Hope in God: Isaiah 2:1-5
2010-11-27 by Hwa-Young Chong
Hope in God
I did not know for a long time that my father was once a devoted Christian.
While I was growing up in Korea, I seldom saw him go to a church or heard him talk about faith. It was a little odd, for all his family members were strong Christians. I thought my father was perhaps the black sheep of the family. Then, when I was in college, I happened to run into his old notebook. It was filled with my father’s handwriting of love poems for God and detailed Bible study notes.
I brought the notebook to my father and asked him what had happened to his faith. I heard him talk about God for the first time in my life. He explained that he used to be an active church leader. As a high school student, he led youth trips and taught the Bible. Then when he was 19 years old, the Korean War broke out. During the war, he was injured and lost one of his eyes. He witnessed much suffering of his own, others, and the world. He shared with me how the misery of human condition and the evil of murderous cruelty affected his faith permanently. He said, “I could not understand the almighty God in the midst of the suffering world. I questioned: If God existed, how could our world be so miserable? God and the world cannot co-exist. Either God or the world must be a dream.” I guess he chose to decide that God was a dream because the world was so real to him. Very much like Ivan in Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, my father just could not make sense of God in the midst of evil and violence. As my father spoke, I could almost hear the echoes of Ivan’s words of protest atheism: “I refused to accept the world God has created.”
My father still has not recovered his faith, at least the kind of faith he once had -- the praise for the omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent God. The lost eye does not bother him physically anymore. He is used to living with only one eye. The handicapped condition did not affect his social status. Outwardly, it seems that the injury did not do much damage to him. But the deepest wound was in the unseen—the wound left in his faith.
How does one make sense of God in the midst of evil, suffering, and violence? Before my father, before Ivan, before countless others, Prophet Isaiah probably struggled so deeply with the same question. His conclusion was succinct: God transforms swords into plowshares, spears into pruning hooks. God does not create evil, but enables us to overcome evil.
We begin the new season of Advent this Sunday and realize that Isaiah’ vision of peace gives us hope for our world. Will this vision restore my father’s faith today? Will it answer the questions of theodicy? I am not sure. But I do know that this vision is worth remembering, memorizing, and visualizing.
In this season of waiting and preparing, I hope in God who changes our weapons of destruction into the tools for life.
Prince of Peace UMC, Elk Grove Village, IL
Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, Evanston, IL
God as Thief
2010-11-26 by David von Schlichten
Jesus teaches that he will return like a thief in the night. This simile stimulates me to wonder in what ways God/Christ is thief-like besides by being unexpected.
For instance, Christ is thief-like in that he is invasive. His invasion, however, is not to rob us, the believers, but to rob evil and to give to the righteous. For the unfaithful, he is a threatening robber who takes people's cherished possessions from them. For the faithful, he breaks in, not to steal, but to give.
How else does the simile work? How does it not work?
Also read Stephen Schuette's contribution and the work of Thomas Steagald. Scroll down as you eat your leftover turkey/tofurkey.
Yours in Christ,
David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator
The Urgency for Peace
2010-11-23 by Stephen Schuette
Isaiah 2:1-5; Romans 13:11-14; Matthew 24:36-44
The metaphors are startling in the way they are mixed together. There’s swords and spears converted into plowshares and pruning hooks. And in Romans there’s the “armor of light,” presumably connected with what Paul is urging us to “put on,” the light of Jesus Christ. And there’s the “boy scout” message of Matthew to “be prepared,” alert, ready.
The images of making war are converted to making peace, suggesting what we may rationally understand but have not yet incorporated by way of a behavioral change: that making peace requires diligence, determination, focus, energy, preparation.
A colleague related a story he attributed to Wm. Barclay. (Note that this telling is subject to all the inaccuracies of the oral tradition.) The devil is debriefing three demons about their strategy for disrupting the human relationship with God. The first demon suggests telling people that there is no God. The devil replies that there is too much hope in human beings to believe that. The second suggests telling people that there is no devil. The devil replies that there is too much fear in people to believe that. The third suggests telling people that there is no hurry. The devil replies, “That will do perfectly.”
So if the avoidance of war is not genuine peace how do we become active peacemakers? It probably begins with an inner, spiritual attitude, but it cannot end there. There must be a readiness at any second to witness for it, to point the way, to sound the “alarm” that peace is seen on the horizon.
Have fun mixing your own metaphors and thereby untangling the link between urgency and war and making urgency available for peace. It's a warm-up for the realignment of our thinking/understanding in the divine-human being. Talk about a mixed metaphor! ....Blessed Thanksgiving to you.
Tom Steagald's Preaching Journal
2010-11-22 by David Howell
Check out Tom Steagald's Preaching Journal!
A Thanksgiving Sermon
Lots of information on the lessons for the First Sunday in Advent!
From Tom's Thanksgiving Sermon:
If the downturn or recession or little Depression makes us fearful, makes us hoard, keeps us from sharing, then indeed it is an awful thing.
And from his First Sunday in Advent preaching preparation:
Advent, as Lent, calls us to work against the calendar in favor of another kind of time. We put the brakes on the culture’s superficial rush to acquisition and largess; throw cold water in the face of our fevered consumptive frenzy; throw-down the culture’s idolatries and high places, like Wal-Mart and Target; and combine tears of repentance with the heat of God’s Word, to release a “cloud of unknowing” into the presumptions of our preferences and expectations. Either that, or just go with the flow.
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.
(I think we are in for a real treat!)
Welcome and thanks, Ro Ruffin
2010-11-20 by David Howell
Welcome and thanks to our guest blogger. Rev. Ro Turner Ruffin is an adjunct instructor for Mercer University. She is currently submitting her dissertation, in which she argues for death education in public high schools in the United States, to the University of South Africa. She lives in Atlanta with her husband, children, and grandchildren.
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