So the texts this week are Micah 6:1-8, and Matt. 5:1-12
Great texts! I'm beginning a series that will lead up to lent called "Keys to the Kingdom". Since the lectionary gives us the sermon on the Mount until Lent, and the Kingdom of Heaven is a big theme in Matthew, I figured I would string some thoughts together.
A seminary prof. referred to the OT law as a constitution for Israel. Moses descends the mountain and basically reads their new constitution. Then that constitution is read again in Ezra and Nehemiah's day when the temple is being built. It's a gesture saying this will be our rule of life. When Jesus climbs the mountain in Matt. 5 and the crowd follows, a new constitution for a new people is given, one less focused on ritual and formalities and more focused on people and motives. Micah gives an early indication that the first constitution wasn't sufficient. God asks the people if they are wearied by the law and then boils it down to justice, compassion and humility.
The beatitudes tell of what citizenry will look like in the new commonwealth of God: the poor in Spirit, the meek, the mourning, the peacemakers, the righteous persecuted, and those hungering and thirsting for justice. A mix of internal and external traits that comprise those who will get the message that Jesus has to bring.
So the first part of our constitutional study will be citizenry requirements. You can't just be born a citizen. Nor can you earn it. You must be broken and look to God for wholeness. Then you must strive for others who are broken as well.
Thoughts? How about you? What are you preaching this Sunday?
9But there will be no gloom for those who were in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he will make glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations. 2The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness— on them light has shined. 3You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as people exult when dividing plunder. 4For the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian.
12Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. 13He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, 14so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: 15“Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali, on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles— 16the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.” 17From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
18As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. 19And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” 20Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 21As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. 22Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.
23Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.
What does it mean for Jesus to be a light for peole who intentional or circumstantionally sit in darkness? Another way of puting this, in what ways does the presence of Christ overcome the gloom for those who were in angusish? Put one more way, where is God in the midst of depression?
The call to discipleship is more than a call to ministry and service. It is a call into joy and gladness. That gladness comes from fellowship with Christ. That gladness comes from having purpose in the world. It comes from fellowship with like-minded co-travellers. God is with us becomes the good news for those who have only known defeat and abandonment. "God has called you" is the message that gladdens the hearts of those looking for meaning.
Isaiah ends his statement with words thagt indicate a shift in perspective from want to plenty. In my life, depression has lifted in those seasons when I became less focused on what I lacked and more focused on what I have. It has come in those moments of genuine fellowship with God and others. And it has come in those times when I am less consumed with my own problems and more occupied with the needs of others.
Are walk with Christ should be a joyful walk. It should gladden our hearts and lighten our spirits. Why then does our faith often seem like so burdensome to us?
You've read the title of this post, you're a white male, and you're already offended. Please see the exit on your right.
Let's see, who's left?
So, since I've been able to read, I have pretty much been forced to read the words of white men. Many of my absolute favorite authors are white men. When I get book recommendations, unless I specify that I am looking for something different (as I did recently), I undoubtedly get handed several recommendations of books by white men.
I feel like I'm missiong out. I am missing out on hearing the voices of women and people of color. I'm especially missing out on hearing the voices of women of color. So it is my intention, as much as possible to avoid reading the works of white men.
Let me put a finer point on this: there is a cultural perspective that white men have that I think is pervasive in most forms of communicating. In this country, we tend to think of the whilte male perspective as normative, whether we realize it or not. Women emphasize differnt angles on things when they write. They highlight different emotions. They notice different details. People of color write about things differently. We write against the norm, sometimes consciously, but often unconsciously. Women of color tend to bring both of those truths to bear.
I qualify by saying "as much as possible" because I read articles, blogs, and commentaries all the time without giving a second thought of who wrote them. I am primarily talking about books here. Still, even in saying that, why haven't I been looking for commentaries written by women to help with sermon prep? Why don't I read more articles on politics written by people of color? Certainly there have to be female beer bloggers, right?
So, just to clarify, I don't hate white men. Some of best friends are white men. I have white men in my family. This isn't against them (or you, if you're still reading). This is for me. I'm hoping that I come away this year thinking a little bit differently about the world.
