Monday, August 03, 2009

Preaching August 9, 2009

1 Kings 19:4-8
Psalm 34:1-8
Ephesians 4:25 - 5:2
John 6:35, 41-51

Four factors have pushed me toward the 1 Kings text for preaching this Sunday.

1. Is it God's action that a bread theme/image appears in the Revised Common Lectionary five weeks in a row? I'm not sure about this idea, but I find it irritating at best. Bread is a great image, but five weeks in a row? Enough complaining, for many dorky pastors (of which I am one) have waxed poetic about either the goodness or painfulness about this configuration. It doesn't deserve any more thought. I don't like a sermon theme dictated by such rigid boundaries. At least artificially rigid boundaries.

2. "It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors." I am intrigued by the idea of familial determinism and the theological ramifications implied in this statement of despair by Elijah. I occasionally hear the fatalistic proverb, "we are doomed to become our parents." Some days I hear my words and actions mirror what I heard and saw as a child. Some days it bothers me. Even though people respect, admire and honor some of the things their parents do (I am in this camp), don't we want to be our own person to some degree (I'm also in this camp)? Some days I don't mind that my personality is tattooed by my mother and father. In this parent-child-ancestor relationship reflection I couldn't help but think of a postcard I purchased in London a few years ago that made me laugh to no end (unfortunately, I can't use this in a sermon. Sometimes our Puritan background is so annoying--but sometimes it pays the bills). I thought of how this biting, comedic statement might fit more with women than if the statement flipped sexes. Would women feel aghast if they turned into a replica of their mothers, regardless of the scope of that love or admiration for who their mothers are? I wonder if this observation is merely anecdotal or contains a wider truth, or is culturally confined to at least North America and the UK.

3. God appears to be telling Elijah that our lives need not employ fatalistic familial determinism, but is this not the same God that reveals in Exodus 20:5 "for 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..." I'm not quite sure if familial determinism is implied in this teaching of the law, or speaks more to the wisdom that sin carries consequence. I thank my OT teacher, Terry Fretheim, for highlighting that sin does not necessarily provoke God's punishment in the teaching of the law, but God's revealed relationship order highlights consequences of sin that are not an infliction of punishment by God. Some might think this notion is somewhat deistic, but I don't think so. I think some of the hope of this text is regarding the ongoing work of God. The consequence of sin may make its way through the generations, and we may not be able to overcome all of the idiosyncratic annoyances of our parents and ancestors. My initial thought process regarding this text is that we can learn from both the wisdom, triumphs and sins of our parents. I think that is what all parents want for their children. There will also be days when the weight of our ancestors will be too much to bear. This text reminds us that the actions of God are ultimately leading to our redemption. But despair can certainly tear apart the fabric of our being, and through an invitation to eat the bread of life, Elijah is given the strength to live and live out his calling at least one more day.

4. The specter of determinism can also haunt congregations. Congregations have their own personalities (stereotypes? brands?): the small, rural church hanging on by a thread; the rich, suburban church that took on an oversized mortgage; the church that seems to enjoy arguing and fighting; the church ruled by the "old guard,"; the church that always seems to be in financial dire straits; the contemporary worship church; the liturgical church; the conservative church; the liberal church; the church with young families; the blue-haired church, the ethnic congregation (Norwegian, Swede, Danish or German in my tradition). There can also be a combination of these aforementioned images (and many others I have not mentioned)--each of these images can be a badge of honor or a crushing burden to congregations as they discern their role in the world and how they will share the Gospel. I see this type of burden just as difficult, if not more challenging to overcome than for individuals. I've worked with many leaders in congregations that become discouraged by the congregational stereotype and brand. Sometimes I appeal to their business acumen and talk about re-branding, but it is God who is the ultimate redeemer of our brokenness and burden of despair, both individual and corporate.

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