It’s in the water, It’s in the story of where you came from

The other day I downloaded this video as part of iTunes 12 Days of Christmas giveaway. I had never heard of the group, so I might be late for the party (my wife, when I showed it t her, said, ‘Oh, yeah! I like Kings of Leon!’). I downloaded it the same day that I read the Baptism of Christ in The Bible in One Year. The song is called ‘Radioactive’ and has great baptismal imagery.

I love the words:

It’s in the water…
It’s in the story
It’s where you came from
The sons and daughters
In all their glory
It’s gonna shape them
And when they clash
And come together
And start rising
Just drink the water
Where you came from…
Where you came from


Those Who Didn’t Go Up the Mountain

I’m still thinking about the Lectionary texts this week – in particular, the gospel text (Luke 9:28-36). As I mentioned yesterday, Transfiguration Sunday is my least favourite Sunday to preach. I don’t know what to do with this text or even what exactly happened. In it, we talk about Jesus (obviously), the voice from heaven, Moses and Elijah, and the three disciples (in particular Peter who, as usual, runs his mouth). We generally look at it from the point of view of each character.

What about the perspective of the characters who didn’t get to go up the mountain? I think I often feel more like them. Not chosen to have the experience of God on the mountain and, at least in Mark’s version, left to work at the bottom, failing miserably and starting arguments (I can only imagine Jesus coming in the middle of a church council meeting and asking me the same thing, ‘What are you arguing about with them?’ [Mark 9:16]).

What about those of us who do not glimpse the glory? What about those of us who feel that, try as we might, our best is simply not good enough?

Certainly, I could have babbled on as much as Peter did.

Put on a Shiny Face

Reading the texts for this Sunday, I find it difficult to make the focus on the sermon ‘all about God’ instead of focusing on the impact on the people surrounding God. Here’s what I mean:

  1. In Exodus, Moses stands in the presence of God and Moses gets a shiny face. When Moses leaves the mountain, he scares the Israelites half to death. He has to walk around with a veil so the people don’t freak.
  2. Paul tells the Corinthians that where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.
  3. And in the gospel text, Peter sees the transfigured Jesus and turns into a babbling idiot. Then, when the voice speaks, all three (Peter, James, and John) fall flat on their faces.

It seems the easier route to go is what does this say about me rather than what does this say about God. I hate to admit it, but Transfiguration Sunday is my least favourite Sunday to preach. Maybe I am not so good with the experience of God passages.

Are all things possible? Thoughts on Lectionary Advent 4B

This morning I listened to the Sermon Brainwave podcast, where one of the presenters (Prof. Karoline Lewis) talked about Gabriel’s message to Mary ‘With God all things are possible.’ She wondered out loud at what point do we learn that all things are NOT possible.

In context, Lewis mentioned her little boy who wants a puppy for Christmas, but isn’t getting one. The mall Santa was coached to explain that he wasn’t getting one. For the little boy, all things were possible and he was shocked that he wasn’t getting what he wanted!

I think Prof. Lewis has a point, and I am wondering how this message will fit in with the Advent message that wants to proclaim with Gabriel, ‘With God all things are possible!’ The latter is an encouraging message, while the former keeps that bit of realism that keeps the optimism in check (with my pessimistic nature, I am always looking for the checks and balances!).

Is this a message paraphrasing Paul, ‘All things are possible, but not all things are probable’? Certainly, we do not look for virgins to bear children any more (OK, I realise we may not all be in agreement that God ever did it, but I believe he did once – I think this would still apply to either viewpoint). When does our faith in the God who for whom all things are possible become more of a wishing well hope that we will get what we want (whether puppies or churches that can go on as they always have forever)?

And is it possible, so to speak, to introduce that message four days before Christmas when it may seem that in a fear-stricken year (with the wars, economy, etc.) that I am not sounding as hopeful as the season of Advent calls for?

I have a specific reason for wondering this but that story will have to wait for now.

Advent Sermons: Ellen Davis on 2 Samuel 7

Duke Divinity School Professor of Bible and Practicle Theology, Ellen Davis has a great sermon on the Old Testament reading for Advent 4B (2 Samuel 7.1-11, 16). You can find it at the Centre for Excellence in Preaching Podcast Archive (scroll down to Ellen Davis, ‘God’s House’). A text version can be found at the Duke Chapel website.

It’s not an Advent sermon per se and the text listed is Hebrews 3, but she connects it to David’s desire to build a temple when God never asked him to do it. What I find interesting in it is that she ‘deconstructs’ David and sees in this story not a desire to glorify God, but a desire to use God in his quest for power. She tears away at this mantra that I seem to have heard at one too many gatherings of evangelical men – ‘being a man of God’s own heart’. She doesn’t erase it, but takes the shine off of it when she says that was ‘God’s hopeful love cast[ing] David in the best possible light.’

