Saturday, March 31, 2018
(The following questions are not meant to be exhaustive, but are fashioned to consider some answers to the fundamental questions Law and Gospel preachers have about how the Word functions. See my brief guide to Law and Gospel preaching, Afflicting the Comfortable, Comforting the Afflicted, to learn more about this genre of preaching. It is available at wipfandstock.com or amazon.)
1. How does the Word function in the text? This text is pure testimony, lifting up the results of what had been mentioned in 4:31b: "And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God with boldness." Because the church was filled with the Holy Spirit, they were lifted out of their self-centeredness and given the ability to live generously with one another. This could be seen as a Gospel function, celebrating the good news of what God's power does, or as a Law function, showing us how far we fall short of this ideal.
2. How is the Word not functioning in the text? Nothing is explicit here. There is no clear Gospel word about what God has done for us in Christ, nor is there a clear word of Law, showing us our need for Christ.
3. With whom are you identifying in the text? We are the ones receiving this testimony. Perhaps it inspires us, or maybe it shames us. In any case, the Word is bearing witness to the power of the Spirit in the Body of Christ.
4. What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text? This entire text could be approached as a call to obedience, as every community of God's people is called to emulate this community. We must pray that the Holy Spirit might descend on our community of faith as it did on this one, and empower us to live generously.
5. What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text? We might try using some of the terminology in the text to come up with couplets here. Some ideas: needy/filled; looking after self/looking after others; life of death/life of resurrection.
6. Exegesis: One notices immediately in the Greek text the difference between two types of living: idios and koinos, translated as "calling something one's own" and "holding all things in common." In this early Christian community clearly koinos prevailed. How this came about is universally understood as the work of the Spirit. Note Augustine's words: "For... the love that God puts in people makes one heart of many hearts and makes the many souls of people into one soul..." (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, NT, vol. V, p. 56) Cyprian, a hundred years before Augustine, said that living in the way of koinos is to truly show one's new birth in Christ: "This is truly to become a son of God by spiritual birth. This is to imitate the equity of God by the heavenly law." (Ibid., p. 57) William Willimon, in his contemporary commentary, is even more specific, saying that such living is "evidence for the truthfulness of the resurrection." He continues: "The most eloquent testimony to the reality of the resurrection is not an empty tomb or a well-orchestrated pageant on Easter Sunday but rather a group of people whose life together is so radically different, so completely changed from the way the world builds community, that there can be no explanation other than that something decisive has happened in history." (Interpretation series, Acts, p. 51)
7. Consider the insights of the pioneers of the New Homiletic? Charles Rice urged preachers to help listeners recognize their shared story in the text. It might be worth considering helping our listeners recognize when the Spirit has worked in their lives to lead them to generous living, and then to consider those obstacles to such continuing.
Blessings on your proclamation!
Monday, March 26, 2018
(The following questions have been developed as a way of answering some of the fundamental questions for Law and Gospel preachers around the function of the Word. For a deeper look at this unique genre, 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? This Word is functioning as both Law and Gospel, but almost the entire story is functioning as Law as one by one, each of the characters is revealed as one who cannot believe that Jesus has risen. All they see is that the body is missing. This text functions as Luther would remind us in his explanation to the Third Article: "I believe that I cannot by my own understanding or effort believe in Jesus Christ my Lord, or come to him. but the Holy Spirit has called me through the Gospel..." So the Law here is the overwhelming evidence that we cannot believe. The Gospel is the call of Jesus, "Mary!" whereby her eyes are opened and she finally sees him as resurrected Lord.
2. With whom are you identifying in the text? It is most important to identify with those whom the Word addresses. In this text, the Word as Jesus addresses only one person - Mary, and so it behooves us to identify with her. This is appropriate also because all the detail in the text centers on her thoughts, words, and actions.
3. What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text? There is only a very brief call to obedience here; it is the word to Mary to be a witness, and that she is. She returns to the disciples and announces, "I have seen the Lord!" This call comes to us as well.
