Reflections on Jeremiah 4 and Luke 15
2007-09-10 by Holly Hearon
The first thing that strikes me is the tension between the Gospel lection and the reading from the First Testament. The gospel focuses on the familiar theme of God’s persistence in seeking those who are lost. In contrast, the passage from Jeremiah speaks a hard word of destruction and desolation brought about by the hand of God. One way to reconcile the two passages would be to zero in on Luke’s repetition of the phrase that God rejoices over one sinner who repents, reading Jeremiah as a call to repentance. The challenge with such a move is that it may rely on fear as the motivation for change; while fear can be a strong motivating factor, it rarely produces genuine conversion. Another approach would be to examine the character of God, who is described both wielding destruction while seeking genuine relationship with humankind. Do we simply reject the one while embracing the other? What kind of God is it who metes out judgment indiscriminately? Conversely, does God overlook justice of the sake of reconciliation? (Here, it should be obvious that we need to avoid the false dichotomy of the “God of the Old Testament” vs. the “God of the New Testament”; grace and anger find equal expression as characteristics of God in both Testaments.) Another way to think about the Jeremiah passage would be to ask how we participate in creating and promoting destructive forces. From Jeremiah’s perspective, the destruction doesn’t come out of nowhere; it is the consequence of false pride and political posturing. How often do we simply sit in the rubble and pray to God to come and clean up our mess? What I find appealing about trying to work these two passages in dialogue is that neither passage leaves us with an image of a sanguine God who sits placidly by, removed from human folly. This is a God who is fully engaged: who rages, who weeps, who continues to search for the lost.
The religious leaders in Luke seem to want a world where the holy and pure are protected. I think there is a little bit of that streak in all of us. Wouldn’t it be nice if we all just got along and never did anything to hurt other people or ourselves? Then there is the fear of contamination: if we sit with sinners, will it rub off on us? Surely we don’t belong with those who sit stunned in Jeremiah’s Jerusalem, wondering what it was that hit them. The parables invite us to work on our attitude. We are not asked to identify with the lost so much as we are asked to identify with God (“which one of you . . . “). The shepherd figure echoes Ezekiel 34 where false and faithful shepherds are compared. Luke adds some touches to the story which are not found in Matthew’s version (Matt 18:12-14). In Luke the shepherd going off into the wilderness in search of the lost sheep The wilderness (the place of Jesus’ temptation) suggests going into desolate and dangerous places. When the shepherd finds the sheep, he lifts it onto his shoulders. This is a real and familiar action, but adds a kind of poignancy to the story, anticipating the father’s warm embrace of the prodigal son. The party that the shepherd throws further invites us to hear in this the story the story of the prodigal son (15:11-32). The sheep, then, are those who, by an act of volition, wander off. Luke pairs the story with that of the woman who has lost one of her ten coins. This story, too, invites us to identify with God, the woman. The silver coins are drachmas, each one about a day’s wages in peasant culture. The coins would help a family survive for not quite two weeks in case of famine, illness, or unemployment. These coins are of real value: the difference between eating and not eating. Unlike the sheep, coins are inanimate objects. They don’t wander off on their own; but they can roll away, slip into a crack, or disappear in a shadow in an unlit room. The woman, a diligent household manager, faithfully keeps track of every coin. We are invited by these images to re-orient how we look at and value one another. Perhaps if we did, the story in Jeremiah would have a different ending.
Sermon for September 9 on Philemon and Luke 14:25-33
2007-09-06 by David von Schlichten
(Sorry this is so long. I didn't have time to tighten.)
Freed and Enslaved, Saved and Useful
(Word count: approx. 950)
Text: Philemon and Luke 14:25-33
(Main point: Christ has set us free from the everlasting effects of sin, Satan and death, and we respond by intentionally committing ourselves to regarding one another as siblings and living as slaves to God, an identity that, among other things, shouts for us to serve one another.)
Our Gospel reading today is as unnerving as a prison. Jesus tells us that, if we are going to be his disciples, then we need to hate our family members. Jesus also declares that part of following him is taking up the cross. Taking up the cross means carrying on our backs a terrifying instrument of torture and execution.
“Calculate the cost of discipleship,” Jesus says. “If you're going to follow me, you better be ready to pay a big price. Being my disciple is like building a tower or preparing for battle: it demands sacrifice, follow-through.”
