Hello? Helll-ooooo--ooooo?
2008-08-19 by Tom Steagald

Remember that scene in Airplane when Robert Hays hears his own voice echoing in his head...and as if he were the announcer at Three Rivers or somewhere says,  "And now batting for Pedro Borbon, Manny Mota...Mota...Mota..."

I am having the same sensation. "Now blogging for David is Tommy...Tommy...Tommy..."

Anyone out there?

Since my last blog entry I have been thinking more and more about the Store City Syndrome, a phrase of my own coining, but wondering if we could not compare that with Stockholm Syndrome. The latter is the victim taking the part of the victimizer; while the former might be characterized more as a form of resistance. I am thinking of Eugene Peterson's notion of Subversive Spirituality: that we look like everyone else but we are subversives, working to bring down the idolatries of the world in favor of true worship.

The Gospel is leaven, it is yeast, it is a virus on the world's operating system.

We seem to be working for Pharaoh, but we are helping only to build his tomb. I rather like that last image.

Tuesday with Pharaoh and Paul
2008-08-19 by Tom Steagald

Free associating a little bit here, but that is what I do this early in the week, trying to find a place to land, a metaphor to expand, a truth to tell.

I am reminded of C.S. Lewis' observation, variously recorded as a question or a statement, either way to this end: a fish does not know it is wet. Perhaps the biggest problem in dealing with the Romans text is the fact that we preachers and our people do not know all, or perhaps even many of the ways we are swimming in the cultural pools. The usual suspects, I guess, are things like money and power, greed and largesse... but I wonder if we are not in much deeper water than that. So deep that, like some fish, we are blind.

Perhaps that is why Flannery O'Connor turned to the grotesque as a way of shaking us to sensibility--that the "freakish" worked for her in distinctively theological ways, offering a sense of displacement to the reader. It is in fact displacement that we most often do NOT see or feel, because we swim so comfortably in these waters.

How else might one recognize the acculturation that moves our gills but deadens our hearts? How might we foster a healthy and spiritual, on-the-way-to-freedom displacement in our preaching (which hopefully translates into our people's hearing)?

I think of the text in Philippians 4: think on these things, which are not grotesque but beautiful, really beautiful, and not in the cosmetic, pachaged, fashioned and styled. I think of the old hymn, "Turn your eyes upon Jesus..." and the accompanying counsel of Charles de Foucauld, "I must remember only Jesus, think only of Jesus, as a gain any loss at the price of which I have more room in myself for thought and knowledge of Jesus, beside whom everything else is nothing." The Gospel lesson makes this same point but, again, is so familiar as to be cliched at this point. I wonder whether anyone has ears displaced enough to hear it, lips displaced enough to preach it without it sounding deadeningy pious? If so, one might have to turn to John's memory of the disciples' confession: "we have nowhere else to go; you have the words of life." The disciples know they are displaced, to be sure, at least from their former life and thinking.

Slaves, of course, are painfully aware of their displacement, but the anger and resentment at injustice can itself become so familiar that the exile itself might yet appear to be home. On the other hand, slaves who are not suffering from "Stockholm Syndrome" or "Store City Syndrome," while forced to build Pharaoh's store cities and tombs--that last is a powerful image, I think, that in unjust slavery as well as faithfulness  followers of the Lord are helping Pharaoh to build his grave--still maintain hope against the available data (Brueggemann) that by grace justice will be done.

It is understandable how former generations read the Exodus texts allegorically; if that hermeneutic is itself displaced by more critical sensibilities, the metaphorical power of these stories remain very current.

Who (What) is my Enemy?
2008-08-18 by Tom Steagald

I have to confess that on first reading I am rather uninspired by the texts for the week. Not that they are uninteresting texts! The problem in not with the stories and songs...how could it be? Clearly the problem is with me. It is August, after all--Ordinary Time.

The texts, though, are anything but ordinary. Here are some of the most compelling lines in all of Scripture:  Now there arose a new Pharaoh over Egypt who knew not Joseph... If it had not been the Lord who was on our side... Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed... Who do people say that I am?

In one way there is too MUCH here for a summer Sunday, and still I at first found myself kind of yawning. Precisely because we have heard the texts so often their power is domesticated, too familiar.

