Our guest preaching blogger is
2008-05-04 by CJ Teets
Alan Meyers, a Professor of Religion at Lindenwood University in St. Charles, Missouri. He is a Presbyterian minister who served as a pastor for nine years earlier in his career, and now serves as Parish Associate at Oak Hill Presbyterian Church in St. Louis, Missouri. Welcome back Dr. Meyers.
Power and Witnesses
2008-05-03 by Michael Usey
Jesus answers the last dumb question of his disciples by warning them off speculating on future times known only to God: “God knows the answer, but you don’t get the answer yet.” This warning, along with the reproach of the two men in white, ought to keep us from all that Left Behind craziness that keeps too many Christians obsessed, not with the work of Christ, but with an unhealthy infatuation with his return. The irony of this is of course that those most focused on the return of Christ are the same ones not doing what Christ himself said we ought to do to prepare for his return. Go figure.
Furthermore, Jesus tells them that they will receive power and be his witnesses. This is, as David Moessner has pointed out, an outline for the rest of Acts: Pentecost, then the flow of witnesses from Jerusalem to Judea, then to Samaria, and finally, Rome, not the end of the earth but the navel of the first century world. As we know from Pliny’s letter to the Emperor Trajan (C.E. 111), Christianity was first an urban movement, spreading from city to city, as Acts will bear out.
Here are two points to consider. First, any power we have is not our own. We celebrate the Ascension because we are no different from the early church that gathered around this story from the beginning to hear what they needed: the news that they were going to receive power. We celebrate this day to be reminded that we have no power of our own and never have.
This is a point we preachers can and ought to develop, since we live in a culture obsessed with power—military, economic, political, and even—as we have seen this week—religious power. The very good news of ascension is that we will receive power from the living God. We will channel this untamed power of love; we will become, by the Spirit’s grace, a window to God’s wild love. Windows can be large or small, clean or dirty, but we are surely windows all. We are conduits of the unpredictable God.
Most everyone in ministry has had the experience of someone saying, “The bible study you taught while I was in college changed my life,” and you not only don’t remember the person saying it to you, you don’t even remember teaching the bible study. Recently the local Habitat picked up a phrase of mine to use as slogan for their new capital campaign. They said I’d said it in one of my sermons, but for the life of me, I never remember writing or saying it. I thought about correcting them, but then I wasn’t sure. A year later, I came upon an old stewardship sermon I had preached, and sure enough there was the phrase in question. To me, this is the surest indication that ministry is not about us (something Jeremiah Wright needs to be reminded of) and that our power is from God. As Martin Luther said, God rides the lame horse, and shoots the broken bow. Lame and broken, that’s all of us.
Secondly, we are to be his witnesses. As you know, the Greek for witness is marturos, the origin of our word martyr. Acts bears out this connection, of course, that many who bear witness become martyrs, with Stephen the first. Thom Long has made the notion of witness the cornerstone of his theology of preaching, and rightfully so. We in North American Christian churches need to have a serious discussion how to be an effective witness. Many of us have felt the effect of so-called “witnessing” which was only thinly veiled diatribe, debate, and lecture. Fundamentalist churches have odd seminars on witnessing, the process of which has turned “witnessing” into a bad word for non-fundy Christians. Unfortunately in response to such abuses, many in our churches have left the idea of bearing witness entirely out of their faith. We need to find a way to both be and tell the good news. The famous words of St. Francis are still true: Preach the gospel at all times. If necessary, use words. Surely to be good witnesses we must both be the good news and tell it. Toyohiko Kagawa, the famous Japanese Christian who worked in the post-WWII slums of Kobe, said repeatedly that the order is now significant: that we must first be the good news before we tell it. Too true, but we should also find a way to share with someone in a caring, thoughtful way, “Look, I keep screwing up my life, but God in Christ keeps straightening me out.” I don’t have the answers to this, but I know it is time to have this talk with our congregants.
"Lectionary Homiletics" Highlights
2008-05-02 by CJ Teets
Michael Usey, our guest blogger, has given us much to soak up. I found stunning the idea of Mary as, not just Theotokos, but Theodoulos. Scroll down to read all of Michael's blog entries, as well as some insights about Ascension Day from Tom Steagald.
Also go to Free Samples from Lectionary Homiletics to read Anna Carter Florence's “Preaching the Lesson” article for this week. Week after week she leads us outside the box while keeping us focused on the cross.
Craig Vondergeest shines his words upon the basic truth that many of us fail to understand and/or are quick to forget: God reveals God's glory through Christ. We ache for a glimmer of God's glory, our eyes straining toward thedistance, when Christ stands right next to us.
“Scripture and Screen”
Given that the gospel features Jesus – of all beings – praying, Fritz Bogar suggests that prayer might be a fruitful way into the passage. Bogar then recalls the movie Election, which shows three of the main characters each engaged in prayer about the upcoming election for school president.
