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)
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
Ecofeminist Mother's Day Sermon (John 15:9-17)
2012-05-12 by David von Schlichten
Sermon on John 15:9-17
for St. James Evangelical Lutheran Church, Youngstown, PA
with Sunday, May 13, 2012,
6th Sunday of Easter, Year B,
with the Reverend Dr. David von Schlichten
(word count: 657)
Women endure a strange and disturbing paradox here in the United States. On the one hand, we revere at least some women, including mothers. We speak reverently about a mother’s love, and so we should. At its best, maternal love is intimate and powerful. At the same time, while holding women, such as mothers, in such high regard, we often do not treat them well. In the U.S., women are still paid only seventy-seven cents for every dollar a man makes, and many of those women are mothers. If we revere mothers so much, then why don’t we pay them better? In general, in fact, we tend to treat women with disrespect, even while claiming that we respect them. For instance, in the United States, more than three women are murdered by their husbands or boyfriends every single day. You can bet that many of those women are mothers. In fact, abused women frequently receive their first beating when they become pregnant. Yet supposedly we respect mothers.
Now, you might think, “But Pastor, aren’t men also victims of violence?” Sure they are. For instance, in 2001 about fifteen percent of victims of intimate-partner crimes were men. Of course, that means that eighty-five percent of the victims were women. Similarly, men make up about 7-9 % of adult rape victims; women make up the remaining 91-93%. Men are indeed victimized, but women are victimized much more.
Then there are the burdens we frequently place on mothers. We often expect them to work outside the home and take care of all the domestic responsibilities. Men have become more helpful at home, but the bulk of the domestic chores tend to fall on the women. We expect women to be pretty and thin all the time, to be successful at their jobs, and to hold everything together at home.
Today, Mother’s Day, what if we vowed to commit ourselves to showing women, including mothers, real respect? I don’t mean put them on a pedestal. I mean treat them with dignity, respect, and kindness. Jesus tells us in John 15 that urges us to love one another. Essential to loving one another is regarding each other with genuine respect. Loving one another demands not hitting each other, not insulting each others, not belittling or bullying each other, not using sex as a weapon, and not playing head games. Loving one another entails showing everyone solid respect, including mothers. We say we respect them. Let’s truly respect them, just as we should respect all people. Let’s live the Resurrection.
There’s another mother we tend to disrespect and brutalize, and that’s Mother Nature. Actually, we often treat nature the same way we treat women. We say we respect women, but then we beat and belittle them. Likewise, we say that we respect nature, revere it, yet we continue to be wasteful, continue to allow destructive and desecrating practices such as mountaintop removal mining and fracking. BP had its horrible oil leak. We were all appalled, but what really has changed? We claim to revere mothers and Mother Nature, but do we really?
Perhaps you do, and if so, then thanks be to God. Wonderful! Be a model for others. Legions of us, however, are inconsistent in our respect for women, mothers, and Mother Nature. Sometimes we are respectful, sometimes not. How can we be more respectful?
Indeed, may we be more respectful toward all, male and female, human and non-human. After all, Christ has respected us. In John 15, he calls us friends. Friends. Not servants. Calling us friends, even though we are unworthy. Even though we are sinful, Christ still respects us, loves us, dies and rises for us, saves us through baptism, teaches us through Scripture, feeds us his body and blood, forgives us our sins. Amazing! Christ is risen. Christ washes our feet and then says, “Now go, and wash each other’s feet.”
Sermon Thoughts for May 13, 2012 (Mother's Day; Ecofeminism; Gay Marriage)
2012-05-10 by David von Schlichten
Mother's Day: We tend to sentimentalize maternal love on that day, and maybe a little sentimentality isn't bad. At the same time, it is wise for us preachers to acknowledge that motherhood is far from ideal. However, God's love is ideal and always supports us, even when mothers (or any other human) fail us. God also supports the mothers themselves. Moreover, God offers loving care for women who want to be mothers but cannot.
We could even preach about God as Mother. God gives birth to us, teaches us, protects us, breastfeeds us.
Acts 10: Peter is surprised to see that the Gentiles have received the Holy Spirit. The Gentiles, like the Ethiopian eunuch of last week, are outsiders, yet the Holy Spirit comes anyway. What other outsiders does the Holy Spirit come to? How about members of the LGBT community, including those who are married? You bet the Holy Spirit comes to them.
Psalm 98: Even nature is to praise God. Why? Because salvation is for ALL creation, not just humanity. Everyone is included. So then, if God cares for non-human nature, then we should, as well.
John 15: We humans tend to love hierarchies, loving ranking people, yet Jesus softens a hierarchy by calling us, the disciples, not "servants," but "friends." Indeed, the vine image also softens hierarchy. Of course, the Father and Jesus are "higher" (vine grower and vine), but all Christians are branches (equally). And again, Jesus softens the hierarchy between God and humanity by calling us friends.
ECOFEMINISM: We revere mothers but still often treat women as inferior to men. We revere Mother Nature but still often exploit and desecrate her through drilling, fracking, mountaintop removal mining, and more. Jesus calls us to love one another, and loving one another demands, not this inconsistent reverence, but consistently treating mothers and nature--indeed, all--with true, durable, consequential love.
Yours in Christ,
David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator
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