Neither Optimism Nor Denial
2007-12-04 by Tom Steagald

Kathleen Norris has written that the "twin religions" of America are optimism and denial. If so, the prophecies of Isaiah (among the rest) are, if not palliative, then therapeutic, and ultimately curative.

I find myself drawn to the Hebrew Scriptures during the Advent season. I do not preach as much on the First Testament at other times in the year; but at Advent, without fail. I am not sure it has always been so. Early in my ministry I preached with relish on John the Baptist and Joseph and all--but how many times can you tell of John's God-craziness without it becoming banal? How many times can you quote Auden's insight that Joseph is the first Christian because he had to accept and act as if the Incarnation were true even without proof? I mean, all that is good stuff, but where does it get traction for us?

And so I turn to Isaiah again--noting its discreet history, of course, the waiting of the Hebrew people for more and better than they have received, their hope against experience for a king who will be the presence of God's justice and reign among them. But in the text I also see our own experiences and waitings gathered together.

Hans Frei has written that, for Easter proclamation, it is impossible for preachers to duplicate the agony and the awe, the despair and the wonder of the empty tomb. We already know how the story ends. And indeed, in our Advent preaching, it is impossible for us to in anywise capture all of what waiting meant for the Hebrews. Still, Frei says, preaching will be convincing or true by virtue of its embodying or echoing of what he calls "universal experience." We are all of us waiting--but for what? For Whom? I think that in this consumeristic age, where one evidence of our lostness is our ever-changing assessment of "what we have always wanted," the naming and tapping of deeper desires provides plenty of fresh material for preaching.

If we are bored--if we know the Story too well, its arc and players, its conflict and conclusions, where we are and where we are going--then perhaps we look back. We make sure the old time religion is old enough. We go back to where we have come from, the rock from whence we are hewn, find echoing in that quarry the plea of Israel which is a harbinger of our own plea: that God might come to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves, and make peace not least.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God. Blessed is God who has promised the making of a deeper and lasting peace yet. Even so, come quickly Lord Jesus.

Highlights from "Lectionary Homiletics"
2007-12-04 by David von Schlichten

Already in the hot tub this week is guest blogger Tom Steagald, who has a talent for bringing refreshing perspectives to the Good News. Scroll down to read his first entry, and be sure to check back for more.

Below are highlights from this week's articles in Lectionary Homiletics. By the way, you can read for free Paul Redditt's exegetical article on Matthew 3:1-12 by going back to Homepage, clicking on Share It!, and then clicking on Free Samples from Lectionary Homiletics.


A.K.M. Adams provides a valuable article full of insights about Romans 15:4-13. For instance, Adams teaches that the incorporation of the Gentiles into the community of faith does not demand that everyone be identical to one another but that there be a “divine harmonization of the difference” (p.13; isn't that a lovely, alliterative phrase?).

At the same time, this cooperative integration does not permit believers to live any way they wish. Believers are to conform to the Body of Christ and are to respect each other's differences. We will disagree, but we are not to be contentious.

Instead, Adams seems to say, we are to strike a balance between honoring each other's differences and being one as the Church. We can be different and one at the same time.

Pastoral Implications”

Suzanne Mayer reflects on the idea that, not only do we humans wait for God, but that God often must wait for us. For instance, Mayer notes that Christ waited nine months in the womb, then three decades before beginning his ministry.

Likewise, God waits for us to “welcome one another as Christ welcomed you” (Romans 15:7). Mayer adds that, according to Paul, the God of patience is also the God of hope. God is patient with us and gives us life.  

This point of God's patience rings throughout me. Last Sunday I preached about, among other things, the idea that we who are to keep awake may also need to “wake up” God, an idea Tom Steagald gave me last week in the tub. This idea that God is patient with us would make a helpful complement to my first sermon.

Hmmmm. I'll meditate on this insight here in the tub. Bubbling, bubbling, bubbling.

Lessons and the Arts”

Gary B. Reierson provides twenty-two favorite quotations from various poedifiers on the importance of hope. Here are a few that struck me (from p.16):

I try to avoid looking forward or backward, and try to keep looking upward. (novelist and poet Charlotte Bronte)

The world is full of suffering. It is also full of overcoming it. (Helen Keller)

To keep a lamp burning, we have to keep putting oil in it. (Blessed Teresa of Calcutta)

When we look around our lives, one of the easiest things to do is find refuge in cynicism [ . . . ] What's hard, what requires risk, boldness and audacity, is to hope. (Barack Obama)

Preaching the Lesson”

Anna Carter Florence will be the author of this section throughout Year A, and, as usual, she offers keen insights.

She emphasizes encouragement as she notes Paul's declaration that “whatever was written in former days was written for our encouragement, so that we might have hope.”

