Saturday, September 19, 2015

Stumbling towards Jesus

In Mark 9:38-50 Jesus gives us three related prohibitions:  Do nothing to hinder
1) Your own faith; 2) The faith of others, or 3) Those who give faith to others.  Instead we are to do everything we can to move forward in faith, encourage others in their faith, and support those who move others forward in their faith (even if it is not the faith we embrace.)

(Following are questions which try to get at the concerns of Law and Gospel preachers.  For a complete understanding of my method, check out my new book available on this website.)

1.  How does the Word function in the text?  It is clear that Jesus, the Word, is bringing a word of Law here.  He is showing his listeners that the stumbling blocks they create in the lives of others or allow to exist in their own lives are capable of leading them into lostness.  This is serious business.

2.  How is the Word not functioning in the text?  There is no word of Gospel here, no word which presents Christ or his mercy.  There is a hint of God's generosity in mention of the reward for those who give a cup of water to the little ones, but otherwise the Gospel word is absent.  The preacher might do well to remind listeners that God's grace comes to all, for all stumble.

3.  With whom are you identifying in the text? We have a number of choices:  Perhaps we are one of the little ones who has stumbled in faith, because of something another person has done or said.  If so, we are called to faith, knowing Christ does not wish us to be lost. Or maybe we are one who has caused the stumbling of others, and we are called to repentance.  Or perhaps we are one who is struggling with a hand, foot, or eye that needs to be cut off, so that we might enter life. Or we may even be a person who is struggling to believe that another kind of believer is being used by God to bring faith to others.  Many choices today.

4.  What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text?  The call to obedience - the call to live in response to God's mercy - is explicit in the call to give a cup of water to drink to those who bear the name of Christ.  Because God has ministered to us, so we must minister to others.

5.  What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text?  All of the choices of persons mentioned in the text give us couplets to consider:  stumbling in faith/finding faith; hindering faith/encouraging faith; lost/found.

6.  Exegetical work:  On occasion Kittel's Theological Dictionary of the New Testament is very helpful in unpacking the meaning of a text because of its attention to certain terms in the NT.  This week is a prime example.  In his extended discussion of the word "skandalizo" Kittel shows why Jesus is so vehement in his prohibition of stumbling blocks.  "In the New Testament, as in the Old Testament, what is at issue in 'skandalizo' is their relation to God... The 'skandalizo' is an obstacle in coming to faith and a cause of going astray in it... It is a cause of both transgression and distraction." (TDNT, VII, 344)  "[Jesus] realizes that a 'skandalon', a cause of unbelief, attaches to His words and deeds, and that this cannot be avoided...  The primary meaning is 'deep religious offence' at the preaching of Jesus, and this both causes and includes denial and rejection of Jesus... "Skandalizo means to cause loss of faith, to rob of eternal salvation." (p. 350-351)

7.  Insights from the pioneers of the New Homiletic?   Lowry's injunction to move our listeners from disequilibrium to equilibrium is appropos here since we are called from being causes of stumbling to recognizing our own need of grace to giving the little ones a cup of water.  The whole story is here: law leading to repentance, gospel leading to faith, mercy leading to obedience.

Blessings on your proclamation!

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