Thursday, September 20, 2018
(The following questions have been developed as a way of unearthing some of the fundamental concerns of Law and Gospel preachers. For more on this method and this whole 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? The Word is functioning in both law and gospel ways in this text. The word of gospel is clear as we hear of the betrayal, death and resurrection of Jesus. This will happen to the Son of Man. This must happen for the sake of the world. The word of law is present as well, as the disciples reveal their utter inability to understand either Christ's sacrifice or their own call to sacrifice. Their ambition and selfishness is clear for all to see.
2. With whom are you identifying in the text? We are the disciples. We are those who do not understand and are afraid to ask. We are the ones who incessantly argue about who is the greatest, if not aloud, surely in the quiet of our own minds. We are the ones who are silent when confronted with our secret sins. We are the ones who need to be taught again about true greatness.
3. What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text? The final scene is a classic call to obedience. In essence Jesus says, "As my followers, welcome the little ones. When you do that you welcome me."
4. What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text? Taking the evident split between the example of Christ and the behavior of the disciples we can imagine a number of couplets: living for gain/dying for love; claiming to be first/embracing being last.
5. Exegetical work: As pointed out by the Lutheran Study Bible Luther's theology of the cross and theology of glory are on full display in this text. To quote the Heidelberg Disputation, where we find Luther's most succinct statement regarding these theologies: "19. That person does not deserve to be called a theologian who looks upon the invisible things of God as though they were clearly perceptible in those things which have actually happened. [Rom.1:20]. 20. He deserves to be called a theologian, however, who comprehends the visible and manifest things of God seen through suffering and the cross. 21. A theology of glory calls evil good and good evil. A theology of the cross calls the thing what it actually is." (Luther's Works, Vol. 31, pg. 40) In the text before us the disciples fail to see the "visible and manifest things of God" in the cross. They instead call "evil good and good evil" by pursuing their futile argument about who is the greatest among them. As Eugene Boring points out in his commentary, "The supreme irony is that their argument about hierarchical order within the group of Jesus' followers had taken place 'on the way' - Mark repeats for emphasis - the self-denying way of the cross which Jesus has chosen and to which he calls his disciples. (8:34)" (The NT Library, Mark, A Commentary, p. 280)
6. How does the Crossings Community model work with this text? Peter Keyel, in the most recent analysis of this text by the Crossings Community, picks up on the silence of the disciples as a clue to their own brokenness. He points out how we so often claim not to understand something, when the truth is we are trying to ignore it. Keyel goes on to point out a similar silence when Jesus asks about their conversation on the way. This analysis can be seen in its entirety by going to crossings.org/text-study.
Blessings on your proclamation!
Wednesday, September 12, 2018
(The following questions are not meant to be exhaustive. They are part of a method to help Law and Gospel preachers discern some of the ways the Word functions in the text. 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? The Word functions as testimony and witness to God's faithfulness. As such it is a Gospel word. This can be seen clearly in the latter verses where the disciple declares "I know that I shall not be put to shame; he who vindicates me is near." This resembles very much the psalms of trust with which we are familiar. (e.g. Psa. 27:1-6)
2. How is the Word not functioning in the text? There is no word of rebuke here, or any word which exposes our need for Christ. There is allusion to the temptations we face, such as refusing to have open ears to God's leading, being rebellious, or turning back from following Christ, but a rebuke is not present.
3. With whom are you identifying in the text? There is only one voice in this text, and it is one with whom it is difficult to identify. Can I be confident that I will be open to God's call, never rebellious, never allowing myself to abandon the task set before me? I can aspire to this and hope for God's help, but I dare not presume that I shall be the one who sets"my face like flint."
4. What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text? The call to obedience is always the Word functioning to invite us to live in a certain way in response to God's work. One way of looking at this text could be to regard it wholly as a call to obedience. In other words, the speaker here is an example for us to follow. We are to be those who have a call to speak a word to the weary and we must not veer from that, no matter the hardship.
