Something Behind That Needle
2010-03-17 by Guy Kent

Isaiah 43: 16-21 - Psalm 126 - Philippians 3: 4b-14 - John 12: 1-8

Krista Tippett in her wonderful new book, Einstein’s God, quotes from his autobiographical notes published in 1949:

Why do we come, sometimes spontaneously, to wonder about something? I think that wondering to one’s self occurs when an experience conflicts with our fixed ways of seeing the world. I had one such experience of wondering when I was a child of four or five and my father showed me a compass. This needle behaved in such a determined way and did not fit into the usual explanation of how the world works. That is that you must touch something to move it. I still remember now, or I believe that I remember, that this experience made a deep and lasting impression on me. There must be something deeply hidden behind everything.

Tippett comments: “He spent his whole life seeking to comprehend the order “deeply hidden behind everything” and to describe it mathematically. Einstein often spoke of this as his longing to understand what God was thinking.”  [Einstein’s God: Conversations About Science and the Human Spirit; Copyright by Krista Tippett 2010; Penguin Books; ISBN 978-0-14-311677-6]

“Thus says the Lord, who makes a way in the sea, a path in the mighty waters, ... I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you perceive it? [OT Text]  

There’s something behind the movement of that compass needle.

“May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy. Those who go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, carrying their sheaves. [Reading from the Psalm]

There’s something behind the movement of that compass needle.

“Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.” [Epistle Lesson]

There’s something behind the movement of that compass needle.

“Jesus said, ‘Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.’” [Gospel Lesson] 

There’s something behind the movement of that compass needle.

I can’t speak for anyone else, but as I’ve grown older I’ve come to put away some of my old youth fellowship conceptions of the nature of God. Often I’ve just come to doubt a lot of what was my former religious makeup. Simultaneously, I’ve discovered a bigger and bigger universe, a creation so vast that it is incomprehensible; I’ve even grown into a different understanding of Jesus. Through it all, however, faith grows stronger as the mystery deepens. For after all:

There’s something behind the movement of that compass needle. 

Man, That's Living!
2010-03-16 by Stephen Schuette

It’s no surprise that images of life and death are prevalent in the texts on this fifth Sunday in Lent.  A new way, a new life is offered to Israel.  Paul regards everything he lost as rubbish (you can substitute a more “fragrant” word, if you wish) because of the new life he’s found in Christ.

And in John there’s Lazarus sitting at the table beside Jesus, taking nourishment.  Talk about images of life!  But along side that is Jesus’ own reference to his burial…a burial that will be made, in an odd way, different from the usual odor of death, and different than the odor that met them when they opened Lazarus’ tomb (11:39).  Mary’s devotional anointing speaks to that transformation, both in the gratitude it expresses to Jesus for what he has done, in the present table fellowship that they share, and in the future that Jesus is already holding in his imagination.  You can’t help but have the sense that this anointing bridges time as we know it, at least in John’s rendering.

“Living” can be defined many ways.  It could be sipping a cool drink on the Riviera with a view of the Mediterranean.  And I’m not saying that can’t be inspiring.  Or it could be in service to others, which can also be inspiring.  But let’s be honest.  Sometimes our service is clouded in self-interest.  Sometimes it can be done simply to help us feel good or to let us rest with a degree of satisfaction rather than to meet the genuine need of our neighbor.

But this intimate story will not let us define “living” without genuineness of relationship.  And as this story unfolds isn’t that where the disciples will experience the risen Christ, in their community with one another?

One colleague said, “Mary’s act is not rational or strategic.”  Indeed, I’m astounded at times how unstrategic Jesus is, not confronting Judas’ own “strategy” but simply letting him be.  Could it be that the Gospel is not so much a plan but a love story (3:16)?  I sometimes think that God honors each person far more than I would if I were God, and more than I think is good for God’s own good!

But God stays steady in love pointing the way to fullness of life.  God remains God, not me.  God’s ways are not my ways.  Good thing.  This way life still has a chance with me, and you.

Post-Sermon Reflection
2010-03-14 by David von Schlichten

I preached that the Lord is lavish with love and that we are to be, as well, regardless of which son we are. You can read my sermon at the cafe. 

