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Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Tuesday Lectionary Leanings- The Question Mark Edition

For Sunday, August 17, 2008

Genesis 45:1-15

Psalm 133:1-3

Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32

Matthew 15:(10-20) 21-28

In the Genesis reading for this Sunday, Joseph reconciles with his family. I’ve always thought of Joseph as a hero. He deals with trying circumstances. He takes care of his family.

But recently, as I was working on a sermon on Sabbath keeping, I came across a quote from Walter Brueggemann in which Joseph isn’t so much a hero as one who is seduced by the pharaonic way of life.

"In Genesis 41:14-36, Pharaoh, the Egyptian god who presided over the resources of the superpower, had a bad dream. In the midst of is limitless abundance that is the gift of the Nile, he had a nightmare about scarcity. You know the dream of thin cows and thin years of grain, several years of famine to come. But do you know the policy that arose from the nightmare of scarcity, as policies are always arising from our nightmares? In Genesis 47, Joseph son of Israel, child of the abundant creator God, signed on for the Pharaonic nightmare of scarcity He went to work for the interests of corporate acquisitiveness, organized an imperial monopoly, and over a three-year-period seized, in the interest of the corporate economy, the money of the peasants, the cattle of the peasants, the land of the peasants, and eventually the life of the peasants who were reduced to slavery. This achievement was all accomplished by a true son of Israel who was seduced, as we often are, into the nightmare of scarcity. You may be sure that this anxiety over the coming famine there was no rest in the surge of confiscation, no time off, no sabbath. the machinery of acquisitiveness worked 24/7 until Pharaoh, by the genius of Joseph, achieved total monopoly. That is how our people, by the book of Exodus, ended up in slavery; one among us believed excessively in the nightmare of scarcity that contradicted the abundance of the creator God. Thus, Genesis 47 stands as a prelude to the exodus narrative and indicates that a mistrust of creations abundance created the crisis of the exodus narrative, Pharaoh's nightmare of scarcity disrupted creation and eventually evoked the plagues that constitute creation performing like chaos, a massive threat to order and abundance."

Brueggemann, Walter. Mandate to Difference: An Invitation to the Contemporary Church. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2007. Page 153-154.

Will that preach?

There’s also a Psalm about unity, Paul tells us that God made us to be disobedient so that we can receive mercy, and a very memorable passage from Matthew. The dog-crumbs-from-the-table passage.

What is it in this woman that brings her to argue with Jesus?

Why does Jesus argue with the woman?

Is he testing her dedication?

Is he tired?

Does he really believe her to be unworthy?

Does Jesus change his mind?

Does God change God’s mind?

Why do we argue?

What’s the difference between right and faithful?

Which one do we want more?

How do we argue?

Is there a good way to disagree?

Is this the post this month with the most question marks?

What are you thinking about this week?


  1. Thank the Lord, yet again for RGBP. I want to preach on the gospel - the woman's persistence and Jesus witholding on her perhaps to emphasisie how there is a new order - God's abundance isn't just for a particular people- its for all people. But that Bruggeman quote really ties in with where I want to go at this the start of a new ministry for me and my new church - with the theme of abundance and risk taking and not being ground down by the idea that there is scarcity or never enough. Plenty to get started on this week.

  2. oh oh oh!
    I haven't yet read Mandate to Difference, but Walter was my OT prof so this shouldn't surprise me, but still....

    Back at the beginning of the summer I totally told my Bible in 90 Days class almost that exact thing about Joseph and how the people ended up in slavery and scarcity and working for the power!! And based on how that went for me, off-the-cuff, and how people responded thoughtfully, I would say that YES: that will preach.

    Having said that, I'm preaching this week on the woman and Jesus. I don't know exactly where this is going yet, but I think it's somewhere along the lines of even Jesus being surprised by, and brought into, the wideness of God's vision. Hopefully more coherent thoughts will form later today since I have pretty much the week-end (as in, after Wednesday) from h***. oy.

  3. I can't say that I agree with Brueggemann here. If, as the redactors indicate twice, God put Joseph in that place - and I don't really want to argue that one! - then he hasn't bought into Pharaoh's corporation so much as he has God's. Does it follow that God planned for Israel to be enslaved?

    Okay, that's off track for me. I will be preaching Matthew for the third time. My initial thoughts are on my blog. I may post one or both of the previous sermons or parts of them for they still work for me and maybe someone else, too!

