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!
Tuesday, April 2, 2019
(The following questions are not meant to be exhaustive, but to be used in conjunction with many other fine sets of exegetical questions which can give us insight into a text. These questions have been developed to explore how the Word functions - a fundamental concern of Law and Gospel preachers. See my brief guide to Law and Gospel preaching to learn more about this unique genre of preaching. Afflicting the Comfortable, Comforting the Afflicted is available from wipfandstock.com or amazon.)
1. How does the Word function in the text? First , God is reminding the people of God's great acts of deliverance at the Red Sea. Next, curiously he tells them to refrain from remembering "the things of old." What does he mean? Are we not to remember God's mighty acts? That seems unlikely. Finally, God announces the "new thing" that God will do - waters in the desert and wastelands. This is pure Gospel.
2. How is the Word not functioning in the text? At first glance it doesn't seem that there is any word of Law here, i.e. the Word functioning to lift up our need for Christ. But if we consider the prohibition in verse 18 we realize that clinging to "former things" and "the things of old" can be death dealing for us. Phariseeism is nothing if not a clinging to "the things of old" especially when we have a Lord who says, "I make all things new!" Perhaps the word of Law here is the word which reminds us that something has to die in order for the "new thing" to spring up.
3. With whom are you identifying in the text? We are certainly those addressed this text. We are those who are held in exile by many things. We are those who hang on tenaciously to the things of old. We are those who both long to hear of something new and fear it.
4. What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text? The call to obedience, the Word functioning to invite us to live in a certain way in response to God's work in Christ, is not present here. Rather this is a call to faith. One might catch a glimpse of a call to obedience in the last phrase where people are called to praise, but that is a fleeting thought.
5. What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text? From what we have said above we can imagine several appropriate couplets: old/new; former things/new things; dead things/things springing to life.
6. Exegetical Work: I am indebted to Claus Westermann for his insightful exegesis of this text. In his classic commentary on Isaiah 40-66 he argues that God, in commanding the people to forget the former things, could not have been telling Israel to forget the mighty acts of God - especially the Exodus - because all throughout Isaiah God commands the people to remember the mighty acts of God. Rather, says Westermann, "What he wants to say is [to] stop mournfully looking back and clinging to the past, and open your minds to the fact that a new, miraculous act of God lies ahead of you." Israel, claims Westermann, "thought that God's saving acts were now a closed chapter." (Isaiah 40-66, The OT Library, p. 128). "Israel requires to be shaken out of a faith that has nothing to learn about God's activity and therefore nothing to learn about what is possible with him, the great danger which threatens any faith that is hidebound in dogmatism, faith that has ceased to be able to expect anything new from [God]." (Ibid, p. 129) In his Lectures on Isaiah Luther says much the same thing as Westermann: "To do a new thing creates an offense for those whose mind is on the old. Here He says, 'I am doing a new thing, by means of which the imperfect old will be fulfilled. This is the repeal of the old law. You must be concerned about the new and forget the old'." (LW, vol. 17, p. 97)
7. How does the Crossings Community model work with this text? Bill White in working with this text, suggested that "the things of old" that we cling to could be our doubts and unbelief. He shows how this leads to hopelessness and eventually lostness. It is in the wilderness of our despair that Christ comes and makes a way. Go to crossings.org/text-study for the entire analysis, archived there.
Blessings on your proclamation!
Wednesday, March 20, 2019
(The following questions have been developed as a way of getting at some of the fundamental questions for Law and Gospel preachers, especially around questions of 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? Paul is trying desperately to warn the Corinthians about the spiritual danger they are in. His argument begins in chapter 8, continues through chapter 9, and now is the subject of this chapter as well. His concern is that because the Corinthians are confident in their knowledge that "'no idol in the world really exists' and that "there is no God but one'" (8:4b), that they will fail to see that participating in idol worship is spiritually dangerous. He goes to great lengths here to remind them that even though the Israelites were God's chosen ones, having received all of God's blessings, many of them fell away from the faith. This warning is a Law function, to be sure, saying "You need Jesus!"
