Tuesday, March 31, 2020
(The following questions are not meant to be exhaustive. They are best used in concert with other fine sets of exegetical questions which provide other lenses for the reader. These questions are meant to get at the way the Word functions in the text. For more on this method and on Law and Gospel preaching in particular, 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 context helps us answer this question. Jesus has foretold his suffering and death. The people are crying out "Hosanna", which means, "Save us! Deliver us!" Given these two pieces of context, we can see that the Word, in this case the actions of Jesus herein described, is functioning as Gospel. The narrative is proclaiming that Jesus is indeed the Savior, the One who comes to deliver us, and the One who comes even into the presence of his enemies, knowing that this ride is a ride that will end at Golgotha. The cry of the people is also evidence of the Law: they are suffering under oppression; they are crying out for deliverance. Jesus comes to save them from that oppression.
2. How is the Word not functioning in the text? The Law is not present in any overt way, only in the context as noted above. The Law is the Word exposing our need for a Savior. Though the people clearly long for a Savior, the Word is not functioning here to expose that need.
3. With whom are you identifying in the text? We are the crowds, the ones shouting "Save us! Deliver us!" We long to be delivered from all our enemies, from any pestilence, from suffering of any kind. "Make all of our troubles go away," we cry. It is the cry of all of humanity, as St. Paul says, "For while we are still in this tent, we groan under our burden." (II Cor. 5:4a)
4. What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text? The call to follow Jesus will come later in the Passion. At this juncture the Word is not functioning in this way. If we wish to pursue this, the 2nd reading appointed for this Sunday is a great place to start, as Paul exhorts us, "Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus..." (Phil 4:5)
5. What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text? We could imagine many couplets coming out of this scene: oppressed/freed; despairing/hopeful; dying/being raised up.
6. Exegetical work: There are a number of terms in this story that we gain a deepened understanding of when we see them in their original language. The word praus, translated "humble", (vs. 5) comes to us directly from the Septuagint version of Zechariah 9:9. What that term actually means is debated by scholars. Mark Allan Powell looks back at the use of this term in the Beatitudes ("Blessed are the praus", 5:5) and argues that "praus does not refer to 'the humble' in such instances but to 'the humiliated."" "The praus are ones who have not been given their share of the earth." (God With Us, p. 126) Powell goes on: "Drawing on the 'suffering servant' theme of Isaiah, Matthew presents Jesus as one who seeks to proclaim justice to those who have been deprived of it and who, accordingly, comes to be deprived of it himself." (Ibid., p. 137) Douglas Hare goes another direction: "Matthew, however, is here following the Septuagint, which chose to describe the king as gentle rather than humble. The quotation thus reinforces the claim of 11:29, 'I am gentle and humble in heart.'" (Interpretation series, Matthew, p. 238) Another word worth looking at more closely is the word translated 'turmoil' in verse 10. The Greek verb is seio, which in 27:51 and 28:4 is translated as quake and shake, as in an earthquake. Matthew's account of the resurrection of Christ includes a seismos (earthquake) in 27:54 and 28:2, and so it is perhaps worth noting that the early tremors of that event have begun here. Finally, the Greek word 'hosanna' which is left untranslated, comes from the Septuagint translation of Psalm 118:25. Literally, that verse means, "Ah, now, we beseech you, O Lord, save us! Ah, now, we beseech you, O Lord, grant us success." This is what the people were crying as Jesus was led into Jerusalem. Psalm 118:26 is what follows: "Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord." It is also worth noting that Psalm 118:22 says, "The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone." Could it be that the people had that in mind that day as well?
Blessings on your proclamation!
Saturday, March 28, 2020
(The following questions are part of a method developed for Law and Gospel preachers to draw out a fundamental concern: how does the Word function in the text? These questions are not meant to be exhaustive or to stand on their own. To understand the method more completely and to explore Law and Gospel preaching further, see my brief guide to Law and Gospel preaching, Afflicting the Comfortable, Comforting the Afflicted, available from wipfandstock.com and amazon.)
