Good Friday and Earth Day
2011-04-18 by David von Schlichten

The two are on the same day this year. Perfect.

Human sin has ravaged nature and Christ has died to redeem ALL creation, so I find myself wanting to preach on environmental issues on Good Friday this year.

We humans tend to embrace this false bifurcation that regards humanity as separate from nature, but humanity and nature are all part of the same thing: God's creation. Moreover, our fall and redemption are intertwined, as we see from Genesis to Romans 8 to Revelation (new heaven and earth).

One year ago this week was the BP oil spill - a perfect example of how human sin hurts nature and of how harm to nature hurts humanity, because humanity and nature are NOT separate from each other.

Christ's death on the tree saves the cosmos while also challenging us humans to focus on self-sacrifice in the name of helping ALL the needy, human and nonhuman.

Yours in Christ,

David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator

Free Sample for April 24, 2011
2011-04-17 by David Howell

Preaching John 20:1-18 

by Anna Carter Florence

The angels said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping?"

It’s kind of a foolish question—asking a woman in a graveyard why she’s crying—which in retrospect maybe wasn’t so foolish. Because she could have answered a lot of things, couldn’t she?

Why am I crying?

I’m crying for his body, nailed to a cross.

I’m crying for his body, laid in a tomb. But what she said was this: I’m crying for his body, stolen away. They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.

Oh, they’ve taken away my Lord, and I don’t know where they’ve laid him.

That’s something we hear a lot the first semester in seminary, after the biblical department has had its way with the students.

Oh, they’ve deconstructed my Bible; they’ve taken away my Jesus, and I don’t know where they’ve laid him.

But I’ve heard it in youth groups, too, when the teenagers start losing what little idealism they had, and coming to terms with the world we’ve left them:

Oh, they’ve ruined my planet with violence and hypocrisy; they’ve taken away my Jesus, and I don’t know where they’ve laid him.

And I hear it in the church, whenever a group of people gets scared that things are going to change if we do this or that, and what if we don’t like it? What if we can’t tell whether those changes are Christian or not?

Oh, they’ve desecrated my church with heresies; they’ve taken away my Jesus, and I don’t know where they’ve laid him.

I don’t think the church in our time is weeping for a crucified Jesus. I think the church is weeping for a stolen body, and a desecrated tomb. They’ve taken away my Jesus; oh, they’ve taken him away. Do you hear that where you are, that weeping and wailing? It breaks your heart, even as it makes you crazy.

When you’re crying over a stolen body, everyone you meet is a potential thief. That’s where Mary is. Jesus appears right in front of her, and she can’t even recognize him in the state she’s in. She thinks he’s the gardener, and that he did it!—which is major textual irony if I ever saw it. "Sir," she begs him, "if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away." She might as well have said, "Look, I won’t press charges. Just show me the body, and we’ll pretend it never happened." I guess that’s what you do when you’re crying over a stolen body. You hope you can strike a deal and pretend it never happened. You hope you can put the body back and no one will get hurt. Do you hear that where you are?

When you’re crying over a stolen body, I guess that’s what you do, and I guess that’s what you hope for. Look, just put it back, and no one will get hurt.

I think we in the church have been living this pattern for quite a while: suspicion, accusation, secret deals. A lot of foolishness, and not very biblical, if you read this text, because the story isn’t nearly over. Two things happen. The first is that Jesus calls Mary by name. And the second is that he won’t let her hold onto him.

When you’re crying about who took your Jesus away, I guess there’s only one thing that will stop you. Mary. MARY. You have to hear him say your name. I don’t know why, except that maybe we can’t see resurrection any other way. And you have to see it; you have to see it, because it’s not like you can explain it; if you could explain it, Jesus would have said, "I believe you’re operating with a false hermeneutic, Mary. Sit down and let me interpret these events for you."

No; you can’t explain resurrection. It addresses you; it calls you out. Mary! That’s all he had to say, and she knew. There isn’t any guilty gardener; there isn’t any stolen body. There’s a risen body! And what are the first words out of her mouth? A confession: Rabbouni!—which doesn’t mean "teacher" at all, but, my Lord. My Lord!

We can guess what she tried to do next. She tried to embrace him: that’s the second thing that happens. Because he literally says, "Stop holding onto me; stop clinging to me." See how fast it happens? You go from seeing resurrection to confessing your faith to grabbing it with both fists. And the next thing you know, the emphasis is shifting from my Lord to my Lord; mine! There sure is a lot of that going around, people suffocating other people with their own clenched confessions.

Do you think that’s what’s going on in the church?—a lot of weeping over who stole the body and desecrated the tomb?—but also these moments of absolute clarity when we know we have been addressed; and we see what resurrection looks like?—so we make our confession, and then we can’t help it; we start to cling to it, and control it, and defend it, and measure people against it, until before you know it, we think we can judge what resurrection looks like. Before you know it, we aren’t holding onto anything but the Jesus of our own expectations. Do you think that’s what’s going on in the church?

He won’t let us do it, will he? Don’t hold onto me. Stop clinging to me.

It is the first post-resurrection teaching:

You can see the risen Christ, but you can’t cling to him.

You can confess your faith in Jesus, but you can’t own him.

Don’t cling to him. Go and announce that he is risen, he is risen indeed!

Happy Easter, sisters and brothers.

Do We Really Need to Preach on Passion Sunday?
2011-04-15 by David von Schlichten

On Passion Sunday, I don't preach a regular-length sermon. I preach an introduction to the reading of the Passion, the real sermon of the day. Some of you probably do likewise.

