Monthly Archives: March 2013

April 7th: “Obeying God”

When should our testimony of faith become civil disobedience?

This Week’s Passage: Acts 5:27-32

I. Establish the text

C. Other texts for Year C for 2nd Sunday in Easter

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

27 – – Either expand the pericope or explain what has happened prior to the apostles return.

28 – – How does today’s culture limit our freedom to preach Christ and him crucified?

29 – – Choosing to obey God over human authorities will still get one arrested if not hospitalized for insanity.

30-33 – Peter summarized Christian faith and riled these religious leaders to violence.

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

  • This episode begins in verse 17. The Chief Priest and his friends order the apostles arrested because they were jealous of healings that the apostles were performing. An angel released them and sent them back to the temple to preach. When the high priests discover the apostles missing they are arrested a second time.
  • The episode continues through verse 42. After Rabbi Gamaliel counsels patience, the apostles are whipped and warned. The episode concludes with the apostles teaching in the temple every day.

F. Are there any significant variants in the manuscripts? Why?

  • Some variants render verse 28 as a statement, others as a question. A question would be consistent with the circumstance.

II. Literary Study.

C. Review syntax/meanings of critical words, phrases, idioms

“Hanging him on a tree” a euphemism for crucifixion that parallels usage in Deuteronomy.

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?

Rendered as a news report to give it credibility.

III. Question the text.

A. Observe the passage from the perspective of its characters.

Peter and the apostles have decided to imitate Jesus and preach and to heal ignoring warnings of the consequences.

The priests are irate over being displaced from the focus of teaching and by Peter’s disregard of their theology.

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: Preach at all costs, means even risking life itself.
  • Emotional Center: Obey God not men.

D. Look for conflict: stated or implied.

  • The apostles and high council talk past each other, ignoring legitimate points the other might offer, blinded by their own ideologies.

F. How will this text be heard by individuals in the congregation, including the preacher?

  • We would like to believe that our society does not oppose God’s direction.

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

Robert W. Wall (“The Acts of the Apostles”, The New Interpreter’s Bible. Abingdon, 2002.) calls Acts 5:17-42 “Story Three: The Apostles vs. the Sanhedrin, Round Two.” He notes similarities with and expansions from the apostles’ previous arrest and trial for healing a man lame from birth (Acts 3:1 – 4:31). The earlier story resulted in warning, which the apostles ignored yielding this episode. He discerns the introduction of an angel, who facilitated Peter’s escape, and Gamaliel’s speech as the significant additions in this episode over the earlier episode. He also notes that the police fear being stoned by the people, demonstrating the apostle’s popular support over the council. He interprets the Chief Priest’s concern as political rather than theological. While Peter responded theologically, he defined the crucifixion as a lynching ordered by the council before whom he now stood and attributed their ability to understand as due to a lack of the Holy Spirit. Wall reflects that Peter’s speech “is Scripture’s leading justification for civil disobedience,” with the qualification that civil disobedience serves a missionary rather than political end, and is not a protest but a witness.

William H. Willimon (Interpretation: Acts. John Knox Press, 1988.) includes this episode within a section extending from 4:32 through 6:7 that deals with more mundane topics, particularly money. He opines: “The most eloquent testimony to the reality of the resurrection is not an empty tomb or a well-orchestrated pageant on Easter Sunday but rather a group of people whose life together is so radically different, so completely changed from the way the world builds community, that there can be no explanation other than that something decisive has happened in history.” The difficulty comes not from explaining how the resurrection happened, but because the church does not look more resurrected.
With regard to this passage, he perceives the ire of those on the high council, people who strove every day to live obediently to the will of God, on hearing Peter say: “We must obey God rather than men.”

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?

This act of the apostles demonstrates how we might engage civil authorities as a resurrected people.

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

Obey God rather than men.

C. Function Statement: What change in the hearer?

To consider what we might accomplish as resurrected people, boldly obeying God.

March 31st: “Anyone?”

After being surprised by the scope of God’s mercy, Peter recaps the story of Christ’s death and resurrection.

This Week’s Passage: Acts 10:34-43

I. Establish the text

C. Other texts for Year C for Resurrection Sunday in Easter

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

34 Peter had thought that only Jews could be baptized, but now has come to understand that God’s circle is wider than his. Whom do we seek to exclude from God’s circle?

35 Salvation by works?

36 The “message” is not Jesus Christ, but is sent through him.

37 The expansion of the Gospel starting in Galilee: John’s baptism was one of repentance for the Kingdom of God is near.

38 a. God anointing Jesus with the Holy Spirit is a matter of faith.

b. “oppressed by the devil” — Is Peter preaching in the vernacular which expects a battle between good and evil?

c. “God was with him” — Why not he was God as in John’s Gospel?

39 Why not say nailed him to a tree? Or is this a euphemism for crucifixion as well as picking up the scriptural admonition against hanging on a tree?

40 God “caused him to appear”.

41 Proof that he was risen bodily, at least among the believers.

42 Jesus is ordained as judge by God. Peter appears to be testifying that Jesus is a prophet rather than the Son of God.

43 Consistency with earlier Scripture.

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

  • Peter has been sent for by Corneilus, a Gentile. Corneilus has seen a vision while in prayer that he should see Peter, and Peter has seen a vision that it is God who decides who is clean.

II. Literary Study.

B. What parallel passages exist? How do they differ? How does this author’s intent differ from other authors? Is the text used elsewhere?

1 Corinthians 14:2 For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God; for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit.

Jews shunned eating with Gentiles (offered to idols); even visiting a Gentile household would cause spiritual uncleanness.

C. Review syntax/meanings of critical words, phrases, idioms

Passage begins with Peter opening his mouth and ends with people speaking in tongues.

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?

