Sample from GoodPreacher.com this week...
2011-03-01 by David Howell
Understanding Matthew 17:1-9
by Herman C. WaetjenMatthew’s gospel bears the structure of a shattered Pentateuch. It is composed of five books, each consisting of narrative and discourse, and each ending with a similar transition formula, "When Jesus completed these words, he went…."1 The fifth and last book is contained in 19:2 through 25:46, but the Gospel does not end here. The remaining chapters 26-28, which narrate the death and resurrection of Jesus, shatter the five-book design.
The story of Jesus’ transfiguration is found towards the end of the narrative of Book IV. It not only climaxes Jesus’ ministry in Galilee and especially his training of his disciples for future ministry; it offers the reader a glimpse of the final outcome of Jesus’ career and by inference the identical glory that awaits his disciples. The incident is introduced by a significant time reference, "And after six days…." Jesus’ transfiguration will occur on the seventh day of the week, the Sabbath. It is a symbolic representation not only of his own consummation but of the culminating Sabbath of history, that time in the future when Jesus, as the founder of a New Humanity—that is the meaning of the christological designation, "the Son of Man," which Matthew employs often—will be transfigured with all the members of his New Israel.
Jesus leads Peter, James and John "into a high mountain, by themselves." These three disciples did not form an inner circle among the larger group of twelve male disciples who in the gospel tradition represented the patriarchs of the New Israel.
Historically speaking, they are present because this unit of tradition probably originated in the early Jerusalem church when they, according to Galatians 2:9, constituted the leadership of the Mother Church. Once again a mountain is the site of this incident. It is another architectonic center or navel of the earth. But here the mountain is not preceded by a definite article. Within the narrative world of Matthew’s gospel it poses a contrast to "a very high mountain" of the wilderness of Judea (4:8) on which Jesus was tempted to worship Satan in order to receive "all the kingdoms of the world." The kingdoms of the world, however, will enter into a new moral order of justice and peace, not by worshipping Satan, but by following Jesus into the reign of God that his death and resurrection constitute. The transfiguration "on a high mountain" in Galilee adumbrates Jesus’ apotheosis by his resurrection from the dead and with it the reign of God that he will receive as a result of his co-enthronement with God, according to his testimony at his trial before the Sanhedrin (26:64).
In place of Mark’s description of Jesus’ metamorphosis, "And his garments became very shining white such as a bleacher on earth is unable to whiten," Matthew has substituted the language of an apocalyptic theophany, "His face shone as the sun and his garments became as white as the light." In this transformation Jesus is being disclosed to his disciples as the Son of God! Moses and Elijah, the Old Testament representatives of the Law and the Prophets, both of whom are associated with the Old Testament architectonic center of Mount Sinai, suddenly appear and Jesus begins to give them an audience, "They were seen speaking with him." The content of their dialogue is not revealed, but the sight of the three engaged in discourse evokes from Peter the christological identification of Jesus as the last prophet of history. He must be ranked with Moses and Elijah. He is the prophet Moses predicted in Deuteronomy 18:15; he must be the final prophet of the old moral order. In contrast to Mark’s version of this incident, Peter expresses his willingness to construct three tabernacles, but only "if you wish." Matthew has deleted Mark’s comment on Peter’s ignorance and fear. His proposal, however, is embarrassingly interrupted by the heavenly voice speaking out of the cloud, "This is my beloved Son in whom I began to take pleasure. Keep on listening to him!" The significance of Jesus’ metamorphosis is validated by God. Jesus is more than a new Moses! He is more than the final prophet of the old moral order! As God’s Son he is superior to both representatives of the Old Testament. He is God’s agent and surrogate who inaugurates the reign of God! In a reaction typical of theophanies the disciples fall on their faces in great fear. Jesus reaches out to them with a calming and reassuring touch, bidding them to "Be raised up and stop being afraid!" The first of his two imperatives employs the resurrection verb, egeirô, and could also be rendered as "Be resurrected." In the light of their experience on this very high mountain the disciples are to begin to participate in the destiny which this transfiguration foreshadows. By following Jesus into death and resurrection and engaging in the work that he has inaugurated, namely the reign of God, they will eventually have a share in the reality of his apotheosis that this metamorphosis anticipates. As Jesus states at the end of his interpretation of his parable of the wheat and the darnels in 13:43, "Then the righteous will shine as the sun in the reign of their Father."
