2008-07-10 by David von Schlichten
Lectionary Questions for July 13
2008-07-06 by Elizabeth Mortlock
Our blogger this week is Rev. Elizabeth Mortlock, a member of the New York Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church. She serves as Pastor of the Mount Pleasant United Methodist Church in Roanoke, Virginia. She writes:
Summer can be a time of reflection, of questioning. It is a time to be free from finding the “right answers” prematurely. In that spirit of asking and wondering, I offer the following questions as springboards to our discussion. I look forward to your responses and further questions this week:Matthew 13: 1-9, 18-23 – Parable of the Sower What is the seed of the good news that is so broadly cast?
In our country, where theological viewpoints among Christians can be markedly diverse, how do you name what the seed is? Is it salvation in Jesus Christ? Is it salvation in Christ alone? Is it the good news that we are loved by God? Is it the hope that if we are faithful, a harvest will grow? What is the seed?Where do we put our endeavors in ministry?
In the parable there are three places where the seed falls – 1) on rocky ground where there is no chance whatsoever that there will be growth for evil prowls 2) on a path where there is no need for deep soil as it is in fact a path. A path is not meant to be a field to be useful. 3) well-tilled soil that is fertile and ready to receive the seed. Are we to throw the seeds of ministry as liberally as the sower? What about throwing the seed at evil? Is it worth it? Does our action change things? What about throwing the seed of our ministries at a place where, in fact, there is no chance of the path becoming a field? What about tending the field so that it is prepared to hear the word of God? Can we tell which area is which in life? Are we meant to throw the gospel liberally as the sower does, or to discern and focus? Is our task simply to prepare the field so that when the sower comes the field is ready for the word?What about those crowds?
Jesus spoke and such great crowds gathered around him that he went into a boat. Is there a correlation between the local church speaking the word and doing the works of Jesus so faithfully and genuinely that great crowds gather? Or can one speak the word of Jesus faithfully and genuinely and still find a small number in the pews? Or can we never hope to come close to the power of Jesus and are we to simply be as faithful as possible in our proclamation, not worrying about the numbers?Genesis 25: 19-34 – Jacob and Esau What words in the Bible repel some people in the pews?
Are there words in the Bible that repel some who might otherwise respond to a story or teaching? Is the word “barren” too strong or is it acceptable to describe a woman who does not bear a child? Does it suggest an utter wasteland of the body? Of the mind? Of the soul? Is this an accurate representation or an offense?What is God’s response to prayer?
When Isaac prayed for his wife he no doubt did not expect that while the prayer might be answered, the response might carry in a new challenge in life. In this case the prayer is answered, yet there are two nations divided in one womb. What are our prayers? When answered, how do they sometimes carry in them further challenges in our lives and spirits?Brotherly love?
Two brothers. Two nations. Two careers. Two personalities. Does this sound like family relations at odds? Does this sound like race relations at odds? Does this sound like international relations at odds? Is such a conflicted situation destined for eternal conflict? Is that just life as it always is? What does it take to reconcile warring nations, warring brothers in a family? What scripture and teaching in the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament would shed a new perspective on this conflicted situation, bringing such conflict into a new and reconciled place?What Would Make You Sell Your Birthright?
What are the gifts that we have been given in life, just by virtue of being born into God’s world? How do we cherish them? Which of them do we covet? What makes us give up something precious for something urgent? What are the permanent implications of this choice?Psalm 119: 105-112 – Thy Word is a Lamp Unto My Feet What oaths do you swear to? What ordinances do you follow?
What oaths do you swear to? What ordinances do you seek to live by? How do these ordinances sustain you even in the face of trial?Who are the wicked?
Does this polarization of the faithful and the wicked work for today’s world? Can we afford to name others as wicked? Does naming others as wicked simply serve to make us feel righteous? Or is there true and unadulterated wickedness in some who God created? Are we judicious in naming who is wicked? Are we judicious in labeling others?Where is that Lamp? What is it Lighting?
How do you see the light of God illuminating your path? What does your path look like? Where are you moving to? How does the light assist in the movement forward.Romans 8: 1-11 Is there no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus?
If we are saved, can we sin? Is a committed Christian free forever of sin? Is Paul right here?What’s wrong with the flesh?