    Can we start eating early this week? My cereal bar is wearing off early. Perhaps because my now only dog refused to come in the house so I tried all kinds of trickery and am worn out already. ;-)

  4. I am still on the "Gospel Track" for now....proably shoudl move for mthat one day, but sofar cool stuff to work with...and since I get to preach each week now, I have loads to work with.
    So, i am dragging... and agree with M. Let's get the party started!
    stayed up watching gymnastics.
    Fir matthew, nice quote in Text for Preaching," She (Cannanite) becoems the spokesperson to Jesus to bring about release of divine grace...she becoems the model vocie from beyond the boundaries who stakes ehr calim on merc and generosity of God."
    This is from one of the other great Bible profs, Charles Couser

  5. I find this particular gospel passage really tough, and indeed, full of question marks. I sat down to write a normal reflection this week, and ended up with something very different. I don't know whether it helps at all, or only raises more questions. And before you ask, I can't tell you that this is what I believe, because I'm still not sure what I believe about this story. The story was just what flowed through me, and I was merely a typist.

    I'll definitely send extra food for those of you who have to preach this week - you need it, and deserve it!

    So, yesterday I made a lemon-lime-orange nut bread, and I'll bet you'd love it lightly toasted and topped with cream cheese. Maybe a bowl of fresh peach slices to go with it?

    Peace and blessings,

  6. I too am preaching on the gospel. My local pastors gathering talks about the lectionary a week early, and so last week I came up with the core of my message and my sermon title.

    Jesus tells the woman he can't help her because he has a mission... which the text says she isn't offended by, but simply responds... yeah, but even the dogs get crumbs don't they?

    My translation: Throw me a bone here Jesus!

    that's all I have for now.

  7. I'm doing the Joseph story. I was really interested in what Bruggeman was saying, and I think that there is some truth in that, but I also agree with Margaret that you can't ignore all the statements about God putting Joseph in that place at that time just to deal with that problem. So I think Bruggeman has a lot of good points, but I ultimately think that here he's letting his own message override the richness of the text.

    I'm going with a reconciliation theme personally. My new church is split almost 50/50 between the ones who want to fossilize the way things were 20 years ago and the ones who want to keep moving so reconciliation is something they need to hear.

    That said, when I finally sit down to write, who knows what will actually come out.

  8. Gordon Atkinson at Real Live Preacher has this dramatization of the Matthew text The Smallest Person in All the World.

  9. Keep me in prayer, please, friends, I'm baptizing this trying to put a baptismal TORQUE on what we're given.
    I think maybe the Syro-Phoenician woman was pointing out, to Jesus but over Jesus' shoulder to the rest of us, that the children had hurled their bread onto the floor, in fact; and those of us w. children and dogs (or even cats) just know that that means the bread is fairsies for all comers. I'm still working on my "unmade up mind" and "bringing Christ to bear". This has to be good news...maybe, "if you really want this, don't you worry, it's yours. But if it's offered to you easy...don't turn up your nose at it either."

  10. I'm thinking about last week this week. I'm a week behind again! This is my last time for a while. Really.

    I'm wondering - - did any of you run with the thought about Peter stepping out of the boat being the not-so-faithful part? I love this idea, but I'm having a hard time not hearing myself say, "Stay in the boat! Don't try anything! Huddle together and don't worry about engaging others!" I know I'm not saying that, but I'm afraid it will sound like that in contrast to the more familiar interpretation of this being the "get outside the box" text.

    Just wondering if anyone else went with it, so I can read and maybe glean some wisdom for avoiding these pitfalls.

  11. (1-4 grace: Charlie was voted "hottest" prof. at Columbia all 3 years I was there. OK, so there wasn't really an OFFICIAL vote, but still...)

  12. If I have ever doubted in the providence of God, then I am a believer this week. We have scheduled a hymn festival. So there is no sermon. These passages sound hard! I'll try not to gloat, and I may be regretting the idea Sunday morning anyway.

    Blessings to you all as you wrestle.

  13. I'm going with the woman, but am really behind on what I'm going to do with that text. I (shudder) remember that it was the text I had to write about for my Sr. Seminary Approval Essay. So there's some history here.

    It's always tempting to try to defend Jesus (this is what he was REALLY trying to do). That being said, I like the woman's guts. She doesn't give up. She believes Jesus can help her, all evidence to the contrary.

