Narrative Lectionary

Narrative Lectionary: Wiping Jesus’ Feet

Resisterhood.

Resisterhood

In a week where persisting is all the rage, it’s hard not to approach this text thinking of the United States Senator Elizabeth Warren being warned by Mitch McConnell not to read a letter about a controversial appointee, Jeff Sessions. It has become a rallying cry, “She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.”

You could say the same about this “certain immoral woman” with an alabaster jar of expensive perfume. She persisted as she knelt behind him at his feet, weeping. She persisted as her tears fell on his feet. She persisted as she wiped those tears off with her hair. She persisted as she kissed his feet and put perfume on them.

She persisted.

As an answer to the Pharisee’s complaint about the “immoral woman,” Jesus told a parable: a man loaned money to two people, to one a smallish amount, to the others ten times that amount. Neither could repay. Which one loved the man more?

And while it’s a great story of persistence, I wonder if that’s too easy. Yes, there’s a political undertone to this Sunday’s text (you can read it here and read the Working Preacher commentary here).

But Jesus’ politicizing is not like ours.

After telling the parable, Jesus goes on. He points out that the host has overlooked an important cleansing ritual, a sign of honor and hospitality. Then Jesus talks about the woman (yes, he talks about her with her standing there) and he calls her a “sinner.” But Jesus doesn’t stop there. He goes on to say that her sins were “many.”

Miroslav Volf, in his book Exclusion and Embrace, says core of Jesus’ message was two-fold: divine love and the need for repentance. In other words, Jesus taught us about God’s unconditional love and that we are sinners.

We don’t ever talk about the poor needing repentance, do we? We don’t talk about the marginalized being sinners, do we? If Jesus shared today’s liberal ideals, he would be saying that the marginalized need justice, that they need healing. Not that they (or we) need repentance, and not a “radical alteration of the course and direction of one’s life, its basic motivations, attitudes, and objectives” but, as Volf says, “repentance implies not merely a recognition that one has made a bad mistake, but that one has sinned.”

Mind you, though. The sins committed by the marginalized were not the sins that the religious people were pointing out to them, like breaking the purity laws. Nor were their sins in a vacuum. The marginalized “commit sin” and “sin is committed against them.”

Volf says this: “The truly revolutionary character of Jesus’ proclamation lies precisely in the connection between the hope he gives to the oppressed and the radical change he requires of them. Though some sins have been imputed to them, other sins of theirs were real; though they suffered at the sinful hand of others, they also committed sins of their own.”

Whew. I’ve been so busy seeing her marginalization, I haven’t noticed her sin. Let me rephrase that… I’ve been so busy seeing my own marginalization, I haven’t noticed my own sin. How shall I repent from that?

What about you? How will you be preaching this text?

Here are some other ideas:

  • The woman gave what she had. How do we give “what we have?” to Jesus?
  • The woman was shunned by the Pharisee. How do our churches shun sinful women now?
  • Jesus saw her sinfulness, but he also saw her goodness. How is that working in and through our political system now? Can we see the goodness of those we’re othering?
  • If we write about persistence, what shall we persist in?

And preaching women, one more thing, if I may. I have notice that I am very tired, and I’m aware that our political situation is going to last a long time… Have you scheduled some way to take care of you this week?


Rev. Lia Scholl is not-that-kind-of-Baptist preacher and pastor in Winston-Salem, North Carolina (U.S.) and is the author of I Heart Sex Workers (Chalice Press, 2013).


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.

 

 

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Narrative Lectionary Leanings “Tell Me Who You Are” Edition (Luke 7:18-35)

Who are you?  Who? Who? Who? WHO?

That is the question asked in this week’s passage (Luke 7:18-35) [Read it here]

To aid in your preparation the folks at Working Preacher provide a commentary and a podcast, and over at Text this Week you can find some other links

Sitting in prison, John the Baptist has apparently had some access to the news of the day. And so he has heard about Jesus, at least enough to make him curious. To assuage his curiosity he sends some of his disciples (and theoretically the source of his information) to ask Jesus who he is.