4. What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text? It is not hard at all to see a number of couplets coming out of this text. There are probably infinite possibilities. A few suggestions: fear/joy; darkness/light; doubt/faith; despair/hope; death/life.
5. Exegetical work: Doing a narrative exegesis of the text, one can't help but notice almost all the detail in the story is around Mary's experience. Peter and the other disciple are present but don't say anything. We learn about them from their actions and reports about what they believe. Jesus makes a brief appearance, but besides speaking to Mary, does nothing. Mary, on the other hand, is shown through her words, her actions, reports about what she understands or fails to understand, and words said to her. It seems likely that Mary is a character representing many others - those of us who struggle to believe that Jesus is truly alive, when all we see is the empty tomb. Craig Koester, in his discussion of the symbolism in John, suggests that the opening verse where we are told that it was "still dark" when Mary Magdalene approached the tomb might suggest her "incomprehension." In other places in the Fourth Gospel, light symbolizes the powers that oppose God, or ignorance and unbelief, or even physical and/or spiritual death. Here, Koester suggests that incomprehension is the problem, and the comment in verse 9 that the disciples did not yet understand the scripture, supports this. (For more on this see Koester's excellent resource, Symbolism in the Fourth Gospel, p. 142f). Raymond Brown, in his classic commentary also notes the lack of understanding by Mary and the disciples. Brown suggests that this is a Johannine pattern (e.g. Emmaus Road travelers) and that this has theological dimensions. (The Gospel According to John XIII-XXI, p. 1009) As I have indicated above, I would agree: Mary symbolizes all of us who "cannot by our own understanding or effort believe in Jesus Christ or come to him." Perhaps we could even call Mary an archetype of doubt and despair moving toward faith and hope.
6. How does the Crossings Community model work with this text? Steven Kuhl in his analysis of this text for the Easter vigil, does an excellent job of lifting up both the despair and hope in this text. He provides glimpses into the deepening darkness into which Mary descends, and then the hope she finds. Go to crossings.org/text-study to see the entire analysis.
7. Consider the insights of the pioneers of the New Homiletic? Every one of the pioneers would counsel us as we prepare to celebrate Easter. Henry Mitchell would remind us that we must be the first ones to experience the ecstasy of this text. David Buttrick would caution us to limit the number of moves we make in this sermon. Fred Craddock would say, "Bring the experience of the text to the listener, not just the content." Others could chime in as well.
Blessings on your proclamation!
Sunday, March 18, 2018
(The following questions have been developed to stimulate thought on some of the fundamental questions for Law and Gospel preachers, questions surrounding the function of the Word. For more on this unique genre of preaching, see my brief guide to Law and Gospel preaching, Afflicting the Comfortable, Comforting the Afflicted, available from wipfandstock.com and amazon.)
1. How does the Word function in the text? The Word is presenting Jesus as one in authority. In the gospel of Mark the religious leaders are shown again and again to be devoid of authority. (see Powell's What is Narrative Criticism? for further discussion). Jesus stands in direct contrast to them. His authority can be seen here in the behavior of those who handle the bringing of the colt to him. When the disciples tell those who own the colt what Jesus had said, they immediately release it into their safe-keeping. This presentation of Jesus' authority is both a Law and a Gospel function. It is Law in that we too are under Jesus' authority. It is Gospel in that all of our enemies, including Death itself, are under Jesus' authority.
2. How is the Word not functioning in the text? There is no explicit word of either Law or Gospel here. There is no word which proclaims what God has done in Christ. There is also no explicit word which exposes our need for Christ. The closest this text comes to exposing our need is the report of the words of the crowd, "Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!" This is clearly a misunderstanding of who Jesus is, and what he has come to do.
3. With whom are you identifying in the text? We have two choices here: we can either identify with the disciples who are doing the Lord's bidding, or we can identify with the crowds who cry out. If we enter into the position of the disciples, this text becomes a call to obedience. If we enter into the position of the crowds, this text primarily lifts up our misunderstanding of Jesus. This will be our choice.
