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Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Tuesday Lectionary Leanings - Cloud of Witnesses Edition

The aid workers who were killed in Afghanistan last week have been much in my mind, as they have perhaps also been in yours. I grieve for the senselessness of this loss, for what it will mean for their families, friends and those they would and could have helped.

Although those working for IAD have specifically denied being missionaries, it seems clear that their faith strengthened them for their work. Does their sacrifice cause for you, as it does for me, a challenge as well as a grief? Do their actions cause you to ask yourself and/or your congregation what risks have been taken lately in the name of Christ?

If so, you might find the Hebrews text this week, with its cloud of witnesses and all their sacrifices fits the bill. If you choose this text, how do you preach to congregations of folks who will likely not find themselves in the desperate straits described?

If your heart is not turned toward sacrifice, you might move in another direction. In both the Hebrews and the Gospel (goodness, are you tackling the Gospel this week?) there is much food for thought about the interaction between the past, the present and the future. So maybe a sermon on the relations of the generations of the faithful is the direction you are heading.

Or, you might be singing love-songs and tramping around in the vineyards with Isaiah. Wherever you are headed this week, we'd love to hear about it the comments. Pull up a chair at the table!

Cloud of witnesses picture found here. Links to this week's texts found here.


  1. Well, I'm in a pickle. I had decided to bravely preach that tough Gospel lesson, ameliorating it with Hebrews, in particular Hebrews 12:1-2, taking a Christological angle somehow or other. It felt nervy, given that it's my candidating sermon, but since the church has experienced some division and has been quite transparent about it, it seemed maybe the text, especially the opening verses, would be appropriate.
    On the other hand, they're having VBS this week, and it's all about Moses.
    Furthermore, the Interim preached on Hebrews on the 8th, come to find out, and went right through 12:2, with 12:1-2 apparently as the focus of his sermon.
    This creates some havoc in my planning.
    Oh, dear guest preachers and supply preachers and people preaching the week before candidates, PLEASE do not grab ahead in the lectionary! This happened to me on the first week of my next-to-last interim, when I arrived to preach about Emmaus only to discover the supply preacher had chosen it the week before, too. Not cool.
    So this morning I'm considering the following, and would love your feedback: I'm thinking of pairing the previous gospel lesson (Luke 12:32-40) with Exodus 3:1-12 (the burning bush) and talking about how God is with us on various kinds of Holy Ground, and how I went into my search prepared to go far away, only to be called very close to home, with some side note about preparation and readiness and I don't know what else. Probably a lot less than that in the end.
    I am off my rhythm and now off my plan, and I'm worried about it. I could just go with Moses, but I hate to leave out Jesus in a church where a conservative faction accused the congregation of being unChristian re: a theological disagreement. I need Jesus to have my back this week.
    Your thoughts welcomed.
    Oh, and I need to get stuff in for the bulletin right away. So no pressure.

  2. Your new plan of pairing the gospel with Exodus sounds great! Tying in what they are doing in VBS, yourself--and most importantly Jesus--seems right on to me!

    I, on the other hand, have texts selected for me--we pre-purchase bulletin inserts with the lessons on them so I hate to stray from them since we paid for them and money is tight. So...Mary, Mother of Our Lord it is for me. I've never done this before. I'm Lutheran with a large number of former Catholics in my congregation. I don't even know where to begin! Thoughts welcome.

  3. With a degree of foolishness (?) I am tackling the Gospel passage. It is about decisions, hard decisions. But I am also goin to talk about Jesus' family values since the Christian family values crowd would not tend to highlight this passage in their rhetoric.

    My early thoughts are here

  4. I'm guest preaching, so decided not to tackle the gospel passage. As I was writing on Hebrews 12:1-2, the terrible event in Afghanistan happened, and then RevGal Diane Roth posted a Barbara Kingsolver quote on FB about "living inside your hope." And so -- a sermon on living inside the inclusio of Jesus as pioneer and perfecter ie hope.

  5. I got nothin', but it's only Tuesday. Songbird, I think your idea is the best, and I groan with you at the grabber-aheaders! Blessings on your preaching. Robin, where ya preachin' at? I would love to come hear you sometime soon.

    I'll probably go with cloud of witnesses. This church, with a Methodist retirement home just down the street, is packed with retired pastors and widowed spouses. Seems to make sense to head that way. But I was doing the gospels until I was on vacay last week. We'll see!

    On a somewhat related note, does anyone know how to do ATLAS searches of old Christian Century archives for their Living the Word articles? They are so helpful, and so hard to track down, and Textweek doesn't always have them linked...

  6. sb - you got a great idea there, esp love any scrip for a candidating sermon that starts "do not be afraid!" perfect!

    gord - so intriguing! I'm heading over to your place after this.

    mumpastor - are you a member of ATLA? I looked here and it says you have to buy a membership for $150/year to access the full database. There are select links avaialable thru textweek, but not, as you say, all of them. If you post a particular article/topic you are looking for, maybe a revgal who is a member will help you out?

