Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Entrusting Oneself to God

I Peter 2:19-25, the Second Reading appointed for the 4th Sunday of Easter in the Year of Mark, is a curious reading.  The message, by itself, can seem merely a call to all believers to "take up the Cross and follow Christ." Christ suffered, so we, his followers must expect to suffer too.  Reading the context, however, only one verse earlier, makes all this considerably more complex.  Consider verse 18:  "Slaves, accept the authority of your masters with all deference, not only those who are kind and gentle but also those who are harsh."  That verse puts the following verses, which call the hearers to "endure pain while suffering unjustly," into a whole new light.  It will be important for the preacher to lift up this context and yet to recognize the call we all have as followers of Christ.

(The following questions are meant to lift up a central concern of Law and Gospel preachers: how is the Word functioning?  This is central because Law and Gospel preaching recognizes that the way in which the Word functions in the text is the guide given to the preacher for how the sermon must function.  For more on this method and Law and Gospel preaching in general, see my brief guide, Afflicting the Comfortable, Comforting the Afflicted, available from and amazon.)

1.  How does the Word function in the text? The bulk of this text is a classic call to obedience. That is to say, the Word functions to invite us, even command us, to live in a certain way in response to God's work in Christ.  Here the invitation is to extraordinary living, especially when we consider the ones to whom this word is  addressed.  Slaves are being asked to endure harsh treatment and even abuse, thereby openly "entrusting [themselves] to the one who judges justly."  Clearly this text is open to abuse and is known to have been used to commit horrific acts against enslaved people.  Having said that, it stands as an extraordinary example of our calling to entrust ourselves to God. 

The Word functions in a second way in this text.  In the later verses, as the writer is focusing more and more on the example of Christ, the Word begins to proclaim gospel:  "He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross... by his wounds you have been healed."  This is pure gospel.

2.  How is the Word not functioning in the text?  We are not confronted with a word of Law in this text.  In the last verse, the writer notes that the listeners "were going astray" but even that is in past tense.  There is no indication that the writer wishes to confront the audience with their need for a Savior.

3.  With whom are you identifying in the text?  This is a tricky question given the context.  While it is undoubtedly true that many of the earliest believers were household slaves, few, if any, of us today have personal knowledge of what slavery entails.  Given this, we must not claim an experience which is not ours to claim, but rather think of other experiences where we have suffered unjustly for our confession of Christ.  Like those first listeners, we are being called to entrust ourselves to the one who judges justly.

4.  What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text?  Because this text is primarily a call to obedience, we must take what little language we have regarding the Gospel and then use our imagination to create couplets which are appropriate to this text.  Some ideas:  enslaved to sin/free from sin; wounded/healed; going astray/found by the shepherd.

5.  Exegetical work:  It is instructive to note that the word translated "entrusted" in verse 23 is paradidomi, a word usually translated "handed over" or  "delivered to" or even "betrayed into".  The clear meaning of the word is that one is given into the power or control of another.  In this text, listeners are being asked to do that very thing:  give themselves over to "the one who judges justly."  We are asked to  deliver ourselves into God's power, to entrust ourselves to this Just Judge.  As noted above, the household slaves to which this was first written were being asked to do this in extreme circumstances which most of us can only imagine. Pheme Perkins, in her commentary, takes up this whole subject:  "The example of Christ's suffering permits those who are slaves to recognize a value to their own experiences of injustice.  At the same time, the sufferers know that they have a value to God, which has been expressed in Christ's death on their behalf.  The negative words and deeds directed at believers will not shake their confidence in the salvation that they have already experienced.  Suffering without belonging to this new community would be senseless." (Interpretation series, First and Second Peter, James, and Jude, p. 54) 

6.  How does the Crossings Community model work with this text?  Marcus Felde's 2017 analysis of this text takes the last verse, our "going astray", as the starting point for his diagnosis. He then goes on to show how far we go astray.  His clear prognosis also picks up on the terms in the text where Christ bears our sins "in his body on the cross."  He calls this "the sweet exchange", a favorite Crossings Community phrase.  To see the whole analysis go to

Blessings on your proclamation!

Monday, April 20, 2020

Born Anew of Imperishable Seed

The Easter Season during the Year of Matthew finds us reading portions from the First Letter of Peter.  As in Week 2, now in Week 3 we find ourselves in the first chapter.  The writer continues to lift up the mighty acts of God, undoubtedly concerned that those reading or hearing this letter might be struggling spiritually during their time of exile.  This letter becomes for us a reminder of all God has done and is doing, lest we too, in our exilic COVID-19 time, might flag in faith. It will be the preacher's job to lift up this good news.

(The following questions have been developed to answer questions around the functioning of the Word, a central concern for Law and Gospel preachers.  Law and Gospel preachers understand that as the Word is functioning, so ought a sermon on that Word be functioning.  For more on this method, and on 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?  The Word here functions almost completely as Gospel.  The writer reminds us that we were "ransomed from... futile ways," that Christ was revealed "for your sake," and through Christ "you have come to trust in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory."  These are all reminders of what God has done and is doing - pure Gospel.

