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?”

Outside-the-Box-but-not-Outside-Scripture; Elizabeth Stuart Phelps
2010-04-17 by David von Schlichten

Elizabeth Stuart Phelps (1844-1911) was an American writer and devout Christian who used writing to address social injustice. She was especially concerned about the mistreatment of women. She often wrote for women to help them find happiness, fulfillment, and freedom in a society that frequently denied them all three.

Although not well known today, Phelps became internationally famous when she published her novel The Gates Ajar in 1868. Phelps had observed that millions of women grieving the deaths of male loved ones (the Civil War had ended in 1865) were not receiving adequate consolation from the male-dominated pulpit. These preachers often talked about the afterlife in abstract and bloodless terms that failed to comfort women who wondered what heaven was like for their dead loved ones.

Phelps therefore wrote The Gates Ajar, a novel that described heaven in concrete terms, such as having houses with porches. Phelps was meticulous about supporting her claims with Scripture but nevertheless received heavy criticism from the theological community. Even so, the novel was a huge bestseller and was translated into four languages.

Phelps's outside-the-box-but-not-outside-Scripture understanding of heaven fits with Revelation 5, which tells us that ALL CREATION will sing praise to God. This image is one that many of us have failed to meditate upon, but such meditation could reveal outside-the-box-but-not-outside-Scripture sermons on the end times that would be nourishing for the people. Further, this portrait of all creation singing has ecological implications, a point especially germane given the nearness of Earth Day.

I am hoping to do something along these lines on Sunday.

Yours in Christ,

David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator

Harmony in the Eschatological, Egalitarian Choir
2010-04-17 by David von Schlichten

Revelation speaks of all creation singing together one day, and a reader wondered what that will sound like, given that some people can't sing on-key and many animals do not make pleasant sounds. I don't know what that will sound like, but I am sure God will find a way to make it all magnificent. I'm looking forward to it!

Yours in Christ,

David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator

The Same - But Different
2010-04-16 by Stephen Schuette

So here’s Peter at the end of the story doing the same thing as when Jesus first found him – fishing.  I wouldn’t press the analogy too far, but it’s a bit like Dorothy finding herself back in Kansas and wondering, “What was that all about?” or even more seriously, “Was it real?”

What Peter finds is that it’s all the same – but totally different.  (Maybe Pleasantville is another movie analogy that works.)

Reality is met when the extraordinary is found in the ordinary.  The purpose of the bread and fish become glaringly clear.  The community that they realize with the living presence of Jesus among them affirms that the vision is not lost.  Jesus is powerfully present.

I’m building on some remarks I heard (second-hand) from Diana Butler Bass.  She speaks of a curve that is rising through the ‘40’s and ‘50’s and ‘60’s, and peaks somewhere in the ‘70’s.  Following that there is the beginning of a decline which is rather dramatic and still continuing.

What does the curve represent?  Pay phones!  (And the Church, of course)

Things have changed…changed dramatically in these years.  When’s the last time you used a pay phone?  Do you remember those dial codes you carried in your wallet?  Looking in an isolated way at this data you might think communication has decreased.  Not true, of course.  We all know what the curve for numbers of communications would look like…straight up!  But the way the message is shared is through other means.  And if the presence of Christ gets stuck in our minds with the medium we may erroneously think the graph is directly related.  Not so!

God is still providing plenty of fish and bread as well as the means to share it with one another.  Like Peter, it’s a matter of seeing the opportunity.

I think of the last chapter of Leander Keck’s book, The Church Confident or Rob Bell’s Velvet Elvis.

It’s all the same – but totally different!

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