In other words, the Old Testament, that which was written in former days vis-a-vis Paul's time, is not all about fire and brimstone (as many tend to think) but provides encouragement and therefore hope.

A Sermon”

Eileen Parfrey likewise stresses hope in “The Signs of the Times: Hope” while also writing about the importance of repentance as a necessary companion to hope. Real hope demands repentance that bears fruit, and the Messiah is the one who saves us from those sins that otherwise would condemn us.

I am watching President Bush, who is talking about Iran. So much misinformation, as well as confusion and hubristic defensiveness.

Gazing upon the Tree and looking forward to January 20, 2009, I am

Yours in Christ,

David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator

Stumps and Stems
2007-12-03 by Tom Steagald

Walter Wink used to say something to the effect that images are so powerful because they are able to unite both dimensions of our thinking--serve as a bridge between the hemispheres of our brain. Linear and spatial relations are gathered up in images, and so no surprise that parables, metaphors, etc, excite us in a way that discourse often does not.

I think of that coming to the Isaiah text for this coming Sunday, this picture of stems and stumps. Not one image, but two really--combined in a way to enhance both.

The stump--old certainties cut off and dead. Calvin taught us, of course, that all texts have discreet histories and so we see here the end of the Davidic line, the remnants of what had been the great promise of Israel as a blessing to the nations, an ensign to the people, the tree of life not only for the Hebrew people but for the world. And now it is dead. Not only dead but cut-off, chopped down, the glory of Israel and God's presence used as firewood for the pagan kings.

The stem---new life and growth, but not a complete innovation. This stem comes from the root, its promise sharing DNA with what is, apparently, dead. If the old certainties are hard and cold with the passage of time, a new green appears, a new branch, and as remarkable and miraculous as the notion of long dead Jesse producing a son from the dust of his loins.

This new king will be like the old ones but not like the old ones. He will be what they should have been: one third (along with prophets and priests) of God's incarnation among the people (the incarnation of God's rule, at any rate). This king will evidence the kind of gifts God's Spirit provides--six gifts (in Hebrew), seven (according to the Septuagint and therefore the KJV)--which will enable him to judge justly.

Of particular interest to me in this text is this: "he shall not judge by what his eyes see or decide by what his ears hear, but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth..." Which is to say, he will not be swayed by mere appearance, will not fall victim to spin, but his discernment and rule shall be gracious and equitable.

Peace is the final evidence of this king's rule. He does not suppress his enemies but makes his enemies into friends--his and each other's.

In this fevered campaign season, when spin and appearance and panacea promises fill the airwaves, comes the abiding vision of Isaiah, of One who would come to Israel as king and Messiah and set things straight.  Christians read this text and say, "I can see that, too...One is coming. And so too is his reign of peace."

This Week!
2007-12-03 by David Howell

Dave, I always remember what Tom Long said...something about if a preacher is going to do out-of-the-ordinary things in the pulpit, like dramatic monologues, etc., then the preacher had better be good at it. So if you are a good crower, it's probably okay, although traditionalists sometimes have difficulty with novelty (still, a solid pastoral relationship with folks overcomes many a pulpit blunder). I bet the young people took notice!

Tom Steagald is our guest blogger. He is pastor of the First United Methodist Church in Stanley, NC, a town near Charlotte trying to re-emerge after the textile bust. He and his wife Jo tend a mostly-empty nest (save for an English Bulldog named Chester). His recent work includes Praying for Dear Life: A Reason to Rise, Strength for the Day, Courage to Face the Night (NavPress, 2006) and Every Disciple's Journey: Following Jesus to a God-focused Faith (NavPress, 2007). Both books are available at your local Christian book store, the occasional Borders, and on line at Amazon or

Enjoy a cup of Mistletoe Joe this week and the art of The Katherine E. Nash Gallery in the Sermon Feedback Cafe. The Festival of Homiletics will be held in Minneapolis (a city of the arts), May 19-23, 2008.

New recipes are going up in Divine Cuisine. Go to HOMEPAGE and to Share It! Remember to share your recipes, stories, book/movie reviews (click Submit Your Own)

There is a massive amount of material available for subscribers on this site. The current issue of Lectionary Homiletics, plus 17 years of back issues, plus lots of recent sermons and articles.

A Crow and a Question Regarding the Second Coming
2007-12-02 by David von Schlichten

This morning, I preached about keeping awake. Two-thirds of the way through the sermon, I crowed like a rooster as a humorous way of underscoring the message of waking up and keeping awake.

Do you think the crowing was too gimmicky or silly? Any thoughts?

Also, my seventeen-year-old son Michael asked, "How can Jesus, who is God, not know when he will return while the Father does know?" I offered some explanation, but I am wondering how others would respond.  

Yours in Christ,

David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator

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