Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Greed: The Hidden Disease


I Timothy 6:6-19, the Second Reading for the 16th Sunday after Pentecost in the Year of Luke, continues our readings from the Pastoral Letters.  On this Sunday it matches well with the other readings where in Amos "those who are at ease in Zion" are addressed, and in Luke a story is told about "a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day."  In this first letter to Timothy the rich are also addressed.  It will be the preacher's task to address not only those of wealth, but all who desire to be rich (which is everyone).

(The following questions are not meant to be exhaustive but serve only to raise up the function of the Word  in the text, a central concern of Law and Gospel preachers.  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?  This is one of the rare texts where we see the Word functioning in every way it can.  The first 4 verses warn us against loving and placing our hope in money.  This is the Word functioning as Law.  In verses 11-14 we are exhorted to "fight the good fight of faith" and to "keep the commandment without spot or blame."  This is the Word functioning as a Call to Obedience in response to the grace we have received.  Verses 15b and 16 are a doxology, proclaiming the sovereignty of Christ, a Gospel function.  Finally in verses 17-19 the rich are addressed in a Call to Obedience, exhorting them to "take hold of the life that really is life."

2.  With whom are you identifying in the text?  We can all identify with the call to fight the good fight of faith and keep the commandment.  We also would be advised to identify with those who wish to be rich, since this is a common affliction.  As to the exhortation to the wealthy, that will apply to only some.

3.  What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text?  Several couplets are suggested by the vocabulary used here:  ruin and destruction/health and life; uncertain riches/eternal hope.

4.  Exegetical work:  Augustine reminds us that all people, even the poor, suffer from the sin of greed:  "Listen, you poor, to the same apostle, 'There is great gain,' he says, 'in godliness with contentment.'  You have the world in common with the rich.  You don't have a house in common with the rich, but you do have the sky, you do have the light in common with them.  Just look for sufficiency, look for what is enough, not for more than that.  Anything more is a weighing down, not a lifting up of the spirit; a burden, not a reward." (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, NT, vol. IX, p. 212).  He continues: "He did not say: Those who are rich.  He said:  Those who seek to become rich... The name of riches is, as it were, sweet-sounding to the ear.  But, 'many vain and harmful desires' - does that sound sweet?  To be 'involved in many troubles' - does that sound sweet?  Do not be so misled by one false good that you will thereby cling to many evils." (Ibid., p. 214).  Finally, Augustine reminds us of this:  "So love God, and love your neighbor as yourself.  I mean, I can see that you love yourself, because you love God. Charity is the root of all good works.  Just as greed, after all, is the root of all evil, so charity is the root of all good things." (Ibid., 216).  A couple of centuries later, Gregory the Great echoed Augustine's words, comparing avarice to a hidden disease:  "For, as impetigo invades the body without pain, spreading with no annoyance to him whom it invades, disfigures the comeliness of the members, so avarice, too, exulcerates, while it pleases, the mind of one who is captive to it." (Interpretation series, First and Second Timothy and Titus, p.104).

6.  How does the Crossings Community model work with this text?  Marcus Felde expertly analyzes the Law and Gospel in this text using the sound-alike verbs, "suckered" and "succored."  He also points out how our hearts are "pierced with many pangs" in our pursuit of wealth, while Christ himself is pierced for us.  To see this fine analysis, go to crossings.org/text-study where you will find it archived under its reference.

Blessings on your proclamation!


Monday, September 12, 2022

Prayers and Proclamation

 


I Timothy 2:1-7, the Second Reading appointed for the 15th Sunday after Pentecost in the Year of Luke, is a continuation of this book that we began last week.  Several verses at the end of chapter one were omitted between last week's reading and this week's, nevertheless, what we have is a continuation.  The text is unique in that it starts out with an exhortation and ends with proclamation.  The preacher is thus given a double task, if one is faithful to this text.

(The following questions help us attend to the central question for a Law and Gospel preacher:  How does the Word function in the text?  The preacher must answer this question since the way the Word functions is largely the way the sermon must function.  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?  Initially the Word is functioning as a Call to Obedience as the apostle exhorts us to pray for all people, but especially those in authority.  At verse 5 the writer quotes a creed-like statement, announcing the saving work of Christ, and with that, the Word is functioning as Gospel.

2.  How is the Word not functioning in the text?  There is no hint of Law here, no place where the Word is functioning in a way that calls us to repentance, or lifts up our need for a Savior, except as implied in the word 'mediator' and 'ransom'.

