Had A Sermon Fall Flat?
2009-09-02 by David Howell

If you are like the rest of us, you have. A speaker at the Festival of Homiletics this year suggested that one of the reasons our sermons sometimes fall flat is that we are answering questions that have not been asked.

So we created...

Pastor, Talk To Me About...

Lay people from across the country studying the lectionary texts each week and then sharing with us what questions pastors should answer, what issues pastors should address, and what people in the pews need to hear from the texts! In your preaching, make sure you are answering questions that are being asked (in the minds of the listeners). 

Of course, another responsibility of the preacher is to raise and address questions that are not in the minds of the listeners. That's why you have the rest of GoodPreacher.com

Be Opened!
2009-09-01 by Stephen Schuette

First, I don’t want to get off on a tangent, but the more I pay attention to James and his phrases, like “law of liberty” and “…mercy triumphs over judgment,” I wonder how some very astute interpreters of scripture missed the grace inherent here.  It seems to me the “works” to which James is drawing attention are themselves acts of grace, lived grace, grace that’s not just between God and me but grace that broadens community as relationships are opened up.  And in that way how beautifully James is linked with the Gospel reading!

There are so many layers to the Mark passage, so many ways in which what seems set is changed, assumptions dislodged, and log jams opened up.  Do you believe the deaf can’t hear and the mute can’t speak?  Do you believe the way to get from Tyre to the Sea of Galilee is a direct route?  Do you believe things done privately and quietly will be held privately and quietly and will be contained?  Do you believe the blessing is only for those within the circle of the blessed?  And maybe most important of all do you believe that teachers only teach and don’t learn?  All these assumptions are blown open, and not just on the initiative of Jesus.  It seems that there is a larger movement here in which all the players are caught, including Jesus himself.

The last time Jesus was in Gentile territory he was asked to leave.  (Mk. 5:17)  Jesus initial response to the woman may then be honoring a boundary, dusting the shoes from his feet, and moving on.  But the Aramaic word Ephphatha, “Be opened!” seems symbolic not only in regard to geographic socio-political borders, but for Jesus himself.

Jesus was known as “Rabbi,” but perhaps this story is about the other side of being a competent teacher - that of being a good student.  Effective teachers are those who are learning themselves, exploring and coming to new understandings.  And Jesus is a good student.  Unlike the disciples, he’s quick on the uptake, turning on a dime at the woman’s response.  And so his faithfulness is not in having all the answers already worked out but in his openness to this larger movement that God has in mind for him.  (How could the church have ever asserted a doctrine of infallibility?)  This presses us not only to the end of this reading to where they are astounded not just by the miracles but by Jesus himself, but on toward (and here are the layers again) the end of the larger story in Mark where another Gentile, the centurion, gives the last and clearest ringing confession, “Truly this man was God’s Son!”  In a larger sense Jesus is the miracle as he opens himself in faithfulness to God’s movement and direction.

"A Desire that Overcomes Obstacles"
2009-08-31 by David Howell

See Alyce M. McKenzie's article on Mark 7:24-37 in Free Samples for this week.

Go to HomePage, Share It!, and then to Free Samples from Lectionary Homiletics or click on the link above.

Dr. McKenzie's article goes nicely with John Killinger's suggestion below.

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Teri Thomas
Northminster Presbyterian Church
Indianapolis, IN

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Preaching on the Health Care Issue (September 6)
2009-08-31 by John Killinger

We preachers have usually sat in the back seat when it comes to national issues and let the politicians do the driving. But health care for the poor is a vital issue that ought to be as high on our agenda is it is on that of Congress and the White House. If we have any responsibility at all beyond that of being pastors to our flocks, it is to be mindful of the poor.

The lectionary Gospel for September 6, which I have suggested ought to be named National Health Care Sunday, is Mark 7:24-30.  What could be more perfect a text for a strong sermon on caring for all of God's little ones?  For Mark, this is a pivotal event, when the Syrophoenician woman pled her case for Jesus to heal her daughter and he refused because she was not a Jew. "Let the children be fed first," he said, "for it is not fair to take the children's food and throw it to the dogs."

Wow!  Is this Jesus, the Compassionate Leader of our faith speaking?  Or was Mark setting him up for the woman's rejoinder?  "Sir," she said, "even the dogs under the table eat the children's crumbs."

In the health care debate, is this like saying, shouldn't the poor of our nation get at least minimal care under the law, even if it isn't as good as members of Congress and other government employees receive?

For Mark, the point is that the woman's argument becomes the fulcrum on which Jesus' future ministry is lifted into a new dimension and he goes to the Gentiles with his hope and healing. A few verses later, he feeds 4000 people in the Decapolis area––Gentile territory––just as a few verses earlier he had fed 5000 people on Jewish soil.

In our national life, this moment is like the epochal moment for Jesus: it can turn us from our selfish preoccupation with our own health care to a new generosity of spirit in which we make sure that those who can't afford what we have receive new assurances of medical assistance when they need it.

As preachers, we don't have to take sides in the debate about what kind of provision to make for the poor.  But we are obligated by our calling, as followers of Christ, to demand help for them from our nation's legislators.

And if we all do it on the same Sunday, and let the legislators know we are doing it, we can have a real impact on the most important piece of legislation they will be dealing with when they return to Washington on September 15.

We may still be in the back seat, but we can at least make our voices heard when we say, "Turn here!"

The Reverend John Killinger, author of The Other Preacher in Lynchburg: My Life Across Town from Jerry Falwell (St. Martin's, 2009) and The Life, Death, and Resurrection of Harry Potter (Mercer Univ. Press, 2009)

Openly Gay Pastors
2009-08-29 by David von Schlichten

My denomination, the ELCA, recently voted to allow openly gay people to be ordained, thanks be to the Holy Spirit. At the Sermon Feedback Cafe I posted the sermon that I will preach to my largely conservative congregation on August 30. Let me know what you think.

Yours in Christ,

David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator

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