Preaching for a Change

I am currently working on a Doctor of Ministry degree in Preaching through the Association of Chicago Theological Schools.  I am deeply passionate about preaching as a medium for communicating the Gospel.  Preaching isn’t the only means for communicating, but it has been an important part of the Church’s life.  As such, it is good practice to reflect on what we are doing as we preach.  I do not pretend to be an expert, but write this as an opportunity for me to further reflect on what I am learning and offer it to others for their own reflection.

I have been preaching now on a somewhat consistent basis for nearly a decade.  The bags under my eyes are probably in part from several “Saturday night specials” and the stress of trying to say an appropriate word to the community of faith in the preaching moment.  It has become less stressful in some ways over time.  The consistency of my preaching has improved.  But, there were still moments when I preached a sermon that proved deeply meaningful one Sunday only to be followed up the next week with something resembling a soggy firecracker.  Even after I became acquainted with various methods for preaching a sermon, it wasn’t always helpful.

It has helped me to learn about two different frameworks in a sermon.  The first framework is the structure of the sermon, which can take a variety of forms: Preaching as Celebration, Deductive, Inductive, Lowry’s Loop, Buttrick’s Homiletical Moves, etc.).  These were different ways of structure the content of a sermon.  There are many wonderful and helpful tips you can learn from a variety of these methods.  But, for me, there was still something missing.  This is where the second level of structuring illuminated my confusion and consistency in preaching.  The emotive and cognitive flow, which sounds self-evident, was something that I did not always shape well and which left sermons flatter than a Dr. Pepper that’s been sitting open for two days.  Not only did I need to structure my content; I needed to structure it to honor the emotive-cognitive arch was connects with the “intuitive” core of a person and community.  This is the double meaning of the title for this post.  Despite being inconsistent in the past, let’s become more consistent now.  And, let’s preach in a way that opens people toward a response for transformation.  Let’s preach “for a change.”

The Enlightenment was a period that was primarily focused on the cerebral comprehension of a text (i.e., scripture or any other work).  The Historical Critical method for understanding a text was the primary means utilized for getting at what a text meant.  In other words, the text held one meaning and it was the author’s original meaning, which could only be mined and understood if we were able to uncover all of the historical, factual contexts of that particular scripture.  In no way do I want to demean many of the wonderful discoveries about the historical world of scripture that emerged from that quest.

But, as Fred Craddock and many others pointed out, this created a homiletical (preaching) method that focused on an audience’s head but often left their heart disengaged.  As such, the audience could mentally assent or “believe” in a “fact” about scripture, but their lives were sometimes unaffected by these “beliefs.”  There was a disconnect created in the person through this focus on preaching as teaching for mental comprehension and assent.

So, how do we join head and heart?  Dr. Frank Thomas offers a helpful way of approaching both head and heart, cognitive and emotive, in the sermon.  His framework, which I will call the emotive/cognitive arch of a sermon, helps keep these two pieces together throughout the sermon.  Thomas points out that the emotive and the cognitive parts of ourselves cannot truly be separated.  When the emotive is in the “driver’s seat,” the cognitive is in the “back seat” asking if this experiential part of the sermon is connected to the rest of the sermon.  Vice versa, when the cognitive is leading, the emotive is asking how this connects to our lives.  It is helpful to keep in mind that both are at work; it’s just a matter of which is in focus at any given moment.

The emotive-cognitive arch has a helpful pattern for helping hearers engage in the sermon and move to a point of celebration.  The emotive-cognitive arch has an alternating pattern which has three positions: emotive over cognitive, cognitive over emotive, emotive over cognitive.  This is the three-fold pattern of the emotive-cognitive arch, which can be utilized within a number of homiletical methods (Lowry’s Loop, Craddock’s Inductive method, 3 Points and a Poem, Four Pages, etc.).  Let’s think about why this pattern is important for experiential preaching.

First, we begin with the emotive in the driver’s seat.  There are a number of ways this can be done to create emotive connection (i.e., a story, a familiar song, poetry, a joke, a physical demonstration, etc.).  The emotive connects with personal, communal experience, which creates identification and interest in the sermon itself.  If this happens, then the hearers are more open to following the preacher through the rest of the sermon.  Although the emotive is driving, the cognitive is acting like a GPS for the sermon.  Does this story connect with the rest of the sermon?  Is this going somewhere?  Does this story have a bunch of fluff?  Is this an appropriate analogy or metaphor?  Is this theologically coherent?  The cognitive shapes the emotive element, but the emotive identification at the beginning is important for the hearers.

Second, the sermon shifts to the cognitive, with the emotive helping in the background.  Here, the cognitive element is the opportunity to do some of the teaching, educating, exegetical pieces that are often necessary to comprehend the text.  This is where things like tradition, theology, philosophy might come to bear on a particular text.  But, in case we might get to “heady,” the emotive is walking alongside us asking us to make these concepts connect with our lives.  Images are the emotive vehicles of language.  As such, we can couch the theological, exegetical, historical, philosophical elements of the sermon in images that continue to allow the congregation to connect with the cognitive content.  However, images can help us keep from over-explaining.  If we have to over-explain something, it might suggest that we aren’t familiar enough with a particular topic.

Finally, the sermon switches back to the emotive as the front-runner.  This is the move toward celebration as we have resolved the complication (topic for another day) in the text/sermon.  Again, just because we are using the emotive, that does not neglect the cognitive piece.  The cognitive is still asking if the emotive elements are connected to what came before.  Is it connected with the text?  Is it connected with the situation, complication, and resolution in the sermon?  Does the celebration make too large of a leap for people to follow?  The emotive at this final part of the sermon allows us to move the cognitive part of the sermon toward the heart, engaging the whole person.

Dr. Thomas concludes that utilizing both the cognitive and the emotive in a sermon allows the congregation’s intuition, the place of core beliefs and behavior, to be changed.  The congregation has the opportunity to respond positively or negatively to a sermon (in other words, this isn’t emotional manipulation).  But, by combining both the emotive and the cognitive, it calls for some kind of response.  And, it also provides the opportunity for change.

One final note.  This post doesn’t mention the work of the Spirit in the sermon.  And, if we aren’t careful, we might conclude that the sermon doesn’t need the work of the Spirit.  That is far from true.  The Spirit should be a companion in the process of preparation, preaching, and participation.  But, for this particular post, I wanted us to diligently think through methods of how we structure sermons so that we might lessen the barriers that we mistakenly create when constructing and delivering a sermon.  And, I believe that preaching which engages the experiential center of people’s lives, both the cognitive and emotive elements, has a greater possibility of becoming deeply rooted in the lives of our congregations.


“The Preaching Life” by Barbara Brown Taylor

We are increasingly in a Post-Christian context.  The Church and the world are disillusioned.  Taylor makes the argument that this is a great place to be, if one has eyes of faith to see.  In fact, disillusionment unmasks the lies and urges us to search deeper.  Our idols are unveiled and a more mysterious, dynamic vision of God is revealed.

The call is an essential part of the preaching task.  We are all called to follow Christ (vocation), but each is called to follow Christ using their unique spiritual gifts (office).  The pastor is one among many equal callings.  But, it is still a lofty calling to equip the believers to do every good work.  Christians are called to be mindful of the sacramental nature in the mundane elements of life.  God is at work and calls us to see grace already present in the world.

This is an imaginative act.  That’s not to say that it is an act of fantasy.  Instead, it is the ability to see with eyes of faith the underlying reality of God present and at work.  Scripture plays an important role in this imaginative work.  We don’t only read Scripture but Scripture reads us.  That is to say, that life is viewed through a new light that gives us new eyes for the situations in which we find ourselves.  We wrestle with the text (despite its “human fingerprints”), finding that there is something more at work than the human element.  The Spirit breathes new life through the pages of these texts, even if we cannot “explain” them all.

The liturgy of worship connects us together, both past and present.  Worship, as Taylor suggests, is like a dance whose elements we have practiced for so long that they have become engrained in us.  They become secondary nature.  Word and Table shape the identity of the community by engaging all of the senses.  God is made known through the tangible elements, teaching us that there is no real separation between the sacred and the secular.  The rhythms of the liturgy inform the rhythms of our daily life outside of the sanctuary.

