One to Stand in the Breech
2008-10-07 by Frank Lewis
While examining the romance connecting this Sunday’s lectionary readings, a second connection may be found in the expressed role of an intercessor. There is a temptation to say “leader” or even “intercessory leader” but “intercessor” fits the integrity of the texts better. Moses was a leader, but one of his roles as leader is intercessor. Paul is a leader, but he seeks to bring intercessors into the situation between Euodia and Syntyche. The lack of an intercessor in the Gospel story is apparent. I’m left wondering how Jesus’ parable would preach differently had there been a “good intercessor” to befriend the shabbily dressed wedding guest.
In my brief stint as a denominational servant working for our publishing house, I had the unique privilege of visiting the classrooms of six different seminaries within a two-year travel circuit to talk to future leaders about their call to ministry. My assignment was to assure them that the resources they would need for the challenge of local church leadership could be found under our roof and conveniently ordered by calling us toll-free. As soon as I delivered the company line, I rolled up my sleeves, loosened my tie, and began to talk honestly about the real stuff of ministry. Most of this consisted of a brief testimony of my journey followed by an extended Q and A time with the students.
When asked, I tried to be honest. Pastoring is hard work. It is lonely work. You are called to a task that is never finished. Sheep smell and the longer you work with sheep, the more you are going to smell like sheep. The ministry is filled with high moments, but in between those high moments there are going to be board meetings and difficult people. You will be disappointed with the things people say and do. There are going to be times when you will want to quit and walk away from it, but the call will keep you. Always go back to your call.
A pastor will find it hard to read this Sunday’s texts and not feel some of this “real stuff of ministry” especially in the Exodus passage. In his absence, the Israelites grow anxious and use demeaning language in reference to Moses. “This fellow” is a pretty accurate translation from the first verse as they speak of God’s human instrument of redemption and release from years of Egyptian oppression. I can hear a younger voice today calling him “dude” or something similar. In Tennessee he’d be a “two-bit hayseed” which is not a term of endearment. He’s enjoyed his fifteen minutes of fame but now out of sight and up a mountain he’s demoted to the less significant “this fellow” suggesting that however impressive his accomplishments were, they are now a bit suspect.
Making matters worse for Moses is the initial dialogue he has with God. “Your people whom you brought out of Egypt” God says, “are a bunch of stiff necks.” He pronounces judgment on them and is about to consume them with fire.
To borrow a phrase from sports, Moses had “left everything on the court” in giving leadership to the Exodus. He had put up with the people who didn’t believe him, who whined and complained, who stood in his way, and who had to be brought along ever so slowly. He faced down Pharaoh and learned to trust God when nothing about doing so made sense. To have come this far only to hear God say “I’m going to consume them with burning hot wrath” had to be one of the low points of his life. What preacher among us wouldn’t shake a raised fist at God and say “Are you kidding me? After all I’ve been through with these people? Are you serious?”
But this is not what Moses the intercessor does. Not even close. He appeals to the God of the covenant promise made to Abraham, Isaac, and Israel. He reminds God that these people belong not to Moses, but to God. He recalls God’s promises and prays them back to God on behalf of these stiff-necks who have no idea how close they are to being vaporized in the presence of their golden calf. Moses knows that God’s reputation is at stake among the nations who worship false gods. He pleads on the basis of that reputation, on the character of God, and as a result the scriptures tell us God relents. The mind of God is changed because someone interceded.
The call to ministry is a call to “stand in the breech” between the God who has every right to judge sin, and the stiff-necks who slither around from one golden calf to another. It is a call to cry out for mercy on behalf of those who have never heard the good news, as well as for those who have heard it and turned a disinterested ear. Harder at times, it is a call that keeps us in spite of being “fellowed” or “duded” into oblivion by people who have no idea of the sacrifice involved in ministry’s demands. We find ourselves standing in the breech in times of church conflict, at the bedside in a hospital, and in confidential matters shared in our offices concerning the most personal aspects of a parishioner’s life. We stand in the breech every Sunday we open the pages of Holy Scripture and proclaim the grace of God. This high and holy calling of ours is at once a great privilege and an enormous responsibility. For someone sitting under the preaching of God’s Word this Sunday, it may be the first time they have ever heard about a god who loves them. For others, it may very well be the last time they will hear good news and eternity hangs in the balance.
