Saturday, December 30, 2017
(The following questions have been developed as a way of getting at some of the basic concerns of Law and Gospel preachers. They are simply a starting point for exegesis, which can enhance a number of other areas of inquiry. For more on this genre of 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? The whole impression of the text is one of urgency. John the baptizer appears and all the people from the whole countryside come and are baptized by John, confessing their sins. John proclaims that One is coming who is powerful beyond imagination and this One will baptize with the Spirit. Suddenly Jesus appears and is baptized and a voice announces he is God's Son, the Beloved. This scene is functioning as both Law and Gospel as Jesus breaks into the world and causes both hope and fear.
2. How is the Word not functioning in the text? A word of Law which exposes our need for this Christ is hard to find here, although the Baptizer's announcement of the need for repentance is certainly that. To the reader/hearer of this story, however, a clear word of Law is not forthcoming.
3. With whom are you identifying in the text? We are members of the crowd addressed by John who come confessing our sins. We are those who hear that One is coming who will baptize with the Holy Spirit, and we look forward to this. We are those who see the heavens "torn apart" and wonder what that means. We might even be those who hear the voice that this is God's Son, the Beloved, with whom God is well-pleased. What joy we would take in that!
4. What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text? A call to obedience always follows a call to faith, so in this text that is not yet present. We are certainly being called to follow this One who will baptize with the Spirit, but that is not the call to obedience.
5. What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text? Since the Law is only hinted at here, we will have to use our imagination to come up with couplets. Some ideas: unforgiven/forgiven; looking for a Messiah/finding a Messiah.
6. Exegetical work: As was noted above, the pace of this story is remarkable. It is as if everything is being told at a breathless pace. Because of this it is all the more remarkable that in verse 6, Mark pauses to tell us in detail about the appearance of John the Baptizer. It's almost as if the action pauses as Mark points out that John wears camel's hair with a leather girdle about his waist, and eats locusts and wild honey. Clearly the purpose of this is to connect John to the prophet Elijah who is described similarly in II Kings 1:8. The return of Elijah, tradition had it, would precede "the great and terrible day of the Lord." (Malachi 4:5) Mark seems to be suggesting that such a day has come. This would explain Mark's urgency. Another telling detail in this text is Mark's choice of the word "skizo" instead of "anoigo"to describe the opening of the heavens in verse 10. Don Juel, in his fine commentary on Mark, notes that this word translates into the heavens being "torn apart." He notes also that this is in present passive form, indicating that this process is ongoing, not a completed action. The image, says Juel, is "strong, even violent". The heavens are "torn apart," and they "cannot be repaired." "The heavens understood as a great cosmic curtain that separates creation from God's presence, are in the process of being torn open." "God is on the loose." (A Master of Surprise, p. 34-35) It is also noteworthy that Mark only uses this "tearing" verb one other time, when the temple curtain is torn apart at the death of Christ. And there, as in this text, once that tearing happens there is a confession: "Truly this man was God's Son!" (15:38-39) The "skizo" of the heavens, in effect, bookends, the entire life and ministry of Christ. Finally, Kittel, in discussing the use of this word in the New Testament, has this to say: "Heavens torn open at the baptism of Jesus is a motif in eschatological revelation which God gives at turning points in the history of His people." See Isaiah 64:1, Ezekiel 1:1, Acts 7:56 and 10:11, and Revelation 4:11 and 19:11. (Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, vol. VII, p. 959f)
7. Consider the insights of the pioneers of the New Homiletic? Fred Craddock was always urging us to bring the experience of the text, not just its content to the listener. One of the challenges for the preacher this week will be to bring Mark's sense of urgency to the sermon event. How will that be accomplished?
Blessings on your proclamation!
Tuesday, December 26, 2017
(The following questions have been developed in order to give preachers a way of getting at some of the underlying issues for Law and Gospel preachers. For a discussion of this unique genre of preaching you may see my brief guide to Law and Gospel preaching, Afflicting the Comfortable, Comforting the Afflicted, available from wipfandstock.org or amazon.)