Can we live with this dichotomy of body and spirit? Is it faithful for Christians to see integrity of the two? Is the body corrupt? Is the body the temple of the Holy Spirit?In closing . . .
Is it enough to simply ask questions? At what point must we seek answers and live by them? Can an answer ever be more than provisional? Are there clear sacred truths that can be discerned which become brighter and brighter as life goes by and faithful discernment grows? Who do we share our deepest questions with? Who might we join together with to ask questions and seek answers? And, once found, how do we commit ourselves to live with the answers?
I look forward to hearing your thoughts. May everyone who reads this be full of God’s grace this summer as you go forward with the word of God, a map unto your feet and a light to your path.
Dena Williams; "Lectionary Homiletics" Highlights
2008-07-02 by David von Schlichten
Thank you to guest blogger Dena Williams for her hot-tub reflections. Scroll down to absorb her artful reflections on this Sunday's texts. Also learn from her responses to readers' questions, posted below.
Click on Share It! and then Free Samples from Lectionary Homiletics to learn about getting access to GoodPreacher.com at a discount rate for a limited time.
Below are highlights from some of the other articles for this week in Lectionary Homiletics.
“Preaching the Lesson”
Anna Carter Florence notes the shocking juxtaposition of the woes in Matthew 11 with the feather-gentle invitation from Jesus to rest and take upon ourselves the light yoke. This juxtaposition suggests to Florence that the tender,grace-ious invitation is open even to those for whom God intends the woes.
Florence goes on to tell a story about a Roman Catholic priest from her home town who had been the epitome of Christian living to her and the community. This same priest was later arrested for sexually abusing a child. Drawing from the Matthean text, Florence declares woe for such sinners but also that there is rest offered even to these destructive souls.
Ross Bartlett, in “Come Play with Us,” explains Jesus' analogy of the children and their fruitless efforts to play games. The children suggest, “Let's play wedding,” but other children reply, “Nah.” “Okay, how about we play funeral?” “Nah.” Similarly, many of us whine about our boredom, our discontent, but reject offers that people put before us. Jesus and John suffered in part because of the hot and cold winter and summer of disontent in their time. Among other points, Bartlett goes on to proclaim that Jesus and John both took God deeply seriously. They invite us to do likewise, but we rebel. Bartlett concludes with, “Come play with [Christ] the great game of the truly whole and holy life” (p. 53).
“A Sermon” (a second one!)
In observance of Canada Day, Michael Wilson offers this sermon, “Canada Daze,” in which, with the help of Jane Jacobs, he elevates for our consideration two attributes important for a healthy society, diversity and generosity (p. 54). Among other points, Wilson expands on generosity, preaching that “Biblical generosity is best described as sacrificial” (p. 54). We are to be giving in a way that hurts the self in the name of love for God and the neighbor.
I am not preaching this Sunday, but I am looking ahead to a four-Sunday sermon series that I will begin on July 13 entitled, “Contoversial Topics and the Controversial Good News.” This series was inspired in part by Barbara Lundblad's galvanizing lecture on race that she gave at the Festival of Homiletics. The topics will cover will be:
July 13: Race and the Good News; July 20: Gender and the Good News;
July 27: Politics and the Good News; August 3: Sexuality and the Good News.
Soaking, I am
Yours in Christ,
David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator
Two Thoughtful Reader Concerns
2008-07-02 by Dena Williams
A question submitted by a reader raises two important issues. The first requires reflection on the part we play in entering the “game” of relationships, particularly with God. It raises that Lutheran question: works vs. grace. How much of our own volition does God require from us in order to enter into loving relationship with Christ? God’s grace is always and completely available to all people, but does God call us to seek it? Part of the answer may lie in a close read of Matthew 11:28-30. Matthew’s Jesus calls us beyond passivity, calls us to come, take up, and learn. It seems as though we have an active role to play even in graceful relationship. We need to be open somehow to entering the game. As all good things come from God, and openness to love is a good thing, it may beg the question to point out that even our openness, ultimately and mysteriously, comes from God.
