Chagall, Marc, 1887-1985. Adam and Eve, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=54653 [retrieved June 2, 2015]. Original source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/abeppu/3816721814/.
Chagall, Marc, 1887-1985. Adam and Eve, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.
Sometimes when I read the RCL, my first thought is, “You’ve got to be kidding me!” This week is surely one of those. (Find the texts here.) There’s the whole mess of Samuel telling Israel what God wants for them and Israel insisting on their own way. There’s the alternative reading with Adam running around naked and embarrassed. 2 Corinthians chimes in with what might be words of hope and comfort if I can decide what the passage really means. And then we get to Gospel reading and it’s not a pretty one. Jesus is accused of being possessed then he proclaims forgiveness for all except those who “blaspheme against the Holy Spirit,” and he claims a new family right in front of his family of origin. These texts are not fun nor are they pretty. Roll up your sleeves because preaching this week is going to be messy.

In the messiness I keep hearing the old adage, “Everything happens according to God’s will.” Personally, I think this is one of the most detrimental statements anyone can make. My mother’s recent death makes me particularly sensitive to this statement at the moment. My mother didn’t die because God willed it; she died young because she smoked way too much and didn’t take very good care of herself. I believe God had something else in mind for her but she never quite got there.

If you were to ask Samuel if everything happens because God wills it, he’d likely laugh at you. He told the people what God wanted and even gave a detailed description of what would happen if they did their own thing. And, yes, they insisted on having a king. Is that what God willed for the people of Israel in that moment in time? Good thing God could come up with a Plan B.

Adam and Eve had a little problem with following God’s will as well. And we all know how that turned out. So does God always have a back-up plan for those times when we can’t or don’t do what God wants us to do?

How about the way people responded to Jesus, thinking he was possessed when he went about doing God’s will? Was his response to the accusations God’s will? Was choosing a new family for himself God’s will? Could it have all gone differently if people were paying closer attention to what God wanted?

I guess these texts really make me want to ask what it means to seek God’s will today as individuals and as congregations. What is God’s will for us? What happens if we choose something God would rather we didn’t? What happens if we are able to discern and embrace God’s will? Is it possible to know for sure what’s God’s will and what isn’t since prophets like Samuel aren’t here to tell us?

What are you thinking about these texts? Will you tackle the question of God’s will vs. human will and how God responds when we choose to do our own thing? Or is the Spirit guiding you in another direction? Please post your responses, link to sermons or blogs, and generally share your thoughts on preaching these tricky texts.

41 thoughts on “Revised Common Lectionary: “You’ve Got to be Kidding Me!” Edition

  1. Loved your post. I always find it interesting that we think God can’t work with us when we make the “wrong choice”…whatever that is 🙂 God works in and thru us no matter which path we take. It’s just hard for us to see most of the time. I always say I wish God would just send me a memo, but the reality is I would probably leave it unopened if he did… ahhh, to be human and stupid.

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  2. sigh …. you’ve certainly nailed the conundrum posed by this week’s texts. In my mind, I have the first lines of my sermon crafted, and they go something like this: ” In which Paula reads the lessons for days and days seeking a cohesive message of good news in this weeks lections and finally decides on a theme of discerning god’s will.”

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  3. Thanks for these great thoughts. Can’t wait for the Preacher Party and for Sunday at my own parish to see what folks come up with. In the meantime, I’m opening my hands and trying to listen. “discerning” God’s will seems like an awfully big task today. Maybe it will fall on my head like the Holy Spirit? (or a rock!?) 🙂

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    1. Mary Beth, when I was in college we often joked about God needing a “brick method.” Some of us are dense enough (and stubborn enough) that if God wants something from us, God needs to drop a brick (or several) on our heads. May the Holy Spirit falling on your head be enough for you as it is probably less painful than a rock!

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    1. Interesting thought about it not being his real family out there! I wonder how that would change the meaning of Jesus’ answer… my family really, honestly, isn’t those people… but then, let me redefine family anyway, so that we can all move forward together, united in God’s love. Thanks for the food for thought!

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      1. This idea really does challenge our concept of family, doesn’t it? Who is our family? Would Jesus agree with our definitions of who our families are? Lot’s to think about indeed!

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  4. What struck me about all of these texts is that EVEN if we had present day prophets would we heed them anymore than the people heeded Solomon or Jesus. Adam & Eve got there guidance straight from the proverbial horses mouth and they didn’t follow it. So what does that say about us?

