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.


No Preparation
2008-06-12 by David von Schlichten


What does it mean that we are not to prepare what to say because the Holy Spirit will give us the words? Some could interpret this passage as endorsing laziness. One could contend that preachers (persecuted or not) should not prepare their sermons, that the Holy Spirit will give them the right words. What do you make of this promise from Jesus?

Yours in Christ,

David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator

Called To Serve
2008-06-11 by Daniel Hale

Matthew 9:35-10:23

What does it mean to be Christian? Jesus, in our Gospel lesson, noted the harvest is ready, but those who are to help reap are few. This is simply a metaphor for there are many out there who need to hear the Good News proclaimed so that they can be brought into the Kingdom of Heaven. Since there are few helpers, Jesus calls his 12 apostles who are to be witnesses to Jesus and he gave them authority to cast out demons and to heal the sick. These signs are not just “proofs” of Christ’s Messiah-ship, but they are evidence that the healing Kingdom of Heaven has drawn near. His instructions are simple: don’t take anything extra, not even any money, but trust God and the provisions that you need, will be provided as you go about witnessing to the Kingdom of heaven. Jesus also gave them a “heads up,” warning. Expect opposition; expect persecution; expect to be brought before courts, both ecclesiastical and judicial; expect to be flogged and punished. This is how Jesus was to be treated, the followers, the students should not expect anything different.Yet don’t worry, the Holy Spirit will give you what you need to say when you are brought before the authorities. One needed not prepare what to say. Jesus warned that this will hurt the families; brother will be at odds with brother, and so on. Everyone will hate you because of your belief in Jesus as the Messiah. So, I ask again the question: what does it mean to be Christian? What are we supposed to do as Christians? The late Rev. Dietrich Bonheoffer was a German pastor during the Third Reich. For him, to be a Christian meant to stand in opposition to Hitler and how he was trying to change the church into a Nazi institution. He stood in opposition to anything that would replace Jesus Christ as first loyalty. The result of his faithfulness was that he was arrested, imprisoned, and executed. The lesson for today was written for all followers of Jesus Christ. We are to be open with our faith in Jesus. We are not to deny it; but to share it where opportunity arises. The other day, as I was parking at the church, there were three people standing around outside waiting for the beginning of the AA meeting. One asked me if I was the pastor. When I answered, “Yes,” he continued to ask, “What does the word, Presbyterian, mean.” I answered his question. This continued into a discussion about Bibles, which ones are the best to read, and so on. Rather than come inside and begin “work” at my desk, I spent a good 10 minutes with some strangers (only to me) talking about the Bible and faith. To proclaim our faith in Jesus Christ does not mean we have to have the Bible memorized. It does mean that we take our faith seriously, that we study the Bible and pray regularly. It does mean that, like Jesus said, we trust the Holy Spirit to give us the right words to speak when the opportunity arises.  When we die and face our Lord, I believe that I will be more comfortable saying I tried, even if I failed, than I was afraid to try at all. Even when we do “fail” (whatever that means) we can usually learn a valuable lesson that will help us to spiritually grow.

Mutual Hospitality in Genesis 18
2008-06-10 by Tom Steagald

I am wondering how long it would take for Sarah to prepare the bread, for the servant to prepare the calf (from the herd to the slaughter to the oven/spit)... which is to say that while Abraham's hospitality has always been championed here (and Sarah's too), the guests also display a kind of hospitality in terms of their patience with Abraham. If activity can be seen as hospitable, cannot patience be seen the same way? The strangers allow him time to do all he has pledged/promised.

I wonder what they looked like, what they did, there at the tree, while Abraham was off securing them food, etc.

The promise of God comes in the words of the strangers; indeed, there is a potent point of reference in debates about immigrants, etc. But that promise comes after Abraham has busied himself and his family with the tasks of hospitality, and as a benediction of sorts to that work. I wonder if the strangers among us are waiting for us to do all we have pledged before they pronounce a blessing upon us...or will the blessing be withheld because we did not do what we promised?

The Last Laugh
2008-06-09 by Daniel Hale

Genesis 18:1-15

Recently I was reading my uncle’s autobiography. He, my mother, and their siblings grew up in Korea during its occupation by Japan. In his autobiography there was a picture of Japanese soldiers patrolling through rail cars that were crowded, standing room only. He reported that the soldiers were rude to the Koreans. What struck me as odd was that the Koreans on the train were all laughing. My uncle wrote that that was their response to the fear and humiliation they were suffering at the hand of the Japanese. Fear and laughter are related. Sometimes we laugh when we are anxious and afraid. 

Abraham laughed when the LORD told him (Gen 17:17) that he was to have a son by Sarah. It seemed absurd to him that this could happen. After that Sarah was in the tent when the three visitors met Abraham by the Oaks of Mamre. There, again, the Lord stated that Sarah was to conceive and bear a son. Sarah was listening from inside the ten; she laughed at the prediction made by the visitors. A year later Sarah gave birth to her son, whose name was Isaac. Isaac means “He laughs.” Abraham had laughed; Sarah had laughed. Their laughter represented their lack of faith, even in the midst of their faith. Now the Lord laughed; He had the last laugh. What was impossible and absurd happened; a child was born to a woman who was too old to have a child. Every time they called, or thought about Isaac’s name, Abraham and Sarah could rejoice over the fact that the Lord had the last laugh.

I love humor. I love to laugh at a funny joke. I really like to laugh, also, because life sometimes becomes too serious for me. I will avoid most movies that try to make serious statements about a topic. When I go to the movies, it is to get away from the seriousness of life, at least for a little while. I would rather watch Looney Tunes, Firehouse Dog, The Chipmunks, or something in that movie genre.

Perhaps things aren’t so funny when we observe the pain and suffering that encompasses the entire world. We have the tragedy created by human evil. We have the tragedy that comes from natural events, such as earthquakes, cyclones, tornadoes, floods, and so on. We have the tragedy in humanity such as birth defects, diseases, mental illness, etc.

What’s the best way to face and endure such injustice and pain? From a Christian perspective the best way to face it is by our trust in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The resurrection of Jesus Christ holds out the promise that we, too, shall be resurrected and transformed. Right now life is too often not a very funny matter, except as an expression of human anxiety. But the resurrection is the last laugh; again, it was created by a loving God. As we say in the Eucharist: “Christ has died for us; Christ has risen; Christ will come again” (PCUSA Book of Common Worship, page 71). Do we dare trust that the Lord will bring to pass this last laugh?

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