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.

 

Zechariah 9:9-12

The text begins with celebratory joy as the King comes, but ends in suffering as war resumes. Even then, God promises hope and restoration.

 

Romans 7:15-25a

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!”





Our guest blogger this week is
2008-06-29 by Dena Williams

Dena Williams, an ELCA pastor who has served several congregations in metro-Denver over the past ten years and is presently on leave from call. Her MDiv and DMin in homiletics are from Iliff School of Theology, Denver. She also spent an academic year at Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary, Berkeley, CA, earning a Certificate of Advanced Theological Studies. Pastor Williams’ sermons have appeared in “Lectionary Homiletics”, she contributes to “Images and Ideas for Preaching” for Augsburg Fortress’ annual, “Sundays and Seasons”, contributed to Year C of “Feasting on the Word”, Westminster John Knox, and has written commentary and study notes for Titus and Jude for Augsburg’s Lutheran Study Bible, due out in 2009. Dena lives in Denver with her physician spouse, John, and two-year-old dark golden retrievers, Ruby and Rusty, who somewhat fill the nearly empty nest left by their young adult daughter and son, Wendy and Walker.

 






2008-06-29 by Dena Williams







2008-06-29 by Dena Williams

 

 





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