June 17, 2012; Father's Day and Insisting on Wrath
2012-06-13 by David von Schlichten

Today in Bible study, the people around the table just wanted to see God's wrath under every biblical stone. We started with Ezekiel 17:22-24, which uses tree imagery to offer a word of hope for the people of Judah. I tried to point this out, but my parishioners kept saying statements such as, "God strikes down the tall trees. We better watch it, or we're going to be in trouble."

Later, when we read 2 Corinthians 5, we heard of being judged. My parishioners just loved that. "See? The judgment. We better get it together!" They really seem to enjoy the threat of wrath.

My parishioners who attend Bible study are senior women. They are sweet. They are devoted to the Church, but they tend to view the Bible through a lens that presents God as an angry father.

This problematic tendency is nothing new, and it is certainly not unique to my Bible study participants. Indeed, one of the prevailing ways to view God is as an angry man (yes, man) whom we must forever strive to placate so we don't end up in hell.

Then there's Father's Day. Fathers can be wonderful, but they do not have a great track record. They have a reputation for being neglectful, abusive, or both. It is no wonder that we view our FATHER in heaven in a similar way.

How do we get a more compassionate, less wrathful understanding of God to take root in the consciousness of our hearers, and how do we tie that to Father's Day?  

Yours in Christ,

David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator

Beelzebul, Serpent; Homiletical Thoughts for June 10, 2012
2012-06-06 by David von Schlichten

This Sunday, we have Genesis 3:8-15 juxtaposed with Psalm 130 and Mark 3:20-35. All three passages deal with sin and forgiveness, and Genesis and Mark are connected to Satan.

Genesis does not actually say that the serpent is Satan, but the serpent is certainly functioning satanically. Adam, Eve, and the serpent defy God, and all three end up suffering. One of my parishioners said that the establishment of enmity between the woman and the serpent was the first instance of hatred in history. Hm.

Psalm 130 provides a contrast to Genesis 3. In Genesis, Adam and Eve hide from God, but the psalmist seeks out God. Adam and Eve deny their sin by scapegoating, while the psalmist admits her or his sin. Adam and Eve receive condemnation, while the psalmist knows she or he will receive redemption.

Mark 3: The unforgiveable sin is believing that Jesus' spirit is demonic. In other words, the unforgiveable sin is rejecting the one who can grant you forgiveness, Jesus.

Homiletic question:

How do we confuse spirits, mistaking evil for good and vice versa?

Ecofeminist Homiletics Angle: Both humans and animals are condemned in the Fall, and both are redeemed. Eve is condemned, but she is no more culpable than Adam. Men, women, and nature all fall, and all are redeemed. Except for Rush Limbaugh. Just kidding. Salvation is offered to him, as well.

Yours in Christ,

David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator

Sermon, John 3:1-17, Trinity
2012-06-02 by David von Schlichten


Sermon on John 3:1-17   

for St. James Evangelical Lutheran Church, Youngstown, PA

with Sunday, June 3, 2012,

Trinity Sunday, Year B,

with the Reverend Dr. David von Schlichten, D.Min., Ph.D.

(word count: 780)


Trinitarian Losing


            Two Christians walk into Eat ‘n Park. During their meal, the soup and salad bar, they get into a debate about the phrase “born again.” In John 3:3, Jesus tells Nicodemus that no one can see the kingdom of God without being born again or born from above. The first Christian, Fred, says, “If you’re going to be a Christian, then you have to be born again, and that means you have to accept Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior.” The second Christian, Ethel, replies, “No, Fred. You’re wrong as usual. Being born again means that you’re baptized.” The two volley back and forth about the true meaning of the phrase “born again,” which is sometimes rendered as “born from above.” “You’re wrong.” “No, you’re wrong.” Fred gets hot in the face. Ethel’s hands are shaking. She is seriously considering throwing her clam chowder into Fred’s face and stomping out. Fred is thinking of doing the same.

            We Christians act that way sometimes, don’t we? We have our issues that we are passionate about, such as gay marriage and abortion. Man, we become so angry. Our pulses speed up. Our stomachs grow jittery. The next thing you know, we want to throw clam chowder in each other’s faces. It’s no wonder atheists sometimes criticize us for our bad behavior.

            We Christians should know better, myself included. We are supposed to be meek, patient, and kind with each other. Not doormats, but loving. Love is to guide all we do. We are to give each other the benefit of the doubt. We are to be slow to anger. Yes, Jesus has moments when he becomes fired up, but, overall, he is gentle and patient. We are to be the same, yet repeatedly we grow hot-blooded in our disagreements, and we end up doing and saying things that are downright nasty and stupid. Then Satan laughs. “Bwahahaha! That’s right,” he says. “Keep yelling at each other, calling each other names, being cruel to each other in the name of Jesus.”

