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Sometimes the lectionary texts present more challenge than I feel ready to accept. This is one of those weeks. Here in Minnesota we are digging out from the largest snowfall in years. For today that means people are taking things a bit slower and the world is covered in the cleanliness of new-fallen snow. And none of this brings any wisdom to some complex texts.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to touch the Deuteronomy text. There will come a new prophet in Israel; that’s the good news. But it’s followed by some pretty harsh news as well. Anyone who doesn’t heed the words of the new prophet will face the wrath of God. So, too, anyone who speaks in the name of another God or speaks words God did not supply, they will die. There’s lots of metaphoric meaning here, but I am not willing to navigate the treacherous waters of interpretation to get there. Are you?

The Corinthians text provides a little more fodder. In its own way, though, it is just as complicated. We don’t sacrifice to idols anymore. We aren’t really concerned with food in quite the same way they were in the very early days of church. What could we replace food sacrificed to idols with? What do we do that causes others to stumble? Should we change the way we do kinship after worship so that those with diabetes and other food concerns won’t be tempted to eat something they ought not? Or should we be looking beyond food to other things that confuse us along the spiritual journey? What are we tempted to worship? What has power over us? Do we speak openly enough about the gods that tempt us and cause us to stumble?

The Gospel text might not be much help, either. Jesus encounters a man with “an unclean spirit” who seems to recognize Jesus right away. Jesus calls the spirit out and everyone is amazed at the “new teaching.” We need to be careful with this text. We don’t really know what happened. Was it a physical illness? Was it a mental illness? It wasn’t likely demonic possession. But what does it mean these days that Jesus has power over such things? Maybe we should look at the bigger picture for all of these texts…

Do we find life in responding to the Word of God or are we led to spirit-deadening places by the voices of the world?

Do we find life in walking with our friends, neighbors, and siblings as we build up the body of Christ, or are we consumed by self-focused cravings that ignore the needs of others?

Do we find life as we trust in Christ’s loving presence, or do we crouch in fear forgetting that God has power over the evils that plague us?

Where will you go with these troublesome texts this week? Where are you finding hope and encouragement in these trying times? How will you speak to the needs of those who will gather with you for worship? Please share your thoughts and struggles so that we may all journey together as we seek the Wisdom of the Spirit.


Rev. Dr. Rachael Keefe is an author and the pastor of Living Table United Church of Christ in Minneapolis, MN. You can find links to her blog, video series, and books at Beachtheology.com.


Photo: CC0 image by bpcraddock


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21 thoughts on “Revised Common Lectionary: The Do or Die Edition

  1. In the Deuteronomy text the line that keeps jumping out at me is this “I’ll raise up a prophet for them from among their fellow Israelites- one just like you” verse 18. One raised up out of the common people, perhaps someone like you or me, someone we might recognize but not see as holy. Then the gospel again has a holy person, Jesus, recognized as powerful, able to do God’s work. Who might already be raised that we miss?

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  2. Hi sisters. Well I agree about Deuteronomy because there are enough scary places in the world right now. ( maybe we need a prophet). Anyway think I’m on a gospel path.
    One of the real traps in the miracle stories is if you pray and a miracle doesn’t happen…then is it your faithfulness that is not good enough. This question I think needs to be addressed. Or how do we look at miracles. Times of the past?
    I believe miracles happen… do you

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    1. That is the trap. What does it mean when we “don’t get the miracle we pray for”? Of course, there was no praying here; Jesus just did the Jesus thing so that the power of God would be made clear to those in doubt. How does this happen today?

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  3. I started the week with Mark – the only problem is that I’ve got about 5 sermons emerging from my notes, and I can’t seem to focus on any of them or find a way in to any of them…

    Maybe I’ll start over from scratch with Corinthians, especially that bit at the beginning about how “knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.”

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  4. Mark here as well. Is the Greek translation of authority better or does power capture the essence of the text better? I’ve read commentaries on both and they both make sense. Are they one and the same? It seems you can have authority but now power and it is possible to have power and no authority. Is that secondary to how the man’s life was changed? Do we focus on the authority and forget we are dealing with real lives and real people?

    I’ve got a long way to go until Sunday and we are hosting our presbytery meeting Thursday evening/Friday/Saturday. It is one that has had extra expectations placed upon it.

    Oh, and what the blue blazes am I going to do for the time with kids?

