2009-08-26 by Stephen Schuette
The news segment (Couric’s Notebook of 8/24) wondered whether Obama’s use of the phrase “wee-weed up” would enter the lexicon. Among other words invented by Presidents was one that did not make it – Jefferson’s “debarrass.” Pity.
It means the opposite of embarrass. What a beautiful word, akin to biblical visions of “restore,” “make-righteous,” and Paul’s affirmation of no shame (Romans 1:16)! Debarrass.
The discussion with colleagues over these texts, beginning with Deuteronomy and James, centered on what it is that shapes the foundation of a unique identity. As one was corrected by his Father the memory stuck: “Emory’s don’t talk that way.”
But what is it in us that is so prone to take positive, identity-shaping values and begin to use them as weapons against others who do not do what I do? As someone said, “When God hates all the same people you hate, you can be sure you’ve created God in your own image.”
Here’s one way to tell the difference and to recognize when you’ve crossed the line from positive to negative, from building up to tearing down, from your own praise of God to a focus on the defilement/shame/embarrassment of others… When we focus on boundaries we allow our attention to be drawn to what divides and separates and soon our whole identity is shaped in reaction to others. We say, “We are not people who eat with defiled hands.” When we focus on the center we allow our attention to be drawn in toward the core of what we value. It’s no longer about who we “are not” but who we “are.” It could be that this is splitting hairs. Or it could be that this small difference in attitude is something central to what it means to follow Jesus the debarrasser. (David, perhaps there's something relevant here for addressing the homosexuality issue.)
Reflections on Deuteronomy and Psalm 15
2009-08-25 by David Young
Homiletical Hot Tub - Tuesday, August 25
Some of you may be using the following readings this week and so I want to share some thoughts on them as well.
Deuteronomy 4: 1-2, 6-9: Several items jump out to me in regards to this reading. First, I absolutely LOVE the words and possible direction found in vs. 7 ... "For what other great nation has a god so near to it as the LORD our God is whenver we call to him?" I feel that the preacher could really do something with this. What does it mean that our God is so personal? What could it mean that our God is near? It reminds me of Psalm 8:4, "what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?" Ruminating on the intimate relationship between Israel and YHWH is instructive for us as we understanding the intimate relationship we are invited into with Christ through our baptism and experience in community, the eucharist, bible study, service, encouraging one another, etc.
I can see one working with a theme of "Who is God?" by using the three lessons available. Ours is the God who has come near (Deuteronomy), who is working for good (James), and who desires deep and abiding relationship with us (Mark).
I also see that the preacher could do something with the words in vs. 9, " ... make them known to your children and your children's children." As I have come to experience, congregations who put a specific emphasis on children's ministry seem to grow. In fact, a local non-denom in our area has such a vibrant children's ministry building and experience that it actually challenges the Cincinnati Children's Museum in its breadth and vibrancy. Likewise, a former mentor of mine once told me that he has often asked people to consider their grandchildren's faith before immediately dismissing a new mission or ministry idea. He said that if some idea is put it into the context of "this will help your grandchildren have a stronger faith" he would expect it to receive almost 100% support.
All of this speaks to the power of sharing the faith. The preacher could go in a meaningful direction about how and why we share our faith, what it looks like to share the faith, what makes for meaningful sharing of faith, and the importance of doing so.
Psalm 15: Again a reading that works well in tandem with the lessons and could lead the preacher to address morality and right behavior. In particular, I find the words of vs. 5 interesting and thought provoking, " ... do not leand money at interest."
Should I bring this to my bank and mortgage lender and remind them that the interest they are charging me is making them less likely to live on the Lord's holy hill? I think I will! Let's see what happens when I let them know that they are going against the clear teaching of Holy Scripture and they are jeopardizing their future eternal living arrangements. I probably should not hold my breath.
Seriously though, the preacher could take these words from vs. 5 and speak to economic inequalities and/or economic issues of justice (especially for the poor). I have heard it said (although never seen it written so who knows if it is true) that Albert Einstein, when asked what was the most powerful force in the universe, replied, "Compound interest."
With so many people facing or experiencing foreclosure, with the average person around $15,000 dollars in credit card debt, with our economic woes around us, the preacher could take this one verse and build a message concerning these very topical issues.
