Submit Your Own!
The greatest miracle
By rick brand
In separate places and in different formats, both Will Willimon and Fleming Rutledge have called for preachers to get back to preaching the reality, the power, the miracle of God's movements in our lives. David does that in this sermon by bringing us to the Cross. The only thing that Christian fellowship has that Rotary doesn't is the preaching of the power of God in Jesus Christ for the reconciliation of the world. In this sermon his people were in Church.
Sermon on John 9 for March 2, 2008
By David von Schlichten
Sermon on John 9:1-41
for Fourth Sunday in Lent, Year A
for Sunday, March 2, 2008
Not Why, But What Next
(word count: 888)
We want to know why. Why me? Why the suffering? Why did this happen? Why, God?
Some people think that it is wrong to question God, but the Bible presents people doing just that. For example, the psalmist asks, “Why have you forsaken me?” Centuries later, another figure in the Bible will ask that same question , and he will receive no answer but silence.
Such is the case with the why question. We may ask why, but often the answer we receive is silence.
In the gospel from John 9, the disciples ask the why question. In the opening verses of this luscious layer cake of a story, the disciples ask Jesus, “Why was this man born blind? Is his blindness due to his parents' sin or his own?” In Bible times, people believed that, if you had an affliction, it must be a punishment for sin. There must be a why behind the affliction, and the conventional wisdom in those days was that, if you had a deformity, illness or handicap, then you must have done something to anger God. To an extent, this way of thinking persists in us, doesn't it?
Jesus, however, sets the disciples and us straight. He says, “Sin has nothing to do with this man's blindness. No, his blindness is an opportunity for God to do something wonderful.” Then Jesus heals the man.
Christians, you can ask the why question, but if you fixate on the why, you will quickly find yourself confused and frustrated, even angry and discouraged. It is not wrong to ask why, but a spiritually healthier question to ask is, “What next?” as in, “What good will God do next?”
Jesus directs the disciples away from why to what next by saying that the blindness will gave way to blessing. Likewise, we can wonder why, or we can look around to see what God is doing next, what miracle God is working in front of us.
Often we are blind to those miracles. We are so busy grumbling about politicians, the weather and the price of gas that we miss that the miracles God sows around us. God gives us this day our daily bread. God forgives us our trespasses. God guards us against evil thoughts, words and actions and then forgives us again when we fall down. God teaches and directs us through Scripture and sacrament. God feeds us the body and the blood. God washes us through baptism. God puts people in our lives to visit us, call us, bake for us, listen to us. God puts people in our lives for us to visit, call, bake for, and listen to.
Then there are the lesser but still great miracles: animals, delicious food, the smell of bread, flowers, the full moon, meteor showers, a warm bed. God fills the world with miracles large and tiny, pungent and sweet.
Then there are also the miracles of healing the body, the mind, and, most importantly because it lasts forever, the soul.
What next instead of why. Indeed, one reason we miss these what next miracles is that the why question often blinds us. We're down on all fours searching for a why while what nexts flash around us like fire flies in July.
Of course, just because we see the what nexts does not mean that our troubles vanish. We may still cry and curse to God for help. God wants us to bring our troubles to him. The Bible stresses over and over that we are to come to God when we have problems. We are to raise them to God.
At the same time, the Bible also calls us to see and give thanks for the fragrant what next miracles that God causes to bloom around us and within us.
The religious leaders in our reading from John are unable to see and give thanks for the what nexts. They are too busy fussing and complaining about following the rules to be still and praise God for the healing of a blind man. Rules are important, yes, but this blind man now sees. Rules shmules.
The search for the why can blind us, the picking and griping over rules can blind us. What else can blind us? What makes you blind to the what next miracles God snows upon us or sends shooting across the sky? What picking and hair-splitting are you so busy obsessing over or am I so busy obsessing over that we miss that God is standing right in front of us, giving sight to the blind?
As walk through Lent, we walk closer to the greatest what next miracle of all, a miracle that much of the world was blind to then and is still blind to today. That what next miracle was on the cross. That miracle looked like just another example of a misguided teacher getting nailed up as a warning against blasphemy and treason. Look at him. Where is God in this ugliness? Why has God allowed this death?