Finally, Jesus teaches that we must give up all our possessions. That's what our Gospel reading from Luke teaches us: hate family, carry cross, give up possessions. Ugh.
The most disturbing word in Jesus' teaching today is that word “hate.” Over and over, Jesus teaches love, love, love, so why is it that here, Jesus teaches hate?
Given his emphasis on love, it is unlikely that Jesus literally means that we are to hate our families. It is more likely that he is exaggerating to make a point. We do that sometimes. We exaggerate. “I've been sitting in this traffic jam for a million years.” We exaggerate, and Jesus does, too, when he tells us to hate our families.
So what's his point? Jesus' point is that following him requires sacrifice that puts him first above everything, including our families. Family is important; Jesus is more important.
In general, in this passage, Jesus is declaring the high price of discipleship. Christ has committed himself to us. He died and rose, thereby springing us free from the prison of sin, death and Satan. In response, we the baptized, the saved, put Christ above even our families as we carry the cross, as we make sacrifices for the sake of loving God and others.
Some people think being a Christian is a passive existence. All you have to do is believe. Sunday worship is simply an optional show that is supposed to make us feel good. Make sacrifices for the sake of God and others? Nah, just believe, watch the show, maybe pray, and live basically any way that works for you. Legions of us think of Christianity in this way.
But the truth is that God has released us from enslavement to sin, death, and Satan and now calls us to put God first and carry the cross. Carrying the cross does not mean just putting up with any suffering that befalls us. Carrying the cross means intentionally making sacrifices that glorify God and help others.
Jesus Christ has set us free; our reaction is to put God first, even above family, and carry the cross, intentionally making sacrifices that glorify God and help others.
The book of Philemon, from which we receive our second reading, provides an exhilarating example of what it means to react to salvation by putting God first and suffering for the sake of God and others.
This short letter by Paul tells the story of Onesimus. Onesimus was a slave who ran away from Philemon. Somehow Onesimus met Paul, who converted Onesimus to Christianity. Now Paul is sending Onesimus back to Philemon with this letter. The letter says, in substance, “Take back the slave Onesimus, except don't treat him as a slave anymore. He is now a Christian, so he is no longer merely a slave. Now Onesimus is your brother. Treat him accordingly.”
In other words, Paul is saying that Christ's death and resurrection has set Onesimus free, has elevated him from slave to sibling. That's what Christ does. He sets us free, lifts us from slavery to siblinghood. Philemon is to respond to this Good News by treating Onesimus as the sibling he is.
Likewise, Christ has busted us free from slavery to sin, death and Satan. We are to respond by embracing the sacrificial Christian life. Part of embracing the sacrificial Christian life is treating one another, not as above or beneath us, but as brothers and sisters in Christ. Because that's what we are now. We are siblings in Christ. We are to live accordingly, even though doing so can be painful.
And make no mistake: treating each other as the siblings we are can indeed be painful, can indeed be a cross, a sacrifice. For instance, people who have more or less money than we do; people who have different skin color; Democrats, Republicans; people of different countries; illegal immigrants; men, women; young, teens, elderly; people who annoy us or are mean to us – we are to treat them all, not as better or worse than us, but as brothers and sisters in Christ, as equals. That is a sacrifice. That is a cross to bear. Philemon is to treat Onesimus as a brother, and we are to treat one another as siblings. What a cross to bear, but that sacrifice is part of our response to Christ freeing us from sin, death and Satan.
On this Rally Day, we give thanks to the Holy Spirit for our Sunday school program, especially our dedicated teachers. We pray that our teachers remember this important lesson of salvation, siblinghood and sacrifice as we begin another school year. God calls us to teach this lesson to one another and to live by it.
Teachers, students, all of us, the baptized – Christ has broken us free. Christ has rescued us. Christ has made us into sisters and brothers, equals. Further, the Holy Spirit, through Scripture, sacrament, prayer, each other, and more, helps us to take up the cross, to put Christ first, to serve the new family.
Alleluia! Christ has flung open the door. Christ has set us free. Here is the cross. Will you respond by carrying it?
Yours in Christ,
David von Schlichten, poedifier
A Look at Luke
2007-09-05 by Rick Brand
The Luke stories remind me of a sermon I heard from Ernest Campbell, who was one of the previous pastors at Riverside Church in New York City. Dr. Campbell suggested that Jesus never seemed like the one who would urge caution and deliberateness in response to God's Call. So Campbell preached that the stories were about God. God would not start a war with evil God could not finish. God would not start a creation God could not complete. The parables were declarations of the intention of God to bring to completion what God started.
