Fiery Snakes and Numbers 21:4-9
2012-03-15 by David von Schlichten

Yes, the snakes come from God in this passage, but they really come from the Israelites' sin. What snakes do we bring upon ourselves, and how does God save us from them?

There are the obvious snakes, such as alcoholism, drug abuse, and material greed. What are some others?

The Israelites are complaining against God. I don't think the passage is saying that complaining against God is necessarily bad. After all, elsewhere Moses himself complains to God (is "to"God different from "against" God?) and does not get afflicted with snakes. Perhaps, though, the passage is warning that complaining against God can turn into snakes, such as when we give up on God.

I am unwilling to preach that God sends snakes to punish us. The death and resurrection of Christ is the cosmic game-changer that frees us from such punishments. However, I am willing to preach that we transmogrify our sins, including our excessive and disrespectful complaining, into that which injects venom into us. Unchristian complaining can be lethal.

Thanks be to God that Christ metamorphoses our sin into salvation through being lifted up on the cross.

Yours in Christ,

David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator





Sermon Thoughts for March 11, 2012
2012-03-05 by David von Schlichten

Exodus 20: What are some idols beyond the usual? For instance, when is family an idol? When is our health an idol?

Why is it OK for God to be jealous, but not us? Is God's jealousy different from ours? Does God exhibit righteous jealousy?

What do we often misunderstand about the Ten Commandments? It seems to me that we often think of the Ten Commandments reductively. Here are these ten rules. I need to follow them or else. Period. What are your thoughts?

1 Corinthians 1:18-25: What are ways that we experience cross-wisdom, which looks like foolishness, in everyday activities? 

John 2:13-22: Does this passage about Jesus cleansing the Temple imply that violence can be an acceptable method of problem-solving? As a pacifist, I hope not. What do you think?

Yours in Christ,

David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator





Sermon for 1 Lent, Year B, February 26, 2012, Genesis 9:8-17
2012-02-25 by David von Schlichten

 

Sermon on Genesis 9:8-17

for St. James Evangelical Lutheran Church,

Youngstown, PA

with Sunday, February 26, 2012,

First Sunday in Lent, Year B,

with the Reverend Dr. David von Schlichten

(word count: 845)

 

Part One:

G

 

            Our Sunday sermon series for Lent will be based on the word “green.” Today we will feature a word that begins with “G,” the first letter in the word “green.” On Ash Wednesday, I asked you to suggest G-words. Many of you complied, and I have chosen one of the words you suggested to be the key word for this first Sunday in Lent. I’ll share that word with you shortly.

            We love rainbows, don’t we? [Sing a couple movie rainbow songs.] When a rainbow appears, our spirits rise. We look out our windows. We stop what we’re doing. We know what causes rainbows, but they still seem like magic.

            Our first reading, Genesis 9:8-17, explains the origin of the rainbow. The passage teaches that, after the great flood, God promises never to destroy the world by flood again. God resolves to place the rainbow in the sky as a sign of this promise. In verses fourteen and fifteen, God announces, “‘When I bring the clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant . . . and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh.’” In verse sixteen, God says again that, upon seeing the bow in the sky, God will remember the covenant, the promise not to destroy the world by flood.

People tend to think that the rainbow is God’s reminder to us of the promise not to destroy the world by flood, but the Bible actually says that the rainbow is a reminder to God not to destroy the world by flood? The rainbow is a reminder to God. Isn’t that strange? God never forgets anything. Why would God need a reminder?

            One writer online suggests that the rainbow functions like a wedding ring for God. Listen to this. I wear a wedding ring. I don’t need a wedding ring to remind me that I’m married. It’s not like I forget that I am married and then look down at the ring and say, “Oh, that’s right. I have a wife.” No, the wedding ring is a symbol of the wedding. It represents Kim’s and my promise to each other. Perhaps the rainbow functions the same way. Like the wedding ring, the rainbow is a symbol of God’s commitment to us.

