Initial Thoughts for January 15, 2012, Second Sunday after Epiphany, Year B
2012-01-08 by David von Schlichten

1 Samuel 3: God calls Samuel. Samuel doesn't understand at first and needs Eli to help him understand that the calling voice is God's. Often we need another person to help us discern God.

Then the story has an ironic twist in that the message from God is against Eli, the very person who helped Samuel understand the call in the first place. One of the lessons is that we are to help each other hear and understand God, even if doing so could mean judgment from God against us.

Psalm 139: God has searched us out and known us. Parishioners tend to tremble before this psalm, because they see God as wrathful. However, God knowing us is a blessing, something to rejoice over, not something to fear.

1 Corinthians 6: Our bodies are sacred! (Take that, body/soul dualism.) This passage calls us to honor our bodies.

John 1:43-51: This passage works well with Martin Luther King Day, because Nathanael is being prejudiced. He has an elitist attitude toward Nazareth. Jesus corrects that prejudice, and he corrects ours, too.

MLK: Many of us do lip-service to equality but then commit racism and other forms of discrimination when no one is looking. How do we challenge Christians to be genuine about egalitarianism?

What thoughts do you have? Feel free to email me or to submit a post for possible publication here.

Dreaming of equality for all, I am

Yours in Christ,

David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator

Sermon for January 8, 2012 on Matthew 2:1-12, Mark 1:9-11
2012-01-07 by David von Schlichten


Sermon on Matthew 2:1-12 and Mark 1:9-11

for St. James Evangelical Lutheran Church,

Youngstown, PA

with Sunday January 8,  2012,

Epiphany/Baptism of Our Lord,

with the Reverend Dr. David von Schlichten

(word count: 877)


The Star Leads the Wise to God


Nobel Prize-winning writer T.S. Eliot wrote a poem entitled “Journey of the Magi” about the wisemen traveling to see the baby Jesus. In the poem he imagines the hardships of the wisemen as they follow the star for hundreds of miles. In the poem, one of the wisemen says,

“’A cold coming we had of it, / Just the worst time of the year / For a journey, and such a long journey: / The ways deep and the weather sharp, / The very dead of winter’ . . . / And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters, / And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly / And the villages dirty and charging high prices: / A hard time we had of it. / At the end we preferred to travel all night, / Sleeping in snatches, / With the voices singing in our ears, saying / That this was all folly.’” (lines 1-5, 13-20)

Can you imagine traveling by camel hundreds of miles through weather hot and cold, towns friendly and hostile, feeling excited and then weary, eyes on the star burning in the sky?

Have you seen the star that leads the wise to God? Have I? We are the baptized. At our baptism, God drowned us free from eternal death. As Luther says in the Book of Concord, baptism “. . . works forgiveness of sins, delivers from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare.” At his baptism, Jesus receives the Holy Spirit, the Father declares him the Beloved Son, and his journey to the cross, his ministry of salvation, begins. Likewise, when we are baptized, we receive the Holy Spirit and God declares us a beloved child. Baptism is adoption. The voice of God declares you and me to be God’s special, adopted children, the communion of saints, heirs of eternal life. We receive eternal life for free because of Christ’s death and resurrection. The star, the light of God, can appear to anyone, but the light of God definitely appears to the baptized. We are transformed, and with that transformation we receive a calling from God. The Bible repeatedly teaches us that God shines the holy light upon us to lead us. That star, which is from God, leads you on a journey closer to God, empowers you to grow holier.

Where does the star appear? What does it look like? How do we follow it?

One way the star appears is through the Bible. Now, reading the Bible is an arduous journey. Sometimes Christians talk as if the Bible is this easy, user-friendly, handy-dandy guide to life. That’s baloney. The Bible is a healing light, but it is not easy, user-friendly, or handy-dandy. Like the long journey for the magi, studying the Bible is difficult. However, like the long journey for the magi, studying the Bible is rewarding. Through the Bible, God does shine the star, the light, upon us and does call us on a difficult but illuminating journey.

OK, Pastor Dave, I get it. The star shines upon us through the Bible, but I don’t have time. And I don’t know where to begin. The Bible’s a big book. Where do I start?”

