Sunday, March 18, 2018
(The following questions have been developed to stimulate thought on some of the fundamental questions for Law and Gospel preachers, questions surrounding 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 and amazon.)
1. How does the Word function in the text? The Word is presenting Jesus as one in authority. In the gospel of Mark the religious leaders are shown again and again to be devoid of authority. (see Powell's What is Narrative Criticism? for further discussion). Jesus stands in direct contrast to them. His authority can be seen here in the behavior of those who handle the bringing of the colt to him. When the disciples tell those who own the colt what Jesus had said, they immediately release it into their safe-keeping. This presentation of Jesus' authority is both a Law and a Gospel function. It is Law in that we too are under Jesus' authority. It is Gospel in that all of our enemies, including Death itself, are under Jesus' authority.
2. How is the Word not functioning in the text? There is no explicit word of either Law or Gospel here. There is no word which proclaims what God has done in Christ. There is also no explicit word which exposes our need for Christ. The closest this text comes to exposing our need is the report of the words of the crowd, "Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!" This is clearly a misunderstanding of who Jesus is, and what he has come to do.
3. With whom are you identifying in the text? We have two choices here: we can either identify with the disciples who are doing the Lord's bidding, or we can identify with the crowds who cry out. If we enter into the position of the disciples, this text becomes a call to obedience. If we enter into the position of the crowds, this text primarily lifts up our misunderstanding of Jesus. This will be our choice.
4. What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text? The simple instructions that Jesus gives to the two disciples who are given the task of procuring the colt could be thought of as a call to obedience. As disciples of Jesus we are called to simple tasks, the ending of which we cannot see. Yet, if we obey faithfully God uses us to bring about the reign of God in the world. This could be a very fruitful way to approach this text.
5. What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text? If we enter into this text as a Law/Gospel text, we can see a number of possibilities: mistaken about Jesus/Jesus revealed; celebrating kingdoms of this world/celebrating eternal kingdoms.
6. Exegetical work: The thing we notice at the outset is the wealth of detail in this text. Unlike the rapid-fire style of much of Mark, where events pass by in a blur, this event is reported as it were, in slow motion. We are told what Jesus says, what the disciples do, how others respond, and even the source of the leafy branches strewn on the road. Why all this detail? It points to the fact that we are supposed to understand this event as more than mere 'triumphal entry.' Donahue and Harrington, in their commentary, say it well: "That Jesus' entry into Jerusalem was intended as a symbolic action or prophetic demonstration is indicated by the elaborate preparations made in vv. 1-7." (Sacra Pagina, The Gospel of Mark, p. 324) Lamar Williamson has recounted a number of texts that connect to this symbolism: "Then the Lord will go forth and fight against those nations as when he fights on a day of battle. On that day his feet shall stand on the Mount of Olives."(Zech. 14:34) "Rejoice, your king comes to you, triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey." (Zech. 9:9) "Then hurriedly they all took their cloaks and spread them for him on the bare steps; and they blew the trumpet, and proclaimed, 'Jehu is king.'" (II Kings 9:13) (Interpretation, Mark, p. 202-203) Williamson goes on to point out the tragic irony of this 'royal parade': "Mark depicts an entry which is triumphal only to Jesus' followers who have not yet understood his destiny as Son of man. For Jesus, it is an entry into suffering and death." (Ibid, p. 204)
7. Consider the insights of the pioneers of the New Homiletic? This text might be a good one in which to practice the celebration that Henry Mitchell always urged. After all, despite all of our doubts and misunderstandings and sins, Jesus comes to save. He is not the king we were hoping for but the king we desperately need.
Blessings on your proclamation!
Saturday, March 10, 2018
(The following questions have been developed to explore questions of Law and Gospel preachers regarding the functioning of the Word. These questions are not meant to be exhaustive. 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 functions primarily as Gospel here as Jesus announces in many and various ways the plan and effect of salvation: "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified;" (23) "...it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name;" (28) "Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself." (31-32) There are, however, also words reminding us of our need for a Savior: "Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; Those who love their life lose it..." (24-25) These are words of Law.
2. With whom are you identifying in the text? We are the disciples, those who hear this word of the Gospel, this call to lose our life, and this exhortation to serve Christ. We are also those who hear the thunder, the voice from heaven, that comes on our behalf.
3. What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text? There are several calls to obedience in this text. We have a call to lose our life and also a call to be a servant of Christ who follows in the way of Christ. These exhortations are a reminder that faith in Jesus means following in the way of Jesus.
