Response to Hearon and Highlights of This Week's Articles in "Lectionary Homiletics"
2007-09-12 by David von Schlichten
In her blog entry and response to a reader's question, Holly Hearon shows how a preacher can smoothly integrate the readings. She emphasizes the contrast between the judgment-oriented passage of Jeremiah and the grace-oriented passage of Luke and suggests that 1 Timothy works especially well with the latter and that the Jeremiah and Luke passages can work as two sides of the same coin (what some of us call the law-gospel dialectic).
Hearon also provides helpful information regarding the Gospel, including background on the silver coins. See below for Hearon's blog entry.
(Also, see the "Free Samples" section (under samples for the coming Sunday) for an article by R. Alan Culpepper. The article is about Luke 15:1-10.)
Hearon's highlighting of grace works well with what I have lifted up from this week's articles in Lectionary Homiletics:
Brian K. Peterson writes that, like the sheep and the coin, Paul in 1 Timothy is the lost who has been found and that the gospel does not merely save us but also transforms our lives, according to 1 Timothy.
Roger J. Gench, whose congregation is in Washington, D.C., writes of General David Petraeus, war, and the current civil war between liberals and conservatives in the United States, including in the Church. Gench explains that, in his manual on how to deal with insurgency warfare, Petraeus advises at one point, in a nutshell, “Don't shoot, take risks, and get involved” (p.58; the quote is Gench's summation of a Petraeus quote). Gench suggests that conservatives and liberals should heed this counsel to stop shooting, take risks, and get involved in relationships with one another.
1 Timothy says that Christ came into the world to save sinners. Just as Christ stopped shooting, took risks and got involved for our salvation, we are to do likewise. Such instruction may sound naïve, but, Gench says, a little “second naivete” may be in order, “second naivete” being a term from Paul Riceour that means to have faith in our mysterious God, despite our knowledge that could produce doubt.
There is much more in Gench's article, including intelligent writing about both Riceour and Martin Luther King, Jr. The essay is first-rate.
Along similar lines, John C. Carr writes that defensiveness and aggressive counterattacks tend to be deleterious reactions to hostility. What if, instead, following 1 Timothy, we Christians responded with greater love and less defensiveness when people attack our religion or even our nation? Respectfully and sensitively, Carr wonders what would have happened if Western nations had responded in such a manner to 9/11?
“Scripture and Screen”
Dan R. Dick writes about the TV show “Heroes.” Heroes have a super-power. For us Christians, "our salvation is our super-power" (p.61).
“Preaching the Lesson”
David J. Schlafer, in an exceptionally well-written essay, unpacks the word “confession,” pointing out the different ways people may construe this word. In 1 Timothy, Paul's confession is neither “self-justification nor self-condemnation” (p.62). He states what he has done and then says that he has been saved by God. Schlafer writes, “The author is clear: God does not value people because they are worthwhile; people are worthwhile because God values them” (62).
In his sermon, “Attitude Up or Attitude Down?,” D. William McIvor proclaims with notable clarity that we humans tend to live in an attitude-down world but that God calls us to be an attitude-up people. In other words, we tend to be judgmental, but God calls us to be, not judgmental, but merciful.
Thank you to Dr. Hearon and everyone for such graceful work.
Willing to be a bit naive, I am
Yours in Christ,
David von Schlichten, poedifier
Question on 1 Timothy 1:12-17
2007-09-11 by Holly Hearon
Thanks for your thoughts on Jeremiah and Luke on GoodPreacher.
I am preaching on 1 Timothy 1:12-17.
Could you share some thoughts on 1 Timothy and how that text might be preached with either Jeremiah text or Luke text?
The 1 Timothy text picks up on the theme of God's grace towards sinners (1:15). In dialogue with Jeremiah it could explore the need to recognize not only our personal sin but ways in which we are culpable in terms of systemic evil ("The only thing evil needs to flourish is for good people to do nothing"). In terms of Luke, the 1 Timothy text could be woven into the invitation by the parables to view others through the eyes of God. Where do we seat ourselves? Among the pure or among the sinners? There is a tension in the Christian life between striving to do what is good and right, while maintaining an appropriate humility that acknowledges our potential for failure and our ongoing need for mercy - from God and towards one another.
(Holly Hearon is Associate Professor of New Testament at Christian Theological Seminary.)
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.
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