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Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Tuesday Lectionary Leanings: "Like Cures Like" Edition

Lessons for the Sunday to come can be found here .

The other evening we watched an episode of The Dog Whisperer focusing on a man who had as a small child been mauled by a vicious dog, who'd grown up absolutely terrified of all dogs. His fear of dogs affected his self-esteem and sense of competency in thw world; it affected ability to do his job as a realtor; it affected the lives of his children, who desperately wanted a pet. He woke up each day facing a perceived gauntlet of dangerous animals poised to injure him again. So Cesar Milan, the Dog Whisperer, worked with this man by forcing him to be near, to touch, to relate to, the very things that made his life a fearful misery: dogs. It was painful to watch this man's real terror as he was placed in a fenced-in area with a dog; as he made himself pet a dog. But this difficult process ultimately freed him of his fear; so much so that his household now includes one of Cesar's rescued dogs.

Our Old Testament and Gospel lessons today reminded me of this process; how God's ongoing transformation of our lives comes to us as we keep before us both the reminder of the "sting" of our brokenness and its destructive effect upon ourselves and others and the radical trust that God has defeated and will defeat that which tries to defeat us. Our Psalm reading thanks God for God's saving acts. And our Epistle lesson reminds us whatit is we are saved for.

At least that's how it reads to me. What are the texts speaking to you? Or are you using an alternate sermon text? As always, please share your thoughts as you prepare for worship and preaching.


  1. I'm on last week's lectionary: "The cleansing of the Temple" and Dorothy Day. I'm struggling with how to present this to my congregation which is full of 1950s Presbyterians who believe (as I learned) that Judaism is bad. Somehow they haven't picked up the lessons I'm sure my predecessors must have taught them. I don't want to alienate them too much by telling them that they are just wrong in what they learned.

  2. I am doing the OT and Gospel, but focus on Gospel.
    That is all I know for now.
    Wow, Joan, I have known those types before, but never had to deal with them in congrgations.
    In the tradition where i was raised, we were told they (Jews) would burn in hell unless they beleived in Jesus as Messiah,S(Shudders)

  3. I am going to the gospel this week, for the first time this Lent.

    One of my commentaries said that the biggest (most crucial) word in John 3:16 is "so". I've been thinking about that and also about how the lectionary begins half-way into the story of Jesus and Nicodemus. What a peculiar place verse 14 is! I've been preaching already this season about what the lectionary leaves out.

  4. Thanks LC for the Dog Whisperer story. It does help the Numbers text seem a little less bizarre.

    The theme I selected in January for this Sunday is "Seek light instead of shadow." I will mention the timing of the conversation Jesus is having with Nick. I might tie in a "we are as sick as our secrets" theme with the whole serpent/lifting up into the light concept.

    But it is early yet --who knows what I may do!

  5. I found this quote on something at Cracker Barrel, of all places, and it seems to reflect these lessons. It is attributed to Helen Keller:

    "Faith is the strength by which a shattered world shall emerge into the light."

    Unfortunately that doesn't help me find my way toward a focus for Sunday's sermon, but it's something!

  6. a beautiful quote altar ego! i am intrigued by the Numbers story. this is the FIRST time i've ever heard or read it.

    one of the things i keep finding in the commentaries about John's passage is how belief is not simply an assent or agreement--that belief means following/doing. while not a new concept i think it might make an interesting tie back to the looking at the bronze snake for healing.

    surely it was not simply a look or a glance but something more, perhaps by looking at the snake it caused them to look deeper to see and remember God. to remember why the snakes had been sent in the first place.

    lastly, the other thing that has been haunting me is that sin is the punishment, God doesn't set out to punish us and get even, rather to free us. right now i'm not sure how it will fall together, i just pray that it does!

    blessings on everyone's sermon prep!

  7. I never know what to do with the idea of Jesus being lifted up like the bronze serpent in the desert. I once (in seminary) asked the homiletical question if this made Jesus some sort of magical totem.

    Anyway, I am off lectionary for Lent and am preaching about money this week. the sermons title is Cash or Credit??? – Tool, Scorecard or Goal??

    I may yet show the end of the Wall Street clip about greed being good.

  8. It's snake sunday here, and wouldn't you know? Not a single hymn about that story in the Presbyterian hymnal! LOL. (The UCC have one, but it's actually about the gospel text...)

    I have been contemplating the whole business of facing fear (or facing cause of injury) as a means for healing. I've also been contemplating how this snake incident sets up the possibility of idolatry (and Hezekiah ends up having to smash a bronze snake idol later on...somewhere in Kings, I think?), which is particularly interesting given the golden calf incident. And I've also been contemplating how many sermons I've had to start by saying "this may in fact be the strangest story in the Bible." At some point someone's going to ask me to stop crying wolf on that one!

    So, to make a very long comment short: I have no idea where the snake story is going. I only know that the stated theme for this Sunday is "new chance" and the sermon title is "daily bread, again???"

    Yeah, I know. But by Sunday, it *WILL* all come together. Maybe. I hope.

