Our guest preaching blogger this week is
2008-05-26 by David Howell

Carmen Nanko-Fernández, assistant Professor of Pastoral Ministry at the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago where she teaches courses in US Hispanic and pastoral theologies. On June 1, she will become the President of the Academy of Catholic Hispanic Theologians of the United States. Some of her publications are accessible online at the electronic Journal of Hispanic/Latino Theology. See her first post below.





What About the Fish?
2008-05-24 by Carmen Nanko

About a month ago, my precocious 9-year-old niece Alyssa decided that indeed it was possible to integrate her passion for frogs with her project for the religion fair at her elementary school. In her opus, Frogs in Religious History, she employs an amphibious hermeneutic in reading both the bible and the breadth of Christian tradition. With the wisdom only a nine-year-old theologian could muster, she observes, “If you actually read the Bible, you would know that Noah took every type of animal, except the fish.” It is with this insight in mind that I pondered the implications for Sunday’s lectionary reading of Genesis [6:9-22; 7:24; 8:14-19] and the flood account. Indeed Alyssa is correct: the fish are not mentioned.


I must confess to a certain degree of discomfort reading texts of intentional and destructive use of nature by the divine. In this case, re-creation is born of mass destruction and the preservation of a token presence—no species is spared loss; except there is no mention of the life of the sea.

It becomes increasingly difficult to contemplate let alone preach a text focused on divine destruction in light of the catastrophic events of the past several weeks. In Burma [Myanmar], Cyclone Nargis is responsible for the death and/or disappearance of over 100,000 people while millions struggle to survive the aftermath. In China over 80,000 people are lost and 1.5 million remain victim to an epic earthquake, many of them children going about their daily business of attending school. Here in the US, tornados cut a path of devastation from Colorado to Oklahoma to Georgia and wild fires burned in California and Florida. All these events effectively destroy the worlds of those in the way.

While the gospel puts the blame for destruction on the actions of the foolish [Matthew 7: 26-27]; and one can certainly say that the destruction recorded in Genesis is attributed to human sinfulness, it is difficult to reconcile this with the very real and particular anguish made present to us via television and the internet over the past month. Natural disasters do have a way of revealing the flaws in human systems and structures; sometimes they even point to selfish, foolish and sinful choices. However, there is no getting around the loss, even of sinners and fools, but especially of the innocent.

Sometimes as preachers and pastors we can be too quick in our search for a way out of this. We turn to the comfort Sunday's lectionary psalm options [Ps 46 and Ps 31] provide:

“God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.

 

Therefore we will not fear, though the earth be moved,
and though the mountains be toppled into the depths of the sea;

Though its waters rage and foam,
and though the mountains tremble at its tumult” [Ps 46:1-3].

We are tempted to interpret troubling texts through spiritual lenses, so much so, that we can loose sight of the fact that natural disasters are not object lessons but catastrophic events that rupture the daily living of ordinary people: some we do not know, some we do know and others are us!

In our 24/7 global information age, our news cycles from saturation to forgotten in a matter of days. But our lectionaries insure that we remember, retell, and reinterpret on a regular basis. In some ways the words of our other first reading option from Deuteronomy [11:18, 26-28, 32] counteract our tendency to move quickly from disaster to forgetfulness, especially if we are well removed from the scene. Moses tells the people “Take these words of mine into your heart and soul” [Dt. 18]. Curiously, the lectionary version skips verse 19 “Teach them to your children, speaking of them at home and abroad, whether you are busy or at rest.”

If we are to move beyond shallow compassion and fleeting concern for the misfortunes of others then somehow our interdependence calls us to solidarity with those near and far. As the words of the late Pope John Paul II continue to remind us, this solidarity “is a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good; that is to say to the good of all and of each individual, because we are all really responsible for all” [Sollicitudo rei socialis #38].

In our struggle to make sense out of that which confounds, we are obligated to teach our children when we are at labor or at rest. Or perhaps, we should heed them as well; at least in this case, it was a child who noted the absence of the forgotten. What about the fish?



Festival of Homiletics Farewell
2008-05-23 by David von Schlichten

With great reluctance I had to leave the Festival at 11:30 AM on Thursday, between Butch Thompson's prayerful piano playing and what I am sure was a mellifluous and cleansing sermon from Barbara Brown Taylor. It broke my heart to have to leave.

Back home, listening to my wonderful teenaged children be teenagers, I feel full of a beautiful, transformative experience, the Festival, that I know they would not be able to appreciate through my mediocrity-shaded description. I hold no resentment toward them, just an almost romantic tenderness for a week of proclamation that transcended words, thanks be to the Word.