1. How does the Word function in the text? The Word here functions as both Law and Gospel, in that it announces, through the words of Simeon and Anna, both who Christ is and our need of such a Savior. Neither Simeon nor Anna are speaking to anyone particular in their praises of God, although Simeon does address Mary directly saying that "a sword will pierce your own soul too." In other words, the sword of Christ's words which will pierce many hearts will also be Law to Mary.
2. With whom are you identifying in the text? We are those who overhear these words spoken in the temple courtyard that day. We are those who are "looking for the redemption of Jerusalem." We are those who both long to see the Lord's Messiah, and at the same time will oppose him. We are those whose hearts will be revealed.
3. What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text? There is an overlay of obedience to the Law throughout this story. Everything Mary and Joseph do is done in order to accomplish "everything required by the Law of the Lord." As Luther pointed out, there is no disorder in the wish to do everything the Law requires. The call to obedience, however, is the call to do all things in response to what God has done on our behalf in Christ.
4. What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text? There are a number of verses that suggest couplets here: darkness/light; seeing bondage/seeing deliverance; falling/rising.
5. Exegetical work: Don Juel, in his brief commentary, notes the Law in the words of Simeon: "The coming savior of Israel will not be hailed by everyone; his mission will not be one of unequivocal blessing. He may bring consolation to Israel, but he is 'set for the fall' of many in Israel. His advent will precipitate a crisis in which the 'thoughts of many hearts will be revealed.'" (Luke-Acts, The Promise of History, p. 24) Fred Craddock follows this theme, calling out our tendency as preachers to 'soft-pedal' the crisis Jesus brings: "As much as we may wish to join the name of Jesus only to the positive, satisfying, and blessed in life, the inescapable fact is that anyone who turns on light creates shadows." (Interpretation Series, Luke, p. 39) Two of our most formative reformers had their thoughts on Simeon's song. In a sermon from 1526 Luther saw in Simeon a model of one to whom Christ brings faith and hope: "Whoever can see and recognize this young Lord who became subject to the law for us, his heart will be made happy against all adversity." Calvin, on the other hand, focused on the word of Law: "Simeon calls Christ 'a sign that is opposed.' Therefore, because unbelievers are rebels against Christ, they dash themselves against him, which causes their ruin." (Reformation Commentary on Scripture, NT, vol. III, pp. 61-63).
6. How does the Crossings Community model work with this text? Paul Jaster does an excellent job showing how both law and gospel are present in this text. He divides his diagnosis and prognosis into two large segments, Our Hearts Revealed and God's Heart Revealed. Go to crossings.org/text study to see the entire, very helpful analysis.
7. Consider the insights of the pioneers of the New Homiletic? "Shared story" was the phrase Charles Rice used to describe the experience we want for our listeners. A challenge in this text will be how to help our listeners recognize how their own story intersects with Simeon and Anna's.
Blessings on your proclamation!
Saturday, December 16, 2017
(The following questions attempt to unearth some of the basic concerns of Law and Gospel preachers. These questions are not meant to be exhaustive, but they have been developed as part of 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 word is pure good news. It is gospel in its purest form. The Son of the Most High is to be born to a human mother. Nothing will be impossible with God!
2. How is the Word not functioning in the text? There is almost no hint of Law here. We might note Mary's hesitancy to believe the angel and her skepticism regarding his announcement, but then again, who can blame her? Also finally she says, "Let it be with me according to your word."
3. With whom are you identifying in the text? We are either in the position of Mary or one who overhears this conversation between Gabriel and Mary. If we identify with Mary we might explore her response to Gabriel's words, "Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you," as well as her response to the announcement that she would be the mother of God's Son. If we identify with one who overhears this conversation we might explore our response to God's plan to restore to David's throne one whose kingdom will last forever.
