Monthly Archives: July 2011

August 7th: “Don’t Get Your Feet Wet”

I. Establish the text

A. Select the Pericope: Matthew 14:22-33

B. Establish translation: Review NIV, NRSV, TEV, BHS/NA26, …

C. Other texts for Year A Sunday, August 7th, in Ordinary Time

D. Brainstorm: What questions/thoughts come to mind?

22 This is immediately after the feeding of the 5,000. Is this sending merely a plot device so Jesus must catch up with the disciples? Or is there some other significance to Jesus ordering the disciples on ahead as well?

23 Finally Jesus gets an opportunity to grieve the loss of his cousin John. Allusion to Moses ascending Sinai alone to receive instruction from God?

24 If the boat had not been battered by the waves would it have reached the other shore? How long would one expect this passage to take? Is a night crossing reasonable?

25 Is this as matter-of-factly in Greek as it appears to in the NRSV?

26 Why did Matthew not convey this kind of fear in verse 25?

27 A charge and a benediction.

28 Do we dare to challenge God to command us to do the miraculous?
29 But when we respond to God’s commandments we find that we can do what we had not dreamed possible.

30 When we shift our focus from Christ to worldly thinking, our faith sinks with it.

31 Jesus is with us on the water and answers our pleas for aide.

32 Jesus welcomed Peter out onto the water in the midst of the storm.

33 How often do we realize that Jesus is one who calms the storms of life and declare such salvation as from God?

E. Reconsider where the text begins and ends: What got chopped out?

  • Picks up immediately following the miracle of the feeding of the 5,000 men.
  • Chops off a brief passage where those in Gennesaret recognize Jesus and bring the sick to him to be healed just by touching the hem of his cloak.

F. Are there any significant variants in the manuscripts? Why?

  • Verse 29 in Greek begins with the conjunction /de/ (But), perhaps suggesting that Peter did not expect to be called on to the water.

III. Question the text.

A. Observe the passage from the perspective of its characters.

If presented from the point of view of the disciples, verses 25ff might read:
And early in the morning, after working most of the night keeping the boat from capsizing in the storm, the disciples saw a figure walking on the water towards them. They were terrified, and cried out in fear saying, “It is a ghost!” But when the figure spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid,” they recognized the figure as Jesus.

Peter feared the figure was trying to deceive them and said, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”

B. Are there any unusual details? Un-named characters? ‘Pointless’ description? Meanings of names of characters? What does a literal meaning of natural metaphors imply?

If the preceding event was near Bethsaida and the following event is at Gennesaret, then the disciples need only row down the shore about 5 miles. In a strong wind, a walker might easily catch up and pass a boat traveling a similar route. Since this route would parallel the shoreline, suggestions that Jesus merely waded in the edge of the water are plausible, necessitating proof that Jesus walked on deep water. Peter’s venture from the boat and sinking provide that proof.

C. What is the center of gravity of the text? Where was the author heading? What question did the author intend to answer? What is the emotional center of the text? What music would it call for?

  • Center of Gravity: Jesus calmly walking on the water as if out for an early morning stroll.
  • Emotional Center: Peter venturing out of perceived safety into the storm to stand with Jesus.
  • Music: I Have Decided to Follow Jesus no turning back

IV. What do the commentaries have to say about the text?

M. Eugene Boring (The New Interpreter’s Bible, “The Gospel of Matthew,” Abingdon, 1995) notes this is the first time in Matthew that Jesus sends the disciples out without him physically with them. It is also the first time that Matthew portrays Jesus as praying. Boring connects this passage with 8:23-27 as both using imagery of a boat to portray the church being “tortured” as it goes out without Jesus physically present. He also notes that the ancient thought limited walking on water to deities. He defines Peter’s problem as taking his eyes off of Jesus, leaving the boat (community of faith), and desiring proof of God’s presence. Thus he reflects that if Peter had enough faith, he would have remained in the boat (community of faith) and believed that Jesus mediated the presence of God.

V. With respect to the hearers (including the preacher), What does this text want to say and do?

Those times when my sermons were best received,
when parishioners came up and said: “I felt you were preaching directly to me,”
were those times when I was preaching to myself. – Rabbi Chet Diamond

B. Focus Statement: Central, controlling, unifying theme.

  • When we have faith, we recognize Jesus in the storm.

