Category Archives: Lectionary Text

Jesus Calls Us

Focus: The Gospel of the Kingdom calls the church to follow Jesus.

Function: To call the church anew to virtuous living for the sake of others.

Plotline: * Our calling first and foremost begins with Jesus calling us to be disciples. * As disciples, we are called to follow the teachings of Kingdom living and follow the ministry of Kingdom engagement. *When I reflect on my calling… *Discerning the voice comes with where the voice takes you, The Kingdom of God!

Matthew 4:12-25 4:12 Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. 4:13 He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, 4:14 so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: 4:15 “Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali, on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles 4:16 the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.” 4:17 From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” 4:18 As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea for they were fishermen. 4:19 And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” 4:20 Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 4:21 As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. 4:22 Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.

*Our calling first and foremost begins with Jesus calling us to be disciples. M. Eugene Boring, The Gospel of Matthew, NIB Volume VIII (Nashville: Abingdon, 1995) 170–71 reflects on Matthew 4:18–22 saying, “Modern readers are tempted to refashion the biblical pictures of discipleship into categories more comfortable with our own ideologies and idealisms. To become a disciple means to accept Jesus’ principles for living, for example. There is an element of truth in such reinterpretations, but Matthew’s understanding of discipleship cannot be reduced to this modern rationalism and idealism. In this text Jesus appears disruptively in our midst and calls us not to admire him or accept his principles, not even to accept him as our personal Savior, but to follow him. A reasonable response to this command ‘Follow me’ would be ‘Where are you going?’ The fishermen do not yet know the destination, which they must learn along the way (cf. 10:5–42; 16:13–28).” … “The address ‘Follow me’ is in the imperative, but the indicative of the divine initiative is fundamental. the fishermen are already at work, already doing something useful and important, thus they are not looking for a new life. Jesus’ call does not fill an obvious vacuum or meet an obvious need in their lives, but, like the call of prophets in the Hebrew Bible, it is intrusive and disruptive, calling them away from work and family. the divine sovereignty is clothed in the call to human response: ‘I could not seek you, if you had not already found me.’ (Augustine Confessions Book 1.) ‘Discipleship is not an offer man makes to Christ. It is only the call which creates the situation.’ (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship (New York: Macmillan, 1959) 68. Jesus Calls Us to be Disciples.”

*As disciples, we are called to follow the teachings of Kingdom living and follow the ministry of Kingdom engagement. Our calling is just like the calling of the first disciples. Just like them, we see Jesus teaching and we see Jesus doing. The Jesus we are called to follow is described in Matthew with two bookend texts that summarize the Gospel of the Kingdom.

    • 4:23 Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the Gospel of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people. 4:24 News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed; and he healed them. 4:25 Large crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan followed him.
    • Matthew 9:35-38 9:35 Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the Gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. 9:36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”
    • Jesus came to announce and usher in God’s kingdom. And calling folk to follow that message. There are no applications, resumes, or letters of reference. The Gospel of the Kingdom that Jesus calls us to consists of …
    • Matthew 5-7 Jesus taught as one with authority. If you are going to follow then, here is an honorable way to live. The Sermon describes how we can experience true Human Flourishing that is “only available through communion with the Father God through his revealed Son, Jesus, as we are empowered by the Holy Spirit.”[1] And human flourishing is grounded in becoming a virtuous person. And this is the Gospel of the Kingdom.
    • Matthew 8-9 Jesus did as one with authority. Of the 32 miracles of Jesus, 20 are found in Matthew and 10 are found in these two chapters.
      • Ten ministry stories.
      • Ten stories that demonstrate what it means for the Kingdom of God to come.
      • Ten stories that proclaim the Act of God in Jesus and proclaim the Good News.
      • Ten stories of the saving work of God.
      • Ten stories that call us “To hope for a better future in this world— for the poor, [to hope for a better future] the sick, [to hope for a better future] the lonely and depressed, [to hope for a better future] for the slaves, the refugees, the hungry and homeless, for the abused, the paranoid, the downtrodden and despairing, and, in fact, [to hope for a better future] for the whole wide wonderful, and wounded world—is not something else, something tacked on to the gospel as an afterthought.” Jesus was doing in the present what he was promising long-term in the future.[2] And this is the Gospel of the Kingdom.
    • And the ten stories are interspersed with two discipleship texts impressing again the calling and cost of the Gospel of the Kingdom, a Gospel of Kingdom teachings and Kingdom engagements.

