John 14:15-21; Psalm 33:10
2011-05-25 by David von Schlichten

John 14:15-21 has several important themes. One is that it points ahead to Pentecost, which is rapidly approaching. Another is that the passage reassures the disciples that, even when they are alone, they are not alone. A third is that Jesus exhorts the disciples to remain faithful to him by keeping his commandments. Love demands adherence to the commandments.

In general, love means faithful action. If we say we love a person, we need to SHOW that we love that person, or our words are a noisy gong. So also when it comes to our relationship with God. Indeed, as it says in 1 John 4, if we say we love God but hate our sibling, then we do not love God.

Psalm 33:10: God has tried us just as silver is tried. What does this mean? God refines us, but how? Does God send misfortune to us to refine us? Does God punish us to refine us? Answering yes to these questions is theologically problematic but is also rather common.

So then, how do we talk about God refining us without perpetuating the notion that a person's suffering is a God-sent affliction for that person's own good?

Yours in Christ,

David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator

 





Initial Thoughts: Unknown God, Descent to the Dead, Memorial Day
2011-05-23 by David von Schlichten

Sixth Sunday of Easter, May 29, 2011

Acts 17:22-31: Paul talks to the Athenians about their Unknown God, and it occurs to me that many of us today worship an unknown God. That is, many of us humans have, at best, a vague sense of the Divine and spirituality. We talk about Faith and "I'm not religious but I'm spiritual" and everything happening for a reason and the power of prayer without really knowing what we're talking about. What I mean is that many people speak of God in general, vague, nebulous terms. There is a need for greater clarity.

This Sunday could be an especially good opportunity to provide some of that clarity. In other words, the sermon this Sunday could imitate what Paul does in Acts 17. Paul responds to this Unknown-God-notion of the pagan Athenian culture by using the idea as an entry point for talking about Christianity. What if we did something similar this Sunday? After all, many in the pews know little about the religion they claim to believe in.

(I don't mean to be snarky or cynical. I mean to be diagnostic.)

1 Peter 3:13-22: This passage offers much, including verse 19, which speaks of Christ proclaiming the Good News to the "spirits in prison." This verse is one of the supports for the creedal declaration that Christ descended into the world of the dead or hell (see also 1 Peter 4).

What an intriguing doctrinal sermon we could have here. Christ is so powerful that not even death and hell can keep him out!

Memorial Day: We want to be careful of falling into civil religion, but we can use this day as a springboard for proclaiming the importance of Easter. Your loved one has died, but s/he is not gone, thanks be to Christ.

I'll provide more thoughts on Wednesday. In the meantime, feel free to provide your own or to send me a question or comment.

Not raptured but elohim-enraptured, I am

Yours in Christ,

David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator 





Rough Draft of My Sermon on 1 Peter 2:2-10
2011-05-20 by David von Schlichten

 

The Bible is full of rock-imagery. Today’s readings are full of stone-imagery. Stones. In our psalm, Psalm 31, in verse three, we pray, “Be my strong rock . . . ” We pray for God to be our strong rock. Elsewhere in Scripture, we are told that God is indeed our strong rock, our mighty fortress. Indeed, repeatedly in Scripture, God is associated with rock-strength.

            In what ways is God our rock? It is tempting to think that God is not much of a rock for us. It is tempting for us to think that evil is stronger than God, that Satan is mightier than the Savior. After all, the world pelts us with violence. Satan loves to throw stones at us humans. The world is full of stones flying at the innocent. Sometimes people throw stones at us, the baptized, to try to stop us from being good Christians. With all those stones flying, we are quick to become depressed or to fill up with anxiety, even panic. “[sing] All around me are familiar faces, worn out places, worn out faces . . . ”

            But we are never alone. No, never alone. God is our rock. “[sing] On Christ the solid rock I stand. All other ground is sinking sand.” God is the rock from whom the waters of baptism gush to wash us clean. Because of baptism, we are God’s adopted children, members of the Church. Throughout our lives, that baptism holds. We are ever the baptized, ever God’s children, rock-strong because of the Rock. At confirmation, we remember that baptism and say yes to it, and the Holy Spirit confirms our faith, makes it stronger, fortifies it. Yes! That’s what’ll happen to you in about ten minutes, Tyler. You will say yes to your baptism, and the Holy Spirit will confirm your faith. The Holy Spirit will strengthen your faith, and we shall declare you an adult in the Church.

