Sunday, November 29, 2015

Luke 3:23-38

Much as we may be tempted to gloss over the dense lists of names we find in genealogies, there is a surprising number of characteristics to Luke's genealogy of Jesus that set it apart from the more familiar version we find in Matthew.
            1. Reverse chronological order. Luke's genealogy begins with Jesus and proceeds backwards in time, using the phrase "son of" to link the generations, whereas Matthew proceeds chronologically using "begat" or "became the father of."
            2. Scope. While Matthew begins with Abraham, Luke includes the "prehistoric" (if you will), antediluvian patriarchs, from Abraham's father Terah back to "Adam, son of God."
            3. No mention of women. Whereas Matthew is scrupulous to mention certain women whose role in the generations broadens and even challenges the purely Jewish credentials of the line (Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, the wife of Uriah, and, of course, Mary), Luke mentions no women, such questions of familial purity evidently falling outside his concern as he writes for a Gentile reader.
            4. Literary location. While Matthew's gospel begins with the genealogy, Luke places his "son of" genealogy immediately after the baptism of the adult Jesus, the final word of that account being the voice from heaven that declares, "You are my Son the Beloved; with you I am well pleased." (3:22) Further, as mentioned above, the line goes back to "Adam, son of God," which is not a common or normative means of referring to the first human "creature." One suspects Paul's influence may be discernible here, who in his Corinthian correspondence labors to contrast the first Adam with Jesus Christ, the second or last Adam (1Corinthians 15:45). Meanwhile, at the other end of Luke's genealogy, the story of Jesus the Son of God resumes directly after this reference to Adam, by which it seems Luke intends precisely this Pauline contrast when he turns his to focus again to Jesus, and explicitly states that he was "full of the Holy Spirit" (4:1).
            5. Jesus' age. Since Luke inserts the genealogy at the beginning of Jesus' public ministry (after his baptism), thus rendering the family tree a flashback of sorts, he adds the detail that "Jesus was about thirty years old when he began his work" (v. 23). Matthew includes no parallel comment.
            6. Acknowledgment of divine conception. Whereas Matthew suspends the phrase "the father of" when he arrives at Jesus, describing Joseph as "the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born" (1:16), Luke simply attaches the phrase "as was thought" to the statement that Jesus "was the son ... of Joseph" (3:23), thus acknowledging the role of adoptive or surrogate father that Joseph was to play.
            7. Number of generations. Luke mentions seventy-seven generations (i.e., occurrences of "son of"), which can be a somewhat fluid designation. That Jesus himself is elsewhere called "Son of David" and "seed of Abraham," is a sufficiently clear example of the fact that "son" can simply mean "descendant" or "heir," and can thus be applied to grandchildren and great-grandchildren, etc., who are separated from the ancestor by several generations. The same sense of historical slippage can be applied to Matthew, who, by contrast, takes pains to mention fourteen generations from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the exile, and fourteen from the exile to Jesus (Matt 1:17), for a total of forty-two generations. Again, this excludes the pre-Abrahamic patriarchs, but in doing so highlights the Abrahamic covenant itself.
            8. Variations among the ancestors named. There are those who account for the differences between the Matthean and Lukan genealogies, specifically, in the generations between Christ's birth and the exile, by asserting that Luke's account pertains to Mary's line, Matthew's to Joseph. Since neither indicates the parentage of Mary herself, I find that difficult to sustain on the immediate evidence of the genealogies themselves. Paul, too, apparently reached a point at which he found the matter receding in importance (1Tim 1:4; Titus 3:9). One possibility that should not be overlooked is the frequency with which we encounter biblical characters who are known by more than one name. Indeed, this is so common it is arguably more the rule than the exception.
            It is unlikely that the number of the generations or the list of names will yield up any obvious sermonic ideas that demand to be preached, though I have worked one such figure, Cosam son of Elmadam, into an imaginative story set in the Babylonian exile, a story (better suited to Lenten themes) that probably ventures beyond what may be properly called a sermon. The purpose for including Luke's genealogy in Year D is not that it is necessarily superior to, or more revelatory than Matthew's, but from what we have seen it is certainly different, and thus offers a perspective that may indeed suggest other fresh insights.
            As some readers of Year D have suggested, this text might be more appropriate for reading on the Fourth Sunday of Advent, closer to Christmas Eve, with John 3:22-36 read on the Third Sunday. There is certainly a case to be made for that, and though I have endeavored to resort to canonical order wherever possible in the design of Year D, I am by no means inclined to discourage such a modification. 

