11 May 2016

Last Lecture

from the Indiana District North Pastoral Conference:

The Wrap Up

Oh ye that have made it to the bitter end, we’ve seen that when our preaching is apostolic preaching, it proclaims a Christ foretold in the prophets, who through the events of His life climaxing in His cross, resurrection, and return to His Father has opened to us forgiveness and eternal life and placed these as gifts for us in specific locations to which we summon and invite His people as together we wait for His return in glory as judge of all. 

We saw that this preaching has a context in which it lives: a liturgical context that is composed of a Church Year because there’s too much joy in our Lord’s life and ministry to fit into a single celebration, and a liturgical context that is shaped by the passages that are read from God’s Word and proclaims the Gospel from those passages not just by reading them aloud and sermonizing on them, but proclaiming them in hymn, liturgy, song, and even prayer. Also  a liturgical context where the big move is from Word to element that becomes Sacrament (Verbum accedat ad elementum et fit sacramentum). By the way, I neglected to point out that this is of course the pattern of the incarnation: the Word that comes to the flesh which is the element to be sacrament, that is, life for the world. Or as John says it: The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth. So you see the deep connection between incarnation and divine service, which St. Leo rejoiced in when He said that the incarnation continues in the sacraments (plural is the old way of referring to the Eucharist like the mysteries still does in the East).

We also saw that these readings and this liturgical context take place in an ecclesial context: a body of believers that reaches through the ages and that has long thought about these texts and provides us with invaluable insight and a great starting place for hearing the riches that are in them. We’re part of a body and not isolated individuals as we receive the stories whose being preached and heard has quite literally created this pilgrim throng.

And in that we noted that we are part of a Reformation heritage among those pilgrims that particularly rejoiced in the gift of preaching as comfort, comfort to terrified consciences (which arise from the unity of the First Commandment’s explanation: if you trust God you believe His word of law and so FEAR His wrath and if you trust God, you believe His Word of Gospel and so love Him for His unspeakable grace… fear, love, and trust.). 

I’d like to spend the last bit of our time together with reflections on some practical issues in preaching. I mentioned already the problem of what some call biblical literacy, and particularly OUR biblical literacy. I’d like to suggest a two fold approach here, well, the Scriptures actually suggest it. First, that you live in the Word and second, that the Word lives in you. 

Now, you live in the Word when you treat the Scriptures like a delightful old house, huge and rambling, that’s your home. And you wander through it and explore the secrets of the stuff in its attics and basements as you often did as a child on a rainy day. It’s your home and only by these big wanderings will you pick up the questions such as: “Why did the Holy Spirit think it important for us to know that Beniah killed a lion in a cistern on a day that the snow fell?” It’s the only way you come across the hidden gems (not just the huge Hope diamonds like hidden away in Nehemiah 8 and worth the whole book: “for the joy of the Lord is your strength” but the ones that you can parlay up into something like a book called The Prayer of Jabez. It IS an interesting prayer smack dab in the middle of the most boring list, but you’ll never find it unless you go exploring). My suggestion for the exploring is simply to get it on your phone and dedicate a season like Lent or Advent, to listening to the whole thing from start to finish, say whenever you get in the car to drive to a call or run an errand. You might want to throw the Apocrypha in there too. Set your speed to 2X normal voice and let the words just wash over you. Don’t try to remember, you’re exploring and there will be stuff that sticks and much that just washes over. It’s okay. It’s your home. You’ll visit it again and again. Just let it wash.

But there’s the need to live in the home daily, and for that I don’t think the audible option is the best. For this you have Treasury or something like that. Treasury (or PrayNow) tops the other resources in my opinion because it lets the readings live in the liturgical and ecclesiastical contexts we referred to before, and because it’s so blasted easy and simple to use and we have many lay folk joining you in that daily way of living in the Word.

That’s you living in the Word, but the specific Word you are to preach on a given week needs to have lived in you. Sometime Sunday afternoon or evening, pick up the next Sundays texts and read them. Read them aloud to yourself. Don’t worry about the original yet, just let the way they’ll be read in the Assembly start living in you. Read them over slowly. And let them start to perk. Do it every single day of the week, but then add your study of the original, the look at commentaries and how the church has preached them across the ages, check the index of your Book of Concord, or Chemnitz’ Loci Theologici. Or pick up that wonderful commentary on the Gospels that Carver translated and CPH published from the Reformation fathers. 

