Sermon for January 22, 2012, 1 Corinthians 7:29-31, 3 Epiphany B
2012-01-20 by David von Schlichten

 

Sermon on 1 Corinthians 7:29-31

for St. James Evangelical Lutheran Church,

Youngstown, PA

with Sunday January 22, 2012,

Third Sunday after the Epiphany,

with the Reverend Dr. David von Schlichten

(word count: 892)

The Present Form of this World

            1 Corinthians 7:29-31 is a weird passage. It says that, if you have a wife, you should be as if you do not have one; if you are grieving, be as if you are not grieving; if you are rejoicing, then be as if you are not rejoicing; if you buy possessions, be as if you do not have possessions; and if you deal with the world, be as if you have no dealings with it. Why should we be this way? Because the present form of this world is passing away.

            What does all that mean? For instance, I have a wife. What does it mean to be as if I do not have one? I’m not going to ignore my wife, pretend I’m not married. That cannot be the right thing to do, especially considering that, elsewhere in the Bible, including in 1 Corinthians 7, we learn that a husband and wife are to honor and care for each other.

            What does the rest mean? What does it mean to live as if you are not grieving when, really, you are? That doesn’t sound healthy psychologically. If you feel grief, you should not bury that or deny that but express it somehow. Likewise, it does not sound healthy to deny your rejoicing. The whole passage seems to advocate denial, and generally denial is unhealthy. As Dr. Phil says, “You can’t fix what you don’t acknowledge.” Denial is usually unwise, so why is this passage from 1 Corinthians 7 telling us Christians to be in denial? Or is it?

            Actually, the passage is not really saying that we should live in denial. It would not make sense for us to ignore or deny our spouse, grief, joy, possessions, and the world. We Christians are not to hide from the world. Jesus certainly did  not. He did not cocoon himself from the world. No, he walked around, taught people, healed people. He was not in denial or hiding from the world’s joy, grief, possessions, and ways of the world, and neither should we. He was not in denial when he endured the cross so that we could live forever for free. We the baptized are not to be of the world, but we are still to be in the world.

            So if we are not to be in denial, if we are not to hide from the realities of the world, then what is this passage telling us to do? Eugene Peterson suggests that the passage is teaching us to live simply. When the passage says be as if you don’t have a wife, or be as if you are not grieving or don’t have possessions, the passage is not saying live in denial. It is saying live simply. Do not let anything or anyone get in the way of your devotion to God. Not your spouse, not your grief or joy, not your possessions, nothing. Devotion to God is to come first.

            For example, we all like to buy nice things for ourselves, and doing so is not necessarily bad. But let’s keep in mind that God is to come first, and part of putting God first is helping people in need. So when we buy some nice possession, we are to ask ourselves, “Am I putting stuff before God? Could I put my money to better use? Are there people in need whom I could help instead of spending money on something that I don’t need?” We are to put God first. Simplify our lives, focus on God.

            Simplifying our lives is easier said than done, isn’t it? How can we simplify our lives so we can be more God-focused? I confess, I have a difficult time simplifying my life. If you have suggestions, I’d love to hear them.

            According to 1 Corinthians 7:29-31, why are we to simplify our lives? Because the present form of this world is passing away, that’s why. What does that mean, the present form of this world is passing away? It originally meant that Christ was coming back any minute. They believed that back then, that Christ was returning at any second. Many people today believe that Christ is about to return, and he may be. The present form of this world is passing away.

            The present form of this world will pass away ultimately at the end, when Christ returns, but the present form of this world passes away in other ways, too. For instance, when we read the Bible, we encounter the wisdom of God that pushes aside the world’s shallow, clanging foolishness. When we gather for worship, we do not ignore the world, but the violence and heartbreak of the world move to the back seat as we receive strength and assurance from God. When we remember our baptism and receive the body and blood, the rest of the world shrinks away. When we send each other cards, bake for each other, volunteer to help each other, listen to each other, the present form of this world loosens its grip, loses some of its power, passes away, even if just for a whisker of a second.

            We simplify life. We put God first, and watch the present form of this world retreat before God’s light. And then we go into the world to help those who are stuck in the darkness.






Thoughts on the Lessons for January 22, 2012, Third Sunday after Epiphany
2012-01-15 by David von Schlichten

Jonah: Who are our Ninevites? The Taliban? Terrorists? Al-Qaeda? A family member from whom we are estranged? How do we preach to such people without allowing ourselves to be harmed by them? How do we show mercy to people who want to blow us up?

Psalm 62: "God has spoken once; twice I have heard it." What does it mean to hear God twice? Is this line just a poetic way of emphasizing receptivity to God, or can one truly hear twice?