*When I reflect on my calling… I do not have one of those grand narratives that get published in books, inspire the masses to lay down their nets, or even speak a still small voice in the quietness of the soul. My call is not all that spectacular.

    • Growing up, going to church was the place I always felt accepted. As I kid, I looked forward to going.
    • And when I preached my first sermon at age 13, I was affirmed.
    • No one ever asked me, “Tell me about your calling into the ministry?”
    • My call into the ministry was an ecclesial call.
    • There are many voices out there calling us. Sometimes those voices are competing voices, calling us to some unworthy and contradictory ends. Other voices are good, and God would bless those paths just as readily (Pharmacy…labs; maybe not called).
    • For some, the call is easy and discernable. For others, the call is garbled and hard to hear. Yet years later, I look back on the Gospel of the Kingdom and I still hear Jesus calling me.

*Discerning the voice comes with where the voice takes you. And when the first disciples decided to follow, Matthew emphasizes what Jesus sets about teaching and doing. Jesus goes throughout Galilee, “teaching in synagogues and proclaiming the Gospel of the Kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people” (v 23). Discerning the voice comes with where the voice takes you. Discerning the call of God and the will of God is not all that different. The call of God takes you to transformational virtuous living– Matt 5-7 teaching. The call of God takes you to the broken places in people’s lives that require Matt 8-9 engagement. If you are going to follow Jesus, the Gospel of God calls you and us as a church community to become virtuous. And we become a flourishing virtuous community for the benefit of others. This is the Gospel of the Kingdom!

[1] J. T. Pennington, The Sermon on the Mount and Human Flourishing, 14.

[2] N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope, 191.

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Preaching in Season: Galatians

Preaching in Season Podcast

A series designed to help ministers in their work of interpreting the Bible and preaching the Word throughout the seasons of the Church’s life. Subscribe to the podcast. The second of eight podcasts is linked below. See the whole series here.

Preaching Galatians 1

In this episode, homiletics professor Dr. Tim Sensing leads us to consider how to preach the first chapter of Galatians. 

Preaching in Season Home

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Timely Quote

While preparing for my sermon I read the following.

Today people are fundamentally consumers: they want what they want when they want it, even in the church. If they do not like what is happening or what they hear, they leave and start shopping for a better deal. Meanwhile, the pressure is constantly on preachers to increase attendance, to raise the budget, to grow a church–to do whatever it takes to improve market share. Be nice; be funny; make promises; do not offend. There is an inordinate desire for approval, for applause, for appreciation on the part of pastors today. To Paul’s queston, “Am I seeking human approval, … am I trying to please people?” (Gal 1.10), many preachers today would have to answer, in all honesty, yes. When preachers are captive to public opinion, when churches too easily become purveyors of gospel gimmicks, offering the religious goods and services people want, what is sacrificed is the ability to be a slave of Christ in service to his unchanging gospel.

–Heidi Husted Armstrong

“Galatians 1:1-12,” Feasting on the Word, Year C, Volume 3, pg. 90.

I am not planning to use the quote in my sermon because it does not fit the congregational context. I’m the visiting preacher and the church spends most of its energies reaching out to the local deaf community and African refugees. Yet the quote resonates with other voices I am hearing lately. For example, Chris Seidman at the Branch Church was a guest lecturer in my class on practical theology. I asked him to talk about his ministerial identity and relate how it connects to practice. He spoke about Jesus’ baptism and how Jesus began his own ministry after the word from heaven, “This is my son whom I am well pleased.” Chris spoke about how ministry springs forth from the blessing and grace of God and not from the approval of people. The examples he gave convicted us all.

I am part of a team that facilitates healthy matches between churches and ministers. It is satisfying work. Yet there are times when both parties would do well to commit themselves to the ability to be a slave of Christ in service to his unchanging gospel. The church might actually get smaller if such matters were practiced. As Fred Craddock often noted, It is not bad preachers that people will not listen to; it may just be very good ones.

