Monthly Archives: April 2012

Healthy Transistions

Two years is too long for a congregation to be without stable leadership. Interim pastors help fill this gap, but there must be a better way.

As a trained, experienced, and successful interim pastor I have helped congregations discern where God might lead them and pastoral leadership characteristics to support that future. But have come to doubt many assumptions for mandating this process for every congregation.

By applying systems engineering principles to pastoral transitions I have discerned a different process. You can get a free electronic version of my article, Healthy Pastoral Transitions: A process for congregational leadership, at: http://smashwords.com/b/156850

May 6th: “Incorporation”

When we remain in Christ, we bear much fruit, for God removes both branches that bear no fruit and those that would drain energy from God’s mission.

This Week’s Passage: John 15:1-8

I. Establish the text

C. Other texts for Year B for 5thSunday in Easter

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

1 God prunes the branches, not Christ, and certainly not other branches! The church is not tasked with discerning which branches to lop off.

2 The branches that bear no fruit get lopped off, the branches that bear fruit get pruned. What is the difference? In each case the branches are removed? But the vine improves all the more, producing even more fruit unburdened by the non-producing branches and strengthened by the new growth.

3 The vine dresser has already cleaned us for God’s work.

4 – 5 Just as a vine needs the root, so we need to remain attached to Christ.

6 But unlike a physical vine, we can opt to remain attached or to separate from the vine.

7 – 8 By opting to remain in the vine, we benefit from its sap and do not wither but produce much fruit to the glory of the unseen roots.

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

  • This passage is part of Jesus’ teaching to his disciples anticipating his death.
  • It is followed by a similar teaching commending the disciples to stay in God’s love so they would bear much fruit.

II. Literary Study.

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

  • /kaqairw/ traditionally translated as “prune” or “cleanse” is a compound verb /kaqa/ and /airw/ literally to “thoroughly remove.” O’Day, citing Beasley-Murray, recommends “cut off” or “cut clean.”

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?

  • Simile, metaphor, figure. People are not physically grafted into a vine. Unlike a physical vine, people can remove themselves from the vine, and might not notice any loss of function.

III. Question the text.

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?

Pruning seems to be a difficult and hurtful task from a human point of view. But plants need pruning so they do not waste their energy doing useless tasks. Pruning is the essence for having and using a mission statement.

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: Remain in Christ for a fruitful life.
  • Emotional Center: God dresses the vine, removing dead and fruitless branches, and thinning buds from living branches so they will bear the most fruit.
  • Music: “The Church Is One Foundation”

D. Look for conflict: stated or implied.

  • We are instructed to remain in the vine, yet those that do not bear fruit will be lopped off and those that do bear fruit will also be pruned. James Price in “Jesus the True Vine” The Presbyterian Outlook, April 19-26 suggests that “pruned” may also be translated as “cleansed” since the adjective with the same root in v. 3 is translated a “clean.” The vinedresser removes/cleanses extra buds from a branch so that selected remaining buds bear much fruit. So too are believers cleansed from wasting their energy in matters that do not give glory to the Triune God.

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

Fred B. Craddock (Knox Preaching Guides: John. John Knox Press, 1982.) while noting other possible partitions, considers verses 1-11 as a unit. He concludes: “Churches that move through hardship to inclreased devotion to the mission have, indeed, been pruned. Those that pull back in fear and resentment with attention only to their own comfort and safety have, indeed, been taken away.”

Gail R. O’Day (The New Interpreter’s Bible, “The Gospel of John.” Abingdon, 1995.) considers verses 1-17 as one unit, while noting that many consider verses 1-6 as an independent figure and the following as its interpretation. O’Day, concurring with C. H. Dodd, considers the word pictures used by the Fourth Evangelist inseparable from the theology he is communicating. She discerns Jesus’ use of the figure to reveal his position of the vine as connecting the gardener to the branches, and that all three are essential to the production of fruit. She reflects that “there are no free-standing individuals in community,” individuals rooted in Jesus give up their status as individuals to become a branch, and that “there is only one gift, to bear fruit, and any branch can do that if it remains with Jesus.

Carol Baldwin (Woman’s Devotional Bible. Zondervan, 1990.) abuses this text by removing verse 3 and confusing misfortune with divine pruning.

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?

  • When we remain in Christ, we bear much fruit, for God removes both branches that bear no fruit and those that would drain energy from God’s mission.

April 29th: “Charity”

Since you believe in Christ, serve one another, for God’s love begets our love.

