Further Thoughts on 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 and Matthew 25:14-30
2011-11-09 by David von Schlichten

This morning at Bible study my attendees leaned toward self-righteousness. 1 Thessalonians 5 urges Christians to be awake and sober, in the light, and Matthew 25 urges Christians to use their "talents" to serve God, or face the consequences. My Bible study attendees -- who are commendable Christians on the whole -- responded to these texts by talking about all the people out there who are stumbling around in the dark and burying their talents because they are scared or just plain lazy.

It is easy for us Christians to think along these lines. It certainly is easy for me. Indeed, there are plenty of people out there who are stumbling and burying. However, it is important for us Christians to turn this passage on ourselves. I ask, "What causes me to fall asleep as a pastor?"

One cause of spiritual soporificity is apathy. Apathy can be contagious. When I encounter apathy about Christianity, one way I cope is by becoming apathetic myself, falling asleep.

What else causes us to fall asleep or bury our talents, and how does God wake us up and empower us to exhume those talents and invest them?

Yours in Christ,

David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator





Initial Thoughts for November 13, 2011
2011-11-07 by David von Schlichten

Judges 4: Deborah emerges as a judge. Here we have an ancient story about a female leader who defies at least aspects of conventional gender roles. The Bible is predominantly patriarchal, but it also contains stories and images that subvert the patriarchy. Maybe the Bible-world is not as patriarchal as we think it is.

Psalm 123: Lifting our eyes and crying for help. How do we deal with the wait, the delay in God's response, the meantime, which can get pretty mean?

Is the delay truly a delay or a perceived delay? The psalms seem to think that sometimes, at least, the delay is real. Why would God delay in helping us? Of course, we could also ask, "Why would God bother helping us perpetually sinning and smelly humans in the first place?"

1 Thessalonians 5:1-11: Be awake, be sober. What makes us sleepy? What makes us drunk? A valuable sermon would be one in which the preacher explores what aspects of our lives are soporific and how turning to God wakes and sobers us up.

Matthew 25:14-30: Because of the word-play in the parable, many preachers tend to make this sermon about us using our talents, meaning our abilities. That's a worthwhile and legitimate approach, but a talent in the parable is a unit of currency. What if a preacher explored instead how Christians can use their God-given money in a holier manner?

What thoughts do you have? Feel free to email me or to submit a post for possible publication here.

Wishing Martin Luther a happy birthday on November 10,  I am

Yours in Christ,

David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator





Sermon on 1 John 3:1-3, November 6, 2011, All Saints Sunday
2011-11-05 by David von Schlichten

 Sermon on 1 John 3:1-3

for St. James Evangelical Lutheran Church,

Youngstown, PA

with Sunday, November 6,  2011

All Saints Sunday, Year A

with the Reverend Dr. David von Schlichten

(word count: 854)

           

Already/Not Yet

 

In the Bible, we learn of our already/not-yet reality. Already. Not Yet. For example, are we saved through Christ? Yes, we already are. Jesus died for us two-thousand years ago. Salvation is already here for the baptized. At the same time, we still struggle with the sting of suffering and sin. We already have eternal life through Christ, but we are not yet experiencing salvation in full. Already. Not yet.

1 John 3:1-3, our second reading, deals with this already/not yet reality. Verse one says, “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are.” That is what we are, present tense. We are, right now, already children of God.  

The Bible flows with this already language. The Bible calls us followers of God “saints.” We are saints because Jesus has made us holy, has washed our robes white in his blood, as it says in Revelation 7. In other words, saint-status is not something you earn by being a good person. No, saint-status is an honor that God confers upon us through Christ, even though we are unworthy. Many of us think that being a saint is something to work toward, but the Bible teaches us that you and I, through our baptism into Christ, are saints already.

Hear that: You are a saint already, and because you are a saint already, you have blessings. God has blessed you with unlimited forgiveness of sins, freedom from everlasting guilt, no matter what the sin is. You may not be able to forgive yourself, but God is eager to forgive you. As a saint, you have membership in the Church, where God feeds you the body and blood and blesses you further with the support of the Church. As a saint, you have the assurance that God is with you, listening, supporting, holding your hand. Granted, God may do that for anyone, but, as a saint, you have the assurance that God is doing all that for you out of gracious love for you.

Most importantly, as a saint of God, you have the assurance that already there stands a house in heaven with your name on it, ready for you to move in. We are undeserving, but all of these blessings are ours already because of God’s mercy. You are a saint already.

