God's Call To Intimacy 2
2009-08-17 by Jack Vanderplate

Towards Aug 23, 2009; 12th Sunday in Pentecost - Proper 16

 

Monday "Hot Tub" August 17, 2009  

In "Preaching The Lesson," Mary Hudson says "Many of us would rather be handed a set of rules to be followed in order to be healthy, wealthy, and wise.  Give us ten bullet points on a screen rather than force us to look into the face of our neighbor.  A life-long journey together with the source of life itself seems so uncertain and ambiguous, so open-ended."  

The cornerstone of our faith sounds wonderful and is easy to remember: "Love God, love your neighbor."  But learning how to love a transcendent and powerful God is a fearful thing, and growing to love the needy neighbor who expects everything and is grateful for little can be an overwhelming challenge.  No wonder so many people cut their search for God short and settle for the ten bullet points on a screen – or ten commands on a tablet – or ten easy ways to improve one's self.  The journey of love is without a roadmap. 

I marvel at the devices in our cars that recognize where we're going and tell us when we're off-track.  "Make a legal U-turn and return to route 20...make a right onto route 20...continue straight ahead for 7.3 miles..."  Wouldn't it be something to have a divine voice telling us just when to turn in life, or when to go straight, when to turn off the engine?  

I have friends who read the Bible that way.  They're convinced there is a biblical "answer" to every challenge life brings our way.  I sometimes envy them their well-mapped and marked journey of life, but my experience with hard questions requires wrestling with God, struggling with gray areas, growing in the power to discern what is good.  I just do not find the Christian walk clear and obvious.  And honestly, I'm actually happy about that.  

I don't want a religion.  I want to love God.  At least most of the time.  I want to love my neighbor.  At least sometimes.  I recognize that desire as something God-given, and very precious.  I try to respond with heart, soul, mind and strength.  But there are those unmarked, poorly-lit places on the journey where I'm very fearful.  Is grace really sufficient for the need?  

Years ago Christian Counselor Larry Crabb did a series of devotions at a conference I attended.  Larry gave us a fascinating look at the issues Adam and Eve faced after eating the forbidden fruit.  I hope Larry will forgive me, I can't remember all the wonderful details of his presentation after these many years, but here's the gist of what he said (or what I remember!)...  

Adam had the experience of being alone.  How long he lived by himself is an open question.  But he knew loneliness.  He was God's unblemished child, and they walked together in the cool of the garden, but somehow he was restless - it was not enough.  God saw his incompleteness and created Eve.  Adam could hardly restrain himself!  Immediately he began speaking poetic love language: "This is my own flesh and blood – bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh."  He likely sang the words, and danced.  

But then, Crabb pointed out, Adam's love faced a horrible dilemma.  His lovely bride took some of the forbidden fruit and ate it.  Everything changed.  Adam now faced a fearful question: should he not eat the forbidden fruit and remain in the treasured relationship to God he had always known?  Or should he cast his lot with Eve whom he now loved intensely?  

Adam knew God's goodness.  His question was whether or not God, who was good, who provided for their every need, who had given him the wife he loved so deeply...  whether or not God was good enough.  He wasn't sure.  He didn't know.  So he ate.  

Loving God is not easy.  But we have come to know and believe, in the continuous outpouring of love and concern for his people, that loving God is what we were made for.

"Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life."

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God's Call To Intimacy
2009-08-16 by Jack Vanderplate

Introduction – Bio 

I'm Jack VanderPlate, pastor of Bethel Church in Zeeland MI.  I love being a Christian and a grandparent.  I play piano, organ, violin and trumpet – mostly classical and jazz.  I'm an avid tennis player, runner and stock market investor.  I also enjoy golf and fishing. 

I'm from the Reformed tradition (Calvinist), but very much appreciate the way other traditions enlarge and illuminate the themes of the faith.  These are too big to live under any one roof!  Maybe that's why I enjoy the "Festival of Homiletics" so much.  So I was excited when GoodPreacher.com invited me to do this week's "Hot Tub" blog.  I really do love hot tubs - but even more, the cross-pollination of ideas through collegial interaction around the lectionary texts.  I hope you enjoy this week's exchange too! 

