Resisting the Word - Thoughts for August 2
2009-07-20 by Roger Talbott
What possessed me to sign up to blog this week? I almost never preach during the first week in August. My birthday lands in this week and I prefer spending it camping with my wife in Pennsylvania’s Allegheny National Forest. In the northern tier of states, even preachers find it hard to waste an hour of warm sunshine in church on a Sunday morning, much less focus on anything heavier than a beach book or the Beach Boys.
That’s not the only reason I bug out in mid-summer. The texts, especially during Year B, are just awful.
There’s no avoiding David’s adultery with Bathsheba this week. How do I preach an X-rated story to a G-rated congregation?
Psalm 51 – don’t we say that on Ash Wednesday? It just doesn’t work as well on a warm summer’s day as it does on a dark night in midwinter.
The handful of congregants who will show up at my church on this August morning will park their cars on a picturesque public square and trudge southwest to First United Methodist Church as other people park next to them and head: West to First Congregational, East to the United Presbyterian Church, South to St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church and Southeast to St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church. And then in each of those churches they will listen politely as their respective pastors read Ephesians 4: “There is one body and one Spirit . . . one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all . . .” Yeah, right.
And then there is John 6 . . . and John 6, again . . . and John 6, again . . .
The best sermons come from the texts we most resist. Just as Jacob was lamed when he wrestled with God, the texts we most resist may “lame” our homiletical legs – the ones that run so easily through Psalm 23 or the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Tough, laming texts make us hobble along on the power of the Holy Spirit.
There is some question whether Paul wrote Ephesians, but let’s play with those first words of chapter 4: “I, therefore, a prisoner of the Lord . . .”
Can you identify? If the weather is as nice where and when you are reading this as it is where I am writing it, you should be outdoors playing, smelling the flowers, running in the surf, or making love in the forest. But you aren’t. You are stuck in front of a computer screen because in a very real sense, you are a prisoner of the Lord. Yeah, I know it’s your job, but unless you belong to a denomination that I haven’t heard of, they aren’t paying you enough to spend a day like this parsing Greek verbs.
Does it help to realize that Jesus has gone to a lot of trouble to get away from this crowd that clings to him like Haitian children cling to an American tourist? He, too, is a prisoner of the Lord.
All I can find to work with is Prisoner P___’s exhortation to “lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called . . .”
That’s why you are reading this instead of working in your garden or playing golf, isn’t it? You are trying to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called.
And so are the folks who will come to church this Sunday. There is not one of them who couldn’t think of something more enjoyable to do on this summer Sunday morning – and certainly a lot of their fellow members decided to just go ahead and do it.
But the ones who come are, in one way or another, prisoners of the Lord seeking to lead a life worthy of the calling to which they have been called. They have learned that whatever it is that we dole out in church on Sunday is not bread that lasts always, but is more like the manna that rotted if people tried to save it for a manna-less day.
They have learned that somehow this life that is worthy of the calling to which we have been called involves gathering/congregating, “bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of Peace”.
And so, whether you choose to tackle David and Bathsheba or not, a good many of them will recognize what it means to tear apart that unity of the Spirit with betrayal and the misuse of power. They will also recognize that a well-told sermon illustration can hold up the mirror of Truth that can destroy our deceptions and cause us to repent and restore that unity with the Spirit and with each other.
The old Modernist explanation for the feeding of the 5,000 – that the example of the little boy putting his five loaves and two fish into the hands of Jesus inspired everyone to share secret stashes of food, may not be quite as reductionist as it sounds if you read Ephesians 1-3 with its affirmation that Jesus has torn down walls and made us One; that all things and all people are coming together in Him. The crowd has come again to Jesus to relieve their food insecurity. They want magic breadboxes that are never empty.
But Jesus offers them the bread that satisfies the prisoners of the Lord, which includes “bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of Peace” – and sharing lunch.
Dinner on the grounds with Jesus can happen every day, eternally, to those who stick with Him and with each other, but it is not bread that will last forever. It is bread that God gives us this day.
2009-07-18 by David von Schlichten
Part of the difficulty of speaking the truth in love is that people often don't want to hear the truth because it is too complicating.
I am taking a PhD class on Orientalism in film. We are looking at how films in the West often affirm and justify Western dominance over the East. So often we do that, don't we? We adopt an orientation that we might even know on some level is faulty but that serves our agenda. We lie to ourselves.
So then, part of speaking the truth in love is doing so with the self.
