; weakening/restored and strengthened.
6. Exegetical work: Earlier in this book, the writer exhorts the listeners to be ready "to make a defense" of the hope that is in them, but to do it "with gentleness and reverence." (3:15-16). Pheme Perkins, in her commentary on this passage, highlights how the writer is modeling this gentle and reverent defense even here: "First Peter does not exploit early Christian apocalyptic convictions to demonize those who are harassing believers. First Peter has left open the possibility that in some cases persecutors may become believers. Although those who persist in hostility and disbelief will be condemned in the judgement, I Peter does not use that apocalyptic scenario to encourage a sharp division between an inner-directed Christian community and outsiders." (Interpretation Series, First and Second Peter, James, and Jude, p. 73). Perkins also notes that even though the writer uses the imagery of the devil prowling about "like a roaring lion", there is no suggestion that this image of Satan is associated with the empire or those in power: "First Peter has no hostility toward Roman rule. Its attitude toward the larger society is mixed. The sufferings that Christians endure were caused by random individual attacks against them. There is no evidence of a single anti-Christian policy." (Ibid., p. 80).
7. How does the Crossings Community model work with this text? In his 2017 analysis, Peter Keyel centers on the image of "the fiery ordeal." This, for Keyel, is the Law in a nutshell. He explores this thoroughly in the diagnosis. In the prognosis, Keyel shows how Christ joins us in the fiery ordeal, himself becoming a sufferer with us and for us. Go to crossings.org/text-study for the entire analysis.
Blessings on your proclamation!
Saturday, May 9, 2020
(The following questions center on the issue of how the Word is functioning. This is a central concern of Law and Gospel preachers, since the way the Word functions is the way the sermon, at least in part, must function. For more on this method and on Law and Gospel preaching in general, 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 text is split up quite cleanly into two sections, verses 13-17 and 18-22, wherein we see the text functioning in the former section as a call to obedience, and in the latter as Gospel. In other words, the initial five verses invite the listeners to live in a certain way because of what God in Christ has done for them, and the last five verses proclaim all that God has done.
2. How is the Word not functioning in the text? There is no clear word of Law here, no word that says explicitly, "You need Christ." To be sure, the text speaks of enemies of believers, but it does not address the need for a Savior.
3. With whom are you identifying in the text? As in all these readings in I Peter, we identify with those to whom these words were first written. We are those for whom Christ has died, and those who are called to give a defense for the hope that is in us.
4. What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text? Although the text lacks examples of Law language, there is plenty of Gospel language, and so we shall simply design couplets using the Gospel terms. For example: unrighteous/righteous; lost/brought to God; a guilty conscience/free of guilt.
5. Exegetical work: The word translated as 'defense' is a word which theologians know well. It is the word apologia, from which we get the words apology, apologist, and apologetics. While the common use of this word is to express regret, in this case it is far from that. The word means to make a spirited defense. According to Rienecker and Rogers, "The word was often used of the argument for the defense in a court of law and though the word may have the idea of a judicial interrogation in which one is called to answer for the manner in which he has exercised his responsibilities (Beare), the word can also mean an informal explanation or defense of one's own position...and the word would aptly describe giving an answer to the skeptical, abusive, or derisive inquiries of ill-disposed neighbors. (Kelly)." (Linguistic Key to the Greek NT, p. 758) Fourth century exegete, Didymus the Blind, has this to say: "We must be so well instructed in the knowledge of our faith that whenever anyone asks us about it we may be able to give them a proper answer and to do so with meekness and in the fear of God. For whoever says anything about God must do so as if God himself were present to hear him." (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, NT, Vol. XI, p. 104)
6. Consider the insights of the pioneers of the New Homiletic? To have the listener experience the text, that is always the goal of the sermon, said Fred Craddock. How will we give our listeners an experience of this text? That is the question.
Blessings on your proclamation!
Saturday, May 2, 2020
(The following questions are not meant to be exhaustive, but are only an avenue for exploring the function of the Word, a central concern of Law and Gospel preachers. As the Word functions in the text, so should the Word function in the sermon. For more on this method and Law and Gospel preaching in general, 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 plenty of evidence of both Law and Gospel in this short text. The Word functions as Gospel whenever we hear what God is doing to save: "a living stone...chosen and precious in God's sight, "a cornerstone chosen and precious; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame, "but you are chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people." The Word functions as Law whenever it exposes our need for a Savior: "a living stone, rejected by mortals, "The stone the builders rejected has become the very head of the corner," and "A stone that makes them stumble, and a rock that makes them fall, "Once you were not a people... once you had not received mercy."
2. With whom are you identifying in the text? We are the "newborn infants" who are exhorted to "long for pure spiritual milk." We are those who "have tasted that the Lord is good." We are those who are being built into "a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God." In short, we are the ones addressed by this text of Law and Gospel.
3. What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text? Like many other passages in I Peter, in addition to Law and Gospel, the Word also functions here to invite the listeners to live in response to God's grace. The exhortation to "let yourselves be built into a spiritual house," is a classic call to obedience. We are those who have tasted the goodness of the Lord, now we are exhorted to let God do the work of building us up in faith. We were not saved for our own sake alone, but "in order that [we] might proclaim the mighty acts of him who called [us] out of darkness into his marvelous light."