4. What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text? A number of phrases in this text lead us to couplets that will be important for our sermon. Some suggestions: dying alone/dying and bearing much fruit; losing life/keeping life for eternal life; the ruler of this world in control/the ruler of this world driven out.
5. Exegetical work: As Raymond Brown points out in his classic commentary, the Lazurus miracle [in chapter 11] began a "chain reaction" toward Jesus' death. [His enemies are determined to rid themselves of him]. Now the hour of the crucifixion had come... The Lazurus miracle pointed to Jesus as resurrection and life (11:25), now begins the hour when Jesus will be "lifted up" in resurrection and draw all people to himself to give them life... In Chapter 11-12 there were "universalistic references" to save Gentiles; now the Gentiles come to see Jesus. "Truly this is a climactic scene." (The Gospel According to John I-XII, p. 469). References to "the hour coming" are common in John. They begin in 2:4 when Jesus tells his mother that his hour has not yet come. These references continue with the woman at the well in 4:23, the Pharisees in 5:25, and the attempted arrests in 7:30 and 8:20. In each case, the text refers to "an hour" which is coming but which Jesus somehow knows has not yet arrived. In this text the hour has arrived. Paradoxically, what Jesus claims is about to happen is exactly the opposite of what seems to happen. Jesus says that world is about to be judged; it seems that Jesus is the one who is judged. Jesus says that "the ruler of this world will be driven out" and it is Jesus who is driven out. Jesus says that "I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself," when what happens is that all people flee when Jesus is lifted up. Once again we have before us the paradox that Jesus announces here, that only when the seed dies does it bear fruit. Only in losing life do we gain it. Only in hating life in this world do we keep it for eternal life.
6. How does the Crossings Community model work with this text? Picking up on the Greeks' request to "see Jesus," Timothy Hoyer shows how what we focus on determines our destiny. We see all sorts of things that dazzle us and invite us to worship them. Finally, they are our demise. Only as we see Christ on the Cross do we find life. See Hoyer's complete analysis at crossings.org/text-study.
Blessings on your proclamation!
Wednesday, March 7, 2018
(The following questions have been developed to answer some of the concerns of Law and Gospel preachers, whose main concerns have to do with how the Word functions. You can learn more about this unique genre of preaching in 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 functions to bring both hope and judgment. It is then, functioning as both Law and Gospel. The Word is lifting up Jesus as the One whom we look to for life and salvation. The Word is also revealing our state apart from Christ - "condemned already" - because we have "loved darkness rather than light."
2. With whom are you identifying in the text? These verses are all inclusive: "whoever believes", "everyone who believes", "those who believe", "those who have not believed". As part of the unfolding drama, we are both those who are drawn to the light and those who hate the light. We are simul justus et peccator, simultaneously sinners and saints.
3. What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text? Since the call to obedience is the Word functioning to invite us to live faithfully in response to God's work, we see here no evidence of this call. This text is about faith alone and the call to look to Christ for life and salvation.
4. What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text? Unlike many texts we have plenty of images for both Law and Gospel in this text. Some couplet ideas: perishing/gaining eternal life; condemned/saved; loving darkness/loving light; hating the light/coming to the light.
5. Exegetical work: I find Kittel's discussion of John's use of kosmos (world) most helpful. He writes: "The kosmos is the setting of the drama of redemption which is recounted in the Gospel....The kosmos is, in some sense, personified as the great opponent of the Redeemer in salvation history. It is as it were a powerful collective person which the [powers of the world] represents.... Hence salvation history is a conflict between Christ and the kosmos, or the poneros who rules it." (Theological Dictionary of the NT, Vol. III, p. 894) D. Moody Smith, in his commentary, reminds us that the kosmos is not only the setting of a drama, but much more: "Although 'the world' sums up man's opposition to Jesus in John, there is another sense in which the world is the object of God's love." (Proclamation series, John, p. 32) We hear this, of course, most clearly in the 16th verse: "For God so loved the kosmos..." Some of the most vivid scenes of this drama have been given to us through the pen of Augustine who wrote imagining Christ and Death in dialogue; "[To Death Christ said], 'I will be your death, O death; I will be your sting'... I will slay you, [Death], by dying. I will swallow you up." (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, NT, vol. IVa, p. 126) Luther takes up this last image in his sermons on this passage: "As we read in Hos. 13:14, [Christ] devours death and destroys it." (Luther's Works, vol. 22, p. 357)
6. How does the Crossings Community model work with this text? Marcus Felde is expert in his analysis of this text. He reminds us of our penchant to trust darkness to "save" us, when nothing could be further from the truth. He reminds us also how Christ said it and it is done - our salvation. See the whole analysis at crossings.org/text-study.
