Lectionary Quotes

brush stroke

"brush stroke of particularity"

So I notice the dip in the ratings when I use the word lectionary…well, too bad.

Here are a few quotes from this weeks readings – which are I Samuel 16:1-3; Psalm 23; Ephesians 5:8-14; John 11.  They all come from Feasting on the Word, Year 1, Vol 2.

“One way to approach preaching Psalm 23 is not to preach it. Just read it slowly — preferably in the King James Version — and sit down.  This will not score points among the serious intellectuals in your congregation, but the middle-school crowds will love you for it.  The over-seventy crowd will thank you for not over-talking a text that is so rich in history and meaning that simply the sound of its words and the rhythm of its cadence sing us into the presence of a mystery that can not be touched by rhetoric.”  David M. Burns

“In Advent we celebrate the light of God coming to the world in Jesus Christ. It is God’s act.  God bring the light to earth and to us. In Lent we witness darkness creeping up to, circling around and apparently overcoming Jesus.  Yet here again God is once again the actor.  God brings Jesus to life…”   Laird J. Stuart (Ephesians 5:8ff)

“Most of us, whether in pulpit or pew, have already heard plenty about the awesome powers of darkness.  What we most need, as bearers of Christ’s light, are glimpses of  our possibilities for exposing that works of darkness.  This means offering the people brushstrokes of particularity that bring to life Christ aglow in each of us.”  Don Wardlaw  (Ephesians 5:8ff)

“Just because you had a holy moment with mud does not mean that the rest of us will stop scraping it off our boots, right?”   Anna Carter Florence.  (John 9:6ff)

I particularly like the idea of “brush strokes of particularity…”

Suffering’s Value – Romans 5:1-5

A Little Preaching here…

Romans 5 describes a process.  The process of the Israelites was Suffering leads to Arguing. (Exodus 17:1-7)

Here is a better process.  It is not a How-To project.  This does not describe what we should be doing by ourselves.  It is what God does in our lives.  We can fight against it and make it worse, or we can work with God and make it work better.


We encounter suffering.   You will face hardships.  Jesus was lead into the desert by the Holy spirit, where he fasted for 40 days and faced the Devil.  He did not suffer because he disobeyed, but because he obeyed.  This is just how Israel was in the desert and they faced trials.  They did not face trials because they disobeyed – that was God’s plan.  Their problem was that they fought and resented the ways of God.

We persevere.  When we face suffering we can quit or we can continue.  This is true of many things.  Start to play the guitar and your fingertips will get sore and red, but you have to continue, and then they harden.  Start to exercise and you will have pains, but it gets better as you get into shape.  When we continue forward, despite the suffering, we gain perseverance.

We develop character.  As you continue, you become a different person.  As you face hardships you learn;  Your personality changes.  Instead of crying like a baby, you become more mature and learn how to handle problems.  Crying is fine for the helpless, and it is even ok for adults, but we have to move forward.

Character results in hope.  Here is where we learn from our experience.  In Exodus 17, Israel forgot that in Exodus 16 god sent Manna.  They should have said, “If god send bread, he could also send water.”  But they did not learn or develop character. So every new problem was a crisis.

When you face hardships, and you survived by Gods’ grace, you lean that God is faithful.  You learn to have hope.


Let me say a couple of things about this process.

1.  It is not as neat and tidy as a chart.  Our hardships do not come with labels on them.  So when you get a flat tire, there is not a large blue box that labels that hardship. And when you face that problem with a car jack, it does not have the sign “character” or “hope” written on it.

2.  You do not go through this only once.  This is constant, you are maybe part way through one lesson on character, and another starts.  Don’t think that you can say, I went through that now, I am a graduate!. Maybe so, but if you were in 1st grade, now you are in 2nd. Or if you were in high school, now you are in college. Of if you were in middle age, now you are a senior citizen.

3. It is not automatic, like a machine.  It is much more personal than that.  There is not a process inside of us.  There is not data inside of us.  There is not “something” inside of us.  There is “someone” there.  This is a personal thing, not a mechanical thing.

