Everything In Its Place
2011-12-01 by Dee Dee Haines

My favourite thing about John the Baptist is his consistent ability to get over himself.  Okay, so he’s a little freaky in his dress and diet, but the ministry he undertakes, the life that he leads, points to Jesus---and who Jesus is.  It’s never about any kind of self indulgence.  Wouldn’t it be so helpful if we could do the same? 

 

Sometimes I think about how many church meetings I attend that are focused on us.  We spend hours, days and months, wrestling with the tiny details of community that, in the big picture, have little to do with what it means to be the Church of Jesus Christ.  Do we like the colour of the carpeting that is to be installed?  Did we sing our favourite Advent hymn?  Who’s been sitting in my pew?   Is the pastor saying what we want her/him to say?  Are we pre-occupied with our numbers in a time of decline?  Did the sign out front advertise what we wanted to advertise?  It seems to me that we spend an enormous amount of time and energy indulging our own wants and desires. 

 

This is not true for John the Baptist.  What he says, what he does, it all points to Jesus. His invitation asks us to get things in the right order.  Sort.  Prioritise.  Get things in their proper place.  We hear him say, “Prepare the Way.” The reference to “the Way” is another clue that points to Jesus who later tells us, “I am the way.”

 

In his “Message” interpretation of the parallel text in Matthew, Eugene Peterson puts contemporary words into John’s voice.  Change your life.  God’s kingdom is here.  Turn your old life in for a kingdom life. (Paraphrase from The Message:  The Bible in Contemporary Language, Eugene Peterson, Navpress Publishing Group, 2002).

 

We are left with some questions.  What does a “kingdom life” look like? How do I trade in my old life for this new model of living?  What keeps me clinging to a life that is not sorted, prioritised and pointing to God?  If a “kingdom life” is as close as our breath, hanging right there in front of us, waiting to be claimed, what keeps us from stepping into that reality?

 

The answers to all of these questions will be as varied as we are.  But here’s the thing.  I suspect that deep down we get it, but on the surface, we are convinced that we really don’t need this new way.

 

Covenant living calls us into accountability and we’re not always so open to that kind of scrutiny.  We totally miss the invitation for freedom and liberation from those things that whisper false truths into our ears.  The voice of Empire and Consumerism never sleeps.  So, if we are fooled into thinking that we don’t need to live in covenant with God and with community because we are well equipped to make it on our own, we won’t do it.  We won’t actively choose something that we think we don’t need.  It may be helpful for a preacher to ask a question, “At this very moment, as we propel ourselves through a season of preparation, what is your greatest need?”

 

Perhaps if we are a little less self indulgent, and a little more focused on Jesus in our midst, we might be more inclined to put things in their place, to prioritise.   We might be able to discover our real needs, and let go of those things that distract us as we travel with Jesus on the Way.

 

Dee Dee Haines

Isle of Man





Initial Thoughts on John the Baptist for December 4, 2011
2011-11-28 by David von Schlichten

Isaiah 40 and Mark 1:

Isaiah 40 speaks of comfort, but the voice crying out is, in Mark, associated with John the Baptist who is, well, not generally associated with comfort. He is wild and associated with this angry exhortation to repentance. So, uh, where's the comfort?

When parishioners hear the call to repentance, they tend to fixate on their sins and God's wrath. However, John the Baptist is calling us to repent BECAUSE Jesus is coming, and Jesus, on the whole, is NOT angry. No, he is patient, gentle, merciful. Yes, we are to repent, but the repentance prepares us to receive primarily, not Christ's wrath, but Christ's mercy. Hence, the comfort.

BEING JOHN THE BAPTIST:

How are we John the Baptist? How do we function as voices crying in the wilderness for our communities, including the global one?

What thoughts do you have? Feel free to email me or to submit a post for publication here. You can email me through goodpreacher.com or by using my personal email, drdlphn@yahoo.com. You also can text me at 724-757-6695.