The epiphany of the transfiguration, as Jesus instructs his disciples, is not to be communicated to anyone until after the "Son of Man" has been resurrected from the dead. That is the time when the "Son of Man," or the New Human Being, will come into his reign, but a reign that he will share with his disciples. Jesus’ transfiguration is an eschatological anticipation of the new creation that he will inaugurate after his death and its attendant dissolution of the old creation and its history. Matthew 27:52-53 bears witness to this cataclysmic event, "And the earth was shaken and the rocks were split apart." At the death of Jesus the old creation collapses into primordial chaos in fulfillment of apocalyptic prophecy. A new creation is constituted as the Old Testament saints are resurrected: "The tombs were opened and many bodies of the holy ones being asleep were resurrected (egeirô)." The long awaited new creation dawns but is not established until Jesus leads these resurrected saints out of their tombs on Easter morning (27:53). At the Great Commissioning of 28:16-20, Jesus joins the eleven disciples who have encountered him on the mountain in Galilee, and by attaching himself to them as they go forth to fulfill his final command, he becomes the twelfth and thereby establishes a New Israel. He not only shares with them "All authority in heaven and on earth," but he incorporates them into his divine I AM. As the Greek word order of 28:20 reads, "See, I with you AM even to the consummation of the age."
1. See 7:28-29, 11:1, 13:53, 19:1 and 26:1. The last of these transition formulas contains the added word, "all," indicating that the end of Jesus’ teaching, and indeed the five books of narrative and discourse, have been concluded.
See Tom Steagald's Preaching Journal! Tom is the Pastor at Lafayette Street United Methodist Church in Shelby, NC, and adjunct professor at Hood Theological Seminary (AME, Zion) in Salisbury, NC. Tom has just published Shadows, Darkness and Dawn: A Lenten Journey with Jesus (Upper Room). Previous titles include Praying for Dear Life and Every Disciple's Journey, both from NavPress. He is a frequent contributor to Feasting on the Word, The Abingdon Preaching Annual, and other preaching resources. Tom's journal will detail each week's work to "discover" the sermon to be preached at Lafayette Street.
The Oscars, Anxiety, Psalm 131, Matthew 6:24-34
2011-02-26 by David von Schlichten
The Oscars focus on movies, bling, women's clothes, fame, wealth. These are the kinds of things we are not to make into gods. At the same time, movies often teach us about what really matters and so can help us to focus on God.
Take "The Social Network," for instance, which shows Mark Zuckerberg fixating on the growth of Facebook at the expense of friendships. The last scene of the movie presents him sitting alone, having lost his friends. He has a growing company and tremendous wealth but he is by himself. He finds on Facebook an ex-girlfriend and considers friending her. Instead, he just stares at her proifle picture, afraid to reach out. The co-founder of Facebook is friendless.
Anxiety is a theme in some of our readings for Sunday, and movies can address this theme. Psalm 131 encourages us to trust in God, and Matthew 6:24-34 teaches us to focus on today instead of fretting about tomorrow.
I haven't seen "The King's Speech," but it appears to be a movie about a king overcoming anxiety about his stammer so that he can be a reassuring voice for a nation on the edge of war. I'm sure this story can be applied to a sermon on how trusting in God reduces anxiety.
That's what I have so far. I will post my sermon as soon as I can.
Tomorrow night, I'll be watching the Oscars, envious of the recipients while also thankful for what God has given me.
