Archive for September, 2017

SermononMountI’ve recently begun teaching a new series on Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7).  Each week I’ll link to the audio of the teaching here, as well as upload any instructional handouts I create.  Here is the audio of my introduction to the Sermon on the Mount.  See below for my 1.) teaching outline and 2.) a structural overview of the Gospel of Matthew as a whole, which is the crucial context for the Sermon on the Mount:

Sermon on the Mount_Outline

The Structure of Matthew

Read Full Post »

“The history of the impact of the Sermon on the Mount can largely be described in terms of an attempt to domesticate everything in it that is shocking, demanding, and uncompromising, and render it harmless.” (Pinchas Lapide, The Sermon on the Mount: Utopia or Program for Action?, p. 3)

SermononMount“In following this history [of Christian interpretation of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7] we find ourselves faced with the question whether the times when the Sermon on the Mount has had special historical significance were not always those in which men allowed themselves to be challenged by Jesus’ demand and commandment in a radical and direct fashion, and sought, with the most thorough-going personal decision, to put the Sermon on the Mount into practice…In these moments the attack was always directed towards a Church which, with its sophisms and theologisms, sanctioned the existing world and its ‘orders,’ and which had put the dynamic power of the Sermon on the Mount, so to speak, under lock and key…

Time and time again Christianity, with the assistance of its theology, has known so well and still knows how to intercept, so to speak, the thrust of Jesus’ challenge, to divert it and to settle down peacefully in spite of it…We are most certainly in danger, to put it drastically, of putting the Sermon on the Mount away in storage by means of dogmatics.  Looking back on all the aforementioned expositions of the Sermon on the Mount in their diversity, we soon discover a dangerous tendency running through them all, which at least in its effect can be noticed again and again.  They all aim at limiting its application, they all contain a characteristic ‘only’…This manifold ‘only’ is obviously highly suspect.  Again and again it became a shock absorber, which made the real meeting with Jesus’ word bearable and therefore illusory.” (Gunther Bornkamm, “The History of the Exposition of the Sermon on the Mount,” in Jesus of Nazareth, pp. 221-25)

Read Full Post »

Barth“True Church law [or “order”] is exemplary law.  For all its particularity, it is a pattern for the formation and administration of human law generally, and therefore of the law of other political, economic, cultural and other human societies…What is at issue?  Primarily, it is a matter of the insight that in the formation and administration of its law the Christian community, while it is first and decisively responsible to its Lord, assumes also a two-sided responsibility–both inward and outward–on the human level.  This is not a divided or twofold responsibility.  It is two-sided.  The inward responsibility to itself involves an outward to the world.  It orders itself–its own life which is distinct from that of the world.  It does this from its center in public worship.  It does it above all in its ordering of public worship.  But it does not do it for the sake of itself.  It does not do it in self-seeking, however holy.  If it did, it would come into collision with its basic law–the law that in its totality and all its members it is pledged to service in the discipleship of the One who came, not to be ministered unto, but to minister.  We return to our definition that the Christian Church, as the body of Jesus Christ and therefore the earthly-historical form of His existence, is the provisional representation of the humanity sanctified in Him. Jesus Christ did not sanctify Himself for His own sake, but for the sake of humanity…

[The church] exists in the service of the witness which in its existence as the community it owes to the world, and cannot therefore withhold from it…It would be quite wrong for the community to think that in its formation and administration it has to do only with itself, with its own affair, with its divine service as the center of its life.  For its own affair, that with which it is concerned in its divine service and in its whole life understood as service, is the witness that it owes to those who are without.  In relation to those who are without it cannot, therefore, be indifferent or silent or preoccupied with itself.  It can be genuinely preoccupied with itself only when it is also concerned with them and is aware of its responsibility towards them…

