Humility and Baptisim
2008-01-08 by Paul Wilson
Question submitted to Paul Wilson:
While I liked your comments, I keep coming back to the physical state when one is baptized and that is one of humility and vulnerability. Matthew's Jesus humbles himself and makes himself vulnerable to show how to embody the
righteousness of God? Verdad?
Response from Paul Wilson:
You are right, of course. In spite of the difference in the two baptisms, humility and vulnerability are needed for both. In fact, it is Christ's vulnerability on the cross that makes our vulnerability in baptism possible: for us in faith we know that death and its powers are overcome.
I love the Isaiah text this week that speaks of the gentle nature of Christ's coming to us, never insisting on his own way: "a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice." (42:3)
(Submit your own questions or blog posts by clicking on the links above.)
"Lectionary Homiletics" Highlights
2008-01-08 by David von Schlichten
I am luxuriating in the hot tub this week because it fits so well with our Matthew text. Barack Obama and John McCain stopped by, but they started splashing at each other, so they were asked to leave.
Far better behaved is Paul Wilson, our guest blogger in the tub this week. It is exciting to have him here. Scroll down to read his helpful entry in which he enables us to make sense of the strangeness of Jesus' Baptism. He also provides guidance and caveats for us so that we draw the appropriate connection between Jesus' Baptism and our own.
Also, if you go to Free Samples from Lectionary Homiletics under Share It!, you can read Timothy B. Cargal's solid exegesis of Matthew 3:13-17.
Here are highlights from this week's articles in Lectionary Homiletics.
Charles Allen provides a faithful and respectful explanation of the infant Baptism vs. believer's Baptism controversy, teaching us that there is room for both traditions and reminding us to work to learn from each other. A-double-men to that.
In writing about the trend of public confessions by politicians, shock-jocks, etc., Jeffrey L. Tribble, Sr. emphasizes the need we all have for forgiveness and reconciliation from the Sinless Son. Tribble writes, “All of creation needs the reconciling ministry of Christ” (p.53).
“Preaching the Lesson”
Wow. With the help of her then sixth-grade son, Anna Carter Florence teaches us that, when doves fly, they do not flutter, but swoop. She suggests that the swooping Holy Spirit is like a predator, with Jesus as the prey. “Baptism as an act of spiritual target practice?!” (p. 56) she writes. What a stunning concept. That's a concept a preacher could build a sermon on, and I may do just that. The tub is a-bubblin'.
Ted Mosebach preaches, not about Baptism primarily, but patience. Jesus says to John, “Let it be so, for now.” In other words, John and the rest of us often have to wait, have to be patient, as God unfolds his plan.
On another note, an adult parishioner asked, “How come Jesus was just born, and then, a couple months later, he's grown-up and dying already?” The question seems to arise from the notion many of us have (myself included, to some extent) that, when we hear the stories of Jesus, they are happening anew right in front of us (anamnesis). Could we address this concept from the pulpit?
We certainly think that way at Christmas, Good Friday and Resurrection Day. We don't just hear about the baby. We see the baby, because he is being born anew. Were we there when they crucified our Lord? We sure were. We're there every year. Yes? What can we do with this idea in a sermon?
Prayed upon by the swooping Spirit, I am
Yours in Christ,
David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator
2008-01-07 by David Howell
We are honored to have Paul Wilson, Professor of Homiletics at Emmanuel College in the University of Toronto, as our guest lectionary blogger. See his first post below.
Last week, it was fascinating to follow the sermon development of Dean Snyder, senior pastor of Foundry United Methodist Church in Washington, DC. See his delivered sermon in the Sermon Feedback Cafe (go to Homepage and Share It!). Thanks to Dean and all the others who contributed to the blog last week.
I just put one of my favorite recipes on the Divine Cuisine. It is a recipe that I learned while at the Festival of Homiletics in D.C. a few years ago. We would love to return the festival to D.C. but cannot find a church that will seat 1500 plus (that is also near hotels). If you know of one, please let us know. We have almost 500 registered for this year in Minneapolis, and if that trend continues we will surpass last year's attendance of 1700.
Also, pastor George is looking for some suggestions for Lent. Go to Parish Solution Forum at Share It! and click Submit Your Own to give suggestions.
Lectionary texts for January 13, 2008, the Baptism of Our Lord
2008-01-05 by Paul Wilson
My name is Paul Scott Wilson and I am Professor of Homiletics at Emmanuel College in the University of Toronto. I am an ordained minister in the United Church of Canada and have written several books, most recently, The Practice of Preaching, Revised Edition (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2007). I have been asked to reflect here on one or more of the assigned texts for Sunday, namely, Isaiah 42:1-9; Psalm 29; Acts 10:34-43; Matthew 3:13-17. I will focus on Matthew.
I do not know how many times I have preached the gospel text from Matthew and heard it preached by students in class. After all of these encounters I am a little suspicious of how I and other preachers have sometimes handled this text in the past. What could be simpler—it is just a few verses? The baptism of Jesus is one of the traditional texts read in Epiphany that give witness to the manifestation of God in Christ, two others being the manifestation to the Gentiles symbolized by the Magi, and Jesus’ first miracle at Cana.
