Proclamation and Witness

In Tuesday’s post, I argued that we should give serious consideration to Jesus’ less-quoted commission to preach both repentance and forgiveness to the world at large.  The Greek verb for proclaiming or preaching is kerusso from which we get the much more familiar noun kerygma.  In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus’ ministry begins in earnest with a proclamation in the Synagogue at Nazareth.

When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read,  and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:  “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:16-21, NRSV)

His ministry ends with a commissioning for those who would follow him, “to proclaim to all nations repentance and the forgiveness of sins in Jesus’ name.”  Jesus does not stop there, however.  He goes on to add one more identifying marker to his disciples, “You are witnesses of these things.”  The Apostles, literally those who are sent are to proclaim what they have seen and heard and even touched.  They are witnesses, or in Greek martyrs, of the risen Lord.

The possibility of being a witness to the risen Lord has a short shelf-life.  It only takes a generation before those who actually walked with Jesus are no longer walking the earth.  As time went by, it became clear that what had been told, first-hand, needed to be written down so that the generations that followed might too be able to hear the proclamation of the Good News.  Yet we who walk the path of discipleship some 2,000 years later aren’t stuck holding only an old story book.  We too have the opportunity to be witnesses, not to Jesus appearing in front of us and asking for a piece of fish, but to the ongoing work of God in the world around us.

Fifty days after Jesus’ resurrection, the disciples are still huddled in Jerusalem.  Jesus’ Commission to proclaim has yet to come to fruition when the Holy Spirit comes with power and might, bursting forth from that safe room and running wild in the world.  Just as we are inheritors of the kerygma, we are also inheritors of the Spirit that allows us to have our eyes opened to see God’s hand a work in the world around us.  We too are witnesses to the ongoing work of re-creation and restoration that takes place through the Church, the Body of Christ, seeking God’s will in the world.  We are able to proclaim no only what the disciples saw, but what we see as well; God’s redeeming love at work all around us.

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A Curious Question

Jesus has many titles: Emmanuel, Son of God, and King of Kings; just to name a few, but the most often overlooked nickname for Jesus is “King of the Non Sequitur.”  Throughout the Gospels, Jesus confounds and befuddles by answering questions with questions or responding to challenges via parable, or just plain making no sense.  In the end, it works for Jesus because of the complete otherness of what Jesus is trying to convey.  To put words to God is to create heresy, in most cases, and at the very least, it will put God in a box that is much too small to contain him. (The immediately preceding male pronoun being a prefect example)

It wasn’t much of a surprise to me, then, to read in Sunday’s Gospel lesson a very curious question from Jesus.

“Simon, I have something to say to you.” “Teacher,” he replied, “Speak.” “A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he canceled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?”

In the scheme of the story, it seems to make no sense, and the explanation he offers doesn’t help.  Still, despite the seeming disconnect with the larger story, the question, curious as it is, is a helpful one.  As Dean (Bishop) Alexander said in class yesterday regarding the spoken Great Litany, “I’ll compete with you on depravity any day, but I’ve never been that sinful.”

I’ll compete with you on depravity any day, and I am ever so grateful for the forgiveness offered to me in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  Some have sinned a whole lot more than me.  Some have lived lives a whole lot purer than me.  Either way, we share a thankfulness for the cancellation of our debt.  The non sequitur from Jesus is a curious one, but it is worth pondering in our hearts as we come to the altar: forgiven, restored, and renewed; and are sent forth empowered to do the work of ministry.

A Break in the Space Time Continuum

Jesus doesn’t care what Doc Brown says, he’s willing to step out of space and time to speak directly to us.

For two lectionary cycles in a row, David Lose has argued (here and here) for a very cosmic, almost Back to the Future reading of Jesus’ upper-room encounter with Thomas the week after his resurrection.  This makes sense, on some level, as John is very much interested in how the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus fits into the larger, cosmic story of God’s work in creation.  It all starts with that great prologue, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”  It culminates in the profession of the Thomasian Creed, “My Lord and my God.”  At several key places in the middle, we see characters fade away such that it seems as though Jesus is speaking beyond the book itself, to John’s readers, certainly, but also to us.  The story of Nicodemus (John 3) is a prime example, as is the High Priestly Prayer (John 17).

