Mark 10:17-31
2012-10-12 by David von Schlichten

I get that one of the points of the passage is that we humans are dependent upon Christ for our salvation. Without God, we can never make it even to the driveway of heaven, but with God, all things are possible. What a relief.

What I don't fully get is how we are to apply to ourselves the statement Jesus makes to the rich man. Jesus tells the man to sell everything he has, but it is economically impossible for everyone to do this. Granted, some of us, such as nuns and monks, do get rid of our possessions and follow Christ. However, we can't all do this, so how do we apply this passage to our lives?

Of course, the larger point is that we are to put Christ first, but what does that look like for us folks who have nice homes and cars and healthy salaries? Perhaps the passage calls for us to live simpler and give more extravagantly. So how do we push ourselves to live simpler and simpler and give more and more to help the poor? 

As we try to figure this out, we give thanks for the assurance that, even when we mess up, Christ still bestows upon us the greatest riches of all.

Yours in Christ,

David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator





100 a Sunday; Numbers 11; Psalm 19; James 5:13-20; Mark 9:38-50
2012-09-27 by David von Schlichten

Our attendance has been down by about fifteen people a Sunday. We used to have 80-100 in worship with an average attendance for the year around 100. We were at those figures for thirteen years. Last year we had about 70-90 in worship and an average attendance for the year at 97. This year has been roughly the same as last year.

This isn't a crisis, but I am not exactly delighted with low attendance. I'm trying to figure out what we can do to get more people in church on Sundays.

Of course, church isn't just about attendance, but the number of people in the pews does matter. When it comes to outreach, Christian education, and finances, we're doing fine. Thanks be to God. But that doggone Sunday attendance. Grr.

THE READINGS for Sunday remind me why attendance is significant, why Christianity MUST be a communal religion. In NUMBERS, Moses needs helpers, and God sends them. In JAMES, we hear of the importance of people coming together to pray for each other and anoint each other with oil. In MARK, we hear that those who are not against us are for us and are to be encouraged to do Christ's work. Indeed, we work to help each other to follow the law, which PSALM 19 praises. 

Both Numbers and Mark feature the idea that official outsiders are often God's insiders. So then, as we at St. James ponder how to revive attendance, we are to think theo-creatively about who could join us.

So this Sunday, I will draw from the readings to preach about attendance, not in a scolding way or in a way that fixates on numbers, but in a way (I hope) that highlights inclusivity and the pricelessness of gathering to worship God.

Yours in Christ,

David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator 

 





Enemies, Psalm 54
2012-09-20 by David von Schlichten

Psalm 54 speaks of God rescuing us from our enemies, but who are our enemies? Is it helpful to think of people as enemies, especially if we are supposed to love them? Isn't the label "enemies" reductive and alienating?

Rather than calling people "enemies," it is more productive to acknowledge that some people do horrible things to us but then to analyze their behavior and think about how we can minister to them. Labeling somone as "enemy" tends to let us off the hook; that person is officially evil, hoplessly the villain, so there is no point in trying to help him or her.

Granted, some people are cruel and vicious, but God calls us to move beyond simply designating someone as "enemy" and loving that person. "Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you." Or, as the Dalai Lama teaches, the best way to conquer our enemies is to make them our friends.

Yours in Christ,

David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator





The Tongue, the Cross, An Anti-Muslim Film; James 3:1-12 and Mark 8:27-38
2012-09-14 by David von Schlichten

JAMES 3:1-12 

This passage warns against the misuse of the tongue. These verses resonate with many of us because we know all too well how inflammatory words can be. This week, we have also seen how inflammatory words on film can be. But how precisely do we learn to control the tongue? 

ONE GUIDELINE FOR PROPER TONGUE-USAGE: MAKE SURE YOU KNOW WHAT YOU'RE TALKING ABOUT BEFORE YOU START TALKING 

Jesus models proper speech in the gospel from Mark 8:27-28. Peter uses his tongue to declare that Jesus is the Messiah, but then he uses it to rebuke Jesus. Peter misspeaks because he lacks proper understanding. Jesus then speaks to provide the correct--and shocking--understanding: that being the Messiah entails suffering, and following the Messiah entails suffering, as well.

THE KIND OF SUFFERING GOD CALLS FOR 

But it's not just any suffering. It's suffering that glorifies God and serves others. So, for instance, enduring an abusive marriage is not the kind of suffering Christ speaks of here. Instead, the suffering might be mustering up the courage to leave the abusive marriage. Taking up the cross means embracing suffering in accord with God's love, not embracing suffering for the sake of suffering.

Part of embracing constructive suffering is learning to control our tongues, and part of what helps us to control our tongues is controling our emotions and also making sure we have the needed information. Often we start talking before we know what we're talking about (as is the case with Peter in his rebuke of Jesus).

THE ANTI-MUSLIM FILM AND THE FALL-OUT

The anti-Muslim film that has ignited this inferno of violence was irresponsible and sinful.

The violent response has also been irresponsible and sinful.

The NON-violent demonstrations in the Middle East (which don't get as much media coverage) and the apologies from Libyans offer us a constructive, loving, non-violent use of words, of the tongue.

Yours in Christ,

David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator





Legalistic Reductionism; Readings for September 2, 2012
2012-08-31 by David von Schlichten

The readings for this Sunday are full of law and exhortation. Deuteronomy says that we are to adhere to God's statutes. Psalm 15 says that we have to be blameless to dwell in the tabernacle. James 1 urges us to be slow to speak, slow to anger, and Mark 7 has a lengthy list of sinful qualities that we are not to have in our hearts. I can just hear my Bible study saying, "See? We better get it together!"

Now, of course we are to live according to high moral standards in response to Christ, but many parishioners tend to reduce Christianity to "thou shalt not" and will likely do so when they hear these readings. We are often guilty of legalistic reductionism when it comes ot the Gospel. 

It is essential for us preachers to situate these ethical exhortations in a context of God's grace. Parishioners tend to hear "You better get it together or else." God calls us to help people hear instead, "Because Christ loves you, respond with love for God and others."

Yours in Christ,

David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator





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