C. Function Statement: What change in the hearer?

  • Confidence that Jesus is really with us, mediating God, when he sends us out in to the storm of the world around us.

Rowing Against the Wind

Man in Whaler-style row boat makes his way row...
Image by mikebaird via Flickr

Mark 6:48 When he saw that they were straining at the oars against an adverse wind, he came towards them early in the morning, walking on the sea. He intended to pass them by.

“Pray for salvation, but row towards shore.”

Many people add a tag-line below their signatures on email and forum postings. I had long admired a tag-line about praying and rowing below the signature of a prolific writer. And admired it even more when I learned that the writer lacked use of his arms.

I perceive that Jesus sees us straining in our work and in our ministry, knowing he could easily remove or lessen an obstacle to our progress, yet loves us for our straining. For the path of Christian discipleship is no easier than any other path, and occasionally it seems harder than some. Yet we strain to show our love for the grace we have received.

When has Jesus seen you straining at work or ministry?

July 31st: “You Give”

I. Establish the text

A. Select the Pericope: Matthew 14:13-21

C. Other texts for Year A, Sunday July 31st, in Ordinary Time

D. Brainstorm: What questions/thoughts come to mind?

13a Jesus withdraws to a deserted place to grieve the execution of John the Baptist.

13b Are the crowds following him because they wanted to see him? Or because they wanted to comfort him in his grief over the death of his cousin? Allusion to Ps 23 (Lord as Shepard).

14 Presuming the people came to compassionately minister to Jesus in his time of grief, it is interesting that they receive compassion and healing. But is that not often the case?

15 Similarly the disciples attempt to be compassionate to the crowd it the way that they are familiar.

16 Following the parable of the mustard seed that grows into a tree which gives shelter, and the wheat that yields 100x/60x/30x, the miraculous should be expected.

17 Yet the disciples continue to think conventionally.

18-19 But Jesus does not expect them to think miraculously. If he had, he might have instructed them to bless the loaves and to break them rather than doing it for them. Allusion Ps 23 (Makes me lie down in green pastures). Allusion to the Eucharist.

20-21 Testimony that this was not simply a sharing of a few morsels, but a miraculous feeding. Allusion to Exodus 16 & Numbers 11 — manna and quail.

E. Reconsider where the text begins and ends: What got chopped out?

  • Skips over the execution of John the Baptizer and stops before Jesus sends the disciples and the crowd away so he could meditate alone. This eliminates the reason for Jesus’ withdrawal and focuses the selection on the feeding.

F. Are there any significant variants in the manuscripts? Why?

  • v. 20: NIV presumes that the disciples are the ones collecting the pieces.

II. Literary Study.

B. What parallel passages exist? How do they differ? How does this author’s intent differ from other authors? Is the text used elsewhere?

Mark 6:30-44 Essentially the same story. Mark adds that the people were aimless and a protest by the disciples over the cost of a meal for so many people.

Mark 8:1-10 The occasion for the needing the meal is the crowd’s presence for three days. Still the disciples do not know where they will get the food. This time they have seven loaves of bread and a few small fish. But only four thousand are fed and only seven baskets of leftovers are found.

Luke 9:10-17 Essentially the same story. Luke locates the event outside Bethsaida.

John 6:1-13 John locates this event across the Sea of Galilee. (If from Jerusalem this would place it at Bethsaida.) The crowd is following Jesus because of the signs he has performed, rather than John’s death. John says this occurs near Passover. Jesus asks Philip where they would get food for the crowd, a test which Philip fails when he complains of the cost (same amount as Mark 6). Andrew is credited with finding a boy with five loaves and two fish. The crowd is five thousand in all (presumably including the women and children). The feeding is recognized by the crowd as a sign that Jesus is a prophet.

III. Question the text.

A. Observe the passage from the perspective of its characters.

Jesus Throughout the passage Jesus calmly fulfills his calling to serve. (see Matt 20:28 – “the Son of man came not to be served but to serve”).

B. Are there any unusual details? Un-named characters? ‘Pointless’ description? Meanings of names of characters? What does a literal meaning of natural metaphors imply?

5 loaves of bread —

2 fish —

12 baskets of remnants — Twelve disciples? Twelve tribes of Israel?

C. What is the center of gravity of the text? Where was the author heading? What question did the author intend to answer? What is the emotional center of the text? What music would it call for?

