Reality Therapy
2009-06-09 by Stephen Schuette

(Although it’s more like being shocked into reality than therapied into it!)

Obviously in Corinth Paul is accused of being crazy.  And sometimes you have the sense that he is not so much moving about the known world in a purposeful way to spread the message about Jesus Christ as he is being run out of one place after another.  But rather than be defensive about the accusation Paul uses it as a metaphor, plays with it to make a point.  “Crazy?” he says, “I’ve been called worse than that…and willingly will be called it again if it helps you to see what I see, to know what I know, to believe what I believe.  But if necessary I’ll put on a measure of what the world calls ‘sanity’ to show you more gently (since that seems necessary) how God is at work in this ‘crazy’ world.”

(Think Leonard Sweet's Jesus Drives Me Crazy, where he quotes the candy advertizers, "Sometimes you feel like a nut, sometimes you don't." p. 33)

In the order of the world Nebuchadnezzar’s eagle sits atop the cedars, dominant.  And that’s the way it is (as Walter Cronkite used to say)….unless God is real and God’s desire is for every kind of bird to live in the shade of its branches and be blessed.  In the order of the world the means of agricultural production are owned, managed, possessed…unless God is real and it is by God’s blessing that we live and are sustained.  Something as common and ubiquitous as mustard plants (compare to dandelions, a plant tough to get rid of once it is sown) is hardly worthy of great respect…unless you respect it just for what it is – a tenacious plant that is tough and persistent.

Jesus (and Paul) press us to decide.  For once you come to the ege of this message you can no longer avoid the question:  either God is or isn't.  And we choose in multiple ways every day what we believe about reality, about power and Power, about God.

2009-06-08 by Maria Swearingen

             Strange bones-to-blood Ezekiel, fast-action Mark, exhortative II Corinthians.  If pericopes were trading cards, I would call this a solid week. As we trade a few back and forth, let’s consider a few connections among the texts today if that’s all right with everyone.  Goodness knows lectionary pairings are intentional if nothing else!  Ezekiel’s vision of cedars, Mark’s description of kingdom shrubs, the epistle writer’s consideration of new creation, the Psalter’s praise of the righteous sprouting like palm trees.   By the time you get through the texts, it feels like you’re in a garden…some kind of secret garden with strange Mediterranean shrubbery.  Maybe it feels more like a tree nursery…where you pick up special exotic plants for your new landscaping backyard project that somehow you knew you should have never started.  So much is growing, so much is happening beyond our line of vision, beyond even our sensory perception.

It’s like the Amazon or something.  Speaking of the Amazon, I’m in Peru right now.  I’ll be making several trips to “la selva”, the jungle in the coming weeks, and I can’t help but imagine what it’s like to see a place teeming with that much life.  Will it seem more alive?  More ?  More consumed with the energy of the Creator?  I don’t know.  But the life inside all these shrubs and palms and cedars must be about something…

Mark, as he narrates the gutty teachings of Jesus, speaks of the kingdom of God like someone scattering seed on the ground…and vamoosh!  Here appears LIFE.  Jesus pushes a little further with a silly bit of irony.  Take the smallest seed, plant it, and vamoosh!  The biggest life in the shrub family (or genus or species…who knows?) comes out of the ground.  The stuff that makes life.  The stuff that made us.  The kingdom of God is strange stuff that secretly…buried deep in the ground, where no one can see it…makes even stranger stuff just…vamoosh!      

II Corinthians, in attempting to keep some precious but clearly confused church-goers from making flagrant errors against LIFE, calls these beloved a NEW CREATION…like the seed that bursts into a shrub… …like the city of exiles turned into noble cedars…like followers of the risen Christ feeling something happening inside of them, around them.  NEW CREATION.  Budding forth…breaking through concrete slabs and Roman principalities…and ethnic divisions.  New creation…freeing them from slavery, from death…freeing ALL from slavery, from death, from themselves.  NEW CREATION.  The KINGDOM OF GOD.  Shrubs and palms and cedars.  For this impassioned letter writer, these Christians can’t go back now. 

