Rally Day
2009-09-11 by David von Schlichten

Our readings for Sunday mention teaching, and this Sunday is Rally Day for us at St. James. I want to preach on teaching, maybe put before my congregation a vision of what to focus on in Sunday school this year. Any suggestions?

Yours in Christ,

David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator

Pastor Talk To Me About...
2009-09-11 by David Howell

Check out what lay folks are telling us at Pastor Talk To Me About...

The Unlikely Jesus

Saving Your Life


A Divine Relationship


"Rewriting Jesus' Job Description"
2009-09-11 by Alyce M. McKenzie

PREACHING THE LESSON from Lectionary Homiletics

Mark 8:27-38

In last week’s “preaching the lesson,” I pointed out that in a story the main character has to have a burning desire, and it is out of that desire that plot grows. We noted that the Syro-Phoenician woman’s desire was for her daughter to be healed (7:24-37). This week we focus on Peter’s confession and Jesus’ corrective teaching (8: 27-38). Peter’s desire is to have control of Jesus’ identity. He wants to be Jesus’ handler.

Every good story needs conflict. Conflict is generated when the desires of the characters do not coincide, but rather, collide. In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus has a burning desire to draw people toward repentance and participation in the kingdom of God (1:15). The disciples desire to hitch their star to Jesus’ wagon, only they don’t understand the wagon. The Pharisees’ chief desire is to get rid of Jesus.

It promises to be quite a plot. What about you? You’re quite a character! What is your desire as you enter this story? Let’s keep that question in mind as we walk through this scene of Peter’s confession and Jesus’ corrective teaching, because when we place our deepest desires in the path of Jesus’ deepest desires, sparks fly. Out of those sparks a sermon comes.

Every text is a sandwich, placed between what went before and what comes after. Before this story of Peter’s confession and teaching by Jesus about discipleship, Jesus has been quite busy. He has cured a deaf man (7:31-37), fed 4,000 people (8:1-10), rebuked his disciples for their lack of spiritual sight (8:14-21) and given sight to a blind man (8:22-26). Right after this text comes the Transfiguration  (9:2-8).

This makes me think that this text, sandwiched between a blind man receiving sight and the Transfiguration, the sign of spiritual sight for all, is an opportunity for us to make a choice to see or not to see in a spiritual sense. It offers us the choice to cling to our familiar, self-centered desire or to exchange our desire for Jesus’ desire,
Mark intends for readers to see in the disciples a cautionary tale, to see, in their thick headedness, where we are headed if we don’t get our desires right. Not only do they repeatedly contest Jesus’ predictions of his death and resurrection, but they also display lack of faith in the two miracle-at-sea stories (4:35-41 and 6:45-52). “But wait,” as the infomercial says, “There’s more!”  They also desert Jesus after dramatically promising that they will risk death rather than deny him (14:29-31).

If I had been a disciple, standing around in this scene, when Peter blurts out the right answer (“You are the Messiah”) before any of the rest of us had the chance, I would have thought, “Well, yeah! We’ve been watching Jesus healing, feeding and teaching for how long now? Who else could he be?” My jealousy would have been short lived though. Because Peter’s about to get put in his place, and with all of us looking on. It’s hard not to feel a little gleeful when the teacher’s pet gets corrected.

Peter was corrected (8:32) because, in answering Jesus’ question, “Who do you say that I am?” he got the job title right. Messiah!  But not the job description. Suffering and service. He takes Jesus by the elbow and pulls him off to the side. Sometimes handlers, agents, publicists, and personal assistants have to take their “Talent” aside and get his or her mind right. It’s interesting that the text specifies that Jesus turned and looked at his disciples before he rebuked his would-be handler (8:33).

He wants us to listen in. This is just one example of Jesus correcting one of his disciples or a group of them. He has to do that a lot in Mark, because in this gospel they don’t learn much of anything. In Mark 8:31-10:34 Jesus predicts his death and resurrection three times. After each prediction, one or more of the disciples objects (8:31; 9:31-32; 10:33-34). In each case, Jesus offers a correction that warns them that their desire needs to be replaced by his. Their desire to gain prestige and luxury must be replaced by willingness to suffer and to embrace loss (Mark 8:34-38). Their desire to lord it over others must give way to a desire to serve those society views as insignificant (9:35-37).

In this correction Jesus identifies Peter’s motives with those of Satan who, in Mark’s terse account, is said to have tempted Jesus in the wilderness (1:13). But let’s not be too rough on Peter. Our desires need correcting too. We want to be Jesus’ handlers, too. We are quite happy to give him the title Messiah, but we want to be the ones to write his job description.

Let’s not be too tough on Peter. Because he was operating out of his religious upbringing, and it had two job descriptions for Messiah, the Hebrew term meaning “anointed,” the Greek for which is Christos. They competed with each other and sometimes overlapped. One was that Messiah would be a descendant of David and would come to restore and vindicate God’s people and then rule over a blessed era of earthly peace. The other was that he would be an otherworldly being who would return at the end of this age to pass judgment on enemies and vindicate the righteous (Son of Man). There was no notion of connecting the Suffering Servant of Isaiah with the Messiah they expected. But this is what Jesus did.

Let’s not be too tough on Peter, just because he was setting his mind on human desires, not on divine desires. Just because he was thinking about himself and how who Jesus was affected him, what he had to lose, what he would be called on to risk. Because we are too.

I have often thought that, if Jesus had preached three point sermons with a poem at the end, he would have lived a lot longer. Whoever finds will lose and vice versa?”  What will it profit you to gain the world and forfeit your life? These paradoxical sayings and impossible questions of his kill me—and are part of what killed him. Because they’re challenging and offensive. What feels like gain to us is actually loss? What initially feels like loss (of ambition, control, and comfort) leads to gain? Our desires for wealth, prestige, control of others and a risk-free life will lead to loss and death? Jesus’ path of self-giving, radical love for God and others leads to life? This is a hard sell and a bitter pill.

But look who’s offering it. Right after this text is the Transfiguration, when we get a clear, though momentary, glimpse of who it is who is asking us to replace our natural desires with God’s. Better get going up that mountain.

Alyce M. McKenzie
Perkins School of Theology
Southern Methodist University
Dallas, TX

Healing and Homosexuality
2009-09-04 by David von Schlichten

My denomination, the ELCA, just approved the ordination of openly gay people. I rejoice over this decision, but some of my parishioners are appalled. Last Sunday I preached for people to agree to disagree. That is, even if a person disapproves of the ELCA decision, she or he can still remain part of the ELCA. After all, we Christians disagree all the time, but God's love through Christ is greater than disagreements over issues such as the ordination of openly gay people.

Yesterday, a parishioner left an angry and hurt phone message in which she lamented that I did not criticize the ELCA's decision. She wondered if I had been brainwashed by my denomination.

I pray that Christ can bring healing to us in the ELCA so that we can all continue to worship together even if we disagree over homosexuality.

I am hoping to address such healing in some manner this Sunday, but I need to be delicate.

Yours in Christ,

David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator

Welcome, Guy Kent!
2009-09-03 by David Howell

Guy Kent is a retired elder of the United Methodist Church serving as a supply pastor for a congregation in Northwest Georgia. He is known in the internet circles as The Questing Parson through his blog at www.questingparson.typepad.com.

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