April 1st: “Christ: God’s Forgiveness”

This Week’s Passage:

Highlights:

I. Establish the text

A. Select the Pericope: First Reading Isaiah 50:4-9a

C. Other texts for Palm/Passion Sunday, Year B

D. Brainstorm: What questions/thoughts come to mind?

4a This is the preacher prayer: Give me the word that the people need to hear to sustain themselves.

4b Daily Scripture readings speak to life.

5 Could following God be our prayer? Or do we merely wish we would stay on God’s path?

6 See Abba Abram on check turning.

7 – 8 With God we can endure any adversary!

9 With God our adversary’s weaken.

10 The middle clause if false if the former or later are true.

E. Reconsider where the text begins and ends: What got chopped out?

  • Most commentaries consider 50:4-11 a complete song.
  • The lectionary lops of vv 10-11 as they are grammatically difficult to follow diverting modern listeners from the central message. They may be an emendation to the Servant Song, and verses 1-3 provide the context for this song.

II. Literary Study.

A. What is the history of the text? Who wrote it? When? In what social context? What Historical/Religious/Sociological factors influenced its writing?

  • Written by a follower of Isaiah during the Babylonian exile.

D. What is the literary style of the text? And how does it affect the reading? What does a poetic form do to the meaning? Lament/Praise/Petition? Any subtle variations in the repetitions? What is emphasized/minimized by the repetition?

  • Third of four servant songs.

III. Question the text.

B. Are there any unusual details? Un-named characters? ‘Pointless’ description? Meanings of names of characters? What does a literal meaning of natural metaphors imply?

The identity of the servant is ambiguous. Israel? An individual? Cyrus? Jesus? The hearer?

C. What is the center of gravity of the text? Where was the author heading? What question did the author intend to answer? What is the emotional center of the text? What music would it call for?

  • Center of Gravity: Deep abiding faith strengthens those who trust God to withstand false charges and assault.
  • Emotional Center: God is near and vindicates!
  • Music: “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross”

D. Look for conflict: stated or implied.

  • The source of the conflict, Israel’s transgressions, is provided in verse 1.

IV. What do the commentaries have to say about the text?

Wolfgang Roth (Knox Preaching Guides: Isaiah. John Knox Press, 1988.) considers 50:1-3 as closing to the theme started with 49:14-26. He counts no fewer than five instances of words or phrases being doubled, thus demonstrating the intensity of the prophet’s words. “A sermon will have to deal with the sobering insight that the Scriptures tell of fierce hostility between persons and groups of different religious persuasions, and that many a biblical text is born of religious zeal and polemic. It is doubly puzzling when – as is the case here – the latter are generated by by a servant’s obedient listening to the divine voice and the words of comfort which flow from it.”

Perry Biddle (Editor, Preaching the Lectionary: A Workbook for Year A. WJKP 1991.) summarizes that the servant testifies to three things: (1) personal pupil-teacher relationship with God, (2) loyalty to God while experiencing persecution, and (3) not distracted from God’s mission even by violent persecution. He suggests preachers anticipate the suffering and mocking Jesus receives during trial and extending the sufferings to what all Christians occasionally experience.

Walter Brueggemann et al (Texts for Preaching: Year B. WJKP, 1993.) rejects the rendering of verse 4 in the NRSV and prefers “the lord God, taught my tongue.”

Christopher Seitz (The New Interpreter’s Bible, “The Book of Isaiah 40-66.” Abingdon, 2001) interprets verses 10-11 as a response added by the prophet’s community to theologically interpret his death. The Servant Song, verses 4-9, answer the question raised in verse 2, where God asks the children of the exiles why they did not answer the LORD. He reflects: “It is crucial to remember that, as tragedies go, the crucifixion of Jesus was neither the worst nor was even remotely the a singular event in its time; many were such executions in his day. What set it apart was that God had opened Jesus’ ears as to its larger significance, allowing him the measure of confidence that did not remove the anguish but made it bearable. [Behind the crucifixion] was the voice of the one who sent him, who opened his ears and taught him and helped him, even against forces of death … That voice kept Good Friday good and not another tragedy. It enabled that particular servant to empower and inspire other servants, who would follow his lead and take up the cross God sets aside for them as well.”

V. With respect to the hearers (including the preacher), What does this text want to say and do?

Those times when my sermons were best received,
when parishioners came up and said: “I felt you were preaching directly to me,”
were those times when I was preaching to myself. — Rabbi Chet Diamond

A. What is the theological meaning of the verses?

B. Focus Statement: Central, controlling, unifying theme.

C. Function Statement: What change in the hearer?

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