This Week’s Passage: 1 John 3:16-24

I. Establish the text

C. Other texts for Year B for 4thSunday in Easter

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

16a Definition of love: Self sacrifice

16b Our response to divine love is to demonstrate this love for others.

17 Story about two farmers talking about how they would support one-another until one suggests they would give the other a bull if the other needed one. “You know I have two bulls.”

18 Talk is cheap.

19 Our actions provide assurance that Christ is working in us and through us.

22 Perhaps we receive what we ask for, because we know for what to ask when we obey God.

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

  • Chapter 3 begins a new topic on how to live as children of God.
  • Parsing the letter at verse 16, extends the discussion on rejecting sin through verse 15. And verses 16-24 begin an alternative action, to embrace sacrificial love.

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?

  • Unsigned although 2nd and 3rd John are signed “the presbyter.” Probably written by the author of the Gospel According to John as it builds on ideas and phrases in that text and uses similar style. Early Christians attributed these texts to John the Son of Zebedee, the beloved disciple. Although attribution to John of Zebedee may have followed a need to give these useful letters authority. The author hints at an affinity for the Qumran community.

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?

  • Rhetoric, but softer than Paul, demonstrating that John’s correspondents were receptive.

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: Since you believe in Christ, serve one another.
  • Emotional Center: God’s love begets our love.
  • Music: “They’ll know we are Christians by our love”

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

Stephen S. Smalley (Word Biblical Commentary: Volume 51: 1, 2, 3 John. Dallas: Word, 1984.) begins the pericope at verse 10 and titles this passage as the second of five conditions for living as God’s children, a topic begun at 3:1 and continuing through 5:13. He titles this condition (3:10-24) as: “Be Obedient.” He notes how Christ’s sacrificial love contrasts with the murderous haters who intend destruction of life. He allows interpreting laying one’s life down as a risking (citing Bultmann) or offering (citing Brown) rather than surrender. His argument leads to a conclusion that the reader must differentiate Christ’s atoning substitutionary sacrifice from our following Jesus in risking or offering our lives for our brethren. His focus on obedience diminishes the idea of love as a generous demonstration and response to the indwelling of Christ.

R. Alan Culpepper (Knox Preaching Guides: 1 John, 2 John, 3 John. Atlanta: JKP, 1985.) titles the pericope beginning at verse 10 as: “Brotherly Love: The Command of the Covenant.” He notes that the phrase “to lay down” one’s life does not occur in the New Testament, except here and eight times in John’s Gospel. He points out that John used yuch rather than zwh, thus Christ laid down his physical life, but not his eternal spiritual life. He notes the ambiguity in verses 19-21 allow multiple and diverse interpretations.

C. Clifton Black (The New Interpreter’s Bible, “The First, Second, and Third Letters of John.” Abingdon, 1998) considers this pericope as part of a unit stretching from 3:11 to 5:12. He parses it at verse 18 into sections titled “By This We Know Love” and “By This We Shall Know That We Are of the Truth.” Alas, Black becomes entangled with the violence in 3:11-15 and is still struggling with the world’s hatred by the end of 3:24.

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?

Since you believe in Christ, serve one another.

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

God’s love begets our love.

C. Function Statement: What change in the hearer?

Demonstrate that God loves you by loving others sacrificially.

April 22nd: Youth Group Skit

Deutsch: Grissini in einem Brotkorb English: G...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Our Youth Group has written a skit to describe how the disciples might act if Jesus’ trial, death, and resurrection happened this year, with modern technology. Accordingly communion will seek consistency with what might be served a typical 21st century party: bread sticks and grape drink.

C. Other texts for Year B for 3rdSunday in Easter

 

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April 15th: “One Heart and Soul”

The world and everything in are God’s. As stewards of divine creation we are responsible for all our neighbors.

This Week’s Passage: Luke 4:32-37

I. Establish the text

C. Other texts for Year B for 2ndSunday in Easter

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

32a Of one heart and soul, allows for conflicting opinions while seeking to serve the Lord in all things.

32b If we consider everything in all creation to be on loan to us from God, would this not follow?

33 Like the Apostles, preachers today have been entrusted with the greatest gift: forgiveness of sins, resurrection of the body, and life ever-lasting. How could this not be shared powerfully?

34 This defines needs only in material goods, but we also need opportunities to be useful.

35 Why did they have to sell the items before giving them?

36-37 Could the community have used Joseph’s field to grow grain and teach others to grow grain?