God has poured his love into our hearts in the person of the Holy Spirit.  It is the Holy Spirit who gives us encouragement. He is the one who helps us to understand God’s promises, and later to remember them when we need them. It is the Spirit who prays for us in words that we cannot form for ourselves


Lectionary – plus and minus


So as I explore using the Lectionary here are some things I have observed:

  1. You need to have or have access to an extensive library for study – early in my ministry I would buy a couple of commentaries for each sermon series – as I generally preach by biblical book.  So after all this time the gaps in my coverage is smaller.  Having access to a university library helps.  If you do not have such a library, you would be hostage to whatever lectionary resources you have.
  2. Reading  a book like Feasting on the Word, offers an interesting and varied perspective on the passages, however one has to read discerningly.  Yesterday on Romans 5, there was a quote from Paul Tillich that sounded good, however, one needs to remember that Tillich believed in re-defining theological terms.  So this book is like the top of the funnel – at the start of reading, expose your reading eye to a lot of stuff to stimulate your thinking on relevance, issues you might tend to neglect and so forth, but the sermon comes out of the narrow end, after you have studied and winnowed the wheat from the chaff.
  3. Connecting passages is kind of fun.  The complaining Israelites (Exodus 17) lacked Water, as did the Woman of Samaria (Jn 4) and God “pours out his love” (i.e. like water) in Romans 5, and Ps 95 links to the Isralites habit toward complaining.  For me this is new and kind of fun, but I feel also that this is one groups way to explore the inter-related themes of the Bible, not the only one.
  4. Some Urban Ministries are following this idea of following the lectionary, church year and related parts of our heritage.  For a conference I am reading “Sacred Roots” by Dr. Don Davis of The Urban Ministry Institute ( www.tumi.org/sacredroots ).  This is kind of surprising to me, it will be interesting to see.
  5. The concept of centering your calendar on the Life of Christ as opposed to the color scheme of the shopping season at Walgreen’s is very appealing, but when do Roots become Routine only?

Leviathan Revisited – (Incognito)

  What is this?

  Near where I live, there is a coffee shop named Mother Fools, which offers a public place for (graffiti) artists to work.  This is the East wall of this brick building and about every month the art is painted over.

This painting caught my eye.  On one level it is protest about Governor Walker’s budget proposals.  The capital is where large rallies have been ongoing for about a month or more.  The train represents that rejection of a rail project that was to connect Chicago, Milwaukee, Madison and the Twin Cities.  The scratched 14 in the man’s shoulder must represent the 14 Democratic Party senators who fled to Illinois to prevent a quorum.  To confirm this see the note in the bottom left “Scott [Walker] for shame”

The style is reminiscent of labor art, political cartoons and in a sense socialist realism art.  The central figure is wearing the clothes of a laborer as he struggles with a snake.

Who is the snake?  Is it the governor?  The opposing party? or perhaps the idea of a system that is perceived as evil.

Hence, I think this is another example of the Leviathan image (see previous post in the Incognito series), which is a biblical image of the entwining power of evil in the world.

I am sure the opposing side could make another picture, changing who is the hero and who is the villain.

The scripture, it seems to me, does not allow us to say that any one group is totally evil, or another is totally noble.  for the Fall (which has to do with another Ancient Serpent, Genesis 3) has rendered all sides corrupted.


Where is “Double Imputation”?

Double Imputation is the theological idea that our sins are “imputed” to Christ and his righteousness is imputed to us.  “Imputed” would then mean something like “considered to be” or “given to”.

Does the Lord count our sin as paid by Christ? (Our sin imputed to him)

Does the Lord count Christ’s goodness towards us? (His righteousness imputed to us.)

By what text?

How about 2 Corinthians 5:21 (NIV)

God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

and Romans 5:18-19 (NIV)

Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men. 19 For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.

I had occasion to teach about Justification twice last week, which for a bible, theology and history geek passes for cool.

Lent, Lectionary and an EFCA Pastor

We in the Evangelical Free Church do not usually follow the Lectionary or Lent.  I am certainly against any such rule being imposed as a mandate from above.  Our real mandate from above are the Scriptures.  However, as a voluntary spiritual discipline, these can be useful.  I am preaching this season leading up to Easter (i.e. Lent) from a thematic collection of Scriptures (i.e. Revised Common Lectionary) and making use of a preaching resource (Feasting on the Word, Year A, Vol. 2).

