Saturday, May 26, 2018
(The following questions have been developed to get at some of the fundamental concerns of Law and Gospel preachers. They are not meant to be exhaustive, but only intended to highlight how the Word functions in the text. 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 wipfand stock.com or amazon.)
1. How does the Word function in the text? The Word, in this case Jesus, is functioning to lift up the bondage these Pharisees are in. He is showing them their blindness regarding sabbath observance, both by using an example (David's example) and a principle (Is it lawful to do good on the sabbath?) Showing blindness is a Law function, lifting up their need for repentance. He is also announcing the freeing principle - the sabbath was made for humankind! - which is a Gospel function.
2. With whom are you identifying in the text? It is always important to identify with those whom the Word addresses; in this case, those are the Pharisees. As uncomfortable as it may be, we are called here to ask ourselves what things we are in bondage to, that we firmly believe we must retain. It may be cooperate sins identified by the "last seven words of the Church": We have never done it that way. Or it may be a personal bondage that we are being called out of.
3. What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text? There is not a true call to obedience here. The call to obedience is the call to live in a certain way in response to the Gospel. What we have here is a call to repentance, which is a response to the Law.
4. What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text? This text suggests several couplets: living under the law/living under the gospel; serving the sabbath/freed by the sabbath; hardhearted/full of compassion.
5. Exegetical work: I like Lamar Williamson's succinct summary of the theme of this text: "Jesus challenges every form of legalism that reduces religion to the keeping of rules." (Interpretation series, Mark, p. 76) Other commentators try to describe where this legalism comes from. Athanasius, writing in the 4th century, had this to say: "In the synagogue of the Jews was a man who had a withered hand. If he was withered in his hand, the ones who stood by were withered in their minds." (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, NT, Vol. II, p. 37.) One could speculate how a person's mind becomes "withered". Mark Allan Powell, in his thorough analysis of the enemies of Jesus in the gospels, understands Mark's Pharisees to have "only a human understanding of Scripture, and so they are frequently 'in error.' This lack of understanding, in turn, causes them to be 'accusatory' with regard to Jesus and his disciples, unjustifiably criticizing them when no wrong has been done." (What is Narrative Criticism? p. 62) M. Eugene Boring sees a more complex situation regarding the "hardness of heart" illustrated here: "The modern reader should therefore not view this scene superficially as portraying some particularly obtuse, evil, or obstinate individuals who rejected Jesus' liberal attitude toward the Sabbath because they were bound by their own narrow orthodoxy - as though, if we had been there, we would have responded differently - but as exemplifying the miracle of God's initiative and election." (The NT Library, Mark, p. 95)
6. Consider the insights of the pioneers of the New Homiletic? Henry Mitchell was big on celebration in preaching. What, in this text, moves us to celebration? We might consider the fact that the Son of Humanity is the Lord of the Sabbath, or that the Sabbath was made for humankind. These could lead to some substantial rejoicing.
Blessings on your proclamation!
Wednesday, May 23, 2018
(The following questions are not meant to be exhaustive, but only offered as a way of getting at some fundamental concerns of Law and Gospel preachers. For more insight into this unique 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? This brief text is the whole package, if you will. First, we hear the Law: "I am lost for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips." Then we hear the word of Gospel: "Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out." Finally we hear a call to obedience: "Whom shall I send?...Here I am; send me!" The complete package.
2. With whom are you identifying in the text? We are the prophet who sees this vision - the ones who are lost; the ones whose sins are blotted out; the ones who are called to go out and speak the gospel.
3. What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text? As I said above, the call to obedience is within this text. It is instructive to note, however, that the call only comes following the absolution. God does not call us to obedience, without first calling us to repentance.
4. What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text? Because this text is so complete, we can readily see the couplets that are present: unclean/cleansed; sinner/forgiven; terrified/confident.
