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

From this week...
2011-02-14 by David Howell

Pastoral Implications of Matthew 5:38-48

Revenge is as natural as any human impulse. When we are hurt, we tend to want to hurt back. When we have been insulted or criticized, we tend to want to insult or criticize back. When attacked, we attack back. The problem with revenge is that it creates more hurt and more revenge. The world is filled with cycles of revenge in all of the major war torn lands.

We should not think that we modern westernized nations are any more immune from the cycle of revenge. Yes, perhaps we are not as lawless or violent, but watch any court of law, watch any divorce proceeding, watch any dysfunctional couple argue, watch children on a playground after school, watch the evening news that describes gang warfare, or watch how professional athletes respond to a humiliating loss. The instinct for revenge runs deep in the human psyche. It takes a variety of forms and expressions besides the more obvious forms of violence that fill the news.

These verses embody Jesus’ approach to the problem of revenge and his nonviolent ethic. Jesus’ solution is to turn the other cheek. He tells us to be like a sponge, to absorb hurt and evil. Do not return evil for evil, hurt for hurt, insult for insult, blow for blow, even an eye for an eye. Rather, respond with mercy, not justice. Respond with forgiveness, not revenge. This is a tall order! This is a great ideal, but difficult to put into practice in real life situations filled with hurt, anger, and even evil. It is hard work.

Generally, there are four categories of response to violence or human generated evil.

1. There is overkill. This is unregulated revenge. This is the ethic of gangs and terrorists. You insult me and I kill you…all of you.

2. There is a measured in-kind response, captured in the Law’s "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth." Upon this principle most of the modern justice system is built.

3. There is passive resistance or nonviolent response, captured in the verse, "do not return evil for evil." Protect yourself, but do not take aggressive action toward the offender.

4. There is a proactive loving response captured in Jesus’ commandment to "love your enemies." Overcome evil with good. Actively seek out and understand the other, eventually securing reconciliation.

Our ability to respond to evil in these increasingly more difficult steps depends on our personal resources and on the intensityof the situation we are encountering. There are some people who seem to respond only with overkill, and it is all we can do as a civilized people to control such persons with laws and prisons. There are some people who are naturally easy going, forgiving, and accommodating. For still others, there are situations where the hurt is so deep that to "return evil for evil" is the automatic response. Hopefully, Christ does not demand perfection from us every time, but does expect us to push "our response level" up one step on the ethical ladder.

As we try to be helpful to our congregants may I suggest a few more guidelines? First, try to see the humanity of the offender. Try to see their anger and offensive behavior as a sign of their weakness, their immaturity, and their desperation. Secondly, try to gather information and understand what causes the offender to do evil. What drives or drove him or her to it? Thirdly, try to avoid taking the evil personally. Most of the time, we are not unique as victims. Similar unjust and hurtful events have happened to a wide variety of people, not just to us. Finally, make a distinction in your mind between the primary emotional reaction we have and our secondary emotional reactions. For example, the primary or first emotional reaction is usually hurt or fear, but it is quickly followed by a secondary emotion, anger and a desire to take revenge. When evil strikes, encourage your parishioners to pause, count to ten, try to get in touch with and stay in touch with their primary feelings whatever they are. Sharing one’s tears is often better at breaking the cycle of revenge than expressing anger.

Resisting our initial instinct to take revenge or even showing love toward our enemies is hard work! It is not easy. It is not natural. You and I and our parishioners cannot fulfill these commandments alone. We need a community of faith. We Christians literally cannot be "like Christ" without the support and encouragement of one another. Our congregations must be places where peace and forgiveness are fostered, practiced, and encouraged.

Further, we must stay connected with the one who is also "slow to anger." By staying connected to Christ, and through Christ to God, we will be transformed. Then and only then can we become transforming. In the end if we truly come to love our enemies it will not be due to our own efforts, but God’s grace acting through us.

R. Scott Sullender

Matthew 5; the Second Use of the Law
2011-02-12 by David von Schlichten

My sermon at the cafe is on Matthew 5 in general and how demanding it is. I consider that some of the teachings are not to be taken literally while others are but are not to be adhered to rigidly. I suggest that love is to be the key guiding principle when one tries to interpret Matthew 5.

