Psalm 66: Narrow door and spacious place
2008-04-26 by Steven Paulson
It may be helpful to preach John 14 in relation to Psalm 66, as the lectionary committee clearly surmised.
There are two key words here. The one connects to Jesus’ promise to his disciples that he is going to prepare a place for them in the big house of his Father: “thou hast brought us forth to a spacious place.” (66:12). The kingdom of God is indeed a spacious place. You can walk around without intruding on anyone’s territory there since there is no law in heaven. There is no property. There is no boundary marker. There is room to roam.
But the second word precedes this great promise (and is softened by cutting out the first part of the Psalm) “For thou, O God, hast tested us; thou hast tried us as silver is tried. Thou didst bring us into the net; thou didst lay affliction on our loins; thou didst let others ride over our heads; we went through fire and through water….” (66:10-12b).
God gives us a spacious place, but the entrance is narrow indeed. And we do not enter by accident. Instead, God brings us into the net. God lets others run over us—but it is God alone who puts us to the test, sends us through the fire and into the water.
Strange that God works this way. He prepares a bit, roomy place, and gets us there by fire, drowning, a net. Strange that God has a work that destroys and afflicts. Strange that we can ever say, “How terrible are thy deeds!” (66:3) and come to fear this God only when we are making a joyful noise to God who answers my prayer while he is testing me, and so tells me while I undergo death itself that his steadfast love is not removed from me. That God works first a death to get to the real work of divinity is strange indeed, but can be praised when we are raised from the dead and walk about in the roomy, spacious place.
So a preacher will give us both words, one in which we do not rejoice in God and is temporary, the other in which we do rejoice in God and is eternal—so listen to the psalmist who has suffered God’s net and now has the place in the big house of the Father.
How to love Christ and fulfill all commandments in one easy step
2008-04-26 by Steven Paulson
John 14: 15-21
“If you love me you will keep my commandments” (v.15)
Here is the key to all the commandments. It comes down to love of Him—Christ. You could certainly explain all of Scripture standing on one leg this way, and in fact you could dispense with all other questions about the law like, Who is my neighbor? Or What did Moses mean? Or is it lawful to pull an ox out of the well on the Sabbath? The answer to all questions of what God wants from me comes to this one moment, this one command, this one person—Love me, Christ says.
This makes the law manageable, does it not? All the mysteries of the Trinity are right here—Love me—and you have the Father and all the Father gives, including the Counselor, Spirit of truth (v.16).
Simple. Loving the poor is hard. Loving the whole world is hard. Loving an enemy is really hard. But if it all comes down to this one person, this one moment, then loving Christ can’t be too hard, can it? Loving one person is workable. Loving him, who is quite lovable, is possible. But one by one the disciples are peeling off. Why did Judas find this command so hard, to just love Jesus, whom he had followed all this time (13:30 “he immediately went out”)? Was it because he serves like a servant, and just washed the feet of the disciples, to the chagrin also of Peter? Why will even Peter betray him three times before the cock crows (13:38).
How does betrayal of Jesus happen, especially when the whole of the commandments come down to just loving this One in all the world? It is because of what the Father gives him, and where he is going with it. The Father, Jesus tells us, “had given all things into his hand. Everything? Everything. Including Judas and is betrayal? Especially that. And where is Jesus going with this, who “ had come from God and was going to God,” (13:3). Where is Jesus going? Well, he says clearly to his leftover disciples: “I go and prepare a place for you, and I will come again and take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” (14:3). Naturally, Thomas the inquisitive wants to know—where exactly is that? Where is my place? Where will you be? Where is this mansion of your Fathers’?
Jesus says, “I am.” What are you? Everything. The way the truth, the life. (14:6) Where I am, there is the Father. Now it would be one thing to believe that the Father and Christ are one, the Father in Him and He in the Father. It is quite a bit to swallow that anyone, but especially a good Jew, would have no other God in this world by this one man, Jesus Christ. What started to sound plausible that all the Bible and all of life and every commandment comes down to loving this one man, Jesus, who is standing right in front of you, is starting to seem like intolerable narrowing. How do you love one who claims such exclusive rights before God? --“No one comes to the Father but by me.” Loving Christ is now getting possessive, almost like this man is a jealous God who won’t let you have any other lover in the entire world—including the good creation, a wife, or perhaps a Father who needs to be buried.
