11th Hour Preacher Party: “Whose your prophet now” edition….

Moses with an iPad

Moses with an iPad

 

Elsewhere on this blog one can find discussions on the readings for the Revised Lectionary and the Narrative Lectionary (see Tuesday).

If you are following the Revised Lectionary, as I am, then you may be pondering something about prophets or prophetic voices in our midst today. Or maybe you are considering the Gospel of Mark and the various arenas that this Gospel plays in: synagogues, houses, the public square, interior and exterior, religious and profane, reveal Jesus as one who breaks into all dimensions of life and brings wholeness.

If you are following the Narrative Lectionary you may be thinking about prayer or humility? Perhaps you are wondering what Good News this text brings to your people?

And, are you even going to say anything about the Super Bowl (if you are located in the United States, you know that this is one of our primary idols – which could be the subject of a sermon from 1 Corinthians…).

Me, I have a baptism, which means I am probably going to speak about how we are called into Christian life and what these texts say to us in that regard (we need messengers to help us “hear” God, we can encounter Jesus in many ways…? I don’t know, yet).

Regardless, this is the 11th hour and the Preacher’s Party has begun! Join us for a day of fun, support, prayers, hope, ideas. Oh, and there will be plenty of coffee and tea, too.

Categories: 11th Hour Preacher Party | 93 Comments

Friday Five: Besides

Hello, all! It’s the end of January…how did that get by so fast!? Here’s a Friday Five for your amusement and our edification. If you play, please be sure to paste the URL of your blog post in the comments. Or, you can just play right here in the comments. Onward:

  1. Besides cookies, muffins, and ice cream, what’s something chocolate chips are good in?
  2. Besides official holidays and your birthday, what’s the best day of the year?
  3. Besides toilet paper and pantry items, what’s something in your house you make sure never to run out of?
  4. Besides relatives, teachers, and coaches, who gave you the most memorable advice growing up?
  5. Besides junk mail, subscriptions, greeting cards, and stuff you ordered online, what’s something great that came in the mail recently?

mailbox

(large thanks to Friday 5 for this set of questions!)

Categories: RevGalBlogPals | Tags: , , , | 16 Comments

Thursday Prayer

Lord God, you are my strength.
Hold my hand in my weakness and teach my heart to fly.
With you, there’s nothing to fear, nothing to worry about.
Hold me tight in your embrace,
so that I can be stronger than the challenges in my life.
Amen.
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Ask the Matriarch: Lenten Resources for the non-Facebook crowd

Over at the RevGals Facebook group, we’ve been sharing Lenten resources for several weeks now. This question to the Matriarchs served as a timely reminder that not all our readers are active in that form of social media.

Hi~

I visit RGBPs 3-4 times a week and am a big fan.  I don’t blog, Facebook, twit, or any of that, but would really love to see what others are doing wonderful and exciting for Lent.  So, can I ask the Matriarchs and others what they do for Lent?  

Thanks,

Pastor Liz

Here are a few answers from our Matriarchs. We also invite readers to share their plans in the comments here.

Dear Liz,

As a half-time pastor, I don’t have a lot of hours in residence at church for leading programs, but I have a file full of ideas I’ve used in the past and can still share. Instead of a series at church, I’ll be sharing a Lenten devotional hand out each week. It can be taken home on Sunday for contemplation during the week. Each devotional invites the reader to look at different translations of the week’s psalm (NRSV, KJV, Common English Bible and The Message, varied from week to week) in conversation with one of the other Revised Common Lectionary texts. I’ve included an image and questions to guide study. 

At my wife’s church, where they are doing the Narrative Lectionary, Lent will include four weeks of parables from Matthew that raise questions about heaven and hell. They are doing a congregational read-along of Rob Bell’s “Love Wins,” a book that addresses those questions in a pretty accessible fashion. They will have an opportunity to gather on Wednesday evenings for Taize worship followed by a soup supper and discussion. 

I hope this helps,

Martha at Reflectionary

Dear Pastor Liz,

We share the Lenten season with our “sister church” in our area. We share Ash Wednesday, Maundy Thursday, and Good Friday services alternating churches each year. We also have a “Lenten School” Adult Christian Education class on the Sunday afternoons of Lent. This year we are studying the Beatitudes and I co-teach the class with the Pastor of our “sister church.”

Have a blessed Lent!

Rev Kelley 

Dear Pastor Liz — 

Lent is such a great time of year to try something new, or experimental, or ancient! Are you looking for ideas for worship or for education? 