  • Shows Jesus’ as a servant and teaching servanthood to his disciples. The meal also foreshadows the Eucharist and the disciples giving the bread of heaven and the cup of salvation to the people.

D. Look for conflict: stated or implied.

  • The disciples do not yet understand the power with which they have been entrusted.

F. How will this text be heard by individuals in the congregation, including the preacher?

  • The miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes obscures all of the other details.

IV. What do the commentaries have to say about the text?

B. T. Viviano in the NJBC: “Matthew” notes that the twelve baskets of leftovers indicate the twelve tribes under the twelve disciples thus the second feeding in chapter 15 denotes the feeding of the Gentiles.

M. E. Boring in the NIB: “Matthew” notes the contrast between King Herod’s banquet and King Jesus’ banquet. He attributes Jesus’ withdrawal as reflecting Jesus nonviolent reaction to hostile earthly powers.

V. With respect to the hearers (including the preacher), What does this text want to say and do?

Those times when my sermons were best received,
when parishioners came up and said: “I felt you were preaching directly to me,”
were those times when I was preaching to myself. — Rabbi Chet Diamond

A. What is the theological meaning of the verses?

B. Focus Statement: Central, controlling, unifying theme.

C. Function Statement: What change in the hearer?

Anger Averted

Anger Controlls Him
Anger controls him Image via Wikipedia

1 Samuel 25:34 For as surely as the LORD the God of Israel lives, who has restrained me from hurting you, unless you had hurried and come to meet me, truly by morning there would not have been left to Nabal as much as one male.

“I could strangle him!”

There have been times when I or someone I care for had been so harmed that vengeance seemed the only answer. Or perhaps a crime so vile that allocation of food, water, even air, feels like putting good things to waste.

Anger had welled up and consumed David such that he had led four hundred men ready for battle towards the camp of Nabal. Yet God had intervened, averting David’s anger.

Caring deeply opens us to the possibility of deep anger. Thus we must open ourselves even more deeply to the intervening work of the Holy Spirit.

When have you responded to insult with the grace of Jesus?

July 24th: “Invincible!”

I. Establish the text

A. Select the Pericope: Romans 8:26-39

C. Other texts for Year A, Ordinary Time, July 24th, 2011

D. Brainstorm: What questions/thoughts come to mind?

26 The Spirit stuffs words in our mouths when God needs us to speak and cotton in our minds when we must be silent.

27 Paul is contemplating the relationship between the first and third persons of the Trinity.

28-30 Note this does not exclude those who God did not predestine. But only affirms God working in and through those whom God has called. (People are not predestined to not know God.)

34 Assurance of Pardon.

35-36 Believers are not shielded from hardship, but only guaranteed connection with God.

38 Benediction.

E. Reconsider where the text begins and ends: What got chopped out?

  • The closing paragraph celebrates the conclusion of three arguments beginning with Chapter 5.

III. Question the text.

C. What is the center of gravity of the text? Where was the author heading? What question did the author intend to answer? What is the emotional center of the text? What music would it call for?

  • Center of Gravity: Assurance of being with God in eternity.
  • Hymn: “All the Way My Savior Leads Me”
  • Hymn: “It Is Well with My Soul”

D. Look for conflict: stated or implied.

  • If God is really for us, then why is life so hard/painful?

F. How will this text be heard by individuals in the congregation, including the preacher?

  • In verses 31-34 Paul has primed the reader to answer in verse 35 that no-one can separate us from the love of God, for God is our defender, instead Paul jumps past defender surpassing even conqueror of those who might attempt to separate us from God’s love.
  • Paul ties the weak fleshy nature with the spiritual nature that is linked to the Holy Spirit via the Cross of Christ.

IV. What do the commentaries have to say about the text?

Paul Achtemeier (Interpretation: Romans, JKP 1985) surmises that Paul reasoned that any present suffering far outweighs the glory we are to receive. “[W]e can have confidence in our future with God only because that future is in God’s hands, not ours.” He advises that a sermon on prayer teach a focus on fulfilling God’s purposes rather than our own. He proposes that verses 33 through 37 be read as three questions each answered by an absurdity. The first two answer are rhetorical questions and the third a statement. He concludes: “Perhaps the greatest comfort here lies in the fact that we too are creatures. If no creature can separate us from God’s love, then in the end even our own almost limitless ability to rebel against God is overcome; and we are saved from our last and greatest enemy, ourselves.”

