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.)
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