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Christmas Play by Gary Neal Hansen

This year for Christmas I have the honor of serving as the Narrator for Gary Neal Hansen's Christmas Play, which will be presented in worship at First Presbyterian Church, Dubuque, IA. Gary's arrangement of the nativity narratives is a beautiful harmonization of the Gospels of Luke, Matthew, and John. This straightforward presentation of the good news of the Incarnation of God in Christ Jesus puts the revelation front and center. It is a pleasure to read and it will be a joy to join with saints young and old in this retelling of the coming of Emmanuel — the King before whom all kings shall bow — for our salvation.

UPDATE: Here is a link to the "world premiere" of Gary's Christmas Play, with yours truly as the narrator, a.k.a. the voice from on high.

First Sunday of Advent (Year C)

God of truth and righteousness, we turn to you in anticipation of your coming to bring justice and peace into our world. Strengthen our hearts in holiness, unite us with our neighbors in love, direct our way along your righteous paths and among your righteous people of every time and place, that we may be found blameless at your return.

Christmas with A Phenomenal Llama

It has been observed that a lot of stuff tends to lie downstream of culture. Well, here is one way to improve the culture of Christmas, and hopefully mitigate the legacy of one Clement Clarke Moore. If you are looking for a fresh angle on the Christmas story or for new pageant ideas, this is a sweet, delightful, imaginative story that is fun to read aloud


1. Check out the good reviews, and order copies early for your Sunday school teachers, educators, pageant planners. Here, under "From the Author," is a bit of background.

2. Order two readers' copies to break it into voices for a dramatic reading at Christmas.

3. Design costumes for one pastor (narrator), a lead llama (Gregory), St. Francis, Noah, a camel, reindeer, a donkey, cows, sheep, any number of other animals (lions, peacocks, monkeys), ... and of course, plenty of extra llamas.

4. Make sure to get a copy of the e-book so you can project the lovely illustrations for the congregation.

5. Schedule a fireside reading at home with the family or for a fellowship night.

6. Consider sending a copy to your families with children, or letting a copy serve as your Christmas card to the congregation. 

7. Visit A Phenomenal Llama on FB, give it a Like, or better yet: "Share."

8. Post a review on Amazon or your favorite online bookstore or book review site.

9. Spread the word to neighboring churches, pastors, parents, and friends.

10. Ask for your local bookstore to carry it.

Time to get a jump on Christmas. I hope you, you family, and your families of faith enjoy A Phenomenal Llama.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Psalm 81

