A common thread
2008-03-03 by Teresa Strickland
All of these texts are related in that all are about finding oneself in the midst of death. Preachers could work with the images provided—of being in the valley of dry bones and of being wrapped in grave clothes locked in a tomb. You don’t get much more dead than this, folks. These are situations beyond the possibility of life.
After painting the Biblical imagery, the preacher could make connections with the places in our human life that look devoid of all hope, naming personal as well as social situations to leave us feeling like we’re in the valley of dry bones.
Wherein, then, lies our hope, then? The psalmist makes it clear that when life turns dark that our hope is in the Lord. Paul is quite blunt about the matter: the flesh dies, but the Spirit, which comes to us through preaching the Word of the Lord, quickens and brings life out of death.
It is just that word and Spirit that comes into the deadness of the Ezekiel and John texts to show us how new life springs forth. In Ezekiel, the prophet (that’s us, dear preachers) is commanded to preach to the bones, and when he preaches, new life emerges. In the gospel lesson the Lord, the Word in flesh, comes to command, “Lazarus, come forth!” And he does. It is the Word and Spirit/Breath of God that confers life beyond death.
But like Martha, we’re asked whether or not we believe that Jesus is the resurrection and the life. We say yes, but then when Jesus goes to the tomb and commands that the stone be rolled away, I wonder: do we, too, not balk? Here is that stone of death we so desperately want rolled away, yet when the Word comes to do just that, we try to tell the Lord of the Universe, who made heaven and earth, about the material realism of the situation: By now, it’s all so rotten it stinks. Instead of trusting in the Word, we profess our unbelief: just as the bones in Ezekiel’s valley are dry, Lazarus is beyond the possibility of containing life. So much for our short-lived confession of faith, huh?When God’s Word comes to us through the all-too-human preachers before us, we have a choice. We can foolishly keep trying to instruct the Lord. Or we can be obedient to God’s command to speak the Word of Life into these dead situations and watch what happens. Can these bones live? God asks us. The right answer is not to presume that we know it all, but to judiciously answer, “Thou knowest,” and trust that the Lord is at work bring new life everywhere, calling us to preach, roll stones away, and unbind the dead in humble obedience.
March 9th Lections
2008-03-02 by Teresa Lockhart Stricklen
Grace and peace!
I’m Teresa Lockhart Stricklen, your facilitator this week. This year marks my 20th year in ordained ministry in the Presbyterian Church (USA). I live for good preaching; indeed, I’m alive because of good preaching.
So I’m blessed to teach preaching and worship at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary where I get to listen to sermons all the time.
Our texts are rich for March 9th: Ezekiel 37:1-14 (the valley of the dry bones), John 11:1-45 (The raising of Lazarus), Romans 8:6-11 (flesh and spirit/life and death), and Psalm 130 (my soul waits upon the Lord more than a watcher for the morning). It just doesn’t get much better than this, huh?
I’ll post more thoughts later. In the meantime, start your ponderings and let’s share our thoughts about preaching these texts this week. The more we share, the better the feast for our parishioners. So chime in!
Festival of Homiletics!
2008-02-29 by CJ Teets
Over 1800 pastors from all denominations are already registered from all 50 states, D.C., Canada, and several other countries (Australia, Bahamas, South Africa, UK)!
Some new housing options:
Crowne Plaza has added rooms, 800-556-7827, 618 Second Avenue S., 15-20 minute walk to churches, $159.00 (all types), reserve by April 29, 2008 (ask for Festival of Homiletics rate)
Crowne Plaza has added rooms, 800-556-7827, 618 Second Avenue S., 15-20 minute walk to churches, $159.00 (all types), reserve by April 29, 2008 (ask for Festival of Homiletics rate)
Marriott, 612-349-4000, 30 South 7th Street, $159.00 (single, double, triple, quad) through April 21, "Central Lutheran is approximately 10 blocks and Westminster is 6 blocks.", reserve Hyatt, 800-233-1234, 1300 Nicollet Mall, $189.00 (single, double) through April 28, "Central Lutheran is about 4 blocks away, and the Westminster Presbyterian is 2 blocks away." “The only Four-Diamond convention center hotel in downtown Minneapolis…Relax in the largest guestrooms of any hotel in downtown Minneapolis…” reserve On February 28, folks were going on hotwire and reserving 3-star hotel rooms for $39.00 per night in Bloomington, MN (which is 13 miles from downtown Minneapolis).
