2009-02-05 by Rick Brand

Thursday brings the need to get the skeleton outline of the sermon completed.  For this week my major debate is whether or not to start with the problem and then the solution or to start with the solution and then look at the problem. Paul Scherer, one of my heroes, often commented that preachers frequently know a lot about the problem and so send lots of time on the problem, but then cannot make the solution as big as the problem  Do I start with our fears and concerns and then put those fears in the context of God or do I start with God and then say "now, our fears don't look so big." 

This time I think I will follow the guidance of Isaiah and the Pslam and start with the reminder of the greatness of God. Like Isaiah the people of faith need now to remember the greatness of the God they have claimed to believe.  The Greatness of God: the Creator, the Lord of History, the Sustainer of Life, the Giver of Hope, the Healer of the Broken, the One who has redeemed us in the past.

The next movement is to ask so now how do our worries and our fears look. Look at them now through the eyes of faith in that greatness of God and they do not look so big. They are not as overwhelming. They have not gone away, they are still there, but they are not larger than the creative and sustaining power of God.

The last movement would be to affirm that God gives us the gifts of the ability to hold on. To walk and not faith. To return us to our activities. The power of God is to give us another day in which we can enjoy the goodness of creation. That the greatness of God provides us with a creation that can sustain all of us, but does not promises any of us riches and prosperity beyond what is available to all of us.

As I put together this outline I will put notations on the quotes, stories, illustration that have been a part of this process.

Healing and Curing
2009-02-04 by Paul Janssen

It's somewhat of a commonplace to comment on the difference between healing and curing.  I'll just add my few cents into the mix, in hopes that perhaps these reflections might stimulate some fellow preacher's thought in a useful direction.

Jesus is a healer, not a curer.  Curing is an individualistic art, and, while Jesus did heal individuals, they were people related to others -- a mother-in-law, people who were BROUGHT, etc., and crowds gathered.  The healing is all rather thoroughly based in a social setting. 

Imagine what might have happened if, when Jesus was told of the fever of Simon's mother-in-law, he had said "What insurance carrier does she have?"  This illustrates many things, not least of which is the way we treat individuals for single, highly specialized issues.  (A physician in our day might say, "I recognize that gallbladder."   Jesus might rather say, "I know your family.")

We pastors live in this reality.  A member has been laid up for months with a bad leg.  What does she see as the chief issue?  Not that her leg is ailing (though that is of course immensely important), but that she is unable to get out and be among friends, to feel human. 

The Bantu concept of "ubuntu" says that a person is a person to another person.  So, when I am ill, I find that I am less able to be a person to you, and my illness diminishes you.  In addition, when I am ill, I am less able to receive you as a person, so I too am diminished. 

So let's think of "healing" rather than "curing" and we'll be on a good trajectory.

Second, healing for Jesus is a sign of something bigger.  It makes all the difference to a demoniac or a woman with a fever (etc.) if they are healed, of course.  But healing is a sign of the reign of God.  It says that we were not made for our bodies to be ailing.  We were made for wellness.  We were made to have the capacity to stand for justice, to make peace, to give and receive joy.  Wellness arising from illness is a sign that God is alive and at work and powerful in this world. 

So our prayers for healing are subsumed in the Lord's prayer:  "Thy kingdom come."  Yes, not in any abstract, almost gnostic way, but in a concrete, bodily, incarnate way.  I want to be healed, not only because it's good for me, but because it will give glory to God.  But here's the thing -- I can be healed, despite not being cured, right?  I can be socially restored, to some extent, even though my body is not all that I might hope.  Hence, my healing bears witness to God's reign.

Finally, when healing becomes a matter of social rather than individual conception, we can all recognize our need for healing.  We all have some sort of broken relationships strewn along our pathway.  We may know of them directly -- people we've hurt or who have hurt us.  They may be written on a larger scale - irreconciliation between races, or between rich and poor, fundamentalist and modernist, male and female, gay and straight, etc.  We are all in need of healing; we all have sinned and fallen short of God's glory. 

Thus we are privileged to be part of God's ministry of healing, but as wounded healers.  We don't heal from our strengths, but from our wounds.  We open our ears to hear the echoes of our own brokenness in others, and make space for them to experience shalom.  We open our eyes to detect what we see when we look in the mirror, and we make a covenant of compassion.  We take on the mind of Christ, and empty ourselves, as we are, wounds and all, and so give glory to God. 


Paul's Honesty and Integrity
2009-02-04 by David von Schlichten

Thank you to Rick Brand for taking us by the hand through his sermon-preparation process. We look forward to his contributions for the rest of the week here in the tub.

I am considering 1 Corinthians. Paul sounds like he is being phony in his willingness to be all things to all people. However, we see elsewhere in Paul that he is not an anything goes, it's-all-good, deceptive kind of guy. After all, elsewhere in this same letter (and in other letters, such as Galatians) he is pretty firm.

The key is that Paul is willing to adapt "for the sake of the gospel." Paul is not a slave to his own biases, habits or prejudices. He leaves those behind in the name of winning people to Christ.

