Questions for Monday
2008-05-19 by Luke Bouman
I am pretty sure that my sermons are not about giving people answers. More often than not, my sermons are about pointing people toward God, who doesn’t always give us answers either. Take this week’s Gospel text, Matthew 6:24-34, for example. It doesn’t provide us with a whole lot of answers. It leaves me with a whole lot of questions.
Don’t worry, says the text, especially concerning the daily needs that we all have. God will provide. Immediately my mind starts to ask questions. How does God provide? Manna in the wilderness was a long time ago, so what is God doing lately. What about those people who do not seem to have their clothing or food needs met? What is God doing for them? What are our obligations in this whole process, beyond not worrying? What does it mean to strive for the kingdom of God? What is it? How does one strive for it? Certainly one could ask these or a thousand other questions based on this simple Gospel text.
More pointed homiletical questions might include my favorite: “What is God doing, according to this text?” I like to ask, though it is a dangerous question. It is dangerous because most of us are tempted to answer this question based on our expectations of God rather than on what God is actually up to. Still, it is a good question, since, if we can actually get to the bottom of it, this question will supply us with real good news. By asking earnestly we might get eventually to promises or actions that are trustworthy and lead us, as the community of faith today, to see God present and active and trust that God still works for us.
In this particular text, it is so easy for a preacher to focus on the topic of our worry, rather than on God’s action to promote faith in us. While it is ultimately important to get to this exhortation, it is not the place where I want to start thinking about this particular text. Instead, I find it oddly helpful to ask, sincerely, what action God is taking, and what promises God makes in order to lead to a trusting and faithful response by God’s people.
In this particular text, the promise seems to be that God will care for creation. This implies a God who is not absent or distant but rather a God who is invested in the creation. Upon further investigation we find a link, at least in the Old Testament, between redeemer and provider in both the Exodus story and the "return from exile" narrative, as seen in our first lesson for next Sunday in Isaiah 49:8-16a. The promise of a provident God is made against the backdrop of these stories for a reason in Matthew. Jesus is repeating the pattern. The people are being rescued again, gathered around a mountain again (today’s Gospel comes from the Sermon on the Mount), and they are being instructed in Torah again, just as they were in the Exodus story. In a later section of the Gospel Jesus feeds the five thousand. Here we have the promise that they need not worry about what they eat fulfilled in concrete action.
Finally, in response to this crucial Monday question, “what is God up to?” the answer lies in the understanding that God is not distant but present with us. Later in Matthew we find out in fact that when we hunger God hungers, when we thirst God thirsts, when we are naked God also suffers nakedness, and indeed does all of those things on the cross. It is not in fact in the promise that we will always have food or clothing that Jesus makes any point at all about God’s providence as creator and redeemer. Instead, Jesus encourages us to find that God’s reign and God’s providence are not connected to these things about which we regularly worry. How we are called to respond to God’s presence is then part of the answer to question of what God is up to. We respond not with worry, even in the lack of things, which people both ancient and modern will always suffer, but with faith. When we trust that God provides, then we are free to give to others, and so to participate in God’s reign as part of God’s means of providence. When we trust that God is with us and suffers with us, we are likely to see, even the lack of things not as occasions for worry, but as reminders that God is with us, even when we feel most alone and needy.
Of course this way of thinking runs counter to our cultural understanding that if you don’t have what you need, God must not be with you. But I find the image of the present and crucified God much more comforting than the image of the “holy dispensary” God. However, I still find myself needing to guard against complacency in all of this. The understanding of a God who suffers with us is not proclaimed in such a way that we become resigned to suffering, either for ourselves or others. It is to awaken us to the radical way in which God addresses the suffering, the hunger, the nakedness of the world. God’s righteousness and God’s justice, after all, are part of the kingdom seeking that we do. It overcomes our world’s injustice by entering into it and redeeming it from the inside out.
This Week's Guest Blogger, Luke Bouman
2008-05-19 by Luke Bouman
Rev. Dr. Luke Bouman, a pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is the Director of Church Relations for Valparaiso University and is a frequent guest preacher in the Chapel of the Resurrection on Campus. He has been a regular English contributor to the sermon resource website of the University of Goettingen in Germany since 2003. He has also written “Preaching Helps” for the journal “Currents in Theology and Mission.”
Joretta Marshall and "Lectionary Homiletics" Highlights
2008-05-15 by David von Schlichten
Thank you to guest blogger Joretta Marshall for providing priming questions and cogent reflections on the Trinity. Some of you have responded with wise insights. Nothing enlivens the hot tub like Trinity-talk.
In addition, for free you can dip into Richard Eslinger's “Lesson and the Arts” article from this week's bevy of articles in Lectionary Homiletics.
Below are highlights from those articles.
Mark Labberton lifts from Matthew 28:16-20 six verbs crucial to Jesus' “mission strategy and purpose” (p. 49): go (Jesus' mission is “active and extensive”), make (is “transformative”), baptize (“involves a new identity”), teach (“means a new way of thinking and acting”), obey (“requires self-offering”) and remember (“is not about us”) (p. 49).
