Saturday, April 25, 2015

Dead Wood or Living Vines?

John 15:1-8, the Gospel reading for the Fifth Sunday of Easter is all about bearing fruit.  It is clear in the reading, however, that one does not produce fruit like those above without considerable pruning.

1.) How does the Word function in the text?  Jesus, the True Vine, is announcing many things in this text.  He is announcing his own identity, the identity of his followers, the call of his followers and also warning about the consequences of not bearing fruit.  Lots going on here.

2.)  How is the Word not functioning? This is one of those relatively rare texts where the Word functions fully in all of its capacities:  to bring a Gospel word ("I am the true vine"), a word of Law ("Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned."), and a call to obedience ("Abide in my love.")

3.)  With whom are you identifying in the text?  The branches, of course; those called to bear fruit.

4.)  What, if any call to obedience is there in the text?  It's all about fruit bearing; that's our response to the Gospel word.

5.)  What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by the text?  Apart from Christ/One with Christ.  Dead wood/Living vines.

6.)  The Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (IV Press) has some great articles on this text.  Commentary by Cyril and Augustine particularly.  For example, Cyril says, "A mere barren confession of faith still leaves us dead and without fruit."  Or Augustine:  "Whoever imagines that he is bearing fruit of himself is not in the vine."  Lots more where that came from.

7.)  A possible Crossings Community model for this text might be:
        D1  We do not want to abide in Christ because it is painful.
        D2  We believe we can bear fruit apart from Christ.
        D3  Apart from Christ we are dead wood.
        P4  Christ dies on the dead wood of the Cross to restore us to the vine.
        P5  We come to know that only through Christ can we bear fruit.
        P6  We accept the pruning that bears fruit in the world.

8.)  Buttrick might remind us not to try too many moves in this sermon.  Focus on the fruits!

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Picture look familiar?

I wonder how many of you, like me, grew up with a picture like this in the front of your sanctuary. The picture of the good shepherd, and the trusting (or worried?) mother sheep walking alongside while the shepherd carries the lamb certainly looks familiar to me.

The 4th Sunday of Easter begins a series of 6 Sundays in the Gospel of John, with this week's text being John 10:11-18.  It comes in the middle of a controversary story about who Jesus is, vis a vis the giving of sight to the blind man.

Given that this story is surrounded by a controversary about Jesus' identity it is no surprise that this story is about who Jesus is, namely the good shepherd.  So, to our questions:

1) How does the Word function?  The Word - in this case, Jesus - functions to tell us who Jesus is, and it seems to emphasize the fact that a good shepherd lays down his/her life for the sheep.

(One word here:  If you haven't yet read my book, Afflicting the Comfortable, Comforting the Afflicted, you may not realize that one of the foundational tenets of Law and Gospel preaching is that in our preaching we must do what the text does.  In this text that means that our sermon must reveal to our listeners who Jesus is, and what a good shepherd does.  This task ought to be at the top of the first page of our manuscript.)

2)  How does the Word not function in the text?  There is little hint of the Law here - a word that says, "You need Christ." Also, the call to obedience is hard to find.

3)  With whom are you identifying in the text?  We must identify with the sheep for whom the shepherd lays down his life.  As pastors we might be tempted to think that this is a passage that instructs us in how to be "good shepherds."  Resist that move.  We are never Jesus in a text.

4)  What, if any, call to obedience is here?  The call to listen to the shepherd's voice might be a subtle call to obedience here.

5)  Law/Gospel couplet?  Here's some ideas:  Unknown/Known, Abandoned/Rescued, Uncared for/Died for.

6)  Exegetically it might be interesting to compare this text to Ezekiel 34.  Lots of stuff there about good and bad shepherds.

7)  The Crossings community offers an interesting model this week.  If you go to the archived models on the website you will find a model by Steven Albertin for the 4th Sunday of Easter, 2012.  He structures it around his meditation on the difference between a "hireling - one paid to care for the sheep" and the good shepherd.  Interesting.

8)  This week would be a great work to follow Henry Mitchell's advice and really celebrate the work of the Good Shepherd.  Mitchell is always pushing us to be the first to experience the ecstasy of the Gospel.