Marriott, 612-349-4000, 30 South 7th Street, $159.00 (single, double, triple, quad) through April 21, "Central Lutheran is approximately 10 blocks and Westminster is 6 blocks.", reserve
Hyatt, 800-233-1234, 1300 Nicollet Mall, $189.00 (single, double) through April 28, "Central Lutheran is about 4 blocks away, and the Westminster Presbyterian is 2 blocks away." “The only Four-Diamond convention center hotel in downtown Minneapolis…Relax in the largest guestrooms of any hotel in downtown Minneapolis…” reserve
On February 28, folks were going on hotwire and reserving 3-star hotel rooms for $39.00 per night in Bloomington, MN (which is 13 miles from downtown Minneapolis).
Larry and "Lectionary Homiletics" Highlights
2008-02-26 by David von Schlichten
Larry Lange is creating quite a splash here in the tub. Scroll down to read his extensive reflections on all of the readings for this Sunday. Included in his ruminations are incisive connections to current political and military conditions. For instance, while God chooses David based on his heart, what are we Americans looking at as we choose our next President? Scroll down to read Lange's thoughts on such topics as he explores the texts for Sunday.
You can also go to Share It! to read for free van Thanh Nguyen's exegetical article. You will find it under Free Samples from Lectionary Homiletics.
Below are highlights from this week's articles in Lectionary Homiletics:
Kristin Saldine borrows from former professor Roy Fairchild to make a priceless point: We Christians grow spiritually when we move from asking “Why?” to asking “What now?” In other words, we are not able to answer why people suffer and why bad things happen, so we move on to asking God, “What now?” We may not know why the man was born blind, but we do know that God will heal the man and that the healing will glorify God and will lead to the man's conversion.
“Lesson and the Arts”
Debra Rienstra points out that this tidy association of visual impairment with sin is tiresome for people who have such impairments. Rienstra recalls that, in literature, blindness is often associated with seeing the truth clearly, such as in the case with the blind prophet Tiresias. Along these lines, in our pericope, the man born blind is not so because of sin, and the Pharisees, who can see just fine physically, are becoming blind due to their resistance to the “new mode of perception” (p. 39) Jesus demands.
“Preaching the Lesson”
Anna Carter Florence lifts from the lesson the Good News that, instead of looking for someone to blame, we are wiser to see what God is doing in the situation. Who sinned? Who's at fault? No one's at fault. “No one is the subject here – except God, and what God might do in this situation” (p. 42).
This idea of shifting the focus away from why to what next, to what God is doing, would make for an illuminating central point of a sermon. I may walk in that direction, but for now I am soaking in the tub,
Ever yours in Christ,
David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator
Light in the Heart of the Afflicted
2008-02-24 by Larry Lange
Thoughts on the Texts for March 2
I am grateful for the opportunity to join this conversation!
I’m one of three pastors serving with the members of Grace Lutheran in Green Bay, Wisconsin, a congregation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. My wife, Julie Wrubbel-Lange, is another of the three pastors there. We both graduated from the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago and served parishes in Minnesota, Upper Michigan. Upon our return to Wisconsin, I served six years as a part time interim pastor in Wisconsin before we came to Green Bay. During the years I served part time, I was blessed to spend a lot of time taking care of our three children and I was able to spend some time improving my preaching through the Association of Chicago Theological Schools Doctor of Ministry program. To the endless delight of my mother, CSS Publishing published part of my thesis as Retelling the Story. I enjoy every little chance I get to escape into the north woods.
2008-02-24 by Larry Lange
First Samuel 16:1-13
First Samuel 16:1
The LORD said to Samuel, “How long will you grieve over Saul?”
Samuel is not grieving that an exemplary commander-in-chief is about to retire after a career marked by brilliant accomplishments at home and abroad. Samuel has just finished announcing that the LORD has rejected Saul’s kingship. Neither is there any indication in all of Samuel’s dealings with Saul that they enjoyed a close personal relationship. Over what, then, is Samuel grieving?
Samuel began his career as a “seer” at a young age, and the very first thing the LORD had him do was confront his mentor Eli who was presiding over a corrupt temple service (First Samuel 3:11-18). Samuel went on to serve the people well as a judge, but his sons failed miserably as his successor (First Samuel 8:3). To Samuel’s chagrin, the people used his sons’ failure as an excuse to reject the LORD’s kingship and to demand a human king. Later, in a long speech, Samuel warns the people not to “rebel against the commandments of the LORD” or “the hand of the LORD will be against you and your king” (First Samuel 12:14-15). The warning goes unheeded by the king or the people or both (First Samuel 15:10-23), so Samuel must again face and pronounce the LORD’s judgment on a failed human endeavor.