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Towards Aug 23, 2009; 12th Sunday in Pentecost / Proper 16
"Hot Tub" August 16, 2009 The Revised Common Lectionary lists these texts for the coming Lord's Day:          

OT – 1 Kings 8:(1,6,10-11),22-30, 41-43         

Psalm 84         

NT  -  Ephesians 6:10-20         

Gospel – John 6:56-69 

I have grown to love preaching from the lectionary.  One of the benefits is having the same texts to bat back and forth with ministry colleagues.  Marc Nelesen, one of my very good friends, shared several wonderful ideas with me as we walked together through these texts.  I will try to remember who thought of what as the week rolls on so I can give proper credit. 

Another benefit of preaching from the lectionary is discovering the themes that tie the readings together.  Very often—possibly because the editors of the lectionary intended it—all the texts conspire together to illuminate one or more themes of our faith.  As I read through this week's texts for the first time, it almost literally jumped out at me in each of the texts:  "God's Patient Call To Intimacy."  No doubt there are lots of other themes, and lots of other ways to mine these texts.  But for me – God calling us to intimate relationship with himself is a compelling and, I believe, a timely invitation from these lections.  As we probe this call to intimacy, we'll see that it's not only not easy, it's downright scary, and we usually avoid it. 

Here's the broad outlines of that theme in the readings as I see them.  I am sharing these right up front so we can begin thinking, imagining and plotting together.  The theme runs through each of the readings, but I will be looking most closely and consistently at the gospel reading from St. John.   

It may be that you are not impressed by the theme I see in the texts.  Fair warning:  that's where we're headed this week! 

In 1 Kings 8, King Solomon has completed the temple his father, David, had wanted to build for Yahweh.  He has gathered the priests and the people together for a magnificent festival of dedication.  The lectionary suggests vv22-30, 41-43 which is a large part of Solomon's prayer of dedication.   

His prayer is rich – but one element of his prayer is, "But will God really dwell on earth?  The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you.  How much less this temple I have built!" (:27 NIV).  Solomon worships a transcendent God.  After thanking Yahweh for keeping the promises he had given to David, he goes on to ask for a constant divine listening ear for himself and, remarkably, for foreigners who travel to the temple because they have heard of Yahweh's reputation (41-43). 

There are other noteworthy elements of the prayer.  Solomon is bold in his request, but not with the intimate kind of boldness with which New Testament believers come to their Abba.  He tries not to brag too much about the magnificent house he has built.  But there's an undertone of "Look, I've really done something great for you.  Now how about making sure this house gets the fame and attention due."  Solomon is inclusive, but only to a point.  The family of nations will not find unity in Yahweh under the aegis of the temple - Solomon tells Yahweh what he should do for his people in time of war.   

Grace shines.  Even before Solomon began praying, the shekinah glory of Yahweh filled the temple – signaling that yes indeed, God would come near.  He would hear.  He would be present with his people. 

Psalm 84 is a beautiful celebration of the beauty and hominess of Yahweh's sanctuary.  In v2, the song isn't quite clear whether the longing is for "the courts of the Lord," or for Yahweh himself – likely they are meant to be synonymous parallelism.  While sparrows and swallows feel right at home - free to build nests in every nook and cranny, the Psalm actually expresses a more timid hope.  Maybe, perhaps for just one day I might be a doorkeeper.  Yahweh gives favor and honor, he withholds no good thing.  But there is something missing here too.  There is awe and worship, but not intimacy with the God who created the worlds and has yet bent down to meet his people in the sanctuary. 

The gospel lesson from John 6 is packed to the brim.  But how poignant – the flagging state of Jesus security among his friends as many of his disciples are offended, get up and go.  They leave him, and it hurts.  He asks his disciples "You don't want to leave too, do you?"  There is thick pathos in that question.  And behind that is our Lord's desire that "they may be one as we are one."  We'll be concentrating our thoughts on this text this week. 

