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
The Prophet Versus the Establishment
2009-07-09 by Pat Harbison
I’m first struck by God’s words: “I will never again pass them by.” Does this mean that God will NOT ignore them/ neglect them/ walk by them again? -OR- as in the Message, does this mean that God will not ‘spare them again’ -OR- does this refer to a theophany as when God passed by Elijah when the prophet was in the cave or when Jesus was about to pass by the disciples when they were in the boat and Jesus walked to them on the sea?? The latter two fit the rest of Amos’s prophetic words. It seems that God has had enough of the people’s unfaithfulness. God will no longer spare them and will no longer favor them with God’s presence. Furthermore, their ‘holy’ places will be destroyed.
Amos and his prophecy come in direct conflict with the religious establishment which seems to be telling the people what they want to hear. The established priest of Bethel, Amaziah, informed the king of Amos’ message and sent Amos away so that he would no longer speak such difficult words. Amos retorted with, ‘I’m only doing what God has called me to do. Amos does not claim the role of prophet for himself, but identifies himself as one who was minding his own business, doing his own thing as a hersdman and dresser of sycamore trees when God gave him the words to speak. Ironically, his obedience to God put him in danger as he clashed with worldly powers.
Several issues arise:
1. Places designated as ‘holy’ by the people may not be considered holy by God.
2. Amos is a prophet by God’s calling not by his own self-identity.
3. The ‘established’ priest was in tight with the king.
4. Obedience to God requires risk (cf. John the Baptist, Amos)
Might this narrative be morphed into a message for the church today? Could the mainline, American church be in decline b/c the high places we have established for ourselves are being torn down by God so that we might hear the prophetic challenges of God’s desire for God’s people? Has God decided to not ‘pass us by’ - that is, not show us God’s presence - until we act according to the prophetic word of justice and true holiness?
Holy God, help your church hear the prophetic word then give us courage to respond in fiathfulness.
Speaking and Silence
2009-07-08 by Rosemary Beales
Thank you, Pat, for your fruitful meditations on the psalm. This is an especially challenging gospel since we have barely a glimpse of Jesus, and we hear nothing from him or for that matter, from John in the present tense. But it comes after the deeds of power that disciples were doing, the deeds that stirred up Herod's anxiety. So Jesus' power hovers over this passage whic,h as you rightly remind us, is about politics and power.
I have a little grandson who is 3 years old. These days, we can have a conversation on the phone. Just the other day, i was struck that now he knows how to talk, he is learning to say something. There is a difference. It takes 2-3 years to learn to talk. It takes a lifetime to learn to say something. John, and Jesus, had learned to say something that mattered, and it cost them their lives. When do I have the courage to say what really matters? And when, equally important, do I silence others who are speaking hard truths -- not by beheading, surely, but by easy dismissal, ridicule or hasty counter argument? These are what I'm pondering as Sunday draws near.
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