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.

The Spiritual Discipline of a District Superintendent
2009-07-06 by Pat Harbison

      My name is Patricia Harbison and I am an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church currently serving in my sixth year as a district superintendent.  What an amazing experience of learning and inspiration blessed me at the Festival of Homiletics in May!  I left Atlanta even more convinced that God was calling me back to the local church where I would be privileged again to preach every week. (Hopefully, next year??) 
      When appointed to the superintendency, I had hoped  that my devotional life might improve.  I readily confess that when serving in the local church, much of my Scripture reading and meditation was practical - always utilized to prepare a sermon or Bible  study.   Without the urgency of 'Sunday's coming' I thought that I could engage in a purer form of lectio divina.   I even thought that I might actually practice the discipline of journaling, something I never seemed to be able to do for more than an entry or two.  But instead of improving, my personal devotional life suffered.  I let the demands of 'urgent' (the church conflicts, pastoral issues, etc.) squeeze out the necessity of the 'important' (my own spiritual health).
     A year or so ago, keenly aware of the inadequacy of my spiritual discipline I tried once again to journal.   Given the gift from a retreat leader of a journaling technique that seemed to come easily to me, I opened the lectionary for the first time in a long time and a daily discipline developed.  By the end of the first week, I was listening to Scripture  in a way I had never heard before.  I still am amazed at the grace of God letting me hear God speak through the words of Scripture. 
     The 'technique' is simple:  I read the lectionary passage in several translations.  Then I write in my own words what the text is saying - not interpreting but noting translation differences and rephrasing for my own understanding.  Often my focus turns to a word or phrase that I hadn't noticed or emphasized before.  Sometimes it takes several slow readings before something rises out of the text that stirs my mind or touches my heart.  Out of this relaxed listening and as a gift of grace flows into the next step of connecting the words of Scripture to my own life, to current situations, and/or to the state of the church.  This 'application' morphs into a written prayer that wraps up the journaling for the morning.
     I give  thanks to God for the renewed guidance, encouragement, inspiration and understanding that has grown with this discipline.  Not only has my spiritual health improved, but I have become more effective as a spiritual leader.   When called upon with short  notice (Sunday at 9:00 a.m.) to  fill in for an ill preacher, or am unexpectedly asked to 'give a few words,' I am equipped with insights from the lectionary readings which can easily grow into a message.
     As a district superintendent, I have learned from necessity to preach with little time devoted solely to sermon preparation.  When in the local church, I began early Monday morning with exegetical study and had a decent outline by Thursday, letting the sermon sit idle on Friday and then diligently absorbing the message on Saturday so that I  could deliver the message on Sunday without over reliance on a manuscript or notes.   Now, because of listening to the Word every day, my 'preparation' time is reduced, although I know my preaching will improve significantly when I add prep time to my current discipline.
     This week, I plan to share my journal entries which follow the technique described above.  I hope that this might inspire you or even help you  to listen more clearly to what God may be saying to you and to your congregation through you as you prepare to share the Word.  



Safiyah and the Communal Individual
2009-07-03 by David von Schlichten

Thank you to Safiyah, our guest blogger. Safiyah has provided us with many rich postings. I am delighted with the thoroughness and detail. I need all the help I can get, because I am a bit stuck this week. Thanks.

Of special note in the postings is the idea of the blurring of the boundaries between individual and community. The two run together, contrary to the American obsession with the individual.

Malcolm Gladwell, in his engrossing new book "Outliers," addresses this issue. He looks at what makes extraordinary people extraordinary, and part of his conclusion is that the individual genius is actually a product of many communal factors. You cannot have a Michael Jackson, for example, without the support of, say, family, friends, teachers - someone, some group. 

Of course, this communality is essential to the Church. The Church is the God-guided people, not the individual.

HELL: This Sunday I am beginning a sermon series loosely inspired by Dante's "Divine Comedy." I will spend three weeks telling of a journey through hell, followed by four weeks in heaven. I will indicate that the journey is fictional but that the lessons are biblically true. Beyond that, I'm not sure what I'm doing. And it's Friday already. Therefore, with special fervor I am


David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator

Friday: We are in this together.
2009-06-30 by Safiyah Fosua

I think I just answered one of my questions from yesterday. Perhaps it is not all about us.  By this I mean, perhaps, in our culture of individualism we have been duped into thinking that success is entirely in our hands.  This line of thought leads us to think that it was up to David to hold on tight, to weather the storm of criticism alone, to stand doggedly in the middle of the stream – well you get the picture!  Sure enough, the call did come to David, but the fulfillment of God’s dream took the efforts of an entire village.

As I mentioned on Tuesday, I am not sure that I can indict the nation of Israel for not going with David instead of Saul’s son; they had too much precedence in the models of monarchy of the neighboring peoples.  They went for the familiar and it took a lot of time and a lot of blood for them to come to the conclusion that God had a better way.  But, along the way, if we look carefully, we see signs that God continued to be at work in spite of their dullness.     

Without the support of the tribe of Judah, would David have been able to hold onto the knowledge that he had been anointed as king by the very reputable prophet Samuel?  Who hasn’t seen someone deny what they knew and had experienced as truth in the confusing environment of persecution?

Without the obedience and risk-taking of the prophet Samuel, there would have been no anointing.  I see Samuel’s anointing as a key part of David’s self-awareness.

Without the doubts and questions of good people who had been loyal to Saul’s sons, how could the tide of public opinion been turned to examine David as a serious candidate for kingship?

Without the conference that brought the elders of the 12 tribes to consensus, there could have been no request – and the list goes on.

We are all in this together.  One individual among us may receive a guiding vision of God’s direction but it takes all of us to successfully answer that call.  So, now, does the call come to an individual or to the community of the faithful or to both?

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