Thoughts about Sunday August the 12th
2007-08-09 by Dee Dee Haines
I had two funerals on Tuesday. They were from two different churches, but each of them, in their own way, represented the same kind of presence in the community. A long—standing, reliable servant leader who inspired others with their own lives. I take as much time as possible when it comes to shaping the words to describe the life of someone else. I receive this holy task humbly, and endeavour to create a time of thanksgiving for their time among us that will be of deep meaning to those who loved them, and bring glory to the God who has received them with those words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
One of my congregants was 92 years old. I began “C’s” eulogy with these words: Some say that the mighty oak is the patriarch of all trees. It is firmly planted in the middle of the forest with roots that stretch deeply into the earth to provide an anchor that will not be easily swayed when the winds begin to blow. The oak spreads its leaves and branches, giving shelter to any who might find their way beneath the safety of the leafy canopy. It is often the oldest tree, bearing the scars of storms, having endured and survived the years of change. The mighty oak is a tree of wisdom, perhaps a close relation to the Tree of all Life, linked forever in mutual covenant. C was, for us, a mighty oak.
Following the funeral, one woman approached me during the time of fellowship and story-telling to say, “Wouldn’t it be nice if we could all hear our own funeral message before we die?” She went on to say, “It would be life-changing to know how we have impacted the lives of those around us. And it would be equally life-changing to hear that God has received us, whatever our shortcomings.”
It’s funny how her comment has stuck in my mind. But I can’t help but wonder if her words weren’t closely connected to this week’s texts. Words of judgement are often unsettling. They beg us to measure ourselves. Have I been a good person? Have I done enough? Have I learned, as Isaiah records, to “do good and seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow?” It makes me weep to sit at the side of a bed with someone I know to be a life-long faith- filled person, only to hear them express their fears by saying, “I hope I’ve done enough. I pray that God will not judge me too harshly.”
God’s judgment is tempered with mercy. I don’t think we say that enough. I’m not sure if it’s because we don’t feel it in the depth of our being, or because we don’t trust that love is truly transforming. I suspect when we think about measuring ourselves, we’re much more likely to examine the lives of those around us. Do we comfort ourselves by concluding that we must be part of the select? Do we get angry when we think about our own sacrifices when compared with the sacrifices of others?
When we fully grasp that we have no power of our own to save ourselves, when we comprehend that it is by God’s grace that we are saved, then we are freed from the cycle of futile comparison.
Maybe, just a week after the much-publicised tragic events happening in the world, we need to tell our people that they are loved. Shouldn’t we be doing this every week? We can stand looking at every face and remind them that God looks at them and says, “You are so beautiful.” After all, don’t we need to remember that loving affirmation has a transforming power? Fear only produces short-term change. As soon as the fear is removed, old patterns of behaviour become the norm once again.
How do we want to leave the sanctuary on Sunday morning? Filled with affirmation that God loves us no matter what? Inspired that by the knowledge that what God knows about us is that we can, with the help of God, really be the people God is calling us to be? Do we leave feeling depressed that we will never measure up? Do we see and feel how much people are hurting? Do we see how caught up we are in our culture’s feel-good, look-good, false impression of what makes us complete? If we’re afraid, don’t we just want to know that God is there? That it’s not too late? That we can depend upon God’s faithfulness when our own falls short? Do we need to be reminded that where God dwells there is life? Isn’t this the knowledge that will move us to open our hearts and our purses and dress us for action?
C wasn’t a perfect man. But he was like a mighty oak. He touched the lives of those around him in ways that changed life for them, and for him, as well. We ended our time of celebration by forgiving him for any errors. And then I reminded us of a long list of personal traits that were the best of who C was.
We finished by declaring that “C was a creature of dust, fashioned in the image of God, loved and precious in God’s sight, redeemed by Christ.” Had I been on the ball, I would have added, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”
Dee Dee Haines
Isle of Man
Lessons for August 12 and Wednesday Morning Bible Study
2007-08-08 by David von Schlichten
I just arrived home from my weekly Wednesday morning Bible study, where I meet with about five members of our congregation to study the lessons for the coming Sunday.
We focused on faith - the faith of Abraham, and the faith we are to have (Hebrews 11). From this faith is to arise good works. If we persevere in faith, including by doing good works, we will be ready for the return of Christ (Luke 12).
Another point that arose from Wednesday Bible study was regarding the idea that God knows all our thoughts (Psalm 33). The Bible study members seemed to think that God knowing their thoughts is scary, because such knowledge means God knows how sinful they are.
Here is my response to my Bible study's points:
Regarding faith, I agree that our faith is important, but God's faithfulness to us is vastly more important and makes our faith possible. Therefore, in a sermon on faith, I would want to start, emphasize, and end with God's faithfulness to us. My parishioners, however, often fixate on their own faith (and how it falls short), thereby overlooking or minimizing the faithfulness of God.
