Learning
2009-03-17 by Stephen Schuette

There are so many possible directions to go.  One way: it may be that part of the larger story is about levels of learning.

In some previous stories when people complain God responds with care and compassion, mannah  and easing the burdens of leadership (Nu 11).  Like mice in a maze we quickly learn where the reward is and are adept at returning to where it was previously found.  So the people complain expecting a response similar to the previous one.  This is rote learning, full of conditioned responses, and to be sure, much of our lives are guided by just these types of interactions.  Our “buttons” are pretty easy for folk to discover and we are quick to learn theirs, and once they’re hit it’s usually a done deal.  So the play is made, complaints are registered; the ball is in God’s court and the people wait to be appeased.

But God has a wider repertoire of response.  God’s button will not be pushed, and so we are pressed to learn more deeply about how a relationship can be more genuine, real, authentic.   To this occurrence of complaining that is prompted by impatience rather than genuine need God gives them something to truly complain about.  (NB:  Not that this is done in anger or with the attitude of an abusive parent.  It's about learning and the flexibility of God's responses and the risks God is willing to take to move us forward.)

We are pressed to deeper learning by this odd juxtaposition where the source of the ailment turns out to be its cure.  And we’re well beyond something that can be grasped by rote learning now.

Have you ever realized, perhaps after years of focus and attention on it, that what you thought you wanted isn’t what you really wanted?...what’s more, that the very experiences that were the most undesirable, most painful are full of the deepest meanings?

I agree with Michael that these texts raise questions. Perhaps we’ve done our homiletical job when we’ve invited our listeners to struggle with those questions and so to learn.





Opening Questions
2009-03-16 by Michael Ruffin

I’m going to begin with some questions about John 3:14-21 because this text, surprisingly to me, raises so many of them; it is surprising because the verse in the middle of the lection, John 3:16, is perhaps the most quoted verse in all of the Bible. 

Question #1:  What is the parallel between the lifting up of the serpent in the wilderness by Moses, an event that is described in this week’s Hebrew Bible lesson (Numbers 21:4-9), and the lifting up of the Son of man (v. 14)? 

The parallel does not seem to be between the serpent and the Son of man per se but rather between the lifting up of the serpent on the pole and the lifting up of the Son of man on the cross.  Another possible parallel is between the actions of people in response to the lifting up:  in the Numbers text, when people look on the lifted up serpent they do not die of the serpent’s bite while in the John text, people who believe in the lifted up Son of man do not perish either but they in fact have eternal life.

Question #2:  What is eternal life (vv. 15-16)?

I’m not sure that I have ever answered this question adequately for myself, much less for others in a sermon.  The concept of eternal life surely has meaning beyond the non-cessation of life; it surely means more than being alive forever, our concept of “forever” being bound by our limited and limiting notions of time.  Perhaps eternal life should be thought of as life outside of time, which might make our eternal life something like the life of God, about whom when we say “God is eternal” I think we are really saying that God exists outside of time.  Does eternal life mean for us a life outside of time?  And if so, what does that mean?

Question #3: What does the text mean by “condemnation” (vv. 17-18)?

The text says that God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world (v. 17); it then goes on to say that the one who believes in the Son is not condemned but the one who does not believe in the Son “is condemned already” precisely because that one has not believed.  In what way is the unbelieving one “condemned already”?  Are we to assume that the condemnation can be turned into salvation if the unbelieving one comes to believe?  Does the lifted up Son of man inspire/provoke belief or does he reveal belief?  I ask that last question because there seems to be a connection between the idea of “condemnation” and that of “judgment” in v. 19 where it is said that the judgment is the preference of some for the darkness over the light; vv. 20-21 flesh out that idea by saying that those who are evil do not come to the light because they don’t want their deeds exposed while those whose deeds are true do come to the light.  Vv. 19-21 could be read to mean that God sent God’s Son to reveal the true nature of people.  If that’s the proper way to read them, what does that mean?

Such thinking leads to my last question.

Question #4:  What does it mean to “believe in him” (vv. 15-16) or to “believe in the name of the only Son of God” (v. 18)?  The language seems pretty particular: it is the Son of man who is lifted up in whom one must believe if one is to have eternal life.   It might be a healthy exercise for we who preach to push ourselves this week really to think about how he is to be believed in and what constitutes such belief.





Our guest preaching blogger this week is
2009-03-16 by David Howell

Michael L. Ruffin, pastor of the First Baptist of Fitzgerald, Georgia.  He has previously served as Pastor of The Hill Baptist Church in Augusta, Georgia, as Pastor of the First Baptist Church of Adel, Georgia, and as Associate Professor of Religion at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee.  He is a graduate of Mercer University (B.A.) and the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (M.Div., Ph.D.).  He is the author of Living Between the Advents: Preaching Advent in Year B (CSS, 2005) and editor of Why Be a Christian: The Sermons of Howard P. Giddens (Mercer University Press, 2007). 



Anger
2009-03-12 by Rick Brand

I would suggest that Jesus' anger in the Temple ought to raise for us the question, Where is our anger? In the course of my ministry, there has been so much "niceness", that we have not allowed any "anger" in our idea of what discipleship should be. 



Thanks and Anger
2009-03-13 by David von Schlichten

Thank you to Tom Steagald for helping me with Jesus' anger and thank you to our guest blogger this week, Scott Seay. Please scroll down to read their entries.

I will preach on what Jesus' anger teaches us about our own. Also, I will be asking the congregation for a word. Whatever word someone from the congregation gives me has to figure prominently in the sermon. Once in a while, I do this as a way of underscoring that the sermon is the work of both preacher and listener, orchestrated by the Spirit.

Yours in Christ,

David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator





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