Saturday, February 16, 2019
(The following questions were developed as a way of getting at some of the fundamental concerns of Law and Gospel preachers, particularly questions around the way 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? Because the Word here is almost exclusively commands, there can be little doubt that it functions here as a call to obedience. That is to say, it functions by inviting us to live in a certain way in response to God's work in Christ. The verses prior to these assure us that we are blessed - recipients of God's favor. Now, in these verses we are called to live in an extraordinary way, to live in the way of Christ. There is also a word of Law here as we are called out for thinking that loving those who love us, and doing good to those who do good to us, and lending to those from whom we wish to receive, is in any way extraordinary. Christ, by inference, condemns this thinking, saying, "Even sinners do the same."
2. How is the Word not functioning in the text? There is no word of Gospel here, no word which proclaims what God has done in Christ. There is a hint of Gospel in the statement that "[The Most High] is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked," but that is hardly a proclamation. If we would preach a gospel word in this sermon, we will need to seek other texts to supplement this one.
3. With whom are you identifying in the text? We are those who are being addressed by Jesus. We are children of the heavenly Father whom Jesus refers to. We are the ones being called to extraordinary living.
4. What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text? Because there is little evidence of gospel in this text, we shall need to simply use some of the language present to create several couplets. Verse 37 offers some possibilities: judged/not judged; condemned/not condemned; guilty/forgiven.
5. Exegetical work: It is noteworthy that all the commands in this text are in the present tense. That means that they are meant to begin and continue. If we were to translate precisely but in a cumbersome way we might, for example, translate the opening lines in this way: "Begin and continue loving your enemies, begin and continue doing good to those who hate you. Begin and continue blessing those who curse you, begin and continue praying for those who abuse you." This present tense shows that Jesus intends for this to be a lifestyle, not a one-and-done event. We are, in short, to imitate Christ, or as Jesus will say elsewhere, "Be perfect even as your heavenly Father is perfect." Another important detail is Jesus' use of the word 'sinners'. As Kittel points out in his extensive article on amartolos, Jesus "never contested nor avoided the distinction of the people into sinners and righteous...He did not even treat [the distinction] ironically." (Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Vol. I, p. 329). There were different meanings of the word for sinners, but good translations of these could be 'irreligious' or 'unobservant of the Law' or 'heathen'. In any case, Jesus "accepted as such those who were regarded as sinners by the community. It was just because they were sinners that He drew them to Himself." (Ibid., p.330)
6. How does the Crossings Community model work with this text? Bruce Modahl has an interesting analysis of this text in that his diagnosis centers in our tendency to only do the minimum in our walk with God. Modahl picks up very well on the law which condemns our actions which are anything but faithful, for "even sinners do the same." He finds the Gospel in his announcement that Jesus does on the Cross precisely what he calls us to: loving enemies, blessing those who curse you, praying for those who abuse you. See the entire analysis at crossings.org/text-study.
7. Consider the insights of the pioneers of the New Homiletic? Charles Rice insisted that preachers always help listeners recognize their shared story in a text. This might be a good strategy here. We might ask, "How have we done only what 'sinners' do?" It might be fruitful for the preacher to identify ways in which she or he has done only this.
Blessings on your proclamation!
Saturday, February 9, 2019
(The following questions have been developed to ferret out some of the fundamental concerns of Law and Gospel preachers, particularly how the Word is functioning. For more information 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 short answer is, "It depends." If you are one of those poor, hungry, weeping or reviled ones, this text is good news to you. It is a gospel word. If you are one who is rich, well-fed, laughing and well-spoken of, this text is not good news. It is a word of law. One thing is clear: this is not a prescriptive word, but a descriptive word. That is to say, this text is not seeking to prescribe a way for us to be blessed, or a path to avoid lest we be cursed; it is simply describing a reality within the coming reign of God.
2. How is the Word not functioning in the text? Again, the short answer is, "It depends." If you are one of those who have received little blessing in this life, you might conclude there is no word of law here for you, yet it would be disingenuous to suggest that the poor don't wish to be rich, the hungry fed, the sorrowful happy, or the hated to be spoken well of. Given that, it perhaps is fair to say that any reliance on the blessings of this present life as though they have some permanence is being judged. That means that whether we have much in this life or only dream of it, we must learn to place our trust elsewhere.
3. With whom are you identifying in the text? We are certainly those whom Jesus is addressing. We might even say that we are his disciples, and the "you" of these verses is speaking precisely to us. We must decide how these verses apply to us. Few of us in middle class North America would be able to claim the mantle of poverty, and many of us would do well to consider associating with those given warnings here. Wherein does our hope lie?
4. What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text? This text, while it challenges us to consider where our faith is placed - on the things that are passing away, or on things that will last - could be considered in total a call to obedience. In short, Jesus is saying, "Follow in my way, not the way of this world."
5. What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text? Couplets are provided here: poor/inheritors of the kingdom; hungry/filled; weeping/laughing; hated by all/welcomed into the heavenly realm.
