Thursday, May 25, 2017
(The following questions are not meant to be exhaustive, but meant to supplement other questions which an exegete may ask. These questions center on concerns of Law and Gospel preachers. For a more thorough explanation of this genre of preaching, 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? The Word functions in every way as gospel. First, Jesus comes amongst the disciples despite their best attempts to lock him out. Then he extends his peace to them and shows them his wounds, assuring them that he is the Crucified One. Finally he breathes on them, inspiring within them the Holy Spirit. All of this is gift, pure gospel.
2. How is the Word not functioning in the text? There is little Law here. One piece of evidence for the disciples' need of the gospel is the statement that "the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews." This clearly shows their fear and their need for a visitation by Christ to quiet those fears. Yet there is no condemnation of the disciples for this fear.
3. With whom are you identifying in the text? We always identify with those whom the Word addresses, be it gospel or law. In this text we are the disciples. We are those who cower behind locked doors, who need a word of peace, and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. We are also those whom the Lord has sent out to bear the good news of Christ.
4. What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text? The call to obedience here is the statement by Jesus that we are sent out. We are equipped by the Holy Spirit for service and witness, and with that we are sent out into the world to continue the work that Christ began.
5. What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text? There can only be one couplet in this short text: cowering behind locked doors/equipped and sent out boldly into the world.
6. Exegetical work: Peter Ellis, in his unique commentary on John's Gospel, highlights the parallels here between Genesis 2:7 where God breathed life into the first human, and here where in Christ "everything is being made new." (II Cor 5:17) Ellis writes: "Symbolically, John is speaking about the commission of the apostles as a new creation - a new beginning and a new world. It is worthy of note that the Gospel began with a reference to the first creation in the prologue (1:1-3); here it ends with a reference to the new creation brought about by Jesus' passion, death, and resurrection." (The Genius of John, p. 293). Lamar Williamson offers an important commentary on the final verse in this pericope, regarding forgiveness of sins. He reminds us that these words are to be understood in the context of the community of faith: "This word of the risen Lord in the present text can therefore be read as descriptive: if members of the community forgive one another their sins, those sins are forgiven and the community is living from and in the Spirit of Jesus; but if members of the community harbor grudges and resentment toward other members who have sinned against them, then those sins remain to spoil the bond of unity, and the Spirit of Jesus is no longer resident in the community. (Preaching the Gospel of John, p. 283)
Blessings on your proclamation!
Saturday, May 20, 2017
(The following questions follow a pattern of inquiry I have developed in my brief guide to Law and Gospel preaching, Afflicting the Comfortable, Comforting the Afflicted. These questions help answer some of the concerns we have as Law and Gospel preachers. For a more complete understanding of this genre, please see my guide, available from wipfandstock.com or amazon.)
1. How does the Word function in the text? There is no question that this text functions as Gospel in that we overhear Jesus say again and again that we belong to him. We hear also that Jesus has been given authority by the Father to grant eternal life to all those who belong to him. Finally we hear Jesus asking the Father to protect those who belong to him. All of this is a gospel word.
2. How is the Word not functioning in the text? As in other John texts appointed for this season, there is little of the Law. That is to say, it is rare that we hear a word which lifts up our need for Christ. A hint of this is in the final verse of this text when Jesus says, "Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one." In this verse Jesus is acknowledging our need for protection, which, in verses following, is explained in greater detail. It is clear that we need protecting. But this word is not explicit in these verses.
3. With whom are you identifying in the text? We are the ones overhearing this good news. We are the ones who need protecting. We are the ones who belong to Christ. We are the ones who have received the words of the Father through the Son.
4. What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text? There is none. The call to obedience comes to us as the Word functions to call us to respond to the grace we have received in Christ. In the first lesson appointed for the day, Acts 1:6-14, we hear the call to be witnesses by the power of the Holy Spirit. This task is a call to obedience.
5. What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text? Law/Gospel couplets are hard to come by in texts which are primarily gospel. Having said that, one couplet that comes directly out of this text is orphaned/belonging. The orphaned term comes from last week (Jn 14:18), but this is certainly the reverse side of belonging.
