Saturday, August 22, 2015

Playing Church

Jesus' words to the Pharisees and scribes in the gospel lesson appointed for Pentecost 14 from the seventh chapter of Mark are unsparing in their criticism:  "Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written, 'This people honours me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.'" There can hardly be a more condemnatory word than this aimed at worshipping folk, and we do well to heed the warning, lest we too find ourselves merely "acting" in our discipleship.

(The following questions try to get at some of the fundamental concerns of a preacher planning to preach a Law & Gospel sermon.  For a complete method on this genre, my book, Afflicting the Comfortable, Comforting the Afflicted, may be purchased from Amazon or Wipf & Stock Co.)

1.  How does the Word function in this text?  Jesus is in full accusatory mode in this text.  His words are words of Law.  They show clearly our need of forgiveness and time for amendment of life. He even lists the sins of which he speaks:  "fornication, theft, murder, adultery, envy, slander, pride, and folly.

2.  How is the Word not functioning in the text?  There is no Gospel word in this text - no word that clearly says, "Here is Christ, dying for you."  The preacher will need to look elsewhere for this word of grace.

3.  With whom are you identifying in the text?  It is supremely important that the preacher identify with the Pharisees and scribes, not Jesus, in this text.  It may be tempting for the preacher to assume that since Jesus is scolding the leaders before him that we preachers now have license to scold those before us.  Not so!  It is our job to hear this difficult word and then, alongside our listeners, share in the humbling experience of having our hypocrisy exposed before God.

4.  What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text?  The call to obedience, the word that says, "Follow me," is not present here.  It could perhaps be argued that the call to obedience is implicitly present as Christ exhorts us to be people who not only honor him with our lips, but also have hearts that are near to him.

5.  What Law/Gospel couplet  is suggested by this text?  It is easy to imagine quite a number of couplets that get at the heart of this text:  condemned/forgiven, vain worship/true worship, defiled/cleansed.

6.  Exegetical clues:  I often find that Kittel's exhaustive work, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, is a great source for insights around Greek terms.  So with today's reading.  The article discussing the term for hypocrites (hypocrinomai) (Vol. VIII) is excellent. Kittel writes, "[The scribes and Pharisees] claim to be declaring God's will, but in truth they are only trying to assert the 'traditions of humans'...[There is] a jarring contradiction between what they say and what they do, between the outward appearance and the inward lack of righteousness...  Failure to do God's will is concealed behind the pious appearance of outward conduct...  The proportions of what is commanded are also distorted - the least significant commandment of pious action being put to the forefront and the 'weightier matters of the law' being neglected."  In volume III, Kittel also writes a helpful article on the "heart" (kardia).  He says, "Thus 'kardia' comes to stand for the whole of the inner being of man in contrast to his external side, the 'prosopon' (appearance)...  Thus the heart is supremely the one centre in man to which God turns, in which religious life is rooted, which determines moral conduct."

7.  How does the Crossings Community model work with this text?  At, archived by lectionary text, you can find any number of examples on this text.  Here is an approach one might use:  Diagnosis 1:  We hold fast to "things handed down" to us.  D2:  We somehow trust our "handed down" traditions more than God's commandment to love God and neighbor.  D3:  We are lost in sin because we hold on to falsehood and abandon God's commandment. Sin holds us.  Prognosis 4: Christ becomes sin for us, to release us from what holds us.  Christ holds us.  P5:  Released from the power of sin, we begin to trust God's way.  P6:  We now hold fast to Christ's commands, loving God and neighbor.

Blessings on your proclamation!

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