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.
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.
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.
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