PSALMS
2008-06-26 by David von Schlichten

I feel the strong, ancient pull of Psalm 13. The Israelites were geniuses at lament, and what a magnificent and cathartic preaching text this psalm is.

Perhaps one could do something quasi-chiastic by starting with the psalm, going to Matthew, concluding with the psalm:

A. The psalm's lament

B. Matthew's mix of caution and hope

C. The psalm's praise

I don't know. I'm actually preaching on Psalm 87 this Sunday. In the ELCA, for this Sunday we are using the lessons for the commemoration of Peter and Paul. The psalm is 87, which speaks of even Israel's enemies one day calling Jerusalem home.

Just as God transforms Peter from bumbling to brilliant and Paul from enemy to evangelist, so also will God transform enemies into neighbors.

Friend and foe will have the same address: 777 Jerusalem Way.

Thank you to our guest blogger, Gary Charles. I hope others will join the conversation here in the tub.

Yours in Christ,

David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator 





Preaching Matthew 10:40-42
2008-06-24 by Gary Charles

The lectionary is not always a friend to the preacher. There are some texts that lose their full force when stripped of their context and I would suggest that the Gospel text for June 29 is just such an example. Taken by itself, this text seems to be a lovely account of the importance of good manners and genuine hospitality. As a child of the South, I have been taught these lessons all my life. Based on 10:42-44, we can then conclude that Jesus was a Southerner by philosophy, if not by birth.

As I said, the lectionary is not always the preacher’s friend. We will return to the theme of hospitality, but not until we consider what Jesus says prior to these three closing verses of Matthew 10. The chapter opens with Jesus choosing twelve disciples and giving them authority to do what he has been doing, healing to the ill and bringing sanity to the demonic and preaching good news to the lost sheep of Israel. Next, we hear Jesus deliver missionary instructions with the heart of the instructions calling the disciples to rely on the good manners and genuine hospitality of those in the towns that they will visit. There is also a severe warning from the Lord about those who practice poor hospitality and about their undesirable state affairs in the coming reign of God.

Jesus sends out the twelve not with the naïve idea that people are basically good and all you need to do is treat others well and they will do so to you in return. In verse 16, he cautions his disciples:  “See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” He goes on to warn his twelve chosen ones that the mission field is likely to be anything but hospitable; it may well be deadly. He tells them that faith will pit family member against family member and will often be the source of anything but peace and yet there is no truer path to life that to leave everything and everyone in pursuit of the ways of Jesus.

Only after this long and difficult preamble can we hear the seemingly serene words:  “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me” (vs. 40).  Hospitality is more than a matter of good manners or cultural customs, it is a sign that the reign of God is near. Read throughout the Hebrew canon and you discover a recurring theme of providing for the needs of the stranger, the alien, and the outcast. One of the most memorable examples of such hospitality is not offered to a stranger but by one. Sarah dies and Abraham is in need of a burial plot. Finally, Abraham buries his beloved in Hittite country because a Hittite showed him hospitality.

At the other end of the spectrum, the biblical story often paints the “wicked” as those who are too self-absorbed to provide hospitality to the stranger. Early in Matthew, Joseph and Mary and the baby, Jesus, flee Bethlehem due to the inhospitable terror of Herod and they travel to Egypt where they will rely on the hospitality of strangers. Fred Craddock tells the story of comforting a lost young one in the store only to be accosted by an angry mother who says, “You can never be too careful” to which Craddock responds, “Oh, yes you can.”

Later in Matthew 25, Jesus will define those who live in the reign of God as those who by nature provide hospitality to the hungry, the thirsty, those in prison, the stranger. As chapter 10 comes to a close, it does so under the promise of the reward of a life lived shaped by the same hospitality that has claimed us all by God’s grace.

What would it mean in this day in which we cannot build enough fences to keep strangers out for the church to claim these three verses as a mission statement? What if a warm welcome into our sanctuaries and a loving hand in our ministries were less a strategy to grow or to make us feel less guilty about our privilege and more the basic instincts of our faith and life together?

Preach on Matthew 10:40-42, but do not let the lectionary keep you from listening carefully to the rest of the story.





Preaching Romans 6:12-23
2008-06-24 by Gary Charles

My daughter and I have been engaged in a family genealogy project this summer. The attic and the basement clutter is now spread haphazardly across our rather large dining room table – old photos, coins, certificates, newspaper articles, and an occasional letter that has yellowed over time. I love to travel back in time through the random collection of photos, but the random letters are the most fascinating. Many of the letters are written in response to an initial letter that has not survived and the challenge is to solve the puzzle of what was written in the first letter.

Reading the Apostle Paul’s correspondence often involves similar detective work. Just what were the Galatians doing that provoked Paul to omit all the social greetings and begin his letter in such loud, theological outrage? Had the Corinthians really abandoned the doctrine of the resurrection? What made the church in Philippi so special to Paul?

In the long and often complex letter to the church in Rome, the reader is almost always challenged to determine the question/situation to which Paul is addressing, but not in Romans 6. The basic puzzle does not seem too puzzling. In this text, Paul is obviously concerned that some have understood the doctrine of grace as an excuse to define “freedom” as a wild, selfish, and irresponsible life. The logic to which Paul’s response seems to be:  If God claims us by grace regardless of how we live, then what does it matter to God how we live?