There are a couple ways. One way is to buy one of those books that takes you through the Bible in a year or six months or whatever. Another way is to attend one of our Bible studies. A third way is to start with the book of Psalms or one of the gospels. The Psalms are actually fairly user-friendly, touching, and instructive. They are also pretty short, so you can usually read one a day fairly easily. Spend some time with the Bible at least three times a week. The Spirit will shine the light on you.

How else does God shine the star on us? God does it through sermons. Even if the sermon is boring or the preacher is annoying, the Holy Spirit uses preaching to provide guidance and comfort. Through the sermon, the star shines and leads you on a journey to growing in God.

How else does God shine the star on us? God does it through holy communion. When you receive the body and blood, God is shining the star upon you to strengthen you in holiness.

God also shines the star upon us through each other. My friend Tracey was just telling me that her teenage son Josh wanted to start going to church. She said that she now goes to church because of her son. God shines the star upon us through each other. Who has been or is a star shining upon you?

            “Pastor, I understand all that, but I have to tell you. I don’t see the light. I don’t see the star. God seems absent. I’m in the dark.” Believe me, I can relate. Most pastors can.

                If you are in the dark, if you cannot see the light, the star, we are here to help. Pray, come talk to me or another Christian you trust, and do not give up.

            God loves you. Christ is born. The star will appear. Sooner or later, it always does.

Thanks, Rosemary; Matthew 2:1-12; Sermon Thoughts for January 8, 2012
2012-01-05 by David von Schlichten

You are right on target in saying that baptism tears lives apart into before and after. Hallelujah! Such language could easily help hearers to regard baptism anew.

THOUGHTS ABOUT FOLLOWING THE STAR: What does it mean to follow God's star? How do we know when we are seeing the light of God and when we are being deceived? Why is it that some people do not see the light?

A parishioner of mine suggested that Herod and his religious experts don't see the Star. They seem to have no awareness of it apart from the magi's account. So is part of the message of Matthew 2:1-12 that some people simply do not see the Star, that the Star is not visible to all?

What do you think? Follow Rosemary's example by submitting a post for possible publication here.

Listening to twelve drummers drumming (the're driving me crazy!), I am

Yours in Christ,

David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator

Torn Apart
2012-01-02 by Rosemary Beales

Thank you, David . . .I like your connection with Gen 1 and the light. I also focus in that reading on the "separation"  - how God separated the light from the dark (and later would separate the waters above from the waters below.) Like you, I love the power and verve of the Markan baptism account -- esp. the verb rendered as 'torn apart' in the NRSV. The lives of those baptized are torn apart into "before" and "after," even if they are "cute little babies." Their lives after baptism are different because they are called God's beloved and charged to live in covenant with God - a demanding covenant that expects them to see the "beloved" in others. Immersed in the Christian life, soaked in the stories of scripture, they (we) are "marked as Christ's own forever." Torn apart from the life that might have been, we are made whole by love. 

At least that's where my musings are taking me today. 

Initial Thoughts for January 8, 2012, the Baptism of Our Lord
2012-01-01 by David von Schlichten

JESUS' BAPTISM has been a conundrum for many of us in the Church. Why was Jesus baptized? Was he being a role model for us? Did the baptism teach him something about himself? Why does it matter to us that our Lord was baptized?

OUR BAPTISM: We preachers often use this day to reflect on baptism in general. One message that people need to hear is that baptism confers upon us humans an identity-change that demands a change in our behavior while also empowering us to make that change.

Genesis 1: God's voice creates light. The Word of God produces light that leads us. How does the voice of God generate light in our lives?

Acts 19: What does it mean to receive the Holy Spirit? We How can we tell if someone has the Holy Spirit?

Mark 1:4-11: Jesus' baptism features the ripping open of heaven, the descent of the Spirit in dove form, and the Voice declaring that the Son is the Beloved with whom God is well-pleased.

The ripping open of heaven foreshadows the ripping of the Temple curtain at the end of Mark. In both cases, we have the tearing away of a boundary between God and people.

The Spirit's descent is not a gentle lighting but a swooping penetrating.

In other words, the baptism of Jesus is not a sentimental moment but a shocking moment, and the same is  true when some cute little baby gets baptized.

Baptism is shocking, radical, an exorcism, an inversion and invasion, not something cutsy, thanks be to Trinity.

What thoughts do you have? Feel free to email me or to submit a post for possible publication.

Wishing the Orthodox a Merry Christmas, I am

Yours in Christ,

David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator

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