Maybe that vocation just got old. Samuel is already complaining back in chapter 12 that he’s old and gray. Wouldn’t it have been nice for Samuel to have ended his career on a high note, with some sort of grand exit or at least a nice gold watch? Instead, having to confront Saul’s failure stands as a crowning anti-achievement in a lifetime of Samuel’s service to hopeless causes. The priests and kings of his people and even Samuel’s own sons have consistently proven themselves to be self-centered, faithless failures. If you read the whole story of Samuel you get the feeling that his grief is the grief of disillusionment with the endless folly of human endeavor. Who among us does not know a similar story of grief? Maybe we fear at the end of our own lives, that our hearts, too, will be broken with such grief.
First Samuel 16:2
Samuel said, “How can I go? If Saul hears of it, he will kill me.”
In the midst of our disillusionment, God is apparently quite busy. That is Good News! While Samuel has been grieving, God has been quite busy looking at the hearts of each and every man among the people of Israel for one to serve as a new king and has already found one among Jesse’s sons. Quite an HR department the LORD has. So the LORD orders Samuel to get up off his duff to anoint the new king.
Now, anointing a new king while one still occupies the throne is treason, and Samuel is justifiably frightened. His grief and fear paralyze him, shut down his creative faculties. The LORD’s creativity abounds. The LORD says something like this: “Just take a heifer along with you and say you’re going to conduct a sacrifice on my behalf. No one will notice the horn you’ve filled with oil to anoint the new king. But just in case, keep it under your cloak.” The LORD stoops to deceit to accomplish his will? If Samuel follows God’s creative plan, it won’t be necessary for him to deceive anyone. What Saul doesn’t know, won’t hurt him. Saul has caused himself a world of hurt already.
First Samuel 16:6
Samuel looked on Eliab and thought, “Surely the LORD’s anointed is now before the LORD.”
Samuel gets it wrong. Eliab is not the LORD’s candidate for king. Samuel too, is failing, perhaps not as grievously as Eli or Saul had, but he is failing nonetheless. And the LORD lets him know in no uncertain terms:
The LORD does not see as mortals see; mortals look on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart. (First Samuel 16:7)
The narrator is kind enough to exclude Samuel’s mutterings. I know this is what I would have been thinking:
Well, if the LORD is so smart, why doesn’t the LORD come down here and handle this?
It’s reasonable to conclude that the LORD apparently expects all of us to get beyond our mortal tendency to “look only at outward appearances” and to look instead “on the heart.” A study conducted by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis indicates that “good-looking, slim, tall people tend to make more money than their plain-Jane counterparts.”1 We have met Samuel and he is us.
First Samuel 16:11
Jesse said, “There remains yet the youngest, but he is keeping the sheep.”
That the LORD has chosen for the new king the youngest son of an undistinguished and perhaps even infamous family is a radically countercultural plan. The skeletons in Jesse’s closet that would have mattered in that world include Ruth (a foreigner), Tamar (a trickster), and Rahab (a foreigner who was a prostitute). Scholars have pointed out that this is not the stuff that kings are made of. Not only is God not interested in a buff king, but all the rest of the world’s usual qualifications apparently don’t matter to the LORD either. What matters, says the LORD, is the king’s character, the king’s heart. As we research the candidates for national political leadership in this election year, how do we find information about our candidate’s heart? Is our political agenda as important as a candidate’s character? Is the candidate’s age or race or gender or attractiveness an important consideration?
The youngest son of an undistinguished, perhaps even infamous, family turns out to be the LORD’s choice for the new king. Readers/hearers with nondescript or “unacceptable” backgrounds can find hope in this story: they fall under the world’s judgment as persons not expected to, not allowed to succeed, but the LORD overlooks what the world regards as shabby baggage; the LORD simply looks into our hearts; the LORD has a calling for us all. As the Apostle Paul puts it:
To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. (Romans 12:7)
This too, is Good News.
First Samuel 16:12
Jesse sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome.
