Initial Thoughts for October 30, 2011
2011-10-23 by David von Schlichten
In the ELCA, we are celebrating Reformation Sunday that day, so we will be thinking of jusitifcation by grace through faith and Martin Luther. Preaching that salvation comes through Christ alone and not through our efforts is an ongoing challenge, because people still want to make their salvation about what they do. How can we proclaim this message anew?
Halloween: Scroll down to see a sermon I wrote about how Halloween can help us be better Christians.
Joshua: Crossing the Jordan. The passage reminds us to remember where we come from as we venture into the Promised Land. Remember your roots, your identity, as God leads you into the next venture. What Promised Land is God leading you to?
The Israelites entering Canaan is somewhat disturbing for me, because they did a lot of God-sanctioned slaughter in order to take that Promised Land. What do we do with what looks like God-approved ethnocentric carnage?
Micah: Beware of false prophets and leaders. Beware of being one. How do we church leaders keep ourselves from selling out to other interests that clash with the will of God?
1 Thessalonians 2: Paul is defending his ministry, showing that he and his fellow leaders have been hard-working and full of integrity. When should we Christians defend ourselves, and when should we not care what people think?
Matthew 23: The Pharisees are criticized for being self-aggrandizing, but is it really so wrong to want to toot your own horn or to have people notice your uprightness? When is it ok to promote yourself and when isn't it? Can you be a Christian and still want to promote yourself?
What do you think? Feel free to send me an email or to submit a post for publication here.
Trying to come up with a costume, I am
Yours in Christ,
David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator
Halloween Sermon on Leviticus 19:1-2, 15-18 for October 23, 2011
2011-10-22 by David von Schlichten
Sermon on Halloween and Leviticus 19:1-2, 15-18
for St. James Evangelical Lutheran Church,
with Sunday, October 23, 2011
Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year A
with the Reverend Dr. David von Schlichten
(word count: 920)
In our first reading, which is from Leviticus 19, we hear that we, God’s people, are to be holy because God is holy. Be holy, because God is holy. When we read that last Wednesday at Bible study, we asked, “What is holiness? What does it mean to be holy?”
The word “holy” means “pertaining to the religious.” Something that we set aside as religious, as close to the divine, is holy. The more you are like God, or the closer you are to God, the holier you are. The ultimate in holiness, then, is God himself.
What is God like? Above all, God is loving. Central to being holy, then, is being loving. Be loving because God is loving. Indeed, what does Jesus say are the two greatest commandments? He says in our reading from Matthew that the greatest commandment is “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind,” and that the second greatest is “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Implicitly a part of these two commandments is loving yourself. You will love others better if you love yourself. Also an essential component of these two commandments is love of creation, since part of loving God and loving the neighbor is caring for the planet and resources God has made. In any case, essential to being holy is being loving.
How do we show that love? We do loving things. The book of Leviticus is all about laws that the Israelites were to keep as part of being holy. God is holy, so we are to be holy. How are we to be holy? First and foremost we are to love. How are we to love? We are to do loving things. We are to obey God’s commandments.
How do I act in a holy manner toward my enemies? I love my enemies. How do I love my enemies? I do loving things for them. Like what? I pray for them, help them with food or money if it is appropriate and possible for me to do so. Care for them when they are sick. Wish them well. Treat them fairly even when they spit into my eyes. Holiness demands love.
Thinking about holiness gets me thinking about Halloween. Bwahahahaha! After all, the name “Halloween” comes from “All Hallows’ Eve.” The word “hallow” means “holy,” as in “Hallowed be thy name.” All Hallows’ Eve is the day before All Hallows’ Day, or All Saints Day, the day on which we remember that all of us are saints, that is, all of us are holy, thanks to God baptizing us into Christ. In other words, the “hallow” in Halloween reminds us that each of us baptized children is holy.
Celebrating Halloween can easily remind us of our holiness, of our call to be holy, including by loving others. One way Halloween reminds us of our holiness is through trick-or-treating. You see, trick-or-treating is a custom that calls for us to be generous and hospitable to strangers and even enemies. If a child comes to your house in a costume, you are to give him or her a treat for free. The child may be someone you know, or not. The child may be from a family you are close to, a family you don’t know well, or a family you don’t get along with at all. It doesn’t matter. It’s Halloween, and if you opt to give out treats to trick-or-treaters, you are expected to give out treats to everyone. Likewise, we Christians, as part of being holy, are expected to be loving toward everyone. Everyone receives love.
A second way Halloween reminds us Christians of our holiness is by reminding us of death. Halloween is like Ash Wednesday in that it is full of reminders of our mortality: skeletons, ghosts, cemeteries, coffins. Halloween is full of reminders that we are going to die. Those reminders, to a point, can be valuable because they remind us what a brief candle life is and of how much we need God for eternal life. Yes? Just as the ashes on Ash Wednesday reteach us that we are mortal and that we need God for eternal life, so also do the death-images of Halloween. We are dust and to dust we shall return, so we better trust in God and we better get busy loving others. Be holy. Be like God. Trust in God. Love. Tomorrow may be too late.
A third way Halloween can remind us to be holy is through the custom of wearing costumes. Think on it. For Halloween, many of us put on a costume. Likewise, in Christianity we are to put on Christ. Repeatedly the Bible uses clothing imagery to talk about the Christian life. We are to wear the white robe of the baptized. God is holy, so we are to be holy. Central to be holy is wearing Christ. What does it mean to wear Christ? It means that Christ is evident in everything we say, think, and do.