2. How is the Word not functioning in the text? There is little Gospel in this text until we get to the last verse, which actually seems rather odd. Even so, here Paul assures us that God is faithful and in the time of testing will provide a way for us to endure. It is not really a Gospel word, but more of a reminder that the trials the Corinthians are enduring are human trials, which God will give them the ability to overcome.
3. With whom are you identifying in the text? We are clearly those being addressed in this text. We are invited to see ourselves in the Israelite story as those who live under the cloud (the Spirit) and have been through the sea (baptism). We are those who have received spiritual food and drink (eucharist), and the rock of our salvation is Christ. And even though all this is true, we are exhorted to beware of spiritual presumption, lest we fall away from Christ.
4. What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text? If we translated these warnings into positive admonitions, this would be wholly a call to obedience. As those who have received the Spirit at our baptism, and the eucharist to sustain us, we are called to place our trust in Christ, and to flee idols of any kind.
5. What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text? Some of the most classic couplets seem to pertain to this text: guilty/forgiven; lost/found; worshiping idols/worshiping the Living God.
6. Exegetical work: One of the interesting words in the Greek text is found in verse 6: typikos. It means type, but the two most common translations are 'warning' or 'example'. As Richard Hays points out, in his excellent commentary, a better translation is probably 'prefigurations'. "Paul is claiming that the biblical events happened as prefigurations of the situation in which he and his Christian readers now find themselves." "The arrogant idolatry of the Israelites and the terrifying punishments imposed upon them by God actually foreshadow the perilous situation of the Corinthian church in the present time: anyone with eyes to see should learn the appropriate lessons." (First Corinthians, Interpretation series, p. 162) Hans Conzelmann concurs: "[As regarding spiritual food and drink] Paul is thinking not of a real, Old Testament sacrament, but of a prefiguration." "'But with most of them... not to be well pleased' means the presence of Christ does not work in the manner of a natural charm. This means for the Christian that partaking of the sacrament does not confer a character indelebilis." (I Corinthians, Hermenia series, p. 166-167). Verse 12 is a warning against "pneumatic securitas, 'cocksureness'." (Ibid, p. 168)
7. Consider the insights of the pioneers of the New Homiletic? The exhortation of Charles Rice to help our listeners recognize their shared story in the text seems particularly appropriate here. Just as St. Paul is urging the Corinthians to recognize themselves in Israel's story, we could urge our listeners to recognize themselves in the Corinthian story. This is a challenge worth pursuing.
Blessings on your proclamation!
Saturday, February 16, 2019
(The following questions were developed as a way of getting at some of the fundamental concerns of Law and Gospel preachers, particularly questions around the way 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? Because the Word here is almost exclusively commands, there can be little doubt that it functions here as a call to obedience. That is to say, it functions by inviting us to live in a certain way in response to God's work in Christ. The verses prior to these assure us that we are blessed - recipients of God's favor. Now, in these verses we are called to live in an extraordinary way, to live in the way of Christ. There is also a word of Law here as we are called out for thinking that loving those who love us, and doing good to those who do good to us, and lending to those from whom we wish to receive, is in any way extraordinary. Christ, by inference, condemns this thinking, saying, "Even sinners do the same."
2. How is the Word not functioning in the text? There is no word of Gospel here, no word which proclaims what God has done in Christ. There is a hint of Gospel in the statement that "[The Most High] is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked," but that is hardly a proclamation. If we would preach a gospel word in this sermon, we will need to seek other texts to supplement this one.
3. With whom are you identifying in the text? We are those who are being addressed by Jesus. We are children of the heavenly Father whom Jesus refers to. We are the ones being called to extraordinary living.
4. What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text? Because there is little evidence of gospel in this text, we shall need to simply use some of the language present to create several couplets. Verse 37 offers some possibilities: judged/not judged; condemned/not condemned; guilty/forgiven.
