Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Building Towers, Waging War

Luke 14:25-33, the gospel reading appointed for the 16th Sunday after Pentecost, comes to us as an abrupt reminder that following Jesus is no "walk in the park."  The two metaphors Jesus uses to illustrate this fact are building towers and waging war.  It behooves us all to consider how much our discipleship resembles either of these.

(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!

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