I can’t remember the last time I preached. You’d think I’d do so fairly often, given that my wife’s a clergywoman, I have a doctorate in theology and ethics, and my wife needs someone to fill in for her at the pulpit several times a year. Yet we have small children, and so when my wife is out of town, I become Mr. Mom, and doing that and preparing a sermon while working full-time is, well, something I haven’t yet figured out how to do.
But this weekend is different. Erin has been invited by her District Superintendent to preach on Saturday at a District event (Wesley UMC in Eugene is in the Crater Lake district, formerly the Southern District, of the Oregon-Idaho Conference), at which our Bishop will also speak, and so that Erin will not have to preach two different sermons in one week, I offered to preach on Sunday. I should probably figure out what I’m going to say!
I’ve always admired my wife’s preaching abilities, especially when the appointed lectionary texts are thin, difficult, or difficult to connect with one another, the season we’re passing through, or things going on in the life of our local church. That’s not the case this Sunday, the First Season of Lent, in Year C of the Revised Common Lectionary. The texts are doozies: Deuteronomy 26:1–11, Psalm 91:1–2, 9–16, Romans 10:8b–13, and Luke 4:1–13. The challenge is not to find something interesting or compelling in the text—which, truth be told, is really only a problem if we’re not giving ourselves over to it—but rather to figure out how to concentrate in on one of the many avenues of interpretation and proclamation that could be pursued.
Wesley UMC is in the third year of implementing a catechumenate, both for new believers to be prepared for the waters of baptism at the great Easter Vigil, and for those already baptized who are seeking membership and who will reaffirm their baptisms at the same vigil. For our catechumens (or candidates), as for the catechumens of old, Lent is the season of intense preparation, where we study the faith of the apostles as contained in the scriptures and summarized in the creed. After my sermon, candidates will participate with the congregation in a Rite of Enrollment, in which they will declare and have affirmed their intention to be baptized, or to reaffirm their baptisms, at the Easter Vigil.
I will thus ponder the candidates and the commitment they are making as I prepare my sermon. The architects of the Revised Common Lectionary have done the church a great favor in selecting these particular texts for the First Sunday of Lent. Not only is there the credal-like narrative in Deut 26:5b–10a (itself framed liturgically!) but there’s also the Lucan account of Jesus’ 40-day testing in the wilderness, the magnificent declaration of faith in the opening verses of Psalm 91 (what else can it mean to say with the Apostles, “I believe in God, the Father, Almighty” than “My refuge and my fortress; my God, in whom I trust”?), and Paul’s reminder that it is precisely what God has done in Christ that makes it possible for Gentiles to become a part of Israel’s great story of liberation and salvation: “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’” (Rom 10:12–13, citing Joel 2:32).
Who knows what I’ll come up with, but I’m looking forward to coming up with it. At the risk of showing just how ill-prepared I still am at this point—I still have all day today and tomorrow!—I’m going to dump a few sermon notes below. Wish me luck, or better yet, say a prayer for me.
Notes for sermon on 2/17/2013
First Sunday in Lent
Deuteronomy 26:1-11 • Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16 • Romans 10:8b-13 • Luke 4:1-13
When I called Turkle to talk about Lanza, her response was simple: “He’s my guy. These are my people.”
By that she meant someone who seems to have found “an illusion of companionship without the demands of friendship,” she told me. Lanza didn’t need to trek out into his town because his community, from the hints we’ve gotten, was connected to a modem.
Turkle found the destruction of the hard drive particularly telling. “It was where he sought nurturance, but ultimately, it didn’t sustain him,” she said. “It’s not sustaining. It’s not life. It’s just not the same thing as life.”
In “By Design,” Brad Kallenberg has nice remarks at 167ff. about becoming children if we want to become citizens of God’s kingdom. He reminds us of this passage from Matthew in the context of laying out the importance of learning to be virtuous:
Well, by most accounts, Jesus is not the sort of person to tempt us with the impossible. He must have thought that “change and become like children” was something actually achievable for adults. The term for “child” is paidos, a cognate to the Greek term for “schooling” (paideia). The idea seems to be that the unformed-yet-formable character of children may possibly be recaptured by adults. This is good news indeed! The unformed-yet-formable character of children may possibly be recaptured by adults.
