A Painful Experience
2007-10-18 by Rick Brand
Four clergy from Henderson, NC, have been a week now in Iona. It has been a marvelous experience for us. The community, the liturgy, the music, and the tradition. But one of the painful questions has been "Where is the preacher?" They have worship leaders, but we have only heard one traditional sermon. It was average. But preaching does not seem to matter much. The story is told, and the intentionality of the community is lived out, but the preaching of a Festival of Homiletics is absent over here. And I must confess, having spent most of my life trying to be a better preacher, that I have not missed it. We worship. We pray. We sing. Oh, how we sing great contemporary music. We have liturgy. But where is the preacher?
Ron Allen, Highlights from this Week's Articles in "Lectionary Homiletics"
2007-10-16 by David von Schlichten
Ron Allen's excellent blog entries for this Sunday are down past this one. He has especially powerful reflections on prayer that you will want to meditate upon.
At the samples section for this coming Sunday is a nourishing exegesis that you will want to digest.
Here are highlights from this week's articles:
Robert K. Gnuse explores the issue of hermeneutics and Scripture's authority as a response to 3:16, which declares that all Scripture is, not infallible, but inspired by God and useful for helping us to live as Christians.
Gnuse writes that this verse does not promise that Scripture is a perfect source of scientific or historical information. Rather, the real purpose of the Bible is to build up religious faith.
Mary Clark Moschella eloquently writes about the practice of faith, proclaiming that we are to be about the "habit of practicing faith" and that such habits will help us through hard times, times when our hearts might be running low on fervor. We are to work at faith during both "favorable and unfavorable" times, as the passage says.
Dennis Bolton summarizes a sermon by William Willimon in which Willimon draws from the work of Richard Hays to offer six suggestions for Bible reading:
1. The Bible is to be read in community.
2. A person must be trained to read the Bible.
3. Readers must rediscover the capacity to read the Bible imaginatively.
4. Read the whole Bible.
5. We must read the whole Bible as Israel's story.
6. We must read the Bible as the church's story.
"Preaching the Lesson"
Anthony Dean Bailey sees this text as ideal for preachers because of the guidance it gives regarding that tricky, beautiful craft. "Be urgent, be steady, endure suffering" (p.23) are some priceless bits of advice from the text for us preachers.
Be sure to stop by the "Sermon Feedback Cafe" and other exciting places at Share It! (Go back to Homepage and click on Share It!)
Yours in Christ,
David von Schlichten, poedifier
And More on Luke 18:1-8
2007-10-16 by Ron Allen
This is the third of three installments on the gospel text for October 21, Luke 18:1-8, the parable of the widow and the unjust judge.
When moving from the text to today, I am thinking of two possibilities.
The first is to make an analogy between the function of the text in the world of Luke and the function of the text today. The preacher might identify ways that the situation of the church today is similar to that of Luke's time. The sermon would use the parable as a word of assurance to a congregation living through difficult times and in which people are in danger of giving up on witnessing to the realm.
This approach would require identifying circumstances in the world, and in the denomination and the congregation, that are difficult, and helping the congregation imagine how Lukan style prayer can sustain them within such circumstances.
A second approach takes its cue from the fact that the delay has turned into two millennia. Perhaps the time has come to reconceive what we mean by the realm and how it comes. As a process thinker, I do not believe that God will (or can) end the present age in a single dramatic apocalypse and replace it with a whole new world. I believe that God is always present attempting to lure the world to the highest possibilities for love, justice, peace, and abundance that are possible within the circumstances of each moment.
From this point of view, prayer is the intentional opening of the self to God and to the realm-like possibilities that are, indeed, possible in each moment. When we say yes to the realm, then our "Yes" helps facilitate a manifestation of the realm in our moment, while a 'No" frustrates those possbilities. When we say no, God does not abandon us, but works with the choices we have made to lure us towards the possibilities that are possible in view of our reduced choice.
From the point of view of this second perspective, we need always to pray in order to be as consciously available to the realm as is possible. We need not lose heart because, even when we choose against the realm, God does not give up on us or on the world but continues to work in the world to offer choices that can lead towards love, peace, justice, and abundance.
Whether one goes with the first approach or the second, or some other, the notion of prayer as the intentioinal opening of the individual or community to the realm brings an intriguing possibility. Luke doubtless has in mind prayer as a formal, verbal action, that is, talking with God in language, much as we pray in worship or prior to partaking of a meal. Going beyond Luke, according to this definition, prayer need not be confined to conventional verbal expression but can embrace multiple ways of seeking to open self and community to the presence of the realm. I once preached a sermon from this perspective on "Praying with Your Feet." For example, any time we take to the streets to demonstrate against injustice and in favor of justice, we pray with our feet. Standing outside a prison to protest capital punishment--murder carried out by the state--is an act of prayer.
