Bright Clouds
2011-03-04 by Stephen Schuette

The old hymn by William Cowper:

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take; The clouds ye so much dread

Are big with mercy, and shall break In blessings on your head.  (God Moves in a Mysterious Way)

Bright clouds are an oxymoron.  Oh, maybe they can be seen in the distance at sunset.  But how can you be “overshadowed” with a “bright cloud” above you?  Or for that matter how can a person be aglow with light, the face itself shining like the sun?  Sure, medieval and renaissance paintings have the gold around the countenance but we live in the age of realism.

Or do we?  Maybe we’re just living in Plato’s cave and don’t see the clouds or each other or Jesus for what/who they are.  If we did truly see we’d recognize the New Creation.

Perhaps the deepest question that the story of the transfiguration rasies is what is real?  Was the fleeting vision on the mountain a temporary distortion or was it a revelation of what is always true but we are too blind to see?  And even though it might not be humanly possible to sustain the vision, does coming down the mountain really mean that it's back to the world of shadows as if you haven't seen?  To "tell no one" has to be one fo the most difficult requests Jesus ever made of his disciples.  Yet the difficult truth, and perhaps Jesus knew, is that you can't tell someone how to see.  They must see for themselves.

Vote GoodPreacher Seminarian Sermons
2011-03-03 by David Howell

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Vote for one sermon by March 8.

2011 Graduating Seminarians have submitted sermons to be eligible for the 2011 GoodPreacher Seminarian Sermon Award. A voting system is in place until March 8. The top 3 vote receivers will then be asked to prepare a YouTube version of a sermon. Then another voting system will be in place, and the person with the most votes will receive a complimentary registration to the Festival of Homiletics in Minneapolis, $200.00 in expense money, and be recognized at the Festival on Monday evening.

Sample from this week...
2011-03-01 by David Howell

Understanding Matthew 17:1-9 

by Herman C. Waetjen

Matthew’s gospel bears the structure of a shattered Pentateuch. It is composed of five books, each consisting of narrative and discourse, and each ending with a similar transition formula, "When Jesus completed these words, he went…."1 The fifth and last book is contained in 19:2 through 25:46, but the Gospel does not end here. The remaining chapters 26-28, which narrate the death and resurrection of Jesus, shatter the five-book design.

The story of Jesus’ transfiguration is found towards the end of the narrative of Book IV. It not only climaxes Jesus’ ministry in Galilee and especially his training of his disciples for future ministry; it offers the reader a glimpse of the final outcome of Jesus’ career and by inference the identical glory that awaits his disciples. The incident is introduced by a significant time reference, "And after six days…." Jesus’ transfiguration will occur on the seventh day of the week, the Sabbath. It is a symbolic representation not only of his own consummation but of the culminating Sabbath of history, that time in the future when Jesus, as the founder of a New Humanity—that is the meaning of the christological designation, "the Son of Man," which Matthew employs often—will be transfigured with all the members of his New Israel.

Jesus leads Peter, James and John "into a high mountain, by themselves." These three disciples did not form an inner circle among the larger group of twelve male disciples who in the gospel tradition represented the patriarchs of the New Israel.

Historically speaking, they are present because this unit of tradition probably originated in the early Jerusalem church when they, according to Galatians 2:9, constituted the leadership of the Mother Church. Once again a mountain is the site of this incident. It is another architectonic center or navel of the earth. But here the mountain is not preceded by a definite article. Within the narrative world of Matthew’s gospel it poses a contrast to "a very high mountain" of the wilderness of Judea (4:8) on which Jesus was tempted to worship Satan in order to receive "all the kingdoms of the world." The kingdoms of the world, however, will enter into a new moral order of justice and peace, not by worshipping Satan, but by following Jesus into the reign of God that his death and resurrection constitute. The transfiguration "on a high mountain" in Galilee adumbrates Jesus’ apotheosis by his resurrection from the dead and with it the reign of God that he will receive as a result of his co-enthronement with God, according to his testimony at his trial before the Sanhedrin (26:64).