  7. One of my favorite texts: the cloud of witnesses. That writer who shall not be named, the one who has recently "left the church?" That's what she's gonna really miss, IMHO.

    I agree, SB, that Jesus should be in there. ;) Your plan sounds good.

  8. Juniper, thanks for the help! I actually can access ATLA through my seminary alumni account (I think most seminaries are doing this now, which is great, since in the past I have paid for the service). My issue is with using ATLA - if I type in the text I am looking for (e.g. Hebrews 11:29) I don't always get the Century links. I wrote on the Textweek FB page asking for help so we'll just seems like the Century (to which I also have a subscription) should be able to bundle the Living by the Word articles by scripture reference somehow...
    Ah, well...back to the drawing board.

  9. mumpastor - sorry I did not get the question the first time. I had a membership to ATLA, too, but I stopped using it because of what you say -- so hard to search for what I wanted. Now I use regularly:
    lectionary leanings natch!, workingpreacher, dylan, anthony robinson (links at textweek) on-line and living the word and interpreters bible in print.

    curious: what do other folks find helpful for prep resources?

  10. Thanks for the support, my friends. I am committed now! I spent some time with the hymnal they use (1974 UCC Hymnal, not the greatest ever), and once I picked the hymns, I felt better. Which is *so* me!

  11. MP, I will be at Noble Road Pres at 10am this Sunday - I understand it's a very small congregation on summer Sundays so I wold love to see you there!

  12. And SB, after reading your story I called the pastor in a tizzy, worried about what he had preached on last Sunday. I could just imagine his congregation muttering, "Don't these people even talk to each other?" All is well, but that was a good heads-up and lesson for me as I am sure I will be doing guest preaching for quite awhile as I wait/hope for a call.

  13. Ack! Supply preacher, guilty as charged just this last Sunday. I almost always go with the lectionary, to avoid such a faux pas, but it was late notice and I pulled one out of the file cabinet to re-work. (Which I informed the regular preacher of when I agreed to preach. She said fine). The text? Psalm 139, which comes up on Sept 5, which I did not check.

    I am sorry and humbly repent.

  14. You know, sometimes I wonder if it could be a good thing to have different people preach on the same passage on consecutive weeks? It just might draw out the fact that there are different ways of interpreting, different messages, in the same passage (unless of course they go the same direction with it).

    I have to share that last week while we were selecting hymns the music director referred to this as "evil Jesus". Not sure if I'll use that line or not...

  15. SB, that particular UCC hymnal is really awful, IMHO. I admire you for being able to use it at all.

    My current frustration is creeping into my sermon prep. I'm trying to figure out confirmation class for next year. We have enough kids to probably/maybe eek one out, but I've gotten so jaded about the whole thing. We can make a calendar of meetings and make commitments to be there, and then there will always be sports and cheerleading and a family gathering and this and that and the other -- and the church commitment is dropped in a heartbeat.

    I can see Jesus (perhaps made in the image of the savior I want this week!) bringing a sword to one-foot-in-one-foot-out (if that) 21st century church members and upsetting family assumptions and all the rest for those who would follow him.

    Really, I just don't want to go through another Confirmation class where youth and adults and church make covenants with one another that, if they even intend to keep them at all, will be forgotten before the benediction is over.

    I am not without hope ... totally. Surely Jesus came to bring good news with that sword!

  16. I'll be preaching at Chautauqua Sunday at the St. Mary's. And the gospel simply cries out to be preached because it is so discordant. As I read FWOW this morning, one of the authors commented that Jesus' talk about battling families is an example for what it means to follow Jesus. He came to turn everything upside down, replacing what we consider essential or ours by right with the love of God.

    The Chautauqua theme is Powering the Future and I think I'll talk about how if we are really serious about conserving energy and/or switching to alternative means of same, then we are going to have to give up some of our most cherished "rights" in this country. There is an article in the NY Times this week saying that some cities are already turning off a third of all street lights because they can't afford to keep them all on. How would we react if we were told that we could only have electricity half the week or had to keep our ACs on 78? Imagine the division in this country! It might even set father against son, etc. just like following Jesus did and does. How many PKs don't go to church or have even stopped believing?
    Somehow, I want to get Isaiah in here, too. He's *so* comforting - not!
    I will leave Hebrews up to the rest of you.
    SB, I agree with Gord on preaching the same text. It is quite possible that you will have an entirely different take on it.
    ATLA folks: I like the database and can access it through my seminary. But I share the frustration. I had the author's name and a keyword from the title the other day and still didn't get what I knew was in there. So I just went with author and it came up. If it makes you feel better, this is one of the least friendly library databases I have ever worked with. Makes me glad I am no longer a librarian!

  17. yeah, songbird! go! is that the red one? my mom taught me how to change words with that one (we were always trying to make the hymns inclusive, even back then, even if it was just in our row) so it's beloved to me, even if it IS kind of a stinker....

    gord, I'm kind of with you. I also think it would be a good experiment, to see who/if anyone even noticed if you used the same scripture a couple of weeks in a row. "hmm, that sounds familiar, I wonder where I've heard it before..." I did attend a church where a guest preacher got the same Sunday every year, and preached on the same text every year and after a while we did catch on, though, so be careful of that :)

    Margaret, thanks for the affirmation on ATLA - it always makes me feel kind of stupid, which is not a good mood with which to enter sermon prep (and I used to work in a library, too!)

