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?

Our guest blogger this week is
2008-06-08 by CJ Teets

Daniel Hale, pastor of Second Presbyterian Church, Petersburg, VA. He received his D. Min. and Th. M degrees from UTS/PSCE in which he majored in Pastoral Counseling. His two main areas of interest are Personality Disorders and using Family Systems theory in congregations. He is certified as Diplomate in the A. A. P. C. After nearly 20 years in full time counseling ministry Daniel returned to the pastorate. He is married to Marcia, and they have a 14 year old daughter.

Kate Crawford; "Lectionary Homiletics" Highlights
2008-06-06 by David von Schlichten

Guest blogger Kate Crawford and I have been enjoying an effervescent exchange here in the hot tub. Scroll down to read our entries, and then add one of your own.

Click on Share It! and then Free Samples from Lectionary Homiletics to soak up David F. Watson's “Exegesis” article.

Below are highlights from some of the other articles for this week in Lectionary Homiletics.

Theological Themes”

Douglas M. Koskela writes a bit on differences between Eastern and Western Christianity. He explains that, in the West, salvation has been understood primarily as being about the forgiveness of sin, whereas, in Eastern Orthodox Christianity, salvation has been thought of primarily in terms of healing. For the East, sin is a disease afflicting humanity. Jesus cures us by becoming us.

Koskela underlines that these differences are emphases only and that a comprehensive understanding of salvation will include both aspects.

Pastoral Implications”

Among other points, Elizabeth Johnson Walker writes that, in this text, there are three “distinct witnesses to what happens when one dares to have faith in Jesus' teachings” (p.18): 1. Matthew the tax collector, who leaves behind mammon to become a disciple; 2. the ruler who, to save his daughter, humbles himself before the Ruler; and 3. the woman who believes that Jesus can heal her.

Walker also makes the important point that we are not to use our faith to dominate others but, among other things, for stability.

Preaching the Lesson”

Anna Carter Florence writes, “The tension between what we do and who we are is at the heart of human existence” (p.22). She lifts up that the religious leaders in the text tend not to look at people as people but tend to define them in terms of what they do. For instance, the Pharisees don't even call Jesus by name at one point but simply refer to him as “your teacher.” However, Jesus sees people as people first.

Florence concludes by recalling a congregation in which members were not allowed to ask new members what they did for a living until the new members had been at the congregation for six months.

Frances Taylor Gench: In Back to the Well: Women's Encounters with Jesus in the Gospels (Westminster John Knox, 2004), Frances provides stimulating insights about the Markan version of this text. Especially notable is that, at least in Mark's account, the hemorrhaging woman prefigures the Passion. Terms used here to describe the woman, such as “suffering” and “affliction,” are also used to describe Jesus' suffering. Even more striking is that, in Mark's account, the only references to blood are found here and at the Last Supper. Wow.

I will post my sermon shortly. It deals with healing by meditating upon that full, heavy statement, “Your faith has made you well.”

Hands getting pruny as I grow wiser in the tub, I am

Yours in Christ,

David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator

One More Question
2008-06-05 by Kate Crawford

Great question to ponder, David.

And here’s another vexing question from the Matthew text: Jesus says, "Go and learn what this means: I desire mercy, not sacrifice. For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners." (9:13). What does this open up for you, in your congregational setting?

Where I am this Sunday is a huge "whiz bang" service: our 85 year old organ, which has just been restored, is playing for the first time in 8 months; it is confirmation, communion and anniversary Sunday. Think of the balls we have to try to keep in the air! Many of them can tend to the self-congratulatory: Look at us!

Yet Jesus says, "mercy not sacrifice" and "sinners not the righteous." There is an uncomfortable quality to this part of the text as well. Reminds me of Paul’s little lecture on boasting (I Cor 1:31). Actually, one could make a handy connection to the Romans passage for today, and its celebration of the righteousness of faith.

Do your people need to be prodded? Or nurtured? Or both?

Caring for the Marginalized; Healing
2008-06-04 by David von Schlichten


Identifying today's marginalized could indeed be a potent part of proclaiming this passage (pardon the alliteration). (By the way, if you came to our congregation and announced that you would have wanted to be a prostitute in Jesus' day, my teenaged daughter would think you were the coolest pastor ever.)

What I keep wondering about is the statement, "Your faith has made you well." I imagine this statement snagging many parishioners. It certainly s/nags me. Such a declaration vexes and perplexes legions of us.

Of course, we pastors know that the Greek here could be translated as, "Your faith has saved you," but to ignore that a person is also physically healed is to avoid a jumping-up-and-down feature of the text.

What does it mean when Christ declares that our faith  has made us well?

Yours in Christ,

David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator

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