In worship I often preach a series, usually based on the lectionary, but cohesive for the season. I can use the same liturgical pieces throughout that season and get a sense of momentum. More importantly, I schedule about five minutes for congregation members to share something relating to the theme. I work with individuals on this. These have been congregational highlights that we talk about years later. For example, one year we did a “Decade by Decade through our Spiritual Life” theme, and I had a 20-something, 30-something, etc. share about their stage of spiritual life. Powerful. Oftentimes I’ve focused on spiritual disciplines and had folks share about those experiences. One year I did Seven Deadly Sins/Spiritual Virtues, which was really well received. In that case it was fun to have a visual piece that grew over time, using color and a butterfly transformation.

The cluttered desk of an unidentified clergywoman.

The cluttered desk of an unidentified clergywoman.

In education, Lent is a great time to offer a special class or worship service. Perhaps a Bible study, or Taize service, or a focus on a theme like a spiritual discipline. I have worked with the theme of Pilgrimage very extensively, so I tend to suggest that as an excellent Lenten choice. Check out my website if that interests you. Currently I’m working with “Uncluttering as a Spiritual Discipline” which is so wonderfully grounding! It brings spiritual ideas down to practicality.

Also, Lent is a good time to try out a potluck or “Stone Soup” kind of meal after worship, to see how it goes over. I think Lent gives us the opportunity to experiment a bit, which is always healthy. I have found people to be more responsive to my requests to participate in these kinds of things during this season.

Peace to you during this holy season of Lent!

Ruth Everhart

Readers, please share your ideas! And if you have a question for our panel, please email it to askthematriarch at gmail dot com.

Categories: Ask The Matriarch | Tags: , , | 4 Comments

Wednesday Prayer: At the round earth’s imagin’d corners

At the round earth’s imagin’d corners, blow
Your trumpets, angels, and arise, arise
From death, you numberless infinities
Of souls, and to your scatter’d bodies go;
All whom the flood did, and fire shall o’erthrow,
All whom war, dearth, age, agues, tyrannies,
Despair, law, chance hath slain, and you whose eyes
Shall behold God and never taste death’s woe.
But let them sleep, Lord, and me mourn a space,
For if above all these my sins abound,
‘Tis late to ask abundance of thy grace
When we are there; here on this lowly ground
Teach me how to repent; for that’s as good
As if thou’hadst seal’d my pardon with thy blood.
- John Donne
Categories: RevGalBlogPals | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

Wednesday Festival: Church Stories

Savannah 2

 

How is your church life?

How is your church’s life? And how is your life in your church? How’s your inner monologue about church?

What are your stories of church?

When you leave church — after worship or after an evening meeting — what stories do you replay from those preceding church moments? When you talk about church with friends or family who are outside of your faith community, what stories do you tell them? Across the recent weeks, what are your church stories of joy, of grief, of hope?

Around our RevGalBlogPals network, bloggers are sharing stories of church:

“This is where you sang with the children’s choir…”
Called

“Church is not about giving access to God…”
katyandtheword

“…despite how I felt [worship] went, God was still there…”
All in a Day

“How we feel about [church], worship, budget, mission is about connections. If our relationships are strong, we can more easily tweak our processes to adapt to particular situations.”
achurchforstarvingartists

“God calls us…to live in communion.”
Liberation Theology Lutheran

Have you blogged a church story recently? Have a story to tell? Share a link or a comment.

Categories: Wednesday Festival | Tags: | 1 Comment

Tuesday Prayer

So, God,  it’s the middle of the afternoon where I am…

Your time is timeless and perfect, I know.

But, I am just checking in, God.

Saying hello

in the middle of a snow day, here, at least.

Grateful for friends and warm house and love and my beloved and family (yes, farmily).

My soul pities the creatures outdoors–

The huddle of frosty birds in the tree outside my bedroom window,

The stray cat I heard mewing last night.

Poor babies.

Thinking of those who are “essential personnel” and praying that they are kept safe.

Thankful for the many shelters and churches and ministries that are actively open and seeking those who are at risk because of homelessness, in adequate  housing, and You know all of what I am talking about.

In your grace and mercy we rest, dear God.

In your fierce protection, I pray,

Amen.

Categories: RevGalBlogPals | 1 Comment

Tuesday Revised Common Lectionary Leanings

Hello! This week is the 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time. Passages can be found here.