Though God qualifies the unqualified, they can also be beautiful or handsome. Though being beautiful or handsome does not automatically qualify one to rule, being beautiful or handsome does not disqualify one either. The mischievousness of God is manifest. The unreliability of appearances is underlined. Look into the heart, the character of a person, is the message again. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had a dream that his
four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.2
The story of Samuel anointing the new king reminds us how challenging that can be.
Finally, the narrator does not give us the name of the boy who will be king until the Spirit comes mightily upon him. This dramatic flourish reminds us throughout the rest of the story of the Spirit’s connection with that name. In our baptism, our names, like the name of Israel’s greatest king, are also associated with the presence of the Holy Spirit. I am reminded of the (apocryphal? over-quoted?) story about the young pastor who was seated at a table of older pastors. Each of the older pastors introduced himself with a list of his tremendous accomplishments. When it was the young pastor’s turn to introduce herself, she simply said, “My name is Jane, and I’m a daughter of the King.”
What more did she need to say?
The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.
It’s often lamented that the engine of our economic order is fueled by exploiting the hearts of our young with the motto: “I want, I want, I want, I want.” The first line of one of the most popular parts of all scripture reminds us that because the LORD is our shepherd, “We shall not want.” When the LORD is our shepherd, our heart, our character is being shaped by a radically opposite motto: “I have been given, I have been given, I have been given.” When the LORD is our shepherd, our hearts are not overthrown by covetous desires; our hearts are, instead, filled with gratitude. This psalm is often used at funerals for its comforting words for loved ones whom the LORD has led through the valley of the shadow of death. Yet this psalm is much more concerned with life in this world than it is with life in the next world. This psalm describes the basic countercultural character of those who trust that the LORD is their shepherd.
Bread for the World informs us that
Hunger does not exist because the world does not produce enough food.3
Making a similar point, the United Nations Development Program has calculated that the cost of providing basic wants (“basic health and nutrition needs”) for “the world’s poorest people” could be met for $13 billion a year.4 It is not the LORD’s fault that many millions of people live in a desperate state of want. The LORD is our shepherd; we shall not want. Our war in Iraq has cost us almost 500 billion dollars so far. Estimates for its total cost range from 1 to 2 trillion dollars. Even if the cost estimate for the basic wants of the world’s poorest people were 100% too low, the present cost of the war in Iraq could have provided for those basic wants for 19 years. Having squandered so much money on a war to remove an unpopular dictator in one country, we have sentenced the world’s poorest people to 19 more years of their miserable, desperate struggle to survive. That we have tolerated and even encouraged the perpetration of this crime means that our character and hearts can hardly be pleasing to a God whose will it is that we should not live in a state of want. We have sabotaged God’s will. Could we have trusted in the rod and staff of the LORD for our security and protection? What would have happened if we would have spent that 500 billion dollars differently?
Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff--they comfort me.
Scholars claim that the image of the LORD as a shepherd who wields a rod (scepter) and staff to comfort and protect us is a royal image.5 Our real king is not Saul, David, nor one of our choices among the candidates for president. Our real king is the LORD. Our real provider is the LORD. Our real security is the LORD. Our disillusionment and disappointment at the kings of this world need not grieve and paralyze us as they did Samuel. “I fear no evil!” Though our kings on earth may disappoint us, the One who rules from heaven will not. That One is with us. Christians trust that that One was born among some of the poorest people on earth as Jesus, another name for whom is “Emmanuel, which means, ‘God is with us.’” (Matthew 1:23) Jesus’ final promise to us is an echo of the Good News in Psalm 23:
Remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age. (Matthew 28:20)
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long.
In the second half of the psalm, the metaphor changes: the LORD is a host. As a host, the LORD provides the same kinds of things that the LORD does as shepherd: food, protection, comfort, drink. Scholars note that the verb usually translated follow, is usually translated as pursue.6 Instead of wolves pursuing the sheep, the LORD’s goodness and mercy do. If we stray from the flock, the LORD’s goodness and mercy will pursue us and restore us, so that we may live in the house of the LORD all the days of our lives. Though the first half of the Psalm is written from the point of view of an individual sheep, the writer of the psalm also understands his life as a guest at the table of the house of the LORD, an image which refers to congregational life.7 We are not complete, as many folks in the upper Midwest insist, alone in the woods with God. My daughter and I, having worshiped together on a Thursday evening, took a canoe trip up a river flowage on a summer Sunday morning to see if people really were worshiping out in the woods, as they claimed. We saw people arguing, cleaning, eating, fishing, getting drunk, relieving themselves, playing loud music, and burning up gasoline with all their water toys: but we did not see one person worshiping out there in the woods. We saw one harried woman on a beach watching over two rambunctious toddlers. While she tended to one, we watched the other wandering alone down to the water’s edge. Where was the father of these children? We pitied that mother, feared for those children, thought they and their father would have been much better off together in the house of the LORD.