            And this symbol of God’s commitment to us is something that we are to respond to with—and here’s our G-word—gratitude. The rainbow reminds us that God promises not to destroy the world by flood. God shows us grace, and we are to respond with gratitude. When we see the seven-colored bow, we say, “Thank you, God, for your amazing grace. We are full of gratitude over your display of mercy. Thank you.” Gratitude.

            Indeed, we are always to express gratitude, for God without pausing shows us love, mercy—grace. Gratitude is in the foreground of my thinking at the beginning of Lent. You see, during Lent we focus on repenting of our sins and then expressing gratitude over God forgiving us. During Lent, we focus on the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, for which we have endless gratitude. After all, it is through Christ’s victorious sacrifice that we have eternal life, even though we are unworthy of such gifts. Throughout these forty days, let us adopt as a Lenten discipline extra attention to showing God our gratitude for God saving us and forgiving us, baptizing us, teaching us, and feeding us Holy Communion. Think of all the ways God cares for us. Thank you, God. Gratitude!

            I am full of gratitude for the many miraculous, astonishing ways God uses us in the Church to do gracious deeds. For instance, yesterday, you, the people of Saint James, held a breakfast benefit for a person in need who is not even a member here. God used you to raise over $2000 dollars to help a man in need of a kidney. God used you to do an act of grace. For that I am full of gratitude.

            Part of being full of gratitude is continuously striving to love God and neighbor. There are many ways to show that love. One way is by caring for the planet. This Friday, the movie The Lorax will be released in theaters. That story urges us to take care of nature, and taking care of nature is indeed one way we show our gratitude to God for the love God shows us. This Lent, what can you and I do to help care for the planet as part of showing God our gratitude? Cut back on our food waste? Shorten our showers by five minutes? Reduce the amount of driving we do by ten percent? Be better about turning off lights and the TV when we are not using them? What can we do for the planet to show our gratitude to God?

            God’s bow reminds us of God’s amazing grace. I see the rainbow now, and it leads us to the cross. For that we have the greatest gratitude. That's something to sing about.






Sermon Thoughts for February 26, 2012, 1st Sunday in Lent, Year B
2012-02-20 by David von Schlichten

Genesis 9:8-17: I like pointing out to people that God hangs the bow in the sky to remind GODSELF never to destroy the world by flood again. What does it mean that this text shows God needing a reminder?

The passage also teaches about mercy, second chances, forgiveness, important themes for Lent.

1 Peter 3:18-22: Christ descends into the world of the dead to liberate the people there. In other words, not even death or Hell can separate us  from the love of God in Christ.

If Christ descended into the dead to save people, then perhaps Christ will do it again. Maybe repeatedly Christ descends into hell to liberate people. Hmmmm.

Mark 1:9-15: Christ's showdown in the wilderness against Satan. Mark tells us so little about it. I wonder why. What is Mark trying to teach us about the story that he says so little about?

LENT: How do we guide people in the early days of Lent? Maybe one way is to challenge them to consider disciplines that do not shed pounds but strengthen and focus the soul.

I think I'm going on a pilgrimage in Lent. I'm going to pick a place of spiritual significance, figure out how far away it is, and then walk that distance during my workouts in Lent. How about you?

Please email me with your thoughts at drdlphn@yahoo.com.

Yours in Christ,

David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator





Sermon on 2 Kings 2:1-12, Transfiguration
2012-02-18 by David von Schlichten

 

Sermon on 2 Kings 2:1-12

for St. James Evangelical Lutheran Church,

Youngstown, PA

with Sunday, February 19, 2012,

Transfiguration Sunday,

with the Reverend Dr. David von Schlichten

(word count: 857)

 

Through the Way of It God Transfigures Us

 

            A movie that my mother loved and that is a favorite in our family is A Muppet Christmas Carol, which is a Muppet-version of Charles Dickens’s story of Ebenezer Scrooge’s night of epiphany. My favorite line from that movie comes when Bob Cratchit, played by Kermit, is trying to console his family regarding the death of Tiny Tim. Bob says to his family, “Life is full of meetings and partings. That is the way of it.” Bob is trying to convince his wife, children, and, most of all, himself, to accept the fact that, in every relationship, sooner or later, we have to say good-bye. Granted, we will be reunited in heaven, thanks be to Christ, and there is boundless comfort in that good news. Nevertheless, eventually, everyone you know and I know will die.

