Pastoral question
2008-03-03 by Teresa Strickland

Thanks for your thoughts on Homiletical Hot Tub.
I read these words \"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\" but the people in my congregation think that being \"devoid of all hope\" etc. might mean not getting a new car this year or taking a one week vacation instead of two.(Not that some are not truly struggling with issues of health and deaths of loved ones.)
But how do I help my congregation understand that they have it pretty good (for the most part) but should be doing more to help those around the globe who are truly \"devoid of all hope\"?

Great question, and too true, lamentably.

The best way to handle people's thoughts that get in the way of hearing what you're trying to say is to acknowledge them and then tell them you want to go deeper, with something like:

Now, when you hear me talk about situations beyond hope, what may have popped into your mind was a picture of that new car you can't seem to scrape together the money to buy or maybe the likelihood of you ever getting to take that {cruise to the Bahamas or European vacation--whatever the concrete dream of your folks is}, but I want you to put those things out of your mind to go somewhere even more desperate, places some of you know about all too well, dark places--like when you hear the words "Cancer" and find life spiralling down into the depths of chemotherapy only to have your heart damaged by all the drugs until it works at only 10% capacity and you're too old for a transplant, which you couldn't afford anyway entombed as you are in the Medicare system now that your life savings are gone.  We're talking dark places here.   Desperate places, like being the loved one who can't do anything anymore but watch their beloved die to the uneasy blip blip blip of the hospital monitors until there's nothing but a steady flat line.  Desperate places like the eyes of the African refugee holding a skeletal baby trying to nurse, but the mother has no milk because she's starving, too, and life for her is dry as a bone.  . . .

Don't underestimate people.  Sure, they're sheep.  But sheep know suffering, too.  They struggle with despair.  Name those situations of despair in concrete terms that will happen to them, if it hasn't already--whatever those terms are.  I know of no congregation who hasn't experienced the pain of grief or sickness.  Everyone dies.  Connecting these experiences of loss/pain/death/desperation, then, with an international place of what may seem like unimaginable desperation can also aid their empathy beyond their lives. 

But notice, we had to meet them where they are first and then ask them to go deeper. 

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)

Minneapolis International Hostel

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:

Pastoral Implications”

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

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