Sunday: June 5, 2011, 7th Sunday of Easter, Ascension Sunday
Readings: [Ps 68:1-10, 32-35][Acts 1:6-14][1Pet 4:12-14; 5:6-11][John
Writer: Don Denton
With the death of Osama bin Laden amid the politics of the moment, there has been at least at the publication of this Journal little about the sudden removal of the possibility of evil in our world. Bin Laden was a person who at first seemed to want to kill his own people and then decided to kill people far away as well as people of his own homeland. There was some controversy about the sudden singing at the front of the White House when we bi Laden’s death was announced. Some folks pointed out quite rightly there should be no celebration of anyone’s death. But they may have failed to see the sudden relief that they were safe. Jesus promised us safety in the end and we need to feel again that sudden relief that we are safe from evil.Bishop Wright continues, and I would note that his commentary on the Road to Emmaus incident is precisely what happens in the hearts of faithful disciples whenever we hear this prayer read aloud by one who is in representative ministry, “Then the two travelers said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us on the road, as he told us the story of the creator and his world, and his victory over evil? This is Christian mission in a postmodern world” (Wright, N. T., 1998. Retrieved from Sewanee Theological Review 41.2 on December 16, 2010)
Sunday: June 12, 2011, Day of Pentecost
Readings: [Ps 104:24-34, 35b][Acts 2:1-21 or Num 11:24-30][1Cor 12:3b-13 or
Acts 2:1-21][John 20:19-23 or John 7:37-39]Writer: Don
Here in the American church, numerous congregations and judicatories are demonstrating one significant mark of the Spirit: mutual aid to other congregations in need as well mission to “neighbors” whose lives remain in recovery from devastating natural disasters. Christian churches remain the primary relief organizations yet active throughout our own Gulf Coast in response to the three hurricanes, which devastated the region in 2005. (www.efca.org/.../crisis-response/hurricane-katrina-relief)
As noted above, there is a revival of Christian faith in Russia both within the Orthodox church as well as in other Christian expressions. The United Methodists are but one example of this work of the Holy Spirit. “In the late 1980s, during the fall of the Soviet Union, The United Methodist Church re-established its work in Russia, reconnecting with a long tradition of missionary outreach to Russia that dates back to the 19th century. In this new wave of evangelism, new churches have been established.” (www.gbgm-umc.org/umrussiaseminary/umcrussia_nf.htm)
Here is more on tvhe renewal of Methodism in Russia. “There are a total of 106 congregations and officially recognized Bible groups and 105 ordained clergy. The smallest conference is Ukraine and Moldova with 15 congregations or Bible groups and 14 clergy members. The others range from 20 to 26 congregations/groups and from 18 to 30 clergy members.” (gbgm-umc.org/global_news/full_article.cfm? articleid=4735)
One activity that might inspire your congregation is to have a look at global outreach from other nations into the developing world. For example, the Presbyterian Church of Australia maintains an active partnership with the Presbyterian Church of India. “The Presbyterian Church of India…has over one million adherents mostly in Northeastern part of India. Its headquarters is located in Shillong, the capital of Meghalaya state in Northeast India. The PCI serves its community with medical missions, rehabilitation centers, schools and orphanages.” Spiritual renewal is the chief priority of the PCI, along with addressing issues of unity and financial stability. The church, with their Australian partners, also provide rescue homes for women, have trained missionaries to extend the gospel throughout the rest of the Indian sub-continent, offering healing ministries through hospitals and health centers. (www.unitingworld.org.au/.../presbyterian-church-of-india)
Congregants may be interested in learning about a Christian mission throughout east Africa. Invisible Children “uses film, creativity and social action to bring an end to the use of child soldiers in Joseph Kony’s rebel war and restore northern Uganda to peace and prosperity.” This work is a one where the Churches of Christ are mission partners. Mr. Nate Henn, the American killed during terrorist attack during the World Cup was there on behalf of the Churches of Christ to make a documentary for Invisible Children. Mr. Henn was 25 years old. More information on Mr. Henn can be found at this website: www.NateHen.com. The work of Invisible Children is available at this website: www.invisiblechildren.com.
Sunday: June 19, 2011, Trinity Sunday
Readings: [Ps 8][Gen 1:1-2:4a][2Cor 13:11-13][Matt 28:16-20]
Writer: Don Denton
Ukrop’s Supermarket was a staple in my town until this year.
