I Can Do It Myself
2009-05-03 by Susan Cartmell

My mother likes to tell a story about me that occurred when I was 2. It seems my dad was pushing me on the swing and after I saw how he did it, I wanted to figure out how to make the swing go independently of him. Before long, I told him – “Daddy, my do it myself”. Obviously a person with such a tentative grasp of English grammar probably was not capable of figuring out how to pump a swing. But apparently this story was indicative of an attitude which was descriptive of my emerging personality. Both my parents found my fierce independence to be delightful and difficult in turns.

 

That quality in each of us which is a blessing is also often connected to that which proves to be a curse as well. So it was for Israel. God’s parental relationship is often described in terms of a vineyard keeper with vines that are at times productive and at other times unruly. Isaiah tells the Parable of the Unfriutful Vineyard and portrays God as so upset God wants to tear down the wall and let the whole thing go back to wilderness. (Isaiah 5:1-7)  Jeremiah uses the theme of a wild vine to describe the people of faith. God took an interest in Israel and planted a cultivated vine but Israel became wild and forgot, the vinedresser and to whom it belonged. (Jeremiah 2:21)

 

One idea for this week would be to speak about independence as a blessing and a curse. John reminds us that Christ is the vine and we are the branches. While we are aware of our dependence on Christ we also struggle with it.

Unaware of God:  Like the Israelites we forget that the God who created us is watching over us. We fail to see that we live in God’s vineyard and that God is actually fretting about our future, and our productivity like a vine dresser with a good vine. When we are pruned – we often complain and cannot grasp that it is meant for cleansing and it strengthens our roots and fortifies us and makes us more productive.

Unaware of Christ Jesus: John says that Jesus is the vine and we are the branches. Apart from Him we can do nothing. It is hard news – we are so sure of what needs to be done in the world. We are so independent. We don’t want help. We know what is right.

A nod to Mother’s Day. A nod is often all I give to this occasion, which often produces one of our bigger crowds after Easter. Perhaps that is a missed opportunity but in searching out vine references I found that Ezekiel 19:10-14 mentions – “Your mother was like a vine in a vineyard, a strong vine.”  Several verses earlier Ezekiel compared God to a lioness with her cubs. Each incarnation of Israel is a different cub this lioness has produced.  It is a pretty thin connection, I admit, but something you might be able to build on.

 



Our guest preaching blogger this week is
2009-05-03 by David Howell

Susan Cartmell.

Susan has served as the Senior Minister of the Congregational Church of Needham {www.needhamucc.org}, outside of Boston since 1998. A graduate of Mount Holy College and Harvard Divinity School she served in two other UCC churches in Massachusetts since 1981. She is intrigued by the link between pastoral and prophetic preaching and tries to make those connections for contemporary audiences. She finds it fun to use images like pictures of religious art to accompany some of her sermons.





Roger Gench and Love
2009-05-01 by David von Schlichten

Thank you to our guest blogger Roger (his wife Frances is my favorite teacher of all time) for his perspicacity regarding 1 John's peculiar mixture of love and demonizing.

Much demonizing indeed goes on among Christians, such as the demonizing of people who have the opposite view regarding controversial issues.

Some of my students were complaining about Christians they have encountered who have been very judgmental and condemning. We are to respond to such hostility not in kind but in kindness, with love. Being honest, even critical, can still be loving. Many of us know this truth on some level but struggle to adhere to it.

I hope others will share their thoughts.

Yours in Christ,

David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator 





GoodPreacher Award Winner Is....
2009-05-01 by David Howell

Scott Cowdell

Associate Professor, School of Theology,  Charles Sturt University

Research Fellow in Public and Contextual Theology

Canon Theologian, Diocese of Canberra & Goulburn

 

He will receive a complimentary registration to the Festival of Homiletics, a free room, and $200.00 in expense money for the Festival!






Little 1 John's Big Irony
2009-04-27 by Roger Gench

The real irony of the little Epistle of 1 John is that it contains the most eloquent expressions about love in the entirety of the New Testament, and yet the author demonizes his or her opponents more than any letter in bible.  Our lesson of May 3 contains the following exhortations from 1 John 3: “And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us.  All who obey his commandments abide in him, and he abides in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given us.”  In this passage, the essence of the Christian life is defined by the twofold commandment to believe in Jesus Christ and to love one another. Yet, in the passage that immediately proceeds this lesson the children of God are contrasted to the children of the devil, and in the passage that follows, 1 John names the presumed opponents of God as the “antichrist.”   What is troubling about this kind of language is that the people to whom it was address were likely fellow Christians who held different opinions. In other words, in this most articulate expression of love there is demonizing language about fellow Christians.  

So what do we do with this irony?  Well, I think we can learn from both the dangers and the promise of this letter.  The danger is that we might demonize our Christian brothers and sisters to the point that we don’t feel the need to listen to them.  The promise of the letter is that truth counts and, to be sure, we must distinguish truth from falsehood (there is, in fact, serious evil in the world and some of it is done by Christians!), but way in which we counter falsehood is in how we live.   The commandment in our lesson from 1 John is to believe the crucified and risen Christ and to love one another. And love for John is not something we feel but something we do.  Some may offer the protest that you can’t make a commandment out of love. But love is not a feeling it’s an action. The wisdom of 1 John is that when we act for the good of other, our feelings will catch up with our acts. Maundy Thursday observance ought to remind us that loving acts, like foot washing, are the key to Christian community.  
 
Roger J. Gench
The New York Avenue Presbyterian Church
Washington, DC





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