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First Sunday of Lent

Confessing Jesus Christ

 Romans 10:8b-13

“The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved. The scripture says, “No one who believes in him will be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. For, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

Coming here today has brought up many memories about our church plant in NJ. Once I recall being asked to give expert testimony for the case of the Sailor’s Mystery Signature. Walt’s Last Will & Testament was being contested. One of the key points of the dispute was his signature. Why me? Why was I asked to give expert testimony on a man’s signature? Because I had witnessed one of the only legal documents accessible, the Cape May Courthouse Church of Christ incorporation papers.

  • So what is the role of a witness? One who has seen or heard; one who has experienced an event. Let’s call that the “Behold” phase of being a witness. You’re standing on the street corner. A yellow F-150 runs the red light and hits the black sedan. You are the witness because you beheld the event in question.
  • And there is a second phase, the “Declare” portion of the role of the witness. Whether it is simply giving your statement to the police or going to court to testify, you are turning to give your voice to the events in question. While some will discount testimony as mere perception, our whole legal system is based on the fact that testimony is not perception but the report itself. And testimony is not the event itself for it is the hearers of the testimony, the jury, who are called to decide how credible is the testimony. And the jury, once convinced by the testimony, is persuaded to act on the testimony as evidence. The event affects the witness; the testimony affects the jury.
  • And so too our faith. We were not witnesses of the actual events 2000 years ago. We rely on the faithful testimony of eyewitnesses. We deem them reliable and therefore we believe. We are not left alone with just the eyewitness accounts, but God’s Spirit testifies to our spirit the truth of these events. And from our belief, we then have experiences with a living Christ. And from our experience, we then give testimony. And the chain of witness continues.
  • Like a hinge—Behold><Declare. You cannot declare what you do not behold. And if you behold, you have the opportunity, if not the responsibility, to declare. [i]

So what have we experienced as Christians? The season of Lent, this first Sunday of Lent in the Christian calendar, focuses our attention first and foremost to our experience of sin. Sin…let us count the ways. Recently, I have heard sermons on Narcissism, consumerism, selfishness, and a series on greed. The church has a tradition of naming the seven deadly sins, also known as the capital vices or cardinal sins. The list includes pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath and sloth.

  • However you name sin, sin only becomes real when you move from the abstract to the concrete in your life and experience. For example, Spotlight, when the reporter realizes he is the one guilty of complicity of child molestation by burying the story years earlier. And even more concrete, when I come to recognize the harm my own sin causes, not abstractly, but last Tuesday afternoon.
  • And in the midst of that sin, many, not all, call upon the name of the Lord. What does that call look like? How does it sound? In what pitch is it sung? Throughout the centuries and across many neighborhoods, the words and the cries may seem quite different. So as we listen to people, are they crying out for God? How does their soul express their experience of sin in the world and their experience of sin in their own lives? And even if their call upon the Lord is different than my call upon the Lord, when they call, the Lord hears them all.
  • But also, this text draws us to a hopeful end. For it is not the confession of sin that this first Sunday of Lent points us to, but the profession of our faith. While it is true, no one is righteous, it is also true, no one is hopeless.
  • And I then confess, profess, give testimony, and declare to the fact that Jesus makes a difference in me and in my community of faith. And that profession, just like confession, can be expressed in myriad of ways. And communities and traditions might express it differently than I do. Most often communities do it through liturgy. Through prayer, song, worship, reading of scripture, fellowship, or other spiritual disciplines and sacrificial service, we together experience a living Christ and profess our faith.

In preaching it works like this. Vs 8b “The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim)”. It is this same Roms 10 text that in the larger context continues,

“But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!’ But not all have obeyed the good news; for Isaiah says, ‘Lord, who has believed our message?’ So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ.”

  • In the preacher’s study, many contextual and exegetical gems are examined. Historically, she might note that Paul is calling the diverse Roman community to realize that when “all” profess “Jesus is Lord”, then “all” of them are saved. Some of the historical and exegetical material might get left behind in the study because the preacher is looking for how the theology of the text applies in 2016. The preacher beholds the living word of God and swivels in the chair of the study to the pulpit to proclaim what is seen and heard. The person in the pew hears that preached word and beholds its transforming power in the heart and swivels to life, family, work, and community to proclaim faith.
  • Near us and even in us is the transforming word of salvation. We can be changed, forgiven, renewed, and enriched.
  • That in a nutshell is a theology of proclamation as testimony, or the witness or preaching.