    I find that sometimes I hear "No" once and I go away, my head down and my tail between my legs.

    Faith as guts.

    FAith in Jesus as guts.

    Takes guts to have faith in Jesus, sometimes.

    By the way, I LOVE LOVE LOVE all the question marks.

  14. Breakthrough! Breakthrough! Leave it to reading a little BBT to give me the edge I need. I probably should have shared this a little earlier in the lectionary cycle, but her book of sermons on Matthew The Seeds of Heaven is wonderfully helpful and nourishing.

    Anyway, I know most of you did this already, but here is my quick and dirty on the boat/water-walking story:

    1. The things Peter blurts out are often (not always)not really the "right" things - denial of Jesus, building booths at Transfiguration, God forbid it! at the crucifixion prediction. He often speaks first, thinks later.

    2. So maybe this idea of jumping OUT of the boat is another bad idea.

    3. Ancient ideas about calming water - - only God can do this.

    4. Peter asks; Jesus doesn't command, but allows him to try, "Come on." (Like, who can stop you?) In doing so Peter is trying to be like God, trying to BE God.

    5. We are tempted when our boats are getting battered to fix it ourselves, test God's presence (Peter seems to know it's Jesus; he calls him Lord.), or even more selfishly, just jump ship to save ourselves.

    6. These will sink us.

    7. Even when we do ourselves in, Jesus saves us. Or maybe BECAUSE we are CONSTANTLY doing ourselves in, Jesus saves us.

    8. The seas are calmed. Jesus is the Son of God. Be at peace.

    (Dang this is planned out. Maybe I'll even surprise my husband and type it out before the weekend. I've NEVER done that before!)

  15. I'm preaching Sunday, and it's nothing short of a miracle that it's Tuesday and I'm thinking so far ahead.

    This text is so tough AND so beautiful. The whole idea that even Jesus was taught about grace from an outsider gives us a glimpse of who we are to be as Jesus's people, right? WE are to be seeking divine truth and finding God's compassion in the face of The Other, The Outsider. This is a text the stretches us beyond our Ice Cream & Cake Hospitality. (I just made that up; I think you might know what I mean though.) This is the text that turns to the New Order where Grace & Abundance is found in the places that we don't even look...

    The outsider and her daughter, in one instant, redefine Jesus's ministry. THIS. IS. HUGE. I LOVE LOVE LOVE that this poor woman and her sick kid are the ones that take JESUS by the shoulders and turn him around. It's like she's saying, "Wake up, Divine Healer Dude. Shift your perspective." Duh!

    And that's all I've got right this minute.

  16. Love all the ideas friends. I am preaching the gospel this week and writing ahead for next Sunday as well since I am out of town. Two sermons at once is always two too many! Loved the idea of the children throwing their bread on the floor. That totally connects with the Pharisees rejecting Jesus just a few passages earlier and all the talk re: clean and unclean. Thanks for getting my brain moving this morning!

  17. I'm neither preaching nor PPing (publicly praying)this week...that remark a few posts back about half the church with a "fortress" mentality and half with a "frontier" mentality really resonates with me, though, because we are suffering through this in a big way in my congregation. We recently built a new sanctuary to accomodate our growing membership, but ironically that seems to have thrown the congregational equilibrium out of order, and some of our members are becoming very inward-turned and protective of their perceived turf in the face of change and further growth.'d be interesting to preach on this text with this situation in mind.

  18. I will preach on the gospel with a bit Isaiah "on the side".
    Preaching in the morning (pastor is on vacation) and then move-in at the seminary later that same day.

    Somehow I am "a bit" nervous...

  19. sherev: I don't know if this little tidbit will help, but the "you" of "you of little faith" here is the only time in Matthew that the "you" in that phrase is singular rather than plural.

    And your plan looks well-thought-out to me...wish mine had flowed as well.

  20. I want to use the Gospel and preach that Jesus did grow--that he is truly human

  21. I hate not to be totally on board with W.B. but it seems like isogesis instead of exogesis to me--even though he's right that it did lead to not all good things. Has me pondering,I'll admit that much! As for the Peter on the Water, wow sherev, you and BBT have me really thinking about this! I'm not preaching this week, however. I'll be camping in the northwoods. Ahhh!