When moving into Richmond, neighbors invited us to shop at Ukrop’s with
fervor typically reserved for an invitation to church. But having gone through
two generations of family-run management, the grandchildren made it clear they
wanted to do something else with their lives besides manage this very successful
local chain of stores. While the quality of the food remains high, the most notable
feature of the stores, a feeling you were purchasing from members of a family
rather than just another grocery store has now vanished. The unhappy look of
the workers and their absence of fervor have gone away because the new management
has forgotten the central attitude that makes any business a success: treat your
employees and customers like you wish to be treated. This is a sobering reminder
that it only takes one generation to lose any institution.
When I think about what made Ukrop’s a local success and produced such strong loyalty, it was these one thing: employees had a spirit of service that came directly from the top. From the way you were greeted when you came in the store, usually by a neighbor you knew, to the person who carried your groceries to your car, typically someone with a significant learning disability, you were treated as a neighbor who had just visited the home of a friend. Churches that are successful at making disciples find ways to communicate this same spirit. The reference here will give you some idea of how people in Richmond felt about this store. Read it and ask yourself this question: would they feel the same about your congregation if your church had to close its doors? (rotj.wordpress.com/2010/02/17/very-richmond-8-ukrops/)
Ezra Klein, a writer for The Washington Post, made the observation that the text of the U. S. Constitution “is confusing because it was written more than a hundred years ago and what people believe is says differs from person to person and differs depending upon what they want to get done.” His remarks created something of a storm both for its obvious inaccuracy (the Constitution is 223 years old) and for his low expectations over the proposal for the 112 TH. Congress to open by reading through the entire document at its opening. Preachers face a similar issue in promulgating the gospel to contemporary culture: a belief that since the Bible is an ancient document it is “confusing” and that interpretation is a matter of viewpoint and objectives rather than being a document which produces a faith by which one may live. When preparing this sermon, the preacher will have approximately six months of experience to see how much impact this event actual has inspired and may wish to compare it with the impact the Great Commission from a more ancient document continues to have on people of faith. (http://www.eyeblast.tv/public/checker.aspx?v=hd6UkU6UaG)
As noted above, Dr. Viljoen sees the church as “The flow of argument is clear: what actually was expected of Israel is done by the gentiles. The Gentiles accept Jesus to be their Savior while the Jews reject Him.” He continues, “Jesus’ mission is not an exclusive one. Right from the beginning Jesus has been associated with gentiles.” (Viljoen, F. P. The Matthean Community according to the Beginning of his Gospel. Acta Theologica. 2006:2)
Sunday: June 26, 2011, 13th Sunday in Ordinary
Time (2nd Sunday after Pentecost) Proper 8
Readings: [Ps 13 or Ps 89:1-4, 15-18][Gen 22:1-14 or Jer
28:5-9][Rom: 12-3][Matt 10:40-42]
Writer: Nikk Adams
Add this to the list of things I never thought I’d say: Praise God,
my tooth got pulled this morning!
I’m not taking God’s name in vain here, either. I am truly grateful for the providential cancellation of an appointment this morning, allowing me to slip in for a tooth extraction. Eating was becoming hazardous and unpleasant, and waiting until January 31 sounded nearly impossible. Did I mention the fabulous oral surgeon (Orthodox Jew, raised in Germany) and his assistant (Korean Presbyterian) who kindly distracted me while my mouth was numbing with a half hour conversation on why Christians don’t follow the Torah’s dietary laws? I am now eating ice cream and planning to make some sort of fabulous Jell-O concoction for dinner. I’m thinking raspberry “fluff” with mandarin oranges. (http://erikanderica.org/erica/2006/01/17/small-mercies/)
In a letter to God, the blogger wrote: “Dear God, I am not ungrateful.” The writer goes on to say that God has given them so many things, but what comes to mind is a small mercy. “I would like to thank You for the chilling summer breeze, it has given me quite a relief. I eagerly wait for it to blow on my face every evening. It had made me happy, the chilling summer breeze. Thank You God for Your small mercies, and Your miracles in real life. Thank You God for the chilling summer breeze!
