Posted by: jpjewell | April 16, 2013

Current

Dear Readers

I am preparing for hip replacement surgery and will have some limits until about the beginning of October. Material is posted through September as of today (9/7) and I will be posting material for October and hopefully stay current for your reading. October will end up being listed in reverse order. I usually post a month at a time so that the posts for each month are in ascending order. With the way WordPress posts work – the October material will show up in descending order.

God’s blessings on your preaching ministry.

John Jewell  -  September 7, 2013

Lectionary Tales is a work in progress. A careful reading of the gospels shows that Jesus was a story teller extraordinaire. He told tales, and pointed to birds and flowers, grains of seed and vineyards in order to open our minds and hearts to the reign of God. Over the years I have preached in churches of several denominations and theological persuasions. Though the theologies were substantially different and church governance was diverse,  people in these communities universally loved a good story. Sometimes there was laughter and sometimes there were tears, but always there was an appreciation for the story.

Good preaching will always include good storytelling. One of the favorite hymns in many of the churches I served was, “I Love to Tell the Story” and you know the line, “Those who know it best… seem hungering and thirsting to hear it like the rest.”  There is hardly a need for more books, blogs, subscription services or advice for preaching. Lectionary Tales will focus on stories, metaphors, musings and anything else that will help us become better story tellers.

Lectionary Tales will begin with resources for the gospel readings in the Revised Common Lectionary in the month of June. Material for each month will be located under “Categories” with each calendar month as a category.

During the years I wrote and published Sermonhelp, I came to know countless preachers who shared the wonderful ministry of  telling The Story. My fond hope is that I will be in contact with many of you once again. I would love to hear from you.

Posted by: jpjewell | September 10, 2013

October 13, 2013 – Luke 17:11-19

The Heart of the Story

The essence of this story is: Ten lepers were cured of leprosy and just one entered the Kingdom of God.”

Luke’s ever present theme of the Kingdom of God is a central part of today’s reading. Jesus turns the table yet one more time; it is the outcast, the sick, and the rejected that enter God’s Kingdom. In this particular case, it is this foreigner who recognizes the source of his healing and returns to Jesus with a heart filled with gratitude.

It is interesting to note that while there is physical healing in the story – in fact ten people are physically healed – but only to one does Jesus say, “Get up and go on your way, your faith has made you well.”

There is an important message here relative to faith that bears a closer look. Couldn’t we legitimately say that all ten lepers had faith? They did believe – at least to some degree – that Jesus could heal them. They all approached him, keeping their proper distance, crying out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” Apparently they believed that Jesus could do something about their pitiable disease and the social consequences of being outcasts.

As they went on their way to show themselves to the priests they discovered themselves to be physically cured. It had to be an incredible experience. I can see myself wanting to run to tell my family, or go to my former friends for a joyous reunion.

Yet – Jesus says to the Samaritan alone, “Your faith has made you well.” A look at the language gives a bit of insight. As the lepers went to the priests they saw that they were cleansed, (from Katharidzo – to cleanse or ritually cleanse. The Samaritan saw that he was healed. (From Iaomai – to heal in the sense of cure).  Jesus tells the Samaritan, “… your faith has made you well…”  [NRSV, NIV] The old King James Version has it, “Thy faith hath made thee whole.”

Interestingly the KJV is closer. The word is from Sodzo – to save – a root of the wider term salvation. In the truest sense what took place for the nine was a wonderful event – they were cured from a horrible disease.  The Samaritan was also cured – but beyond the gift of physical healing his faith evoked gratitude and placed him on the threshold of wholeness / salvation. The heart of his faith response was gratitude. With a loud voice he gave glory to God – that is he recognized God as the source of his healing and he fell at Jesus’ feet giving thanks. (The word for his giving thanks is the same root from which we get the word Eucharist.)