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

  • Preceded by the believers praying together and receiving the Holy Spirit. Thus this communal life exemplifies the power or the Spirit to overcome individual pride.
  • Lops off an example of selling a field and presenting it to the apostles. And the counter example of Ananias and Sapphira selling and pretending to give all but withholding part.

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?

  • Written by Luke to document the spreading of the church. Thus this and the following passage demonstrate that the church did not unfold consistently.

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?

  • This is a third person news account without dialogue.
  • Common ownership surrounds the preaching of apostles. Thus this behavior is an outward sign of the affect of the preaching and the presence of the Holy Spirit among the believers.

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: The world and everything in are God’s. As stewards of divine creation we are responsible for all our neighbors.
  • Emotional Center: Common ownership embodied the preaching of the apostles.
  • Music: “One Bread, One Body”

D. Look for conflict: stated or implied.

  • Conflict follows this passage when individual security attempts to subvert trusting the community to care for everyone.

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

  • The community must have kept some property for communal use; e.g. the house where they were staying. How did the community share spiritual gifts and secular talents?
  • Omitting these keeps the focus on the power of trusting the Holy Spirit, rather than on how to implement a commune.

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

  • Is the Bible really advocating socialism/communism? The exegete must differentiate voluntary participation in communal life from mandated sharing.

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

James J.H. Price (The Presbyterian Outlook, January 6-13, 1997, “Barnabas”.) concludes that the example of Barnabas giving the proceeds from the sale of a field is an unusual, rather than an expected, regular practice of all members of the community.

Robert W. Wall (The New Interpreter’s Bible. Abingdon, 2002. “The Acts of the Apostles”) continues this pericope through the 5:16; incorporating both the episode with Ananias and Sapphira and the people bringing the sick so that Peter’s shadow might fall on them and be cured. He concludes this interlude in Luke’s description of the spread of the church was an example of what the church should look like in every age. He deduces from Barnabas being a Levite, a tribe dedicated to spiritual rather than physical stewardship, that this instance of communal trust marks the return toward the order God had intended. “The value we place on individual ownership, not only on what we purchase but the motives for acquiring particular brands or models, is an expression of our inmost and utmost loyalties.”

William H. Willimon (Interpretation: Acts. JKP, 1988.) continues this passage through the episode with Ananias and Sapphira (5:11). He notes that for Luke, money is not a sign of God’s favor, but a danger. “If money is somehow linked with our idolatrous attempts to secure immortality for ourselves, it is also the occasion for much self-deceit.”

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?

  • The world and everything in are God’s. As stewards of divine creation we are responsible for all our neighbors.

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

  • Submitting to the Holy Spirit’s power enables individuals to trust a community over individual fears.

C. Function Statement: What change in the hearer?

  • Great grace works miracles in word and deed.

April 8th, Resurrection Sunday: “Amazement”

The resurrection is scandalous! Resurrection of the body! Frightened women were the only witnesses. But this ending marks our beginning.

Mark 16:1-8

I. Establish the text

C. Other texts for Year B for 1stSunday in Easter

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

1 Burial delayed due to Sabbath restrictions. These are the women who had observed Jesus at his crucifixion and when placed in the tomb.

2-4 Affirmation that the tomb had been sealed more tightly that three women could open.

5 Not an angel, but a stranger in a white robe alarms the women.

6 Standard angelic opening: “Do not be afraid.”

7 Frightened women were instructed to be the first evangelists.

8 An honest reaction to a divine message!

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

  • The preceding segment ends with internment. This segment begins about thirty-six hours later, on the third day.
  • There are three endings to this passage:
    • with the women fleeing in stunned silence;
    • with the women briefly telling Peter and a projection of evangelism; and
    • summaries of Mary Magdalene telling the others and their disbelief, the two on the road to Emmaus, and the upper room denials including Thomas, but resolving with a summary of the apostolic movement.
  • Too many Christians act more like the open ended version: Fleeing in fearful silence, afraid to tell others, and wondering how the story had been told from generation to generation.

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

  • The abrupt ending is supported by the oldest and most reliable manuscripts.
  • The shorter ending by itself is supported by only one manuscript, but is included with the longer ending in a few manuscripts.
  • The longer ending is included in several manuscripts, but some mark it as dubious. This section differs in language and style from the rest of Mark.