Sunday: July 3, 2011, 14th Sunday of Ordinary Time
(3rd Sunday after Pentecost) Proper 9
Readings: [Ps 45:10-17 or Song of Sol 2:8-13 or Ps 145:8-14][Gen
24:34-38, 2-9, 58-67, or Zech 9:9-12][Rom 7:15-25a][Matt 11:16-19, 25-30]
My wife returned home from one of her many business trips. She shared with me something she had witnessed that made her smile and feel a little sad at the same time. In the middle of a bustling concourse she saw this little girl caught up in the excitement of a family trip, dancing and twirling with joyful abandon. It was so sweet it made her smile. And then my wife tried desperately to recall the last time she had given way to such simple celebratory joy and she could not remember. That made her sad. Her promise to herself was to look for moments for simple celebration and to celebrate. As William W. Purkey, author and professor emeritus at North Carolina University at Greensboro said, “You’ve gotta dance like there’s nobody watching, Love like you’ll never be hurt, Sing like there’s nobody listening, And live like it’s heaven on earth.”
J. B. Phillips who wrote a wonderful paraphrase of the New Testament when he lived in London in the 1950’s that is seen as one of the best paraphrases written. Phillips wrote a cleverly paraphrased non-Christian version of the Beatitudes. He felt like this is the way our over complicated and overly convoluted world would like to see the beatitudes.
Happy are the pushers: for they get on in the world.
Happy are the hard-boiled: for they never let life hurt them.
Happy are those who complain: for they get their own way in the end.
Happy are the blasé: for they never worry over wrong.
Happy are the troublemakers: for they make people notice them.
Happy are the knowledgeable men of the world: for they know their way around.
(Charles R Swindoll Simple Faith [Nashville, 2003] p40)
We were the only family with children in the restaurant. I sat Erik in a high chair and noticed everyone was quietly eating and talking. Suddenly, Erik squealed with glee and said, “Hi there.” He pounded his fat baby hands on the high chair tray. His eyes were crinkled in laughter and his mouth was bared in a toothless grin as he wriggled and giggled with merriment.
I looked around and saw the source of his merriment. It was a man whose pants were baggy with a zipper at half-mast and his toes poked out of would-be shoes. His shirt was dirty and his hair was uncombed and unwashed. His whiskers were too short to be called a beard and his nose was so varicose it looked like a road map. We were too far from him to smell him but I was sure he smelled.
His hands waved and flapped on loose wrists. “Hi ya, buster,” the man said to Erik. My husband and I exchanged looks,” What do we do?” Erik continued to laugh and answer, “Hi, hi there.”
Everyone in the restaurant noticed and looked at us and then at the man. The old geezer was creating a nuisance with my beautiful baby. Our meal came and the man began shouting from across the room, “Do ya patty cake? Do you know peek-a-boo? Hey, look, he knows peek-a-boo.”
Nobody thought the old man was cute. He was obviously drunk. My husband and I were embarrassed. We ate in silence, all except for Erik, who was running through his repertoire for the admiring skid row bum, who in turn, reciprocated with his cute comments.
We finally got through the meal and headed for the door. My husband went to pay the check and told me to meet him in the parking lot. The old man sat poised between the door and me.
Before I could stop him, Erik had propelled himself from my arms to the man’s. Suddenly a very old smelly man and a very young baby consummated their love relationship. Erik in an act of total trust, love, and submission laid his tiny head upon the man’s ragged shoulder.
