Dr Barth included these three outlines in 'La Proclamation de L'Evangile' to illustrate what has been said.
1. Psalm 121
This psalm comprises four parts:
(a) Verses 1-2 represent a pilgrims' hymn and tell of the help God gives to one who is weak and distressed. Such a one knows that there is help for him and, furthermore, he knows whence it comes. He turns his eyes in that direction, that is to say, towards Jerusalem where dwells the Lord God, the Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth. That is the place from which help comes. So for us also there is a place whence we may await deliverance.
(b) Verses 3-4. This assurance is ours because God - our help -is active, he works; he never sleeps, he is never inaccessible to the man who has need of him. He is never far away, existing impassively in spheres far removed from contact with this world. On the contrary, the Lord is present and close at hand and we can always find him.
(c) Verses 5-6. God protects us precisely when the danger is greatest and threatens to overwhelm us. Here the historical element plays no part. Local extremes of weather, caused by sun or moon, are quite secondary and have no importance for our interpretation.
(d) Verses 7-8. The Old Testament community was in the habit of praying for each of its members and found strength and consolation in this mutual intercession. We also, today, know that there is someone who prays for us, but how much more effectively than was then the case ! Christ himself intercedes for us with God, the Almighty. His prayer is our hope and our strength.
A sermon on Psalm 121 might follow this scheme; there is no question here of any particular theme.
2. John 13:33-35
These three verses are very suitable for a sermon in Passion-tide. They are, of course, closely linked to what goes before them. Verse 30 marks the last and final phase of the passion of the Son of Man. At that moment, in that night, the incarnation of God is accomplished : one last and supreme glorifying is assured him in his very humiliation (verse 31). At the same time he is glorified in his approaching elevation. The step which Jesus is about to take towards the profoundest depths f suffering already proclaims his transfiguration, his passing into glory.
At verse 33 a new element is introduced. Little children . . . I say to you . . . These words are addressed in the first place to the little group of disciples who are present, but this group already embraces the whole believing world the entire community of believers exists in these few apostles. Jesus communicates to them and to all his last thoughts. They have to learn and understand that they cannot follow Christ along this path; neither the world nor the Church will be able to imitate what has been given to Christ alone to do. He alone is able to tread the road marked out for him by the Father, and he will follow it for the sake of the world.
But at verse 34 there appears, surprisingly, a new commandment. This command does not enjoin imitation : it requires mutual love. Obedience responds to the direct order, Love one another, for love has become the new nature of those who have seen Jesus. But the world has to hear the words of Jesus through the mediation of the Church and its members, and this will only be carried out if you have love for one another. We are not told that the whole world will be won by these words of Jesus, but that the behaviour of the disciples will show whether they are with Jesus. This behaviour is the characteristic mark of the Church in the world.
This outline is only a suggestion, meant to give some help in discerning the main themes in the text; it is not intended as a model to be copied. The preacher's task is to put into common speech for the man of today what is to be found in the text. But these few verses are a mine of inexhaustible riches. '
3. Ephesians 2.1-10
This passage raises in an acute form the problem of preaching about sin, At the outset it establishes the fact that those whom the apostle is addressing were men of this world and consequently sunk in sin, living in that condition as rebellious beings, cut off from God. This situation is not life at all; these men were dead in the true meaning of the word, under the wrath of God. At verse 3, in which the concrete and terrible reality of sin is brought into sharp relief, a startling reversal breaks in : 'you' is abruptly followed by 'we' as Paul confesses himself also, like these others, to be lost in sin.
But immediately we are shown an amazing thing, sin in its totality is cast away into the past. This in no way implies any weakening of the consciousness of sin; on the contrary, its hateful character is all the more clearly revealed. The shocking reality and abiding presence of sin remain even though it has been relegated to a time which lies behind us. Sin is there at all times, but it has been repulsed and vanquished; its power to dominate and to destroy has been taken from it.
Verses 4-7 point to the victor who has conquered all that bears the mark of sin. The good news rings out : all you who lay dead under the yoke of sin are raised to life in Christ. This resurrection of the dead is the work of God and of God only, accomplished in Christ and in his lifting up. The fight against sin is far behind, the battle has been won though it is not yet at an end. Victory is assured. In this fashion Paul attacks evil. There is no system of morality, no plan of campaign, no ethical precepts; only a turning to him who once for all has stripped sin of its power. This reference to Christ is developed in verse 7. Christians, as Paul sees them, are the objects f God's goodness; in his immeasurable riches God has prepared for us an incorruptible heritage.
Verses 8-10 relate to the time between the resurrection of Christ and his return. What we are in this intermediate period owes nothing to ourselves. We have, therefore, no reason and no right to glorify ourselves. It is not our own works which make us what we are, but the grace of God which has saved us through faith, which itself is God's gift. Where then shall we find any cause for boasting? And, moreover, we are created for the doing of good works. It is important to note that Paul uses the indicative and avoids the imperative in order to rule out the slightest doubt on this point : all is the work of God, nothing is due to man's initiative.
This passage is typical of the apostolic witness, which is never concerned to discuss a particular theme but submits itself solely to the one great theme of the Bible. This message must be given clearly to the Christian congregation.
|Chapter 7||Table of Contents||List of Books|