Tuesday, August 30, 2016
(The following questions are a sample from my brief guide to Law and Gospel preaching, Afflicting the Comfortable, Comforting the Afflicted. In this guide I lead the preacher through a process whereby one can understand how the Word functions and thus how the sermon must function. This guide is available from wipfandstock.com or amazon.)
1. How does the Word function in the text? This word of Jesus is a call to obedience. That is to say, it shows us how to follow Jesus. One could view it as the Law, pointing out to us our failure to have Jesus as our first love, our only passion, and our true treasure, but that comes only as a bi-product of the first function, the call to obedience.
2. How is the Word not functioning in the text? The Word here is clearly not functioning as gospel. There is no word of grace here. Having said that, the preacher might well understand that Jesus, in saving the world, has done all the things required of disciples: 1) He has been willing to make us his first love; 2) He has been willing to bear the cross; and 3) He has been willing to set aside all things so that we might belong to God. (Phil. 2)
3. With whom are you identifying in the text? We are clearly part of the "large crowds" that follow Jesus, wanting to believe that following Jesus requires little of us. We are the ones who do not want to give up all, who cannot help but love what and whom we love, and who do not want anything to do with carrying crosses.
4. What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text? Since this text is not a law/gospel text, couplets are difficult to come by. One that comes to mind is "in bondage to loving stuff/freed in Christ."
5. Exegetical work: Johannes Brenz, 16th century German Lutheran pastor, hits the nail on the head in his commentary: "[Those that followed Jesus] had various afflictions, others were oppressed with need, some were escaping bad reputations or the tyranny of magistrates or trouble at home. They all thought that the kingdom of Christ would be a carnal and earthly kingdom and should bring with it earthly happiness, and so everyone hoped that if he followed Christ, he would not only be delivered from his affliction but also might obtain some kingdom or principality of his own.... And so he turned to them and explained to them that his kingdom was a different sort of kingdom than they had ever imagined." (Reformation Commentary on Scripture, NT, vol. III, 304) Basil the Great, 4th century bishop of Caesarea, also commented on this passage: "Whoever would truly be a follower of God must break the bonds of attachment to this life. This is done through complete separation from and forgetfulness of old habits.... The apostle said, "But our citizenship is in heaven." (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, NT, vol. III, 242).
6. Consider the insights of the pioneers of the New Homiletic? Eugene Lowry, in his work always reminded us that the preacher must move listeners from disequilibrium to equilibrium. This text puts us almost immediately into disequilibrium. It might be a good opportunity to let our listeners experience this disquieting sense before showing them the way through it.
Blessings on your proclamation!
Saturday, August 20, 2016
(The following questions are a sample from my method for exegesis based on a Law/Gospel reading of the text. A more complete explanation of this method may be found in 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? Jesus, the one speaking the Word in this text, is clearly giving instructions. He is not saving, healing, or granting life - gospel functions. He is also not judging, condemning or challenging - law functions - even though we are told that he notices the shortcomings of the guests who seek honor for themselves. Since he is giving instructions, the Word here is functioning as a call to obedience. This is the Word functioning to say, "Follow Jesus." Jesus is showing us here how to live in response to God's gracious work in our lives.
2. How is the Word not functioning in the text? The Word functions as Law when it says in some way, "You need Jesus!" The Word functions as Gospel when it says, "Here is Jesus!" In this text neither of these functions is present, therefore it is a call to obedience.
3. With whom are you identifying in the text? It is always advisable to identify with those whom the Word addresses. In this text we are "the guests [who choose] the places of honor." We are the ones who routinely forget that in God's economy, "all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted." We are also those who routinely invite only our friends, or siblings, or relatives, or rich neighbors - those who offer us something in return - into our churches, when in God's economy "the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind" are those whom God most wishes us to invite.
4. What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text? The language of this text gives us several ideas: uninvited/welcome; humbled/exalted; excluded/blessed.
