From the Beginning
2009-02-01 by Rick Brand

     My Sermon preparation always began on Monday. I always felt desperate and out of control if I missed work on Monday.  Other clergy may take Monday as a day off, but I found that I needed to start the process of sermon preparation on Monday. 

     Monday was used “to break up the soil.”  It would be the first exposure to the texts for the coming Sunday.  Monday was the time to sit at the desk and to make a journey through all of the texts.  With pencil in hand, I would read the lessons and make notes of the questions, impressions, random thoughts that would come to mind. 

  1. Isaiah 40:21-31
    1. “Do you not know, have you not heard, were you not told long ago, have you not perceived ever since the world began, that God sits throned on the vaulted roof of the earth….”

                                  a.  Sounds like frustration to me. Like the parent who tells the child, “how many times do I have to tell you?”   There sounds to me like a voice of one who is disgusted with his people.  You have been told this from the beginning. Why have you forgotten this?  How many things do we know that when time gets rough we forget? Those things that are bedrock get ignored in a time of crisis.  Do I have to keep telling you over and over again that God is Lord over creation and history? 

b.      “Vaulted roof of the earth” – old creation image

c. “Throned”- image of King which offends our democratic ideals,

but which reminds us that the Kingdom of God is not a democracy. There are no individual freedoms to do what you want in the Kingdom of God.

