Spending time with James
2009-08-28 by David Young

This morning, for devotions, I spent some time with the lesson from James 1: 17-27.  I think that it offers some thought-provoking fodder for the preacher to consider.

Verse 17, "Every generous act of giving ... is from above."  I've already spoken to this earlier, but again I would share that it offers us a opportunity to consider our view of who God is ultimately for us.  This verse reminds me of words from "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe" when they are talking about Aslan.  One of the children asks if Aslan is safe.  From what I remember the quote was along the lines of this ... "He is not safe, but he is good."  A sermon could really delve deep into the question of what it means for us if we understand God to be good in all things?  How does this address the theodicy question?  What does this say about our choices, our decisions in relatinoship to God's purposes and God's desires? 

Verse 19, "... let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; for your anger does not produce God's righteousness."  I could see the preacher focusing on these words as wisdom for moments of conflict, but perhaps especially in those congregations dealing with the aftermath of the ELCA policy decisions.  In keeping with John's article regarding Health Care and next week's lectionary offering from Mark, I could see this being preamble for addressing those issues.  There is great wisdom in listening first.  And the question we must always pose is this ... are we willing, ready to listen?  To God, to others, to Scripture, to those with whom we disagree?  To whom DO we listen and why?  All these questions could be helping in shaping a sermon on what it means to listen to the other.

Verses 22-24, "... be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. For if any are heares of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in the mirror; for they look at themselves, and on going waway, immediately forget what they look like."  As I stated in earlier posts, I am not one who wants to place undue emphasis on "doing" except within the context of response to what God has already done.  My preaching professor in seminary always taught us to "make God the subject of active verbs."  I don't know if this was unique to him or if he picked it somewhere, but it certainly stuck with me.  My emphasis is always first on what God does and then our response to it in faith and trust and grace. 

That being said, I do believe that the words from James here suggests that we will forget ourselves without tangible effort on behalf of the other.  I find this really thought-provoking.  We are called to be "doers of the word" not so much to achieve something as to remember something about ourselves.  As we serve those in need, as we offer forgiveness, hope, mercy, and grace in this world, we experience living relationship with God and are therefore reminded of our truest identity.  The latter part of this text - verse 27 - echoes this as well, defining true religion as that which serves.

I always, perhaps to a fault one could argue, express our relationship to God in Christ as "Because ... Therefore", because of what God has done, is doing, and continues to do for us in the work and grace of Christ and the gift of the Spirit, therefore we are called to response and live out of response to the love and grace shared freely and without condition.  This will certainly shape my theolgical spin on any text, particularly one like we have from James today. 

Many blessings friends!


When the Text Starts Talking to You
2009-08-27 by David Young

When do you start writing your sermon for Sunday?  I usually begin the written part of preparation on Thursday.  For a while now I have sought to use this day as the day for me to read, write, and spend time in the Word and with words.  I GREATLY value this day, although it took me a while to recognize the importance of such an activity.  While I did not begin writing a sermon today, God did indeed preach one to me as I reflected on the gospel text during the day. 

I must admit that I am pretty addicted to work.  I've been out a lot lately and last night I came home at 11:45pm.  In fact, I am "off" today helping my wife with stuff, but I still HAD to make a few phone calls to parishoners who had surgery yesterday, I still HAD to send some emails out in my role as Cincinnati Conference president, and I HAD to write for the blog here. 

Of course, I DID NOT have to do any of these things.  But perhaps I merely wanted to honor my Lord with my lips and hold my own personal human precepts as doctrine!  HMMMM!

Rereading the words today I made the realization that they were speaking to me ... not the way that we preachers generally think of this phrase (as fodder for a fabulous homily) ... but the words were speaking TO ME! 

Perhaps all my efforting on behalf of God, doing the business of God has been done this week with some defiled hands?  Maybe what is needed is to just stop writing now and go and help my wife paint. 

See ya!

Peace, Dave

Truth Tellers
2009-08-26 by David Young

I participated in a webinar earlier today about vision and leadership.  One commentator talked about the importance and need for "truth tellers" in our lives.  These truth tellers help us to see the reality around us that we do not often see in ourselves, our congregations, and our ministries. 