5. Exegetical work: It is noteworthy that all the commands in this text are in the present tense. That means that they are meant to begin and continue. If we were to translate precisely but in a cumbersome way we might, for example, translate the opening lines in this way: "Begin and continue loving your enemies, begin and continue doing good to those who hate you. Begin and continue blessing those who curse you, begin and continue praying for those who abuse you." This present tense shows that Jesus intends for this to be a lifestyle, not a one-and-done event. We are, in short, to imitate Christ, or as Jesus will say elsewhere, "Be perfect even as your heavenly Father is perfect." Another important detail is Jesus' use of the word 'sinners'. As Kittel points out in his extensive article on amartolos, Jesus "never contested nor avoided the distinction of the people into sinners and righteous...He did not even treat [the distinction] ironically." (Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Vol. I, p. 329). There were different meanings of the word for sinners, but good translations of these could be 'irreligious' or 'unobservant of the Law' or 'heathen'. In any case, Jesus "accepted as such those who were regarded as sinners by the community. It was just because they were sinners that He drew them to Himself." (Ibid., p.330)
6. How does the Crossings Community model work with this text? Bruce Modahl has an interesting analysis of this text in that his diagnosis centers in our tendency to only do the minimum in our walk with God. Modahl picks up very well on the law which condemns our actions which are anything but faithful, for "even sinners do the same." He finds the Gospel in his announcement that Jesus does on the Cross precisely what he calls us to: loving enemies, blessing those who curse you, praying for those who abuse you. See the entire analysis at crossings.org/text-study.
7. Consider the insights of the pioneers of the New Homiletic? Charles Rice insisted that preachers always help listeners recognize their shared story in a text. This might be a good strategy here. We might ask, "How have we done only what 'sinners' do?" It might be fruitful for the preacher to identify ways in which she or he has done only this.
Blessings on your proclamation!
Saturday, February 9, 2019
(The following questions have been developed to ferret out some of the fundamental concerns of Law and Gospel preachers, particularly how the Word is functioning. For more information 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 short answer is, "It depends." If you are one of those poor, hungry, weeping or reviled ones, this text is good news to you. It is a gospel word. If you are one who is rich, well-fed, laughing and well-spoken of, this text is not good news. It is a word of law. One thing is clear: this is not a prescriptive word, but a descriptive word. That is to say, this text is not seeking to prescribe a way for us to be blessed, or a path to avoid lest we be cursed; it is simply describing a reality within the coming reign of God.
2. How is the Word not functioning in the text? Again, the short answer is, "It depends." If you are one of those who have received little blessing in this life, you might conclude there is no word of law here for you, yet it would be disingenuous to suggest that the poor don't wish to be rich, the hungry fed, the sorrowful happy, or the hated to be spoken well of. Given that, it perhaps is fair to say that any reliance on the blessings of this present life as though they have some permanence is being judged. That means that whether we have much in this life or only dream of it, we must learn to place our trust elsewhere.
3. With whom are you identifying in the text? We are certainly those whom Jesus is addressing. We might even say that we are his disciples, and the "you" of these verses is speaking precisely to us. We must decide how these verses apply to us. Few of us in middle class North America would be able to claim the mantle of poverty, and many of us would do well to consider associating with those given warnings here. Wherein does our hope lie?
4. What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text? This text, while it challenges us to consider where our faith is placed - on the things that are passing away, or on things that will last - could be considered in total a call to obedience. In short, Jesus is saying, "Follow in my way, not the way of this world."
5. What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text? Couplets are provided here: poor/inheritors of the kingdom; hungry/filled; weeping/laughing; hated by all/welcomed into the heavenly realm.
