Stuck in Luke
2007-08-21 by Rick Brand
The Luke passage fascinates me because of how often the narrow focus on one thing, even a good thing, results in the complete missing of the miracle that happens right in front of us. Jesus demonstrates the power of Grace and the religious leaders don't even slow down to join the woman in praise. As Jimmy Buffet says, "so many good things happen around here and some people never see two."
Some Highlights of This Week's "LH" Articles
2007-08-21 by David von Schlichten
First, you can read David A. Davis' "Preaching the Lesson" piece for this week as a free sample. You'll also find a helpful article on the Gospel for this week.
Okay, here are my thoughts about this week's articles in Lectionary Homiletics. I have managed to swim over to my computer to post this blog. (Seriously, God bless all those who are struggling with flooding and other severe weather.)
Focus text: Hebrews 12:18-29
Richard A. Spencer rightly notes that the image of God as a consuming fire is difficult to reconcile with the more merciful image of Jesus who teaches us to call the Father "Pappa" (Abba). Spencer teaches that we exegetes must make our way through the language of Hebrews to hear “the Word behind the words” (p.29). He reminds us that we are to remember that the context of Hebrews prompted the writer to be more strident and urgent. Thus, “perseverance in their devotion to Christ is not a mild suggestion but an eschatological demand” (29).
Spencer adds that we preachers need to supplement this tough word with a Word of grace for a theological word that is “self-sufficient” (29).
Richard B. Steele writes about what makes worship acceptable and unacceptable to God. Steele contends that what made Abel's sacrifice acceptable was that it was “a token of unstinting gratitude, not a carefully calculated bribe” (p.29). Worship is unacceptable to God when it caters to the whims of the worshippers or tries to bribe God. Worship is acceptable to God when it honors God, acknowledges our sin and leads us to repentance, and gives glory to God for God's grace.
Steele quotes William Temple: "'Worship is the submission of all our nature to God'" (29). The selfless act of the adoration of God is, for Temple, paramount.
Steele also includes a fascinating endnote that summarizes what Kierkegaard says about worship in one of his books. Kierkegaard writes that many of us think of worship as theater, where we watch a performance by the pastor. Kierkegaard teaches that worship is indeed theater, but the parishioners are the actors, God is the audience, and the preacher is the prompter, reminding people of their lines (p.30). (Now that's my kind of endnote. That's a whole end-song I'll be humming all day.)
Rodney J. Hunter writes about the struggle many of us have with the law/gospel dialectic. What's the relationship between salvation by faith and our good works? Hunter uses helpful analogies on page 31 to suggest an exegetically sound answer. For instance, he writes that when a person is truly in love, her or his life is shaped around that love. Loving acts result from that love. Hunter suggests, "Perhaps it is imperfect love that distorts discipline into either anxious striving or phony freedom and irresponsibility" (31).
"Lesson and the Arts"
Troy Messenger writes well about William Blake, that enigmatic artist, prophet, and poet of the late eighteenth-century, who cared much about the injustices of his day and who saw God and eternity in the smallest of things. Thank you to Messenger for lifting up this amazing figure of literature, theology and art.
Heather Kirk-Davidoff, in summarizing a sermon by Raymond Calkins, indicates that we who are rooted in Christ can let our traditional beliefs and practices shake. The world may shake, but ours is the unshakeable kingdom (p.32).
Also, Kirk-Davidoff notes, a sermon by Roberta Hestenes stresses that gratitude toward God puts our feet on solid ground (33).
"Scripture and Screen"
David von Schlichten writes with his usual cogent brilliance about the following movies: The Fugitive, Twelve Angry Men, Erin Brockovich, The Lord of the Rings, and The Trip to Bountiful.
"Preaching the Lesson"
You'll want to read David A. Davis' article, in which he writes about the idea of stressing God's holiness as part of acceptable worship (p. 34; or see Samples).
John H. Pavelko preaches that the cloud of witnesses, the heroes of faith, are a bunch of sinning misfits; their story is primarily about God using these people despite their shortcomings (p.35).
These pages have lots of intelligent, faithful work, thanks be to the Holy Spirit.
David von Schlichten, poedifier
"Pastor, Your Sermon Really Hurt Me."
