Saturday, September 1, 2018

Good News in Abundance

There are few passages of scripture that are as full of good news as the First Lesson appointed for the 16th Sunday of Pentecost in the Year of Mark, Isaiah 35:4-7a.  Throughout this passage we hear how circumstances that were hopeless have become hopeful, how places of despair have become places of rejoicing, and how what was thought to be dead has now come alive.  Paired with the gospel reading for this Sunday, Mark 7:24-37, a reader can see where the Syrophoenician woman received her faith: she believed these promises!  It will be our  task as preachers to proclaim these promises to our hearers who need to hear this good news.

(The following questions are not meant to be exhaustive, but work well when paired with other sets of questions which unearth the treasures of a text.  These questions get at some of the fundamental concerns of Law and Gospel preachers, who are particularly interested in how the Word functions.  For more on this unique genre of preaching, see my brief guide to Law and Gospel preaching, Afflicting the Comfortable, Comforting the Afflicted, available from or amazon.)

1.  How does the Word function in the text?  There is no doubt that this is a Gospel text.  Over and over God is promising to bring life from death.  Nothing could be clearer.

2.  How is the Word not functioning in the text?  There is also no doubt that there is no word of Law here; there is no word which exposes our need for Christ.  We could identify our need for Christ by understanding ourselves as blind, deaf, lame, thirsty, deserted, but the Word does not function to lift this up.

3.  With whom are you identifying in the text?  We are those who need to hear this good news.  We are "those who are of fearful heart."  We are those who have wondered if God has forgotten us in our exile.

4.  What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text?  The call to obedience is the call to live in response to God's work on our behalf.  This call is not present here, but the call to rejoice in God's goodness comes later in this passage.

5.   What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text?  The couplets within the text are our best vehicles.  They are:  fearful/fearless; enslaved/rescued; blind/seeing; deaf/hearing; lame/leaping; speechless/singing.  These couplets will serve well to help us construct a coherent Law/Gospel sermon.

6.  Exegetical work:  The Lutheran Study Bible does a nice job of setting the context of this passage, noting that these chapters are from exilic or post-exilic periods. "They are placed here to begin a transition to the second part of the book of Isaiah.  God's transformation will involve both total judgment of the wicked (Chapter 34) and final redemption for the redeemed (Chapter 35)."  David Payne, in his commentary, notes similar themes and says that "this passage links with later chapters, and its earliest, partial fulfillment will have been the return from Babylonian exile which is the major theme of chapters 40-55). (The New Layman's Bible Commentary, p. 795).  It is interesting to think of this passage as part of the transition from the themes of judgement in First Isaiah to the themes of redemption in Second Isaiah.

7.  How does the Crossings Community model work with this text?  In Chris Repp's insightful analysis we see the couplets in this text brought to life in a Law/Gospel way.  In his diagnosis of our condition he identifies our blindness, deafness, etc.  In his prognosis he celebrates the rescue of the fearful, by our fearless God.  Go to to see the entire analysis.

8.  Consider the insights of the pioneers of the New Homiletic?  Eugene Lowry thought it important to always move listeners from disequilibrium to equilibrium.  We shall have to call on the couplets in this passage to do this well here.

Blessings on your proclamation!

No comments:

Post a Comment