Saturday, March 28, 2009

"Telling a Bible Story" in Homiletics

The following story was told by the author in Homiletics class last week. Since I tell most of the story in second-person, it is worth remembering that I was speaking to a classroom full of young men preparing to enter the pastoral ministry. Despite that, I think it applies well to all Christians; so, since I recently put up a couple of posts about baptism, this also seemed appropriate. -- Brian

"In the eighth chapter of Acts, Luke records that an Ethiopian eunuch, who was also a worshipper of Yahweh, was riding in his chariot on the south road into the desert. He had come to Jerusalem to worship at the temple and was now returning to his home.

"He didn't know he was about to experience a Spirit-scheduled appointment with the Gospel of Jesus Christ at this very place and time. To be honest, if we were reading this story from Acts for the first time, we wouldn't know it either. Because we would be getting the story as Luke gave it to us, we would know that a man named Philip has been sent by the angel of the Lord to this very place at this very time. So we might guess that something is about to happen, but even Philip doesn't know why he has been sent to this road south of Jerusalem when this chariot is riding on it.

"What time is it, by the way? We do not know for sure, but we do know some things: Jesus' resurrection and the ascension have already passed. Pentecost has come and gone, and the apostles are diligently about the work of prayer and proclaiming the good news. Many thousands have been given the gift of the Holy Spirit in Jerusalem, and Philip is one of a group of seven men that have been selected by the apostles to administer the distribution of food to the widows. One of the other men from this group of seven, named Stephen, has been martyred for proclaiming Christ to the Sanhedrin, and a severe persecution has caused the believers to scatter out of Jerusalem.

"But Jesus has said to the apostles 'you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth' and he wasn't ready to leave the Ethiopians without a witness to the Gospel! So imagine you are Philip. You've been driven out of Jerusalem into Samaria after Stephen, your brother in the faith, has been stoned to death for proclaiming 'Jesus is the Christ'. What do you think you are doing? Hiding?!? You are out preaching the Word!

"And you have been led to this south-bound road and you are told by the Spirit to join this chariot. Remember: You are clueless as to what will happen next! As you walk up to this chariot, you hear its occupant reading from the book of Isaiah:

"'Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter
and like a lamb before its shearer is silent,
so he opens not his mouth.
In his vhumiliation justice was denied him.
Who can describe his generation?
For his life is taken away from the earth.'

"A short time ago, these verses sounded very different to you. You might have been thinking of Isaiah, or you may have been thinking of the temple sacrifices, but you were certainly not thinking of your Lord and Savior, Jesus. Things are different for you now; this man has just read about the Messiah and he might not know who he is! So you ask the man in the chariot: 'Do you understand what you are reading?'

"He replies, 'No. I'm a really smart guy; I've got the training to prove it. I've learned to read and write, and I'm such a good money-manager that I am in charge of a queen's treasury. But I still find the prophets really difficult to understand unless someone helps me interpret.'

"Although we weren't sure before, now we all know why you are here! The Spirit has given you a gift that this man does not have, and the Spirit is going to use you to give that gift to this man. So you start out right where this man is; you work from this passage in Isaiah and explain the good news of the lamb of God in Christ Jesus, whose blood was shed for him, for you and for all people.

"Just imagine how the angels in heaven are rejoicing along with you when this Ethiopian says to you, 'Amazing! And you say all this is mine through baptism? There's water right here! Stop the chariot right now! I believe! Why shouldn't I be baptized?'

"That is why you were brought to this time and place."

Doesn't that make baptism a work? Sure enough!

But some are accustomed to ask, "If baptism is itself a work and you say that works are of no use for salvation, what place is there for faith?" Answer: Yes, it is true that our works are of no use for salvation. Baptism, however, is not our work, but God's work (for, as was said, you must distinguish Christ's baptism quite clearly from a bath-keeper's baptism). God's works are salutary and necessary for salvation, and they do not exclude but rather demand faith, for without faith one cannot grasp them. Just by allowing the water to be poured over you, you do not receive or retain baptism in such a manner that it does you any good. But it becomes beneficial to you if you accept it as God's command and ordinance, so that, baptized in God's name, you may receive in the water the promised salvation.

-- Martin Luther, "Fourth Part: Concerning Baptism", Large Catechism

On Baptism

[We] ought to regard baptism as much greater and more precious because God has commanded it. What is more, it is performed in his name. So the words read, "Go, baptize," not "in your name" but "in God's name." Tobe baptized in God's name is to be baptized not by human beings but by God himself. Although it is performed by human hands, it is nevertheless truly God's own act. [...]

