Let God be God (September 2)
2007-08-28 by John Carr

As it happens, I'm preaching this Sunday (I also wrote Pastoral Implications for this week).  As I have been doing my own preparation, I realized that I might have said more about the fact that Jesus is addressing the Pharisees, perhaps the ultimate stereotype of the "God-player" -- who were keeping an eye on him.  I did assume that some attention would be given to this in the exegetical essay. 

Also, I need to do a "mea culpa."  I made a reference to vs. 10 of the Jeremiah passage.  The vs. 10 to which I am referring is in Jeremiah 1 -- i.e. my eye slipped over to the previous page as I was thinking about the interaction of the Jeremiah passage with the other passages. 

Here is how I see the passages from the Psalms and Hebrews. Since, in our congregation, we read the psalms responsively, I'm having it introduced with these words. Responsive Psalm 81: 1, 10-16: "In this psalm, we enact the internal conversation God is having about the ungrateful stubbornness of the people Israel.  Undoubtedly, God -- at least sometimes – has this internal conversation about us."

Here is the introduction to the Hebrews passage. Hebrews 13: 1-8, 15-16: "This passage is about how the followers of Jesus are to serve others.  We do not have to appease God’s anger by offering animal sacrifices.  Rather, in Jesus, we come to know God as One who simply asks that we focus our attention on the needs of others, rather than just being concerned about our own wants and needs." 

For me, these passages provide further context for the Luke passage. 

John C. Carr, Ph.D., Reg. Psychologist (Alberta # 1035)

 Pastoral Therapy & Education

 Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

Confusion, Pericope Group, and the Readings
2007-08-28 by David von Schlichten

This morning, at our Tuesday pastors' pericope group, we came up with the following thoughts about Sunday's readings:


  1. Pride and humility are a salient theme. Christ calls us to humility, which includes doing good for others without expecting a reward. (See below for more.)

  2. Hospitality is another salient theme. How do we welcome the stranger? Do people feel welcome when they visit our congregations? Jeff, our group leader, noted that the Greek word for “hospitality” is “philoxenia,” which means “love of the stranger.”


While sitting there, I wondered what I was going to have for lunch (Luke's gospel makes me hungry). More importantly, I found myself struggling anew with the idea that Jesus would teach us to take the place of humility in order to be exalted. Surely, Jesus is not saying that, is he?

Therefore, after pericope group (and lunch; I had fish), I returned to Aida Besancon Spencer's “Exegesis” article in LH this week, as well as John C. Carr's “Pastoral Implications” article. After revisiting those two pieces, I understand in a firmer, more enduring way that Jesus is not condoning false humility for the seeking of personal gain. His main point is “ [ . . . ] [A]ll who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted” (v.11). Verse eleven is the key to understanding Jesus' point.

In other words, Jesus tells the “parable” of where to sit at a banquet to make this point about humility. That is, he is using the situation in front of him to make a larger point about living in the kingdom of God. He is not merely giving advice for people on how to sit at table; such instruction simply does not fit with the larger context of Jesus' teachings in Luke 14, let alone in the Gospels in general. This proverbial wisdom of Jesus is much more.

After all, Jesus goes on to stress inviting people who cannot pay you back, people who cannot reward you. He is concerned about way more than simply doing that which makes a person look good. 

Eugene Peterson's piquant paraphrase of this verse in The Message is nourishing: “If you walk around with your nose in the air, you're going to end up flat on your face. But if you're content to be simply yourself, you will become more than yourself.”

Then there's the hospitality theme, which got me thinking anew about Ozzfest, a day long series of heavy metal rock concerts that I had the misfortune to attend last Friday, but I'll write more about that literally hellish experience and the theme of hospitality tomorrow.

Yours in Christ,

David von Schlichten, poedifier

Highlights of this Week's "LH" Articles
2007-08-28 by David von Schlichten

I wish Jesus would sit at my table and take the food away from me before I overeat. “Take away this day my daily Oreos.”

Seriously, here are some gleanings from this week's Lectionary Homiletics texts to ruminate on.