But the role of witness is not just reserved for preachers. The role of witness is bound to your baptism. Romans 10 comes after Romans 6. All who are baptized have such a view as this. Listen to Paul’s audience in the text … [Re-read Romans 10:8b-13]

“The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved. The scripture says, “No one who believes in him will be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. For, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

That text is a living word. So we behold Jesus… (Refrain)

  • We behold Jesus… Who met a woman at a well treating her as a person of dignity.
  • We behold Jesus… Who met a blind beggar and gave him relief.
  • We behold Jesus… Who met 5000 hungry folk and gave them bread and fish.
  • We behold Jesus… Who ministered to a rich guy in a sycamore tree of all places and brought salvation to his house.
  • We behold Jesus… Who restored life to the brother of two grieving sisters.
  • And we behold the countless stories, one right after another, of Jesus encountering people in their darkest hour, encountering people in their pain, encountering people in their suffering, encountering people in their sin.
  • And we behold that salvation is good. And all of these stories still testify today.

I believe Jesus is raised from the dead. Therefore, I confess that Jesus is Lord.

In the name of the Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer, Amen.

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Knowing Our Position in Christ

Ascension Day, May 29, 2014

Text Readings: Ephesians 1:15-23; Acts 1:1-11; Luke 24:44-53

My first experience with the power of nature that I remember occurred when I was in High School.  Monticello, Indiana sustained serious damage by a tornado on April 3, 1974, part of the Super Outbreak that caused death and destruction across the midwest and south. The aftermath of this storm is recorded in the Herald Journal’s book, Killer Tornado. The tornado was classified as an F4 on the Fujita scale. This storm killed eight people and was part of tornado family that killed 18, causing an estimated $100 million in damage. In the immediate aftermath of the storm, news outlets reported three hundred deaths across the United States and the creation of temporary morgues. A good friend’s father and grandmother were killed. As the wind picked up his father it also lowered him into the safety of a basement. In the aftermath of the disaster, I spent days helping with the cleanup. I saw all sorts of amazing and tragic signs of the power of the wind. The one that has lasted the longest is the memory of a twisted aerial antenna.

    • Job 26—What is the thunder of God’s power?
    • If nature is but a whisper, where is the thunder of God’s power?

God’s thunder is seen in the resurrection and enthronement of Jesus (1:19b-23).

  • Paul prays that they may know three things: the hope of the calling (rooted in 1:3-14 and anticipating 4:1); the riches of his glorious inheritance; and the surpassing greatness of his power.
    • Imagine the four-tiered fountain in which God’s glory spills over into Christ and Christ’s glory pours into the church, and the church’s glory drenches the whole world.
    • Gen. 12 Just as Israel was to be a blessing to the nations. Ah, it did not happen. But God, through one seed still blesses the nation in Jesus. And through the church to bless the nations. And we have failed.
    • But Paul can see the blessings of God clearly. And he uses the past and present tense: “And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.”
    • And Paul sees it from the pit of a lonely jail cell. Even in the midst of hecklings, beatings, and arrests. Even though blow after blow caused his own suffering, he still with the eyes of faith sees God’s ultimate success. God would succeed. God has already succeeded.
  • Every title that can be given …
    • Every military, political, social, religious, corporate power …
    • Placed under Jesus’ feet as a footstool.
    • Christ is the great filler.

God’s thunder is seen in our own resurrection and enthronement (2:1-10). It is seen in the Ephesians’ Power Pack (3:7, 16, 18, 20; 6:10). The power that he prays is comprehended, he also prays that believers apprehend it too.

  • And That Power Is Available To Us Who Believe (1:19a).
    • 2000-2010, Diana Butler Bass, After Religion, “horrible decade” … and the church is not exempt.
    • We’ve seen that look just this past Monday, Memorial Day, as families remember sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, who gave their lives.
    • Or, the shooting at UC Santa Barbara, and the memories of other shootings at schools or movie theatres.
    • In this broken world, Paul sees the church standing up as first responders. Bringing God’s Kingdom, God’s reign, God’s glory to the earth.
  • When churches rise from the ashes from days like this and becomes a blessing to the nations fulfilling “God’s intent that now through the church the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord,” then we have seen God’s resurrection power at work.
    • And I have seen it, and if you think about, so have you.
      • Faith Works, Grace/Freedom outreach …

And we discover where God lives. We find him still blessing his ruined creation. He was the first to weep, the first to rescue, to first to embrace, and the last to leave. Jesus reigns.