“Are you the one we are waiting for?” Remember, John has proclaimed that another is coming, one who is greater than John, one who will change the world. And judging from what we read in Chapter 3 John expects that the one who is to come will chop down trees and winnow the grain from the chaff. Now he want to know if Jesus is the one.

How would he not know? Is it just because he does not have first-hand knowledge? (Remembering that in Luke’s account of baptism we have no record of how John and Jesus interact, we don’t know what John’s impression was at that time) Or is there something deeper here. Is it that Jesus only sort of seems to be who John was expecting?

In my first year of seminary (24 years ago now) one of the assignments in Introduction to New Testament was to look at a variety of texts and determine if Jesus is the Messiah that was expected. The texts laid out a “job description” of sorts — and Jesus fails. Not only does Jesus fail to free his people from the Roman yoke and setup a new kingdom like that of David and Solomon, he doesn’t even seem to have that task on his to-do list. John seems to have expected active and vigorous cleansing, more repentance and sin stuff. Jesus doesn’t seem to be doing that either.

Are you the one I was waiting for?

It seems to me that Jesus does not directly answer the question. On the face it is a straight yes/no question. But Jesus says neither of those words. Instead he puts it back on the questioners “Tell John what you have seen”.

He tells them to witness to God at work. He challenges them, and John to whom they will (presumably) report, to see things differently. The answer to John’s question is going, in the end, to depend on John. Can John overcome his very specific expectation and his disappointment to see that Jesus IS the one, just in a different way?

Can we?

We too fall prey to expectations of how God is/will be at work in the world. Are there times we miss what God is doing because it is different from what we hoped for? Are we John, desperately hoping to see one thing, hearing about something wonderful, and wondering what to make of it?

Or are we the messengers? Are there people in our lives asking what God is doing, if Christ is present somewhere and the only answer we can give is to tell them what we see/hear/experience?

[I suspect we are both]

It is often true that we see Jesus, we see Christ, we see God more clearly when we are open to see something other than what we expect. Sometimes that is based on what we experience, sometimes it is based on what we hear from others. But rarely is it actually a straight-forward yes/no question.

 


Gord Waldie is an Ordained Minister in the United Church of Canada, currently in Northwestern Alberta. He shares his life with his partner and their four daughters and blogs (periodically) at Following Frodo or shares his “churchy-stuff” at Ministerial Mutterings


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.

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Narrative Lectionary: Beyond miracles

dscn6879It’s easy to see, in the stories presented in our texts this week, the miraculous nature of Jesus and not go any further. But I believe our text invites, indeed demands that we look beyond the miracles to see the message – a message of faith, a message of reconciliation, a message of restoration, a message of hope.

Already, Luke is beginning to present the notion of the gospel going beyond the Jewish nation to the rest of the world. The centurion, part of the occupying forces, is noted for his faith in the ability of Jesus to make a difference. The man raised to life is restored to his widowed mother and she, in turn finds a place in a culture that oppresses those of her status.

So, it’s not so much about the miraculous life giving transformations, as the justice of God enacted in every day life – for those in power and for the lowly.

It’s not so much about what Jesus does as about how he calls us to live – in faith, inclusively, caring for the least of these.

How will you relate these stories to the chaos in our world today? Where will you find faith, reconciliation, restoration and hope. What images will you hold up to encourage others to see beyond the story?

  • Pictures and stories of protest against corrupt administration
  • Signs and actions welcoming the marginalised and those discriminated against
  • Exhausted aid workers in their tireless compassion
  • Religions standing and working together through terrorism and loss

How will you preach, how will you live out faith that knows no bounds where you are this week? Please share, in the comments, your thoughts and reflections and the direction you are heading with the text this week.

Working Preacher commentary is here.

Liz Crumlish is a Church of Scotland Minister currently working on a National Renewal Project in Scotland.  A Board Member of RevGalBlogPals, instigator of Spill the Beans and contributor to There’s a Woman in the Pulpit, Liz blogs at journalling

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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.