1 Corinthians 7:29-31: If you are married, act as if you are not, and so on. This passage is calling for urgency because "the present form of this world is passing away." But is it? We have been saying forever that the world is ending, but we are still here.

Or does "passing away" mean something different? In what ways does the present form of this world pass away, if not eschatologically? Or is the world passing away eschatologically? Are we always in the last days?

Mark 1: Drop your nets; follow Christ. What nets are we holding, and how do we drop them? How do we drop everything while still honoring our responsibilities to family, career, and so forth? When do we have to leave family, career, and so forth?

What thoughts do you have? Feel free to email me or to submit a post for possible publication here.

Remembering Pastor King's dream, I am

Yours in Christ,

David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator





Sermon on 1 Corinthians 6:12-20, January 15, 2012
2012-01-14 by David von Schlichten

 

Sermon on 1 Corinthians 6:12-20

for St. James Evangelical Lutheran Church,

Youngstown, PA

with Sunday January 15, 2012,

Second Sunday after the Epiphany,

with the Reverend Dr. David von Schlichten

(word count: 683)

 

Glorify God in Your Body

 

            How do you feel about your body? Do you like it? Most of us are pretty critical of our body. I wish I were more handsome and a little thinner. On TV, magazine covers, and in movies we forever see images of good-looking people and are told that we should look like them. Women, especially, are assaulted with images of slender, young, buxom women and are told that every woman is supposed to look like those images. That’s ridiculous and satanic.

            In our second reading, 1 Corinthians 6:12-20, Paul says, “. . . [D]o your not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you . . . .” Paul says that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit. Do you think of your body as a temple? The Holy Spirit is God, so God dwells within you. You receive the Holy Spirit at baptism, and, for the rest of your life, your body is a sacred building.

The next time you’re naked, such as when you are getting a shower, pause to give thanks for your body. God has made you, and the Holy Spirit lives within you. In God’s eyes, your body is sparkling, bejeweled, worth more than all of Warren Buffet’s wealth. Your body is something to give thanks for. It is God’s house. Don’t let the media tell you otherwise. Media shmedia.

            In 1 Corinthians 6, Paul also says, “You were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body.” The price is the death and resurrection of Jesus. Therefore, glorify God in your body. What does it mean for us to glorify God in our body?

Part of glorifying God in our body is eating right. If you are eating too much or not enough, you are not glorifying God in your body. Love your body; it is sacred.

Part of glorifying God in our body is watching how much alcohol we drink. If you are drinking too much, you are not glorifying God. Get help. Your body is sacred, a temple.

Smoking and doing drugs definitely do not glorify God in your body. Having irresponsible sex does not glorify God, either.

Exercise! Generally, exercise is good for our bodies, honors our bodies. Exercise honors God. Some of us have health problems that make it hard to exercise, but most of us can do some form of exercise. Even walking around more in your house or apartment is better than nothing.

Now, of course, none of us is perfect when it comes to taking care of our bodies. I eat too much and not exercise enough. When we fall short, we pray, “God, forgive me, and be patient with me.” God is not out to get you, not out to zap you, not out to shake a paternal finger at you or send you to your room without supper. God loves you. God has made your body sacred. Celebrate and honor that good news. Embrace better living, not as a chore, but as a way of rejoicing, worshipping, and glorifying God.

Moreover, let us respect, not just our own bodies, but the bodies of other people as part of rejoicing, worshipping, and glorifying God. Remember, just as your body is sacred, so are other people’s bodies. Therefore, think about how you respond to other people’s bodies. Do you discriminate against people because they are less attractive? When we are demeaning toward other people’s bodies, we are demeaning toward the temple of God that God constructed.

Think about how we react to black people. The people of St. James are loving, good-hearted people, but, over my years here, I have heard numerous prejudiced comments. When we discriminate against others because of their skin-color, we are insulting the temple of God, and, of course, we are failing to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.

The body as the temple. What a responsibility, but what a joy. Thanks be to God that, even when we think we’re too fat or too thin or too ugly or too old, God still lives within us.





Initial Thoughts for January 15, 2012, Second Sunday after Epiphany, Year B
2012-01-08 by David von Schlichten

1 Samuel 3: God calls Samuel. Samuel doesn't understand at first and needs Eli to help him understand that the calling voice is God's. Often we need another person to help us discern God.

Then the story has an ironic twist in that the message from God is against Eli, the very person who helped Samuel understand the call in the first place. One of the lessons is that we are to help each other hear and understand God, even if doing so could mean judgment from God against us.

Psalm 139: God has searched us out and known us. Parishioners tend to tremble before this psalm, because they see God as wrathful. However, God knowing us is a blessing, something to rejoice over, not something to fear.