“You are light!”
We began this Lenten season reminding ourselves that we are also dust, reminding ourselves of the story of how the LORD God shaped us out of dirt. It has always amazed me how the dusty dirt of the moon shines as if it were made of light, as if its craters and seas were etched in delicate blue-gray ink on a translucent, silken skin. But the moon is not made of light. The moon is made of dirt. How can dull dirt glow with such luminous light? It must be the quality and the quantity of the photons that zoom 90+ million miles from the sun, leap again off the surface of the moon, and race to our eyes to reveal the moon to us. Fewer of the photons that fall into the shadow of valleys and craters and seas make it back out again, their absence giving us a sense of the contours of the terrain.
The ancients believed the celestial lights like the moon were alive with living light; some believed the celestial lights were angels or gods. The writer of Ephesians believed the Christians he addressed had once been asleep, had once been dead, had once been darkness, but because Christ had shone on them, they were now light (Ephesians 5:14, 5:8). So even though we are nothing more than dull dust like the moon, because of the quality and quantity of the light shining on us from the Lord, we can shine as extravagantly as does the moon. If or when we glow in this way, it is because of God, not because of our own doing. This is humbling, but encouraging Good News as well. Unlike the light of the sun, the stream of empowering light from God will not cease. Though human institutions and leaders fail, God is always quite busy making up new ones, baptizing and anointing new kings and queens, his sons and daughters, by the thousands, maybe by the millions every day. Like the sheep of the Good Shepherd who shall not want, we shall not lack light. We can, in fact, be light!
Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord.
“Seers” in the Hebrew Scriptures like Samuel received text messages directly from the LORD telling them what to do, who to “reject,” who to anoint as king, and so on. Wouldn’t direct messages from the LORD be nice? The quote above from the letter to the Ephesians suggests a provisional status to what we think is pleasing to the Lord. Finding out what is pleasing to the Lord is an ongoing process of discernment (Romans 12:2) that happens because “Christ dwells in [our] hearts through faith” (Ephesians 3:17). There is a list of things that are not pleasing to the Lord at the beginning of chapter 5, though it is by no means exhaustive. There are lists elsewhere in the New Testament and in the Hebrew Scriptures.
I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent. (First Timothy 2.12)
If any harm follows, then you shall give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe. (Exodus 21:23-25)
Which items on which list are “pleasing to the Lord?” Anxious for simple moral clarity, some folks rely on their favorite list or their favorite preacher’s list of scriptural quotations. The letter to the Ephesians envisions a process more guided by the living word than by the written word, more defined by love than by the law, more illuminated by the light of the world than by any mere mortal.
Expose the unfruitful works of darkness.
There are a variety of opinions about the meaning of this exhortation. It may have to do with the process by which those who sleep (5:14) in darkness (5:8) are awakened (5:14) and raised from the dead (5:14) by the light of Christ (5:14).8 Recently, a lawyer who is about 50 years old had a nearly fatal heart attack while he was out exercising. His colleagues were shocked. Without bragging, the lawyer made a simple case: “If someone who’s in good shape like me can nearly die from a heart attack, what about you guys? You guys are still smoking, eating greasy burgers, and not exercising at all.” The lawyer went on to talk with his colleagues about how he believed the care for his body was a spiritual discipline: it was first of all, a matter of gratitude to God for the miracle of life. Furthermore, being well and continuing to earn a good living allowed him to support his family and his church. Next time I see him, I’ll have to ask him if these words woke any of his colleagues up.
“Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.”
The ancients believed our eyes are made of fire, are lamps emitting the same kind of divine light of which they believed the celestial bodies were made.9 A blind person was, therefore, thought to have been filled with darkness, with sin. Whose sin compelled God to abandon to darkness the man who had been born blind? the man’s sin or his parents’ sin? Why do the disciples want to know this? Is there some sort of innate satisfaction about blaming someone? That was apparently the case for Adam and Eve. Or did the disciples want to know, because it helped them make sense out of the world? Jesus’ answer explodes this ancient explanation of blindness. The man’s blindness was not God’s punishment for his sin nor was it God’s punishment for some sin of his parents.
