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Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Tuesday Lectionary Leanings: Show me the Love Edition

Genesis 18:1-15 (21:1-7)
Psalm 116:1-2, 12-19
Romans 5:1-8
Matthew 9:35-10:8 (9-23)

Where’s the love?

One of the things that I hear from time to time (and used to think myself) was that the God of the Hebrew Bible was one of fire and judgment, while the New Testament God was the one shared the love.

Not this Sunday. This Sunday the passage from Genesis is all about Abraham’s hospitality and God’s blessing upon and old, childless couple (well, Abraham wasn’t childless, but that’s a story for another time).

Then in Matthew, Jesus is giving the Apostles their marching orders- orders that include shaking the dust off of their sandals if people don’t listen to them and the reality that faith sometimes leads to death or separation within families. (Hmmm. Is family ever an idol?)

For Sunday, one approach might be talking about this false dichotomy of Hebrew Bible, New Testament.

On the other hand, sometimes I grow weary of talking about texts instead of talking from within them, and for this Sunday I think I’d have to choose one text rather than trying to weave the lectionary together (that’s something that applies just about every Sunday…).

What do Jesus’ marching orders mean? Most of the time I’ve heard the “dust off of your sandals” line as a way to justify a preacher leaving a congregation. But is that what Jesus is talking about?

How do we measure up to this passage, and how can we turn it into opportunity instead of scolding/shoulding?

What happens when we realize that we don’t measure up?

One of my favorite blog posts of all time is on this topic:

You Ain’t Jesus, Preacher
Part Two: Losing The Language of Love

This is the story of how ministers find out they're not Jesus. This is the story of hitting bottom.
You start figuring out you’re not Jesus when you begin to unravel and lose the details. And if you’ve fallen into the trap of thinking you’re Jesus, there are a lot of details to keep straight.

One day your act starts to fray around the edges.

There's the family whose son is in jail. Did you send that letter to the chaplain? Clay seems depressed again. When was the last time you had lunch with him? Remember that little girl who told you she wished you were her daddy? Weren't you going to do some serious thinking about how to respond to her?

Did you pick up that book for Susan's husband, like you said you would? He doesn't feel at home at church. A little gesture like that could mean a lot. Hey, remember Bob and Linda? Jim's children? They haven't been to church in quite a while. They were moving to Hondo, right? Or did Jim say they weren't moving after all? Holy Sh**, you forgot to call Kay. Her grandmother is sick, and her mother just died. How could you not call her?

Is that wedding THIS week? What's the groom's last name again? Did you visit Joan in the hospital? She was there for three days. Wasn't there a little girl who wanted to talk to you? Weren’t you going to have lunch with…um…that one guy?

The voices in your head come together as one pounding headache of an entity and boldly name themselves Legion. The details are knotted into a dirty crowd, like starving kids on TV. There are so many of them, each precious, and you aren’t keeping up.

You CAN'T keep up, but you MUST keep up, because how can you NOT keep up?

You swear to God that you'll try harder, but God doesn't want that oath. God wants you to find a quiet place, sit down, and remember who you are.

But you want to try harder, because down inside you think you’re supposed to be like Jesus. So God stands aside and lets you have your way. The details rush into the void like giggling demons, and everything starts to fall apart.

Calendars blur before your eyes and become your greatest enemy. You know you wrote something down in a Monday square, but later it’s in a Friday square. You would swear on a stack of bibles that there is another week this month, but there isn’t. All the weeks are gone, preacher. Time’s up, and you’re on. Weddings and speaking engagements skate furiously out of the distant future, pulling up short on the tomorrow square, spraying ice in your eyes.

Even your beloved words begin to fail you.

The blessing you have quoted every Sunday for eight years disappears from your mind without a trace, leaving you speechless before the congregation.

The people at church think your absent mindedness is kind of cute. Maybe they think that’s what comes with a creative personality. You hope they think that. You wonder if something might be wrong with your brain.

You develop a little tick. You start needing to squeeze your eyes shut tightly and jerk your head to the side. It occurs to you that it must look like you're saying, "NO!". You consider seeing a doctor, but that's another detail you leave hanging.

Then one Sunday a woman raises her hand in church to share a prayer request. You know this woman. You were there the night her baby was born dying. You held his premature body and watched his final heartbeats through the waxy skin of his tiny chest. YOU KNOW THIS WOMAN. You know her husband and their boy, but her name is gone from your mind. Her name is nowhere. The pause gets too long so you just point at her, and she knows you forgot her name. You can see it in her eyes; you can see it hurt her. She’s the saddest person in the world, and you hurt her.

Grief seizes your chest, and all your energy drains into your shoes. You want to stop in the middle of the service, take a seat in the pew and say, "Someone take over. I can't preach or pray or talk. Someone put your arms around me because I can't do anything."

But you don’t do that. You don’t want to let everyone down, so you dig deep and find energy in a secret place. The price of this energy is putting the woman out of your mind. It’s a terrible price to pay. It's a quick fix, but in the long run you lose your soul.

