Strong Love
2011-01-21 by Stephen Schuette

1 Corinthians 1:10-18

Paul is enigmatic, difficult to pin down, hard to turn into a formula.  It makes him both intriguing and frustrating.  I want him to be more clear and consistent.  And maybe, maybe I want him to settle some matters that I’m uncomfortable leaving open.

The passage raises so many questions.  What is Paul’s theology of baptism and why seemingly throw the sacrament out in making his point?  Why mention by name the people who informed him, for how can identifying a tattle-tale work toward calming the obvious divisions in the community?  Why include those who say they “…belong to Christ” in the list with those who belong to others?  Isn’t Paul subverting his own point?

It’s clear that Paul did not take a contemporary mediation class to deal with conflict.  There’s no rising above the argument in a therapeutic approach.  He jumps in, both feet.  But what he does do is point toward a whole different goal.  And he urges his readers on by whatever means is at his disposal, no holds barred.  Perhaps there are two levels to Paul’s message: the content and the way he expresses that content.

And for me this is the most interesting question of all:  what’s with the attitude in his expression that seems counter-productive unless his goal is other than simply calming a conflict?  Maybe Paul understands the positive nature of conflict and the energy that can flow from it.  Maybe he just wants his hearers to be focused on the right conflict for the right reasons.

So there’s no, “Be a Christian, if you please,” or “I’m calm and confident because I follow Jesus (or whatever anti-perspirant-commercial language you want to use),” or any 70’s Godspell-version of Jesus being offered.  He wants no lukewarm, nice, kindly followers in this enterprise of proclaiming Jesus crucified on a cross and risen.  He wants to maintain the energy while turning it to constructive rather than destructive purposes.  The community’s goal is how to be effective, not just to be calm.

It’s not an easy message to embody, much less preach.  But it’s perhaps a very timely message in light of politicians that have embattled each other in ways counter-productive to any focus on a larger goal.  And the church so easily takes in this style of engagement modeled in the culture around us.  But is the goal to be just a little kinder and gentler, more civil?  For Paul the absence of open animosity, a veneer of kindness, the appearance of civility is not yet giving your heart or opening yourself to each other.  We have the advantage of knowing where this letter is leading.  Paul’s hope is higher.  Perhaps God’s hope for us, in Christ, is higher too.





Anna Carter Florence on Matthew 4:12-23
2011-01-18 by David Howell

Anna Carter Florence wrote this article for us three years ago. In fact, she wrote an article on the gospel lesson for each Sunday of Year A. Those articles can be found in Quick Access each week or in More Essays/Sermons.

 

Preaching the Lesson: Matthew 4:12-23

As Jesus walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. And he said to them, "Follow me, and I will make you fish for people." Immediately they left their nets and followed him.

Fishing for people. I’m not sure that’s the most pleasant or politic of metaphors for the life of discipleship. The fish is such a beloved symbol of Christianity (ichthus, et cetera) that the act of fishing is a bit romanticized—if our stained glass windows and Sunday School artwork are any indication. I’ve seen some marvelous art in many a church that features beautifully draped nets and gleaming jewel-like fish. I’ve also seen (and been a willing part of) some fishy carnage involving hooks and worms and a massive effort with the rod and reel. I love to eat fish as much as anyone. But I’ve yet to meet a fish that loved being caught and filleted for my supper. Fishing for people. I guess it’s a good thing that every metaphor contains an "is" and an "is not." Images are supposed to spark our imaginations, not chain them fast. So it would be a mistake to push the "fishing for people" metaphor too far, letting our evangelistic fancies take off into the ether ("What bait shall we use this time?! What are your youth biting on?!"). We don’t hook and land unwitting congregants, and we don’t cast our nets (either right or left!) in order to haul in another unsuspecting catch: obviously. I doubt Jesus had any such thing in mind when he called out to Peter and Andrew by the Sea of Galilee.

On the other hand, he was starting a conversation with fishermen. Fishing was what they knew and did best. And Jesus begins right there: not with what he knows, but with what they know. "Follow me, you fishermen, and I’ll make you fish-for-men!" There’s even a sing-song, comedic appeal to the words, in some translations. It’s almost as if Jesus is opening with a good joke, something that only fishermen would truly appreciate. Something that only fishermen would understand, because it’s offered in vernacular code.

What a brilliant stroke: Jesus’ call to each of us begins not with what he knows, but with what we know. It begins not with what he does best, but with what we do best. On our turf and in our language, insider jokes and all.  

Follow me, you fishing-people, and I will make you fish-for-people! Amazing, isn’t it? Before we hear a word about what’s involved in this following, he reassures us that we can do it, because it is not so different from what we have already done. In fact, we already have several of the job skills involved. We just have to adapt what we know.

I’ve been playing around with some of the other calls Jesus might have extended. How about these?