I conclude with what we Lutherans call the second use of the Law, which is to remind us humans of the need for the cross of Christ. We look at the Law, say, "Wow, I can't do all this," and God replies, "That's right. That's why you needed me to die for you."

Yours in Christ,

David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator

2011-02-10 by David Howell

Preaching Deuteronomy 30:15-20

With Valentine’s Day at hand, preachers may be tempted by the text’s use of the word "heart". "If your heart turns away…I declare to you today that you shall perish," (vv. 17-18). With a little homiletical extrapolation an "As the Heart Turns" kind of sermon could be built around the notion that the disposition of the heart undergirds our life-and-death choices. The fickleness of God’s people could be decried, rivalry between God and other gods underlined. However a hearts-and-flowers approach to today’s text represents a risk, possibly a hermeneutical travesty. The word "heart" occurs only once in these six verses. Its Ancient Near Eastern definition is several worlds away from Hallmark’s. Most importantly, this text’s legitimate themes have a magnitude about them that is hard to overstate. Substantial and sober, they paint the passage in heavy strokes. Pink, lacy sermons are the last kind of treatment Deuteronomy 30 deserves.

A stronger word-study approach might focus on the word "life". It is the Gospel word in the text, the word that most-captures the Good News. It refers, of course, to more than the spirit of animation or a person’s "length of days" (v.20). A quick reading of the passage shows this understanding of "life" is something associated with loving, obeying, and a white-knuckled hold on God (vv.16, 20). Though the writer’s division of "life’s" characteristics into three categories has no doubt given rise to any number of tidy tripartite sermons, there are many layers to the term.

The "life" that Moses urges the Israelites to choose is more than consciousness, more than the antonym of death, and anything but tidy. In fact it is the very thing their parents tripped over. It is the life their parents were denied, the life the first generation of the Exodus passed up when nearly forty years earlier they had their turn on the banks of the Jordan. Where the first generation failed to love-obey-hold enough to get across the river and into the Promised Land, the second generation is now being given the chance to make the leap. In the strongest possible terms ("I call heaven and earth to witness…" v.19) Moses exhorts the grandchildren of the Exodus to find their spiritual nerve. Ancient Israel is on the brink of choosing what their parents never knew, the fullness of life that comes from facing the Jordan.

These are dynamics contemporary congregations understand. Whether the sermon treats the Jordan in terms of its most famous metaphor (death) or more generally as a trial of faith, contemporary listeners know this spiritual road. Long bouts of grieving, years of unrelieved unemployment and chronic pain management are part of most every faith community. Life in the Orange Alert era is characterized by all that holds us in death’s thrall: endless wrangling over sex, who is in and who is out, enmity between the right and left flanks of the church, obliviousness to all but our own personal concerns, and addiction to whatever palliative—spiritual or pharmacological—comes to hand.

We all have lie-awake nights. Figments of violent teenagers, financial ruin, and irrational bosses jump the fences of our mental motion picture screens, making us wish for a few friendly sheep. We look around for a hero who can show us the way out. What we find has clay feet and the same need for reassurance we already know so well. How can we find the help we need to get out of our confusion and into a healthier chapter, out of darkness and into light, out of the desert and into those well-watered alluvial planes?

Deuteronomy offers several answers to the question. One of the most useful to twenty-first century congregations is found in the texts’ peculiar use of "cleaving." "Holding fast" or "holding on hard" to God, the way a piggy-backer clings to the piggy-backee is one of the text’s more interesting ideas. The word used elsewhere to describe how a young groom sticks to his gorgeous bride despite his mother’s dark looks, is used here to describe a key ingredient of the fullness of life. The challenge of faith is about "loving, obeying, and holding fast to God; for that means life to you and length of days" (v.20).

This is life with a capital "L" Deuteronomy seems to say. It is the kind of life where God is not skulking off to the side of the screen or flitting in the margin of consciousness. In this kind of life God is not available only in peripheral vision, not next to or behind you on the river banks, but is standing smack in front of you in the middle of the white water, arms extended. It’s the kind of life you enter into when you decide that there is no father figure on his way to rescue you, there is no mythical hero in the wings, no experienced old head who will come and solve the problem. There is only you and God eyeball-to-eyeball. This is the kind of life you find when you find God dead center and filling the screen—not in your weakness but in your strength, not in your suffering but in your life.

Jana Childers

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