The sermon is an interesting phenomenon.  Taylor states that the parts of sermon construction can be taught, but it is difficult to teach how those parts go together.  In mentioning her own “best” and “worst” sermons, she highlights the fact that there is more at work than just the preacher.  It is a triangular relationship between God, people, and preacher that make up the sermon.  Imbalance in one area is like a three-legged stool that is unstable and likely to fall over.  As preachers, it is important to recognize this and not take ourselves too seriously.  What may seem like brilliance to us can fall flat to a congregation.  What may feel like a poor sermon may be given life by the Spirit in ways that we cannot imagine.  What matters most is that we are entrusting ourselves in that preaching to the One who is the Word.

The final chapters are a few of Barbara Brown Taylor’s sermons.  I will summarize what I learned from those sermons for the art of preaching.  One of the things that struck me about her sermons was the fact that she weaves stories throughout her preaching of the text.  These stories unlock or unfold something in the text that may not have been directly visible before.  The use of stories invites the reader, sometimes unwittingly, to go along for the journey to meet the God of Scripture.

Taylor also wrestles with the text and the questions of the congregation effectively.  She gives voice to their concerns and acknowledges the difficulties in the passage.  However, the sermon always ends with a Gospel message revealing how God is at work and present in the text.  There is concrete language used, but her sermons utilize language to evoke the realities of the text in her hearers.

Preaching the Story that Shapes Us by Dan Boone

The bibliographical content is packaged with noted scholars, theologians, pastors, and preachers. However, it is not limited to that alone but incorporates writers, poets, and communicators of other genres. Boone also implements content from the female perspective on preaching, which supplements a different viewpoint. He includes perspective on preaching from those of other cultures, as well. But, the sources could potentially be strengthened by adding further perspective from other ethnic groups.

We are first introduced to the concept of narrative and calling. Pastors are called to participate in the narrative of God by communicating that same narrative to others and inviting them to join in as well. Through stories, Boone weaves the narrative of his calling and early introduction to preaching and pastoral ministry. We are reminded that preaching isn’t just a task that others expect us to perform. Instead, we are called to preach as a response of love to God. Next, we dialogue with Scripture.

Through dynamic interplay between human and divine, God has communicated the story of salvation. It is a means of God’s grace in the life of the community. If the words on the page are not enlivened in believers, then these are little more than quaint stories. However, when we allow the Spirit to breath through the texts, new life can happen in profound ways. As such, we have to be careful with the text and allow the text to read us rather than merely reading a text and assuming we have understood correctly.

Our first step is not to consult commentaries but imagination. We attend to the text through our senses and ask questions that go beneath the surface of the text. We look for trouble in the text, which will help shape our understanding of the plot of the narrative. We name the images and human experiences in the text, looking for connections in our world. We allow the text to shine light on our “shadows.” Next, we dialogue with scholars. Finally, we exegete the congregation and address competing narratives opposed to God’s narrative.

There are many options for sermon form (i.e., Lowry’s Loop, Episodic, Straw Man, etc.). The form implemented should not be noticeable, but should move the plot along to its intended response. We are also commended to watch our body language in preaching, while keeping in mind audience expectations for a sermon due to setting or calendar.

Boone also lists several things not to do during a sermon. He suggests not making the sermon overly complex but simple, not making yourself the exemplary model at the end, not explaining what you can evoke, not allowing the text to dictate the most important idea, not trusting too much in your own skill, not using fill-in-the-blank sermons because of distraction, not reciting homework in the sermon, not preaching grace equally with the judgment of the passage, and not having a life outside of the pulpit.

The Plot of Worship should also narrate the story of God through the service. We are gathered together, experience the bad news, hear the Gospel, respond to God’s grace, and are blessed as we are sent back out into the world. In this way, we become storied people that enact and embody God’s story. Part four of the book contains several sermon examples.

Overall, I thought this book was fantastic. Boone writes in such a way that it mimics his style of preaching. His writing demonstrates carefulness with the Scriptures, as well as, guiding the reader through steps to build the sermon that engages the text and lets it speak. I appreciated Boone makes it clear that preaching is more than making a series of points or even telling stories. Rather, preaching is a means of communicating the life of the text so that people can enter into the story of God.

“Preaching with Variety” by Jeffery Arthurs

The bibliographical citations are from reputable resources.  Arthurs uses ideas from several well-known preachers and theologians: Thom Long, Fred Craddock, David Buttrick, Robert Alter, and C. S. Lewis, to name a few.  Although Arthurs does quote Elizabeth Achtemeier, his sources are scantly filled by women or minorities.  This is a real drawback to the book in terms of holistic styles of preaching.

God is the “Great Communicator.”  Scripture is the means by which God communicates with us.  Within Scripture there is a variety of genres and literature types.  If God uses variety, then there is a good reason for us to use variety in our sermons as well.  The variety of literature also provides for a variety of responses in the audience.  Through these various modes of communication, we are able to look at the facets of reality.

Preaching with variety also involves preaching in the vernacular of our congregations.  If we cannot communicate in culturally appropriate ways, it may be difficult for our audience to receive the messages we send.  In our present context, we need to engage the visual senses.  Likewise, personal experience and participation is expected in our sermons.  Although sermons are auditory and oral events, we must find ways to include a holistic experience that engages the entire person.  Long-term learning best occurs in this environment.

The contents of the book are separated into several genres: psalms, narrative, parables, proverbs, epistles, and apocalyptic literature.  Each of these forms communicates in a different fashion, whether through song, story, metaphor, or logical progression.  Each form has its own peculiar way of communicating.  Sermons in some way should mimic the intention of the genre.  In this way, the impact of the genre might also be upheld.  Fred Craddock states, “Let doxologies be shared doxologically, narratives narratively, polemics polemically, and parables parabolically.  In other words, biblical preaching ought to be biblical” (166).

This might include making a brief statement to summarize your sermons over a Proverb.  Or, it might include singing or responsive readings in the sermon of particular Psalms.  Perhaps, instead, they would be poetic in describing God’s activity.  Apocalyptic might use symbols, hymns, and doxologies to convey its contents of God’s victory.  Story might be woven throughout a sermon to help the audience identify with the characters of a narrative.  Dialogue and discourse might be implemented to convey an epistle’s meaning.  The impact of the genre, rather than its exact form, is a vehicle for transporting meaning from the text to the audience.

Overall, I thought this book was extremely helpful in understanding the Biblical genres and how their forms might be implemented in a sermon.  Although we do not have to be slaves to the genres, they provide some very creative frameworks from which to construct your sermon.  And, in doing so, one can potentially keep some of the intentions of the text for the contemporary audience.

Homiletic: Moves and Structures by David Buttrick

Chapter 1 – Naming and Narration

            Preaching, as with all language, names a world.  It constitutes the framework by which we live in the world.  However, even as language is capable of naming a world, it is equally possible for language to misconstrue or lie about that world.  Beyond naming, “story” is also another method of language.  As we hear the stories of others, they become part of “Our Story.”  Stories shape and give our identity.

Preaching “transforms” our identity by giving our stories a beginning and an end.  As we locate our lives within the greater narrative of Jesus and his life, death, and resurrection, our story is transformed by this encounter with God-with-us.  “Symbolic-reflective” adds to the story the character of Christ as THE character and plot of God’s story.  Thus, we speak “of Christ in Christ” as we preach the gospel.  “What preaching may do is to build in consciousness a new ‘faith-world’ in which we may live and love” (17)!

Topical preaching and “Biblical” preaching and then addressed.  Buttrick claims that both have strengths and yet also contain huge flaws.  “The ‘topical’ preaching tradition tends to name god in the world, but has neglected narrative.  The ‘biblical’ preaching tradition can tell a biblical story, but often fails to name God-with-us in the world” (17).  Thus, the topical method renders God to the “personal” without any reference for the larger social sphere.  The Biblical preaching tradition renders God to past events with little or no applicability to today’s situations.  Faithful preaching must name God in the world.  And, for it to be faithful “naming” preaching must be “in light of the story” of God-with-us.

Chapter 2 – Speaking in Moves

            Language is linear.  Although experience may be experienced as a whole, language is formed into moves or modules.  Thus, like progressive steps, language is about syntax.  Preaching is no different.  Rather, there is a “natural or associative logic” that dictates the flow of the experience being conveyed.

