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
God's Call To Intimacy_Wrap Up
2009-08-22 by Jack Vanderplate
Saturday "Hot Tub"
August 22, 2009
Saturday. The liturgy is ready and the sermon has been put to bed, more or less. Since the advent of word processors, I have developed what my wife tells me is a very bad habit. I finagle, horse with, tweak, and otherwise spend time obsessing about the details of Sunday morning's message. Sometimes I even make wholesale changes to it. Usually that's a bad decision.
I am open to the Spirit's leading as I am delivering the message, but it has become more important for me to trust that the Spirit has indeed guided me through the month-long process of study and reflection. And to go with it! And relax. Trusting.
My Abba, we have walked together through this blog and all the study, questions, discussions, thinking, reflecting, worrying and soul-searching that was a part of that process. Thank you for making a path through the undergrowth of my narrow thoughts, my prejudices and ignorance. You have opened me to loving you more than ever, without reservations. More. Not yet where we hope that love can go, but more. Thank you, Abba. For everything.
Tomorrow, we're going to try to help our friends at Bethel grow a bit in that same direction. Be present with us as we worship you. Bring us your peace. Make your inviting graces palpable to those who are hesitant. Make your healing graces fresh to those who are hurting. Make your love so obvious that we'll find it hard not to dance with joy.
Speak Abba, please. By liturgy, music and the broken bread, ease our resistances and help us to come closer to you. Help us to experience a fresh taste of your eternal agape in the company of our brothers and sisters. Praise to you Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
God's Call To Inimacy_7
2009-08-21 by Jack Vanderplate
Friday "Hot Tub"
August 21, 2009
Fridays are my Sabbath. I take the day off to rest, refresh, relax, spend extra time with God and my family and my friends. Occasionally though, I'll still read my emails – and in fact I just finished doing that. One of my friends at Bethel has been reading this week's blogs and commented:
"How much do we open up to those we love? Do we really ever open up or love all the way?" He added that he would always have the nagging fear that someone might look down on him for some past offense.
I think he's spot-on. I think that's why we resist allowing God to draw us completely to himself. He knows. He knows it all—every miserable secret we're harboring, and all those little transgressions we didn't even notice. Knowing that he still loves us? On one level we might believe it, but we can't relate. That's not how we love each other.
When a friend withholds part of herself from me, or worse yet distances herself because she remembers some past hurt, I will not freely give myself to her, at least not fully. Even in marriage, where we have the freedom and time and mutual commitment to develop trust over the long haul, we don't manage that complete self-giving. We may come close, even very close. But we don't understand ourselves completely; how can we give ourselves completely to another?
How can God do that? In love that is eternally committed, fierce, relentless, almost embarrassing in its consuming passion, God will not stop making every effort to bring his wounded and broken people to himself – to wholeness. That's what the most famous verse in all the New Testament affirms. And we long to believe it. But we have our resistances.
After all, Jesus is demanding. Every one of us throws up some kind of barrier against his demands at some point. Love an enemy? I'll try. Turn the other cheek? Maybe once more, but then that will be the end of it. Give without expecting a return? Hello, we're in a recession! Lose your life for my sake? I'm not sure how I can do that and survive. Eat my body, drink my blood (even metaphorically)? I'm not sure I want that much of you right now.
My friend, Marc, pointed out an interesting feature in the gospel lesson. (I'm no believer in the daVinci Code, but 6:66 draws my attention!) NIV: "From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him." ASV: "Upon this many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him." RSV: "After this many of his disciples drew back, and no longer went about with him."
The thing that jumps out is "his disciples." They stopped following, stopped walking with him, drew back..." But St. John still calls them "his disciples."
John is on to something that ought to correct the way a lot of evangelism is practiced these days (when it's practiced at all). "We" are on the inside with Jesus, and will help "you" on the outside get in by teaching you some doctrine, or praying a prayer, or some other move designed to make "them" one of "us."
John still includes those who walked away as "his disciples" in all three of the translations I quoted. Jesus can be terribly demanding, and all of us walk at least a little ways away at some point in our Christian life. Does that slow Jesus down? Does that temper his love for us? Not on your life! We're still "his disciples."
Wouldn't our evangelism improve if we reckoned the people around us as part of "us?" How would my neighbor react if I treated him as a fellow traveler trying to follow the Lord? What if I allowed that when he cares enough to call me on one of my crazinesses, he has a word from the Lord I need to hear? What if we could learn to love a bit more deeply and consistently by risking knowing each other instead of knowing each other's theology or lack of it?
There came a time when "his disciples" began to get it, and started following Jesus again. On the road to Emmaus, for example, "his disciples" walked with Jesus but had no idea – until they knew him in the breaking of bread.
When someone is willing to give body and blood for the sake of love, we know. And then there's no holding back. In fact, that's how the church began to multiply after Jesus' resurrection:
Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved (Acts 2:46-47).
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