The Evil One Controls the Physical World
2008-06-16 by Preston Harper
Prominent in the June 22 lectionary is the idea that God takes care of those that love Him, including making their physical lives better and punishing their enemies. This idea was especially important to the Jews in Old Testament times, because they didn’t believe in an afterlife in which God rewards the righteous and punishes the wicked. The ultimate expressions of a blissful present are Psalm 1, which posits that God guarantees success to the enterprises of good people and Psalm 23, which posits that God protects their lives. With the presuppositions expressed here David writes Psalm 69 and 86 with confidence God will protect him against his enemies. Jerimiah in chapter 23 reflects similar beliefs but includes a call for immediate revenge.
What was true in David’s kingdom was not and is not true in Jesus’. God did not protect his life beyond age thirty-three, most of his apostles, or countless devotees afterwards (cf. Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, the Holocaust and Bonhoffer) from untimely and/or cruel physical deaths. Youngsters today could probably spend every waking hour of their remaining lives listening to sermons and reading books and tracts on why bad things happen to good people. Having taught at a Christian University for so many years, I have a plethora of stories to tell regarding the lives of Christians abused or cut down in their primes. Here are a few: four young African students are killed in a car crash before they can return home and share the Gospel, a child (seven years old) is raped by her father, a teenager (eighteen years old) is raped by her date, a single professional (thirty-five years old) is raped by a passerby while walking in her neighborhood, a widowed professional (seventy years old) is raped in her bed by an intruder, an exemplary all-conference fullback (twenty-one years old) inexplicitly drops dead in practice, a doctor (thirty-eight years old) dies of a medication error, a pharmacist (fifty years old) dies in a plane crash, a radio technician (twenty-one years old) is sentenced to life in prison for a crime he did not commit (he has served nine years so far). These examples appear to support John’s statement in I John 5:21: “[T]he whole world is under the control of the evil one.” That Christians live in a hostile world does not preclude the possibility that God can intervene on our behalf. While on earth Jesus healed illnesses (blindness, paralysis, leprosy, etc.), prevented death (the Centurion’s servant) and raised the dead (Lazarus). That he, himself, suffered physical abuse and premeditated murder (after asking for God’s deliverance at Gethsemane), should make us realize that the Old Testament ideal of a God who protects the bodies of those who love him and punishes their enemies is passé.
When Jesus begins his ministry, the Jews many years after the glory days of David, living in captivity, are hoping for a messiah that will restore those glory days in the form of a magnificent new earthly kingdom. Jesus does not fulfill their hopes. He tells his disciples in Matthew 10:28 that their real concern must be for their souls, not their bodies, and throughout his ministry he attempts to make them see that the earth is a lost cause. In Matthew “My kingdom is not of this world.” While Christians may take comfort in the idea that God can protect our bodies, we must face the fact that He may elect not to. A post 33 C.E. Psalm 151 would have to celebrate a Christian’s indwelling of God’s Spirit and acknowledge that even though we may not enjoy material success, freedom from illness, injury, or untimely death (pathological, accidental or premeditated), we take comfort in knowing Jesus will keep our souls secure. He says in John 6:40, “Everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.”
It is difficult in America with our eighteenth-century concept of happiness promoted by Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, and others, who were not Christians and who established a physical environment based on Roman law that promotes physical wellbeing, to embrace the idea that an all-loving, all-powerful God does not always heal, protect, and enrich the lives of us who love Him. And He does not always punish our enemies. In our democracy doctors, teachers, politicians, soldiers, policemen, the courts, and others, including ourselves, have the above responsibilities and functions, and Satan is a pervasive influence. Jesus, who is described as “a man of sorrows and familiar with suffering” (Ish 53:3), promises to protect his disciples’ souls, not our bodies and our personal fortunes.
Our guest preaching blogger this week is
2008-06-16 by David Howell
Preston Harper, professor at Abilene Christian University, where he has taught since earning a PhD at Texas Christian University. Prior to that he served three years in the U. S. Army and taught in a public high school. He likes to write books and articles, mentor prisoners at a state prison near Abilene, swim, play golf, garden, restore old vehicles, and travel. He and his wife, Marsha, have three children and five grandchildren.