3.  With whom are you identifying in the text?  We are those addressed by this text, even though our context is radically different from those living under Roman rule in the First Century.

4.  What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text?  The terms that the author uses for Christ might be a good place to start in constructing couplets for this text.  Some ideas:  guilty/innocent (mediator); enslaved/free (ransom).

5.  Exegetical work:  Tertullian, the Second Century apologist, in his commentary gives us a hint of what the situation was like during the writing of this letter.  He makes clear that when one was asked to pray for kings and those in authority that was akin to praying for one's enemies.  You can also hear in his writing a certain defense of the Christian community, lest they be perceived to be a threat to the empire:  "If you think that we have no interest in the emperor's welfare, look into our literature, read the Word of God...  Learn from this literature that it has been enjoined upon us, that our charity may more and more abound, to pray to God even for our enemies and to beg for blessings for our persecutors." (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, NT, vol. IX, p. 154).  Christian Eberhart, in his 2013 Working Preacher commentary, would concur with Tertullian. He notes the growth of the "Roman  Emperor cult" in the late first century, and how telling it is that the writer of this letter has Timothy praying for kings and not to kings.  Also, he notes the presence of the phrases "one God" and "one mediator," titles reserved in cultic worship for the Caesars.  In other words, this letter, while seeming to cow tow to empire's hubris is giving hints of exactly the opposite.

6.  How does the Crossings Community model work with this text?  Timothy Hoyer does an interesting thing with this text, centering on the creedal statement in verses 5 and 6.  He refers back to the opening verses in the letter where the writer reveals part of the reason for writing is that "certain people" have arisen who are teaching a "different doctrine."  Hoyer seems to believe that the main reason for this creedal statement is to make certain Timothy and his congregation are aware what right doctrine is.  See the entire analysis under crossings.org/text-study, archived under its reference.

Blessings on your proclamation!


Wednesday, September 7, 2022

A Testimony for the Ages

 


I Timothy  1:12-17 is the 2nd reading for the 14th Sunday after Pentecost in the Year of Luke.  The lectionary apparently likes the Pastoral Letters since, going forward, we will have seven weeks of these readings.  This brief reading is testimony, plain and simple.  It is Paul's testimony in summary.  Given that, this might be an opportunity for the preacher to offer the story of their calling, or have a member of the congregation offer theirs.

(The following questions have been developed in order to raise up the function of the Word in a text, a fundamental concern of Law and Gospel preachers.  Other sets of exegetical questions will also be helpful to the preacher, so these are not meant to be exhaustive. 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?  This text is pure Gospel as Paul celebrates the grace of God extended to him in Christ.

2.  How is the Word not functioning in the text?  There is no Law here, no sense that the Word is functioning to call us to repentance, even though Paul does list some of his most egregious sins.

3.  With whom are you identifying in the text? We are those to whom this letter is addressed, marveling in the grace of God shown Paul, and joining him in praising God.

4.  What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text?  The Word functioning as Call to Obedience is characterized by an invitation to live in a certain way in response to the Gospel.  There is no such call here, though Paul mentions that God has "appointed [him] to God's service."

5.  What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text?  We can take Paul's testimony and fashion some couplets from them.  Some suggetions:  blasphemer/proclaimer; persecutor/protector; man of violence/ man of peace.

6.  Exegetical work:  One can see immediately in this passage that the doctrine of grace is no mere theoretical concept for Paul.  God's grace has changed his life.  It is telling that the false teachers he warns Timothy about in verses 3-7 are stuck in "myths and endless genealogies that promote speculation" rather than the life of service and love.  Eric Barreto, in his 2016 Working Preacher commentary, notes that Paul's testimony is "more a story of calling than of conversion."  Barreto says that Paul's words are a good reminder that "God's grace not just delivered me but delivered me for the sake of another."  The language Paul uses in the first verse bear this out as he says that Christ Jesus "has strengthened me"... "and appointed me to his service."  Christian Eberhart, in his 2013 Working Preacher commentary, agrees, noting that Paul's conversion "occurred within Judaism, namely from the Pharisaic to the Messianic-Christian movement."  Finally, Eberhart notes the vast contrast between Paul's behavior: "acted ignorantly in unbelief", and God's grace and patience with this "foremost" of sinners.