Yours in Christ,

David von Schlichten, Lectinonary Blog Moderator





Sermon on Advent for November 27, 2011
2011-11-26 by David von Schlichten

 

Sermon on Advent

for St. James Evangelical Lutheran Church,

Youngstown, PA

with Sunday, November 27,  2011

First Sunday in Advent, Year B

with the Reverend Dr. David von Schlichten

(word count: 758)

 

Get Ready to Sing, Part One

 

            Marison woke up. “It’s ok,” she thought after a few seconds of lying frozen, listening to her breathing and her heart. “It’s ok. I’m ok. It was just a dream.” Ever since she had turned forty the previous month, she had been having difficulty with sleep. Sometimes she could not sleep at all. Other times, she’d fall asleep but then wake a few hours later from a disturbing dream. In the dream she wandered the streets of a vast suburb, where there was no color; everything was black and white. There were no people. Just a cold rain. The emptiness and vastness of the suburb made her heart pound. Then she’d wake up.

            Later that morning, at church, during the sermon, she prayed silently, “God, help. I don’t know what’s bothering me. Please.”

            After worship, she shook hands with the pastor on her way out the door.

            “How are you, Marison?” the pastor asked. The pastor seemed to be studying Marison’s face, as if she could tell that something was wrong.

            Marison smiled at the pastor and said, “I’m fine, Pastor Beatrice.”

            Pastor Beatrice stared at her and said, “Really?”

            Marison wanted to cry. Instead she laughed. “Absolutely. Never better,” she said and hurried out the door to her car with her two children, eleven and eight, following her.

            At home she made lunch for her, her husband, and their two children. They talked about nothing in particular. She mentioned getting started on Christmas shopping. He mentioned going hunting. The kids were picking on each other. She told them to knock it off. She wanted to say, “I don’t want to celebrate Christmas,” but instead she said, “It’s gonna be a good Christmas.” He grunted in agreement. The kids threw food at each other.

            The next day, she went to work at the doctor’s office. She smiled at the patients, did her job. At lunch, she went to Wendy’s across the street with her girlfriends from the office. At four-thirty, she went home, made dinner, spent time with her family. The next day, she did all that again. The next day, she did all that again. “Same stuff, different day,” she thought.

            “I have a lot to be thankful for,” she kept telling herself on Wednesday afternoon after work as she walked through the mall in search of gift ideas. “I have so much to be thankful for.” She thought, “Thank you, God, for my husband, my kids, my job, my health, my house, my food. Thank you, thank you, thank you.” She stood still in the mall and looked around. So many people shopping. Her heart felt heavy. She thought of the Beatles’ song “Eleanor Rigby.” “Ahhh, look at all the lonely people.”

            That evening, she made an appointment with Pastor Beatrice.

            The next afternoon, after work, she sat across from Pastor Beatrice in her office, the pastor’s hazel eyes taking her in.

            “So what’s wrong?” Pastor Beatrice asked.

            “I don’t know,” said Marison, and she started crying. She told the pastor about being thankful for her life but also hating it. “I feel so . . . . asleep, lost, empty, and I feel guilty for feeling that way.”

            Pastor Beatrice listened and then finally said, “You know what Thoreau said back in the eighteen-hundreds? He said that most people lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them. Does that make sense?”

            Marison gasped. “That’s incredible!” she said.

            “So maybe what we need to do,” added Pastor Beatrice, “is figure out what your song is.” The two of them prayed, and Marison’s assignment was to think about what her song might be.

            That following Sunday, during worship, Marison pondered the season of Advent. She noted that Advent emphasizes getting ready for the coming of Jesus. Wake up. Get ready. Jesus is coming. John the Baptist cries out in the wilderness for people to get ready. Mary is pregnant, getting ready for the birth. Get ready! Wake up! Jesus is coming!