4. What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text? Mary's final words are an example for us: "Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word." We live in response to the announcement of God's amazing love for the world.
5. What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text? Because the Law is not present in this text we will need to imagine some fitting couplets. Here are a few ideas: unfavored/favored; barren/fruitful; nothing is possible/nothing is impossible.
6. Exegetical work: It is worth noting that Gabriel's promise to Mary that "the power of the Most High will overshadow you," uses the same word used in Genesis 1:2 which says that "the Spirit hovered over the formless matter when the miracle of creation took place." This suggests that "there is a new creative act of God when Jesus is born." (Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, vol. V, p. 835.) The apostles receive a similar promise when, just prior to Jesus' ascension, they are told, "And you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you shall be my witnesses..." (Acts 1:8) This overshadowing and emphasis on the powerlessness of those whom God chooses, is well noted in the words of 17th century Austrian Lutheran poet, Catherina Regina von Greiffenberg: "Who would believe that the King of kings, the Lord of all the potentates, would dispatch an angel as an ambassador to a poor maiden or the wife of an artisan? What is more absurd before the world and yet better disposed for the dispensation of heaven? Poverty and lowliness are no hindrance to divine calling: as little as they could take from her the right of inheritance of her royal birth from the house of David and still less the gracious election by God, whose piercing eyes see through all the mountains of misery the small flash of the metal of virtue that his hand has placed within them." (Reformation Commentary on Scripture, NT, vol. III, p. 15)
7. How does the Crossings Community model work with this text? Marcus Felde highlights Gabriel's words to Mary, "The Lord is with you," and shows how that announcement can be either a word of Law or of Gospel. Go to crossings.org/textstudy to see the whole analysis.
Blessings on your proclamation!
Saturday, December 9, 2017
(The following questions attempt to answer some of the fundamental concerns of Law and Gospel preachers. They are not meant to be exhaustive, but to be used with any of other fine sets of questions we might use to inquire of a text. To learn more about 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? The Word functions here to proclaim. This word proclaims that one has come who is testifying to the light, "so that all might believe [in this light] through him." The Word also proclaims one who knows himself to be merely "a voice crying out in the wilderness," telling of the One coming later of whom "I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals." All of this proclamation, like other Advent texts, is the Word functioning as gospel bringing good news.
2. How is the Word not functioning in the text? A word of Law is not present here. That is to say, there is no word lifting up our need for Christ. Near the end of the text we hear John say, "Among you stands one whom you do not know." This is a hint of the need we have for a voice, for one pointing to the light. There is no judgment in this observation, however.
3. With whom are you identifying in the text? We are those who are questioning John: "Who are you? What do you say about yourself? Why are you baptizing?" We are the ones who do not recognize the One who stands among us, even though this One is the true light that enlightens all.
4. What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text? There is no call to obedience, per se, but John is an example for us in that we also have a name. We also are sent by God to be a voice in the wilderness. We also are called to testify to the One who has given us light.
5. What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text? There is language in the text that leads us to several ideas: darkness/light; lost [in the wilderness]/found; unknown/known.
6. Exegetical work: It is clear from the opening verses that this text is about testimony. John came to "testify to the light." Kittel reminds us of the meaning behind this Greek word, martys: "The witness is simply to the nature and significance of His person." "He is the Son of god. He is the light of the world. He is the Savior. He is the Lamb of God...etc." (Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, vol. IV, p. 498) The ancient writers were in one accord as to the importance of this testimony. Origen, writing in the third century said that "some try to undo the testimonies of the prophets to Christ by saying that the Son of God had no need of such witnesses... To this we may reply that where there are a number of reasons to make people believe, persons are often impressed by one kind of proof and not by another." Cyril of Alexandria, several centuries later, wrote: "[God] did not suppose that he ought, even if of gravest weight, to demand of the readers in his book concerning our Savior credence above that of the law, and that they should believe him by himself when declaring things above our understanding and sense." St. John Chrysostom, a contemporary of Cyril's, reminded us of the mercy God shows in using a witness: "[Christ] could have proven that he had no need of that [herald's] testimony by showing himself in his unveiled essence, had he so chosen, and that would have confounded them all. But he did not do this because he would have annihilated everybody since no one could have endured the encounter of that unapproachable light." (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, NT, Vol. IVa, p. 30).
