Mark 6:14-29; 7th Sunday after Pentecost, Year B; Sandusky
2012-07-14 by David von Schlichten

Of course, the central victim of this story is poor John the Baptist, but the girl is clearly a victim of dysfunctional triangulation. She has to do this dance for Herod's party, during which (I'm guessing) the men are drunk. Further, she's probably not tap-dancing, if you know what I mean. In any case, even if both party and dance are pure, her mother having the girl receive on a silver platter the head of a prophet is pretty messed-up. That girl is going to need serious therapy.

The story reminds me of how we adults claim to care about children but then we abuse them or use them to do our dirty work (such exploitation is actually another form of abuse). Of course, the Sandusky disaster comes to mind. How can we all work to make sure that the world is truly safer for kids, who, after all, are adults-in-training?

One way is to refuse to put kids in the middle of adult problems. Divorced parents, for instance, should not triangulate the kids. We often try to manipulate children to be on "our side," and the children end up losing the battle, regardless of which "side" wins.

Elizabeth Achtemeier (in a sermon) says that part of making the world safe for our children is making our children safe for the world. One way to do that is to teach children that beheading our critics is not a healthful response. Listening to and learning from our critics is. Granted, our critics may be wrong. If they are, then we pray for them, not kill them.

Ecofeminist homiletics: Patriarchy has a long history of exploiting and abusing women and nature (among others, including, ultimately, men). There would be far less abuse if we could be more receptive to the John the Baptists of the world. Indeed, upon receiving any criticism (both helpful and unhelpful), many of us are quick to cut off heads, and women, children, and nature often end up as collateral damage. What if we responded to criticism with love, not hatred, even if the criticism were given with hatred? 

Yours in Christ,

David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator

Mark 5:21-43, Ecofeminist Homiletics
2012-06-29 by David von Schlichten

Independence Day: Just as Jesus liberates the hemorrhaging woman and the dead girl, so also does Christ call us Americans to be people who strive for liberation/independence for all entities, not just, say, whites, heterosexuals, men, Christians, Americans, or humans.

I am not condoning civil religion. Rather, I am using the idea of Independence Day as a springboard for talking about a greater independence that transcends nation. (At least, that's what I am trying to do.)   

Ecofeminist Homiletics: 

Our gospel shows Jesus liberating two female humans, a woman suffering from twelve years of hemorrhaging and a twelve-year-old girl who has died. Having hemorrhaging would have made the woman unclean and thus an outcast. Jesus brings freedom and life to both figures. The passage illustrates yet again Jesus' compassion for outsiders, including women/girls.

As an aspiring ecofeminist preacher, I find myself thinking about how the non-human world, like women, is often excluded and oppressed and how Jesus liberates it, including through our Spirit-guided efforts.

For instance, during these summer months, we tend to overuse air- conditioning. Granted, we need air-conditioning or some way to keep ourselves cool, but many homes and, especially, business tend to use the air too much. How often have I gone into a restaurant or store and needed a parka? Of course, the store or restaurant employees might reply that they have no control over the temperature or that cold temperatures have to be maintained for some reason. But is that really true, or are we humans too complacent sometimes when it comes to conservation?

We conserve when it's convenient.

All of this concern about air-conditioning may seem trivial and far removed from the Gospel, but it is not. Overusing the air-conditioning wastes natural resources. Such overuse is a kind of hemorrhage that we humans create to extract from nature for our benefit. Such hemorrhaging violates God's creation and also hurts future generations of our fellow humans, especially the poor and underprivileged. And who tend to be among the poor and underprivileged in rather large numbers? Why women and children, of course.

So when we preach on Jesus liberating this woman and girl in Mark 5, we may want to keep in mind other oppressed groups, including the non-human world.

Of course, there are plenty of other oppressed groups, and, indeed, ecofeminist homiletics calls for the liberation of ALL. After all, Christ has come for everyone.

Yours in Christ,

David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator

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.

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