Monthly Archives: July 2012

Does Interim Ministry Help?

For years I trusted that Intentional Interim Ministry assisted congregations in finding their next pastor. I have even propagated that rumor.

Rumor? Yes, rumor. A recent Alban Institute article confirmed the lack of substantiation of that popular assertion.

If anything, requiring that congregations conduct a mission study between installed pastors robs them of the best method for stabilizing their relationship with their next pastor.

See my short e-book, Healthy Pastoral Transitions: A process for maintaining congregational leadership, for my critique of Intentional Interim Ministry and an alternative process. I have recently updated it to include a quote from the Alban Institute article with a citation. There is no charge for this download, in the hopes that some congregation might benefit by skipping the Intentional Interim Ministry and shortening their search process.

August 5th: “The Poor Man’s Lamb”

Modern hearers have become inured to stories of sexual abuse and misuse of power. As recently as fifty years ago, such stories would have been carefully hidden and ignored. Yet, this failure of God’s chosen King of Israel, is preserved with rage and remorse.

This Week’s Passage: 2 Samuel 11:26-12:13a

I. Establish the text

C. Other texts for Year B for Sunday August 5th in Ordinary Time

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

11:27 — Bathsheba has become nameless property.

12:1 — Given the way prophets were/are received, Nathan needed to speak carefully.

2-4 — When might we have experienced this as the poor man and when as the rich man? Did David appreciate the poor man’s perspective from when Saul sent the love of his life from him?

5-7 — The danger of righteous anger.

8-9 — Why indeed did David lust when he had so much already? When do we lust beyond our gates?

10-12 — Oh that the LORD would always execute judgment mightily against the evil!

13a — The right sacrifice is a broken and contrite heart.

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

  • The story begins at verse 11:1 when David remained at home while other kings went into battle, opening himself to temptation, continues through his getting Bathsheba pregnant, attempting to cause Uriah to think the child she bore was his, and endangering Uriah the Hittite in battle.
  • The story concludes with David’s fasting when the child becomes ill, the child’s death, David and Bathsheba conceiving a second son, which the LORD loved, and ends with David going to battle with his soldiers. Thus the death of Bathsheba’s first son atones for David’s guilt foreshadowing Christ death atoning for our guilt.

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?

Psalm 51 records David’s lament for the rape of Bathsheba and murder of Uriah.

2 Samuel 7 shows that Nathan was a respected prophet in David’s court.

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?

  • Parable used to explain a great misdeed.

III. Question the text.

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

David heard Nathan’s parable oblivious to its fiction, despite the way it is introduced. David was not left wallowing in guilt and remorse for the punishment that will be exacted, but was called to repentance and ultimately is restored through Bathsheba’s second son, Solomon.

Nathan becomes merely the mouthpiece of the LORD. But where was Nathan when David’s sin was unfolding?

The poor man under represents Uriah who was a foreign mercenary. He is powerless to stop the rich man.

Bathsheba was treated as property, the lamb stolen from the poor man of the parable or perhaps the poor man from whom Uriah was stolen. From what we see of her later, she may have been more active than the text shows in preventing Uriah from lying with her to hide her pregnancy by David.

The rich man recognizes his duty to feed a traveler, but is loath to sacrifice one of his sheep. Perhaps he had a complicated breeding program that he was loath to upset. Thus showing that David’s self-deception had been so complete that he had failed to recognize himself in this parable.

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: By stepping aside from our usual perspective we can clearly see our misdeeds.
  • Emotional Center: “You are that man.”
  • Music: “Lord, When I Came Into This Life”

D. Look for conflict: stated or implied.

  • David’s internal conflict over his taking Bathsheba becomes exposed.

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

  • Modern hearers have become inured to stories of sexual abuse and misuse of power. As recently as fifty years ago, such stories would have been carefully hidden and ignored. Yet, this failure of God’s chosen King of Israel, is preserved with rage and remorse.

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

Bruce C. Birch (“The First and Second Books of Samuel,” The New Interpreter’s Bible. Abingdon, 1998.) contrasts David’s sending to take Bathsheba with the LORD sending Nathan to speak. He hypothesizes that Nathan’s prophecy was added to explain how the Davidic line could continue given David’s sin and Absolom’s rebellion which were probably well known. He attributes David’s anger in response to the parable to the rich man’s lack of compassion. Medieval Synagogue texts left a gap in this text for the reading of Psalm 51. Birch reflects: “If the church would speak prophetically as part of its ministry, then it must be willing to speak the truth in the presence of power.” The lesson of this passage “is that righteousness and sin exist side by side even within the covenant community.” Birch concludes that we are not left wallowing following recognition of our guilt, but are called to repentance.

James D. Newsome, Jr. (Knox Preaching Guides: 1 Samuel / 2 Samuel. JKP, 1982.) notes that the books of the Chronicles skips over David’s failures. He notes that David did not kill nor banish Nathan.

W. Eugene March (“David and Bathsheba,” The Presbyterian Outlook. October 9, 2000.) notes that although the movies portray the affair as romantic, as described in the text, the act may be more accurately summarized as rape. March questions the fairness of Bathsheba’s son dying for David’s sin, while noting that our actions have consequences and that all of the problems in David’s family reflect David’s sins. He asks: “Do political leaders still do such wrongs? Why? What are some of the consequences in the public domain for such sin? Do such things happen in the church? What should the church do in response?”

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?

Righteousness and sin exist side by side in the hearts of God’s chosen people.