4. What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text? The simple instructions that Jesus gives to the two disciples who are given the task of procuring the colt could be thought of as a call to obedience. As disciples of Jesus we are called to simple tasks, the ending of which we cannot see. Yet, if we obey faithfully God uses us to bring about the reign of God in the world. This could be a very fruitful way to approach this text.
5. What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text? If we enter into this text as a Law/Gospel text, we can see a number of possibilities: mistaken about Jesus/Jesus revealed; celebrating kingdoms of this world/celebrating eternal kingdoms.
6. Exegetical work: The thing we notice at the outset is the wealth of detail in this text. Unlike the rapid-fire style of much of Mark, where events pass by in a blur, this event is reported as it were, in slow motion. We are told what Jesus says, what the disciples do, how others respond, and even the source of the leafy branches strewn on the road. Why all this detail? It points to the fact that we are supposed to understand this event as more than mere 'triumphal entry.' Donahue and Harrington, in their commentary, say it well: "That Jesus' entry into Jerusalem was intended as a symbolic action or prophetic demonstration is indicated by the elaborate preparations made in vv. 1-7." (Sacra Pagina, The Gospel of Mark, p. 324) Lamar Williamson has recounted a number of texts that connect to this symbolism: "Then the Lord will go forth and fight against those nations as when he fights on a day of battle. On that day his feet shall stand on the Mount of Olives."(Zech. 14:34) "Rejoice, your king comes to you, triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey." (Zech. 9:9) "Then hurriedly they all took their cloaks and spread them for him on the bare steps; and they blew the trumpet, and proclaimed, 'Jehu is king.'" (II Kings 9:13) (Interpretation, Mark, p. 202-203) Williamson goes on to point out the tragic irony of this 'royal parade': "Mark depicts an entry which is triumphal only to Jesus' followers who have not yet understood his destiny as Son of man. For Jesus, it is an entry into suffering and death." (Ibid, p. 204)
7. Consider the insights of the pioneers of the New Homiletic? This text might be a good one in which to practice the celebration that Henry Mitchell always urged. After all, despite all of our doubts and misunderstandings and sins, Jesus comes to save. He is not the king we were hoping for but the king we desperately need.
Blessings on your proclamation!
Saturday, March 10, 2018
(The following questions have been developed to explore questions of Law and Gospel preachers regarding the functioning of the Word. These questions are not meant to be exhaustive. For more on this unique 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 primarily as Gospel here as Jesus announces in many and various ways the plan and effect of salvation: "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified;" (23) "...it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name;" (28) "Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself." (31-32) There are, however, also words reminding us of our need for a Savior: "Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; Those who love their life lose it..." (24-25) These are words of Law.
2. With whom are you identifying in the text? We are the disciples, those who hear this word of the Gospel, this call to lose our life, and this exhortation to serve Christ. We are also those who hear the thunder, the voice from heaven, that comes on our behalf.
3. What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text? There are several calls to obedience in this text. We have a call to lose our life and also a call to be a servant of Christ who follows in the way of Christ. These exhortations are a reminder that faith in Jesus means following in the way of Jesus.
4. What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text? A number of phrases in this text lead us to couplets that will be important for our sermon. Some suggestions: dying alone/dying and bearing much fruit; losing life/keeping life for eternal life; the ruler of this world in control/the ruler of this world driven out.
5. Exegetical work: As Raymond Brown points out in his classic commentary, the Lazurus miracle [in chapter 11] began a "chain reaction" toward Jesus' death. [His enemies are determined to rid themselves of him]. Now the hour of the crucifixion had come... The Lazurus miracle pointed to Jesus as resurrection and life (11:25), now begins the hour when Jesus will be "lifted up" in resurrection and draw all people to himself to give them life... In Chapter 11-12 there were "universalistic references" to save Gentiles; now the Gentiles come to see Jesus. "Truly this is a climactic scene." (The Gospel According to John I-XII, p. 469). References to "the hour coming" are common in John. They begin in 2:4 when Jesus tells his mother that his hour has not yet come. These references continue with the woman at the well in 4:23, the Pharisees in 5:25, and the attempted arrests in 7:30 and 8:20. In each case, the text refers to "an hour" which is coming but which Jesus somehow knows has not yet arrived. In this text the hour has arrived. Paradoxically, what Jesus claims is about to happen is exactly the opposite of what seems to happen. Jesus says that world is about to be judged; it seems that Jesus is the one who is judged. Jesus says that "the ruler of this world will be driven out" and it is Jesus who is driven out. Jesus says that "I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself," when what happens is that all people flee when Jesus is lifted up. Once again we have before us the paradox that Jesus announces here, that only when the seed dies does it bear fruit. Only in losing life do we gain it. Only in hating life in this world do we keep it for eternal life.
