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!
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!