In place of Mark’s description of Jesus’ metamorphosis, "And his garments became very shining white such as a bleacher on earth is unable to whiten," Matthew has substituted the language of an apocalyptic theophany, "His face shone as the sun and his garments became as white as the light." In this transformation Jesus is being disclosed to his disciples as the Son of God! Moses and Elijah, the Old Testament representatives of the Law and the Prophets, both of whom are associated with the Old Testament architectonic center of Mount Sinai, suddenly appear and Jesus begins to give them an audience, "They were seen speaking with him." The content of their dialogue is not revealed, but the sight of the three engaged in discourse evokes from Peter the christological identification of Jesus as the last prophet of history. He must be ranked with Moses and Elijah. He is the prophet Moses predicted in Deuteronomy 18:15; he must be the final prophet of the old moral order. In contrast to Mark’s version of this incident, Peter expresses his willingness to construct three tabernacles, but only "if you wish." Matthew has deleted Mark’s comment on Peter’s ignorance and fear. His proposal, however, is embarrassingly interrupted by the heavenly voice speaking out of the cloud, "This is my beloved Son in whom I began to take pleasure. Keep on listening to him!" The significance of Jesus’ metamorphosis is validated by God. Jesus is more than a new Moses! He is more than the final prophet of the old moral order! As God’s Son he is superior to both representatives of the Old Testament. He is God’s agent and surrogate who inaugurates the reign of God! In a reaction typical of theophanies the disciples fall on their faces in great fear. Jesus reaches out to them with a calming and reassuring touch, bidding them to "Be raised up and stop being afraid!" The first of his two imperatives employs the resurrection verb, egeirô, and could also be rendered as "Be resurrected." In the light of their experience on this very high mountain the disciples are to begin to participate in the destiny which this transfiguration foreshadows. By following Jesus into death and resurrection and engaging in the work that he has inaugurated, namely the reign of God, they will eventually have a share in the reality of his apotheosis that this metamorphosis anticipates. As Jesus states at the end of his interpretation of his parable of the wheat and the darnels in 13:43, "Then the righteous will shine as the sun in the reign of their Father."

The epiphany of the transfiguration, as Jesus instructs his disciples, is not to be communicated to anyone until after the "Son of Man" has been resurrected from the dead. That is the time when the "Son of Man," or the New Human Being, will come into his reign, but a reign that he will share with his disciples. Jesus’ transfiguration is an eschatological anticipation of the new creation that he will inaugurate after his death and its attendant dissolution of the old creation and its history. Matthew 27:52-53 bears witness to this cataclysmic event, "And the earth was shaken and the rocks were split apart." At the death of Jesus the old creation collapses into primordial chaos in fulfillment of apocalyptic prophecy. A new creation is constituted as the Old Testament saints are resurrected: "The tombs were opened and many bodies of the holy ones being asleep were resurrected (egeirô)." The long awaited new creation dawns but is not established until Jesus leads these resurrected saints out of their tombs on Easter morning (27:53). At the Great Commissioning of 28:16-20, Jesus joins the eleven disciples who have encountered him on the mountain in Galilee, and by attaching himself to them as they go forth to fulfill his final command, he becomes the twelfth and thereby establishes a New Israel. He not only shares with them "All authority in heaven and on earth," but he incorporates them into his divine I AM. As the Greek word order of 28:20 reads, "See, I with you AM even to the consummation of the age."

1. See 7:28-29, 11:1, 13:53, 19:1 and 26:1. The last of these transition formulas contains the added word, "all," indicating that the end of Jesus’ teaching, and indeed the five books of narrative and discourse, have been concluded.

See Tom Steagald's Preaching Journal! Tom is the Pastor at Lafayette Street United Methodist Church in Shelby, NC, and adjunct professor at Hood Theological Seminary (AME, Zion) in Salisbury, NC. Tom has just published Shadows, Darkness and Dawn: A Lenten Journey with Jesus (Upper Room). Previous titles include Praying for Dear Life and Every Disciple's Journey, both from NavPress. He is a frequent contributor to Feasting on the Word, The Abingdon Preaching Annual, and other preaching resources. Tom's journal will detail each week's work to "discover" the sermon to be preached at Lafayette Street.