Psalm 81 begins with a rousing summons to worship in full voice: "Sing aloud ... shout for joy ... Raise a song ..." (vv. 1-2a), and with all manner of instruments: the tambourine, the lyre, and the trumpet (vv. 2-3). All of this joyful praise is, of course, to be directed to "God our strength, ... to the God of Jacob" (v. 1), who has called for such resounding worship in statute, ordinance, and decree (vv. 4-5).  
            Two features of this introduction are particularly noteworthy. First, this threefold stipulation or ordination of worship, if it was encoded at Sinai, was divinely decreed in advance, that is, when the Lord "went out over the land of Egypt" (v. 5); this is the very worship of which Moses spoke to Pharaoh, and which Pharaoh long opposed. In other words, to the extent that Sinai is the scene of unsurpassed glory, it is clear that it is but the culmination of a "divine service" that began with a call to worship that was issued while Israel was still in captivity! 
            Second, the reference to the sounding of the trumpet is a double reference. The blowing of the trumpet was prescribed for every new moon or month, and a special feast was established for doing so at Rosh Hashana, the "head" of every new year. The trumpet was not always sounded, however, at the full moon; thus this double reference suggests that the first day of the fall Festival of Booths—the fifteenth of the month—is in view (Deut 16:13-15; Lev 23:23-44, esp. v. 24), though the tenth day, the Day of Atonement, is more explicitly a day on which the trumpet blast is to be "sounded throughout the land" (Lev 25:9). In short, where the Torah is concerned, the occasion for this double sounding of the trumpet at the new moon and again at the full moon is ambiguous and even mysterious.
            Adding to the mystery, the psalmist now testifies that he has heard a heretofore unknown voice (v. 5b), indeed, a voice that repeatedly complains of not being heard or heeded (vv. 8, 11, 13). The voice identifies itself first by the kindly deeds the speaker has done—granting relief and liberation from the burden of slavery—in response to the people's cry of distress (vv. 6-7). Yes, the unheard voice belongs to One who hears and responds to the voice of the people! Further compounding the mysterious nature of the speaker, the voice declares: "I answered you in the secret place of thunder"" (v. 7b), an apparent reference to Sinai; and adds: "I tested you at the waters of Meribah" (v. 7c). This is new! For elsewhere, the Lord identifies Meribah as they place where:

"your ancestors tested me,
   and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work" (Psalm 95:9).

But here it is clear that the true examiner was the Lord. That the mysterious speaker is indeed the Lord is clear enough from v. 10, where the voice identifies himself as such, but not without first reiterating the chief commandment: "There shall be no strange god among you; you shall not bow down to a foreign god" (v. 9). But with the theophany comes both the reminder of the Lord's deliverance of Israel from Egypt and the promise of divine, parental provision: "Open your mouth wide and I will fill it" (v. 10b).
            The Lord goes on to record what happens when his people neither listen nor submit: he allows them to go their own way, following their own "stubborn hearts, ... their own counsels" (vv. 11-12). Such a path will surely lead back into some form of oppression, slavery, or even destruction. But the Lord — with a heartrending expression of charitable longing — promises his people, if they will only listen to him and walk in his ways (v. 13), relief from their enemies and plentiful and delicious sustenance: "I would feed you with the finest of wheat, and with honey from the rock I would satisfy you" (v. 16).
            Preachers should know that such promises neither support nor discredit so-called "prosperity theology." Properly speaking, they belong to covenant theology, which insists on making clear the terms of the God's promises, which (much as we would like them to be) are not unconditional: both the dreadful consequences of forsaking, and the delightful benefits of hearing and heeding, the unheard voice of the loving and liberating Lord.


RCL makes infrequent use of selections from Psalm 81 as follows:

81:1-10 — Year B: Epiphany 9/Proper 4/Ordinary 9 [complementary]
81:1, 10-16 — Year C: Proper 17/Ordinary 22 [semi-continuous]

It is included in Year D owing to its thematic associations with Psalm 95, the irregularity with which Epiphany 9 occurs in Year B, and the nine verses omitted from the semi-continuous selection in Year C. 

Friday, October 30, 2015

Psalm 106:(1) 7-18, 24-28 (43-48)