  22. Mutha, your "Jesus did grow" comment made me think of the Anne Rice books about Jesus. I've read the first two and can't wait for #3to be completed/ Man, those two novels illustrate this so beautifully. Just a little commercial. ;-)

  23. Muthah, I agree. And also this makes it easier for me to wrestle with this passage.

    Because even if you think Jesus was tired, or he just muttered the "not for the dogs"; it must still be very painful for the woman to hear after she had asked for help. So a human, growing Jesus, is easier for me to accept as an uncaring or cruel Jesus.

    Still difficult passage for me!

  24. something that is a bit more helpful for me in this passage is that this story comes up in another gospel and Jesus doesn't say there "I was sent only to Israel"... so how much of this is about Matthew and his writing to an all Jewish community?

    something else that i've been thinking about is what it means to have a mission. When you have a particular mission, sometimes you have to let other things - important things - slide. You just can't get side tracked. Or at least you try not to.

    In our churches, are we working on one-track minds? who are WE leaving out by doing so?

  25. Glad I broke cover, this weeks reading from Matthew is a multiple aspirin job! Kind of makes you feel a bit like Peter last week floundering and soggy, hope the Lord gets a firm grip before Sunday.

    I find the question marks very helpful I know I probably want to get Jesus off the hook but why not? Just suppose there is a question mark in his voice. He has just been speaking about purity and what comes from the heart and straight away the disciples want to chase this woman (like the little children) away.

    Just suppose Jesus is looking directly at the disciples with a quizzical eyebrow raised throughout this episode. I know most commentators block this road off as did I before seeing all those?????

    Like the Centurion this outsider is commended for great faith. And the Pharisees...? Elsewhere he seems not at all troubled by ministering beyond the pale. Samaritan's like Canaanites are not top of Israel's guest list and yet they star in the story, the woman at the well, the thankful leper and the good one. Maybe this is a bit of Matthew's Jewish maleness showing.

    But then there are those dodgy women he includes in Jesus' family tree.

    BBT comments that the scraps are pretty impressive 12 baskets full...

    So many kites flying here that I may just take off and avoid the pulpit altogether this week.

  26. John Bell has a sermon about this gospel text in States of Bliss and Yearning and, though I've not read it in a long time, he posits a twinkle in Jesus' eye and a sort of covert cooperation between Jesus and the woman to teach the disciples. At least, I think that's what I remember. I think I'm going to read that again tomorrow.

  27. Prayers going up for CR at a baptism and for Ringel with preachign and then moving into semianry! Exciitng times for all, hang in with the "stress part."

  28. Last sermon before vacation for me and I was tempted to go with the water walking from last week (vbs) but I am moving every so closer to the woman and her scraps. Tough passage but a great message about it maybe even be safer for outsiders than insiders (???)

    My worship assistant is someone who would label herself Insider and although I am sure she will not hear a word... it is still tempting to preach with her sitting right there.

    Don't worry. I will move on from this place by the time pen goes to paper (or fingers go to keyboard).

  29. I don't usually comment here, but thought I'd jump in today. I read Hedwyg's interesting dramatization, which I liked except for the end -- when it puts the difficult "dog" quote in Peter's mouth. Just to make it easier to bear, I suppose, since we don't like to imagine Jesus saying this. I heard a sermon on this 18 years ago (and still remember it) by a black man named Tyrone Burkett -- who said that Jesus confronted his own racism in this passage. And that has always resonated with me. Jesus was tempted, and he struggled. And here the woman is the unexpected teacher who helps Jesus open his eyes.

  30. If anyone has Margaret Gunther's "Notes from a Soujourner", she has a reflection on this gospel passage in that book and how it is a difficult text for her because it seems contrary to the image she has of Jesus.

    I haven't yet decided if I'm doing the Gospel or Joseph.

  31. Thanks for the cite to Guenther's book. I know just where it is!

    The more I think about it, the better I like the idea that Jesus got to grow, too. But then, I like process theology.

    So do you think it would work to suggest or introduce two different interpretations in one sermon? Generally, I try to go with one point and get out but I think with a story as uncomfortable as this one, maybe part of my job is to suggest that there is more than one way to skin this cat and some of them aren't any less uncomfortable.
    In a previous sermon, I said this Jesus is like that OT God we don't want to encounter but that maybe we need to remember that the OT God and Jesus are one and the same. I also think Jesus is having a really bad day and maybe he is beginning to realize it is not the first of them and that there are more bad days ahead than maybe good ones. When *did* Jesus realize - in the synoptics, that is - fully understand what was coming?


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