Yours in Christ,
David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator
2011-02-22 by Stephen Schuette
I had always thought of Luke as the gospel preeminently concerned with the poor, and certainly concerned with a new economic life as the story moves forward in the two-volume set of Luke-Acts. But perhaps that assumption has blinded me to Matthew’s deeper understanding, or at least that this is not a uniquely Lukan theme but fundamental to the gospel itself.
In this Matthew passage we get a glimpse into a different economic view. The preface (really belonging to these verses) is offered in vs. 19-21… “Don’t store up…where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Later are stories about the feeding of 4,000 and 5,000, affirming that scarcity is a myth and our anxiousness about it not based in actual community experience with Jesus. Others will, with a degree of anxiousness, ask Jesus about taxes to which Jesus doesn’t hesitate to bring forward the actual object around which the anxiety centers. It may seem so weighted with energy involving devotion to it and unavoidable loyalties, and yet it’s really so small! Jesus’ answer, in so many words, it seems to me, is a repetition of his advice here: don’t be anxious! Give it to Caesar, but give to God what is God’s. And near the end of the gospel when the judgment is given it is based on whether the economics of the new community were practiced (Mat. 25:31-46, I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink…I was naked and you gave me clothing…”), paralleling vs. 31 here.
Somewhere I’ve read about the number of economic allusions in the gospels. The exact number escapes me. But the emphasis parallels our own interests, doesn’t it? Don’t we tend to boil down many questions to fundamentally economic questions? The justification for recent wars has been summed up in a short phrase: “American interests.” To repeat that these are economic interests would be redundant, piling economically laden words on top of each other.
I’m sure a good economist could make the case that addressing anxiousness requires economic security. Even a personal sense of self worth could be interpreted economically. And we foist this interpretation upon ourselves and others regularly. An economic linguist might trace the roots of language itself to economic categories, arguing that the need to communicate arose from the need for “transaction.” That’s how pervasive and deep-seated the perspective. (H.R. Niebhur said that we aren’t sure who discovered water but we can be confident it wasn’t a fish!)
Jesus doesn’t deny that these assumptions affect the human heart. But he does upend them and invites us to move outside them. Our value and worth is based on something that no one can take away from us, something that cannot be stolen. It’s not inherent within us, but it is widely and graciously bestowed. This is not a 19th Century romanticism, but a spiritual reality Jesus wants us to know is even more pervasive than our economic assumptions and loyalties.
Big Vision from GoodPreacher.com
2011-02-21 by David Howell
Exegesis Matthew 6:24-34
This passage, as part of the main body (Mt 5:17-7:12) of the Sermon on the Mount, is a collection of paraenetic charges for the followers of Jesus not to worry about earthly matters. As is the case with the Sermon on the Mount in general, this passage comes from the Q source, but it has many significant differences from its Lukan parallel (Lk 12:22-32). Especially striking is the contrast between their respective conclusions (Mt 6:34 & Lk 12:32). These discrepancies between Matthew and Luke may be accounted for either by the hypothetical existence of two versions of Q (Qmt & Qlk) or by redactional changes on the part of each evangelist.
Verse 24 is only loosely connected to what precedes or what follows. As the different literary location of its Lukan parallel (Lk 16:13) indicates, this Q saying may have been a free standing logion or associated with another passage which can no longer be identified. The etymology of the Aramaic word mammon, for which the Greek mammona is a transliteration, is disputed. It is most probably derived from amn and as such its root meaning is "that in which one trusts." It commonly refers to "wealth" or "riches," not necessarily in a negative sense. However, this Q saying juxtaposes God and mammon as mutually exclusive, which sets the tone for the following passage in such a way that worrying about worldly matters amounts to serving mammon rather than serving God.
The words psyche and soma in verse 25 are not to be distinguished from each other in the Platonic dualistic sense. Rather, they reflect the Hebrew notion of human life as a holistic entity. By exhorting not to worry about life represented by psyche and soma, Jesus does not denigrate earthly life per se but elevates the life of his followers as standing beyond the level of procuring basic human necessities. The logion of Jesus not to worry about food or clothing finds a close parallel in the Gospel of Thomas 36, for which the Oxyrhynchus Papyri text has a longer version than that of the Nag Hammadi codex.
