Saturday, August 26, 2017
(The following questions are a way of getting at some of the fundamental issues for Law and Gospel preachers. They are not meant to be exhaustive, but simply supplement many other fine sets of questions available to preachers. For a more extensive discussion of Law and Gospel preaching, see my brief guide, Afflicting the Comfortable, Comforting the Afflicted, available from wipfandstock.com or amazon.)
1. How does the Word function in the text? There is a strong word of Law in this text, starting with the rebuke of Peter: "Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me!" The Law is also active as we are challenged to consider what we will gain if we forfeit our life. Finally, Jesus announces that "the Son of Man will ... repay everyone for what has been done." These words announce to us our need for confession and repentance.
2. How is the Word not functioning in the text? A Gospel word is absent here - a word that proclaims what God has done in Christ. Of course, the presence of the Cross is felt throughout, but in this passage that presence is not felt as Gospel.
3. With whom are you identifying in the text? It is always important to identify with those who are being addressed by the Word. In this text that is first, Peter, who is rebuked, and then the disciples, who are challenged. The preacher may choose to identify with one or both, but not with Jesus, who is giving this rebuke and challenge.
4. What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text? There is much in this text which is a call to obedience. Indeed this is what the call to discipleship is. The call to deny self and take up our cross and follow is the classic call to obedience. It is what we do in response to God's work in Christ.
5. What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text? Perhaps we can imagine several scenarios that would lead to a gospel ending: rebuked/forgiven; stumbling block/building block; setting the mind on human things/setting the mind on divine things.
6. Exegetical Work: Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his classic Cost of Discipleship, had much to say about this text: "To endure the cross is not a tragedy; it is the suffering which is the fruit of an exclusive allegiance to Jesus Christ. When it comes, it is not an accident, but a necessity. It is not the sort of suffering which is inseparable from this mortal life, but the suffering which is an essential part of the specifically Christian life."(p. 95f) Miles Stanford, another writer on the theme of discipleship, writes that we will do anything to "bypass the death sentence" of self. (Principles of Spiritual Growth, p. 52) We are very adept at trying to convince God that "self-improvement" rather than self death is the way to go. Stanford lays out seven alternatives to self death, including self-mortification, self-conquest, self-training, revivalism, and religious busyness. We barter, we bargain, we plead with God, "Just leave my life intact, and I'll follow you." (Ibid, p. 61f) Martin Luther, in his Heidelberg Disputations, also addressed this call to suffering: "He who does not know Christ does not know God hidden in suffering. Therefore he prefers works to suffering, glory to the cross, strength to weakness, wisdom to folly, and in general, good to evil. These are the people whom the apostle calls 'enemies of the cross of Christ,' (Phil. 3:18) for they hate the cross and suffering, and love works and the glory of works." (Luther's Works, Vol. 31, p. 53)
7. Consider the insights of the pioneers of the New Homiletic? Henry Mitchell always reminded us that celebration is part of any preaching of the gospel. This will be a challenge for the preacher this week as this text is bereft of a gospel word. We will need to bring into play the results of Christ's cross to bring celebration to this text.
Blessings on your proclamation!
Monday, August 21, 2017
(The following questions are not meant to be exhaustive, but meant to lift up some of the central concerns of Law and Gospel preachers. For a more extensive discussion of this genre of preaching, you may find helpful 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, in this case, Jesus, functions as pronouncing blessed anyone to whom the Father has revealed the identity of the Son. If you recognize Jesus as Messiah and Son of the Living God, you are blessed, says Jesus. You are blessed because God, in mercy, has revealed this to you. "Flesh and blood" has not revealed this - in other words, we have not figured this out ourselves, nor has another person convinced us of this, but rather the Father has had mercy on us. This announcement of blessedness is a gospel function.
2. How is the Word not functioning in the text? I don't see the Word functioning as Law here, that is to say, the Word lifting up our need for Christ. There is mention of the gates of Hades, but it is clear that Christ has overcome them, so no threat is forthcoming in this text.
