Lions, and Lambs, and Advent...Oh My!
2010-11-30 by Kim Justice
Hi there, folks. I’m Kim Justice of Fayetteville, North Carolina. I’m a solo pastor of a very small, very rural congregation. My congregation is mostly retirement age, so I’m always looking at these texts through the lens of what older folks most need to hear at this stage of their life. Because many of them have been farmers, I’m learning to choose illustrations that are nature-based rather than academically based. The congregation is active in our community, but seems to have a fairly local-minded worldview. That’s a little bit about me and the lenses through which I am looking at texts.
So...how ‘bout those texts this week?
Usually, one of the toughest tasks for me during a preach week is decided which of the texts I’m being called to preach. Yet, this week, I’m gravitating so strongly toward the Isaiah 11 passage, that it’s not really much of a choice. I preached from Isaiah last Sunday as well, so in addition to loving the images and promises, right now the continuity is appealing to me.
I love to preach from the prophets, but I admit that these sermons are often harder for me to eek out gracefully than are sermons on other sorts of passages. One of the things that I seem to struggle with is what it means to be a modern day prophet as I think preachers are called to be. I think one of the tasks of being a preacher is to herald the promises of God in as many ways as possible, yet I also realize that if we were as upfront about calling God’s people to faithfulness as were the prophets of old, none of us would have pulpits to herald anything from. One of the things that I’m always trying to hold in my head as I preach from the prophets is the hope that my words will, more than anything else, be an invitation.
This passage in Isaiah seems to be full of lots of possibilities for world-weary folk. At first blush, though, one of the things that I’ll want to explore is what it looks like to wait in joyful expectation for God’s promises when we have been so often disappointed by what we have seen at work in the world. How is it possible to believe these promises when they don’t line up with anything we know?
Something that’s really been on my mind these last weeks is what it is to wait. I don’t wait very well, as is true for most of us. I think I’ll be trying to figure out how to help my congregation wait during this Advent season, and I’m wondering how that might figure into my sermon.
It’s a good thing it’s only Tuesday... this sermon feels like it might need a while to cook.
2010-11-27 by David von Schlichten
Scroll down to read Hwa-Young Chong's poignant theodicial sermon based on the Isaiah-text for the first Sunday in Advent. The sermon draws from the text to address a core existential issue, not with an easy answer, but with hope.
Also, my sermon is available for reading at the Sermon Feedback Cafe, which you can access by going to the Homepage and then clicking on Share It!
Looking forward to Advent, I am
Yours in Christ,
David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator
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.
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