5. Exegetical work: The ancient commentators have much to say about this call of Isaiah. Some notes of interest center around the understanding of the live coals which touch the prophet's lips and cause sin to be blotted out. Cyril of Alexandria thought that these coals were God's word: "By saying, 'taken from the altar with tongs,' Isaiah means that we receive faith in and knowledge of Christ from the teachings or announcements in the law and the prophets, in which the word of the holy apostles confirms the truth." John of Damascus, on the other hand, equated the live coals with the sacrament of the altar: "Isaiah saw a live coal, and this coal was not plain wood but wood joined with fire. Thus also, the bread of communion is not plain bread but bread joined with the Godhead." St. Jerome makes much of the order of events in this vision: "As long as Isaiah's tongue was treacherous and his lips unclean, the Lord does not say to him, Whom shall I send, and who shall go? His lips are cleansed, and immediately he is appointed the Lord's spokesman; hence it is true that the person with unclean lips cannot prophesy, nor can he be sent in obedient service to God." (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, OT, vol. X, pp. 47-55).
6. How does the Crossings Community model work with this text? Steven Albertin does a fine job of ferreting out the layers of Law and Gospel that exist in this text. He notes that the external layer of the Law is right there in the opening line, when we learn that King Uzziah died. In other words, we are mortal, kings included. He goes on to say that our recognition of our uncleanness is the second layer of our lostness, and the cry, "Woe is me!" is the third. The layers of the Gospel are also to be found in this text. To see the entire analysis, go to crossings.org/text-study.
Blessings on your proclamation!
Wednesday, May 16, 2018
(The following questions have been developed as a way of getting at some of the fundamental concerns of Law and Gospel preachers. Specifically we are interested in how the Word is functioning. To learn more about this unique preaching genre, 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 whole passage is a description of the Spirit's work. Part of that work is testifying to and glorifying Christ and part of that is guiding us into all truth. There is also the work of proving "the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment." The first two functions we could understand as a gospel function - good news. This is the Spirit showing us who Jesus really is and guiding us to live as Christ lived. The other function we could understand as a law function. The Spirit reveals to the world (us included) sin, righteousness and judgment. The hope is to lead all to repentance. Leading all to repentance is a function of the Law.
2. How is the Word not functioning in the text? In this text there is almost an "us/them" dichotomy set up. For "us" the Spirit functions in a gospel way, assuring us that we have an advocate - a defender. For "them" (i.e. the world) the Spirit functions in a law way, assuring us that the world will have its sins and erroneous ways exposed. With the world the Spirit is not defense attorney but prosecutor. So depending on the audience, the Word functions as either law or gospel.
3. With whom are you identifying in the text? This is an interesting question. We are drawn to identifying with those whom the Spirit defends. We ought to do this. We might consider identifying also with those whom the Spirit exposes, calling to repentance. We are certainly among those who are called to repentance. We are both saint and sinner, as Luther said.
4. What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text? Most of this text is about what the Spirit will do; not about what we are called to. There is one brief verse which does call us to obedience; verse 15:27: "You also are to testify because you have been with me from the beginning." This is our call - to bear witness to Christ.
5. What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text? Using some of the language from the text, we can imagine a number of couplets: sinful/made righteous; unrighteous/justified; under judgment/freed from judgment.