It always made sense to me.
Walter Brueggemann and Articles from Lectionary Homiletics
2007-09-04 by David von Schlichten
DON'T MISS WALTER BRUEGGEMANN'S BLOG ENTRY ON SUNDAY'S READINGS (SCROLL DOWN).
Walter Brueggemann's highlighting of the theme of intentionality in some of the lessons is insightful and helpful. He points out that, in Jeremiah, the clay can make a decision that will have an impact on God the potter. In Deuteronomy, the people of God are to choose life or death. In the Gospel, Jesus calls us to complete commitment to following him. God takes the initiative in our relationship with him, but we are called to a response.
Brueggemann goes on to suggest that a preacher can address the theme of intentionality while also proclaiming the state we are in regarding our current social crisis, the past decisions that have brought us to that crisis, and the decisions we can make in response to the Gospel that could help to end the crisis.
"Exegesis" (FULL ARTICLE AVAILABLE IN THE FREE SAMPLES SECTION UNDER THE SECTION FOR THE COMING SUNDAY.)
Germane to the theme of intentionality is Aida Besancon Spencer's exgegetical article, which begins on page 46 in Lectionary Homiletics. Spencer stresses the call to hate loved ones, carry the cross, and follow Jesus. Spencer notes that, while some of us may be called to sell all our possessions while others may be called to some other response to the Gospel, "The question is, what must one do to be able to complete one's journey with Jesus?" (p.47) The answer may vary somewhat from person to person.
"Theological Themes" (ALSO AVAILABLE IN THE FREE SAMPLES SECTION.)
Reflecting on the call from Jesus for us to hate our family, Roger J. Gench notes that many of us eschew violence except when our loved ones are in jeopardy; in such instances, we regard violence as justifiable.
Then, borrowing from Stanley Hauerwas, Gench suggests that the call to hate our loved ones may challenge us to " [ . . . ] a way of life in which our loves will not become an excuse to use violence" (p.48). What if we refused to resort to violence even when our loved ones are in danger? Imagine such intentionality.
Alex Gondola summarizs a sermon by Roger Patt that lifts up Cardinal Bernardin of Chicago as an example of a Christian who denied the self and embraced the pain of forgiving one who had trespassed against him.
Bernardin's book The Gift of Peace tells the extraordinary story of the cardinal's efforts to forgive a wrong-doer, as well as his noble struggle with cancer. The book is humbling, beautiful, and relevant to the readings and the theme of intentionality, so I will post a review of it on "Share It!"
Yours in Christ,
David von Schlichten, poedifier
Jeremiah 18: 1-11
2007-09-04 by Dan Flanagan
I appreciate Walter Brueggemann's perspective on the Jeremiah passage. The good news IS that we can change and things can be better.
I find the metaphor of the "potter" simultaneously illuminating and dangerous. It can be dangerous if it feeds an image of a manipulative God, and fosters determinism. It is refreshring, however, if we focus on the vision of the potter.
It is fascinating to watch a potter work with a piece of clay. It is almost as if the potter's hands and the clay become one. The clay appears to dance in the hands of the potter.
The potter has an idea, a vision, of what the final product could be. The potter works and works the clay so that the finished product is as close to that vision as possible. The truth, though, is that the finished product NEVER replicates the potter's vision. Similarly, God's vision for creation remains unfulfilled, and yet hopeful.
The good news of the Jeremiah text is the hope espoused for the future. A potter's vision is re-shaped by the character of the clay being formed. In a much more complicated fashion, human beings with wills of their own, help shape the future. The hope lies in that God continues to call us toward a vision of the future (in this case through Jeremiah), and we help shape the future through our decisions.
One of my favorite stories is of a young girl and her family visiting the studio of Gutzon Borglum when he was creating a sculpture of Abraham Lincoln. The young girl gazed at the sculpture with amazement and asked Borglum, "Is that Abraham Lincoln?" Borglum responded, "Yes." And the little girl came back, "Well, how in the world did you know he was in that block of stone?"
We can view our world through Israel's eyes in Babylon, or we can view it through the vision of the potter.....of God. We may see a mess, God sees possibilities. God sees the possibility of a new creation and we are capable of moving toward God's vision.
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