Follow me, you miners, and I will make you mine for people!

Follow me, you farmers, and I will make you farm for people!

Follow me, you bankers and tellers, and I will make you bank human life!

Follow me, you builders, and I will make you builders of God’s house!

Follow me, you shopkeepers, and I will make you keepers of God’s shop!

Follow me, you clowns and fools, and I will make you fools for God!

Follow me, you landscape workers, and I will make you landscapers of life!

Follow me, you seamstresses and tailors, and I will make you sew our lives as well as our garments!

Follow me, you cooks and chefs and butchers and bakers, and I will make you season and leaven and serve and preserve more than food!

Follow me, you insurance agents, and I will make you insure God’s agency!

Follow me, you instrumentalists, and I will make you instrumental to others!

Follow me, you friends, you parents, you children, you siblings, you neighbors, you strangers, you hosts and guests, and I will make you all these things—to every other human being!

It’s not as hard as you might think. Christ always starts where we already are.

Take a deep breath…and follow.

Anna Carter Florence





Thanks to Tom Steagald; Tucson Shooting and John 1:29-42
2011-01-14 by David von Schlichten

Tom has provided a substantive, theo-peutic post below, which includes sagacious reflections about the Tucson shooting.

Part of what comes to mind for me regarding the shooting is that it arose in part from a tendency for us American citizens to demonize, or otherize, politicians. We tend to see them as evil, corrupt. As scapegoats. They are one of the few groups in America it is still acceptable to make fun of and denigrate. Maybe we need to rethink that.

Granted, most of us are not going to shoot politicians, and politicians do indeed make many mistakes and are frequently guilty of corruption. But politicians are still people, and they are often a mirror of the society that created them. You and I are part of that society. Those politicians came from us.

And when someone attacks them, you know what? They get hurt, and so do their families, and so do many other people, including nine-year-old girls who have the "naivete" to believe in politicians.

How does all this pertain to the pulpit? I'm not completely sure, except to say that we Christians are called to love ALL people, including Republicans, Democrats, Pro-Lifers, Pro-Choicers, whoever, even if we disagree passionately.

Jesus says, "Come and see," and part of what we end up seeing is the God who washes human feet and commands us to do the same for each other.

Yours in Christ,

David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator





Thanks and praise for our bloggers!
2011-01-12 by David Howell

Stephen Schuette and David von Schlichten (and others) bring us so many insightful and helpful comments. We also like to occasionally post here the lectionary musings of Tom Steagald's Preaching Journal. We think you will benefit from Tom's thoughts below.

We are socked-in here in the Carolinas. For some of you used to this kind of weather, you may find our widespread panic and penchant for closing schools, churches, even banks laughable… but things are pretty much buttoned-up in these parts. The weather and its aftermath, though, provide a good time for perusing the goodpreacher.com website. Click on “Quick Access to This Week’s Resources” and you will find a host of materials related to the lections for this Second Sunday after the Epiphany.

This week I found the essay by Chris Boessel on Theological Themes in Psalm 40 to be particularly interesting as it examines the “intensely relational” nature of God, evident in current resurgence of Trinitarian theologizing. I found myself thinking of the famous “I-Thou” of Martin Buber’s thinking, how real faith is not mechanistic or objective; I wondered if we could massage the term into an “I-Thee” as an expression of God’s desire and willingness to be related to us personally.

Lawrence Boadt’s exegesis on I Corinthians is likewise rich; to my mind it bolstered my notion  (as I suggested on Sunday) that the rhetoric of this section is actually a device: this section is not unqualified praise or blessing. There is a hint, at least, of sarcasm. Either that, or Paul is lulling them to self-satisfaction (not that it would have taken much!), in line with the way the prophet Amos used misdirection before dropping the prophetic hammer.

I always find the sermon reviews helpful—and thank the Holy One for those who offer us digests of great preaching on the texts. Of course, each week’s resources include exegesis of the lectionary texts, essays on pastoral and theological themes in each text, and a section I always read: Sermon and Screen. Those who are movie buffs, or are just looking for a good illustration, are grateful for these entries.

In addition to doing some reading in the goodpreacher.com resources, I have been doing a good bit of online reading about the  events in Tucson over the weekend. Several thoughts come to mind. I am so disheartened by the plans of Westboro Baptist Church to picket the funerals in Tucson—even that of Christina Green, the nine-year-old who was killed, because "God hates Catholics!" I watched the youtube video of Fred Phelps' thanking God for the violence and the killings, and offering prayer for more such as a sign of God’s vengeance on America. It made my blood run cold, and I found myself asking my computer screen, “What planet do you live on?” Almost as soon as the words were out of my mouth I remember the question of John’s disciples in the gospel lection for this coming Sunday” Where do you live?”