This week in sermons all around the world, it might be most appropriate to “call out the called” by crafting a powerful word to those sitting under the hearing of our messages to listen for God’s call in their life to stand in the breech. A future preacher, missionary, or evangelist may be sitting in front of us just primed for God to move through the word proclaimed.
Frank R. Lewis
October 7, 2008
Our guest preaching blogger this week is
2008-10-06 by CJ Teets
Frank R. Lewis, the pastor of First Baptist Church, Nashville, Tennessee. He celebrated his eleventh anniversary as the congregation's senior minister on October 1. A native of Birmingham, Alabama, Frank is married and the father of two, a college freshman and a tenth grader.
Frank holds degrees from Samford University (B.A. in Religion and Philosophy), New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (MDiv), and Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary (DMin). He was the founding pastor of Green Valley Baptist Church in Henderson, Nevada from 1985-1995, and following a brief stint at the Baptist Sunday School Board where he served as the Preaching and Worship Consultant for his denomination, Frank was called to lead the Nashville congregation which hosted the Festival of Homiletics in 2006.
The pastor enjoys teaching courses at Belmont University as a member of the School of Religion's Adjunct Faculty and has provided field supervision for students at Vanderbilt Divinity School and Beeson School of Divinity.
When he's not preaching and providing pastoral leadership, Frank enjoys martial arts. He teaches a men's fitness class on Sunday nights using Samurai Swords (bokken) and won the gold medal in the Senior Executive Men's Taekwondo Tournament for the Southeast United States in March of 2008.
See his first post below.
Frank R. Lewis and "Lectionary Homiletics" Highlights
2008-10-06 by David von Schlichten
We look forward to our guest blogger Frank R. Lewis's offerings in the tub this week. We'll need some help with this bizarre and violent passage. His first offering is below.
Michael Barram notes the poor relations this king has with his subjects and the political short-sightedness of the subjects snubbing the king and his son.
Barram's observation gets me thinking about the current political climate and the strained relations between the average citizen and the ruling politicians. Here, then, is a brainstorming exercise: What if we imagined this parable as a president or candidate inviting voters to a wedding banquet?
Dennis E. Tamburello writes about predestination and universal salvation in response to the warning that “many are called, but few are chosen.” After reflecting on the array of theologies regarding election and predestination, Tamburello concludes by stressing the importance of the final part of the parable, in which the king throws out a person who is not properly dressed. We Christians have no way of knowing for sure who is in and who is out when it comes to the banquet, but we do know that we must do more than profess belief with our lips. We are also to profess belief with what we “wear.”
“Preaching the Lesson”
Anna Carter Florence juxtaposes this scene with the improperly dressed guest with the Sermon on the Mount, which urges us not to worry about what we wear. She then compares this wedding-garment scene with Jesus' cursing of the fig tree and concludes that the message is “Be who you are.” If you are a fig tree, make figs. If you are at a wedding banquet, a celebration, then dress accordingly. Many of us on Sunday morning act like the frozen chosen, but we are at a celebration. Therefore let us celebrate.
Happy splashing. We had some great conversation in the tub last week. Jump in and join us.
Yours in Christ,
David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator
2008-10-06 by Frank Lewis
Monday: Romancing this Sunday’s TextExodus 32:1-14
I come to the lectionary by a somewhat unusual path. Most Southern Baptists don’t use the lectionary texts each week for preaching following our “free tradition” instead. As a result, when I lead a preaching seminar or teach a class on preaching I find that most of those I address have very little experience, if any, with the lectionary. Few use it; even fewer understand the lections intentional relationship of Hebrew Scripture, Psalm, Epistle Lesson, and Gospel. There are exceptions, but they are rare.
This is why I like to use the phrase “the romance of the text” when trying to help my Baptist sisters and brothers embrace the lectionary. There is usually a connection, a relationship, a common thread of sorts weaving its way from one passage to the others. This Sunday’s romance rests on several overlapping themes.