4. What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text? The presence of clear Law/Gospel language in this text offers a number of appropriate couplets: rejected/chosen; unbelief/belief; no people/God's people; had not received mercy/have received mercy.
5. Exegetical work: Pheme Perkins, in her commentary, has lifted up some of the many OT references which I Peter calls on. They come mainly from the prophet Isaiah and the book of Exodus. Isa 28:6 (v.6) "And a spirit of justice to the one who sits in judgment, and strength to those who turn back the battle at the gate." Psa 118:22 (v.7) "The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone." Isa 8:14 (v.8) "He will become a sanctuary, a stone one strikes against; for both houses of Israel he will become a rock one stumbles over." Isa 43:20 "a chosen people," Exo 19:6 "a priestly kingdom and a holy nation," Isa 43:21 "the people whom I formed for myself so that they might declare my praise." (v.9) Verses 9b-10 also echo two other prophetic passages: Isa 9:2, "The people who have walked in darkness have seen a great light," and Hos 2:23, "And I will say to Lo-ammi, [Not my people] 'You are my people': and he shall say, 'You are my God'". (Interpretation series, First and Second Peter, James, and Jude, p. 43) What is clear in this passage is that the writer is emphasizing again and again the new identity these early believers had in Christ. They were not to be defined by their state as exiles of the Dispersion (1:1), but rather as children of God, called to be a holy nation, priests to witness to God's glory.
6. How does the Crossings Community model work with this text? Although Michael Hoy does not provide a Crossings analysis of this text, his commentary, archived under the reference, is insightful. He speaks of our identity as "chips off the new block." In our baptism into Christ, the Living Stone, we become part of this "new block." Christ is the Rock upon which we can stand. See the entire commentary at crossings.org/text-study.
Blessings on your proclamation!
Wednesday, April 29, 2020
(The following questions are meant to lift up a central concern of Law and Gospel preachers: how is the Word functioning? This is central because Law and Gospel preaching recognizes that the way in which the Word functions in the text is the guide given to the preacher for how the sermon must function. For more on this method and Law and Gospel preaching in general, see my brief guide, Afflicting the Comfortable, Comforting the Afflicted, available from wipfandstock.com and amazon.)
1. How does the Word function in the text? The bulk of this text is a classic call to obedience. That is to say, the Word functions to invite us, even command us, to live in a certain way in response to God's work in Christ. Here the invitation is to extraordinary living, especially when we consider the ones to whom this word is addressed. Slaves are being asked to endure harsh treatment and even abuse, thereby openly "entrusting [themselves] to the one who judges justly." Clearly this text is open to abuse and is known to have been used to commit horrific acts against enslaved people. Having said that, it stands as an extraordinary example of our calling to entrust ourselves to God.
The Word functions in a second way in this text. In the later verses, as the writer is focusing more and more on the example of Christ, the Word begins to proclaim gospel: "He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross... by his wounds you have been healed." This is pure gospel.
2. How is the Word not functioning in the text? We are not confronted with a word of Law in this text. In the last verse, the writer notes that the listeners "were going astray" but even that is in past tense. There is no indication that the writer wishes to confront the audience with their need for a Savior.
3. With whom are you identifying in the text? This is a tricky question given the context. While it is undoubtedly true that many of the earliest believers were household slaves, few, if any, of us today have personal knowledge of what slavery entails. Given this, we must not claim an experience which is not ours to claim, but rather think of other experiences where we have suffered unjustly for our confession of Christ. Like those first listeners, we are being called to entrust ourselves to the one who judges justly.
4. What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text? Because this text is primarily a call to obedience, we must take what little language we have regarding the Gospel and then use our imagination to create couplets which are appropriate to this text. Some ideas: enslaved to sin/free from sin; wounded/healed; going astray/found by the shepherd.
5. Exegetical work: It is instructive to note that the word translated "entrusted" in verse 23 is paradidomi, a word usually translated "handed over" or "delivered to" or even "betrayed into". The clear meaning of the word is that one is given into the power or control of another. In this text, listeners are being asked to do that very thing: give themselves over to "the one who judges justly." We are asked to deliver ourselves into God's power, to entrust ourselves to this Just Judge. As noted above, the household slaves to which this was first written were being asked to do this in extreme circumstances which most of us can only imagine. Pheme Perkins, in her commentary, takes up this whole subject: "The example of Christ's suffering permits those who are slaves to recognize a value to their own experiences of injustice. At the same time, the sufferers know that they have a value to God, which has been expressed in Christ's death on their behalf. The negative words and deeds directed at believers will not shake their confidence in the salvation that they have already experienced. Suffering without belonging to this new community would be senseless." (Interpretation series, First and Second Peter, James, and Jude, p. 54)
6. How does the Crossings Community model work with this text? Marcus Felde's 2017 analysis of this text takes the last verse, our "going astray", as the starting point for his diagnosis. He then goes on to show how far we go astray. His clear prognosis also picks up on the terms in the text where Christ bears our sins "in his body on the cross." He calls this "the sweet exchange", a favorite Crossings Community phrase. To see the whole analysis go to crossings.org/text-study.
Blessings on your proclamation!