Verses 26 and 28 run parallel to each other as examples of lives that are well provided by God. The intervening verse 27 talks about the impossibility of adding one pechys (distance between the elbow and the tip of the longest finger) to one’s helikia, i.e., stature, if taken literally, or life span, if taken metaphorically, by worrying. In all three cases the rhetoric of hyperbole is evident and the analogy is more poetic than logical. Should that be the case, these examples are used as a basis for the inference a minori ad maius, which is typical of rabbinic exegesis. One may say that this passage, especially verse 26, inescapably reveals an anthropocentric perspective on God’s dealings with the creatures with human beings at the center. However, the point of the analogies is not a more privileged status of human beings in general vis-à-vis animals, but that the followers of Jesus can trust special care from God.
The expression oligopistoi in verse 30 is taken from Q (Lk 12:28), and Matthew develops it further in the rest of the gospel as a critique against insiders, including the twelve disciples, for their lack of faith (pistis). In verse 32 the oligopistoi, who worry about earthly matters, are likened to Gentiles, as if Gentiles were seeking (epizetousin) only mundane things. Such anti-gentile perspective in the Matthean text is as problematic as anti-Judaism in the history of interpretation of Matthew’s gospel and other parts of the New Testament. This hermeneutical issue aside, the point of the present saying is again the faith/trust that the followers of Jesus should have in God’s provision, which will allow room for a bigger vision in their mind, that is, the desire for the kingdom/reign (basileia) of God and its justice/righteousness (dikaiosyne).1 This verse echoes with the fourth beatitude: "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice (dikaiosyne), for they shall be satisfied (Mt 5:6)."
It is interesting to notice that the petition for daily bread (artos epiousios) features prominently in the Lord’s Prayer (Mt 6:11) and that this petition is preceded by the petition for God’s kingdom/reign (basileia). The present passage seems to hark back to it, as if saying "You may have to pray for food but do not worry about it and always pray for the kingdom of God first." These sayings of Jesus for his followers not to worry about what to eat and what to wear become all the more poignant because they belong to the class of Galilean peasants who live at the subsistence level and therefore have to pray for their livelihood to survive.2 The passage is not about naïve optimism for life that is somehow going to take care of itself. It is about a big vision for the kingdom of God and its justice that is the ultimate will of God, and all the followers of Jesus are invited to share in this vision in spite of the reality of having to worry about food and clothing.
The last verse (v. 34), just like the first (v. 24), may or may not have belonged together with the main portion of the passage. It does connect with what precedes it by the motif of worrying, but the idea of "tomorrow worrying about itself" and that of "today’s evil being sufficient for the day" do not flow naturally from the previous exhortations. It seems to acknowledge the harsh reality of today’s hardship and the prospect of its continuation. In an ironic way, however, such a reality serves as an impetus for the little people to dream big dreams of God’s kingdom and its justice.
Eugene Eung-Chun Park
1. The personal pronoun autou after dikaiosyne can be taken either as masculine or neuter.
2. The adjective epiousios could mean "necessary for survival."
Sermon Ideas for Sunday, February 20, 2011
2011-02-18 by David von Schlichten
I don't know what I'm preaching on. Here are some topics I'm considering.
Being Perfect: Jesus calls us to be perfect, but here, "perfect" means something like "mature" or "complete." Does this mean that one can both sin and be perfect?
The Temple of the Holy Spirit: What does it mean to be this temple?
Leaving Grapes and Gleanings for the Poor and Alien: Invite people to consider what it means not to gather up everything for oneself but to leave behind some items for people one does not even know or even may be wary of.
Challenge people to love their enemies. What does it mean to love one's enemies? How does one do that without putting oneself in danger of being killed by one's enemies?
What are you thinking of preaching on?
Yours in Christ,
David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator
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