As David Bartlett writes in the Westminster Bible Companion, this truncated understanding of grace has survived long beyond Corinth. Bartlett writes:  “The notion that the goodness of grace frees us from responsible obedience is still with us. We ignore questions of economic and social justice because ‘the gospel is not really about that’. We excuse our own tendency to spend our time and energy on people just like ourselves because, after all, the attempt to be more inclusive is just a kind of works righteousness. We think that because our hearts belong to Jesus, our bodies, our checkbooks, our votes, and our property belongs to us. Paul does not think that grace frees us from responsible obedience. Grace shapes us into responsible, obedient people” (pp. 60-61).

          Throughout the winding theological argument in Romans 6 Paul never minimizes the reality of sin, but instead emphasizes that God has established a more powerful reality – grace. Grace is a constant reminder that the grip of sin is fierce, but not nearly as fierce as the grip of grace that God has exercised in Christ. Grace does not lead us to revel in sin, but to respond in thankful gratitude. The slave-master metaphor that Paul uses in this text may ring harsh in the 21st century, but Paul would have no one miss that the grip of sin is harsh and yet the grip of grace is remarkably light. 

          It is always a considerable homiletical challenge to preach just a piece of a letter, especially one as theologically dense as Romans. So, if you choose to preach from Romans 6, I pray that you will celebrate, as does Paul, the free gift of God’s redemptive grace. Celebrate what God makes possible in us despite the sharp talons of sin. Again, David Bartlett says it well to those who would preach from this text:  “We could spend more time reminding people how much goodness is given us in the grace of God. We are citizens of no mean country --- God’s realm. We belong to no mean family – the family of God. We are graced with no mean gifts – the gifts that God has given us in Jesus Christ. We can be the kind of people we are and stop pretending to be the backbiting grouches we acted like when we got up this morning” (p. 66).





Garrison Keillor and Fred Craddock Interviews
2008-06-23 by David Howell

Keillor and Craddock interviews are in Share It!

Go to Homepage and then to Share It!

 





Preaching Psalm 13
2008-06-23 by Gary Charles

Last summer, the worship staff and worship committee at Central Presbyterian Church in Atlanta decided to let the lectionary get some rest. We designed a “Summer with the Psalms” worship and education series. In worship, the entire liturgy – responses, music, prayers, arts, and preaching – was based on particular psalms, sometimes, but not always, the psalm lection of the day. I have been preaching regularly for nearly 30 years, but had never spent a sustained liturgical and homiletical season wandering through the Psalter. My quick review of last summer is that it was often difficult and a challenge to coordinate music, arts, and proclamation, but was the most wonderful summer of worship that I have ever known.

Too often in worship if the Psalms are considered at all, they serve as a liturgical “warm-up” for the “real” text to be considered from the pulpit. After a summer wandering through the Psalter in search of a homiletical word to proclaim, I came away with a renewed love for this book of psalms. In the Psalter, I rediscovered perhaps the most honest and provocative book in the Bible.

Throughout my religious life, I have been taught to speak only with the utmost reverence to God in prayer. Either the Psalmist never learned that lesson or quickly moved beyond it. The Psalmist accuses God of everything from negligence to outright persecution. For the Psalmist, prayer is not a lame habit that probably does not matter anyway; prayer is the loud and glad praise of God at times, but it is also calling God to pay attention and to let up when God is paying too much attention.

In the psalm for June 29, Psalm 13, there are no obligatory words of praise that are offered by the Psalmist to open this terse text. Words of praise will come, but they are not the first words spoken. Instead, the Psalmist examines her situation (what that situation is we are never told) and demands some divine attention: “How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?” (vs. 1) For those who think prayer needs to be flowery and always respectful, Psalm 13 shatters that illusion.

In Psalm 13, though, God has not just forgotten the predicament of the Psalmist – or the people – God has turned away on purpose. Any preacher in any congregation for any period of time has prayed or has stood with members of the church as they have prayed, “How long, O LORD? . . . How long will you hide your face from me?” Preachers/ pastors may try to “protect” God from such charges, label them “poor theology,” but in times of crisis, people of faith are not interested in a cordoned off God, they want to have a long, hard conversation with the LORD God who made covenant with Noah and Abraham, David and Christ.

Too much about faith today is painfully timid, expecting little from a God who can do less. Not the Psalmist. After howling, “How long?” the Psalmist moves from interrogative to imperative: “Look on me and answer, O LORD my God. Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death (vs. 3).” The Psalmist lives under no notion that if she just thinks positive thoughts then life will turn in a positive direction or if she just gets enough education then she will be fully enlightened. In her despair and desperation, the Psalmist turns to God and expects an answer. What would it be like to call people to the kind of faith that sees God as the One who brings light and life to us, in our living and in our dying?

Praise arrives in Psalm 13, but not in an obsequious introductory way. The Psalmist is honest with God not in an attempt to tease God out of hiding, but because the Psalmist knows that the God to whom she prays is ultimately trustworthy. While the Psalmist accuses God of hiding from her, she will not hide her lament or her praise from God. Martin Luther once wrote of the mood of Psalm 13: “the state in which hope despairs, and yet despair hopes at the same time.” It is a psalm in which lament and praise live quite naturally together.

While Psalm 13 is short in length, it raises some of the most profound theological questions in Scripture. It is a worthy conversation partner for any preacher. I realize that some liturgical traditions reject the notion of preaching from the Psalms. I can only suggest that while tradition can be a loyal companion, it can also be an overbearing master. As you consider where the Spirit is leading this week, consider preaching on this psalm.





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