Sunday, November 6, 2016

Hope Amidst Doom and Gloom

Luke 21:5-19 is the gospel lesson appointed for the 26th Sunday after Pentecost, also known as the Third Sunday of End Time, Saints Triumphant.  It follows in the tradition of apocalypic texts from the prophets down to the Revelation according to John.  Most of the text gives a grim picture of the days to come, and yet at the very end we have a note of promise:  "But not a hair of your head will perish."  Is this a gospel word in the midst of the prediction of suffering?  It seems so.

(The following questions are taken from my brief introduction to Law and Gospel preaching, Afflicting the Comfortable, Comforting the Afflicted.  These questions are not meant to be complete, but they get at some of the key issues for Law and Gospel preachers. For more insight into this genre of preaching, my book is available from or amazon.)

1.  How does the Word function in the text?  The main function of this text is to warn disciples of Jesus that a time of suffering is at hand.  It clearly functions as Law for us, where we are sent to our knees, asking Christ to be near us in the days to come.  The end of the passage functions as Gospel, where Jesus promises that "not a hair of your head will perish."  In other words, life that is truly life is not at risk even when hardships come.

2.  With whom are you identifying in the text?  It is always important to identify with those whom the Word addresses.  Here the Word addresses the disciples who are admiring the beautiful stones and adornments of the temple.  We are those disciples, apt to trust things that have the appearance of strength and endurance, but are not at all solid.

3.  What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text?  The Word functions as a call to obedience in the verses regarding testimony.  We who follow Christ are called to testify to Christ's work in the world in the days of suffering.  We are promised that the Spirit will give us the words to say.  We obey when we trust this Spirit and are available to speak a Christlike word when called upon.

4.  What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text?  A number of couplets are imbedded in the text itself:  persecuted/testifying; dying/gaining one's soul; led astray/enduring.

5. Exegetical work:  I like Fred Craddock's commentary on this text  when he says that apocalyptic speech "is hope's response to the cynic who mocks the faithful, saying, 'Where is the promise of his coming?'"  Also, Craddock notes the irony that disciples are not exempt from suffering, but in fact, are guaranteed it, when he says these are "no modern apocalyptists where believers are raptured above persecution and hardship." (Interpretation Series, Luke, p. 242)  It is telling that the word Luke uses to describe the utter destruction of the temple (kataluo) is the same word from which we derive our word "catastrophe".  The days are coming when ... "all will be thrown down", i.e. destroyed, torn down, demolished, abolished, annuled, made invalid.  Catastrophe is an apt term for what happens when that in which we have trusted is utterly destroyed.  This text exhorts us to trust in the One who cannot be destroyed any longer - the Risen Christ!

6.  How does the Crossings Community model work with this text?  The Crossings Community is a community of preachers with a keen interest in Law/Gospel preaching.  Ron Starenko, in his analysis, uses not only this text, but also the Old Testament lesson from Malachi 4:1-2a, to get at the fascination we have with "doom and gloom."  In his prognosis he shows how Christ enters the doom and gloom and becomes for us our cosmic deliverer.  See his complete analysis at study archived under 2013 Gospel C.

Blessings on your proclamation!

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