    I think it says that we are hopelessly lost without the saving grace & mercy of Jesus Christ. We are broken vessels and we never will ACT as the unblemished vessel Christ died for us to be at least not on this earth. What we need is one another to guide, correct and reflect for one another glimpses of Jesus. We hold one another up when our vessels are fractured. We use our community as our guide informed by scruioture. And when, as was done in Solomo’s day, the faith community is misguided, we trust the one true Guide to bring us back within the fold.

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  5. “My mother didn’t die because God willed it; she died young because she smoked way too much and didn’t take very good care of herself. I believe God had something else in mind for her but she never quite got there.” I would like to ask a question in regards to this quote from the blog: “If your mother died because she smoked too much and did not take care of herself, why do others who smoke like fiends all their lives live to be 90? I am not sure we can correlate our live style choices with life or death. There still is mystery here and the truth is we cannot say why someone dies or does not die when they do. We may not want to name it God’s will in the sense that God desires all to die, yet God did make a world wherein things die. Your mother may have very well accomplished many things God intended, for God takes what is and uses it. After all she raised you and you are proclaiming God’s word! WOW! I get your point that we make poor choices and decisions that lead us away from our best selves, but that in and of itself points to the wonderful mystery of God’s never-ending grace. The whole concept of God’s will is rattling to my brain!

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    1. Ann, yes, I did not mean to imply that God did not use my mother for anything. It’s just when this particular platitude was applied to my mother’s death, I rebelled. God did not will her to have COPD. Others who take as poor care of themselves as she did, may live longer. The human body is one of the great mysteries of creation for sure. Life is a mystery in and of itself and trying to sort out what is God’s will and what is not is enough to make my brain explode, too.

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  6. It’s my penultimate sermon in a church I’ve served for 15 years. I’ll be using the 2 Cor text. I think. Something about not losing heart. As this wonderful congregation faces significant questions and change in the interim period, my prayer is that they find ways of focusing on not what is seen… but what is unseen. I’m expecting I’m the last full-time installed pastor in this place – but their heart is big enough that full-time ministry can continue if they focus more on mission and less on buildings and bucks!

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  7. oooh…I like this ‘God’s will’ idea.

    I was planning a theme of God’s Kingdom vs our empire building.
    Based on Samuel and asking which King we serve – the one above or the ones below [greed, comfort, petty politics of power] and what we would have to be willing to give up to REALLY have ‘thy Kingdom come; on earth as it is in heaven’. But I think I might spend some time tomorrow and rethinking after hearing from you all. thanks again.

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  8. I was really lost till I read this and now I have a good idea of where I’m going! I think the idea of what is God’s will could well be the way I need to go this week. Thanks for the nudge!

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    1. Pat, I will now admit that I wasn’t going to preach on these texts at all until I started to work on this post. Now I, too, am going this way this week. The Holy Spirit is quite the nudger 🙂

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  9. Samuel tells us that leaders disappoint us– whether that’s political leaders, ecclesiastical leaders, or just celebrities. Anyone we put on a pedestal IS going to disappoint us. Period. And we may be tempted to label these situations a “fall from grace”. But it seems pretty obvious that you can’t fall (or run, or hide, or otherwise end up) anywhere that is outside God’s grace.

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  10. this is truly a very great way to take a look at each of those story lines and to explore how we are attuned to the will of God. I have used the reference statement it is God’s will very carefully. because I know that we are given choice. What I often do is say I am intending to live in the will of God, I am seeking to understanding of the will of God for me in this moment and how do I accept whatever I am call to do knowing that its consequences are often out of my hand. the humanity displayed in each of these passages provide examples for each of us in spiritual leadership. the outcome is not always our responsibility. the opportunity is to do as much as we can — be attuned to the will of God regarding that particular thing. thank you so much for this. Peace,Denise

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  11. I have thoughts on a leadership sermon related to God’s will — how do we know, as leaders, what to do? What God’s wants us to do? Especially helpful to a few in the pews who have been quibbling but also as we transform some of our ministries to the homeless.
    But then there’s also Caitlyn Jenner this week in the news, and my facebook feed is full of opinion and judgment. From the blog, ” How about the way people responded to Jesus, thinking he was possessed when he went about doing God’s will? Was his response to the accusations God’s will? Was choosing a new family for himself God’s will? Could it have all gone differently if people were paying closer attention to what God wanted?…What happens if we choose something God would rather we didn’t? What happens if we are able to discern and embrace God’s will? Is it possible to know for sure what’s God’s will and what isn’t?” I just feel there’s an opportunity here to understand personal journey with Christ in a ways that we don’t often explore on Sunday morning.
    I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned how thankful I am for this group. Blessings to you all this week!

