Selecting a Metaphor from the Text
2009-01-01 by Luke Bouman
This opening section of John’s Gospel provides us with many possible compelling Images for preaching. Among them are: Creation and life through the “logos”; the “logos” becoming flesh, full of grace and truth; light and darkness; the only begotten Son of the Father; God made visible in the Son. There are certainly more. In addition, they are certainly not separate concepts, but linked together. The reason I sorted them is that when I have been tempted, in the past, to treat all of them together in one sermon, I have either only skimmed the surface of each concept, or I have gotten long winded. Neither one seems, in retrospect, a good idea for my congregation.
So I choose to select one controlling metaphor from among this list for preaching this week. This, of course, depends on both where my preaching has been and where it is going in the coming weeks. I usually don’t prepare my sermons in isolation from one another. I consider well in advance my likely themes, and for several reasons. It allows me to explore recurring themes and nuance them over several weeks (which will be especially helpful when the “Bread of Life” texts appear this summer, for example). It also allows me to inform my parish musicians, who will choose hymns and choral music that will compliment my themes if they have sufficient time to select and prepare them. Finally, it forces me to focus and gives me time over many weeks rather than just one week to select illustrations and stories to accompany each sermon.
While I do not mean to suggest that the other themes for this week are not important, I have chosen to use the contrast between light and darkness as my controlling image for several reasons. First, I have dealt with images of incarnation and its implications already twice using texts from Luke 2. On Christmas Day, another preacher dealt with those same themes using part of this same text, which was appointed for that day. Second, I am aware of the coming Epiphany festival and its theme, “Christ the light for all nations.” So I will use this text to segue into the themes of that season, especially since I know that most folks will not observe Epiphany Day on Tuesday. Finally, I think that the theme of “light and darkness” provides some interesting departures for preaching not only about darkness (and current events certainly provide us ample examples of it in the world, our lives individually and corporately provide us with resonance with our need for light and life) but also about God’s bringing of light in a particular way through Jesus.
By tomorrow I hope to explore this theme a bit more as I prepare to preach on Sunday.
Understanding John's Prologue
2008-12-30 by Luke Bouman
The opening of John’s Gospel, our text for the second Sunday of Christmas, is richly layered with possibilities for preaching. John approaches the incarnation not with narrative stories about Mary and Joseph, not in a historical/political setting with Augustus or Herod, but rather with a meta-narrative and a cosmic/theological setting. This should not give us permission to preach whatever we want and link it to this text. John’s sources and dialog partners are not obscure
John is in dialog first with the traditions of his own background, first century Judaism. His invocation of the creation narrative from Genesis in the first verse is a clue. In first century Judaism, the idea of a God who is both creator and yet engaged in relationship with the creation is central to an understanding of God. But God’s presence was most often connected with Torah. John suggests in this passage that Jesus surpasses Torah in giving us a glimpse of God. Thus, the incarnation is decidedly counter-cultural, yet not unthinkable, in the Jewish worldview of the day.
John’s second dialog is with ideas from the Greek philosophical tradition, which are beginning to impact the Christian community (likely as the beginnings of what became known as Gnosticism). Here the idea of the divine word or “logos” which will impart divine truth and reveal the real and spiritual, as opposed to the unreal/physical is certainly one that John is conversing with. But here, John also turns that system on its head, as he introduces the “logos” not as entering, but becoming flesh. John rejects the idea that creation is bad, insisting that what God is doing is saving the creation, an idea that starts here and continues throughout the Gospel (notably at 3:17, and certainly in Chapter 14 in the short discourse with Thomas).
Certainly today we have no shortage of folks who either want to see God clearly through adherence to the law, though often no longer strictly the Torah, on the one hand, and those who see the spiritual as an escape from the physical into another dimension on the other hand. For all of these folks, John’s Gospel serves as challenge, but also as good news of freedom. We are freed from the bondage of the law, sin and death. We are freed for the care of creation and to live as the community that is grounded in the stuff of existence, not trying to escape it. Thus John is tapping into the deeper themes of what it means that God’s “logos” has become flesh. Perhaps by this 11th day of Christmas, the people are ready to hear some of these themes.Of course, the challenge for every preacher will be to take this message of John’s deep, ontologically grounded discourse and translate it into images, stories and songs that the people will relate to. How is it that God makes God’s self known through the Son? How is it that we, as people of God, are called into the work that God is up to? Questions like these will help us take this text and begin to mold our sermons around it.