Thank you to Stephen for sharing his stimulating thoughts. Scroll down to swim in his words.
Yours in Christ,
David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator
Scattering and Gathering
2009-07-14 by Stephen Schuette
In the texts this week there are tensions of scattering and reconciling as well as Jesus’ own boundary crossing which simply draws out more of the same – people, all kinds of people from everywhere who find in him something that draws them.
What is it that divides us and what is it that unites us in the church? Certainly things change and attitudes shift. A segregated military that was once a norm is now abhorrent. Will that be the case one day with openly gay people? I’ve always known a vegetarian or two but recently I’ve come to know vegans. I ride my bike, winter and summer, while the SUV’s abound in the church parking lot. A pastor emeritus I knew, an Iowa farm-boy, would sit on his back porch in town and pick off the squirrels for population control.
Although our churches tend to be culturally cohesive to a degree (as the old saying truthfully goes, Sunday morning is the most segregated time of the week), even within our homogeneity there is still a good deal of diversity. Could there be any clearer line than Jew and Gentile, with its accompanying mark? Yet Ephesians affirms with the strongest language possible that there is no dividing wall or distance but one new humanity, hostility itself put to death, all of it leading to a new coherence in Christ.
Community is the call and the challenge. Perhaps speaking truth in love is a phrase that captures that challenge. To speak our truth, hold our conviction, witness to what we know, and yet do that with openness and even a willingness to be corrected in an attitude devoid of defensiveness is not easy. And I’ve fallen off both ends, losing my voice and conviction in a passive fear that fails to respond to the call of God for me while at other times aggressively shouting for folk to listen to me in ways that run roughshod over the genuineness of their calling, their voice. And both can cause the sheep to scatter.
Maybe what people came to know in the Shepherd Jesus was both truth and love, a rare combination of qualities that in its wholeness was healing for them. Whether from “cities or farms” (vs. 56) they are drawn from near and far. Genuine community is always a miracle. Do you believe in miracles?
To the Praise of God's Glory
2009-07-10 by Pat Harbison
God is blessed b/c God has blessed us - blessed us ‘in Christ with every spiritual blessing:
1. “God chose us in Christ to be God’s people” (REB)/ ‘to be holy and blameless and full of love’ (NRSV)
2. God destined us for adoption - God’s grace bestowed on us in ‘the Beloved’.
3.. In Christ, we have been forgiven (‘have redemption’)
4. In Christ we have been given an inheritance.
God is the subject - God acts graciously toward us and we know of God/ what God does for us in Christ. ‘In Christ’ echoes throughout this passage following the triple use of blessing. If nothing else comes out of Paul’s confusing writing, this message is clear: IN CHRIST, God blesses. I am blessed by God when I am IN CHRIST.
The Message rephrases Paul’s confusing syntax to reveal Paul’s emphasis on the people in the church (in Ephesus and today). God remains the subject/ the One who acts, but the object of God’s actions clearly focuses on the people who make up the church - who are ‘in Christ.’ ‘Long before he [God] laid down earth’s foundation, he [God] had us in mind... Long ago he [God] decided to adopt us... [God] wanted us to enter into the celebration of his [God’s] lavish gift-giving... and it goes on.
The pitfall fo this passage is its egocentrism. Too quickly we let the spotlight ofGod’s favor/ blessing fall on us and we absorb the light of blessing and let it stay there. I think Paul may be attempting to move the people to gratitude b/c of the wonder of the Creator God focusing on us. Surely this is Paul’s intention as this passage ends with ‘to the praise of his [God’s] glory.
The church fails whenit receives blessings in Christ without using those blessings to the praise of God’s glory in building God’s kingdom in the world by sharing those blessings.
Forgiving and Merciful God, for thinking it’s all about us - it’s all about me! Thank you for placing my life ‘in Christ.’ May that relationship grow in every aspect of my personal life and in your church - to the praise of your glory.
Pat Harbison and Hearing
2009-07-09 by David von Schlichten
Our guest blogger has done an excellent job of amplifying key themes in the texts. Please scroll down to "listen" to her contributions. Thank you, also, to Rosemary Beales for her input. The more in the tub, the better!
I am in the midst of preaching a seven-part series about a pastor on a journey first through hell and then through heaven. The sermons end up being more like stories, but I pray that proclamation of the Good News is happening. Sometimes I wonder what makes a sermon a sermon.
Yours in Christ,
David von Schlichten
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