Saturday, July 30, 2016

Freely gifted and free to give

Luke 12:32-40, the gospel lesson appointed for the 12th Sunday after Pentecost, is a lovely passage reminding us of the freedom we have in Christ.  We are called to be great givers; this call comes to us who have already been gifted in such great abundance in Christ.  God did not spare even God's own Son, and because of that great love and generosity, we are free to live without fear, without dread, without anxiety over all those things that our Heavenly Father knows we need.  We are freed to live with abandon, in the joy and delight that that life gives us.

(The following questions attempt to get at some of the theological issues for Law and Gospel preachers.  They represent a summary of the method I outline in my brief 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 is an unusual text in that the first word we hear is pure gospel:  "Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom."  This is an assurance of God's great love for us.  There is an even more astonishing hint of God's love buried later in this text in verse 37:  "Truly I tell you, [the master] will fasten his belt and have [the slaves] sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them."   Amazing!  The master will serve the slaves.  Is this not a great announcement of God's immeasurable love for God's people?

2.  How is the Word not functioning in the text?  Remarkably, there is very little hint of the law in this text - that is, the Word functioning to say, "You need Jesus!"  In the last two verses we are exhorted to be ready for Jesus, but that is not a word that overpowers the promises we have already heard.  This is unusual in that these kind of texts - ones that tell us about the return of Christ - are almost always assumed to have a tone which is associated with finger-wagging and the message, "You better be ready when he comes!"  In contrast, in this text, the first thing we hear is, "Do not be afraid."

3.  With whom are you identifying in the text?  We are certainly those whom the Lord is addressing in this text.  Earlier in this passage we see that Jesus' audience is the disciples; we are now amongst them.

4.  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 response to God's work in our lives.  This text is mostly doing that. We are called to live without fear, to let go of our possessions and give to the poor, and to seek the "unfailing treasures" of heaven.  We are also invited to live expectantly and joyfully, anticipating the return of our beloved master.  We are invited to be ready to open the door when the master returns and to sit at the table where our Lord will serve us.

5.  Exegetical work:  The New Laymen's Bible Commentary sums up the message of this passage in a very concise way:  "If we know we have treasure in heaven, the necessity to hoard earthly treasure disappears." (p. 1277)  Bauer, Gingrich, and Danker in their Greek-English Lexicon of the NT and other Early Christian Literature provide an interesting translation of "unfailing treasure" in verse 33.  They translate that term as "a treasure chest unbreakable."  That seems to go well with the previous term of "purses... that do not wear out."  So in a rough translation of the whole phrase we have, "Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, a treasure chest unbreakable in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys." (p. 36)  We are reminded by this that Augustine said that our wealth is safer given to the poor than hoarded in barns.  To have treasure in heaven was thought to be the same as giving to the poor - they were not separate.  Kittel also provides some insights into this text in his discussion of the Greek word for being anxious - merimnao:  "what makes a proper concern foolish is anxiety and the illusion to which it gives rise in its blindness, namely, that life itself can be secured by the means of life for which there is concern....  Such anxiety is futile; for the future which they think they can provide for is not in their hands.... The [person] who is concerned about him/[her]self, and who tries to find security in the means of life, is shown that [they] must make the lordship of God [their] first concern, and then anxiety about [their] life will wither away."  (Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, vol. 4, p. 592).

6.  Consider the insights of the New Homiletic?  Henry Mitchell always exhorted us to be the first ones to experience the ecstasy of the gospel in a text.  He called on preachers to celebrate with gusto in every sermon.  Given the astonishing gifts of God lifted up in this text, there is every reason to follow Mitchell's advice here.

Blessings on your proclamation!

Thursday, July 21, 2016

The Good Life revealed

Luke 12:13-21, the gospel lesson appointed for the Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost, contains an unmistakable lesson:  hoarding one's goods/wealth is foolish and unfaithful.  Needless to say, this is something all of us are prone to, and therefore the title given to the rich farmer is one we all have earned to some degree - Fool!  We need to hear this warning regularly, and heed it.

(The following questions are an attempt to unearth some of the theological issues for Law/Gospel preachers.  A more complete explanation of this genre of preaching can be found in my brief 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?  Verse 15 gives the function of this text:  "Take care!  Be on your guard against all kinds of greed."  Jesus is giving us a warning.  Is this a gospel word?  No.  Is this a word of law?  Yes.  This word functions to expose our need to be saved by Christ from the clutches of greed.  This word is saying, "You need Jesus to save you from greed."

2.  How is the Word not functioning in the text?  There is no word of gospel here, no word which declares what God has done for us in Christ.  When preaching this text, other biblical passages will be needed to declare that "the good life" comes through Christ.  (e.g. Jn. 10:10:  "I have come that you may have life, and have it abundantly.")

3.  With whom are you identifying in the text?  It is very important for us to identify with the person in the crowd who asked the question, and to whom Jesus' answer was directed.  If we preachers think that we are not prone to greed we are gravely mistaken.

4.  What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text?  The call to obedience is the Word functioning to invite us to live in response to God's word.  It might well be argued that this is the primary function of this text.  That assumes, however, that we know that "the good life" is found only by following Christ.  If we know that, then this text is all about using our abundance to feed the poor, which is a call to obedience.

5.  What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text?  We can imagine a number of couplets which might lead to a sermon:  fools/wise folk, dead/alive, covetous/content.

6.  Exegetical Work:  David Buttrick, in his homiletic guide, Speaking Parables, points out something that maybe unknown to moderns:  "'Treasure in heaven' is a familiar Jewish euphemism for charity; it is not a term for some sort of world-renouncing spirituality.  In God's economy, what we give away is 'treasure in heaven.'" (p. 191)  Augustine seems to agree with this when he says, "The bellies of the poor [are] much safer storerooms than [our] barns."  A discussion of the Greek term for greed in Kittel's Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (pleoneskia) is also enlightening.  Pleoneskia is a "grasping beyond what is ordained for man."  This grasping "destroys relationship with one's neighbors and incenses God."  "Material covetousness is a special threat to the new life of the Christian. It brings him [or her] under an ungodly and demonic spell which completely separates him [or her] from God through serving an alien power." (TDNT, Vol. VI, 266ff)

7.  How does the Crossings Community model work with this text?  Ron Starenko, using the model for the 2013 Year C Gospel, shows how effectively this model can be used.  He calls his analysis, "God's Fools."  In the diagnosis of the problem, we see that greed has outward signs: lack of giving to the poor, storing up everything for ourselves.  This greed then poisons our hearts, causing us to trust our wealth for life rather than Christ.  This in turn, leads us away from God.  The good news is that Jesus became God's fool, laying aside his riches to become one with us and die for us.  Because of the "foolishness" of Jesus we are saved and our hearts are turned towards Christ, the true source of life.  When our hearts are no longer seeking security in wealth, we are then free to give away our abundance.  See the complete story at - text study.

Blessings on your proclamation!