Wednesday, August 15, 2018
(The following questions have been developed in conjunction with my brief guide to Law and Gospel preaching, Afflicting the Comfortable, Comforting the Afflicted. These questions are not meant to be exhaustive, but they work well with a host of other exegetical questions which seek to unearth the meaning of a text.)
1. How does the Word function in the text? This text is almost pure promise and as so it functions primarily as Gospel. Look at all the promises: "whoever eats me will live forever; those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them; whoever eats me will live because of me; the one who eats this bread will live forever." There is one word of Law as well: "unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you." We need food to live!
2. How is the Word not functioning in the text? There is no call to obedience in this text. The call to obedience is the Word functioning to invite us to live in response to God's work in Christ. There is no such word here.
3. With whom are you identifying in the text? We are the hearers of this Word. We are the ones given these promises and assured that we have no life without the nourishing presence of Christ in our life. We might even try identifying with those who dispute the meaning of Jesus' words. Warning: trying to enter into a dispute about meaning might lead to an unhelpful tangent.
4. What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text? There are a number of words in this text that naturally fall into couplets: dead/alive; not eating/eating; no life/life eternal; dying/living forever.
5. Exegetical work: Raymond Brown, in his classic commentary, brings to mind an interesting patristic interpretation of this text: "The Church Fathers recognized this contrast between the bread of life and the forbidden fruit in Genesis; for example, Gregory of Nyssa presented the eucharistic bread as an antidote to the forbidden fruit. And if the bread of life in vss. 35-50 primarily represents the revelation and knowledge that Jesus brings from above, then it is not unlike the knowledge of good and evil that the first man hungered after." (The Gospel According to John I-XII, p. 279) Gerard Sloyan offers some wisdom regarding how much we buy into a single interpretation of this text, noting that even Augustine "was found on all sides of the question [of interpretation]: urging eating as belief; assuming a sacramental eating; seeing the food and drink as symbolic members of a church predestined to glory - amongst other interpretations." Sloyan summarizes his thoughts with this statement: "Consequently, anyone who maintains publicly that any segment of this chapter bears but a single interpretation blunders through a misplaced certitude." (Interpretation Series, John, p.74) Craig Koester, in the appendix to his helpful book on Johannine symbolism argues convincingly that "to eat is to believe." (Symbolism in the Fourth Gospel, p. 103) Particularly helpful is his point that "taking eating as a synonym for faith also makes the passage consistent with the rest of John's gospel, and the NT generally..." (Ibid., p. 304-305)
6. How does the Crossings Community model work with this text? In the most recent post on this text, Bruce Modahl does a very fine analysis showing how our penchant to be "picky eaters" ends in our starvation. See crossings.org/text-study for the entire analysis.
7. Consider the insights of the pioneers of the New Homiletic? David Buttrick always cautioned preachers to count the number of 'moves' they made in the sermon. Our listeners can only absorb so many. This is always sound advice.
Blessings on your proclamation!
Saturday, May 26, 2018
(The following questions have been developed to get at some of the fundamental concerns of Law and Gospel preachers. They are not meant to be exhaustive, but only intended to highlight how the Word functions in the text. 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 wipfand stock.com or amazon.)
1. How does the Word function in the text? The Word, in this case Jesus, is functioning to lift up the bondage these Pharisees are in. He is showing them their blindness regarding sabbath observance, both by using an example (David's example) and a principle (Is it lawful to do good on the sabbath?) Showing blindness is a Law function, lifting up their need for repentance. He is also announcing the freeing principle - the sabbath was made for humankind! - which is a Gospel function.
2. With whom are you identifying in the text? It is always important to identify with those whom the Word addresses; in this case, those are the Pharisees. As uncomfortable as it may be, we are called here to ask ourselves what things we are in bondage to, that we firmly believe we must retain. It may be cooperate sins identified by the "last seven words of the Church": We have never done it that way. Or it may be a personal bondage that we are being called out of.
3. What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text? There is not a true call to obedience here. The call to obedience is the call to live in a certain way in response to the Gospel. What we have here is a call to repentance, which is a response to the Law.
4. What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text? This text suggests several couplets: living under the law/living under the gospel; serving the sabbath/freed by the sabbath; hardhearted/full of compassion.
