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

Amos 7:7-15


            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.

Good and Evil
2009-07-08 by Pat Harbison

Psalm 85:8-13


            The psalmist  prays for the ability to hear what  God will speak to God’s people.  The psalmist  is confident that God will speak peace to  those who  are aligned with God’s purposes - ‘to those  who turn to God their hearts.’

            God’s speaking, then is made  real/ is incarnate in god’s actions.  I remember learning in Hebrew class that dabar = God’s word = God’s deeds/ action; either  translation is accurate in Genesis.  God’s word and God’s acting is one in the same.  God is  the One of perfect integrity of word and deed.

            The result of God’s word/ deed is  God’s salvation which is described in the poetic language of verses 10 & 11:  steadfast love and faithfulness meeting - righteousness and peace kissing each other - further emphasizing this aspect of God’s being.  The psalmist acknowledges that it is God who gives what is good.


            Herod did not hear  God speak peace and as a result, John was beheaded.  This psalm may contribute to a theodicy discussion when read with the gospel lesson.  Understanding John to be among the faithful of  God’s people, the question arises, ‘why do bad things happen to good people?’  Why did John not experience the goodness described in Ps 85:12?  (I could also ask , ‘Why was Jesus  crucified?)  The answer doesn’t  have to do with God but with Herod who did  ‘not turn to God in his heart.’  Herod w as attracted to the gospel message of John but was too caught up in himself to let that message rule his life.  Instead, his lust, power and ego all lead to John’s death.

            There will always be  Herods in our lives/ in this world until ‘thy kingdom com, thy will be done  on earth as it is in heaven.’  Therefore, this psalm points to an eschatalogical vision of God’s kingdom/ a hope for God’s people.

            In the meantime, we are called to strain to hear what God will speak.  We are beckoned to turn to God in our  hearts so that God’s salvation/ God’s kingdom may be near/ among/ within us as Jesus  speaks about it in the gospel.


            Holy God, thank you  for the tastes of the kingdom with which you bless me each day.  For the beauty of the earth, the wonders of creation, your amazing love that I experience through my husband and children, your creativity in the delightful joys of my grandchildren and so much more.  Let me hear what  you speak so that I may share the  good news of your love  with others.  You do give what is  good.  May your  kingdom grow.  Use me to that end to your glory.


Hearing in Mark 6:14-29
2009-07-06 by Pat Harbison

Mark 6:14-29

            This story revolves  around King Herod hearing ‘of it’.  I can’t be sure to what ‘it’ refers.  NRSV states: ‘King Herod heard of it, for Jesus’ name had become known.   REB is more specific:  ‘Now King Herod heard of Jesus for his fame had spread.’  The Message offers: ‘When King Herod heard of all this.’   ‘It’/ ‘all of this’ might refer to the disciples being sent out and the results of their ministry (6:7-13) and/or Jesus going about the villages teaching (6:6b) and/or of Jesus’  rejection in his home town (6:1-6a) and/ or all that has happened thus far in the gospel story  (reflecting the same ambiguity of the reference in 1:1 to ‘the beginning of the good news...’).   Whatever ‘it’ refers to, the result of Herod’s hearing was his conclusion that Jesus was John the Baptist raised from the dead (6:16).

            The narrative flashes back to the beheading of John at the end of a story of power and politics.  Herod had ‘protected John’ because he ‘feared John, knowing that John was a righteous and holy man’.   It is striking that Herod acts b/c he thinks he knows.  NRSV presents Herod as greatly perplexed when he heard John, yet he liked to listen to him.  REB describes Herod as greatly disturbed and the MSG has him miserable with guilt.  But although Herod was attracted to John and his message, worldly  concerns  over saving face caused Herod  to  keep John at a distance and ultimately to  kill him.

            It seems that ‘hearing’ dominates this text.  Herod hears John’s message, heard condemnation re. his brother’s wife, heard of Jesus (or of his ministry), heard Herodias’ daughter’s request.  Others hearing of Jesus speculate about who Jesus might be.  The narrative ends with John’s disciples hearing of John’s fate and taking his body away.

            Hearing the good news about Jesus is essential to evangelism.  I wonder about what the ‘it’ is that people outside our communities of faith hear.  I wonder how Jesus’ name is being made known: many of the ‘others’ hear mostly from the far right and the far left or from churches that claim the name of Jesus but are harshly judgmental or coldly exclusive.

            I’m wondering if this text is a parable for the church today.  Those outside the church have heard our and others’ preaching - with both words and actions (or lack thereof).  Some are greatly disturbed, some miserable with guilt, some greatly perplexed.  Some come to their own conclusions about Jesus and about us.   Some think they know.  Some, even though they know, would be content to continue to hear, but instead respond to worldly issues and pressures to the death of the faithful ministries. 

             Holy and Merciful God, forgive the failure of your church to faithfully proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ in a way that all might hear and welcome.  Forgive me for my contentment with the way things are.  Forgive me for how quickly I succumb to the pressures of this world to  the detriment of potentially faithful ministries.  Open my ears that I may not only share but faithfully proclaim your love and grace in Christ.

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