Monday, December 24, 2018
(The following questions are not meant to be exhaustive, but have been developed to address some of the fundamental questions for Law and Gospel preachers regarding 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? This story is a narrative form of Law and Gospel. The characters who view the announcement of this new born king as threat - Herod and his court and "all Jerusalem with him" - show us the presence of the Law that Christ brings. Christ will be their judge. The magi, on the other hand, who view this announcement with humble ecstasy, show us the presence of the Gospel. They see God doing great things and they receive this announcement with great joy.
2. With whom are you identifying in the text? Since it is always important to identify with those who are addressed by the Word, we have a choice here; we can identify with Herod and his crowd, or with the magi. Or we may want to identify with both. Perhaps a task of the sermon will be to bring out our resistance to the new born king (Law) as well as God's insistence that Christ is the newborn king meant for the life of the whole world. (Gospel)
3. What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text? The call to obedience is always the text functioning to invite us to live in a certain way in response to the work of God in Christ. The final verse in this text could be that as we see the magi not returning to Herod, but leaving for their own country "by another road." We too, having been drawn to worship the Christ, are invited to leave the way of Herod behind and walk another road - the way of Christ.
4. What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text? In the characters in the story we see the couplets that arise: fear/faith; resistance/embrace; threat/promise.
5. Exegetical work: In translating the text we see clearly the contrast between Herod's reaction and that of the magi upon encountering the Christ. Verse 3 says that when Herod the King heard, he was "thrown into confusion" (tarasso) and all of Jerusalem with him." In contrast, when the magi saw the star again leading them they "rejoiced greatly with great joy." (vs. 10) Superlatives both, but what a contrast is set up between the two. An anonymous commentator from ancient times writes this about the magi: "They understood that the birth of the king was revealed to them by divine authority... If they had been seeking a king of this world and thus [lowly] had found him, they would have been more perplexed than delighted... They recognized him at once. They opened their treasure chests... Those who abandon Herod and come to Christ with all their heart do not wish to return to Herod." (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, NT, Vol. Ia, pp. 27-29).
6. Consider the insights of the pioneers of the New Homiletic? A sermon should always move a listener from disequilibrium to equilibrium, insisted Eugene Lowry. How might we do that here? By first identifying with the king and then with the magi? Or another way?
Blessings on your proclamation!
Saturday, December 15, 2018
(The following questions have been formulated to get at some of the fundamental concerns for Law and Gospel preachers (i.e. How does the Word function?). To learn more about 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? Undoubtedly the Word functions here as Gospel, with an announcement of what God is doing. There is an element of surprise as well, since the people first hearing this oracle might have assumed that rulers would come from Jerusalem. Then again, their experience with the royal line was one of corruption, so this announcement that Bethlehem would be the birthplace of the righteous ruler might have been good news to them.
2. How is the Word not functioning in the text? There seems to be no word of Law here. The only exception might be for the corrupt rulers who hear this oracle and are threatened by one who comes to rule and "whose origin is from of old. They might well hear a threat in that word.
3. With whom are you identifying in the text? We are those who have longed for this word. We are the first hearers of this text who lived under the rule of corrupt politicians, morally bankrupt religious leaders, and greedy business folk. We are those who long for power to be given to the just, the morally upright, and those who ensure that all live secure in the land.
4. What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text? One can only look at the gospel word here and imagine the opposite of that to create some appropriate couplets. Some suggestions: starved/fed; dwelling in fear/dwelling secure; living in strife and war/living in peace.
5. Exegetical work: Hans Walter Wolff, in his excellent commentary, reminds us of the full import of this Ruler of Peace being born in Bethlehem: "Bethlehem reminds us of the Israelite monarchy's humble beginnings. Thence came in the hoary past the erstwhile despised youngest son of Jesse. So when its great leaders are first buffeted and then deposed, Zion should think back to its origin in ancient days. Despite its Lord's lowly origin, it should be certain that he will step forth with divine authority as the royal shepherd." (Micah the Prophet, p. 93) The ancient commentaries see in this statement regarding one "whose origin is from of old, from ancient days" an allusion to the Only Begotten Son of God. Theodoret of Cyrrhus, 5th century bishop, is one example: "Now this patently resembles the prologue to the Gospel, 'In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God; he was in the beginning with God.'" (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, OT, Vol. XIV, p. 166).
6. Consider the insights of the pioneers of the New Homiletic? Fred Craddock always insisted that the job of the preacher was to bring the experience of the text to the listener. How will we preach this text so that our listeners will hear the freeing word of this coming Prince of Peace? That is our challenge.
Blessings on your proclamation!