From Peter Leithart’s blog (post titled “The Gift of Guilt”:
Visser (Beyond Fate (Massey Lectures) (CBC Massey Lecture), 43-4) makes the commonplace observation that Christianity dislodged the honor-shame patterns of the ancient world and replaced it with a sin-guilt nexus. Unlike many, Visser views this as a tremendous gain, even a liberation:
“In recognizing wrongdoing as sin, we do not lessen its enormity, but we do deprive it of its fatality. . . . After the admission to oneself of guilt – one’s own guilt, not another’s – forgiveness can be sought. It is possible for a sinner to change – to express regret, accept punishment, make reparations. Forgiveness and guilt replace honour and shame in the name of the possibility of change – change in the guilty person, but also freedom from resentment in the person who has been offended. . . . Guilt and forgiveness together constitute a rejection of vicious cycles, obligatory feuds, ritual pollution, inherited curses, and the ineluctable or otherwise self-evident need for revenge. Their aim is to liberate human beings from fate.”
Kallenberg says of Jesus’s demand that we become like children, “[Jesus] must have thought that ‘change and become like children’ was something actually achievable for adults.” This connects with the point of the book engaged by Leithart—Christian conversion is about the possibility of new life, a second chance, the opportunity to begin again. To recognize that one is guilty, a sinner, is not doom and gloom, because the Christian framework of sin and guilt is the context of forgiveness and redemption. A world in which we’re simply fated to be who we are is the real world of doom and gloom—for there’s no possibility to be other than who we are, and if who we are sucks, we’re simply stuck that way.
Opening prayer from Vanderbilt RCL site:
God of the living,
through baptism we pass from the shadow of death
to the light of the resurrection.
Remain with us and give us hope
that, rejoicing in the gift of the Spirit
who gives life to our mortal flesh,
we may be clothed with the garment of immortality,
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
“In these words and actions handed down to us we sense something totally new and revolutionary, but we cannot yet grasp it and express it.”—Dietrich Bonhoeffer, written in May of 1944, from prison to his Godson on the occasion of his baptism. Bonhoeffer was martyred on April 9, 1945
Prayer before sermon, from Richard Tennant choral piece, sung earlier in the service as the musical offering:
Lord, for thy tender mercy’s sake, lay not our sins to our charge, but forgive that is past, and give us grace to amend our sinful lives: to decline from sin and incline to virtue, that we may walk in a perfect heart, before thee, now and ever more. Amen.
Last week, as we followed Jesus, James, and John up the mountain we beheld our Lord transfigured in glory. Erin reminded us that the Old Testament symbolism exceeded the obvious, namely, the appearance of Old Testament giants Elijah and Moses. Not only do Elijah and Moses appear with Jesus, but according to Luke they actually spoke of the exodus Jesus was about to accomplish in Jerusalem. Jesus’ face shines with the same light of glory that had illumined Moses. The one they had been waiting for, the liberator of God’s people who would lead them to freedom and redeem them from bondage.
I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of Heaven and Earth. R. Williams’ Tokens of Trust: temptation of Jesus is a demonstration of what it means to profess the creed.
Truman film example from Jeph Holloway’s Poetics of Grace:
“Truman faced a situation similar to our own. He was faced with the challenge of looking past the conventional, the “givens” of everyday life. He was confronted with the uncomfortable prospect that much, perhaps nearly all, that was familiar to him was distorted, false, and illusory. Christians have to be willing to examine what presentations of reality are offered to us by those powerful forces (including those who make the movies) that explain our world to us, our place in that world, and what way of life can help us best find order and security. We live in the world in light of the world we live in. A crucial issue for any effort at exploring the Christian way of life is as to whether or not we have an accurate understanding of the world that we live in.” p. 2.