2013-02-16 by David von Schlichten


Sermon on Luke 4:1-13

for St. James Evangelical Lutheran Church, Youngstown, PA

with Sunday, February 17, 2013,

First Sunday in Lent, Year C,

with the Reverend Dr. David von Schlichten, D.Min., Ph.D.

(word count: 851)


B+ and Temptation:

Mercy, Part One: M for ME


            This Lent, each Sunday we will focus on a different word, one for each letter in the word “mercy.” Since the word begins with “M,” we will start with an M-word, which I’ll share soon.

            Today’s gospel is the story of the Devil tempting Jesus in the wilderness. Each time the Devil tries to trip him, Jesus responds by resisting with the help of quoting Scripture. When the Israelites wandered in the wilderness for forty years, they fell to temptation over and over. When the Devil tempts you and me, sometimes, by God’s grace, we succeed; often we fail. But when the Devil tempts Jesus, Jesus always succeeds. Adam and Eve could not avoid sin in a garden, but Jesus avoids sin in a desert. Jesus is our mighty fortress against the Devil.

            Among other things, Lent is a season during which we focus anew on what tempts us, on how God leads us not into it, and God’s flowing forgiveness in response to our sins. Many of us take on disciplines to help us become better morally and spiritually. We examine our weaknesses, what tempts us, and, by God’s power, endeavor to overcome them.

            So what tempts us? Alcohol, overeating, smoking, drugs, adultery. Many of us are tempted to place money or career over God or family. Gambling is a huge temptation. While there is no harm in a little bit of gambling, the activity can quickly destroy our lives. Gaming, too, can ruin lives. When a person neglects job, relationships, health, or hygiene to gamble or game, she or he has fallen into the Devil’s grip and needs help now.

            What tempts us? One especially strong temptation resides in the desire to please others. Now, to a point, there is nothing wrong with wanting to please others. One reason why I make the bed, go grocery shopping, and empty the dishwasher is that doing so pleases Kim. Of course we can work to please others, but doing so can lead us into sin.

            For instance, when we worry so much about pleasing others that we are not true to ourselves, we are guilty of a deception, a lie, a sin. Granted, sometimes we have to compromise ourselves, but, overall, we are to be true to who we are. What has God called you to? What are your strengths, your passions, your weaknesses? Who are you? God calls us to be honest with each other. God does not call us to be phony.

            Do you worry so much about pleasing others that you misrepresent yourself? How can you share yourself more, be truer to your authentic self? The Holy Spirit summons us to share who we are, our unique gifts, for the common good. “To each is given a manifestation of the Holy Spirit for the common,” the Bible says. Are you sharing that manifestation? Are you true to yourself, or do you hide in the name of pleasing others?

            Now we come to our M-word, me. Each of us has a ME, an authentic self that God calls us to share with others for the common good. What is your ME from the Spirit for the common good? In other words, what gift has the Spirit given you? What is distinct about you. Do you share that with others, or are you too worried about criticism and rejection?

            Look, not everyone is going to like you, and there will always be people who will criticize you. The sooner you can be OK with that truth, the better. In fact, the more you do, the more people will criticize you. So what? Why does criticism bother us so much? A criticism is just someone’s opinion. If it’s valid, learn from it and move on. If it’s invalid, forget it and move on. All the while, share with others the ME that the Spirit has given you.

            Indeed, our calling as the baptized is not to please everyone. Our calling is to please God. We are to love according to God. What’s your ME that you have received from the Spirit? Find that and share it, and if people find that pleasing, great. If they don’t, too bad. I know: easier said than done. With practice, though, we can reach that point of not fretting over what people think.

            Who are you? Here’s an exercise. Find a song, a picture, a paragraph, something that says ME. Find it. If you need to, ask people to help you. Know who you are. Know the ME. Then ask yourself, “Am I sharing that with others for the common good?” Then do that. Share that ME. Resist the temptation to please everyone. Resist that temptation.  

            When here on Earth, Christ certainly was not worried about pleasing everyone. Christ healed, proclaimed the truth, cared for the poor, associated with hookers and thieves, concerned about serving God, not about pleasing everyone. Christ went to the cross, not to please people, but to save everyone.

            What tempts us? Christ forgives us and then says to us, “Now go, and resist temptation, and don’t worry about pleasing everyone.”

Psalm 71 and the Value of the Elderly; Fourth Sunday after Epiphany, Year C
2013-02-01 by David von Schlichten

Psalm 71 features an elderly person reflecting on h/his life with God. The psalm points to the value of the religious elderly, those who have lived well and thus are models for the rest of us.

I'm thinking that my sermon this Sunday might be a celebration of seniors. Often we in the Church fixate on getting the young people more involved because they're "the future of the Church" (such a faulty phrase). Of course young people are important, but what if a congregation decided to try attract more seniors?

This Sunday may be a senior celebration.

Yours in Christ,

David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator 

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

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