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.
2008-09-30 by Steve Schuette
I can’t help but think of the vineyard in connection with “the good life.” Maybe I’ve seen too many commercials. And one needs to be sensitive to those with challenges around alcohol. But a glass of wine is elegant and party-like (even in the Cana of Jesus’ day), and I hope not to “holy up” scripture to the point that this could get lost. Jesus was, after all, the one who came “eating and drinking” and was criticized for it. (Mt. 11:19) The purpose of the vineyard is life-affirming.
Contrast that “commercial” with the actual practice of the business and the disconnect is startling. Not that this is unusual, unfortunately! There’s a lot of death-dealing in this story, and, no, it is not pretty. These tenants could be in There Will be Blood! Still, hopefully Jill is right, that we are still in a position to fulfill our stewardship and we have not offended the owner to the point where our sentence is a fait accompli.
But I also don’t think we can avoid the hard question: have we entered into “death-dealing” arrangements?
Not that our punishment is what God wills. For there’s really no point to the story if there aren’t alternative possibilities, and God is very much interested in alternatives. The text just seems to suggest that stones fall in certain ways, and that those who “live by the sword shall perish by it as well.” And in the end the desire to arrest Jesus means that the Pharisees heard the story as a threat to their power, authority, and death-dealing ways rather than as good news of the possibility of living in covenant-relationships that are life-affirming.
I believe that good news is there, but the text also challenges us to see with clarity the contrasting death-dealing that is part of this short story, part of the larger sweep of the Gospel story, and is still a reality. So much for a “nice Bible story.”
The Power of Pride
2008-09-30 by Jill Duffield
The Power of Pride
Surely you have seen the ubiquitous bumper sticker, “The Power of Pride.” For better or worse, I am steeped enough in total depravity that every time I see it I immediately mentally superimpose, “The Hell of Hubris.” The power of pride, it seems to me, is that human desire to usurp ownership over that which we do not own, that tendency to be unsatisfied with and resentful of our God-given vocation of stewards and servants. It is the power of pride that overtakes our gratitude for being entrusted with the work of the vineyard and hisses in our ear, “You ought to be in charge. You know better than the owner. Where is he anyway? You are the one doing the work, you deserve the fruit, all of it.” It is the power of pride that makes us myopic and unable to recognize our dependence on the landowner for our very livelihood and our utter reliance on his goodness. It is the power of pride that enables us to justify our actions no matter how cruel and violent. In other words, it is the power of pride that leads us into the hell that is hubris, a state where we are alienated from God, creation, and one another making us perpetually unsatisfied with our role as stewards and servants and therefore unable to participate in God’s reign.
I wonder if there would be a market for this bumper sticker, “The Hope of Humility.”
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