Preaching Possibilities
2009-02-16 by Holly Hearon

The transfiguration – again. Since this text turns up in one form or another every year, my first reaction is a slight groan of despair. But I also enjoy the challenge of trying to see the text with ‘new eyes’ so, what are the possibilities here? There’s the matter of timing: we are given a glimpse of Jesus’ glory before descending into the long season of Lent and the journey towards the cross. It can become a vision that sustains us in our journey through the wilderness. There’s the matter of geography: the mountain is a place of revelation. Sometimes we need to go to a place that takes us apart from the crowd and above the fray, to be able to see with God’s eyes. The challenge, of course, is holding on to that vision when we descend into the fray again. There’s the matter of discipleship: Peter’s well intentioned, but misguided response may be well-worn, but we seem to find endless ways of repeating it. Finally, there is the matter of Jesus and those who appear with him: what does this tell us about who Jesus is? And what is it that we are to listen to?

 

The passage from 2 Corinthians (4:3-6) complements this final question: who is Jesus? It presents a bit of a problem since it picks up in the middle of a larger dilemma Paul faces with the Corinthians who seem to find his ‘proclamation’ less than clear. This could serve as a helpful reminder to us that what we consider ‘self evident’ may not be so to others. Paul’s rejoinder, however, that his Gospel is veiled only to those who are perishing is hardly helpful; it promotes the attitude that if you don’t understand, the problem is clearly with you. Well, it may be, but we shouldn’t use this text as an excuse to avoid considering whether the problem is with us and our proclamation. It is vv. 4-6 that offer a way to further explore the question “who is Jesus?” The idea that it is God who gives us the knowledge of who Jesus is opens the door to considering additional questions related to “how do we know Jesus?” Is it through revelation alone? Is it through personal encounter (which Paul certainly had)? Is it through proclamation? Is it through disciples speech and actions? These can be important questions to raise in a congregational setting where we often simply assume that we know Jesus. Yet the “how” is also an important question. And can we ever assume that we have seen all that there is to see? Further, is this a Jesus that we are willing to follow through the journey of Lent to the cross?

 

The passage from 2 Kings 2:1-12 offers a way to continue the exploration of this question through consideration of Elijah. Why is it that Elijah appears with Jesus? What does it mean for Jesus to stand in continuity with Elijah and Moses? Yet the passage also offers an opportunity to move in a different direction. These verses tell the story of Elijah’s ascent into the heavens, and the passing of Elijah’s spirit to Elisha, his disciple. So, another possibility is to explore the relationship between this prophet and his disciple and to compare and contrast it with the disciples in Mark. Unlike Peter, Elisha seems to know precisely who Elijah is and seeks a share of his spirit. Another interesting theme that this passage introduces is found in v. 3: “Do you not know that today the Lord will take your master away from you?” This echoes the context in Mark, where the transfiguration occurs just after the declaration that Jesus is going to be taken away from his followers. Elijah’s spirit will pass to Elisha, and Jesus will be restored through resurrection – but it is not a replication of what has been; rather it requires a new way of seeing, a new way of relating, and a new way of being.

 

Psalm 50:1-6 feels odd to me in relation to the passages discussed above. It introduces the theme of judgment, which is not found in the other passages – although it could be combined with 2 Corinthians (those who are blinded by the god of this world) in a way that pushes that text beyond what it says. While judgment is certainly a theme that arises in the Bible, I believe it is inappropriate to project it onto passages where it is not already present, or to exaggerate what a text says by combining it with another. If I were to reference the Psalm at all, it would be to focus on God shining forth (v. 2).

 

I want to ponder these options and consider them in relation to my own particular context before choosing a direction.





Our guest blogger this week is
2009-02-16 by David Howell

Holly Hearon, Associate Professor of New Testament at Christian Theological Seminary. Among her publications are The Bible in Ancient and Modern Media: Story and Performance (ed. with Phil Ruge-Jones), "Storytelling in Oral and Written Media Contexts of the Ancient Mediterranean World," in Jesus, the Voice, and the Text, ed. Tom Thatcher (Baylor University Press, 2008), and "The Mary Magdalene Tradition: Witness and Counter-Witness in Early Christian Communities" (The Liturgical Press, 2004), awarded first place in the category of "first time author" by the Catholic Press Association. Her research interests include oral and written media contexts of the ancient Mediterranean world, the role of social memory on the formation of identity, women and Christian origins, and the emergence of Christianity within Formative Judaism. She is a minister of word and sacrament in the Presbyterian Church (USA).





Thanks and Marathon
2009-02-12 by David von Schlichten

It is great to have guest-blogger Dan Flanagan's thoughts about the Naaman story. I value highly Dan's comment about Americans receiving help from Iraqis or some other people we are not very receptive to. Such is the case with Naaman - he gets help from an "inferior" and adversarial people.