7. Consider the insights of the pioneers of the New Homiletic? David Buttrick was quick to point out the need to limit our sermons to only the number of "moves" that the listener could keep in mind at once. Are we careful to consider the listener's capacity as we preach?
Blessings on your proclamation!
Saturday, December 2, 2017
(The following questions have been formed to get at some of the fundamental concerns of Law and Gospel preachers. For more on this unique genre of preaching, please 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 is pure proclamation. As such it is a gospel function: the One for whom we have waited is coming! He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit! This is a new beginning! Lift up your heads, for your redemption is drawing nigh!
2. How is the Word not functioning in the text? There is no word of Law here, although there is a report of public repentance. This is interesting in that John the baptizer, who will speak a word of Law, is announced, but here there is no such word. That word of judgment, in fact, is completely absent from Mark's account. Matthew and Luke include John's dire warning to those who came out to be baptized, but Mark omits this. No word here of "the wrath to come" or of an "ax even now laid to the root of the trees," but only of the One whose sandal "I am not worthy to stoop down and untie."
3. With whom are you identifying in the text? As always we identify with those to whom the Word is addressed. This whole text is addressed to the reader, thus it is addressed to us. The announcement of the good news of Jesus Christ is coming to us. We are the ones who are told that the baptizer has appeared in the wilderness, signalling the end of our wilderness wanderings. We are the ones who are invited to be baptized in the Jordan, confessing our sins, and step foot into a new land on the other side of the Jordan. We are the covenant people of God!
4. What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text? The call to "prepare the way of the Lord" could be counted as a call to obedience, except that the call to obedience is always in response to God's work in Christ. Since all we have here is the announcement of Christ's coming, a call to obedience would be premature.
5. What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text? We will have to delve into the context of this passage in order to fashion some suitable Law/Gospel couplets. Remembering that Caesar is the one for whom the terms "son of god" and "gospel" were reserved we might imagine the following: false Christ/Son of Man; false gospel/Good News.
6. Exegetical work: I have always liked the quote attributed to Gregory the Great (d. 604): "Whoever preaches right faith and good works prepares nothing other than a road for the Lord to come into the hearer's hearts so that his gracious power might penetrate and the light of truth illuminate them. Thus may the preacher make straight the paths for God..." (Lamar Williamson, Interpretation, Mark, p. 33) Donahue and Harrington, in their commentary on this gospel, make note of the River Jordan, a "barrier between wilderness and land of promise," inviting we readers to hear this good news and enter into a new land ourselves. (Sacra Pagina, The Gospel of Mark, p. 63) This is a promising tack, given that a new Son of God, a new land, and a new life of repentance await us. I am intrigued by Eugene Boring's idea that this whole prologue in Mark's gospel (verses 1-15) are heard "offstage." Boring imagines a theatre audience hearing an "offstage voice of God speaking in words of Scripture." The action unfolds as Jesus is introduced. (The NT Library, Mark, pp. 33-37)
7. How does the Crossings Community model work with this text? In my analysis of this I highlight the ways in which we are seduced by false Christ's, passing on the untruths of the empire, and finding ourselves finally without a Savior. The word of the prophet that One has come who is truly Son of God frees us from our bondage and illusions. See the entire analysis at crossings.org/text study.
8. Consider the insights of the pioneers of the New Homiletic? Could there be any better time than this to do what Henry Mitchell always encouraged? Celebration! Celebrate this announcement! Christ is coming soon!
Blessings on your proclamation!