Deuteronomy speaks of the importance of listening to God’s prophets, and the warning not to listen to false prophets.

Psalm 111 is a psalm of praise that reminds us: ” The works of God’s hands are faithful and just; all the Lord’s precepts are trustworthy.”

The passage from 1st Corinthians speaks about food sacrificed to idols, including Paul’s admonition: “But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak.” I confess I’ve not, historically, been a fan of this passage. People have tended to use it to “keep me in my place”. Maybe I should re-claim Paul’s text.

And in the passage from Mark’s gospel, Jesus heals an unclean man at the synagogue in Capernaum, and the demonic realm makes one of the first proclamations of Jesus’ identity. Mark makes sure we know this is a story to which the entire cosmos is paying attention.

What are your questions and struggles with these texts? Which direction do you think your sermon may head?

Categories: Epiphany 4B, Tuesday Lectionary Leanings | 15 Comments

Narrative Lectionary: Humble Pie (Matthew 6:7-21)

 

The Lord's Prayer in Hebrew in the Pater Noster chapel in Jerusalem.

The Lord’s Prayer in Hebrew in the Pater Noster chapel in Jerusalem.

Read the scripture here.

Read what Working Preacher has to say here.

This text comes as a part of the Sermon on the Mount, a group of teachings by Jesus, collected in chapters 5-7 of Matthew’s gospel. (Some parallels are found in Luke 6:20-49.) Jesus introduces this section by telling us not to practice our acts of piety so others will be impressed. Similarly, our prayers are not to be piles of empty words.

“When you pray,” Jesus instructs next, assuming that prayer is already part of a life connected to God. Words full of meaning come next, as Jesus tells how to pray, and then gives an example. His lesson has become one of the most famous prayers in the world. The Jewish Encyclopedia notes that both the practice of a rabbi teaching the disciples a prayer, and the language of this prayer, place Jesus in the context of others rabbis of his time.   “From the Talmudic parallels (Tosef., Ber. iii. 7; Ber. 16b-17a, 29b; Yer. Ber. iv. 7d) it may be learned that it was customary for prominent masters to recite brief prayers of their own in addition to the regular prayers; and there is indeed a certain similarity noticeable between these prayers and that of Jesus.” You can read more here.

The prayer, like Jesus’ life, begins with a focus on God. After the connection with God is made, then the petitioner asks for the essentials. Daily bread, calling us back to God’s goodness to the people of Israel in the desert, receiving just enough manna each day. Irving J. Arnquist and Louis R. Flessner observe that this prayer functions on both the level of daily life, and on an eschatological level, pointing ahead to the fullness of God’s reign. “In the context of this relationship with God, Jesus’ prayer reveals the nature of God’s eschatological work. Some would even title it the Kingdom Prayer because it is saturated with the imminent reign of God. Even the more “earthly” petitions, like the request for daily bread, bear striking eschatological overtones. Out of the relationship with God, exemplified by the Lord’s Prayer, comes true piety. The disciple is to give, pray, and fast, but not by the rules or institutional demands of religion. Faithful living comes from the heart, and only God can do this work. When this happens, the reign of God has come.” You can read more here.

For these authors, forgiveness is at the heart of the prayer, and at the center of what Jesus teaches us. “If the Sermon on the Mount is a summary of Jesus’ teaching, and the Lord’s Prayer is at the heart of this sermon, then this petition for forgiveness is at the epicenter of the gospel. Reconciliation is the point of Jesus’ entire ministry. Thus, forgiveness is at the heart of the relationship with God, of piety, and of life in Christian community. No better word can be found to describe the saving work of God or the day-to-day work of Christ in setting relationships right. Perhaps no other theme appears more often in Matthew’s gospel than that of forgiveness. Matthew uses the word aphiemi forty-nine times, nearly one third of the total number of its occurrences in the New Testament. And few are the chapters without several references.”

Once we’ve entered into this immediate kind of prayer with God, we return to regularly scheduled spiritual programming, with instructions on fasting. Following the same pattern, Jesus gives instructions for “when you fast.” This, too, is to be done without any attempt to impress anyone else. Finally, he turns his attention to our relationship with material things, instructing us that seeking treasure, in any form, will distract us from God. Our attention follows our treasure, and so we are to be careful what we store up.