            After the service, when she shook Pastor Beatrice’s hand, Marison said to her, “Maybe singing my song has something to do with Advent, with getting ready for the coming of Jesus.”

            Pastor Beatrice said, “There’s no maybe about it.”

            That night, Marison had the dream again. She awoke. She got up to use the bathroom. She noticed on the sink a blue envelope addressed to her. Inside was a note. It said, “Get ready. I’m coming. Meet me on Saturday at four o’clock. Love, Jesus.” [To be continued.]






Initial Thoughts for November 27, 2011
2011-11-20 by David von Schlichten

Advent is about preparation for the Comings of Christ, future, past, and present. The readings for this Sunday focus on the Second Coming.

People tend either not to care about the Second Coming or to obsess over it. A wiser, more biblical response is to be ever vigilant but not afraid. Yes, the End will come, and it can come at any time. However, we need not fear it, because Christ has saved us.

How do we help people to be vigilant but not afraid? Perhaps the key is to help people be mindfully loving. We are to be mindful, meaning attentive, ever appreciative, and we are to be loving, meaning engaged in loving words and actions.

What do you think? What should we preach in early Advent?

I'll have more on Wednesday.

Thawing turkey, I am 

Yours in Christ,

David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator

 





Heaven in Disguise
2011-11-18 by Dee Dee Haines

In the author’s note to his readers, Gregory Maguire (The Next Queen of Heaven, New York, 2010) suggests that what he has written is a new genre for his work.  He tells us that he is usually a writer of fantasy (he wrote Wicked), but this is something different.  His observation about his fictional real world (if we can stretch to understand this contradiction), is intriguing.  He writes, “It’s my suspicion that heaven may be both more disguised and more accessible than any other fantastic locale I might choose to write about.”

 

Sometimes when I read Matthew’s story of the sheep and the goats, I find it quite disappointing to hear that even at the end, when everything is supposed to be the very best that it can be, there will be a great division---that judgment means separation.   I suspect this disappointment comes to mind because I understand Jesus to be a man of unity, one body.  And so I wrestle with what is supposed to be the point of the story.  In my mind, it doesn’t make sense that it is a story about a great sorting.  Instead, I hear Jesus speaking about what makes our world so unlike the world that God intended. 

 

In the past when I have preached this text, there is the inevitable portion where the preacher suggests that all we have to do is see the face of Jesus in the prisoner, in the hungry, the sick, the naked.  If we can just do this, all things will be well.  That is easy to say and hard to do for so many reasons.  But recently it came to my mind that maybe the hardest part about seeing Jesus in others comes because it is not our habit to see the “whole of Jesus.”  Could it be that for much of the time, we only see a part of who he is?

 

In the church, we often spend a lot of time talking about a very tidy Jesus.  We see him as freshly bathed and clothed, lounging with his disciples at the last supper scene or sitting with children at his feet.  We can picture him casually encountering the woman at the well for a conversation. We cherish his gentle voice and touch.  And whilst that is a part of who Jesus is, what about the rest of him? 

 

It’s harder for us to remember him in less tidy situations.  We’re not as likely to picture him eating with the poor, resting with others who had no place to rest their heads, or washing miles and miles of dirt from his own feet.  The scenes where his bold speaking of truth to power required tremendous courage and a passion for justice, these images are not as easily accessed in our minds.  But more than anything, the suffering, the deep and painful wounds of not only his body, but also his spirit--- the tender part of him, are not the aspects of his image that we keep at the forefront when imagining him, then, or now.

 

For me, judgment is not about separation, but about liberation.  It is about being freed from being prisoners to ourselves, captured by our brokenness.  If this story is to help us to see the face of Jesus in others, we must firstly see the whole of him---so that when we meet him in others, we can recognise his face.   Wouldn’t that just be a taste of heaven on earth?

 

My sermon title this week will be, “Heaven in Disguise.” 

 

Dee Dee Haines, Isle of Man

 



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