In the psalter there are a handful of longer psalms that not only offer prayer and praise (or, in this case, confession) to God, but also constitute a history lesson of sorts, taking in large expanses of the Old Testament with a panoramic view. As suggested in Year D, the preacher should not be put off by the comparative length of these psalms (78, 105, and 106), but instead recognize how condensed they are compared to the vast material they summarize, and leverage them accordingly as teaching tools.
            Psalm 106 is one of these psalms, a short portion of which (106:1-6, 19-23) is used in RCL [Proper 23/Ordinary 28, Year A]. That lection consists of the opening Hallelujah, a call to thankful worship of the Lord (v. 1), an expression of wonder at God's mighty acts (v. 2), a promise of blessing  for the righteous (v. 3), an individual petition for favor rooted in the sure conviction that the Lord will bless and deliver his people (vv. 4-5), a (truncated!) confession of sin, and a recollection of Israel's idolatry in the incident of the golden calf (vv. 19-23). The latter section ends on a hopeful note, however, as it recalls how thLord relented from destroying them when Moses "stood in the breach" to intercede for them (v. 23).
            The therapeutic power and the reforming potential of the psalm appears in the temporally or historically inclusive form in which the confession is introduced: "Both we and our ancestors have sinned; we have committed iniquity, have done wickedly" (v. 6). Unfortunately, by limiting the subsequent reading to the most familiar and famous case of idolatry, the effect of that repetitious confession is lost, along with the sense in which this psalm reminds the reader of "the perversity and obtuseness of the people" [New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocrypha, NRSV; OT p. 766]. Indeed, the threefold confession of v. 6 — in which one can almost hear a collective beating of the breast in grief and remorse — is matched with a similar pattern of repeated lapses on the part of the people, interspersed with reminders that the Lord continued to deliver them. That structure, which is even more apparent ad symmetrical in the following psalm (107), the lesson it has to convey, the light it has to cast forward on the ways in which "we" in our day  have also sinner, and the redemptive power of this confessional psalm — all of this is lost when it is carved up into shorter pieces. Hence, this commentary itself should serve as a confession of one of Year D's errata. Ideally, the psalm should be left in tact, especially since it would appear we still have some matters that we have not confessed for some time.
            What other sins, besides the golden calf, does this psalm confess?

(v.7a) — a failure to consider the Lord's wonders in Egypt;
(v. 7b) — failure to "remember the abundance of (his) steadfast love";
(vv. 7c-12) — rebellion at the Red Sea;
(v. 13) — forgetfulness and impatience;
(vv. 14-15) — testing God to serve the people's "wanton craving" (cf. Num 11:4-6, 31-35);
(vv. 16-18) — the pseudo-egalitarian rebellion of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram (Num 16);
(vv. 24-27) — general rebellion in refusing to enter the promised land (Num 14);
(vv. 28-31) — sexual rebellion involving the Baal of Peor;
(vv. 32-33) — complaint about a lack of water at Meribah of Kadesh;
(vv. 34-39) — failure to destroy the pagan nations and their idols, in lieu of which they came to imitate the pagans in practicing child sacrifice.

After this litany of Israel's apostasies, the psalm concludes with (1) a general confession of circumstances — oppression and subjection by their enemies — that met Israel when they provoked the Lord to anger (vv. 40-42); (2) a reminder of how the Lord continually responded to the cries of Israel with merciful deliverance, compassion, and steadfast love, ... and with regard for his covenant (vv. 43-46); and finally, (3) a petition for salvation from among the pagans, a promise, a blessing, and a call to worship (vv. 47-48).
            Thus ends Book IV of the Psalms, with a penitential tour-de-force framed within doxological Hallelujahs; a bracing reminder, both in content and structure, that thoroughgoing confession is not a precursor to worship; it is worship; that is, confession is essentially of a piece with adoration itself, the humbling counterpart to the exaltation of the covenant-making Lord who is ever merciful, even in his anger, and ever faithful, even when we are not (2Tim 3:13).