However, the difficulty is that communal discourse takes much longer than one-on-one discussion.  The development of ideas must be carefully plotted (plodded).  To make matters more difficult is that the collective conscious of today’s contemporary audiences generally can only stay focused on one subject for approximately four minutes.  Thus, the preacher must development the ideas intentionally but succinctly within that short time span.

“Homiletic thinking is always a thinking of theology toward images” (29).  As such, we must be clear about our own definitions.  At the same time, we must also be clear about congregational blocks to hearing the message.  Sin (individual and societal), worldviews, social attitudes, and religious distortions can all hinder hearing the gospel.  The preacher must be aware of these issues while constructing the sermon.

Each move has a structure and framework.  “The shape of a move is determined in an interaction of (1) theological understanding, (2) an eye for oppositions, and (3) actualities of lived experience” (33).  For each move we will determine a strategy by which that move will advance.  It is important to remember that we are not simply relaying information but forming “faith-consciousness.”

Chapter 3 – Developing Moves

            Moves are essentially thought blocks that communicate a clearly defined idea.  As such, each move has an opening, middle and closing that are centered upon this one idea.  Buttrick says that you can find where one movement begins and another ends through the use of silence or pauses during a speech.  Thus, this helps the audience transition from thought to thought.  This is equally important because each move must conclude and not be left hanging, as with a question.

Each move does one of three things, sometimes simultaneously.  First, preaching “brings out” a conviction through the use of “depiction, analogy, metaphor, explanation, analysis, and creedal explorations” (41).  Secondly, preaching also “associates” Christian understandings of faith with lived reality.  Finally, preaching “disassociates.”  Thus, it keeps in mind that we are “being-saved-in-the-world” and “distinguishes Christian understanding from our common social attitudes” (42).  Even within this framework, preaching can “isolate different languages related to particular modes of consciousness” (42).  It can be divided into temporal, spatial, social, and personal.  “Human experience is appropriated temporally (diachronic thinking), spatially (synchronic thinking), socially (corporate consciousness), and personally (self-awareness)” (43).

Lastly, each move must start and end strong.  It must have variety and yet remain unified in content.  Contrapuntal excerpts may be necessary but must be handled with care.  These statements can lead to a “divided corporate consciousness.”  As such, the audience becomes lost.  For this reason, preachers do not preach on contrapuntal elements nor illustrate them.  Rather, these points must come “within a move either shortly after the fixing of an initial statement or immediately prior to a strong reiterative closure” (47).

Chapter 4 – Point-of-View in Moves

            “Point of view” is an important aspect of a move.  “Objective” preaching used to be the methodology.  However, there is no such thing as a purely “objective” perspective.  Rather, communal consciousness experiences reality in a variety of “point of views.”  As such, one cannot stand outside of a passage as a disinterested observer.  Instead, we must realize that even third-person preaching styles also have a point of view and perspective.  Yet, to remain in third-person is to take the perspective of God and not allow God to speak, as if we could stand outside of every situation and perfectly analyze it dispassionately.  “Language relates to perception” (56).

“Stance” is the category of time and space.  “Orientation” deals with the aim of our oration.  “Distance” is the measure of consciousness that relates how close we are to the experience being related, whether visual, temporal, attitudinal, or emotional.  In addition, “focal field” relates to us if the subject matter is broad or narrow.  “Lens depth” measures our “degree of self-engagement involved in point of view” (59).  And, “focal depth” details our depth of perspective, whether “surface” or a deep probe of the experience being related.

Chapter 5 – Conjoining Moves

            Out of necessity, there must be some type of bridge to connect movements.  However, these operate by “logical association” rather than simply transitions.  These logical associations are conversational sequences, not merely joining separate ideas together.  And, the logical association must be obvious between the moves.

Some moves will naturally group together into sets.  These can be important to group together to see the connecting logic.  Also, emotion can play an important role in making clear moves.  Emotion must not be suppressed but utilized to engage the perspective.  The first three sentences of the move will set the tone.  If one move to another is a starkly contrasting idea, the emotion must also be starkly different.  Such emotion, though it should not be overdone, helps the audience connect with the content.  The Gospel should evoke emotion from us because we are not mere observers and reporters.  Rather, the Gospel is the “Good News” which must engage the whole person and point of view.

Chapter 6 – Framework – Introductions

            Introductions “give focus to consciousness and provide some sort of hermeneutical orientation” (83).  Introductions are vitally important.  They focus the audience’s attention on a “field of meaning.”  Generally, they should be 7-12 sentences in length.  The first few sentences should be short, to get the audience used to the speaker’s syntax.  The final sentence of the introduction must create a natural stop before opening up in the first move.  Thus, introductions should not be vague, yet the audience should not be able to outline the entire sermon.

The introduction should also orient the audience to how they should hear the sermon.  It provides the hermeneutical key.  And, likewise, the introduction should focus shared consciousness of the audience so that they are participating in the sermon.

Buttrick then outlines several methods of introduction that should be avoided: step down introduction, tangential intrusions, oblique suspense, personal narrative, humor.  The step-down introduction is not clearly defined, but rather goes through a series of steps to arrive at the proposed topic.  This leaves the audience feeling deceived because they have not been able to settle on the topic.  Tangential intrusions break the audience’s focus on the main image and Buttrick asserts that they must not be tolerated.  Oblique suspense does not focus consciousness and may lead to the need for two introductions, which Buttrick says are rarely helpful.  Personal narrative splits the focus of the audience and makes them focus on the speaker, which is detrimental to the message.  Such a method is not necessarily helpful in establishing rapport.  Humor can also serve as a distraction or tangential intrusion.  It is rarely entirely relevant and it may simply be a way for the preacher to say “I’m a likeable guy/gal.”  If that is the purpose, then we have missed the mark.  The gospel is not about us, but about Christ.  Preaching must remained fixed on this purpose.

Chapter 7 – Framework – Conclusions

Conclusions must decidedly stop.  The conclusion needs to be about 5-8 sentences in length.  Do not simply recount the material from the body of the sermon.  Rather, using the images from previous moves can be a useful way of wrapping things up.  The final sentence needs to be terse.  Conclusions are “governed by intention” and its form will be governed by this intention.  Conclusions should be concrete and formed in simple language.

Buttrick then outlines several methods of conclusion that should not be employed or only employed with great caution.  Ending a sermon with a question will not provide adequate confrontation for action or decision for an audience.  Rather, imaging a proper response helps the audience see themselves “doing.”  Quotations in a conclusion risk splitting consciousness.  Buttrick claims they must be avoided.  A return to introduction should rarely, if ever, be used.  Buttrick supposes this to provide no motivation for action.  Rhythmic intensification is a series of sentences that begin with the same word.  The audience shrinks these sentences into one line.  As such, they do not “hear” what is being said and it loses its impact.  Variety in sentence length and structure is important to maintain.  Personal testimony will also split the consciousness of the audience.  The conclusion must uphold the gospel, not the preacher.

Chapter 8 – Preaching – Image and Metaphor

            Preaching is not simply a recitation of salvation history.  It is symbol that forms faith consciousness within the listener.  It is a re-enactment of God’s saving work.  Because God is in some ways hidden, preaching implements analogies to relate to God.  These analogies are from life experience in which human consciousness, relationships, and narratives can each supply images for preaching.  We must keep in mind that not every image is worthwhile.  At the very least, we must be cautious to understand the limitations of our language and of analogies.  “We must ask how an image functions socially (its value, its meaning, its emotional baggage, etc.), and then determine what theological understanding we are attempting to convey” (119).

However, analogies may tend to make God like us.  Other languages have been employed to combat this tendency: language of amplification and language of denial.  Amplification draws a line between God’s reality and ours.  It is a “like-but-not-like” distinction between the human and the divine.  The language of denial uses analogy but creates tension by contrasting God’s nature with the analogy of human nature and life: “God’s love is not like our loves.”