They’ve seen stuff grow.  They’ve touched miracles…they’ve brushed shoulders with angels.  They don’t know how it happens, but they know that mustard seeds turn into shrubs and God’s reign, made known in the healing hands of a carpenter, produces LIFE.  How could they ever go back?  How could they ever imagine being seedlings again?  How could they have ever expected those seeds to un-package LIFE?

What is God doing in these metaphors…these images?  Well, I suppose God is gardening… pruning…pulling out the sheers and gloves and hoes and rakes.  Pulling out the wheelbarrow from the shed and caring for this extraordinary little garden.

Recently, I spent time with a woman who loves her garden as much as she does the idea of world peace (of course, these two are clearly connected for her)…she knew everything about her plot of land.  The plants, their species, their origins, how they grow together.  She knew them inwardly…not just their outward appearance…but their hearts.  The hearts of her little plants…all nestled together, some overlapping others…a few struggling along…all of them in one way or another communicating something more than themselves. 

And she seemed to know what they were communicating.  THINGS GROW.  Maybe not every year…maybe not in full bloom…but regardless, if you sit on the front porch or grab the pruning sheers in the backyard, you’ll observe, encounter, experience, touch, smell, real growth.  And it really won’t be your doing.  I suppose you’ll participate.  But there’s something about this LIFE thing that goes way beyond our ability to produce it.  It’s what got is in that whole mess the first time in a garden.   We wanted to know how stuff grew…we wanted to know what LIFE was.  We were little Frankensteins, shuffling about for electrical cords and gadgets, hoping to plug into that thing that makes it all happen. 

It all comes to a screeching halt in II Corinthians with the writer describing these followers as a new creation…no longer bound by human thinking.  No longer shuffling about for the electrical cords and forbidden fruit.  No longer probing and poking to get some strong clutch on LIFE.  No, no.  These were a new creation.  Who had seen the face of LIFE and who knew nothing would ever look the same again.  For LIFE had conquered DEATH for ALL.  Through the saving power of Jesus Christ, offered to us in the kingdom of God, the extraordinary little garden pushing LIFE through the ground, we become little Christs.  With little desire for cords and gadgets and much desire for pruning sheers and rakes.

May we work.  As we watch exiles come home, like strong cedars.  As we ourselves, those exiles, journey back to the garden.  May we keep our sheers handy and our hearts heavy with the weight of LIFE.  May we listen well to the voice that calls us a NEW CREATION.  May we learn to marvel at mustard-seeds-turned-into shrubs.  May the kingdom of God be the vamoosh! that we feel every time we remember that LIFE was, is, and never will be our doing. 

Our guest preaching blogger this week is
2009-06-08 by David Howell

Maria Swearingen. Maria attended Baylor University in Waco graduating with a B.A. in Psychology and minoring in Religion.  Maria grew up in the Baptist tradition but is enriched by the breadth and depth of the church ecumenical.  During college, Maria's ever-deepening passion for the local church drew her toward considering seminary and the pastorate as vocation.  She is currently working toward a Master's of Divinity at Duke Divinity School and has recently completed her second year.  She currently serves as the ministry intern at Ridge Road Baptist Church in Raleigh, NC, and is spending the summer teaching/learning at a seminary in Huancayo, Peru.  Writing, is her balm and her poison, bringing both pain and joy in strange, exciting, trans-forming ways.  For her, the Word truly is Flesh.

Trinity Experience
2009-06-05 by David von Schlichten

Instead of a sermon about the Trinity, what if we proclaimed a sermon that was an experience of the Trinity? Paul Wilson's posts below can help us in that direction.

David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator

John 3 and the Trinity
2009-06-05 by Paul Wilson

When we as preacher employ Trinitarian ways of speaking, speaking of God in all three persons, we enrich the ways people have of relating to God. So for instance in relation to our John 3 text, we could say something like the following in a sermon: "Just as God was at work when Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness and healed those bitten, God is at work today in Christ through the Holy Spirit. On this day Christ says to you from the cross, “I take the sin out of the soul, the venom out of the snake-bite, the toxin out of the sting, the poison out of the remarks, the anxiety out of the confusion, the anger out of the heartache, the bitterness out of disappointment, the contamination out of the relationship, the fear out of faith, the greed out of the greedy, the hunger out of the hungry, the need out of the needy, and the mortality out of death itself.” 

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