As Luther says in the Book of Concord, every day we are to remove our old sinful self and wear our new self. Every day we put on the robe of the baptized, we wear Christ, and we give out treats, even when people give us tricks. And we do all this because God is holy. God has loved us. God has saved us from sin, death, and the devil. Happy Holy-ween.
Initial Thoughts for October 23, 2011
2011-10-16 by David von Schlichten
Thank you to Dr. Dee Dee Haines for her reflection that she posted below. She has helpful words regarding Moses. Scroll down and dive in. I especially value her thought that we tend to think of God in ways that are too small. We undersize God, don't we?
Exodus 34: The death of Moses. It seems unfair that Moses does not get to enter the Promised Land. I know he made a mistake, but come on. He's MOSES. For him not to enter the Promised Land strikes me as too severe.
Then again, maybe it's better for the people if they have to enter the Promised Land alone. What do you think?
Leviticus 19: We are to be holy because God is holy. Profound. God is holy, so we need to step up. Fortunately, God enables us to do that and forgives us when we fail.
What does this holiness look like? What does it mean to live in a holy way? What does holiness look like when, say, you're sitting at a traffic light?
Psalm 1: We are to delight in the law of the LORD. Delight in laws. We generally don't think of following rules as a delightful activity. And yet . . .
1 Thessalonians 2:1-8: Pure, gentle motives. What are our motives for comig to church, helping people in need? Most of us have mixed motives. How do we purify our motives, and are mixed motives necessarily bad?
Matthew 22: The two greatest commandments. We are to understand all other biblical ethical teachings in light of these two commandments.
I think of the whole homosexuality debate. One person would say that it is more loving to exhort homosexuals to abandon their "sinful" ways, but I say that it is more loving to accept homosexuals as they are. How do we determine what is the most loving thing to do?
Feel free to email me your thoughts or to submit them for publication here.
Yours in Christ,
David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator
All that Glitters is not Gold
2011-10-13 by Dee Dee Haines
While Moses is absent, the people panic. They have already declared that he must speak to God for them because they are unable to negotiate this relationship on their own. “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, or we will die.” (Exodus 20:19)
We might conclude that the Golden Calf idolatry is preceded by the idolatry of self, and of Moses. Always eager to firstly meet their own needs, the people seem to have a disproportionate dependence upon their leader. Perhaps in their minds he is more than a mouthpiece. Perhaps their saving faith is not in God, but in God’s servant. When he is no longer in sight, they are quick to fashion a replacement.
In the Golden Calf drama, the people go through the remembered motions of worship, but their worship is empty. They embody ritualistic movement, but there is no heart, no relationship, or connection to this monument that they have built to themselves. The focus of their worship is an object---not the Spirit of God that brings life to a ritual whose purpose is ultimately to point to God. The feasting and wild party (translated as an orgy in some interpretations) illustrates their bent state of mind. Insecure as they are, perhaps they are trying desperately to fill what they experience as a great void? The Golden Calf is the product of some their most valuable possessions and creative capabilities, but the whole re-enactment rings empty, and false. All that glitters is not gold.
The people seem to be almost infant-like in their understanding of God, and God’s servant. They sound like young children who cry when a mother moves out of sight. They need constant guidance and reassurance of God’s love. Even Moses desires more of God than God is willing to show.
One of the most fundamental differences between a human and God is the ability of God to see the Whole of Creation. As humans, we are only able to see a part.
Maybe there is something about God that cannot be experienced or comprehended by humanity. Perhaps the words, “...you will not see my face---no one can see me and live” is an indication of the inability of humanity to comprehend the fullness of God’s identity. What happens to us when we are consumed by ‘capturing’ something that is beyond us? Does God place a boundary so that Moses will cease his efforts to capture what cannot be fully captured by the human mind? In the end, Moses is gifted with just a glimpse.
Could it be that in our contemporary mode of thinking that we have imagined God as too small? Has our own culture and church tradition domesticated God to fit into our systems of comfortable thinking? Maybe this is a text that helps us to understand that a life of faith will always have moments where we long to know and see more, where we have more questions than answers. Our hope comes in knowing that despite our longings or inabilities, God promises an elegant sufficiency of Spirit that reassures us that we will never be left on our own.
Rev. Dr. Dee Dee Haines
Isle of Man
Sermon Ideas for October 16, 2011
2011-10-12 by David von Schlichten
Here are some sermon ideas that my Wednesday morning Bible study and I came up with.
Isaiah 45: Cyrus is chosen by God despite not knowing God. You and I can be chosen. Anyone can be chosen. Even "evil" people and--gasp!-- atheists can be chosen. Cyrus is a biblical hero, and anyone else can be, too.
1 Thessalonians 1: Be a model of Christian living for others to imitate.
1 Thessalonians 1 also warns of the wrath that is coming. My Bible study ladies loved that. Why do so many people get all revved up about wrath? I imagine it's because they want all the "bad" people to get what's coming to them.
Some folks also seem to gravitate toward the idea that God is forever their scolding parent. One of my Bible study participants, especially, repeatedly talks about how God is reprimanding her or teaching her a lesson. What's that about, and how do we respond to that homiletically?
Matthew 2:15-22: Get your priorities straight. Pay your taxes, but put God first. This last point is easier said than done, of course. We have many things competing for our attention, and we often can't just simply ignore them. We have to attend to numerous issues. How, in the process, do we put God first?
Here's something else: Martin Luther talks about two-kingdoms theory. There is the kingdom of this world and the kingdom of God. Christians need to be in both, but, of course, the kingdom of God takes priority.
What thoughts do you have? Feel free to email me or to submit your post for publication here.
Yours in Christ,
David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator
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