Strange Fruit - click here to listen to and read about the song recorded by Billie Holiday.
Strange Fruit – click here to listen to and read about the song recorded by Billie Holiday.

This is what the Lord GOD showed me–a basket of summer fruit. He said, “Amos, what do you see?” And I said, “A basket of summer fruit.” Then the LORD said to me, The end has come upon my people Israel; I will never again pass them by. The songs of the temple shall become wailings in that day,” says the Lord GOD; “the dead bodies shall be many, cast out in every place. Be silent!” ~ Amos 8:1-3, NRSV (from this week’s RCL lections)

Preachers, the basket of summer fruit presented to us in the Northern Hemisphere is strange indeed. In Amos, God offers the kind of promise we do not want to hear: the collective bad actions of the nation will result in feasts turned to mourning and songs to lamentations. Many nations are in turmoil today, with concerns including a coup attempt in Turkey as I write this, and the continuing aftermath of the Brexit vote in the U.K. In the United States we anticipating potentially contentious political conventions at a time of great racial tension.

I have always liked to think that such moments in Hebrew scripture represented a backward glance, a desire to explain times of hardship suffered in the past, but more and more I am convinced that calls to prophecy, or at the very least, honesty, are real and just as timely now as they were for Amos.

For there is hope for a tree,
    if it is cut down, that it will sprout again,
    and that its shoots will not cease.
Though its root grows old in the earth,
    and its stump dies in the ground,
yet at the scent of water it will bud
    and put forth branches like a young plant. ~ Job 14:7-9, NRSV (from this week’s Narrative Lectionary)

Job goes on to point out that human beings are different. Once cut down, they are gone. This is poignantly, heartbreakingly in focus both in the events of last week in Louisiana, Minnesota, and Dallas, and in the Bastille Day attack in Nice, France.

How are you approaching the pulpit this week, preachers? I commend to you Wil Gafney’s words on #what2preach from last week for a progression that can be undertaken no matter the text or the circumstances. I also suggest taking a look at Rachel Hackenberg’s RCL post from this week, Whiteness in Scripture (with a great angle on Mary and Martha), and Marci Glass’s NL post, Hope for a Tree.

I wonder if those of us who may be afraid to address real world events from the pulpit, for whatever our reasons, might not start from that exact place? It’s time to talk about things we have avoided.

Join us in the comments to let us know where you are, and where you hope to be by the time worship begins. As always, we are in this together: come through, come through!

68 thoughts on “11th Hour Preacher Party: Strange Fruit

  1. Last week I addressed the (then) current issues as we re-examined the Good Samaritan. As a short term interim (2 months while pastor is on sabbatical) I don’t have a deep relationship with this congregation and as I mentioned to several people who stopped to visit after worship I was concerned I had “quit preaching and gone to meddling.” My heart was filled and my eyes were near overflowing when one gentleman said “Thank you for your words today. That may have been the best sermon we have heard in years.” and a woman took my hand and said “no, you were right on today. I want my minister to help me process the issues in my world.” It’s days like that which validate my call to ministry, renew my spirit, and give me the strength to preach another difficult week. Going to continue on in Luke – what is distracting us and keeping us from the “better part?” Thank you all for the many inspirations and ideas.

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  2. I’m using Shawshank Redemption to illustrate the kind of hope illustrated in the Job passage. It takes Andy Dufresne 19 years to dig his tunnel to take him to freedom. It is hope with the long game in mind.
    Also, Red tells him that hope is dangerous in prison. After Red gets out of prison, the note from Andy reminds him that hope is a “good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.”

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  3. Mary and Martha here. I’m planning on stepping into Martha’s head and her inner monologue as she greets the visitors and is distracted by her many worries. Taking inspiration from this week’s Pulpit Fiction podcast, I then want to imagine what it might have been if she hadn’t been distracted by worrying about Mary’s business – how much better might she have been able to serve Jesus and the other guests. (I’ve always had a sneaking sympathy for Martha – as the eldest in a family of girls, I always felt that my sisters didn’t pull their fair share!)

    I am preaching for the 3rd week in a row with a congregation whose minister just retired after 20+ years and in the past couple of weeks that I’ve been there, I’ve noticed many people distracted by worrying about the future and search committees and presbytery and …

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    1. As a Martha namesake and sympathizer, I have taken a similar approach in the past, including in a series last summer on favorite Bible stories. I didn’t expect to be still at the same church when the text came up in the Lectionary this year! New approach needed. Thanks for joining us today.