And the stories we will tell, as God reigns over his broken world, are the stories of rescue, peace, healing, reunion.  And Paul prays 1:18-19.  And his power is at work all around us. And no matter how badly humanity mars the image of God, or how far hate and evil assail innocent people, or how cracked the church’s walls are—We face death and sin as our enemy knowing God is still here, bending over us all, his hand raised in blessing. It is he who fills all in all, whose fullness has spilled over into us. It is Christ the Lord. And Jesus is still on his throne. Amen

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Graduate Chapel

Gleaners 2.0


  1. A quick Google search for “being holy” reveals the cartoon caricature of a sanctimonious person wearing more than one halo, a prudish glare, and primly pious look of someone who is holier than thou. Or it reveals a guru on a mountain or shaman in a cave who is far removed from people. What could God possibly mean when God speaks, “You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy”?
  2. Today’s reading from Lev 19 is the only occurrence of Leviticus in the Common Revised Lectionary. In the words of Kimberly Clayton, “If you have never preached from Leviticus, and most of us have never preached from Leviticus, this may be just the opportunity you were not looking for.” Lev 19 presents God’s vision for loving community where civil and just dealings dictate how we relate to one another whether they are in community or sojourners. I check my identity papers, my baptismal certificate, that identifies me as a citizen in God’s kingdom, a family member in God’s household, and it states a fundamental criterion for my life. I am created in the image of God, re-created in the image of Jesus, and called to be a reflection of God’s image, to be holy as God is Holy.
    • Holy Living: define here as a call to imitate God in terms of everyday, often mundane, and a Ten Commandment kind of way. For example, allowing the most vulnerable in the community access to your property in order to glean. And that is in the context as neighbors dealt with honestly, wages paid promptly, disputes settled fairly whether it is in the field, home, business, friends, sojourners, worship, or courtroom. When I’m holy, I insure the welfare of others. Whether you are inside or outside, highbrow or outcast, politically acceptable or socially taboo, God’s holiness calls us to love our neighbor. My holiness will be defined by my love and not according to my pedigree, genetics, official papers, or portfolio. Being holy is the condition of our head affecting the conduct of our relationships. To be holy is to roll up your sleeves and express active love.
    • Churches that practice the art of providing for the gleaners are not limited to food. While organizations like are worthy of imitation, other areas of life call for holiness too. There are voices in our nation today that are saying there are some who are not entitled to mercy; not entitled to the gleanings. Who gets medical care? Who gets mental health assistance? Who gets a job? Who gets a place to live or something to eat or a fair wage? Who has equal access to education? When you get out of jail or prison, who really gets a chance? These voices are determining who is eligible to be a gleaner. And I thank God the church operates differently.
    • For example, the woman who accused an elder of adultery. She didn’t point the finger and say, “You are the man” but used innuendo and insinuation to spawn her malicious gossip. He was the one giving an African-American woman a ride to church. And you can connect the dots…
    • And again, what about the prison parolees who had difficulty finding a place to worship after their release? They were given a Christian halfway house not only to meet their needs to integrate back into society but also to be a place of worship on Sundays so that the full house of God could maintain etiquette and decorum; decency and order. And you can connect the dots…
    • And the church that did not want to reach out to poor children in the community because 1) they would be disruptive to the classroom, and 2) they would contribute to the wear and tear on the facilities. And 20 years later I heard the same rationale, “You just ask the school teachers here at this church. They will tell you how disruptive those kids are in the classroom.” And you can connect the dots…
    • Connect the dots…Loving the neighbor, the sojourner, and in Jesus’ community, loving your enemy… do the dots connect to the holiness of God? Or do we keep the gleaners in our fields at arm’s length?

