Trinity and the Spirit
2009-06-01 by Paul Wilson
On Trinity Sunday it is important that we use as many ways to speak about God as possible.
I love in this text in Romans 8 where Paul says, "When we cry, 'Abba! Father!' it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God" (vv. 15-16). It speaks not only to the gracious and generous nature of God, it is also profound witness that what we do by way of ministry for others is by God's grace. Even calling to God, even prayer, is a testimony to the gift of the Spirit. Many people who pray for instance only in dire need, or who pray with uncertainty or haltingly might need this affirmation of God's love. It reminds me of Jesus' words in John 15:5, "Without me you can do nothing," for all our outreach, all our ethical involvement, all of our commitment to social justice is evidence in faith of God's presence, love, and ongoing commitment to those same sorts of people Jesus ministered to in his earthly ministry especially the poor, outcast, and alone.
These words also remind me of another text that is more puzzling to me. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 12:3, "no one can say 'Jesus is Lord' except by the Holy Spirit'". Plainly Paul does not mean those who take God's name in vain. And he cannot mean those who simply say those words for instance as one might read them from print. Yet even if what he says is restricted to those who mean them, who use those words to confess Jesus Christ, it is powerful testimony to God's active involvement in their faith.
I like to think that every action of God is a miracle. Many people may think that miracles are a thing of the past and that God is not longer actively involved in human affairs. It is wonderful to contemplate that every dimension of ministry and Christian living is empowered by God.
Peace to you, Paul Scott Wilson
Our guest preaching blogger this week is
2009-06-01 by David Howell
The Rev. Dr. Paul Scott Wilson, Professor of Homiletics at Emmanuel College in the University of Toronto and the Toronto School of Theology. He has served numerous churches. He is the son of a minister and is himself an ordained minister of the United Church of Canada and has served several churches in full-time and interim capacity. He is a past president of the Academy of Homiletics, and is the author of several books including: Setting Words on Fire: Putting God at the Center of the Sermon (Abingdon, 2008); The New Interpreter¹s Handbook on Preaching Abingdon, 2008) of which he is general editor; The Practice of Preaching, Revised Edition (Abingdon, 2007); Broken Words: Reflections on the Craft of Preaching (Abingdon, 2004); Preaching and Homiletical Theory (Chalice, 2004); God Sense: Reading the Bible for Preaching (Abingdon, 2001); The Four Pages of the Sermon: A Guide to Biblical Preaching (Abingdon, 1999); The Practice of Preaching (1995); A Concise History of Preaching (Abingdon, 1992); Imagination of the Heart: New Understandings in Preaching (Abingdon, 1988). He is the general editor for a series of books on Preaching and its Partners (Chalice Press) and has co-edited two books, written many articles, for nine years was the co-editor of Preaching: Word and Witness. He lectures and preaches widely throughout the United States, Europe, and Canada. He and his wife have three grown children.
Dr. Wilson will be a presenter at the 2010 Festival of Homiletics in Nashville, TN.
Christie and Christening
2009-05-28 by David von Schlichten
Thank you to guest blogger Christie Ashton for her cogent thoughts about Pentecost as the birthday of the Church. She rightly notes that this "birthday" is more about what the Church is to do than about what the Church is. Amen.
I contend that Pentecost isn't the birthday of the Church at all, since the Church begins with Christ. Perhaps it makes sense to say that Pentecost is a kind of baptismal date for the Church, the date on which the Church receives the baptism of the Holy Spirit to go and do the work of Christ.
On a different note, I find striking how accomodating God is in our readings. The Spirit enables the disciples to speak different languages so as to accomodate the foreign hearers. In Romans, the Spirit intercedes for us because we are unable to pray as we ought. In the Gospel, Jesus does not share everything with the disciples, because they could not bear it now. God appears to be somewhat flexible and accomodating in these passages, although, of course, other times God usurps our comfort.
What do you think? I'd love to hear from others.
Still glowing from the Festival,
David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator
Our guest preaching blogger this week is
2009-05-26 by David Howell
Christie Ashton, recent graduate from Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, GA where she received the Toms-McGarrahan Prize in Theology and Worship, and the Columbia Friendship Circle Graduate Fellowship to be used for further study. She was also a finalist for the Good Preacher Seminarian Preaching Award. Christie considers her greatest theological "projects" to be her two children, both of whom were born while she was in seminary. Christie is a Candidate for Ordination to Minister of Word and Sacrament in the Presbyterian Church (USA) and is currently seeking a call. In the meantime, she is engaged in "ad hoc" ministry in her community and church, and enjoys spending her free time with her husband and children.
See her first post below.
The Problem of Pentecost
2009-05-25 by Christie Ashton
At our church, we celebrate Pentecost in much the same way every year. When it comes time for the Scripture reading, the pastor reads Acts 2, at which point some previously identified members of the congregation who know other languages stand and read one line of the text in that other language, each in turn, in an attempt to “recreate” this blessed occasion. The pastor then gives a sermon about how Pentecost is the birthday of The Church, which I imagine most members of the congregation presume looks and acts and worships a lot like this congregation but perhaps they speak one of those other languages we heard earlier.
The more I reflect upon the overall impressions left by the lectionary texts for the day, the less I think we would know what to do if such an event were to actually occur in worship today. The Acts 2 text describes a whirlwind or tornado, fire, and then a cacophony—bystanders think this is some wild, drunken party. The other lectionary options for the day do not present a calmer picture: Ezekiel has his skeletal horror show; Romans likens it to a woman in labor (before the time of epidurals); and even the psalmist describes earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. All when God’s Spirit intercedes. That sure makes me think twice before praying “Come, Holy Spirit.” This is the stuff of end of time, not the beginning of the church.
I have often wondered why the Acts 2 text is not paired in the lectionary with the Genesis 11 account of the Tower of Babel. The parallels illumine a somewhat different meaning of the “birthday of the church” than we often celebrate. In both Genesis and Acts, people who previously spoke one common language suddenly find themselves speaking many languages by the power of God; however, in Genesis, the result is “babble,” while in Acts it is proclamation. What is the difference? The difference is that Acts recounts a people who proclaim God, while Genesis warns against a people who pretend to be God.
Perhaps our “traditional” celebrations of Pentecost in worship more approximate the Tower of Babel than the pouring out of the Spirit. Our nod to that first ecumenical worship service (so to speak) is often permeated by the implicit (or explicit) assumption that the church universal is just a larger form of the church particular that we know so well. For many of us this is a community with organized programs and ministries, staff and dedicated lay people who contribute countless hours to keep the "church" running, and only superficial differences (if any). Thus, we celebrate on Pentecost the “birthday of the church” as an institution, often birthed of our own efforts. The Biblical account, on the other hand, calls us to consider Pentecost as “the birthday of the church” in terms of mission, birthed out of God's intercession (interruption?) in the world.
When God pours out the Spirit on the people, they do not immediately form a committee or elect elders or call a pastor or plan programs. They do not organize or administrate or even gather together. Instead they go out. The Spirit empowers the gathered community to proclamation, to people, and to performance. They proclaim what they have witnessed (God’s deeds of powers), they seek out others (regardless of nationality, status, race, or creed), and they enact the coming kingdom of God in their worship and their work.
I wonder what will happen if we consider (and reconsider) what it is we celebrate at Pentecost. I wonder what will happen if as we celebrate “the birthday of the church”, we remember that perhaps this celebration is less about what the church is and more about what the church does. And Who it is who calls us together and to go out in the first place.
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