This Weaks' Hermeneutic
Due to constraints on my schedule, new submissions for This Weaks' Hermeneutic are hereby postponed.

Year:A, Epiphany 4

Fourth Sunday After Epiphany

Ordinary Time 4 January 30, 2005

My sermon for this week is published in the most-excellent preaching resource: Biblical Preaching Journal Please visit their web site for subscription details. Here are some excerpts from my sermon:

Moving Beyond the Church-Talk

As we do in most areas of our life, we have created a particular way of talking in church when we pray, when we preach, when we sing, when we invoke, when we benedict: “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you.” It mimics theological ideas, biblical stories. Often, the manner of speaking clearly has arisen from language we find in older translations of the Bible. So our elders may still stand behind the table thanking Christ for “this thy table.” It’s odd in any other context, but not here. Here, it’s church-talk.

The beatitudes we hear as Jesus begins his Sermon on the Mount have just such a quality. “Blessed are the poor in spirit… Blessed are those who mourn… Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” (Matt 5:3-5 NRSV). No manager places a sign on aisle seven that reads, “Blessed is the one who asks a clerk for help, for they will inherit the 50 pound bag of dog food on the bottom rack of their grocery cart.” Elsewhere, it would be strange, but here, it just sounds like church-talk, like bible-speak. Matthew, in particular.

A second, shorter version of the beatitudes is found in the gospel of Luke. While in Matthew, Jesus says “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” in Luke he simply says “Blessed are you who are poor.” Or when in Matthew Jesus says “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,” in Luke Jesus says more poignantly, “Blessed are you who are hungry now.” For this reason, scholars often conclude that Matthew has added a spiritual context to the simplified and realistic earthy version found in Luke. Matthew has “spiritualized” the saying, presented the language in a manner that had wide appeal and applicability in the church context. He made it into church-talk.

Truly, it is tempting to see it as such—to encounter these beatitudes and place them beside the “thee’s” and “thou’s”, the “begat’s” and “amen’s”. But far too often, church-talk becomes the kind of language that sounds swell and is worth repeating but hardly makes its way into the core of our identity. It becomes the stuff of rote memory, recited without relishing, told without thinking, proclaimed without processing...

At times, church-talk, comes dangerously close to pleasantry. A few verses later in the Sermon on the Mount, the church-talk peaks. (Matt. 5:39-41)

I know what to do with that. It sounds nice. It’s worth repeating. It’s got to be church-talk. And so on most days, in our less-than-conscientious moments, the message of the gospel with all its irony and all its radicalism becomes precisely meaningless.

And as if the spiritualizing wasn’t enough for Matthew, there’s more. Jesus speaks in these promises of comfort and inheritance, words of hope and assurance. The hope he proclaims is not only a spiritual one, but an eschatological hope, one that looks forward to the eschaton, to the manner in which God will bring fulfillment to the world. Christ maintains an order of blessing that seems counter to the current state of the world, and he does so by means of the assurance of God’s reign drawing near. Jesus here expresses a future hope regarding the Kingdom of Heaven

This phrase is key in Matthew (some 32 times and never in the other gospels). From the outset, John the Baptist appears on the scene, announcing the arrival of Jesus, calling to repentance “for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” (3:2) The gospel message is a grand and bold proposal, and its thesis statement is that the woes of the day pale in comparison with the promise of the morrow. But such a statement, such church-talk, of the great by and by and pie in the sky can once more overshadow the impact of Christ’s invitation to identify with the community of faith which he is trying to describe.

The incantation of comfort and assurance is expressed as a future hope, oh yes. But this future hope, by the announcement of Jesus, has become a present reality. It is not enough to hear the words of beatitude and enjoy the niceties that lie therein. It is not enough to think of those less fortunate than me and say, “Well, I’m glad things will look up for them.” It is not enough to place our hopes in days ahead, digging in for the long haul, pressing our faces against the glass longing for what we desire in hopes that some day blessed assurance will find its way to our corner.

For everything we know about the future determines how we live in the present. I can get through today because of what I know about tomorrow. An encounter with Christ is the fulfillment of the gospel. Jesus’ proclamation of mercy and fullness, relationship and inheritance is not onlythe promise for God’s future, but in a very real way has come near.

Imagine for a moment, if we can, to see through the haze of all the paradoxical semantics, all the bible speak… imagine for a moment thatJesus wasn’t using church-talk...