This week's guest lectionary preaching blogger is
2008-12-29 by David Howell
The Reverend Dr. Luke Bouman, a pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Director of Church Relations for Valparaiso University, and a frequent guest preacher in the Chapel of the Resurrection on campus.
For People Who Only Show up Christmas and Easter
2008-12-23 by David von Schlichten
They will be with us on Christmas Eve/Day. What shall we proclaim to them?
Our guest blogger's thoughts about Christ being born in meaningful encounters with other Christians or people in need is helpful here. Perhaps we can proclaim how, each Sunday, Christ is born, in a sense. That is, Christ comes to us through the reading of Scripture, the proclamation of the sermon, and the gathering of Christians in his name.
We could talk about how, on Sunday, we encounter Christ literally, just as the shepherds encountered him in the Bethlehem-barn.
What do you think? What would help to get those who come only twice a year to come more often?
Yours in Christ,
David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator
Eyes to see
2008-12-23 by Alan Meyers
Simeon and Anna could recognize Christ in the ordinary-looking baby Mary and Joseph brought to the Temple . They could recognize him because the Holy Spirit enabled them to do that (see Luke 2:27 ). But surely, also, they were PREPARED to recognize him. They were LOOKING for the Christ. They were "spiritually conditioned."
We read about Simeon that he "was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel ... It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord's Messiah" (Luke 2:25-26). You get the impression about Simeon that he was just very eager to find God's purpose in things, to see what God was doing for his people. To see God's Messiah was the big concern of Simeon's life; he wanted that more than anything else. He was like the speaker in that passage from Isaiah we read on December 28, who says, "For Zion's sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem's sake I will not rest, until her vindication shines out like the dawn, and her salvation like a burning torch" (Isaiah 62:1).
And look at Anna. We read about her that "She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day" (Luke 2:37 ). Through her worship and her prayer and her devotion, Anna, too, had developed a great sensitivity to God's purpose, to what God wanted, and so she was able to recognize God's moment when it came. She was able to recognize Christ when she saw him.
You have to look to be able to see. You have to listen to be able to hear. Anna and Simeon did look, and they did listen, avidly. They prepared to meet the Messiah. And they did meet him.
You and I need to prepare, too, if we want to have the joy and wonder of meeting Christ in our ordinary daily lives. We need to prepare like Anna did, by prayer and devotion. We need to be like Simeon, letting what God wants and what God is doing be the big concern in our lives.
When you are feeling down and discouraged, and someone pats you on the shoulder and says an encouraging word that helps you get through the day -- or when you do that for someone else -- Christ is born in that moment, the love of God comes into the world and is made real and visible. That moment is Christmas, whatever the calendar may say.
When I was a pastor many years ago, I made a condolence call one day on a woman whose husband had just died suddenly. A kindly neighbor was with her when I entered, and I was introduced to this neighbor as the pastor. The neighbor turned to the widow and said, "Now you listen to him; he comes from God." Wow! I was impressed. When she said that I was suddenly terrifically aware of the importance of what I was doing, and the meaningfulness of it: I had come from God! Christ was visiting this sorrowing woman through me. The Word was becoming flesh in me. And of course this is not something limited to ordained ministers. Any word of comfort spoken in due season by any Christian, or indeed anyone, can be understood as the appearance of Christ in the world. That moment is Christmas.
When you forgive an enemy, when you become reconciled with someone you haven't spoken to in years, when an old quarrel or an ancient grudge is brought to the surface and healed and finally ended, that is Christmas. It is the birth of the Prince of Peace, who came into the world to bring about reconciliation.
When in your daily reading of Scripture and in your prayers a light dawns, and you know yourself to be in communication with the living God, that is Christmas. Christ the living Word is alive now in a new way for you.
When we baptize, a child or an adult, the love of God, God's wonderful, welcoming, saving love, is made manifest, set out where we can see it. It's set out where we can see it, in the sacramental sign of the water that cleanses and renews. And it is Christmas: Christ comes out into the world where we can see him.
For those who follow the example of Simeon and Anna, post-Christmas let-down will not be nearly so harsh. It really can be Christmas any time of the year.
May it be so for us.
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