Saturday, January 26, 2019

Jesus the Rejected

Luke 4:21-30, the gospel lesson appointed for the 4th Sunday after Epiphany in the Year of Luke, portrays Jesus at his prophetic best.  He is an Elijah announcing to Jezebel her wickedness, a Nathan condemning King David for his murder and adultery, and John the Baptist exposing Herod and Herodias for their illicit relationship.  In this passage, Jesus is a lawgiver.  It begs the question:  How does the Church (i.e.we) react when rebuke comes our way?

(The following questions have been developed as a way of getting at some fundamental concerns of Law and Gospel preachers, i.e.  how is the Word functioning?  These questions should be used in conjunction with other fine sets of questions which unearth other issues for the preacher. To learn more about Law and Gospel preaching, see my brief guide, Afflicting the Comfortable, Comforting the Afflicted, available from or amazon.)

1.  How does the Word function in the text?  Jesus, the Word made flesh, is laying down the Law here.  He is pulling no punches.  Though what he has proclaimed from the prophet Isaiah in the verses prior to this is a gospel word, here he makes it very clear that his listeners do not understand or embrace this message, and furthermore, they fail to understand who he is.

2.  How is the Word not functioning in the text?  A gospel word is hard to find in this passage.  One might well see a foreshadowing of the Cross here, so perhaps we could say that his willingness to go the way of the Cross for the sins of the world is already on display here, and that is a gospel word.  Yet, these verses primarily function to condemn his listeners.

3.  With whom are you identifying in the text?  It is so tempting to identify with Jesus in this text.  We might want to recall when we have been the target of the wrath of the unrighteous.  That would be a mistake.  We need to step into the shoes of those who reject this word and own our own rage at God's judgment. If we are honest we know that God's word of judgment often meets resistance in us; we can only pray that it does not lead us to reject Jesus entirely.

4.  What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text?  This text is really a call to repentance, which of course, is the function of any law text.  The call to obedience is something different. The call to obedience is the text functioning to invite us to live differently in response to God's work in Christ.  That function is not present here.  A good example of the call to obedience is the second lesson appointed for this day - St. Paul's call to love in I Corinthians 13.

5.  What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text? Absent the presence of any gospel word in this text, we shall have to imagine couplets based on the words of law here.  Some possibilities are:  judged/forgiven; starving/fed; leprous/cleansed.

6.  Exegetical work:  There is an interesting debate amongst scholars as to what Luke's goal is in bringing to light the reaction of Jesus' hometown folks to his first sermon.  Fred Craddock, in his commentary, says that "Luke's point throughout Luke-Acts is that Israel should have understood and embraced Jesus' message." And "Jesus does not go elsewhere because he is rejected; he is rejected because he goes elsewhere."  (Luke, Interpretations series, p. 63-64)  Amy-Jill Levine and Ben Witherington III battle it out in their joint commentary on this passage. (The Gospel of Luke, New Cambridge Bible Commentary).  Levine says that "the problem is not Jesus' extension of grace; the problem is that Jesus denies the people of Nazareth what their own history promises." (p.122) Witherington, on the other hand, "highlights Luke's presentation of successful missions in the synagogues in Acts on multiple occasions from Paul's preaching,.. and so he finds Luke's theology to be one of inclusion in Christ - Jews and gentiles united in Christ." (Ibid.) Finally, these two scholars agree "that stereotypes of early Judaism as a graceless religion or one opposed to inclusion of gentiles in contrast to the universality of the Jesus movement do no justice to early Judaism." (p. 123)

7.  How does the Crossings Community model work with this text?  Nathan Hall, in his analysis, picks up on the phrase, "And [they] were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth."  Hall notes that "grace" is hidden in this phrase and he skillfully weaves that into his entire analysis. As he says, the people will find out that Jesus' words contain more grace than they ever imagined.  Go to for the whole analysis.

Blessings on your proclamation!

Monday, January 7, 2019

You Are Mine

Isaiah 43:1-7, the First Lesson appointed for the Festival of the Baptism of Our Lord in the Year of Luke is one of the most glorious words of gospel ever spoken.  Promises abound, even specifically for those times when we "pass through the waters" or "walk through fire."  Both sons and daughters are mentioned as well, "everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made."  Who, we might ask, is excluded from these promises?  No one.

(The following questions have been developed in my brief guide to Law and Gospel preaching as a way of getting at some of the fundamental concerns we have as Law and Gospel preachers.  These questions are meant to be used in conjunction with other fine sets of exegetical questions which unearth other insights.  For more on this method, see my book, Afflicting the Comfortable, Comforting the Afflicted, available from or amazon.)

1.  How does the Word function in the text?  This text is all gospel.  First there is the declaration of what God has done in creating, forming, redeeming, naming, and claiming us.  Then come the promises of presence, protection, affection and redemption.  Nothing is left for us to do but sing the praises of God and glory in God's amazing power and love.

2.  How is the Word not functioning in the text?  At first glance there seems to be little hint of Law in this text.  Upon examining it further, however, we see the theme of captivity, undoubtedly having to do with Israel's release from Babylon.  There is talk of ransom payments, giving up people "in return for you, nations in exchange for your life."  There is talk of sons and daughters who are held far away and at the "end of the earth."  Though there is no word of accusation or condemnation it is clear that the people of God have been in bondage. This is a function of the Law.

3.  With whom are you identifying in the text?  We are those who have been in bondage.  We are those who have been living in the far country.  We are those who stand in desperate need of a redeemer, a champion, a protector, and a lover.  We are those who hear this good news.

4.  What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text?  The call to obedience is the text functioning to invite us to live in a certain way in response to God's gracious work.  This function is not present here.  If we wish to include this as part of the sermon we will need to include other texts.

5.  What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text?  Looking at the bondage theme we might come up with a number of possibilities for couplets:  bound/free; overwhelmed by water/rescued; consumed by fire/protected from the fire; enslaved/ransomed; distant/homecoming.

6.  Exegetical work: Claus Westermann's classic commentary on Deutero-Isaiah offers several important insights into this "oracle of salvation", as he calls it.  He notes that the text is constructed in two parts (vss.1-4, 5ff.), which are parallels.  Each part is set off with the imperative "Fear not."  Westermann also notes something which is easily seen in translation, that this oracle of salvation is addressed to an individual (i.e. all the second person verbs are singular).  Westermann argues, however, that what is intended is that the nation of Israel be addressed "as a unit."  Finally, he states that the end of the first unit (vs. 4a) is "one of the most beautiful and profound statements of what the Bible means by 'election'." (The Old Testament Library, Isaiah 40-66, p. 114-119).  I love that.  What could be a better way to describe election than to say "You are precious in my sight,and honored, and I love you"?  This, of course, fits right into our understanding of baptism where God says, "You are mine.  You are a child of God."  What better to raise up on the Festival of the Baptism of our Lord?

7.  Consider the insights of the pioneers of the New Homiletic?  There is no better day to heed the advice of Henry Mitchell and include celebration in the sermon design than on this day.  If this text isn't a cause to celebrate none is.

Blessings on your proclamation!