Brian Blount, Dee Dee, Tom, Peter, and ANYTHING in My Name
2008-04-17 by David von Schlichten

What a time in the tub we've been having. Brian Blount, our guest blogger, has given us wise meditations on the Johannine text, and Dee Dee Haines responded with pastoral eloquence. Please scroll down to soak up these poedifying entries.

Tom Steagald wants to know if anyone will be preaching on the passage from 1 Peter, especially the spiritual milk image. His decision to preach on that passage this Sunday as he officiates at two baptisms sounds like an inspired move. 

By the way, you can read an article on John 14 by Priscilla Pope-Levison by going to Free Samples from Lectionary Homiletics.

I find myself thirsting for guidance with Jesus' promise that he will do anything we ask for in his name. He makes that statement or a similar one thrice in John's farewell discourse.

In Lectionary Homiletics, Christie Cozad Neuger teaches that we need to understand the "ask for anything" promise vis-a-vis its context, which is that Christ is promising the disciples that they will be able to continue his ministry once he is "gone." The "ask for anything" promise does not mean that Christ will heal us of diseases every time we ask in his name and so forth. The promise means that we believers will receive help from Christ to continue his ministry.

This interpretation of the "ask for anything" promise seems reasonable, but a small, cynical part of me wonders, "Is such an interpretation an example of us Christians letting God, or at least the Bible, off the hook?"

I have a beloved parishioner, George, a 91-year-old man who is very devoted, who has said repeatedly, "But the verse says we can ask for ANYTHING." In other words, he finds my interpretations, which are similar to the one from Christie, unsatisfactory. Is George right?

I don't know what I will preach on this Sunday. Passover starts this weekend, so I may tie my proclamation this Sunday to that mysterious and profound story of salvation from slavery.

Preparing to listen to the pope's homily while sitting in the tub, I am

Yours in Christ,

David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator





Catechesis and Comfort
2008-04-16 by Tom Steagald

Anyone preaching on I Peter this week? I am baptizing two infants and am thinking the catechesis of Peter might be just what I need to do. I am thinking of focusing on the "pure milk" in the text rather than the "living stone." In Greek the word for pure is adolos, an alpha-privitive form of dolos, used in verse one for guile. Pure milk, then, is "not-guile" milk, guileless...without deceit or cunning.

Verse one, I take it, reveals the several agents that pollute spiritual milk, and I am thinking about all the hateful preaching I heard as a boy and new believer: racial prejudice, anti-communist fear-mongering, slander of other religious tradtions--not a pure or spiritual milk for infants in Christ. I may use the Jeremiah Wright story...having gotten one of those political emails about how we cannot support a candidate who sat for years under such preaching (as if the Christmas sermon was the only tone sung from that pulpit)... only to  suggest that many of us, and not just in the south, have for long years listened to angry preachers. Philip Yancey's Soul Survivor sounds, in the introduction, many of those same themes.

All the "then/now" implications seem fertile ground for this baptismal sermon, as those bringing the infants pledge to serve this pure milk to their children.

Also, in both John and Peter there is the emphasis on the place God creates for those either with no other place or who come from another place. Safe with other believers, meaning safe to be who we distinctively are, is at the heart of both baptism (birth) and death. As Luther said, Baptism is dress rehearsal for death.





Presence and Promise
2008-04-15 by Dee Dee Haines

Just a few months after her husband’s death, Thelma tells me that she’s so grateful for those words of comfort, “In my Father’s house there are many rooms.” The church folk have been a great support for her. But now, the visits are few and the cards of sympathy have all been taken down from the mantelpiece over the fireplace. “At least I can look forward to seeing him again,” she says as she pours me a second cup of tea.

For me, the challenge of this text is to be able to call forth a creative partner identity for these words of comfort that are almost always read at a funeral. These words have a history. They are heard with visions. They call forth memories in our hearts and minds. “I remember those words from my grandmother’s funeral.” If we’ve lived long enough we might say, “I think that I’ve heard those words at every funeral I’ve ever attended.”

In the sanctuary on Sunday morning, many preachers will be looking out into the faces of those they pastor, wondering about what fresh emotions might be stirred within the listeners as they hear these words of comfort in a context that may not be named as a context of loss. Some unknowing worshipper might think, “How strange to have a funeral text on a Sunday morning.”

Brian Blount seems right on the mark when he names our troubled times and the need to hear these words in this present context. We may need to be reminded that we live in a context of loss. We also need to remember that the choices we make have a power that impacts this context of brokenness. There’s a lively tension when we understand that we stand in both the presence, and promise, of God.

 It’s so easy to distance ourselves from our very troubled world. One task for the preacher is to name that pain- filled trouble, the heart ache we have numbed, so that we can acknowledge our grief, fear, anger and the accompanying emotions, instead of pretending that they are not our reality. The old saying, “You can’t change something you don’t acknowledge,” applies here.