 

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Narrative Lectionary Leaning–following the rules

Luke 6:1-16

As the Narrative Lectionary moves through Luke, we get the story of Jesus and his disciples getting in trouble for not marking the Sabbath as the Pharisees would have them do.  From picking grains of wheat to healing a man with a withered hand–they get it wrong.

We live in a world where people are disputing the norms that have been in place. Thinking of the news this past week: What constitutes a “fact” (or an “alternative fact”?) and how do we determine who is allowed to report the news? What constitutes “civility” in public discourse? We are equal measure Pharisee and disciple, depending on the issue.

abundance-315443_1280

Where are you seeing the text take you this week?

Ideas to share? Plans for Time with the Children? Good video resources?  We have our congregational meeting after worship this week, so I’m wondering if I should shake that up a bit too, or just go with what we’ve always done to make the Pharisee in my happy.

Please share your thoughts here. Blessings on all of the pondering in your heart to come in preparation for the relentless return of Sunday!

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Marci Auld Glass is the pastor of Southminster Presbyterian Church and lives with her husband and sons in Boise, Idaho. She is a graduate of Trinity University and Columbia Theological Seminary. She serves on the Clergy Advocacy Board of Planned Parenthood and the Mission Agency Board of the Presbyterian Church USA. Marci blogs at Glass Overflowing and is among the contributors to the RevGals book,There’s a Woman in the Pulpit (SkyLight Paths).

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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.

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Narrative Lectionary: Deep Water (Luke 5:1-11)

fish-and-feet-from-coventry-cathedral

Within a short time, Simon Peter has three experiences of Jesus’ power.  Just before this, Jesus has healed his mother-in-law from a fever.  Now he hears Jesus teach. Finally, Jesus sends him back out, after a night without catching any fish, to try again.  The huge haul of fish finally breaks Peter’s mind open about Jesus.  The healing was received with joy, no doubt.  The teaching may have been compelling, at least the parts he heard while he continued to mend his nets and worry about the night with the empty nets.  But now Jesus has Peter’s attention.

Read the scripture here.

Find the Working Preacher commentary here.

When Jesus presence allows them to catch way more fish than they think is possible, Simon Peter reacts with shame.  He urges Jesus to get away from him, “for I am a sinful man.” Peter knows that he is experiencing more than fish – he’s getting a glimpse of the divine, breaking into the ordinary world of fishing.   It evokes the later moment, after Peter has been with Jesus for a long time, when Jesus tells Peter to get behind him, because Peter’s understanding then is so limited.  In this early moment, Peter sees clearly who stands before him.

Peter breaks out of the routine of the fishing boat to acknowledge Jesus.  While everyone else is hauling in the catch, while the boat is still in danger of sinking, Peter lets go of the nets to fall on his knees in front of Jesus.  He is overwhelmed by what he sees – and he trusts Jesus enough to know that the boat isn’t going to sink.  In that moment, Jesus takes priority over fishing.  In that moment, Peter’s life changes.  Jesus gets Peter’s attention by beating him at his own game – by being a better fisherman than even Peter is.  With this display, Jesus proves to be worthy of Peter’s time, attention and finally his life.

Fishing in Jesus’ time was a highly regulated system, where licenses were purchased and had to be paid for.  A night of catching no fish is not just a disappointment, it’s an economic stress.  When Peter, James and John leave their nets to follow Jesus, they’re stepping out of a rigid, economically demanding system into a life of more freedom — and also more risk.  Jesus is offering them a change of vocation, and also a change of identity.  Family groups often fished together, and Jesus is pulling them out of that familiar, family-based life, into a new family group.  His telling them not to be afraid is a well-timed word  – they’re leaving the trade and relatives they know for something completely unknown.

Jesus doesn’t end this exploitative system, but he offers a different vision of it to Simon, James and John – and they have the courage to accept his offer of something different.  The large catch is more than a display – it also leaves the families left behind with an economic cushion.  Jesus is taking the men away from their work, and he leaves behind a practical gift, a way for the families to pay the bills that are due.