In our text, John protests that he needs to be baptized by Jesus, words that happily serve Matthew’s purpose to correct those who still follow John the Baptist. John’s purpose was fulfilled with this baptism that is the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. Any initial surprise that Jesus comes to John at the Jordan, all the way from Galilee, and that he even gets baptized is quickly dismissed by Jesus’ words, “Let it be so for now, for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” The rich imagery draws our attention to focus on his immersion in the waters of the Jordan, the Holy Spirit descending like a dove, and the voice of God identifying Jesus as “my Son, the Beloved.” Jesus does not become God’s Son in this moment; though in Matthew he is the only one to see the dove, his identity from the beginning is simply confirmed in John’s baptism.
It is easy to let the imagery distract us into free association that may not help here: water imagery suggests summer holidays at the beach house of Aunt Marla and Uncle Pete; baptism with water recalls our own baptisms; we imagine a similar dove descending and God’s voice at every baptism, “This is my child, my beloved.”
Some of this may have merit for sermon development but it has little to do with the meaning of the text at hand. We often seem forced to such strategies because of how we were taught to handle Bible texts, like this one, as semi-autonomous units. We treat a text as a pericope, a portion of Scripture that may have had its own unity and independent oral tradition prior to being written down. We treat it almost as a stand-alone item, as of course we need to initially, just to translate it and discover what it says through historical-critical analysis.
Our mistake may come when we think that by treating a text in this manner, we have done what is needed for the pulpit. Jesus commissioned the church to proclaim the gospel, not specific texts in their own right. Individual texts are an essential means to this larger end. The gospel is the subject of the Gospels. It has to do with the coming of God in Jesus Christ, his earthly ministry, the cross and resurrection, his Ascension and gift of the Spirit, and the fulfillment of all God’s promises in his coming again at the end of time. In all of this Good Friday and Easter are not just part of the story, they are the reason for the story, they are key elements and relate to every text.
One might be tempted to say that our text, in mentioning Jesus’ identity, contains the gospel. It certainly relates to it. It says he is the Son of God. Yet what might this mean? What is a seeker to make of this? Nothing in the events of the text conforms to our regular experience. If we stay within the text’s boundaries, we may not discover its essential meaning. Arguably need to read it in light of the entire book, and get away from our habit of guarding the independence of texts as though we are celebrating the Fourth of July. Our task then becomes finding how this text connects with the gospel.
Jesus’ baptism is not ours nor is it technically even a type of ours, though it involves water. John says in an earlier verse that his baptism is “with water for repentance”. Even John distinguishes between his baptism and the one Jesus offers “in the Holy Spirit and fire” (3:11). John’s baptism marks repentance, and it may anticipate what Jesus offers, but there is just a turning away (metanoia), no death to the old self and living to the new. In any case, Jesus does not need this baptism. What has he to repent, as John affirms? Jesus mysteriously says that he “needs” it. Already these few verses take us searching beyond the boundaries of our text.
Sometimes when a text does not contain the gospel, we need to use it a vantage point to gaze in the direction of the cross and resurrection in order to locate the gospel. In this case, we see that the baptism that begins his earthly ministry is inseparable from the cross that ends it. They are two bookends of the same event. He does not need repentance in himself for anything he has done. His repentance in baptism, like his death, is on behalf of the world; the world does need to repent and it does need a Savior. Jesus’ action in both places is the fulfillment of all righteousness, in two ways: First, it is an act of obedience to God’s will. His Sonship is defined by his perfect faithfulness to God’s will, hence the dove. Second, through his baptism, ministry and death, God’s reconciling purposes for the world are accomplished. Christ exchanges his innocence and righteousness for our sin and brokenness.
In moving beyond the boundaries of our text we bring the gospel into focus in and through the text. What is the good news? He begins his ministry as he will end it, for us. We are the beneficiaries. From beginning to end Christ is unwavering in his commitment to God’s will. This is another way of speaking of God’s unconditional commitment to saving us from sin, from ourselves, from death. The seal of this is the resurrection. If Christ is dead, do not believe it. But if he lives, we might cling to him as to a life preserver in a stormy sea. The One who in this text goes under the water in repentance for us and emerges to experience the Spirit, is the same One who goes under death for us in the cross and rises to give us life in the Spirit and in resurrection power. The water of our baptism is our sharing in Jesus’ death, and in faith we rise to new life in him.
In preaching this text we nonetheless can apply God’s voice to individual believers, “You are my beloved child, with whom I am well pleased.” We do this best not by staying within the text using analogy with Jesus’ baptism, rather we may do it via the other bookend, claiming what we know to be true in faith. We are God’s children and God is well pleased when we seek to be in the relationship God intends and establishes through baptism.
2008-01-04 by Dean Snyder
As usual my thinking has been all over the place until I find the message that speaks to me significantly enough for me to care about sharing it with others.
I am focusing on the magi as paradigmatic Gentiles whom Matthew is affirming and including. And Gentiles are paradigmatic of all newcomers -- those from the outside who are now included.
I am going to talk about three things magi/Gentiles/newcomers do: 1) Bring new gifts, ones that the community has sometimes been afraid of; 2) Shake up power assumptions (the magi did not seem very impressed by Herod's power); and 3) Restore a sense of joy to communities whose lives tend to become prosaic and ordinary.
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