One character, Tracy, prays that she will win the election because doing so will help God's will to be done. Of course, what she really wants is her own will.
Another character, Tammy, pretty much just rattles off a list of things she wants, including for Tracy to lose.
Finally, Paul asks to win but also asks for God's will to be done and for God to forgive his sins.
Eloquently Rosemary Beales' sermon “The Voice” teaches us that there is something motherly about Jesus' high priestly prayer in his concern for the disciples. Beales suggests that the disciples may have heard that voice when they got together after the ascension. Further, we hear that voice in various ways through one another.
I will use the Ascension and Christ's prayer for oneness as starting points for proclaiming the unifying presence imbreaded in Holy Communion.
Rising from the tub and toweling off, I am
Yours in Christ,
David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator
Absence and Presence
2008-04-30 by Tom Steagald
I suggest that anyone dealing with Ascension read the seventh chapter of N.T. Wright's Surprised By Hope. He maintains that a spiritualized sense of Ascension, rooting perhaps in a spiritualized or Platonic notion of Resurrection (and the two doctrines are both interlocked and yet separate truths) leads to all sorts of problems, theological and missional. Not least, it robs Incarnation of its import--Jesus' body was incidental to his essential or real identity.
The affirmation and celebration of Ascension (yes, we need a day!) lets us affirm that, while Jesus is perceived as absent, and is in fact absent, Jesus is sacramentally, missionally and universally present in ways we often do not recognize. He says that our residual Enlightenment notion of space as a receptacle (we have traded a three-storied universe for a one-story ranch style!) robs us of the belief and consequence of Heaven and Earth being tangentially related in such a way that Jesus can be and is simultaneously present to all people in all places.
This understanding of the Ascension also gives the Sacraments their fuller significance and meaning.
For my part, I am still dealing with Ascension and the National Day of Prayer.
Do We Need Another Reminder That Jesus is Gone?
2008-04-30 by Michael Usey
Ascension Sunday is the only Sunday of the church year that we commemorate (celebrate doesn’t seem like the right word) that Jesus is no longer with us, as my daughter would say, with skin on. I like Ascension Sunday, because it accurately describes how it feels to be Christian at times, strangely alone and with a deep longing for more of God. As Bruce Cockburn sings, There must be more... more... More current more spark, More touch deep in the heart, Not more thoughtless cruelty, Not more being this lonely... [“More, Not More,” from the album Humans, 1980].
But do we really need a Sunday to remind us that he is not here? Is it not painfully clear to us that Christ is absent, that the one we yearn for is not present? The one whom we follow has not returned yet, as he promised. All of the New Testament writers, Paul especially—and perhaps Jesus himself—thought his return was imminent, next Tuesday at the latest. So should we really have a Sunday devoted to absence, especially his?
Well, yes, it seems like an excellent idea, actually. For several reasons, as I said. First, it gives voice to our yearning, our hunger for things unknown, our longing for more of God than we have. There must be more... more.. More songs more warmth, More love more life, Not more fear not more fame,Not more money not more games. [again, Bruce Cockburn]
Secondly, as Barbara Brown Taylor has observed, absence isn’t nothing. Absence is something, a vacuum longing to filled. My wife loves to walk, and especially in the fine woods of Starmount Forest near our home, around Hamilton Lakes. I don’t think she feels right about the world unless she has walked that day 3 miles in nature, and she is determined to do so most every day—even if the weather is bad, or rainy. She adores being in the wood, noticing trees and birds. The die-hard birders in the neighborhood know her by name. She will say to me after a deluge, “It’s stopped raining—want to go on a quick walk with me?” with the rain clouds looking pregnant and mencing, a fermata before they burst again. It can be trying, coming home from a long day at work, and being cajored by your wife into a long walk in the twilight.
Then last winter we spent about two weeks apart, when I was in Romania, and I thought I would get a break from walks, but instead I began to itch to walk in the neighborhood around the church—in the winter, in the cold, and in the city. My missionary friend Ralph was there with me, or I never could have gone, and it wasn’t yet as cold as it would be. So we walked briskly in the early morning—amidst wonderful sights: old women sweeping dirt stoops, packs of feral dogs, and odd tiny shops that sold hot drinks. And I took it all in, wanting to share it with my wife. I must remember this, and tell her. Ha, what would she say to that sight? She was not there, so I was seeing them for her. She was absent—or was she? At the very least she was present in me.
Lastly, Ascension Sunday is a good reminder that, if we are looking for Jesus in the flesh, we need only to look around, instead of looking up. The fine truth is that Christ with skin is the firefighter in my church who painted my door without anyone asking, the special ed teacher who checks in my son at his high school on her own, the yoga teacher who gave a chuck of change to the food backpack program that feeds hungry kids over weekends: these and countless others are Christ to me and the world. Maybe Jesus is not gone but only widely dispersed. Maybe Jesus is not so much MIA as he is alive and well in the hearts and hands of his followers.
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