Category Archives: Oswald Bayer

Four Features of the Sermon As Absolution

If we consider the unconditional word of absolution as the basic word, model and matrix of an evangelical sermon, then there are four decisive features that make this sermon stand out. These features have to do with grammar and pragmatics. 1. The sermon is not a discourse in the third person about something but an address in the second person, where an “I” addresses a “you.” 2. The verb is formulated in the present tense or in the present perfect (Note: The relation between the present and present perfect corresponds to the correlation between what was “won” and what is “distributed”). 3. The performative verb used in the present or present perfect is semantically and pragmatically that of “promise” – a valid promise with immediate effect; it creates community. 4. The “I” of the preacher who speaks legitimates itself, implicitly or explicitly, as authorized to make this promise – like the prophet with the message formula, “thus says the Lord:…” The preacher is an authorized representative who stands in the place of his Lord and is authorized and empowered to speak on his behalf. The divine service is begun and continued in the name of the triune God. Baptism, absolution, and the Lord’s Supper are celebrated in this name. The sermon is delivered in this name. And the preacher hears and takes to heart the trinitarian blessing promised by the words that many pastors use to greet the congregation before the sermon: “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all” (2 Corinthians 13:13).

Oswald Bayer, “Preaching the Word”, from Justification Is For Preaching, pages 202-203


The Sermon As Promise and Gift

If the sermon proper has its matrix in the gift-giving word of the Lord’s Supper, and if its purpose is nothing more than to unfold and highlight that word, then we can avoid three mistakes: the way of theorization, moralization and psychologization. In other words, the proclaimed word is not primarily statement, appeal, or expression. This cannot be emphasized too strongly. For the word and faith are closely connected: as the word, so faith. If the proclaimed word is statement and demonstration, then faith is insight and knowledge. If however the word is appeal, then faith is actually its enactment in the deed, its realization in the form of a theory or an idea. Again, if the proclaimed word is expression, then faith is a fundamental part or experience of human life as such. Only if the word is promise and gift, is faith really faith.

Oswald Bayer, “Preaching the Word”, from Justification is For Preaching, pages 201-202

Justification Is STILL For Preaching

Constitutive for the preaching of justification is the distinction between law and gospel. It is not that the gospel can only be understood in the light of the experience of sinner with the law – hence ex negativo. The gospel has, positively, a surplus of that experience; otherwise it would be no more powerful than the law. Nevertheless, if the gospel is not understood as undeserved liberation from the accusing and condemning power of the law, if it is not understood as unconditional acquittal in spite of evident guilt, it loses its incredibly miraculous nature, and ends up being eviscerated and reduced to a self-evident truth that basically appeals to the free will of the listener to do good. The gospel, and therefore God’s love, is trivialized whenever his judgment is silenced. The church’s preaching is seriously flawed if it speaks of peace with God without making clear that this peace is preceded by enmity and strife (Romans 5:10). God’s love is not something self-evident. For in his compassionate love, God speaks against himself: against the God who speaks completely against me in the law and in his judgment. In the gospel, however, God speaks completely for me. The gospel is based on a revolution in God himself, where God’s own will is overturned in himself (Hosea 11:8); the New Testament expresses this with the difference between Father and Son, between God’s life and Jesus’s death. Only if we perceive the radical distinction between law and gospel will we grasp the saving significance of the death of Jesus Christ; he redeemed us on the stake of the cross “from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us” (Galatians 3:13; see 2 Corinthians 5:21). With his Son, God himself pleads our cause, he sacrifices himself for us. Our freedom, “acquired” for us on the cross, is “distributed” in the proclamation – paradigmatically in the Lord’s Supper: given for you. The basic gesture involved in preaching the gospel are the opened hands that give and bestow the gift of freedom on those who hear through the Holy Spirit in faith, so that they themselves are empowered to open up their own hands, otherwise tightly clenched in self-reference to thank God and give to the neighbor.

Oswald Bayer, Foreword to “Justification Is For Preaching

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