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Thursday, February 8, 2007

Matthew 25:1-13

Rocky: Man, that sounds good. I mean goooooood.

All I have is this: it's a parable of the kingdom. That's what I'm going to be playing with, because I preached in about 16 months ago and analyzed all the parts of the parable narrative. This time I'm struck by verse 1--"Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this." If you look at the rest of Matthew, these "kingdom" statements are all over the place, and they generally fall into two categories: 1)the kingdom of heaven is like this or that, or 2)the kingdom of heaven may be compared to this or that. Both of these make sense in light of Jesus' thematic pronouncement that "the kingdom of heaven has come near."

However, the intro to the parable of the bridesmaids says that then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. This catches our attention, because it's the first true reference to the kingdom as something future and not something already present. It's the ground of the "Thy kingdom come" petition in the Lord's Prayer. So my outline may look something like this:

Move 1: Hear the good news--the kingdom of heaven has come near!

Move 2: But wait. The bridegroom's been delayed; there's more kingdom still to come.

Move 3: So we'd better be prepared for it, or we'll be left out.

Move 4: Well, being prepared means we're the only bridesmaids lugging flasks of oil; preparing for the future means taking on an awkward present.

Take it for what it is, a re-hashing of earlier exegesis. I'm sorta ashamed.

Landon: All right, Hoss - after several weeks of dismal preaching I'm getting excited over this one.

I decided to pair our text with the lectionary's advice: Amos 5:18-24.

Here's my sermon outline:

Sermon title: “Big Oil”

Introduction – This is more of an allegory than a parable.

  1. The Bridegroom We talking about Christ here.

  2. The Bridesmaids The church – notice there were ten bridesmaids.

  3. The Wedding The “marriage” of Christ and the church. This would also be the place to reference Matthew 18:20 - “Where two or three are gathered...”

  4. Oil What is it? How much should we have? What if our friends and neighbors run out? What happens if we run out? This passage is one in the Bible that emphasizes personal responsibility.

First Move – wise/foolish

Biblical – This is but the latest installment of Jesus dividing folks into categories of “wise” and “foolish.” The discussion throughout the book of Matthew enables us to link being wise or foolish to having enough oil. This distinction also occurs at the beginning of the passage – they are named and then we watch their actions, not vice versa.

Theological –

Thematic - Disposition (in this case) is a precursor of action. The oil is what enables the lamps to keep burning.

Cultural - “If it looks like a duck..” Matthew reverses this.

Second Move - “No” is a good answer

Biblical – vv. 8 & 9: The text is very clear - Five of the bridesmaids deny the others' request for their oil.

Theological – a la Bonhoeffer: “Grace is costly”

Thematic – “No” is a good answer. We should guard ourselves when someone tries to convince us “help them out” when they are not prepared.

Cultural - “A screw up on your part...”

Third Move - “I don't know you”

Biblical – vv. 11&12. Also draw on Amos – particularly vv 21-24

Theological – The shepherd knows his sheep. You cannot fool the shepherd. You cannot hope to trick God into letting you into the wedding.

Thematic – You can't just show up to the wedding and expect to be let in. “Showing up and saying 'I'm here!' like it matters. Jesus is saying 'I don't care.'”

Cultural – Discussion with Bri regarding her take on the notion that Christ is the Head of the Church: “It pays, in our work life, to be in good relationship and communication with our employer. We need to be in good relationship with Christ.”

Fourth Move - Be Prepared

Biblical – Usually gregoreo is translated “keep awake” or “stay alert” but the text clearly indicates that all were asleep – both the wise and the foolish. A better (more symbolic) translation would be “be prepared.”

Theological -

Thematic - This is not a text about frantically watching and waiting (although there are some texts that make a similar point using that language), this is about “being prepared.”

Cultural – The scouts spend there entire careers learning to “be prepared.” (use excerpt from Scout's Handbook)

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Do I Dare?

Presently in my sermon manuscript: "The resurrection of the body is the drunk uncle passed out on the couch of the Apostle’s Creed."

Will it end up there? T-minus 12 hours and counting to decide.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Delineating I Corinthians 15

Landon: Given the narrative line of "hope" that I've been found to be weaving through this series, I think I'm sticking to 12-19. I particularly like the punch that I feel in 19.

I'm sticking to verses 20-28. 12-19 serve as a hypothetical background (the "ahh . . . ahhhh . . . ahhhhhhh" of a "choo!!!" that will come in verse 20--I'm starting with the spit-spattering sneeze itself and will preface the reading with the buildup). For their own part, verses 29-34 only add weight to an already heavy homiletical load.

I Corinthians 15

Landon: I love Paul. I know a lot of folks don't, but I love Paul. Yes, Paul is on the way, and that's a good thing.