            We will underline that point on Wednesday, won’t we? One of the central messages of Ash Wednesday is that we are dust and to dust we shall return. That is, each of us is mortal. We all shall die. That’s the way of it. Thanks be to God that Christ has died and risen so that we shall live in heaven for eternity, even though we are unworthy and can never earn our way to heaven. One day, we will be with our loved ones in heaven, where we will never need to say good-bye again. Through the death and resurrection, Christ transfigures us free from good-bye.

            Nevertheless, the pain of good-bye can puncture us like nails and thorns. Yes, we are thankful for heaven, but the departure of a loved one, especially through death, hurts the heart.

            Just ask Elisha. In our first reading, 2 Kings 2:1-12, the prophet Elisha knows that his cherished mentor and friend Elijah is about to leave, and Elisha is not happy about it. He and Elijah have been close. He has learned much from Elijah, and now Elijah is leaving for good. People keep asking Elisha, “Do you know that today your master is leaving you,” and Elisha keeps replying, “I don’t want to talk about it.” By the way, generally it is healthful psychologically to talk about what’s bothering you and not keep your pain inside, so I wouldn’t recommend modeling Elisha’s behavior in this instance. At any rate, Elisha is upset, because he knows that Elijah will soon leave. Sure enough, a whirlwind carries Elijah to heaven. Can you imagine? Yes, it’s great that Elijah’s going to heaven, but what a terrifying exit. It’s no wonder that Elisha tears his garments in grief and cries out. So it is for many of us when we someone we love dies. What a loss. We tear our hearts in grief.

            Sometimes we struggle to know how to go on. How will my life go on now that he is gone, now that she is gone? My life will be so different. How will I manage? Overwhelming.

            We ask that question about the Church, don’t we? We notice that our members are getting older, and we wonder what the future of the Church will be. “How will this younger generation manage?” “What will happen when so-and-so is gone? Who will do the work?”

            Our reading from 2 Kings points to an answer. In the passage, even though Elijah is gone, God’s work continues. Elisha does not say, “Well, Elijah’s gone. We might as we shut everything down. No point in trying to serve God anymore. Close the doors. Board up the windows. Elijah’s gone. These kids today won’t get the job done, so we might as well quit.”  No, Elisha, even though he is wailing with grief, continues where Elijah left off. 2 Kings tells us that Elisha picks up Elijah’s mantle and takes over Elijah’s job, full of God’s power. Elijah is gone, but his legacy lives through Elisha, thanks be to God’s power.

            Such has been the case for the Church for two millennia. The Church goes through crisis and division, good times and terrible times, but always keeps on going, thanks be to the Holy Spirit. God’s light persists in shining. We have seen that pattern at St. James. For 212 years, through fires, splits, bitter arguments, financial struggle, and twenty-five pastors, St. James has continued to proclaim the Good News through words and actions. We have continued to be part of the Church, which the Book of Concord defines as the assembly of saints where the Gospel is taught purely and the sacraments are administered rightly. God’s light persists in shining.

            Elisha grieves, but he also continues Elijah’s work. Likewise, we may grieve the loss of people we love, but we continue their work. We continue their work, because God enables us to do so. God empowers us to do so, transfigures us to do so. Through the Bible, Christ transfigures us. Through baptism and holy communion, Christ transfigures us. Through forgiveness and Sunday worship, Christ transfigures us. Through worship and one another, Christ transfigures us. Even when we grieve, Christ shines on us and transfigures us to continue the work, to be like him. That is the way of it. Alleluia!






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