1. How does the Word function in the text? This is a complete text in the sense that the Word functions in all the ways it can. It functions as Law as it points out the situation: "He led me all around [the bones]; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry." Also, later when the Lord says, "Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, 'Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely," this too, is the Word functioning as Law, showing our need for a Savior. The main body of the text, however, is Gospel in function as the Lord tells the prophet what God will do, and then does the deed! "And the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude." And later as well when the Lord God proclaims, "I am going to open your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel." Good news indeed!
2. With whom are you identifying in the text? We are clearly God's people in exile. We are those who say, "Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely." We identify solely with those who need desperately to hear the word of God's victory over death.
3. 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 work. A reader could hear the call to prophesy in this text and take that as a call to obedience. That might be possible if we identify with the prophet. If, however, we are identifying with the ones desperate to hear this good news, there is no call to obedience here; there is only the call to faith in the God who raises the dead.
4. What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text? The couplets in this text are obvious: dead/alive; dry bones/breathing beings; cut off completely/brought back to the land.
5. Exegetical work: John Taylor, in his commentary, equates the dry bones with the people of Israel in exile: "The bones represent the Israelites in exile. They have been there for more than ten years now, and what glimmerings of hope they had when first they arrived have now been altogether extinguished." (The Tyndale OT Commentaries, Ezekiel, p.234-235) The 17th century English clergyman, William Greenhill, also notes the state of these bones: "This seems an absurd thing, that the prophet should prophesy to creatures insensible, unintelligible, void of life; it was as if God should bid a man preach to a heap of stones, or dry chips, which are incapable of hearing." (Reformation Commentary on Scripture, OT, vol. XII, p. 181) Paulinus of Nola, 4th century Latin poet, saw Ezekiel as the one who had a glimpse of God's power over death: "If you are skeptical that ashes can be reassembled into bodies and souls restored to their vessels, Ezekiel will be your witness, for long ago the whole process of resurrection was revealed to him by the Lord." (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, OT, vol. XIII, p. 122) Finally, I love the succinct statement of Ambrose, Augustine's teacher: "It is the prerogative of God to raise the dead." (Ibid, p.123). Thanks be to God!
6. How does the Crossings Community model work with this text? Steven Kuhl does an outstanding job of lifting up the clear outlines of Law and Gospel in this text. He does this through a skillful use of three sets of couplets in the diagnosis and prognosis: dismembered/remembered; dispirited/revived; dispossessesd/repossessed. Excellent. Go to crossings.org/text-study to see the analysis in detail.
7. Consider the insights of the pioneers of the New Homiletic? Henry Mitchell was a champion of celebration in the pulpit. He said that the preacher must be the first one to sense the ecstasy in the text. This text is one that should revive any preacher. Few texts demand celebration the way this one does.
Blessings on your proclamation!
Saturday, March 21, 2020
(The following questions are taken from my Law and Gospel preaching method. They are questions which attempt to come to terms with how the Word is functioning, a primary concern for Law and Gospel preaching. To learn more about this method or Law/Gospel preaching in general, 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? In answer to this question I am reminded of John's words earlier in this gospel where he says, "The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ." (1:17) We see both grace and truth in this narrative. There is grace - Gospel - in the healing and faith given to the man born blind. There is truth - Law, in this case - given to the Pharisees who cannot see anything except that "this man is a sinner." The word functions as Gospel every time it heals and gives faith. The word functions as Law every time it lifts up our lostness apart from Christ.
2. How does the Word not function in the text? There is no call to obedience here. The call to obedience is the Word functioning to invite us to live in a certain way in response to the Gospel. The response being call for in this text is faith; this is not a call to obedience.
3. With whom are you identifying in the text? This is a tricky question. We almost always are called to identify with those who are being addressed by the Word; in this story those addressed by the Word are primarily the man born blind and the Pharisees. Can we identify with both? Yes, we can and we probably should. We are those who when asked, "How is it that you see?" will respond, "Jesus washed me and anointed me and now I see," alluding to our baptism. But when asked in what ways we fail to see Christ before us, perhaps in "the least ones", we are called to admit our need for repentance.
