2009-10-12 by Matthew Flemming
Thank you to everyone who read the blog this week. I hope that our conversation was helpful in your preperation. Perhaps one day I can take the lead of the blog again and walk through the steps I intended to get through this week. That said, it was a joy to wrestle with the topics we engaged this week. I appreciate your wonderful questions. As for me, the good news is, my boys are feeling better and our house no longer resembles an instant care clinic. My thanks to David Howell for providing me the opportunity to blog with you this week and to our excellent moderator, David von Schlichten, for sharing this site with me. Please feel free to e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org if I can ever be of service to your ministry. Serving the servants is the core of my vocation. Until then, I cannot recommend highly enough the wonderful rescources on goodpreacher.com site. It is truly a treasure trove for the preperation of sermons. God bless.
Stephen Schuette at the Cafe
2009-10-10 by David von Schlichten
He has posted a sermon on Mark 10:17-31 entitled, "The Journey." Go to Share It! and then to the cafe to read Stephen's sermon. Respond with feedback.
Stephen, I value how you ground the sermon in specific, timely examples. Further, the sermon's final note, a grace note, which sings God's love, is mellifluous. The sermon would end on an even stronger note if you elaborated on how God shows love for us. Expand that note into a coda.
Overall, excellent job, Stephen. Thank you for your submission.
Share your comments with Stephen, and feel free to post your own sermon.
Yours in Christ,
David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator
Job 23: 1-9, 16-17:
2009-10-09 by Matthew Flemming
Job can be a bear to preach. I don’t know of another book in the Bible that drives preachers to attempts such easy facile answers to enormously complicated questions. The beginning of the narrative casts a picture of God’s realm (“the heavenly court”) that is much more reminiscent of pagan images of God than the rest of the Christian canon. One is reminded of Greek mythology where whims of the gods forever change the lives of women and men. Job’s suffering is born of a seemingly arbitrary and frivolous argument between God and Satan. At the conclusion of the book, Job’s fortunes are blessed twofold by God. However, he does not regain his lost family or livestock. They are forever lost. There certainly must be some vindication and even joy in his new family and animals but I cannot imagine that the wound from losing one’s children would ever heal. Many sermons take time to “other” the Book of Job at this point by pointing out its origins outside of Hebrew literature. But I do not think that this is particularly helpful for the vast majority of sermons on Job.
Job is in the canon which means that Israel, and later the church, concluded that it communicated something truthful about God. Along with many facile sermons, it has produced scores of deeply powerful and transformative sermons. I think that it is imperative that we take its images of God and humanity seriously. To do otherwise is to offer an implicit theodicy. This denies people the full experience of a text that has God has used to reveal truth to people for millennia. Counter testimony about God can be deeply edifying to congregants. Few of us live lives that can fit within the smooth lines of an unambiguous faith.
This week’s text (Job 23: 1-9, 16-17) speaks to a moment of faith that is recognizable to many people. The experience of feeling a “heavy hand” despite ones groaning is all too real for many people. It is also reminiscent of the groaning and crying out of Israel because of their oppression in Egypt. It is both an individual and collective experience in the life of God’s people. The fundamental dynamic at play in this text is the experience of the absence of God ("If I go forward, he is not there; or backward, I cannot perceive him; on the left he hides, and I cannot behold him; I turn to the right, but I cannot see him (23: 8-9)) and Job’s deep desire to find God and make his case (Oh, that I knew where I might find him, that I might come even to his dwelling! I would lay my case before him, and fill my mouth with arguments. (Job 23:3-4)). The combination of both elements paints a profound picture of faith; a continual seeking of God despite the terror of perceiving that God is absence. I think a sermon on this passage needs to tend to that dynamic. Try and think through images and narratives that point to the occurrence of such dedicated seeking of God despite real suffering in the world. I am sure many examples come to mind.
Following the rhetorical arc of the passage will guide the structure of the sermon. Job starts with his groaning and builds through Job’s declaration of his desire to see God. But it is a desire tempered in the reality that Job does not know if he will be able to find God. This enables Job (and creates space for your sermon) to acknowledge how frightening his circumstances are; how terrifying it is to feel God’s absence. As I said in an earlier post, naming that reality is a very important first step in the movement towards providing an alternative scriptural vision that speaks to the difficult place people are in during such times in their lives. The final movement out of the text begins with the acknowledgement that, in the end, Job did not find God; God found him. Although, in some ways, God’s answer was as difficult to comprehend as Job’s question, it contains the root of the response the Bible gives time and again to those that cry out to God: God never abandons God’s people. Although there are times when God seems to withdraw, God always returns to redeem God’s people. This is not a linear answer. Frankly, it raises a lot of additional questions. I highly recommend that you allow people to maintain the tension they feel between the promises of God and their circumstances. Such tension is both honest and important in the growth towards mature faith. But do not minimize the importance for people knowing that God does not abandon people. Of course, if you want your sermon to be more than rhetoric, then the church in which it is delivered must seek to embody what you proclaim. The assertion that the church is the “Body of Christ” is not merely an image in the New Testament; it is a guiding principle for how the church engages the world. Without such a principle we risk making the Word seem like a hypocrite.
Didn't Get the Memo
2009-10-09 by Matthew Flemming
Apparently the Flu and Croup did not get the memo that I was busy blogging in the homiletical Hot tub this week. Maybe they decided to take over my home anyway. I apologize for falling behind my schedule. My two boys (ages 5 and 3) came down with a nasty flu on Tuesday. My eldest developed a case of Croup by Wednesday evening which led to a long and scary night for our family until he was properly diagnosed and medicated. Everyone is on the mend now (he has reaffirmed his status as the bravest person I know) and so I am going to try and catch up. Rather than write long form posts, I am going to provide a few insights into these texts that assist me in proclaiming them. Hopefully by the end of the day we will be caught up.
Thanks from the Softball Pitcher
2009-10-09 by David von Schlichten
First, congratulations to President Obama on winning the Nobel Peace Prize. Thanks be to God!
Next, I am grateful to guest blogger Matthew Flemming for his probing reflection in response to my question. I had asked how God fulfills the promise to give a hundredfold to those of us who have made huge sacrifices to follow him. Many people do without, despite having committed themselves to God. Where is the promised abundance? Scroll down to benefit from Matthew's response.
In addition to Matthew's thoughts, I am thinking that the hundredfold abundance comes from our being part of that gigantic family called the Church. We may have to give up our earthly family to follow Christ, and that sacrifice pierces with pain. What we gain, though, is billions of Christians and intimacy with the heavenly Father.
This Sunday, though, I am going to preach on persistence. The rich man in Mark walks away too soon, gives up too easily. God calls us, and then God calls us to be persistent with him. As we do so, the Spirit reveals to us just how gracious and loving God is. If only the rich man had stuck around to hear Jesus say, "For God, all things are possible."
What will you preach?
Not a Nobel laureate (yet), I am nevertheless
Yours in Christ,
David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator
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