 How wonderfully the text points to something to hold on to in the here and now. Jesus is here, in this very room. “I am the way.” There may be something to be gained in asking ourselves, “What are the stories of Jesus that remain fresh in our minds? What narratives have been formative for us? What prophetic words and actions come alive in us---are called forth from us--- when we immerse ourselves in these life-shaping, life-changing stories of Jesus? What about this story?”

Leslie’s wife, May, died twenty six years ago. Even though he suffers from acute short term memory loss, he still remembers to invite me to sit in May’s chair. Several times during our visit he will say, “You are sitting in May’s chair. She always sat there--- and I always sat here.” He taps the arm of the worn, overstuffed chair.

“You must miss her every day,” I say. I feel compelled to acknowledge his pain so that he knows that someone sees. Someone notices. Someone cares that he is suffering---even after twenty six years.

 His eyes fill with tears and he nods up and down, unable to speak. In the course of an hour or so, we sometimes go through this routine two or three times before we pray together, and I find my way home.

I think that perhaps this Sunday, even more than others, I will be very caring about how I speak to a congregation where the troubles of our world are being named and the grief that accompanies that trouble becomes real enough to touch, if only for a few moments. I will remember that there is a power in naming the pain in our world and pointing to the many ways Jesus impacted, and impacts, the suffering of many with actions that speak louder than words. Wanting to make a difference in the world right now, ministering as Jesus did, seems an appropriate response to the affirmation of his presence, and promise.

Dee Dee Haines, Isle of Man




Our guest blogger this week is
2008-04-14 by David Howell

Brian K. Blount. He is the President of Union Theological Seminary & Presbyterian School of Christian Education in Richmond, Virginia. Click here for his complete biography. Dr. Blount will be a speaker at the 2009 Festival of Homiletics in Atlanta, Georgia.

Also, Pastor Bob needs your help with his "Pentecost Panic" in Parish Solution Forum. Go to Homepage and to Share It! Click on Submit Your Own to help this brother out.





What About Now?
2008-04-13 by Brian Blount

In these very difficult times, it is hard to take Jesus’ words at face value.  How is it possible not to live with a troubled heart in these very troubling times?  Around the globe, the U.S. faces difficult choices in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Starvation, AIDS, and ethnic violence ravage many parts of the African continent.  Economic woes threaten the livelihoods of people throughout the planet.  The cost of living rises and the psychological and spiritual tolls required to pay those costs threaten to tear lives and hopes apart.

 

At first, it appears that Jesus, instead of directly addressing the troubling issues and why they so haunt us, tries deftly to do an eschatological sidestep around them.  He appears to speak to a future where troubles will be no more.  He goes to prepare a future place, and in that future, if not in the present, God will tend to the troubles and the people disturbed by them.  Well, what about now?

John’s gospel, focused so intently on the now, on the way in which one can experience salvation now through one’s participation in the person and ministry of Jesus, surely cannot at the very moment that we need a present word attempt an escape to the future, can it?  Indeed, it is John’s theology of realized eschatology that makes me look for a word that speaks to the present as surely as it gives assurance for the future.

The answer lies in Jesus’ declaration that he is the way.  To be sure, he is assuring his people that God has a future dwelling place, and that those troubled in spirit about their future relationship with God need not be so troubled, for God has surely prepared a space dedicated to an eternal housing of God’s people.  Jesus is the way toward and the truth of that new, future life.

But it is his present way that captures my attention here.  He does not say that he will be the way when one gets into the future;  he declares that he is the way in the here and now.  If one wants to get to that untroubled future with God, one must journey through him, through his way and his truth.  This is how one makes a way to God.

 

But how does one undertake such a journey?  It is at this point that Philip asks Jesus to show God to him and the other disciples.  Jesus declares that one sees God when one sees him and his works.

 

There is the answer, it seems to me.  Jesus’ works, throughout the Gospel of John, appear to be works designed to challenge the troubling conditions of his time with a life generating spirit dedicated to bringing wholeness where there is brokenness, light where there is darkness.  His words, his signs, his ministry bring sight to the blind, clarity of mind to the ignorant, life to the lifeless.  Those are the works to be emulated.  That is how one makes a way in the present toward a future relationship with God. 

But can one do such works as Jesus has done?  Jesus thinks, “yes.”  Through faith, not only will one emulate Jesus’ works, such a person will do even greater works.  Can it be that this is how the troubling in human hearts will find its cessation in the present?  Through the works of those who emulate the ministry of life and light that were on display in Jesus’ own ministry?

 

Once again, the answer appears to be an affirmative one.  Jesus explicitly says that those who believe will do greater works then he himself does precisely because he is going to God.  Jesus’ journey to God is not a cause for escapism;  it is apparently the motivation for believers to “work” the works that Jesus himself worked.  The search for a future with God demands a present dedicated to God’s service.  Those who dedicate themselves to that service therefore dedicate themselves to working against the troubling causes that disturb our world.

 

Perhaps, then, in the end, Jesus is not focusing only on the fact that in the future there will be a place where troubles will be no more.  Perhaps he is also luring those who seek such a future to do the work of realizing that future in the here and now. 





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