TRINITY 1 SERMON
“There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen…”
Well, there you have the beginning of a good story and we shall see several more before the fall. For the next 17 Sundays, that would be till September 30th, which is the 17th Sunday after Trinity, 12 of the Gospel lessons are taken from Luke. Of the 5 remaining, 2 are taken from Mark and 3 are taken from Matthew. Seven of the Gospel lessons from Luke are parables while others are illustrative stories or sayings and some are historical events. There is a unity to these narratives, and if we include the Epistles the sense of unity is all the more pronounced. All these texts revolve around the central figure of Jesus Christ: He is either presenting his audience with a didactic narrative or he is himself the protagonist in an eyewitness recollection; frequently, we have these elements combined. What I want to do this morning is to focus on the New Testament – its unity, its place in our community life, and the doctrine of inspiration.
As you know, Luke’s is one of 4 Gospels and one of 27 books in the New Testament. As we read the different accounts of Jesus’ life and teaching in the Gospels, it is obvious that the Evangelists who wrote the Gospels had some process by which they selected material for the text that would bear their names. In some cases they recount the same events, but in other cases an Evangelist included narratives and biography that other Evangelists excluded from their Gospel. They excluded them either because they did not fit their design or possibly because they did not know those narratives. For example, the story before us today about the Rich Man and Lazarus is only in Luke’s Gospel. Same for the Prodigal Son and the same for the story of the Pharisee and the Publican. Those stories are important for Luke’s design of his Gospel. But it would be silly for me to fault Mark or Matthew or John for not including the same stories in their Gospels.
Each text has meaning and together all 27 books of the New Testament make a whole – a whole that is made up of many members. Just as “the body is one and has many members… all the members are one body,” so the New Testament is a body of work of many members. Today, we may still refer to a writer’s “corpus or body of work,” meaning the collection of that person’s texts. We naturally expect one writer’s body of work to be identifiable as his own work by such marks as style, content, and interest. I want to suggest to you that we have the sense that something like that holds true for the New Testament. Think of the New Testament as a corpus of texts – think of the New Testament itself as a library. To view the New Testament as a library, is not to view it as a random collection of books; it is not even to view it as a set of books dedicated to one subject like you might find in a library dedicated to, let’s say, whaling in America. The New Testament is rather a library that is dedicated, devoted to Jesus Christ, and for that reason this library is charged with a power, a life, a love that pursues us, that calls upon us to measure up to her texts. As we attempt to interpret them, as we pursue the meaning of these texts, we frequently have the uncomfortable sense that we are the ones being pursued and the texts interpret us individually and as a community.
Next, I want to say something about what I will call the “pro-narrative” and the “meta-narrative.” The Greek prefix “pro” means before and so by “pro-narrative” I mean, “that which comes before the narrative, that which comes before the texts.” Well, what comes before the narratives? What comes before the narratives are two things without which there would be no narrative: First of all, the life of the Incarnate Word of the Father is before the narratives. In fact the New Testament in whole, and in its parts, is all about the life of Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father. When we experience power and life and love in the New Testament it is the power, the life and the love of Christ that we experience.
Secondly, the Holy Spirit comes before the narratives. In the fullness of time the Father sent the Holy Spirit to the Apostles and the Church was born. And at the appointed time the Holy Spirit indwelt in the Apostles, refreshing their memories. Then without doing violence to the writer, without turning the writers into stenographers, the Holy Spirit moved preveniently upon these eye-witnesses so the composed text was authentically the word of the Apostle, but also the very Word of God the Holy Spirit, who speaks the Word of Christ, who is the Eternal Word of the Father. So what comes before the narrative is in fact the Blessed Trinity, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Now I want to say something about the term “meta-narrative.” The Greek prefix “meta” simply means “after.” Aristotle’s corpus contains a set of texts that are titled “Metaphysics.” But as a matter of fact, Aristotle never used that word. An editor hundreds of years after his death gave that title to a set of texts – “ta meta ta phusika,” which simply means “After the Texts on Physics.” In other words the name Metaphysics simply referred to the place these particular texts fell in Aristotle’s corpus of work. That’s the way I’m using the term “meta” as in “meta-narrative.” I am not using the term meta-narrative to refer to the “big story” or the untold story that totalizes the world and justifies some power structure. What I mean by meta-narrative is plainly what came after the narrative. Obviously, one thing that came after the narrative and continues to loom large in the life of the Church is the Church’s intentional collection of the narratives into a corpus of its own; that is the assembly of the New Testament.
Furthermore, the Church assembled this library for an audience of people who had been baptized in the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and thus shaped in their moral, religious, and intellectual life together because they share an unqualified devotion to Jesus Christ. The New Testament is meant for the Church and the Church is committed to the New Testament because of its apostolic origins. And because of its apostolic origin, its truthfulness, the New Testament is authoritative for the disciples who are called individually and as a community to live up to these texts. And finally because of our baptism, regeneration, and the gift of the Holy Spirit, the disciples of Christ are fitted to read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest the Word of God to his glory and the benefit of the Church and the whole world.
Finally, the New Testament, of its own voice, from its own standpoint, does not claim to be “new” in the sense of being dropped down from Heaven without any connection to what God has been doing in the past. The New Testament possesses a profound sense of “historical consciousness” from its very beginning. Thus we have written in Matthew 1:1:
“The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham…”
This identity of Jesus Christ with Israel unfolds throughout the Gospels and later in the Epistles and his mission reaches all the way back to Adam. He is the Son of David, the Son of Abraham and he is the Last Adam. Then we have the declaration in the last book of the New Testament, The Revelation: “The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants what must soon take place…”
The New Testament is the testament of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and the Son of Man. It is the story of his teaching and work on behalf of the salvation of the world. These are wonderful, mysterious, and life-changing narratives. This summer and on into the fall we will enter into new horizons in worship, doctrine, and life that will increase our faith in and our love for Christ. The narratives that will unfold around us will also enfold us into the love of God, and we will discover once again that, by the grace of God, we are actors in God’s personal narrative. And that narrative, like all of us, is an unfinished work.