Aida Besancon Spencer points out that Jesus is not saying that we can never invite our friends, relatives, and rich neighbors to our table but that we are not to be in the habit of inviting only such people (Jesus uses the present imperative, “do not keep inviting”). Further, he is challenging the idea of seeking earthly reward, teaching that we should seek reward from God instead.


Pastoral Implications

John C. Carr makes numerous excellent points about psychology and the texts for Sunday, including the Gospel reading. The reading from Luke seems to reward passive-aggressive behavior; be humble to manipulate others into rewarding you. Carr stresses that lectionary and historical context are crucial for a proper understanding of this passage. In addition, people often play God, exalting themselves, and such a role is deleterious psychologically for the person playing God and for those who regard that person as God-like.

Carr concludes with the understanding that the Gospel reading warns against playing God, exalting oneself, while Psalm 112 and Hebrews 13 provide a supplement that helps people to see that healthful self-esteem arises when humans act as humans and regard God alone as God.

Lesson and the Arts

Johan van Parys writes of several paintings germane to the Gospel reading. One especially noteworthy is Veronesi's (1528-1588) depiction of the Last Supper called “Dinner at the House of Levi.” The painting shows Jesus and the Twelve surrounded by people from all strata and lifestyles. Van Parys was accused of heresy for including low-class people at the Last Supper, so the title was changed to end the controversy. Van Parys points out that Jesus does indeed welcome all kinds of people to the Table, so the painting, in a sense, is correct. Further, if Jesus is so welcoming, we are to be likewise.

Sermon Reviews

Alex Gondola summarizes a sermon by W. Robert McLelland in which the preacher makes the point that we are reared to be self-effacing but that, at God's banquet, God has made us the guests of honor. We are to think of ourselves in this manner. Of course, such an honor brings with it responsibility.

Later, Gondola summarizes a sermon by Richard W. Patt in which Patt explains a difference between entertaining and hospitality. Entertaining is about the host showing the guests that he or she is perfect at hosting. We hosts want to exhibit how lovely our home is, how delicious our food. With hospitality, coming across as perfect is not the goal. Rather, the goal is, as the etymology of “hospitality” suggests, to provide shelter and healing (like a hospice or hospital).

As usual, the writers have given us much to feast on, so I'll be chewing away without, for once, having to worry about gaining weight. More to come.

Yours in Christ,

David von Schlichten, poedifier

Food for Thought in Every Chapter of Luke
2007-08-26 by David von Schlichten

As someone once pointed out to me, food imagery is in every chapter of Luke. I did a quick search and came up with this. Please feel free to comment, revise, etc. (the following is not exhaustive):

1: God has filled the hungry with good things

2: manger

3: John the Baptist speaks of bearing good fruit ( also grain in v17)

4: "Turn these stones to bread."

5: fasting vs. eating (why do Jesus' disciples not fast?)

6: plucking heads of grain and eating them

7: at a Pharisee's table

8: parable of sower

9: feeding over five-thousand people

10: verse 7

11: "Give us each day our daily bread"

12: parable of rich fool with grain in his barns; life is more than eating

13: fig tree planted in a vineyard

14: this week's reading

15: "Kill the fatted calf"

16: Lazarus and rich man, who feasts sumptuously

17: verses 27 and 35

18: Pharisee boasts of fasting twice a week

19: Mount of Olives

20: vineyard parable

21: fig tree and sign of the kingdom of God being near

22: Passover and Holy Communion

23: "They gave him sour wine."

24: road to Emmaus and breaking of bread

All right, so what does it all mean? Perhaps the following:

1. How we eat reflects who we are (for more, see Roger Gench's "theological themes" article on pages 38-9 in LH)

2. Christ feeds us in various ways

3. Christ is revealed to us in the breaking of the bread.

By the way, I will be blogging each day this work week (Mon-Fri). I look forward to reading the blogs of others and to feedback, including questions and corrections. Let's have a feast of blogs. :-)

Yours in Christ,

David von Schlichten, poedifier

To the End
2007-08-24 by Rick Brand

Since I suggested Luke and shared the story, I felt called to show the finished product as well. 


