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!
Tuesday, April 10, 2018
(The following questions have been developed as a way of answering some of the fundamental concerns of Law and Gospel preachers. They are not meant to be exhaustive, but to be used alongside other fine sets of questions which might reveal the treasures of a particular 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 wipfandstock.com or amazon.)
1. How does the Word function in the text? The Word here, in the form of Peter's preaching, is explicitly both Law and Gospel. The Law comes as Peter confronts the people with the fact that they killed the Author of Life, albeit, as he says, "in ignorance." The Gospel comes as Peter invites all to repent and turn to God, "so that your sins may be wiped out." This text also functions as testimony to the power of the name of Christ, which "itself has made this man strong."
2. With whom are you identifying in the text? We are the listeners, those who are confronted with our willful murder of the Christ. This brings to mind the cries of the mob in Luke's gospel: "Crucify! Crucify!" (Luke 23:21) We are those who are invited here to repent and turn to God.
3. What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text? The only imperative here is to repent, therefore any call to live in a certain way in response to the Gospel is missing here. The call to repentance is not the same as a call to obedience.
4. What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text? There are plenty of phrases to draw on in this text in order to compose couplets. Some suggestions: ignorance/wisdom; calling for death/embracing life; killing the Author of Life/being saved by the Author of Life.
5. Exegetical work: It is important to remember that Acts is the second part of Luke's account of the Jesus story, and so his view of the enemies of Christ continues into the Book of Acts. Mark Allan Powell, in his excellent work, shows the differences in how Jesus' enemies are portrayed, reminding us that in Luke's account, "The religious leaders are not evil but self-righteous, not blind but foolish.""In short, [Luke] expresses sympathy for them, not hostility, and thus the implied reader will surely regard them with sympathy also." (What is Narrative Criticism?, p.65) This view of Jesus' enemies can be seen in a striking way at the Crucifixion as Luke is the only one to report that Jesus cried out from the cross, "Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing." (Luke 23:34) This is exactly what Peter argues in the Acts text: "I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your rulers." (Acts 3:17) Another noteworthy point is Luke's explanation for the death of Christ: "You killed the Author of Life whom God raised from the dead." (Acts 3:15) There is no Pauline understanding of the Cross here. As William Willimon points out: "We find no substitutionary atonement in Luke, no notion that Jesus Christ had to die to satisfy some divine requirement of justice. No, the explanation for Jesus' death in Acts is simply human perversity." (Interpretation series, Acts, p. 46) The only solution for us who are party to this murder? Repentance.
6. How does the Crossings Community model work with this text? Steve Kuhl focuses in on the very thing that Peter lifts up in the text: "Why do you stare at us as though by our own power or piety we had made [this man] walk?" He argues that this is our bondage, that we too are seduced by power and piety, instead of relying on Christ. Go to crossings.org/text-study to see the entire analysis.
Blessings on your proclamation!
Saturday, March 31, 2018
(The following questions are not meant to be exhaustive, but are fashioned to consider some answers to the fundamental questions Law and Gospel preachers have about how the Word functions. See my brief guide to Law and Gospel preaching, Afflicting the Comfortable, Comforting the Afflicted, to learn more about this genre of preaching. It is available at wipfandstock.com or amazon.)
1. How does the Word function in the text? This text is pure testimony, lifting up the results of what had been mentioned in 4:31b: "And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God with boldness." Because the church was filled with the Holy Spirit, they were lifted out of their self-centeredness and given the ability to live generously with one another. This could be seen as a Gospel function, celebrating the good news of what God's power does, or as a Law function, showing us how far we fall short of this ideal.
2. How is the Word not functioning in the text? Nothing is explicit here. There is no clear Gospel word about what God has done for us in Christ, nor is there a clear word of Law, showing us our need for Christ.
3. With whom are you identifying in the text? We are the ones receiving this testimony. Perhaps it inspires us, or maybe it shames us. In any case, the Word is bearing witness to the power of the Spirit in the Body of Christ.
4. What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text? This entire text could be approached as a call to obedience, as every community of God's people is called to emulate this community. We must pray that the Holy Spirit might descend on our community of faith as it did on this one, and empower us to live generously.
5. What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text? We might try using some of the terminology in the text to come up with couplets here. Some ideas: needy/filled; looking after self/looking after others; life of death/life of resurrection.
