Saturday, May 14, 2016

Wisdom in Triplicate

In Proverbs 8:22 we hear Wisdom's witness that "the Lord created me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of long ago."  In John 1 we encounter the witness of the Logos:  "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God."  And in the gospel reading appointed for The Festival of Holy Trinity in the Year of Luke, John 16:12-15, we hear the witness of the Christ, "When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come."  It seems clear that the Father has many Persons whose task it is to enlighten and inspire the people of God.  Is this not a gospel word?

(The following questions are a sample from my guide to Law and Gospel preaching, Afflicting the Comfortable, Comforting the Afflicted, available from or amazon.)

1.  How does the Word function in the text?   This text is pure gospel because at every juncture there is evidence of God's care or God's provision for the people of God.  In vs. 12 Christ shows his care for us.  In vs.13 we receive the promise of God's Spirit.  In vs. 14 another promise comes to us as Jesus promises that the Spirit will take what is his and declare it to God's people.  And the final verse of this short reading reiterates this promise that the Spirit will take what belongs to the Father and the Son and declare it to us.

2.  How is the Word not functioning in the text?  Having filled the text with words of gospel there is no word of law here - no word functioning to lift up our need for Christ or the Spirit of God.  Having said that we could infer that since the Spirit is promised over and over, we all stand in dire need of it.

3.  With whom are you identifying in the text?  From the surrounding verses we know that Jesus is speaking to his disciples here, which puts us in the role of the disciples.  We are the ones to whom these promises come. We are those who are being protected from things we cannot bear right now.

4.  What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text?  Since there is so much guiding and speaking and declaring being promised in this text, it seems obvious that the call to obedience here is the call to listen.  Perhaps there are ways that we stop our ears or refuse to listen; that could be an avenue to pursue in seeking to speak a word which will function to instruct the people of God in how they might follow this One who gives the Spirit.

5.  What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text?  Following up on the idea of hearing the Spirit speaking, several couplets come to mind:  lost/guided into truth; confused/clear about the things to come.

6.  Exegetical work:  The Gospel According to John, the classic commentary by Raymond Brown, is often my go-to source for insights on the gospel of John.  This text is no exception. About this passage Brown writes:  "The Paraclete is to guide men along the way of all truth.  In viii 31-32 Jesus had promised:  'If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth.'  This is fulfilled in and through the Paraclete.  We have an interesting example of how it is accomplished in Acts viii 31 where the eunuch cannot understand that the Suffering Servant passage in Isa liii refers to Jesus until he is guided by Philip who in turn is under the influence of the Spirit (viii 29).  Guidance along the way of truth is guidance to the mystery of Jesus who is the truth (John xiv 6)."  (Brown, pg. 715)

7.  Consider the insights of the pioneers of the New Homiletic?  David Buttrick always cautioned preachers to be aware of how many 'moves' they made in a sermon.  Too many and listeners get lost.  Too few and they become disinterested.  On a Sunday like Trinity Sunday when doctrinal sermons are often preached, it might be especially helpful to be aware of the clarity (or lack thereof!) of our preaching.

Blessings on your proclamation!

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