Wednesday, August 28, 2019
(The following questions have been developed as a way of getting at the concerns of Law and Gospel preachers, especially concerns around how the Word is functioning in a text. These questions are meant to be used with other sets of questions that help open up a text in other ways. 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? There is little doubt that this text is almost purely a call to obedience, which is the Word functioning to invite us to live in a certain way in response to God's work in Christ. The writer of Hebrews has just finished announcing to all that we have received "a kingdom that cannot be shaken." (12:28) We are now invited to live in grateful response to God's amazing abundance.
2. How is the Word not functioning in the text? There is almost no hint of the Law here. We might well understand that beneath all these admonitions is the implicit acknowledgement that sin lies close at hand and "the devil prowls about as a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour," but no such thing is said here. Also a Gospel word which announces what God has done in Christ seems also to have been omitted. While it is true that the text is not here functioning primarily as Gospel, several verses could certainly be considered announcements of the good news: "I will never leave you or forsake you," (vs. 5c) and "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever." (vs. 8). Both those verses are good news to be sure.
3. With whom are you identifying in the text? As always we want to identify with those being addressed by the Word. We then are those who are being reminded to "let mutual love continue" in all the various ways it does.
4. What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text? Since this is primarily a call to obedience, we must stretch a bit to find couplets that are law and gospel related. Using some of the language in the text as a launching point, several ideas come to mind: strangers/friends; in prison/freed; defiled/made clean; forsaken/embraced forever.
5. Exegetical work: It is instructive to understand that all the imperatives in the text are present tense imperatives. That is to say, they are reminders to continue doing what you are already doing, or in the case of prohibitions, to stop doing the things that you are doing. If these imperatives had been aorist in form, they would have signaled the command to start something new. The present tense suggests that these admonitions are reminders of things the listeners already know. Another grammatical detail is lifted up by the Swiss-German reformer, Oecolampadius, who calls our attention to the strong future denial constructions in verse 5: "I will never leave you or forsake you." A literal translation of this verse might be "By no means will I ever abandon you and not by any means will I ever forsake you." Oecolampadius notes that "the Lord said this to Joshua, when he charged him to take up the leadership of his people. But because the Lord purposes not to leave anyone who wholeheartedly entrusts himself into his care, the apostle rightly cites this promise as belonging to all believers in general. For he is near to all who call on him in truth." (Reformation Commentary on Scripture, NT, Vol. XIII, p. 190).
6. How does the Crossings Community model work with this text? Douglas Chamberlain tackles this text in an interesting way, lifting up the way that our inhospitable habits, eventually lead us to rejection of God as well. Thankfully, God's promise to never match our inhospitality with more of the same, but rather to go above and beyond being hospitable to us strangers, is fully seen in Christ. Go to crossings.org/text-study to see the entire analysis archived under the reference.
Blessings on your proclamation!
Monday, August 19, 2019
(The following questions are not meant to be exhaustive, but meant to be used with many other fine sets of questions that help preachers uncover the treasures in a text. These questions are meant to uncover treasures sought by Law and Gospel preachers. 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? Claus Westermann calls verses 9b-12 " a conditional promise" akin to Job 11:13-19. (The OT Library series, Isaiah 40-66, p. 331f) It is a promise of blessing. It is this promissory quality that gives the "gospel feel" to this text. Over and over God is promising blessing. It sounds very much like a Hebrew version of "if you believe in your heart and confess with your lips you will be saved." (Romans 9) In Hebrew thinking faith always shows itself in action. So faith is what is being described here. When we do acts of justice, we are "doing faith," as it were. And from faith comes blessing. A gospel text.
2. How is the Word not functioning in the text? The Law has already been announced in all its ferocity at the beginning of chapter 58: "Announce to my people their rebellion, to the house of Jacob their sins." (vs. 1b) Here there is only conditional promise. God clearly longs to bless the people, offering them a way to obtain this blessing. There is no condemnation here, but rather an invitation to "the life that is truly life." It is reminiscent of Joshua's invitation: "Choose this day whom you shall serve... as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord." (Joshua 24:15)
3. With whom are you identifying in the text? We are the ones being addressed in this passage. We are the people of God. We are the individuals God is inviting into this way of blessing. We are those who are invited to remove the yoke from among us, to feed the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted. We are those who are invited to call the sabbath a delight.