Further, he is openly acknowledging that he is doing this. So Paul is actually showing great honesty and integrity here.

Perhaps he is also saying to the Corinthians, "Go and do likewise. Quit bickering, ranking, and competing. Focus instead on becoming all things to each other for the sake of the gospel."

Yours in Christ,

David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator

2009-02-04 by Rick Brand

Wednesday would begin with a review of what I have done on Monday and Tuesday. What are the questions and what are the points I have learned from the commentaries. The hope is that I will find the central thrust of the sermon for Sunday and perhaps find the outline for the message.

Certainly for Feb. 8th severral of the texts gather around the great affirmation of the sovereignty of God. The theme is constant in Isaiah and in the Pslam. God the Creator of the universe. God the Lord over History. God the Sustainer of Life. God the Giver of Hope. God the Keeper of Promises. To those in exile, depressed and grief stricken, the message is "How can you forget the power and greatness of God?" 

But there is also the message in the passages and in Mark that God who protects, sustains and restores creation does not give blessings that are luxurious.  Wings to fly, power to run, strength to walk, healing to return to service, the broken made whole but not made super powerful.

If there were a message selected for the current mood of our country, this one seems to be tailor made.  We are frightened, frustrated, disappointed, angry, and desperate.  We need a strong dose of reminder that we live in a world where God has provided for all creation, where God is sustainer of life and creation, that our hope for the future is in "the mighty power of God that made the moutains rise." But there is also in these stories the note that God is not the one who protects the riches and the luxuries of life. God's sustaining power is the more basic and essential. Jesus' miracles of healing do not dramatically change the quality of life those who were sick had before they became sick or injured.

The sermon thought I have for Sunday sounds like what the angels are always saying, "Fear not!"  Have you forgotten the greatness of the God who rules creation? God is still in charge and God still provides enough in creation for our daily bread. But God does not promise like Madoff great riches.

Now the work moves toward getting the outline and the hope that stories, illustrations, examples, material to fill out the sermon will gather.

Book Work
2009-02-03 by Rick Brand

In this morning's newspaper there was a Beetle Bailey cartoon strip that has Beetle sitting under a tree. Zero comes and asks Beetle what he is doing. Beetle says he is "watching the clouds, listening to the birds, smeeling the fresh ari, seeing little animals and flowers..." Zero sits down next to Beetle and says "Wow, I didn't know so much was going on." 

That is right out of Psalm 147 and I put that in my folder as a possible piece for the sermon. But I was alert to it because of the preparation I had done on Monday.

Tuesday is commentary work. Isaiah, the Psalm and Mark seem to me to be moving in one direction together so I will work on them and leave out I Corinthians. 

There  is a great story about the great mission champion John McKay who was touring with a group of Evangelical leaders. They went into the home of a local and the host in great humility offered the traditional gift of a glass of "home brew." The Evangelicals refused. McKay took a glass and praised the host for its great quality. The host, wanting to offer something to the Evangelicals, brought out his smoking pipe. Again the Evangelicals refused and McKay took a puff.  The host brought them to his table, but the food was all local and the Evangelicals did not respond well to it. McKay took some of all of it and ate it with a smile. When the group left the Evangelical leaders jumped all over McKay. How could you drink, smoke and eat that stuff? McKay just said, "Somebody in there had to act like a Christian." Paul says something along those lines as well. But I do not think that passage fits in with the other passages about the Greatness of God and God gift to us of the ability to hang on (walk and not faint, to get up and go about our business)

We all have our favorite commentaries and some have more than others as resources.  Some of the comments quoted from the ones I used:

Isaiah affirms "the promise that God sustains, supports, carries, upholds us in times of danger, distress, and oppression." "Isaiah argues for the great incomparable power of God."  "God's power is visible" in every place we turn our eyes" "God always has the power to deliver us, and we must be patient in trust and not question why God is slow."  "The prophet gives a reproof to the people of God for their fears and despondence in capitivity. He silences their fears that God lacks the power, intent, or concern for them.  In all conditions God will provide enough for hope.Those who wait in Babylon and believe God does not care, is not working, does not have the power to sustain them are reminded of the God who has the power of creation, the power to act in history before, and is still the one who is able to give all levels of need.

Psalm 147 is another hymn of praise to God for his universal power and providential care. The Psalm provides evidences of God's care.

The Mark passage gives us the miracle stories of healing and power, but seems to down play their significance. In the commentaries we are reminded that the healing of the Mother-in-law is on the Sabbath which is always a problem. That Jesus touches the woman which is a problem, and she gets up and prepares supper for them which might have been a problem.  But it is typical that Jesus healings and miracles consistently restore people to their before problem life. Seldom does a miracle from Jesus result in a lottery winning type experience. Peter's Mother-in-law is healed and she is restored to her previous role in life. Those healed that night are returned to their "average, normal, life."

At the end of the day there appears to me to be a word of reminder to people of the greatness of God to be able to keep us going, to sustains us in the hard places.

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