7. Consider the insights of the pioneers of the New Homiletic? David Buttrick was always reminding us that too many moves or too few moves in a sermon leaves the listener in the dust. As we prepare our sermons we need regularly to ask ourselves, "Have I kept the listener in mind?"
Blessings on your proclamation!
Wednesday, February 28, 2018
(The following questions have been developed as an attempt to answer some fundamental questions for Law and Gospel preachers. Law/Gospel preaching is a particular genre of preaching that pays attention to how the Word functions. To learn more about this, 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? The Word, in this case Jesus, functions as pure Law. The merchants in the temple are judged. The Jews who question Jesus are judged as well. It is as though one of the Old Testament prophets has shown up in the temple that day.
2. How is the Word not functioning in the text? Good news is hard to find in this text. One piece of gospel barely visible is in Jesus' announcement to the Jews: "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." He is, of course, referring to his death and resurrection. We know this, and later his disciples, we are told, understand this too. The good news here is that no one has power over this zealous One.
3. With whom are you identifying in the text? Here is the tough part. Almost always we are called to identify with those whom the Word addresses. This text is no exception. While we are tempted here to identify with Jesus, the one who is zealous for the house of the Lord, if we are honest, we must admit that we are rarely found in this posture. Therefore, it is necessary that we identify with the marketeers, the money changers, and the power brokers who are upset at Jesus for messing up our prosperous "house of prayer."
4. What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text? There is an implied call to obedience here, which is related to Sabbath practice. We are called to think clearly about the "temple" in our lives - the place where God meets us, and make sure that it does not become a place of commerce. This is an urgent call in our day when everything is a commodity - even worship.
5. What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this test? Without a gospel word here, we must use our imagination to fill in the couplet. Some ideas: Living unholy lives/made holy in Christ; selling our soul/Christ paying the price for our sins.
6. Exegetical work: The differences between John's telling of this story and the Synoptic's version of this story are noteworthy. Several small details such as the making of a rope of cords don't seem to be significant. The words Jesus uses in his clearing of the temple, however, are significant. In John Jesus says, "Stop making my Father's house a marketplace, " but in the Synoptics he says, "My house shall be a house of prayer; but you have made it a den of robbers.." (Matt. 21, Mark 11, Luke 19). If we look at the Hebrew Scriptures we see that God is passionate in opposition to two things: oppressive practices and idolatry. The "den of robbers" is surely in reference to the former. When money changers and sellers of animals gouged poor pilgrims who had journeyed to Jerusalem to make sacrifice this was certainly offensive to God, thus the admonitions in the Synoptic gospels. The reformer, Erasmus speculated that these sellers were so corrupt that they even had deals with the priests to return animals to them who had been given for sacrifice so that they could sell them again! (Reformation Commentary on Scripture, NT, Vol. IV, p. 78). The Synoptic version also alludes to Jeremiah 7:11 where the prophet calls down judgement on such practices. John's retelling of the event focuses on idolatry. The marketplace that Jesus railed against was a temple of greed. Greed, as St. Paul tells us, is idolatry (Col. 3:5). The god of the Market reigns. Everything can be had for a price. Jesus is zealous for his Heavenly Father's house in the same way that God is a jealous God. This marketplace is a violation of Exodus 20:4-5, "You shall not make for yourself an idol..." Also, this telling brings to mind the end of Zechariah's prophecy (14:21) where the prophet says that a sign of God's reign is the day when all marketeers will be banned from God's temple. Much to ponder here.
7. How does the Crossings Community model work with this text? Mark Marius, in his analysis, uses the market metaphor to great effect. His title is "The Market Crashes; Christ serves as Collateral." He shows very effectively the result of our dependence upon selling and paying for our own salvation. See his work at crossings.org/text-study.
Blessings on your proclamation!
Saturday, February 17, 2018
(The following questions attempt to answer some of the fundamental questions as to how the Word is functioning, a central concern of Law and Gospel preachers. To learn more about this unique 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? This is an exceedingly rich text in that the Word functions in all the ways it can. First is the open statement of the Gospel, that Jesus will suffer, die, and be raised on the third day. Then we see the Law in full force as Jesus rebukes Peter in strident fashion: "Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things." Finally we get a full-fledged Call to Obedience as Jesus tells the disciples exactly what it will mean to follow him and what they stand to lose if they do not. This is a rich text!
2. With whom are you identifying in the text? We are, of course, the disciples. We are those for whom Christ has died. We are those who, out of our own fear, tempt Jesus to turn from the way of the Cross. Finally we are those who are called out of our fear to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Jesus.
