Tuesday- Roundtable Pulpit
2010-08-25 by Matthew Lloyd Kelley

On Tuesday night our church holds our Roundtable Pulpit gathering at a local Starbucks to discuss the passages and themes for the coming Sunday. You can read more about our collaborative preaching process here.


It would be difficult if not impossible to replicate the entire conversation. And any attempt to do so would violate the “safe space” spirit we’ve cultivated for these gatherings, so what I will share is a slightly expanded form of the notes I took during last night’s conversation.


As a side note, my exegetical work and notes from the Roundtable conversation usually stay in handwritten bullet points in my notebook. This is the first time I’ve ever tried to make coherent paragraphs out of them. I’m not sure what kind of difference this new experience will make in the final product, but I’ll let you know at the end of the week.


Without further ado, here are some highlights of last night’s Roundtable Pulpit conversation on Genesis 1:3-5 and Matthew 5:14-16, and the theme of the “Sun Rising”.


We are supposed to be the light of the world, but what if our light is somehow dimmed or tainted? God is the source of the light, and any marring of that comes from us or those around us, life circumstances, etc.


Light illuminates other things, but also draws your attention to its source. We are to be like a mirror, reflecting the light of Christ, but ultimately calling attention away from ourselves and giving the glory to God. Drawing attention to our deeds but effectively giving God the glory is very hard do to, and this kind of humility is never perfected.


Physics has taught us that we can’t see anything without light bouncing off of it, and the way we perceive things like colors is due to how things filter and refract light. What do we filter out and what do we let through? What kind of a prism are we?


There’s something significant about the light and dark being separated at the beginning of creation. The idea that “we all start off in darkness” can be taken in multiple ways. Theologically, some people believe that one only “sees the light” at a specific moment, at which time they become “saved”. We can also understand it in terms of being in the womb, and when a baby comes out there are bright lights, so it shuts its eyes and screams because it has no idea what is going on.


Regarding sources of light, why are we drawn to them? When we have a campfire, why do we sit there and watch it dance, as if transfixed? We don’t usually build a fire unless it is dark, but a fire takes on a life of its own and we don’t know which way it will go next. Fire also purifies. It is how we separate elements like silver and gold to make jewelry.


When our new church building is being constructed, it will literally rise (gradually) from the ground up. It will attract lots of attention, and there will probably be a number of visitors who come because they are curious and want to see what we’ve built. Our challenge will be to direct their attention toward the glory of God and not to be too proud of what we have made with our hands.


Our understanding of the sun has evolved over the centuries. For a long time we thought the earth was the center of the universe. Then we learned that the earth revolved around the sun, and later that even the sun wasn’t stationary, but revolved around the center of a galaxy that is merely one of billions in the universe. Even though it took the church a few centuries to catch up to this evolving scientific knowledge (in many ways we’re still catching up), we have a better understanding of our place in creation and how we are not the center of it all.


We could easily have carried on this conversation for much longer, but at the end of the designated hour we closed with prayer. Over the rest of the week I will be distilling all of this into one core idea, and build the sermon around that. Friday is designated as “sermon writing day”, and hopefully I’ll share some kind of outline by then.


Until then, thanks for reading. Blessings to all you pastors out there crafting your messages for Sunday!

Upsetting Tables
2010-08-24 by Stephen Schuette

Jesus obviously has a reputation.  When he’s around things happen.  After he allows a sinful woman to anoint him at the table (7:36ff), after the visit to Mary and Martha (10:36ff), when he didn’t wash before dining (11:37ff), well, who knows what’s going to happen at a meal when Jesus is around.  No wonder they are on pins and needles “…watching him closely.”  He’s become a high-profile guest and perhaps in the view of some even more trouble than he’s worth if all you want to do is have a calm, relaxing meal that’s easy on the digestion.

And although he does confront the host here he goes way beyond that in his observation about how all the guests are behaving.  Did they think this follower of John the Baptist should have stayed in the wilderness, lived on locusts and wild honey, and stayed away from dinner banquets altogether?  His prior associations as well as recent events seem to suggest he’s not suited for fine dining.  Who of us wouldn’t have been watching him if we were there?

