"Lectionary Homiletics" Highlights and Kershner
2007-12-18 by David von Schlichten

Shannon Johnson Kershner, our guest blogger soaking in the tub this week, focuses on Joseph, particularly his refusal to be a biblical literalist when it comes to how to respond to Mary's pregnancy and his choice to respond instead by imitating God's inclusive grace. Scroll down for more.

Also, in the “Free Samples from Lectionary Homiletics” section under Share It!, you will find a thorough, incisive exegesis of Matthew 1:18-25 by W. Sibley Towner.

Here are my highlights from the articles in Lectionary Homiletics this week.


David Carr reveals the complex ambiguity of this passage that we Christian are hasty to Christmasize. He explains that it is unclear who the baby is and what his significance is. Is the prophecy a judgment on Ahaz' lack of faith, or is the prophecy assurance that God will help us despite our unbelief? Either message is salutary for us Christians.

Pastoral Implications”

Suzanne Mayer regards Ahaz as an example of absolute power corrupting absolutely. God offers him a sign, but Ahaz says no, not out of humility, but out of a show of humility that has underneath it a lack of faith. Ahaz has likely established an alliance with Assyria and is not trusting in God.

Mayer goes on to write about the importance of one being able to surrender oneself to God, something Ahaz appears unwilling to do. She borrows from Henri Nouwen, who writes of a river encountering a desert. The river will dry up. It must surrender to the sun, allowing itself to become a cloud that can float beyond the desert to provide fruitful rain.

Preaching the Lesson”

Anna Carter Florence also writes of the foolishness of Ahaz and declares that this text reminds us to follow God's orders even if doing so means breaking the rules. Florence writes, “[ . . . ] consistency has never been one of God's strong suits. God has always held the right to change course, switch gears, about face” (p. 32). In other words, Ahaz should not be defying God but complying with God.

Because Ahaz will not comply, God gets to pick the sign, and it is that of a woman having a child. Florence expresses delight in such “everyday” signs - rainbows, yeast, stars, and babies - because we humans encounter these signs regularly. Therefore, the signs are frequent reminders of God's promises. Thus, whenever we behold a pregnant woman or a child, we can remember, “God [is] with us.”

Every child reminds us that God is with us, so “No child left behind” is far more than a political slogan. Florence avers that the statement is how we are to live.

This idea that every child reminds us that God is with us is a remarkable insight, and I will probably preach on it this Sunday.


My Christmas Eve sermon will likely be based on the sermon for this week. Martin B. Copenhaver, in “Home for Christmas,” waxes perspicacious when he writes that many of us yearn for a Christmas of old that we have never experienced. We ache for the white Christmas that we say we used to know, but that, in truth, we have never known.

Copenhaver imagines his ideal Christmas being one with relatives who could not really be all together because they did not live at the same time.

When we think of being home for Christmas, we are partly “[ . . . ] homesick, not for some home of our past, but for a home we have never seen and cannot readily imagine, a home that even our dreams cannot fully trace” (p. 34).

Copenhaver concludes that what we are really yearning for is God.

Did you ever have one of those experiences in which someone put into words a feeling or thought that you didn't know you had? Martin has done that for me with this sermon. The experience is mildly epiphanic. I'm going to take time to absorb this, and then I'll write more. Thanks, Martin.

Staring at the bubbles while sitting in the tub, I am

Yours in Christ,

David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator

This Week!
2007-12-17 by CJ Teets

Our guest blogger is The Reverend Shannon Johnson Kershner, pastor of Woodhaven Presbyterian Church in Irving, TX. Shannon has been a speaker on Day1. See her first reflections below.

There are several very good sermons from last week to read in Sermon Feedback Cafe. They have promised us live Christmas music in the Cafe this week, to go along with the Spiced Christmas Coffee (if you still have work to do, tell them to make it "plain").

If you are not yet a subscriber, a world of resources is waiting for you in Journal and Back Issues Sermons! There are over 50 articles and resources per week.

Also, we are at a record pace for registrations for the Festival of Homiletics. If you plan to attend, register at this website (see link on HOMEPAGE).


Sitting in Matthew's Cemetery: Advent 4, Matthew 1:18-25
2007-12-14 by Shannon Kershner

So I have to be honest with you.  I am always just a wee bit disappointed when it is Matthew’s year for Advent.  Why?  Because I do not get to talk much about Mary or Elizabeth.  I do not get to sing Mary’s magnificat or imagine her running to Elizabeth’s house after the Angel Gabriel’s “Surprise!” visit.  As a Protestant preacher, I just do not have very many opportunities to preach about the first disciple, Mary. 


But, I do get over my disappointment rather quickly because I realize that Joseph never gets much of the spotlight either!  And, Matthew gives us such great material as introduction to Joseph’s story.  I love the fact that he starts with this genealogy, taking us from Abraham through David to Joseph and beyond.  Fred Craddock, in his book The Cherry Log Sermons, speaks of this genealogy as a cemetery.  That image has been helpful for me.  I can just imagine Joseph getting the news from Mary and walking around the cemetery of his family tree struggling with what to do and praying for guidance. 


As he looks at all the gravestones, noting who is listed (Abraham) and who is not (Hagar and Sarah), Joseph must have been fascinated with what he found in his family tree.  On four of the gravestones, he found the names of the mothers etched right next to the names of the fathers!  You do not typically find that in a biblical family cemetery.  Furthermore, not a single one of them was Jewish!  They were all outsiders to the covenant.  What might that mean?  What might it tell us about Joseph, or even about Jesus, the baby he would take in as his own? 


