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Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Tuesday Lectionary Leanings -- He's Coming Back Edition

Shall we open our weekly discussion with prayer: (prayer found here)
O Holy God of Israel,
you faithfully keep the promises
you made to our ancestors
and lead your people into the future,
providing hospitality on the way.
Help us who inherit the pilgrim life
to journey faithfully at your command,
that we may be a band of disciples
called to be sojourners in your service. Amen.

As we progress to the rapidly approaching end of the liturgical year (Sunday afternoon I counted and realized that 7 weeks from then would be Christmas Day.  Don't panic or anything, I am just saying) we move into discussion of Jesus 2nd (or 3rd, depending how you count Easter) Coming.  Always a challenging discussion for some of us.  You can read this week's readings here.
What jumps out at you this week?  Maybe Deborah Judging Israel [unfortunately the lectionary leaves us with no tent pegs in sight]?  Maybe Zephaniah and the triumphant(?) day of the Lord?  O God Our help in Ages Past, as the hymn writer uses Psalm 90? Paul and his thief in the night imagery?  {Anyone get the sense that all things considered you'd rather not be around when the day of the Lord comes, given the imagery that is used for it?}

Or of course there is the parable.  So easy to make into a Stewardship sermon, and for many people it is that time of year after all.  And yet it is a very disturbing story isn't it.  Why is the last servant punished so severely?  And how does the idea of the last shall be first which we found just a little while back in the Gospel account fit with verse 29 "For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away."?  Truly it can be a disturbing story, and a hard place to find Gospel.

But I did read an article lately (somewhere online) that suggests that while last Sunday was about being ready, this Sunday's Gospel is about being ready to risk for the kingdom.  Which still doesn't answer those questions about justice and punishment, but may provide a different way into the preaching moment.

But take heart, or take fear, because He is coming back!  And while we wait for that event, let us know in the comments what your congregations will be talking about this week.


  1. I'm totally preaching Deborah - in the first person - telling war stories (contrasting Judges generally live with the Canaanites with Joshua's kill 'em all perspective) for Veteran's Day.

  2. I'm wrestling with the Gospel reading for two reasons: 1) the hint of prosperity theology and 2) the glaring contrast with the Occupy Wall Street movements (do those who have so much really need more?). Ugh!

  3. I am one of those who think this gospel is about being willing to risk. How often are we like that last slave, unwilling to risk because things might not go well? We can't start a new program, hold a different kind of event because we've never done THAT before! It'll never work, why try?

    Or at least that's the direction I'm headed in this morning. We'll see what happens by Saturday!

  4. I always find November a tricky month for preaching, because the texts get increasingly focused on eschatology, which would be fine if the Christian year didn't also start there with the beginning of Advent. With All Saints' Day, then this Sunday, then Christ the King, then the First Sunday of Advent - it just feels like a lot!

    I am going with Thessalonians this time, and looking less at the thief in the night imagery than at the reminder that we are children of light. I've no idea what I'll do with it yet, though.

    If any of you are Dexter fans, you know that Dexter has been grappling with the possibility of letting go of the dark and living into the light. It's a compelling story line, and possibly preachable.

  5. I like all those ideas!

    I am going with the TAlents. ANd it looks like it will be a fairly standard stewardship treatment of it, using risk-taking as the leap off point. I know that is perfectly logical, but part of me wants to explore the underside of the parable. ALthough I am going to ask if we are comfortable being held accountable for how we have chosen to use what we have been given. My early thoughts can be found here

  6. This is the moment I regret getting off the lectionary cycle by a week, because I won't be back in sync with the rest of you until after Christmas! (I'm doing something a little different in Advent, too.)For the moment, I'm a week ahead, since our Stewardship drive wanted to finish on a Thanksgiving note. Thus I backed the Talents up to this past Sunday and will be sorting out sheep and goats this week.
    Anyway, I miss y'all. And will continue to do so.
    My Advent plan is to preach some parts of Luke 1 that people don't seem to know on Advent 1 and 2, followed by the Magnificat on Advent 3. And if all goes well, we'll be dedicating and celebrating our new Chalice Hymnals on Advent 4, giving us a chance to explore the Christmas section of the hymnal, something that matters to everyone. Let's hope people like it!

  7. SB: Which Chalice Hymnals did the church purchase?

  8. The red ones with the ecumenical cover (cross instead of chalice), which I was told was the only one they were printing this last time. Now they're saying there was a huge demand; I wonder if they'll reconsider taking it out of print? It's a great hymnal.