Faith is not a measurable commodity, as we pointed out last week, there are however ways that faith is reflected in our lives. Gratitude is one of the central hallmarks of the life of faith. The reading for today challenges me – in fact can make me uncomfortable at times. I’ve been through a couple of challenges lately; the kind that test your mettle. When I wanted to complain a bit or grouse about my situation, I just happened to begin working on this week’s gospel reading. Clearly, I needed to sit back and reflect on just how grateful I am for the things I tend to take too much for granted.

Gratitude in the outward life is a reflection of faith in the inward life.

The Science of Gratitude

Are you joking? The science of gratitude?

Robert Emmons is the author of, Thanks: How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier. That is correct – the new science of gratitude. I find it incredibly interesting that Emmons’ work and writing, coming from a psychological perspective, reflects something saints from all ages have known – the thing the leper who found wholeness knew: Gratitude is the foundation of fullness.

In the beginning of his book, Emmons quotes Ben Stein; I cannot tell you anything that in a few minutes, will tell you how to be rich. But I can tell you how to feel rich, which is far better, let me tell you firsthand, than being rich. Be grateful… It’s the only totally reliable get-rich-quick scheme.  Ben Stein, Actor, Comedian, Economist

I grabbed this paragraph from Amazon’s page: Emmons book examines what it means to think and feel gratefully in Thanks! He invites readers to learn how to put this powerful emotion into practice. Scientifically speaking, regular grateful thinking can increase happiness by as much as 25 percent, while keeping a gratitude journal for as little as three weeks results in better sleep and more energy. But there’s more than science to embrace here: Emmons also bolsters the case for gratitude by weaving in writings of philosophers, novelists, and theologians that illustrate all the benefits grateful living brings.

The whole subject of gratitude is, of course, a part of a Christian’s core curriculum isn’t it? Perhaps we could move it up a notch or two this week in our teaching. A story recounted by Mother Theresa brings a certain deep gratitude to my heart for people folks who live and share with a grateful heart.

“One night, a man came to our house to tell me that a Hindu family, a family of eight children, had not eaten anything for days.
They had nothing to eat. I took enough rice for a meal and went to their house. I could see the hungry faces, the children with their bulging eyes. The sight could not have been more dramatic! The mother took the rice from my hands, divided it in half and went out.

“When she came back a little later, I asked her: ‘Where did you go? What did you do?’ She answered, ‘They also are hungry.’ ‘They’ were the people next door, a Muslim family with the same number of children to feed and who did not have any food either. ?That mother was aware of the situation.

“She had the courage and the love to share her meager portion of rice with others. In spite of her circumstances, I think she felt very happy to share with her neighbors the little I had taken her. In order not to take away her happiness, I did not take her any more rice that night. I took her some more the following day.”

Posted by: jpjewell | September 7, 2013

October 6, 2013 – Luke 17:5-10

The Heart of the Story

The gospel reading for this week sounds a bit harsh to the modern reader. I can’t imagine going into the pulpit and saying, “Okay people – when you’ve done everything you can to serve Christ you should say to yourself, ‘I am a worthless slave; I’ve done only what I should have!’ ”

I would encourage folks to include verses 1-4 in the reading. The one liner for this week? Jesus is saying, “I can’t do your homework for you people!”

This week’s reading is another occasion when I appreciate NT Wright’s Kingdom New Testament. The NRSV reads, “…occasions for stumbling are bound to come…”  Wright translates, “… there are bound to be things that trip people up…” The remainder of verses 1-4 warns Jesus’ followers: 1) Against being a barrier to faith for others, and 2) To forgive anyone who asks forgiveness – no matter how many times they ask! Up to seven times a day. Tough stuff. Following Christ is not for the faint of heart.

Faced with the increasing conflict that surrounds Jesus on his final journey and the tremendous courage they will need if they are to accomplish everything he asks of them, they are very naturally struck with fright.

When I put myself in the disciples place, I imagine what I might feel as I watch the crowds increasingly divided over Jesus, hear the threats against him – and come to terms with the huge trust I will need to go through the days ahead, I can envisage myself joining the apostles, “Lord, increase my faith!” Again I prefer Wright, “Lord, give me greater faith.”