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  4. like last week i am doing 2 smaller sermons, one on Amos and one on the Gospel reading.
    On Amos i am writing about injustice, the interconnectedness of humanity and creation, and the drought of hearing the Lord.
    with the Gospel i think i will focus on expectations. a wonderful story in the news this week about an aboriginal student who was told in year 10 [about 16 years old] by the school that he should be a baker. . now he is studying Medicine
    what are our expectations of women, indigenous people, refugees …..?
    are we bound by expectations?
    what happens when other people move beyond the standard expectations?

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      1. after the prayer of confession i have the first reading, sermon, then a song, second reading sermon and song. we don’t have children in worship most weeks, so when i do two sermons, I leave out the ‘short talk’ which goes in the children’s talk time.

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        1. I miss having the chance to do a children’s talk. The small church I serve has no kids under age 10, and the little group clustered at that mark let it be known they didn’t want to come forward anymore, which I understood.

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          1. I have never asked the kids to come forward – they hate it, even when younger, especially if there are only one or two of them. I do sometimes give a children’s talk, but make sure it’s suitable for all ages, just in case there aren’t any children. If the children are staying in, I don’t bother so much…. if the sermon isn’t good enough for them, it’s not good enough for the adults, either! But I do know that the younger ones like *something* that acknowledges their presence in worship!

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  5. Since I switched weeks, I am on the Good Samaritan tomorrow. I’m grateful to Will Gafney for nudging me to dig a bit deeper into the history of the Samaritans, and to everyone for the conversation last week.

    As another interim, I, too am having the experience of leading a congregation unaccustomed to hearing about what’s going on in the world from the pulpit. The response so far has been encouraging and hopeful. I am very proud of the congregation for the support and work that has gone into tomorrow afternoon’s “Convention Eve” service, which is unlike anything they’ve ever done before. Now I just hope some people show up . . .

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  6. I’m considering Mary and Martha and all that’s been happening in the past couple of weeks.

    How easy it is, when we get worried and distracted about many things – and there are many things! – to point fingers and find someone to shoulder at least some of the blame. Far too easy when we get overwhelmed, especially by violence in so many sectors. (See political scene!) We need to sit at Jesus’ feet like Mary to do the hard, long-term work of learning, which will often mean listening to those around us we may not often take time to hear. Then we put what we learn into action and service as Martha did.

    I’ve also been thinking about Martha’s question, “Lord, do you not care that my sister…” She doesn’t get the response she’d like, as pointing fingers doesn’t get much support from Jesus. “What about her?” seems to be a good question only on behalf of another. But “Lord, do you not care?” can be an honest prayer and certainly beats being polite and distant with God.

    All that and several other things are running around my head and my broken heart this week. I’m counting on the Holy Spirit to show me what needs to be said tomorrow to a congregation I’ve never met.

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    1. It’s tough to supply preach or guest preach when the world is in turmoil, although the latter designation conveys a little more authority, and if I’m in the position of supplying, I usually feel free to speak, since the worst that can happen is they don’t invite me back!

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      1. Here I am at 8:20PM, starting a major reworking of it. I was doing supply the Sunday following Ferguson and then again after Charleston, so it won’t be the first time. What I currently have is a bit too dark – needs a lot more resurrection hope in it. Glad to know there are others out there considering the same events prayerfully tonight.

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  7. Good morning, all.
    In this two preacher household, the week has been without a Sabbath due to some important, time-sensitive matters, and we’re facing our prep for Sunday feeling less than our best. I need to go to church this morning to make an appearance at the annual fundraiser, but I hope to leave here with a better idea of where I’m going with Amos and Luke than the no idea I have at the moment despite considering it all week. I did talk last week about racism, more specifically my own racism, within the context of last week’s police killings. I am also in an interim setting, but I have been there almost two years, and I receive virtually zero pushback no matter what I say. I think that means there is acceptance from some, but I am fairly sure it means others just are not paying attention.
    On that note, I’m going to pour a second cup of coffee.

