upper room daily devotions

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Need Help Preaching the Death of Jesus?

Need help preaching or understanding the death of Jesus? Try reading "Biblical Preaching of the Death of Jesus" edited by David Lull and William Beardslee. Contributors include John Cobb, Russell Pregeant, Theodore Weeden Sr, Barry Woodbridge, and the forward by Fred Craddock. Not a new book - it was originally published in 1989 - it puts forward a complex and rich understanding on preaching and how preaching steeped in disciplined exegesis can shed new light on Jesus' crucifixion.

For these scholars it isn't enough to get a good handle on the death of Jesus (as if that weren't difficult enough!). They also believe that it is the preacher's task to interpret this core Christian story in ways that transform the lives of worshipers by "[discerning] what the Spirit is seeking to do and to provide words that will serve the Spirit in that work." Therefore, all that the preacher does should support the ongoing work of the Spirit in the community.

The death of Jesus is not only a central theme in the New Testament, it is also one of the most hotly contested and debated themes. Since the beginning of Christianity people have differed in their interpretations and understandings of Jesus' death. Even the Church's establishment of orthodoxy leaves room for multiple understandings and interpretations of Jesus' death. Preaching on this subject is both primary to a preacher's work and tricky to do.

In the second section of the book, the authors turn to the stories of Jesus' death as put forth by the Gospel according to Mark and the letters of Paul. Their goal is to provide preachers with sound exegesis on the texts by opening people "both to the strangeness of the biblical texts and to their potential for transforming our visions of the world."

As someone who struggles with Paul and his letters, I bought this book hoping for a renewed appreciation for the author of the earliest preserved texts in the New Testament. After finishing the section on Paul, I was disappointed to learn that the ways that I already understand Paul seem to be correct (I had hoped for new revelations). However, David Lull provided a wonderful interpretation of Paul for preaching. In the section called "Rediscovering Our Interrelatedness: The Death of Jesus in Jesus' Story," he writes, "In the Christian tradition, Jesus' death decisively brings into view the inescapable confrontation with our interconnectedness, both with one another and with God. All of the theologies of atonement presuppose this dimension of the church's memory of Jesus' death...We need to be reminded of our interaction with God in order to be open to the possibilities of forgiveness and of new life, for at the heart of the story of Jesus' death is the image of God receiving the brokenness of the world into God's own self, suffering with the world and transforming the consequences of the world's brokenness so that new possibilities emerge" (pp 175-176).

I highly recommend this book and its use of process thought to explore the texts related to Jesus' death and to offer preachable interpretations of it. 5 Stars!

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