5. Exegetical work: I like Lamar Williamson's succinct summary of the theme of this text: "Jesus challenges every form of legalism that reduces religion to the keeping of rules." (Interpretation series, Mark, p. 76) Other commentators try to describe where this legalism comes from. Athanasius, writing in the 4th century, had this to say: "In the synagogue of the Jews was a man who had a withered hand. If he was withered in his hand, the ones who stood by were withered in their minds." (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, NT, Vol. II, p. 37.) One could speculate how a person's mind becomes "withered". Mark Allan Powell, in his thorough analysis of the enemies of Jesus in the gospels, understands Mark's Pharisees to have "only a human understanding of Scripture, and so they are frequently 'in error.' This lack of understanding, in turn, causes them to be 'accusatory' with regard to Jesus and his disciples, unjustifiably criticizing them when no wrong has been done." (What is Narrative Criticism? p. 62) M. Eugene Boring sees a more complex situation regarding the "hardness of heart" illustrated here: "The modern reader should therefore not view this scene superficially as portraying some particularly obtuse, evil, or obstinate individuals who rejected Jesus' liberal attitude toward the Sabbath because they were bound by their own narrow orthodoxy - as though, if we had been there, we would have responded differently - but as exemplifying the miracle of God's initiative and election." (The NT Library, Mark, p. 95)
6. Consider the insights of the pioneers of the New Homiletic? Henry Mitchell was big on celebration in preaching. What, in this text, moves us to celebration? We might consider the fact that the Son of Humanity is the Lord of the Sabbath, or that the Sabbath was made for humankind. These could lead to some substantial rejoicing.
Blessings on your proclamation!
Wednesday, May 23, 2018
(The following questions are not meant to be exhaustive, but only offered as a way of getting at some fundamental concerns of Law and Gospel preachers. For more insight into this unique genre of preaching see my brief guide, Afflicting the Comfortable, Comforting the Afflicted, available from wipfandstock.com or amazon.)
1. How does the Word function in the text? This brief text is the whole package, if you will. First, we hear the Law: "I am lost for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips." Then we hear the word of Gospel: "Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out." Finally we hear a call to obedience: "Whom shall I send?...Here I am; send me!" The complete package.
2. With whom are you identifying in the text? We are the prophet who sees this vision - the ones who are lost; the ones whose sins are blotted out; the ones who are called to go out and speak the gospel.
3. What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text? As I said above, the call to obedience is within this text. It is instructive to note, however, that the call only comes following the absolution. God does not call us to obedience, without first calling us to repentance.
4. What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text? Because this text is so complete, we can readily see the couplets that are present: unclean/cleansed; sinner/forgiven; terrified/confident.
5. Exegetical work: The ancient commentators have much to say about this call of Isaiah. Some notes of interest center around the understanding of the live coals which touch the prophet's lips and cause sin to be blotted out. Cyril of Alexandria thought that these coals were God's word: "By saying, 'taken from the altar with tongs,' Isaiah means that we receive faith in and knowledge of Christ from the teachings or announcements in the law and the prophets, in which the word of the holy apostles confirms the truth." John of Damascus, on the other hand, equated the live coals with the sacrament of the altar: "Isaiah saw a live coal, and this coal was not plain wood but wood joined with fire. Thus also, the bread of communion is not plain bread but bread joined with the Godhead." St. Jerome makes much of the order of events in this vision: "As long as Isaiah's tongue was treacherous and his lips unclean, the Lord does not say to him, Whom shall I send, and who shall go? His lips are cleansed, and immediately he is appointed the Lord's spokesman; hence it is true that the person with unclean lips cannot prophesy, nor can he be sent in obedient service to God." (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, OT, vol. X, pp. 47-55).
6. How does the Crossings Community model work with this text? Steven Albertin does a fine job of ferreting out the layers of Law and Gospel that exist in this text. He notes that the external layer of the Law is right there in the opening line, when we learn that King Uzziah died. In other words, we are mortal, kings included. He goes on to say that our recognition of our uncleanness is the second layer of our lostness, and the cry, "Woe is me!" is the third. The layers of the Gospel are also to be found in this text. To see the entire analysis, go to crossings.org/text-study.
Blessings on your proclamation!
Wednesday, May 16, 2018
(The following questions have been developed as a way of getting at some of the fundamental concerns of Law and Gospel preachers. Specifically we are interested in how the Word is functioning. To learn more about this unique preaching genre, see my brief guide to Law and Gospel preaching, Afflicting the Comfortable, Comforting the Afflicted, available from wipfandstock.com or amazon.)
