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

Big Vision from
2011-02-21 by David Howell

Exegesis Matthew 6:24-34

This passage, as part of the main body (Mt 5:17-7:12) of the Sermon on the Mount, is a collection of paraenetic charges for the followers of Jesus not to worry about earthly matters. As is the case with the Sermon on the Mount in general, this passage comes from the Q source, but it has many significant differences from its Lukan parallel (Lk 12:22-32). Especially striking is the contrast between their respective conclusions (Mt 6:34 & Lk 12:32). These discrepancies between Matthew and Luke may be accounted for either by the hypothetical existence of two versions of Q (Qmt & Qlk) or by redactional changes on the part of each evangelist.

Verse 24 is only loosely connected to what precedes or what follows. As the different literary location of its Lukan parallel (Lk 16:13) indicates, this Q saying may have been a free standing logion or associated with another passage which can no longer be identified. The etymology of the Aramaic word mammon, for which the Greek mammona is a transliteration, is disputed. It is most probably derived from amn and as such its root meaning is "that in which one trusts." It commonly refers to "wealth" or "riches," not necessarily in a negative sense. However, this Q saying juxtaposes God and mammon as mutually exclusive, which sets the tone for the following passage in such a way that worrying about worldly matters amounts to serving mammon rather than serving God.

The words psyche and soma in verse 25 are not to be distinguished from each other in the Platonic dualistic sense. Rather, they reflect the Hebrew notion of human life as a holistic entity. By exhorting not to worry about life represented by psyche and soma, Jesus does not denigrate earthly life per se but elevates the life of his followers as standing beyond the level of procuring basic human necessities. The logion of Jesus not to worry about food or clothing finds a close parallel in the Gospel of Thomas 36, for which the Oxyrhynchus Papyri text has a longer version than that of the Nag Hammadi codex.

Verses 26 and 28 run parallel to each other as examples of lives that are well provided by God. The intervening verse 27 talks about the impossibility of adding one pechys (distance between the elbow and the tip of the longest finger) to one’s helikia, i.e., stature, if taken literally, or life span, if taken metaphorically, by worrying. In all three cases the rhetoric of hyperbole is evident and the analogy is more poetic than logical. Should that be the case, these examples are used as a basis for the inference a minori ad maius, which is typical of rabbinic exegesis. One may say that this passage, especially verse 26, inescapably reveals an anthropocentric perspective on God’s dealings with the creatures with human beings at the center. However, the point of the analogies is not a more privileged status of human beings in general vis-à-vis animals, but that the followers of Jesus can trust special care from God.

The expression oligopistoi in verse 30 is taken from Q (Lk 12:28), and Matthew develops it further in the rest of the gospel as a critique against insiders, including the twelve disciples, for their lack of faith (pistis). In verse 32 the oligopistoi, who worry about earthly matters, are likened to Gentiles, as if Gentiles were seeking (epizetousin) only mundane things. Such anti-gentile perspective in the Matthean text is as problematic as anti-Judaism in the history of interpretation of Matthew’s gospel and other parts of the New Testament. This hermeneutical issue aside, the point of the present saying is again the faith/trust that the followers of Jesus should have in God’s provision, which will allow room for a bigger vision in their mind, that is, the desire for the kingdom/reign (basileia) of God and its justice/righteousness (dikaiosyne).1 This verse echoes with the fourth beatitude: "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice (dikaiosyne), for they shall be satisfied (Mt 5:6)."

It is interesting to notice that the petition for daily bread (artos epiousios) features prominently in the Lord’s Prayer (Mt 6:11) and that this petition is preceded by the petition for God’s kingdom/reign (basileia). The present passage seems to hark back to it, as if saying "You may have to pray for food but do not worry about it and always pray for the kingdom of God first." These sayings of Jesus for his followers not to worry about what to eat and what to wear become all the more poignant because they belong to the class of Galilean peasants who live at the subsistence level and therefore have to pray for their livelihood to survive.2 The passage is not about naïve optimism for life that is somehow going to take care of itself. It is about a big vision for the kingdom of God and its justice that is the ultimate will of God, and all the followers of Jesus are invited to share in this vision in spite of the reality of having to worry about food and clothing.

The last verse (v. 34), just like the first (v. 24), may or may not have belonged together with the main portion of the passage. It does connect with what precedes it by the motif of worrying, but the idea of "tomorrow worrying about itself" and that of "today’s evil being sufficient for the day" do not flow naturally from the previous exhortations. It seems to acknowledge the harsh reality of today’s hardship and the prospect of its continuation. In an ironic way, however, such a reality serves as an impetus for the little people to dream big dreams of God’s kingdom and its justice.

Eugene Eung-Chun Park


1. The personal pronoun autou after dikaiosyne can be taken either as masculine or neuter.

2. The adjective epiousios could mean "necessary for survival."

Sermon Ideas for Sunday, February 20, 2011
2011-02-18 by David von Schlichten

I don't know what I'm preaching on. Here are some topics I'm considering.

Being Perfect: Jesus calls us to be perfect, but here, "perfect" means something like "mature" or "complete." Does this mean that one can both sin and be perfect?

The Temple of the Holy Spirit: What does it mean to be this temple?

Leaving Grapes and Gleanings for the Poor and Alien: Invite people to consider what it means not to gather up everything for oneself but to leave behind some items for people one does not even know or even may be wary of.

Challenge people to love their enemies. What does it mean to love one's enemies? How does one do that without putting oneself in danger of being killed by one's enemies?

What are you thinking of preaching on?

Yours in Christ,

David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator

As If
2011-02-16 by Stephen Schuette

Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18; 1 Corinthians 3:10-11, 16-23

From Hebrew scripture we’re familiar with an active word of God that brings creation into being, that speaks from the burning bush and from Sinai.  It’s effective, declarative, defining.  And that powerful Word speaks here, in covenantal form, “You shall be…for I am…”  This is not negotiable.  This is the way it is, and this is who you are.

And the refrain repeats, echoing the call of Moses, “I am the ‘I Am.’” And how is this holiness which God declares expressed among human beings?  Just as the relationship with God is defining so our moral relationship with each other is defining.  Holiness is not just an inner identity.  It is lived.  It is lived in justice and care for others, in honoring holiness in them as God honors you as holy.

Why?  Because “I Am” is the Lord.  Reality is not otherwise, anymore than creation is otherwise.  There’s no bridge of an interim ethic.  There’s no equivocation.  “You shall be…for I am…” begins this passage.  And it is framed at the end by, in so many words, “You shall love your neighbor because I made you and your neighbor who you are.”  And in between, in case you missed it, the steady refrain, “I am the Lord.”

Paul makes the same links connecting us with each other and all creation, since we belong to Christ and Christ belongs to God.

Still, there’s no denying the leap of faith this all requires.  For we seem pre-set to see it otherwise, to judge by appearance, to deny our own identity and the identity of others.  But what we are really denying in all this is the identity of God.

Experientially, faith is required.  Faith enables us to live past this appearance, to live in the world as it really is rather than with what appears to be.  Through faith we are able to live as if this is already fulfilled and that holiness is our true identity.  Imagine, needing to fool ourselves into reality!  So it always appears as risk to us.  But it is risk-taking only for what is true.

“Strong and marvelous is that love which may not, nor will not, be broken for trespass…His goodness suffereth us never to be alone, but lastingly he is with us, and tenderly he excuseth us, and ever shieldeth us from blame in his sight…But all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”  -Juliana of Norwich

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