Can You Tell The Difference
2010-01-28 by Guy Kent
I know how the Senior Rabbi of the First Synagogue of Nazareth felt. Last year I invited Walter Kimbrough to preach at my church. It was a memorable day.
He helped me with the Children’s Time by being my visual aid. There we stood before the kids assembled on the front pew, I am five foot six; he’s five foot seventeen. I had on a plain old black robe; he wore a bedazzling robe with trimmings that virtually sparkled. I asked the young folks: “Do you notice any difference in Dr. Kimbrough and me?”
They did. One of the kids pointed out he was taller. “Great,” I said, “anything else?” Another pointed out the difference in our robes. “Great. Anything else?” Someone called attention to the fact I was older. “That’s good. Anything else?” I had a lapel mike; he was holding a hand mike. “Anything else?” I had black loafers; he wore brown lace-up shoes. “Anything else?” Finally they exhausted, apparently, the differences. “Doesn’t anyone notice something else different?” There was silence.
“It’s okay to say it,” I finally said in a stage whisper.
One of the braver kids then responded, “He’s black.”
I can’t help but wonder how long it took the occupants of the pews that Sabbath in Nazareth to notice something was different.
At my church, that morning, there was another difference. I’m an adequate purveyor of the Word. I manage to keep the saints awake on Sunday morning, but Walter Kimbrough awakened them to a new level of listening. He dominated them. He demanded they pay attention. They didn’t even notice he had not reached his last point until a half hour past the normal time for the benediction.
When Walter came to our church things were different, the message and the messenger.
So it was that day in Nazareth, for when the message is Jesus’ message the response is never ordinary.
The church I served prior to my retirement was an inner city congregation with a commitment to social justice and diversity. It was a church composed of red and yellow black and white, straight and gay. That church was so diverse I suspect a few of those attending on any given Sunday actually prayed, “To whom may concern.”
It was early one Monday morning when I was changing the wording on the church’s sign. Ron and Barbara approached me. They were a homeless couple who lived in the park across the street. Each morning they’d bring their bedroll to store at the church until they returned from their panhandling. This particular morning they stopped. They stared at me as I changed the sign. Finally, I paused.
“Pastor, did you tell Leroy he could sleep on the church breezeway last night?” Leroy was another homeless citizen of the neighborhood.
In unison Ron and Barbara shook their heads from side to side as Ron told me, “Pastor, we don’t need Leroy’s kind at our church.”
Strange that these two incidents in my ministry pop into my mind on reading this lesson. Or, maybe it is not so strange. When Jesus brings us the message he often leads us to consider “a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon” and Naaman the Syrian leper and Leroy on the breezeway. When Jesus in the messenger, that message leads us right through the crowd of our insecurities and prejudices.
2010-01-27 by Stephen Schuette
One recurrent theme in the readings has to do with maturity. Jeremiah claims he is only a “boy.” But God is expecting mature things of him: to speak without fear and to be public in his proclamations, even to the point of addressing “kingdoms.”
Paul confesses that when he was a child he also functioned in every way as a child. But then he put an end to childish ways. And what a sense of maturity it takes to love in the way that Paul suggests! The key to hearing this passage, I think, is to get over the wedding setting where the blessing of being loved is central. Sure, this is about God’s abundant, gracious agape love for us. But it’s a gift that carries a weight of adult responsibility with it: not to receive and let it be but to move outward toward the other with one’s love, to live into this kind of love with the conviction that it endures, even though that’s not always the way it appears. When love gets hard that’s where the mettle of love is proved. And as we’ve tried God’s love for us, so we are to show such patient maturity in our love for one another. That’s, in fact, what it would mean if we forgave our debtors as God has forgiven our debts (or trespasses, or sins).