I will preach on 1 Corinthians 9. As I train for a marathon that I will run in May, I see this passage in a new light, which is a keener understanding of the brutality of hard training.

The passage talks about working for the prize, which is NOT eternal life. After all, Christ has won eternal life for us. So then, what is the prize? Maybe it is not something for the individual, the racer, but is something for others, perhaps sharing the good news with as many people as possible.

I welcome input, ever

Yours in Christ,

David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator 





Our guest preaching blogger is
2009-02-08 by David Howell

Dan Flanagan, senior pastor of Saint Paul’s United Methodist Church in Papillion, NE.  He is a frequent contributor to Lectionary Homiletics and contributes annually to the Abingdon Preaching Annual. He is a graduate of Perkins School of Theology at SMU, and Morningside College.  He holds an EdD in higher education policy studies from the University of Massachusetts and has held posts in research, administration and teaching in higher education. 

See his first post below.





Finding Focus in the story of Naaman
2009-02-08 by Dan Flanagan

6th Sunday After Epiphany

2 Kings 5: 1-14; 1 Corinthians 9: 24-27; Mark 1: 40-45

There is a clear relationship between the Old Testament and Gospel readings and a tangential relationship with the epistle. The common theme is likely ‘focus.’ The story of Naaman identifies his false concerns until he discovers "there is a prophet in Israel." (vs. 8) In the gospel lesson Jesus also heals a leper who seems to immediately recognize the power of God in Jesus. "If you choose, you can make me clean." (vs. 40) The epistle uses two sports analogies to emphasize the importance of discipline and ‘focus.’ The common thread is that the only true power of life is found in God (through the prophet in Israel and through Jesus Christ in the gospel).

We understand that in competition there is only one winner. The letter to the Corinthians reminds us that winners have self-control and a clear goal. If they become distracted competitors are likely to lose.

Michael Phelps has discovered the consequences of a lack of focus. The media coverage of the last Olympiad as he won eight gold medals focused on dedication to training physically and mentally. The recent revelation of marijuana use may or may not affect his performance, but it certainly detracts from his focus on competition.

Phelps won medals. Those of us who take up spiritual goals will be rewarded eternally, not with something perishable.

Some exegetes suggest that the story of Jesus healing a leper is a response to the Naaman story. Mark’s leper contrasts Naaman in social position and in immediate recognition of the power of God through Jesus. "If you choose, you can make me clean." (vs. 40) In the time of both stories lepers were social outcasts and required to stand at a distance shouting to oncomers, "Unclean, Unclean." Rather than an outcast, Naaman is commander of the army of Aram, "a great man and in high favor with his master"(vs. 1) Elisha had no contact with Naaman (although likely not because of his leprosy). Jesus chose to make himself vulnerable by touching the leper out of compassion. In so doing, Jesus returned this leper to community.

Naaman’s story is less about compassion than about all those things which interfere with our relationship with God. The story holds a variety of interesting observations about human interaction, and most of them can be illustrated today.

Isn’t it interesting that it is a little child who leads Naaman to God. The NRSV says the captured servant girl serving Namaan’s wife was "a young girl." The Hebrew is "small girl." Not only is she from the enemy, but it is a child who offers her advice through Namaan’s wife rather than directly to Naaman. Social order was important. Notice that one king addresses another in the letter rather than Naaman directly communicating with a foreign king.

Privileged position comes into play as Naaman finds Elisha. Instead of approaching Naaman in person Elisha sends a messenger which angers Naaman. "I thought that for me he would surely come out, and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, and would wave his hand over the spot, and cure the leprosy!" (vs. 11) Naaman becomes so infuriated that he leaves.

Again, the servants save the day. Naaman’s servants help him see that if Elisha had offered a difficult challenge he would have immediately accepted it. How could he not take Elisha’s suggestion? What would it hurt? All he had to do was to wash seven times in the Jordan river.

The idea of dipping into this river as opposed to those in his home country also angered Naaman. Naaman was demonstrating our human tendency toward provincialism.

We are likely to find the power of God in the most unexpected places. Naaman found it in the home of his enemy and through a servant girl. Can you imagine Americans being open to finding God through an enemy such as Iran or Al Qaeda? If Naaman’s story possesses a tinge of skepticism about the potential of healing in Israel, how would we define our contemporary understanding of potential healing in Iran? Through Islam? Through an illegal immigrant? Or through someone who has hurt us?

Jesus dealt with similar provincialism in Nazareth. "There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian." (Luke 4: 27)

In spite of his sense of superiority and reluctance Naaman was healed. "Now I know that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel." (vs. 15) If we are focused on finding God and not preserving our human wreaths, like Naaman, we will discover God’s healing power. But it may be in the most unexpected way.





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