Unity and The Festival
2009-05-20 by David von Schlichten

Thank you to Stephen Schuette for his reflections about the theme of unity for this Sunday. He is indeed correct that one of the Church's greatest challenges is dealing with internal struggles in a way that "answers" Christ's prayer for us to be one.

Unity - overcoming division - is the theme of this year's festival, and many of our speakers have addressed this theme in exciting ways.

Tuesday morning, for instance, Tom Long, with his usual brilliance, spoke about the economics of the gospel of Luke and how that gospel challenges us toward radical unity.

According to Luke's economics, Long contends, we are to care for the poor in radical, far-reaching ways. Then, when the Kingdom comes in that great, final way at the End, we will not have to hang our heads in shame when those same poor, now exalted and seated at the head table, welcome us.

To underline this vision, Long told the story of a man and his son giving all their change to a homeless man. The father and son then realized that they needed a coin in order to use a pay phone, so they called after the homeless man.

"Could you give us a coin to make a phone call?"

The homeless man held out the money he had just received from them and said, "Here, take what you need."

That is Luke's Christo-economics, and it is an economics of unity. Alleluia.

I hope others will post. Also, you can sign up at the Festival to be a blogger for one week during the coming months. Give blogging a try. You'll find it fulfilling and, well, unifying.

Yours in Christ,

David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator

2009-05-19 by Stephen Schuette

    As a collection of texts the selections of this week have to be some of the most challenging of all the lections to address as a group.  The tension between the rupture of community in the actions of Judas and the need for unity certainly presented a challenge to the early church.  One answer given in Acts is to draft a replacement for Judas to preserve the wholeness of the witness.  There was another answer from the Coptic community in the Gospel of Judas suggesting that Judas was about genuinely “fulfilling the scriptures” in a way that was in harmony with rather than in opposition to Jesus and God’s plan.

     While not entirely resolving these tensions – which is perhaps the genius of scripture – it’s impossible to engage these texts without being keenly aware of the present context.  Looking at it from another perspective, perhaps it was important for the story to suggest that the real challenge to the Church lies not outside the community but within.  Isn’t that true today?  And wasn’t it true from the very beginning in the Letters of Paul?  Even when there were “outsiders” trying to confuse the followers (in Galatia), Paul’s interest is in re-establishing the unity of the Church from within and drawing them together.  He didn’t suggest using a sword to rid the world of the “circumcizers.”  Paul’s earlier life was about persecuting others.  But now he is about building strength from within.

     Read the book UnChristian by David Kinnaman and you understand the skepticism about the Church that exists.  Every pastor knows there are always, at any moment, a thousand things that can cause people to go spinning off in all kinds of directions.  Sometimes we even participate in the “spinning.”  But there is only One Thing that can hold us together.  That this One Thing is stronger than the thousand is an act of faith and witness that is sorely needed if Jesus’ prayer is to be fulfilled among us.

Blogging in Atlanta!
2009-05-19 by David von Schlichten

It is exhilarating being at the Festival of Homiletics. Even my twelve-hour drive from Pennsylvania was kind-of exhilarating (kind-of). In any case, I will be blogging about the Festival all week, and I encourage others to post about the festival, as well.

Of course, if folks want to blog about this Sunday's lessons, that would be great, too. Bring on the blogging!

I am thinking that I might preach on Ascension Day this Sunday. Tonight Desmond Tutu said that, because Christ is ascended and at the Father's right hand, we are, as well.

I've never heard that point, and it strikes me as important to proclaim to parishioners. After all, many of us feel powerless, but if we are, in a sense, at the right hand (the place of power), then we are powerful indeed. The divine-dynamos makes us so.

Part of that divine-dynamos is found in prayer, which is not powerful because of us but because of God (how often we forget this point). Tonight Desmond Tutu lifted up prayer, which he says contributed to the fall of Apartheid. Alleluia!

What would you like to share? Please plunge into the hot tub. The water's fantastic!

Yours in Christ (in Atlanta),

David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator

Thanks and God's Grandeur
2009-05-15 by David von Schlichten

Thank you to Jule and Dee Dee for their postings. Jule provides evocative reflections about loving and abiding, while Dee Dee points us to the poetic and mystical power of God. Please scroll down to read the postings.

I am not preaching this Sunday, but I would probably focus on 1 John's promise that we Christians, because of Christ, can defeat the world. Many of us feel powerless, but this passage teaches that we are powerful, more than we realize, more than we imagine.

How do we Christians defeat the world while also loving the world as God does?

Yours in Christ,

David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator

Reflections on John 15:9-17
2009-05-13 by Jule

            Recently I attended a conference with nearly fifty other pastors.  We were an interesting bunch:  men and women, newbies to the pulpit and veterans, those transitioning willingly and others forced out.  Collectively we must have constituted well over four hundred years of pastoring the church.  As our week together unfolded, one thing became apparent:  many of us knew much pain from our experiences of serving the church.  Perhaps such gatherings are prone to that kind of unpacking of the baggage many pastors carry as we minister among congregations.  One of our leaders blessed the pain but insistently pointed us back to the joy.  The joy of serving in God’s name.  The blessing of being faithful to our calls.  The celebration of embodying the one who instituted the joyful feast for a perpetual remembrance of a life lived in abundance.  Pain might linger, but joy ought to persist. 

            “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love,” Jesus commands (John 15:9).  Here in this text, Jesus is reminding those with ears to hear that obedience to his way means bearing fruit.  Whether it be within the community of faith, or outside the four walls of the sanctuary; we remain in Jesus’ love as he remains in the Father’s when we do as he has done.  And just in case we didn’t catch the commandment the first go round, Jesus makes it plain:  “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12). 

            The question comes:  in what ways has Jesus loved his listeners?  According to the gospel of John, Jesus has invited the curious along a path of new adventures (John 1:35-51), and taken on his mother’s ministry of hospitality at a wedding feast (John 2:1-11), and engaged one wondering in clarifying conversation (John 3:1-21), and shared himself with those considered unrighteous enemies (John 4:7-42).  Jesus healed those who suffered long in body, mind, and spirit (John 5:1-18) and even found himself in trouble for breaking the rules now and again – especially those that had become restrictive of God and God’s beloved sons and daughters (John 5:9-47).  He fed the hungry (John 6:1-14) and came alongside the frightened to calm any fears (John 6:16-21).  Indeed his willingness to lay down his life on the cross for his friends was a blessed gift.  But each day he lived in a way that brought Life; each day he laid down his own desires for the benefit of whoever crossed his path.  He knew his purpose because he remained in God’s love.  This is not to say that Jesus was a door mat.  Instead, his will was so tightly woven with God’s will for Life here-and-now that he found joy in carrying out acts of love every morning when he set out. 

            This Easter season, might his disciples – ordained and lay – find a helpful lesson in remembering that the command to love is a yoke that is light?  Might we learn anew from the ways Jesus lived and do likewise?  As we – Jesus’ friends – seek to emulate our treasured companion, I hope we all will re-discover his hope for our complete and unbridled joy. 


P.S.  If joy is your theme this week, do not neglect Psalm 98.  “Sing to the LORD a new song” (Ps. 98:1).  Here all the earth joins in the celebration! 

By:  The Rev. Dr. Jule M. Nyhuis -- Jule is a Minister of Word and Sacrament in the PCUSA.  She currently serves as a Minister to Children & Their Families.  She is a graduate of Vanderbilt Divinity School and Columbia Theological Seminary. 

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