6. Exegetical work: Raymond Brown, in his classic commentary, has an interesting take on the business of belonging to God: "In Johannine thought it is not the creation of a man (sic) that makes him belong to God but his reaction to Jesus. A man cannot accept Jesus unless he belongs to God, and a man cannot belong to God unless he accepts Jesus." (The Gospel According to John XIII-XXI, p. 758) It seems like a catch-22. Lamar Williamson notes that "the voice of Jesus and that of the evangelist are frequently blended in the Fourth Gospel, but never more obviously than here. Nowhere else in any of the four Gospels does Jesus refer to himself as 'Jesus Christ,' though the evangelist does so at Mark 1:1 and John 1:17. This definition of eternal life - 'to know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent' (17:3) - expresses in capsule form the theology of the Fourth Gospel..."(Preaching the Gospel of John, p. 220-221) In a commentary that is in conversation with others, Gerard Sloyan quotes Ernst Kasemann, who said, "The speaker [of this prayer] is not a needy petitioner but the divine revealer and therefore the prayer moves over into being an address, admonition, consolation, and prophecy." (John, Interpretation Series, p. 196) Kasemann is correct in that this is no typical prayer, but something much more profound than that. All of these commentaries are well worth reading in their entirety.
7. How does the Crossings Community model work with this text? Archived under Year A Gospel for 2011, we have an analysis provided by Mark Marius, who takes several verses from the preceding chapter to complete the circle. He notes that we belong to the world, and in that belonging, we do not know eternal life. Jesus, who has conquered the world (Jn 16:33), claims us for himself, and so we know Him, and we know the Father, and so we have eternal life. See crossings.org/text study for the entire analysis.
Blessings on your proclamation!
Saturday, May 13, 2017
(The following questions attempt to answer some of the basic concerns for Law and Gospel preachers. They are not meant to be exhaustive. They are part of a method of exegesis I have developed for Law and Gospel preachers. To learn more about this way of preaching, please 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? Like the first fourteen verses of this chapter, these verses function as gospel. They comfort, they assure, they give hope. The final verse, where we read of the assurance of the Father's love, the assurance of Christ's love, and the promise that Christ will reveal himself to us, is remarkable. What a gracious God we have!
2. How is the Word not functioning in the text? Again, like the preceding verses, there is little evidence of Law in these verses. A hint in this text of our need for Christ are the references to "the world": "The world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him." "In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me."
3. With whom are you identifying in the text? We are, of course, those who are addressed by the Word. We are the ones who are troubled (vs. 1), the ones who are afraid and doubtful (vs. 5), and the ones who want to control what Christ will reveal to us (vs. 8). Because we are troubled in so many ways, we are the ones most in need of the Advocate, most in need of the Father's assurances, and most in need of Christ's love.
4. What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text? There is an unmistakable call to love in this text. This love is the fulfillment of the law, even as Christ said: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets." (Matt 22:37-40)
5. Exegetical work: John Chrysostom, 4th century bishop, offers the following insights: "Earlier [Jesus] had said, 'Where I go you shall come' and 'In my Father's house there are many mansions.' But since this was a long time off, he gives them the Spirit in the intervening time. They did not know what that [Spirit] was, however, and so they derived little comfort from what he said... And so he promises them what they required most: his own presence. (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, NT, Vol. IVb, p. 142). Luther, in his sermons on these texts, is careful to note the source of our love of neighbor: "[Christ] says, 'I impose [these commandments] on you only if you love Me and gladly keep them for My sake. For I do not want to be a Moses, who drives and plagues you with menace and terror; but I give you commands which you can and will surely observe without coercion if you love Me at all. If love is wanting, it is useless for Me to give you many commandments; for they would not be observed anyhow.'"(Luther's Works, vol. 24, p. 102)
6. How does the Crossings Community model work with this text? Paul Jaster, in his analysis of this text, centers in the prognosis, on the workings of the Spirit amongst us, and in his diagnosis, on the divisive spirits amongst us . His concern arises, undoubtedly, from the call to love, which we find so difficult to obey. This analysis, archived under 2011 Year A Gospel, can be found by going to crossings.org/text study.