His response?  Not as harsh as it might appear. Here’s my paraphrase of the rest of the story.

“Listen up children. I can’t do your homework for you. Faith isn’t this measurable commodity as though you had a half a pound of faith and wanted me to give you a few pounds more. The road ahead of you is long, winding and difficult. The task ahead has nothing to do with your ability to have more or less faith. Faith is trusting God’s ability – not your own.

Give all that you are and all that you have into God’s hands – then God will accomplish what needs to be done through you – remember this one thing I have told you; faith is trusting God’s ability.

Do you see? It’s not about you. God comes first. And when you have trusted God above all things you have only done what comes naturally to a heart of faith.”

 

Pray for Yourselves

Mores years ago than I care to say, I was sitting with a small group of classmates who were just about to take our final exam in Greek II. My major professor, the brilliant Barclay Newman (editor of the CEV) gave us instructions and began to head out the door. We had 90 minutes to complete the exam and he would come back to collect the exams.

(In case you are wondering – no… he did not stay to proctor the exam and no one considered cheating. Rumor had it that someone cheated a few years before and he inexplicably nailed the guy.)

As Dr. Newman was leaving one of the students called after him, “Pray for us Dr. Newman.” He turned and said to us, “Pray for yourselves – faith without works is dead!”

In other words, “I can’t do your homework for you. When you have passed the test, you should say to yourselves – ‘we have only done what we were supposed to do.’ ”

Posted by: jpjewell | July 6, 2013

September 1, 2013 – Luke 14:1, 7-14

The Heart of the Story

The lectionary reading drops the healing of the man with dropsy; known today as edema which can originate from congestive heart failure causing swelling in the lower legs and feet. Thus the story for today is about Jesus going (once again) to a Pharisee’s house for dinner and telling a story about humility. (One approach to the text would be a sermon along the line of, “The Way Up With God Is Down.”)

My own take is to do something along the line of, The Heart of September. In the way back machine when I took flying lessons. My instructor would frequently have me circle the field and then “stick” the landing. In other words get a good view of things then do a perfect landing – the most important part of the flight! Every reading this month leads to the finale on September 29 in the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus.

September for many traditions will be a lead in to the annual emphasis on stewardship. Here’s a quick trip through the month:

Sept.  1: On Giving a Dinner Party: Don’t invite your family or rich neighbors – Invite the poor

Sept.  8: You Can’t be a Disciple – Unless you give all your possessions away

Sept. 15: How to Welcome God – Welcome social outcasts

Sept.22: The Best Treasure – Faithfulness is everything

Sept. 29: Buy Now – Pay Later: Swapping out rich and poor

Personally, I plan to use The Way Up With God Is Down theme. Throughout the weeks of September in the readings from Luke’s gospel, Jesus continues to turn the values of our world inside out and upside down. In this week’s Tale the Seanchai visits a Cèilidh in progress and troubles the notions of the village elders.

 

A Tale of Tír na nÓg
Trouble in
Baile an Chumain

The Seanchai walked slowly as he entered Baile an Chumain on the old rocky road; the sounds of the Cèilidh drifting along the gentle breeze that lightly stirred the leaves of verdant trees. Many were those who had come to follow the Seanchai as he travelled about the towns and villages of Cúige Mumhan. Among his strange company were a few poor, a blind man who clutched the arm of a follower of Aoibhell – the fairie who some say brought scorn to young women and an old couple who had been turned out of their home. The ragged troupe wandered the hills and valleys and when welcomed into homes, would bring the joy of music and good stories of kindness and peace. They gave of what they had and in return were blessed with food and drink and sometimes a place to rest. Music and dancing, laughter and delight flourished in those places. Ofttimes their journey was joined by one or another of the villagers who longed to learn the tales and unite with the song.