Ron Allen, Christian Theological Seminary
For consideration on preaching themes in Luke-Acts, you might see Ron Allen, Preaching Luke-Acts. Preaching Classic Texts (Chalice Press), available from www.chalicepress.org. Fuller comments on today's lectionary passage (and on all passages in the lectionary) are are available in the lectionary commentary by Ron Allen and Clark Williamson, Preaching the Gospels without Blaming the Jews (Westminster John Knox Press) and its companion volumes, Preaching the Letters without Dismissing the Law and Preaching the Old Testament, all from www.wjkbooks.com.
More on Luke 18:1-8
2007-10-15 by Ron Allen
In Luke 17:22-35, the Lukan Jesus speaks poignantly about the suffering of the world that accompanies the final manifestation of the realm. This passage is a pastoral warning to the congregation: you need to be prepared for the fact that you will face difficult times as you wait through the delay for the return of Jesus and the manifestation of the realm.
Luke 18:1 makes explicit the purpose of the parable of the widow and the unjust judge. According to the Lukan Jesus, the disciples "need always to pray and not to lose heart." Through prayer, Luke wants the community to develop "heart" in the community that will withstand them through the suffering and delay. You might think of this as first century theological open-heart surgery.
Christians sometimes make the exegetical mistake of interpreting the parable proper (Lk. 18:2-5) as an allegory in which we are the church and God is the unjust judge. If this were the case, the parable would offer a callous picture of God.
A few interpreters think that the widow is a feminine image for God who is pleading with the world to live in justice. However, in my view, nothing in the immediate text or in the larger world of Luke-Acts supports this view.
The text is not an allegory but is rabbinic mode of arguing from the lesser to the greater. If a lesser situation is true, then a greater situation is true as well. If an unjust judge (who does not reverence God and does not fear people) will respond to the cries of a nuisance widow just to stop her from bothering him, how much more will a God of justice and promise respond to the prayers of the faithful by bringing the realm.
The parable does not specify the issue of injustice that has exercised the widow. Many scholars think that someone (her opponent) may be trying to scam her out of her husband's estate, thus leaving her in a very vulnerable position. If so, the judge's recalcitrance is especially reprehensible. Widows were among the most vulnerable people in antiquity. The Torah contains guidelines for caring for widows. From the perspective of Torah, caring actions of the community are practical expressions of God's providence for widows. The prophets inveighed against Israel when the community failed to act in behalf of widows and claimed that the mistreatment of widows were among the factors that brought God's condemnation upon the community.
In 18:7a, Luke offers a direct word of assurance to the community. God will grant justice to the chosen who cry to him day and night, i.e. God will bring the realm for those who suffer. Throughout the gospel and Acts, Luke emphasizes that God is a promise-keeper. The chosen certainly include Jesus' followers (who, in the Book of Acts, come to include gentiles) Given Luke's Jewish background, they may also include the Jewish community.
In 18:7b-8a, the gospel writer adds another dimension of assurance. The realm will come soon. Luke wants the community to think that they will not have to hang on through suffering for a long time. Of course, Luke wisely does not lay out a time table for the coming of the realm.
From these perspectives, the meaning of Luke 18:8b is self-evident. For Luke, "faith" is the trust that the ministry of Jesus is a sign (and agency for) the coming of the realm. To be faithful is to witness to the immediate partial realization of the realm through the ministry of Jesus and the life of the church (which is under the power of the realm-empowering Spirit). In v. 8b, the Lukan Jesus poses the question, "When Jesus (the Son of Man) returns, will he find this kind of faith on earth?" Luke wants the readers to answer, "Yes. We commit ourselves to becoming strengthened through prayer in order make it through the suffering of the delay. We want to be part of the final and full realization of the realm."
Luke believes that in the midst of its difficulties, the community can be heartened by prayer, that is, by intentionally opening themselves to the partial realization of the realm in the present and anticipating the final and complete coming of the realm when Jesus returns.
2007-10-15 by David Howell
Ron Allen is our guest blogger (his first post is below). Watch for more posts on Luke 18:1-8 (as well as the posts of our regular bloggers). We are fortunate to have so many sharing their insights on the texts and preaching.
We've been promised some Williamsburg recipes...so keep an eye on Divine Cuisine.
Over at the Sermon Feedback Cafe, Susan Eastman (NT professor at Duke) and Susan Andrews (General Presbyter from New York) are still talking about Nora Gallagher's sermon from Sunday. It's so busy that Chef Jean Paul had to hire some extra help to keep the coffee and tea flowing.
Nora Gallagher will be a speaker at the Festival of Homiletics in Minneapolis in May. Nora and Barbara Brown Taylor will offer writing workshops in addition to preaching and lecturing.
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