Buttrick makes the case that all of our reality is shaped by metaphors, which are powerful shapers of our attitudes and actions.  To be truly open with ourselves and others, we use metaphors.  Preaching is no different.  “Categories of ‘objective’ and ‘subjective’ are less than useful… We interpret the world in consciousness metaphorically, and the self in consciousness metaphorically, and metaphor itself is an act of consciousness.  Thus, in preaching, we will not wield two different languages, but, instead, speak one language of consciousness, a metaphorical language, as we bring out the mystery of God-with-us, and bring out the mystery of being-saved-in-the-world.  Faith is formed in a nexus of image, symbol, metaphor, and ritual” (125).

Chapter 9 – Examples and Illustrations

            “Examples emerge from common congregational consciousness whereas illustrations are brought to a congregation from beyond the sphere of shared experience” (128).  Examples will be used to “establish the truth of statements by demonstrating that they are ‘true to life’… to form analogies… as datum for an exploration of ‘what’s going on in our lives’” (128).  No more than one example should be used per move, unless it is a “true to life” example (which then should only include three examples maximum).

Three criteria are helpful in determining the usefulness of an illustration: “(1) There must be a clear analogy between an idea in sermon content and some aspect of the illustration; (2) There ought to be a parallel between the structure of content and the shape of an illustration; (3) The illustration should be ‘appropriate’ to the content” (133).  Only one illustration should be implemented per move.  Illustrations should highlight and strengthen the areas of the sermon that are the most important.  Illustrations should also align, either positively or negatively, with the move’s positive or negative mood.  Models and images need to be consistent between the move and the illustration.  The length should be kept short.

Personal illustrations should be avoided because they split the consciousness of the audience.  Thus, the preacher becomes the subject rather than the subject continuing to be God.  Quoted material   Buttrick also suggests not using much, if any, quoted material unless it is stated in colloquial terms.  The change in syntax between voices can be difficult for the audience to hear.  Biblical illustrations may pose a problem because many congregations are biblically illiterate.  Thus, our illustrations may need to be more detailed and it could potentially cause problems with point-of-view.  Biblical illustrations should be very familiar if employed.  Humorous illustrations should only be used when the preacher wants the audience to laugh, not for other reasons.

Chapter 10 – The Image Grid

            An image grid provides interacting images woven throughout the fabric of a message.  In this way, the images are interrelated and correspond with the underlying ideas of the sermon.  The dominant imagery of the biblical text should inform and shape the images and illustrations used throughout the sermon.

A “reprise” is the use of an image from an early move in a later move.  The moves must not be next to one another and the illustration must be a shortened version in the second move.  “Refrains” are rhythmic speech patterns that come at the opening or close of a move.  Refrains in the opening will “demark categorical repetitions.”  Whereas, refrains in the closing will “contribute to closure and to associate moves in sets” (165).  Also, interrelating illustrations can be “within an internal image or the interrelating of an illustration framework.”  Thus, the images can be connected through direct opposites or through similarities.  But, as mentioned previously, there must always be at least one move separating interrelating illustrations.

Chapter 11 – Language

            The “Communication Model” of language posits that language corresponds to objects.  Thus, language is only useful to the degree that it correlates and is understood to correlate to reality.  It is an objective reality utility for language.  However, this can be problematic for such concepts as God because they “may not be readily available as reproducible ideas in mind” (177).  It is a very rationalist approach to language.

The “Expressive Model” sees words as self-expression.  This is just another model of relativism, which denies the social aspect of language.  Language has shared meanings.  As such, language must be more than self-expression, although it may contain that element.  Beyond that, language often points to a reality much larger than what can be fully expressed by language.  However, in order to even explore these mysteries, we use language with its common rules of engagement.  Preaching employs both communication model and expressive model in its use of language.

Chapter 12 – The Language of Preaching

            Buttrick asserts that the language of preaching is not objective language.  The vocabulary of preaching must be the common language of the congregation, not technical language.  It is “connotative language used with theological precision.”  Buttrick also claims that the stock theological language (i.e., salvation, redemption) may no longer be effective because they have gone out of popular usage.  I would venture to disagree and say that the problem should be addressed, but not by discarding that language.  Rather, it needs to be explained and explained frequently so that the language of the Church is maintained.  Otherwise, the Church risks becoming just like the culture, which is not always conducive to faith.

Language will address both personal meaning and public disclosure.  Neither of these may be ignored.  Along with this, language must ultimately serve theological ends.  In other words, preaching is theological and the language of preaching must be carefully chosen.  Language must be guarded from communicating “conventional wisdoms alien to the Spirit of Jesus Christ” (196).

Chapter 13 – Style and Preaching

            Everyone will naturally have their own style when preaching simply because they have their own syntax.  However, style is only useful insofar as it enables one to communicate the Gospel.  Thus, style will conform to point-of-view and to the structure of the message.  Style will change according to the move and will adapt to better communicate the mood of each move.  The use of rhythm and cadence should also adapt to the image and mood of a move.  Using tools, like triads or doublets, should only be done sparsely.

The language of preaching will be concrete and active, rather than passive.  Adjectives should not be overused and sentences should be kept shorter (while maintaining variety).  Strong nouns and verbs produce vivid imagery and enter into the consciousness of the audience.  The preacher should also avoid using words like: there, this, that, one, man, it, and interrupting conjuctions (i.e., however).

Chapter 14 – Preaching in Church and Out

            “Out” church preaching is the task of laity speaking the Gospel in a world that is not aware of God.  It is an audacious act to name God in the world.  That is why pastors must equip the laity to live out this call to speak the Gospel in the world.  Evangelism leads to integration in the Body of Christ (not a Church growth scenario).  Evangelism leads outsiders to become a part of the community of believers.

“In” Church preaching deals with identity.  Who are we as this community?  “In” Church preaching will send us out to speak the Gospel to the world.  Thus, we come full circle.  Preaching within the Church shapes our identity as we are shaped by the Word.  Thus, as we live in the world, we inevitably act in ways uncharacteristic to our world.  This brings up questions about our actions and character.  The questions are opportunities to speak about Christ (evangelism) which invites others to participate in the Eucharistic Body of Christ.  Preaching is always Christ-centered.

Chapter 15 – Preaching and Authority

            Authority is often conceived of as wisdom or power.  Thus, the authority of Scripture, and thereby preaching, has come under much duress.  Yet, the popular assumptions of authority are challenged by the Scripture itself.  Christ is the power and wisdom of God.  God’s power and wisdom is the cross, which is foolishness and weakness “to those who are perishing.”  Thus, the locus for authority in preaching, which is upside-down to the world’s notion of authority, is found in Christ.  And, likewise, Christ is the center of preaching.  Meaning, preaching is “mediation.”

Chapter 16 – The Place of Preaching

            Preaching, like theology, is talk about God in community.  Likewise, preaching and theology must both be humble and honest where the limits of knowing and language butt up against realities beyond our describing.  Revelation is what makes preaching possible.  “We stand before the Mystery through Jesus Christ addressing a symbolically disclosed being-saved community in a mysterious world” (255).

“In sum, the hermeneutical work of preaching is twofold: We interpret revelation in light of being-saved, and we grasp being-saved in view of revelation” (261).  Thus, preaching will contain knowledge about God and about ourselves.  Preaching is about world-construction.  As such, it names those philosophies and “isms” in our world that are contrary to the Gospel, which is Christ.

Chapter 17 – Preaching as Hermeneutics

            Part of the difficulty of hermeneutics is the fact that language has a cultural context.  Speaking about the history of a text may allow us to understand that world but it may not be easily, if at all, applicable to life today.  Preaching that finds parallels in the text may actually not communicate the core intention of the text.  Preaching from tradition may seem to bring continuity, but it can also hinder new interpretations for new issues and predicaments.  Buttrick comments, “Nevertheless the structure of Christian consciousness is similar in every age.  Thus, we may avoid having to posit either a fixed-truth gospel or a constant human experience, neither of which may be maintained against the fact of changing consciousness” (269).

Buttrick suggests that reading the texts for their intended meanings will free us up hermeneutically.  The “intending” is toward a “being-saved-in-the-world.”  As such, we may use this as a hermeneutical guide to interpretation.  Interpretation also may only work with what is given in the text.  Buttrick then sets out some general helps for hermeneutics: “1) Biblical texts are addressed to communal consciousness, 2) The consciousness which texts address is the ‘double’ consciousness of being-saved in the world, 3) Speaking of God, the Bible tells stories and singles out symbols.  Thus, the Bible must be interpreted within an interaction of symbol and story” (276-78).  Of course, the preacher must always be aware of their own shortcomings and interpretive lenses.  These lenses are not sufficient because they only name the ways we are in the world and do not name the ways in which we are being-saved-in-the-world.

