I had the honor and distinction of preaching what amounted to my trial/first sermon here in Atlanta, well, Marietta, Georgia on March 21st, 2008 at a Seven Last Words service. For those inquiring minds I had the Third Word, John 19:25-27, “Woman, here is you son….Here is you mother!” And for further inquiries, the title of my sermon was “Where Do You Stand?” Now that was my second Seven Last Words service that I had attended that day, and at the end of the day I had sat through 13 sermons (I’ll get back to why it was only 13) and I was dog tired.
However, I remember before the start of the noonday service, me and some colleagues were discussing this issue of harmonizing the Gospels. Given that when I merely mentioned it, another one of my friends looked at me with the eyes of “Oh no he didn’t!” so I didn’t press the issue, but I want to take a quick minute on this Resurrection Sunday and hash out what I’ve experienced between Good Friday and today’s service.
Well, anyone who has read the Gospels critically knows that there is a difference between the Synoptics of Matthew, Mark and Luke and then there’s good ole John. Most preachers worth their salt will drop this bit of knowlege in their sermon and speak about how John just approaches the whole story of Jesus differently than the writer(s) of Matthew, Mark and Luke. Many pastors and preachers who have been to school learn that Matthew and Luke’s account fed off of the story as told by Mark. Many scholars have published the scriptures that compliment each other, but still there are differences that exist even between the three. Take the story of the Gerasene demoniac: Matthew’s account speaks of two men living in the tombs possessed by demons, while Mark and Luke only speak of one man. There is also this Q-source, from which no one has ever found a manuscript, not even a sliver of a scroll, from which some scholars have believed that Matthew and Luke pulled their information from. Even though no, and I do mean NO, evidence has been found to support the Q-source, it has entered into the academic culture heavily.
And then there’s John.
I’ll leave John to himself because we already know he’s special. While Matthew opens with the geneology of Jesus, Mark just starts immediately with the ministry of Jesus, Luke is writing to Theophilus–then here comes John talkin’ about “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God” introducing all of this heavy theology that is open to interpretation depending on your christology.
So how is it that the Black Church sits up Good Friday after Good Friday allowing for the meshing of these theologies to be preached in rapid fire succession seven times?
This is not to say that the preaching is necessarily bad, but my first question is who determined the order of these sayings? Truth be told, I’ve heard sermons preached particularly after “I thirst” and “It is finished” that how could Jesus still speak after he had the sour wine or vinegar (depending on the particular synoptic account, further proving my case) in his mouth and preachers posing the question “How could Jesus say it is finished if he still had one more word to say?” Well, I guess in the wider realm of things, I could get passed the preachery sayings and what not, because I still felt that the preachers had a point to all of it, but I just think it’s quite interesting.
Furthermore, Good Friday services are preached by guest pastors and preachers, so what about their home church? Especially if they’re out of towners. Generally if it’s a same-city event, they rotate or the members of one church always go to another church to support their own pastor and fellowship with other churches. Secondly, and more germane to this post, is how does the host pastor reconcile the differing theologies of the pastors and preachers? I know for a fact that in the preparation of this sermon I tried to be as conscious as possible of what theology I was bringing into my sermon.
Here’s two cases in-point.
Both services, the first word is of course “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Just my own interpretation, but I don’t see any evidence in the scriptures that Jesus, himself, necessarily did any forgiving, but rather asked for his Father, in heaven, to do the forgiving for him because for whatever reason (maybe because they were in the midst of crucifying him), Jesus was not able to do so.
Well, that knocks squarely in the face of high christology of Colossians 1: 15-23 with this notion of Jesus as the “image of the invisible God” and Hebrews 4:14-16. Granted what amounted to a Baptist upbringing, I have a mid-christology which has been brought down as a result of seminary. For me, I just need for Jesus to be a bit more “user-friendly” as I heard one preacher put it. I prefer to focus more on the Jesus part as opposed to the Christ part. Jesus’ humanity interests me! Actually, I’m waiting for someone to preach about the humanity of Jesus between age 12 and age 30–“Jesus: The Missing Years.”
So, each pastor or preacher brings their own personal theologies to the pulpit, because I was quite conscious of my mid to low christology in the pulpit. I still think the sermon went over well, but again, that enhances my point that congregations are not aware of some things, and hopefully the pastors are conscious of such things if not we’ll end up with some very confused congregations.
In my own opinion, we already do though.
Also, as an addendum:
Why did I hear a sermon from Revelation 1:18-19 this morning for Easter Sunday morning? I guess I’ll have to have a blog about following the liturgical calendar eventually.
Keep it uppity, and keep it radical, JLL