            God our Rock fortifies us in other ways, too. When you ask God to forgive you, God strengthens you through forgivenss, no matter what you’ve done wrong. No matter what! When you pray, God strengthens you by answering your prayer. God may not answer your prayer the way you want him you to, but God always answers somehow in a way that’s good for you. When you attend worship, God strengthens you. When you receive holy communion, the real body and blood of the crucified and risen Christ, God strengthens you. In a boulder field of ways, God strengthens you, makes your soul rock-strong.

            You are a living stone with which God builds the Church. That’s part of the message we hear in our second reading, 1 Peter 2:2-10. Verse five says, “ . . . like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” That’s you. A living stone, a priest. Yes, you are a priest, the passage declares. God has baptized you. As Luther says, your baptism is your ordination. You are sacred, part of the communion of saints, a living stone.

As a living stone, you are part of God’s holy building, the Church, and we need you. If you take a stone out, the building is incomplete. Yes? Take a brick out of the wall of a building, and you have a hole. The building is incomplete. Same with the stones. Without you, the Church is incomplete. Without you, a stone is missing, and we need all the stones to have a complete building. Your presence here is essential.

God is your strong rock who makes you into a rock-strong living stone. You are to respond by loving one another. You are not to respond by throwing stones but by being a living stone. We are not to throw stones. We are not insult each other, put each other down, backstab, hit, yell, slap, steal. We are not to be judgmental, self-righteous. We are not to throw stones but to be living stones. Indeed, we can be living stones because God gives us the power to be living stones. Christ is risen! He has rolled away the stone of the tomb. Christ is alive! We have power in this life, and we know the way to eternal life. Christ has won the way for us, even though we are undeserving. We shall live in heaven forever for free, thanks be to Christ our resurrection rock.

You know the way. It’s shaped like a cross.

 





God is the Rock, So Don't Throw Stones, Be a Stone
2011-05-17 by David von Schlichten

Here are more thoughts about the readings for this Sunday.

Acts 7:55-60: THROWING STONES

The stoning of Stephen prompts me to contemplate what stoning goes on today. If by stoning we mean condemning and killing a person in some sense, then what stoning occurs?

One form of stoning is bullying. Another is scapegoating. Racist and sexist comments that pummel someone's spirit can be a form of stoning.

Then there is the stoning we Christians receive for doing the right thing. For instance, how often do people hurl stones at members of the gay community who feel called to serve as pastors or at people who support gay clergy?

1 Peter 2:2-10: BEING STONES

This passage declares that, with Christ as the cornerstone, we Christians are living stones. What a peculiar image. What does a living stone look and act like? 

Here, being a stone means being like Christ, being a part of the building called the Church, and, of course, being strong, solid. Being a LIVING stone means not being passive but being organic, active, growing. 

We are to be strong but also growing and active. Stone-strong but not petrified.

John 14:1-14: GOD IS THE ROCK

Granted (or granite; ha, ha), this passage does not use stone imagery, but it does assure us that, even though he is leaving, Christ is still with us and thus we still have unassailable might. He is the way, truth, and life, and we are not alone or forsaken. Christ is rock-faithful.

So then, when Christ says, "Ask for anything in my name, and I'll grant it," he's not saying, "I'm your genie, and you have unlimited wishes." No, he is saying, in substance, "Even though I am leaving you to die on the cross, rise, and return to heaven, I will still be with you to help you do the work of the church, indeed to do even greater works than I have done."

(It would be fruitful to preach about how the Church has indeed done greater works than Christ did in his earthly ministry. Of course, this success has been possible only because of Christ's matchless death and resurrection.)

In short, Christ is our rock who calls us away from casting stones and makes us into living stones.

What do you think?

Yours in Christ,

David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator 





Sermon thoughts for May 22, 2011; 1 Peter 2:2-10; John 14:14
2011-05-15 by David von Schlichten

1 Peter 2:2-10 speaks of us Christians as living stones, members of a royal priesthood, a holy nation. What profound language this is. One could devote a whole sermon to helping hearers contemplate what it means to be a living stone or a priest.

John 14:14 declares that, if we ask for anything in Christ's name, Christ will do it. This is clearly a statement that requires some elaboration. How do you interpret this promise?

How do these two passages connect? For instance, could we proclaim that part of being a priest is asking Christ for that which a true priest would ask for? That is, if we are asking Christ for things AS priests, then we will not ask for, for example, revenge or selfish riches, but for that which serves God and neighbor. Make sense?

I'll provide more thoughts later this week, and I welcome your input.

Yours in Christ,

David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator 





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