7.  How does the Crossings Community model work with this text?  Robin Morgan goes back to the story of Paul's Damascus Road experience to fill out the fallen nature of Paul, prior to his encounter with Christ.  Morgan then simply relates the grace found in this passage to fill out the Gospel, as Paul gives testimony.  See the details at crossings.org/text-study, archived under its reference.

Blessings on your proclamation!


Monday, August 29, 2022

A Call to Philemon and to Us

 


The Second Reading for the 13th Sunday after Pentecost in the Year of Luke is unusual in that it is an entire epistle, nearly.  The reference is Philemon 1-21.  Only the last four verses of the book are omitted from the reading.  The letter is personal in nature, between Paul and Philemon, apparently the host of a house church in Colossae. As such, one strategy for preaching would be to simply follow the argument as laid out, as Paul urges Philemon to do a radical thing - consider the former slave, Onesimus, a brother in Christ.  Another strategy might be to consider God's call to us all to live a lively faith.

(The following questions are not meant to be exhaustive but serve only to lift up the function of the Word in the text, a fundamental concern of Law and Gospel preachers.  These questions are best used in conjunction with other fine sets of questions available to exegetes.  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?  This entire letter is clearly a plea to live in love in a radical way.  As such, it is a classic call to obedience.  Notice that Paul is praying that Philemon's faith might become "effective". (v.6).  This word - energys - can also be translated "active", or perhaps "energized."  Also, notice that Paul wants this activity to be "voluntary and not something forced." (vs.14)  Finally, Paul is taking on a Christlike role here, offering to assume the wrongs or debts that might be associated with Onesimus, in order that Onesimus might be given a new identity.

2.  How is the Word not functioning in the text?  As noted above, there are hints here of Paul taking a Christlike role, but overall there is little word of Gospel here.  There is also no word of Law, whereby we are called to repentance.  Philemon is not being accused of anything, even though Paul does remind him that he owes him his "own self." (vs.19)

3.  With whom are you identifying in the text?  Much in line with Jesus' words to his disciples in Luke 14:25-33, we are being addressed directly in this text.  We are Philemon.  We are the ones being called to radical discipleship, radical welcome and love.

4.  What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text?  Since the Word is not functioning here as either Law or Gospel, we will need to invent some couplets based on the vocabulary present in the text. Some suggestions;  enslaved/free; indebted/forgiven; living as a slave/living as a member of the family.

5.  Exegetical work:  It is striking how long it takes Paul to makes his 'ask' in this brief letter.  He spends the first two thirds of the letter laying the groundwork for what he is about to ask.  He praises Philemon, he notes his own aging condition, and he tells of how much has changed since Philemon last saw Onesimus.  Only in verse 16, and more directly in verse 17, does Paul finally make his request.  Fourth century bishop, John Chrysostom, noted this in his homilies:  "Be careful to observe how much groundwork is necessary before Paul honorably brought Onesimus before his master. Observe how wisely he has done this.  See for how much he makes Philemon answerable and how much he honors Onesimus." (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, NT, vol. IX, p. 314).  Origen, second century exegete, also notes Paul's strategy, and sees in it, God's dealings with us:  "God does not tyrannize but rules, and when he rules, he does not coerce but encourages and he wishes that those under him yield themselves willingly to his direction so that the good of someone may not be according to compulsion but according to his free will." (Ibid.).  Luther, in his commentary on this letter, also has much to say about how these words of Paul echo God's words to us:  "In Christian matters nothing should be done by compulsion, but there should be free will.... God is not pleased with compulsory acts of service.  Children have to be trained to serve under compulsion, but of adults a voluntary spirit is required.  [Paul] was not afraid that this would happen to Philemon, but that this would be set up as a rule among Christians; [he was concerned] that no one should do anything by compulsion." (LW, vol. 29, p. 102).

6.  Consider the insights of the pioneers of the New Homiletic? Charles Rice was keen to remind preachers that they must help listeners recognize their shared story in a text.  It might be important to consider the ways listeners are being called to discipleship, even in ways far beyond what is being asked of Philemon here.

Blessings on your proclamation!


Tuesday, August 23, 2022

Proverbial Wisdom


It is not often that the Lectionary assigns a reading from Proverbs, but that is exactly the case on this 12th Sunday after Pentecost in the Year of Luke. The precise reference is Proverbs 25:6-7, two verses.  They fit very nicely with the passage from Luke 14 where Jesus gives similar advice, but of course, their context is completely different.  It will be the preacher's task to bring these wise sayings into the modern context.