N. Thomas Wright (The New Interpreter’s Bible, “Letter to Romans”, Abingdon, 2002) alludes that other authors interpret “sighs to deep for words” as inferring glossolalia. He reflects: “Being indebted to grace is like the permanent indebtedness that exists between those who have given themselves freely to one another in lifelong human love: a state of wonder and gratitude in which one’s own humanness is enhanced rather than diminished, ennobled rather than belittled.” He interprets the inclusion of Psalm 44:22 as drawing in the entire Psalm which flows from celebrating the love of God as seen in Israel’s victories, to complaint that enemies have prevailed, with Israel’s slaughter a direct result of its loyalty to God, and ending with a plea for God to wake up and help and redeem.

Frank Stagg (Knox Preaching Guides: Galatians | Romans, JKP, 1980) notes that verse 28, is cherished because it is misunderstood and abused into the “glib idea that everything is going to work out all right.” He cites Paul’s own life as providing examples counter to the idea that the good is to be understood as material, health, position, … since Paul suffered shipwreck, jail whippings, scourging, character assassination, stoning, … “We remain in the same old world, with the same old problems, but the outcome is assuredly different. The difference is that between “I myself” and “in Christ.”

V. With respect to the hearers (including the preacher), What does this text want to say and do?

Those times when my sermons were best received,
when parishioners came up and said: “I felt you were preaching directly to me,”
were those times when I was preaching to myself. — Rabbi Chet Diamond

C. Function Statement: What change in the hearer?

Christians suffer hardships like all other people, but Christ gives us a confidence that more than conquers whatever might separate us from God.

Victory is Mine!

Thank You Note Letterpress
Image by robert.barney via Flickr

Acts 12:22 The people kept shouting, “The voice of a god, and not of a mortal!”

Two teams battle back and forth for three hours, then one brilliant play late in the game seals the outcome. Fans deem the key player their hero. Reporters surround the key player and shove microphones into his face. Everyone, reporters, fans from both teams, those still in the stadium and those watching or listening via television or radio, holds their breath. The player looks upward and says: “First I would like to thank God for granting me this opportunity to point beyond myself, to thank God for the opportunity to play with so many talented people from both teams who made this game so thrilling, to thank God for giving me the skills to rise to this level of success.” OK, maybe the sports hero you recall only used one of those accolades. Maybe he or she merely pointed and gazed upward.

Herod forgot who was really in charge despite the accolades of the crowd and died.

Which of your victories have you remembered to credit to God?

July 17th: “Weeding the Garden”

I. Establish the text

A. Select the Pericope: Matthew 13:24-30 & 36-43

Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

C. Other texts for Year A, Sunday, July 17th in Ordinary Time

D. Brainstorm: What questions/thoughts come to mind?

24 Is the kingdom like or contrasted to?
Need to be careful not to compare the kingdom to the sower but to the patience of the master to wait until the fullness of time for the harvest and to allow the weeds to grow among the wheat lest any of the wheat be harmed.

25 The enemy comes when we least expect it.

26 The actions of the enemy are not immediately apparent but only appear later.

27 And the believers asked him, “Why do bad things happen? Why is there evil in the world that you created? The world was good when you created it. What happened?”

28 “AN enemy?” Is there more than the devil?

29 Would we be able to pull a few weeds without hurting the wheat? Which are the weeds and which are the wheat? Would human’s know the difference?

30 Karl Barth perceived that at the eschaton humans would be split in two separating their evil from their good.

37 The Son of Man is the Word of God made flesh among men.

38 I fear use of this passage to demonize some people, children of God through Adam, rather than demonizing the schemes the evil one versus the will of God.

39 It is important to recognize that we are not the reapers.

40 This is the smelting in the refiner’s fire of the people for service in the Kingdom in the age to come.

E. Reconsider where the text begins and ends: What got chopped out?

  • Skips over the parable of the mustard seed and of the yeast which affects all of the flour that it is mixed into. These parables speak to the pervasiveness of the Kingdom of God.
  • This parable (and its explanation) lie within a series of parables about the Kingdom of Heaven.
  • Two parables lie between the parable of the tares and its explanation. Both of these (mustard seed and yeast) tell how the Kingdom of Heaven grows from an imperceptible start.

