What else is missing?
2008-05-26 by Rosemary Beales

I am touched by Alyssa's noticing what's missing -- the fish -- and also by Carmen's observation that we, preachers and people, rush to the comforting reassurances such as that offered by the psalm for this week.

 So I can't help but notice what else is missing in the lectionary passage.  Certainly I'm not suggesting that we read three full chapters of flood story in church (!) but in the telescoped version that the lectionary gives us -- how can I say this? -- God gets off too easy. The lectionary whisks us from the loading of the ark (6:9-22) to a one-sentence summary of the flood ("the waters swelled on the earth for one hundred fifty days" - 7:24) to the sweet return home ("the earth was dry . . . and everything . . . went out of the ark by families." We get the covenant of God with Noah and his family, and we get its fulfillment.

So what's missing? What's missing for me is the passion, the grief, the wrath, sorrow and pathos of a God who is "sorry that I have made them." (6:8, just before our passage). What's missing is the devastation, the tragedy, the suffering, the despair when "all the fountains of the great deep burst forth, and the windows of the heaven were opened" (7:11) We miss all the experience of those on the ark when "the flood continued 40 days on the earth, and the waters increased, and ore up the ark, and it rose high above the earth. The waters swelled and increased greatly on the earth; and the ark floated on the face of the waters." {We miss, in fact, the whole, resonant reference to "40 days" in the lectionary passage.} We miss the experience of those NOT on the ark, as "the waters swelled so mightily on the earth that all the high mountains under the whole heaven were covered . . . AND ALL FLESH DIED that moved on the earth, birds, domestic animals, wild animals, all swarming creatures that swarm on the earth, and all human beings, everything on dry land in whose nostrils was the breath of life, DIED." (7:19-22). We miss the direct, deliberate action of God: "HE blotted out every living thing that was on the face of the ground, human beings and animals and creeping things and birds of the air; they were blotted out from the earth. Only Noah was left . . " (7:23).  We miss FEELING this story.

 My reaction to this passage, and to what's missing, is largely shaped by my participation four years ago in "performing" most of the book of Genesis with four seminary classmates. Our gifted homiletics professor led us through a semester of learning key passages by heart, and bringing them to life with voice and body. Within minutes, our joyful, dance-like interpretation of Creation became the sorrowful, desperate agony of destruction. At one point in our presentation - as one of our numer climbed higher and higher in the pulpit as the waters rose - my part was to repeat over and over, "The breath of life DIED. the breath of life DIED." That experience engraved on my heart the real grief of the flood - the grief God felt as well as the anguish of those left behind.

What else is missing? Ah, the most beautiful, healing phrase, I think, in the story: "But God remembered . . . " (8:1).

We say something like this when we tell these story in Godly Play. Having raised a wooden ark over her/his head as the waters of the flood rise, the storyteller says, "but God did not forget the creatures in the ark." At that point, everyone in the circle (metaphorically) is below the surface of the water. "God sent a great wind, and the waters began to go down...." The ark returns to the earth and we all take a deep breath.

 What will I do with all this on Sunday? I don't know yet, but I can't leave it alone, because it won't leave me alone. I will spend some time with Brueggemann, von Rad, and Alter. I will remember what it felt like to bewail the loss of "the breath of life." I will walk on the beautiful green earth, our island home, giving thanks for the covenant, the mercy of God, the beautiful day, and the breath of life. And I will wonder . . . what else is missing?

 

 





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





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