3. What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text? One could think of a host of couplets to go with this multi-faceted text. Here are a few suggestions: rebuked as Satan/Satan rebuked; setting the mind on human things/The Divine mind set on human beings; trying to save one's life/Jesus saving us; worldly profit/eternal profit; ashamed of Christ/Christ unashamed of us.
4. Exegetical work: It is an interesting exercise to use Kurt Aland's Synopsis of the Four Gospels to see the differences between Matthew and Luke's reporting of this event and Mark's. As noted above, Mark begins by saying that Jesus is "teaching" here. No other gospel says it that way. Also, these words are definitely meant for all of us, because Mark alone tells us that before Jesus issues the call to discipleship, he calls the crowd as well as the disciples. In other words, he wants all to hear this. What is particularly noteworthy is that the actual call of discipleship (vss. 34-35) are exactly the same in all three gospels. That makes me wonder if this wasn't already viewed as a creedal formula. Finally, only Mark identifies the era in which this is taking place as "an adulterous and sinful generation." Is that a clue to Mark's piety? Or to the context in which this was written? One observation that Donahue and Harrington make in their commentary is that this "journey narrative is introduced (8:22-26) and concluded (10:46-52) by episodes in which Jesus bestows the gift of sight on two blind men. By following the journey narrative Mark's readers also come to see Jesus and his 'way' more clearly." (Sacra Pagina, The Gospel of Mark, p. 264) Eugene Boring suggests that "Isaiah 55:8-9 ("my thoughts are not your thoughts") may be in the background here: God's 'thoughts', God's 'way of thinking' is different from human thinking." (The NT Library, Mark, p. 242) Finally, several ancient writers give us reason to celebrate the call to discipleship. Augustine says, "For whatever seems hard in what is enjoined, love makes easy." And Caesarius of Arles writes: "What [Jesus] commands is not difficult, since he helps to effect what he commands... Just as we are lost through loving ourselves, so we are found by denying ourselves." (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scriptures, NT, vol. II, p. 111f)
5. How does the Crossings Community model work with this text? By going to crossings.org/text-study you will see that my analysis for this text centers around the word 'love'. Self-love leads to destruction; God's love leads us to life. Self-love deceives us; God's love reveals truth. I encourage you to check out the multiple resources on this site to understand more about how Law and Gospel function in Scripture.
Blessings on your proclamation!
Wednesday, February 14, 2018
(The following questions are not meant to be exhaustive. They have been developed to unearth some answers to fundamental concerns of Law and Gospel preachers. For further study of 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 functions here to tell us much about the Beloved Son of God. He was baptized by John, the Spirit descended upon him, and he was driven into the wilderness in order to undergo the temptations of Satan. We also learn that he was with the wild beasts and angels served him. All this works together to tell us the good news that the Beloved Son of God also enters into the wilderness as we do. This is a gospel function.
2. How is the Word not functioning in the text? While there is a call to repentance at the very end of the text, any word of Law is missing here. There is no place where our need for a Savior is lifted up.
3. With whom are you identifying in the text? This is a rare text in that we are invited here, I believe, to identify with Jesus, in that we too are baptized, we too are called children of God by a voice from heaven, and we too are sometimes driven into the wilderness where we encounter the temptations of Satan. In this text we are disabused of any notion we might have that the children of God do not undergo temptation.
4. What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text? The call to obedience is the text functioning to invite us to live in a certain way in response to the gospel. There is no such call here.
5. What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text? Since the Law is all but absent here, we shall have to imagine the first half of each couplet. A few ideas: unbelief/believing; orphaned/called child of God; in the wilderness alone/ministered to by angels.
