A Whole New Game
2008-10-21 by Stephen Schuette
There are lots of options on texts this week, but it seems to me that there are links among them.
For Matthew 22:34 the NRSV mildly translates that the Pharisees heard that Jesus had “silenced” the Sadducees. More literally it means they were “muzzled” or “tied shut.” In the “temple games” Jesus keeps on winning, tying opponents up in verbal knots. And word is spreading about his oratorical prowess. But Jesus is “winning” because he’s not even trying. They’re interested in this “win-loss” record, and they’re caught up in it so deeply that they can’t see the forest for the trees (Ps 1).
And wasn’t that the point of the Reformation, to look up and see something bigger? Both Anna and Scott speak powerfully about this in the “Preaching the Lesson” and “A Sermon” sections in Lectionary Homiletics.
A colleague helpfully suggested that when you receive the comment, “You really gave it to ‘em this week, Pastor,” or “I wish my brother would have been here to hear that one…” it’s a sure sign that you failed to communicate the gospel in a way that invites each one to make progress in living out more fully the love of God and love of neighbor. It’s just more “partiality” (See Lev. and 1 Thes readings) that builds some up by putting others down. It may be good temple games but it fails to reflect the spirit of Jesus.
What if the game is rigged entirely differently from our expectations? What if we win only if everybody wins?
October 26, 2008
2008-10-20 by Janyce Jorgensen
Hello, my name is Janyce Jorgensen and I serve as Pastor of Zion Lutheran Church, York, PA. I also serve as a member of the faculty of the Ecumenical Institute of Theology of St. Mary's Seminary and University in Baltimore, MD, and as an adjunct member of the faculty of Wilson College in Chambersburg, PA. I am happy to provide these thoughts on the biblical texts for Reformation Sunday, Jeremiah 31:31-34 and John 8:31-36, which is celebrated in the Lutheran tradition.
I wish all of you well on your preaching tasks, as well as all the aspects of ministry you are about.
These words were spoken to God’s people at a time when it seemed as though their whole world was falling apart. The nation of Israel was ravaged by war. Judah was in ruins. The city of Jerusalem was under siege. Their enemies were all around them. Within the walls of the city, people were starving and trembling with fear. Their fortress was coming undone. It was the end of a dream, and it seemed as though God’s promise was lost forever.
But amidst their despair comes this word of hope. God speaks through the prophet to offer a vision of days to come. God speaks to people whose hearts have wandered, but God speaks not in judgment, but mercy. God speaks of a new future and a new hope. The fortresses the people had built for themselves would come tumbling down, but in the midst of their ruin was the assurance that God was their refuge and strength forever.
Amidst their ruin, God spoke of an age to come. It is a promise not only for the people of Israel, but for all of us who believe today. At some time or another, our lives come undone. We discover that even the best and strongest among us, can falter and fail. By our own strength we try to build a future for ourselves, but nothing built by our hands will last forever. Sooner or later every fortress will come tumbling down.
But in the midst of our brokenness God is God. When all else fails, God remains our strength and hope for years to come.
This Gospel reading tells of an encounter with Jesus and some people who had believed in him, but only up to a point. It was OK for them to follow Jesus, so long as he was doing signs and wonders. They liked it when he turned water into wine, and later made the lame man walk. They liked it when he fed them in the wilderness and they couldn’t wait to see what he would do next.
But now, he begins teaching them about what it means to believe in him, and become his disciple. Jesus says, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” Suddenly the crowd begins to move away. Signs and wonders were one thing. But now Jesus is calling for them to become his disciples, and to follow him where ever he may lead.
Now they start finding fault with everything he says. They begin an argument based on their family heritage; they are descendants of Abraham, the Father of faith. And they know all about how God promised Abraham descendants as numerous as the stars, and they remember how God made a covenant and a promise with Abraham, that he would bless him and his family forever.
When Jesus says that if they continue in his word, they will know the truth, and the truth will make them free, they argue that they are descendants of Abraham, and they have never been enslaved to anyone. Yet they forget their own history, and the fact that their ancestors were slaves in Egypt, and they ignore how they had been conquered by Rome, and lived under the power of a foreign government. Worst of all, however, they would not admit that they were enslaved to sin. The same truth which would set them free, would also take away their illusions of holiness, and pride in their own goodness.
They were descendants of Abraham, but Jesus called them to something much deeper than fond memories of their beloved ancestor. He called them to believe the same truth and promise which Abraham received so long ago. Jesus was the fulfillment of God’s promise. Jesus was all that Abraham had hoped for, and so much more. And yet they had taken such pride in being children of Abraham, that they neglected the even greater gift of living as children of God.
And now Jesus calls us today to place our trust not in our ancestors and their faithfulness, but rather to place our faith in God alone.
When Jesus speaks of truth, he doesn’t use the word as we often use it today. We speak of truth as something that can be proven and established beyond a shadow of doubt. But for Jesus, truth is much more than that. For Jesus, the truth is not just a belief about God, but belief in God. It is trusting God as our Lord, and giving our lives to him, so that we might become his children and his disciples today and forever.
2008-10-17 by Stephen Schuette
A little tidbit… The line translated in the NRSV “you do not regard people with partiality” is literally “you don’t pay attention to human countenance or face” in the Greek.
Certainly Jesus hasn’t shown their “faces” any deference in the preceding exchanges in Matthew. So the question is put to test whether Jesus would show any deference to Caesar. That Jesus responds by referring to the “image” on the coin affirms, indeed, that he is not interested in showing deference in regard to countenances. But the real point, I think, is whether the Pharisees see whose image Jesus reflects, and through Jesus see any insight into whose image they bear in their souls. I’m thrown back, again, to seeing Jesus and to the challenge of self reflection.
That these “images” bear several levels of meaning in the story is part of the richness to be found in this very packed exchange. There are many ways to faithfully preach this!
2008-10-17 by David von Schlichten
I was just revisiting Ron Allen's intelligent, sound thoughts on preaching about the election. His essay is full of solid wisdom about guiding people to consider theologically who is the best candidate for helping to do God's work and realize God's vision for us.
In a time when many of us are campaign-weary and jaded regarding politicians, Ron Allen's piece can revive us and wipe the scales of cynicism from our eyes.
You will find that article by clicking on Share It!
Yours in Christ,
David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator
Thanks and the Three Cs
2008-10-17 by David von Schlichten
Thank you to Steve, Tom and our guest blogger Buran Phillips for their hydrating blog entries this week. Please scroll down to soak them up.
Also, be sure to offer guidance for Joe the Preacher. See below.
I will be preaching on Cyrus, Caesar and the Christ and the differences among these political leaders. Caesar was out for idolatry and self-aggrandizement; Cyrus, despite not knowing God, still managed to be a messiah; and the Christ is the ruler, the savior, to whom everything ultimately belongs.
I won't tie all this explicitly to the upcoming election; parishioners will do this without me doing it for them. (I generally try not to say from the pulpit what I know people will figure out for themselves.)
Toweling off and typing on, I am
Yours in Christ,
David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator
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