Then we come to Luke where questions of both public ministry and maturity come into focus. Is it a surprise that a life-journey that leads to a cross should also begin with confrontation? This story flows out of the temptations that precede it, only here the temptation remains implicit even though it is powerfully present. It’s the temptation that afflicts every one with a degree of immaturity, the temptation to be affirmed, to get one’s sense of self supported by the accolades of others, to fulfill their expectations and receive the accompanying pats on the back. From the outside it might seem as if Jesus is just being intentionally and even unnecessarily provocative. But I think he’s beating back a “devil” that tempts every one. The adults with whom he grew up in the synagogue want him to still be their “boy” by now being their friend in high places. It’s a path that leads only backwards, both for Jesus and them and Jesus will have none of it. He is not dependent on their affirmations for his sense of self.
There’s an old book by Sheldon B. Kopp entitled, If You Meet the Buddha on the Road, Kill Him. While the focus of that book is purely about psychological development and Jesus’ movement is much larger the dynamics are similar. But even the image suggested in the title fits. The way ahead on the road can be blocked. It will take courage and an avoidance of immature dependency to follow Jesus “…on his way.”
2010-01-24 by David von Schlichten
The sermon today stressed unity. At our congregation we have much unity, but we also have some division. For instance, we have a bit of a problem with cliques that tend to exclude people, usually inadvertently. I preached about all this, concluding with a celebration of how Christ makes us one and continues to strengthen us to live according to the unity that he has created in us.
I did receive positive comments about the sermon, including one parishioner agreeing that we do have some clique-ishness.
On another note, five minutes before worship a couple told me that they are leaving our congregation but would not give a clear reason why. They did not appear to be angry, but they were resolute. Heartbreaking. What did the congregation/I do wrong, if anything?
Yours in Christ,
David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator
Drawn to Luke
2010-01-22 by Scott D. Hill
I have been planning on preaching on 1 Cor. 12, but the Luke 4 passage keeps drawing me in – partly because of some excellent resources right here. I have to admit I never read James Howell’s preaching journal before; I really recommend it! His most recent entry, on funerals and the pastor’s “agility” is very touching and evocative for me.
See also Michael Barram's Exegesis article. I was struck by his description of this as a story about "what occurred when the presence of the Spirit in Jesus arrived in Jesus' hometown." And I always like this passage for its confirmation went to "church"! And who doesn't have an image of preaching in the church where you grew up?
I have a hard time staying within the pericope. I keep thinking about the fact that they wanted to kill him before the scene is over! What does that say about us? What in us makes us want to resist these words when they go from being about 2000 years ago to being about how the Spirit still wants to come in to the world? I am reminded of the Barbara Brown Taylor story of being at a retreat and asked to think about who represented Christ in their lives. Another woman said “I had to think…’Who is it that told me the truth about myself so clearly that I wanted to kill him for it?’”
Or are we like those (presumably the same people) in verse 22, who “all spoke well of him”? I have lampooned them in a sermon as a couple of Monty Pythonesque characters cooing, “That’s our boy!” “He did such a nice job!” “Such a lovely voice!” oblivious to the radical nature of the message. I have long believed that the fact they all thought well of him and his “gracious words” is the clue to us that they didn’t get it! For confirmation, see Luke 6:26: “Woe to you when all speak well of you…”
Scott Hill, "Lectionary Homiletics" Highlight
2010-01-20 by David von Schlichten
Scott Hill, our guest blogger, has pointed out the wealth in our texts, and Stephen Schuette has offered helpful insights, as usual. Scroll down, jump in, soak it all up.
"A Sermon: 'A Word from the Lord'"
Beth Lyon proclaims that many sermons are safe and easily ignored, but a word from the Lord is dangerous and must be paid attention to. Jesus proclaims the word of the Lord in Nazareth in Luke 4, just as Ezra proclaims the word of the Lord in the first reading.
I am thinking of comparing the congregation in Nehemiah, which is unified in its hearing of the Law, and the congregation in Corinth, which is divided (that's why Paul's trying to unite them with this body conceit). I don't know what else I'm doing, but it's only Wednesday.
Yours in Christ,
David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator
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