Stepping out of everything familiar into a whole new life is an act of tremendous daring.  Often in the gospels, the disciples look like clueless bumblers, but they show great spiritual and economic courage here.  May we have the same, as we follow Jesus into new ways of living.

Sermon possibilities:

  • Peter is unmoved by whatever Jesus is talking about in the boat, but he recognizes the divine spirit in Jesus when he sees the miracle of the huge catch of fish. In this action, Jesus speaks to Peter in Peter’s own language.  If we are fishers for people in our own time, how do we speak to people in ways they understand?
  • Jesus intervenes in a rigid economic system and draws people out of it. How might our work do the same?  How do we, as congregations, step into systems that exploit people, and work toward another way of doing business?   Attentive congregations serve free trade coffee, but what steps can we take beyond that?  Catholic Relief Services and Fair Trade USA have some starting suggestions.
  • Jesus moves from the shallow water to the deep water, and our spiritual lives often follow the same pattern. Where do you notice your congregation, or yourself, moving into deeper water with Jesus?
  • How do Peter, James and John find the courage to move out of their old lives into the new life that Jesus offers? How do they manage the fury of family left behind to do all the work, and the complaint that they’re abandoning their responsibilities?  How do we find the nerve to follow God’s call in unexpected ways?

Where are your thoughts taking you this week?  We would love to hear your thoughts, and to continue the conversation in the comments section below.

Rev. Mary Austin is the pastor of Westminster Church of Detroit, a diverse Presbyterian church.  Her greatest spiritual lessons come from being the parent of a teenager.  She blogs from time to time at Stained Glass in the City.  The image above is from the Vanderbilt Library of Art in the Christian Tradition and is from Coventry Cathedral.

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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.

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Narrative Lectionary: Complexities and Conflagrations

The Narrative Lectionary is not subtle, is it? Luke is very clear about Jesus’ mission:

God’s Spirit is on me;
    he’s chosen me to preach the Message of good news to the poor,
Sent me to announce pardon to prisoners and
    recovery of sight to the blind,
To set the burdened and battered free,
    to announce, “This is God’s year to act!”

This Sunday’s text can be found here. I really like The Message for this passage, too. And the Working Preacher commentary can be found here.

But what exactly does this mission mean on this, Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend, the weekend before the inauguration of a new President in these Not-Yet-United-States? What does it mean for our mission as preachers and ministers? What does it mean for our mission as churches here and around the world?

On April 4, 1967, nearly 50 years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. stood in the pulpit at The Riverside Church in New York City and said this:

Even when pressed by the demands of inner truth, men [and women] do not easily assume the task of opposing their government’s policy, especially in time of war. Nor does the human spirit move without great difficulty against all the apathy of conformist thought within one’s own bosom and in the surrounding world. Moreover, when the issues at hand seem as perplexing as they often do in the case of this dreadful conflict, we are always on the verge of being mesmerized by uncertainty; but we must move on.

We must never forget that Jesus was standing at that same place, with the same decision. He had to have been asking himself, “Do I assume the task of opposing my government’s policy? And even, “Do I assume the task of opposing the religious structure, too?” Sharon Ringe, in her excellent commentary of Luke reminds us that last weeks text opens with an introduction to the State (Emperor Tiberius, Pontius Pilate, Herod, Philip, and Lysanias) and Temple (Annas and Caiaphas) and that these two forces are the context of authority throughout Jesus’ ministry.

We are in the same place at this moment. I am unsure about you, but I find myself “on the verge of being mesmerized by uncertainty.” I’m stopped in my tracks because I am unsure how to move forward into a world where women’s health, LGBTQIA rights, healthcare for the poor, and immigrants rights are being challenged on a daily basis.

But somehow, “we must move on.”

We must move on, because Jesus’ mission is our own, preaching justice for all, pardon for prisoners of whatever the prisons, recovery of sight to the blind, whether physical or spiritual, and setting the burdened and the battered free.