Jesus, it seems to me, is a truth teller of every sort.  Of course, our faith understands Jesus to be "the way, the TRUTH, and the life."  His very life and being tells the truth about God's intimate desire for relationship with us. And, throughout his ministry, Jesus seems never to miss an opportunity to tell the truth - to disciple, stranger, and foe alike - about our skewed worldviews that keep us from engaging a deeper, more faithful relationship with God and each other.

In the gospel lesson from Mark, Jesus confronts the Pharisees and scribes (at least some of them) and speaks as a truth teller, challenging their assumptions, challenging their worldview, challenging their religiosity and their unhealthy adherence to the law.  I found it interesting that part of the chapter left out (7:9-13) is actually pretty darn damning, particularly verse 9, "You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition!"  Wow!  While not technically part of the gospel reading, these particular words do add some serious weight to the gospel lesson.  Sharing it with the congregation might be an interesting way for the preacher to make ever clearer the righteous indignation apparent in Jesus' words.

I am sure that hearing these words from Jesus cut the hearers to the bone.  And hearing the truth is not easy for any of us, especially when we are convinced of our own truth.  But, the hearing of the truth does invite us to new conclusions that can, mercifully and graciously, set us on a new path of discipleship for our future. 

Yesterday, colleagues of mine in the Southern Ohio Synod gathered for conversation and reflection on our national assembly decisions regarding our recently adopted ministry policies for recognition of same-gener relationships and the rostering for ministry of those in same-gender relationships.  Expecting the worst, but being pleasantly surprised by the loving, honest, and respectful event it turned out to be, the afternoon was life-giving in many ways.  In particular, one man's words stood out.

He was an older retired pastor I believe.  He spoke of how he and others prayed diligently for the Holy Spirit to guide the work of the assembly.  After the assembly finished he confided that he was greatly disturbed by the outcome.  But then he remembered what he and his friends had been doing beforehand.  They prayed for the work of the Spirit.  He said that while he is inclined to disagree with the decisions, he must now wrestle with the idea that PERHAPS this was God's will!  He stated that while it was not what he thought was right, he had to take seriously that the Holy Spirit acted, just not as he had desired.  It was an incredibly poignant moment for all involved to consider how we ourselves respond to the work of God that conflicts with our own ideas and agendas.

Mark's gospel lesson opens the door, I believe, for preachers to address how we respond to the truth tellers in our midst.  The man above, I believe, was a truth teller.  He was challenging all of us - those who lamented the decisions and those who celebrated them - to take stock in the reality that the truth of God is bigger than us, our choices, and our actions.  Jesus, in the text, is proclaiming that God's will and purpose is bigger than our own interpretations and traditions. 

Mark then expands this into the truth telling that ungodly defilement comes expressly from behavior that reduces and shames the neighbor.  If you look at the litany of those things that defile in verses 21-22, they are almost universally related to relationship with others (i.e. theft, murder, adultery, avarice, deceit, envy, slander, etc.).

The preacher could make a strong statement that righteousness before God is seen most expressly in relationship to neighbor, as a response of loving God.  Of course this jives with other things Jesus says and does throughout the Gospel witness (i.e. Golden rule, Great Commandment, "whatever you do to the least of these you do to me", Feed my Sheep, etc.).  And again, without focusing on our "sins" but instead focusing on the gift of grace that removes the power of Sin, we can offer the hearers the vision of life in community that Jesus portrays and preaches.

Jesus, as truth teller, convicts us.  And Jesus, as truth teller, redeems us.  It is both/and. It is challenge and promise.  It is law and gospel.  And as these live in tension, we will find that the truth indeed sets us free ... free from our bondage to self, free to love and serve God and neighbor in our unique and creative ways. 

Note:  I want to thank Stephen for his very insightful post.  I did not know that word "debarrass", nor the history behind it, but I LOVE IT!  Thanks for sharing that story as it was very life-giving to me today and I am sure to the others here. 

Blessings friends, Dave 

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.

Peace friends,



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