  18. Well, I'm off in the vineyard with Isaiah. The Gospel is tempting, especially as this is the side of Jesus we don't hear from as much, but I can't seem to get away from Isaiah. I'm not quite sure exactly where I'm going with it yet, but I think I'm going to pick up the music idea and talk about what kind of song it is and singing....maybe.

  19. *looks shamefaced*
    Okay, I confess: having just done a wee supply stint, that's me for a good while now, and time to focus full attention onto the PhD at last [and yes, my academic supervisor was very pleased to hear of it!]... but...that's not the confession bit
    *looks even guiltier*
    I confess I looked at this week's coming readings - esp. the gospel passage and punched a joyous fist in the air and thanked the good Lord I was not having to tangle with that particular passage...
    I am bad, I know.

    SB - yup it really sucks when folks preaching the week before you jump into what may end up being the readings for others in the weeks ahead. I think your cunning alternative plan is a good 'un tho.
    Was thinking as I read your first post re. God/ burning bush... God being with us on holy ground. Thought that wandered into small brain was 'and it was not consumed' - which is our Church of Scotland 'motto'. Lateral tangent was that which was not consumed was set there by the One who cannot be consumed, who walks with us, and as we walk together, we too are not consumed/ overwhelmed/ overcome. So God with us, in whatever situation we are in, and through God, in faith, we are not destroyed... hmmm, dunno, rambling. But if our treasure/ security is in God we will not be consumed in the face of division/ despair/ even in the face of death - for God cannot be consumed by these things?

  20. Anyone out there doing Mary, Mother of Our Lord? 'Cause I've got nothing. Looking for any insights for getting started.

  21. RE christian century/ATLA..I can barely work ATLA but I think the Century has some kind of deal where you can use their password or something? Double check before you give up...

    Songbird, I think your plan sounds BEAUTIFUL and will tie in with the context! :-)

    We have a guest preacher this week, and I'll be on vacation. Shockingly, said guest is off-lectionary. LOL.

  22. For those preaching Mary, much depends on your tradition. Duh! Seriously, I usually talk about Mary as a model of faith and obedience. I've heard folks speculate on whether she was the first asked or just the first one to say yes - can be fun.
    In the Episcopal tradition, there are many people who are commemorated for their faith. Mary is but another one of them to a large extent. But she was the god bearer and so deserves to be honored.

  23. I have long been a lurker - thirstily drinking in what is posted each week like the desert dweller that I am. Decided that I might better start contributing. SO....

    Gord, have often thought of a series where you would do just that in a church. Might be interesting.

    Just read an interesting article on preaching :

    on interactive preaching. So I'm thinking of using Hebrews, tying it in with school starting (with accompanying blessings), and asking folks to think about those who have been influential in their lives, and the ongoing character of that. Talking to each other of course. Ideas perking.........

  24. I groaned heartily when I read the Gospel this week, but as I started through my prep exercises (thank you Dr. McKenzie!) I have a new to me insight about Jesus' tough words. I'm going with Jesus bringing growing pains = division. All of the family conflicts he lists are developmentally appropriate in healthy families - and indeed keep the family healthy - the conflict is necessary for growth of the individual and the family. That's all I have for now but it's a good start I hope.
    Off to read Gord...

  25. Ooo, elastigirl, good stuff. Anytime we can talk systems theory to our folk, it seems productive.

    Hey there Rev TSB - welcome out of lurking purgatory! YOu have got me thinking now about assigning the same text to two supply preachers when I'm gone next summer, then wrapping it up with me doing the third week when I get back. It would have to be a really juicy text - something preachers could really sink their teeth into, and the folk would really need to have in (as a colleague used to say) their backpack. What would you choose for that, if you were going to do it?

  26. oh, margaret, i never thought of this!! "I've heard folks speculate on whether she was the first asked or just the first one to say yes - can be fun."

    that is TOTALLY going in my advent file!

  27. Juniper - gotta think about that one! I'll get back to you!

  28. Juniper - how 'bout Prodigal Son? A sermon series based around the viewpoint of each of the folk mentioned in the parable?
    [hehehe, I wonder what a sermon done from the viewpoint of the 'fatted calf' might look like!?]

    @ Gord - 'evil Jesus'... certainly gives a new spin to those rubber 'WWJD?' wristbands you see some folk wear, no?

    Am I thesis avoiding? Yup, you betcha... however, back to some more Knoxian tirades!!

  29. wow, so many comments here. I am preaching on the fly this week, meaning I was thinking to go with Mary, just because I never have, and I kind of dig her.
    Songbird, I can't WAIT to read your sermon. It will be lovely.
    Juniper, you just crack me up--you are the bombe.
    Silent, how are you doing with the Mary theme?


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