III. Question the text.

C. What is the center of gravity of the text? Where was the author heading? What question did the author intend to answer? What is the emotional center of the text? What music would it call for?

  • Our task is not to separate the weeds from the wheat, that is the task of angels.
  • Our task is to nurture the wheat.
  • God would rather have weak wheat than lose even one plant.

D. Look for conflict: stated or implied.

  • Allowing the weeds to grow alongside the wheat will have an adverse impact on the wheat, but pulling the weeds prematurely will rip up some of the wheat.

IV. What do the commentaries have to say about the text?

M. Eugene Boring (The New Interpreter’s Bible, “The Gospel of Matthew”) comments that “Christians are the result of the ‘sowing’ of the Son of Man. Unbelievers and opponents are the result of the activity of Satan.”

V. With respect to the hearers (including the preacher), What does this text want to say and do?

Those times when my sermons were best received,
when parishioners came up and said: “I felt you were preaching directly to me,”
were those times when I was preaching to myself. — Rabbi Chet Diamond

A. What is the theological meaning of the verses?

  • I have yet to meet anyone who might be wholly good or fully evil. Instead people are a combination of the sin and righteousness, good and evil. Thus prematurely removing the “tares” (sin/evil) would damage who we are as human beings. Could that which God collects and burns at the end of the age is the sin/evil in each person, leaving only the righteousness in each person to “shine like the sun”?

B. Focus Statement: Central, controlling, unifying theme.

  • God alone is responsible for collecting and removing “the causes of sin and all evildoers.”

C. Function Statement: What change in the hearer?

  • Look for what God is doing in each person we meet and help that facet of him/her grow.

Messages

IMG_6185
Image by The Angry Photographer via Flickr

Acts 10:15 The voice said to him again, a second time, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.”

One of the blessings of being a pastor is listening to people tell of their encounters with the divine. They tell me of highly improbable coincidences filled with meaning. They do not come seeking confirmation of the message they have received, but with an overflowing joy they desire to share with someone, a joy that I have been privileged to confirm.

The readings for today provide examples of difficult messages: 1 Samuel 16:1-13 tells of God commanding Samuel to commit treason and anoint a new king while Saul continued to rule Israel; and Acts 10:1-16 reports God commanding to Peter to violate dietary rules. Although both Peter and Samuel were initially reluctant, each get to participate in advancing God’s kingdom.

How do you discern when God calls you to do something new?

July 10th: “sharing the Gospel with the community in word and deed”

This week, as on the last three weeks, the sermon will consider one of the four facets of the congregation’s vision statement. The notes below lift up exemplifying passages from the Bible and the Book of Confessions.

Exemplifying Scripture

Jeremiah 3:12-15

Matthew 13:1-9 & 18-23

Matthew 28:19-20 – Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’

Mark 16:15 – Go into all the world, and proclaim the good news to the whole creation.

John 20:21 – Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’

Acts 16:25-34

The Westminster Confession of Faith:

6.055 1. God in infinite and perfect love, having provided in the covenant of grace, through the mediation and sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ, a way of life and salvation, sufficient for and adapted to the whole lost race of man, doth freely offer this salvation to all men in the gospel.(1)

6.056 2. In the gospel God declares his love for the world and his desire that all men should be saved; reveals fully and clearly the only way of salvation; promises eternal life to all who truly repent and believe in Christ; invites and commands all to embrace the offered mercy; and by his Spirit accompanying the Word pleads with men to accept his gracious invitation.(2)

6.057 3. It is the duty and privilege of everyone who hears the gospel immediately to accept its merciful provisions; and they who continue in impenitence and unbelief incur aggravated guilt and perish by their own fault.(3)

6.058 4. Since there is no other way of salvation than that revealed in the gospel, and since in the divinely established and ordinary method of grace faith cometh by hearing the Word of God, Christ hath commissioned his Church to go into all the world and to make disciples of all nations. All believers are, therefore, under obligation to sustain the ordinances of the Christian religion where they are already established, and to contribute by their prayers, gifts, and personal efforts to the extension of the Kingdom of Christ throughout the whole earth.(4)

The Confession of 1967:

9.37 The church disperses to serve God wherever its members are, at work or play, in private or in the life of society. Their prayer and Bible study are part of the church’s worship and theological reflection. Their witness is the church’s evangelism. Their daily action in the world is the church in mission to the world. The quality of their relation with other persons is the measure of the church’s fidelity.