- Published on Saturday, 29 March 2014 20:25
Homilist: Lawrence Downing
This week’s Reading from Exodus 17 records the story I first heard as a child. Where? Cradle Roll? Uncle Arthur’s The Bible Story? (It is not in there.) A sermon? I can’t tell you. It is one of the many narratives that draw again and again back to the Old Testament. Stories are much more interesting than a bone-dry theological discourse, no?
I was struck by the relevancy of the account. How could the timing be better? When I read the passage, we are smack in the throws of drought. A drought, one reporter opined to be, “Of biblical proportions.” Only a slight change in situation between those days and ours: we have no Moses. There is no Mt. Horeb, nor rock nor rod that struck the Nile and, until a few days ago, no water!
These factors are not what caught my attention. No! What stopped me cold was the Great Question that arose from among the People of Israel as they contemplated their demise. They reflected back on the recent water/rock event and verbalized what others only in the safest places dare ask: Is the Lord among us or not?
- Published on Saturday, 22 March 2014 22:14
Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7
Homilist: Ginger Ketting-Weller
During a call from academy to my parents the year I was seventeen, I mentioned that I was on the Seminar Team, and told them I had been assigned to preach a short sermon as our team led in worship in local churches.
“You know what you’re going to preach about?” my dad asked. Then, without waiting for an answer, he continued, “You should preach about sin.”
“What should I say about sin?” I asked.
“‘It ain’t good,’” he said.
- Published on Saturday, 22 March 2014 21:18
As a young girl growing up on a tropical Malaysian island with hot muggy weather, I loved to lie on the couch with the fan set on “high,” and read. Constantly foraging for good books, I discovered on our shelves the old, hardback books that had been my mother’s favorite reading when she was a young girl, way back in the 1930s. They were gifts in my literary life.
Gene Stratton-Porter’s book, Freckles, tells the story of an orphan boy living in the Limberlost swamp of eastern Indiana around 1900. Heidi by Johanna Spyri tells the story of an orphan girl living in the Swiss alps with her grandfather. And I was enchanted with Eleanor Porter’s book, Pollyanna, about an orphan girl sent to live with her stern and starchy aunt. Why I was drawn to stories about orphans is a question to ponder on another day. The theme that strikes me, though, is that these stories all portrayed young people who viewed the world through lenses of hope, despite hardship.
Let me focus for a few moments on the story of Pollyanna. In order to navigate the loss and difficulties of life, Pollyanna played a game called the “Glad Game.” It was simple: in every difficult circumstance, look for something you can be glad about. The Glad Game had been invented by Pollyanna’s father one Christmas when she hoped to find a doll in the missionary barrel they had received, and instead she found only a pair of crutches. Well, said Pollyanna’s father in her moment of disappointment, Pollyanna could be glad because “We don’t need to use them!”
- Published on Saturday, 22 March 2014 21:58
Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18
1 Corinthians 3:10-11, 16-23
Homilist: Maury Jackson
My parents brandish a rich vocabulary. It is filled with odd terms like, “whistle britches,” “fiddlesticks,” and “ruckus.” Try defining that term to a room full of toddlers (who, by the way, are making a ruckus). But the oddest term, seems to need no definition. Its definition is embodied in the very sound of the word: “kattywampus” or “kittywampus.” My five siblings and I often took light our parents lexicon. After all it did originate from their southern country dictionary. While we took their lexicon lightly, however, we took their folk wisdom a little more seriously. Those witty sayings unwittingly continue to shape our perception today.
When some fast talking economist throws out fancy graphs and loaded statistics (like the one who tries to convince me to understand what is good about slums) I hear mom’s faint voice: “Maury, figures don’t lie, but liars do figure.” Or when some talk show pundit or demagogue politician gets themselves into a pickle by not thinking before they speak, I hear dad’s words steeped in his hunting days: “nothing ruins a duck, but its bill.” As I read the passage for this morning, I thought about my parents’ wisdom once again, “never argue with a fool, onlookers might not be able to tell the difference” (cf. Proverbs 26:4-14). How does one weigh into the Corinthian church’s debate without becoming a part of the factions that are disputing over who’s got the truth: Paul, Apollos, or Peter?
Page One: Trouble in the Bible
What is the apostle Paul doing? It sounds like he is in another foolish debate (cf. 2 Corinthians 11:21ff.). Wasn’t Paul wise enough to realize that you cannot talk this way without at the same time getting caught up in the factionalism? The church in Corinth had its factions: Apollos, Paul, Cephas and more! Whether you like it or not, this kind of polarized talk sticks to you. You can’t escape becoming entwined in the mess. Either you appeal for calm and then get accused of supporting status quo or you appeal for reform and get labeled a partisan revolutionary. In reading these verses, you get a sense that Paul gives in and throws his hat in the ring, so to speak. He joins the competition. Or maybe, if we listen more carefully, Paul sounds more like an old foreman on a busy construction site. He goes on making wisecracks about construction work back in his day. And while he’s yapping, the workers either chafe as they work or else they laugh in silence.
- Published on Monday, 30 September 2013 08:56
The telegram came from the commanding officer and it read, “The situation is hopeless but not desperate.” With these words, he described the battle conditions the German powers faced on the eastern front during World War I. But they also describe the stubborn will of that great Austrian philosopher, Ludwig Wittgenstein, who served under that same commanding officer. Ludwig’s stubborn will tackled the hopeless big questions of life. And he did so without a sense of desperation. I studied philosophy in graduate school. As I neared my final quarter of study, I took a seminar on the philosophy of Wittgenstein. His biography alone was amazing. He was a profoundly complex personality! He inherited the family fortune and then gave it away. He also volunteered in the Austro-Hungarian army and fought during World War I. He forfeited opportunities to become an officer and chose to remain with the enlisted ranks. And during the war, he happened upon a bookstore, bought and read a copy of the only book left in that war weary store: Tolstoy’s Gospel in Brief. But most amazing of all, during the periodic pauses in the fighting, he worked on and completed the first draft of a manuscript, which was eventually published under the title, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus.
Wow! Can you imagine him with rifle in one hand and pencil and pad in the other? Ludwig embodied hopelessness without desperation; occupying his mind during war with writing a book on philosophy. While I moaned about writing a 20 page term paper and having to brave the 14 and Interstate-5 freeways, in order to make it to class, reading about a philosopher who escapes the horrors of battle by writing a manuscript during his brief gaps in fighting was a reprimand to my comfort. I can’t help but wonder whether the horrors of war called forth a latent stubborn fight in the young Ludwig or whether he already possessed an unquenchable restless, fighting spirit, which led him to volunteer for military conflict?
Maybe his battle experience afforded him unique insights into meaning in our world. One biographer notes that Ludwig’s statements were expressed with “an almost oracular force.” He wrote in his manuscript, “The meaning of the world must lie outside the world” (Tractatus 6.41). His teacher, Bertrand Russell, wrote about the time he tried to deter Ludwig from pursuing a certain idea, “I said it would be dark, & he said he hated daylight. I said it would be lonely, & he said he prostituted his mind talking to intelligent people. I said he was mad & he said God preserve him from sanity. (God certainly will.)” Like Socrates, Ludwig was a wartime author. Like Socrates, Wittgenstein was a philosopher who was also a soldier in battle. And in his attempt to remain clear and to speak truthful, he wrote in a private notebook “May God grant to the philosopher insight into what lies before everyone’s eyes” (VB, p. 163).”
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