At times when the little company was not greeted kindly they would pass by such a place and it seemed as though a wee bit of light would leave the place with them as grey clouds swirled in a darkening sky.

As the Seanchai and his band rounded the road into the heart of the village, there was the sound of laughter and fine music of the Cèilidh and an open door seemed to beckon them. The Seanchai walked to the door and saw the large crowd. His face was bright and the large room brightened. A local young teller of stories rose to greet the Seanchai and most of the village elders make a gesture that he might join them as word of his music and tales had reached Baile an Chumain before him.

“Welcome! Welcome!” the chief elder called, “Enter to join us and perhaps tell a tale and sing for us.”

“Yes,” the storyteller added, “Please join us for it is said that you are more than a Seanchai. You are The Seanchai are you not?”

The Seanchai did not answer the storyteller, but smiled and entered the room waving to his troupe that they should accompany him. The chief elder did not look pleased. The harps, whistles and drums went silent and unfriendly eyes beheld the Seanchai’s little company.

“Oh please good sir,” the chief elder spoke, “As you see there is little room left and the food will soon be scarce.” His creeping frown and cold eyes revealed a heart that was as rock and a spirit as .ice. “You are most certainly welcome here, but could your company perhaps wait at the gate while you tell your story and sing for us?”

The elders in the crowd nodded their agreement. They wanted the Seanchai to stay and bless their assemblage and give of his fullness to them. There were a few who sensed a sadness emanating from the one who had come to bring joy to their village.

The Seanchai was not angry – he looked at the elders with sadness and compassion and spoke to the gathering.

“My dear citizens of Baile an Chumain, your hearts are too small to receive the fullness of the music and your ears stopped so that the stories of the blessed realm cannot enter your spirits. The things you hold to yourself will be gone as the morning fog and as you grasp with tight hands the food and drink that should lift the burden and ease the pain of those who have not, you increase your own sorrow and weigh down your spirits.

If you had invited this poor company to share in the music, the stories and the food, you would have much more when the Cèilidh was past than you did when it began. Your days would have known a growing joy and a more beautiful song, but now even the things that you had will flow away as the water of the river runs to the sea. When you give away you are blessed with abundance. When you welcome the least of our people, you welcome the spirit of Tír na nÓg.

The Seanchai turned and walked slowly out the door into the fragrant evening air. As the small band made its way along the road they could hear the music begin once again. The life was gone from the notes and the voice of the Cèilidh was dull – indeed it was no longer a Cèilidh but a cold gathering of empty hearts.

Yet, in the sorrow of the evening a voice was heard to shout, “Seanchai! Seanchai! I would come with you; I would follow you and your people!” As he ran to catch them his countenance was bright with joy. It was the young storyteller running toward them carrying a sack. He came to them and opened the sack of food and drink he brought from the village.

They sat under an old daur tree, the young storyteller who would be a Seanchai struck a flint and they ate and drank with joy in their hearts. The Seanchai closed his eyes and sang a story of the bright day that lay just ahead of them when the next dawn broke. And their hearts were full, their spirits bright and the lights that dance in the north gave a blessing.

Posted by: jpjewell | July 6, 2013

September 8, 2013 – Luke 14:25-33

The Heart of the Story

Hang tight – this week’s reflections take a different exegetical tack than usual. As promised the September gospel readings take us further into the way Jesus turns the values of the contemporary culture upside down. The last line of the text expresses the heart of this story quite clearly.

“…none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up your possessions.”

I don’t know about you, but chances are quite likely that I will not get up Sunday and say to my parishioners, “The good news today folks is going to come as rather bad news; namely, you have to divest yourselves of absolutely everything you possess if you want to be a follower of Christ.”

So – what happens when we come up against such a text and struggle with what to say on Sunday? In most lectionary study groups I’ve participated in over several decades and in most commentaries I read, we begin to participate in what I’ve come to call, exegetical evisceration of the meaning of the text.”

Jesus didn’t really mean to hate family in order to be his disciples and he didn’t really mean to actually give up all our possessions. He simply meant that we should examine our priorities and place him higher on the list.