1. How does the Word function in the text? The whole passage is a description of the Spirit's work. Part of that work is testifying to and glorifying Christ and part of that is guiding us into all truth. There is also the work of proving "the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment." The first two functions we could understand as a gospel function - good news. This is the Spirit showing us who Jesus really is and guiding us to live as Christ lived. The other function we could understand as a law function. The Spirit reveals to the world (us included) sin, righteousness and judgment. The hope is to lead all to repentance. Leading all to repentance is a function of the Law.
2. How is the Word not functioning in the text? In this text there is almost an "us/them" dichotomy set up. For "us" the Spirit functions in a gospel way, assuring us that we have an advocate - a defender. For "them" (i.e. the world) the Spirit functions in a law way, assuring us that the world will have its sins and erroneous ways exposed. With the world the Spirit is not defense attorney but prosecutor. So depending on the audience, the Word functions as either law or gospel.
3. With whom are you identifying in the text? This is an interesting question. We are drawn to identifying with those whom the Spirit defends. We ought to do this. We might consider identifying also with those whom the Spirit exposes, calling to repentance. We are certainly among those who are called to repentance. We are both saint and sinner, as Luther said.
4. What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text? Most of this text is about what the Spirit will do; not about what we are called to. There is one brief verse which does call us to obedience; verse 15:27: "You also are to testify because you have been with me from the beginning." This is our call - to bear witness to Christ.
5. What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text? Using some of the language from the text, we can imagine a number of couplets: sinful/made righteous; unrighteous/justified; under judgment/freed from judgment.
6. Exegetical work: The extensive article in Kittel's NT dictionary around the word "Paraclete", translated alternately as Comforter (KJV, LB), Helper (Ph, TEV), Counselor (RSV, NIV), and Advocate (NRSV, JB, NEB) is very enlightening. Kittel looks back through antiquity to show that in Greek usage, the term was "clearly legal". The "whole sphere of known Greek and Hellenistic usage outside the NT yields the clear picture of a legal advisor or helper or advocate in the relevant court." (Theological Dictionary of the NT, Vol. V, pp. 803). The term does not appear in the LXX, and in rabbinical teaching, the term is always used for an advocate before God. In the NT, however, the usage changes, but never includes the role of comforter, which would exclude several of the most popular translations. The term is used only in the Johannine writings, and seems to be functioning as a hybrid of the usage employed by the 3rd century Mandaean gnostic community, where "divine helper" is its meaning, and the OT and Jewish world where "advocate" is its function. "More difficult to define," Kittel says, "is the idea, expressly attested only in John, of a Paraclete at work in the world both in and for the disciples. Jesus Himself is regarded as such during his earthly ministry." Finally then, Kittel argues that it is best to think of the Paraclete as Supporter or Helper, "though the basic concept and sustaining religious idea is that of 'advocate'." (Ibid, p. 800-814) Another smaller article by Kittel around the word translated as "prove the world wrong" (vs. 16:8) is also important. The meaning is "to show someone [their] sin and summon [them] to repentance." "The word does not mean only 'to blame' or 'to reprove'... or 'to expose', but 'to set right', namely, 'to point away from sin to repentance'." (TDNT, Vol. II, p. 474) This means that the work of the Paraclete to expose sin and righteousness and judgment is not merely an act of prosecution, but one which hopefully leads to new life for those exposed.
7. How does the Crossings Community model work with this text? Mark Marius does a nice job of showing how the Law functions in particular ways, each deepening our dependence on the work of Christ. First, we are wrong about sin; then, we are wrong about righteousness; finally, we are wrong about judgement and it is too late. See the entire analysis at crossings.org/text-study.
Blessings on your proclamation!
Wednesday, May 2, 2018
(The following questions were developed to answer some of the fundamental questions of concern to Law and Gospel preachers. These questions are not meant to be exhaustive, but they work with many 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? Like the story of the Ethiopian court official from Acts 8, which we studied in Easter 5, this story is an announcement of the wideness of God's mercy: "The Holy Spirit is poured out even on the Gentiles!" This is a decidedly gospel function. This story shows again the power of the preaching of God's word to bring faith.