Blessings on your proclamation this week!

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Talking to Ourselves/Talking to Others

It's kind of ironic that the theme for the second and third Sundays after Easter seems to be doubt, when the word 'doubt' actually isn't in the original language in either the John 20 text or this week's Luke 24:36b-48.  Last week the word was better translated "faithless" and this week in verse 38 the word could better be translated "inner wrestlings." Something to ponder.

As far as the questions for this week:

1.  How does the Word function in the text? Jesus clearly dominates this text, and everything he does and says is the Word functioning.  Take your pick as to what you would like to focus on:  the peace he gives, his willingness to show us his wounds or that he is truly flesh, his desire to open up the scriptures to us, or his promise of the Holy Spirit.  All these are ways the Word functions.  And all these functions are words of Gospel. (i.e. they present Christ to us).

2. How is the Word not functioning in the text?  Evidence of the Law is hard to come up with in this text.  Maybe a hint of it could be their fears and disbelieving, but even their disbelieving we are told is because of joy.  Remember the law always functions to say, "You need Christ."  It's hard to see that in this text. We will have to go elsewhere for that word.  Also the call to obedience is hard to see here.  Again, the call to be witnesses in verse 48 is a hint of this, but it's not explicit. 

3. With whom are you identifying in the text?  Clearly we identify with the disciples.  Jesus is not doing and saying things that we are likely to find ourselves doing or saying.

4. What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text?  We have touched on this above.  It is not explicitly here, but it gets us started.  We might look to other calls to be a witness to find this word in a more complete form.

5.  What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text?  Fear/Joy.  Doubts/Faith.  Or perhaps try this one:  Talking to ourselves (vs. 36)/Talking to others (vs. 48).

Blessings on your proclamation this week!

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Locked In/ Sent Out

I included the Picasso crucifixion above for my very first text study post not because it really has anything to do with John 20:19-31, but just because I have been pondering it all Holy Week.  Isn't it amazing.  I share it with you.

So now onto the work at hand regarding the gospel for the 2nd Sunday of Easter:

When you look in the back of my book, you will see an appendix which has a number of questions which I ask of the text.  Like any exegetical method it is a series of questions which attempt to open up the text in a new way.  There are many sets of questions you can ask a text and they all will open up the text differently.  My questions, of course, center on Law/Gospel concerns.

1. How does the Word function in the text?  In this text the Word is Jesus and he does lots of things:  shows up when the doors are locked, extends the peace, shows the disciples his wounds - even inviting Thomas to touch them, sends the disciples out, grants the Holy Spirit to them, and calls 'blessed' those who do not believe.  (It's a good thing that the Word is so active in this text since this 2nd Sunday after Easter ALWAYS assigns this text!  Why, I ask?  Why?)

2. How is the Word not functioning?  This text is unusual in that there is no way in which it does not function.  We have law, gospel, and a call to obedience:  Law - it exposes our need for Christ but revealing the locked doors of the disciples.  We are often like the disciples, sitting fearfully behind locked doors.  (Our church doors?)  Gospel - it offers many gifts of the Gospel through the actions and words of Jesus. A call to obedience - the call comes in this text when Jesus says, "As the Father has sent me, so I send you."

3.  With whom are you identifying in the text?  I identify with the disciples who are apt to live behind closed doors, afraid to believe that Christ is alive and calling us into the world.  You could also identify with Thomas, specifically.

4.  Where is the call to obedience?  (see above)

5.  What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by the text?  A number come to mind:  Fear/Peace, Faithlessness/Faithfulness.  My favorite:  Locked in/Sent Out

The last 3 questions in my method have to do with extended exegesis, the Crossings Community model (which I commend to you - go to and look under lectionary study to see archived examples of this text under 2nd Sunday of Easter), and the insights of the pioneers of the new Homiletic.  Fred Craddock's book, Preaching, is a touchstone for me.  He urges us all to remember that our job is to help listeners experience the text.  This is crucial.

Please remember that I do not pretend to be the last word on answers to any of the above questions.  I invite you to ponder them as well and share your thoughts.  I look forward to the conversation. Blessings on your proclamation this week.