Chapter 18 – Plots and Intentions

            Stories and sermons are not history but contain plots that intend a particular understanding of an event.  “Plot is a confession of faith” (290).  Plot can take on many forms and progressions (i.e., chronological or point-of-view).  It will help the audience form hermeneutical consciousness, which is an act of interpretation dictated by theology.

“Intending of” means that we deliver more than just subject matter in a sermon.  Rather, we bring out the structure of meaning in congregational consciousness.  “Intending toward” is the consciousness of the audience, not simply individuals.  It is a construction of a world-view which we inhabit and live out.  Preaching will be an intending to do because language is performative.  Intentions can also be of primary and secondary importance or emphasis.  These should be considered when preaching, which should necessarily center on the primary intention (though it may also speak of secondary intentions, as well).

Chapter 19 – Structuring

            “Replotting is a process that passes through stages: (1) forming a basic structure; (2) developing the structure; and, finally, (3) putting the developed structure into a script for preaching” (305).  Exegesis and hermeneutical work will lead to a contemporary field of meaning in which we must choose a starting point for our sermon.

The basic structure of a sermon should move naturally and conversationally.  The connective logic should be apparent.  This gives us the bare bones of a sermon.  We will next begin to flesh out the bones of the structure.  This is not the finished product.  We look at how useful the structure is in mediating to the congregation.  And, this becomes the field for brainstorming images and illustrations.  The final structure will allow you to polish each move, as well as, the whole structure so that it is flowing and logically connected.

Chapter 20 – “Moments” in Consciousness

            Buttrick outlines three sermon designs that might be available for shaping “’moments’ in a process of understanding.”  Immediacy, Reflection, and Praxis are the three sermon designs.  “The mode of immediacy does permit passages to fulfill intentionality.  Thus, preaching in the mode of immediacy is particularly suited to narrative passages, parables, and texts which in their moving structure seem to be designed to do in consciousness” (323).

Reflection will not necessarily be tied to the sequence of the passage.  “We are now preaching a structure of theological meaning… The preacher has already reflected on a field of meaning produced by the text.  Nevertheless, in the way it forms and speaks, a sermon can imitate consciousness and indeed form reflective consciousness in a congregation.  Preaching in the reflective mode is particularly suited to Pauline passages, to teachings of Jesus, apocalyptic visions, allegories, wisdom literature, and some prophetic passages” (224-26).

Praxis deals with what we are “doing” and “should do.”  The stages of praxis preaching are: “(1) The reading of a situation usually by a being-in-the-world hermeneutic. (2) The taking of the situation into Christian hermeneutical consciousness where an awareness of being-save in the world grasps symbols of revelation, Christian hermeneutical consciousness may well be critical of a natural being-in-the-world hermeneutic. (3) The locating of a theological structure of meaning through which to view a situation, normally chosen on the basis of structural similarity” (328).

Chapter 21 – Preaching in the Mode of Immediacy

            Buttrick sketches together sermons in the immediacy mode.  He notes that conjoining moves should be done carefully.  They must be connected, but they must also be abrupt in their shifts between moves.  This maintains the intentional plot’s twists and turns rather than smoothing them out.  We must also avoid then/now splits.  We are hearing the story now.

Preaching in the mode of immediacy, especially in parables, will not allow us to psychologically analyze the characters.  Rather, we must only align with characters as the story allows.  We may identify with characters, but only on a minimal basis, lest we lose the power of the parable.  Also, “In preaching parables, we must imply a world countering our worlds that, though mysterious, is present in Christ Jesus” (353).  “What the minister plots, then, is not a story, but a sequence of responses to a story as the story progresses” (362).  “The preacher will notice surprises in sequence, dramatic turns in plot, unexpected episodes, and ask (1) why they were so designed and (2) what they do in consciousness.  In other words we will study plot as an intending to do” (363).

Chapter 22 – Preaching in the Reflective Mode

            Sermons are not topical or textual.  Buttrick counters, “In contradistinction to the two approaches we have described: (1) we have a structure of contemporary understanding, not some situational original meaning, and (2) we have a particular pattern of meaning, not a single idea or topic to preach” (367).  As previously, Buttrick then begins to outline the process of sermon formation.  In homiletic analysis each sentence is analyzed theologically, keeping in mind congregational blocks, and conjuring up analogies of experience.  Thus, exegesis and application are cooperative.

Non-narrative sermons can have a variety of arrangements, depending on the context and audience.  The problem is where to begin.  “But, as a rule, we will enter our field of meaning with an idea that addresses our self-understanding, unless there appears to be good theological reasons for doing otherwise.  Point of entry is never arbitrary, however – where we enter our field of meaning will usually determine how meaning subsequently unfolds” (375).

Additional moves not in the text may appear in the sermon.  They will address theological interpretations and congregational blocks.  Unlike immediacy, reflection sermons will not have an “intending to do.”  The images and illustrations chosen will be used to address theological meaning in relation to congregational blocks.

Chapter 23 – The Reflective Mode: Logic of Movement

            There are several types of “logic” that will govern reflective mode preaching: visual, auditory, allegorical, and symbolic.  Visual logic forms around a picture (i.e., marathon).  Auditory logic forms around what is heard (i.e. multiple voices speaking out).  Allegorical logic appear to be visual, but they tell no story (i.e., “I am the Vine”).  In this case, we should allow “imagery to enter our sermon through subordinate metaphor and illustration” (398).  Symbolic logic point to a reality beyond what is spoken about (i.e., Gospel of John miracles).  Mundane elements in the story heighten and speak theologically about the content of the passage (i.e., disciple naked in the Garden, later clothed in white).

Chapter 24 – Preaching and Praxis

            Preaching will naturally address questions of “being-in-the-world” and “being-in-history.”  This addresses both historical issues and ontological questions.  Preaching will wrestle with both.  Situational questions arise from “limit moments” and “decision moments.”  Limit moments are those times where we sense God’s transcendent mystery and our finitude.  Moments of decision are where we have conflicting desires and cannot quickly come to a decision.  Thus, we have to wrestle with the appropriate action.  We ask what we should do.

We are part of and shaped by our cultural milieu.  As such, we will need to be aware of our cultural baggage and “interpret interpretations within a Christian hermeneutic” (414).  “We cannot endorse a prohibition against human hermeneutics prompted by some odd notion of the purity of the gospel.  Human understandings are what we have, and, as they probe situations, they can demand profound explications of Christian faith in return” (418).

“When scripture is drawn into Christian consciousness by theological understanding then it may address situations appropriately.  We are not suggesting that situational preaching will not use scripture; it may, but we are implying that sermons which slap scripture up against situations may be unnatural to Christian hermeneutical consciousness and, thus, encourage an artificial misuse of scripture.  Motto: Let scripture be scripture” (420).

Praxis preaching will address both social and personal issues simultaneously.  “Though we are representing different foci in consciousness, a language that relates to fields of consciousness will move toward the overcoming of a subjective/objective split” (424).

When should we address situations through praxis preaching?  “(1) To be addressed by preaching, a situation ought to connect with profound ontological or historical questions… (2) To be addressed by preaching a situation ought to relate to the store of unanswered questions which have been filed in consciousness by recurring limit moments or decions moments, curcial questions of meaning and morality… (3) To be addressed by preaching a situation ought to fit into structures of Christian consciousness” (425).

Chapter 25 – Structure in the Mode of Praxis

            How do we begin?  Buttrick suggests the following: “define the situation… isolate and analyze the human hermeneutics involved… study the shape of the situation in Christian consciousness” (428-29).  It will require research!

“The logics have been prompted by the different ways in which the istuations have formed in consciousness – as alternative positions in a debate, as a progression in history as a response to an event” (434).  The rhetorical logic of the moves will be informed by the way the situation is formed in the consciousness.

Faith consciousness is both story and symbol.  As we think through situations, thinking them through theological, in light of the gospel, in a conversational way will help us to form structure.  We should be envisioning the new in response to the old life.  And, as always, the preacher must relate through a shared consciousness, not preaching at a congregation.

