Friday, March 26, 2010

The Preaching Imagination, Acts 2...

One of the ticklish issues in NT interpretation is how to account for the relationship between Israel and the church. Witness the charge of anti-semitism leveled, rightly from my perspective, against Mel Gibson's take on the death of Jesus. The Jews crucified Jesus, according to this version of things, and God has rejected them.

Acts 2 is one of those dicey places regarding the relationship between Israel and the church. Peter addresses a Jewish audience in his big sermon, and the punchline of the sermon is pretty severe--"Let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified." Texts like this have led many to see the church as a replacement for Israel. That Acts can't wait to get out of Jerusalem and Judea so that the real action among the Gentiles--the future of the story--can commence.

A more careful reading of Acts, however, works in just the opposite direction. Luke is very concerned with the restoration of the "kingdom to Israel" (1:6). Jacob Jervell's very important work on Luke-Acts, Luke and the People of God, shows that the reports of mass conversions take place among Jews and God-fearers. The success of the Word does not occur apart from Jews, but precisely through them. There are no stories of mass conversions among Gentiles anywhere in Acts (Cornelius is described as a God-fearer). This is not a historical statement for Luke, but a theological one. God is being faithful to his promise that all nations will be blessed through the promise made to Abraham.

While the house of Israel crucified Jesus, God's covenant faithfulness is seen in the pouring out of the Holy Spirit on the very people who killed--this one God has made both Messiah and Lord. There is no visible Kingdom of God, which includes Gentiles, apart from the restoration of the kingdom of Israel. Here the prophetic continuity of Jesus and the twelve with Israel's prophets of old becomes a very important part of Luke's theological portrait.

This corrective reading of Acts is worth time in a sermon, and is certainly a big part of the scene at Pentecost, marked by the listing of all the nations represented in the crowd gathered by the sound made by the pouring out of the Spirit. Still, there are other arcs out of this text that beg for development in the sermon. The task, how can I set up the interrelationship of text and sermon so that this is plain without this becoming the focal point of the sermon?

1 comment:

Unknown said...

I like this move. After reading Heim, I have come to the conclusion that if we do not see ourselves in the place of Israel calling for crucifixion, then the cross remains a bloody transaction required by a god. The most powerful words I know are God on a cross saying “forgive them they know not what they do.” When I see myself standing with Israel yelling “crucify him” then in my story these words were said about me and Israel can no longer be an object of retribution. Wish I could be there to hear you.