6. Exegesis: One notices immediately in the Greek text the difference between two types of living: idios and koinos, translated as "calling something one's own" and "holding all things in common." In this early Christian community clearly koinos prevailed. How this came about is universally understood as the work of the Spirit. Note Augustine's words: "For... the love that God puts in people makes one heart of many hearts and makes the many souls of people into one soul..." (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, NT, vol. V, p. 56) Cyprian, a hundred years before Augustine, said that living in the way of koinos is to truly show one's new birth in Christ: "This is truly to become a son of God by spiritual birth. This is to imitate the equity of God by the heavenly law." (Ibid., p. 57) William Willimon, in his contemporary commentary, is even more specific, saying that such living is "evidence for the truthfulness of the resurrection." He continues: "The most eloquent testimony to the reality of the resurrection is not an empty tomb or a well-orchestrated pageant on Easter Sunday but rather a group of people whose life together is so radically different, so completely changed from the way the world builds community, that there can be no explanation other than that something decisive has happened in history." (Interpretation series, Acts, p. 51)
7. Consider the insights of the pioneers of the New Homiletic? Charles Rice urged preachers to help listeners recognize their shared story in the text. It might be worth considering helping our listeners recognize when the Spirit has worked in their lives to lead them to generous living, and then to consider those obstacles to such continuing.
Blessings on your proclamation!
Monday, March 26, 2018
(The following questions have been developed as a way of answering some of the fundamental questions for Law and Gospel preachers around the function of the Word. For a deeper look at this unique genre, 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 Word is functioning as both Law and Gospel, but almost the entire story is functioning as Law as one by one, each of the characters is revealed as one who cannot believe that Jesus has risen. All they see is that the body is missing. This text functions as Luther would remind us in his explanation to the Third Article: "I believe that I cannot by my own understanding or effort believe in Jesus Christ my Lord, or come to him. but the Holy Spirit has called me through the Gospel..." So the Law here is the overwhelming evidence that we cannot believe. The Gospel is the call of Jesus, "Mary!" whereby her eyes are opened and she finally sees him as resurrected Lord.
2. With whom are you identifying in the text? It is most important to identify with those whom the Word addresses. In this text, the Word as Jesus addresses only one person - Mary, and so it behooves us to identify with her. This is appropriate also because all the detail in the text centers on her thoughts, words, and actions.
3. What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text? There is only a very brief call to obedience here; it is the word to Mary to be a witness, and that she is. She returns to the disciples and announces, "I have seen the Lord!" This call comes to us as well.
4. What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text? It is not hard at all to see a number of couplets coming out of this text. There are probably infinite possibilities. A few suggestions: fear/joy; darkness/light; doubt/faith; despair/hope; death/life.
5. Exegetical work: Doing a narrative exegesis of the text, one can't help but notice almost all the detail in the story is around Mary's experience. Peter and the other disciple are present but don't say anything. We learn about them from their actions and reports about what they believe. Jesus makes a brief appearance, but besides speaking to Mary, does nothing. Mary, on the other hand, is shown through her words, her actions, reports about what she understands or fails to understand, and words said to her. It seems likely that Mary is a character representing many others - those of us who struggle to believe that Jesus is truly alive, when all we see is the empty tomb. Craig Koester, in his discussion of the symbolism in John, suggests that the opening verse where we are told that it was "still dark" when Mary Magdalene approached the tomb might suggest her "incomprehension." In other places in the Fourth Gospel, light symbolizes the powers that oppose God, or ignorance and unbelief, or even physical and/or spiritual death. Here, Koester suggests that incomprehension is the problem, and the comment in verse 9 that the disciples did not yet understand the scripture, supports this. (For more on this see Koester's excellent resource, Symbolism in the Fourth Gospel, p. 142f). Raymond Brown, in his classic commentary also notes the lack of understanding by Mary and the disciples. Brown suggests that this is a Johannine pattern (e.g. Emmaus Road travelers) and that this has theological dimensions. (The Gospel According to John XIII-XXI, p. 1009) As I have indicated above, I would agree: Mary symbolizes all of us who "cannot by our own understanding or effort believe in Jesus Christ or come to him." Perhaps we could even call Mary an archetype of doubt and despair moving toward faith and hope.
6. How does the Crossings Community model work with this text? Steven Kuhl in his analysis of this text for the Easter vigil, does an excellent job of lifting up both the despair and hope in this text. He provides glimpses into the deepening darkness into which Mary descends, and then the hope she finds. Go to crossings.org/text-study to see the entire analysis.
7. Consider the insights of the pioneers of the New Homiletic? Every one of the pioneers would counsel us as we prepare to celebrate Easter. Henry Mitchell would remind us that we must be the first ones to experience the ecstasy of this text. David Buttrick would caution us to limit the number of moves we make in this sermon. Fred Craddock would say, "Bring the experience of the text to the listener, not just the content." Others could chime in as well.
Blessings on your proclamation!