2007-08-19 by David von Schlichten
That's what someone said to me this morning as she shook my hand. I invited her to wait in my office for me to talk with her after I had greeted everyone. (The sermon that had hurt her is a couple blog entries down).
Once I was seated at my desk, she told me that, in my sermon, I had preached about unfulfillment and how Jesus' words about familial division point to an example of unfulfillment.
My parishioner had had much difficulty with family (I knew this; she and I had spoken extensively about her family problems), and she thought I was saying that she was somehow inferior to others because she had had this difficulty.
I explained that it is God's will for us to get along with our families but that sometimes that does not happen and so we have unfulfillment. However, we are all unfulfilled in some way because we all far short of the ideals of God. Further, being unfulfilled does not mean that one person is inferior to another.
"I don't think you are inferior because you have had family troubles," I said. We reviewed some of her family troubles, and I affirmed that I thought she had worked hard to try to bring an end to the familial strife.
Most importantly, we all, in our unfulfilled state, are to keep persevering, trusting in the merciful, powerful love of God.
Thanks be to the Holy Spirit, everything got cleared up between my parishioner and me. I appreciated that she had come to me to talk about the sermon rather than keeping her thoughts and feelings to herself.
Yours in Christ,
David von Schlichten, poedifier
2007-08-17 by Rick Brand
To help affirm that there are many ways to the gospel from the same texts. Here is another approach to Luke and Hebrews.
Text: Luke 12:49-56 "No, I tell you, but rather division"
August 19, 2007
First Presbyterian Church of Henderson, NC
Rick Brand, Pastor
There is a well known saying among many families. "Nobody is happy if Mamma ain't happy." And a quick reading of all of the texts for this week's lectionary texts suggests that Mamma ain't happy. The four lessons suggested by the lectionary do not paint us a very pretty picture.
When we listen to God talking about his Vineyard in Isaiah, it is pretty clear that God is not happy with the results of his work. He talks about how careful he has been. He has fenced it round. He has worked it hard. He weeded. He watered. He pruned it. Harold Thompson of the extension agency has no more suggestions for him. God has worked this garden properly, and the grapes that have been produced are pitiful. Horrible. Bitter. Sour. God is just not happy with the way things have turned out, so God says he is just going to pull down his fences and let nature have the land back. The land will just have to suffer the natural consequences, the natural judgment of being a part of the wild. There comes a time when the only appropriate action is to let things suffer the consequences of their actions. But God is not a happy camper in the passage from Isaiah.
When we take a brief look at Psalm 80 we hear from the other unhappy side. In Psalm 80 the Psalmist is unhappy because he is wondering how long God is going to abandon them. He is not happy with the service that God has been giving them. "How long will you be angry with your people, O God?" The Psalmist is not happy.
Certainly no one can suggest that Jesus is a very happy person in this passage from Luke. The frustration and disgust is pouring out of his mouth. He wants to take his disciples and shake them. Wake up. Don't you realize what is happening here. I have come to bring about a great disturbance. I have come to bring about a decisive decision. "Once to every man and nation comes the moment to decide," and I am that moment. I am the presentation of the great choice for God or for self. Moses said Chose Life or Death. I now stand before you as the one who makes real the power of the Kingdom of God, and you must decide.
Nor are we who come to church very happy to hear that Jesus seems to be against family values. Jesus says this moment of decision will bring about conflicts within the family. This moment of truth, this Hour of Decision, as Billy Graham used to call it, will shatter the illusions we try to live with. To decide for the grace and kingdom of God will bring us face to face with the truth about ourselves and that is that most of our families are already divided. There is a brother no one wants to talk with. There are cousins we do not visit since the twisted conversations over Grandmother's estate. There is the daughter who calls up weekly drunk and expects to be rescued. There is the hippie son who was driven out of the family forty years ago and who has never been welcomed home. Somebody told me recently that all this DNA testing for genealogical purposes is discovering that there were lots of people who are legally descendants of their parents who are not biological descendants of their parents. There are children who are fighting their parents to try to get their parents in some new place so they can have better care.
