2010-01-27 by Stephen Schuette

One recurrent theme in the readings has to do with maturity.  Jeremiah claims he is only a “boy.”  But God is expecting mature things of him:  to speak without fear and to be public in his proclamations, even to the point of addressing “kingdoms.”

Paul confesses that when he was a child he also functioned in every way as a child.  But then he put an end to childish ways.  And what a sense of maturity it takes to love in the way that Paul suggests!  The key to hearing this passage, I think, is to get over the wedding setting where the blessing of being loved is central.  Sure, this is about God’s abundant, gracious agape love for us.  But it’s a gift that carries a weight of adult responsibility with it:  not to receive and let it be but to move outward toward the other with one’s love, to live into this kind of love with the conviction that it endures, even though that’s not always the way it appears.  When love gets hard that’s where the mettle of love is proved.  And as we’ve tried God’s love for us, so we are to show such patient maturity in our love for one another.  That’s, in fact, what it would mean if we forgave our debtors as God has forgiven our debts (or trespasses, or sins).

Then we come to Luke where questions of both public ministry and maturity come into focus.  Is it a surprise that a life-journey that leads to a cross should also begin with confrontation?  This story flows out of the temptations that precede it, only here the temptation remains implicit even though it is powerfully present.  It’s the temptation that afflicts every one with a degree of immaturity, the temptation to be affirmed, to get one’s sense of self supported by the accolades of others, to fulfill their expectations and receive the accompanying pats on the back.  From the outside it might seem as if Jesus is just being intentionally and even unnecessarily provocative.  But I think he’s beating back a “devil” that tempts every one.  The adults with whom he grew up in the synagogue want him to still be their “boy” by now being their friend in high places.  It’s a path that leads only backwards, both for Jesus and them and Jesus will have none of it.  He is not dependent on their affirmations for his sense of self.

There’s an old book by Sheldon B. Kopp entitled, If You Meet the Buddha on the Road, Kill Him.  While the focus of that book is purely about psychological development and Jesus’ movement is much larger the dynamics are similar.  But even the image suggested in the title fits.  The way ahead on the road can be blocked.  It will take courage and an avoidance of immature dependency to follow Jesus “…on his way.”

Post-Sermon Reflection
2010-01-24 by David von Schlichten

The sermon today stressed unity. At our congregation we have much unity, but we also have some division. For instance, we have a bit of a problem with cliques that tend to exclude people, usually inadvertently. I preached about all this, concluding with a celebration of how Christ makes us one and continues to strengthen us to live according to the unity that he has created in us.

I did receive positive comments about the sermon, including one parishioner agreeing that we do have some clique-ishness.

On another note, five minutes before worship a couple told me that they are leaving our congregation but would not give a clear reason why. They did not appear to be angry, but they were resolute. Heartbreaking. What did the congregation/I do wrong, if anything?

Yours in Christ,

David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator

Drawn to Luke
2010-01-22 by Scott D. Hill

I have been planning on preaching on 1 Cor. 12, but the Luke 4 passage keeps drawing me in – partly because of some excellent resources right here. I have to admit I never read James Howell’s preaching journal before; I really recommend it! His most recent entry, on funerals and the pastor’s “agility” is very touching and evocative for me.

See also Michael Barram's Exegesis article. I was struck by his description of this as a story about "what occurred when the presence of the Spirit in Jesus arrived in Jesus' hometown." And I always like this passage for its confirmation went to "church"! And who doesn't have an image of preaching in the church where you grew up?

            I have a hard time staying within the pericope. I keep thinking about the fact that they wanted to kill him before the scene is over! What does that say about us? What in us makes us want to resist these words when they go from being about 2000 years ago to being about how the Spirit still wants to come in to the world? I am reminded of the Barbara Brown Taylor story of being at a retreat and asked to think about who represented Christ in their lives. Another woman said “I had to think…’Who is it that told me the truth about myself so clearly that I wanted to kill him for it?’”

            Or are we like those (presumably the same people) in verse 22, who “all spoke well of him”? I have lampooned them in a sermon as a couple of Monty Pythonesque characters cooing, “That’s our boy!” “He did such a nice job!” “Such a lovely voice!” oblivious to the radical nature of the message. I have long believed that the fact they all thought well of him and his “gracious words” is the clue to us that they didn’t get it! For confirmation, see Luke 6:26: “Woe to you when all speak well of you…”

Scott Hill, "Lectionary Homiletics" Highlight
2010-01-20 by David von Schlichten

Scott Hill, our guest blogger, has pointed out the wealth in our texts, and Stephen Schuette has offered helpful insights, as usual. Scroll down, jump in, soak it all up.

"A Sermon: 'A Word from the Lord'"

Beth Lyon proclaims that many sermons are safe and easily ignored, but a word from the Lord is dangerous and must be paid attention to. Jesus proclaims the word of the Lord in Nazareth in Luke 4, just as Ezra proclaims the word of the Lord in the first reading.


I am thinking of comparing the congregation in Nehemiah, which is unified in its hearing of the Law, and the congregation in Corinth, which is divided (that's why Paul's trying to unite them with this body conceit). I don't know what else I'm doing, but it's only Wednesday.

Yours in Christ,

David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator

Clarifying Oppression and Joy
2010-01-19 by Stephen Schuette

The Luke text begins with words that affirm continuity:  “Brought up,” I understand, might also mean “nourished” or “fed.”  There were “customs” in the synagogue.  Isn’t that what many go to worship for?  We want God to be a God of continuity for us.  We want a liturgy that doesn’t stray from the familiar.  We want something “nice” and comforting – warm milk.  Maybe the synagogue itself has become comfortable in its waiting, their prayer something like, “Come Messiah, but not now.  We’ve grown accustomed to things as they are.  So allow us to linger with what is since it took such effort for us to accommodate to it all.  Let it be.…”

The words Jesus reads stand in marked contrast to this continuity, this status quo, this settledness.  The immediacy of his proclamation is lost to his hearers.  They had so domesticated their faith that they didn’t even realize what he is saying.  Jesus invites an awareness of what is now, what is present, what is already taking place among them.

It means everyday is resurrection day.  Everyday we are invited to open our eyes to the new reality of God’s presence.  Everyday is filled with moments to see God’s fulfillment breaking in.  The old order is fading away.  New possibility is all around us.  For me it means every day a conversion to this different way of thinking since I unconsciously slip back and need to be reawakened.

What does it mean spiritually?  There are many dimensions to this since oppression has many dimensions – both the oppression we might participate in and the oppression that affects us.  One aspect of it is that we can hold ourselves less anxiously.  It might mean we are free from being defined by accomplishment in career terms.  It might mean we are free from holding our possessions possessively (apparently a characteristic prominent in the early church in Acts).  It might mean that by carrying ourselves both more gently and more openly we are able to be more responsive and present to others in the moment.  It might mean trusting the presence and promise of God in ways that before I might have seen as foolhardy or even irresponsible but is rooted in the call and mission of God.

The end of the Nehemiah passage and the Luke passage (at least the shortened version that ends with vs. 21) contain the words “joy” and “fulfillment.”  Could it be that the things with which we are most comfortable and to which we are adjusted are precisely those areas of unrelieved oppression and the change which we fear or carry anxiety about is our true source of joy and fulfillment?

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