  9. SB,
    those who are off-lectionary are always welcome. And besides, if you did Talents last Sunday, what wisdom do you have for those of us doing them this week?

  10. Gord, it was a pretty workmanlike Stewardship message. I haven't even put it on the web (yet, but it's got to go on the church site at least). One part Jesus' situation (last minute, things getting perilous, will these dudes ever get the message!), one part quotes from some of our faithful givers about why they give, one part exhorting all of us (myself included) to view giving as a spiritual discipline, and resisting the urge to listen to the scary news of the world, which makes us all want to put our valuables in a hole.

  11. AAArgh!!!!!
    AT the back of our sanctuary we have a space for young children. ANd we have so many children in their before Children's Time that we need to expand it. For the rest of the service we have it there so that parents with pre-Sunday School children can, as much as possible, sit with the congregation for the whole service and not have to go off to the nursery (which does have a remote speaker). SOme parents split the time between the two places as their children are now more mobile and need to be in a place where they can be louder.

    I just sat with a UCW unit where they were "Commenting" on how loud the 3 or 4 children who are still there during sermon time are. NOte that I am looking towards the back. I have ears attuned to the sound of young children. I notice little disruption most of the time (obviously there are exceptions). ANd I will point out that some of the people with hearing issues a)sit at the back when there is lots of room farther up, not besides the open space; b) do not use the assisted listening devices.

    I know it is all about balance but do people not know how easily "we have a nursery available where your child can make more noise" sounds like "please, your children are disturbing us".

    Interesting to see what happens when Council discusses it next week (if the UCW president is there to bring it up)

  12. Gord - perhaps you could pointedly ask your UCW president if you should suggest to those childrens' parents a different church where their children would be better welcomed by the community?
    I sympathise. So so so much.

  13. The president would solely be the messenger. I doubt she shares the opinions being expressed

  14. Gord,

    how sad!!!
    Maybe the nursery area could be renamed the quiet space.:)

  15. Gord-- I really appreciate your comments on the Gospel passage. Yesterday I read absolutely everything on Textweek that referenced the Gospel passage, and the harder I looked, the more it felt like some secret Kabbalistic parable that only the Highly Initiated Secret Few could hope to parse. A few examples (all gleaned from various sources at; any mistakes or misrememberings are my own):

    --> Jesus is purposefully using imagery that "good Jews" of his day would have found highly offensive (i.e. first two servants are rewarded for participating in usury, a practice expressly forbidden in Jewish teaching of that time.)

    -->The third servant buried the money and thereby avoided usury. The burying of money was regarded as safe, sound money management in the Jewish community.

    -->The "talent" of the text has nothing to do with modern-day personal abilities and creative gifts. It was probably code for the "treasure" of Jewish Law, the Law that can be interpreted either to bind us or set us free.

    Huh. And nobody seems clear on who the master is: God, Jesus, Caesar or somebody else? Whoever it is, why doesn't Jesus address the Master's cruel judgement and utter lack of grace? I keep trying to ignore this aspect of the story, but it really troubles me.

    Any other ideas?

  16. I am preaching on the Talents - I think. It's also our women's circles 'thankoffering' Sunday, and I am trying to find a common point between the gospel reading, and the women's circles's work.

    I like the 'risk taking' connection and may run with it. I agree with MaineCelt - it seems that there is some big secret to be able to get to the meaning of this text. I think every commentary I read yesterday had a different take on this passage. Very confusing, but it points to a very rich text. A few of the commentaries talked about the relationship between the master and the first 2 servants (good) and the relationship between the master and the third servant (bad or non-existant), and I may be able to work with that. Haven't yet read TextWeek and Working Preacher - I'm still at the very early stages of processing.

    I think I may just sit with the text today and look at the context and what it says (and doesn't say) before digging back into the commentaries.

  17. I'm struggling this week for sure, with a tug definitely toward the gospel. It is our stewardship pledge dedication day, so there's the obvious (but highly discouraged in my commentaries) route about sharing, giving, multiplying and all that. I'm not too drawn there.

    I feel like the last time I preached this I went more with the risk theme. I like that for sure and since I can barely remember it exactly, I'm probably safe to re-plan that sermon (or even dig it up and re-work it).