1 Corinthians 6: Our bodies are sacred! (Take that, body/soul dualism.) This passage calls us to honor our bodies.

John 1:43-51: This passage works well with Martin Luther King Day, because Nathanael is being prejudiced. He has an elitist attitude toward Nazareth. Jesus corrects that prejudice, and he corrects ours, too.

MLK: Many of us do lip-service to equality but then commit racism and other forms of discrimination when no one is looking. How do we challenge Christians to be genuine about egalitarianism?

What thoughts do you have? Feel free to email me or to submit a post for possible publication here.

Dreaming of equality for all, I am

Yours in Christ,

David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator





Sermon for January 8, 2012 on Matthew 2:1-12, Mark 1:9-11
2012-01-07 by David von Schlichten

 

Sermon on Matthew 2:1-12 and Mark 1:9-11

for St. James Evangelical Lutheran Church,

Youngstown, PA

with Sunday January 8,  2012,

Epiphany/Baptism of Our Lord,

with the Reverend Dr. David von Schlichten

(word count: 877)

 

The Star Leads the Wise to God

 

Nobel Prize-winning writer T.S. Eliot wrote a poem entitled “Journey of the Magi” about the wisemen traveling to see the baby Jesus. In the poem he imagines the hardships of the wisemen as they follow the star for hundreds of miles. In the poem, one of the wisemen says,

“’A cold coming we had of it, / Just the worst time of the year / For a journey, and such a long journey: / The ways deep and the weather sharp, / The very dead of winter’ . . . / And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters, / And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly / And the villages dirty and charging high prices: / A hard time we had of it. / At the end we preferred to travel all night, / Sleeping in snatches, / With the voices singing in our ears, saying / That this was all folly.’” (lines 1-5, 13-20)

Can you imagine traveling by camel hundreds of miles through weather hot and cold, towns friendly and hostile, feeling excited and then weary, eyes on the star burning in the sky?

Have you seen the star that leads the wise to God? Have I? We are the baptized. At our baptism, God drowned us free from eternal death. As Luther says in the Book of Concord, baptism “. . . works forgiveness of sins, delivers from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare.” At his baptism, Jesus receives the Holy Spirit, the Father declares him the Beloved Son, and his journey to the cross, his ministry of salvation, begins. Likewise, when we are baptized, we receive the Holy Spirit and God declares us a beloved child. Baptism is adoption. The voice of God declares you and me to be God’s special, adopted children, the communion of saints, heirs of eternal life. We receive eternal life for free because of Christ’s death and resurrection. The star, the light of God, can appear to anyone, but the light of God definitely appears to the baptized. We are transformed, and with that transformation we receive a calling from God. The Bible repeatedly teaches us that God shines the holy light upon us to lead us. That star, which is from God, leads you on a journey closer to God, empowers you to grow holier.

Where does the star appear? What does it look like? How do we follow it?

One way the star appears is through the Bible. Now, reading the Bible is an arduous journey. Sometimes Christians talk as if the Bible is this easy, user-friendly, handy-dandy guide to life. That’s baloney. The Bible is a healing light, but it is not easy, user-friendly, or handy-dandy. Like the long journey for the magi, studying the Bible is difficult. However, like the long journey for the magi, studying the Bible is rewarding. Through the Bible, God does shine the star, the light, upon us and does call us on a difficult but illuminating journey.

OK, Pastor Dave, I get it. The star shines upon us through the Bible, but I don’t have time. And I don’t know where to begin. The Bible’s a big book. Where do I start?”

There are a couple ways. One way is to buy one of those books that takes you through the Bible in a year or six months or whatever. Another way is to attend one of our Bible studies. A third way is to start with the book of Psalms or one of the gospels. The Psalms are actually fairly user-friendly, touching, and instructive. They are also pretty short, so you can usually read one a day fairly easily. Spend some time with the Bible at least three times a week. The Spirit will shine the light on you.

How else does God shine the star on us? God does it through sermons. Even if the sermon is boring or the preacher is annoying, the Holy Spirit uses preaching to provide guidance and comfort. Through the sermon, the star shines and leads you on a journey to growing in God.

How else does God shine the star on us? God does it through holy communion. When you receive the body and blood, God is shining the star upon you to strengthen you in holiness.

God also shines the star upon us through each other. My friend Tracey was just telling me that her teenage son Josh wanted to start going to church. She said that she now goes to church because of her son. God shines the star upon us through each other. Who has been or is a star shining upon you?

            “Pastor, I understand all that, but I have to tell you. I don’t see the light. I don’t see the star. God seems absent. I’m in the dark.” Believe me, I can relate. Most pastors can.

                If you are in the dark, if you cannot see the light, the star, we are here to help. Pray, come talk to me or another Christian you trust, and do not give up.

            God loves you. Christ is born. The star will appear. Sooner or later, it always does.






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