I also proclaimed that the lavishness of the Lord's love is primary in Lent, not our lenten disciplines and our shortcomings. Many of us see Lent as a time to take on disciplines so we can become better people. That practice is valuable, but it is to be understood in the larger context of the Lord's lavish love, which we experience in a supreme way through the cross and empty tomb.

I started the sermon with humor about how I have not been doing that great of a job at keeping my lenten disciplines. One parishioner said that the humor helped him to be more attentive.

Yours in Christ,

David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator

"Lectionary Homiletics" Highlight and Shift from Competition to Cooperation
2010-03-11 by David von Schlichten

In "Sermon Reviews" Scott D. Seay writes about a sermon by Anna Carter Florence that uses the Norman Maclean's memoir A River Runs Through It, in which Maclean recalls his brother killing himself through dissolute living. Florence proclaims that we all need to be able to tell our stories of pain to a loving community. Telling our story effects healing, just as it does for Maclean.

In "Scripture and Screen," I write about the movie version of the memoir, making the point that the father in the movie is not as prodigally gracious as God the Father. Then again, no human is as prodigally gracious as God. We are all to show more grace, but no one shows greater grace than God.

I am thinking of preaching on encouraging people to shift their thinking from competition to cooperation when it comes to the kingdom of God. We tend to compete - why does my brother have more than I? - when we are to cooperate - thanks be to God my brother is alive and found!

Yours in Christ,

David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator

What to Preach?...Patience
2010-03-10 by Stephen Schuette

There are so many images that catch the attention.

In Joshua I’m told by better Hebrew scholars than I that the “rolled away” is legitimately associated with a rock.  In a way it’s the culmination of a long story.  In a way it’s the beginning of a whole new chapter.  In rural communities getting stones out of furrows is an annual task (as I recall from Michigan days) in order for the produce of the land to be abundant.  The people have journeyed, been patient all these years.  Now growing crops requires new patience….like last week’s waiting for a fig tree.

And what about the patience of this Father?  He’s the very definition of it.

Some other observations…

--The parable can be divided in half, but in both halves the triangle of relationships is present.

--When do you get an inheritance, if you’re going to get an inheritance?  The younger son is saying that his Father is dead to him...  No relationship!  The theme of Life and Death returns at the end.  Father doesn’t pursue him or argue with him or scold.  You can’t will someone to life for you anymore than you can will the crops out of the ground.  I wonder on the inside how he felt.  But on the outside he’s steady, patient.  It’s one of the toughest rules of love, isn’t it?  It can’t be forced.  Not even God.

--“When he came to himself...”  He realized the value in the relationship...  Confession: he’s not worthy.  He’s sinned two ways...before heaven and father.  There’s a triangle in every relationship!

--Vs. 21 the father runs to meet him.  Father doesn’t let him finish his rehearsed speech.  He cuts him off with an order to the servants.  Would it have been healthy for the son to finish?  We’ll never know.  This is the one time the Father allows his patience to break, for joy.

--Robe, ring, sandals, food...signs of his relationship to his Father.  “This son of mine...”

--Elder son is sweating from work.  There’s a party and no one even let him know?  There’s a celebration and he’s out working?  He didn’t get the memo.  In fact the slaves know what’s going on before he does.  He has to ask the slaves for the information.  He’s angry and refuses to go in.  Now he’s cutting himself off from his father and his brother.

--Father comes out to him...(this father is always coming out).  Now this son has a speech and he didn’t even have to rehearse it.  He can deliver it off the cuff.  Maybe he’s been saving it up.  First word he says is “Listen...”  After all his brother got everything, and he got the hard work.  Why did he stay with the Father?  “I have never disobeyed your command.”  He’s been the “good son.”  And he has been a good son.  But he’s been dutiful not out of pure love but he’s also looking for a reward.  He hasn’t even gotten a goat, much less a calf.  So it’s “got his goat.”

--This Father has some mercenary relatives, doesn’t he?  It’s like he’s won the lottery and everyone affirms their relationship for all the wrong reasons.

--Have you noticed how the relational words “Father” and “Son” are used so frequently?  Wording: vs. 30  “When this son of yours...”  i.e. – you’re not my Father and he’s not my brother.  This son is pulling away from both his Father and his Brother.  But the Father keeps affirming the relationship with “Son...” “Brother of yours...”

--Was dead but is alive.

May a word of patience come from me this week, because it is in me as a gift.

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