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 28 – No mention of Salome. An earthquake and a descending angel open the tomb. The angel sat on the rock that had sealed the tomb. Whiteness of the angel’s garb amplified. Guards at the tomb faint. Angel’s message varies only grammatically from Mark. Jesus briefly appears to them and re-iterates the angel’s message. Interlude about counter resurrection propaganda. The women tell the disciples, all go to Galilee, and there they hear the Great Commission from the risen Jesus.

Luke 24 – Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, Joanna, and the other women. The stone had been rolled away prior to their arrival. Two men in dazzling clothes appear. The angels’ message greatly expanded, yet similar to Mark. They tell the eleven, and Peter alone investigates. Emmaus Road interlude and Jesus appears to the eleven in Jerusalem, immediately followed by his ascension.

John 20 – Mary Magdalene arrives alone, sees the stone removed and told Peter and “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” These two disciples investigated the empty tomb and get partial insight. Later Mary saw two angels sitting where Jesus had been laid. The angels began a dialog with Mary which Jesus completed. That evening Jesus appears had met with the disciples in a locked room where they received the Holy Spirit and, still later, Thomas’s doubts were erased.

1 Cor. 15:3-10 – No mention of the empty tomb or angelic messages to the women prior to appearing to (Cephas) Peter. Women would have been considered unreliable witnesses thus their testimony irrelevant to Paul.

Mark provided a terse account, giving readers the bare minimum so they might carry the message out into the world.

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

III. Question the text.

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

The three women had expected to find the tomb as they left it and instead found a man whose message frightens them into silence.

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?

The man sat on the right side (of the tomb?). Is this symbolic of where Jesus would sit in heaven?

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: “He has been raised! He is not here!”
  • Emotional Center: Terror and amazement! ? God had disrupted what they knew to be true.
  • Music: I recall our daughter (probably before her 6th birthday) being frightened when a trio of trumpets suddenly blared from the balcony above us. Her mother and I knew to anticipate them from the bulletin. Music this day should engender shock and awe!

D. Look for conflict: stated or implied.

  • If the women had “said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid,” then how do we know this?

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

  • The unfinished or perhaps lost ending begs readers to finish the Gospel. But I believe the unfinished ending is correct, as it begs the reader to finish it with the living of their lives, spreading the Gospel into the world.

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

  • Hearers will want to harmonize Mark’s telling with other accounts of Jesus’ resurrection, both those in the other Gospels and those in fiction.

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

Pheme Perkins (The New Interpreter’s Bible, “The Gospel of Mark.” Abingdon, 1995.) notes that predictions in Mark of Jesus resurrection, meeting in Galilee with the disciples, and judgment anticipate that the Gospel cannot end with crucifixion and burial. The abrupt ending begs an explanation which the alternate endings provide. She points to Jesus’s dispute with the Sadducees over the resurrection, Elijah, Moses, and Enoch as indicating that “resurrection does not imply return to the conditions of bodily existence, such as the revival of Jairus’s daughter,” but “represents the end-time renewal of all creation,” “… might suggest that the time of salvation has been initiated,” and a “special, heavenly status.” She interprets the women’s flight as symbolizing their isolation from Jesus due to their fear from lack of faith. She comments that Peter is singled out from among the disciples because he had previously boasted he would die with Jesus (14:31), had publicly denied Jesus (14:71), and had wept over recalling Jesus words (14:72). [Since Peter was reconciled with the resurrected Jesus, there is great hope for us!] She concludes that since we know this story, “therefore, his promise that the failure of his disciples would be overcome can also be trusted.” She reflects that “the resurrection is exaltation to Gods’ glory”, the women’s fear demonstrated the mystery of faith. “Jesus did not need to come again and choose a new team in some grand lottery for better disciples.”

Lamar Williamson, Jr. (Interpretation: Mark. JKP, 1983.) begins his interpretation of this chapter: “When is an ending not the end? When a dead man rises from the tomb–and when a Gospel ends in the middle of a sentence.” He interprets the abrupt ending, including a dangling preposition, as literary style rather than indicating a lost section. He concludes: “[This unfinished story] puts us to work; we must decide how the story should come out.” “The significance of Mark 16:1-8 lies instead in its understanding of the basic life-stance of a Christian: expectancy.”

Ralph Martin (Knox Preaching Guides: Mark. JKP, 1981.) reminds us that first century Jews would have been shocked by the presence of women alongside men in the gospel story and perceived women playing a central role in discovering and announcing the resurrection as scandalous.

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 is risen from the dead.

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

The resurrection is scandalous! Resurrection of the body! Frightened women were the only witnesses.

C. Function Statement: What change in the hearer?

This ending marks our beginning!