Text: Luke 13:10-17 "Woman, you are freed..."


August 26, 2007

First Presbyterian Church of Henderson, NC

Rick Brand, Pastor

If you use your imagination a little, you can almost see how this story happening. It is a normal ordinary day of Worship. We are gathered in the sanctuary. Jesus has come and is sitting over here with the men. We have had the call to worship, sung the first hymn. During that first hymn the woman in Henderson who walks around half bent sideways and her daughter come in quietly and sit over with the women. As Jesus looks around during the choir's song, he sees the woman and has compassion on her. When I get up to go down for the Moment with Children, Jesus just gets up and walks across the sanctuary and goes up to her. He puts he hand on her and says,"Woman, you are freed from your infirmity." She stretches and twists and straightens up. She becomes so excited and so loud. She is shouting and praising God. She is jumping up and down, and thanking Jesus, Thank you, Thank you, Thank you, Lord." Jesus is clapping his hands in delight.

And I say to Jesus, "Ah, Jesus, why did you have to do that now. You got six days a week to do that kind of stuff. We are in the middle of a worship service here. I got a great sermon all ready and nobody will be interested in listening to it with this woman so excited and thrilled. You have really messed up the service today. There is no place in the bulletin for a healing. You just not supposed to do that kind of work on the Sabbath.

Jesus looks so disappointed. He looks at me and says, "Wow, that is really sad. We have a whole nation that is outraged by the stories of cruelty to animals done by a few famous people. There may be thousands of children being treated worst than these pit bulls but for weeks now the American public has been furious about the mistreatment of animals. The Torah even says that a person is permitted to do enough work on the Sabbath to untie the animal and walk it to water. If there were stories about anybody leaving an animal on a chain in this weather and not giving them water, you could expect a lynching. Yet when I want to untie this woman from the demon that has bound her for 18 years, all you are worried about is the order of service. That is really, really sad. You can't even stop and join her in the singing of praises and giving thanks. Don't you see that the Kingdom of God is not up to you to make, preserve, keep or protect. I give you the Kingdom. It is like this healing. This woman did not come seeking it. She did not ask for it. All you know about her is that she was here in the service. I gave her the healing. She gave thanks, and You were invited to enjoy the gift with her."

Jesus turns and leaves the sanctuary, and as far as the record in Scripture is given. He never attends worship in a synagogue again.

And we are left here looking around at each other. What is there to say? What he says hurts too much to talk about because it is so true. Somehow we do think that the Kingdom of God is dependent upon us. In the devotion to be faithful we end up thinking there are things we have to do, there are rules we have to keep, there are trues we have to protect and defend. God may have acted in Jesus Christ to redeem the world, but now it is up to us to save and defend the faith.

There are all those on one side who think that we have to pass laws and rules to make this nation a Christian nation. We need to put prayer back in school. We have to make illegal all of the bad consequences of our actions. Abortion has to be made to be murder. Homosexuals have to be fixed or excluded. It is the duty of Christians to require everybody to be Christians.

The same kind of conviction that the Kingdom of God is dependent upon our actions exists on the other side which wants to create a more open and just society, to make the great society, to be inclusive and kind and helpful. We have to give all children health care. God's creation has to be saved by our actions.

While all the time the story says that the salvation, the healing, the redemption has been done in Jesus Christ. God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself. It is the Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom. The Kingdom of God is among you. The new creation has been accomplished in Jesus Christ, our invitation is to join the woman in the songs of thanksgiving and in share the her joy. God does not call us to make his kingdom, or to protect his kingdom, or enforce others to be in his kingdom. God invites us to live in his kingdom. To live in his kingdom which has been created by God in Christ is to be free from having to be right, free from having to be perfect, free from having to make a name for ourselves, free from having to be somebody, free from proving our worth. To live in the kingdom is to be free to find those gifts that bring you joy and to use them joyfully in a place in the world that needs them.