To what end?  Certainly not in order to claim that the law valid in the Church must also be the law of the state and other human societies.  Certainly not to demand or invite these to appropriate the provisions of ecclesiastical law and therefore to replace their own law by canon law.  Certainly not to ecclesiasticise the world and especially the state as the all-embracing form of human society…To do this it [the world/state] would have to recognize what it does not acknowledge: the lordship of Jesus Christ as the authority of the One in whom the reconciliation of the world with God has been accomplished; the majesty of His Word and the power of His Holy Spirit.  The law of the state and all other human societies is worldly law in the sense that, even though its members and representatives may themselves be Christians and belong to the community, it does not reckon with the basic law which is decisive for the community but is based upon, and shaped by, very different (historical and speculative) principles.  Directly to take over the law of the community even at a single point the world would have to abandon its own assumptions and become the community…

But why not in the sense that it [the church] has to express the Gospel to the world in the forms of its particular law [public order/structure]?  What the Christian community owes to the world is not a law or ideal, not an exactment or demand, but the Gospel: the good news about the actuality of Jesus Christ in which it is helped, its sins are overcome and its misery ended; the word of hope in the great coming light in which its reconciliation with God will be manifested…The decisive contribution which the Christian community can make to the upbuilding and work and maintenance of the civil consists in the witness which it has to give to it and to all human societies in the form of the order of its own upbuilding and constitution…In the form in which it [the church] exists among them it can and must be to the world of men around it a reminder of the law of the kingdom of God already set up on earth in Jesus Christ, and a promise of its future manifestation.  De facto, whether they realize it or not, it can and should show them that there is already on earth an order which is based on that great alteration of the human situation and directed towards its manifestation…That there are other possibilities, not merely in heaven but on earth, not merely one day but already, than those to which it thinks that it must confine itself in the formation and administration of its law…

If the community were to imagine that the reach of the sanctification of humanity accomplished in Jesus Christ were restricted to itself and the ingathering of believers, that it did not have corresponding effects extra muros ecclesiae, it would be in flat contradiction to its own confession of its Lord…It may be model law because neither in its establishment nor its execution is it supported by any alien power, but can arise and be practiced, as is actually the case, in mutual trust.  No worldly law can be satisfied with this presupposition…Of what value is the force which compels observance if it cannot also appeal to the mutual trust which is the law within the law?…In the last resort [this] cannot be achieved even in part without the total self-giving of each to all.  The existence of canon law can demonstrate this truth in paradigmatic form.” (Karl BarthChurch Dogmatics [“The Order of the Community”], pp. 719-24)-

Read Full Post »

Here’s a talk I gave recently for Harvard College Faith and Action:

Read Full Post »

Vanstone“Either this dependence and limitation must be a source of increasing resentment and frustration and even self-contempt; or there must be a rediscovery of the dignity which belongs to man as patient, as object, as one who waits upon the world and receives that which is done to him.” (W. H. Vanstone, The Stature of Waiting, p. 66)

“So it may be that the thought of the handing over of Jesus—of His transition from action to passion—can be of practical help to people who must face, or have already faced, a similar transition in their own lives…‘Passion’ does not mean, exclusively or even primarily, ‘pain’: it means dependence, exposure, waiting, being no longer in control of one’s situation, being the object of what is done.  So the passion of Jesus ‘connects’ not simply or even primarily with the human experience of pain: it connects with every experience of passing, suddenly or gradually, into a more dependent phase or area of life—with going into hospital, with retiring or losing one’s job or having to wait upon the actions of other people and other factors beyond one’s control.  If the thought of the passion of Jesus is helpful at all, then it may be helpful not only to the person who is bearing the ‘cross’ of pain but also to the person who feels that he is ‘on the sidelines,’ that he has become useless or ineffective, that he is no longer making his mark in the world or his contribution to it.  ‘To be handed over’ in ways such as there is particularly disquieting to a person who, by habit or temperament, has been exceptionally active and energetic or a notable achiever; and such a person may well find comfort in the thought that a similar pattern appears in the life of Jesus—that He also passed from activity and work and achievement into a final phase of waiting and dependence and passion…It might emerge from recognizing that, according to the Gospel story, the transition which Jesus made was no mere misfortune but rather a kind of triumph, no diminution of Himself or His calling but rather a kind of elevation.  If a man should be guided by the Gospels to see such worth and quality in the transition which Jesus made, then—and perhaps only then—he may have a possibility of seeing his own transition in a new and more favorable light.” (W. H. Vanstone, The Stature of Waiting, pp. 70-71)

