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Essays in honor of Robert H. Smith.

A number of nouns come to mind when I think of my long-time dear friend and colleague Bob Smith: grace, style, class, carpenter, preacher, wordsmith, fidelity, insight, art, warmth, humor, exegete, love, leader. Wherever God's call has led him--to parish ministry, seminary teaching, academic leadership, writing, editing, marriage--Bob has served and continues to serve with high distinction. As an exegete Bob has a unique gift of getting to the heart of the matter, in a fresh way, with fresh questions, and with theologically penetrating answers. Both church and academy have profited immeasurably from his presence among us.

So it was no surprise when the people I invited to write for this special issue responded positively and with enthusiasm, and the firstfruits of that harvest are contained in this issue. And they replied not only in quality, but also in great quantity. Hence a second Smith issue of Currents will appear in February, 2004, with the names and titles of those essays listed at the conclusion of this editorial.

John H. Elliott offers a commentary on the hymn of praise from the LBW's eucharistic rite, "Worthy is Christ, the Lamb who was slain." This hymn is taken from the book of Revelation, a book that has often bewildered Lutherans. In a fresh, in-depth summary of the meaning of Revelation (with many allusions to our time), Elliott points out that the opening letters to the seven churches are combinations of praise and censure, calls for repentance and non-compromise, and they lead on to the second part of Revelation in 4:1, with its account of what will take place in the future, based on the Seer's heavenly journey. The Seer identifies the ultimate agents in the present struggle and predicts its final outcome. The churches appear to be under pressure to relax their exclusive allegiance to God and conform to the ways of their Gentile neighbors. Rome had a stranglehold on the Mediterranean world at the end of the first century C.E. and expected praise and honor in public from its obsequious clients. In this context Revelation is an urgent call to remain steadfast, to repent of complacency and compromise, and to have confidence and hope. It anticipates the ultimate victory of God and the Lamb over Satan/the primordial Dragon of chaos, on the one hand, and Rome and its allies on the other. Scattered throughout Revelation are hymns celebrating God and the Lamb's victory, now deftly reworded in LBW. Victory in Revelation is celebrated with a feast, now echoed in our eucharistic meal. In Revelation and LBW Jesus morphs from the one slain to the one reigning. The conclusion compares the message and context of Revelation with the imperial context in which we live.

Everett R. Kalin, one of Robert Smith's oldest friends, discusses Romans 1:18-32, especially vv. 26-27, a central passage in the current discussion of homosexuality. He asks why Paul wrote these words and what role they play in the context of this chapter and of the book of Romans. The sinners accused in this passage are solely Gentiles, and they are accused of failing to acknowledge the God they knew by observing God's work in creation. The Wisdom of Solomon expresses a similar thought but then goes on to say how differently God treated the Gentiles from the Jews, how God showed kindness and mercy to God's own ancient people. Paul, on the other hand, follows his condemnation of the Gentiles by stating that we Jews are just like those Gentiles as far as sin is concerned. The pessimistic picture of humanity in Romans 1-3 is followed by the utterly glorious news in 3:21 to 11:36 that Jew and Gentile are united under God's righteousness conferred through the atonement effected through Christ. As Christians struggle with how to deal with Rom 1:26-27 they need to remember that a principal reason Paul wrote Romans was to encourage members of various Christian congregations in Rome, divided over issues they saw as vital to faith and life and worship, to welcome one another despite, and even before resolving, these differences.

Linda Maloney reflects on Smith's Easter Gospels, published twenty years ago, and particularly on his unique interpretation of the ending to Mark: The women ran straight to witness to the disciples without speaking to anyone on the way. This plausible proposal has not been widely accepted, and the author notes a variety of other understandings of Mark 16:8. Dewey, for example, concludes that the women's failure to speak, while inappropriate, may indicate that failure need not be the end of discipleship. Maloney notes important structural clues in Mark that point to the evangelist's intention in his final scene. At both Transfiguration and Resurrection the humans involved are both terrified and struck speechless. Archbishop Williams has observed that a descent into silence is the necessary condition of emergence into effective speech. The women's silence at the end of Mark is the necessary precondition for proclamation. In a sense, the reader is the lost ending of Mark. We have to discover for ourselves what difference is made by this life, this death, this resurrection. Until the ambiguity emerges as mystery we must remain silent.

Mark Allan Powell asserts that "binding" and "loosing" are in Matthew a constitutive aspect of the church's mission on Earth. These terms refer to determining the application of scriptural commandments for contemporary situations, not to the forgiving or retaining of sins. The community has the authority to identify which behaviors constitute sin or to discern the intent of the law with regard to particular circumstances. The article reviews a number of cases where scriptural commandments in Matthew are either bound or loosed. So we face a dilemma: the Scriptures must be properly bound or loosed if God's will is to be discerned, but the Scriptures are often bound when they should be loosed, and loosed when they should be bound, with the result that God's will is not discerned. In Matthew 16:13-20 the church's authority to bind and loose is grounded in its acclamation of Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the Living God. In Matthew 18:15-20, the church's ministry of binding and loosing determines who is subject to church discipline. The article considers then whether the scriptural dictums against homosexuality should be bound or loosed, and then under what circumstances.

Herman C. Waetjen looks at the double prepositional phrase in Rom 1:17 that is conventionally translated as "through faith for faith" or something similar. The first phrase is typically used by Paul of the faith of Abraham (cf. also Hab 2:4) and of the superiority of this faith to the Law. According to Gal 3:16, however, Abraham is the original testamentary heir, and Christ, as the single descendant of Abraham, is the sole agent of the distribution of the covenant's benefits. Through the arbitration of Moses, God and Israel reached an agreement to add a codicil (the Law) to the testament that God established in trust with Abraham and his descendant the Christ. The testament/covenant was based on pistis, the trust fund that God established with Abraham. All who trust God, as Abraham and Sarah did, are justified by faith. The codicil of the Law was added to the testament in order to awaken human consciousness to the reality of sin. Trusting God and living "out of faith," like Abraham and Sarah, may result in justification by faith. But being justified does not eliminate the alienation that arises when the mirror of the Law discloses the reality of sin. There must follow a life that is committed to living eis pistin, a life dedicated to actualizing the justice of God in and by the trust of Jesus Christ.

In the last lines of Easter Gospels, Robert Smith reveals his method of doing exegesis, his faith, his humanity and humility, with style:

This study has proceeded on the assumption that each evangelist was first of all a teacher or preacher rather than a historian, that his literary deposit has an integrity of its own, and that it is still supremely worth while tuning in to the message each composed for his community of believers or for his uncommitted but curious neighbors. Our Easter Gospels are certainly not the only way to proclaim the resurrection, but these documents have through most of their long life rightly enjoyed a privileged status among us. Each gospel is a remarkable application of the tradition about Jesus to a fresh situation and audience. By attending to the Gospels we hear how ancient masters made use of the tradition of the resurrection of Jesus and how they put him to work in the context of their culture and their church. They have yet many things to teach us.

I hope and pray that Robert Smith also has yet many things to teach us.
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Author:Klein, Ralph W.
Publication:Currents in Theology and Mission
Date:Dec 1, 2003
Previous Article:The Epiphany of our Lord January 6, 2004.
Next Article:"Worthy is Christ": a modern hymn and its apocalyptic pedigree.

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