Believe in God; Be a Slave
2007-10-01 by David von Schlichten

Thank you to Jim Somerville for placing the accent on the right syllable. People do indeed often speak of the power of prayer and faith, but the power lies in God.

How many people speak in this way because they are shy about talking about God, and how many because they are thinking that prayer and faith are primarily about us humans doing the right things to get God to do what we want?

Many hearers of Luke 17:5-10 will regard it as an indictment of our tiny faith and a challenge for us to make our faith bigger. Perhaps our focus is instead to be on our understanding that we are worthless slaves of God whom God has declared priceless because of Christ. If our focus is on our redeemed, liberated slave status and what that means for our living, then maybe the faith grows. I don't know.

Faith grows when stretching toward God, not curling in on itself, yes?

 Pondering in Christ,

 David von Schlichten, poedifier

I Don't Believe in Faith
2007-10-01 by Jim Somerville

It was a line in Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of Luke 17 that caught my eye.  When the disciples ask Jesus for more faith he says, “You don’t need more faith.  There is no ‘more’ or ‘less’ in faith.”

Is that true? Is faith like the flu in the sense that you either have it or you don’t?  If it is, then I’m not sure that I have it, because Jesus goes on to say that if you had even the tiniest bit of faith—even a mustard seed’s worth—you could do great things (although flinging a mulberry tree into the sea by faith doesn’t strike me as a particularly great thing).

It reminds me of similar conversations about prayer. When people ask me if I “believe in prayer” I often say that I don’t; I say that I believe in God. Prayer is simply the way I let God know what I need. It is the hair-thin link between me and the Almighty. I want to say the same about faith, that “I don’t believe in it,” but that sounds absurd. So let me say it like this: I believe in God. And although the tides of my faith ebb and flow there has never been a time when that ocean was empty.  


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.

Windy Spaces
2007-10-01 by Dee Dee Haines

Thank you to Jim Somerville for so eloquently giving voice to all of us who are called to preach.  His thoughts reminded me of the lyrics from a Mary Chapin Carpenter song that gives life to some of the feelings we experience as preachers, teachers and disciples of Christ (The Calling, from the album of the same name).


“Whatever the calling, the stumbling or falling, you follow it knowing there’s no other way.”  She sings about a presence deep in our blood, a voice in our head that finds us.


I like the thought of being found.  I imagine a sparked, and sparkling Someone, searching for me when I’ve wandered through the text, and haven’t found my way.  It is in this thinly veiled spatial encounter where silent voices make themselves known.  It is here where the ancient stories throw open doors and windows so that the sacred breath can blow new life into the dusty conclusions we make before we are, again, amazed at how much we’ve learned since we thought we knew it all.


So I sit here this morning, with the cup of coffee, as recommended by my colleague, watching the mist come down from the mountain and feeling the smallest of my own self in the world today.  I’m reading the Gospel text from Luke and wondering about the size of my own faith. 


Maybe that wind of the Spirit that fans the coals will come more like a whisper of breath upon my face, not unlike the tiniest puff of breath I expend when blowing an eyelash from the tip of my finger, faithfully wishing, and hoping, for the best that can be--- as the Whole of the Universe conspires to call forth every good thing.


Dee Dee Haines

Isle of Man

Time to Play
2007-10-01 by Jim Somerville

I encourage my preaching students to take some time on Monday morning to “play” with the lectionary texts for the following Sunday, an idea that I borrowed from Robert Dykstra’s book, Discovering a Sermon.  Personally, I like to copy the page from that weekly worship planbook from Abingdon Press, Prepare, or even rip it right out of the spiral-bound book. It has all the texts printed on one page, making it easy to look at them together, to circle words and draw lines.

The word play is important at this stage. I haven’t started to think about how the sermon will come together yet. I haven’t consulted the commentaries. I’ve just set aside a couple of hours with these texts and unsnapped the leash of my imagination.  Who knows what might happen? 

I don’t know what might happen yet. It’s only 6:30 in the morning. I’m still having breakfast and recovering from my morning run. But in an hour or so I’ll get on the Metro and go down to Chinatown, climb the stairs to the second floor at Starbucks where I can find a quiet table in the corner, pull out those lectionary texts, and unsnap the leash.
 I’ll let you know how it turns out.   


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.

Blowing on the Coals
2007-09-30 by Jim Somerville

Sunday afternoon may not be the best time for the preacher to talk about preaching. Either it went really well in the pulpit that morning and she thinks she’s mastered the art, or it went really badly, and she’s thinking about changing careers, or, worst of all, she may have preached a completely average sermon on a completely average Sunday to a completely average congregation, which leaves her thinking about nothing so much as the difficulty of trying to do it all again next week.   

That’s where I find myself on this Sunday afternoon, and so, on a completely selfish level, I'm drawn to the passage from 2 Timothy where someone (probably not Paul) writes words of encouragement to a young minister.  “Rekindle the gift of God that is within you,” he says, and as an outdoorsman I remember all those times I have tried to get a campfire going again after a night in the woods--how I gather up tiny twigs and snap them until I have a handful of dry tinder, how I look for the hot coals under the gray ash and then pile the tinder on top and start to blow, how the coals begin to glow and eventually burst into flame, and how the tinder catches fire and begins to smoke and pop. Soon I can pile on sticks of kindling and soon after that pieces of firewood as big as my forearm. Whatever else may happen, the day has started with the crackling warmth and the delicious smoky smells of a campfire.  

“Rekindle the gift of God that is within you,” the writer urges, but I’m not sure how you do that. I don’t know how you blow on the coals of your calling till the flames burst forth. More likely you bare your soul to the Holy Spirit and pile on the tinder of prayer and wait for the rush of a mighty wind to fan you into flame again.  

And in the meantime have a cup of coffee. 


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.

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