So I think it is a mistake to turn this into a nice, tame Bible story that fails to recognize the scandal.  The humility that Jesus is promoting here is not about planning to sit low so that you can manipulate an invitation upward.  Nor is it a general strategy for an approach that works.  If so clever people would have figured this out long ago.  In fact while Jesus talks about humility he’s not acting humbly at all.  He’s talking in a way that suggests he has the authority to tell people where to sit, how to act, what to do at a table.  He’s either just plain rude or he’s the Lord.  One or the other is the only way the story makes any sense.

Looking backward to the previous meal stories and then ahead you might even get the idea that tables kind of set him off.  Maybe it’s because he stubbornly refuses to see the difference between a table and an altar and so he’s bent on closing the gap.

Welcome, Matthew L. Kelley!
2010-08-24 by David Howell

Rev. Matthew L. Kelley is a husband to Jessica, father to Kate, a pastor, writer, blogger, podcaster, and very amateur musician who is trying very hard to follow in the way of Jesus and to help others to do so, as well. He has a BA in Religion and Political Science from Butler University and an MDiv from Vanderbilt University. Matt pastors Bethlehem United Methodist Church in Clarksville, TN, and has written for Youthworker Journal, The Journal of Student Ministries, The United Methodist Publishing House, Worship Connection, Youth Ministry Today, the General Board of Discipleship of the United Methodist Church, and now for Good Preacher! His blog and podcast, The Truth As Best I Know It, can be found at http://matthewlkelley.blogspot.com

Monday Exegesis- Genesis 1:3-5; Matthew 5:14-16
2010-08-23 by Matthew Lloyd Kelley

Hello, friends. My name is Matt Kelley, and I’ve been asked to blog about my sermon writing process this week here in the Homiletical Hot Tub.


I practice a model of collaborative preaching that is partially based on the work of one of my seminary professors (more about that in a minute), so follow a weekly schedule for the whole process to work properly along with all the other demands of parish ministry.


First thing’s first. I’m the pastor of Bethlehem United Methodist Church in Clarksville, Tennessee. Last year we lost our historic church building when a bolt of lightning hit our steeple and burned the building down. During the last year we’ve been engaged in a process of revisioning and planning for the rebuilding, and during the month of August we’re conducting our capital campaign to raise funds for a new church building.


The theme of our campaign is “Bethlehem on the Rise”, and each of the worship services this month has had a theme of something rising. For August 29, the theme is “The Sun Rising”, and the scriptures, sermon, music, etc. are all chosen to fit this theme. So the two passages our capital campaign team picked for this Sunday are Genesis 1:3-5 and Matthew 5:14-16.


On Monday I do my exegetical work. I always use the New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary, a set of which I have at home. I also consult other resources, depending on the passages and themes for the week. This week I also consulted the Word Biblical Commentary on Genesis, Detrich Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship, since it contains and extended meditation on the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew, and David N. Mosser’s The Stewardship Companion: Lectionary Resources for Preaching.


I usually also consult a variety of online resources. There’s a wealth of good stuff here on GoodPreacher.com, as you probably already know. It’s all divided up according to the Revised Common Lectionary, but if you’re preaching from different texts, go to Vanderbilt’s Lectionary Website, type in the passage(s) you’re using in the search bar, and it will tell you when and where it occurs in the RCL. If you are following the lectionary (as I usually do), Journey with Jesus is another great site.


Using the resources mentioned above, and knowing I’ll need to incorporate the themes of Sun and light, and somehow tie that into giving money for our new building, here is my Monday exegesis.


Genesis 1 is part of the first of two creation stories that begin the Bible. The first creation story is generally credited to the Priestly source (read more on the 4 source theory for Genesis here), and may have been composed in its present form as late as the time of Ezra and Nehemiah (5th century BCE). It’s important to remember that this text represents a pre-scientific world view, so it should not be judged by post-Enlightenment standards of fact. God creates the light on day 1, and the Sun on day 2, suggesting that the ancients saw light as having a divine origin, the Sun being one of many luminaries placed in the sky. The sun goes away at night and returns in the morning, making each day a new creation, filled with possibility.


Jesus also talks about the concept of light in the Sermon on the Mount. He talks about it in two contrasting ways. Calling his followers “the light of the world”, Jesus may be highlighting that the purpose of light is not for itself, but for other things to be illuminated. Light points to something beyond itself. However, in the very next breath Jesus calls his followers “a city on a hill”, which certainly does draw attention to itself! The idea that the works of disciples of Jesus are to be seen stands in tension with other sayings about doing things “in secret” (ex- Matthew 6:3). These tensions should not be seen as “contradictions”, but as illustrative of the very real tension that followers of Christ experience in striving to live in such a way that points beyond themselves to the greatness of God.


