Friday Facts: Lectionary A – Sixth Sunday after Epiphany

Friday Facts is a  weekly feature here on Trout and Cast Iron. Every week, I’ll read through the lectionary texts for the following Sunday in their original Hebrew and Greek. On Friday, I’ll choose one of the texts, provide a new translation, and highlight one point of interest from a linguistic, ancient history, or concordance point of view. The hope is that Friday Facts can provide a spark to preachers who find themselves preparing their Sunday sermon on a short schedule. 

Matthew 5.21-22, 27-28, 31-32, 33-34

21 You have heard that it is said…22 but I, myself, say to you…

27 You have heard that it is said…28 but I, myself, say to you…

31 It is said…32 but I, myself, say to you…

33 Again, you have heard that it is said…34 but I, myself, say to you…

There is rhythm in this week’s gospel lesson from the Sermon on the Mount. Over and over, Jesus introduces his teachings with this formula, contrasting what has come before with what he now brings. There’s a lot to unpack within Jesus’ new teachings themselves, but they also provide an opportunity to reflect on a broader topic.

You see, the formulaic nature of this section of the Sermon on the Mount reflects the fact that Jesus didn’t write his sayings down. He was a preacher, not a scribe, after all. The repetition within the sermon is a common feature of oral cultures. It both serves as a organizational principle, and it’s a help towards memorization. The repetition helps the words to stick in a hearer’s brain.

And for the Lutheran preacher, this leads to a further reflection: The gospel is living word. It is primarily a speech act, transmitted by the living voice of one person to another. Therein lies the rub. We live within in a culture of strange media. On the one hand, we are dominated by the text around us. In books, on the internet, on signs. On the other, we are also dominated by an ephemeral audio/visual culture. From cable television, Netflix, and Youtube we consume vast amounts of information, but it is information that is not designed to stick. Think about the last television show you watched and how many lines of dialogue you can remember.

But, as you sit down to write your sermon, read these words and remember that they are designed to stick. With their built in repetition, they are intended to work their way into the brains of their hearers. The Gospel is a living word, which does its work far beyond the few minutes that you spend preaching it from the pulpit. But, if your sermon obscures the oral nature of the Gospel, if your sermon cleans off the stickiness and turns the Word into just another chunk of the mass of audio that people consume, it becomes nothing more than dead letter.

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