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Psalm 95

This psalm unfolds in a clear two-part structure. The first part is a call to worship (vv. 1-7a); the second a prophetic warning (vv. 7b-11).
            By virtue of the call to worship, it clearly belongs in the collection of hymns (Psalms 96–98) that predominate in the RCL during the Christmas propers (I–III), and it rings with the same pastoral tones and imagery of thanksgiving that we find in Psalm 100. Two clusters of imperatives summon the people to come, sing, and make a joyful noise (vv. 1-2); come, worship, bow down, and kneel (v. 6); with theological rationales attached to each group of invitations. In the first series of invitations the Lord is named "the rock of our salvation" (v. 1), while its attendant rationales testify to his greatness as God, his sovereign superiority "above all gods," his dominion over "the depths of the earth," "the heights of the mountains," "the sea" and "the dry land." His possession of these is attested by virtue of his having "made" and "formed" them (vv. 3-5). The second verb cluster is supported with the simple assertion that "he is our God," after which the Lord's role as shepherd is inferred by virtue of how "we" are characterized: "We are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand." Such simultaneously pastoral and kingly imagery — which remains ever surprising in such close, even synonymous relation — is prominent throughout the Old Testament, from the Torah, to the prophets, to the Psalms. Indeed, it is so familiar we risk losing sight of its otherworldly, or at least counter-cultural oddity if we take for granted the protective and providential nature of governance.
            The latter section of this psalm, however, introduces significant discord; here, the harmonious liturgical encounter between the sovereign Shepherd and the ovine assembly, if you will, is interrupted by a dreadful, painful memory that is reconstituted as a warning. A plaintive, subjunctive cry to the people to "listen to his voice" (v. 7b) is contrasted with their costly and all-too-consistent stubbornness, euphemistically characterized as a hardening of the heart (v. 8a).
            The incident or incidents in question concern two such battles of will between Yahweh and Israel during the wilderness sojourn: the first at Meribah (Exod 17:1-7), the second at Massa (Num 20:1-13), both involving the people's complaints regarding a lack of water and both involving water coming forth from a rock when Moses strikes it with his staff.  The first instance occurs at Rephidim, before the giving of the law. There Moses renames the place with both designations: Massah and Meribah, for the people had "quarreled and tested" the Lord.  The second instance occurs much later, after the law, after the failure of the spies to encourage the people to enter the land, after the death of Miriam, and just prior to the death of Aaron. As similar as this account is to that earlier testing, it is some forty years later, which undoubtedly accounts for the subsequent reference to that interval (v. 10). In other words, even though the earlier incident occurs at a place Moses calls by both names (Meribah and Massah), the latter (at Meribah of Kadesh) serves to surround or "bookend" the entire wilderness period, suggesting that Israel's nature, as a generation, had not been episodically stubborn, but consistently so. That may be hard to reconcile with other texts that show, e.g., Israel giving with grateful and joyful abundance for the construction of the tabernacle (Exod 35:20–36:7), but it does seem to be the viewpoint of the psalm at hand. In other words, the incidents at Massah and Meribah serve as parentheses around the forty years in which Israel, by this account, did nothing but test and complain against the Lord, ultimately meeting with his angry oath that they should die in the wilderness and not enter the promised land (v. 11).
            Two points are particularly important. First, the heard-hearted stubbornness of the people is repeatedly characterized as inexplicable: "though they had seen my work" (v. 9); "they do not regard my ways" (v. 10b). In other words, their continual testing of the Lord, or "putting (him) to the proof" (v. 9a), was rooted in a failure of memory, and a failure of memory of otherwise very memorable and mighty things at that!
            Second, the missteps of Moses and Aaron at Meribah are not singled out here, though Numbers 20 seems designed to explain their particular failure, not that of the people themselves, to enter the promised land.
            The most difficult and challenging part of the psalm is but a single word: "loathed" (v. 10), which cannot be properly understood apart from its partner or parallel phrase, which clearly places this divine complaint within the framework of the covenant. The phrase, "For forty years," modifies both verbs: "I loathed ... and said," but it is clearly that which the Lord observed in what he said that became the grounds for the former: "They are a people whose hearts go astray and they do not regard my ways" (v. 10). In other words, the Lord did not by any means set out to loathe his people; rather, the people's continual disregard for the Lord invited his loathing. If we object: such loathing is not in God's nature, that is entirely correct. But it is a reality within the terms of the covenant, properly understood; that is, not stripped of its downside for the sake of a naively positivist or purely optimistic theology. It is, in short, the curse for the which the straying people opted. The fault lies not with the Lord; rather, it is startlingly symptomatic of the essential reciprocity that lies at the heart of "covenant."