The man’s eyes closed, and I saw tears hover beneath his lashes. His aged hands full of grime, pain, and hard labor, cradled my baby’s bottom and stroked his back. No two beings have ever loved so deeply for so short a time. I stood awestruck. The old man rocked and cradled Erik in his arms and his eyes opened and set squarely on mine. He said in a firm commanding voice, “You take care of this baby”. Somehow I managed, “I will”, from a throat that contained a stone. He pried Erik from his chest unwillingly and longingly. I received my baby, and the man said, “God bless you, ma’am, you’ve given me my Christmas gift.” I had just witnessed Christ’s love shown through the innocence of a tiny child who saw no sin, who made no judgment; a child who saw a soul, and a mother who saw a suit of clothes. I was a Christian who was blind, holding a child who was not. I felt it was God asking, “Are you willing to share your son for a moment?” when He shared His for all eternity. The ragged old man unwittingly, had reminded me, “To enter the Kingdom of God, we must become as little children”. (http://www.poeticexpressions.co.uk/POEMS/Innoncence%20of%20a%20child.htm)
Sunday: July 10, 2011, 15th Sunday
in Ordinary Time (4th Sunday after Pentecost) Proper 10
Readings: [Ps 119:105-112 or Ps 65:(1-8) 9-13][Gen 25:19-34 or Is
55:10-13][Rom 8:1-11][Matt 13:1-9, 18-23]
Writer: Stan Adamson
The sub-prime mortgage mess that fueled the economic collapse and recession of 2008-2009 resulted from people worried about making mortgage payments or missing the American dream of home ownership. Greedy bankers don’t deserve all the blame: they will claim they were only giving people what they wanted: a mortgage to enable them to “own” a home. The trouble is that people whose credit or income was shaky were simply jumping from the frying pan into the fire, and the downward spiral soon led to default, foreclosure, and investigation of the sub-prime and derivatives markets, soon shown to be a gamble not worth taking. Jesus reminds us that worry can lead to panic and distract us from the worship and wisdom we need to strengthen tenuous faith.
Those who hear the word, understand it, and “walk the talk” bear good fruit. We should all pray to be faithful and fruitful good soil, where faith can take root and grow verdantly. The Billy Grahams and Mother Teresas and Martin Luther King, Jrs., have gotten a lot of headlines, but I’ll bet you could name people in your congregation who are in inspiration to the whole church, whether they are designated spiritual leaders or not. In my first parish in Kansas, I had a quiet member who barely ever spoke. In fact, he often fell asleep in worship! His wife said to me once “Don’t worry about Cecil. That’s the only time all week he really gets to sleep!” I happened to know, because of my work with Church World Service, that every year Cecil donated a 400-bushel truckload of wheat, which was shipped overseas to feed hungry people. Some of our greatest saints are quiet people, who without show or fanfare, who were generously loving toward others, and bear much fruit.
Sunday: July 17, 2011, 16th Sunday in Ordinary
Time (5th Sunday after Pentecost) Proper 11
Readings: [Ps 139:1-12, 23-24 or Ps 86:11-17][Gen 28:10-19a or Wis of
Sol 2:13, 16-19 or Is 44:6-8][Rom 8:12-25][Matt 13:24-30, 36-43]
Many different measures are taken to keep weeds out of a wheat field. The innovation of “genetically modified organisms” adds a new dimension that has created yet another controversy among conventional farmers and devotees of organic farming. Because of the phenomenon of “drift”, GMO seed can blow into non-GMO fields. This precipitates patent issues and contamination, depending on what side of the fence you sit. Some refer to GMOs as “FrankenFruit,” and fear they haven’t been around long enough for us to know their long-term safety. GMO strains are patented, often by huge, multi-national corporations. This raises questions about the ethics of patenting life forms. And agronomist friend of mine points out that for thousands of years, organisms have been modified in agriculture: note that “grafting,” a practice much cruder than genetic modification, but achieving some of the same results, is mentioned in the Bible (cf. Romans 11:17ff.). In the parable, though, the weeds and wheat grow together until harvest, lest some of the wheat gets destroyed along with the weeds.The desired end product is wheat gathered into the master’s barn, or, in the explanation, the righteous shining like the sun in the kingdom of their Father (Mt. 13:43). As gold is purified in a fire that drives out impurities, so the faithful are to shine like the sun. Of course, they have no righteousness in themselves, but instead, reflect the righteousness of the Son, Jesus Christ. This parable might also be seen as referring to sanctification, where in a process of weeding out the impurities within each believer, the end product, in the eternal reign of God, is to be conformed to the image of the Son, Jesus Christ. The bottom line purpose is redemptive rather than destructive, because the end product is shining, golden, nutritious wheat (in the parable) or shining, burnished, purified believers (in the explanation). These powerfully visual images yield a very positive outcome of the patience of God, “lest any should perish”: “The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance.” (2Peter 3:9 NRSV)