Note the distinction then: Baptism is a very different thing from all other water, not by virtue of the natural substance but because here something nobler is added, for God himself stakes his honor, his power, and his might on it. Therefore it is not simply a natural water, but a divine, heavenly, holy, and blessed water - praise it in any other terms you can - all by virtue of the Word. [...]

"The one who believes and is baptized will be saved," that is, faith alone makes the person worthy to receive the saving, divine water profitably. Because such blessings are offered and promised in the words that accompany the water, they cannot be received unless we believe them from the heart. [...]

Baptism is simply water and God's Word in and with each other; that is, when the Word accompanies the water, baptism is valid, even though faith is lacking. For my faith does not make baptism; rather, it receives baptism. Baptism does not become invalid if it is not properly received or used, as I have said, for it is not bound to our faith but to the Word.

-- Martin Luther, "Fourth Part: Concerning Baptism", Large Catechism

Saturday, March 21, 2009


noun "the process whereby individuals learn their group's culture, through experience, observation, and instruction."

enculturation. Unabridged (v 1.1). Random House, Inc. (accessed: March 21, 2009).

The picture below features a calabash bowl, which are used in Togo at tchakpa stands. We had a number of occasions to join with the folks from Dapaong sampling the local strains of tchakpa, a fermented millet drink. The calabash bowls smell like hay or the inside of barn, which combines in a very unusual way with the tchakpa. However, I can tell you from personal experience that the smell of hay is even wierder when combined with Schlafly's Pale Ale!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

On Psalm 1:2 "His Delight is in the Law of the Lord"

"However, there are some even today who strive to twist this prophet's mouth and pervert his tongue. By their inflated thoughts and twisted works they want the law of the Lord to be in their pleasure and not their delight in the law of the Lord. This also the Jews wanted (beyond the fact that their delight was not in the law of the Lord, as stated above) when they desire that what pleases them, what they determine, what they affirm to be acceptable to God. But in this way they set up the Law for God, as if He were bound to take what they wished and chose, rather than that they received the Law from Him in order to do what He chooses and wishes. Such people, I say, chiefly many of the religious now are. They have reserved judgment to themselves beyond the command of their superior, and they want to make their own decisions and teach him what he ought to be commanding them. Or certainly, before they do what they are ordered to do, they want him to give the reason for it and to show them why and for what purpose he issued this order. [emphasis added] [...] And they would not do it except because they have the arrogance to want to do the judging and not be judged, and their delight is not in His law, but precisely His law is at their pleasure. Now certainly this is not being under the superior but over him."

-- Martin Luther, "Psalm 1", Luther's Works, Vol. 10: First Lectures on the Psalms. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1974.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Back from Togo

A copy of the email sent to my immediate family about my return follows. The blog for my notes mentioned in the letter below is found at


I returned home safely and on-time yesterday. I was not (and still am not) in a state of mind to write a meaningful "here's how it went" email, but I wanted to let you know that I am back safely.

Here's a short takeaway from the experience: The church in Africa is, in all the ways that truly matter, just like the church here. You can point to particular issues and challenges that are unique to or aggravated by the African context, but it doesn't take much thinking to realize that we have our own particular issues and challenges that are unique to or aggravated by our American context. The language is often different; the idiom definitely is; the cultural norms vary widely. However, the One we have in common binds us together in a way that transcends culture as he enters directly through his word, his body and his blood. I'll have more to write on this when I finally get around to it, but that's going to have to wait.

I took too many pictures to fit on the camera and my flash drive didn't make it on the trip with me; so my pictures ended up on Dr. Schumacher's computer. In fact, all of our pictures did; Dr. Schumacher is going to distribute the whole set (i.e. pictures, sound files, a few videos files) on a CD. Unfortunately, Dr. Schumacher is with his wife in Switzerland for a week (she works in the international school there and he visits regularly); so I am without the means to tell an effective story until he returns. I'm planning to post a very slightly redacted version of my twenty-two pages of notes in the form of a blog over the coming days and weeks; that'll probably be the best way to get the story telling started. I will welcome your questions, especially if you will post them the blog so I can answer them for everyone at the same time.

May the peace of Christ remain with you all in the coming days!


PS: David, although many years have passed, Glenn did remember you. I passed your greetings (as I assumed you would have wished me to). You were right: that guy has a lot going on upstairs."