Monday, December 10, 2018
(The following questions have been developed to ponder some of the fundamental concerns of Law and Gospel preachers, specifically around the function of the Word. To learn more about 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? This text is purely about what God has done, what God is doing, and what God is about to do. It is a gospel word from beginning to end.
2. How is the Word not functioning in the text? Any Law that is present in Zephaniah is left behind; it is not present here. The first two chapters are filled with Law, but here there is none. If the preacher wishes to begin with the Law, perhaps the earlier part of the book can be brought into play.
3. With whom are you identifying in the text? We are the daughters of Zion, the people of God who are exhorted to shout aloud because of the redemption of our God. We are those who receive the word, "Do not fear." We are those who are promised that we will be brought home.
4. What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text? There are only a few imperatives in this text and they are essentially two ideas: rejoice and do not fear. That's it. The Lord is the subject of every other verb. In so far as rejoicing (i.e. worshipping) is part of our life with God we are called to that, but there is little in this text that calls us to live in a certain way in response to God's work in our life.
5. Exegetical work: In a classic commentary George Adam Smith calls these verses "a hopeful, peaceful epilogue." (The Book of the Twelve Prophets, p. 72) He sees it as quite apart from the rest of the book, but does not wish to go along with those who think it was not original with the rest of the book. Much earlier, Theodoret of Cyrene wrote: "I am aware that some commentators understood this [text to apply to] the return from Babylon and the renovation of Jerusalem, and I do not contradict their words: the prophecy applies also to what happened at that time. But you can find a more exact outcome after the incarnation of our Savior: then it was that he healed the oppressed in heart in the washing of regeneration, then it was that he renewed human nature, loving us so much as to give his life for us." (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scriptures, OT, Vol. XIV, p. 218).
6. Consider the insights of the pioneers of the New Homiletic? No text is better suited than this one to do what Henry Mitchell advised - to make sure celebration is in the design of the sermon. How to do this skillfully is the challenge.
Blessings on your proclamation!
Monday, December 3, 2018
(The following questions are not meant to be exhaustive, but meant to be used in conjunction with other exegetical methods which draw on different questions. These questions are meant to unearth some of the fundamental concerns of Law and Gospel preachers. For more on this unique genre of preaching, see my brief guide, Afflicting the Comfortable, Comforting the Afflicted, available from wipfandstock.com and amazon.)
1. How does the Word function in the text? This word is primarily Law. The question is asked, "Who can endure the day of his coming?" and the understood answer is, "Nobody can." We are those who need the refiner's fire and the fullers' soap to be purified of the dross in our lives. We are the ones who desire that our offerings will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old.
2. How is the Word not functioning in the text? A word of Gospel is hard to find here. Perhaps one might hear a word of Gospel in the promise that "the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come into his temple." That would be good news only, however, after one is purified. Likewise we might hear a good word in the promise that our offerings will once again be pleasing to God, but that again is good news only after one is purified.
3. With whom are you identifying in the text? Undoubtedly we are those who will be purified. We are those who will not endure the day of the coming of this messenger apart from the mercy of God.
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 in Christ. We might see the call to offerings as a call to obedience, but it is only implied.
5. What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text? If we use the words found in this text there are a few directions we may go: unable to endure/enduring; unclean/purified; unpleasing to God/pleasing to God.
6. Exegetical work: The first two chapters of this book give the context for the announcement of God's messenger in chapter 3. In reading these first two chapters we learn that the people of Israel have returned from exile, rebuilt the temple, and have once again begun to make offerings to God. The trouble is, God is deaf to their prayers and will not accept their sacrifices. In the debate in chapters 1 and 2 we learn why: First, God is displeased because the people are offering only diseased, injured, or lame animals as sacrifices. (i.e, their garbage). God says, "Offer those to your governor and see if he will be pleased!" Second, the covenant made by the Levites has been abandoned. The Levitical covenant wherein the descendants of Levi were anointed as priests of Israel dictated that the priests be men of integrity and uprightness, turning away from evil. This was far from the case, and so God was displeased. In short, God was not present in the temple, nor answering prayers because both the people of God and the priests of God were unfaithful. Thus the messenger whose arrival is announced in chapter 3 is coming to "purify the sons of Levi" so that the offerings of Israel might be "pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and in former years."
7. How does the Crossings Community model work with this text? Bruce Martin does a nice job of picking up on the sacrifice theme in analyzing this text. In his diagnosis he goes back to chapters 1 and 2 and shows how our sacrifices are similarly unacceptable. In his diagnosis he speaks of Christ's sacrifice which is acceptable for all time. Go to crossings.org/text-study to see the entire analysis.
Blessings on your proclamation!