Chapter 26 – A Brief Theology of Preaching

            Why preach?  Buttrick suggests five reasons: “1. Our preaching commissioned by the resurrection, is a continuation of the preaching of Jesus Christ; 2. In our preaching, Christ continues to speak to the church, and through the church to the world; 3. The purpose of preaching is the purpose of God in Christ, namely the reconciliation of the world; 4. Preaching evokes response: The response to preaching is a response to Christ, and is, properly, faith and repentance; 5. Preaching is the “Word of God” in that it participates in God’s purpose, is initiated by Christ, and is supported by the Spirit with community in the world” (449-459).

Matthew 1:1-17 Exegesis and Sermon

The book of Matthew is typically labeled a “Gospel” or the “good news” about the Kingdom of Heaven that has been inaugurated and made available in the person of Jesus.  Matthew is the first of four Gospels that mark the beginning of the Christian New Testament, which may have something to do with the early notion that it was more “historically accurate.”  The order has remained the same despite contention that Matthew’s Gospel is not necessarily the most accurate in a strictly historical sense.

The term “Gospel” alerts us to a particular way in which to read these texts.  Namely, these texts serve to proclaim something to which we are called to respond by aligning our very lives with it.  It is “good news” because it reveals God’s decisive, redemptive actions in the world.  Furthermore, it is “good news” because it is an invitation to become citizens of the Kingdom of God.  This invitation and revelation is issued to the readers by offering insight into the significance of Jesus’ birth; life, teaching, and miracles; death by crucifixion; bodily resurrection on the third day; and commissioning of the Church.

The singular focus of Matthew’s author on the person of Jesus has led many scholars to notice similarities between this text and ancient biographies.  These biographies are not identical to modern ideas of biography, but rather have the intended purpose of recounting specific events from a person’s life that represent the person’s “essential being.”[1]  Hagner notes, “It is increasingly realized that Matthew is a Bios (“life”) that bears sufficient resemblance to Greco-Roman biographies.”[2]

Other genres may also shed light on the intended purpose of the author.  Hagner suggests six other categories that may be suitable designations for Matthew’s genre: Midrash, lectionary, catechesis or catechetical manual, church correctives, missionary propaganda, and polemic against the rabbis.[3]  The various designations are not necessarily mutually exclusive and can potentially be combined to offer a fuller picture of Matthew’s intentions.  For our pericope, it is sufficient to say that Matthew’s Gospel functions primarily as an ancient biography or Gospel.  In other words, there is a driving purpose behind the content, structure, and the scenes that are included in this text.  They are all fashioned for the purpose of revealing to the “hearers” who Jesus really is.

The introductory chapter of Matthew opens with a “genealogy” (genesis) which traces Jesus’ family lineage back to Abraham.  However, this is no mere reporting of Jesus’ genetic heritage.  Rather, it is a very specific rendering of that genealogy, which gives us insight into the very person of Jesus.  For instance, the genealogy is divided into three “epochs” of Israelite history: from Abraham to David, from David to the Babylonian Exile, and from the Babylonian Exile to the birth of Jesus.  Fourteen generations are recounted in each of these epochs, with no little redaction made to fit this formula.[4]

Of course, when reading other genealogies from the Old Testament that includes these various lineages, one is easily able to see the significant amount of progenitors that are left out of the lineage in Matthew’s Gospel.  That’s not to say that the Gospel writer is being underhanded or deceitful or that they do not know the lineage.  Rather, there may be something specific being introduced by the divisions of history in such a manner.

A number of suggestions have been offered to explain the significance of the “fourteens.”  Without discounting other possibilities, one stands out as a strong contender for unfolding the significance of this division.  Hagner comments, “If we take the three fourteens as multiples of seven (i.e., six sevens), then with the coming of Christ we are about to enter the seventh seven, the period of perfection and fulfillment.”[5]

Another population suggestion among scholars is that the number fourteen references King David.  Letters could also represent numbers in Hebrew.  David’s name in Hebrew adds up to fourteen.  Thus, they reason that David might be in mind.  However, given that the text is written in Greek, not Hebrew, this is an unlikely proposition.

Bruner suggests the division of three fourteens might be best seen as a slanted “N.”[6]  The history of Israel begins with Abraham and the Abrahamic covenant which culminates in the golden age of King David.  However, from that point on, the history of Israel declines due to poor leadership (characterized by idolatry and unfaithfulness by Israel) which eventually leads to Babylonian Exile.  The Exile continues through the rule of various nations from Babylon to Rome, but is now overturned by the establishment of God’s Kingdom through Christ Jesus.

The geneseōs, applied to Jesus Messiah, would remind cultivated readers in the Roman Empire of the new ‘beginnings’ promised to the world by the Roman emperors, particularly Caesar Augustus.  ‘It is hard to say whether the birthday of the divine Caesar is more joyful or more advantageous; we may rightly regard it as like the beginning of all things, if not in the world of nature, yet in advantage; everything was deteriorating and changing into misfortune, but he set it right and gave the whole world another appearance… The birthday of the god [Augustus] was the beginning of the good news… to the world on his account.’[7]

The apex of history, according to Matthew’s Gospel, is found in Jesus who establishes this new beginning through the proclamation that the Kingdom of God has now come.

This history is rooted in the first name or event acknowledged at the beginning of each generation of fourteen: Abraham, David, and the Babylonian Exile.

In recalling stories of Abraham, David, and the exile… the audience learns something of the nature of God.  This God constantly intervenes in human affairs.  God took initiative in calling Abraham and selecting David.  God promised Abraham land and descendants and David an eternal kingdom.  God remained faithful to these promises even when both men failed.  Abraham and Sarah’s age threatened the promise, as did the offering of Isaac as a sacrifice… and the devastating experience of God’s judgment in exile.  Yet God remained faithful and acted powerfully to deliver on the promises.  Continually God guided Israel forward into a new future.[8]

God’s reign has been established and is being established “on earth as it is in heaven.”  In Christ Jesus all the promises of God are “yes.”

We are introduced to Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel: “Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham” (Matt. 1:1).  This is not only to indicate where Jesus comes from.  Instead, “’Son of David’ had become, by the first century, a title for the messianic deliverer who would assume the throne of David in accordance with the promise of 2 Sam 7:4-17 (the Davidic covenant), thereby inaugurating a kingdom of perfection and righteousness that would last forever.  Jesus is that promised Son of David, and already Matthew’s great stress on fulfillment is anticipated.”[9]

Likewise, “’Son of Abraham’ also carries a note of promise and fulfillment… The Abrahamic covenant (Gen 12:1-3, etc.) speaks of blessing through Abraham for ‘all the families of the earth.’  In Jesus, through the line of Abraham, that promise is fulfilled.”[10]  In other words, the blessing of God’s covenant and salvation is not only extended to Israel but to all nations!

This leaves us with a question about the nature of God’s salvation.  Some scholars contend that God’s salvation does not entail geo-political realities, but revolves around the issue of sin.  Warren Carter notes:

To contrast ‘forgiveness of sins’ with ‘deliverance from political oppression’ anachronistically and inappropriately assumes a divide between the religious and the political spheres… strangely asserts that oppression has nothing to do with sins, incorrectly posits a monolithic view of messianic expectations, and conveniently overlooks a very immediate form of ‘political oppression’ in the Gospel’s world, namely Roman imperialism.[11]

For one, it does appear that the Kingdom of God is at least a viable, perceived threat from the Empire.  If Jesus were merely preaching about the forgiveness of sins, which did not antagonize the powers that be, then Jesus would likely not have been crucified.  Yet, Jesus dies the death of an enemy to Rome at the behest of the Jewish leaders.

The pax Romana promised by Caesar was in a constant state of threat.  Peace was maintained by the keen edge of soldiers’ blades.  Violence was not an unfamiliar method employed by Rome to maintain its tentative hold on its vassal nations.  Pilate is well aware of these pressures and fears an uprising, which would not put him in good graces with the emperor.  It is quite obvious to the hearers of this story that Rome’s idea of peace is more akin to oppression than true peace.