I am reading Mark Scandrette’s Practicing the Way of Jesus: Life Together in the Kingdom of Love. An apt description of the holiness of Lev 19. Scandrette is advocating an activist form of spirituality. Doing kingdom work activates a person’s spiritual formation. He encourages holiness by asking people to join together in experiments of practice. The first he describes is “Have2Give1.” I thought about the 3 sets of clubs I own and lack the ability to use one. Even the rules of golf won’t let me use more than 16 clubs. I claim that I’m a lowly schoolteacher, but I still have the luxury to dabble at an elite game. You see, I have these fields that are well cultivated in order to produce a harvest for the stewardship of my home. But where do the borders of my fields invite practices of love, hospitality, inclusivity, and mercy? Where do I engage the most vulnerable, the sojourner, the orphan and widow, so to embody my love for one another, for love of my neighbor, and for love of my enemy? I’m trying to connect the dots for my own practice. In Scandrette’s words, Practicing the Way of Jesus: Life Together in the Kingdom of Love.


The church cannot leave God’s call to love unanswered. Who are those folks that are our gleaners in our midst? God says, Be Holy, for I the Lord your God am Holy. And you are called to connect the dots. Mt 5:43-48. “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. ‘But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.  For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?  And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” –The Word of the Lord.

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Opening Chapel 8/28/13

Proper 17, Year C Luke 14:1, 7-14

Musical Chairs

Focus Statement: God calls for a humility of heart and actions.

Function Statement: To challenge the graduate school community to live in a non-competitive way with one another.

Video of Opening Chapel at the Graduate School of Theology, Abilene Christian University

Welcome to Graduate Chapel!

While at Duke I was given the assignment to write a series of sermons from the Lectionary that covered one season. I chose Easter. There are seven Sundays in Easter and the assignment felt manageable.  I chose the seven Sundays of Easter because the Lectionary followed the book of Acts (lectio semi-continua). The assignment also asked me to preach one of those sermons. One student responded, “It doesn’t feel like Easter. It feels like Advent.” Everyone else in class chose Advent (only four Sundays in Advent). They had not chosen Advent because the season was short, but because Advent was rising on the horizon. They all had a deep sense of sacred time. “I may never know what Advent feels like.” While I have a keen sense of the time of the day, I do not have a keen sense of the time of the season.

  • Throughout my years at Graduate Chapel, organizers have created a rhythm out of a deep sense of sacred time. Spiritual Themes or Sacred Texts have organized their planning. It has not been haphazard. And organizers in the past have created connections with the Christian Year, particularly certain days like All Saints Day and Easter, or certain seasons most notably Advent and Lent.
  • Growing up in a Free Church tradition, I did not learn about sacred time. The Sunday closest to Jan 1—resolutions; July 4—freedom; late May—graduation Sunday; Nov—thanksgiving; etc.  The tension was evident to me one Sunday morning when I realized that the occasion was Mothers Day and Ascension Sunday. And to quote that sermon in 2005 @ Eastland Presbyterian.

I appreciate the invitation to come and speak to you on this special day. I personally lack the capacity to handle, to juggle, the times and the seasons when they come into conflict. For example, Mother’s Day and my Father’s birthday often overlap.  You know the phone call, “Happy Mother’s Day.” She responds, “Thanks. I just finished talking to your brother. What about your Father’s birthday yesterday? Is his card in the mail?” Mother’s Day is an important day, a time to remember and appreciate the many women who have loved us and nurtured us along our journeys to adulthood. … a time to affirm mothers who are currently engaged in R & R (run and rassle). … and a time to comfort mothers who have lost children or to comfort children who grew up without the gentle hand of a mother, to comfort men and women who are childless.

But sometimes the seasons of the year come into conflict and we make choices. At home, we make choices to go to mom’s favorite restaurant, to buy flowers and cards, to do extra chores around the house etc. … But at church, we may graciously acknowledge our mothers, but we choose to emphasize the Lord’s time, to emphasize the Lord’s season, and emphasize the Lord’s Day.