But, she doesn’t allow us off the hook, but gives David as a mirror of ourselves – struggling to rest in God.

Binding up Brokenhearts: Meditation

As I mentioned in my last post, I was studying Isaiah 61 for a mid-week prayer service. There is no sermon, but rather interactive guided meditations (I guess that is what you call them). I thought I would post the outcome of my reflections from two days ago. Part of the meditation calls for a candy heart that I slice in two. I used the Haribo hearts from the Starmix (for Americans: I have never seen these in the US.  They are similar to what gummy bears are made of) and cut them in half before. The binding was sports adhesive tape that didn’t work terribly well (and was blue). A doctor in my church told me to go to the chemist to get some other kind of tape, but I can’t remember the name at the moment. I will likely change this if I use it again, and may shorten it to use for a prayer station. If anyone likes it, feel free to adapt (and please share with me – I am always looking to make it better)!

Isaiah paints a picture of upheaval. For the Israelites, they looked longingly for the day when they would again be free. They had the stories of God releasing them from slavery in Egypt. They learned the stories of King David and how God blessed him and their ancestors. Now they looked for God to overturn their exile. They wanted the powerful oppressors to be brought down and their chains to be taken off. They wanted their broken lives to be made whole again.

Of the images in the passage, listen to this one again: God will bind up the brokenhearted. God wants to take this broken people he called out of Egypt and make them whole again. God wants to do the same for us. Christmas is the time for gift-giving, and God gives himself to us in Jesus. Jesus comes to show us how much God loves us. He wants to mend our brokenhearts.

In front of you are some bits of broken hearts. Pick up two pieces and place them together. Imagine for a moment that this is your heart.

How do you feel your heart is broken right now? Do you feel lonely? Do you feel overwhelmed? Do you feel as if God is not even there?  How is your heart broken right now?  Hold the heart in your hand, and tell God how you feel.

Now, pick up a piece of adhesive tape and use it to bind the pieces back together.   As you do, imagine God reaching down to you to bind up your broken heart.

When you have finished, lay your heart down at the manger.

If you know of someone whose heart is breaking, pick up another heart, pray for them as you give them to God and he binds their heart as you bind the candy heart.

Closing Prayer
Dear Jesus, our hearts are broken. They are shattered into more than just two pieces, and they are not fixed with adhesive bandages. Nothing we can do can bind the pieces together again. We give the broken pieces to you:  bind our hearts, proclaim your favour on us, provide for us who mourn, dress us bright colours to remove the grey ash we have on, tell us what about us makes you smile so that we may not buckle under the weight of criticism. Restore us to the glory you intended so that people may say of us, ‘God has greatly blessed them.’ Let us be living witnesses of your glory so that others may know of you.  In your name, Amen.

Lectionary Thoughts on Acts 17.22-31: What did Paul think of his preaching in Acts?

Easter 6 Year A. In his speech to the Athenians, Paul famously begins his preaching by pointing out an ‘unknown God’ (Acts 17.22-31), trying to establish a point of contact with his listeners.  I have been readings some comments on it in preparation for this Sunday and all seem to think that what Paul did was a model form of presenting the gospel.  Despite the lack of ‘success’ in his preaching (the Athenians seemed fairly lukewarm to what Paul was saying), the idea appears prevalent that Paul presented the gospel the way he did because that was the way God led him in that situation.

But do we know what Paul thought of his preaching on that day?  I led a Disciple Bible Study Course last year and while we were reading Acts, one in our group gave a reflection that I haven’t been able to get out of my mind since he said it.  My fellow Disciple-er was quite adamant that Paul felt he failed in Athens.  He pointed to 1 Corinthians 2:1-5:

When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom. For I decided [KJV:  determined] to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I came to you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling. My speech and my proclamation were not with plausible words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God. (NRSV)

When I asked him what follows on from that, he flipped back to Acts and sure enough, after Paul leaves Athens, he lands in Corinth.  My friend explained that he read the passage in 1 Corinthians as Paul’s saying that he played too much to the Athenians and their philosophy-charged atmosphere and idea discussing lounging around.  Rather, when Paul arrived at Corinth, my friend says, Paul regroups and says in effect, ‘I’m going back to my story of preaching Christ crucified and leaving the fancy talk for the philosophers’ (my paraphrase).

I realise this depends on the historicity of Acts and whether or not Luke ‘edited’ Paul’s sermons with his own theology, but my friend makes an interesting point – especially as Paul is in Corinth right after in Athens.  Does 1 Corinthians provide a clue to what Paul might have thought of his work in Athens?