6. Exegetical work: It is important to take stock of the tenses of the verbs in this speech of Jesus: to the poor, Jesus says, "Yours is the kingdom"; to the hungry and the weeping he says, "You will be filled," and "You will laugh"; to the rich, Jesus says, "You have received your consolation"; and to the well-fed and laughing he says, "You will be hungry," and "You will mourn and weep." Unmistakably some things are already present and some things are yet to come. One of the oft-debated points of this text is whether or not it has any of the spiritual elements that are common to Matthew's version of this sermon. (i.e. "poor in spirit" vs. poor economically). Scholars seem to consistently warn against getting too spiritual with this text, yet often veer that way anyway. Fred Craddock says that "the preacher and teacher would be advised not to sail above economic realities into such spiritual realms. Luke does join material and spiritual conditions..., but he does not allow in the process the evaporation of 'poor' into some condition other than being without food, without shelter, without hope of anything better tomorrow." (Luke, Interpretation series, p. 89) I. Howard Marshall is not nearly so concerned about preserving this distinction. In his perusal of many of Jesus' sayings regarding wealth and poverty he concludes: "Luke does not present poverty as an ideal in itself, or wealth as intrinsically evil. When his teaching on wealth and poverty is seen in the context of the Gospel as a whole, the underlying attitude to God is what really matters." (Luke: Historian and Theologian, p. 143) Amy-Jill Levine and Ben Witherington III seem to concur when they quote I Enoch 94.8: "Woe to you rich, for you have trusted in your riches, and from your riches you shall depart, because you have not remembered the Most High in the days of your riches." (The Gospel of Luke, p. 178)
7. How does the Crossings Community model work with this text? James Squire takes a nice turn by reminding us that what seems like law - Christ's "leveling" - is really gospel. The world is blessed when we see that "the ground is level at the foot of the cross." Check out crossings.org/text-study to see the entire analysis.
Blessings on your proclamation!
Saturday, February 2, 2019
(The following questions have been developed as a way of getting at some of the fundamental concerns of Law and Gospel preachers; i.e. how the Word functions in the text. For more about this and other concerns of Law and Gospel preachers, 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 inviting all to faith: "Put out into the deep water." It is instructive to realize that the term for "the deep" (bathos) is almost exclusively used in speaking of the depth of the riches, wisdom and knowledge of God. (TDNT, vol I, p. 517) Simon, and therefore, the Church, is being invited into the adventure of faith. "Trust me," says the Master. When Simon does, an abundance is released that has no equal. This abundance is grace revealed. It is a sign of the reign of God begun. It is the breaking in by God that we have only dreamed of. It is a gospel word. Jesus' final word is gospel as well: "Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people."
2. How is the Word not functioning in the text? This is an interesting question, because Simon's reaction to the miracle is fear, which normally would come from the Law. Simon's fear is much like that of Isaiah in the First Reading who says, "Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips; and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have the seen the King, the Lord of hosts!" (Isa 6:5) The Law has not been spoken to Simon, and yet he is aware that he, an unholy man, is in the presence of a holy God: "Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!" The very presence of God functions as Law, even though no word of Law is spoken.
3. With whom are you identifying in the text? We are undoubtedly Simon in this story. We are those who, when found in God's presence, can only cry out, "Kyrie eleison!" We are those who are certain that our sins will disqualify us from ever standing in God's presence. We are those who can hardly believe that God would call us into ministry, we who only stand in God's presence by grace.
4. What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text? The call to obedience isn't really given here, but it is implied: "Go and catch people." After finding ourselves cleansed as Isaiah was, or assured as Simon was, we are called to catch people. We say, "Here I am, send me."
5. What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text? We use the language of the text to imagine several appropriate couplets here: sinful/forgiven; feeling dirty/cleansed; afraid/bold in witness.
6. Exegetical work: The Reformers are quite helpful in their commentary on this text. John Calvin rightly noted that "the purpose of the miracle was that Christ's divinity would be recognized, and that Peter and the others would dedicate themselves to him as disciples." (Reformation Commentary on Scripture, NT, vol. III, p. 113). Philipp Melanchton had this to say about Peter's reaction to the miracle: "Peter's fear had many benefits: he judged himself unworthy in the presence of God, but also there was a great and unexpected benefit in that he saw himself not according to his labor but as grasping the benefits of God." (Ibid.) Fred Craddock, in his contemporary commentary, notes that Peter's response to the miracle"is not a fisherman's response; that is, he did not say, 'Why did I not know where the fish were?' Rather, his response is that of a human being in the presence of one he now calls Lord." (Luke, Interpretation series, p. 70) Craddock has picked up on one important detail: Early in the story, Simon calls Jesus Master, but after the miracle he calls him Lord. Kittel notes that the term for Master, (epistatays), occurs only in Luke and is equivalent to rabbi or teacher. (Theological Dictionary of the NT, vol. II, p. 622-23) "Lord", on the other hand "denotes one on which men make themselves, or are in fact, dependent." (TDNT, vol. III, p. 1091).