If you would like to read along, I have this guide and explanation from my adult class.

Click – WhyTheCross?

I find that the Church Year, which is focused on the life of Christ, has much to comment itself – and is to be preferred that following the commercial/florist holidays of popular culture.  I’m just sayin’.

Melodic Line of Malachi

I was recently able to attend a preaching workshop by the Simon Trust here in Madison.  One of the principles they teach is that each book of the bible has a main theme or idea.  They call it the Melodic Line.  If you listen to a song, whether it is Country and Western, Jazz or Classical, there is usually a line of melody that is repeated and developed through the piece.

            What would you say is the Melodic Line of Malachi?  Here is my answer: 

God’s love is unchanging – even when his people are stubborn.

            The main ides is in the 1:2 “I have loved you” and in 3:6, “I the Lord never change.”  But we also noted all the times that the people of God argued with the Lord and his messenger.  Even when God said, “I love you” they argued.

            God’s love is unchanging, even when his people are stubborn.

             But with this is another melody, like a descant to a song that rises above all the other notes.  This descant is “I am about to do something for the nations.”   When he said, “from the rising of the sun to its setting, my name will be great.” and “…my name will be great among the nations.”

            God’s love is unchanging – even when his people are stubborn. 

            He will be great among the nations.

Pronouns – they make a difference

In Malachi 3:13-15, there is a description of people who are making complaints about God.  Now is this in their minds only, and the Almighty knows what they are thinking?  Is this something they have said publicly?

One commentator noted that they are talking to each other.  There are two lines of evidence for this

1.  these verses are in parallel with the faithful who “talked to each other” in verse 16.

2.  the pronouns in verses 14-15 are 2nd person plural – “we”.  The implication is that  this is the conversations that the people were having with each other. 

There is a theme in Malachi of the times that the people argue with the Lord.  The expression “but you say” is found nine times in the book (1:2, 1:6, 1:7, 1:13, 2:14, 2:17, 3:7, 3:8, 3:13).   There is some debate with the commentators as to whether the people would actually say these things.  They are very arrogant and they accuse the Lord of bad intentions.

The insight in 4:13-15 would indicate that in some way this is the actual conversation.  Maybe they say out loudly, but it seems more likely that they say these things quietly, in private moments.  The Ancient Near Eastern equivalent of “at the water cooler.”  At any rate these conversations have a corrosive effect on the hearts of the people.

Apparently there was a positive “gossip” in verse 16.

Again the proverb proves incorrect: “Sticks and stones can break my bones; but words can never hurt me.”

What is in a Day – biblically speaking

No, this is not about Genesis 1.

In Malachi 3:17 ff the word “day” is used 4 times for “the day of the LORD”.  There seem to be a lot of events that are to occur in this day.  Walter Kaiser suggests the concept of a generic prophecy that form a collective event made up of a number of happenings that occur successively.  So then “Elijah” in 4:5 could represent Elijah as the head of the prophets, John the Baptist (Matthew 17:13) or Elijah at the end of history (Revelation 11:3).  Picking just one event to be the fulfillment does not do justice to this passage.  Let me reproduce here Kaiser’s discussion:

“…for each of five Old Testament prophets working in four separate centuries, that day was ‘near’ and ‘at hand’ (Ninth Century Obadiah 15; Joel 1:15; 2:1; Eighth Century, Is 13:6; seventh Century Zeph 1:7,14; and Sixth Century, Ezk 30:3).  Each of these prophets also saw immediate events in his own generation as very much part of the same ‘day of the Lord’; …

This presents us a three-way puzzle; that day is viewed as one day, that is a collective event embracing a number of distinct happenings occurring successively in history.  But if we were to limit the meaning of that day to any one of these events, it would appear to be exaggerated and unfulfilled since on one occurrence, until the final one in the succession, exhausts the meaning.  The  prophecy must be viewed as being successively fulfilled through a number of events in history, all of which depict, now one and now another aspect of the final and climactic fulfillment.”

Walter C. Kaiser, Jr; Malachi: God’s unchanging Love, 1984, Baker, Grand Rapids, p. 102.

I find this principle helpful in understanding prophetic literature, which has much more interest in what is to happen, than in when it will happen.