Second, I stressed to my Bible study members that I think God knowing my thoughts is comforting. Most people fail to understand me properly - such is the case for all of us. God understands us perfectly. God always understands.
I'll keep ruminating on all this and praying. I am hoping to write my sermon later today so that I have ample time to revise and rehearse.
Thankful to the Holy Spirit for my Wednesday Bible study, I am
Yours in Christ,
David von Schlichten, poet and pastor
Initial Thoughts on Luke 12:32-48 for August 12
2007-08-07 by David von Schlichten
While sitting in a lounge in Pittsburgh this morning, waiting for my wife Kim to complete a civil service test she was taking fourteen floors above me, I read the entries in Lectionary Homiletics for August 12, Proper 14. Thank you to everyone for such stimulating work. The Holy Spirit has inspired you indeed.
I found the following especially helpful:
Richard Spencer provides insightful headings that subdivide Luke 12:32-48. He concludes with the heading "Having Received, Give."
Regarding this heading, Spencer writes, " [ . . . ] in Jesus Christ [ . . . ] we have been offered grace and mercy far beyond any [ . . . ] that we would give to others or even to ourselves; therefore, we are obligated, in turn, to offer as much of that grace and mercy to others as we can" (p.13). Having received, we give.
Richard B. Steele writes, "Those who are fixated on how much they have tend to be inattentive to who they are. In contrast, those who concern themselves with who they are before God tend to be generous and responsible with what they have" (p.14).
Steele also stresses that the "watching-for" mentality, which is constantly awaiting the return of Christ as a historical event, is not be ridiculed or dismissed. Rather, this understanding can be "mutually corrective" vis-a-vis the emphases on "watching-over" people in need and "watching-out" for that which may corrupt one's own heart (p.14).
In other words, contrary to popular thinking and proclamation, these three watchings are "mutually corrective" (p.14), not mutually exclusive.
Rodney J. Hunter writes that, for the "little flock" of Christ's faithful followers, accountability on the day of judgment is not something to fear but something to look forward to.
Judgment = Joy (my equation, inspired by Hunter).
"A Sermon: The Rose Garden"
Rick Brand makes effective use of garden imagery in his sermon on page 20, especially when he writes about destructive children and other careless visitors who might do damage to a public rose garden versus people who visit the garden with respect. How do we respond to the Kingdom, which God gives us with good pleasure?
Again, there are other helpful ideas in every section for August 12, but the above are the ones that I have found exceptionally illuminating.
I find magnetic this idea of judgment meaning joy, and, right now, I am leaning toward a sermon on that topic. After all, many of my parishioners see the day of judgment as frightening. Here is an opportunity to offer a strikingly different understanding.
I will pray about the matter and discuss the readings with my Wednesday morning Bible study. What will those wise folks come up with? We shall see.
Unlike Kim's anxiety-quickening civil service test, our day of judgment, report card day, will be full of celebration, because God saved us and enabled us to be God's little flock.
Yours in Christ,
David von Schlichten, poet and pastor
2007-08-05 by Rick Brand
I am depressed that there was not a flood of voices in response to Rev. Terry. I have been angry about our direction as a country since 9/11 and like Rev. Terry have wondered where the voice of protest was.
But I am a realist who knows we human beings never fix it till it is broken. If we were not spending billions in Iraq, I do not believe we would be fixing our infrastructure. We would be cutting taxes for corporations. I am not sure we would be fixing social security. We would be talking about reducing taxes for the wealthy. As human beings we just do not do preventive maintenance well. "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."
We never see taxes as an investment in ourselves. I am angry, I am depressed, I am frustrated. At our leaders, at myself, at people, at God for giving free will. At all of us for not being louder, stronger, better people of God. But I am glad that Rev. Terry spoke up.
Is Anyone Just Plain Angry?
2007-08-03 by Rina Terry
Unlike so many others, as yet I do not have a Sunday Sermon. I don't know if I'll mention the bridge or not. I'm just plain angry. Angry at a country that ignores its infrastructure, its children, its education and healthcare and makes war based on power and greed its claim to greatness.
I believe that Jesus would weep at the bridge site. I believe Jesus would be angry and there would be some "woe to those who..." language. I don't think it would come down to guessing whether those who were on the bridge when it collapsed were suitable for the kingdom.
Why are we so horrified over the bridge collapsing and not equally as horrified at the number of young lives being sacrificed in Iraq? Why are we not equally as horrified and effected by the fact that we have the harshest criminal justice system among civilized nations? Why are we not equally as horrified and effected at the ongoing racism, classism and ageism in our society? Why are we not equally as horrified at the state of our environment and global warming? Our society is in a state of horrific neglect and disrepair and there are tell-tale signs of ultimate collapse. Is anyone ready?
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