6. How does the Crossings Community model work with this text? Picking up on the Greeks' request to "see Jesus," Timothy Hoyer shows how what we focus on determines our destiny. We see all sorts of things that dazzle us and invite us to worship them. Finally, they are our demise. Only as we see Christ on the Cross do we find life. See Hoyer's complete analysis at crossings.org/text-study.
Blessings on your proclamation!
Wednesday, March 7, 2018
(The following questions have been developed to answer some of the concerns of Law and Gospel preachers, whose main concerns have to do with how the Word functions. You can learn more about this unique genre of preaching 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 Word functions to bring both hope and judgment. It is then, functioning as both Law and Gospel. The Word is lifting up Jesus as the One whom we look to for life and salvation. The Word is also revealing our state apart from Christ - "condemned already" - because we have "loved darkness rather than light."
2. With whom are you identifying in the text? These verses are all inclusive: "whoever believes", "everyone who believes", "those who believe", "those who have not believed". As part of the unfolding drama, we are both those who are drawn to the light and those who hate the light. We are simul justus et peccator, simultaneously sinners and saints.
3. What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text? Since the call to obedience is the Word functioning to invite us to live faithfully in response to God's work, we see here no evidence of this call. This text is about faith alone and the call to look to Christ for life and salvation.
4. What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text? Unlike many texts we have plenty of images for both Law and Gospel in this text. Some couplet ideas: perishing/gaining eternal life; condemned/saved; loving darkness/loving light; hating the light/coming to the light.
5. Exegetical work: I find Kittel's discussion of John's use of kosmos (world) most helpful. He writes: "The kosmos is the setting of the drama of redemption which is recounted in the Gospel....The kosmos is, in some sense, personified as the great opponent of the Redeemer in salvation history. It is as it were a powerful collective person which the [powers of the world] represents.... Hence salvation history is a conflict between Christ and the kosmos, or the poneros who rules it." (Theological Dictionary of the NT, Vol. III, p. 894) D. Moody Smith, in his commentary, reminds us that the kosmos is not only the setting of a drama, but much more: "Although 'the world' sums up man's opposition to Jesus in John, there is another sense in which the world is the object of God's love." (Proclamation series, John, p. 32) We hear this, of course, most clearly in the 16th verse: "For God so loved the kosmos..." Some of the most vivid scenes of this drama have been given to us through the pen of Augustine who wrote imagining Christ and Death in dialogue; "[To Death Christ said], 'I will be your death, O death; I will be your sting'... I will slay you, [Death], by dying. I will swallow you up." (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, NT, vol. IVa, p. 126) Luther takes up this last image in his sermons on this passage: "As we read in Hos. 13:14, [Christ] devours death and destroys it." (Luther's Works, vol. 22, p. 357)
6. How does the Crossings Community model work with this text? Marcus Felde is expert in his analysis of this text. He reminds us of our penchant to trust darkness to "save" us, when nothing could be further from the truth. He reminds us also how Christ said it and it is done - our salvation. See the whole analysis at crossings.org/text-study.
7. Consider the insights of the pioneers of the New Homiletic? David Buttrick was always reminding us that too many moves or too few moves in a sermon leaves the listener in the dust. As we prepare our sermons we need regularly to ask ourselves, "Have I kept the listener in mind?"
Blessings on your proclamation!