The subversive nature of the Kingdom only serves to highlight the differences between God’s Kingdom and Roman authority.  In Matthew 2, we see this on prominent display.  The poser king, Herod the Great, hears about the birth of Jesus and immediately seeks to kill him because of the threat to Herod’s power.  On the other hand, Jesus, King of the Jesus from the Branch of David, is the Messiah that comes in meekness.  He is defenseless as a baby.  Yet, Jesus is ultimately shown to have power over death, whereas Herod is ultimately subject to death.

In a similar manner, where the Jewish rituals and laws had become an oppressive system upon the people, Jesus offers them rest!  He softens the Law in some areas and makes them stricter in other ways.  Of course, the Jews don’t appreciate Jesus undermining everything that constitutes their power and ultimately plot to kill him.  This would have been wonderfully powerful material to read in the midst of such tumultuous times!

To better understand the context, dating the Gospel may serve a useful function.

For instance, the omission in Matt 21:13 of the description of the Jerusalem Temple as serving ‘for all the nations’ (Mark 11:17) and the reference in Matt 22:7 to the king burning the city may reflect the destruction at Jerusalem by the Roman armies in AD 70.[12]

If the date reflects a post- 70 CE world, this would definitely shape how we should read this text.           For instance, it is evident that shortly after Jesus ascended into the heavens, the Christian Church came under persecution.  Before he was executed by Nero in early 60 CE, Saul, later the apostle Paul, voraciously pursued and persecuted Christians.  Christians, at that time, were still a part of the synagogue, although tensions continued to build.  Eventually, Christians began to be kicked out from the synagogues.  In fact, the Jews instituted a curse against the heretics, which was intended to weed out the Christians because they wouldn’t be able to curse themselves.

We cannot fully discern the date or setting of this Gospel.  The textual clues point to a volatile situation for the Church in a place that would have a significant Gentile population.  Jewish Christians appear to be the intended audience of this Gospel, but we cannot rule out that there may have been some Gentile hearers (thus, a significant emphasis on the Gentile mission?).  What we do see is that God’s Church will prevail against the “gates of hell.”

Ultimately, the concern for covenant faithfulness is abundantly clear.  Jesus states that he has not come to abolish the Law and the Prophets but to fulfill them.  In the midst of being called heretics, the question of faith inevitably arises.  Is Jesus really a faithful fulfillment of God’s Law?  Matthew’s Gospel quotes Old Testament scripture profusely in an attempt to show that Jesus does truly complete God’s promises.  The call then is for those who “hear” to be faithful and respond in obedience to everything God has commanded through Jesus!

Contemporary Issues

            Within the contemporary American church, there is an attitude of pessimism about the direction our world is headed.  After all, one need only listen to the media’s portrayal of world affairs, which seems to paint a bleak picture with little, if any, positive stories.  There seems to be ample proof that the world is going to “hell in a hand basket.”  How can there be any hope in the midst of such dire, dark circumstances?

In this view, the world is on a downward spiral toward a cataclysmic end.  And, it seems that God has lost total control of Creation.  Chaos reigns while we wait for Jesus’ return and the final consummation of his Kingdom.  As such, it seems that the Kingdom is a distant, future reality that is really not here and now.  We circle up in our holy huddle to protect ourselves from the coming destruction.

However, Matthew 1 presents a very different picture about history as a whole.  Namely, it shows God to be in control of history.  Despite its brokenness and blemishes, God is in the business of redeeming those situations in fulfillment of the covenant with God’s people and in fulfillment of God’s ultimate salvation through Christ Jesus.  Even those moments and places where the will of God was explicitly not being done (i.e., Manassah), God ultimately redeems it for God’s glory!

As such, we are to anticipate the day of the Lord and to fulfill the Great Commission in making disciples and teaching them to obey everything Jesus has commanded.  Not only that, but we face the future with hope!  It is not naïve pessimism, but rather trusting in God’s steadfast love and fidelity to God’s covenant.  And, it is a faith that God’s power is ultimately greater than our deepest brokenness.

God’s salvation and redemption, however, do not always happen in the timing we desire or expect.  God, at times, seems to delay action.  We question God’s love and mercy in those moments.  Yet, as demonstrated in the genealogy, God redeems those situations in the “fullness of time.”  God is working even in the moments we think indicate God’s silence.  God is weaving the threads of history into the tapestry of His-Story.

Also, Matthew 1 displays the Kingdom as a very inclusive type of reality!  Jews are not the only nationality represented within this pericope.  Rather, a Moabite, a Canaanite, and a Jerochoite are only a couple of the surrounding Gentile nations represented.  Although Gentiles are not the majority demographic, it is still very telling that these “outsiders” are included in the history of God’s salvation.

These Gentiles from the surrounding nations create an inclusion with the final chapter of Matthew.  The Church’s mission, again, is to “make disciples of all nations.”  This call should not come as a surprise because, as Matthew demonstrates, God has been doing that very thing from the very beginning.  Although the covenant was given to Abraham, the covenant was meant to be a blessing to all peoples.  As such, we are called to invite the “outsiders” into fellowship and extend the blessing we have received through Christ Jesus to them as well!



Blomberg, Craig L. Jesus and the Gospels: An Introduction and Survey. Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1997.

Brown, Raymond E. An Introduction to the New Testament. New York: Doubleday, 1997.

Bruner, Frederick Dale. Matthew. Waco: Word Books, 1987.

Carter, Warren. Matthew and Empire: Initial Explorations. Harrisburg: Trinity Press International, 2001.

Carter, Warren. Matthew: Storyteller, Interpreter, Evangelist. Rev. ed. Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 2004.

Garland, David E. Reading Matthew: A Literary and Theological Commentary. Macon: Smyth & Helwys, 2001.

Hagner, Donald Alfred. Matthew 1-13. Dallas: Word Books, 1993.

Hare, Douglas R. A. Matthew. Louisville: John Knox Press, 1993.

Hill, David. The Gospel of Matthew. Softback ed. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987.

Ladd, George Eldon. A Theology of the New Testament. Rev. ed. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993.

Matera, Frank J. New Testament Theology: Exploring Diversity and Unity. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2007.

Varughese, Alex, Roger Hahn, David Neale, Jeanne Orjala Serrao, Dan Spross, and Jirair Tashjian. “The Gospel According to Matthew.” In Discovering the New Testament: Community and Faith, 109-123. Kansas City: Beacon Hill, 2005.



Weddings are joyful and momentous occasions.  We understand that such ceremonies should adequately communicate the solemnity and seriousness, as well as, display the celebratory nature of such things.  Thus, we spend months planning, inviting, decorating, and preparing for the blessed day.

There is no solemn promise, no sacred trust that is as precious as the marital relationship.  The covenanting of two people promising to forsake all others “’til death separates” says this is a forever type of relationship.  It is a commitment to one another in spite of whatever life might offer them – “for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health.”  It is a relationship founded upon the fidelity of those covenanting together in this sacred union.     

Israel’s sacred union with God was conceived in the covenantal relationship with Abraham, the father of the faith.  God promised Abraham (then Abram) that he would be the father of many nations and would be a blessing to all nations (Gen. 12:1-3; 22:16-18).  That same call was also extended to Israel after God delivered them from Egypt.  God said they were to be a “kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Ex. 19:6).  They were God’s treasured possession (Ex. 19:5).  Israel was called to be a blessing to the nations by representing God back into the world.  The future was pregnant with possibility.

King David was remembered as the greatest king Israel had ever known.  He was a “man after God’s own heart.”  Thus, God also established a covenant with David, saying:

And I will provide a place for my people Israel and will plant them so that they can have a home of their own and no longer be disturbed.  Wicked people will not oppress them anymore, as they did at the beginning and have done ever since the time I appointed leaders over my people Israel.  I will also give you rest from all your enemies.  The LORD declares to you that the LORD himself will establish a house for you (2 Sam 7:10-11).

The Psalmist proclaims this promise in song, “I have made a covenant with my chosen, I have sworn to David my servant: Your seed will I establish forever, And build up thy throne to all generations” (Ps. 89:3-4).  It was the promise for God’s people, not only of enduring kingship, but forever relationship with the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob!  Abraham and David both symbolized the covenant established by God with God’s people.  God’s promises provided the foundation for a future hope.  It was a hope that Israel waited to be established.