5. Exegetical work: Fred Craddock, in his commentary on Luke (Interpretation series) says that in this text Jesus is calling for "kingdom behavior." (p. 77) I like that. Kingdom behavior is behavior based on faith in the One who hosts the banquet. Kingdom behavior is behavior based on hospitality, compassion, and justice. Kingdom behavior is behavior that assumes that all have the right to sit at the Lord's table, and there are none who are either too high or too low in status to be excluded. As the old saying goes, "The ground is level at the foot of the Cross."
The text follows in line with a great number of Old and New Testament verses that instruct us in kingdom behavior. Here are just a few examples;
Psa 49:12 "Mortals cannot abide in their pomp; they are like the animals that perish."
Hab 2:6 "Alas for you who heap up what is not your own!"
Matt 23:5 "They do all their deeds to be seen by others."
Mar 9:33 "They had disputed among themselves, who should be the greatest."
Mar 10:45 "The Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve..."
John 5:44 "How can you believe when you accept the glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the one who alone is God?"
I Jn 2: 16 "For all that is in the world.... the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world."
6. How does the Crossings Community model work with this text? Mark Marius does a very nice analysis of this work using the Crossings Community model. It is archived under 2013 Year C Gospel for the 15th Sunday after Pentecost at crossings.org - text study. In this clear two-part model, Marius shows how we buy into the world's notion that "You are where you sit." Because we buy into this, we begin to misplace our faith in the status we gain, in the places we are seen, and in the honors bestowed on us. In the second part of his analyis Marius shows how Christ breaks through our misplaced faith by inviting us to the banquet at the baptismal font and showering us with grace. We then, in turn, secure in our place in the kingdom, are freed to offer others the best seats at our tables.
Blessings on your proclamation!
Saturday, August 13, 2016
(The following questions are some of the questions I ask in interpreting a text from a Law/Gospel perspective. For a more complete understanding of this genre 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 is an unusual text in that the Word functions in two very distinct ways: For the crippled woman, Jesus' words, "Woman, you are set free from your ailment!" are the definition of gospel. Jesus has announced healing and freedom to this woman. She has been given the gift of grace, indeed without even asking for it, or a hint of her deserving it.
The leader of the synagogue who protests this healing on the sabbath, however, receives quite a different word: "You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set from this bondage on the sabbath day?"
This word is, of course, pure law. This strong rebuke breaks the rock of self-righteousness in this man and humbles his pride. This word shows the speaker his hardheartedness.
2. With whom are you identifying in the text? This is an interesting question because we have two distinct persons with whom we can identify. If we identify with the crippled woman, then we will hear this freeing word, "You are set free!" as a word to us. If we identify with the leader of the synagogue, then we will hear the rebuke, "You hypocrite!' The question we must ask is who are we - persons broken in need of healing, or the self-righteous in need of rebuke? Perhaps we are both.
3. What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text? I do not hear a clear call to obedience in this text. The call to obedience is always the call to "Follow Jesus," and that seems absent here. If we look at the Old Testament lesson appointed for the day, Isaiah 58:9b-14, there we have a clear call to obedience: "If you remove the yoke from among you... if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like th noonday." (vs. 9b-10)
4. What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text? Certainly this text suggests several: crippled/whole; in bondage/freed; dead in sin/alive in Christ.