3. With whom are you identifying in the text? We are Peter. We are the ones who are called blessed because of our confession. We are the ones who are given authority to forgive one another. We are the ones who are given the secret of the Messiah. How blessed we are!
4. What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text? This is a strange text in that the one who is confessing is called blessed, but then at the end of the text, we are commanded not to be confessors. It seems to me that being confessors is part of the call to obedience, a call we should follow.
5. Exegetical work: If we compare the Markan and Lukan versions of this story, we will note immediately that Matthew alone contains the blessing of Jesus following Peter's confession, and along with it, the announcement regarding Peter's unique place in the church. In Mark and Luke we simply have the confession of Peter followed by Jesus' charge to tell no one that he is the Messiah. Scholars commonly point to this extended saying regarding Peter as evidence of the beginning of the Christian community in Matthew's day. In 18:18 we have further instructions regarding loosing and binding, so this seems likely. For our purposes, this beatitude bestowed upon Peter is crucial for it is one that we, as God's people, may claim for ourselves. Without it we are left with a confession followed by a prohibition and nothing else. Theodore, 5th century bishop of Mopsuestia, understands Jesus' words to Peter as we Protestants generally have: that it is Peter's confession that is the rock which the church is founded on: "Having said that his confession is a rock, he stated that upon this rock I will build my church. This means he will build his church upon this same confession and faith." (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, NT, vol. 1b, p.45)
6. How does the Crossings Community model work with this text? Ron Starenko, in his 2011 analysis of this text, shows how contemporary this text is. We are in crisis because we have been duped into believing that 'flesh and blood' can reveal all things to us. Christ confessed is the antidote to our madness. Christ is the crux of our crisis. Christ is the only true God who can truly deal with our God-problem. See crossings.org/text study archived under Year A Gospel for complete analysis.
Blessings on your proclamation!
Saturday, August 12, 2017
(The following questions attempt to unearth some of the themes essential to Law and Gospel preachers. These questions are not exhaustive; they come from the appendix 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? This is a unique text in that the Word - in this case, Jesus - functions, first as Law and then, finally, as Gospel. At the outset Jesus resists the woman's claim to his favor, announcing that his favor is reserved for the children of Israel. After she refuses to take no for an answer, he relents and announces God's mercy. The whole story is a dialogue between one who cries, "Have mercy," and the One who will say, "Let it be done for you as you wish."
2. How is the Word not functioning in the text? Again, the way the Word functions changes here. That's what makes this text so unique. It is as if the writer is showing us the gradual unfolding of God's grand plan in our Lord's mind. So in the end the Word does not function as Law, but as Gospel. God's mercy is as wide as the world when all is said and done.
3. With whom are you identifying in the text? Usually it is important for us to identify with the ones whom the Word addresses, but here it might be important to identify with the disciples, for they are the ones who insist on excluding persons from the Lord's favor. Like in the previous gospel story, (14:13-21) the disciples' words are "Send her away!" If we are honest, this is also our tendency, to want to reserve God's favor for those we approve of. It might be important to identify with both the ones who want to send the woman away, and the woman herself, announcing that it is God''s wide mercy that includes even us.
4. What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text? The call to obedience is implicit in this text. The underlying message is, "If God has had mercy on you, then you are called to have mercy on others. If God has forgiven you, then you are to forgive others. If God has not excluded you, then you must not exclude others from God's grace."
5. What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text? Several couplets readily come to mind: rejected/accepted; excluded/embraced; condemned/forgiven. This is a Law/Gospel story.
