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 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 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."

Wise Men and Baptism Pilgrim's Progress
2011-01-07 by David von Schlichten

This Sunday I will invite people to imagine being a wise man/woman who, having been baptized, embarks on a journey of following the star to the birth, then baptism, then life, then death and resurrection of Christ.

Something like that.

Yours in Christ,

David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator

The Way Up
2011-01-04 by Stephen Schuette

Isaiah 42:1-9; Matthew 3:13-17

A rich discussion with colleagues this morning led us to explore servanthood and observe that Jesus does not give in to John’s attempt at role reversal but submits to John’s baptism, in order to, as Matthew puts it, “…fulfill all righteousness.”

It also led us to the truth of how difficult it is to help someone.  I think of the film The Soloist or the journalist who unsuccessfully tried to sponsor a young man from Afghanistan in the United States.  Genuine servanthood is not easy.  We get wrapped up in our need to be needed, clearly a hazard for clergy, but for others as well too.

We also may hope that others will be helped along to a life that resembles ours, for don’t others desire what we have, or seek the wisdom we’ve garnered, or otherwise desire to emulate us?  All of this puts us in a position to offer “help” while we get to keep our position, or even be honored for keeping our position.

But Jesus goes down…down, below the water, submerged, under, releasing himself to be used for a larger purpose than his own fulfillment.  It is a cleansing of ego that allows one to be more fully oneself. At the same time it is an openness to others that does not seek to impose our hopes on them but desires for them the pure grace of coming to their sense of God’s hope in their life.

The way up is first down.

(PS 1 - The symbology in the title is consciously linked with this season of Epiphany which begins with baptism and concludes with transfiguration on the mountain, which seves as prelude to the rest of the gospel story too.)

(PS 2 - Grace and peace to you, David)

Shari Paul Ruggiero, New Year, and John 1:1-18
2010-12-31 by David von Schlichten

On December 21 at 5 AM, my mother, Shari Paul Ruggiero, died in front of me of multiple blod clots to the brain. She would have been 65 on Christmas Eve.

That week was the longest and most emotional of my life. It was full of great pain, surrealism, and exhaustion, but it also contained moments of scintillating grace as people supported those of us who had been closest to Mom.

The death of a loved one often jerks us awake to what really matters, and John 1:1-18 also directs us to what really matters. I will join the two somehow in Sunday's sermon as a way of inviting people to embrace Christmas and the new year with the understanding that our lives have supreme value because of the Word-made-flesh, who challenges and empowers us to be the Word-made-flesh in miniature.

Have a holy new year. Thanks be to God for 2010 and 2011.

Yours in Christ,

David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator

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