But then in my prayer time this morning I was directed to Psalm 18. In the back room of my thoughts was a question, perhaps THE question for all Christians, asked this time by a young woman in my Church School class, a new believer whom, along with her daughters, I was blessed to baptize two Easter Sundays ago. "But Tom, how do we love our enemies? That seems to be the hardest thing..." Indeed. But are all enemies to be loved? Which ones?

Which is to say, who or what is/are the enemy/enemies? The Psalmist of song 18 does not love the enemy, but writes, I pursued my enemies and overtook them;/and did not turn back till they were consumed./I thrust them through, so that they were unable to rise;/they fell under my feet./For thou didst gird me with strength for the battle;/thou didst make my assailants sink under me./...I beat them fine as dust before the wind;/I cast them out like mire of the streets.

Just the difference between Hebrew Scripture and New? Or is there something more nuanced here?

I reread Romans 12. Do I have enemies? Who or what is the enemy? Is there something or someone I must pursue and not turn back till it/they are consumed?

Perhaps my enemy is all the stuff in me that leaves my mind untransformed, that would conform me to the world, or leave me there. While I do not normally like the language of "spiritual warfare"--and don't get me started on a seminar I went to once, a bunch of us unsuspecting Methodists ambushed by this lady and her camouflage-colored tamborines with little plastic weapons glued to them, which we  was supposed to tap in staccato (because "the enemy doesn't like that sound;" reminded me of Bill Murray in Ghostbusters: "They hate it when I do this") and claim my victory--there is yet a a sense in which that is the kind of engagement Paul seems to be suggesting in Romans 12 (and also in the deutero-Pauline Ephesians 6). It is hard work, battle, giving God room to transform our minds. Hard work, battle, presenting ourselves as a living sacrifice. It is a kind of warfare, actually, thrusting-through all those things in ourselves that would enslave us (oblique to Exodus, too). I find myself thinking of Kallistos Ware who said, "if we do not find prayer difficult, perhaps we have not begun to pray."


Blogging This Week...
2008-08-17 by Tom Steagald

Greetings, friends. I will be blogging again this week.

Though I am a rather frequent contributor to this site, and have served as guest blogger once before, David Howell asked me to introduce myself again.

I am a United Methodist pastor serving a small town's First UMC. I am a graduate of Belmont University (Belmont College when I attended, and home of this year's second presidential debate), Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (in the good ol' days before he take-over) and the Candler School of Theology, Emory University (D.Min.) I have written two books (one of which is advertised on this site) and a third is due from Upper Room in 2011. I have contributed sermons, reviews and essays to such periodicals as Lectionary Homiletics, Journal of Biblical Preaching, The Christian Century, United Methodist Reporter and the Circuit Rider. I am a frequent contributor to the The Abingdon Preacher's Annual and I have written 12 entries for Feasting on the Word.

I am sometimes professor of preaching and worship at the Hood Theological Seminary (AME Zion)--a real learning experience for an aging, white United Methodist!--and comment pretty regularly on Theolog.org. 

I hope we can discuss the texts this week. Look for my first entries on Monday afternoon.     

Ro; "Lectionary Homiletics" Highlights
2008-08-15 by David von Schlichten

Thank you to guest blogger Ro Ruffin for diving into the tub. Scroll down to read her Olympian thoughts on this puzzling, controversial text from Matthew 15. She does a splendid job of exploring the idea of Jesus as bigot – a shocking notion indeed. Scroll down to swim around in Ro's rejuvenating writing.

Below are highlights from some of the articles for this week in Lectionary Homiletics.


Among several other points, Osvaldo D. Vena directs us to Matthew 14 and Peter's little faith, which contrasts with the Canaanite woman's great faith.

Scripture and Screen”

Dan Dick writes about the movie Liar, Liar, which tells of an inveterate liar who suddenly is unable to lie. Clearly the movie stresses the value of pure honesty over lying and over telling the truth because you have to and not because you do so freely.

The movie connects with the pericope in its emphasis on honesty. The Canaanite woman, likewise, is honest, speaks from the heart.

Preaching the Lesson”

Speaking of honest, bold women, Anna Carter Florence makes several gold-medal points in her article. One is the idea that the woman functions as a prophet in that she pushes Jesus and all of us to acknowledge the truth and so to act the way God calls us to act.

My sermon will soon appear at the cafe.

Wishing I were Shawn Johnson, I am

Yours in Christ,

David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator

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