Saturday, May 23, 2015

Gotta love it!

Gotta love it - the only Sunday of the Church year devoted to a doctrine:  The Festival of the Holy Trinity.  I bet churches who are named, "Holy Trinity Church" love this Sunday, but for some of us it fails to inspire.  Be that as it may be, we have some great texts to ponder again this week.

(The following analysis follows the questions in the appendix of my book, Afflicting the Comfortable, Comforting the Afflicted; A Guide to Law and Gospel Preaching.  It can be purchased at or and is also available on Kindle.)

1.  How does the Word function in the text?  If a simple way of stating the Law is "You need Christ," then this text mainly functions as law.  Over and over Nicodemus is being told, "You need Christ."  By being told that he needs to be born from above, Nicodemus is being told that he needs Christ.  By being shown that he does not understand the things of God, Nicodemus is being told that he needs Christ.  Only in the last verses where God's love, forebearance and compassion are revealed does the Word function as Gospel.

2.  How is the Word not functioning in the text?  There is no call to follow Christ here, or what I have termed "'the call to obedience," which is how we respond to the Gospel.  All the imperatives in this text are prior to the announcement of the Gospel, therefore they are not calls to obedience, but calls to repentance. The call to repentance is not the call to obedience. The call to repentance comes in response to the Law, the call to obedience comes in response to the Gospel.

3. With whom are you identifying in the text?  Clearly we are in the position of Nicodemus.  We are those who need to be born from above.  We are those needing to be born of  the Spirit. We are those who need to hear the Gospel - even if we have heard it many times before.

4.  What, if any call to obedience is there in this text?  Since there is none, we will need to fill this in by reflecting on what the love, forbearance and compassion of God call us to.  This will require us to ponder other scriptures, such as the First Lesson, Isa 6:1-8, where we see Isaiah's response to God's forgiveness is to accept the call to bear testimony.

5.  What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text?  There are many couplets that come to mind:  Dead/Alive, Born from Below/Born from Above, Lost/Saved.

6. Exegetical Work:  I love Craig Koester's book, Symbolism in the Fourth Gospel.  He has much insight into this text.  One example:  "The dialogue shows that Nicodemus and those he represents derive their basic identity from their earthly origins." (p. 46).  I always find Raymond Brown's classic commentary helpful as well.  One quote:  "If natural life [comes from] God's giving breath to man, eternal life comes when God gives his Holy Spirit to a man." (p. 140) (pardon the non-inclusive language).

7.  How does the Crossings Community model work with this text?  As always you are urged to go to study and look up some of the archived examples of  the Year B Gospel for Holy Trinity Sunday.  I find it very interesting how different writers can approach a text from entirely different directions and still see the Law/Gospel paradigm present.  A good example of this is Timothy Hoyer's analysis from 2012 where he uses the notion of "being right," and Steven Albertin's analysis from 2009 when he uses the notion of "starting over."  Good stuff!

8.  Consider the insights of the pioneers of the New Homiletic.  Always remember Fred Craddock's principle:  The main thing is getting something heard, not getting something said.

Blessings on your proclamation this week!

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