I also find the romance of the texts to be inseparable from the themes of life. The pertinence of Holy Scripture to the daily challenges and opportunities that I find myself experiencing should not amaze me after twenty-five years of pastoral ministry, but it does. As a window, scripture lets me see how God’s story of redemption became operative in the lives of people long ago, and as a window, it allows light to shine on the path I take each day, if I will let it.
This Sunday’s romance may be about the fickleness of the human heart. From the Hebrew Scriptures and the Psalm text we are introduced to an indecisive community willing to trade their relationship with the God who redeems for a golden calf. There is trouble in the text. Moses has gone to commune with God on the top of a mountain and the people get restless. They not only create an image to worship, they declare a feast which some suggest turned into a steamy spectacle right there at the base of the mountain.
The Epistle lesson suggests this fickleness as Paul encourages the congregation to “stand fast” in their faith. He has to ask a couple of ladies in the Philippian church to get along in his absence. “Your names are written in the Book of Life” Paul writes, “start acting like it” he must have thought as he “implores them” to get along.
Then comes the Gospel passage; a parable about a wedding feast where invitations are ignored by an audience too busy for their own good. Harsh judgment falls on these people after their final rejection. A second wave of invitations carry the news of a wedding feast to a different audience and everyone cleans up and dresses in their best attire for the celebration. That is, all but one. He is bound and cast out. Jesus closes the parable with the somber words “many are called, but few are chosen.”
Admittedly, this does not sound like good news. We close the readings with trouble in the text. On one level there is the possibility that this wedding guest took the invitation for granted. He shows up in his old clothes and hasn’t even taken a bath. Fickle and unable to make up his mind, he approaches the wedding feast with a casual indifference to the grace of his host. Bound and shown the door, he settles for much less than he could have experienced.
Golden calves come in many shapes and sizes. More often than not, they boil down to an over-inflated view of self. We are impatient people, so we fashion a god that brings instant gratification. We think so much of our individual way that we have to be reminded to get along with others, to play fair, to live in community. We are so accustomed to the look, feel and smell of our environment, that we can’t envision the blessing of a King’s banquet.
The romance of this Sunday’s texts traces the human emotion of anxiety and our response to it. Anxiety affects our relationships with others, and in a real sense, anxiety prevents us from experiencing the best that God has to offer us as his children. We adopt substitutes and limp along wondering why the journey is difficult.
And this may be where the romance between life and text comes into play. We are living in anxious times. There is trouble in our world. The current financial storm, leadership voids, the uncertainty that comes with national elections, the agony of war, fuel shortages and rising pump prices, all superimposed on the daily stresses and strains of life would be enough to turn even the best of us into a worshipper of a golden calf. It’s an easy transition. One minute we’re standing near the fire, the next minute, out jumps this golden calf.
These texts offer this Sunday’s lectionary preacher the chance to speak a word of correction, seasoned with grace, to people who may have slipped into the stream of casual indifference toward the things of the Spirit. They are not bad people, just fellow travelers who need to be reminded that golden calves don’t satisfy, that relationships with fellow travelers matter, and that there is a King’s banquet prepared for those who are willing to leave the soiled clothing of fickle indifference toward God behind.
Frank R. Lewis
The Rule of Charity
2008-10-01 by Jill Duffield
The Rule of Charity
Is it possible to interpret this text using Augustine’s “rule of charity”? A word of grace doesn’t jump off the page in these verses. Is there any way for the preacher to be true to the text in a way that increases love of God and neighbor? One aspect of the parable that should not be ignored is the reality that the vineyard remains intact. It is in no way destroyed or abandoned. This is evidence that the owner’s tolerance, while not to be assumed infinite, has not yet been exhausted. While the vineyard is intact there is always the hope that those entrusted with its care have the opportunity to be faithful. But what of those already evicted? Are they a lost cause? God alone knows. However, one more word of grace upon which we can rely is the truth that God isn’t finished and the last chapter of salvation history has yet to be written.
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