7. Consider the insights of the pioneers of the New Homiletic? David Buttrick was masterful in his understanding of the moves and structures needed in a sermon. He always advised us to limit the number of moves we make in a sermon. Good advice, to be sure.
Blessings on your proclamation!
Saturday, May 6, 2017
(The following questions attempt to answer some fundamental concerns for Law and Gospel preachers. They are not meant to be exhaustive, but to supplement many other fine ways of inquiring into the meaning of a text. For a more complete understanding of Law and Gospel preaching, you may purchase 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? At multiple points in the text Jesus brings a gospel word: 1) In my Father's house are many dwelling places; 2) I go to prepare a place for you; 3) I will come again and will take you to myself; 4) I am the way, and the truth and the life; 5) Whoever has seen me has seen the Father; 6)The one who believes in me will also do the works that I do; 7) If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it. We hear promise in all these statements. These are all places where the Word is functioning as gospel. (i.e. Here is Jesus!)
2. How is the Word not functioning in the text? There is not an explicit word of Law in this text, although both Thomas and Philip ask the questions that indicate how much we need Jesus. Thomas says, "Lord we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?" Thomas is verbalizing our fear of being lost or left behind. Philip says, "Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied." Philip is verbalizing our fear of losing control of what's coming. Both of these disciples personify our need for Jesus. In both cases Jesus replies, "Believe in me."
3. With whom are you identifying in the text? From the context given in the previous chapter of John's gospel we know that all the members of Jesus' closest band are present when he begins these farewell discourses. This means that we can choose to identify with any or all of the disciples. Perhaps we will choose to identify with Peter, whom Jesus has pointed out will betray him. Or perhaps we will identify with Thomas who is sharp in his criticism of Jesus. Or perhaps we will identify with any of the unnamed women who were undoubtedly present or any other of the disciples. In any case, we will be careful to identify with people who are prone to fear and uncertainty - those whom Jesus urges to "let not your hearts be troubled."
4. What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text? The consistent imperative in this text is "believe," but that is not a call to obedience. The call to obedience is the call that comes after we have be given the gift of faith. At the end of this text Jesus reminds us that we may ask anything in his name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. This asking is part of the call to obedience.
5. What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text? Depending on what fear we hear being addressed in this text, our couplet will go in different directions: lost/found; abandoned/embraced; despairing/hopeful.
6. Exegetical work: The Greek is ambiguous in one particular place - verse 1. Because the imperative construction and the indicative construction are identical, the second half of the verse may be translated either 1) "Believe in God, believe also in me" or 2) "You believe in God, believe also in me." I like the second one. This is also the one that Raymond Brown, classic Johannine scholar likes. Also, it is good to note that the opening prohibition is a present tense imperative, meaning, "Stop letting your hearts be troubled." Or better, "Do not continue letting yourselves be distressed." Present imperatives address a situation that is ongoing. This is reasonable since the disciples had just learned of the betrayal to come, as well as heard Jesus predict Peter's denial. Logically they would have been distressed. It is also telling that John uses the same word to describe Jesus' state earlier. In 12:27 Jesus says, "Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say? - 'Father, save me from this hour?' No it is for this reason that I have come to this hour." Also in 13:21 we read: "After saying this Jesus was troubled in spirit, and declared 'Very truly, I tell you, one of you will betray me.'" Clearly it was not only the disciples who were troubled by the events of Jesus' last days. The antidote for all of this distress is "to believe." Kittel's extensive article on the Greek word for 'believe' is helpful: "As the Old Testament understands it, faith is always man's reaction to God's primary action." (Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, vol. VI, p. 182). "In Greek, pisteuo means to 'rely on,' 'to trust', 'to believe.'" (p. 203). "Trust in God is very closely related to hope." (p. 207)
7. Consider the insights of the pioneers of the New Homiletic? Eugene Lowry urged preachers to move listeners from disequilibrium to equilibrium. We might well ask in this sermon, how are the ways we and our listeners are distressed (in disequilibrium) and begin there.
Blessings on your proclamation!