GoodPreacher Seminarian Sermon Award
2010-04-21 by David Howell

Donna Olivia Powell is the winner of the 2010 GoodPreacher Seminarian Sermon Award. She receives a complimentary registration to the Festival of Homiletics, a room at the Scarritt Bennett Center, and $200 in expense money. Runner-up Sarah Pomerantz receives a one year subscription to

Read the 2009 and 2010 seminarian sermons:

GoodPreacher Seminarian Sermons 2009

GoodPreacher Seminarian Sermons 2010

Information vs. Experience
2010-04-21 by Roger Gustafson

The Judeans want information from Jesus: “If you are the Messiah, tells us plainly.”  There they stand, recording devices in hand, waiting.  But Jesus isn’t offering information; he’s offering an experience.  Big difference. 

At the beginning of John’s Gospel, Jesus tells the Baptist’s followers who want to know about him: “Come and see.”  That’s a standing invitation in the gospel, to enter the experience of Jesus and see for yourself who he is.  That’s how the learning is to be gained, through the heart, not the head. 

Therein lies the more subtle “stone in the road” in this text.  Jesus is more than a title; his significance cannot be captured in words and concepts.  His identity must be experienced, and he – not we – is in charge of that experience. 

This is not to soft-pedal the role of the intellect in faith.  All of our faculties are gifts from God, and we are to employ all of them in faithful living.  After all, Jesus himself reinforces the Shema of Deut 6:5 as “the first and greatest” command.  There are variations in the Synoptics’ report of Jesus’ words, but each of them includes “with the mind” as one of the ways in which he says we are to love the Lord. 

But in the years following Jesus’ Resurrection and Ascension, the Christian movement did not grow because the Church’s creeds were convincing; it grew because Christ-followers stood up in the midst of a culture of oppression and fear and said, “We live differently.  Come and see how we live.”  They offered not information but an experience. 

What are we offering in our churches?

God and Us
2010-04-20 by Stephen Schuette

We often think of Revelation as being exclusionary and demarking an “in” group from an “out” group – names written in books, countable numbers, etc.  And yet here is diversity and inclusion and “a multitude that no one could count” – not even Deloitte.    This overcoming of boundaries is even more strongly affirmed, I think, in the closing chapters.  Funny that so often this book is not read through to the end!

Question 1 of the Heidelberg Catechism is, “What is your only comfort, in life and in death?”  Answer:  “That I belong – body and soul, in life and in death – not to myself but to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ…”

In between the lines of the text I’m hearing the suggestion that we don’t quite know who we are until we fully appreciate who God is and until we find our true purpose in praising God, continually.  Part of this has to do with putting things in order.

That may lead to the false assumption that we’re responsible for all order everywhere.  But that assumption is, actually, “out of order” and just creates more disorder rather than resolving it!  Ever tried to play the game where you’re hitting the moles in the holes?  The more you hit the more they pop out.

The realized eschatology of both Revelation and John suggest that the order is already given.  God is in the right place.  The only question is whether we are in the right place…with God.  If we are that relationship lived fully, in and of itself, is enough.  It will put us at odds with other “principalities and powers.”  We will not need to seek them out or start a campaign of our own anymore than Jesus purposefully sought to antagonize.  The “ordeal” is simply a part of the witness.  But the ordeal, in this world turned right side up is actually cleansing and opportunity to witness to the real source of life.

These verses seem to press us to some of the deepest commitments and to require our deepest trust.  But if God is God then we have nothing to worry about.

Plain talk from Jesus
2010-04-20 by Roger Gustafson

“How many times do I have to tell you, … ?”  It was a rhetorical question, of course, the one my exasperated mom asked me after I, a chastened 10-year-old, had just tromped into the living room from the rainy and muddy front yard.  She was not asking for information.  

“How long will you keep us in suspense?  If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.”  The Judeans, on the other hand, are looking for information.  They want clarity, that’s all.  If they just had enough data ...  

But Jesus tells them that what they want has already been provided.  “I have told you, and you do not believe.”  What has he told them?  That he’s the Messiah?  Not according to the record supplied by John.  The only person to whom Jesus has revealed himself as the Messiah is the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well (4:26).  So he hasn’t told them in words.   But he has told them through actions that speak eloquently on his behalf.  The feeding of the five thousand, the healings, the miracles all testify to him, and they are enough.  Or they should be enough.  But the Judeans are receiving on a specific frequency only, and that’s not the frequency on which Jesus is sending. 

At our new member orientation on Sunday afternoon I talked about Scripture as the inspired word of God, that it’s inspired in two respects: first in the writing of it, then in the contemporary reading of it.  If we’re willing to approach the Bible with the belief that the eternally creating God is speaking and creating today through these ancient words, there’s no telling what God might do with us as we open the Book.  Scary thought.  Liberating thought.  So we tune out the Shepherd’s voice, or we tune it in.

"You do not belong"
2010-04-19 by Roger Gustafson

What is the “stone in the road” in this text, to use Peter Gomes’ construct?  What is that part of the passage that the worshiper will hear and immediately identify as problematic, and wonder how the preacher is going to respond? 

For some, it will be the exclusionary nature of v 26: “ … you do not believe, because you do not belong … .”  Some are included, some are excluded; God has decided for these and against those.  It’s already been settled.  That’s one way to interpret the verses. 

But take another look.  “I have told you,” Jesus said, and why would he bother telling them in the first place if all hope for their future hearing and believing was lost?  According to 20:31, the gospel was written so that you/we/people “may come to believe,” insinuating a process or journey of developing faith.  Follow that thought into Acts 9:36-43, Peter’s raising of Tabitha, the text with which the Gospel lesson is paired.  Tabitha was convincingly dead, excluded from the land of the living.  The widows had given up on her and were busing themselves with the wake.  But not so fast; God had something else in mind, in which Peter played a key role.  She was returned to the fold.  Yes, at some point she would die again, physically, as would Lazarus.  But their restorations to new life were vivid previews of an otherworldly power to make new, and eternally new. 

What are some “lost causes” in our parishes?  In our nation?  In our lives?  By what standard do we consider them “lost?”

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