This phrase finds its way into popular culture through the Harry Potter series. In the final book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, preparing for a final battle, Harry makes his way to the village where his parents lived, and visits the graveyard. There he finds the graves of Dumbledore’s family, with the puzzling (to him) inscription: “where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” The inscription reflects a struggle within the once-young Dumbledore, a great wizard by the time we know him in the books, between love and power. Later, Harry and Hermione find the grave of Harry’s parents. That tombstone also has a quote from the Bible. “The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.”

All of Jesus’ instructions, including the Lord’s Prayer, have to do with fixing our attention on God. We’re not to get distracted by how other people see us, or the impression we’re making. We’re not to try to impress anyone with our spiritual lives, or our material goods. Jesus is calling us to a rare kind of focus on God, in all that we do.

Sermon possibilities:

  • For people accustomed to the Revised Common Lectionary, this text will evoke Ash Wednesday, and the beginning of Lent. How does it feel to hear these words on a random Sunday in the winter? For me, they come with an overlay of Lent, and they feel like a reminder that sacramental living isn’t limited to Lent, or any other season. Our lives need this invitation back to God all the time, not just for the forty days before Easter.
  • Jesus presents forgiveness as the essential food of the spirit, the “daily bread” of relationships, and he connects the measure we receive to the measure we give. The sermon might explore this connection – how we manage to forgive others, and the space it creates in our lives for God’s presence. Is enduring anger, like fancy displays of piety, a distraction from the presence of God? Jesus says: “if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” Is it possible for God not to forgive us? Or is it just that we can’t experience it until we forgive others?
  • This prayer offers an immediate, direct connection to God, both in the simple words and in the spirit of the one who teaches it to us. Where else do you find that direct connection to God? Are there other places? The sermon might look at our direct connections to God, and how we nurture those practices / places.
  • In contrast to Jesus’ instruction about “when you pray,” the authors of Never Pray Again suggest that “prayer is an idea that has too much baggage to do its job anymore. That is the problem. Maybe the solution is to simply never pray again. But what do we do instead?” (Check the authors out here.) The authors of the book suggest that we’ve traveled so far from what Jesus taught that it’s hard to get back to it. As they say, “we want to live our lives more fully, and in order to do so, we found that we had to set prayer aside. For our spiritual lives to flourish, we needed to be set free from the rock imprisoning us before we could be much use. We noticed as we looked at the ancient structure of Christian worship, and examined each type of prayer usually found there, that if we simply removed the word “prayer” we unleashed something vital and compelling. No longer able to simply clasp our hands and close our eyes, we instead had to find ways to go and do.” Have we lost what Jesus had in mind? How would you feel if you never prayed again? Is there a difference between “praying” and “doing”?
Categories: Narrative Lectionary | Tags: , , , | 12 Comments

RevGalBookPals: You and Me Forever (Marriage in Light of Eternity)

As far as I can tell, Paul (the apostle) liked to be right. Luther and Calvin, may they rest in peace, both liked to be right. Yet none of those three ever wrote anything like this:

“I told you! I told you it would be worth it!!! This is unbelievable!!!!!!!!” I imagine shouting that one day when I see Lisa and the kids in heaven. They will no longer be my wife and kids, but we will love each other more than ever. I picture myself looking them in the eyes and saying, “I told you He would come through! I knew He would be true to His promises. I knew every sacrifice would be worth it. This is insane! He is amazing!!!” (p. 131)

If, at the start of the world to come, someone greets me by gripping me tightly and saying, “I told you so”- I will know without a doubt, no matter the scenery, that I am in hell. Unless the voice is coming from Jesus, in which case I will fall on my knees and say, “I believed, Lord, forgive my unbelief.”

Be that as it may, Francis Chan’s You and Me Forever: Marriage in Light of Eternity was not exactly hell to read, but it was not a glimpse of heaven, either. In this book, the Bible is to be taken literally. Marriage is an institution created by God and it is hetero-normative, period. Both partners exist within their commitment to one another to be certain that each will experience heaven (that is NOT a metaphor). The mission of their marriage is discipleship, a pure witness to the work of fulfilling the Great Commission (Matthew 28). Men lead, through submission to God. Women follow, through submission to God. The practical advice of the book consists of guides for both individual and mutual conversation, study, and prayer.