Sunday: July 24, 2011, 17th Sunday in Ordinary
Time (6th Sunday after Pentecost) Proper 12
Readings: [Ps 105:1-11, 45b or Ps 128 or Ps 119:129-136][Gen
29:15-28 or 1Kings 3:5-12][Rom 8:26-39][Matt 13:31-33, 44-52]
The Jeff Miller’s Bible.org has a long and yet compact exposition on Matthew 13, explaining parables, what they are, and why Jesus used them. In Part II of this blog he explores the parables of the Hidden Treasure and of The Pearl, then follows up with an excellent description of what the kingdom of heaven (God) is. His conclusion is that the Kingdom is salvation through a relationship with God and that it means being a part of a community of faith: “That is what the kingdom of heaven is. That is what this hidden treasure is. That is what the pearl of great price is. They are valuable because they represent our salvation our very relationship with God through Jesus Christ—the privilege we have of being members of this community. For us, it is a free gift, completely free, that costs us nothing.” This latter claim might seem strange, and is certainly worth exploring in a sermon—how is it that we must give up so much to gain that which is free? There is more in his blog, including a generous portion from The Cost of Discipleship in which Bonhoeffer, contrasting “cheap grace” and “costly grace,” links the latter with these two parables.(http://bible.org/seriespage/whats-it-worth-you-parables-hidden-treasure-and-pearl-great-price)
As a follow up to the above concerning the finding and giving up a lot for the hidden treasure and the pearl, check the article “Parables Revisited: Hidden Treasure and Pearl” on a blog called King David. The writer departs from the traditional interpretation by suggesting that the man and the merchant in the parables are to be identified with Christ. Therefore it is Christ who gave up much for the world (treasure and pearl), his own life. Thus he links the two parables with the apostle Paul’s assertion, “you were bought at a price” in 1 Corinthians 7:23. Thus the sermon could center on Christ and his giving up everything for the sake of a kingdom in which believers relate to God and one another in love. (http://kingdavid .wordpress.com/2008/03/31/revisited-the-parables-of-the-hidden-treasure-and-the-pearl/)
In the Parable of the Net the preacher should concentrate more on the fact that it is God, not the church, that is the final judge of humanity. But, if one does deal with the latter part of the parable, the results of judgment, one should be careful about taking this literal as if God and the righteous might enjoy seeing the wicked cast into a fiery furnace. Fr. V. Potapov explores this parable at great length, concluding with a word about the loving God and the punishment of sinners. Especially pertinent is his observation: “In the parable of the net and in the discourse on the Dread Judgment, Christ shows that it is not He who curtails His love toward us, but that we alienate ourselves from His love by our sins and unmerciful life.” Thus we, our failure to accept God’s love, are to blame for our punishment. (http://www.stjohndc.org/Russian/parables/e_Par_1_08.htm)
Sunday: July 31, 2011, 18th Sunday in Ordinary
Time (7th Sunday after Pentecost) Proper 13
Readings: [Ps 17:1-7, 15 or Ps 145:8-9, 14-21][Gen 32:22-31 or Is
55:1-5][Rom 9:1-5][Matt 14:13-21]
Writer: Ed McNulty
Given the importance of this story it is surprising that it hasn’t been taken up more by hymn writers. The feeding is referred to in Mary Ann Lathbury’s “Break Thou the Bread of Life”. Sometimes regarded as a Communion hymn, it is actually about the Scriptures, indeed a prayer that God (or Christ or the Holy Spirit) will “break,” that is open up the Scriptures so that we can find God “beyond the sacred page.” If the preacher makes much of the parallels of the feeding of the Multitude with the Lord’s Supper, it might be appropriate to sing this and another hymn “Be Known to Us in Breaking Bread.” The sermon might dwell on the connection between Christ’s presence with the crowd, with the disciples at the last Supper, and with us today at the Lord’s Supper, as well as at whatever table we break bread with one another.*********************
Type “Feeding of 5000” into the “Images” tab of Google, and hundreds of pictures of the incident will show up. Some are pretty syrupy Sunday school art, but many are works of the Old Masters and fine modern depictions. Some are symbolic, such as the mosaic of a basket of bread with a fish on either side. This is over 1500 years old: indeed, older murals of loaves and fishes have been found in the Roman catacombs similar to the mosaic, as well as depictions of a beardless, toga-clad Christ holding out his wand over a basket of loaves and fish. This is a good way to find images to share with children in a children’s sermon, or with adults.