Daniel Hale; "Lectionary Homiletics" Highlights
2008-06-13 by David von Schlichten
Thank you to guest blogger Daniel Hale and to Tom Steagald and David Howell for their tub-time. I especially appreciated the comments on preaching and whether to use a manuscript.
Click on Share It! and then Free Samples from Lectionary Homiletics to soak up Anna Carter Florence's “Preaching the Lesson” article. She always, always provides mind-opening insights.
Below are highlights from some of the other articles for this week in Lectionary Homiletics.
Borrowing from Jerry Sittser, Douglas M. Koskela quotes, “The will of God concerns the present more than the future. The only time we really have both to know and to do God's will is the present moment” (p.25). God calls and sends us. We know not what will happen, but we focus on serving God now through “proclamation and deed” (ibid.).
There is much in this sermon. Here are snippets: Rodney Wallace Kennedy, in “Justifiable Hospitality,” begins with a variation on the Beatitudes that reflects the world's values, beatitudes such as, “Blessed are the winners” and “Blessed are the warmongers” (p.30). Kennedy also quotes Fosdick: “When will the world learn that intolerance solves no problems?” (ibid.) Kennedy preaches against intolerance in this sermon in favor of radical hospitality.
Kennedy's conclusion is a story of a young man talking with a wise, old hermit. The young man asks the hermit, “Tell me, father, do you struggle with the devil?” The hermit replies that he is too old for such a struggle and that, instead, he struggles with God. The young man asks, “Father, do you hope to win?” The hermit responds, “I hope to lose” (p. 31).
Finally, please go to Sermon Feedback Cafe and offer feedback to a newcomer to the cafe who has posted his or her sermon.
Toweling off, I am
Yours in Christ,
David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator
Keillor and Craddock on manuscripts...
2008-06-12 by David Howell
Very soon, we will have audios of their interviews at the Festival of Homiletics. They will be posted in Share It!
They both have some interesting things to say about preaching/storytelling and manuscripts/notes. Keillor says it is the minimum that a speaker owes an audience...to spend the time writing out what one is going to say. He says he writes out every "News from Lake Wobegon" (although he delivers it without the manuscript). (Interestingly, he says he feels like a complete failure after every show...remind you of anything?...but he resolves the next morning to try it again the next week. Sound familiar?) Keillor goes on to say that (in his opinion) it would be complete arrogance not to prepare (and rely on things to come to you in the moment).
Craddock says some similar things and adds that it is not a progression. That is, one does not start by preaching from a manuscript, move up to preaching with notes, and finally progress to preaching without notes. He says it depends on the situation and how comfortable the preacher is with the material. For instance, if the pastor is preaching on a very controversial issue. He or she better preach from a manuscript. "I didn't say that... see right here is my manuscript... this is what I said."
Moses had tablets!
2008-06-12 by Tom Steagald
That is how I respond when people (still, here in the South and products--though several generations removed--from the great Revivals) fuss about my preaching from a manuscript.
I grew up in a tradition where a "starting point" for homiletical faithfulness began with the discarding or eschewing altogether of any kind of sermon notes. Based on this scripture and the (more or less) "doctrine" of instantaneous inspiration (God gave the Word; God gives the words), preachers were expected in the name of authenticity and (though my forebears would probably not use the term) "kenosis" to become vessels of the Spirit. Mansucripts and notes, the former more than the latter but only by a nose, were viewed as impediments, intrusions, usurpers.
Such a view can foster laziness, of course, but the better strand of the tradition is that the pastor would "bathe" himself (always "himself" in those days and that tradition) in prayer and study (commentaries were allowed as long as the interpretations were not "worldly"--and seminaries, often called "cemeteries" were known to have "ruined" more preachers...), in comparing "scripture with scripture," so that on Sunday morning when the pastor stood there would be, as it were, a free-flow of material from God to people through the preacher.
Many preachers I know still use this method of proclamation and sermons are often kick-started by "on the way to church this morning I saw a..." or "heard a..." whatever it was, perceived as a God-given entry point into the well of prayer, preparation and pastoral conversation which had occured over the week.
My dad was always distrustful of liturgy, of the Christian year, of anything that could conceivably "quench the spirit" that was "waiting to show up" any given Sunday.
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