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.”

Salvation History Ain't Pretty
2008-09-29 by Jill Duffield

Salvation History Ain’t Pretty


This text reminds us of the tumultuous relationship between God and God’s people. Any romantic notions of the good ol’ days or some idyllic time when God said it and therefore people believed it are shattered with an honest reading of this parable, the second of three where Jesus condemns the religious elite of his day and tells them there time as keepers of the vineyard is just about up. The vineyard, which can be understood sequentially as Israel, Jerusalem and God’s empire, will bear fruit for the landowner and if the first farmers are unable to produce a crop or unwilling to yield it to the owner, then God will find other more obedient and trustworthy tenants.

Israel has a long and painful history of ignoring, rejecting and, yes, even killing God’s prophets. God repeatedly sent slaves to collect what was due and repeatedly they came back empty handed or failed to come back at all. God, having invested mightily in the vineyard, planting it, putting a fence around it, digging a wine press and building a watchtower, refuses to give up on it. Finally, the owner sends his own son, surely he will be given what is due his father. But the hard-headed, literally “evilly evil ones”, conspire and kill even him. It seems nothing can open the eyes of those blinded by self-interest, greed and the need for power. With no other option available to him the landowner has to throw the bums out and replace them with tenants who will bear fruit and turn it over to the one its due. But even after all of the violence, disobedience and lawlessness, Jesus, in a few chapters, will lament over Jerusalem and those impervious to the revelation that he is the very son of the parable.

So, where are we in this story of salvation history? Presumably we are the new tenants, the ones to whom the vineyard is leased. We are the church, the caretakers of the land while the owner is absent (at least bodily) and yet, we are in this time and place, also the religious elite subject to the same temptations that overtook the chief priests, elders and Pharisees. Understanding that juxtaposition it becomes important to consider whether or not we are bearing fruit and returning it to the landowner. It is too easy to distance ourselves from those lawless, violent, first tenants, but our world and lives make evident that we have often been seduced by greed, power, pride and selfishness. The vineyard is rife with poverty, pollution and injustice and the harvest of freedom for the oppressed, good news for the poor and release to the captives is seemingly meager. If God will indeed see a return on God’s investment and certainly salvation history isn’t finished, perhaps we should evaluate the quality, quantity and distribution of the fruit we are bearing, prayerfully hoping that we will be open to the Lord’s doing right in our midst. The question to which we may not yet know the answer is: Will we have amazement in our eyes or will we be utterly blind when the vineyard owner’s son comes?    

Our guest preaching blogger this week is
2008-09-29 by CJ Teets

Jill Duffield, the pastor of Tirzah Presbyterian Church in Waxhaw, N.C. She is a graduate of The University of North Carolina at Greensboro and Union-PSCE (formerly Union Theological Seminary in Virginia). Jill is a member of Phi Beta Kappa and is currently working on a D. Min. at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary. She has contributed sermons to Lectionary Homiletics and the Journal of Biblical Preaching and is the Bible and Theology writer for the 2010 New Earth Summer Camp Curriculum. Jill is married to Grant Duffield and they have three children, Joseph (10), Jessie (7) and Marissa (5).

Oh, Come On Now, Every Knee?
2008-09-26 by Michael Usey

How universalistic is this hymn in Phil 2?  After all, every knee will bow and every tongue confess.  You can chalk those words up to hymnic hyperbole, but it seems to me to be great theology.  At some point, somehow, someway, all humanity will acknowledge that God alone is God, and that God was in Christ.  It’s a wild vision of hope, but what is implied (at least to me) is that every knee and tongue will be redeemed.  Is this to push the text too much?  If so, what is meant by every knee?  Which of us would want to put an asterisk by that (“* This does not include those in hell, Nazis, or those who voted for GWB a second term.  This offer not good in Vermont.”)?  My mentor Sam once commented that some of these knees might have to be broken to bow, but I think he’s wrong.  Knee-breaking is inconsistent with Jesus’ life and teaching, and is certainly not in the spirit of this passage.  If every means everyone, then implicit in this hymn is the vision and promise of universal salvation.  Christians might not believe in universal salvation, but it is beneath our dignity not to hope and long for it.  We who follow Christ should hope, pray, work, and long for every knee and every tongue to confess God and worship God in Christ.

Michael, Steve, Rosemary and "Lectionary Homiletics" Highlights
2008-09-25 by David von Schlichten

We thank Michael Usey for being our useful guest blogger, and we also thank Steve Schuette and Rosemary Beales for their contributions. It's great to see so many people in the tub.

Below are highlights from this week's articles in Lectionary Homiletics.

Theological Themes”

Carmen Nanko-Fernandez notes that the first child, by saying no to the father, actually commits the worse offense by publicly shaming his father. Nanko-Fernandez adds that, really, neither son accomplishes the father's will. In both cases, there is a disconnection regarding word and action.

Pastoral Implications:

Jaco Hamman provides a group of questions that can help us Christians to ponder and respond to the pericope. Some of the questions are: “How do you carry elements of both sons [ . . . ] in your person?” “What thoughts and feelings do you think the father has in response to his son's behaviors?” “How can you deepen your participation in the kingdom Jesus proclaims?” (p.75)

Sermon Reviews”

Tambi Brown Swiney recalls a compelling illustration from a sermon on this text by C. H. Spurgeon. A boy escapes from a burning house by climbing out of a window. He hangs from the windowsill, afraid of the fire but also afraid of letting go and falling. A man calls for him to let go. The boy does and falls into the safe arms of the savior. Spurgeon exhorts us to do likewise with Christ. “Don't cling to your sins or your good works [ . . . ] just drop into your Savior's arms” (p.76), Swiney writes.

I will not be preaching this Sunday, but I will be preaching for a wedding on Saturday. I will post that sermon at the cafe shortly. Soon I'll climb out of the tub, pruney but always fruitfully

Yours in Christ,

David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator

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