Saturday, July 20, 2013

Sermon sneak preview

I'm thinking my sermon tomorrow might focus on 4 things from Mark 15:33-41 that help to reveal the significance of Jesus and his death:

(1)   The darkness (v33)

(2)   The cry (v34)

(3)   The curtain (v38)

(4)   The response (v39)

I might also quote this passage from Luther:

All the prophets did foresee in spirit, that Christ should become the greatest transgressor, murderer, adulterer, thief, rebel, blasphemer, etc. that ever was….for he being made a sacrifice, for the sins of the whole world, is not now an innocent person and without sins….Our most merciful Father…sent his only Son into the world and laid upon him the sins of all men, saying: Be thou Peter that denier; Paul that persecutor, blasphemer and cruel oppressor; David that adulterer; that sinner which did eat the apple in Paradise; that thief which hanged on the cross; and, briefly, be thou [that] person which hath committed the sins of all men; see therefore that thou pay and satisfy for them. Here now cometh the law and saith: I find him a sinner…therefore let him die upon the cross.

(found at Galatians, ed. Philip S. Watson (London: James Clarke, 1953), 269-271; on Gal 3:13)

Friday, July 19, 2013

Bread and wine?

Tovey writes: “At the Last Supper Jesus took bread, his followers use qurban, gonja [banana], biscuits, bread, kyavati and wafers. Jesus took wine, his followers use the juice of steeped raisins, musibi [banana juice], wine, Tree Top, Ribena, coffee, Fanta, honey and water.”

Phillip Tovey, Inculturation of Christian Worship: Exploring the Eucharist (Aldershot, Ashgate, 2004) p47

Preaching as sacramental (again!)

Donald Coggan’s book on preaching is entitled “The Sacrament of the Word”[1]. Coggan does not give a detailed account of what he means by calling preaching the sacrament of the Word. Writing in the Foreword, John Austin Baker offers this explanation of the title:

The preacher stands at the intersection of the eternal and the temporal, to be sanctified by saving truth so that others may receive Him who is the Truth, and take Him into the complex problems and agonies of our world.

That is why this book is called The Sacrament of the Word. It is about the imparting of Christ through our words [primarily in preaching], and so inevitably through ourselves.[2]

Coggan draws on the doctrine of the Lord’s Supper thus:

The prime actor in the Sacraments of the Word is the Holy Spirit. The Sacrament of the Eucharist provides us with a helpful comparison…. [In preaching:] The “elements” are words, ordinary words, the words that we constantly use in the commerce of everyday life. But in preaching, the life-giving Spirit takes these words and makes them vehicles of his grace. He fashions words into the Word. Who can doubt that, when such preaching takes place, there is the Real Presence of Christ?[3]

Three points may be noted. First, Coggan argues that in the Supper and in preaching, the Holy Spirit is the prime actor. Coggan argues that the authors of The Prayer Book were right in “insisting that the two sacramental acts [of preaching and the Lord’s Supper] should go together, both being dependent for their efficiency on the presence and activity of the Holy Spirit. Through both, God reaches the hearts of his people and “graces” them.”[4] Second, the ordinary human words of preaching may be likened to the ordinary elements of bread and wine which the Spirit uses as vehicles of grace in the Supper. Coggan also quotes C. E. B. Cranfield’s argument that the Bible is as essential to preaching as bread and wine are to the Supper: “To try to bypass the Bible in preaching is as perverse as attempting to celebrate the Holy Supper without bread or wine… it is, in fact, to show oneself ignorant of what preaching is all about.”[5] Coggan adds: “Water, bread and wine are the stuff of baptism and eucharist. Words are the stuff of preaching.”[6] He sees these uses of created things as instances of what he calls the “incarnational principle”: “God’s taking up of temporal things for the conveyance of eternal realities”[7]. Third, proper preaching (like the Supper) mediates the Real Presence of Christ.

For Coggan, whilst baptism and the Eucharist are God’s verbal visibilia, sermons are his verba audibilia, appealing to the ear[8].

Similarly, P. T. Forsyth calls the preacher a sacrament[9] and describes him as sacramental:

The preacher’s place in the Church is sacramental. It is not sacerdotal, but it is sacramental. He mediates the word to the Church from faith to faith, from his faith to theirs, from one stage of their common faith to another…. He is a living element in Christ’s hands (broken, if need be) for the distribution and increment of Grace. He is laid on the altar of the Cross[10]

Part of the preacher’s role is to “feed” the people with the Word of God[11].

One of the points Forsyth wants to insist on with this sacramental language is that the sermon is not mere talk, it does something. Real preaching is effective spiritual action:

In true preaching, as in a true sacrament, more is done than said…. He [the preacher] is a man of action. He is among the men who do things. That is why I call him a sacramental man, not merely an expository, declaratory man. In a sacrament is there not something done, not merely shown, not merely recalled? It is no mere memorial…. in a sacrament there is something effected.[12]

Forsyth adds:

The preacher’s word, when he preaches the gospel and not only delivers a sermon, is an effective deed, charged with blessing or with judgement. We eat and drink judgement to ourselves as we hear.[13]

As for Coggan, for Forsyth, preaching involves the real presence of Christ.[14] Preaching mediates what Forsyth calls “the Great Act”, the saving work of Christ and especially his cross[15]. The preacher is merely the sacramental element, the power is not his[16].

George Pattison writes:

if we no longer live in a golden age of Christian preaching, few Christians will not at some point have experienced something of the sacramental dimension of preaching- that preaching, no less than the sacraments more narrowly understood, is a way of God becoming present in time to the believing community. Preaching too can be a way of making-present the 'conversation in heaven' to which God is constantly drawing us. Seeing preaching as sacramental in this way goes against the widespread assumption by both preachers and congregations that preaching is primarily a form of teaching, the aim of which is simply to offer an explanation or application of the biblical text, or to demonstrate the logical, historical or psychological grounds for accepting Christian belief.[17]

[1] (Glasgow, Collins Fount Paperbacks, 1987)
[2] Coggan, The Sacrament of the Word, p12
[3] Coggan, The Sacrament of the Word, p76
[4] Coggan, The Sacrament of the Word, p77
[5] Coggan, The Sacrament of the Word, p77, quoting The Bible and Christian Life, T. T. Clark, 1955, p12
[6] Coggan, The Sacrament of the Word, p77
[7] Coggan, The Sacrament of the Word, p77
[8] Coggan, The Sacrament of the Word, p77. The category of visible words was questioned above. Of course sermons are usually “seen” as well as heard.
[9] P.T. Forsyth, Positive Preaching and the Modern Mind: The Lyman Beecher Lecture on Preaching, Yale Univerity, 1907 (Hodder and Stoughton, MCMVII), p79
[10] Forsyth, Positive Preaching, p80
[11] Forsyth, Positive Preaching, p80
[12] Forsyth, Positive Preaching, pp81-82
[13] Forsyth, Positive Preaching, p83
[14] Forsyth, Positive Preaching, pp 82 and 83
[15] Forsyth, Positive Preaching, p84
[16] Forsyth, Positive Preaching, pp84-85
[17] George Pattison, Short Course in Christian Doctrine, p108