2008-06-29 by Dena Williams
2008-06-29 by Dena Williams
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).
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