How do we set up the reading of the Passion? It really needs no introduction, but I feel like I should say something. What if, on Passion Sunday, we just put aside the sermon?

I don't know. If I must say something, then perhaps the best set-up would be a poem or brief meditation that clears people's minds to focus on the Passion.

Maybe I'll write a sonnet that calls for people to shove aside other thoughts and put themselves into the story. Fourteen lines of clear-your-head and get-ready. Then I'll shut-up and let the Passion do its work. 

How about you?

Yours in Christ,

David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator

Income Tax, Philippians 2:5-11, and Passion Sunday
2011-04-11 by David von Schlichten

We have to pay those pesty taxes to help support the programs and people who keep our nation going. That is, part of living in a community is paying taxes to help run that community.

Through his kenosis (Philippians 2:7), Jesus pays the highest tax of all. King Christ empties himself that we might be filled.

In response to this donkey-riding, cross-carrying, self-emptying king's sacrifice that pays for our salvation, what do we pay to show our gratitude, to show that we are citizens of the kingdom of God?

Foot-washing is a good start.

Yours in Christ,

David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator

Free Sample from
2011-04-10 by David Howell

Preaching Matthew 26:14–27:66

by Anna Carter Florence

While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, "Take, eat: this is my body."

It was the best gift anyone has ever given. It was also a brilliant idea, considering that human beings are programmed to be (1) forgetful, and (2) hungry.

Jesus knew us. He knew how our bodies and our minds work. He knew that our bodies, for example, need food, every day. Food gives us energy and life. Lack of it stunts growth and cripples us. Forget to eat, and the body goes into shutdown mode, until we die. So the signal that we are running low on food is hunger; it is the body’s way of telling us that we need to eat again. Once we do, our bodies are sated and the hunger disappears—until the next time the food energy runs low. That is the cycle, and it is not optional: when we need food, our bodies are programmed to be hungry.

There are other kinds of nourishment human beings need in order to live, too. The nourishment of love, for instance. Or kindness. Or joy. Or peace. Jesus knew this, too. He knew that you can starve a person with lack of gentleness just as surely as you can starve her with lack of food—which is probably why we refer to many of these necessities as "fruits of the Spirit," since our souls, our spirits, literally die without them. The problem is that some of these hunger pangs are trickier to recognize; we may not always know how dangerously malnourished we are. But, when you start to feel like nothing you do is right; when you begin to think of yourself as broken and not worth fixing; when you find yourself asking, "Who would ever want to be friends with me?"…you aren’t crazy. You’re hungry. You aren’t weak. You’re hungry. And there is nothing for it except to stop and eat, because the hunger is playing tricks on you.

What kind of food? This is my body, broken for you. This is my blood, poured out for you. Stop, tear off a piece of broken bread, and remember what you have forgotten, in your hunger: I gave my life so that you could have life. There is nothing on heaven or earth that can separate you from the love of God.

Jesus knew that we are programmed to run out of food, spiritual or otherwise. And here’s the brilliance of his idea: okay, maybe we won’t admit we’re starving for love, but our bodies won’t let us be hungry forever! Sooner or later, we’re going to have to eat. Pick up a piece of that bread, pass it to the next person . . . and the sacrament takes hold. Remember? I’m right here, as near to you as bread. Remember? You’re not a total loser; you’re just hungry. And the bread is not just a spiritual snack, a little pick-me-up to get us through the afternoon. It’s the kind of bread that can save your life.

Matthew’s story of the Last Supper shows us exactly why we need this bread so much. In one seat, we have Judas, the disciple who is going to betray Jesus. In another seat we have Peter, the disciple who is going to deny him. Think about it: two men who loved Jesus with all their hearts, who followed him, who were chosen by him. Two men who believed Jesus could make the world a better place. One of them would even go on to build up the church in incredible ways. But at this supper, they show us exactly why we need this bread so much, and so often, because they get up from the table, full and replete, and they go out and make two of the worst mistakes they’ve ever made.

Judas and Peter, with every possible advantage, and they totally blow it. Jesus even predicts it for them. One of you is going to betray me, he says. One of you is going to deny me. And don’t waste your breath boasting about how brave you are, how invincible, how strong. This is the truth you have to hear: you are my disciples, and you will deny me. Not just once, either. Three times. Before the rooster crows, which he does, every day. Every day!

Do you see?! There is a pattern here, Jesus says, that you are going to have to get your head around, because if you don’t, you will die of grief. Every day, the sun comes up, and the cock will crow. You will be hungry; you will sit down to eat. Break the bread, and remember: this is my body, broken for you. Fill your bellies, fill your hearts, wipe your mouths, and get up from the table. You may actually make it for three minutes, but probably not. You’ll forget that my grace is sufficient for you. You’ll forget that there is no condemnation in Christ Jesus. You’ll forget that you are made in God’s image, every single one you.

Don’t even bother to speculate; you just will! You are human; this is how God made you. When night comes, if you’re a glutton for punishment, you can actually count how many times you’ve denied me by denying the grace that is yours, but I don’t recommend it; better to lie down and sleep until morning comes, and the rooster crows, which he always does, and always will, right on cue. That’s how roosters are made. That’s how you are made.

That is how life is, for disciples of Jesus. Eat, drink, and remember. Deny, repent, turn around. Keep coming to the table. Keep passing the cup to one another.

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