I'm starting by finishing two books I didn't finish at the end of 2010: MIchael Eric Dyson's "April 4, 1968: Martin Luther King Jr's Death and How It Changed America" and Diana Butler Bass' "Christianity For the Rest of Us: How the Neighborhood Church is Transforming the Faith". I have a lineup of books all ready to go, but if you'd like to suggest some, shoot. While I'm keeping men of color in the rotation, I'd really like to have more female authors read this year.
It felt like right after I did my post last week was when the Tucson news began to surface. It was a good reminder of how fluid the demans of preaching can be. Fortunately, I feel like I was able to merge what I felt needed to be said after the tragedy with what I had intended to preach.
This week I continue working on the theme "Light to the Nations". Last week I focused on what it meant for Jesus to be a light, ths week I focus on what it means for the church to be the light, operating as the body of Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit.
If the church is going to have influence, it cannot be through words. It must be through example. I argue that the example must be one of love, humility, justice, and repentance.
Of course, Dr. King had much to say on these subjects. I constantly go back to his quote that the church is be neither the state's master nor its slave, but its conscience. Does the church operate as that anymore? If not, does our state have a conscience?
I'm also leaning heavily on this quote from "Strenght to Love":
Love even for our enemies is the key to the solution of the problems of our world. ...Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend. We never get rid of an enemy by meeting hate with hate; we get rid of an enemy by getting rid of enmity. By its very nature, hate destroys and tears down; by its very nature, love creates and builds up. Love transforms with redemptive power.
In a season where we are focused on the dangers of violent rhetoric, the church has much of which it must repent in its contribution to said rhetoric, but also much to offer in terms of an example of the transformative power of love.
The texts I am using are Isaiah 49:1-7 and John 1:29-42.
A lot to tie in this week, but I think I'm just reiterating what I've been speaking on since Christmas Eve: the contrast between the light of Christ, which hopefully shines through the church, and the dark of a world of violence and selfishness.
Thoughts? How about you? What are you preaching on tomorrow?
42Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations. 2He will not cry or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; 3a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. 4He will not grow faint or be crushed until he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his teaching.
5Thus says God, the Lord, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people upon it and spirit to those who walk in it: 6I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness, I have taken you by the hand and kept you; I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations, 7to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness. 8I am the Lord, that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to idols. 9See, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare; before they spring forth, I tell you of them.
34Then Peter began to speak to them: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, 35but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. 36You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ—he is Lord of all. 37That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: 38how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. 39We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; 40but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, 41not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. 43All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”
The lectionary has equated the Baptism of the Lord and the anointing of the Spirit that the suffering servant in Isaiah experienced. Interpretively, that is what the Christian tradition has done. I don't have much of a problem with it, but it then adds a dimension to the significance of why Jesus came. The suffereing servant of Isaiah is firmly focused on justice.
I am so compelled by the image of the bruised reed and the dimly lit candle. I read these as the one who are already beaten up. Jesus comes for them. Jesus' ministry isn't kicking people while they're down or blaming the victim. It's ministry on behalf of those who we consider disposable.
What does it mean for Peter to declare this Jesus? If Jesus operated with the anointing of the suffering servant and peter preaches this Jesus, then he has to act in ways that are consistent with how Jesus acted and that includes not discriminating against those that have been traditionally excluded. God doesn't discriminate, Jesus didn't discriminate, he can't discriminate...
... we can't discriminate. We have to be the voice for the bruised reeds and the dimly lit candles, not the ones who break them or extinguish them respectively. There is nothing in the Isaiah passage about the worthiness of those being defended. Jesus defends because of his anointing, that's what he does. Such defense must be as much a part o the church's identity as it was a part of Jesus'.
Thoughts? How about you? What are you preaching on tomorrow?
During the fall I did a sermon series entitled "Answering the Call". I attempted to use different characters in the Bible to illustrate what God's call on our lives might look like, how we overcome our objections and shortcomings, and how we respond faithfully to that call. I slacked in posting the sermons throughout the series, so I am putting them in one place. Give a listen if you have a chance. If your curious, the undisputed favorite of the series was the one on Paul (and Martin Luther) for Reformation Sunday! (note: on 9/26 and 11/14 we had guest preachers whose sermons were not a part of the series)