Pick up different versions and read them too. Preferably aloud. There’s always insights there. The JB’s rendering of “that Christ may be all and in all” as “there is only Christ and He is everything and in everything.” Or the famous Philipp’s rendition of Romans 12: “don’t let the world squeeze into its mold.” Or AAT’s wonderfully simple rendering of Titus 3: “He saved us by the washing in which He gave us a new birth and a new life.” Let the translations help you. And if you can do German, check out Luther and you get some aha’s along the way. The exhortation to Timothy we heard in the Divine Service on Monday takes new light. “Do the work of an evangelist” it reads in English, but Luther renders it “Do the work of a Gospel preacher.” Ah!

The new tools make working with the Greek or Hebrew a snap compared to what it used to be. Do you remember lexicons that weren’t readily available by tapping on a word? Or what about when you want to trace a word through a writer or the whole of the Bible: concordances? Think of the agony that went into preparing those tools that now are so obsolete. Use the new goodies to the full!

So, you in the Word and the Word in you. But as you examine the Word, don’t forget to think in terms of Franzmann’s hermeneutical circles. When you’re dealing with a specific term and you’re pondering it, note first how it’s being used in that specific context (which means don’t take pericope as permission to ignore what’s in front and what’s after). Then pay attention to how that author in other books (if you’re blessed to have them) uses a word. Then move to how it is used in the Scriptures as a whole. This unravels lots of theological conundrums. God chose to give us His revelation in story and language through words and words work in the Bible the way words work in normal usage: a given person doesn’t always use the same vocable to mean the same thing, and a given vocable between many people may mean something slightly different depending on how its speaker is using it in context. Which is a long way of saying that Voelz and the modern school aren’t all wrong. 

But even more recognize that words call to each other, shade into each other, have a life of their own. And that their history (etymology, if you will) is curious but actually not terribly informative, because how I use a word NOW is usually not cognizant of how it was used in ages past. The exception is when the word lives in living stories such as we have in the Bible. I don’t think that it is an accident that in LXX we have monogenes in the offering of Isaac. That NT use in John 3 and other places is pulling on that earlier use (and frankly, for the NT, you have more joy of the LXX uses than you do of Hebrew precedents).

As the words for this week make their home in you and perk, as you study and ponder them, as you pray them and hear God speak in them (for He does speak in them!), you begin to answer the question we began with: “What shall I cry?” Through these words, there is always a wonder. There is always something that begins to press itself upon you in awe and astonishment and sometimes in puzzlement. They lead you to wonder.

With the wonder comes the key, I believe, to preaching. The doxological key. There is that in the words which will move you to awe and praise. O Lord, open my lips, you have prayed, and my mouth will declare your praise! “Declaring the excellencies of Him who called us out of darkness into His marvelous light!” What leads to the awe, to the praise, to the adoration? What is in this text that God reveals of Himself that moves you to lift the entire worlds concerns and the concerns of those you personally know and love and drop them in His lap, and then run to His sacramental embrace? What moves to praise? Preach THAT. Do you remember Justin’s words I quoted yesterday: the President of the Assembly invites us into the pattern of these beautiful things. Dr. Stuckwisch point out that ends up at the Table, but the joy in the beauty of these things is what moves the feet to the table, the mouths to petition. 

Dr. Nagel taught us to get at this by asking: What is the Jesus proprium? What is the Jesus that these readings give you that you don’t get it elsewhere? What’ the unique gift that they offer? The unique insight? The joyful aha that coheres with all the other ahas but brings a joy unique to the day in the church’s year and life?

Can you put it into a single sentence? Worry at it and think about it until you can. Because then your sermon writing is almost done. If you can put it into the sentence (what some homiletcs folks call the dominant thought), then you can almost always tap that gem at just the right spot and it breaks open the texts to the joy of God’s people who then join you at marveling as you hold it up to them and it beams with the light of God in the darkness of this world beckoning and calling them home in joy. Isaiah 60, the Epiphany OT reading. The light that shines and people living in the darkness marvel at what they see, drawn to it, and begin the journey home, no longer filled with discouragement and terror at the shadow of death, but in that light standing and walking toward its source, singing with joy the praises of the One calling them into His marvelous light. Because once they were not a people, but now they are the people God. Once, they had not obtained mercy, but now they have obtained mercy. 

And the very final consideration: should you write it out. Depends entirely on you. The church historically has tended to have it written out. The advantage is that it can then be shared and have a life beyond the hearers right there. Sometimes others did the writing out (the case often with Luther), but for us today, it’s rather easy to write it out and then share it so that those even beyond that Eucharistic assembly might also have the joy of learning to praise God for this or that insight that the Holy Spirit gave you from the texts. 

And that’s about the sum of what I had to share with you all. I hope that in the jumble somethings may have struck a chord here or there and been of use. Now, any questions, comments, or insights you all would like to share?

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