Jesus has come to be the turbulence that forces us to "have to finally make up our minds, pick up on one and let the other one ride." Jesus says he has come to loose this disturbance because He is the power and purpose of the Kingdom of God, and calls us to receive or reject it. Jesus is the personification of this turbulence of the power of God in history. Jesus is the shaker of the foundations so that we must decide whom we trust to save us. Jesus is the one who comes to put the question to us. Dag Hammarskjold was Secretary-General of the United Nations from l953 until his death in a plane crash in l961. In his papers that were later published as Markings, was found this statement,"I don't know Who -or what- put the question, I don't know when it was put. I don't even remember answering. But at some moment I did answer Yes to Someone or Something - and from that hour I was certain that existence is meaningful and that, therefore, my life, in self-surrender had a goal." Jesus comes as the one who puts that question and he is not happy with the response.
The question, the turbulence which will drive you to that decision always comes, Stuff happens in life. There is a turbulence at the very heart of life that even science cannot explain. "Turbulence is the point at which known laws of motion -periodic, random, chaotic or fractal - break down. Turbulence is one of the great unsolved problems of physics. Scientists once thought that chaotic dynamics would explain it. Sadly, that is not the case. Werner Heisenberg who helped developed quantum mechanics shouted in frustration, "Before I die, I hope that someone will explain to me quantum mechanics. After I die, I hope that God will explain turbulence to me." Turbulence in our daily lives are those events that bump into us and shake our lives, break up our illusions, confront us with the question of "Where is our Hope? Who is our savior", for the turbulence shatters any illusions we have that we are our own saviours.
Jesus is not happy in Luke because there is still not an understanding and a response to his coming that He was looking for. You can read the clouds but you cannot see that in what I am doing is a major moment of decision for you. You keep wanting to wait until the last minute. It would be better to find the joy and make that choice now before the end.
It is the same advice lots of people have been given in our courts. Jim Black was probably advised to cut a deal before he got to court. Michael Vick has been discussing his new plea because they know that the longer they wait the more charges will be added to his indictment and the punishment will be much greater. The sooner he makes his decision and faces reality the better things will be.
The turbulence of God continues to come and to confront us with the question, with that choice, and the sooner we face the reality about who we are and what we are to do the more patient and comfortable we can be.
But as Walter Brueggemann has always told his students. You don't have to try to get in trouble, if you will just stay close to the Bible, the Bible will get you into all the trouble you want. God is not happy and he will let the turbulence of nature bring its consequences to the garden which did not look to Him for care. Jesus says he is the bringer of the question and the sooner we understand the meaning of the signs around us and answer the question "Whom we shall serve?" the stronger we will be. We discover that we are not able to tell everybody that things will be wonderful and nice ever after.
In fact we discover in the Hebrews letter that "All these, though well attested by their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had foreseen something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect." The saints in Hebrews are not happy because they did not get what they had been promised. They had answered like Hammarskjold the question, well attested by their faith, they had endured. They had remained faithful. They had come to the other side. In all those moments when they were tempted to say,"I don't think I can get through this" they held tight to God and prayed, "God get me through this" and they came through the storms to the end.
There was the presence and the comfort of the power of God with them in the midst of all the ups and downs of life, and when they came to the end, they learned about the great reality of the kingdom of God. It is not good for some if it is not good for all. Those who get there first do not get more than the rest of us. Those who endure join with God in the great compassion and hope for the rest of us. Those who answered the question by faith and have come to the end now discover that they share in God's great desire to bring all of us into the Kingdom. They know that their joy is not full until it is shared with all who are to come. The Saints realize that we can't start the party until all the saints get here. They join with God in the waiting for the final consummation of history.
As we read the texts it does not sound like anybody is exactly where they want to be in the Kingdom of God. That may not sound like good news, but for those of us who are not exactly finding life the way we want it. For those who are not happy with politics or with the economy or with their wireless provider, or the success they are having with their education, or the way their body is failing them, or the career paths of your children, or the way the turbulence is bumping them around, there is the consolation that God, Jesus, and the Saints did not find it always the way they wanted it to go.
There is encouragement in the host of saints who have made it through. That those who answer the question do find that the struggle has meaning and that decision has made all the different for them in the midst of all the struggles. And they have been sustained through the struggles to the end. God only assures us that we will be kept until the end.
And for those of us who may be confronted with disappointment, the results are not what we wanted, we maybe dealing with frustration and we want to take somebody and shake them like Jesus wanted to and say, "Don't you see what is happening here? Can't you see the choices and what must be done?" There is in the passage of Hebrew that assurance that we are not alone. We have this cheering section who is rooting for us. The saints are now waiting for us. They are encouraging us. They are surrounding us and urging us on to run the race with perseverance so that we may come to the end and join them in the celebration of the fullness of the Kingdom of God. So we may not grow weary in well doing.