6. Exegetical work: It is important to take stock of the tenses of the verbs in this speech of Jesus: to the poor, Jesus says, "Yours is the kingdom"; to the hungry and the weeping he says, "You will be filled," and "You will laugh"; to the rich, Jesus says, "You have received your consolation"; and to the well-fed and laughing he says, "You will be hungry," and "You will mourn and weep." Unmistakably some things are already present and some things are yet to come. One of the oft-debated points of this text is whether or not it has any of the spiritual elements that are common to Matthew's version of this sermon. (i.e. "poor in spirit" vs. poor economically). Scholars seem to consistently warn against getting too spiritual with this text, yet often veer that way anyway. Fred Craddock says that "the preacher and teacher would be advised not to sail above economic realities into such spiritual realms. Luke does join material and spiritual conditions..., but he does not allow in the process the evaporation of 'poor' into some condition other than being without food, without shelter, without hope of anything better tomorrow." (Luke, Interpretation series, p. 89) I. Howard Marshall is not nearly so concerned about preserving this distinction. In his perusal of many of Jesus' sayings regarding wealth and poverty he concludes: "Luke does not present poverty as an ideal in itself, or wealth as intrinsically evil. When his teaching on wealth and poverty is seen in the context of the Gospel as a whole, the underlying attitude to God is what really matters." (Luke: Historian and Theologian, p. 143) Amy-Jill Levine and Ben Witherington III seem to concur when they quote I Enoch 94.8: "Woe to you rich, for you have trusted in your riches, and from your riches you shall depart, because you have not remembered the Most High in the days of your riches." (The Gospel of Luke, p. 178)
7. How does the Crossings Community model work with this text? James Squire takes a nice turn by reminding us that what seems like law - Christ's "leveling" - is really gospel. The world is blessed when we see that "the ground is level at the foot of the cross." Check out crossings.org/text-study to see the entire analysis.
Blessings on your proclamation!
Saturday, February 2, 2019
(The following questions have been developed as a way of getting at some of the fundamental concerns of Law and Gospel preachers; i.e. how the Word functions in the text. For more about this and other concerns of Law and Gospel preachers, 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? Jesus is inviting all to faith: "Put out into the deep water." It is instructive to realize that the term for "the deep" (bathos) is almost exclusively used in speaking of the depth of the riches, wisdom and knowledge of God. (TDNT, vol I, p. 517) Simon, and therefore, the Church, is being invited into the adventure of faith. "Trust me," says the Master. When Simon does, an abundance is released that has no equal. This abundance is grace revealed. It is a sign of the reign of God begun. It is the breaking in by God that we have only dreamed of. It is a gospel word. Jesus' final word is gospel as well: "Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people."
2. How is the Word not functioning in the text? This is an interesting question, because Simon's reaction to the miracle is fear, which normally would come from the Law. Simon's fear is much like that of Isaiah in the First Reading who says, "Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips; and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have the seen the King, the Lord of hosts!" (Isa 6:5) The Law has not been spoken to Simon, and yet he is aware that he, an unholy man, is in the presence of a holy God: "Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!" The very presence of God functions as Law, even though no word of Law is spoken.
3. With whom are you identifying in the text? We are undoubtedly Simon in this story. We are those who, when found in God's presence, can only cry out, "Kyrie eleison!" We are those who are certain that our sins will disqualify us from ever standing in God's presence. We are those who can hardly believe that God would call us into ministry, we who only stand in God's presence by grace.
4. What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text? The call to obedience isn't really given here, but it is implied: "Go and catch people." After finding ourselves cleansed as Isaiah was, or assured as Simon was, we are called to catch people. We say, "Here I am, send me."
5. What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text? We use the language of the text to imagine several appropriate couplets here: sinful/forgiven; feeling dirty/cleansed; afraid/bold in witness.
6. Exegetical work: The Reformers are quite helpful in their commentary on this text. John Calvin rightly noted that "the purpose of the miracle was that Christ's divinity would be recognized, and that Peter and the others would dedicate themselves to him as disciples." (Reformation Commentary on Scripture, NT, vol. III, p. 113). Philipp Melanchton had this to say about Peter's reaction to the miracle: "Peter's fear had many benefits: he judged himself unworthy in the presence of God, but also there was a great and unexpected benefit in that he saw himself not according to his labor but as grasping the benefits of God." (Ibid.) Fred Craddock, in his contemporary commentary, notes that Peter's response to the miracle"is not a fisherman's response; that is, he did not say, 'Why did I not know where the fish were?' Rather, his response is that of a human being in the presence of one he now calls Lord." (Luke, Interpretation series, p. 70) Craddock has picked up on one important detail: Early in the story, Simon calls Jesus Master, but after the miracle he calls him Lord. Kittel notes that the term for Master, (epistatays), occurs only in Luke and is equivalent to rabbi or teacher. (Theological Dictionary of the NT, vol. II, p. 622-23) "Lord", on the other hand "denotes one on which men make themselves, or are in fact, dependent." (TDNT, vol. III, p. 1091).
7. How does the Crossings Community model work with this text? Cathy Lessman does a nice job of showing how we encounter God first as lawgiver and then as grace giver. She calls her analysis "Two Ways to Catch Fish/People: Encountering God, Part I and II." Check out crossings.org/text-study to see the whole analysis and others on this text.
Blessings on your proclamation!