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  5. Elaine, you name so many of the struggles with this passage. I prefer power to authority, but with the Greek, those words can’t really be separated… like authoritative power… It’s hard and no one wants to hear about such things these days, let alone what it has to do with church. At least that’s how I’m feeling…

    As for the kids time, I’m thinking of pulling out an old one about being stronger together. A piece of cardboard with a small pile of sand on it. Tell the kids we need to clean it up and hand them all a piece of straw and ask them to clean it up. When that doesn’t work, take out a small broom (straw all bound together) and point out how much easier the job is when we work together. I don’t have kids over the age of five, or I might mention it is the Spirit that binds us together to accomplish difficult or miraculous things…

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  6. Yes there is a distinction between power and authority sometimes; other times they are hand in hand. And then there is God. Is God’s authority anywhere in the political turmoil and global tensions we are experiencing today? I am sure that our congregation is politically divided 50/50. How is God’s authority present in that? How do we talk about God’s authority in our lives without claiming to be “God’s chosen/God’s favorites”? How is God’s authority present in vast disparity of wealth, ethnicity, and religious beliefs? How do we hold those tensions in faith? I am reading the book “Because Each Life is Precious” by Mohammed Odeh Al-Rehaief, the Iraqi attorney who helped with the rescue of Jessica Lynch in 2003, and how he processed his ethical dilemma of working with the US at the time. Way out of my typical style of preaching, which is soft and comfy!

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    1. Very, very well said. I think that is why, any time the topic of “authority” comes up, we risk feeding into this kind of thinking about God: that God “makes” these things happen. Jesus shows us that divine authority resides in each one of us. A lot of “life” gets in the way of God’s hope for us. And yet, in faith, we continue to stand into those things we hold as true. I read the book “Because Each Life is Precious” by Mohammed Odeh Al-Rehaief, a Shiite Muslim, just to step out of my familiar faith patterns as I wrestled with this. There were things about his ethical decision-making that are common to all of us: he became aware of his conscience: his sense of right and wrong. He realized that many of us are motivated out of selfishness or desire for power, instead of what is right or wrong. He held a strong moral compass when it came to family and neighbors, and gender equality. Also, he recognized the importance of honesty, and basic respect for others. He was consistent in his dissatisfaction with the human abuses happening around him. In that dissatisfaction, he sought the truth. And out of that moral consciousness, he finally took some risks (big risks!) to help others. He found the courage he needed to oppose the atrocities that were happening. We all have that moral compass. We all have the grace we need to stand into those wrongs that we see happening in our world. And we have the life of Jesus to show us how to live. (This is all written very fast, without thought behind it! But it tells me something about God’s authority in my life. God’s authority in each and all of us. I will be processing this more deeply today.)

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      1. Susan, if your sermon comes out anything like this quick thoughts, you’ll be fine! Thanks for sharing your thoughts-in-process. It’s a hard topic and what I call our “social default setting” works against the truth of who we are and how God works in the world.

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    2. So true! I’ve been seeing this a lot in my older congregation as a lot of people are getting sick or falling. I am torn between wanting to open their eyes with these same ideas you mention and worrying about shaking their core faith at a time when they are already struggling in life.

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      1. Yes I serve an elderly congregation, also; I am usually pretty soft with my sermons. But I think people, in their elderly years, wonder if they did enough. Spoke up enough. Passed on their faith to the next generations, along with their convictions. I think the direction I will take on this is to ask them about those things or situations or beliefs, over the span of their lives, that always compelled them to speak up. One or two things that they were passionate about, and when they saw a wrong being committed, they were not silent. Where did that spark of passion or rage come from? It may be rooted in a desire for power, or greed, or self-righteousness. But then there are those things or situations that are simply wrong, and we cannot keep our silence. And it’s those moments when we are the voice and hands and feet of Christ in the world. Jesus was not silent in the synagogue that day. We, too, have had times when we did not keep silent, but spoke up on behalf of something we believed in. In those moments, whether in our home or neighborhood or city or nation or world, God’s authority is present.

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    3. Thank you Rachael, awesome job! You’ve helped me to think about this text a bit fuller. I’m thinking of the power and authority of Jesus as juxtaposed with the supposed power and authority of the religious authority… and the different meanings. Much of the thinking that was preached for so long instilled this idea that good and bad life experiences are the results of good and bad human behavior. This was a power over dynamic that as opposed to Jesus… power with…

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  7. I am thinking that I am going to pull in last week’s Gospel text (which I didn’t preach but was preached on “call”) and read it along with this week’s and talk about interruptions. God interrupting lives to call the disciples, the man with the unclean spirt and his life interrupted first by the spirit then by Jesus. How do we respond when God interrupts our lives … do we notice, how do we respond.

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