Bohoeffer points out that disciples are not told to “become” or “strive to be” light for the world. Jesus makes the statement in the present tense: “you are the light”. Jesus is telling his followers to be what they already are. The light is a gift of which we are stewards, meant to be shared with everyone and not just those we want to let in. This passage occurs in the context of a teaching to a large group of people, most of whom are curious about Jesus but not yet committed followers. This is not a private teaching to the twelve. The very setting indicates the inclusiveness of Jesus’ gospel and reminds the church that it is not a closed society of the elect, but an ad hoc committee dedicated to the redemption of the entire world.


I have these exegetical insights in a notebook, which I will have with me on Tuesday night at our congregation’s weekly Roundtable Pulpit. We meet at a local Starbucks, and anyone (church members, friends, and complete strangers) is welcome to come and reflect on the texts and themes for the week. I take notes in the same notebook, and have it with me the rest of the week while I’m composing my Sunday sermon.


The very name Roundtable Pulpit is unashamedly ripped off from a book of the same name written by John McClure, with whom I had the pleasure of studying at Vanderbilt Divinity School.


A while back I wrote an article on Cokesbury's Worship Connection about the collaborative preaching process, and you can read that if you want to know more.


I’ll post again on Wednesday with a summary of our Tuesday night conversation, and again later in the week as I try to put it all together for Sunday.


Jeremiah 2:4-14; Psalm 81:1, 10-16; Hebrews 13:1-8. 15-16; Luke 14:1, 7-14
2010-08-23 by Laurie McKnight

So here I am contemplating the lectionary choices for this upcoming 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time.

First I look at Jeremiah.  What jumps out at me first is “Hear…O house of Jacob” sounding very much like the shema.  Then the word “worthless” gets my attention – we all have issues of self-worth, and if our ancestors went far away from God, how would we know to love and praise the Lord?  We talk about the young families these days who have so much to do on Sunday mornings (Safiyah Fosua wrote about that on June 11, 2010), so many choices – how would they know to choose the Lord if that is not in their family history?  Are we who deny or ignore the Lord out of ignorance worthless?  Then I see “accusing your children’s children,” and I wonder again about this generational responsibility – visiting the sins of the fathers on their children’s children and beyond….  I wonder if America is a nation that has “changed its gods” – have we forsaken our Lord – and are we now worshipping wealth or health or activities or hobbies?


Next I look at the psalm.  I like to have the congregation read the psalms responsively in worship, but more the psalms that glorify the Lord and less the ones that talk about lament to God or punishment from God.  This psalm talks about what God would do, and says we God’s people are not listening/have not listened to God’s voice, so we are not obedient.  That might resonate with the Jeremiah text above (ancestors going away from God), but Psalm 81 is not really grabbing my attention.


So on to Hebrews we go.  “Some have entertained angels without knowing it” – great phrase.  Maybe not enough to build a sermon around.  References to prison and torture – a social justice sermon?  “Let marriage be held in honor by all…” is verse 4 (“mutual love” in verse 1), so perhaps I can work Dan’s wedding into my sermon after all….  Why is that phrase here, followed by a reference to the love of money, and then the wonderful words, “I will never leave you or forsake you,” and “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid”?  Leaders in the faith, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever…”  There is so much richness in this text – maybe too much.  I am “shooting” in too many directions; I am free-associating too much.  There is a reference to strange teaching, to blood sacrifice, to tent worship in the camp and who might officiate, to a longing for a lasting city, the city that is to come.  Then concluding with doing good and sharing what you have – the new kind of sacrifice that is pleasing to God.  Again, there’s a lot in this passage from Hebrews.  I might let the scripture marinate for a day or two and see how it speaks to me….


And finally, the gospel.  Ah, Luke!  (Jesus healing on the Sabbath – awesome, but not included in the pericope – a well-known story, and something that addresses OUR failure to keep the Sabbath holy, in our culture today.)  And then the parable of being an honored dinner guest, or how we might assume we are more honored than others who are invited to dinner.  Do we assume which place we should take?  This scripture has just 2 paragraphs, just 2 ideas.  This is probably what I will preach from.  I think Jeremiah dovetails nicely with this – worthlessness and self-image – who we think we are and who others think we are…..  I will probably use those two scriptures.  That’s enough wrangling for today.


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