“Reforming Towards Love”
The last Sunday in October is often marked in Lutheran, Presbyterian, and other Reformed Churches as Reformation Sunday. It’s the closest Sunday to that historic date of October 31st in 1517 when a German professor of theology named Martin Luther challenged the status quo of current Christian theology by nailing his 95 theses to the door of Wittenberg’s Castle Church, thus beginning the 16th Century Reformation of the Church.
In some contexts, Reformation Sunday is celebrated like a victory in which right thinking triumphed over wrong, and the church moved in new, more enlightened, directions. Of course, we must remember that while the 16th century movement brought needed change to our understanding of God’s grace and led to new opportunities for all Christians to read the Bible themselves and to interpret it together in community, it also led to brokenness and division in the church.
Change is difficult, and the church at that time was not successful in reforming together. The conflict over theology and church practice led not only to arguments, but to bloodshed. And the divisions made at that time still keep us separated today, even if most of the divisive issues have now been resolved.
For … Read more »
1 Thessalonians 1:1-10
“Everything to God!”
In a season of elections and political debates, today’s Gospel story seems very fitting. Jesus is approached by two opposing groups who scheme together to try to trick him into saying something that he shouldn’t.
Commentators note that the Pharisees and the Herodians are a strange pairing because they would have been on opposite sides of the political spectrum and, in particular, the tax question. The Herodians were supporters of Herod Antipas (King Herod’s son) and Rome’s puppet ruler and collaborator with the empire. The Pharisees were against the Roman occupation, so they had little in common with Herodians – except their mutual opposition to Jesus and the trouble he was stirring up among the people.
The Pharisees and Herodians first soak Jesus in flattery, and then ask him a trick question: “Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” If Jesus says, “Do not pay taxes to the emperor,” the Romans will get him for treason. If he says, “Yes, we should pay taxes to the emperor,” his own followers in that occupied country will call him a traitor.
It makes me think of other questions asked of our political hopefuls in the course … Read more »
“First things first: Seeking God’s Priorities”
When you are learning how to preach, one of the things you learn about is the most common error in preaching – and that is to try to preach more than one sermon at a time. Both the blessing of the Scriptures and the problem for preachers is that any given biblical text can lead us in dozens of different directions.
We read and study the text, we consider what other commentators and preachers have said about it, we take it to Bible study and listen to the ideas of others in our own churches, and then… at some point before Sunday arrives we must choose which sermon we are going to preach.
You don’t want to hear 2 or 3 sermons with multiple ideas mixed up together. If a sermon is going to do its job, it needs to have focus and clarity that will be accessible and helpful for its listeners. Unfortunately, it’s sometimes a difficult choice to make to leave a precious thought or idea unsaid, to leave it for another sermon sometime in the future.
One commentator I read this week pointed out that the preacher must choose which of the lectionary readings … Read more »
“Dressed and Ready for the Feast”
Join with me if you remember this song based on Luke’s version of the Parable of the Great Banquet: I cannot come. I cannot come to the banquet, don’t trouble me now. I have married a wife, I have bought me a cow. I have fields and commitments that cost a pretty sum. Pray, hold me excused, I cannot come.
It’s a catchy little Sunday School song that captures the joyful spirit of Jesus’ parable as it is recounted by the author of Luke’s Gospel. Sure, some of the people who are invited to the Great Banquet send excuses and they miss out on the party. But when some of the expected guests send their regrets, the host sends out invitations far and wide. He sends his servants out into the streets – to the highways and the byways and compel them to come in. My table must be filled before the banquet can begin.
When we read the parable or sing the song we are reminded of God’s wide and gracious welcome to all people. There are no pre-requisites for getting an invitation, and the meal is free. And as we celebrate the good … Read more »