Virtually everyone standing around the cross on Good Friday was blind, but there were a few people who could see. One was the centurion. He was probably blind initially, but then, as Jesus hung dead, the centurion could see. He said, “Truly this man was the Son of God.”
Rick, Water, Wrath
By David von Schlichten
Thanks for the serious, thorough attention you give the anger of God in the Massah/Meribah story. Well done.
Yours in Christ,
David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator
Water, Water, Water
By rick brand
This is offered as a change of pace from the Gospel discussion.
Text Exodus 17:1-7
Water, Water, Water
February 24, 2008
First Presbyterian Church of Henderson, NC
Rick Brand, Pastor
Friday it rained. We don't really care how it comes down, as long as it comes. We rejoice and give thanks to God for anything that falls from the sky. Raleigh is at Phase II water restrictions and getting ready to put in place Phase III. Almost all the state is at extreme drought and we join most of the southeast in our water crisis. Her story may be our story soon.
Barbara Brown Taylor, who was one of the Episcopal Churches most gifted preachers until she left the pastorate, wrote last week in the Christian Century about her thanksgiving dinner. It was the day her well ran dry with 15 people at her table. She says they had all agreed to things like the Navy shower, the no water brush of the teeth, the non-flushing of urine. But they ran out. They managed to find stores open and bought bottled water. They had their thanksgiving meal.
The next week they got into the problem of a new well. They would have to drill more than 700 feet to hit water, or they could continue to use their well which had only about 60 inches of water in it at the time. They decided to live on what their well could provide. Of course, it meant major changes in their lives. One of them was that Barbara now has to take their laundry to a laundromat. It had been a long time since she had used one in college. She took a few dollars in quarters and discover that the machine asked for 18 quarters.
She says that when she first started showing up regularly the people there looked at her funny. Some of the women in curiosity asked her why she was there. They started see others like Barbara. One woman still will not let her little girl touch anything as if the little girl would be contaimated by being with people of that class and immediately takes her wet clothes into the SUV and goes home to dry in her own dryer.
Barbara now says that some of her friends feel sorry for her. She tells them no. "Not having enough water at home has brought me into contact with people who do not have enough of other things at home, and I am enjoying their company. I never thought of it before, but scarcity evokes community. Every week I leave my place of private plenty to go to a common watering hole in town where I get to watch my clothes go round and round while I think about things I might never have thought about otherwise."
Barbara suggests that scarcity evokes community. That is a great hope. There was a letter in the Daily Dispatch that suggests that Vance County and Henderson ought to use its connection to Kerr Lake and entice all the businesses we can to come to Henderson because we got water. Stealing business from Raleigh does not sound like community to me. Especially when the writer reports that he had lived in California, and I know how vicious the water issue can become between municipalities."
"Scarcity evoking community?" The only community it sounds like that has been evoked in Exodus story is the community of a mob protest. One of the features that I always miss in the Biblical stories is the dimension of time. There is no concern in the Bible about how long it has been between stories. Did they happen one right after the other? Did they happen months apart. "All the congregation of the people of Israel moved on from the wilderness of Sin by stages, according to the commandment of the Lord." Remember in the wilderness of Sin the people of Israel had complained that there was no food and God had begun his meals on dew program and delivered manna every night, and the quails flew in and provided meat. Manna came now every day for their survival. Manna had answered their complaint about no food, and it was still coming. Now all of them begin to move out in stages. This is an orderly relocation by the command of God. They come to this new place God has given them.
There is no water for them to drink. Scarcity evokes a community of protest. This is an angry mob at the Tent of Moses demanding that Moses do something about it. We do not know how long they were there before they started this protest. Did they wait a week or two thinking that somebody would find a stream or a pool? Somebody told me that it does not take long, less than 24 hours for a person to become desperate about water in the desert. We want Water. We want Water. They come to Moses. Moses goes and consults with God and God tells him to go to a rock and hit the rock with the staff that was used to open the Nile, and water would come. Moses goes and strikes the rock and water comes.
But that is not the end of the story. And the rest of the story is not a happily ever after story. Over in the 95th Psalm there is a kind a gracious invitation to the people to come and worship God, for God is the rock of our salvation. The Lord is Great, God is good, For he is our God and we are his people, the sheep of his hand." That is the carrot, but then comes the stick, do not be like the children of Israel who hardened their hearts at Meribah, as on the day at Massah in the wilderness, when your fathers tested me, and put me to the proof though they had seen my work. For forty years I loathed that generation and said, "They are a people who err in heart and they do not regard my ways. Therefore I swore in my anger that they should not enter my rest."