(The following questions have been developed to lift up the way the Word works in the text, a central concern of Law and Gospel preachers.  They are not meant to be exhaustive, but are best used with other fine sets of questions available to exegetes.  More on this method and on Law and Gospel preaching in general can be found in my book Afflicting the Comfortable, Comforting the Afflicted, available from wipfandstock.com or amazon.)

1.  How does the Word function in the text?  A sentence which begins with a prohibition can either be interpreted as a Call to Obedience or Law.  In the former case, the Word is functioning to invite us to live in a certain way in response to God's grace.  In the latter, the Word is functioning to show us our need for repentance, our need for a Savior.  

2.  How is the Word not functioning in the text?  There is no word of Gospel here, no place where the Word functions to proclaim God's work of grace.

3.  With whom are you identifying in the text?  We are clearly those addressed here.

4.  What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text?  Since the Word does not function here as Gospel, we will need to invent a few couplets which might speak to this text.  Some suggestions:  shamed/honored; put down/raised up.

5.  Exegetical work:  Commentators seem to agree that Proverbs 25 is generally instruction intended for young men who are being trained for positions of political leadership, persons who may well find themselves in the royal court.  James Limburg, in his Working Preacher commentary, lifts up this fact and also gives examples of persons in the OT who failed to live by this advice:  residents of Babel (Genesis 11), Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 4), and Haman (Esther 6).   Luther has an extended commentary on the virtue of humility in his commentary on the Magnificat.  Here are a few examples:  "They, therefore, do [Mary] an injustice who hold that she gloried, not indeed, in her virginity, but in her humility.  She gloried neither in the one nor in the other, but only in the gracious regard of God.  Hence the stress lies not on the word 'low estate,' but on the word 'regarded.'  For not her humility but God's regard is to be praised.  When a prince takes a poor beggar by the hand, it is not the beggar's lowliness but the prince's grace and goodness that is to be commended."  (Luther's Works, Vol. 21, pg. 314).  "True humility, therefore, never knows that it is humble, as I have said; for if it knew this, it would turn proud from contemplation of so fine a virtue.  But it clings with all its heart and mind and senses to lowly things, sets them continually before its eyes, and ponders them in its thoughts.  And because it sets them before its eyes, it cannot see itself nor become aware of itself, much less of lofty things." (Ibid., pg. 315).

Blessings on your proclamation!


Wednesday, August 3, 2022

The Struggle of Faith

 


Abraham has been the key actor in a number of First Readings over the last several weeks and this 9th Week after Pentecost is no exception as we encounter him in Genesis 15:1-6, still wrestling with God's promises of offspring, when it seems more and more impossible.  The Second Reading from Hebrews 11 and the Gospel Reading from Luke 12 match well this week since all explore the notion of faith.  It will be the preacher's task to explore this notion as well.

(The following questions are not meant to be exhaustive, but only serve to lift up the function of the Word in the text.  This is a key concern of Law and Gospel preachers, since how the Word functions informs, to a great extent, how the sermon  will function.  For more on this method and 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?  The Word is functioning primarily as Gospel here as God's promises are reiterated yet again to Abram.  Particularly as God directs Abram's gaze towards the heavens is God's greatness and abundance made known.

2.  How is the Word not functioning in the text?  Even though Abram's weariness and doubt are on full display, there is no word of Law here.  There is nothing that condemns Abram for his doubt or his fatigue.  God simply persists in stating the promise.

3.  With whom are you identifying in the text?  Clearly we are in Abram's shoes, struggling also when God's promises and our experience do not match up.

4.  What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text?  The Call to Obedience is always the Word functioning to invite us to live in response to God's work.  This is not the same as the call to faith.  What we have here, then, is the call to faith, which Abram exemplifies.

5.  What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text?  Abram's struggle provides us with fodder for several couplets.  Some suggestions:  doubt/faith; despair/hope; worry/peace.