6. Exegetical work: The extensive article in Kittel's NT dictionary around the word "Paraclete", translated alternately as Comforter (KJV, LB), Helper (Ph, TEV), Counselor (RSV, NIV), and Advocate (NRSV, JB, NEB) is very enlightening. Kittel looks back through antiquity to show that in Greek usage, the term was "clearly legal". The "whole sphere of known Greek and Hellenistic usage outside the NT yields the clear picture of a legal advisor or helper or advocate in the relevant court." (Theological Dictionary of the NT, Vol. V, pp. 803). The term does not appear in the LXX, and in rabbinical teaching, the term is always used for an advocate before God. In the NT, however, the usage changes, but never includes the role of comforter, which would exclude several of the most popular translations. The term is used only in the Johannine writings, and seems to be functioning as a hybrid of the usage employed by the 3rd century Mandaean gnostic community, where "divine helper" is its meaning, and the OT and Jewish world where "advocate" is its function. "More difficult to define," Kittel says, "is the idea, expressly attested only in John, of a Paraclete at work in the world both in and for the disciples. Jesus Himself is regarded as such during his earthly ministry." Finally then, Kittel argues that it is best to think of the Paraclete as Supporter or Helper, "though the basic concept and sustaining religious idea is that of 'advocate'." (Ibid, p. 800-814) Another smaller article by Kittel around the word translated as "prove the world wrong" (vs. 16:8) is also important. The meaning is "to show someone [their] sin and summon [them] to repentance." "The word does not mean only 'to blame' or 'to reprove'... or 'to expose', but 'to set right', namely, 'to point away from sin to repentance'." (TDNT, Vol. II, p. 474) This means that the work of the Paraclete to expose sin and righteousness and judgment is not merely an act of prosecution, but one which hopefully leads to new life for those exposed.
7. How does the Crossings Community model work with this text? Mark Marius does a nice job of showing how the Law functions in particular ways, each deepening our dependence on the work of Christ. First, we are wrong about sin; then, we are wrong about righteousness; finally, we are wrong about judgement and it is too late. See the entire analysis at crossings.org/text-study.
Blessings on your proclamation!
Wednesday, May 2, 2018
(The following questions were developed to answer some of the fundamental questions of concern to Law and Gospel preachers. These questions are not meant to be exhaustive, but they work with many other fine sets of exegetical questions. 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? Like the story of the Ethiopian court official from Acts 8, which we studied in Easter 5, this story is an announcement of the wideness of God's mercy: "The Holy Spirit is poured out even on the Gentiles!" This is a decidedly gospel function. This story shows again the power of the preaching of God's word to bring faith.
2. How is the Word not functioning in the text? Also like the story from Acts 8, this story contains only a hint of Law, as Peter asks if "anyone can withhold water for baptizing these people." This question, expectant of a negative reply, gives us a hint of our predilection to reserve God's grace only for those of whom we approve.
3. With whom are you identifying in the text? We could identify with the Gentiles who received the Spirit, but it seems better for our purposes if we identify with those who witnessed this outpouring. We are those who are astounded. We are those whose astonishment is a clue to our prejudice and bias toward or against certain folks regarding their eligibility of God's grace.
4. What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text? The call to obedience is indirect, albeit clear: do not withhold water for baptism to anyone who desires it.
5. What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text? Without the presence of the Law we shall have to use our imagination in creating couplets. Some ideas: in bondage to our prejudices/freed from our prejudices; closed to God's movement in the world/drawn up into God's good work; skeptical/rejoicing.
6. Exegetical work: Third century theologian, Origin of Alexandria, calls to our attention the fact that the beginnings of these astonishing events is the preaching of the Word. "See then, how ... when Peter is speaking to Cornelius, Cornelius himself and those with him are filled with the Holy Spirit. Hence, if you speak God's word and do so faithfully with a pure conscience, it can come about that while you are speaking the fire of the Holy Spirit will inflame the hearts of your hearers and immediately make them warm and eager to carry out all you are teaching in order to implement what they have learned." (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, NT, Vol. V, p. 139). John Calvin, in his commentary centuries later, follows a similar track: "For as Peter was speaking God poured out his Spirit to show that he does not send teachers for the purpose of beating the air with the sound of empty words, but so that he might work powerfully through what they say and quicken their words by the power of his Spirit for the salvation of the godly." (Reformation Commentary on Scripture, NT, Vol. VI, p. 146). A modern commentator, William Willimon, agrees that it is God at work through the Word, not only in this scene, but in the whole scenario detailed in Acts 10. As Willimon succinctly says, "The author of this plot is God." (Interpretation series, Acts, p. 99).
7. Consider the insights of the pioneers of the New Homiletic? Preachers need to introduce disequilibrium into their sermons, said Eugene Lowry, in order to later introduce equilibrium. How will we do that this week?
Blessings on your proclamation?