2008-09-23 by Michael Usey
The entire gospel is in the Philippians passage for this week. This hymn (vv. 5-11) is, of course a chiasm, the ABCDCBA pattern drilled into us by our NT professors in seminary. Would it be possible, then, to structure the sermon this week in the form of a chiasm? I am not certain how this might sound. How powerful would it be to have the emphasis of the sermon in the center, rather than, say, at the end?
The centerline, the one receiving the most emphasis, is this: “… even death on a cross.” I am not fond of substitutionary theories of atonement; they are (in my opinion) the most widespread heresies in North American Christianity these day. However, it is crucial that when we talk about Eucharist, for example, that we make it clear that someone died. (The fact that his death was a result of torture gives rise to all sorts of possibilities in our sermons to engage issues such as torture and capital punishment.) While I eschew substitutionary atonement, I also wish to avoid the opposite theological problem: that of not talking about Jesus’ death at all. Jesus’ death need not be necessary for cosmic redemption for it to be pivotal. The self-giving nature of God in Christ gives even to the point of death. But death is not the final word: God has raised him from the death. God in Christ is victorious over death. I have sometimes wondered whether Jesus was more surprised than anyone when God raised him from the dead.
Of course, this centerline reminds us that the scandal of the message of the early church was not so much Jesus’ resurrection, but his death. If Jesus was the messiah, then how could have God allowed him to die, and on such in a cursed manner? This hymn addressed this question, with the answer, Jesus was being obedient to God in all things. It’s a good answer then and now.
I realize that not all preachers have discarded substitutionary atonement as unhelpful at best or heresy at worst. For those of us who have, here are a few questions: What Jesus’ death in any sense “necessary”? What was accomplished, if anything, by his death? Was his death inevitable? How do we talk about Jesus’ death without substitionary language, especially at the table?
Our guest preaching blogger this week is
2008-09-22 by CJ Teets
Michael Usey, senior pastor of College Park: An American Baptist Church in Greensboro, NC. Born in Boston and raised in San Diego, he much prefers the Chargers over the Patriots, the Padres (of course) over the Red Sox. He holds degrees from Baylor University, Southern Seminary in Louisville (before the fall), Emory University, and Baptist Theological in Richmond; none of these degrees were purchased online. He has 3 children: Nathan, Zachariah, and Hannah, all named for holy troublemakers of the Hebrew Bible, and who live up to their names. His wife, Ann, makes him look good and teaches English at the Quaker High School of New Garden Friends. His church loves God most of the time, works diligently at loving people, and tries hard not to embarrass Jesus. The best quality about Michael, his friends say, is that he has really good friends.
2008-09-20 by David von Schlichten
Thank you to Jay Wallace and Tom Steagald for your blog entries this week. We are blessed to have such intelligent, thoughtful bloggers.
My sermon is up in the cafe. I pray people will provide responses.
Thanks be to the Holy Spirit for this tub of cyber-edification.
Yours in Christ,
David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator
2008-09-20 by Jay Wallace
Good points Tom. It’s great when the Spirit engages the written word, bringing fresh and new revelations of the Christ! In my congregation right now there is a wave of fear about the economy. Some have recently lost their jobs, others have been looking for a long time, while the mainstay of the congregation, the retired folk (the ones keeping the place financially afloat) are worried sick about food and heat this winter. All my folks, including me, wish the “owner of the vineyard” would fix everything that’s broken. However, the owner doesn’t seem to be in the business of “fixing all my specific problems.” Everyone is treated the same (your point, from the insider/outsider perspective). The guys who came early aren’t paid a bonus, whether they showed up early or late everyone got the same pay. “Equal pay for equal work” and any of the “fair practices” issues (stuff my buddies and I got caught upon when we were working the fields as teenagers) aren’t the point, as far as I can tell. The point concerns the bringing of everyone to the owner; come early, come late, but by all means enter the kingdom and take note “the kingdom” referenced is the “landowner,” not the land. We aren’t headed for a place but toward a person.Tom I especially appreciated your exegetical note from the historical perspective on the “insider/outsider” perspective. The original audience and how they might have heard this story is a major foundation in understanding this parable. This week the country (USA and perhaps the World) has experienced a major shift in the “whose in” and “whose out” perspective and from the perspective of my congregation “they” (the formerly “in”) have become “out.” My congregation has moved from a position of privilege in an “us vs them” paradigm to being the “them,” (they see themselves as out of work and at risk) and I suspect this vulnerability brings them closer to desiring the “the owner.” For me this is part of what makes this parable so powerful. The undercurrent in this passage is the disadvantaged come into a relationship of full blessing. Whether it is earned or not isn’t a consideration; for whether they came early or late the blessing was a full days pay. This is a powerful lesson and the correspondence of my congregation’s circumstances underlines God’s abundant blessing in the changing circumstances of life.
coming late to the discussion
2008-09-17 by Tom Steagald
which somehow seems appropriate for the Gospel lesson!
I have seen something this week in this text that I have never seen before. It has to do with whom we are called to "identify" with in the parable.
Jewish ears perhaps would have heard the early workers/lately hired as the observant and the non-observant: Pharisees vs. prostitutes and sinners, perhaps. No wonder they were scandalized at Jesus' message of God's generosity to both.
Jewish Christian ears would have heard it perhaps as Jewish Christians vs. Gentile Christians: the former have been there all along, from the earliest days of the promise of as well as the fulfillment seen in Jesus. No wonder they were scandalized by the preaching of Paul.
Christian ears often hear it as the "saints" vs. the death-bed converts, or something like that; the ones who have always been in church vs the ones who have only lately come to faith and of course they are scandalized, sniff and say, "how long will it last."
Heavenly ears--such as the Apostles', Prophets' and Martyrs'--could be scandalized because they were there at the start, bore the heat of persecution and all, were crucified, boiled in oil, sawn in half, etc, while we who come lately in the tradition receive the same reward though we are only rentiers.
All of that supposes that we are to identify with the laborers and not the landowner. But note that in 5:48, Jesus says we are to be perfect (teleios) as God is perfect in that he causes it to rain on the just and unjust alike. When the rich young man in chapter 19 come to Jesus, he tells him that if he wishes (thelo) to be perfect (teleios), he should sell all he has and give to the poor. We normally balk at the first part (ALL I have?) instead of asking the next question, Which poor?
The landowner says that he can do what he wishes (thelo) with his money and he gives to ALL the poor--all these workers are poor. The denarius does not alleviate their poverty; it postpones their hunger. To whom does he give what he has? To ALL the poor, not just those who work hard and are responsible but even to those who may not have been in the square by noon or three because they were sleeping it off.
Is the landowner the one who DOES what Jesus tells the rich man to do? Is this what discipleship looks like? Giving without regard to "worth" because that is how God does things, causing it to rain on the just and unjust alike, the worthy annd the unworthy alike, and we are to be like God in just that way? Is the landowner, rather than the workers, our example here?
Of course, if the landowner keeps doing this he may be in the marketplace looking for work before long. Perhaps then another will have heard the call to discipleship and hire him, too.
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