Monthly Archives: August 2011

Fiery Clicks

James 3:5… How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! 6 And the tongue is a fire.

facebook like button
What would James say about today’s culture where merely clicking a “Like” button can stir diverse emotions? Employees have been fired for merely “Liking” a competitor’s product. Relationships have been restored by “Liking” a friend’s post. All from the same finger.

There is much on which I would like to comment, and more that I might endorse, but the implications of a mere click could thwart some from hearing Christ’s message of grace.

Reigns and a bit might guide a horse, but the owner of a tongue and now a mouse button cannot be as easily constrained. Only by the grace of God can our wayward members contribute to building the Kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven.

September 4th: “No Tomorrow”

I. Establish the text

A. Select the Pericope: Matthew 18:15-20

C. Other texts for Year [A|B|C] for [N]th Sunday in [Advent | Christmas | Lent | Easter | Ordinary Time]

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

I do this early, before researching the passage influences my questions.

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

  • Should this passage be shortened/extended?
  • Will the hearers need an introduction before it is read?

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

  • When scribes hand copied the Bible, various errors crept in or were ‘corrected’ by later editors.
  • Some copies updated the text to reflect changes in language or culture.
  • Today we can only guess which editions most accurately follow the original author.

II. Literary Study.

A. What is the history of the text? Who wrote it? When? In what social context? What Historical/Religious/Sociological factors influenced its writing?

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

C. Review syntax/meanings of critical words, phrases, idioms

D. What is the literary style of the text? And how does it affect the reading? What does a poetic form do to the meaning? Lament/Praise/Petition? Any subtle variations in the repetitions? What is emphasized/minimized by the repetition?

III. Question the text.

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

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?

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?

D. Look for conflict: stated or implied.

E. Is there anything you wish the author had included in the passage? Why do you think this was not a part of Scripture?

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

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

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?

The Aroma of Hope

gift bag for Zophia
Surprising hope

Mark 14:9Truly I tell you, wherever the good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.”

I once had the pleasure of sorting food donated for a local food pantry. Among the items donated was a gift bag, complete with tissue paper, inside was a single can of goose-liver pâté from an upscale gourmet shop.

“If they had purchased beans and rice, how many more people might we have fed?” someone had asked.

“What are we supposed to do with this?” another person said setting it apart from the items that would be shelved. “We can’t put it beside the Spam.”

We discussed several hypotheses: Did the donor intend to bring a little sunshine into someone’s life? Or, was the food pantry a means of disposing a gift that the donor did not appreciate?

Even if the donor saw the food pantry as a means of disposing an unwanted treat, I like the idea that the gift wrapped pâté might bring an unexpected ray of hope into someone’s life. While beans and rice might be enough to sustain life, God gives us grace with flavors and aromas that inspire hope for tomorrow.

When did the taste of hope fill your palate?

August 28th: “Burning Coals”

I. Establish the text

A. Select the Pericope: Second Reading Romans 12:9-21

C. Other texts for Year A for August 28thSunday in Ordinary Time

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

9 But knowing good from evil is the hard part. Yet that is the part of our nature that is made in the image of God.

10-13a These are the skills most likely to be acquired by flash-in-the-pan Christians.

13b Now things get tough. Invite strangers into your home. Who are strangers to us?

14 But Paul just wrote that we are to hate what is evil. Ahh! Note the difference between hating “what is evil” and the doer of what is evil. The doers are to be blessed.

17a Christians de-escalate violence.

18 How much does it depend on me? How do my purchases of goods made by Sudanese contribute to that war?

19 How many times times must I leave room for the wrath of God? What if my enemy hits me seven times? Not seven times but seven times seven.

21 Evil leads to more evil. Good leads to more good. Consider what caused the Berlin wall to fall. Was it the successive building of ever larger weapons? Or was it the prayers and aide offered to satellite countries.

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

  • This appears to be a continuation of the thoughts begun in verses 1-2. The intervening verses 3-8, dwell on the varieties of gifts and givers.

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

In verse 14, some variants omit “you” thus, “Bless those persecuting [you]; bless and do not curse.” Throughout vv. 9-18 the victims/recipients of actions are not identified, except for this verse. The pronoun here answer questions that might flow from v. 19 “Never avenge yourselves;” e.g. “From what did they need to avenge themselves?” or “Should we not stand up for those who are persecuted, and deter their abusers?”

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?

Matthew 18:7 How many times must I forgive a member of the church who sins against me?