But there is worse yet. In order to get some of the greatest promises of Scripture here in John: “He who believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do”! You will do greater works than Christ—wow!. Better yet, “Whatever you ask in my name I will do it,” (said twice!). (v. 13-4)—I said in order to get these you must follow Him to where you cannot follow Him. You have no idea what he is doing, until after he has done it. Death on the cross. He leaves in order to come to us. Christ will actually give you the Spirit of truth—whom they cannot receive since they are the world. (16-17).
The problem with loving Christ is where he is going—and that is straight, willy nilly unthwartably to the cross—where you will have your God crucified and dead—put there by betrayers who include the whole lot of disciples and his Mother to boot.That is where he was going--and got to. And this is where you are going, to death.
You cannot love him or fill even this one command because he takes everything in the world for himself, and then takes it straight to the cross where our God is put on the strangest throne ever. And this cross you and I cannot love—unless the Spirit gives the love. How does the Spirit give the love? By giving you the words of Christ “he will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (14:26).
Love for Christ is not produced by sinners, but provided to them. The provision is from the outside, in the giving of the Words of Christ—and who does this when Christ is dead and gone? The Holy Spirit, who makes a new world, a new time, and a new person of you. How? By raising Christ from the dead and letting him run free—out of the old world and into the new so that when he comes looking for his betraying disciples cowering in the upper room he does not come to condemn, but forgive. And so love for Christ, which fulfills all commandments, is thus given in these words: “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you. And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” (20:21-23).
What should a preacher then do for the flock of betrayers of Christ who can’t figure out where he has gone and why they can’t fulfill the simplest command to love Jesus? He or she should forgive them as Jesus instructed, and then give the flat out promise that the old world balks at as just too good to be true:
1) You will now do greater works than Christ
2) Anything you ask in Christ’s name will be given you since he wants to glorify the Father—so ask away.
3) You will now keep his commandments since you now have the only one who can do it—the Holy Spirit who will dwell in you and you in Him.
4) You are not desolate or alone, since now you love Christ which before was not possible, just by listening to Him—keeping His word.
These are the great promises the preacher now gives to sinners while they are sinners as Christ is going where he wants to.
Questions for Frederick Buechner
2008-04-25 by David Howell
We hope Steven Paulson will join us soon. Maybe he will make a cannonball type splash in the tub at the homiletical last moment.
In the meantime, go over to Share It! (go to Homepage) and submit your questions for Frederick Buecher. We will be interviewing him this summer, and we will use your questions in the interview.
We will show the video at the Festival of Homiletics 2009. This year we have some terrific interviews with Garrison Keillor and Fred Craddock on preaching.
"Lectionary Homiletics" Highlights
2008-04-24 by David von Schlichten
We look forward to Steven D. Paulson joining us among the massaging jets.
Frank M. Yamada's exegetical article is available at Free Samples from Lectionary Homiletics. Below are highlights from this week's Lectionary Homiletics articles.
Keith Hohly summarizes a sermon by Fred B. Craddock which proclaims that, not a place, but we Christians are the Holy Land. Hohly also summarizes a sermon by Paul Tillich which declares, among other things, that genuine truth is coupled with love.
“Scripture and Screen”
Fritz Bogar explains how the movie As Good As It Gets illustrates the transforming strength of love. Melvin (Jack Nicholson) is a self-centered, obsessive-compulsive misanthrope who cares only about himself. Through a series of events, he ends up befriending a dog and doing a good deed for a waitress (Helen Hunt). He moves from selfish and loathsome to moving beyond himself and loving some. Likewise, loving Christ will push us beyond ourselves.
“Preaching the Lesson”
Anna Carter Florence notes that calling the Holy Spirit the Advocate is to indicate that the Spirit functions like an attorney, for us, to plead our cause and to speak with God, “Word to Word” (p. 29). Moreover, perhaps God needs an attorney to plead God's cause to us to help us hear and respond to God faithfullly.
Yours in Christ,
David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator
2008-04-22 by Tom Steagald
There is always that nice circumcision/bar mitzvah//baptism/confirmation approach--God claims you, we mark you and then teach you the meaning of that scar/water mark...
If you are going textual rather than topical, the first thought that came to my mind was the Elijah texts... that is, after the contest on Carmel, when he is fed spiritual food and then arrives at the Mount of God, where there is fire and earthquake...and God is not in any of those but God is in the stillness, the voice in that sheer silence.
Noisey world that this is, so filled with bluster and pyrotechnics (and not counting the campaign season), how wonderful to believe and hope that in silence, if we can cultivate a little, there is a Voice above the words, Presence beyond the wilderness, Calm to answer the chaos. Confirmation is a kind of "on the road" blessing that reminds us of who we are and who God is.
Just a thought.
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