This is what you’ve come to. Putting people out of your mind so you can finish the sermon. Is this what you call love, preacher?

You see, when you start forgetting blessings and names, you’ve lost the language of love. You can forget a lot of things, but you cannot forget a woman’s name and claim to love her. You cannot.

You tried to build a tower to the heavens, so God took away your words. It had to be this way. This was the only way you would learn.

Now you understand. You're not Jesus after all. You're a man who is good with words and who feels things very deeply. You’re a dreamer and a silly person, like all the other silly people at church. You cannot love everyone, and you cannot be all things to all people.

Welcome to the human race, preacher. Now you're ready to begin.

You will love some people deeply. Others will receive lesser kinds of love. Some will get a handshake and a kind word. Their journeys are their own, and they may have to get what they need from someone else.

Love the ones you can. Touch the ones you can reach. Let the others go. If you run out of gas, sit down in the pew and point to God. That might be the greatest sermon you ever preach.

You can't love anyone until you understand that you can't love everyone.

You can't be a real live preacher until you understand that you're only a real live person.

So. What's going on in the sermon part of your world?


  1. I love this Genesis reading - I posted this
    But I also love the gospel for this week. Have you ever read it from The Message? I love the notion of Jesus going around the towns and villages "spreading the kingdom news and then sending out the twelve "harvest hands", asking them to "kick out the evil spirits and tenderly care for the hurt and bruised lives"
    This week, I'm thinking of using this version like a Lectio Divina and simply letting the text speak to where folk are at.
    I hope I'm still brave enough to do it come Sunday!

  2. I am on with Genesis this week. I haven't decided whether to take the radical hospitality route (that was no simple act--he slaughtered, butchered, and cooked an animal, Sarah made bread, etc--this was a big deal!) or the partners-of-covenant route (Abraham alone can't be God's only covenant partner--Abraham needs a partner too. If that wasn't the case then Ishmael would have been just fine as covenant fulfillment, but instead Sarah has to be a part of this as something about community). choices choices!

  3. I'm focusing on Abraham, on the parts of the journey before Sunday's reading as well as the reading itself. Talking about journey and how the path isn't always as straight as we think a path laid out by God ought to be. Just when we think we're settled, God puts a curve in the road, maybe even a u-turn or hairpin curve. I think that might work with the disciples' journey, too. Haven't gotten to dusting off the sandals, tho. More thinking/studying/praying to come. Also more VBS, a wedding on the weekend, a parishioner in the hospital and a trip to the diocesan office.
    I like busy weeks better than empty ones. :-)

  4. Generally I dislike Paul. Strongly.

    But this week I was caught by the verses in the middle of the Romans reading. SO instead of talking about redemption and justification (which is the point of the passage as a whole it seems) I am exploring what it means to produce character.

    SOme of my early thoughts (which will remain quite undeveloped since I am at a Presbytery Exec meeting from this afternoon until Thursday) can be found here

  5. Listing, thank you for the intro to the texts and for that blog post/link....a lot to ponder...I have never thought of myself as "Jesus" but I have done all those things and felt like a failed pastor....sigh...

    anyway. I will be back later to ponder the scripture and begin my thoughts on the sermon for Sunday...I do like liz's idea of a lectio....

  6. I'm very torn this week. Three years ago I went with Matthew. The title was "As You Go" and was focused on vv. 7-8, with the idea of the proclamation of good news being something we do "as we go," i.e., as a basic part of our regular daily living.

    Six years ago I did Romans and focused on "the grace in which we stand." I LOVE that image, but don't remember much of what I did with it. (I do remember referencing that old Palmolive commercial with Madge the manicurist talking about Palmolive and then saying "you're soaking in it now!").

    As I prepared the worship outline yesterday I had decided to go with Genesis and focus on the last part - Sarah's laughter at a too wonderful thing. I love the playful ending: "I did not laugh." "Oh yes, you did laugh." But I'm not sure what to do with it, and today I'm just not feeling it. (working title: Too Wonderful Things)

    Am tempted by the Psalm actually, and the question that I think is so foundational to the life of faith: "What shall I return to the Lord for all his bounty to me?" Am not sure if I can completely rework my worship plans in the next half hour, though, in time for staff meeting....

  7. That made me cry--admittedly didn't take much this morning. I may post it somewhere or other. Not sure where I'm going Sunday, but I do like the Genesis passage, so far.

  8. I'm glad to read Gord's comment (ok, I just typed "God's comment"--don't get a big head there, Gord). I too was struck by Romans this week and am similarly ignoring the point of the passage. The progression of suffering--endurance--character--hope has caught my attention. I think most of us have found that to be experientially true.

    I'm also noodling around with the idea of suffering in Buddhism, but I'm not sure that will fly with my folks.

    Much to think about yet. The title is "The Way of Hope."

  9. I am doing pulpit supply this Sunday, so I'm not going with the lectionary. One church is getting a lesson on "God is Love" with I John 4:7-11 The other is going to hear Psalm 103 about blessing and giving thanks to God.

