On the Sidelines
2010-11-16 by Stephen Schuette

Luke 23:33-43; Jeremiah 23:1-6

Painters and other artists through the years have depicted the scene so it’s not too usual to try to understand it visually.  Cinematically I’d begin with a focus on Jesus himself and then broaden to the two who are crucified beside him.  They are different, of course.  One is mocking and bitter about his life and its ending, the other is reflecting about his life and the regrets he carries, accepting of responsibility, and wondering about a larger sense of salvation.

Panning out further there’s the soldiers who also mock Jesus as well as the leaders who are actively scoffing.  So as a “type” the first one being crucified with Jesus has a lot of company while the second is utterly alone in his respectful appeal to Jesus.

But panning out further you see “…the people who stood by watching.”  These are the spectators, standing on the sidelines, and there are more of them than any of the others.  They stand there, completely neutral, and in terms of the scene itself you have to wonder what they are thinking.  I suspect it’s where we would, at least in terms of a beginning, insert ourselves into the scene.  Could these be Jeremiah’s “scattered sheep” finally wandered over to Golgotha by chance and now are facing a decision about this particular scene and whether it means anything, and if so, what?  As they watch I’d focus on their eyes, perhaps zooming in enough to pick up a reflection of the cross in the iris, ending the scene with the now-reflected shot that is in all other respects identical to the way the scene opened.

So it’s the ones on the sidelines that are of interest.  They have yet to reveal any sympathy or lack of it.  They have yet to express any regrets that they carry or any participation in projecting their frustration onto the crucified.  They have yet to identify themselves or identify who Jesus is for them – and how that fits together.

But the fact is that they are now witnesses who cannot remain on the sidelines.  Either they (and we) will see Jesus or misunderstand Jesus, come to know Jesus or not.

With Prayer and Thanksgiving
2010-11-14 by Ro Ruffin

Psalm 28:7, Psalm 56:11, Micah 7:5, 2 Corinthians 1:9, and Philippians 4:4.

For some time now I have been disturbed by a popular trend.  It has to do with giving thanks, so this seems like the ideal time to think it through.  Here is what has been bothering me: I keep hearing wonderful, faithful Christians say things like, “It was because of the cancer that God has been able to make me so strong,” and “I truly believe that God allowed me to be raped by my father because it has made me stronger, and now I am able to help others through their nightmares.” And, “I wouldn’t be who I am, or as strong as I am, if my mother hadn’t abandoned me.”

Are we really saying that God is responsible for such evil?  Some say that it is really the devil that causes all these horrors.  Really?  The devil made me do it?  I thought Flip Wilson put that one to rest a long time ago. 

The broad question is, of course, the question of theodicy.  But, I gave up trying to figure that out many years ago.  What I guess I really want to know is, when are we human beings ever going to take responsibility for our actions?  If I believed that God – the God of mercy, grace, salvation, resurrection, i.e., love – was responsible for all the evil that befalls us, I suspect I would have to look elsewhere for a god to follow. 

“Because it made me stronger; it made me who I am today” and all such ideas, are just too simplistic. 

So, Thanksgiving is nearly upon us.  I don’t buy that God causes, or even allows all the terrible things that happen.  All I know for sure is that when my mind is full of gratitude, my heart follows.  And, when my heart if full of gratitude, I am fully present for others in their need.  Life is good, but it is still full of evil.

I have decided it is time to look at some scriptural references for gratitude (thanks/thanksgiving) and for the other concept that so often accompanies it: trust.  Trust in spite of it all?  Simple, yes, but not simplistic.  It is really about the relationship…God the redeemer, the savior, the lover.  It is time to research a few scriptural references:  Psalm 28:7, Psalm 56:11, Micah 7:5, 2 Corinthians 1:9, and Philippians 4:4.

Thank You to Our Guest Blogger; Cheating the System; 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13
2010-11-12 by David von Schlichten

Bill has done a sharp and fine job of sharing his reflections, especially on Isaiah 65. Stephen Schuette has also provided a substantial reflection. Scroll down and dive in.

I'm probably going to preach on 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13, which declares that those who don't work shouldn't eat. At Wednesday Bible study, one of my parishioners immediately saw this passage as a critique of the welfare system. We then all talked about how, yes, yes, there are people who cheat the system (Isn't it interesting that we always think we need to emphasize this point?). At the same time, there are many people in genuine need.

Actually, I would say that people who cheat the system are also in genuine need; they may just need to be cared for differently. It irritates me how many of us oversimplify complex issues by creating categories such as "Those who cheat the system" and "Those who don't." As if every poor person is either exclusively one or the other, and as if being in one or the other determines whether you "deserve" help. Come on.

In any event, my understanding of the 2 Thessalonians text is that it is referring to people who aren't working because they're expecting the parousia at any minute and so figure that there is no point in working. However, the Bible makes it clear that we are to keep on doing God's work, regardless of when the parousia will be.

This passage got me thinking about other excuses we make for not doing God's work. Here's one: "The world's such a mess, why bother trying to do anything about it?" "You can't fight City Hall." "Whatever will be, will be."

The 2 Thessalonians passage addresses passivity and calls for us Christians not to make excuses but to be active, confident that God will make sure that our work is not in vain.

Yours in Christ,

David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator

Welcome, Bill Hennessey!
2010-11-12 by David Howell

Wecome and thank you to our guest blogger, Bill Hennessey!
Bill Hennessy is pastor of North Presbyterian Church in Williamsville, NY, a suburb of Buffalo.  He's been in parish ministry his whole career beginning in 1989.  North is his fourth congregation, having served as associate pastor in Peoria, Illinois, solo pastor in Kitchener, Ontario, and head of staff in Bay City, MI before moving to Buffalo in 2008.  Bill and his wife Beth were married in 1988 after meeting at McCormick Seminary, Chicago.  Beth is ordained in the American Baptist Church but is currently not working outside the home.  They have two kids -- Matt who is 14 and Sarah who is nearly 9.  They also share their home with a black lab mix named Molly.  Bill's passions include Beth, spending time with his kids, and playing the Irish tin whistle (just passably).  Lately he's been learning to kayak and hopes to pursue it more if the cold ever lets up in Buffalo.

A Few Musings
2010-11-11 by Bill Hennessy

I haven’t really thought much about the passages today.  My kids were off school and the church office was closed.  It was nice spending the day with my family. 


At this point in my process I’m sifting through ideas and trying to decide where to place emphasis.  I still think the Isaiah passage is richer than the gospel one.  In fact I think there may be more of the gospel in Isaiah 65:17-25 than in Luke 21:5-19.  I keep coming back to the real-world dimension of Isaiah.  It seems so deeply rooted in our experience, yet somehow elevating and deepening our reality.


The idea that God is concerned with the everyday struggles we endure I find very powerful…and encouraging.  We live in such a radically individualist culture, one that seems to be getting more “Ayn Rand-esque” by the minute, that it’s hard not to be drawn into the belief that we’re entirely on our own.  I need to be reminded over and over that God is near and isn’t dispassionate, but has a stake in it all.  And if that’s the case, then surely I have a stake in it, too.  It should matter to me how others are forced to live.  It should matter how lethal the choices have become for so many.


As I said early on, this is a congregation that could easily ignore the needs of their impoverished neighbors in the city or in the world.  Resisting the temptation to turn inward and do nothing is hard when most of your life is insulated from the effects of poverty.  We’re being handed an alternative to despair and fear in this passage…you can’t get more gospel-y than that!

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