5. Exegetical work: This text begs the larger question: "What does it mean to be bound?" The crippled woman was clearly bound, and Jesus announced freedom to her. The leader of the synagogue was also bound, in the sense that his understanding of the sabbath law was so strict that he had lost sight of the purpose of this law. He had lost sight of the life-giving that comes to us when we observe sabbath in God's way. Luther, in his lectures on Isaiah, talked about sabbath practice: "The true Sabbath works consist in doing works of God, hearing the Word, praying, doing good in every way to the neighbor. The ungodly neither do nor teach any of this." (LW, vol. XVII, p. 289) Luther could well have been speaking of this leader of the synagogue when he wrote this. Augustine also spoke of sabbath practice in his preaching: "Since that is what the Lord says about the woman whom Satan had bound for eighteen years, it was now time for her to be released from her bondage on the sabbath day. Quite unjustly, they criticized him for straightening her up. Who were these, except people bent over themselves? Since they quite failed to understand the very things God had commanded, they regarded them with earthbound hearts. They used to celebrate the sacrament of the sabbath in a literal, material manner and did not notice its spiritual meaning." (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, NT vol. III, p. 226)
6. How does the Crossings Community model work with this text? Timothy J. Hoyer, writing for Year C Gospel in 2013, goes deeply into the discussion of our boundness as mortal beings. He points out that the crippled woman is just as bound in sin as is the leader of the synagogue; they both need to be released from the crippling notion that their good deeds merit their standing with God. Hoyer also points out that Jesus was often healing and saving on the Sabbath, prominently on the Day of Resurrection, when all the world was freed from the bondage of death. For a complete look at this analysis go to crossings.org - text study.
Blessings on your proclamation!
Saturday, August 6, 2016
(The following questions are a sample from my brief guide to Law and Gospel preaching, Afflicting the Comfortable, Comforting the Afflicted, available through wipfandstock.com or amazon.)
1. How does the Word function in the text? Undoubtedly this text is pure law. This text calls us to account. To quote the last verse of the Old Testament lesson appointed for this day, "Is not my word like fire, says the Lord, and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?" (Jer. 23:29) This verse was Luther's favorite image for the law - a word which brings fire to burn and a hammer to break a rock in pieces. Luther said that the law exposes our need for Christ, brings us to a point of crisis, a time of decision, when we are forced to decide if we are going to face our sins or not. When Jesus asks in this text if we think he has come to bring peace on earth, he is really asking, "Do you think I have come to protect the status quo?" The answer, of course, is no!
2. How is the Word not functioning in the text? There is no word of grace here. There is no word that proclaims God's love, or that gives Christ to the world. This we will need to discover for ourselves. Our question is, "Can this word which does not protect the status quo be a word of grace?" A reading of Hebrews 12 might help us answer that question. We have the first two verses of that chapter as part of the second reading appointed for the day.
3. With whom are you identifying in the text? It is always important to identify with the ones whom the Word - here, Jesus - is addressing. We are the ones Jesus calls hypocrites. We are the ones Jesus accuses of believing that he comes to protect the status quo. If we preachers make the mistake of identifying with Jesus here, somehow believing that he is not talking to us, we are gravely mistaken.
4. What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text? Since the call to obedience is always the Word functioning to say, "Follow Jesus" we might interpret this text as an implicit call to obedience. We are being called to obedience, hearing Jesus say, "Follow me, even though there will be conflict. Follow me, even though it might mean breaking with those who refuse to believe in my return."
5. What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text? Since a gospel word is not present in this text, couplets are not readily imagined, but we might go beyond the text and imagine couplets like chastened/loved; disciplined/protected; warned/saved.
6. Exegetical work: It is Fred Craddock, in his commentary on the gospel of Luke (Interpretation Series) who coined the phrase, "Jesus is the crisis of the world, (John 12:31) 'Now is the judgement of the world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out'... To turn toward one person or goal or value means turning away from another." (p. 166) Craddock also writes, "In other words, give attention to your life before God now, because if delayed until the eschaton (i.e. the end), all that remains is the sentencing." A number of ancient writers are also instructive in their comments about this text. All these come from the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture available from IV Press. Cyril of Alexandria: "We affirm that the fire that Christ sent out is for humanity's salvation and profit... The fire is the saving message of the gospel and the power of its commandments... The gospel ignites all of us on earth to a life of piety and makes us fervent in spirit." Ambrose: "[Fire of love] consumes whatever is material and earthly but tests whatever is pure.... With this fire, he inflamed the heart of his apostles." (ACCS, vol III, p. 217f).
Blessings on your proclamation!