The second issue raised by the reader’s question—how do preachers write and preach on texts and topics that open deeply personal wounds? One wonders, for example, how parents who have lost a child preach the picture of Mary’s presence and certain anguish from John’s crucifixion account. I think our questioning reader, and probably others as well, would appreciate advice and comfort drawn from the experiences of others.
Games Children Play
2008-06-29 by Dena Williams
Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30
I remember June and floods and sand bags and huge river rats—all part of growing up along the Mississippi River. Eventually the waters recede leaving rot and mold and mildew in their wake. It takes until Fall to erase the high water marks, dry out homes and businesses, replant fields, and restore order. I remember long July days in the small town in Illinois where I spent my childhood--the newness of summer washed away with the floods. It is hot and humid, sunny and buggy. We, a halve dozen school age girls from the block sit in the dust at the base of the giant elm tree in the neighbor’s front yard. Dutch elm disease and air conditioning have yet to reach the middle of the country. By mid-afternoon, boredom has taken on new meaning.
One of the girls suggests we ride our bikes across town to the swimming pool. “Too far.” “Too many hills.” “Too hot and besides, Mary’s bike has a flat tire.” Longing for books and air conditioning, I suggest we walk downtown to the library. “If it’s too hot to ride to the pool, it’s too hot to walk to the library.” The whine of insects and children breaks the afternoon stillness.
It is a hot, dusty, summer day in a small Judean town. The children gather around the edges of the square, in the narrow strip of shade provided by small shops and houses. The children on the west side call over to their friends on the south edge. “Matthew has a flute. Come on over and we’ll play pretend wedding!” “It’s too hot to sing and dance!” “Well, then, let’s cover ourselves with ashes and play pretend funeral. Elizabeth will be the dead one.” “If it’s too hot to celebrate, it’s certainly too hot to wail and mourn!”
The writer of Matthew divides the sheep from the goats, the tares from the wheat, those willing to enter the game from those who refuse to play. A reluctance to enter the game, a reluctance to participate in community comes not only to bored children. John the Baptist came with dignity and reserve, as one might come to a funeral. The people called him names. Jesus came with joy and celebration, as one might come to a wedding. The people called him names and made fun of his friends. The structure of the text is chiastic: A-wedding, B-funeral, B-funeral, A-wedding.
When we reject invitations to participate in community, to laugh or cry, we miss opportunity to enter loving relationship. Like truculent children, we resist that which is life giving in favor of wallowing in misery. Relationships with others, with God, call us to enter the game, to come to know and respect ourselves and one another, renew our dreary existence, refresh our spirits in the light of God’s redemptive love for us.
The stillness of the heavy afternoon air is broken as the twins’ mom steps out on the porch and calls, “Angela, your mother called. She wants you home to help with supper. Why don’t the rest of you come inside where it’s cooler?” “Bye, Angie.”
“See you tomorrow.” With a bit of new energy we head inside to the dim coolness of the living room. There are cartoons and crayons and card games. We wrench ice from metal trays, plug in the oscillating fan, and engage one another in quiet play. It is not long before the factory whistle blows and the time comes to wander home. Soon the men will return to the neighborhood; supper will be ready. We go home to our families where we find varying degrees of redemption, refreshment, and renewal.
Though essential to our well-being, entering into human community always comes with risk. Some relationships, even or especially within families, prove more life-giving than others. It is not so with God. The promise of life-giving relationship comes to us in the second part of this lectionary text from Matthew. God overcomes our child-like petulance with this invitation: come to me, enter into relationship with me and you will find rest, for I am gentle and humble. So God welcomes us to enter the game, to play, to love and be loved, to find redemption, refreshment, and renewal. God’s love calls our communities of faith to invite all people to enter the game. The rules of the game include unconditional welcome, support, encouragement, the accompaniment of others who come with joy and suffering. Our individual and corporate mission as Christians centers on giving and receiving love that reflects God’s love for us.
The text begins with celebratory joy as the King comes, but ends in suffering as war resumes. Even then, God promises hope and restoration.
We have all seen or been the “child” on the sidelines of the game, wanting to enter, not sure what the rules might be, not trusting our skills, afraid to participate, angry with others and ourselves, in pain. Who will rescue us, invite and help us to enter the life-giving game? “Thanks be to God . . . Jesus Christ Our Lord!”
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