Psalm 95 is included as an optional lection in Year D, not because it is excluded from RCL—the whole psalm is recommended in Lent 3 and the less problematic opening section for Christ the King, both in Year A—but by virtue of its connections to the epistle lections for the Second and Third Sundays of Advent (Heb 3–4); as well as the Old Testament lections for Second Advent (Numbers 12 and 20) and a brief passage from Psalm 106:32-33 that I neglected to included in Year D (neither does it appear in RCL). Where the epistle is concerned, and by extension the gospel lection, the main point of comparison is the superiority of the ministry of Jesus to that of Moses, and for that matter, Aaron, Miriam, and John the Baptist, who was heir to the priestly vocation, but stood apart from it, and (according to Jesus) excelled "those born of women" (Luke 7:28).

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Numbers 20

This is a momentous chapter consisting of four events: the death of Miriam (20:1); the quarreling over a lack of water at Meribah of Kadesh, after which Moses and Aaron learn they shall not enter the promised land  (20:2-13); the refusal by Edom to let Israel pass through their territory (20:14-21); and the death of Aaron (20:22-29). With the exception of the stand-off with Edom, all these events share a common theme: the passing of Israel's first generation of (national) leaders. Aaron and Miriam die, while Moses is informed that he too — specifically for failing to trust the Lord — "shall not bring this assembly into the land" (20:12). Moses's ministry will, of course, continue for the remainder of Numbers and Deuteronomy. It will include three memorable victories over King Sihon of the Amorites, King Og of Bashan, and the Midianite hoards. But in the end, this one lapse in Moses' faith — according to which he gave vent to his own anger and failed "to show (the Lord's holiness before the eyes of the Israelites" (v. 12) — cost him dearly, so that, although he would ascend Mt. Nebo and view the promised land, he would not enter it. Thus, the summation from the epistle applies, sadly, to Moses as well as to Aaron, Miriam, and all but two (Joshua and Caleb) of the generation that passed through the Red Sea: "So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief" (Hebrews 3:19). 

This incident at Meribah of Kadesh is what lies behind the brief summary we have in Psalm 106: 
"They [Israel] angered the LORD at the waters of Meribah, and it went ill with Moses on their account;  for they made his spirit bitter,  and he spoke words that were rash." (Ps 106:32-33) 
In Numbers 20, however, while the rash and bitter anger of Moses is clear enough, the Lord's decision seems to be rendered without a great display of emotion. Indeed, if the Lord was angry there, his anger was remarkably restrained,for he makes the water flow for the people after Moses struck the rock a second time (v. 11). We can only wonder how long was the ominous pause between the first and second strike, and what may have run through Moses' mind as he waited and wondered what would happen next.

Monday, July 6, 2015

A freedom better than independence

Now that the Independence Day celebrations are behind us for another year, why not read about and celebrate the far greater, eternal freedom promised by the gospel of Jesus Christ?

Monday, June 1, 2015

Trinity Sunday (Year B)

Isaiah 6:1-8
Psalm 29
Romans 8:12-17
John 3:1-17

Prayer of Confession [from WHEN HEAVEN STANDS OPEN: LERW, YEAR B]
Holy God, we confess that we live unclean lives among unclean people. Unless you touch us we are lost, unless you save us we are condemned. Yet you have declared that your purpose in sending Christ Jesus is not for condemnation, but for our salvation, and this salvation is not only for us, but for the whole world.  Free us, O God, from our countless fears. Forgive us, O Lord, for our tendency toward the flesh. Impart to us your Holy Spirit, that Christ might be formed in us for your glory and majesty and honor!