In our world today, we are all too familiar with broken marriages.  This has become a prevalent feature for many families across our society.  People within the Church have not fared much better.  Infidelity crushes those caught up in its vortex.  It destroys families, severs relationships, and scars the innocent.  The ripple effect is felt far beyond the husband and wife.  Friends, family, co-workers, and children all suffer the consequences of these fissures.  We wonder in these moments how we arrived at this place and if there is really any hope of redeeming the brokenness.

Despite having covenanted with God to be God’s people, Israel often lived unfaithfully to that covenant.  The history of God’s people is littered with the examples of infidelity, brokenness, and self-destruction.  The genealogy of Jesus recounts the disgraces that pock-mark the face of Israel’s heritage.  The history of God’s people not only includes infidelity, but also includes the “unmentionables and the unwanted” of the world.

Such blemishes included Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Uriah’s wife (a.k.a. Bathsheba).  These women were Gentiles, outsiders to the covenant that God had established with God’s people.  Ruth was a Moabitess, a people whose lineage stemmed from Lot’s incest with his daughters.  According to Deuteronomy, they were not even allowed to be in the assembly!  This was not the only strike against them.

Tamar, Rahab, and Uriah’s wife had something more in common.  Tamar tricked her father-in-law, Judah, by posing as a prostitute.  Rahab didn’t pretend to be a prostitute, she was a prostitute.  And, Uriah’s wife, Bathsheba, whose name is not even used, committed adultery!  These are King David’s ancestors, with the exception of Bathsheba!

These are far from the only embarrassing facts concerning the history of God’s people.  The two heroes of Israelite history, Abraham and David, are far from perfect models of fidelity and steadfastness.  Abraham laughed at God’s suggestion that he would be a father.  He doubted that it was possible, questioning God’s timing and ability to make it happen.  In fact, he complains that God has not made good on the promise and, as a result, Abraham’s distant kin, rather than a son, will inherit everything!  King David, a man after God’s own heart, committed adultery, tried to cover it up, and then has Uriah, Bathsheba’s husband, murdered on the field of battle.  Not only that, David demonstrates poor leadership over his family.  It results in sons being killed and losing his kingdom for a time.  These are the great heroes of the faith, the people with whom God chooses to covenant!?

But, it doesn’t end there!  The vast majority of kings following David are less than admirable.  Solomon failed to uphold the requirements of a king given in Deuteronomy.  He became like Egypt, enslaved his people, and his heart turned away from God.  Ahaz and Manassah were monarchs that did evil in the eyes of the Lord.  In fact, Manassah was considered the most evil king that had ever ruled Israel!  That is quite an accomplishment!  Remember how vile Ahab was considered?

Two bright spots appear in the otherwise bleak background.  Asaph and Amos are mentioned in the time between David and the Babylonian exile.  They are not actual descendents of David; Asa and Amon are replaced by Matthew with these two individuals.  Asaph, the Psalmist, and Amos, the prophet, represent the praise of God in the community and the call for Israel to live justly.  Yet, we know that Israel ultimately fails to live out this call!

God’s people did not always honor their side of the covenant.  They worshiped other gods and became like the other nations.  They offered religious ceremonies and rituals that did not enjoin the heart.  The consequence of Israel’s unfaithfulness descended upon them in the form of Babylonian exile.

The Babylonians swept down upon Israel like a mighty tsunami, wiping everything out in its path.  Cities were razed, many people were slaughtered.  The influential citizens that survived were marched into captivity by hooks in their lips.  The poor and insignificant were left behind to scrounge whatever measly existence that might be found.  The Temple, the place of God’s presence, had been torn down.  Jerusalem was in shambles, a shadow of its former glory.

Babylonian exile befuddled the Israelites.  The devastating exile called into question God’s promises.  Had they been imagined fantasies?  Had God failed to keep the other side of the covenant?  Had God rejected God’s people, disowned them?  Where could hope be found if God had failed to make good on those promises given to Abraham and David?

Although Israel eventually returned to Jerusalem, they were never quite free from other overlords.  Babylon was replaced by Persia, the Greeks, and then Rome.  Israel was not a nation and they were surrounded by enemies.  Israel longed for God’s promises to be fully realized and soon.  The prophet Isaiah had said that there would be a king from the line of David that would rise up and lead Israel and make good on God’s promises!  Israel waited expectantly for the anointed one of God, a Son of David, to overthrow these oppressive nations and establish God’s reign.  They waited to see if God would remain faithful to the covenant.

Divorce has become part of our everyday language.  The breach of trust in a relationship leaves a gaping hole that many find unable to patch.  Unfaithfulness quite often leads to the cessation of the marital relationship.  The hurt becomes a festering wound, culminating in the amputation of the covenant promise.  And, in fact, we expect this to be the outcome when relationships suffer these types of travesty.  The only one that can restore the relationship is the one who has remained faithful, but we don’t hold any fantasy that this might happen… especially when unfaithfulness has been a consistent pattern in the relationship.

Why should Israel expect any less?  Why should they expect God to remain faithful when they had not?  They waited and they waited and they waited.  Generation after generation went by without the promises being fulfilled.  Generation after generation passed by as God seemed to remain stoic and silent.  Maybe God had forgotten them or perhaps no longer cared.

The lineage in Matthew’s Gospel reminds us that this is the backdrop of God’s story.  God had given the covenants to God’s people, but the Babylonian Exile appeared to have extinguished any hope of that happening.  Everyone longed to see God act in a definitive way to establish the covenants’ promise and to establish God’s people again!  That is the situation into which Jesus is born and from which he is descended!

In Christ Jesus all the promises of God are “yes!”  In the person of Jesus the covenants find their fulfillment.  He is the root from the stump of Jesse, who will establish God’s eternal Kingdom.  He is the promised Son by whom all the nations will be blessed because he is “Immanuel, God with us!”  God’s Kingdom is made available to both Jews and Gentiles.

Not only that, but God accomplishes salvation in the midst of and despite some major roadblocks.  The history of God’s people is full of brokenness and unfaithfulness.  It is full of characters of ill repute.  It contains people from the wrong side of the tracks, the “less than desirables.”  We see these things as predicaments to be solved or hidden, but God uses them as opportunities to display God’s glory.

If God is capable of transforming the broken mess that is Israel’s history and using it for God’s glory, establishing God’s Kingdom, and providing the vehicle of God’s salvation for humanity, then how can we say that our lives are beyond the grace of God?  Who are we to claim that our brokenness is beyond God’s saving power?  If God is capable of accomplishing God’s purposes through history in Christ, can those purposes not also be accomplished in our own lives through Christ Jesus?

            God is a faithful God that desires relationship and is in the process of redeeming history so that as we look back we can see the unfolding of His-Story!  Jesus came preaching the Kingdom of God has come near.  The proper response to the in-breaking of God’s Kingdom in our lives and world is to repent, to turn.  It is a call to turn away from a life of disobedience to a life wholly devoted to the covenant-faithful God!  His invitation remains: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:28-30).

[1] Garland, David E. Reading Matthew: A Literary and Theological Commentary. Macon: Smyth & Helwys, 2001, 5.

[2] Hagner, Donald Alfred. Matthew 1-13. Dallas: Word Books, 1993, lvii.

[3] Ibid, lvii-lix.

[4] Ibid, 6. Hagner posits that in order for fourteen generations to be counted, one must not count David twice.  Also, due to an editing error, Jeconiah may actually refer to two people.  Jehoiakim, in this scenario, would be the last name of the second group and Jechoniah would be the name starting the third group of fourteen.  The differences in spelling are minimal and could have easily been mistaken for the same person (and, thus the scribe changed the name for uniformity).

[5] Ibid, 6.

[6] Bruner, Frederick Dale. Matthew. Waco: Word Books, 1987, 4-5.

[7] Bruner, Frederick Dale. Matthew. Waco: Word Books, 1987, 2.

[8] Carter, Warren. Matthew: Storyteller, Interpreter, Evangelist. Rev. ed. Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 2004, 108.

[9] Hagner, Donald Alfred. Matthew 1-13. Dallas: Word Books, 1993, 9.

[10] Ibid, 9.

[11] Carter, Warren. Matthew and Empire: Initial Explorations. Harrisburg: Trinity Press International, 2001, 76.

[12] Brown, Raymond E. An Introduction to the New Testament. New York: Doubleday, 1997, 217.