It has been a long day – and an even longer time since I last blogged. I have had tutorials on units 4-6, handed in and received back marks for the units 4 & 5 assignments and am working on my unit 6 assignment as well as the end of section 1 exegeses and trial service. Oh, and I’m preaching next week.
Which brings me to why I am here, blogging, right now: next week’s readings are tough!
John 1: 1-18. Very little narrative just tons of symbolism that, I am sure meant something to 1st and 2nd century Christians in Turkey but means very little to me. Having worked my way through four commentaries, I am little the wiser. There are clear echoes of Genesis which can be interpreted as reference to a new beginning through Christ. The notion of Jesus’ godhood runs throughout the passage as does that of Jesus’ superiority to John the Baptist and to Moses. The question is, what am I supposed to do with it all? What is the message within this message?
When preparing to write a sermon, the Faith & Worship course gives a list of over 20 questions to answer about a passage. These questions are separated into groups: the preacher’s perspective, the peoples’ perspective (congregation and wider world), the church’s tradition, and biblical exegesis. The questions about the preacher’s perspective are:
- What echoes are there in this Bible passage for me?
- Are there any links with my own story?
- Does this passage raise questions for me?
- Does this passage challenge, confront or confirm me?
- What are the key words and key ideas in this passage for me?
How can there be any links or echoes for any human being in this passage? The passage raises many questions for me which can be summarised as ‘eh?’. It challenges my understanding and confronts me with the idea that I am not up to the task of preacher. I find no confirmation in it. And the key words and ideas? Well, the writer uses the word ‘light’ a lot. As mentioned, there are links with Genesis and the writer is very clear about Jesus being God and of God and with God – and about John the Baptist being sent by God but not being God. Not much help there then.
The next section, the peoples’ perspective, has eight further questions:
- For the congregation: does the Bible passage ring any bells?
- For the congregation: does the Bible passage echo the congregation’s own story/experience?
- For the congregation: does the Bible passage raise questions or problems?
- For the congregation: does the Bible passage challenge, confront or confirm?
- What words or ideas will stand out for those who hear it?
- How might the world outside the Church react to the passage?
- What questions might be raised for the world outside the Church?
- Does the passage offer a critique or confirmation to the contemporary world?
This is the first time I have visited this church so I do not know the congregation. The only information on the Church’s worship profile is that there are ten regular attendees and that they are all over 50. Additionally, though the church is a member of the local ecumenical partnership, it is not a Methodist church and has different practices and traditions. This makes answering questions 1-4 rather tricky. Question 5 is a tricky one as history teaches us that that there are as many different versions of an event as witnesses to it so everybody will pick out different words or ideas from the passage.
What about the world outside the Church? It is difficult to see how anyone without at least a basic understanding of the New Testament could come away with anything more than Jesus is God.
Let’s look at the Church’s traditions:
- Are there any echoes in the liturgical life of the Church? Church year? Festivals? Rituals? Special Services?
- How has this Bible passage been understood in the history of the Church and in preaching?
- Are there hymns, creeds or prayers which echo this passage? (confession, thanksgiving, dedication, etc?)
- How might this passage be handled in worship?
It cannot be a coincidence that this reading is during Christmas so that is the beginning of an answer to question 1. A copy of the 1893 Methodist Commentary on the New Testament often helps with question 2 though, having been written by very learned clerics on a very dense passage, it has not enlightened me today! Question 3 is the most fun question: which hymns could be used. The hymns might emphasise a particular aspect of the passage or echo a general theme for the service as a whole. The Methodist Church has a fantastic resource http://www.singingthefaithplus.org.uk/ which gives suggestions for hymns linked to the lectionary readings. Question 4 is, in my opinion, somewhat ahead of itself – it is to decide how to handle the passage that this exercise is required. However, I have already determined that a dramatic re-enactment of the passage’s events would be tricky.
And, finally, the research element of the exercise: the biblical exegesis.
- Why is this Bible passage where it is? What comes before and after it?
- What might it have meant to its original hearers/ readers? What reactions did it provoke then and why?
- What is the cultural background of the passage? (author, type of literature, audience, etc?)
- What themes/ theological ideas are touched on in this passage?
- What are the key words?
The passage is the introduction not just to John’s Gospel but to Jesus’ divinity. It immediately precedes John the Baptist’s denial of Messiahship. I often think 2 and 3 would be, more usefully, answered in reverse order so: the Gospel of John was written around 100 CE in Turkey. His audience would have been mainly gentile with limited understanding of Jewish tradition. The passage reads like a hymn with the addition of information about the ministry of John the Baptist. It could have acted as a creed for the new church showing the differences between it and the followers of John the Baptist and of the Jewish people. It would have reminded the listener that Christ represented a new beginning in humanity’s relationship with God because, for the first time, God and truly walked among us. Lived among us. The main theme is of the eternity of Christ: His relationship to God and His eternal nature as well as His nature as an intermediary between a Heavenly God and earthly man. The key ideas are that God was made flesh, that knowing the nature of Christ brings us to God, and that the darkness of man cannot subsume the light of God. The key words are light, logos and life.
And, after all that, I still have no idea of Sunday’s theme. The solution? Pray on it and try again tomorrow.
Good night and God bless xx