C. Review syntax/meanings of critical words, phrases, idioms

  • “heap burning coals upon their heads” ? If the fire in one’s home had gone out, burning coals would be carried in a plate atop one’s head as aid from those with a warm hearth. This and the verse preceding are from Proverbs 25:22.

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: Genuine love.
  • Emotional Center: Love your enemies.
  • Music: “In Christ There Is No East or West”

D. Look for conflict: stated or implied.

  • Repay evil with love, leaving room for the wrath of God.

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

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?

Love differently than the world loves.

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

What does it REALLY mean to act like a Christian?

C. Function Statement: What change in the hearer?

Kill your enemies by converting them with kindness.

Amazing Grace

2 Samuel 18:33 The king was deeply moved, and went up to the chamber over the gate, and wept; and as he went, he said, “O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!”

Nothing is as amazing as grace!

King David demonstrated the absurdity of grace by lamenting for his
son Absalom who had raised up an insurrection against his father the
anointed king, had sought to kill his father, and had publicly slept
with the king’s concubines. Any of these crimes would warrant
death. Yet King David laments he had would have died instead of his
rebellious son.

I suppose any parent would remember something worthy of redemption
in a wayward child.

I suppose that our Heavenly Father remembers us as the child of
His creation, and looks at our wayward behaviors, and also sees in
us something worthy of redemption through Christ Jesus.

When have you experienced the absurdity of grace?

August 21st: “Transformers”

I. Establish the text

A. Select the Pericope: Romans 12:1-8

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

C. Other texts for Year A for Sunday, August 21st in Ordinary Time

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

1 “Living sacrifice” versus animal sacrifices.

2 What does being conformed to this world feel like? Being transformed to be living sacrifices.

3 The “Holier than Thou” need not apply.

4-8 Recalls Paul’s frequent illustration suggesting individuals as members of a physical body, with each adding to the whole.

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

  • Paring the pericope to vv. 1-8 focuses the discussion to how being transformed is exhibited.

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: Christians are to be living sacrifices, demonstrating God to the world, yet humbly accepting the imperfections of our efforts, and recognizing the gifts of others so that jointly we might embody a holy and acceptable worship.

D. Look for conflict: stated or implied.

  • Transformed to be perfect, yet reliant on others to be complete.

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

  • Sacrifice may be heard as an onus to bear rather than as a gift to presented.

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

Paul Achtemeier (Interpretation: Romans, John Knox Press, 1985) notes “that unity cannot be reduced to sheer uniformity,” as diverse members and ways of acting enrich the Christian community. He suggests a sermon on the costs of conformity, a sermon that those wishing to leave the denomination need to hear.

In “How to according to Romans” ??? calls this section the Pauline beatitudes. Each person should understand their spiritual gifts and use them in harmony, so that every member or part of the body is recognized as necessary and important.

N. Thomas Wright (The New Interpreter’s Bible, “Letter to Romans”, Abingdon, 2002) exegetes the word “sacrifices” as conjuring in 1st century hearers images of animal sacrifices. Thus believers are to present themselves as sacrifices, but not to be burned but to live in contrast to the world.

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?

Paul is beginning a section describing how Christians act differently from others.

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

Live your life so that others may see how you have been transformed by Christ.

What Owns You?

Market plunges 5pc, dollar crashes
Image by publik16 via Flickr

Mark 10:23 Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!”

What a difference a week makes! With the stock market tumbling,
and our nation’s credit rating sliding, Jesus’ words in
today’s reading might give us a sigh of relief.

Yet if we worry about hanging on to what we have earned, what
we have invested, and what we might have to spend tomorrow to
keep up what we have, then we are no better than the rich man in
today’s passage.

Jesus is asking: “Are you working for the Kingdom of God,
or for wealth?” When one works for the Kingdom of God, wealth
is merely a tool. But if working for one’s own interest,
wealth quickly becomes an insatiable master, owning and enslaving
those who consider a fatter portfolio as one’s life’s goal.

In the end of your earthly days, when your wealth gets returned to
the tool shed or turned over for someone else to use, what will you
have built with it?

August 14th: “Begging and Believing”

I. Establish the text

A. Select the Pericope: Matthew 15:21-28

C. Other texts for Year A for Sunday August 14th in Ordinary Time

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

21-22 Jesus goes to remote seacoast towns, yet the people already know about him.

23-24 When have we cried out to God for healing and heard no response? When have we prayed and experienced only a stone wall? When has the church brushed our concerns away? When have we brushed aside requests from non-members because we were already busy?