    I was torn because I truly do love the Gospel passage this week...I just felt God calling me to the other two Scriptures.

  10. I think I'm going with Matthew. I was planning to preach on Romans (I think I have the right passage: Christ died for us and talk about atonement and then I found I preached that sermon last year--moving to an atonement that is not substitutionary). I think I have also preached the sermon I'm thinking of preaching: the realm of God has come near. I like earthchick's "as you go" idea, too.

  11. Writing from work...

    esperanza, a friend of mine told me that when he would spell check anything with my name in it it always suggested either God or Gourd. He wondered if I was divine or an empty vessel?

    He then theologized that I, like all of us, was a vessel that holds the Divine so both spellings were accurate :)

    (YEah it is possible that he was aware of some self-esteem issues I was having at the time...)

  12. I haven't thought too much about Sunday yet, because I'm working on planning a Service of Healing and Wholeness for Wednesday night first. I posted a bit about it and would love any other thoughts, ideas, suggestions, resources. I'll come back late to join the actually preaching discussions!

  13. Earthchick - - I too like that as you go piece.

    I am working with Matthew through this Chapter 10 sending speech the next 3 weeks and with last week, calling the whole series "Radical Discipship". I overheard a man explaining to an elderly man that "radical" means at the root, not crazy. I touched on that very briefly, or actually more alluded to it in the sermon.

    I think this week's sermon "Radical Response" (as in the response to the call from last week) should include an understanding about the word radical to clear up any confusion or misunderstandings. Your basic idea can definitely help me do that. "As we go"/basic part/at the core or root of who we are in Jesus and in response to his call. You may have helped me get on track. I'll go play a little more with that.

    I was at the kind of point where I was going in TOO MANY directions with my thoughts. Now maybe I can focus in.

  14. thank you for sharing the post --- I have been anxious all day (about travelling to Tallinn for my graduation from seminary on Thursday) and you reminded me that He IS in charge and that's enough :)


  15. Liz- Where are you? Edinburgh? Inverness? (Where's I'll be June 15 and then 22). Any chance for a RGBP meet up?

  16. I think I'm going with the gospel, talking about where and when the rubber hits the road.

    I'm pretty sure I went with Genesis three years ago.

  17. Not preaching this week.
    Take a deep breath--I'm not even going to church. Instead I'm going to have brunch with my 2 year old niece, the Exceptional One, and finish my drive to NJ for school. It will be sacramental time, though.
    I was really struck by that blog post. I'm going to have to think about that. Maybe post it in my office. Or tattoo it to my forehead.

  18. Listing,
    I'm on the west coast of Scotland, around 30 miles south of Glasgow. Any good?
    RGBP meet up would be so cool.

  19. our first lesson is from Exodus: right before giving the ten commandments, God reminds Moses and the people about how he carried them on Eagle's wings...

    I'm thinking about that, but actually not preaching this week.

  20. It was really good to read the reflection in this post about us not being Jesus on a day when I double-booked myself and actually only realized I had missed one of the meetings 4 hours after the fact!

    I decided I'm going with the Psalm (and am using the whole thing, not just the lection). Working title is In the Land of the Living (from v. 9). Only have amorphous thoughts at this point. Sounds like I'm the only one here doing the Psalm?

  21. I hadn't really paid attention to the psalm, but earthchick's post really clued in with what I'm planning on doing from Matthew

    "Am tempted by the Psalm actually, and the question that I think is so foundational to the life of faith: "What shall I return to the Lord for all his bounty to me?"

    My focus is on verse 8" you received without payment; give without payment."

    I want to talk about what we have recieved and therefore how much we should give... the hymn "freely, freely" will be prominent =)

  22. I'm doing our sermon this Sunday. The lessons this week kept reminding me of Kelly Fryer's observation that God always comes down, so I'm playing with that concept, and with what it means to open ourselves to being the instruments through which God "comes down" for others, and for the good of the world.

  23. I'm going with the Genesis passage.
    Anyone else notice Abraham giving Sarah instructions on baking bread? He is telling her to use the best ingredients but why don't the commentator's discuss how he is giving her a recipe?

    Many mentions of killing the animal for meat, then milk and curds in the commentaries, but nothing on Abraham telling Sarah how to bake bread.

  24. I am thinking Psalm 116 - the whole thing - and wondering if it is time for a stewardship sermon.

  25. LS - not preaching - just perusing... thanks for the blog post. I am starting my internship and this was something I needed to read as I begin the journey...

  26. great post and conversation so far. yes, liz, love the message version and going with that so far, ending on "traveling light."

    good for us just now, as we move into summer, so a smaller congregation is expected, but at the same time we are welcoming new members this Sunday. Also, we've re-arranged the sanctuary a bit to be what I hope will be more intimate, and there probably shoudl be some conversation about that...

    Gord, was it low or high self esteem? You can take the quiz on the left side of this page to find out: :)


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