Saturday, May 16, 2015

Are we in the Last Days?

In the story of the first Pentecost (Acts 2:1-21),the apostle Peter, quoting the prophet Joel, says that this manifestation of the Spirit is evidence of being in the "last days."  The writers of Hebrews and the first letter of Peter remind us that "the last days" began when Christ began to speak to us (Heb. 1:2), and when Christ was revealed to the world as the One sent for the sake of the world (1 Pet. 1:20).  So when someone asks, "Are we in the Last Days?" we can confidently say, "Yes!  Christ's Spirit is amongst us.  God's love for the world has been revealed in Christ."

(The following questions are taken from the appendix to my book, Afflicting the Comfortable, Comforting the Afflicted;  A Guide to Law and Gospel Preaching).  This blog each week is meant to be a companion to that book which is available from wipfandstock.com or amazon.com).

1. How does the Word function in the text?  The Spirit is filling the house, enabling the disciples of Jesus to speak in other languages.  Peter too, is filled with the Spirit and announces the pouring out of God's Spirit on "all flesh."  This is an announcement of Good News.  This, then means that we as preachers will need to announce to our listeners the pouring out of God's Spirit on them.  Gospel!

2. How is the Word not functioning in the text?  Is there a word of Law here - a word that says, "You need Christ"?  It's not explicit, but perhaps can be implied by the crowd's comment, "They are filled with new wine." This comment, certainly the voice of skepticism regarding the Spirit's presence, is one that naturally comes to us whenever we insist that our spirit is sufficient for all things.

3.  With whom are you identifying in the text?  This is an interesting question; one could identify with the skeptics or with those who have been filled with the Spirit's power.  Or an interesting approach might be to reflect on our dual identity as sinner/saint, simultaneously one who is filled with the Spirit and who is doubtful of the Spirit's presence.

4.  What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text?  The word that says, "Follow Jesus" is not present here.  The final verse announcing the need to call on the name of the Lord is not a call to follow, but a call to repentance.

5.  What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text?  Using Peter's sudden transformation as a point of departure we might try Denier/Declarer, or Fear-filled/Spirit-filled.

6.  Exegetical work:  I often find Mark Allan Powell's model helpful in thinking about narrative texts like this.  His book, What is Narrative Criticism? includes an appendix with questions leading us through a narrative analysis of a text.  One very helpful question is "Where is the most detail in the text?"  This helps us identify where the writer wants us to slow down and notice the action.  In this text the most detail is in Luke's extended verbatim of Peter's sermon.  Those words are most important.

7.  How does the Crossings Community model work with this text?  A nice example for this text can be seen at the community website, crossings.org/text study, under 2014 Year A Gospel for The Day of Pentecost.  Peter Keyel sees the word of Law working in the bewildered state of many of the observers of the first Pentencost and shows how the question, "What does this mean?" can turn to praise.

8.  Insights from the pioneers of the New Homiletic?  Since this story moves the listeners in the story from disequilibrium to equilibrium, this might be an excellent opportunity to do this to our listeners as Eugene Lowry does in his work, The Homiletical Plot.

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