The lesson from Ephesians is perhaps the toughest "fit" into the theme I see in all these readings.  St. Paul is urging his friends to stand firm because they are doing spiritual battle with powers and principalities.  The "armor of God" brings to mind images of war and crusades – something Christians need to be very careful with.  But while the armor is well-known (that of the Roman soldier), the panoply is described in terms of Christian virtues that are meant to turn enemies into friends!  "Flesh and blood" is not the enemy!  The "foreigner" Solomon prayed about is destined to be welcomed with Christian love.  Truth spoken in love – the good news bringing peace – faith hoping and believing all things – life lived to the full – and prayer that holding each other up in care and love...  this armor speaks of intimate friendship among those who stand together, firm in the Lord. 

A lot of words...  way too many words, I'm afraid.  But there's the outline of this week's journey through the texts:  "God's patient call to intimacy." 





1 Kings 2:10-12; 3:3-14 Exegetical Reflections
2009-08-14 by David Banks

As we encounter this reading, vv.10-12 indicate the presence and foundation of a structure that Solomon inherited upon David’s death.  Over the course of 40 years it could be expected that the people were used to David’s pattern.  We can also understand that over 40 years there would be issues that needed addressing and loose ends to tie up.  The casual reader may then miss the history of Bathsheba, Uriah and Solomon’s brothers.

Moving onto chapter 3, we are made aware of a particular practice of Solomon’s;  his connection to “high places”  it turns out later that this connection led to less than pious practices by his wives as they offered sacrifices to foreign gods.  We also encounter a “Pious” Solomon, when the truth of the matter is Solomon ends up about as pious as his father.  Both had their issues, both struggled with being absolutely faithful, but like all of us, who we are and who we would like to be, don’t always match up.

When God appears to Solomon at Gibeon, a high place, in a dream, it can be argued that it like that of Samuel, it is because of the high, holy place, we also need to keep in mind that Jacob’s encounter, for example, happened when it happened, and not because of the location necessarily. What is probably being communicated, in line with the previous passages, is that this encounter is because of the zealousness and piety that is exemplified by Solomon.

The prayer that follows the encounter is the prayer of a humble, open-minded, ready-to-be-shaped, and “eager-to-be-pious-like-my-dad”, young man.  Solomon points out David’s strengths and the glue that he thought kept his father connected to God.  He sees himself as a blessing to his dad, the only son that did not meet an early demise.  Solomon understands that he has a role and business in the lives of God’s people.  Further, while he knew that there were strategic maneuvers that he had to undertake as he ascended onto the throne of his father, he also understood that future maneuvers would be without his father’s guidance.  “I am only a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in.”  Solomon knew he needed help.  “Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil,” this a request that would align his life to God’s will, and would set an example for Judeo-Christians from that point on.  Moreover, Solomon acknowledges the significance and identity of the people whom he will lead and rule; God’s chosen people.  Here we find arguably the first instance of a new leader asking for divine guidance and wisdom in ruling.

The reaction from his request brings hope to a pious people.  If you ask for God’s will, you will be blessed beyond imagination.  God essentially honors and rewards Solomon for laying aside his human condition and tendencies to practice higher decision making and piety in a “high place”.  Solomon demonstrated the ability to be one who these blessings would be well suited to be showered upon.  “You did not ask for yourself, but to be best king you could possibly be. This I will grant, but you will be one who is greater than any king has been or will be. You will be wise beyond your years AND those self interested things you did not ask for, you will receive those things too.  You will have it all.”  And he did.    Solomon did have it all. His legacy was not of battles won, but of wisdom and leadership. 

The irony of it all is that he did fare about as well as his father did in terms of keeping God’s statues and commandments.





Poetry at "Share It!"
2009-08-14 by David von Schlichten

How exciting it is to read a poem by my old buddy Linea Warmke. I hope others will read her poem and submit their own to our new site at "Share It!"

Yours in Christ,

David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator





Poems for and by pastors
2009-08-14 by David Howell

See Share It! for a new category: Poems

Linea Warmke has submitted a poem.





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