    But I'm not really feeling it as much. I was very attracted and have been mulling over a LOT the statement of Mark Douglas in FOTW "Perhaps, for Matthew, the God we face is the one we imagine." Lindsay Armstrong goes down that road a little, too, in her FOTW section. Imagine that. They're husband and wife. :)

    I've been really drawn to that one servant who fears God instead of risking trust (I think one of the Sermon Brainwave commentators used that phrase a few times.) I have no idea how I can preach this, but there's something in here about our images of God dictating our response and who God really is (generous, trusting of us!).

    I also had some thoughts (inspired by Lindsay's section about God's self-limitation) that ended up being a lot about non-literal readings of Scripture. God gives us space to learn and use and be inspired by Scripture instead of sitting on top of us dictating what every single line of it means word for word. I really like thinking about the overall message of the pericope that way, but I think for most of my congregation to preach it that way would be a stretch. It would probably distract them from actually hearing the message.

  18. Songbird -- I'm off-lectionary as well! I'm running two weeks behind and next Sunday (Nov 20) we're just going to skip straight into Christ the King Sunday, so that's how we're "catching up." It'll be weird to get to Advent and see what it's like to be back on schedule with you all.

    Earthchick -- I love the eschatological end to the liturgical year AND the eschatological beginning to the new one! The churches haven't celebrated All Saints, Christ the King, or Advent (besides lighting a wreath and bemoaning stores that take the Christ out of Christmas) before, so we are going all-out eschatological this year. Last week was All Saints & the death of Moses (I used readings from Hebrews 11-12). This week we're "Crossing the Jordan" using an allegorical interpretation of the Jordan River (my Hebrew Bible prof would NOT be pleased), and next week we're skipping to Christ the King. Overall, though, I like the trajectory through Advent and Christmas.

    RevGord -- you've got my sympathy! I'm fortunate that a previous pastor at the church I serve taught the congregation that cheerios in the pews are a sign that the Holy Spirit has visited.

  19. OK, after some wrestling, listening to Fr. Richard Rohr talk about the "way down is the way up," the usury practices, Occupy Wall Stret, and the fact Jesus is saying this as part of his final discourse before being crucified ... I'm going with a counter-interpretation this week.

    The third slave is the Christ figure. The 3rd slave is entrusted with only 6% of the wealth distributed - the others get 31% and 63% respectively ... an interesting aside on disparate income distribution. But it is the 3rd slave who names the corruption of the system represented by the master and the other 2 slaves. The other 2 slaves participate in the system and it's working for them. But it doesn't work for everybody ... and it is corrupt. The 3rd slave dares to name the corruption and refuses to participate. It's the rejection of Jesus and it continues when any whistleblower gets run over by the system they are trying to reform.

  20. Reverend Mom,
    You might want to check out Steve Garnaas-Holmes' blog on the subject:

    The exchange in the comments is probably something you'll need to be prepared for. (Unless you live in a much different church world than I do!)

    Love the connection though!

  21. Nice connection, Reverand Mom! It's given me lots to think about. I won't go there with my sermon, but it's great food for my own thought. Thanks!

  22. I'm with Reverend Mom on the counter narrative. Just reread Herzog's Parables as Subversive Speech and find his argument convincing. Woke up this morning thinking about the parable of the talents in the light of the Sermon on the Mount and the Sheep/Goats at the end of Matthew 25. Thanks La Pergrina for the nod to the dialogue at unfolding light. She Rev, I think you are on to something with your notion of our images of God shaping how we read the parables. Wish there was a bible in my in-laws' house--then I could check out my morning hunch.

  23. La Peregrina - sounds awesome! Wish I could share your excitement about the eschatological arc! I totally agree with it theologically and liturgically. Homiletically, I just find it a challenge.

    All I can think about today is my outrage at what has happened at Penn State - the victimization of children, the coverup, and now the rioting by the students. It just makes me angry and sad. I am wondering about doing something with it in my sermon, which is about being children of light (from the epistle). Hmmm.

  24. Thanks for the link La Peregrina. I'm touching on the Occupy thing lightly. I disagree with the commenter saying it was "eisegesis" - if so Robert Farrer Capon and many others would be way off base.

    I want to crack it open about how power structures of this world deal with the "whistleblowers" among them. The 3rd slave is the whistleblower who tells the truth about the system - and pays the price. This is the human story ... it can even be seen in the cover up of child abuse at Penn State. It is Jesus' story - he names truth we can't handle and the system appears (key word appears) to do away with him. But the Gospel assurance is that death doesn't get the last word. God is still with us and the Reign of God will prevail.

  25. Y'all are doing some great stuff with the Gospel text and tying in current events.
    Love the Herzog argument. I was impressed when we studied his book in a class on parables.


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