The Kingdom of God is given to us, we miss it, and we rush right by it because we are so concerned about something else. The great New Testament Scholar William Barclay in his commentary suggests that one of the things this story reveals is that individuals are more important than systems and bureaucratic regulations. And yet it seems to me that we are so preoccupied with our individual rights and privileges that we frequently miss the kingdom of God which is a community. Jesus is not "doing" his own thing here. Jesus is bringing in the Kingdom of God with an act of compassion for this woman. The Hope is that the whole synagogue will erupt in praise and worship. There is no license here to do whatever you want in worship, but there is evidence here that the one who does an act of gracious compassion is a part of the Kingdom of God.

The Kingdom of God has been given. It is already ourselves. It does not depend upon our actions. The kingdom breaks out and flames up all around us and we blow right by it because we are so intent on what we think we have to do. There is the miracle of this day, but we have things we have to do and it is too hot or too cold. There is the miracle of your life and the people who love you, but your back hurts and the people you love are doing what you don't want them to do. There is the miracle of God's forgiveness for you and for all creation in Jesus Christ, but you have to hold on to that insult and get even. There is the miracle of God's forgiveness, but you in Turkey have to defend your honor and you have to kill the man who dishonors you.

The gifts of kingdom of God are being given to us all around and we are so focused on something else that we just rush by them and may never see them. My theologian friend Jimmy Buffett has some lines in one of his songs, a joyful song about looking back over his life and celebrating the good gifts life has given him. He says, "Yeah, that's why it's still a mystery to me, why some people live like they do. So many nice things happening out there, never even seen the clues." So many nice things happening out there, and some people just are so dedicated to what they think they have to do for God that they never see the clues to His Kingdom which he has already given in Jesus.

Zora Neal Hurston was a black woman from Florida. She was born in l891 and died in l960. She graduated from Barnard College and did extensive research into black culture in the South and the Caribbeans. She was a leading figure in the culture blooming called the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920's and 30's. In her autobiography called Dust Tracks on a Road, she tells about a young man that she was dating and fell in love with. She tells about one event in her courtship."I lived in the Graham Court at 116th Street and Seventh Ave.in New York City. He lived way down in 64th Street, Columbus Hill. He came to call one night and everything went off sweetly until he got ready to leave. At the door he told me to let him go because he was going to walk home. He had spent the only nickel he had that night to come to see me. That upset me, and I ran to get a quarter to loan him until his pay day. What did I do that for? He flew hot. In fact, he was the hottest man in the five boroughs. Why did I insult him like that? The responsibility was all his . He had known that he did not have his return fare when he left home, but he had wanted to come, and so he had come. Let him take the consequences for his own acts. What kind of a coward did I take him for? How could he deserve my respect if he behaved like a cream puff? He was a man. No woman on earth could either lend him nor give him a cent. If a man could not do for a woman, what good was he on earth? He great desire was to do for me. Please let him be a man.

"For a minute I was hurt, and then I saw his point. He had done a beautiful thing and I was killing it off in my blindness." She almost missed that gift by looking at the money. He was looking at the gift of love he was trying to make.

Oh, today we would blow right by that gift with our outrage at the chauvinist attitude of the man. We blow right on by so many of the gifts of the Kingdom of God because we are so caught up in what we think we have to do for the Kingdom of God.

The good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is that God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself. It has been done by God for us. It is a gift we have been offered. The woman has been healed without her having to be worthy, without her having to ask, without her having to promise to do anything. The woman has been healed and she lifts up her voice in worship and praise.

The Kingdom of God is all around us. The gifts of grace appear in so many place. Monica Laliberte told the story of a community of more than two hundred volunteers, and forty nine different companies, who worked two weeks to restore a home for a woman and her stroke afflicted husband. A previous contractor had taken her money, torn up her house and left them in a mess. The community transformed the wreck into a home. The woman lifted up her tears of great joy. And we were invited simply to join her in that joy and from that joy go and watch for other signs of the Kingdom. Our chief end is to glorify God for the Kingdom that has been given and to enjoy it forever.

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