4. What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text? The call to obedience is the Word functioning to invite us to live in response to God's work in Christ. This text invites us to live in response to God's invitation; not the same thing, but close. As is typical in OT faith language, faith is a response to God's faithfulness, and looks forward to what God is promising; it does not look back on what God has done.
5. What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text? There are a number of phrases in this text that lend themselves to the couplet form: sitting in darkness/light rising in the darkness; gloom/noonday; lost/guided; parched places/watered gardens; dry/springs of water.
6. Exegetical work: The Lutheran Study Bible mentions the presence of the term "nephesh" (Hebrew for "self" or "soul") in this passage, suggesting that there is a deliberate word play here. When we replace the common translations with this term, we see the depth it offers. Verse 10: "If you offer your nephesh to the hungry and satisfy the nephesh of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness..." If we recognize that our nephesh is not only the seat of our appetites, but the seat of our emotions and passions, indeed our essential self, this passage gains considerable weight. We are being invited to give of ourselves in ways that go far beyond bringing a bag of food for the food bank. Also nephesh shows up in the promise as well: "The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your nephesh in parched places, and make your bones strong." (vs. 11) A deep contentment is being promised here, even during days of lack. Another unique aspect of this passage is that it addresses not the people of Israel, but individuals. The verbs are singular. This is very unusual. What is clear, however, is that the individual response of faith will produce blessing for the community, (e.g. your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt), as well as the individual (e.g. you shall take delight in the Lord). This address to individuals is consistent throughout this passage, whether it has to do with love of neighbor (vs. 9b-12), or love of God (vs. 13-14). Luther has much to say on this passage. One quote will suffice: "Just as one ungodly man can harm a whole city and region, so God can through one good man provide much benefit for the state and the whole region." (LW, XVII, p. 289).
Blessings on your proclamation!
Saturday, August 17, 2019
(The following questions have been developed as a way of answering some of the fundamental concerns of Law and Gospel preachers, especially concerns about the way the Word functions. 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? There is no doubt that this text has a gospel feel to it. It celebrates the faith of our spiritual ancestors who endured unspeakable suffering for the sake of the gospel and now are part of that "great cloud of witnesses" that cheer us on as we run the race that is set before us. Finally, entering chapter 12, we hear the gospel proclaimed loud and clear: "Jesus,... who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross."
2. How is the Word not functioning in the text? There is little word of Law in this text. A hint of our need for a Savior comes in 12:1 as we are exhorted to "lay aside every weight and sin that clings so closely." The word translated "weight" is a rare word (ogkos) which can also be translated "impediment"; many translations go that way, translating this "hindrance" or "encumbrance." Certainly it is true that there are many hindrances that would cause us to slow or give up our journey of faith, and our sins are foremost amongst those. Yet, this text offers no word of judgement.
3. With whom are you identifying in the text? We are those whom the Word addresses here. We are running the race of faith, and it is we who need encouragement to look to Jesus, the founder and end goal of our faith. We also need to be reminded that there are many who have died in faith, who now give us inspiration to run our race well.
4. What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text? The exhortation in 12:1 is pure call to obedience: "Let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us." 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, and here that invitation has everything to do with God's faithfulness that creates faith in us.
5. What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text? Since this is not a complete Law/Gospel text, we shall have to use some of the language in the text and then add to it to produce our couplets. Some suggestions: weighed down/liberated; sin clinging closely/Jesus clinging closely.
