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!
Monday, January 7, 2019
(The following questions have been developed in my brief guide to Law and Gospel preaching as a way of getting at some of the fundamental concerns we have as Law and Gospel preachers. These questions are meant to be used in conjunction with other fine sets of exegetical questions which unearth other insights. For more on this method, see my book, Afflicting the Comfortable, Comforting the Afflicted, available from wipfandstock.com or amazon.)
1. How does the Word function in the text? This text is all gospel. First there is the declaration of what God has done in creating, forming, redeeming, naming, and claiming us. Then come the promises of presence, protection, affection and redemption. Nothing is left for us to do but sing the praises of God and glory in God's amazing power and love.
2. How is the Word not functioning in the text? At first glance there seems to be little hint of Law in this text. Upon examining it further, however, we see the theme of captivity, undoubtedly having to do with Israel's release from Babylon. There is talk of ransom payments, giving up people "in return for you, nations in exchange for your life." There is talk of sons and daughters who are held far away and at the "end of the earth." Though there is no word of accusation or condemnation it is clear that the people of God have been in bondage. This is a function of the Law.
3. With whom are you identifying in the text? We are those who have been in bondage. We are those who have been living in the far country. We are those who stand in desperate need of a redeemer, a champion, a protector, and a lover. We are those who hear this good news.
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 God's gracious work. This function is not present here. If we wish to include this as part of the sermon we will need to include other texts.
5. What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text? Looking at the bondage theme we might come up with a number of possibilities for couplets: bound/free; overwhelmed by water/rescued; consumed by fire/protected from the fire; enslaved/ransomed; distant/homecoming.
6. Exegetical work: Claus Westermann's classic commentary on Deutero-Isaiah offers several important insights into this "oracle of salvation", as he calls it. He notes that the text is constructed in two parts (vss.1-4, 5ff.), which are parallels. Each part is set off with the imperative "Fear not." Westermann also notes something which is easily seen in translation, that this oracle of salvation is addressed to an individual (i.e. all the second person verbs are singular). Westermann argues, however, that what is intended is that the nation of Israel be addressed "as a unit." Finally, he states that the end of the first unit (vs. 4a) is "one of the most beautiful and profound statements of what the Bible means by 'election'." (The Old Testament Library, Isaiah 40-66, p. 114-119). I love that. What could be a better way to describe election than to say "You are precious in my sight,and honored, and I love you"? This, of course, fits right into our understanding of baptism where God says, "You are mine. You are a child of God." What better to raise up on the Festival of the Baptism of our Lord?
7. Consider the insights of the pioneers of the New Homiletic? There is no better day to heed the advice of Henry Mitchell and include celebration in the sermon design than on this day. If this text isn't a cause to celebrate none is.
Blessings on your proclamation!
Monday, December 24, 2018
(The following questions are not meant to be exhaustive, but have been developed to address some of the fundamental questions for Law and Gospel preachers regarding 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? This story is a narrative form of Law and Gospel. The characters who view the announcement of this new born king as threat - Herod and his court and "all Jerusalem with him" - show us the presence of the Law that Christ brings. Christ will be their judge. The magi, on the other hand, who view this announcement with humble ecstasy, show us the presence of the Gospel. They see God doing great things and they receive this announcement with great joy.
2. With whom are you identifying in the text? Since it is always important to identify with those who are addressed by the Word, we have a choice here; we can identify with Herod and his crowd, or with the magi. Or we may want to identify with both. Perhaps a task of the sermon will be to bring out our resistance to the new born king (Law) as well as God's insistence that Christ is the newborn king meant for the life of the whole world. (Gospel)
3. What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text? The call to obedience is always the text functioning to invite us to live in a certain way in response to the work of God in Christ. The final verse in this text could be that as we see the magi not returning to Herod, but leaving for their own country "by another road." We too, having been drawn to worship the Christ, are invited to leave the way of Herod behind and walk another road - the way of Christ.
4. What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text? In the characters in the story we see the couplets that arise: fear/faith; resistance/embrace; threat/promise.
5. Exegetical work: In translating the text we see clearly the contrast between Herod's reaction and that of the magi upon encountering the Christ. Verse 3 says that when Herod the King heard, he was "thrown into confusion" (tarasso) and all of Jerusalem with him." In contrast, when the magi saw the star again leading them they "rejoiced greatly with great joy." (vs. 10) Superlatives both, but what a contrast is set up between the two. An anonymous commentator from ancient times writes this about the magi: "They understood that the birth of the king was revealed to them by divine authority... If they had been seeking a king of this world and thus [lowly] had found him, they would have been more perplexed than delighted... They recognized him at once. They opened their treasure chests... Those who abandon Herod and come to Christ with all their heart do not wish to return to Herod." (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, NT, Vol. Ia, pp. 27-29).
6. Consider the insights of the pioneers of the New Homiletic? A sermon should always move a listener from disequilibrium to equilibrium, insisted Eugene Lowry. How might we do that here? By first identifying with the king and then with the magi? Or another way?
Blessings on your proclamation!
Saturday, December 15, 2018
(The following questions have been formulated to get at some of the fundamental concerns for Law and Gospel preachers (i.e. How does the Word function?). To learn more about 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? Undoubtedly the Word functions here as Gospel, with an announcement of what God is doing. There is an element of surprise as well, since the people first hearing this oracle might have assumed that rulers would come from Jerusalem. Then again, their experience with the royal line was one of corruption, so this announcement that Bethlehem would be the birthplace of the righteous ruler might have been good news to them.
2. How is the Word not functioning in the text? There seems to be no word of Law here. The only exception might be for the corrupt rulers who hear this oracle and are threatened by one who comes to rule and "whose origin is from of old. They might well hear a threat in that word.
3. With whom are you identifying in the text? We are those who have longed for this word. We are the first hearers of this text who lived under the rule of corrupt politicians, morally bankrupt religious leaders, and greedy business folk. We are those who long for power to be given to the just, the morally upright, and those who ensure that all live secure in the land.
4. What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text? One can only look at the gospel word here and imagine the opposite of that to create some appropriate couplets. Some suggestions: starved/fed; dwelling in fear/dwelling secure; living in strife and war/living in peace.
5. Exegetical work: Hans Walter Wolff, in his excellent commentary, reminds us of the full import of this Ruler of Peace being born in Bethlehem: "Bethlehem reminds us of the Israelite monarchy's humble beginnings. Thence came in the hoary past the erstwhile despised youngest son of Jesse. So when its great leaders are first buffeted and then deposed, Zion should think back to its origin in ancient days. Despite its Lord's lowly origin, it should be certain that he will step forth with divine authority as the royal shepherd." (Micah the Prophet, p. 93) The ancient commentaries see in this statement regarding one "whose origin is from of old, from ancient days" an allusion to the Only Begotten Son of God. Theodoret of Cyrrhus, 5th century bishop, is one example: "Now this patently resembles the prologue to the Gospel, 'In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God; he was in the beginning with God.'" (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, OT, Vol. XIV, p. 166).
6. Consider the insights of the pioneers of the New Homiletic? Fred Craddock always insisted that the job of the preacher was to bring the experience of the text to the listener. How will we preach this text so that our listeners will hear the freeing word of this coming Prince of Peace? That is our challenge.
Blessings on your proclamation!