Or, as MLK said it:

This I believe to be the privilege and the burden of all of us who deem ourselves bound by allegiances and loyalties which are broader and deeper than nationalism and which go beyond our nation’s self-defined goals and positions. We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for the victims of our nation and for those it calls “enemy,” for no document from human hands can make these humans any less our brothers [and sisters].

We may make people mad. We may stand to lose our livelihoods. We may even find ourselves at odds with a government who will hold us accountable. That’s what happened to Jesus, “That set everyone in the meeting place seething with anger. They threw him out, banishing him from the village, then took him to a mountain cliff at the edge of the village to throw him to his doom.”

But sisters, this Sunday, you too will be filled with the Spirit.

Twelve activists, artists, writers, thinkers, and troublemakers responded to queries about their 2017 political resolutions, and one, April Reign, a lawyer, editor, and creator of #OscarsSoWhite wrote her resolutions like this:

Follow your purpose.

Know your worth.

Step out on faith.

Let the Universe provide.

Get out of your own way.

Your purpose is clear. Your worth should be clear: you are a child of the God Most High and loved beyond measure. So step out on faith, and know that God will provide. And get out of your own way, because you, with God’s help, can and will make a difference in this world.

So what about you? Where will you go with the Gospel lesson this week?

  • The vision/mission of Jesus is a great way to examine our own New Year’s Resolutions. How does your resolution to “get organized” or “lose weight” measure up to this mission of Jesus?
  • It’s the same question for a congregation… Is our mission as a congregation matching up to Jesus’ mission? Also, leaders and preachers, it’s a great time to affirm the work of your congregation and opportunities to serve.
  • In the Southern United States, it’s snowing, and homeless populations are suffering. Can we talk about the call to reform our local services to meet the needs of the poor in our cities?
  • It’s also a great time to talk about “strangers in our midst.” Jesus makes it clear that his mission is to outsiders, foreigners, and to those suffering. Are we reaching out in that way?

And if I may be so bold, RevGals, one more question. What will you do, outside of your job, to be in line with Jesus’ mission for the world? Will you participate in government by making your concerns known? Will you march in Washington or in your local women’s march? Will you spend time hearing voices of artists, activists, POC and following their lead? Will you build a relationship somewhere that will be valuable to someone in need?


Rev. Lia Scholl is not-that-kind-of-Baptist preacher and pastor in Winston-Salem, North Carolina (U.S.) and is the author of I Heart Sex Workers (Chalice Press, 2013).


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.

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Narrative Lectionary: Prepare the Way Edition (Luke 3:1-22_

Brood of Vipers! Ax at the Root of the Trees! Don’t Take More than Your Due! Come and be baptized!

John is an interesting fellow.  And why was he so popular?

One of the blessings (at least in my opinion) of the Narrative Lectionary is that you do not have 2 Sundays dealing with John the Baptizer every year in Advent. But his story is a part of the faith story. and so we have to tell it and explore it at some time.  This week is that time. Earlier (in chapter 1) Luke has told us about the conception, birth, and naming of John. Now in this week’s reading (Luke 3:1-22) he tells us about the ministry of the now grown-up John.

You can read it here.

The Working Preacher provides a commentary here and a podcast discussion here.

Because the RCL breaks this passage over 3 Sundays, the Text This Week has 3 links of resources: 1-6, 7-18, and 15-22

What does one do with John?

Is John only preached as a precursor to Jesus? Or is John preached as a stand-alone? John’s message of condemnation and repentance seems so different from Jesus’ message of forgiveness — or so we are often told, I suggest Jesus has his own moments of condemnation and calls to repentance. Where is there good news in his preaching?

Maybe the clue is in the beginning of the passage: “He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, 4as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord,”.

How do we prepare for the coming of Christ? (which of course is why the RCL puts John in Advent). What changes do we need to make in our lives to be fully ready for God’s Kingdom to break into our reality?