Sunday: August 7, 2011, 19th Sunday in Ordinary
Time (8th after Pentecost) Proper 14
Readings: [Ps 105:1-6, 16-22, 45b or Ps 85:8-13][Gen
37:1-4, 12-28, or 1Kings 19:9-8][Rom 10:5-15][Matt 14:22-33]
No extra Illustrations
Sunday: August 14, 2011, 20th Sunday in
Ordinary Time (9th after Pentecost) Proper 15
Readings: [Ps 133 or Ps 67][Gen 45:1-15 or Is
56:1, 6-8][Rom 11:1-2a, 29-32][Matt 15:(10-20) 21-28]
Nichols Adams and Edward McNulty
On the website of the Evangelical Lutheran Church the two-part Bible study “Crumbs
from the Table” (in the section “Women of the Church”) is based
on this incident as found in Mark’s gospel. Part One is an exposition of
the story, and Part Two “Crossing Boundaries” explores how Jesus
set the example for his followers to cross boundaries as well:
“The encounter between Jesus and the Syro-Phoenician woman brings together two persons who couldn’t be from more different cultural contexts. She is a woman; he is a man. She, a Gentile; he, a Galilean prophet. She, of a class perceived as oppressing Jews; he, poor and itinerant. Clearly, many social, economic, and religious differences separated their worlds.” Both emerge from this cross-cultural encounter a changed person.(http://www.elca.org/Growing-In-Faith/Ministry/Women-of-the-ELCA/All-our-resources/Growing-in-Faith/Crumbs-from-the-Table.aspx)
Perhaps the most detailed, from a textual and cultural study aspect, is Glen Miller’s blog on both Matthew’s and Mark’s versions of the story. He shows that the context of the passage is important to understanding it, that Jesus, after encountering such fierce opposition from the scribes and Pharisees, wanted to take a break for his disciples and find refreshment. Thus he withdrew into a region where he would not be known and attracts crowds wanting to hear him or obtain cures for their ailments. However, the pagan woman had heard of him and believed in him as the Messiah and healer. Her interruption threatens to derail Jesus’ plans for a quiet vacation. Miller then explains thoroughly how the reference to dogs was not an insult, the word meaning little dogs, not the outside unfriendly kind, and how the woman picked up on this and responded so well. Jesus was not saying No to her, but saying Wait. Miller quotes from New Testament scholar William Lane in regard to the woman’s faith, “the faith of the Syro-Phoenician woman contrasts dramatically with the determined unbelief of the Pharisees and the scribes from Jerusalem while her witty reply to Jesus indicates a degree of understanding which puts the disciples to shame.”
As with other passages, the website King’s Kid Stuff has a wealth of materials on this story—pictures, paraphrases, five different translations of the story, including Eugene Peterson’s The Message, sermons, children’s sermons, and more. I especially recommend Jason Jackson’s “A Woman of Great faith,” which includes six helpful observations about the woman and her faith. The first is:
“This lady had great spiritual insight. She was not asking the Lord to alter the way he was implementing the plan of God, which would later be carried out by the apostles to the Jew first and also to the Greek. She was simply asking for a “crumb.” Faith is based upon understanding the will of God. It is founded upon knowledge - not mere emotion.”(http://kingskidstuff.com/miracles-of-jesus/crumbs-from-table)
Sunday: August 21, 2011, 21st Sunday in Ordinary
Time (10th after Pentecost) Proper 16
Readings: [Ps 124 or Ps 138][Exo 1:8-2:10 or Is 51:1-6][Rom
Writer: Ed Cooper
Charter members of a church allow resentment to creep in when comparative newcomers cause them to be lost in the crowd. “If it hadn’t been for us there would not even be a church here; and now we are forgotten.” God’s plan is all grace—his unmerited favor for us. If it were seniority, we would be constantly wrangling with one another. Knowing that it is of grace we are left with but one reaction—and that is to praise Him for what He deems best fro our lives. (Don Mallough, Crowded Detours [Baker Book House: Grand Rapids, 1970] p.111) Meritorious service is lost in living the Christian life because we love one another as ourselves.
Sunday: August 28, 2011, 22nd Sunday in
Ordinary Time (11th after Pentecost) Proper 17 Readings: [Ps
105:1-6, 23-26, 45c or Ps 26:1-8][Exo
3:1-15 or Jer 15:15-21][Rom 12:9-21][Matt 16:21-28]
No Extra Illustration