Sundays after Epiphany; Luke 4
2013-01-25 by David von Schlichten

Christ announces that his ministry will be about liberation, healing. We are to follow Christ; therefore, our ministry is to be about all these things, as well.

So then, there is much that our Christ-shaped ministry is NOT to be about.

1. Our ministry is not to be about our ego, about showing that we are right and someone who disagrees with us is wrong, winning the argument for the sake of self-inflation.

2. Our ministry is not to be about beating ourselves up when we fail to attain perfection.

3. Our ministry is not to be about how many are in the pews or how much offering we're taking in each week. Those matters are important, but they are not foremost what our ministry is to be about.

What is our ministry to be about? Following Christ, who brings good news, declares recovery of sight, frees the oppressed, proclaims the year of the Lord's favor.

Now, here's an important homiletic question: how does gun control relate to this ministry?

Yours in Christ,

David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator

Epiphany and a Niche; Matthew 2:1-12
2013-01-04 by David von Schlichten

The wisemen do not bring the most practical of gifts, but they bring gifts that seem to reflect themselves as well as Jesus. Gold, frankincense, and myrrh are evocative gifts, rich in meaning. 

I think about the gifts we all bring to Jesus. They vary depending on what God has given us in the first place. God has given some of us gold, frankincense, or myrrh, but has given others of us a drum to play or some other gift.

I want to challenge my congregation to start off 2013 thinking anew about its gifts and distinct identity. We tend to see ourselves as a generic small-town church, but I want to encourage my parishioners to regard our congregation as having a unique identity that makes a substantial difference in the community, or at least can.

What do we wise men and women bring? What is our identity, our niche, our God-given uniqueness?

Yours in Christ,

David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator 

Shooting in Newtown, Connecticut; Looking for a Diagnosis and Cure
2012-12-15 by David von Schlichten

We humans often respond to such horrible events by trying to identify THE problem and then to come up with THE solution. Here are some that I have heard. The shooting happened because:

1. people don't have morals anymore.

2. we took prayer out of schools.

3. we as a nation have turned our backs on God.

These three theories are really variations on the same theme. There is a notion that, back in the day (whenever that was), we were all devout Christians. Now we're not, so these shootings are happening.

There is so much wrong with this theology, it is difficult to know where to begin. One way to begin is to point out that, A. we certainly still teach good morality, although there is plenty of bad; B. you can still pray in schools (it is a common error to think that you cannot); C. plenty of people have not turned their backs on God, and, anyway, would God really respond to waywardness by allowing children to be murdered?

I'm not sure how to preach all this. One sermon would be insufficient. Perhaps the wise move is, over time, to try to instill in people that:

God is merciful and has saved us from wrath through Christ;

God does not respond to our sin by allowing children to be slaughtered;

While there is plenty of immorality, there is also plenty of sound morality;

Perhaps these shootings arise, not from a rejection of biblical morality per se, but from other issues, like the fact that we tend not to teach boys (all the shooters have been young men) how to cope with stress and self-esteem issues in constructive ways.

We need prayer and helping those in need far more than we need scapegoating. Christ empowers us to do just that. Thanks be to God!

Yours in Christ,

David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator

God Singing and Advent; Zephaniah 3:14-20; Fiscal Cliff and Our Doomsday Addiction
2012-12-12 by David von Schlichten

This passage for the third week of Advent speaks of God singing (v.17) with joy over us because of the victory; God has turned away our enemies. God will save us, redeem us, and sing with joy about us.

Note that the singing with joy is not about anything we have done but is solely about what God has done to save us. God rejoices over us inspite of us.

One of my parishioners at Bible study found the idea of God singing to be an especially touching image. Indeed, such an image could be quite effective at getting people's attention from the pulpit.

So what does God singing sound like? Where do you hear God singing? How do we clear our heads to hear the vocal music of the Almighty?

FISCAL CLIFF AND MAYAN DOOMSDAY: We humans secretly love these, don't we? We love to worry about the End or about imminent disaster. Zombie apocalypse.

Perhaps this obsession with the End or some great cataclysm is an outgrowth of our anxiety about our mortality, and perhaps it also arises from our lack of creativity and vision about the good that can happen in the future. We are better at envisioning bad scenarios than good ones. 

Advent challenges us to envision good scenarios while acknowledging the dark realities. The coming of Christ, future, past, and present, empowers us to be theoptimists.

So are we in financial trouble? Yes, but, through our troubles, Christ will be there, feeding and teaching us, and working through us to help one another.

In general, we humans are quick to think the sky is falling and slow to think that God is lifting us. Let's challenge each other to have the ears to hear the song of God.

Yours in Christ,

David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator

Presidential Election, Veteran's Day, November 11, 2012, Mark 12:38-44
2012-11-09 by David von Schlichten

The gospel for November 11, 2012 warns against mistreating widows and features Jesus pointing out what most people are overlooking, a widow giving all she has. She's not flashy and fancy, not noisy or ostentatious. She is not wealthy, has no prestigious position, and she is, according to Jesus, the most important person in the room, a kind of model for the rest of us.

Of course, we can't all literally give every cent of our money away. Actually, there is nothing in the passage that says that we must imitate the woman's behavior to the letter. We are just told that she has given more than the wealthy because she has given everything. Further, while it may not be economically sound for everyone to give away everything, it is our calling to challenge ourselves in the area of giving, to push ourselves to give more. 

Part of that giving is giving to widows, that is, people in need, and God calls President Obama to help make this giving happen more effectively (He's off to a good start, and I am thrilled that he was re-elected). Indeed, all of us, regardless of party, are to put aside partisan silliness and focus on helping the widow. We may disagree on how to help the widow, but we also have areas of agreement. Let's concentrate on those.

One group of "widows" among is wounded veterans. May we do more to help those struggling with physical, psychological, and spiritual illnesses and injuries.

Who are the widows among us? How does our nation help them, and what could we do better?

Yours in Christ,

David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator 

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