C. Function Statement: What change in the hearer?

What grave sins do we hide and refuse to acknowledge, thinking none can see them, perhaps not even God?

July 29th: “What Can We Do?”

Some might rationalize around the miracle in this week’s Gospel passage as generous sharing or appetizer-sized portions or assign the miracles as only signifying Jesus as succeeding Moses, and thus not relevant now. But what possibilities are we over looking today?

This Week’s Passage: John 6:1-15

I. Establish the text

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

1 This puts Jesus on the eastern or southern shore of Galilee.

2 How did the crowd follow? by boat? Or did they walk? The determination of the crowd attests to Jesus authority.

3 This may indicate an opportunity to teach the disciples. Teachers at that time sat down to teach. Verse 6 would then be in a context of a lesson. Where else does John use mountain top experiences?

4 What is the significance of Passover being near? Does this attest to the crowd’s interest in Jesus even to the point of neglecting preparations for Passover? Do members of the crowd have food for the Passover in their pockets, but are not ready to share it, so they may celebrate the Passover? The multiplication of the loaves echoes God providing manna in the desert.

5a The crowd must have separated from Jesus after the last episode. Giving Jesus time alone with his disciples.

5b-6 What does this say about what Jesus had been talking to the disciples about before the crowd arrived? Perhaps something like, with God all things are possible. What things today do we see as improbable, like feeding the 5,000, that we need to turn over to God?

7 A denarii = a day’s wages for a common laborer. Thus 200 denarii would be $8*8*200=$12,800. For 5,000 men and their families (nominally 20,000 people?) 200 denarii would yeild only $0.64/person, or about a bite.

8-9 Andrew is looking towards a solution rather than sizing the problem. He sees this as a beginning of a solution, although not its completion.

10 Does “plenty of grass” signify good grazing land with the potential for feed many?

11 Rather than urge others to contribute bread and fish, Jesus gives thanks for what has been given.

12 What would they do with 12 baskets of leftovers, since five loaves and two fish fed 5,000? Are the twelve baskets symbolic of the twelve tribes/apostles/fullness of leftovers?

13 This is more than a symbolic meal. The people are fed more than the morsel typically given at communion.

14 Who is the crowd expecting? Elijah? Or a prophet of the ilk that Moses wrote?

15 Jesus cannot be king because he must die, and such an earthly kingdom would be shortly lived. On the other hand, a kingdom with Christ as king will live from eternity to eternity.

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

  • There is probably enough to deal with in verses 1-15.
  • Although verses 25-34 (and 35-71) might also be considered in conjunction with 1-15.

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

In verse 14, more recent variants add “Jesus” to clarify who did the signs, although this is inferred by the context. Was this to refute an early heresy?

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 14:13-21 – Jesus has come to a deserted place to grieve the death of John the Baptizer. The crowd is waiting for him when he goes ashore. Jesus heals the sick and lame then feeds them when the hour is late.

Mark 6:30-44 – Jesus and disciples go away to a deserted place to rest. The crowd arrives before Jesus does. Jesus teaches the crowd many things then feeds them when the hour is late. The people sit on green grass.

Luke 9:10-17 – Jesus withdraws to Bethsaida (on NW shore approx across sea from Tiberias) for privacy and the crowd follows him. He teaches them and heals them. No mention of grass that the people sit on. Not followed by Jesus walking on water.

John 6:1-15 – Unique in: 1) Purpose of going aside was for instruction of disciples. 2) Jesus uses questions about the source of the food to instruct disciples. 3) There is “PLENTY of grass” for the people to sit on. 4) A boy is noted as the provider of the loaves and fishes. 5) Barley bread is specified. Jesus admonishes the disciples to gather up the leftovers so there is no waste. 6) The crowd desires to make Jesus king.

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

  • Barley bread?

III. Question the text.

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

Jesus asks a question, knowing the answer, and knowing that had any of the twelve seen the possibility would be a miracle.

Philip approaches the problem of feeding the 5,000 rationally, wondering where they would find the money.

Andrew finds the first step towards a solution, but it is only a small step on a long journey. Five loaves and two fish might have fed the twelve.

The crowd is oblivious until everyone is fed, then they want to make him king.

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 setting evokes Moses entering the Sinai: Crossing to the other side of the sea, Ascending the mountain with his disciples, the multitude of people, and proximity to the Passover. Thus the providing of bread in this wilderness evokes manna from heaven.

The verbs Jesus uses (take, give thanks, and distribute) foreshadow the institution of the Lord’s Supper.

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?

  • God fed the people through Jesus with bread like manna in the wilderness, a nourishing sacrament for all time.

D. Look for conflict: stated or implied.

The solution to the question that Jesus posed, stood before them, but they could not see it (him). When do we miss opportunities for Jesus to nourish our lives?

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

Some might rationalize around the miracle in this week’s Gospel passage as generous sharing or appetizer-sized portions or assign the miracles as only signifying Jesus as succeeding Moses, and thus not relevant now. But what possibilities are we over looking today?

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

Gerard Sloyan (Interpretation: John. JKP, 1988.) describes chapter 6 as a transposition: concluding Jesus’ successful activity in Galilee. He notes how the setting lends a Mosaic character to the feeding: crossing to the other side, ascending the mountain, the multitude of people, and the proximity to Passover. Jesus’ actions foreshadow the institution of the Lord’s Supper when he “takes,” “gives thanks,” and “distributes,” but does not break the bread.

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 as the bread of life calls us to think trans-rationally.

C. Function Statement: What change in the hearer?

What possibilities do we ignore?