Thursday, September 29, 2011

15th Sunday after Pentecost -- Fathers and Sons

The first reading and the gospel reading last Sunday both dealt with issues of fathers and son.  Two sons who were less than model sons, and three generations of men.  In that latter tale in Ezekiel, God makes it clear each person is judged on his or her own merit not on what family they are born into.  Righteousness trumps inheritance. 

An excerpt:

You see, back in the Ten Commandments, when God declares the first commandment, “You shall have no other gods,” God also says, “I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me.”  For much of the history of Israel, it was understood that to follow the Torah, or not, was to have consequences not just for the one who kept the Law, or not, but for later generations as well.  As people who belong to a culture that is almost exclusively centered on the individual, we might find the notion that subsequent generations pay for the sins of former sins incredibly offensive.  Nonetheless there is the reality that there are ways that sin is communal.  Precisely as fathers form their children, sin can be formed in successive generations.  We know that there are genetic patterns that can be passed down from father to child in things like addictions.  Destructive and abusive behaviors can be passed down just through repeated behavior.  But also, we see that some things that are begun decades before can have devastating consequences for later generations.  When we understand ourselves to be part of a community extended through time, this perspective is not all that difficult.

Read the whole thing here

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Thursday, September 22, 2011

Pastoral Duties to the Deceased

A friend of mine recently wrote a blog titled "When Do You Cease Being Someone's Pastor?"  This question has nothing to do with people and voting membership or when they cease attending worship.  Charlie deals with the question of pastoral duties at the time of death. 

Very often I think folks generally think that the pastor is there for the living, not the one who has died.  It is true that it is holy ground to speak the gospel in those times surrounding the death of loved ones.  Charlie also raises the issue that as pastors we have duties to those who have died as well. He writes:
What I'm saying is that I still have certain duties to a member of my congregation after they die.  I am to comfort those who loved them with the word of the Gospel.  I am to pray (along with the deceased!) for the welfare and eternal salvation of those who survive.  Finally, I am to give Christian burial to the deceased.  I am to proclaim what Jesus did for them in their earthly life.  I am to proclaim what is still coming.  I am to lay to rest the person's body... the body baptized into Christ's death and resurrection.

I am the person's pastor until they are in the ground.  That's when my duties to them cease... not before.
 If we only think of the pastor as necessary to speak to the living with no duties to the deceased, then we are likely to not care who officiates at funerals.  Now I admit, I have more flexibility with ecumenical partnership than my LCMS friend.  However, the notion that any pastor will do, or other eulogies can supplant the place of the pastor's sermon is a great misunderstanding of the role of the pastor and the pastor's place in the community of faith.  Charlie gives several good examples of these sorts of situations.

Thankfully nothing like this has happened to me.  But Charlie's question is important in many ways.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Lesser Lament For the Lectionary

I love the lectionary.  Really I do. To have a three-year cycle of readings that leave me with a plethora of preaching opportunities is pure gold as far as I am concerned.  I simply do not know what I would do if I were part of a tradition that did not take advantage of the lectionary.  Trying to come up with sermons week after week where I needed to pick the texts would likely result in me preaching on my favorite topics. I love that by using the lectionary, I am forced to address texts that I might otherwise avoid.  And by using those texts, week after week, year after year (I am now in my third trip round the lectionary preaching weekly with almost eight years under my belt as a pastor), I have come to love those texts that force me to wrestle with law and gospel, our situation and God's good news in Jesus.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

14th Sunday after Pentecost -- Jonah

After finally arriving at Nineveh, Jonah reluctantly delivers the judgment against that great city.  But when God shows mercy on Nineveh, Jonah is angry enough to die.  God's mercy can be scandalous when it gets extended even to our enemies.

An excerpt from my sermon:

Then again the Lord tells Jonah to go to Nineveh.  This time he goes.  And when he gets to Nineveh, Jonah walks most of the way to the center of the city and preaches the shortest sermon on record.  Eight words “Eight days more and Nineveh will be overthrown.”  It is lacking on so many levels.  While many might rejoice if I gave a sermon of eight words, Jonah does the bare minimum, living by the letter of the law and certainly not the spirit.  He does exactly what God wants him to do and tell Nineveh that God is going to destroy them because of their wickedness.  Well he doesn’t tell Nineveh exactly that GOD will do it… he just says that it will be overthrown.  And now having fulfilled his duty he goes outside the city to sit and wait and watch the fireworks begin.