4. What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text? Since this is a story of contrasts, the couplets that come to mind are innumerable. A few suggestions: lost/found; blind/seeing; unbelief/faith.
5. Exegetical work: John's ability to include irony in these narratives is remarkable. Over and over, characters in these stories say things that have one meaning in the story but profound theological truths beyond it. For example, in verse 9 the man cries out, "I am the man!" The Greek text reveals that this is actually what only Jesus is allowed to say, "Ego eimi" I am. Also in verse 24, the Pharisees say, "We know that this man is a sinner." The irony and theological truth of these words in both the man born blind and the Pharisees is summed up in St. Paul's later words: "For our sake [God] made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." (II Cor. 5:21) The truth is, the man born blind will be given the righteousness of God, and the identity of sinner which the Pharisees accuse him of, will indeed become Christ's identity. Theologically, the baptism motif is something the Church has picked up on for ages. Raymond Brown highlights this in his analysis, noting how being born blind has been thought to be the metaphor for "born in sin," indeed, exactly as the Pharisees said. (vs. 34) Physical blindness has been seen to equal spiritual blindness, the smearing with mud is the signing with oil, and washing in the pool at Christ's command is akin to baptism. According to Brown the early Church read John 9 on the event of the baptism of catechumens, with the climax being the words of the man born blind, "Lord, I believe." (The Gospel According to John, I-XII, p. 380f) Peter Ellis also picks up on this early baptismal practice, noting "it is well known that anointing with spittle became part of the baptismal rites early on." (The Genius of John, p. 165)
6. How does the Crossings Community model work with this text? Marcus Felde is at his creative best in analyzing this story. He speaks in terms of tragedy and comedy. I love how he titles the first part of the prognosis, "Mud in your I", alluding to God's creative act in making human beings from the start, and how Christ is doing that very thing again. See crossings.org/text-study for the entire analysis.
Blessings on your proclamation!
Thursday, March 19, 2020
(The following questions have been developed to answer some of the fundamental questions we ask as Law and Gospel preachers. We are particularly interested in how the Word is functioning since this informs how the sermon will function. For more on this method, or the unique genre of 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? This psalm is almost completely a gospel word. Throughout the psalm we receive assurances of God's provision, protection, restoration, and guidance. We are assured of God's presence no matter how dark it gets. We are also told that a banquet table has been prepared for us, and we will dwell in God's abundant grace forever.
2. How is the Word not functioning in the text? A word of Law we define as the Word functioning to expose our need for Christ. Is that present here? Not directly. What is present is mention of all those things that stalk us and might well cause us to fall away from Christ, e.g. want, dark valleys, and enemies. We all know how quickly we follow the example of the Israelites in the wilderness and turn on God when we lack bread and water, when we experience suffering, and when our enemies come near.
3. With whom are you identifying in the text? We identify with the psalmist. We are those who cling to the promise that God is with us through "the valley of the shadow of death." We are those who bear witness to God's abundant grace, and proclaim that grace to others.
4. What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text? Using some of the imagery in this psalm we can imagine a number of couplets: in want/filled; tired/restored; lost/on right paths; living in the shadow of death/living in the light of the resurrection.
5. Exegetical work: It is amazing how few words this psalm has in its original Hebrew. For example, the first verse is only four words in Hebrew. The entire psalm is only 48 words, simple or compound. It is certainly no accident that the word which is exactly in the center of the psalm is atah, the Hebrew word for 'you' or 'thou'. This word is exactly at the point when the psalmist changes from third person to second person address; ..."I fear no evil, because ATAH - thou art with me." The poetry of this psalm lifts up this truth: "Even in the darkest times of life, YOU, are with me, Lord." The psalmist is no longer addressing the listener, but is addressing God directly. According to the New International Version Study Bible, verse 5 describes a banquet which is held in recognition of a new covenant between a king and a vassal-king. "In the ancient Near East, covenants were often concluded with a meal expressive of the bond of friendship; in the case of vassal treaties or covenants, the vassal was present as the guest of the overlord." So what the psalmist is lifting up is the covenant between the Lord and those in the Lord's favor. The final verse speaks of "covenant benefits" bestowed on the vassal-king, ensuring a lasting peace.