  9. Joan,
    I did some work on recovering the holiness of the sacrificial cult in Judaism in my sermon last week. I'd be really happy to share it with you to see if it generates any ideas...especially in exchange for some good critical feedback

  10. Okay, Kate, you've piqued my interest. I want to know more!

    I'm struggling with John. As a youth, 3:16 grounded me. Now I'm so aware that the Son is called by many names along the many paths to holiness and God. Yes, I'm a Christian, and a priest, yet I do believe in the truth found in other paths...I may go with the serpent story and Jesus being lifted up, and not address him as the "only" way...

  11. Can we title the sermon " Sssssssss....?"
    I am remebering a high school teacher who would take us to a local place called " Snake World"
    The guy that run it had a lot of snakes from all over the world. He would let a King snake bite him to prove it was not posinous and he would pull out the cobra to show off it's hood.
    He was pretty weird.

  12. In my lectionary group with the congregation yesterday, everyone got a huge kick out of the "snake-on-a-stick" story. Since this Sunday is our monthly family worship, there were jokes going around about my going to the dollar store and getting a plastic snake, spray-painting it gold, and showing it to the kids. For what purpose, I don't know. I'll figure that part out. I think I may have to do it, though.

  13. I thought it was kind of weird to get the story of the bronze serpent right after the Ten Commandments tell us not to make a graven image. I read this story, and then said, "Wait... what?" My musings are here.

    And I'm seriously hoping we get to sing "Lift High the Cross" Sunday. Just sayin. :-)


  14. I might have to steal your example from the Dog Whisperer!

  15. Cool idea Jennifer!
    Not sure where to go with it, but very, very cool!

  16. I'm always drawn by the grumblers following Moses around. They seem so like us... are we there yet? We hate this food. This isn't what we thought it was going to be like, can we go back to Egypt (we hate change)? Sure it was horrible, but it was predictable.

    I've always throught that God can handle my complaining etc., so the serpent thing brought me up short. I wondered why the writers of Lament psalms, or Jesus in the garden don't have to worry about snakes. Is there something different about this instance of complaining?

    One could note that they do come to Moses and repent.

    Then I read John and was immediately drawn by verse 14 and the reference to the OT reading. so much so that I almost missed that it's "verse you see on signs in sports crowds" Sunday. I thought, Jesus has to be lifted up like Moses lifted up the serpent, so what exactly happened there? What is being compared? Read OT again.

    That's when I ended up where many seem to have: pondering serpents, Jesus, & light. Wondering what the snakes and poison might represent.

    What if it's not so much a punishment (they grumble, God is displeased, God punishes by sending poisonous serpents to bite them and kill many of them - "there... that will teach you to grumble").

    What if it's more a physical representation of the poisonous, life killing things present all around them. About naming the elephant in the room we are trying not to see (was it here that someone mentioned a twist... that the elephant is trying to hide?). They need God's intervention to be healed. They also have to look at and acknowledge the poisonous, deadly thing (represented by snake-on-a-stick).

    So I saw a connection to God's intervention via Jesus, and the need to bring things into the light in John.

    In "pulpit resources" Will Willimon talks about not giving ourselves an easy way out by focusing only on systemic and institutional evil, but be willing to admit folks preferred darkness to light, maybe even be blunt about it like Dr. Phil is when he names what he sees happening with people on his show. Yep, he mentioned Dr. Phil. :)

    That's where my thoughts have been between Monday & Wednesday.

  17. Oh hey... in response to naming the sermon "Sssss". Did anyone ever see that old movie called "Ssssss"?

    I want to say that John Ritter (a young John Ritter?) played some kind of research assistant to strange scientist, and when he begins dating the daughter the scientist starts injecting him with stuff that eventually turns him into a snake. And I *think* at the end that the snake he turns into ends up biting and killing the wacked out scientist.

    Here's a link. Movie from 1973 and it wasn't John Ritter, it was Dirk Benedict.

    Isn't there also a recent movie called "Snakes on a plane"? Maybe I ought to watch that on Friday. :)

  18. Snakes are my all-time least favorite creature. I joke about being quite happy to take the verse from Genesis about the hatred snakes and women will have for each other literally.
    So, bythesea, your comments really strike home for me. I can imagine all the worst in me being snakes. I can see that my own snakes are biting me, poisoning me, lashing out at others, maybe even hypnotizing others into doing what I want them to a la cobras. And I can see the image Moses made as the physical reminder of all that is evil within me and the cross as the reminder that God has forgiven me for it.
    I only have to preach at the early service this Sunday since the Bishop is coming to the later one. One of these days, Bishops will visit both services and not just the "popular" one.

  19. Lutheranchik, I just wanted to say thanks for that Dog Whisperer story, it is ending up really fitting in with what I want to say. I hope you don't mind my quoting you "one of my blogging friends told the story of" - if you want me to be more specific, I am happy to! Thank you for your wisdom and guidance, I don't often write in on Tuesday, but I read every week!

  20. Trivia for Bythesea and anyone else-
    The girl who played the scientist's daughter was Heather Menizes who played Louisa in the Sound Of Music.
    Spekaing of "whakced out," I was pretty whacked out by the movie and thought people could actually turn into snakes. I became susicoius of many folks.
    I think there was a skinny dipping scene in the movie too.

  21. Mumpastor: I'm quite happy to remain anonymous. Thank you! I knew there was a reason why we watch mindless satellite TV at our house...hopefully one of these weeks the lectionary will somehow mesh thematically with "Dog the Bounty Hunter.";-)


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