What has consumed my brain has not been the nature of Paul's rhetoric, but the notion of Paul's silence on the issue of the empty tomb and what that does to inform his thematic elaboration (look at that 50 cent phrase!).

Rhetorically, Paul is a master. There is no doubt that he will carry us in terms of structure, but the issue plaguing my mind is what to do with his words regarding resurrection. How does he understand that? What is he doing with the image?

The pieces I've been reading (found under the "
Contemporary Commentary, Studies and Exegesis" section of this page and this page) do a good job of surveying the issue. And it has gone a long way towards helping me figure out how to preach something that, prima facie, I find scientifically absurd.

Particularly helpful has been Williams Loader's thoughts on vv.19-26. Loader argues (effectively, I think) that while there is no uniform biblical voice on resurrection, there are constants among the variables. He lists the constants as "belief in the resurrection" and "God being all in all." What folks say about resurrection is different from passage to passage, but there is always an affirmation of it and it always culminates with God. Says Loader:

Whatever we cannot know about the future, we can be sure of one detail: in the end, God.
I love that: "in the end, God."

I just got an email from a parishioner reflecting on this series. Here is their understanding of this subject:
I've studied (and continue to do so) the origins/meanings of apocalyptic literature, I try and convey to my Sunday School class that this is poetic, fantastical language to try to convey a "God-presence" to a world in turmoil. It is not hidden codes or supermarket tabloid predictions.

We discuss that the Scriptures are written like this: Try and write down what the birth of your child meant to you. Or try and write down what the love between you and your wife means to you. It's hard. You can only do it through fantastic metaphor and it still probably falls short from what you were trying to say.
I think I'm going to take the tact of "try and write down what the love between you and your wife means to you." In the end, I think that that angle may be more helpful for my folks than anything.

Now, what specific verses to use...

Don't fret, my friend: Paul is on the way.

One of the first things I've got my hands on to study this passage is a great article from the journal Word and World called "Firstfruits and Death's Defeat: Metaphor in Paul's Rhetorical Strategy in I Cor 15:20-28," written by Andy Johnson. It's a wonderful exploration of the function of the firstfruits metaphor in Paul's rhetoric. A few gems:
"The rhetorical problem Paul faces is constructing the middle term between Christ's resurrection and a future embodied resurrection that will compel the 'some' [who say there is no resurrection] to transfer the adherence they grant to the thesis that Christ is raised to the conclusion that there will be a future bodily resurrection. In other words, he must reconstruct what is, at present, reality for them by offering the 'some' a bridge between their narrative world and his own."
Yes. A metaphor needs to help us transfer our adherence to one proposition to an adherence to another, larger proposition (and here we are dealing with propositions, aren't we?). A metaphor is a bridge between one narrative world and another. The issue is transferring our granting of one proposition (Jesus is raised) to another proposition (so will we be raised) so that our manner of living will be altered.

So is the firstfruits metaphor capable of doing that in our context(s)? It's an agrarian metaphor, one that speaks of the promise of crops not yet harvested; if it won't work for us, what will? Do we have a metaphor that, for us, will do the same thing? Perhaps the metaphor of a "sneak preview," a movie trailer or the first single released on a cd. Do these things speak to the promise of things to come in the same way that Paul wants to say that Jesus' resurrection speaks to the promise of our own resurrection yet to come?

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

on reflecting on my preaching

“Our homilies are rarely heretical. They fail rather because they are stale and flat, vapid and insipid, dreadfully dry and boringly barren.” - Walter J. Burghardt
It's sad how true that feels right now.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Mark 13:3-37: Accompanying Scripture

Rocky: I'm making the Mount of Olives connection by using Zechariah 14:1-9, with the conspicuous absence of verse 2 (it's obvious enough).

Landon: The Lectionary pairs Daniel 12 with this scripture in Year B. Other options include two texts from 1 Samuel (1, 2)or Psalm 16.

I think I'm going with Ps 16.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Mark 13:3-37: Hymns

Landon: Doh! "We are Marching" is so good - nice call.

After consulting with my choir director, we ended up picking

  • "A Mighty Fortress"
  • "O for a 1000 Tongues to Sing"
  • "Great is Thy Faithfulness"
with "How Great Thou Art" as the anthem.

Yeah. We're singing "The Church's One Foundation" as a sermon response, and we're singing "When Morning Gilds The Skies" to open. Not that either of those have any explicit relationship to Mark 13, but our closing song--"We Are Marching (Siyahamba)"--is eschatalogical to the core.

And how, exactly, is one supposed to pick hymns based on "there shall be wars and rumors of wars" and "This is but the beginnings of the birth pangs"?