Eusebius, Bishop of Nicomedia (341 C.E.) was the first to establish Ascension as a separate and special day.  …

This semester we will be using the lectionary as the rhythm for Graduate Chapel in order to participate in the rhythm of the Christian Year. And it’s odd practice, an odd choice because the academic year beats differently. For example, we are currently in Year C that tracks primarily through the Gospel of Luke. It is the season of Pentecost or sometimes called Ordinary Time. This coming Sunday is designated Proper 17, counting off the days of Ordinary Time. The Christian Year will not start for 16 more Sundays, December 1, the first Sunday of Advent, Year A and the Gospel of Matthew. Its odd to begin the academic year in the middle of a Christian season that is well underway. But for this year, Graduate Chapel is not going to beat with the drum of the academic year, but pick up, Lord willing, in mid-season of Ordinary Time in order to hear a Word from the Lord.

That said, this coming Sunday is Proper 17 and the Gospel text is Luke 14:7-14. Here the Word of the Lord.


Will Willimon once remarked in class that preachers should resist running from the lectionary text on any given Sunday. While events of the week might spur the preacher to seek a relevant text, Willimon would say, “Don’t,” you might be surprised how relevant the pre selected lection might be. And as I look at Luke 14, Willimon’s advice pricks close to heart. While not a text that comes to mind to kick off a new semester with wit and optimism, it is what it is.

You heard the text read. It is one of many mealtime texts in Luke. The Gospel of Luke uses mealtimes to emphasize social inequalities. People noticed where one ate (5:29), with whom one ate (5:30), whether one washed before eating (7 & 11), and where one sat to eat (14), and who is invted (14). All of these matters determined one’s social position.

Today’s text is the one where folks are playing musical chairs. You know the game—keep your eye on the chairàthe prize; and your eye on the other playersàthe competition. And when it gets down to just the last few chairs, you know there’s going to be someone with an elbow here, a knocked down chair there, and someone crying foul. It’s the game of chairs where high society knows your status by the social graces you practice. Proper decorum and social conventions are indicators of your pecking order. And it happens in other segments of society. All cultures, societies, clans, tribes, neighborhoods, and kinfolks know the rules and the standings.

And churches and schools are no different.

  • GPA
  • Class rank; degree choice
  • School rank and reputation
  • Publications
& Churches
  • Attendance, dress, jobs
  • Choices of Ministries
  • Social, political, and doctrinal issues
  • Church reputation
  • Preacher’s Meetings
And Me, I’ve already named drop Duke twice and Willimon once. We certainly like footnoting ourselves.
  • And, to be honest, I get disgusted when I see schools and churches play musical chairs, … unless I’m the one playing and then I have a vicious elbow.

America teaches us to be assertive, aggressive, and self-confident in order to get ahead, win the prize, and be noticed.

  • In any context, we can learn the rules of the game in order to win. Taking the low seat because one is humble is one thing.  To take the low seat as a way to move up is quite another. You see, this is not good advice on how to be exalted.  Can you imagine the scene where twenty-five adults are arguing about the low seat because of their desire to get the high seat? Like playing the game of musical chairs and no one sits down.

So as we all begin this academic year, where many of the systemic structures are designed around competing, advancing, achieving, and winning—Our faith let’s us not only imagine a different way, but to live into a different set of virtues and practices.

Jesus radically reverses the social order. In order to climb the ladder of success, you step down. In order to win, you lose. In order to lead, you serve. In order to live, you die. In order to be resurrected, you are crucified. There are no reserved seats. There are no designated parking spaces. There are no corner offices in the Kingdom of God. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted. – And that, only by God.

The Word of the Lord.


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That’s Where God Lives

God’s Kingdom Vision

1 Kings 8

Proper 4, Year C

Focus: Seeing God enlarges one’s vision of God’s presence among God’s people.

Function: To inspire greater participation with God’s people.

Plot Line: What are young people looking for in a church? **While the question is not worded that way in our text today, when Solomon dedicates the Temple to God, he does answer our questions. **Now I’m not saying and none of you believe this building is sacred or that if outsiders come to our building they will somehow be saved. **No, it is not the place, it is God! **Where do you fit into this story? **Why do you participate in a faith community? Because where the people of God gather, God is.

Thank you for your invitation to preach here today. Even though I was born in IN, I consider TN home. The family farm, where my parents live in Dickson Co has been in our family since before the county kept records of deeds. And since my father was a school teacher in IN, we spent every summer on the farm. When my grandfather first met Laura, he said he knew I had to come to TN to find a good wife.

I also want to affirm your ministry to the Village of Hope. Fred Asare and Noah Osei.