I suspect many of us find John’s style a little bit off-putting. I also suspect there are days we wish we could get away with preaching this style–speaking truth to power, and to the less powerful. Because, if we are honest, part of what it means to prepare for the coming Promised One is to be open and honest about the fact that the world is NOT what we wish it was. And even closer to the bone, we are not what we know we could be. If we are preparing for the Kingdom to burst into our reality we need to know how we do and don’t live as Kingdom people.

Maybe this is what we really need to preach from this passage, to hold each other’s feet to the fire, to ask when we are a part of the brood of vipers. And then to remind each other that John is not the Promised One.

John himself names that another is coming, one who is greater than John. Over the next few months we will follow the other, the one for whom John sees himself preparing the way. This one will remind us that God has a path God wants us to follow. This one will remind us that we don’t always stay on that path. But this one will also remind us that God forgives, that God is Gracious. We read about John, we struggle with the challenges John lays before us, but we follow Jesus. Jesus who shows up at the end of this chapter, declared as God’s Beloved Son.

And in Jesus we move beyond John’s reminders of repentance to the reminder of forgiveness, the gracious gift that preceded, accompanies, and follows our acceptance of who we are — angel or viper.

 

 


Gord Waldie is an Ordained Minister in the United Church of Canada, currently in Northwestern Alberta. He shares his life with his partner and their four daughters and blogs (periodically) at Following Frodo or shares his “churchy-stuff” at Ministerial Mutterings


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.

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Narrative Lectionary: New Year’s Day

Who’s preaching New Year’s Day? Are you doing anything to mark the beginning of a new year?

The NL gives us Luke 2:21-38 and the lovely story of Simeon and Anna.

Simeon says this:
‘Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace,
according to your word;
for my eyes have seen your salvation,
   which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and for glory to your people Israel.’

Will you be using one of the musical arrangements of the “nunc dimittis” (now you dismiss) in worship? Any great arrangements you have to share with us?

simeon-anna

Church of St Mary, Llanfair Kilgeddin, Monmouthshire, Wales                                      photo by Martin Crampin

Luke does not record Anna’s words as he does Simeon’s (and all women say ‘big surprise’). What do you think she might have said?

Where is the Spirit leading you this week? Please share your ideas, your questions, your Time with the Children ideas, and anything else that might be helpful.

 

 

 

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Marci Auld Glass is the pastor of Southminster Presbyterian Church and lives with her husband and sons in Boise, Idaho. She is a graduate of Trinity University and Columbia Theological Seminary. She serves on the Clergy Advocacy Board of Planned Parenthood and the Mission Agency Board of the Presbyterian Church USA.

Marci blogs at Glass Overflowing and is among the contributors to the RevGals book,There’s a Woman in the Pulpit (SkyLight Paths).

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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.

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Narrative Lectionary: Born in the Night, Mary’s Child (Luke 2:1-20)

heqi_013-medium-jpg-nativity            The story of Jesus’ birth is so well known that even Saturday Night Live can parody it, assuming that their audience will know the story.  Twice-a-year church attenders, college students dragged to church while home on winter break, and our Jewish neighbors all know this story.  Is there anything left to say about it, or can we just skip straight to the Christmas carols?

Working Preacher commentary for Christmas Eve and Christmas.

Read the scripture here.

The mental images are deeply familiar – the weary couple who have traveled a long way, the baby, the angel shining with the glory of God, and the bewildered but faithful shepherds, each playing their part in God’s story.  We recreate the story in children’s pageants, carols and with crèche sets, and we know it almost by heart.