Good Monday Fellow Preachers!
2009-08-24 by David Young
Homiletical Hot Tub
Monday, August 24
It is an honor to be able to share this week with the community of preachers that gather in the “Hot Tub” (how’s that for a potentially disturbing image J). I’ve found much wisdom dispensed here. I pray that my thoughts, insights, and ideas are helpful to you as they find shape in me through the week.
I will be blogging throughout the week on Proper 17 – Song of Solomon 2: 8-13, Psalm 45: 12-6-9, James 1: 17-27, and Mark 7: 1-8, 14-15, 21-23. A point of interest for this week: I will not be preaching! My wife, a senior seminarian at Trinity Lutheran Seminary in Columbus, OH, will be preaching in my congregation this week. And since she has to prepare a sermon on First Corinthians for her senior endorsement essay, she decided to “kill two birds with one stone” and preach that sermon this week. So, she will not be using any insights I bring this week either. So, my offerings this week are with the sole purpose of being FOR YOU!
I am offering today some initial thoughts on the texts. I will see where the Spirit leads me during the week and may gravitate toward one or two lessons more specifically as we go on. Again, thanks for taking the time to explore my humble offerings and I look forward to your thoughts in response.
Let us pray … Loving God, Gracious Lord, Humble Spirit … I thank you for preachers and those who accept the role of publicly proclaiming the Gospel. As we seek to serve you in our work as preachers, may you grant us wisdom, energy, creativity, and enable us to make the best use of our own voice for preaching. Open our mouths and hearts to your Word, open the hearts and ears of those who hear us, and as you have promised, shape all of our days with your mercy and grace. We ask this in the name of Jesus, our Messiah. Amen.
Song of Solomon 2: 8-13: There is such a richness of language and imagery in this text. The initial image of a bounding gazelle that seeks its beloved is indeed a powerful image of God’s boundless seeking of his own beloved, you and me. In a culture that hears so often “Have you found God?” it is instructive to remind ourselves that it is God who finds us. It is instructive to remind ourselves that God comes to us and encounters our lives with his presence. Our openness to the ways of God is our faithful response to God’s eternally quest for relationship with us.
Likewise, the blossoming and fragrant renewal of life as imaged in verses 11-13 comes to us as a welcome image of how ours is the God who brings new life from death, who shapes new realities of hope from the stormy experiences of our past, current, and future living. I greatly appreciate how the image of a new and ever renewing creation guides us into the welcome embrace of the love of God.
Psalm 45: 1-2, 6-9: This psalm is, as you know, one of the “royal pslams” in scripture. I find the language used to be a bit foreign to my ears and suspect most hearers are the same way. Particularly disconcerting is the emphasis on physical appearance and opulence as signs of God’s favor. In our consumer driven society, this may signal yet again to some that one’s physical attributes and financial strength are signs of a more blessed state of life. Countering this falsehood is central to our Gospel witness.
How might one preach from this psalm? Jennifer L. Lord, in Feasting on the Word, does a nice job of equating the anointing of the King with our own anointing at baptism (Year B, Volume 4, pgs. 12-13). Jesus makes a claim on us in our baptism and our anointing becomes a sign of the sealing of this covenant between God and us. Our baptismal purpose is infused with the “gladness” of knowing and being known by Christ. One may choose to use this aspect of the psalm as a way to remind the hearers of the powerful meaning of baptism and our own “royal priesthood” in Christ.
James 1: 17-27: Martin Luther understood and taught that there was a “canon within the canon”, chiefly a canon which spoke clearly that we are justified by grace apart from works of the law. The letter of James would not have made the “canon within” according to Luther. However, he did say in Luther Works 35: 397 that while he could not “include him among the chief books … I would not thereby prevent anyone from including or extolling him as he pleases, for there are others many good sayings in him.” I find that there are indeed “many good sayings” in this text.
The heart of the text, from my estimation, is the emphasis on God’s goodness and that “every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift is from above” (vs. 17). In a recent book study of The Shack, we had a meaningful conversation about our understanding of God’s intention of relationship. As a group we came to a greater sense that faithfulness understands that God’s intention is always for good in our lives. This speaks then to a gracious recognition that the tragedies and sufferings of our lives are used by God, in God’s goodness, to bring new life and new creation. God is not the cause of our suffering, but the Supreme actor who takes our choices and still brings about God’s own purpose for life and creation.