The complaints of the children of Israel at Meribah keep them out of the promised land. The action of Moses in the hitting of the rock kept Moses from being allowed to go into the Holy Land. God did not take kindly to what happen in that place.
Maybe we do not like the picture this story gives us of God. We like God to be our Teddy Bear God. A good God who indulges us in our every want. This jealous God who does not like to be tested. This Jealous God who has a long memory and does not forget this offense. What kind of forgiveness is that? This jealous God who becomes angry at his people when they do not trust him after all he has done for them. This picture of a Holy God who does not want to be forgotten nor neglected.
For did you notice in that story of Moses and his people and the scarcity of water, who was not mentioned in the conversations between Moses and the people. This is a story of a people who have been rescued from the army of the Egyptians; given manna and quail in the wilderness; lead to this new place by the commandments of God, and yet when the mob comes to Moses, they demand that Moses do something. The mob doesn't demand that God do something. They do not lift their voices against God. They do not expect God to do anything for them. They want Moses to do something about the shortage.
Walter Brueggemann has pointed out that in the beginning of the book of Exodus after the oppression of the new King of Egypt, "the people of Israel groaned under their bondage and cried out for help, and their cry under bondage came up to God." God heard that cry and called Moses. The moans, the groans, the cries went up to God. It is right and just for people in trouble to stand together and cry out, this is not good. This is not just. This is not right, but that cry, that shout, needs to be addressed to the right place.
The children of Israel at Meribah come and complain to Moses.
Somehow they had forgotten from whence cometh their help. Remember that Psalm, "I lift up my eyes to the hills, from whence cometh my help?" It is a question not a statement. As the pilgrim considers the journey though the mountains with all the thieves and dangers of the journey, the questions is where shall the pilgrimage get help. Help comes from the Lord."
Here the scarcity-evoked mob comes to Moses and complains, that he has led them out here to die, that he is the one who has tricked them and let them down. He is the one who is supposed to fix it. Where is the name of God in this discussion and this protest? When Moses strikes the rock, he does not say, In the name of God, by the power of God, in the providence of God here is water. He just strikes the rock we are told.
Maybe you think it is a bit harsh and cruel of God to be so picky. Maybe you think God is being a little too narrow minded and taking things too personal. Maybe you would suggest God cool it a bit, lighten up a little, they didn't meant it that way. But God has told us over and over in the Scriptures that he is a Jealous God. Thou shall have no other God before me. Thou shalt love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and its righteousness and all these things shall be added unto you." God does not expect to be forgotten or ignored in our lives. God does not enjoy being lost behind the gifts, nor confused with his messengers.
I have mentioned that while we were in Texas we often saw the bumper sticker that said, "God, Guns and Guts made America great, Let's Keep all Three." So our gratitude and praise for the blessings and joy of life that have been given by God are to be shared with guns and guts. I don't think so. Not this God in Exodus. When you think about your good health and your strength and abilities, who do you give credit and thanks to: Blue Cross and Blue Shield and the medical community, to your doctor and your faithfulness to the routine she has given you, or to the grace and mercy of God. When you turn the spigot and the water flows do you rejoice and give thanks that you live in the city which has the best water in the state of North Carolina or do you give thanks to God. To whom do you give thanks for your financial situation? The N.C. Teachers Credit Union, State Employees Retirement system, Exxon stocks, Wall Street, the Republican Party? Who gets the praise and worship for the family and friends you have? There is something that troubles me about sport jock religion but there is something very right when those athletes in the midst of their greatest accomplishment rejoice and first give credit to God for their gifts of body and ability.
When they needed water at Meribah, the scarcity-evoked mob forgot who had given them their gifts, forgot who was the source of their freedom, who was the source of their nourishment even now, and ultimately had the questions of water, living water, life and death in His power.
Over in the New Testament story Jesus and the Samaritan woman have a discussion also about water and living water, about worship and where and how that worship is done. Jesus and woman too know that worship of the giver of our gifts is the expected response of the human heart. Where we are when we receive the gifts we worship God in spirit and in truth. Lent is a good time to examine our lives and see to whom do we give the glory and praise for the incredible number of good gifts we have each been given.
