Thoughts on the Texts
2010-09-07 by Stephanie Sorge Wing

I have looked through the Scripture passages a few times, letting them all ruminate together in my head.  Rather than immediately choosing a passage for focus, I often look for the ways in which the passages converse with one another, and that helps me begin to formulate a theme of sorts. 

Jeremiah 4 and Psalm 14

Jeremiah and the Psalmist both invoke the categories of wisdom and foolishness.  Fools say there is no God, and the foolish people do not know God.  The verb used in Jeremiah, y'ada, is to know in the relational sense.  True wisdom is right relationship with God, which leads to right relationship with others and a path of righteousness.  Fools follow their own way, which leads to destruction.  Jeremiah envisions the whole ordered creation laid in ruins.  Knowing God, being in right relationship with God, and living a life faithful to that relationship, leads to abundant life - for all of creation.  Corruption, evil, and injustice can only lead to destruction.

1 Timothy 1

If Jeremiah and the Psalmist give us a general view of foolishness and wisdom, our passage from 1st Timothy uses Paul as an example of a life lived on both paths.  In Paul's ignorance and unbelief - in his lack of right relationship with God - he was a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a man of violence.  Once he begins to learn - through God's self-revelation - he becomes wise, seeking after God, and serving as an example and a witness to God's transforming grace. 

The Feasting on the Word series has become my first go-to commentary.  Commentary from Jane Anne Ferguson and William "Matt" Matthews on this passage both point to the importance of the testimony of personal experience found in this salutation.  Readers or listeners are often able to connect with the "before" picture - doing the things we wish we would not do.  More importantly, we are hungry for the "after."  We still need to hear personal testimonies that speak to the transforming power of God's grace through Jesus Christ in our lives today. 

To those who are walking rocky paths and seeking a better way, testimony of God's transforming grace could be music to their ears.  No matter how familiar the faces in the congregation, or how "together" people look, we might be surprised by those who are struggling on their path in silence.  If your church is like ours, where perhaps half of the active members are also ordained Elders, this can also be an important reminder or encouragement for leaders.  If you are questioning your own preparedness for the task, you are not alone, and you are right to do so!  It is only through the grace of God that we can be examples and witnesses to others.  In some situations, personal testimony might be especially appropriate on this Sunday.

Luke 15

Turning now to the Gospel reading, we see the welcome party that God is just waiting to throw to those sinners who turn to the path of wisdom, desiring to know God through Jesus Christ.  Back in March, John Bell lectured and preached at Louisville Presbyterian Seminary (my alma mater), and Andy and I went to hear him.  His sermon texts included this passage from Luke, along with Psalm 23.  Psalm 23 was recited dramatically by a student with a rich, deep baritone voice, who made his way slowly from the back of the chapel to the chancel while reciting this often too-familiar Psalm.  We worshipers in the pews were surprised by the start of the reading behind us, and turned to see this student, legally blind, making his way down the aisle without any assistance beyond his cane.  It was utterly stunning, and I will never hear or read the 23rd Psalm the same way again.

John Bell asked us to discuss amongst ourselves the similarities between the 23rd Psalm and Luke 15:1-10.  An obvious similarity is the shepherd imagery, but Bell also pointed to the extravagance of the celebrations - cups overflowing, neighbors and friends who are roused from their routines to celebrate together the finding of what was lost.  That extravagant imagery should not be lost on us.  Especially when we read such vivid language of destruction and desolation as we find in our reading from Jeremiah, we need to be reminded that God's passion for us is just as vividly displayed when we return to relationship with our Creator.

Bell also pointed out that while we have no problem seeing Jesus as the shepherd who goes to all ends to rescue the lost sheep, we probably don't often see Jesus in the woman who sweeps her home clean, uses precious oil for her lamp, and searches until she finds the one lost coin.  What are we missing when we fail to recognize our Savior in both persons?

I have not yet decided where to go specifically with the sermon, but there are certainly themes of the call to follow God, to repent and turn from the things that lead to destruction and lead us away from God's life-giving grace, and the extravagance of God's love and mercy, especially to all of us "sinners" out there.  "There's a Wideness in God's Mercy" comes to mind as a possible Hymn of Response (#298 in the Presbyterian Hymnal), but we shall see!

Stephanie Sorge Wing and James Howell
2010-09-07 by David Howell

Stephanie Sorge Wing will be blogging in the Homiletical Hot Tub this week. After a summer break, James Howell's Preaching Journal resumes!

Starting Thoughts
2010-09-07 by Stephanie Sorge Wing

Our church is old and "traditional" in many ways.  Our history goes back 227 years to the founding congregation, while we have had a series of buildings and a few different locations, our current sanctuary still dates back to 1853.  It was used as a hospital for both Union and Confederate troops during the Civil War.  Like many other mainline churches, our numbers have dwindled and our population is aging, for the most part, though we have seen some growth in youth and energy, too.  Our worship services are decidedly "traditional" - led by choir and organ, and stand in contrast to most other churches around us.

On this particular Sunday, we anticipate having at least a handful of guests from Harrodsburg High School Class of 1960's 50th Reunion, which is this weekend.  We will also be welcoming some new members into the congregation, and later in the afternoon kicking off Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University, so all of that will be on my mind as I write the sermon, as well. 

I always start with the Scripture texts, and often think liturgically, musically, and sermonically all at the same time, or at least in some kind of permeable flow.  Since it is God who gathers us together, I always like to use Scripture as the Call to Worship, and have already worked out a Call to Worship based on Psalm 14.  I also like to incorporate the lectionary readings into the liturgy where possible - in prayers, etc...  We will use part of the 1st Timothy passage - 1:15 "The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners--of whom I am the foremost" - in the Confession/Assurance of Pardon.    Based on the 1st Timothy reading, I have chosen "Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise" as the opening hymn of praise (#263 in the Presbyterian Hymnal).

More in my next post as the texts continues to marinate. 

Welcome, Stephanie Sorge Wing!
2010-09-07 by Stephanie Sorge Wing

My husband and I serve as Co-Pastors together at United Presbyterian Church in Harrodsburg, KY.  It is our first call, and we have been here for 21 months.  As Co-Pastors, we usually alternate preaching weekly, though August was a bit unusual for us.  Andy preached on the 1st, we were on vacation the 8th, I preached the 15th, we had a guest preacher the 22nd, and Youth Sunday on the 29th, so it has now been a month since I have preached and prepared a sermon.  I find that sermon writing is more fluid and a bit easier when I am preaching more regularly.  Every other week is manageable, but it usually takes me a bit longer to formulate everything if it has been any longer.  I hope that writing this blog helps me and others in the process!

Jennie Gordon's Poem
2010-09-04 by David von Schlichten

This poem ponders the kenosis of self to the cross and what that would mean for the speaker. The verses hold before each of us a great, intimidating, exciting challenge.

David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator

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