    1. “like a curtain”  “like a tent”  “reduces the great to nothing”  … There is a whole section in here that speaks about the insignificance of creation.  Creation is temporary, transportable like a tent, God reduces greatness to nothing, “earth princess to nothing.”  The Ozymandias poem about the emptiness of political power is affirmed here, but primarily because God is sovereign over that power.  History and those who have great power are really puny, insignificant, come and go affairs. Those matters are in God’s power.
    2. vs. 25-27 Isaiah wants us to compare God with whatever else we might want to call God. “To whom then will you liken me?”  If we don’t believe in God whom will we believe in?  Bob Dylan has a song about everybody serves somebody?   Everybody has some center of judgment.  Who do you trust? State? Wall Street? Fame? Wealth? Physical power?  Everybody has faith in something. We either believe what others tell us or we make ourselves our own God and only believe what we tell ourselves.
    3. vs. 27-29  Reminds us of the God who is on duty 24/7. Who does not grow weary, does not become exhausted, does not forget, does not abandon. G.K. Chesterton has a great section in one of his essay about how humans find activities like “tossing our children up in the air” and our children scream do it again, do it again, and as parents we do it again until we get so tired we cannot lift our arms, and God brings the sun up and we cheer and say do it again, and God does it again, day in and day out, and does not get tired. 
    4. vs. 30-31 Talks about the gifts that God gives. Wings, power to run, and the ability to keep stay standing and moving.  Are the gifts given to each of us at different times in our lives? Are they gifts to different people and some of us never soar, but can run?  Are they maybe chronological gifts, youth, middle age, and old age?   How does these gifts relate to the prosperity gospel?  Is soaring financial abundance?  Is walking and not fainting the same as endurance through economic depressions?
  1. Psalm 147:1-11,20 (another example of “the scandal of the particular again”)
    1. Why is it good to sing praises to God?
    2. “How pleasant” – is that different from “being happy?”  Is pleasant something different from being successful?  What does pleasant mean?
    3. The songs of praise are being done by a rebuilt Jerusalem and the gathered in of the scattered sons.   How do we get included in that group?
    4. vs. 3-7  tells us of the things that God is doing: heals the broken in spirit, binds up the wounds, numbers the stars, names the stars, gives a new heart to the humble (what kind of new heart – proud heart? Why should the humble get a new heart, isn’t a humble heart supposed to be desired by God?), and brings evildoers down to the dust.
    5. vs. 7-11 recounts the things that God has done that warrant the singing of a song of thanksgiving:  puts clouds in the sky, sends rain, puts grass on the hills, gives cattle their food. Lets the birds gather all they want.  Is it not part of our ecological crisis that we have become so detached from creation that these things suggested here would hardly be a reason most of our congregations would be interested in singing songs of praise to God.
    6. vs. 20 is that “scandal of particular” of that God has not done these things in this Psalm for any other nation.  But in fact, God sends rain, puts clouds, and covers the hills with grass in all other nations.  What do you do with that contradiction?   Limit it to the teaching of his decrees only to Jerusalem?
  1. I Corinthians 9:16-23
    1. How do you wrestle with this very difficult tension between “choice” and “compulsion?”  Paul clearly wants to establish that he has a right to be paid. A cherished passage for ordained clergy.  A preacher deserves to be paid for devoting her time to the task of spiritual nourishment.  But at what level?  Poverty for Catholic priest?  Ken Copeland rich?
    2. Paul talks about that compulsion to preach and yet his own choice to do it.
    3. But then Paul spends most of his time talking about how proud and pleased he is to be able to refuse his “just compensation.”  What a bad example for the rest of us.
    4. Where is that great contradiction experienced in our own world?  Paul says that he could do anything he wanted to do, and yet because of his great love for gospel he is eager to preach?  “The satisfaction of preaching the Gospel without expense to anyone: in other words, of waiving the rights which my preaching gives me.”  Is this something akin to pride?
    5. vs. 19-23  really raise this whole question of integrity.  Isn’t Paul being a bit hypocritical?  Wouldn’t we call him two or three faced?  Can you imagine what would happen in our culture with sound bites?  Don’t we attack politicians who say one thing in one city and another thing in another place? Didn’t Paul get upset in Galatia when some of the people eat with Gentiles when Paul was there, but refused to eat with Gentiles when Jewish Christians were present?   How do you retain your own integrity in that kind of “contextual preaching?”
  1. Mark 1: 29-39
    1. The first thing the healed mother-in-law has to do is prepare supper. Not a great example of male sensitivity.  Feminist theologians have commented that such was the male dominance that no sooner was she well than she had to get up and serve dinner.  Why did she have to wait on them?  Maybe she did it out of gratitude for her recovery? 
    2. I have never been convinced that the people in the times of Jesus were less intelligent than we are. Less educated in some ways perhaps, less information, but they knew when somebody was sick and when that person got well. They knew when somebody was dead and when that somebody got healed.  The explanation of miracles because “we are so much smarter” than the people in Jesus’ time is just an easy way to avoid the mystery that is at the center of the ministry of Jesus.
    3. Jesus heals all these people. Those stories confront us with the mystery of Jesus.  And yet Jesus himself says that these are not the central feature or purpose of his ministry.  “I have come to proclaim my message there also; that is what I came out to do.”
    4. What is the message that he came to proclaim?  Was Jesus the message or did he have a message about the Kingdom of God being present among us by God’s grace?  This is great text to force again to that central issue: is Jesus’ the person the message or is the message we have the message Jesus taught in terms of the Kingdom of God.

At the end of Monday, I have these questions in my mind. I have read the text.  On Tuesday I will have found myself attracted to one or two of the texts more than others and will do commentary work on those texts.

Biographical information
2009-02-01 by Rick Brand

Bio for the Rev. Rick Brand, Henderson, N.C.

Retiring on July 1, 2008, the Rev. Rick Brand completed forty years as a PCUSA minister.  He began his ministry in Charlotte, N.C. back in the days when there were Assistant Ministers in the PCUS, and served as Pastor in Houston Texas, Bethel Park, Pa., and Henderson, NC.  His constant focus was on preaching and his written sermons have been published in a great variety of places: Minister's Manuals, Lectionary Homiletics, Preaching, The Biblical Preaching Journal, The Expository Times and others. He has been a part of a number of outreach ministries in the various communities: Habitat For Humanity, Area Christians Together for Service, Interfaith Hospitality Network, The Metropolitan Organization and others. He is married, and the father of two sons.  He is delighted to be invited to share in bloggin forThe Good Preacher, and looks forward to this discussion.  In his retirement he looks forward to having a chance to preach in various places. He may be contacted at


Susan Sparks, Blowfish, Unclean Spirits
2009-01-30 by David von Schlichten

Thank you to guest blogger Susan Sparks for her edifying thoughts. Please scroll down to read her reflections on puffing up versus building up.