Read Full Post »

Wainwright“The church thus identified [in the New Testament] sounds Catholic in its comprehensiveness, Calvinist in the unconditionality of its chosenness, and Lutheran in its possibilities of unfaithfulness while remaining genuinely the church; but the total effect, not surprisingly, is more Jewish than anything else…

Also Jewish sounding is the church’s mission.  It is above all by the character of its communal life that it witnesses, that it proclaims the gospel and serves the world…The primary Christian witness, in short, is not to save souls but to be a faithfully witnessing people.

It would be a mistake, however, to conclude from this in the currently popular fashion that the church’s mission is therefore primarily diakonia in the sense of serving the needs of humanity at large.  Christians are responsible first of all for their own communities, not for the wider society.  It is by the quality of their communal life that God wills them to be a light to the Gentiles.  This does not mean that the chosen people is more important than the world.  On the contrary, its role is instrumental: it exists in order to witness to the nations.  It does this, however, not primarily by striving to save souls or to improve the social order, but by being the body of Christ, the communal sign of the promised redemption, in the time between the times.  When serving the world results in the neglect of the household of faith, the church becomes not a sign but a countersign, a contributor to that human confusion which is the opposite of God’s design.  It comes to resemble the philanthropist who loves humankind at a distance but not his neighbors or family in need.  Its primary task should be to build up sisters and brothers in the faith, not to liberate the oppressed everywhere; and it is only through performing this task that it becomes a liberating force in world history.  This makes mutual responsibility of all for all crucial to the church’s mission and witness…

Once the traditional understanding of mission as [only] the saving of souls is [rightly] abandoned, the task of witnessing tends to become indistinguishable for that socially responsible righteousness, that commitment to peace, justice and freedom, to which all human beings are called.  The problem is not only practical but theological: it is difficult in most ecclesiological perspectives to legitimate greater concern for Christians than for non-Christians.  Perhaps the only way out is a people-of-God perspective in which the mutual concern of all the churches for each other’s worship, faith, fellowship and action becomes of paramount importance precisely for the sake of missionary witness to the world.” (George Linbeck, “The Church,” in Keeping the Faith, ed. Geoffrey Wainwright, pp. 192-95)

Read Full Post »

“So I join the psalmist in lament. I voice my suffering, naming it and owning it I cry out. I cry out for deliverance: “Deliver me, O God, from this suffering. Restore me, and make me whole.” I cry out for explanation, for I no more know in general why things have gone awry with respect to God’s desire than did the psalmist. “Why, O God, is this happening? Why is your desire, that each and every one of us should flourish here on earth until full of years, being frustrated? It makes no sense.” To lament is to risk living with one’s deepest questions unanswered.

The cry occurs within the context of the yet of enduring faith and ongoing praise, for in raising Christ from the dead, we have God’s word and deed that God will be victorious in the struggle against all that frustrates God’s desire. Thus divine sovereignty is not sacrificed but reconceived. If lament is indeed a legitimate component of the Christian life, then divine sovereignty is not to be understood as everything happening just as God wants it to happen—or happening in such a way that God regards what he does not like as an acceptable trade-off for the good thereby achieved.

Divine sovereignty consists in God’s winning the battle against all that has gone awry with respect to God’s will.” (Nicholas Wolterstorff, “If God is Good and Sovereign, Why Lament?”)

Read Full Post »

“The minister is interested primarily in building a moral universe and facilitating right conduct in a community of persons.” (Don S. BrowningThe Moral Context of Pastoral Care, p. 99)

Read Full Post »