In this Sunday’s lesson, the same sort of thing happens as Jesus responds to Thomas’ confession by saying, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”  I’ll let David Lose say it,

“And so here, near the very end, John turns his attention fully to us, as through Jesus’ words he invites, persuades, even cajoles us toward faith in Christ.  But more than that, here near the end, Jesus — through John’s gospel — blesses us, and so establishes us in faith.  What would it be like for your hearers to understand themselves as addressed directly by Jesus in this passage, to feel themselves blessed by the Lord?  What would it be like, that is, if the words John records Jesus speaking nearly two thousand years ago leapt [sic] up off the page, reached across the centuries, to touch and transform us?”

Indeed.  What if?

how to preach Christology

Clearly, something was going on in Luke’s community.  Some sort of controversy involving the bodily resurrection of Jesus was afoot as Luke put the finishing touches on his Gospel account.  You can’t read Luke 24:36b-48 and not see that there was an argument brewing under the surface.  Why else would Luke spend so much time proving to us that Jesus, though appearing out of thin air, was a living, breathing, wounded, corporal resurrected body on that first Easter evening.

While the disciples were telling how they had seen Jesus risen from the dead, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence.

As my rector says, “dead men don’t eat fish.”  This story from Luke is one of the first pieces of Christology we have.  It begins to navigate the path that will lead to the Council of Nicea in 325.  It helps to open the mind to the possibility that Jesus was fully God and fully man from Zygote to Resurrection and (and this is vitally important in the early 2nd century) EVERYWHERE IN BETWEEN!  It is good theology, good to chew on, good seminary lunch table conversation, even good Bible Study fodder, but how does one preach it?  What are the ramifications of these incarnational details on the everyday life of a 21st century disciple?  How do you preach Christology?

I don’t necessarily have an answer, other than to say that the whole thing hinges on the Incarnation.  If Jesus is just a human, then he’s a liar and a crackpot.  If Jesus is just a hologram, on par with Tupac, then his suffering wasn’t real and it is all a mirage.  But if Jesus is fully God and fully human, as the incarnation points toward and orthodoxy would eventually settle upon, then his life, death, and resurrection make all the difference in the world.  And that, I’m guessing, will preach.

The “Messianic Secret”

In 1901 a German Lutheran Theologian named William Wrede posited that the author of Mark had added, for effect, Jesus’ continual attempts to keep his true identity a secret.  According that great source of all knowledge, Wikipedia, the Messianic Secret, as theorized by Wrede was all but defunct by the 1970s, but the term is still alive and well in Biblical circles of various shapes and sizes.

In 2005 a Presbyterian New Testament Scholar named John Yieh taught me the term “Messianic Secret” as a Motif in Mark that lead the reader on toward the Passion, Crucifixion, and Resurrection of Jesus.  No one could know or understand Christ’s status as Messiah until this full work was done.

We have the luxury of reading Mark’s Gospel knowing the whole story.  We have the luxury of reading Mark’s Gospel knowing also the Gospels of Matthew, Luke and John.  We have the luxury of 2000 years of systematic theology.  And for most of us, we don’t care too much about whether a text is really Jesus or really Mark as we take the Canonical approach.  So really, for the most part, I’ve spent the last three paragraphs wasting your time.  Except to say this.

Our Gospel lesson for Sunday is the first instance of the Messianic Secret in Mark.  We find Jesus snorting at the leper to tell no one but to go to the priest to be readmitted to the community.  The now clean man doesn’t follow directions.  He tells everyone he can find about this miracle worker.  Jesus finds himself as a societal outcast.  No longer able to even enter towns because of the crowds in need of healing.  His message has been over run by the medium.  His works, thanks to one man’s story, have been isolated from the Good News.  Jesus will spend the rest of Mark trying to reattach the two.  His works only make sense if they are attached to Good News.

Maybe that’s why John, written several decades later, is so careful to tie his 7 signs with a clear proclamation of the Gospel.  Maybe that’s why Luke in his second book, Acts, always has the miraculous following the Good News.  Maybe it is a good reminder for Church leaders, so desperately in search of the next big thing to grow their churches.  It isn’t about wow, sparkle, pizzazz or the miraculous.  It is about Christ and him Crucified.

When we know that secret, the rest will fall into place.