25-26 Does Jesus help her by setting up an opportunity for her to make a statement of faith?

27 The “Sinner’s Prayer” in a different form.

28 Why was this conflict necessary? There are several other stories of Jesus healing those whom outsiders, even disciples, ignored. The woman shifts from wanting healing for her daughter to healing for herself, and in that healing, finds healing for her daughter.

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

  • The scene changes at verses 21 and 29 provide sharp boundaries for this story.

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 7:24-30 – Lists only Tyre. Places the context inside a house, as Jesus “did not want anyone to know he was there; yet he could not escape notice.” Woman was Greek-Syrophoenician. She knelt and begged, but direct speech is not included. Matthew adds that Jesus did not answer her at first. No comment from disciples to “send her away.” Jesus says: “For saying that, you may go, for the demon has left your daughter.”
  • Matthew 8:5-13 – The Healing of the Centurion’s Servant: Has many points in common: An outsider comes to Jesus and begs that another be cured. The outsider observes he does not deserve for Jesus to come under his roof and makes a greater statement of faith than found among the children of Israel. It differs significantly in that Jesus immediately offers to attend to the sick servant.

C. Review syntax/meanings of critical words, phrases, idioms

  • /Kynarion/ = puppies. This word is typically used for household pets rather than stray dogs. The usage first by Jesus, and later by the woman, extends the metaphor the house of Israel as “children.”

D. What is the literary style of the text? And how does it affect the reading? What does a poetic form do to the meaning? Lament/Praise/Petition? Any subtle variations in the repetitions? What is emphasized/minimized by the repetition?

  • Follows the style of a controversy dialog, but here Jesus makes the hostile statement and the woman ends the controversy by making an irrefutable statement. None-the-less, Jesus does not grant the healing because he was bettered by the woman, but out of grace.

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: To show that those outside the Jewish nation would also repent and recognize Jesus as Lord and Savior.
  • Emotional Center: Jesus response to persistent humble prayer.
  • Music: ““We Walk by Faith and Not by Sight””

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

  • Could this be illustrated by the preacher receiving a phone call during the sermon and, after checking the caller ID, say: “Oh, its the hospital. Don’t they know I work on Sundays. Too many funerals and wedding already this week. …”

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

M. Eugene Boring (The New Interpreter’s Bible, “The Gosple of Matthew,” Abingdon, 1995) reflects that Matthew intended this story to make three points: (1) God has a plan for salvation history first to the Jews and then broadening to all nations after Easter; (2) Worshipful struggle with God is not unbelief but great faith, he contrasts this with Peter’s previous statement: “if it is you Lord, then command me to come to you on the water (14:28);” and (3) Jesus crosses barriers of sex and race to make a vital connection.

Brian Stoffregen (Gospel Notes for Next Sunday on EcuNet 7 August 2005) concludes “The entire section of Matthew 15:1-28 is concerned with ritual purity—who is clean/unclean and what makes them that way?” He notes this is the only time Jesus affirms “great faith”, “Yet, she didn’t walk on water, as Peter did last week. She didn’t move a mountain. She probably had never been to church in her life. She certainly had never read the Bible.”

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?

Jesus crosses theological and cultural boundaries to heal those who persistently and humbly pray.

C. Function Statement: What change in the hearer?

Come to Christ with “great faith,” recognizing the absurdity of sinners even approaching the throne of grace and the incongruity of the Father sending his Son for us, yet persistently attempting connect so that the Spirit might have an opening to bend us to God’s will.

This is it!

View of the Old Town of Dubrovnik from Srđ mou...
View from Srd Mountain

Mark 9:1 And he said to them, “Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.”

A current social campaign touts: “It gets better.” This campaign encourages young adults to hang on in the face of hatred and bullying, to persevere in the face of intolerance and violence, and to find a mentor for support. Life may seem difficult now, but you will soon see that it gets better.

This campaign does something far better. Many of the notable people making these statements have personally been through tough times and have achieved more than many of their peers. By merely saying: “It gets better,” these successful former victims offer a glimpse that life is already better than it seems.

Thus we should not be surprised that Mark records Jesus as saying, the kingdom has come with power. If we look with our spiritual eyes, we will perceive it before tasting death. If we look with our spiritual eyes, we can look beyond the trials of life to see the kingdom of God has come and is all around us.

Sometimes all we need to do is look beyond the stoney ground under our feet to see mountain that lifts us up.