“Preaching the Lesson”
Anna Carter Florence makes several driving points, including that the Great Commission is not the Great Commandment and that there is a radical, stretching allness to the text. Florence speaks of this passage in terms of Jesus shooting an arrow that pierces boundaries. She asks, “Where is that arrow flying, in your community?” (p. 55) Further, where is it pointing for us to go? (Ibid.)
Scott Cowdell, in “Trinity as Template for Peace,” draws from several texts, including the Great Commission, which he sees as calling us Christians to help spread the peace that the Trinity models, calls for and makes possible. The Commission is not about proselytizing so much as it is about Trinity-shaped peace-spreading.
I hear the Spirit calling me to the idea of the Trinity needing all three persons to be complete, just as the Church needs all of us, including our various differences.
At the same time, my little heart is fluttering in its cage at the thought of attending the Festival of Homiletics for the first time. I'm leaving Latrobe, PA at 6:30 Monday morning. I cannot wait. Packing, I am
Yours in Christ,
David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator
2008-05-14 by Joretta Marshall
I am appreciating the conversation and ideas that are emerging in this hot tub. Thanks! I am particularly taken with this notion that God is "relational" rather than "managerial." It opens up God's activity in the world in so many powerful ways.
As I was reflecting on some of what has been said, I keep thinking about the notion of "right relationship".
In the Christian tradition we often talk about being in “right relationship” with God. Perhaps the Trinity is a symbol of what it means to live in right relationship. One part of the Trinity would not be “God” without the others. Here we experience that God is not whole unless God is related to the various aspects of God’s being in ways that are connected and meaningful, dynamic and active. Every time we experience the Spirit moving within and among us, we know that God, the Creator is also moving and changing. As we live into the redemptive activity of God through Jesus we know that God is breathing new life into all of creation. And, as the Creator groans at the ongoing destruction of the earth, we know that this groaning changes the way in which the redemptive and active parts of God are at work in individuals and in the world. God is intimately interconnected, even as the dimensions of the Trinity are distinctive.
So it is also with our relationships with one another, with the earth, and with the whole of creation. What we do individually has an impact on the whole of our relationships and I would suggest it makes a difference in our experience of God and God’s experience of us. It is this dynamic of relatedness that offers glimpses of the suffering and groaning God, as well as the Redeeming and Spiriting of God. As we hear and see the visions of upheaval and chaos in China, we are aware that it is God’s body that is suffering and not simply individuals who live in some other part of the world. Our connectedness to their suffering reminds us that “right relatedness” requires of us an extension of the right hand of fellowship made real in the flesh and blood of workers to assist, money to support, prayers to encourage, and belief in the gift of love and hope.
As we watch the unfolding of violence in our homes, our neighborhoods, and in our streets we are ever more mindful of the reality of systemic oppression and pain. We know that our relationship to those who are our “neighbors” requires us to look into the eyes of others, to examine our biases and fears, and to move into the world with renewed vision and hope. We are called to be active disciples on behalf of God – Creator, Judge and Redeemer, Spirit.
And, as we participate in the living of those around us through our daily relationships, we are called to do so with a sense of integrity and care. “Right relationship” moves us beyond our individualized understandings of the God of salvation to a corporate belief that what we do in our daily lives makes a difference to God and to the world of God. The Trinity is embodied in our valuing of all of creation, in our movements toward justice on behalf of those who are poor in wealth or marginalized in churches, and in our engagement of the children, women, and men of our communities in ways that offer hope and nurture love.
In this way we participate in the “right relationship” the Trinity offers to us.
2008-05-13 by Steve Schuette
Relatedness is certainly key...
Along with that relatedness of Trinity I can’t help but think of the fourth dimension – the one whom this Trinity longs to make whole, the focus of the Trinity’s energies, the outlet for all the Trinity’s creative enterprise….the world and we who are made in God’s image.
I had always assumed that the “chaos” or “original mix” was the object of God’s reorganization in a way that brought order out of chaos…..very Reformed or even Gnostic?, I suppose, thinking of the chaos as having a moral dimension of evil over against God’s goodness.
And then, in Matthew is the odd tag to the beautiful scene of relationship, “…some doubted.” There it is: a little chaos in the middle of it all. Jesus doesn’t react or get sidetracked. There’s no attempt to begin a “reform” movement with them. He simply moves on with the commission.
So…what if God’s whole creative enterprise is relational rather than managerial? What if, rather than opposing the chaos with order God works with it like Michelangelo, who claimed that the figures were already in the stone and he was simply bringing them out? Could God’s objective have been not to subdue the chaos but to work with it creatively?
I do know that genuine human creativity does not destroy such tensions, but enters into them, exploring them, and sometimes even lives with them until more clarity comes. Maybe that’s a better option than the way we’ve traditionally understood the “dominion” of Gen. 1:26 both in terms of faith and U.S. policy. Maybe the image of God in which we are created (and creating) invites us to a very different sense of dominion that honors relationship. At any rate, I know that it is out of what seemed chaos that my life’s greatest learnings have emerged.
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