There are times when people’s suffering does seem to be a result of sinfulness. Sometimes such suffering is interpreted as God’s punishment. This happens, in part, because the scriptures themselves occasionally claim that God punishes sinfulness:
I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me…(Exodus 20:5)
Yet no matter what kind of claims of clarity there are about such explanations, Jesus dissuades us from seeing tragedy as God’s punishment for sin. Tragedy might be an inevitable consequence of sin, but not God’s punishment for it. After all,
God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. (John 3:16-17)
I used to visit a young woman named Melissa who suffered from fetal alcohol syndrome. Was her mother an alcoholic, suffering from a disease over which she had no control, the poisonous effects of which she passed on to her child? Or was her mother a careless partier, enjoying the buzz of alcohol, fully aware of the poisonous effects she was passing on to her fetus, but recklessly partying anyway? The former cause of fetal alcohol syndrome might be said to involve a complex web of sin in which the young woman’s mother was caught: maybe she had become an alcoholic as she relied on a socially sanctioned method of escape of a life full of abuse or poverty. It seems clear that the latter cause of fetal alcohol syndrome was the result of selfish, careless, reckless sin of the young woman’s mother. In either case, the tragedy of fetal alcohol syndrome seems to be a consequence of a complex set of individual and societal sins. Although Jesus teaches us that God does not punish people for the sins of others (how would that be just?), God does allow the innocent to suffer because of the sins of others. And that is a disconcerting mystery indeed.
Yet for some reason, Melissa did not trouble herself with this disconcerting mystery. She did not sit around moping as Samuel did, disillusioned with the folly of the human endeavor. Melissa believed God loved her. She missed her church. She begged me to prepare a communion table before her in the presence of her enemies. Since there was no quiet place in the group home she was living in, since it was not wise for me to have visited her alone in her room, Christ’s love and light filled our hearts through Holy Communion out in a hallway smelling of stale pine cleaner and cigarette smoke.
Then Melissa told me a story. One of the first fine spring days of the year, she was sitting outside in the backyard of the group home, basking in the sunlight. The neighbors behind the fence in the backyard of the group home came outside and began working in their backyard. At first Melissa didn’t pay much attention to what they were doing, but it suddenly became apparent. The sun was exposing a winter’s worth of dog feces in their backyard, and they were shoveling it over the fence into the backyard of the group home. Why not? People living in group homes were from bad families, infamous families. They were shiftless, violent, wretched people who weren’t going to amount to anything. Why not throw dog feces in their backyard? Serves them right for causing the property values to plummet in their neighborhood.
Persons with fetal alcohol syndrome can have some difficulties with impulse control. At times they say and do whatever occurs to them. What was occurring to Melissa when those people were pitching poop over the fence was that she didn’t have to put up with that kind of abuse. She was a sheep in the Good Shepherd’s flock. She was a baptized and anointed daughter of the King. Yes, she came from a completely dysfunctional family. Yes, she was afflicted from birth with a tragic disability. But she did not believe the punishing hand of the Lord was upon her; no sir, she believed she was light; she was there, she believed, to expose those works of darkness, to stop her neighbors from piling evil up in her life. At first she confronted them with words, but they reviled her, called her names, kept right on pitching the frozen turds at her.
Then Melissa threw them back. Where they belonged.
I’m not sure how the authorities handled Melissa’s behavior. I only know that like the man born blind in the Gospel, she stuck with the Son of Man and whatever healing he had wrought in her soul. No threats, no assaults, no insults, no disappointments kept her from believing and worshiping Jesus. She was light, light in the darkness of human folly so thick and disconcerting it saddens me to recall it.
When she finished telling the story, the two of us laughed. And the darkness dispersed. For whenever two or three are gathered in his name, there is Emmanuel, God with us; there the Shepherd’s staff comforts us, there the Light is with us always, to the end of the age.
5“The Book of Psalms,” J. Clinton McCann, Jr. in The New Interpreter’s Bible, vol. IV (Nashville, Abingdon Press, 1996), p. 768.
6“The Book of Psalms,” pp. 768-769.
7“The Book of Psalms,” p. 769.
8“The Letter to the Ephesians,” Pheme Perkins in The New Interpreter’s Bible, vol. XI (Nashville, Abingdon Press, 2000), p. 437.
9Social Science Commentary on the Gospel of John, Bruce Malina and Richard Rohrbaugh (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1998) pp. 40-41
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