Friday, August 27, 2010

Disturbing the Comfortable?

The first thing I got caught on in these texts is the idea of hating one’s family. Various commentaries* seemed to consent that the word “hate” in this passage is either a comparison to the love for Jesus, i.e. that we love Jesus to the degree that our feelings for others are hatred by comparison, or an expression understood to mean detachment from those things. Essentially, following Jesus means separating ourselves from the opinions and expectations of others—especially those who do have so much influence over us—and taking up the life we are called to live.

Giving up our concern over opinions and favor of our family and friends can be difficult. Stoffregen** notes that this passage counters the more common giving up of vices in response to faith by calling would-be followers to renounce not the worst, but the best things in their lives.
Bonhoeffer’s Cost of Discipleship had some helpful insights regarding this concept:

“Cheap grace means grace as a doctrine, a principle, a system. It means
forgiveness of sins proclaimed as a general truth, the love of God taught as the
Christian conception of God. An intellectual assent to that idea is held to be
of itself sufficient to secure remission of sins. The Church which holds the
correct doctrine of grace has, it is supposed, ipso facto a part in that grace.
In such a Church the world finds a cheap covering for its sins; no contrition is
required, still less any real desire to be delivered from sin…justification of
sin without justification of the sinner.” (45-46)

“To deny oneself is to be aware
only of Christ and no more of self, to see only him who goes before and no more
the road which is too hard for us…only when we have become completely oblivious
of self are we ready to bear the cross for his sake. If in the end we know only
him, if we have ceased to notice the pain of our own cross, we are indeed
looking only unto him…The cross is laid on every Christian. The first
Christ-suffering which every[one] must experience is the call to abandon the
attachments of this world.” (97-99)

Given this angle, I can’t seem to ignore the complimentary themes in Malachi and Philemon, who call their hearers to concretely live out their faith in ways that may not necessarily be easy.

This brings additional themes to mind:

  • Salvation/discipleship—We follow because we are saved; we are not saved because we follow.
  • Stewardship of gifts and resources—We must think about how we use what we have, including ourselves.
  • Law/gospel—We cannot really do this for ourselves or on our own.

I'm not sure yet if I'll try to go with just one theme/reading, or attempt to incorporate a few of the ideas I've come across as sub-themes while focusing on one main thought.

Feedback appreciated on this one!

*Fitzmyer, Joseph A. The Gospel According to Luke (X-XXIV). Anchor Bible. Doubleday.

Tiede, David. Luke. Augsburg Commentary on the New Testament. Augsburg.

**Brian P. Stoffregen Exegetical Notes. Crossmarks.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Labor Day and Exegesis

Having settled in at the church in Lincoln, I have been assigned to preach for the first time on September 4-5, right before Labor Day. The church will be wrapping up its summer series on the prophets with Malachi 4:1-6 substituted for the first reading in the Lectionary. The gospel text, Psalm and second reading all follow the Revised Common Lectionary.

Malachi 4:1 See, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all
the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble; the day that comes shall burn
them up, says the LORD of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor
branch. 2 But for you who revere my name the sun of righteousness shall rise,
with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall.
3 And you shall tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of
your feet, on the day when I act, says the LORD of hosts. 4 Remember the
teaching of my servant Moses, the statutes and ordinances that I commanded him
at Horeb for all Israel. 5 Lo, I will send you the prophet Elijah before
the great and terrible day of the LORD comes. 6 He will turn the hearts of
parents to their children and the hearts of children to their parents, so that I
will not come and strike the land with a curse.

Luke 14:25 Now large crowds were traveling with him; and he turned and said to them, 26 "Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. 27 whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. 28 For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? 29 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, 30 saying, 'This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.' 31 Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32 If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. 33 So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.

At first glance, it's easy to see these are not necessarily going to be 'comfortable' texts to work with. However, there is a lot in there about how what we do actually does matter. Ties might be able to be made with the renunciation of cheap grace as well as the celebration of Labor Day. I will be interested to see what the commentaries say, especially about what is required of those who follow God.