Exegeting the Text, Exegeting Life
2010-11-05 by Matthew Lloyd Kelley
Hello, hot tubbers! It’s Friday, and I expect many of you are busy preparing your messages for Sunday. Like you, I’ve had a busy week (which is why I haven’t posted until today!), and the sermon I preach will reflect a mixture of the texts and the things that are happening in my life and that of my community.
First, we have the text. One of the lectionary epistles is 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18. This is one of Paul’s last letters, written while imprisoned in Rome and quite possibly smuggled out of jail. He’s writing to encourage and give some final instructions to his protoge, Timothy. In this passage near the end of the letter, Paul is reflecting on his own ministry and noting, perhaps with a twinge of bitterness, how much he has suffered but that he expects God to vindicate him for his faithfulness. Paul’s confidence remains unshakeable, even though he knows he is going to meet an ugly end.
Paul has already reminded Timothy to keep his focus on the most important things in his ministry, a reminder he has probably given Timothy many times before. It reminds me of the commercial where a nervous looking father is giving last minute driving instructions to his daughter in the driver’s seat, seeing her as a small child rather than as a young woman. As any parent knows, no matter how old your child gets, they’ll always seem like the kid who doesn’t know how to tie their shoes. Paul likely had the utmost confidence in Timothy, but like a father he can’t resist going over the directions one more time.
OK, that’s the text. But to truly be proclaiming a Word to the people, a sermon needs to connect the text to what the people are experiencing in their day-to-day lives. As Karl Barth put it, theology (meaning all thinking about God) should be done with “the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other”.
Liturgically, many churches will be celebrating All Saints’ Sunday, where we remember those that have died in the past year, so many congregations will have lost friends and loved ones on their mind. Perhaps these are happy memories of a life well lived. But there is probably also some sadness, too. Many people are getting ready to experience their first Thanksgiving without grandma, or their first Christmas without dad. Finding a “new normal” after the death of someone close to you takes some time, and experiencing these first holidays since that death are a major part of that adjustment.
The occasion of All Saints’ gives preachers a golden opportunity to talk about the cycle of life and death that is always present with us, but is much more present in our minds at this time than at others. In the epistle, Paul is about to exit the stage, and Timothy’s generation will now lead this new thing called Christianity. We don’t know much about Timothy, but we can guess that he probably faced hardships just like Paul did. It’s a safe bet that in some of his darker moments, Timothy really wished that Paul was still there to guide him and tell him what to do. It’s also a safe bet that Timothy heard grumblings from people in his church about how much better things were in the old days when Paul was around, even though these were the same people who complained about Paul!
As much as Timothy and others may have missed Paul, Paul was still with them through the legacy he left. They could read his letters, they could recall his example and his advice, and they could only imagine how much different their lives would have been had Paul not been a part of them. We mourn the loss of those that have passed from this life into the next, and we may even wish that they were still here. But we can rejoice because they will always be with us through the mark they made on our lives. They live in eternity with God, of course, but they also live on here. And until those two things are ultimately joined together (whenever and however that may happen), we have that hope to carry us on.
May you and your congregation have a blessed All Saints’ Sunday.
There's Tension In This Passage
2010-11-05 by Guy Kent
For this purpose he called you through our proclamation of the good news, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by our letter. (2Thessalonians 2: 14-15)
Sometimes I wonder how I got to this profession. Mama, my grandmother who raised me in my early years, was a devoted Christian who read her Bible every night. And when she told me she prayed for me every day, I know she did. I also know that when the door of the church opened my Mama was there and if I was visiting with her I was, too. And when a decade after her death the bishop appointed me Senior Pastor of her church all those memories came flooding back.
My grandfather, who was and still is my hero, didn't go to church with Mama. I'm sure there were special occasions when he did, but I wasn't there. He did show up the first time I preached a sermon. I must have met his muster because he encouraged me to follow my calling.
There was Mama, devout and earnest, standing firm and holding fast to the traditions.” There was my grandfather, not having any part of those traditions and seldom discussing his faith, and, yet, somehow he was so more devout than all of us, so in touch with the eternal in his attitudes and actions.
I was raised in a religious tension. And, surprise, surprise, ordination did nothing to lessen it. The church is the household of tension, the tension of what has been and that which will be, to say nothing of the tensions that always exist in the present moment.
A member of less than a year in my church said recently to a member of a half century or more, “It doesn't matter how 'we' always did it. What matters is how we're going to do it now.”
“As to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ ….” everybody has a personal take on it. My Mama did. My grandfather did. The new members of my church do. And the older members do. And there lies the tension.
Mama read her Bible and prayed for me. My grandfather didn't read his Bible as far as I know nor, to my knowledge, did he pray for me. But both brought me to this path, and both love our Lord Jesus Christ. Some of my members are so bound to the past I think if there were a nuclear attack they'd circle the wagons and put the women and children in the children. Some of my members are so liberal I think if they were honest their prayers would be directed “to whom it may concern.”
And maybe that's what keeps the traditions moving to meet the future. And maybe that's what forms the saints.
All Saints' Sunday and Politicians
2010-11-04 by David von Schlichten
That's what we will be observing this Sunday at St. James Evangelical Lutheran Church (ELCA) in Youngstown, PA.
We are all saints because our baptism into Christ makes us so. The people of God are saints, not because of their merits, but because of God's magnanimity. In response, we are to strive to live up to the saint-status that God has conferred upon us. In addition, God enables us to do this and forgives us when we sin.
Given this status, given that we just had an election, and given the widespread scapegoating and cynicism we voters hurl at politicians, I may proclaim this Sunday that part of living our saint status perhaps is to spend less time griping about politicians and more time becoming the change we wish to see in the world (to borrow from Gandhi, who, by the way, was highly political).
That's what I have so far.
Yours in Christ,
David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator
2010-11-04 by Rina Terry
This week, I have been called to offer pastoral care to a 35-year-old facing breast cancer, a 77-year-old who has had six colon cancer surgeries and has been told it is back, a 90-year-old with more energy than someone half her age who has lost her sight in one eye, a man whose girlfriend is being held emotional hostage by her angry teen daughter, a family who lost one son to suicide and the other to alcoholism and prison bids.
I have read this week's lectionary passages, read some commentary, pondered and meditated, asked questions. In other words, I've done my exegetical process. Yet, I'm still sitting here in the silence and, as of yet, do not know what I will preach.
I want to tell them that "The latter splendor of [their] house shall be greater than the former," but I do not think that would be the best thing to say right now.
I want to tell them, "The Lord is just in all his ways, and kind in all his doings." I'm not certain they would believe me right now.
Sometimes, I think we have to abandon lectionary passages, the proof-text scripture verses that we pull our of our pastoral care hats for difficult moments, and listen for the voice of God in the moment. Still speaking, still revealing, still comforting, still offering us safe harbor in life's tsunami moments.
It is then that the ministry of presence counts the most. Simply sitting in silence and concern when there are no sufficient words. God's promises, I believe, are most evident in the silence.
Welcome, Guy Kent!
2010-11-03 by David Howell
Guy Kent is a retired elder of the United Methodist Church serving as a supply pastor for a congregation in Northwest Georgia. He is known in the internet circles as The Questing Parson through his blog.
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