At the same time, there is a not-yet component to being a saint. 1 John 3:2 makes this point when it declares, “Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed.” Verse two goes on by promising, “What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.” Verse two points to the not-yet aspect of our reality. Yes, we are already saints with arms full of cornucopious blessings, but more is to come. God will transform us into something even greater than what we are. More is coming, not because we are deserving, but because God is generous.

Think on that point. Our best days  are not behind us; they are ahead of us. You are not past your prime. On the contrary, you haven’t seen your prime yet. Someday, somehow, someway, God will advance us to some higher level in which we will be like God and we will see God as God truly is. All the questions, doubts, fogginess, confusion, sin, error, sickness, weakness—all of that will vanish. No more will we question why or being angry and frustrated about God, the world, and our own shortcomings. Death will be no more. Being hungry, thirsty or hot will be no more, and God will wipe every tear from our eyes. That the not yet. We are already saints, but we have not yet experienced in full how wonderful sainthood is. Already. Not yet.

What are we saints to do while we wait for not yet to become already? 1 John 3:3 tells us. It says, “And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.” As we saints await that day when God makes us into our full selves, we are to be busy purifying ourselves. We are to live up to our saint-status. We are to be humble, poor in spirit. We are to mourn evil while working to make the world better. We are to be, neither door-mats nor bullies, but meek. We are to hunger and thirst for righteousness. We are to be merciful, not judgmental. We are to be pure in heart. We are to be, not troublemakers, but peacemakers, avoiding harming others. When people make fun of us, criticize us, or worse because we are Christians, are to be strong in enduring that persecution. In short, we are to love God, including by loving others.

Amazing! You are a saint already, and someday you will know in full what that means. Already. Not yet. While we wait for that day to come, we do loving acts and speak loving words. We live like the saints we are.





Initial Thoughts for November 6, 2011
2011-11-01 by David von Schlichten

For many of us, this day will be All Saints Sunday. What shall we proclaim that day?

All Saints: Through our baptism into Christ, we are all holy. When the Bible speaks of saints, it is speaking of the Church and not only of the canonized. You and I are saints, not by our works, but by Christ. Our calling then is to be saintly, not in order to earn saint-status, but because we already have saint-status.

Revelation 7:9-17: This extraordinary image presents radical inclusivity and praise. The multitude will be innumerable, and we shall all worship God. This scene recurs in various forms in the book of Revelation, much like a motif in an artistic or musical work.

Psalm 34:1-10: The word "saints" shows up here. Also, what does it mean to fear the Lord, and what does it mean to taste and see that the Lord is good?

1 John 3:1-3: We will be like him. In what way?

Matthew 5:1-12: How is this both comforting and challenging? How does this subversive passage describe and prescribe sainthood?

Feel free to email me your thoughts or to submit them for publication here.

Sick of candy (at the moment), I am

Yours in Christ,

David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator





Sermon Ideas for October 30, 2011
2011-10-26 by David von Schlichten

Reformation Sunday: "Yeah, but . . . " That is how most Christians respond to justification by grace through faith. When we preachers declare that you are NOT saved by your works, most people respond out loud or silently with a "Yeah, but . . . " We tend to want to think that our salvation requires us to do something.

How do we help people to apprehend this shocking Good News, that salvation has no "Yeah, but . . ." attached?

Henry Melchior Muehlenberg: We Lutherans are celebrating the 300th anniversary of the birth of Muehlenberg, A German pastor who brought Lutheranism to North America. I may be talking about him on Sunday.

Psalm 46:10: "Be still, and know that I am God." Psalm 46 was the inspiration for Luther's "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God," and the line that is the most meaningful to me is verse 10. How do we be still when the world insists that we keep moving? What does knowing that "God is God" look like? We have a whole sermon right here.

Jeremiah 31: This is the first reading for Reformation Sunday. The passage speaks of a time when we will all know God's teachings because they will be written on our hearts. How has this prophecy been realized already? Do we Christians help in fulfilling this prophecy?

John 8: You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free. Parishioners tend to see this passage as referring to truth in the broadest sense, but here truth means specifically Christ. We preachers would do well to clarify that point. This passage is not saying, for instance, "Stay in school, because knowing the truth will set you free." No, this passage points to Christ in particular. 

If this is not Reformation Sunday for you, please scroll down for other ideas, and, as always, you can send me ideas by emailing me or by submitting a post for publication here.

Yours in Christ,

David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator





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