I run to my Greek text for a bit of help and dang! It comes out pretty much, the same. My relationship to possessions is described by the word apotassomai – or, if I want to follow Christ, I have to say goodbye to, renounce or forsake – my possessions. So there is no sneaky, “… the Greek really means…” My new favorite translator N.T. Wright has it, “…none of you can be my disciple unless you give up all your possessions.”

Okay – now I turn (in vain) to the Gateway Bible and begin to check all the possible translations and paraphrases. Eugene Peterson, a well respected translator and pastor, gives me the slightest, tiniest hope. “Simply put, if you’re not willing to take what is dearest to you, whether plans or people, and kiss it good-bye, you can’t be my disciple.” Not exactly a back door exit from the challenge to our consumerist way of life however.

Here’s my approach for this time around with this text – about my sixteenth try in the course of my preaching life – and I am not particularly satisfied with any of them. It is quite clear that this text is a strong challenge to the church in America in a world where 2.6 billion people are estimated to be living on less than $2 a day.

So – is the key to the text this week simply – if I give up all I possess, will I be a true follower of Christ?

Here’s where I think I may have gotten off track when approaching this text at times in the past. It is true that this is a strong challenge to our way of life, but it is not true that this is a text about how we should address the problem of poverty in our country and in the world. Challenge our way of life we must and address poverty we must; both are imperative if we look at the meaning of becoming followers of Christ. So – first a story and then a direction for my words to the dear people who will gather to listen next Sunday.

 

The Man Who Quit Money

The Man Who Quit Money is a book by Mark Sundeen. The book is an account of how a man named Daniel Suelo learned to live, sanely and happily, without earning, receiving, or spending a single cent. The book received very good readings at goodreads.com. Among the reviews was this comment, “…it is a very difficult sell in America to convince a readership that a man who gives up money is not a lunatic.”

Indeed – perhaps in the way a sermon might be received if one were to push for divestiture of everything to say join the church. (I suppose we could grandfather in those of us who are already in the church.) A quote from the book on Goodreads does highlight an observation others have made. “…people who had the least were the most willing to share. {Daniel} outlined a dictum that he would believe the rest of his life: the more people have, the less they give. Similarly, generous cultures produce less waste because excess is shared, whereas stingy nations fill their landfills with leftovers.”

Having served a wide range of churches with a wide range of people in diverse economic situations, I would say Daniel’s observation is sometimes but not always true. That is to say, poverty does not ipso facto lead to generosity.

Here is what I plan to include somewhere in the sermon for this week:

***

After reading and reflecting on the text and reflecting on Daniel Suelo’s life, I ask a question. If I divest myself of all my possessions and give myself to living as Suelo does – absolutely without money – will that make me a true follower of Christ?

I do meet the criteria in today’s text insofar as I no longer have any possessions. I trust I can keep enough clothing so as not to offend – but I no longer have possessions – so would Jesus consider that I have met his conditions for discipleship? If all the people who call themselves Christian would become as Daniel Suelo. Would that do it?

If we attempt to frame a theology of discipleship from one single pericope we would look like the lunatics the reviewer from Goodreads spoke about.

I want to take you back to Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of this text. Simply put, if you’re not willing to take what is dearest to you, whether plans or people, and kiss it good-bye, you can’t be my disciple.

Today’s scripture asks us to do a strong examination of our relationship to “stuff.” As individuals – to be sure – but what if we did that as a church? How can we look at our life together in a way that will move us – even if fractionally – to the ideal relationship with things that Jesus so frequently calls us to.

But – there is more – it is not what we don’t have that tells us whether we are genuinely followers of Christ – it is what we invest what we have in moving the kingdom of God forward in our time and in our place.