6.  Exegetical work:  Nahum Sarna's excellent verse-by-verse commentary on Genesis often opens up these texts wonderfully, and so it is here.  Sarna reminds us that the opening phrase, "after these things" refers to Abram's earlier rescue of the people of Sodom from their captors.  Sarna suggests that what Abram is worried about is "the possibility of revenge by the defeated kings."  God's answer is "Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield."  Also, Sarna suggests that the reward which God is speaking about is a reward that will be given to Abram for his refusal "to have any part of the spoils of war." (see 14:21-24).  This also makes sense. Finally, Abram's response to God's assurance also reflects the recent events, as Abram replies, "O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless..."  In other words, "You can reward me all you like, Lord, but 'no material reward can equal the blessing of having children.'" (The JPS Torah Commentary, Genesis, pp. 112-113).  Walter Brueggemann is also helpful in his observations, which center more on Abram's reluctance to accept God's assurances.  Brueggemann suggests that the central question of this whole text is one which we all ask:  "Why and how does one continue to trust solely in the promise when the evidence against the promise is all around?  It is this scandal that is faced here.  It is Abraham's embrace of this scandal that makes him the father of faith."  Brueggemann argues that the structure of the dialogue is key, and finally "only the new awareness that God really is God provides the ground for Abraham's safe future."  And "finally the new reality of faith for Abraham must be accounted as a miracle of God." (Interpretation series, Genesis, pp. 140-145).  Brueggemann's comments echo those of Luther, much earlier, who said, "Faith consists in giving assent to the promises of God and concluding that they are true."  And "Righteousness is nothing else than believing God when He makes a promise."  (Luther's Works, vol. 3, "Lectures on Genesis", p. 19-20).

Blessings on you proclamation!


Monday, June 13, 2022

Judgment and Mercy

 


Isaiah 65:1-9 is the First Reading appointed for the 2nd Sunday after Pentecost in the Year of Luke.  There seems to be little connection with the story of the Gerasene demoniac in Luke 8 aside from the fact that dwelling in caves and places of the dead is present in both.  Nevertheless, it is a word of Law to any who would provoke God with secret practices that lead one away from the Living God.  It will be the preacher's challenge to preach this.

(The following questions attempt to get at the foundational question for Law and Gospel preachers, i.e. How is the Word functioning in the text?  These questions are best used with other fine sets of questions that have other concerns.  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?  Undoubtedly the Word is mainly Law here, lifting up the multiple ways in which a "rebellious people" are following "their own devices."  "I will repay; I will not keep silent," says the Lord.  There is, however, a brief word of gospel at the end of the passage.  The Lord makes a distinction between those who have been condemned and the "chosen" and "my servants."  To these come a gospel word about homecoming and an inheritance.

2.  With whom are you identifying in the text?  We could identify with either the faithful or the unfaithful, or both.  If we identify with the unfaithful, we shall need to ask in which ways have we followed our own devices and left the path the Lord has set out for us.  If we identify with the faithful, we will offer a sacrifice of praise for God's abundant mercy.

3.  What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text?  Much of this text could be understood as an implicit call to obedience.  We could understand this passage as speaking to us about forbidden practices as God's people.  While we may not be engaged in these kinds of cultic practices, we could all readily recall ways in which we, as God's people, do not always engage in practices which are life-giving.

4.  What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text?  Specific couplets can be identified using the terms in this text.  Some examples:  judged/forgiven; repaid for iniquities/redeemed; abandoned/embraced.

5.  Exegetical work:  This text is a contrast to many prophetic texts in that it does not condemn the people for oppressing the poor as is often the case.  Here rather is condemnation for cultic practices: burning of incense to the spirits, necromancy, and the eating of unclean flesh.  God makes it clear that these practices will not be tolerated amongst God's people.  Claus Westermann, in his classic commentary, illuminates the statement in verse 5:  "Verse 5, too, refers to an idea that was alien to the worshp of Yahweh - that of contagious 'holiness' due to the cult, which is thus equivalent to cultic impurity." (The OT Library series, Isaiah 40-66, p.401). Westermann also helps us understand what is going on in the last verses:  "This verse [v.8] shows how ch. 65 effects the transition from the earlier prophecy of doom to a new form of the announcement of God's action, one which at one and the same time announces salvation to some and judgment to others.  This was an extremely momentous change, because a divine intervention at once bringing ruin upon one section of the nation and salvation upon the other cannot possibly be conceived in terms of history." (Ibid., p. 404).

6.  How does the Crossings Community model work with this text?    Cathy Lessmann does a nice job of taking the phrase "Here I am," and showing its power to be both Law and Gospel. On one hand, this announcement brings us fear for when God shows up our sins are exposed.  On the other hand, this announcement also brings joy because when God shows up as Christ on the Cross our sins are forgiven.  See the entire analysis archived under its reference at crossings.org/text-study.

Blessings on your proclamation!