Yours in Christ,

David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator 





Luke Bouman; Minneapolis, Day 3; Anxiety
2008-05-21 by David von Schlichten

Insightful is guest blogger Luke Bouman's drawing from psychology as part of contemplating the Gospel in preparation for preaching. Scroll down to read his latest contribution.

This morning at the Festival of Homiletics Walter Brueggemann addressed this Sunday's lessons and this theme of not worrying. Brueggemann spoke of our culture stressing anxiety and that the creative generosity of God is an alternative to this culture of anxious, delusional self-sufficiency.

Brueggemann responded to Psalm 131, the psalm for this Sunday, by seeing the hymn as declaring a refusal to go down the road of "ambition cum anxiety." The psalmist resolves not to live on "Orange Alert" but to trust in Mother God, who is there for us even before we cry for her.

Matthew 6, also, leads us toward believing in the generosity of the creator and the exuberance of our theotelic future. This way of thinking is a "reframing" (Bruggemann's term) that rescues people from the paradigm of anxiety, self-sufficiency, and nihilism. Brueggemann's guidance was exciting and unchaining.

Eyes wide open, expectant, I am

Yours in Christ,

David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator





Anxiety!
2008-05-21 by Luke Bouman

At this point in my preparation for next Sunday’s texts I find myself asking questions about the whole concept of “worry” that is the center of today’s text.  I wonder if it isn’t more helpful to think about this in terms of older translations that use the word “anxious” here.  We can read a lot about anxiety in the “self help” sections of bookstores these days, but I’m not particularly a big fan of “self help” sermons, or of “pop psychology” in my sermons for that matter. That said, I will dip a little into my research of “family systems” dynamics to comment about anxiety here.  For people who care to read more about this, Peter Steinke’s little book, “How Your Church Family Works” (Alban, 1993) has a nice section of helpful material. 

 

The first thing I always have to remember is that anxiety itself is not bad.  It is part of our natural response system to threat or danger.  It activates our body chemistry to enable us to fight or flee when threatened.  As such it is a part of God’s creation that should not simply become the victim of holy condemnation based on this passage.  According to Steinke, the difficulty begins when our natural response system begins to fire when there is no threat around us.  When anxiety fires off inside us without threat, it poses a long term threat to health (part of the response of our bodies shuts down aspects of our immune system).  When this happens on a regular basis everything becomes a crisis.  Relationships are also compromised. 

 

Another consequence for the continually anxious person is that choices are narrowed.  Anxiety reduces many choices to “either/or” options and increases the tendency for people to divide into opposing camps, making conflict more likely.  Creativity is minimized without the ability to see more options, and finally, growth, personal and communal is stunted.  I could go on, but I hope this gives people a taste of how anxiety and anxious presences within our lives will function.

 

The consequence of this for preaching on our lessons for today is that there are some kinds of anxiety that, when they work as they should, actually spur us to action.  But chronic anxiety will not only waste our time and energy, but actually contribute to immature behavior.  I have come to think of this kind of wasteful anxiety when I read texts like this week’s.  When societies become regressed or “stuck” in a way of thinking that leads to conflict, wars, walls, famine, etc., I think that one of the things we must come to grips with is our failure to trust and our decent into chronic anxiety as a whole society.  We must also, I think, see this chronic anxiety as more than a problem for us to solve.  It is a bondage, or at least a part of the bondage that keeps humanity at enmity with one another and with God.

 

Of course, I will likely mention little of this in my sermon.  What I will want to ask as I prepare are some tough questions.  Among them might be:  How have I experienced chronic anxiety in my own life, in my congregation, in my family, in society?  How has this impacted my ability to preach creatively, to minister effectively, to shepherd my flock?  How does God’s grace, both in providence and as redeemer liberate me from the “bondage” of my anxiety?   How is this liberation more than just coming to “understanding” but an actual release from bondage and worry?  What especially does God’s presence, and the way that God is creatively present, have to do with my liberation from this bondage?  How does this text from Matthew 6 reveal God as just this kind of liberating presence?  How does this liberation happen not only for me as a person but also for community and society?  What promises does God offer to keep me from further anxiety when this liberation doesn’t happen in my time frame or my expected pattern?

 

Finally, as I start to move from the thought process to the writing process, what experiences, what stories, what moves might be necessary for this sermon to become an engaging and liberating experience of the provident and redeeming God?  How do I get myself out of the way of this God engaging the people in an eventful way while I am preaching? (As if I needed one more thing to be anxious about!)





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