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  8. Finished. Amos and Mary and Martha
    i am only leading the early service tomorrow, so i can stay and have morning tea with them, rather than rushing off for the second service [in a different building a five minute drive away] . Husband isn’t feeling well tonight, so i think i will be on my own in the morning.

    here is a quote I am including from Karoline [working preacher]
    “Mary and Martha cannot be about the better thing that means who is better, who acts better, who can be better.
    The better thing is the invitation to believe that you are who God sees you to be.
    And that is precisely our problem. An inherent, systemic, omnipresent, ingrained, intrinsic, dysfunctional, disturbing belief that not all are worthy of God’s regard and love. The conviction, as Paul Farmer says, “That not all are not equal in God’s eyes. That all are not made in the image of God.” [Karoline, Working Preacher]

    goodnight,

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  9. Okay, more coffee helped. I think I will approach Martha’s talk with Jesus as a little apocalypse, in the sense that she literally has a come to Jesus moment. Amos expresses something like that, too: look, you’ve been going along doing things the wrong way, even though they made sense in terms of your rules for what’s right (Martha) or your economic understandings (buying and selling of people), but the moment of truth has come and you’re not going to be able to go on the same way anymore.

    Hopefully the right “come to Jesus” illustration will come to me on the way to the fundraiser. Sadly, there are too many that I have expected to be such moments of truth for our country that have not turned out to be seen that way collectively.

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    1. Glad more coffee could make a difference! I think my congregation is just waiting for Job to be done. It’s been a tough book for me to preach through for reasons personal and national.

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      1. And it’s tough in the first place.
        Right now I’m trying to come up with a parenting story about a “come to Jesus” moment. Unfortunately, my big kids were all ridiculously well-behaved…as far as I knew. I may have to go with a story about me (less obedient).

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  10. I’m preaching RCL tomorrow – but with the Genesis OT – Abraham and hospitality. At the moment, I’m linking the three passages we’ll hear read in worship : talking about radical hospitality in Genesis, the supremacy of Jesus in Colossians and a word in season in Luke, using Black Lives Matter to state how some things must be prioritised at certain times. I can see the link but I’m not sure I’m articulating it well. We’ll see.
    I also have an urge to write a wee reflection from Martha and Mary’s perspective – may just post that on the blog to get it out of my system!

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    1. Same readings here. I haven’t quite filtered what I’m saying but the hospitality angle is useful, as is the idea that Martha and Mary are both necessary and we need the balance of the diakon and the contemplative to be able to hear and then act. I’m aware that Nice and Turkey will be in the minds of the congregation, but they were all working hard today at our biggest fundraiser and that too will be in their minds. Something about servanthood and grace, radical welcoming… still brewing…

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  11. Preaching on Mary and Martha, and also on Amos. Am going to have to amend things to mention the atrocity in Nice and the attempted coup in Turkey, and must remember to put them in the Intercessions, too. I’m planning on saying something like this:
    “I don’t want to go into detail about the causes of this whole disaster; you know them as well as I do. The road this country has chosen to take over the past 50 years hasn’t helped – the erosion of our manufacturing base, the disappearance of industries such as shipbuilding, consumer electronics, aircraft manufacture and most of the vehicle construction industry. The fact that we were lied to, over and over again, by politicians and by the Murdoch press…. you know all that as well as I do. And I’m finding it incredibly difficult to work out what to say, anyway, as I’m so aware that my experience as a White, middle-class, elderly British woman is so very different to so much of many of your experiences. What, after all, do I know?” followed, a few paragraphs later, by:
    “We don’t know the future; but we do know the One who holds the future in his hands. We may long and long for a word that doesn’t come, but we know that we have not been abandoned. We know that we may sit at His feet and drink of His word, and we may, must and will trust Him for tomorrow. Amen.”

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  12. Guest preaching at my former internship church tomorrow on Job. Grateful for a comment from a Working Preacher post from 2013 that pointed out how Job stood up to God. Hoping to draw some sort of parallels between having the courage to stand up to God and the courage of the Black Lives Matter movement standing up to racism, plus the parallels of Job’s friends and the “All Lives Matter” crew, and how those play out, and where hope comes in. Throwing in references to a patriotic Canadian song I learned at the Metropolitan Community Churches General Conference earlier this month – “We Rise Again.”