7. How does the Crossings Community model work with this text? Cathy Lessman does a nice job of showing how we encounter God first as lawgiver and then as grace giver. She calls her analysis "Two Ways to Catch Fish/People: Encountering God, Part I and II." Check out crossings.org/text-study to see the whole analysis and others on this text.
Blessings on your proclamation!
Saturday, January 26, 2019
(The following questions have been developed as a way of getting at some fundamental concerns of Law and Gospel preachers, i.e. how is the Word functioning? These questions should be used in conjunction with other fine sets of questions which unearth other issues for the preacher. 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? Jesus, the Word made flesh, is laying down the Law here. He is pulling no punches. Though what he has proclaimed from the prophet Isaiah in the verses prior to this is a gospel word, here he makes it very clear that his listeners do not understand or embrace this message, and furthermore, they fail to understand who he is.
2. How is the Word not functioning in the text? A gospel word is hard to find in this passage. One might well see a foreshadowing of the Cross here, so perhaps we could say that his willingness to go the way of the Cross for the sins of the world is already on display here, and that is a gospel word. Yet, these verses primarily function to condemn his listeners.
3. With whom are you identifying in the text? It is so tempting to identify with Jesus in this text. We might want to recall when we have been the target of the wrath of the unrighteous. That would be a mistake. We need to step into the shoes of those who reject this word and own our own rage at God's judgment. If we are honest we know that God's word of judgment often meets resistance in us; we can only pray that it does not lead us to reject Jesus entirely.
4. What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text? This text is really a call to repentance, which of course, is the function of any law text. The call to obedience is something different. The call to obedience is the text functioning to invite us to live differently in response to God's work in Christ. That function is not present here. A good example of the call to obedience is the second lesson appointed for this day - St. Paul's call to love in I Corinthians 13.
5. What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text? Absent the presence of any gospel word in this text, we shall have to imagine couplets based on the words of law here. Some possibilities are: judged/forgiven; starving/fed; leprous/cleansed.
6. Exegetical work: There is an interesting debate amongst scholars as to what Luke's goal is in bringing to light the reaction of Jesus' hometown folks to his first sermon. Fred Craddock, in his commentary, says that "Luke's point throughout Luke-Acts is that Israel should have understood and embraced Jesus' message." And "Jesus does not go elsewhere because he is rejected; he is rejected because he goes elsewhere." (Luke, Interpretations series, p. 63-64) Amy-Jill Levine and Ben Witherington III battle it out in their joint commentary on this passage. (The Gospel of Luke, New Cambridge Bible Commentary). Levine says that "the problem is not Jesus' extension of grace; the problem is that Jesus denies the people of Nazareth what their own history promises." (p.122) Witherington, on the other hand, "highlights Luke's presentation of successful missions in the synagogues in Acts on multiple occasions from Paul's preaching,.. and so he finds Luke's theology to be one of inclusion in Christ - Jews and gentiles united in Christ." (Ibid.) Finally, these two scholars agree "that stereotypes of early Judaism as a graceless religion or one opposed to inclusion of gentiles in contrast to the universality of the Jesus movement do no justice to early Judaism." (p. 123)
7. How does the Crossings Community model work with this text? Nathan Hall, in his analysis, picks up on the phrase, "And [they] were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth." Hall notes that "grace" is hidden in this phrase and he skillfully weaves that into his entire analysis. As he says, the people will find out that Jesus' words contain more grace than they ever imagined. Go to crossings.org/text-study for the whole analysis.
Blessings on your proclamation!