6. Exegetical work: As in the Hebrews 11 text appointed for Pentecost 9, it is important to note the way the term "faith" is used throughout this passage. That term is not to be understood here in the way that St. Paul most often uses the term, in relation to faith in Christ. Here the word is used much more in the manner of the OT, where the emphasis is not on what God has done, but what God will do. Kittel's extensive discussion of the term pistis makes this very clear. (Theological Dictionary of the NT, vol. VI, p. 205f) So we see in the examples of faith which the writer lifts up: the Israelites at the Red Sea must trust in what God will do; the armies of Israel who march around Jericho must trust in what God will do; Rahab, the prostitute who helps the spies of Israel must trust what God will do. As Tom Long says in his commentary, "Faith is a response to the trustworthiness of God." (Interpretation series, Hebrews, p. 113) Long goes on: "When we see the disciplined, loving, strong, merciful, and faithful way that Jesus ran the race, we are motivated to lace up our running shoes, to grasp the baton, and to sprint for the finish line." (Ibid., p. 129)
7. Consider the insights of the pioneers of the New Homiletic? Henry Mitchell, the dean of celebratory preaching, would have had a field day with this text. Just as Tom Long describes, this text is a sermon in itself, waiting to be preached. So preach it! Let the celebration of God's faithfulness, the witness of the great cloud of our forebearers,and the supreme example of Christ commence!
Blessings on your proclamation!
Monday, August 5, 2019
(The following questions have been developed to answer some basic questions for Law and Gospel preachers. They are not meant to stand alone, but to be used in conjunction with other questions which seek to answer other concerns. 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? Without being explicit, this text has a "gospel feel" to it. It sounds like good news. Finally in the last verse, we receive the promise which has only been hinted at earlier: "God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them." This is a gospel word, that God is not ashamed to be our God, and has prepared a dwelling place for us.
2. How is the Word not functioning in the text? It is hard to find a word of Law in this text. There is little evidence here of our need for a Savior. One little piece could be used to describe our state apart from Christ: "good as dead" (vs. 12). That is, of course, how St. Paul describes us apart from Christ. But here that verse is clearly not talking about our present state, but Abraham's. We may have to look at other texts to announce our need for a Savior.
3. With whom are you identifying in the text? We are those who are "seeking a homeland." We are the ones desiring "a better country, that is, a heavenly one" even if we cannot claim to have the faith of Abraham and Sarah.
4. What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text? This entire text could be understood as a call to obedience, but particularly in verse 8 and following, we hear this call. When the writer lifts up Abraham and Sarah, and says they "obeyed" when called them to set out for a new land even though they did not know where they were going, that is the call to obedience. Faith is also being lifted up, of course, but in this usage, obedience follows.
5. What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text? Because this is not a full Law/Gospel text, we shall have to use our imaginations to come up with couplets. Some possibilities: as good as dead/alive as can be; homeless/having found a home; living in the far country/finding a better country.
6. Exegetical Work: Kittel has a very important discussion regarding 'pistis' which we translate 'faith.' When we hear the word 'faith', we are very likely to immediately jump to St. Paul's understanding of the word, especially the idea of "faith in Christ." Kittel makes it clear that there is a different usage in Hebrews that is significant. He says that St. Paul's use of the term "looks primarily to what God has done, not to what He will do." (Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, vol. VI, p. 209). In other words, faith, according to Paul, is primarily a looking back, while faith as used in Hebrews is primarily a looking forward. According to Kittel this is a continuation of the Old Testament usage of this term and thus "to believe" is "to obey." (Ibid., p. 205) Also, "In the OT and Judaism the sense of 'trust' is combined with faith." (Ibid., p. 206). Finally, "Trust in God is very closely related to hope... This is indeed the predominant sense in Hb. 11. It explains why the heroes of the OT can be examples for Christians, whose faith is also directed to the future which God has promised, and who also know that they are 'strangers and pilgrims on the earth.'" (Ibid., p. 207). It is well worth reading the entire article in Kittel's TDNT to a get a good sense of how this term is used. Suffice it to say, faith is not related to nostalgia, but hope.
7. How does the Crossings Community model work with this text? Michael Hoy picks up on the homeland theme in his analysis of this text. He talks about our trust in the visible lands around us, and our skepticism about any heavenly city. The turn of the Gospel is indeed when God gives us the better country as our inheritance in Christ. Go to crossings.org/text-study for the whole analysis.
8. Consider the insights of the pioneers of the New Homiletic? Charles Rice emphasized the preacher's task of helping listeners recognize their shared story in the text. This text might be an excellent vehicle for helping listeners identify their dead end nostalgia, and then lifting up the hope of a better country which God promises.
Blessings on your proclamation!