I will be dealing with unclean spirits in my sermon. How does Jesus drive out the unclean spirits of our lives? How do we serve as Christ's instruments of exorcism?

I will also be watching the Super Bowl, even though I usually don't care about football, because I live in the "Steeler Nation," as we call it. Go, Troy, Ben and Hines!

Even when watching the Black and Gold,  I am ever

Yours in Christ, 

David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator 

paul and the blowfish
2009-01-26 by Susan Sparks

One of my favorite of God’s creatures is a blowfish.  It’s how you know God has a sense of humor.  It’s the ultimate sign of the great diversity of creation.  Blowfish and Platypus.  Jerry Springer and Jerry Fallwell. 

            I remember seeing my first blowfish in a gift shop in St. Augustine, Florida.  You could buy a dried, fully puffed-up little fish for $1.50.  It was between the blowfish or the coconut carved into a monkey head.  I went for the blowfish.  There was something so arrogant and funny about that little fish.   Apparently, when it thinks it is in danger, it puffs itself up to approximately ten times its size to scare away predators.  It looks fierce and impressive, but is in fact nothing but air. 

I have to wonder if they had blowfish in the Mediterranean.  I would bet yes, as Paul’s message in 1 Corinthians 8:1 “knowledge puffs up, but love builds up” may well have been inspired by this little fish. 

Our lectionary this week comes from the book of 1 Corinthians.  A bustling seaport and cosmopolitan city, Corinth gained a rather notorious reputation as a place where all things could be found and all things could be done. Sort of the Vegas of the ancient world, I guess.   According to Paul’s letters, the Corinthians were a bit arrogant, had a tendency to argue with each other a lot.  To puff up in their own defense so to speak.  As a result, we see an inordinate number of letters between Paul and the Corinthians addressing a variety of questions from this tiny budding community. 

One of those questions is whether Christians can eat meat sacrificed to idols. Now, remember a majority of the people at this time are not Christian—most are pagan—doing the idol worship thing.  Also, understand that it was a common practice at that time to take the meat from a sacrificed animal and sell it in the marketplace.  I mean why not, the Gods were only interested in the act of sacrifice, not a nice ox chop.  So, the Corinthians ask the question: what if you go to your friend’s house for dinner who is a pagan and they served meat from the marketplace that had been previously sacrificed to a pagan god.  What do you do? 

Paul basically says there are two ways to approach the problem:  through knowledge and through love.  Our knowledge and intellect as Christians tells us that there is only the one god, and idols have no significance.  Therefore eating food sacrificed in front of an idol should make no difference. However, Paul says, knowledge is not the only way to judge one’s actions.  Just because we may have the technical or legal right to do something, doesn’t mean we have a moral right.  He gives the example of a non-believer seeing a Christian eating sacrifice meat and being persuaded that idol worship is OK.  Paul says, “If what I eat causes my brother to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause him to fall.”   

Paul’s message brings to mind my favorite little blowfish. Paul argues that while intellect alone may seem a good basis for decisions, it is nothing but air that “puffs us up;” an impressive, fierce facade, with nothing on the inside.  Love on the other hand is what “builds us up.”  It’s what gives a foundation of justice and righteous to our actions.

            Think how many times this comes into play in daily life.  Knowledge tells a landlord that he or she could technically evict someone, but love says don’t, they’ll be out on the streets.  Knowledge tells us that we have no legal obligation to offer food or clothing to those less fortunate, but love whispers something different.  Knowledge says you are justified in raising your voice in an argument with your child or loved one, but love says stop talking and listen. Knowledge may tell us that international law justifies a declaration of war, but love declares something very different.

How does this apply in your life?  Can you think of things that your head says you have a right to do, but your heart says you shouldn’t?  Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.  Let us think about that this week and begin to ground our conduct not on what our heads say we can do, but on what our hearts say we should.   

Rev. Susan Sparks

Pastor, Madison Avenue Baptist Church

A Preacher, A Lawyer, A Standup Comedian
2009-01-26 by David Howell

all walk into a room...You have our guest preacher blogger this week: Susan Sparks


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