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    1. April, sounds like you have enough thoughts for a few sermons. But I like the way you are heading and linking leadership and our judgment of others with discerning God’s will. I’d be curious to know where you end up.

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  12. As soon as I read the Genesis lesson, and especially knowing that I’ll be preaching with more kids than usual at one service, I immediately heard a petulant “It wasn’t my fault!” in my head. I thought of how my older sister could do something to torment me and then get back down the hall to her bedroom before I was even done yelling so that she could call out that she wasn’t anywhere near me. And I think there’s a huge amount of this at every level of society. I’m not sure where I will go with this idea of how eager we are to shift blame and not accept responsibility, but I think there’s something calling to me there.

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  13. Betsy, sounds like a great sermon to me! There’s something something to be said for realizing that accepting responsibility and the consequences of our choices has something to do with what God might want for us.

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  14. I will be preaching (first time in three years) to a nursing home congregation which is heavily Southern Baptist and mostly black. When I saw the epistle, I picked that — beautiful, and perfect for people thinking a lot about death — and skipping an OT text. Which, naturally, leaves the gospel. The standout issue to me is the question of the unforgivable sin, so I will be going out of my way to assure congregants that their sins are certainly forgivable, not just by means of the sermon but also some enhanced “comfortable words” (taken from scripture) at the time of confession and declaration of forgiveness — and a choice of hymns including Blessed Assurance. I probably won’t talk as much about Jesus’ “picking a new family,” except by citing the similar scripture, declaring one must leave one’s family to follow Jesus, as an example of how Jesus sometimes makes his points by — well, not “exaggerating,” and certainly not by being wrathful or thin-skinned, but … you get the idea. And the declaration about blasphemy against the Holy Spirit shows that doctrine (e.g. christology, and certainly a conventional, limited understanding of “traditional family values”) is not nearly as important as being awake and honest about the fruits of the Spirit in people whether or not we approve of their beliefs, ideologies or lifestyles.

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    1. Vik, it sounds like you have a great topic for your context. Assurance of forgiveness and grace and being open to the fruits of the Spirit in all people make a great message for people nearing the end of life.

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  15. Great blog! I think you have the outline of your sermon for his week right here! Why not ask these questions from the pulpit? Perhaps have all of the scriptures read this week and then ask these tough questions and encourage your congregation to think more deeply about what it means to follow God’s will. Thank you for your insightful witness!

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  16. Rachael, thanks for leading this great discussion! I am trying to get a sermon underway, if not finished, today, as my usual Saturday writing schedule has not been working well in the past couple of months. This is, in part, because I’m having a tough go finding things to say to the congregation I serve, very much a family church, long in decline, and now in a transition between pastors and considering whether to join forces with another local church. The gospel ends on a potentially powerful note for their circumstances, as their history has been as a church of literal family connections. Jesus asks us to make a new family in him. I titled the sermon “Biblical Family Values.” But that’s all I’ve got at the moment. And it’s not much. I have a genuine struggle connecting with this congregation, which has not been so much the case in other interims I have served. It is, to put it mildly, discouraging.

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    1. And maybe I will preach about those TV families, the Jenner/Kardashians and the Duggars and make the point that we all have our ways of defining what family means, but as Christians, we’ve got this challenging definition from Jesus that calls us beyond our sentimental, nostalgic or personal understandings of the word.

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      1. Martha, I understand the discouraging part of serving a church that is difficult to connect with. I do think that you could put something together based on these texts that could be both meaningful and challenging. Is God “pushing” them to redefine their understanding of family? Are they being called to be open to a new way of being church since the old ways are not what they once were? I think of the Israelites choosing to have a king instead of following where God was leading. Of course, God didn’t abandon them when they chose a king, but what would it have been like if they had chosen to follow God? My prayers are with you and all of us who are struggling to put together meaningful sermons for this week!

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  17. I am intrigued by the chiastic structure of the Gospel text. I don’t usually think of Mark as being “structured” (there’s all that urgency, and I don’t equate urgency with structure, I guess). When I look at it this way, it seems that the central truth he’s framing is unity. The outer frame is the whole family thing, expanding the natural family of Jesus to include the whole family of God. Inside that frame, there’s the contrast “matting” of Beelzebub and division – and isn’t it interesting that Beelzebub means “Lord of the Flies”? While I’m muddling this in the back of my head, I do need to put together a funeral homily for tomorrow morning on a completely different text, so I hope I can keep them clear of each other for a couple more hours.

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