Are You Talkin' to Me?
2010-05-18 by Stephen Schuette

I stand in awe of the way the seasons flow into one another.  All along the stories from Acts that we’ve been reading in Eastertide are seen as evidence of the continuing work of a Risen Christ.  But now, from Acts 2, we look back on these same stories and find them connected with a “violent wind” – a kind of uncontrollable, unmanageable, untamable force that, as John would say (through the voice of Jesus), “…blows where it wills.”

Why violent, including the violence in the prophecy of Joel that is quoted?  Because Luke can’t get away from the fact that it is disrupting and disorienting and radically undermines our assumptions about how the world works and who is in charge and even the nature of “power” itself.  Looking back, that’s what resurrection suggests.  Looking forward, it means we have to look at everything anew, imagine everything “in translation.”  And the lexicon which holds the key to the message or the prophecy is Jesus.

For instance, Borg and Crossan make clear that the early message about Jesus (as well as the words of Jesus himself) uses language that is co-opted from imperial Roman understandings. Words are translated.  Talk about transformation!  The very powers that attempted to derail the movement using Roman crucifixion are actually taken up to illustrate God’s new message of resurrection.  So there is Son of God/Son of God, peace/peace, empire/empire, cross/cross, slave/slave, heir/heir.  But without Jesus you can’t understand the language.  Without Jesus it’s just more Babel-producing noise.  In fact, the miracle of Pentecost may be that the listeners “heard” each in their own language and were able to pick it out and identify it rather than being confused by the din of all the comingled languages!

Notice how midway through the passage the pronouns switch from third person (they) to first person (we).  Luke verbalizes, in first person, the question of each in the crowd:  “How is it that we hear, each of us…?”  Or, from the other side, given God’s power to use language that’s understandable (God’s ability to create and speak a Word), how can we not hear?  What’s standing in the way of our truly hearing?

For God can use everything/anything.  The reality is pervasive.  It’s only our understanding that is short-sighted (or short of hearing??).  Tillich would say that a Christian who paints a tree paints a Christian tree.  In other words it is imbued with the language of faith.  And so the Christian who views the painting would recognize it and say, “Ok, I understand.  You were talkin’ to me afterall.”

The Festival of Homiletics
2010-05-17 by David von Schlichten

Post your thoughts about the Festival! We'd love for you to share your experiences.

Stuck back in PA, I am

Yours in Christ,

David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator

Stephen Schuette, Subversion, and Confirmation
2010-05-13 by David von Schlichten

Stephen Schuette offers excellent thoughts about the subversive nature of prayer in two of our readings for this Sunday.

We at St. James are having confirmation this Sunday. Teens, of course, tend to rebel against authority, including the Church. Perhaps it would be a fruitful strategy to preach this Sunday on how being involved with the Church is a rebellious act vis-a-vis the world. Wanna rebel? Come to worship!

Actually, that message probably won't persuade teens to attend worship who are adamantly opposed to doing so, but the message is true, nonetheless. Besides, it might help teens who are on the fence about the Church to commit to attending worship at least once in a while. 

I don't know. What do you think?

Yours in Christ,

David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator

More Subversive Prayer
2010-05-11 by Stephen Schuette

The prayer of Jesus in John is challenging, and subversive too, in a way that maybe strikes very close to home!  It's sometimes called Jesus' high priestly prayer, but I think its character is far more prophetic than priestly.

The mirror opposite of Jesus' high and majestic desire for us is the reality in which we live – a church divided and divided again, with continuing divisions that keep us from oneness.  You might try to mitigate this with an appreciation for the variety of gifts that the various denominations bring to a theoretical larger Christian movement.  But I find that argument to be a rationalization and a self-serving explanation that allows us to stay comfortably where we are entrenched in separate camps instead of taking Jesus’ prayer as something we are to seriously live out.

For I believe that Jesus’ great hope as expressed in this prayer is also connected with Jesus’ deepest disappointment and even tears at its lack of fulfillment.  For example, how deep and rewarding is the sense of community I share with colleagues on Tuesday mornings as we listen to the texts!  At the same time, how deep is my sorrow that what we share on Tuesdays is not present on Sunday!

We dont' need to be reminded that Sunday is the most segreated time in Christendom:  racially, generationally, ethnically, denominationally...  It's an old book and out of print but if you can get your hands on it see H. Richard Niebhur's Social Sources of Denominationalsim.  How we are invested in adiaphora!

Prayer as a Subversive Act
2010-05-11 by Stephen Schuette

Darn.  I don’t preach this week.  Ever been all dressed up with a sermon and have no place to go?

Even the opening line of the Acts passage is rich.  “…as we were going to the place of prayer…”  It’s like, “…as Rosa Parks was on the way to work she sat down on a bus…” or “On the way to church Desmond Tutu happened to run into apartheid.”  Could be the title of a play, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Place of Prayer.  That’s all they set out to do.  But the world interfaces with it and will not let prayer be done in ivory towers.  Circumstances pull us to live our faith.

So simply on the way to prayer Paul and Silas run into a whole web of relationships:  economic, legal, cultural, religious.  There’s interests connected with exploitation.  Maybe Paul and Silas were already aware of this.  But I think the point is they didn’t set out to pick a fight.  They were merely on the way to the place of prayer.  It’s those enmeshed in these systems themselves that were threatened by Paul and Silas, and continue to be threatened by them as the story unfolds.

And there’s the irony in the shouts of the fortune-teller who identifies the men as “slaves.”  Indeed, she a slave herself seems to identify with them and the complete freedom from the powers of this world they display as slaves to God.  One thing she has right, they are not “masters” as she has known “masters” in her world.  You might also connect this entire story with a significant Lukan theme back at the very beginning of the Gospel (Luke 4:18). Or connect it forward to Paul's beautiful letter to Philippi and the theme of servanthood.

An illustration for which I’m indebted to a colleague at our local lectionary study…  After staying in a motel the email survey came about the stay.  It was noticed that every question put the screws to the lowest level of responsibility:  the maids, the clerks, the laundry.  The higher levels of administration could not be implicated so that their higher level of compensation would not be held to a higher level of responsibility.  The responsibility was pushed downward.  The web of relationships in Philippi is fear-driven from the top down to the lowest levels, both the fortune-teller and the jailer displaying their obvious enslavement and fear.

But I hold to my first point:  before Paul and Silas were involved in this system and were identified as troublesome to it they were merely on the way to prayer.  Their purpose wasn’t to turn the world upside down.  It just came about that they were involved in this because they were FOR God and God’s order, not because they were first AGAINST oppression.

But at the same time, once they encounter oppression they do not pull back.  They just continue to do what they set out to do, only now they do it in chains, after having been flogged, at midnight, in jail.  They’re not reactive.  But neither are they passive.  When they are detoured they embrace their situation.  Perhaps they know that the darkest point of deepest night is God’s moment of opportunity.  Perhaps they even give thanks for it, so deep is their faith and trust.  So it’s not exactly they who are turning the world upside down, they are simply living in this “right side up world” that God has already revealed to them.  And time and again God proves faithful and trustworthy…now giving true “keys” to a jailer who found his old set of keys a worthless antique from a world that was already fading before his eyes.

Hymn suggestion:  How Can I Keep from Singing or often listed by the first line, My Life Flows On.

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