2.  How is the Word not functioning in the text?  The word of Law, which exposes our need for Christ, is not present in a direct way in this text.  We are reminded in the opening verse that we ought to live in "reverent fear" because we know God as impartial judge, yet there is little here that announces our need for a Savior.  The mentioning of the "futile ways" of the ancestors is again an indirect reference to our need for a Savior, yet here we are told that we have been rescued from this, not that we are now living in these ways.

3.  With whom are you identifying in the text?  We are part of the initial body of listeners.  We receive this word as spoken to us:  it is we who have been ransomed, we who have come to trust God, and we who know what it is to live in futile ways.

4.  What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text?  There are a number of classic calls to obedience in this short passage. The clearest one is verse 22:  "Now that you have purified your souls... love one another deeply from the heart."  This is the classic call to obedience where we are invited to live in response to what God has done.  Because we have been ransomed from futile ways, and God has been at work again and again "for our sakes" we are invited to love deeply.  This is the call to obedience.

5.  What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text?  The language in this short passage provides fodder for a number of couplets:  futility/fulfillment; dead/born anew; sinful/purified.

6.  Exegetical work:  Pheme Perkins, in her commentary on this passage, notes that many of the original listeners to this letter were likely household slaves.  She argues that the use of redemption language would have been very familiar to them:  "Since many resident foreigners came to live in other cities because they had been taken there as slaves, references to 'ransoming' may have connected the readers' experience with the biblical imagery of Exodus (Exod. 6:6; 15:13).  Though they have been ransomed, the letter's readers remain in exile and subject to the constraints of obedience.  However, readers have been 'freed' from another form of slavery, that of their ancestral way of life." (Interpretation series, First and Second Peter, James, and Jude, p. 38).  The question of what the "futile ways of the ancestors" were is open to speculation.  The Book of Acts offers several stories which seem likely candidates.  In Act 16:16f we hear of "money-making by fortune telling."  This practice was one which the apostle Paul identified as enslaving.  Again in Acts 19:23f we hear of the lucrative business of selling idols, another practice which Paul called into question.  It seems likely that these practices and others like them were those practices the writer of I Peter called "futile."

7.  How does the Crossings Community model work with this text?  Archived under its reference is a concise analysis of this text by Mark Marius. He does an excellent job of taking the specific language of this text and moving from diagnosis to prognosis, all the time sticking to the language provided. Excellent.  See for yourself at

Blessings on your proclamation!

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Born into a Living Hope

I Peter 1:3-9, the Second Reading appointed for the Second Sunday of Easter in the Year of Matthew, is a wonderful text to read in the Easter season.  It proclaims our new birth into "a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ."  It seems that our hope comes alive by means of Christ coming alive.  The vitality of our hope is then directly connected to the vitality of Christ in our lives.  It shall be our privilege to proclaim this great gift!

(The following questions are part of a method developed for Law and Gospel preachers who seek to understand how the Word is functioning.  These questions are not meant to be exhaustive, but are best used in conjunction with other fine sets of questions available to preachers and exegetes.  For more on this method and Law and Gospel preaching in general, see my brief guide, Afflicting the Comfortable, Comforting the Afflicted, available from or amazon.)

1.  How does the Word function in the text?  This text is functioning almost entirely as Gospel.  Over and over, the writer announces to the hearers what God has done.  God has given a "new birth", an "inheritance" that is "imperishable, undefiled, and unfading."  God is also protecting these hearers and even using their suffering to refine their faith to an even more glorious form.

2.  How is the Word not functioning in the text?  The Law, the Word functioning to highlight the need for a Savior, is almost completely absent.  The one exception is the mention, in verse 6, of their suffering "various trials."  Indeed, we learn from the greeting in verse 1:1 that these hearers are "exiles of the Dispersion," no small burden.  Their suffering, we learn in the letter, is a direct result of their refusal to abandon their confession of Christ. They are bearing witness, and so are paying the price.

3.  With whom are you identifying in the text?  We best identify with those to whom the Word is addressed.  In the days of the COVID-19 pandemic, in which we are now living, we are certainly suffering, although not because of our confession, rather because of this global plague.  Nevertheless, we are among those who need to hear that we are not identified solely as victims of a plague, but as children of God, protected, beloved, and promised an unfading inheritance in Christ.

4.  What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text?  In verse 8 there is not so much a call to obedience as a commendation for living in response to God's mercy:  "Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with and indescribable an glorious joy."

5.  What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text?  The language in the text, though not complete, suggests several couplets:  death/new birth; impoverished/having a rich inheritance; abandoned/protected by God.