I imagine that as Joseph looked around at his own family tree, he might have concluded that God had a penchant for throwing curve balls and acting in unexpected (yet gracious) ways.  Perhaps he realized that there was no way he would be able to be a biblical literalist when it came to what was happening to Mary.  There was no way he could follow Deut. 22, casting her out and stoning her.  It just did not fit with who he was.  It just did not fit with who he knew God was.  For as Joseph looked around in his family cemetery, he saw plenty of faithful scoundrels, plenty of outsiders, and plenty of very human people who made plenty of mistakes.  And yet, Joseph knew that God kept bringing them back into relationship, back into covenant, back under the umbrella of grace.  How could he not do the same with Mary?


And Joseph decided all of that even BEFORE the angel visited him!  The angel’s visit adds even more thickness to his story.  So I guess it is okay to preach Joseph’s perspective from time to time.  After all, I still get to hear Mary pondering in her heart on Christmas Eve. 

Blessings preachers!


Shannon Johnson Kershner

Woodhaven Presbyterian Church

Irving, Texas

2007-12-14 by David Howell

"Water for Elephants", "Suffering and Overcoming"..."Santa's Scalloped Oysters"...Edmund Steimle...what do these have in common?

They are all in Share It!

A new book review is up on Water for Elephants. New holiday recipes are being posted in Divine Cuisine.

And be sure to read (and offer feedback) David von Schlichten's sermon for December 16 in Sermon Feedback Cafe (go to HOMEPAGE and to Share It!). In addition we have another sermon A GOOD WORD by Rick Brand.

If you are not yet a subscriber, a world of resources is waiting for you in Journal and Back Issues Sermons! Over 50 articles and resources per week.


"Lectionary Homiletics" Highlights
2007-12-12 by David von Schlichten

Thank you to guest blogger Susan Andrews for joining us in the hot tub this week. Take a moment to scroll down to read her entry about John the Baptist – and many of us – being disappointed with Jesus.

As always, the articles for this week in Lectionary Homiletics are bubbling with insights. Be sure to go to Share It! to enjoy one of these articles in its entirety as a free sample. 

Here are some highlights from the articles:


A.K.M. Adams offers this cogent observation: “The Kingdom of Heaven is the object of violence, not the perpetrator of violence” (p. 20).

Theological Themes”

Samuel K. Roberts makes trenchant use of Reinhold Niebuhr, who avers that there are two conditions in which one should not expect Christ. One is a “thoroughgoing naturalism” (p. 21), in which one “relies on the natural or nature to explain the human” (Ibid.). The other condition is one in which “extreme otherworldliness” (Ibid.) dominates one's understanding. Such understandings lead to human criteria assessing the Kingdom of God. These criteria will direct us humans to pseudo-Christs. The true herald of Christ, John the Baptist, does not bow to or conform to such specious paradigms.

Pastoral Implications”

Suzanne Mayer describes John the Baptist as a listener. He leaps in his mother's uterus when he hears the Savior's nearness. As an adult, John listens carefully to the wilderness as well as to the people who approach him for Baptism. When Jesus arrives at the Jordan River for Baptism, “John heard Truth” (p. 22). In prison, John listens again for the Truth.

Sermon Reviews”

Jeffrey T. Riddle, in his review of a sermon by Charles H. Spurgeon, describes Spurgeon's use of three translations of Matthew 11:5 in a sermon entitled, Preaching for the Poor. The three translations are the Authorized Version, the Geneva translation, and Wyckliffe's [sic] translation. In the process of proclaiming the differences among these translations, Spurgeon stresses Jesus' emphasis on the poor. Jesus preaches to the poor to produce a trickle-up effect with the Good News.

Also, the preaching to the poor is an extraordinary miracle, greater than healing any physical infirmity. 

Further, Spurgeon notes how well the poor have responded to the Gospel, adding that it is often the lowly, rough, and uneducated who end up being the most passionate and effective leaders in the Church.

Preaching the Lesson”

Anna Carter Florence underlines how out-of-place this passage about John seems given the nearness of Christmas. We are preparing for Christmas when John, from prison, asks if Jesus is the One. Then Florence proposes that we ask the same question. Is this baby in the manger the One?

Florence wonders why, earlier in his ministry, John sounds certain about Jesus' identity, while here, in prison, he does not. She suggests that John may be feeling less sure precisely because he is in prison. Times are bleak, so John is doubting himself and Jesus.

Perhaps Florence has a valid point, although I am wary of psychologizing the text. Then again, at Jesus' Baptism, John does seem to know who Jesus is, while here, the Baptizer is less sure. Perhaps this change is a result of the duress pressing upon John. Hmmmm.

I don't know where I am headed with Sunday's sermon. This morning, at our Wednesday Bible study, we started off talking about the Colorado shootings and other upsetting events. We have a beloved parishioner dying of cancer, so we talked about her.

The conversation was heavy, and then we opened to the first reading, Isaiah 35, with its promise of blooming in the desert. The juxtaposition was almost cathartic, so I will probably preach on Isaiah 35 this Sunday. I'll get out of the tub shortly, if I can find my towel.

Chasing down my cholesterol medicine with a glass of pumpkin egg nog, I am

Yours in Christ,

David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator

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