2. How is the Word not functioning in the text? Also like the story from Acts 8, this story contains only a hint of Law, as Peter asks if "anyone can withhold water for baptizing these people." This question, expectant of a negative reply, gives us a hint of our predilection to reserve God's grace only for those of whom we approve.
3. With whom are you identifying in the text? We could identify with the Gentiles who received the Spirit, but it seems better for our purposes if we identify with those who witnessed this outpouring. We are those who are astounded. We are those whose astonishment is a clue to our prejudice and bias toward or against certain folks regarding their eligibility of God's grace.
4. What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text? The call to obedience is indirect, albeit clear: do not withhold water for baptism to anyone who desires it.
5. What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text? Without the presence of the Law we shall have to use our imagination in creating couplets. Some ideas: in bondage to our prejudices/freed from our prejudices; closed to God's movement in the world/drawn up into God's good work; skeptical/rejoicing.
6. Exegetical work: Third century theologian, Origin of Alexandria, calls to our attention the fact that the beginnings of these astonishing events is the preaching of the Word. "See then, how ... when Peter is speaking to Cornelius, Cornelius himself and those with him are filled with the Holy Spirit. Hence, if you speak God's word and do so faithfully with a pure conscience, it can come about that while you are speaking the fire of the Holy Spirit will inflame the hearts of your hearers and immediately make them warm and eager to carry out all you are teaching in order to implement what they have learned." (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, NT, Vol. V, p. 139). John Calvin, in his commentary centuries later, follows a similar track: "For as Peter was speaking God poured out his Spirit to show that he does not send teachers for the purpose of beating the air with the sound of empty words, but so that he might work powerfully through what they say and quicken their words by the power of his Spirit for the salvation of the godly." (Reformation Commentary on Scripture, NT, Vol. VI, p. 146). A modern commentator, William Willimon, agrees that it is God at work through the Word, not only in this scene, but in the whole scenario detailed in Acts 10. As Willimon succinctly says, "The author of this plot is God." (Interpretation series, Acts, p. 99).
7. Consider the insights of the pioneers of the New Homiletic? Preachers need to introduce disequilibrium into their sermons, said Eugene Lowry, in order to later introduce equilibrium. How will we do that this week?
Blessings on your proclamation?
Saturday, April 21, 2018
(The following questions are not meant to be exhaustive, but have been formulated to get at some of the basic questions that Law and Gospel preachers have 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? The Spirit is the active presence in this story. The Spirit sends Philip into the wilderness, urges him to join the Ethiopian in conversation, gives him the words to say that lead the Ethiopian to faith, and finally snatches Philip away while the Ethiopian goes on rejoicing. What this story achieves is a testimony to the wideness of God's mercy, undoubtedly a Gospel function.
2. How is the Word not functioning in the text? There is no word of Law here, no word which exposes our need for Christ. The Ethiopian asks the question, "What is to prevent me from being baptized?" and in that we might hear faint signs of our tendency to exclude some from the grace of God, but those signs are faint indeed. This is a good news story.
3. With whom are you identifying in the text? Since we are called to identify with the ones whom the Spirit speaks to, we could identify with either Philip or the Ethiopian. If Philip, then we could reflect on how it is to have the Spirit leading us into surprising places to share the gospel with people we thought we'd never encounter. If the Ethiopian, then we could reflect on those times that God has provided surprising people who inspire us and lead us into a deeper walk with Christ, or perhaps into the life of faith initially.
4. What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text? A call to obedience always functions to invite us to live in a certain way in response to God's work. There is no explicit call to obedience here, but at the end of the story we are told that the Ethiopian "went on his way rejoicing." That is certainly our call as well.
5. What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text? Since the Law is absent in this story we will need to invent some couplets based on the gospel side of the story. Some ideas: lost in the wilderness/found in the wilderness; confused/enlightened; outcast from God's people/joined with God's people.