6. Exegetical work: Looking at Aland's helpful synopsis you can readily see that Mark's language is much coarser than the language of either Matthew or Luke. As we have seen elsewhere, Mark alone uses the word schizo for speaking of opening the heavens in verse 10. This translates as the heavens were "torn apart" or "ripped wide open" or "split apart", a much stronger description than simply being "opened." Again in verse 12 Mark uses a much stronger verb. Matthew and Luke choose the words for being led or led up to describe the action of the Spirit in causing Jesus to enter the wilderness. Mark uses ekballo, the word for being driven out or cast out or forced out, a word most commonly used for the casting out of demons. Mark says "The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness." And finally, Mark is unique in including the detail that Jesus was with the wild beasts. What is that about? Do they minister to him or are they another cause for fear? (Synopsis of the Four Gospels, Kurt Aland) Donahue and Harrington, in their commentary, remind us of a number of things regarding Jesus' wilderness experience: 1) The verb ekballo, used frequently for the expulsion of demons, has overtones of coercion; 2) In Mark, Satan is the prince of demons (3:23), opposes the word (4:15) and leads disciples astray (8:23); and 3) wild beasts are often associated in the OT with evil powers (Psalm 22, Ezekiel 34). (Sacra Pagina, The Gospel of Mark, p. 66) Lamar Williamson provides a hopeful commentary, reminding us that "Satan's power is real but limited" and Hebrew 12:6 says that "The Lord disciplines the one whom he loves." He reminds us that we can expect to be driven into the wilderness as Jesus was, caught in the cosmic struggle between Satan and God. This text is a warning (40 days of testing) and a promise (served by the angels.) (Interpretation, Mark, pp. 38-39.)
7. Consider the insights of the pioneers of the New Homiletic? Henry Mitchell was big on celebration in the sermon. How will we celebrate in this text? There are plenty of opportunities, beginning with the voice that calls us beloved.
Blessings on your proclamation!
Tuesday, January 30, 2018
(The following questions seek to give an answer to some of the basic questions for Law and Gospel preachers, namely "what is the Word up to in this text?" These questions have been designed as part of my brief guide to Law and Gospel preaching, Afflicting the Comfortable, Comforting the Afflicted, available from wipfandstock.com or amazon.)
1. How does the Word function in the text? The Word, here Jesus, functions in the same way it has earlier in this chapter, as an announcement of Jesus' power over the spirits of this age. Whether it is the fever Jesus casts out of Peter's mother-in-law, or the demons which are cast out, or the diseases which are healed, each announces that Jesus has authority over all which would rob the human person of the abundant life God wishes for them. This is a gospel function.
2. How is the Word not functioning in the text? There is really no word of Law here. Persons are lifted up as in need of a Savior, in the sense of needing deliverance from sickness and demons, but not in the sense of being estranged from God. There is no judgement here.
3. With whom are you identifying in the text? It is usually most helpful to identify with those whom are being addressed by the Word, but here those addressed by the Word are fevers, sicknesses, and demons. It is probably difficult to identify with them. We, however, could identify with those who are controlled by such afflictions and powers. We then would be in the position to experience the liberation that Jesus brings.
4. What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text? More than one commentator has identified Peter's mother-in-law as an example of discipleship since she immediately serves Jesus and his disciples following her healing. That she is a good example goes without saying. However, there may be more there than is often assumed.
5. What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text? If we enter into the experience of those persons in this story who are healed and freed we can imagine some helpful couplets: sick/well; bound/free; possessed by evil spirits/possessed by the Spirit.
6. Exegetical work: It is noteworthy that, as several writers have pointed out, (Boring, Donahue, Harrington), only in the Book of Mark is confrontation with evil spirits the initial public act of Jesus' ministry. This continues to a notable degree in this text as "casting out demons" is brought up no less than three times. Kittel has some interesting things to say in his extended discussion of the term daimones (demons). Here are several excerpts: "In the NT there are two kingdoms, the kingdom of the prince of this world and the kingdom of God." "...in most of the stories of possession what is at issue is not merely sickness but a destruction and distortion of the divine likeness in man according to creation." "The NT bears witness to the victory won by Jesus over evil spirits - a victory which is efficacious for the community and will preserve it through the temptations of the last time." (Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, vol. II, p. 18-19) Eugene Boring, in his commentary on Mark, also notes the importance of exorcism in Jesus' ministry: "Exorcism... is inseparably incorporated into Jesus' message. 'Authority' (exousia) is found nine times in Mark always with reference to Jesus... The same powerful word that calls people to discipleship (1:16-20) is present in Jesus' teaching with authority and conquest of the demonic element in human life (1:21-28), all of which is an aspect of the word of the dawning kingdom of God. (1:14-15)." (Mark, The NT Library, p. 63) Boring also comments on the status of Peter's mother-in-law. He explains that because of her fever she "is robbed of status and dignity, unable to offer hospitality in her own home." "The fever 'leaves' her, like the unclean spirit in 1:25..." "[Her service] means she is now restored to fullness of life, that she can serve guests in her own home." (Ibid, p. 66)
7. Consider the insights of the pioneers of the New Homiletic? How can we help our listeners recognize their shared story in this story? That was the central question for Charles Rice and his colleagues. In this text we might ask, "How can I as preacher bring the liberating Word to bear upon the shared story of suffering that our listeners carry?"
Blessings on your proclamation!