Initial Thoughts for November 20, 2011, the Reign of Christ, Thanksgiving, New Year, Penn State
2011-11-13 by David von Schlichten
On Wednesday, I will reflect on the readings for this Sunday. Today, I am reflecting on salient themes for this Sunday.
CHRIST AS RULER: What does it mean to say that Christ is our sovereign? In part, it means that we are to be servants. After all, Christ's model of leadership is that of servant-leader. He leads primarily by being a servant. We are to go and do likewise.
We can also talk about how Christ the leader succeeds where human leaders fail. Christ, for instance, is not corrupt or out of touch with the people. Christ is not sitting on a throne being a glutton while the masses starve. On the contrary, at least one of Christ's thrones is the cross. Now THAT'S a different kind of leader.
THANKSGIVING: One important truth to lift up is that thanksgiving is not just about words of thanks but a lifetime of thankful acts, such as feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, welcoming the stranger . . .
END OF THE CHURCH YEAR: You may want to reflect on the last twelve months in the Church and on the joys and challenges to come.
For instance, at my church, this year we have experienced a significant drop in attendance, and no one seems to know why. I could express disappointment about this drop and resolve that we will try to get numbers up in the next year. I could also celebrate the strengths that St. James has despite the numbers-drop, such as our steady, dependable outreach programs.
PENN STATE: The crisis reminds all of us that, when someone is being victimized, it is our responsibility to do something to help the person. The crisis also reminds us of the importance of showing justice and mercy to everyone involved in a crisis. The crisis also reminds us of the special needs of children, who often get mistreated despite the ubiquitous, loud rhetoric about how important it is to care for them.
What thoughts do you have, either on the readings or on themes for this Sunday? Feel free to send me an email or to submit a post for possible publication here.
Yours in Christ,
David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator
The Antidote to Fear
2011-11-11 by Dee Dee Haines
This past week I heard a preacher end the service by saying, “I love you, and there’s absolutely nothing you can do about it.” As I looked around at the faces in the congregation, none of them seemed the tiniest bit disturbed by his proclamation. I concluded that maybe this preacher finished every service with that line---maybe they were used to it. Then, still, I wondered to myself how long I would have to hear such words before I could begin to fathom the implications of someone telling me, “I love you, and there’s nothing you can do about it.”
Today’s Old Testament text tells the story of Deborah, an unlikely heroin of ancient Israel. The book is filled with graphic descriptions of an on-going cycle of war for the people of God. But if truth be told, the stories of the book of Judges might leave us wondering if any of the characters could be understood as hero, or heroine, material. They are all so deeply flawed. They are stuck, fixed in a cycle of violence and self-destruction.
They seem to have short memories. They appear to be easily influenced by those around them. They don’t seem to be able to escape the temptation to do things their own way, despite the consequences that accompany poor choices. And in many places, the story records that they feel as if they are lost, and there is no one to lead them. But in just as many places, the story tells us that God hears their lament, their cry, and empowers them to find their way. Perhaps, at the root of it all, this is God saying to God’s people, “I love you, and there’s nothing you can do about it.”
I wrestle with the thought of God as some kind of Holy Stalker. But maybe that is the truth--- that this God of ours is a God who says, no matter what is happening in your life, I will not let you go. This is the God who says that despite anything we do--- goodness and mercy shall pursue us all the days of our lives. This is a God who pays persistent attention to even the most flawed of people and broken communities and inspires them, enables them, and uses who they are to transform their world. It seems that even in the midst of self-destructive practices, God’s saving Spirit never fails to beckon, and never ceases to sustain.
Some of us may conclude that the ending to a sermon based on this theme must be that we respond to God’s unending love by embodying that love in our world. We love because we were firstly loved. But I want to say more. I want to know that this knowledge is not in our heads, but it our hearts, and it can liberate us from our fear---the kind of fear where we may be hesitant to invest what God has given us. A fear that keeps us paralysed and resistant to the changing world, the ever-flowing creativity that makes a path for God’s saving grace to shape our lives and our communities. This is a fear that whispers into our ear that the myth of scarcity is real, that this story was then but we live in the now, a fear that must be spoken aloud before it can be met with an antidote. Perhaps there is much to be found in wrestling with the question, what is the antidote to fear? I suspect the parable has much to say about this dynamic remedy.
Dee Dee Haines
Isle of Man
Further Thoughts on 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 and Matthew 25:14-30
2011-11-09 by David von Schlichten
This morning at Bible study my attendees leaned toward self-righteousness. 1 Thessalonians 5 urges Christians to be awake and sober, in the light, and Matthew 25 urges Christians to use their "talents" to serve God, or face the consequences. My Bible study attendees -- who are commendable Christians on the whole -- responded to these texts by talking about all the people out there who are stumbling around in the dark and burying their talents because they are scared or just plain lazy.
It is easy for us Christians to think along these lines. It certainly is easy for me. Indeed, there are plenty of people out there who are stumbling and burying. However, it is important for us Christians to turn this passage on ourselves. I ask, "What causes me to fall asleep as a pastor?"
One cause of spiritual soporificity is apathy. Apathy can be contagious. When I encounter apathy about Christianity, one way I cope is by becoming apathetic myself, falling asleep.
