How does one read aloud,
“The LORD tested him” (Psalm 105:19),
to those who are struggling?

How does one repeat Jesus’ words,
“Why do you doubt?” (Matthew 14:31),
to those who are drowning every day?

How does one affirm,
“No one who believes will be put to shame” (Romans 10:11),
to those who have been shamed by bullying, rape, depression, and more?

How does one preach,
“Reuben delivered Joseph from death” (Genesis 37:21),
to allies who rally against fatal hate crimes but are silent
in the face of systemic oppressions & microaggressions
(i.e. “Don’t kill Joseph but I don’t mind if you sell him”)
… or to those who have been bruised & burned by such allies?

Sometimes I love a familiar & dramatic bible story or a beloved passage of poetic scripture. Then again, sometimes I find that familiar texts are too easily turned into spiritual platitudes and this coming Sunday’s Revised Common Lectionary readings are ripe for such theological veneer:

> Psalm 105 platitudenizes (yes, I’m making up that word) Genesis 37 for us, declaring that it was God’s will for Joseph to be enslaved so that Joseph could rise to power in Egypt before the famine arrived.

> Psalm 85 puts a handy spin on 1 Kings 19, if you choose to pair them, as God’s promise to achieve salvation & glory in Psalm 85 serves as a cheery rationale for God’s violence via the swords of Hazael, Jehu, and Elisha in 1 Kings 19.

> And Romans 10’s optimism that “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved” happily overlooks the scolding that Peter received from Jesus in Matthew 14 after doing exactly that — calling on Jesus.

Which leads me back to the aim of my original questions: How do you steer your sermon away from easy answers and theological platitudes when you preach from scriptures that lend themselves (if only by virtue of familiarity) to easy answers and theological platitudes? These are complex & troubling times, and our messages of Good News cannot be simplistic if they are to burn brightly against the shadows with which the world struggles.

How does God speak peace through a story of brothers betraying one of their own?

How does faith grow when the mountains tremble and threaten?

How does Christ save us even while we doubt?

As you reflect on these texts and work toward this coming Sunday’s sermon, dear preachers, a blessing on you and on the words you will prepare: “How beautiful is the proclaimed Word that signals hope: hope in the midst of loneliness, hope for the impossible overturning of oppression and hunger and poverty, hope that this is not it — that this is not all — and hope that death is not the final word. How sweet it is to our souls that the Word of hope comes to the smallest, the weakest, the oldest, the poorest, the lost, and the overlooked as an unexpected refrain.” (You can read the full blessing on my blog.)


Rachel G. Hackenberg is a United Church of Christ minister, soccer mom, blogger, and author. Her book Sacred Pause plays with words to refresh our relationship with The Word.


RevGalBlogPals encourages you to share our blog posts via email or social media. We do not grant permission to cut-and-paste prayers and articles without a link back. For permission to use material in paper publications, please email revgalblogpals at gmail dot com.

7 thoughts on “Revised Common Lectionary: Little Faith

  1. I’m supplying at my “home” church this week, a church that has only rarely stepped out in faith to do things that could actually help them revitalize and flourish (calling me to serve there 16 years ago as CE director and then essentially as the associate was the largest step in memory, but they haven’t even taken many small steps in the last 4-5 years). It would be so easy to speak only of Peter and what the great folks at Preaching This Week call the “keep your eyes on Jesus” messaging. But this church feels more like Elijah, exhausted and scared of impending death (though unlike Elijah, they haven’t fully grasped their mortality yet), so I’m wrestling with the need to address reality gently while encouraging faith that trusts the presence of Christ. Right now, “Take heart” and “do not be afraid” are at the center of my reflections.

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  2. I’m using the gospel lesson for this week. What strikes me as I read it today is how it is an application of the idea from the parable two weeks ago of mustard-seed-sized faith. Peter only has enough to cry out, “Help me, Jesus” and Jesus immediately reaches out his hand and pulls him up out of the water. Preaching to a congregation that has been doing pretty good at taking risks, and I want to encourage them not to see “buyer’s remorse” or doubts as failure, but as a normal part of the process of stepping out. I’m a long way from actually getting all this in sermon form, but this part seems clear for today.

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  3. I’m not sure where I will land as I preach this week. I’m leaning toward the Gospel right now, but it’s only Tuesday. A couple of times in the past, I have quoted a portion of a longer poem that tells this story from the perspective of the other disciples in the boat. Even though I’m in a new place (where they haven’t heard it before), I don’t know if I will use it this time. But I’ll share it here, in case it sparks some inspiration for someone else.

    In a book called Elements of Hope, James Carroll imagines a conversation like this:

    “Isn’t that him
    walking on the water?”

    Oh, Peter, please, no more
    of your foolishness.
    What we need in times
    like these of crisis
    are restraint and common sense.

    “No, no. Just look! There!
    Don’t you see the figure there
    where the waves crest.
    I’d swear it’s him.”

    Peter, stop and think.
    Water will support no one.
    Men sink. Besides
    He is gone. We must live
    without visions. Without him.

    “But I tell you
    it is him!
    He is beckoning!”

    Peter, we worry about
    you. You are not yourself.
    You were a practical man.
    We hate to say it, but
    you may need professional help.

    “Stand back!
    I’m going over.”

    We cannot permit it.
    You will drown.
    You are not responsible.

    “Let go of me!
    It’s him. He’s calling me!”

    Peter, we hate to
    use force. Quit struggling.
    The water will not hold you.
    It would not hold him
    even if he were here.
    But he is gone!
    He would want you
    to be sensible.
    Think, Peter, think!

    “Give me my cloak!”

    That’s more foolishness of yours.
    No one puts on a cloak
    before jumping in the water.

    “Give it to me!
    He is waiting!”

    Well, can you swim?
    Oh, dear. He’s gone.
    Swim, Peter, swim!
    Do you see that?
    Do you see that?
    Why, good old Peter
    is walking on the water!
    And look, do you see?
    What do you think of that?

    Blessings to all of you this week as you work to find authentic good news in these texts.

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  4. Wednesday evening and not sure where i am headed this week. Thinking of including the 1 Kings reading and the Matthew reading. i was thinking of ways we hear and respond to God. someone told me yesterday that the Romans were trying to take control of the fishing industry, and Jesus walking on water was a political statement about who is in charge of the waves, but i ma not sure that will preach where i am.
    this quote stood out for me: Elijah was not alone; he was part of a community. Peter didn’t need to step out alone; he was part of a community. We thank God for the I-Thou relationship. Let’s also thank God that we are part of an I-Thou-We community.

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  5. I’m feeling frustrated this week and that is probably at the root of my reflections. I want things to be different than they are. I want people to stop being afraid and step out into the storms as much as I want to curl up with my favorite book and let the world disappear for a while. I don’t know if my thoughts will be helpful to anyone preaching, but here they are nonetheless: https://rachaelkeefe.wordpress.com/2017/08/09/weather-forecast/

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    1. thanks Rachael, i also would like people to stop being afraid and getting on with it, but i also just want to go and sit by the beach for a few days, or weeks…..

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  6. I was inspired by the Working Preacher commentary this week to choose the Romans passage and write about “who’s in and who’s out” and believing with our lips vs heart. It seemed particularly appropriate as my husband and I are welcoming our foreign exchange student this week who comes from a Buddhist tradition. Now I’m wondering if it will turn into a platitude. I will try and be more conscious of it now.

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