6. Exegetical work: If we look carefully at the details of this story we see all kinds of surprises: 1) Jesus goes to the district of Tyre and Sidon. If we look at the Hebrew Scriptures we see that all the prophets condemn these two cities, especially Ezekiel, who declares that Tyre and Sidon would drink to the dregs "the cup of the Lord's wrath"; 2) A woman from a strange country would approach Jesus. Women had no clout, no status, no voice, and yet she insists on being heard; 3) This is a Canaanite woman. The Canaanites were the poster children for what Israel was to avoid - idolatry, lewd worship practices, and the like; 4) Jesus does not answer the woman's cries. Note that this would not have surprised anyone present, or anyone hearing this story. Jesus was under no obligation to even acknowledge this foreign woman; 5) When Jesus does answer her, he says that God's favor is not extended to her. Again, this would not have surprised the first century Jews - this is what they believed. We, however, are surprised by this; 6) The woman persists. This really surprised the disciples; 7) Jesus announces that she is no better than the dogs. Again, this would not have surprised the witnesses of this event; 8) The BIG SURPRISE: Jesus announces that God's mercy does extend to her. He announces that she, even she is a person of faith! Wow!
7. Consider the insights of the pioneers of the New Homiletic? Fred Craddock always insisted that our job as preachers was to bring the experience of the text to the listener. What a wonderful experience for our listeners if they could hear the words as addressed to them: "Great is your faith. Let it be done for you as you wish."
Blessings on your proclamation!
Saturday, August 5, 2017
(The following questions are those that may be fundamental to Law and Gospel preachers. There are many other fine sets of questions which attempt to unearth other concerns. For more on Law and Gospel preaching, see my brief guide, Afflicting the Comfortable, Comforting the Afflicted, available from wipfandstock.com or amazon.)
1. How does the Word function in the text? This text is full of good news: 1) Jesus comes to us in our distress, amidst the chaos of this world; 2) Jesus makes himself known and tells us, "Do not be afraid"; and 3) Jesus reaches out his hand when we falter in faith. These are all gospel functions.
2. How is the Word not functioning in the text? Like the preceding story of the Feeding of the Five Thousand, even though we are made aware of the disciples' faltering faith, we do not hear Jesus casting judgement on them for it. Peter is called "you of little faith" but there is no condemnation in that, but mercy. Even when the disciples fail to recognize Jesus and call him a phantom they are treated with love and compassion. There is no word of Law here, which means as preachers we are also not called to berate our listeners for their lack of faith, lest we be untrue to this text.
3. With whom are you identifying in the text? Undoubtedly we are the disciples. We are the ones forced to "get into the boat". We are the ones who find ourselves terrified in stormy seas. We are the ones who doubt, who falter, who call out to Jesus, but who finally fall down in worship saying, "Truly you are the Son of God." This is a story about God's people and the Lord who loves them.
4. What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text? The message in this text is clear: "You can trust Jesus." The call to trust Christ and fall down in worship is certainly here. Beyond that we will need to go to other texts to discover what our call is as people whom Christ has saved.
5. What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text? There is only one that is obvious: Terrified and anxious/At peace, safe, and assured.
6. Exegetical work: It is noteworthy that only Matthew's account of this event includes Peter's adventure on the water. John has a brief account of this story (John 6:16-21), and Mark 6:45-52 includes a version close to Matthew's, but neither include Peter's wobbly faith. If Peter is a symbol for the people of God, this story might well be a reminder to the early church of their need to reach out to Christ when all seems lost, and be assured of his ability to save. One piece of this story that is common to all three accounts of it is the phrase, "It is I; do not be afraid." A look at the original texts reveals that this is an "ego eme" moment, sometimes translated "I am who I am." It might be interesting to consider this as a response to the disciples' fears: "I am who I am; do not be afraid." Another word which is present is translated "Take courage" by both Mark and Matthew. This word is used sparingly in the NT, but when it is, it always signals good news: To the paralytic,"Take courage, your sins are forgiven." (Matt 9:2) To the bleeding woman, "Take courage, your faith has made you well." (Matt 9:22). To the blind man, "Take courage, he is calling you." (Mark 10:49). To the disciples, "Take courage; I have overcome the world." (John 16:33) Augustine, in commenting on this story, sees the boat as the Church of Christ. His advice when stormy days assail us? "Stay inside the boat and call on Christ." (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, NT, vol. 1b, p. 12)
Blessings on your proclamation!