6. How does the Crossings Community model work with this text? Peter Keyel, in his recent analysis, shows how we go from a general recognition of wickedness to personal lostness. The gospel word is the presence of the Good Shepherd who does more than seek us out in the wilderness. Christ actually goes into the shadow of death himself and defeats it. Go to crossings.org/ text-study to see the entire analysis.
7. Consider the insights of the pioneers of the New Homiletic? Charles Rice insisted that the preacher help listeners recognize the part of God's story that intersects with their story. Certainly in this anxious time it will not be hard for the preacher to find places where these precious promises intersect with the listeners' need to hear them.
Blessings on your proclamation!
Monday, March 9, 2020
(The following questions have been developed in order to get at some of the fundamental concerns of Law and Gospel preaching, i.e. how the Word is functioning. These brief questions are meant to be used in conjunction with other sets of questions which are helpful in providing different lens for looking at texts. For more information 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? This extended dialogue gives us an example of the Word functioning in every way that it can: 1) A Gospel function is present whenever we hear Jesus proclaiming his desire to give to all the 'living water' (vss. 10, 13-14); 2) A Law function is present when the woman testifies to her thirst (vss. 7, 15), and admits to her need for repentance (vs. 17) ; 3) A Call to Obedience is present when we hear Jesus calling his disciples to quit sitting around and instead get to the work of the harvest when the 'fields are ripe'.(vss. 35-38).
2. With whom are you identifying in the text? As usual, it is important to identify with those who are addressed by the Word. In this story that is clearly the Samaritan woman. We might identify with her in many ways: outcast, powerless, disenfranchised, shame-based, defensive, scornful, thirsting, seeking truth, needing healing and forgiveness, needing love, etc. The ways we identify with her are only limited by our imagination.
3. What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text? As explained above, there is a clear call to the disciples to get to work, proclaiming the gospel. Even though this is not the main focus of this narrative, we could certainly make that part of the sermon. It is tempting to see Jesus' example here as a call to obedience as well, and view this story as one which illustrates evangelistic technique. Many a sermon has had as its thesis, "Do as Jesus does! Find the town 'watering hole'. Begin with people 'where they are.' 'Confront them with their sin', and so on. While evangelistic techniques have their place, this text is not primarily an exhortation to evangelism.
4. What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text? There are many couplets that one could imagine with this text. The most obvious is a common well/a spring gushing up to eternal life. Others might be: dead cisterns/living waters; outcast/embraced and respected; unknown/completely known.
5. Exegetical work: The multi-layered meaning of John's writing are on full display in any of the commentaries which discuss this passage. Craig Koester has a helpful discussion about the symbolism of water in all of John's writing. He reminds us that for Jews and Samaritans alike the law was often likened to water. "Extant Samaritan sources speak of the law as 'a well of living water' from God. (Symbolism in the Fourth Gospel, p. 189) This gives us a clue that perhaps John is suggesting that Jesus will bring life and salvation in a way akin to the way the law brought life to God's people during Israel's history. Gerard Sloyan reminds us that John often uses an individual as a representative for a larger group, saying, "we are right to doubt the literal truth of the woman's having had five husbands and not being married to her present partner (v.18). Aside from the inherent improbability of such a career, there is the fact that the Samaritans were stigmatized as 'Cuthians'..., a tribe of the Assyrian Empire...These were one of the five idolatrous peoples of the East identified in Second Kings by their gods and consorts." (Interpretation series, John, p.55) Lamar Williamson sees the language of the Spirit as central to this dialogue. He is convinced that when Jesus talks about "a spring of water gushing up to eternal life" he is talking about the Spirit. "What Jesus promises is not something that will be used up after he gives it, but the gift of himself in the person of the Paraclete." (Preaching the Gospel of John, p.49)
6. How does the Crossings Community model work with this text? Archived under this text are no less than four interesting analyses of this text. One emphasizes the theme of thirst and Jesus' ability to satisfy our thirst. Another talks about the woman's outcast status, and how Jesus "sticks with her", even though she is"stuck." Still others call on the harvest language or the woman's awareness of her own sin. Go to crossings.org/text-study to see this rich array.