Rev. Ian Paul says that our mental picture is all wrong – he argues that we mis-translate the word kataluma in Luke 2.7. “Older versions translate this as ‘inn’…There is some reason for doing this; the word is used in the Greek Old Testament (the Septuagint, LXX) to translate a term for a public place of hospitality (eg in Ex 4.24 and 1 Samuel 9.22). And the etymology of the word is quite general. It comes from kataluo meaning to unloose or untie, that is, to unsaddle one’s horses and untie one’s pack. But some fairly decisive evidence in the opposite direction comes from its use elsewhere. It is the term for the private ‘upper’ room where Jesus and the disciples eat the ‘last supper’ (Mark 14.14 and Luke 22.11; Matthew does not mention the room). This is clearly a reception room in a private home.”  There’s no room for the couple in this place where guests are lodged, so they are moved upstairs to the family’s private quarters, Paul suggests.  He adds that it would be unlikely that the young couple would be left alone.  “It would be unthinkable that Joseph, returning to his place of ancestral origins, would not have been received by family members, even if they were not close relatives.”  We can shift our mental picture from Mary and Joseph, all alone, to imagining them with family around them.

The shepherds never fail to fascinate.  They experience something they have never seen before – an angel’s visit – and take it in so fully that they leave their work and head out of the fields to see the baby.  I always wonder if they left one shepherd behind to watch the sheep.  Did one person miss out on this life-changing experience?  Or was there one shepherd who thought everyone else was crazy, and was more than willing to stay behind?

Luke clearly has a deep concern for the lowly and impoverished, but I also wonder if people at the edge of life have more ability to take in God’s presence because they’re not distracted by so many other things.  If the angel had visited the chief rabbi, or the town elders, or the most prosperous merchants in town, I wonder if they would have been able to hear the same message.  Or would the pressing needs of faith or business have kept them from hearing?  Would they have needed to go and see the baby later, when everything else on their lists was done?

Luke does an interesting balancing act.  He connects Jesus to the family of King David, who evokes the glory days of Israel’s past.  He also connects him to the poor, the sorrowful and the outcasts, proclaiming that God’s good news is especially for them.  His birth calls us back to God’s concern for all who are in need, and awakens awe in our lives again.  The story is old, but amazement at God’s surprises is always new.  The characters and the action are familiar.  Waking up to the wonder of God’s determined presence in our world never grows old.

Sermon possibilities:

  • If Jesus is born into a family setting, surrounded by concerned people, does that change our understanding of his birth? Do we see him, or his parents, differently?
  • How did the shepherds find the courage to leave the fields and head into town to see something so unusual? The angel’s message is completely out of their frame of reference, unlike anything they have known before.  How do they manage to make sense of it, and act on it?  What combination of courage and ability to see something brand new is necessary for their faith – or ours?
  • If God spoke to us today, would we be able, or willing, to drop everything and go see what God was doing? Or are we too busy for revelation?  Or too weary, too disheartened, or too suspicious?
  • How is Christmas new for you, or your congregation, this year? What new thing is God doing where you are?  What are people hurrying to see?

Where are your thoughts taking you this week?  We’re eager to hear, and hope you’ll continue the conversation in the comments section.  Christmas blessings!

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Rev. Mary Austin is the pastor of Westminster Church of Detroit, a diverse Presbyterian church.  Her greatest spiritual lessons come from being the parent of a teenager.  She blogs from time to time at Stained Glass in the City.  The image above is The Nativity by Dr. He Qi, from the Vanderbilt Library of Art in the Christian Tradition.

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Categories: Narrative Lectionary, RevGalBlogPals | Tags: , , , , | 9 Comments

Narrative Lectionary: Elizabeth’s Rebellion

Visitation-IconIt may be that I’m nearing 50 and this will be my first married Christmas, but I find myself thinking about Elizabeth.

Elizabeth and her priest husband, Zechariah, were righteous before God, but barren and older. Luke 1 tells us that Zechariah is chosen by lot to enter the sanctuary, and Gabriel the angel shows up. The angel says, “Do not be afraid. Your wife will bear a special child.” Zechariah doubts, and asks the angel, “How will I know this is so?” So Gabriel mutes Zechariah, Elizabeth gets pregnant, and soon after that, Mary comes to visit.

It’s an old familiar story—it’s the story of Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, Samson’s mother (unnamed), and the Shunnanite women of Elisha’s time. These were women  unable to conceive, but with God’s intervention, they do. Elizabeth joins ranks in a special group of Jewish women.

