i want to be a semiotician

April 24, 2006

I couldn’t hold it any longer. I was hoping a break would come soon. I didn’t want to get up and leave the class in case I might miss something. Finally, I decided I couldn’t possibly miss that much, even if I did stop to wash my hands, so I went. I brought relief to my bladder and a smile to my face.

I walked back into the classroom just in time to hear Leonard Sweet say “…and that’s why I think semiotics are so important for us to understand.” Oh my gosh…I’d never even heard of semiotics, and now I’d’ missed out on them in only 120 seconds. I shouldn’t have washed my hands.

Thankfully, we discussed semiotics more during the week, and I discovered that it is the study of signs or images. Because both ancients and postmoderns think more in terms of images than we, it is important for us to not just exegete words when studying Scripture, but images as well.

I brought my rudimentary understanding of semiotics to preparation for a sermon I preached yesterday, and it was illuminating. I was preaching on day of Pentecost from Acts 2. I quickly found some common themes worth pursuing. Pentecost was a celebration of the giving of the Torah at mount Sinai. That story begins in Exodus 19 as God comes down on Mount Sinai in fire and commands the people not to come near the mountain.

The imagery continues as the tabernacle is completed in Exodus 40:34-38. God stations himself over the tabernacle, and the tablets containing the ten commandments, as a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. Similar imagery appears in 2 Chronicles 7:1-3 as the temple is dedicated. Again, the temple contains the tablets, and fire and smoke fills the temple to show that God is there. In both the tabernacle and the temple humans were not to enter except for the high priest once a year.

Now, we combine all this with Acts 2. The Jews are celebrating the day of Pentecost — the giving of the Torah. Tongues of fire come and rest on each of the apostles. The fire which people couldn’t approach before is now coming to rest on them. Surely the disciples understood the significance of what was happening. Pentecost is not some Michael Jackson Pepsi commercial gone horribly wrong , it is God’s very presence coming to live within his people. This is something I understood before, but never so fully. I imagine there are many more lightbulbs to be turned on as I approach the Scriptures this way.

If you want to hear the sermon, here’s an mp3. Please go to the bathroom before you listen.

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