February 17, 2008, Lent 2A
By David von Schlichten
Sermon on Genesis 12:1-4 and John 3:1-17
February 17, 2008
Second Sunday in Lent, Year A
Every Day, By Baptism, Born Again
(word count: 885)
What does it mean to be “born again”? According to some Christians, being “born again” means that you officially accept Jesus Christ as your personal lord and savior. If you ask them, these Christians can often tell you the date on which they were born again. The moment was rich and moving for them. Such an understanding of being born again is powerful and compelling.
This idea of being born again as a moment when you accept Jesus as your savior is not an idea common to Lutherans. We Lutherans tend to believe that we were born again at our baptism. The Book of Concord and Bible passages such as Romans six teach us that, through baptism, we are reborn as children of God. For us Lutherans, then, when we talk about being born again, we don't mean declaring officially that Jesus is our savior. Instead, for us Lutherans, the phrase “born again” means “baptism.”
Even so, we Lutherans are not to be quick to toss into the recycling font this idea of being born again meaning accepting Christ as your savior. Don't get me wrong: When we were baptized, we were reborn through Christ. Because of baptism, we have new lives as Christians.
But now imagine that, each day, we remember our baptism by recommitting ourselves to Christ. What if, each day, we said to God, “Lord, today I am starting over. Yesterday is over. Today is new. Today I am accepting you anew as my lord and savior. Today I am starting over.” What if, each day, we remembered that we are baptized and then lived like baptized people by accepting Christ for the first time once again as Lord and Savior?”
Indeed, Luther tells us in the Book of Concord that, every day, our old sinful self is to die and our new, Christian self is to be reborn. Every day, as we remember that God has baptized us, we know that, because of our baptism, we can start over. Every day we can be born again.
Isn't that exciting? So often in life, we don't get a second chance. This physical life we only experience once. We will never be physically born again. We will never be babies again. We will never be teenagers again. Our physical life only happens once, but, with our spiritual life, we can be born again every single day. When we repent and say to God, “God, I want to start over. I want to be born again as a Christian,” God responds by saying, “Okay. You are one of my baptized children, so you get to be born again as many times as you need to be.” Every day, every hour, every minute, every second.
Father Abraham and Mother Sarah get to be reborn. In our first reading, Genesis 12, Abraham is seventy-five. If he were a member of St. James, in five years, he would get an invitation to the Senior Saints Luncheon. Sarah, also, is a senior citizen. By our youth-obsessed, human standards, Abraham and Sarah aren't good for much, but God has different standards. God says to Abraham and Sarah, “I will make of you two a great nation, and I will give you the Promised Land.” In other words, because of God, Abraham and Sarah get to start a new life. In a sense, they are reborn.
Of course, being reborn does not mean that life will be easy. Abraham and Sarah endure wars, famines, long journeys, doubt, and danger in Egypt. Life is painful for Abraham and Sarah, but they still get to the Promised Land and they still get to be parents of a great nation.
In the movie Bright Lights, Big City, Michael J. Fox plays Jamie, a young man who has moved to New York City in the hopes of becoming a famous writer. Instead, his wife has left him, and he is stuck in an unfulfilling job as a fact-checker for a magazine. Jamie tries to fill the void by getting drunk and snorting cocaine, but such a strategy never works. Jamie's life falls apart. He keeps reading in the paper about a pregnant woman who is in a coma. He wonders what will happen to the baby. Will he live? Will HE live?
Jamie meets a young woman who is clean and who can help to straighten him out. Finally, after many struggles, he sees the latest paper. The headline reads, “COMA BABY LIVES.” Jamie trades his sunglasses for a loaf of bread and talks about starting over. Jamie is born again, maybe for the only time, maybe just for the first time. Jamie is born again. Sarah and Abraham are born again.
Come to think of it, Michael J. Fox has experienced a rebirth, as well. Parkinson's disease did not end his career; it just led to a new career of his fighting for financial support to help find a cure for this evil disease. Jamie, Abraham and Sarah, Michael – all have been born again. You and I can be, too.
Lent is a time specially designed for us to be born again. God has baptized us into Christ, therefore we have hope perpetual. Because of our baptism, we have, by God's grace, the power to say, “Today, I will be born again.”
David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator
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