6. Exegetical work: It's hard not to notice Luke's use of the word idou, (Look!, Lo and behold!) in this story. Even though this word often goes untranslated, in the Greek it may signal surprise, and in this story, that is definitely the case. The first instance is in verse 27 after we are told that Philip goes to this wilderness road. The Greek text says, (literal translation) "And look! an Ethiopian, a eunuch, a court official of queen Candace..." This encounter is surprising to say the least. How unlikely to encounter anyone, much less a foreigner, a eunuch, and a court official in the middle of the desert! The second instance is in verse 36 where again we are surprised. The Ethiopian says, "Look! water." They are traveling in the desert. Is it not surprising that there is water here, and even enough for the two of them to "go down into"? God is definitely doing surprising things here. Bede the Venerable, in his ancient commentary on this story, lifts up another surprise quoting St. Jerome: "'[The eunuch] found the church's font there in the desert, rather than in the golden temple of the synagogue.' For there [in the desert] something happened that Jeremiah declared was to be wondered at, 'an Ethiopian changed his skin,' that is, with the stains of his sins washed away by the waters [of baptism], he went up, shining white, to Jesus." (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, NT, vol. V, p. 97) The last surprise of this text has been argued about for centuries, especially by the reformers: verse 37 is omitted in most manuscripts. Only in a few manuscripts is it included, likely as a late addition. It reads, "And Philip said, 'If you believe with all your heart, you may.' And he replied, 'I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.'"(NRSV). It is not likely that Luke included this formulaic statement. For a God who is surprising us at every turn, is it not likely that the Spirit had already done its work within the heart of this official and that his desire to be baptized is evidence of this?
7. How does the Crossings Community model work with this text? I like Cathy Lessmann's analysis of this text, lifting up the insider/outside theme with which we are so familiar these days. The Ethiopian eunuch was considered an outsider, yet God clearly had other ideas. We who consider ourselves insiders need to take heed, lest we too have false ideas about whom God favors. See Lessmann's complete analysis at crossings.org/text-study.
Blessings on your proclamation!
Wednesday, April 18, 2018
(The following questions have been developed to answer some of the fundamental questions of Law and Gospel preachers around how the Word functions. They are not meant to be exhaustive. To learn more about his unique genre of preaching, see my brief guide to Law and Gospel preaching, Afflicting the Comfortable, Comforting the Afflicted, available from wipfandstock.com or amazon.)
1. How does the Word function in the text? The Word here is accusatory. It comes from the apostle Peter to the "rulers, elders, and scribes assembled in Jerusalem." As such it functions as Law: "This Jesus is 'the stone that was rejected by you; the builders...'" This word serves to accuse and convict, hoping to lead the accused to repentance.
2. How is the Word not functioning in the text? There is no explicit word of Gospel here, yet there are hints of it: "this man is standing before you in good health by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth." And "[this stone, this Jesus] has become the cornerstone." Through these words we hear of the power and position of the Christ.
3. With whom are you identifying in the text? We must always identify with those whom the Word addresses, and in this text they are those who have "rejected the cornerstone." Ouch. We don't want to identify with the religious authorities. We see them as murderous, cruel, blind hypocrites. Even though Christ forgave them from the Cross and St. Luke calls them merely ignorant, we want nothing to do with them. That is all the more reason to identify with them. We need to ask, "In what ways do we continue this pattern of rejecting the stone that God has made the cornerstone?"
4. What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text? As in previous Acts readings, the call here is not to obedience, but to repentance. When Peter announces that "there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved," this is a call to repentance.
5. What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text? Taking some language from the text, we can imagine several couplets: rejecting the cornerstone/embraced by the Living Stone; threatened by the name of Jesus/healed by the name of Jesus.
6. Exegetical work: It is important to notice that the rulers are referred to by Peter as "the builders". (vs. 11). These rulers are indeed building something which they have deemed worthy, and they have rejected Christ as a stone which will have no place in this edifice they are building. Justus Jonas, the German Lutheran reformer, thinks that what the rulers are building is a righteousness based on the law: "Peter calls them builders, as if he were saying, 'You are the ones who are teaching the people the external observation of the law. But your building - that is, righteousness of the law which you teach against the judgement of God - will not stand. And you are making nothing other than counterfeit saints and hypocrites.'" (Reformation Commentary on Scripture, NT, Vol. VI, p. 50). William Willimon has a different take, thinking that the rulers have rejected Christ as "an unworthy foundation for national aspirations." (Interpretation series, Acts, p. 49) No matter what we decide the rulers are building, we can see that Christ has no place in their thinking, and that is where the question comes to us: What are we building? Does Christ have a place in it? St. Peter, in drawing on this metaphor exhorts us: "Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals, yet chosen and precious in God's sight, and like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ." (I Peter 2:4-5)
Blessings on your proclamation!