The Oscars, Anxiety, Psalm 131, Matthew 6:24-34
2011-02-26 by David von Schlichten

The Oscars focus on movies, bling, women's clothes, fame, wealth. These are the kinds of things we are not to make into gods. At the same time, movies often teach us about what really matters and so can help us to focus on God.

Take "The Social Network," for instance, which shows Mark Zuckerberg fixating on the growth of Facebook at the expense of friendships. The last scene of the movie presents him sitting alone, having lost his friends. He has a growing company and tremendous wealth but he is by himself. He finds on Facebook an ex-girlfriend and considers friending her. Instead, he just stares at her proifle picture, afraid to reach out. The co-founder of Facebook is friendless. 

Anxiety is a theme in some of our readings for Sunday, and movies can address this theme. Psalm 131 encourages us to trust in God, and Matthew 6:24-34 teaches us to focus on today instead of fretting about tomorrow.

I haven't seen "The King's Speech," but it appears to be a movie about a king overcoming anxiety about his stammer so that he can be a reassuring voice for a nation on the edge of war. I'm sure this story can be applied to a sermon on how trusting in God reduces anxiety.

That's what I have so far. I will post my sermon as soon as I can.

Tomorrow night, I'll be watching the Oscars, envious of the recipients while also thankful for what God has given me.

Yours in Christ,

David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator

Economics 101
2011-02-22 by Stephen Schuette

Matthew 6:24-34

I had always thought of Luke as the gospel preeminently concerned with the poor, and certainly concerned with a new economic life as the story moves forward in the two-volume set of Luke-Acts.  But perhaps that assumption has blinded me to Matthew’s deeper understanding, or at least that this is not a uniquely Lukan theme but fundamental to the gospel itself.

In this Matthew passage we get a glimpse into a different economic view.  The preface (really belonging to these verses) is offered in vs. 19-21… “Don’t store up…where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”  Later are stories about the feeding of 4,000 and 5,000, affirming that scarcity is a myth and our anxiousness about it not based in actual community experience with Jesus.  Others will, with a degree of anxiousness, ask Jesus about taxes to which Jesus doesn’t hesitate to bring forward the actual object around which the anxiety centers.  It may seem so weighted with energy involving devotion to it and unavoidable loyalties, and yet it’s really so small!  Jesus’ answer, in so many words, it seems to me, is a repetition of his advice here: don’t be anxious!  Give it to Caesar, but give to God what is God’s.  And near the end of the gospel when the judgment is given it is based on whether the economics of the new community were practiced (Mat. 25:31-46, I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink…I was naked and you gave me clothing…”), paralleling vs. 31 here.

Somewhere I’ve read about the number of economic allusions in the gospels.  The exact number escapes me.  But the emphasis parallels our own interests, doesn’t it?  Don’t we tend to boil down many questions to fundamentally economic questions?  The justification for recent wars has been summed up in a short phrase:  “American interests.” To repeat that these are economic interests would be redundant, piling economically laden words on top of each other.

I’m sure a good economist could make the case that addressing anxiousness requires economic security.  Even a personal sense of self worth could be interpreted economically.  And we foist this interpretation upon ourselves and others regularly.  An economic linguist might trace the roots of language itself to economic categories, arguing that the need to communicate arose from the need for “transaction.”  That’s how pervasive and deep-seated the perspective.  (H.R. Niebhur said that we aren’t sure who discovered water but we can be confident it wasn’t a fish!)

Jesus doesn’t deny that these assumptions affect the human heart.  But he does upend them and invites us to move outside them.  Our value and worth is based on something that no one can take away from us, something that cannot be stolen.  It’s not inherent within us, but it is widely and graciously bestowed.  This is not a 19th Century romanticism, but a spiritual reality Jesus wants us to know is even more pervasive than our economic assumptions and loyalties.

The question is whether we need to strive for what we get or whether, through the Kingdom of God, all things have already been given to us

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