How many times did I want to throw this book against the wall? Many. However, I more frequently found myself despairing. Chan and I, theoretically want the same thing. First, that the world may come to know and trust in the grace, mercy, and faithfulness of God as those truths were revealed in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus the Christ. Second, that marriage would be understood to be a loving partnership for faithful growth and support- a sacramental gift from God that is the foundation of hope, stability, sanctification, and peace in communities. Our ability to agree on even these two sentences can only occur in a sterile environment because once we hit the ground, we are at odds which is lamentable to God (as far as I understand 1 Corinthians).

Chan writes:

Things are different nowadays. Sin is more accessible and acceptable. Two specific areas come to mind, both deadly to marriage: pornography and flirting. 

When I was a kid, a guy had to let everyone in the store know he was a pervert when he walked to the counter to buy a Playboy magazine. These days, people can look endlessly at pornography on the privacy of their own phones. And many don’t even consider that perverted. It’s the norm!

When I was a kid, a woman would have to flirt with a man face to face, in a normal social setting. Once again, there was the shame of people seeing it and labeling her a “whore” or “slut”. Now with Facebook and text messaging, women and men can approach each other in secret to test the waters. And the affairs that spring from it, as well as the divorces that result from it, have become more acceptable. Even in the church. (26) 

When I read the Bible, it seems to me that sin was fairly accessible to our forefathers and foremothers in the faith. None of them seemed to struggle with finding ways to violate God’s covenants and laws. If God is the same- yesterday, today, and forever, then, sadly, the forces that oppose God are the same. They may have shiny new ways to tempt, but they are no more powerful than they ever were or ever will be. Arguing that humans are more sinful or that evil is more prevalent denies the reality of history and the reality of God’s relationship to creation in history.

Furthermore, all sin (sexual and otherwise) is a result of failing to acknowledge that God alone is God (here Chan and I would agree). Thus, breaking the first commandment (I am the Lord your God, have no other gods before me) happens when we objectify and deify anything- bodies, natural resources, money, work, power, control. The examples Chan gives do not go deep enough to the reality of sin, a felt separation from God in the world. They are superficial, shaming examples with no followed-up basis for repair or correction. The failure of the church in this situation is not a failure to preach strongly enough against pornography, adultery, or divorce. It is a failure to lift up the reality that ALL is a gift from God- our bodies, the bodies of others, our sexuality, natural resources, other animals, money, time, talents. Failure to respect and honor God’s glory revealed in all of these is a perversion of God’s desires. Period. There is no hierarchy in sin.

According to Chan, many churches lack faithful elders who can teach the faith and the faith lived out in long marriages.

In speaking to young adults in America, they tell me of how they would love to be mentored by older people who are living by faith. But they can’t find any. Some may be joyful and friendly, but no longer living by faith. Sadly, their lives consist of visiting grandkids and taking vacations. Some are still acquiring more possessions, hoping to make the best of their last few days on earth. (185)

I recently did two back-to-back funerals. One for a man, aged 93, who had been married to the same woman for 68 years. He had been a stalwart member of three congregations, quietly revealing his faith in service and perseverance. The second service was for a pastor who died just short of 70 years of ordination. His funeral was standing room only. His wife of 63 years sat just to the side of his casket. Until just before he died, he could tell you what psalm he wanted to hear for the day and why. There are many older people who live by faith, but maybe not in the churches Chan visits. Has he encouraged these seeking young people to find faithful elders in the churches where they might be (mainline denominations) or do they lament together with no action, but prayer?

All in all, this book was disappointing. Other reviews praise it, but they seem to be people who knew what they would hear when they read the book. That’s called preaching to the choir. The literal Biblical interpretation, the frank substitutionary atonement (as the only understanding), and the failure to acknowledge the mixed history of marriage as an institution and the church’s need to grapple with that fact all combine to prevent me from recommending this book to anyone.

You need to know that this theology is out there and that your parishioners will encounter it. Since I can’t recommend this book and I don’t have a ready-made suggestion to go in its place, I’ll make an alternate recommendation.

I suggest that instead of reading this book, you re-read the book of Ruth and consider the following 1) that God took generations to bring healing out of the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, 2) the most famous words of commitment in the Bible are between a daughter-in-law to her mother-in-law, 3) marriage is a wholly different scenario in the Scriptures, and 4) we are all called to emulate the righteousness of Boaz by using our time, resources, and faith in redeeming those who would be left on the margins.

I received You and Me Forever: Marriage in Light of Eternity (Francis and Lisa Chan) for review. I was not offered anything in exchange for the review other than a copy of the book.

Categories: book discussion feature, Book recommendations, books, RevGalBookPals | 4 Comments

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