God has View, World Communion Sunday, Slaves, Seeds, Theodicy
2007-10-04 by David von Schlichten

The sermon is slow growing this week, but there's time. The Holy Spirit provides.

World Communion Sunday is a crucial theme to draw attention to, especially given the divisiveness of the Church and the world.

One possibility is to connect the Gospel to Christian unity. Christ does not call us to deleterious competition and hostility but to, according to Luke 17:1-10:

1. Forgiveness (verses 1-4)

2. Slavehood, obeying the master, not for a reward, but because that is what we are to do; part of slavehood is being quick to forgive; remember, it is God alone who "has View" (scroll down for Jim Somerville's blog entry on L'Engle's understanding of God having View)

Imagine if we all focused on slavehood instead of yelling insults and then stomping out of the room over homosexuality and other issues.

3. The faith the Spirit has sown in our souls will help us to forgive and be slaves; even the tiniest faith is amazingly powerful.

Then there's Habakkuk, where our first lesson comes from in my denomination (ELCA). Habakkuk deals with the perennial theodicy issue, always an important topic. Maybe, however, the Spirit wants me to save that for another Sunday.

I don't know, but I do know I need to get dressed so I can attend our monthly, inter-denominational ministerium meeting at 9:30.

We are a rainbow of ministers, ranging from very liberal to very conservative, divided on many issues, including profound ones. Nevertheless, we still can agree on some things, like that the hungry need food. Thanks be to God.

Yours in Christ,

David von Schlichten, poedifier





What does it mean to remember?
2007-10-04 by Jim Somerville

Thursday is my day off.  It’s the day I let the playful exegesis of Monday and the careful study of Tuesday and the thoughtful questioning of Wednesday ferment and begin to bubble. Sometimes, when I am running among the tall trees in Rock Creek Park or sailing on the Potomac River a bubble will pop—a happy little “Aha!” moment that  moves me one step closer to Sunday’s sermon.

Today, although it’s still early, I’m thinking about World Communion Sunday and Jesus’ insistence that his disciples remember him.  I’m wondering what would happen if we thought of remembering not so much as the opposite of forgetting, but as the opposite of dismembering. If we are the body of Christ, and Christ’s body was broken in his suffering and death, is communion a way of putting it back together again?  Is World Communion Sunday a way of re-membering the body of Christ scattered around the globe? 

I’ll let you think about that one. It’s my day off. I’m going to go out and play. 

_______________ 

Jim Somerville is pastor of the First Baptist Church of the City of Washington, DC; adjunct professor of preaching at the John Leland Center for Theological Studies; and one-time host of the Festival of Homiletics.

 





God Has View
2007-10-03 by Jim Somerville

Sometimes lectionary preachers are accused of being irrelevant, of digging around in ancient texts in search of archaeological treasures they can show off on Sunday morning to the few people who are interested in such things.  “What does any of that have to do with this?” our accusers say, holding up the morning newspaper. But I remember Sunday, September 16, 2001, when the morning newspaper was still in shock from the September 11 attacks, and my associate stepped to the lectern, opened the ancient book of Lamentations, and began to read the opening lines of this Sunday’s lection:

How lonely sits the city that once was full of people! How like a widow she has become, she that was great among the nations!”  I remember the gasp that went up from the congregation. It was so clearly a reference to New York!  But how could Jeremiah have known, all those years ago, what would happen in America on September 11, 2001?

I have nothing against topical preachers. In fact, some of my most respected colleagues begin their weekly preparation with the “Today” show, Time magazine, and the morning newspaper. They think about current events, listen for the word on the street, and then dig around in the Bible to see what God might have to say about sexual harassment lawsuits, for example, or the situation in Burma. I stand in awe of their ability to weave those current events and the eternal word together. But I also think that what the lectionary gives us—and what we desperately need—is the perspective of the centuries and not just this morning’s op-ed piece. I like to imagine that the occasional reading of a passage like this one from Lamentations would prepare our hearts for something like September 11, even before we knew what it was they were being prepared for.

In 2004 I spent two minutes on a CNN talk show responding to a question about a minister in California who had told the members of his congregation that they would go to Hell if they voted for John Kerry. My response was that we serve a God who has watched over the rise and fall of empires for millennia now, and that a single presidential election in the United States of America might not carry as much eternal significance as that minister imagined.

I like what Madeline L’Engle has said, and what the lectionary helps me remember: “I have a point of view, you have a point of view—God has view.”
_______________

Jim Somerville is pastor of the First Baptist Church of the City of Washington, DC; adjunct professor of preaching at the John Leland Center for Theological Studies; and one-time host of the Festival of Homiletics.

 





Looking Ahead to October 21: Lk 18:1-8, the parable of the widow and unjust judge (installment three)
2007-10-03 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 possbilities 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 preachin 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.





Looking Ahead to October 21: Lk 18:1-8, the parable of the widow and unjust judge (installment two)
2007-10-03 by Ron Allen

This installment is the second of three on the parable of the widow and the unjust judge for October 21.

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.

Chrisian 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 commnunity.

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 partg 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 anticipting the final and complete coming of the realm when Jesus returns.

 





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