Monday, May 18, 2015

Penitential Rite for Pentecost (Year B)

God alone has the power to breathe life into the dead, to redeem for vital service those who are otherwise lifeless due to the weighty burden of guilt and sin. This God who turns slaves into prophets, the young into visionaries, and the old into dreamers of the future glory, can be trusted with the truth about our sin.

Spirit of the Living God, we confess that change fills our hearts with sorrow, loss stirs up doubt and fear, and our memories of past unfaithfulness often make life unbearable. Yet you are more than faithful in providing for us and for all creatures under heaven. You are good to renew all things with your Holy Spirit and to give countless blessings with your open and generous hand. Forgive us, O God, for our shortsightedness, our lack of faith, our timidity. Empower us with your Holy Spirit to proclaim your good works and to do your will in all things, for the sake of your Son Jesus Christ.

Surely all who call upon the name of the Lord will be saved! The God, who takes care to proclaim the gospel to all peoples in their mother tongue, has made provision for forgiveness for every believer under heaven and redemption for the whole of creation under the governance of Jesus Christ. Receive the good news, even as you receive anew the promised Holy Spirit, for in Jesus Christ we are forgiven!

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Jesus was and is "without sin." (Note the period)

Well, you can't blame the sad results of Q3 on the lectionary, since we frequently use Heb 4:15 in the liturgy—though evidently not as often as we should—and it does come up as a reading once in Year B and every year at Good Friday. Dear denizens of depravity, as the voice said to Augustine: "Pick it up. Read it."

Friday, March 6, 2015

The Freedom of Christ

So what can happen when one superimposes lectio continua over Lent? Well, for one thing: this short series of six sermons on Galatians, preached ten years ago as I was designing and experimenting with Year D. With so many homiletical options on the table these days, one would not presume to issue such a collection with the expectation that such a series would ever be considered normative or exemplary—by anyone, least of all an author whose job it is to study and teach manifold approaches to preaching—nevertheless, this little book is at least a fair representation, a non-exemplary example, so to speak, of how preaching can cover significant territory with (I hope) some depth, yet at a fairly brisk pace.

More specifically and somewhat pedagogically, I offer it as an example of what I call "reiterative exposition," which is, as I understand it, akin to what Walter Brueggemann calls "re-utterance." For the record, I do realize that while Brueggemann favors, promotes, and envisions preaching as "re-utterance" of the Word, he is less positive about "reiteration." The difference, if there is one, seems to me less clear and stark than it evidently does to him. So with that expression of intent, i.e., that I think we are aiming at the same thing, here it is: a reiteration or a reutterance (as you like) of the gospel of freedom, The Freedom of Christ.

Here's hoping that, after all the flailing and failed fleshly attempts at freedom we see displayed in the weeks leading up to Lent, this articulation of and invitation to the freedom of Christ will find its way home in many a reader's heart.

UPDATE: For some reason, according to Google Trends, there seems to be particular interest in Galatians in Zimbabwe these days, so perhaps this title will grab some African readers. Note as well the rising interest in the epistle itself, in contrast to the diminishing interest in the lectionary.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

'Tis the season for Salix Babylonicus

If you are looking for a one-off Sunday school lesson or Wednesday night program this Lent, this short story is bound to generate good discussion in this season of self-examination, repentance, and recommitment to the cruciform life. In fact, one could well take several angles on it: the psalms, music therapy, pastoral listening, persecution and exile. Perhaps it needs a study guide?

Previous post with related links here.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time*

Job 34:1-20
Psalm 28
Matthew 6:7-15
Hebrews 13:9-14 (15-16) 17-25


O God our Father, your Son and our Lord Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. We realize, in light of the constant changes and challenges we face, that have no lasting city here on earth, but we look for the city, the new Jerusalem, that is to come. Through your Son and in his Spirit, we offer you our continual sacrifice of praise, the fruit of those who confess his name. Accept then our songs and prayers of praise and adoration, and strengthen our hearts with grace, for we seek the bread of your presence, and we gather at the table where your Son has offered the blood of the eternal covenant, in whose name we pray.