6.  Exegetical work:  It is important to understand the word peirasmos, which is translated as "trials" at the end of verse 6.  This term does not refer to trials which come to us merely because we are part of the human race (e.g. illness, injury, calamity, etc.), but rather trials which come to us because we confess Christ as Lord.  Kittel, in his extended article on this term, notes that "for the Christian suffering is participation in the sufferings of Christ, and hence in the last analysis it means joy." (Theological Dictionary of the NT, vol. VI, p. 30).  This kind of suffering may be avoided if one abandons the confession of Christ.  In other places in the NT this term is translated as "temptation." (e.g. in the Beatitudes)  Pheme Perkins, in her commentary on this text, makes clear this point:  "As we read through I Peter, we discover that the trials to which it refers are those that are in some sense related to a person's individual confession.  They are inflicted by persons who fit the category of "the wicked" in Wisd. Sol. 3:1-6.  Testimony to the truth of the gospel stirs up anger, taunting, skepticism, and the like, the aim of which is to demonstrate that the righteous are not in fact what they appear to be.  The distinctive behavior of believers under trial witnesses to the power and truth of the gospel." (Interpretation series, First and Second Peter, James, and Jude, p. 32)  Athanasius, 4th century bishop of Alexandria, also comments on this suffering:  "Because the saints saw that the divine fire would cleanse them and benefit them, they did not shrink back from or get discouraged by the trials which they faced.  Rather than being hurt by what they went through, they grew and were made better, shining like gold that has been refined in a fire."  (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, NT, vol. XI, p. 71).

7.  Consider the insights of the pioneers of the New Homiletic?  Fred Craddock was always concerned that the preacher brings the experience of the text to the listener.  It will be the preacher's task to tap into like experiences of suffering for Christ and joy in Christ in order for the listeners to connect to this text.

Blessings on your proclamation!

Saturday, April 4, 2020

An Everlasting Love

Jeremiah 31:1-6, an alternate First Reading for Easter Day, is not a passage we know well, even though for Lutherans at least, the end of this chapter is one we do know.  Every Reformation Sunday we read Jeremiah 31:31-34:  "The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel."  This new covenant language is a prominent theme in this Book of Comfort - Chapters 30 and 31 - wherein we learn that God is announcing the end of exile.  What a change this is in the midst of Jeremiah's laments.  How we need this word.  It will be the joyful task of the preacher to announce God's everlasting love to the listeners.

(The following questions are part of a method developed to bring out the way the Word functions in the text, a particular concern of Law and Gospel preachers. These questions are meant to be used along with other fine sets of questions which attend to other important matters.  For more on this method and to learn about Law and Gospel preaching in general, see my brief guide, Afflicting the Comfortable, Comforting the Afflicted, available from or amazon.)

1.  How does the Word function in the text?  This passage is pure Gospel, stated most gloriously in verse 3:  "I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you."  The end of that verse uses the common Hebrew word, hesed, which refers to a steadfast lovingkindness that will not be extinguished.

2.  How is the Word not functioning in the text?  Unlike the majority of Jeremiah's writings, this passage continues no word of Law.  There is nothing in this passage that accuses, nor anything that suggests Israel's need for a Savior.  Of course, we understand the context is one of exile, so the need for deliverance is obvious.

3.  With whom are you identifying in the text?  We are the exiles hearing this word of hope. We are those who are crying tears of joy as we hear that once again there will be a day when we will be able to "go up to Zion" and assemble in the Lord's house.

4.  What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text?  The Word functioning to invite us to live in response to God's grace is not present in this text.  One of the choices for a second reading on Easter day, Colossians 3:1-4, begins with a wonderful example of a call to obedience:  "So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above..."  If the preacher wishes to preach a call to obedience, this is the place to start.

5.  What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text?  Since the Law is only present in the assumed context, we shall need to use our imagination to come up with language for couplets.  Here are a few ideas:  bondage/free; in ruins/rebuilt; in mourning/celebrating.

6.  Exegetical work: The Lutheran Study Bible has this to say about Jeremiah 30:1-31:40:  "Scholars have named this section The Book of Comfort.  The Lord's word through Jeremiah announces the building and planting we were expecting since the prophet's call at 1:4-10."  If we look at 1:10 we see that Jeremiah's call was to "pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow," which was surely the bulk of his work, but it was also "to build and to plant."  In this Book of Comfort we finally see this work.  John Calvin, writing in his Commentary on Jeremiah, had this to say:  "We now perceive the design of the prophet... that there was no reason to fear that God would fail in due time to deliver his people; for it was well known that then when he became formerly the liberator of his people, his power was manifested in many and resplendent ways." (Reformation Commentary on Scripture, OT, vol. XI, p.288)  Abraham Heschel would concur:  "God's love of Israel is one of Israel's sacred certainties which Jeremiah, like Hosea and Isaiah before him, tried to instill in the minds of the people."  (The Prophets, vol. 1, p. 107)  I love that phrase, "the sacred certainty of God's love."  That will preach!

7.  Consider the insights of the pioneers of the New Homiletic?  On Easter day there is probably no shortage of celebration in our preaching, and that is as it should be.  We need to celebrate.  We need also, as Eugene Lowry always reminded us, to move our listeners from disequilibrium to equilibrium.  In short, let us spend some time in the tomb before heading out into the light.

Blessings on your proclamation!