5. What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text? The language in the text is helpful in constructing couplets here: deaf to God's leading/open to God's leading; rebellious/obedient; turning back/following faithfully. These, of course, are not so much Law/Gospel couplets as disobedience/obedience couplets.
6. Exegetical work: Long before George F. Handel wrote his magnificent Messiah oratorio, the words of this text were assumed to be the words of Christ. "I gave my back to the smiters" was assumed to be spoken by Christ by writers from Athanasius to St. Jerome to Cyril of Alexandria. Theodoret, Bishop of Cyr, brings to mind the Passion of Christ most directly: "This whole recital is taught by the holy Gospels. For the servant of the high priest gave [Christ] a blow on the cheek; some struck his face, saying, 'Prophecy to us, Christ! Who is the one who struck you?' Others spat in his face; as for Pilate, he had him scourged and delivered him to be crucified. so, all this he predicts in the prophecy to teach of his own patience." (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, OT, Vol. XI, p. 132) It goes without saying that in the modern era scholars have recognized more and more the identity of the servants as speaking corporately of the nation of Israel. Yet, as the Lutheran Study Bible points out, "in the traditional four servant songs, the servant is given a particular commission or task that sometimes sounds quite individual... Certainly the servant is Israel, but it may also be true that sometimes a particular member of Israel represents the whole people."
7. Consider the insights of the pioneers of the New Homiletic? Henry Mitchell was well-known as a preacher who celebrated God's grace in a big way in every preaching event. Since this text is a witness to God's faithfulness, what better way to preach it than to celebrate God's faithfulness throughout.
Blessings on your proclamation!
Saturday, September 1, 2018
(The following questions are not meant to be exhaustive, but work well when paired with other sets of questions which unearth the treasures of a text. These questions get at some of the fundamental concerns of Law and Gospel preachers, who are particularly interested in how the Word functions. 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? There is no doubt that this is a Gospel text. Over and over God is promising to bring life from death. Nothing could be clearer.
2. How is the Word not functioning in the text? There is also no doubt that there is no word of Law here; there is no word which exposes our need for Christ. We could identify our need for Christ by understanding ourselves as blind, deaf, lame, thirsty, deserted, but the Word does not function to lift this up.
3. With whom are you identifying in the text? We are those who need to hear this good news. We are "those who are of fearful heart." We are those who have wondered if God has forgotten us in our exile.
4. What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text? The call to obedience is the call to live in response to God's work on our behalf. This call is not present here, but the call to rejoice in God's goodness comes later in this passage.
5. What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text? The couplets within the text are our best vehicles. They are: fearful/fearless; enslaved/rescued; blind/seeing; deaf/hearing; lame/leaping; speechless/singing. These couplets will serve well to help us construct a coherent Law/Gospel sermon.
6. Exegetical work: The Lutheran Study Bible does a nice job of setting the context of this passage, noting that these chapters are from exilic or post-exilic periods. "They are placed here to begin a transition to the second part of the book of Isaiah. God's transformation will involve both total judgment of the wicked (Chapter 34) and final redemption for the redeemed (Chapter 35)." David Payne, in his commentary, notes similar themes and says that "this passage links with later chapters, and its earliest, partial fulfillment will have been the return from Babylonian exile which is the major theme of chapters 40-55). (The New Layman's Bible Commentary, p. 795). It is interesting to think of this passage as part of the transition from the themes of judgement in First Isaiah to the themes of redemption in Second Isaiah.
7. How does the Crossings Community model work with this text? In Chris Repp's insightful analysis we see the couplets in this text brought to life in a Law/Gospel way. In his diagnosis of our condition he identifies our blindness, deafness, etc. In his prognosis he celebrates the rescue of the fearful, by our fearless God. Go to crossings.org/text-study to see the entire analysis.
8. Consider the insights of the pioneers of the New Homiletic? Eugene Lowry thought it important to always move listeners from disequilibrium to equilibrium. We shall have to call on the couplets in this passage to do this well here.
Blessings on your proclamation!