What else causes us to fall asleep or bury our talents, and how does God wake us up and empower us to exhume those talents and invest them?
Yours in Christ,
David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator
Initial Thoughts for November 13, 2011
2011-11-07 by David von Schlichten
Judges 4: Deborah emerges as a judge. Here we have an ancient story about a female leader who defies at least aspects of conventional gender roles. The Bible is predominantly patriarchal, but it also contains stories and images that subvert the patriarchy. Maybe the Bible-world is not as patriarchal as we think it is.
Psalm 123: Lifting our eyes and crying for help. How do we deal with the wait, the delay in God's response, the meantime, which can get pretty mean?
Is the delay truly a delay or a perceived delay? The psalms seem to think that sometimes, at least, the delay is real. Why would God delay in helping us? Of course, we could also ask, "Why would God bother helping us perpetually sinning and smelly humans in the first place?"
1 Thessalonians 5:1-11: Be awake, be sober. What makes us sleepy? What makes us drunk? A valuable sermon would be one in which the preacher explores what aspects of our lives are soporific and how turning to God wakes and sobers us up.
Matthew 25:14-30: Because of the word-play in the parable, many preachers tend to make this sermon about us using our talents, meaning our abilities. That's a worthwhile and legitimate approach, but a talent in the parable is a unit of currency. What if a preacher explored instead how Christians can use their God-given money in a holier manner?
What thoughts do you have? Feel free to email me or to submit a post for possible publication here.
Wishing Martin Luther a happy birthday on November 10, I am
Yours in Christ,
David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator
Sermon on 1 John 3:1-3, November 6, 2011, All Saints Sunday
2011-11-05 by David von Schlichten
Sermon on 1 John 3:1-3
for St. James Evangelical Lutheran Church,
with Sunday, November 6, 2011
All Saints Sunday, Year A
with the Reverend Dr. David von Schlichten
(word count: 854)
In the Bible, we learn of our already/not-yet reality. Already. Not Yet. For example, are we saved through Christ? Yes, we already are. Jesus died for us two-thousand years ago. Salvation is already here for the baptized. At the same time, we still struggle with the sting of suffering and sin. We already have eternal life through Christ, but we are not yet experiencing salvation in full. Already. Not yet.
1 John 3:1-3, our second reading, deals with this already/not yet reality. Verse one says, “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are.” That is what we are, present tense. We are, right now, already children of God.
The Bible flows with this already language. The Bible calls us followers of God “saints.” We are saints because Jesus has made us holy, has washed our robes white in his blood, as it says in Revelation 7. In other words, saint-status is not something you earn by being a good person. No, saint-status is an honor that God confers upon us through Christ, even though we are unworthy. Many of us think that being a saint is something to work toward, but the Bible teaches us that you and I, through our baptism into Christ, are saints already.
Hear that: You are a saint already, and because you are a saint already, you have blessings. God has blessed you with unlimited forgiveness of sins, freedom from everlasting guilt, no matter what the sin is. You may not be able to forgive yourself, but God is eager to forgive you. As a saint, you have membership in the Church, where God feeds you the body and blood and blesses you further with the support of the Church. As a saint, you have the assurance that God is with you, listening, supporting, holding your hand. Granted, God may do that for anyone, but, as a saint, you have the assurance that God is doing all that for you out of gracious love for you.
Most importantly, as a saint of God, you have the assurance that already there stands a house in heaven with your name on it, ready for you to move in. We are undeserving, but all of these blessings are ours already because of God’s mercy. You are a saint already.
At the same time, there is a not-yet component to being a saint. 1 John 3:2 makes this point when it declares, “Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed.” Verse two goes on by promising, “What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.” Verse two points to the not-yet aspect of our reality. Yes, we are already saints with arms full of cornucopious blessings, but more is to come. God will transform us into something even greater than what we are. More is coming, not because we are deserving, but because God is generous.
Think on that point. Our best days are not behind us; they are ahead of us. You are not past your prime. On the contrary, you haven’t seen your prime yet. Someday, somehow, someway, God will advance us to some higher level in which we will be like God and we will see God as God truly is. All the questions, doubts, fogginess, confusion, sin, error, sickness, weakness—all of that will vanish. No more will we question why or being angry and frustrated about God, the world, and our own shortcomings. Death will be no more. Being hungry, thirsty or hot will be no more, and God will wipe every tear from our eyes. That the not yet. We are already saints, but we have not yet experienced in full how wonderful sainthood is. Already. Not yet.
What are we saints to do while we wait for not yet to become already? 1 John 3:3 tells us. It says, “And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.” As we saints await that day when God makes us into our full selves, we are to be busy purifying ourselves. We are to live up to our saint-status. We are to be humble, poor in spirit. We are to mourn evil while working to make the world better. We are to be, neither door-mats nor bullies, but meek. We are to hunger and thirst for righteousness. We are to be merciful, not judgmental. We are to be pure in heart. We are to be, not troublemakers, but peacemakers, avoiding harming others. When people make fun of us, criticize us, or worse because we are Christians, are to be strong in enduring that persecution. In short, we are to love God, including by loving others.
Amazing! You are a saint already, and someday you will know in full what that means. Already. Not yet. While we wait for that day to come, we do loving acts and speak loving words. We live like the saints we are.
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