When you read all of the lessons for this morning, there is nobody happy in the texts. Everybody is unfulfilled, disappointed, or frustrated. But strangely that does not seem to be a reason to give up the journey of faith.
Sermon for August 19 (Hebrews 11 and Luke 12)
2007-08-17 by David von Schlichten
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Unfulfillment . . . But We're Running
(word count: 802)
Elvis won three Grammys, each one for Gospel music. He was raised as a Christian and loved God, but he led an unfulfilling life as a Christian. He was talented and good-looking, and he has become mythic. At the same time, he suffered from years of prescription drug-abuse and destructive eating habits. Thirty years ago, on August 16, at age 42, he died of a heart attack. What happened? He was raised a Christian, but, in a sense, he died unfulfilled.
Somehow Elvis wandered from the Christian path and ended up staggering in a self-made fog until he plummeted into sad death. By Kingdom of God standards, he is a tragic case of unfulfillment. To be fulfilled is to be made full. The talented King of Rock n' Roll was far from full, and he fell.
The Church has many similar stories. For two millennia, by the Spirit's power, we the baptized have struggled to live according to God's commandments. Christ died and rose so we could enter heaven without paying admission. Christ won that race for us. Now, as the Father's baptized family members, Spirit-powered, we run, not to earn salvation, but to fulfill God's will for the world.
So we're running, but the unfulfillments keep knocking us into the mud. Jesus speaks of such unfulfillments in our reading from Luke 12. He warns that family members will turn against each other. It may sound like Jesus is anti-family, but we know from other passages that he supports the family. Rather, he is saying that, in response to the Good News, even family members will turn against each other. Jesus wants us to love God and one another as he has loved us. Instead, families split. Unfulfillment.
Jesus also complains that people can predict the weather but they cannot see what is right in front of them. Many cannot see that God has arrived with the Good News. We fumble in the fog, biting and scratching each other, cursing the rain, empty.
We hear about unfulfillment in our reading from Hebrews, as well. Listen again to verse 39 of Hebrews 11. It is astonishing. Chapter eleven talks about the great cloud of witnesses, this parade of extraordinary people who came before us and who, by the Spirit's power, were able to live faithfully. We hear about Abraham, Rahab, David, Sarah, on and on. Just an amazing procession of role models of faithful living, but then we come to verse 39. Verse 39 says, “Yet all these, though they were commended for their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better so that they would not, apart from us, be made perfect.”
In other words, none of these faithful followers of God – nobody from the great cloud of witnesses – will receive what was promised without our help. It's a relay race. They have passed the baton to us. It's our turn. The great cloud of witnesses will remain unfulfilled if we do not do our part.
What is our part? We are to run the race, Hebrews says. Why do we run the race, to earn a place in heaven? No, Christ has earned that place for us. We run the race because doing so helps to bring about the final fulfillment that God has in store for all of us. The cloud of witnesses is watching in the stands, cheering us on, serving as role models for us. Abraham shouts, “Come on, run. You can do it.” Rahab waves a red scarf and cheers, “Don't give up. We're counting on you.” King David leads everyone in victory songs. “Don't let us down!” he bellows, dancing like a nut.
So we keep running. As we run, we look to Jesus, standing at the Finish Line, our pioneer, our leader, and the one who will perfect us, the one who will fill us. Jesus keeps saying, “Get rid of whatever slows you down. Drugs, overeating, music, your house, your desire for attention, your insecurities, your fear of being forgotten. Whatever clings to you to slow you down, throw it aside. Run to me. Keep running. David and Rahab and the entire cloud of witnesses are cheering you on. They are counting on you. Do not give up.”
And as we run, God forgives us, coaches us, and pep-talks us. The Spirit pushes us with holy wind. God strengthens us through Scripture, Holy Communion, prayer, each other.
We struggle with emptiness, our souls growling, but we keep running. We are not caught in a trap; God loves us too much. We can go on together. The King of kings promises us fulfillment. We will make it to the Finish Line. The cloud thunders with cheering fans. We race in the Land of Grace.
David von Schlichten, poedifier
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