Year:A, Epiphany 2

Second Sunday After Epiphany

Ordinary Time 2, Year A January 16, 2005

Isaiah 49:1-7

You're not wasting your time

Sometimes, we just need a little encouragement. For any task or project or sermon, sustaining the effort gets a little bit easier with some encouragement. When fleshing out a sermon (or flushing out), I often feel as if I'm hitting my head against a blank wall where I think ideas should be posted. They simply aren't there. It takes effort to discern and craft a good word when putting a sermon together; and the energy that fuels the journey comes from a well filled when you have those rare moments of realizing you've made a difference.
I don't so much think about the inevitable and routine comments that come in the narthex after worship is over. These are a study unto themselves, are they not? Most often, the "Nice sermon"-type comments lie somewhere between a common courtesy and a genuine, but rather beside the point, affirmation that actually communicates something closer to "I like you". Most amusing is the all-too-common experience of receiving a comment that makes you almost certain the parishioner was listening to an entirely different sermon. "Pastor, nice message today. Good job of saying precisely what I was determined to hear."
But, there is the rare moment, in the narthex on Sunday, on the phone on Monday, or in some lunch or meeting or visit or email in the days or weeks to come that wow's me. When it happens, I just want to wrap it up tight and stick it in my pocket so I might cherish it for as long as I can, use it as my strength to go on with the task before me. That's what I mean by encouragement.
That's what Isaiah delivers in the text--a narrative of empowerment for those who accept the call to serve God, in the pulpit and on the outreach team or the visitation ministry. What we do is important, and which is more, we become important because of what we do. important that God name me when still in the womb. important that he equipped me, protected me, encouraged me.
Are you like me? Do you get discouraged? Do you find youself with no bundles of inspiration in your pocket? Has it been too long since your last tangible evidence that your ministry is making a difference?
"I have labored in vain, I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity."
Isaiah has a word for you. It is no small, insignificant thing you do. I know that the "in" thing these days is to emphasize the futility of Christian activity. All true. But it's not the complete truth. The complete truth is that when we answer the call to do God's work, the impact is nothing short of stunning.

Directory, Year:A
A Advent 1
A Advent 2
A Advent 3
A Advent 4
A Christmas Proper
A Christmas 1
A Christmas 2
A Epiphany
A Ordinary 1
A Ordinary 2
A Ordinary 3
A Ordinary 4
A Ordinary 5
A Ordinary 6
A Ordinary 7
A Ordinary 8
A Transfiguration Sunday
A Ash Wednesday
A Lent 1
A Lent 2
A Lent 3
A Lent 4
A Lent 5
A Palm Sunday
A Maundy Thursday
A Good Friday
A Easter 1
A Easter 2
A Easter 3
A Easter 4
A Easter 5
A Easter 6
A Easter 7
A Pentecost Sunday
A Trinity Sunday
A Ordinary 9 May29-Jun4
A Ordinary 10 Jun5-11
A Ordinary 11 Jun12-18
A Ordinary 12 Jun19-25
A Ordinary 13 Jun26-2
A Ordinary 14 Jul3-9
A Ordinary 15 Jul10-16
A Ordinary 16 Jul17-23
A Ordinary 17 Jul24-30
A Ordinary 18 Jul31-6
A Ordinary 19 Aug7-13
A Ordinary 20 Aug14-20
A Ordinary 21 Aug21-27
A Ordinary 22 Aug28-3
A Ordinary 23 Sep4-10
A Ordinary 24 Sep11-17
A Ordinary 25 Sep18-24
A Ordinary 26 Sep25-1
A Ordinary 27 Oct2-8
A Ordinary 28 Oct9-15
A Ordinary 29 Oct16-22
A Ordinary 30 Oct23-29
A Ordinary 31 Oct30-5
A Ordinary 32 Nov6-12
A Ordinary 33 Nov13-19
A Ordinary 34 Nov20-26
A Christ King
A Thanksgiving Sunday

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Purpose of This Weaks' Hermeneutic
This Weaks' Hermeneutic includes commentary, reflections, and sermons on the Revised Common Lectionary readings for the week. While these reflections serve as "sermon starters," they are offered for use in your personal spiritual journey, and in honor of the faithful preachers who search each week for a relevant and genuine Word to share with the community of faith. A new reflection is often posted by mid-week for the upcoming Sunday, but between pastoring a church, working on a dissertation, teaching at a nearby university and being a stay-at-home dad a couple days a week, this is not always the case. My wife, Dawn, also occassionally submits a reflection. We are a clergy couple serving two different congregations in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). We humbly offer these pages as a means of staying connected with the wider church. If you find This Weaks' Hermeneutic helpful for your spiritual journey, or sermon preparation, we would love to hear from you. May God bless you with grace and peace as you serve, -- Joe Weaks