            Part of the problem is that many of us are determined to be the winner of the debate, the winner of the argument. “Ha, well I sure showed him. I showed her.” We like to win, hate to lose. Do you know people like that? They just have to be right, have to win. Like Fred and Ethel.

            What if we were more like the Trinity, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? Think about the Trinity. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Those three are one God, equal, as the Athanasian Creed teaches us, drawing from the Bible. They are not competing with each other. They are not trying to one-up each other. They are not throwing chowder in each other’s faces because of disagreements. No, the Bible makes clear that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, though distinct from each other, are one God, united. They are not identical, but they are one God. They are united in their love for each other and us. The Father does not say, “I am better than you two because I am the Father.” The Son does not say, “I am superior because I died on the cross.” The Holy Spirit does not say, “I am superior because I enable people to believe.” Nope, they are distinct yet one. One God, united in love.

            Imagine if we lived that way, not worrying about winning the argument or beating the other person, but instead focused on loving. Granted, we will disagree, and there are times for debate, even passionate debate. Even then, though, we could debate, not out of desire to beat the other person, but out of a desire to speak the truth in love.

Indeed, sometimes, the wisest, most loving word to say is nothing. There’s an old saying: “Never miss a good opportunity to shut-up.” May God help us, the baptized, know when to speak up and when to shut up and how to do both with love, not our egos, as our motive.

            Ethel is remembering all this as she sits across from Fred. She holds her breath, exhales slowly. She says, “Excuse me, please.” In the restroom, she gets herself to calm down. “I am a Christian. I am not going to throw soup in this man’s face just because we disagree over the phrase ‘born again.’ That’s silly and unchristian.”

            She returns to the table. Fred says, “Face it. I am right and you are wrong about the proper meaning of the phrase ‘born again.’”

            Ethel replies, “I’ll give that some thought. I’ve certainly been wrong before.” Then she heads to the salad bar to get some grapes and bread.

Trinity Sunday; June 3, 2012; John 3:1-17; Ecofeminist Homiletics
2012-06-01 by David von Schlichten

The other day at pericope group, one of my colleagues spoke extensively about the whole "born again" controversy related to John 3:1-17. Is the phrase "born again" or "born from above"? Does being born again (or from above) mean that a person has to accept Jesus Christ as h/his personal Lord and Savior in order to inherit eternal life? Does the phrase "of water and the Spirit" refer to baptism? On and on.

I appreciated my colleague grappling with these issues, but I found myself wondering, "What does this have to do with the Trinity?"

Here's one connection. While we disagree over how to interpret this passage, especially the phrase "born again," we are still one, just as the members of the Trinity are distinct from each other while still one. Of course, those three do not disagree over issues, as far as I know. If the three do disagree, they do not allow that disagreement to divide them. No, the three persons are too busy loving each other and us to let an issue split them up.

Born again. What does it mean? I'm not completely sure. Perhaps it is enough to know that the phrase calls us Christians to a new life in Christ, and central to that new life is loving the way the members of the Trinity love. 

This idea is in accord with my ongoing desire to be an ecofeminist preacher. Ecofeminism calls for us members of creation to focus less on hierarchy and more on heterarchy. We are to worry less about who is better than whom, who is right and who is wrong, and more about embracing the diversity and working together for equality for women, non-human nature and, ultimately, all of us.

What thoughts do you have?

Yours in Christ,

David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator

May 20, 2012, Psalm 1, LGBT
2012-05-14 by David von Schlichten

Psalm 1 essentially says that those who follow God bear good fruit. This teaching recurs throughout Scripture. In other words, our good actions are manifestations, products, of our commitment to God.

When a person condemns members of the LGBT community, I want to note that many of those members bear good fruit. When, in Romans 1, Paul condemns homosexuals, he seems to suggest that there is a connection between rejecting God and living as a homosexual. These people have rejected God, so God has given them over to homosexual passions.

However, Paul's logic is faulty here (as it is elsewhere; Paul was human, after all). A person can be homosexual AND be devoted to the one true God. I have seen countless examples of such devotion. 

(By the way, the term "homosexual" is anachronistic vis-a-vis the first century. The word never appears in the Bible and was not coined until the nineteenth century. Technically, the Bible does not speak of homosexuality in the contemporary sense of a committed, loving relationship between two same-sex people.)

What are your thoughts?

Imitating Christ's prayer for unity,

David von Schlichten, Ecofeminist Christian and Lectionary Blog Moderator

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