I am thinking about focusing on that precise interchange this week. Jesus asks them, “What are you looking for?” The question is loaded, of course, and one could do worse that hear it as THE question to ask anyone, or ourselves, about why we want to be or what it means to be a disciple. What are we looking for?

Mr. Phelps is looking for judgment—radical, consuming, judgment. His anger, he seems to imagine, is God’s anger, and his hatred (of almost everything) God’s hatred. John, too, was looking for a cataclysmic wheat from chaff, axe to the root of the tree, hellfire and damnation kind of conflagration that would purge and purify. He predicted that the one coming after him would have his winnowing fork in his hand. In prison, what John heard about instead—and what Mr. Phelps and his flock apparently cannot hear or recognize—was Jesus’ gentleness and kindness, his mercy and compassion, his offer of forgiveness even to those who had not repented. John sends to Jesus wondering whether a) he was wrong in expecting Jesus to be that Coming One or b) whether perhaps Jesus had misconstrued God’s purposes and the means by which the divine will was to be accomplished.  One could pray for such honest and humble interrogation on the part of Mr. Phelps and other members of WBC; indeed, we might all pray for more humility and self-awareness in terms of our understanding of the gospel. What many of us are looking for, or desire Jesus to be, is other or less than he is.

Whenever we create Jesus in our own image, making him an instrument of our politics or prejudice, or the imagined “source” for fulfilling our will (instead of seeing ourselves as carrying out his will in the earth), we prove ourselves silly as Ricky Bobby and Cal Naughton at the dinner table in Talladega Nights. For those of you unfamiliar with that particular movie or scene, I commend it to you as one of the most acerbic (if unintentionally so) skewerings of pop-theology it is possible to imagine.   

The question, “What are you looking for?” is answered by the disciples somewhat vague but incredibly evocative reply: “Rabbi, where are you staying?” The disciples ask to come to Jesus’ place and do not expect Jesus to come to theirs. They wish to follow him to his base of operations. That seems to be the he first move of discipleship, and suggests more than a momentary or passing interest. Can “Where are you staying?” mean “Where do you live?” If so, then the desire is to take up residence with Jesus, to share meals and conversation and the daily tasks… again, a very evocative notion of what discipleship really is. The exegetical article on the gospel lection by Joe Lunsford highlights the notion of “abiding” or “remaining” or “staying” in John and in this lesson.

Jesus’ “Come and see” blesses the desire of the inquirers, invites them into closer proximity and inaugurates the journey they will be taking together.

In the aftermath of the tragedy there has been the predictable examinations of the shooters various rants in social media, notes left to himself at this parents' house and the like. One piece that caught my eye, that the "lyrics of his famous songs" were being scrutinized for clues as to his behavior. What reason or logic might be found in the music?

We are used to this kind of examination in the wake of tragedy, but I have been trying to spin that in terms of faith, which is to say, I have been wondering whether there might come a time when others might scrutinize our music to find out why we acted in certain ways: forgiving our enemies, say, or working for justice in the world. Could there be a time our righteous behavior might be conjsidered so outrageous that investigators look for clues as to our selflessness and sacrifice?

 

 

 





Experiential Discipleship
2011-01-11 by Stephen Schuette

John 1:29-42

Our experiences are always layered with stuff that we bring to them.  To illustrate, the point you are trying to communicate in your sermon may be clear “Green” while your listeners are thinking “Red.”  What they ultimately understand is some shade of “Yellow.”

John attempts to get through those layers in a unique and creative way by actually relayering some of the things that are familiar to us from the Synoptics.  For instance, in this story two disciples of John seem to “find” Jesus whereas in the Synoptics Jesus clearly chooses the disciples.  This relayering has the amazing effect of helping us to see things newly and differently and sort out the circumstantial from a deeper message about Jesus

We’re further disadvantaged because we live in an age when our communication is increasingly constrained by forms.  I’m aware that this is debatable, but my take is that Facebook and emails are restrictive rather than expansive in our communication, although I use one of them extensively.  In other words, we’re coming to expect less rather than more in terms of communication and are less expectant of the possibility that our communication will break through the layers and convey something essential, basic, or truthful.

So the declarations are quick to come in John, (“Here is the Lamb of God…” and “We have found the Messiah”) and yet the meaning is too full to be immediately clear.  It could be that these disciples don’t know what they’re looking for when Jesus asks although they may be aware that they are indeed looking for something.  The best they come up with is, “Where are you staying?”  The colors of communication are co-mingled from Jesus’ question to theirs.

And yet John is drawing us into the genuine experience of Jesus.  The story moves forward experientially.  They do “stay” with Jesus.  They bring Simon to Jesus.  They live with their hunches and continue to measure the assumptions they’ve brought against the reality of Jesus himself.

There's the task of discipleship.  It takes time and patience to really know Jesus.  But the invitation is extended, "Come and See."





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