DMin Course - PW 813
New Testament Exegesis and Sermon Design
Sermon - Matthew 5.1-12
"Preaching the Gospel"
We all know that our profession is not always easy. Preaching - despite the old adage in the pews that "preachers only work Sundays" - is not easy. We wrestly with texts. We do exegesis and try to glean a word for our next sermon. And to make matters even more difficult, we try to relate that word to our people in their contexts.
An article by Peter Gomes suggests that a part of our struggle is that we try to connect our audiences to that ancient world of "Bibleland" and somehow give them a relevant word for their lives here and now. And as we all know, there are inherent pitfalls and caveats along the way. Gomes reminds us of what theologian Edward Farley warns that we can "preach the Bible yet lose the gospel. We must remember that the Bible is not an end in itself, but the means to revealing the gospel."
My struggle to glean a sermon from this Matthewan text has been no different. I have searched and read. I've looked at the Greek hoping to find some clue in the syntax of this phrase or that word. I've consulted commentaries trying to find a take that speaks to me, or that speaks to us. And somewhere along the way something occurred to me. Maybe, just maybe, there is something in this text doesn't need too much analyzation. Maybe it doesn't need to be dissected and picked apart and then put back together. Sometimes when I get so deep into such an exercise I feel like taking all my notes and throwing them up in the air, hoping the sermon will come down already intact. But we all know it doesn't work that way.
So what I decided on was something that Gomes' article suggests. Maybe in the midst of our best efforts, we professional purveyors of the word sometimes miss it. Sometimes as we glean things from the text, we don't see the most important part - the gospel of Jesus Christ.
This text is about the good news that Jesus the Christ has brought into the world. Prior to this passage he had been teaching, preaching, and healing in Galilee. He had brought the gospel to those who were in need of God's presence. Yet in the midst of his teaching and ministry, Jesus was at odds with the conventional wisdom of his day. Conventional wisdom is the dominant consciousness of a culture. Granted each culture has its unique characteristics, at the same time there are several general aspects that seem to permeate all cultures.
To begin with, conventional wisdom dictates how to live. It reveals the central values of any given cultural setting. In first-century Judaism, conventional wisdom was based on the Torah and other elements of folk wisdom. Examples of these can be found in the book of Proverbs.
Another element of conventional wisdom was a system of rewards and punishments. We know this by other aphorisms - "you reap what you sow," "what goes around, comes around," and, and other sayings that reduce life to a level of legalisms and prosperity, failure and punishment.
Thirdly, conventional wisdom affects us both socially and psychologically. In the social realm, a structure of hierarchies and limitations become evident. The way these hierarchies are revealed is when a culture establishes boundaries based on race, gender, age, physical condition or other barriers. Psychologically, conventional wisdom even can dictate the value or worth of individuals. When they don't measure up to the expectations, their esteem is damaged or suppressed. Their lives are dictated by the norms around them. Such was the world of the New Testament and in many ways, is our world today.
But the realm of God that Jesus presented is not the world of conventional wisdom. This part of the Sermon on the Mount, I think, reveals the good news of the gospel.
Blessed are the poor in spirit - though your world oppresses you, in God's realm yours is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are the gentle mourners - though your lives are been torn by oppression, in God's realm you are comforted and God's spirit is with you.
Blessed are the meek - though your lives may not be valued by your culture and society, in God's realm you will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness - though no matter what you do never seems good enough, in God's realm you'll be filled.
Blessed are the merciful - though you who show mercy and compassion even when others don't deserve it, in God's realm you'll receive mercy as well.
Blessed are the pure in heart - though others harbor ulterior motives, in God's realm you'll see God clearly.
Blessed are those who work for peace and wholeness - though the world wields the violence of power, in God's realm you'll be recognized as those belonging to God.
And blessed are those who suffer for doing good and are persecuted - though the world doesn't know how to take you, in God's realm your reward will be great.
Jesus is preaching the gospel. And the gospel of Jesus Christ is preached first to those who somehow don't measure up in the world. He begins this discourse first by telling his followers - and us - that this is how it is. It is the gospel. Maybe it's no wonder why we still struggle with texts. Maybe our worlds have become so ingrained by the conventional wisdom of our day that it's difficult for us to see that all of us are broken, and stand in need of the good news of God's saving grace.
This brings me back full circle. What is our task as ministers but to preach the gospel to our churches, to our world, and to ourselves. This text is a reminder to us to not to "preach the Bible and lose the gospel."
Blessed are those who exegete, and dissect, and translate, and study the scriptures . . .
for theirs is the preaching of the gospel! In the midst of our labors, may we be responsible to see it and proclaim it faithfully!