***

My last comment has to do with how we approach our annual time of stewardship in the church as we ask people to look at their individual giving. We want people to consider what they give to the church in relationship to what they have and ask folks to think about upping their giving in relationship to how they are blessed. What if the church were to corporately commit to looking at what it possesses and do the same? What if we looked at all our corporate “stuff” and asked how we might invest more of what we have as a people in moving the Kingdom of God forward?

Posted by: jpjewell | July 6, 2013

September 15, 2013 – Luke 15:1-10

The Heart of the Story

This week’s gospel reading has a succinct but powerful spiritual concept, Namely:

Those who are far off will be near, and
Those who are near shall be far off.

Verses 1 and 2 tell the whole story. It is another of Luke’s upside down and inside out narratives where all outward appearances are wrong.

Strangely, people who are considered to be the outcasts and social rejects of their time are scrambling to get close enough to Jesus to hear what he has to say about the grace and mercy of God.

Just as strangely people who are considered to be the institutional representatives of God’s grace and mercy are complaining that Jesus is welcoming the wrong sort of people and goes so far as to actually break bread with them. (Perhaps a foreshadowing of a table of grace to come)

The one group is coming near the other group is complaining so as to distance themselves from God. Luke has Jesus comes as a messenger who brings a breath of fresh air, you might say, in the stench of religious institutionalism that exists to serve and perpetuate itself – grace be damned.

There is a good question begging to be asked. Are we in the church today, as those who affirm the ministry and message of Jesus, busy welcoming the outcasts and social r3ejects of our time? Is our message such that those who are far off are coming near to hear?

The Man Who Slept On The Church Porch

Some years ago, in a church that shall remain anonymous, a few of us decided to do a bit of drama as a part of our exposition of this passage from Luke. The church had a large portico at the front entrance located on a major downtown street.

Early on the appointed Sunday, one of the men on our church council came with an old sleeping bag. He was unshaven, disheveled and wore an old cap and sunglasses.

When worshippers began to arrive the door closest to the man had very little traffic. No one inquired about the man, although the ushers (who were in on the drama) did receive comments as to whether something could be done. “Maybe you should call the police,” one woman said. Our “guest” remained on the porch while the service began.

When it was time for the sermon (on Luke 15:1-10), the man entered the sanctuary and wandered down the middle isle and took a seat near the front. There was suddenly room around the fellow as people attempted to quietly put a bit of distance between themselves and the visitor.

When I reached a part of the sermon where I spoke about the sort of people Jesus ate with and the grumbling that came from the scribes, the visitor raised his hand. I ignored him – many gave disconcerted looks and wore serious frowns – here and there I saw quizzical looks that told me the ruse was near discovery for a minority of folk. Mainly, though, there was serious discomfort in the room.

The man persisted, waved his raised hand a bit and spoke, “So, do you think Jesus would speak to someone like me? Maybe even go have a cup of coffee and an Egg McMuffin?”

“Hmm, good question. Would you like to come up here, take the lectern and we’ll explore that.”

He came to the lectern and removed his cap and sunglasses. The reaction ranged from chuckling and smiles to frowning and a bit of head shaking along with comments like,  “Aw, no fair!” “Cheap trick.”

We anticipated the reactions that followed and worked them into the dialogue sermon as we explored what it might look like to take Jesus’ words seriously in our church and in our town. The “visitor” noted that earlier in that morning before worshippers arrived, a couple of people stopped to ask if he was okay. A police officer actually did stop and we filled him in on the subterfuge. There was a large narthex in which one could stand and observe worship without being obtrusive and the officer said he might stop by to see how it went over.

The morning’s experience had long legs – more than I expected – mostly good follow-up in our mission board, worship committee and a lively discussion in our pastoral relations committee.

Would I do it again?  Hmm… let me see…

 

The Birthday Party

I would put this under the heading of an “oldie but goodie.” For those of you who may not have heard Tony Compolo’s story about throwing a birthday party for a prostitute – this is worth checking out. While I do not always line up with Compolo’s theology – I have used the story or parts of it. It’s touching.

Text for the story:  here

Video of Compolo telling the story:  here

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