Saturday, June 17, 2017
Not Peace but a Sword
(The following questions are meant to lift up some of the central concerns of Law and Gospel preachers. These questions are meant only to supplement many other fine sets of questions available to exegetes. For a more thorough discussion of Law and Gospel preaching see my brief guide to this genre, Afflicting the Comfortable, Comforting the Afflicted, available from wipfandstock.com or amazon.)
1. How does the Word function in the text? The first function of the Word here is to assure us that, even though we are certain to experience persecution and hardship as followers of Jesus - since disciples can expect no less than their master - we should not be afraid, for we are of more value "than many sparrows." This assurance is a gospel function. This Word assures us that the Father loves us and will not abandon us in our time of persecution.
The second half of the passage is a stern call to obedience. We are reminded that following Jesus is serious business and with it, inevitably comes division. Earlier in the chapter, Jesus tells us that "you will be hated by all because of my name." (vs. 22) Here we are faced with a choice: will we follow Jesus even when it means causing divisions in our families and circles of influence, or will we fail to acknowledge Him, and risk Him refusing to acknowledge us? These are difficult choices.
2. How is the Word not functioning in the text? A word of Law is not explicit here. The Word that says, "You need Jesus!" is not in this text. Having said that, our fears and our loyalties at odds with Christ are fully in view. Indeed, the repeated command "do not be afraid" is evidence of our tendency to do precisely that, and have that fear control us. It is important to understand that this is text is not one that condemns us for being fearful. Many a sermon has undoubtedly been preached with this as the underlying theme, but this is not how this text functions.
3. With whom are you identifying in the text? We are those to whom Jesus is speaking. We are disciples of this Crucified One, who are afraid to take up our own cross and follow the master. We are those who would do anything to avoid division in our family and circle of influence. We are those who say we believe that the Father loves us more than many sparrows, but we live as though that is not true. This text is very challenging to us.
4. What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text? The underlying theme suggests an obvious couplet: afraid/fearless. Other couplets are variations of the same: cowardly/bold; unable or unwilling to take up the cross/willing to take up the cross.
5. Exegetical work: Translation of this text from the original language offers us some insights that may be important to our sermon. The opening verses remind us that our master was maligned, so we who follow Jesus should expect no less. Then in verse 26 we hear the word "so". This is a translation of a word which more clearly means "therefore" or "consequently." So the verse is saying "Therefore [since disciples are not above their master, and our master was maligned] have no fear of them [those who maligned Jesus and will surely malign you]." The text then goes on to explain that "nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered." The meaning of this is debated, but I take it to mean that people will eventually see that the way of Jesus is the way of truth and justice, and those who have maligned his followers are in error. It is also important to note that the opening prohibition in verse 26 is not a present imperative, but an aorist subjunctive. Present imperatives prohibit the continuing of an action already begun (i.e. "stop being afraid"); aorist subjunctives prohibit an action which has not yet begun. So Matthew is saying, "Because being maligned for following Jesus is simply part of the life of a disciple, don't let yourself even begin being fearful... for "even the hairs of your head are all counted."
6, How does the Crossings Community model work with this text? Paul Jaster, in his clear analysis, shows how we who disown Jesus for the sake of favor in the public arena, find ourselves "on our own" before God. Thankfully we who are "on our own" before God are befriended by the very One whom we have disowned, and forgiven. We are freed to once again turn from fearfulness to fearlessness. We are freed to turn from being those who will not confess Christ to being those who do. See Jaster's whole analysis at crossings.org/text study and looking under Year A Gospel archived under 2008.
7. Consider the insights of the pioneers of the New Homiletic? Eugene Lowry said that a sermon must always move the listener out of equilibrium into disequilibrium, and then, in the presentation of the gospel, back into equilibrium. This text might be a great opportunity to try exactly that.
Blessings on your proclamation!