Chapter 10 is a well structured story: Begins with a centurion, an outsider of the community, whose worship was answered through an angel. Paralleled with Peter praying and receiving a vision. The vision is explained through the acceptance of Cornelius by the Holy Spirit.

III. Question the text.

A. Observe the passage from the perspective of its characters.

In the larger story Cornelius does not question why he invites Peter or what he expects when Peter begins to speak. Thus they are much like a congregation sitting waiting for the preacher to speak. In the end the congregation becomes the object lesson for the preacher and his associates.

Peter is like the preacher who visits the hospital on the request of family, and experiences a miracle!

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: This is the kernel of a much larger passage about the wideness of God’s desire for salvation. It matters not who we think should/will be saved (by God), but rather that we need to be about confirming with baptism whom God has already chosen.
  • Emotional Center: God breaking forth in our midst!

D. Look for conflict: stated or implied.

  • Peter associates with Gentiles setting up the conflict in chapter 11 about future ministry with the Gentiles.

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

William H. Willimon (Interpretation: Acts) notes two errors in his sermon to Cornelius: 1) that “anyone who fears God and does what is right is acceptable to God” is otherwise unsupported in Scripture; and 2) that Jesus was sent to Israel does not support ministry with Gentiles.

Robert W. Wall (The New Interpreter’s Bible, “The Acts of the Apostles”) notes the parallel with the story of Jonah, the prophet also sent from Joppa to preach to people he was reluctant to meet. Jonah needed three days in the belly of the great fish before he would preach to the Ninevites. Peter (aka Simon bar Jonah) took three auditions from God. Jonah’s preaching resulted in the repentance of the Ninevites. Peter’s preaching resulted in the conversion of all of Cornelius’s household and his friends.

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?

You know the story of Christ’s death and resurrection. Everyone who trusts him, receives forgiveness.

C. Function Statement: What change in the hearer?

Experience Peter’s surprise with God’s mercy.

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March 24th: “Worship Takes Courage”

To worship God requires courage! When have you stood up for your faith?

This Week’s Passage:Isaiah 50:4-9a

I. Establish the text

C. Other texts for Year C for 6th Sunday in Lent, Palm/Passion Sunday

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

4a – – A preacher’s prayer: Give me the word that the people need to hear to sustain themselves.

4b – – Scripture readings speak to life each day.

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

6 – – c.f. Abba Abram on check turning.

7-8 – With God we can endure any adversary!

9 – – With God our adversary’s weaken.

10-11 – Verse 11 interprets verse 10 in reverse order. Thus if we walk in darkness yet trust, we have kindling to light firebrands, but if we obey out of fear, torment?

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.

F. How will this text be heard by individuals in the congregation, including the preacher?

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. 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 received 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 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?

To worship God requires courage!

C. Function Statement: What change in the hearer?

To recognize that God stands with us in our struggles.

Good Friday, March 29th

Road to the cross

Come to hear the story of Christ’s trial and crucifixion by which the cross became the instrument of our deliverance.

At this special worship service you will hear Matthew’s account of the Last Supper, Christ’s betrayal, Mocking, The Trial, The Crucifixion, and Burial. In between these readings and interpretations, we will pray and sing verses of the hymn “Were You There?”, adapted and extended for this service. Slow removal of decorations from the sanctuary will help us recall the betrayal.

The cross will be presented and participants will be encouraged to individually offer a sign of reverence, including bowing, kneeling, touching, praying, or pinning one’s sin on the cross.

Yet, after the prayers of the people, participants should go away recognizing the cross as a symbol of the world’s redemption, upon which Christ is exalted!

7 p.m., Friday, March 29th

March 10th: “Worship as Freedom”

Israel marks its entrance into the Promised Land with worship. How has God freed us for work and worship?

This Week’s Passage:

I. Establish the text

A. Select the Pericope: Joshua 5:9-12

C. Other texts for Year C on the 4th Sunday in Lent

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

9 — Disgrace of Egypt? Would this be related to fear that God had not heard their cries of slavery?

10 — Passover the first meal in a new land. Communion was the first meal on the moon.

11 — In freedom of a new land, responsible for finding their own food.

12 — In freedom of a new land, no longer needed the LORD to provide food.

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

  • Needs a to be introduced with a summary of Joshua chapters 1 – 4: Moses died. The LORD named Joshua to lead Israel. Joshua commanded the twelve tribes across the Jordan. They camped at Gilgal, set up memorial stones and were circumcised.
  • Followed by the siege of Jericho.

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?

Generally attributed to the Deuteronomist who favored Mosaic piety and Davidic succession.

C. Review syntax/meanings of critical words, phrases, idioms

Gilgal: Etymologically related to Hebrew verb /galal/: “to roll”

III. Question the text.

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: Worship marked the shift from slavery to self-responsibility.
  • Music: “Live into Hope”

D. Look for conflict: stated or implied.

  • While in slavery, the Egyptians provided their food and housing. While in the wilderness, the LORD provided with manna, quails, and water.
  • Once freed, Israel became responsible for their own sustenance.

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

Robert B. Coote (The New Interpreter’s Bible, “The Book of Joshua.” Abingdon, 1998.) considers 4:19 – 5:12 as one section: from Israel’s encampment at Gilgal, setting up the twelve stones, circumcision of the males borne during the exodus, and the first passover. He notes several important events occurring later at Gilgal. He reflects on comparing Israel’s cross at Gilgal with the American revolutionary and civil wars which liberated people from political and chattel slavery. He notes that poverty, economic slavery, is greater in the United States than in any other developed country.

Perry H. Biddle (Preaching the Lectionary. WJKP, 1991.) suggests connecting the importance of passover with the Lord’s supper.

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?

This event marked the end of Israel as a nomadic people to a landed people.

C. Function Statement: What change in the hearer?

How has God freed us for work and worship?