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  13. I am just getting started, bleh. Martha, I like the *Come to Jesus* idea for Luke. I was inspired, too, by Rachel’s RCL Lectionary Leanings, and the poem somewhere on the FB page about *privilege* and escaping. I have no idea where this will go. i WANT to take a nap.

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  14. I too was moved by Karoline Lewis’ writing this week. I see Mary and Martha as adopting two differing approaches to hospitality. I’m using the different understandings as an invitation consider how important dialog is in our current social and political climate. We too often adopt a particular stance and talk past each other rather than listening. This is not meant to favor Mary over Martha, but to invite both to the table.

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    1. Hi there, Thanks for this powerful beginning, Martha. Grateful for you and for Revgals extra right now! I have a meeting in half an hour I need to do some prep for, and a church-related dinner tonight, one page of notes….and my seminary mentor (you know her @marciglass 🙂 will be in worship tomorrow. So, freaking slightly. I was inspired by @rachelhackenberg‘s post on Tuesday, as well, and have been steeped in Strange Fruit-analia all week. Did you know it was written by a Jewish school teacher in NYC? And first published in his teachers union’s newsletter. So, I’m preaching on Amos and prophetic words, and how we don’t know where they will fall or how they will bear fruit, but in our time, as in Amos’ time, it is important for us to use strong and even uncomfortable language to bring about transformation – our own and others. Anyway, something like that.

      That’s how its going with me. How about with you? Sorry to hear you didnt get a day off, Martha. Hard when you have to hit the sermon-writing ground running…

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  15. I’m doing Mary and Martha as part of the series on Favorite Bible Stories. As I have been doing, I’ll start with some background about the obligation of hospitality that would take (at least) two forms: preparation for feeding and perhaps providing shelter, and giving your attention to your guests when they arrive.

    I’ll plan to talk about both Mary’s work and Martha’s work being important; the purpose of the story is not to demonize one or the other. Rather, I may talk about their interconnectedness: preparation allows us to be freed up to focus on our guests, and spending time with God gives us clearer vision of which tasks are important.

    So, I have a decent first paragraph. After that… I got nothin’!

    Maybe I’ll do some thinking about why this might have landed on the “favorites” list. Or maybe I’ll walk around the block and see what the Spirit has to say to me.

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  16. It’s been an unexpectedly busy day to top off a week that didn’t exactly go according to plan. I’m behind in the Bible in 90 Days reading, and I usually like to be caught up before I write the sermon that goes with it, but I don’t think I’m going to make it (I’d still need to read 41 chapters of Isaiah before starting to write…). So I’m pondering ordering a pizza and sitting down to think about the transformation promised in Isaiah 41.17-20, and that the reason for God’s transformative work in the desert (bringing the people home from exile) is “that all may see and know”. I have a sort of idea but I can’t even quite articulate it here, so it’s definitely not ready for the pulpit…but Sunday approaches so I have to get something down.

    And I ate the last of the ice cream for lunch, so….eek! Could be a long night ahead.

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  17. Just got home from our all day VBS. Got to church at 9 am left at 7 pm. LONG day. Praise the Lord for a husband who brought the kids home and got them batheer blank verse blank.d so that I wouldn’t have to deal with that mess!!!
    Preaching on Mary and Martha, according to the bulletin, but according to my computer I’m preaching on blank chapter blank, verse blank.
    Positive thoughts and prayers for all you others out there plugging away. I’m here, with leftover cake and chips and dip for the late night ahead.

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  18. OK, after the walk and a little ice cream, here’s the plan.
    1. Jesus calls us to follow him – sometimes that means sitting at his feet to worship, to learn, to restore ourselves. Other times that means getting busy to make our homes and our churches welcoming, to serve others in practical ways (feed the hungry, clothe the naked, etc.).
    2. We are susceptible to distractions that draw us away from either or both parts of our calling. What distracts us and keeps us from resting in Jesus’ presence? What distracts us from doing the things we are sent to do?
    3. God continues to intervene when we get distracted. God will put us in situations where we are called back from our distractions into resting in God’s presence. (That functions as both law and gospel, both conviction and grace.)

    I may quote the Pope when he spoke about prayer. “First you pray for the poor. Then you feed them. That’s how prayer works.”

    It feels a little disjointed, but I think it’s done enough for now. I’ll look it over again and tweak it in the morning before I print it.

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