7. Consider the insights of the pioneers of the New Homiletic? This lengthy text is an invitation to a sermon that tries to do too much. As the old saying goes, "The preacher that tries to exhaust a subject, usually ends up only exhausting the listeners!" David Buttick's insight to limit the number of moves we make in a sermon to what is essential is good advice here.
Blessings on your proclamation!
Monday, March 2, 2020
(The following questions have been developed as a way of getting at a fundamental concern for Law and Gospel preachers, i.e. How does the Word function in the text? These questions provide one lens for looking at a text; other methods provide other lens which are to be commended. To learn more about this method and Law and Gospel preaching in general, 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? If the Word functioning as Law serves to expose our need for Christ, and the Word functioning as Gospel proclaims what God has done in Christ, then in this text, we have a tidy arrangement. The first 12 verses function almost exclusively to show Nicodemus' need for Christ, and so are a word of Law. Nicodemus testifies to his own lack of understanding, and his dependence on signs. Jesus affirms Nicodemus' ignorance especially when he says, "Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?" (vs. 10) The final 5 verses are all about what God is doing in Christ and thus function as Gospel: The Son of Man is lifted up as the serpent in the wilderness (i.e. One who brings healing and life); everyone who believes in this Son of Man has eternal life; God loves the world and sent the Son not to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved.
2. With whom are you identifying in the text? We are clearly meant to identify with Nicodemus. As always, it is important for the preacher not to identify with Jesus, but rather with the one addressed by Jesus. When preachers identify with Jesus it becomes very easy to see ourselves as those whom are neither addressed by the Word, nor stand in need of it.
3. 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 a certain way in response to the Gospel. The Word does not function this way here. We have the call to faith, but that is not the call to obedience. If we look at the First Reading appointed for today from Genesis 12, we see that Abram believed God's promise and when God told him to go to a new land, he went. That is an example of a call to obedience.
4. What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text? There are lots of couplets present in this text, and many more can perhaps be imagined. Here are some examples: night/day; ignorant/enlightened; being dead/being begotten again; condemned/saved.
5. Exegetical work: Craig Koester's outstanding commentary on John's gospel gives us some important insights into the people Nicodemus represents. Koester names three groups: 1) those who have "an inability to understand the ways of God"; 2) those who believe because of Jesus' signs; and 3) "humanity estranged from God." (Symbolism in the Fourth Gospel, p. 45) In looking at that list it becomes even more clear that the opening verses of this text function as Law, lifting up our need for Christ. In Kittel's article on signs (semeion) he notes why those who believe in Jesus because of his signs are not commended for their faith: "Jesus opposes...an attitude...in which readiness to believe is made dependent on signs and wonders." (Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, VII, p. 243f) Kittel points us to John 4:48 where Jesus says, "Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe." One small detail in translation that opens up this text is knowing that gennao, most often translated "being born", can also be translated "begotten." In other words both the feminine contribution to new life (giving birth) and the masculine contribution (begetting) are contained in this word. So if one translates these verses using "begotten"as the text it highlights the fact that this new birth involves having a new Father, not only being born anew. Raymond Brown, in his classic commentary brings both of these options to light: "A [person] takes on flesh only after being begotten of a man...Eternal life comes only from being begotten by a Heavenly Father." "If natural life [comes from] God's giving breath to man, eternal life comes when God gives his Holy Spirit to a man." (The Gospel According to John, I-XII, p. 138, 140)
6. Consider the insights of the pioneers of the New Homiletic? Charles Rice was one who insisted that the task of the preacher was to help listeners recognize their shared story in a text. This might be a great chance to do just that - invite people to reflect on when they have been in Nicodemus' place, or perhaps the preacher can share when that was their experience.
Blessings on your proclamation!