But the becoming pregnant part of her story is not the part that fascinates me. Instead, it’s the story of the friendship of Elizabeth and Mary. This Sunday’s text is Luke 1:26-49. The Working Preacher Commentary is here.

There are three questions I want to pursue:

  1. Why did Mary run to Elizabeth?
  2. Why did Elizabeth welcome Mary?
  3. How did their bond help Mary?

I think Mary came to Elizabeth hoping to find a port in a storm. Mary’s pregnancy would be visible just around 3 months, and she’s unmarried (although betrothed, which may have been a good sign for the marriage if only she and Joseph had consummated the betrothal), estranged from both Joseph and her family, and poor.

I wonder if she wasn’t going to Elizabeth to hide.

But why would Elizabeth welcome Mary? The text tells us that Elizabeth was “righteous before God, living blamelessly according to all the commandments and regulations of the Lord” (Luke 1:6). She had full right to shun Mary, the unmarried pregnant girl. But she doesn’t. She’s good.  And perhaps wise. Wise to the idea that what ordinarily seemed like such a big deal, really isn’t that big a deal at all. Wise to the idea that controversy passes, people get over things, and life goes on. And then finally, I wonder if Elizabeth is just plain generous. She gives out of her heart, expecting nothing in return, and is able to be present to Mary out of that generosity.

There’s a certain amount of rebellion in that kind of woman. It’s a rebellion that goes against the grain, doesn’t worry too much about selfish outcomes, and just basically doesn’t give a damn about social conventions. It’s a rebellion that is kind and just.

This is the kind of rebellion we need right now, the rebellion of older women. It’s not a rebellion of pantsuit ladies so much as a rebellion of comfortable shoe women. It’s a rebellion that says, “I’m going to do the right thing, no matter the consequences to my safety, my income, my position.” It’s a rebellion that greets its neighbor with a hug, not a gun. It’s a rebellion that fills up the downtrodden with a nice bowl of soup or a casserole, and helps younger people birth new hope into the world. It’s a rebellion that doesn’t need credit, and is able to hold on to just a little bit of hope that things will get better.

What did it do for Mary? It was at once the gift of excitement (among family members who were not at all excited by her pregnancy), the gift of sustenance, and the gift of calm. Remember that Mary had gone “in haste” to Elizabeth. But she slows down and stays for three months. It was also the gift of hope. After Elizabeth’s greeting, Mary finds her voice to praise God in the midst of her hardship.

In these troubling times, I’m going to try to be like Elizabeth. Wise, warm, and welcoming. Hopeful, helpful, and humble. And supporting the birth of a new thing in our world, God breaking in to create a kin-dom of justice, of peace, and of love.

What about you? Where will your work and sermon lead you this week? Here are some ideas:

  • Think about Elizabeth as sanctuary. Where is your sanctuary now? How can she embody sanctuary to you and your congregation?
  • In this Advent is the season of expectation, how do we seek the light that is going to break into the world on Christmas morning, in the shape of a little tiny, brown baby, born into poverty, to a people without political power, to a mother who is unmarried, a father who is absent throughout his life, during a time when the king is a despot with a deep, abiding paranoia?
  • Mary is giving birth to salvation for the poor while our nations seem to be giving birth to anger, hatred, distrust, and injustice. Mary needed a midwife. How can we be the midwife for change in our world?
  • If Jesus really is the reason for the season, how can we, in this final week before Christmas, invite him into our celebrations?

I want to close with one other question to our RevGals. Where will you find your respite this week? Who is your Elizabeth, a woman to walk with you as you become the midwife of Jesus’ birth into the world? And how will you receive the hospitality of your Elizabeth in the coming weeks?


Rev. Lia Scholl is not-that-kind-of-Baptist preacher and pastor in Winston-Salem, North Carolina (U.S.) and is the author of I Heart Sex Workers (Chalice Press, 2013).


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.

Categories: Narrative Lectionary | Tags: , , , , , | 6 Comments

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