Additionally, there is a sense in the text that the act of living out of response to God’s goodness leads us toward living into the love of God and neighbor. While my Lutheran theology would not place our salvation on such “doings” it is true that our faith is not fully experienced in our lives without being “doers of the word” (vs. 22). Through service, sharing, and living in regard to others before ourselves, we are welcomed into the eternal truth of God’s kingdom right now, today. The image of one who hears but does not do as one who looks upon themselves in the mirror is an apt call to active faith. One could preach from the perspective of God’s goodness in all things and offer the hearers the opportunity to respond to who God is as a central understanding of faithfulness.
Mark 7: 1-8, 14-15, 21-23: Many will welcome this text after five weeks on John 6, although if you are like me you touched on the Bread of Life discourse several times, but went in other directions as well. Still, moving back into our Year B companion Mark will serve us well this week.
In particular, I appreciate Jesus’ reminder that overt and rigid religiosity can get in the way of living our faith. I remember an unfortunate experience in a former congregation where a child was brought for baptism by his unwed teenage mother. There were some who scoffed at this and made it vocally apparent that they believed the young woman’s “sin” of having sex outside of marriage negated her ability to bring her child to the waters of baptism. Of course, we did the baptism. Still, this situation reminds me to this day that we can often become so caught up in the “law” to the exclusion of grace and mercy.
It seems to me that Jesus is again, as he so often does, challenging us to see with new eyes. His words that “there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile but the things that come out are what defile” (vs. 15) remind us that our words and actions are important and vital to right understanding and living with God. The harsh and unforgiving words expressed by those in the above mentioned story were defiling. While the young woman’s situation was not without fracture to be sure, it is within a state of grace and forgiveness that we sought to bring newness and wholeness to her life and the life of her family and child. I am sure that each of you can recall your own similar experiences.
I feel that it is important for us as preachers to speak not so much about the “sins” we perceive as it is for us to preach about how our God can claim and reshape our “sin” (our human state of brokenness). It has been a practice of mine for many years now to speak not of “sins” but only “sin”. I speak of how “sin” is manifested in our lives (and Jesus shares a litany of these in vss. 21-22). I feel that it is ultimately our “sin” that keeps us from our most holy God, and our “sins” are the expressions of our brokenness. And so undue emphasis on “sins”, I believe, misses the mark and can negate the wholeness and hope that comes from God’s activity in Jesus. God has indeed done something powerful and life-giving in Jesus. The work of “sin” to sway our actions and thoughts remains, yet the power of “sin” has been defeated through the love and work of Christ. Therefore, as we remain in a broken state of faithfulness, sin, we can dare to live into the promise, hope, mercy, and grace of the new life, the new identity we have in Christ made manifest in baptism. The reformers used the Latin phrase “simul Justus et peccator” (at the same time, Saint and sinner) to express this understanding.
I believe that this reading from Mark can be used by the preacher to remind hearers that while religious tenets and doctrines instruct and can give meaning to our faith, it is when the indwelling of Christ shapes our actions and words toward love, grace, and mercy that we are most fully living into the faith God gives and desires. By reminding the heares of this, the preacher will offer the hearers a new way of seeing God, the world, and each other.
2009-08-24 by David Young
Rev. Dr. David N. Young
(Dr. Young is our guest preaching blogger this week.)
2009-08-24 by David von Schlichten
Guest blogger Jack did an outstanding job posting for us last week. He even provided a Saturday post, something that almost no other guest blogger has done. It makes sense to provide a Saturday post given that many preachers work on part or even all of their sermon on Saturday.
Indeed, the sermon writing process generally does not end until after the preacher has finished preaching the sermon during worship.
HOMOSEXUALITY IN THE PULPIT
Yesterday, I finished my seven-part sermon series on a journey through hell and heaven. This coming Sunday I will address the ELCA's recent decision to allow practicing homosexuals to serve as clergy. I welcome this change, but I have parishioners who find it upsetting.
How would you address the issue?
Yours in Christ,
David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator
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