Except that they don’t.  because somehow someone heard him and his weak proclamation… and the story tells us that “the people of Nineveh believed God.”  This proclamation goes viral.  The people start talking and spreading the news.  They consecrate a fast.  Soon the king himself issues a decree that people should repent… that even the animals should repent.   And God sees that people have turned from their evil ways and God relents from punishing.  God extends not justice but mercy upon Nineveh.  And this has Jonah really angry now.  After all, THIS is Nineveh.  These aren’t God’s people.  They aren’t special.  They are not the ones that the Lord has made a covenant with.  These are the enemies of that people.  Jonah is so angry, because God is “slow to anger and abounding in love.”  “Mine first!” he objects.  

Or read the whole thing here.
Listen to it. 


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Thursday, September 15, 2011

13th Sunday after Pentecost -- 9-11 and Forgiveness?

Not having preached over a few previous Sundays, I lost track of posting my sermon to both my podcast and blog.  Finally I am getting a round to posting it.

The gospel text, Matthew 18:21-35 is the classic text of Peter asking Jesus how often he should forgive a brother or sister who sins against him.  Jesus turns everything over and gives us the parable of the Unforgiving Servant, which requires us when talking about forgiveness to refocus our understanding.  We are not primarily the one sinned against, and can therefore dole out forgiveness as we choose.  We are first and foremost the one forgiven.  That is the primary lens with which we should view forgiveness. The stakes are ratcheted up a little higher on this day when we also remember the 10th anniversary of 9-11.

Here is an excerpt:
And I fear that with this parable there are those who are looking at the attacks and speaking about a forgiveness that lets attackers off scot free.  This is not, by the way, me calling out for vengeance, but justice.  I refused to rejoice when bin Laden was taken down.  But the question of forgiveness implies repentance and transformation.  We cannot simply throw out some blanket statement of forgiveness without doing some work first. 
Forgiveness is hard work.  We have to pray for it after all.  We have various notions about forgiveness that are in fact wrong.  Forgiveness is not just about forgetting and letting things go.  Forgiveness is not about hearing the words “I’m sorry” and replying with “Oh, it’s okay.”  We have tried those approaches in other heinous acts and they did not work out so well. 
Read the whole thing here.

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The Postmodern Pat Robertson

Maybe in an attempt to gain traction with a younger audience, Pat Robertson, it seems, has gone postmodern on us.  Evidently on a Q&A session on the "700 Club" Pat told a caller that divorce in the case of a spouse having Alzheimer's is just fine.  After all, Alzheimer's is "a kind of death." (read one report here)

Seriously, who would have thought that Pat Robertson would end up here?  He focused on the phrase in wedding vows "until death do us part."  Robertson redefines Alzheimer's from a subjective standpoint.  Alzheimer's is in fact NOT a kind of death, but a tragic illness.  The portion of the marriage vows that he should have turned to was about promising to be faithful "in sickness and in health."  That's appropriate. 

I suspect Pat will start catching flack, and come out and try to make some explanation or such, and it will all pass away quietly.  I can only hope that this will be the final move making Robertson irrelevant as a voice for Christianity in the United States. 

I cannot help but think of one woman in my congregation who faithfully stood by her ailing husband for years, getting help from the congregation until he did in fact, truly die.  Her example of faithfulness is an example of the gracious faithfulness of God who stands by us all even when we are not the most loveable.  When we are in fact sinful.  That same woman continues to this day, a number of years after the death of her husband, to advocate for spousal caregivers of Alzheimer's patients.  She perseveres for those who are still engaged in the struggle and need support to remain faithful to their mariage vows.  Thank God that she did not listen to Pat Robertson.

Monday, September 12, 2011

An Evening with My Wife and "The Guys"

The other night my wife and I had an adult evening together.  I would call it a date but it didn't end the way all of our official dates end, with a stop at the supermarket.  Nonetheless, we had an evening together with dinner out, followed by a staged reading of the play "The Guys" by Anne Nelson.  The play was put on by the Vintage Theater Company, directed by Jason Young and starring the two-member cast of John and Linda O'Connor.  John is a professor of theater at Fairmont State and Linda does some costuming there as well.  In addition, Jason Young is a Fairmont State alum.  The Fairmont State connection is important since my wife is a professor there as well.  If there had been no Fairmont State connection, we likely would not have gone at all, and I would have been poorer for it.