Recently I was asked to speak to a gathering of Elders in Dallas on the topic, “What are young people looking for in a church?” It’s a good question. I understand why they are asking the question. They look around their Sunday assemblies and they see less and less twenty somethings in attendance. And the question is not all about—”How can we be more attractive? How can we be the cool church in town?” No, no, —I believe the question from these Elders comes from a deep desire to serve, a conviction that the future of the church is dependent on raising the next faithful generation.

  • Their question is similar to John Westerhoff’s question, “Will our children have faith?” Or “Will our faith have children?” It is a good question.
  • SO, the question is, “How can our church be more attentive to the faith of the next generation.” “When the next generation looks to the church, will they come to faith?”
  • Poll—“Why do you or do you not participate in a faith community?” I plan to answer the Elders in Dallas by giving voice to the twenty-somethings. In their own words, this is what they want Elders to hear. And it is only after we have listened, will we know how to respond. Now, like most researchers, whether they confess it or not, I have a bias. My bias is optimistic. I am hopeful. And I believe the word that comes back to these Elders in Dallas will edify them. [2 weeks; 250 responses; and my bias so far is holding steady].
  • The question remains for all of us no matter your age, “What are you looking for when you come to this place on any given Sunday? What do you hope to See? Hear? What do you expect?

While the question is not worded that way in our text today, when Solomon dedicates the Temple to God, he does answer our questions. You know the story … (1 Ki 8:1-2, 10-14, 22). “The glory of the Lord filled the temple.” 1 Kings 8:41-43 … and others will have faith because they too behold God.

Now I’m not saying and none of you believe this building is sacred or that if outsiders come to our building they will somehow be saved. Of course, God’s people for God’s service built it by monies dedicated to God. And we need to be good stewards of its care and use. But I’m not talking about any such nonsense as the building, bricks and mortar, being holier than another place. And our text struggles with that impulse too. At times it seems like the Temple is the very dwelling of God, and at times it is only the place where God’s Name dwells  –1 Ki 8:27.

No, it is not the place, it is God! It is always God. Then, now, and in the future, it is always God. And others will come to faith because the story is about God. Our children will come to faith, because the story is about God. While the dedication scene may seemingly be about the Temple, know, it is really all about God. And, as throughout the Bible, the biblical witness struggles when it talks about the presence of God in our midst. God’s Divine Nearness is shrouded in mystery. We may want certainty, but there is none. In 1 Kings 8, there is a collage of various articulations and diverse images as God’s presence as described as dwelling, or tabernacling in the midst of people. Listen to the words: Temple, Ark, Cloud, Glory, Name, and Deep Darkness. Faith speaks with a limited vocabulary. God is described a “close by” and “transcendent.” Near — high and lifted up.

  • Yet, the preliminary results for the minority who say they do not participate in a faith community indicates that their reasons are due to negative past experience with churches. The main thing was not the main thing.

Where do you fit into this story? In the unfolding story of God, we fit knowing that as the plot line unfolds, it is not our story, it is God’s story. From the beginning, in the middle, at the climax. From prologue to epilogue, from foreword to afterword, from the alpha to omega, from a to z, the story is about God.

  • When God first calls a gathered people into existence, Gen 12, blesses a people, who are a blessing to the nations
  • Prophets know this story—when God dwells among God’s people, they are a light unto the Gentiles
  • Zechariah, in the building of the second temple, there are ten sayings about the return of God’s presence to Jerusalem. The tenth word, 8:23, “This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘In those days ten men from all languages and nations will take firm hold of one Jew by the edge of his robe and say, ‘let us go with you, because we have heard that God is with you.’”
  • And Jesus came and dwelt among us, “and we have seen his glory, the glory of the only begotten of God.” And Jesus came so that all us could see and believe.
  • And the birth of the church occurred due to the Great Commission so that all nations would hear the gospel of God. And the early church grew throughout the world.
  • And today, in many places and in various ways, God’s glory shines forth through the church. When Jesus is lifted up, God will draw people to himself.
  • Where do you fit in the unfolding story of God? When you gather as the people of God, and God’s presence dwells in your midst, then God be praised!

Why do you participate in a faith community? Because where the people of God gather, God is.

…And that is the invitation, for all who are weak and heavy laden, come and know thy God.

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