Saturday, July 5, 2008

Showing My Work

My new Assistant is preaching this Sunday, so I have no homily of my own to post. However, for those twisted minds that are interested in the process of sermon preparation, I will here (and in subsequent posts) share the nuts and bolts in the process of preparing to preach on August 31st. (Yeah, that sounds extreme. But I've got four weeks of vacation between now and then, so it's still within my usual six-week sermon incubation cycle.)

My task today was first to pray over the entire process of constructing and delivering this sermon. I actually knelt down and lit a candle. It's important for a preacher to pray. This isn't my sermon; it's the Lord's, and I've got to give the Holy Spirit unencumbered title to the whole thing right off.


Now I look at the appointed readings for that day (Year A: Proper 17 [RCL]), and just jot down some preliminary thoughts ... mostly questions, actually. Here they are:

Matthew 16:21-28
Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. Peter took him and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me; for you are not on the side of God, but of men.” Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man, if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life? Or what shall a man give in return for his life? For the Son of man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what he has done. Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom.”

  • It is so tempting to literalize—and therefore ‘psychologize’—this situation, and wonder whether Jesus actually did tell them about his Passion in the sort of detail mentioned here, or whether Jesus himself can be understood to have been aware of those details in the moment. If we say No, then the question arises, what is the historical antecedent of this account, which occurs multiple times across the synoptic narrative? If we say Yes, then the question arises, How could the 12 have been so clueless when the Passion actually arrived? (The trick, of course, is to surrender to neither question, and take the account on its own terms.)
  • Peter’s role here may not be of tremendous significance in and of itself, but it is a tile in the final mosaic that establishes his position within the system.
  • The polyvalence of “Get behind me…” is a powerful stimulus to reflection on this passage.
  • Again … apropos of the first bullet above … to Matthew’s eventual reader, Jesus using cross-related imagery, while significant and powerful, is not dissonant. It’s a familiar element in the symbolic vocabulary. But if we attempt to put ourselves into that actual moment (inadvisable by scholars, but very Ignatian!), the neon is suddenly turned on. “What’s all this cross business about? Where’s he getting that?”
  • Moreover, the call to cross-taking is not extended merely to those who are interested in “extra credit.” Those who decline the invitation appear to not face a happy prospect.

Jeremiah 15:15-21
O LORD, you know; remember me and visit me, and take vengeance for me on my persecutors. In your forbearance take me not away; know that for your sake I bear reproach. Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart; for I am called by your name, O LORD, God of hosts. I did not sit in the company of merrymakers, nor did I rejoice; I sat alone, because your hand was upon me, for you had filled me with indignation. Why is my pain unceasing, my wound incurable, refusing to be healed? Will you be to me like a deceitful brook, like waters that fail? Therefore thus says the LORD: “If you return, I will restore you, and you shall stand before me. If you utter what is precious, and not what is worthless, you shall be as my mouth. They shall turn to you, but you shall not turn to them. And I will make you to this people a fortified wall of bronze; they will fight against you, but they shall not prevail over you, for I am with you to save you and deliver you, says the LORD. I will deliver you out of the hand of the wicked, and redeem you from the grasp of the ruthless.”

· Can we call this a literary iteration of the “Passion of the Prophet Jeremiah”? In light of the gospel pericope, we can see Jesus as the one who takes up Jeremiah’s prophetic mantle, and suffers similar consequences.

Romans 12:9-21
Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with brotherly affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Never flag in zeal, be aglow with the Spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in your hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints, practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; never be conceited. Repay no one evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends upon you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” No, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals upon his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

· This reading is intended to stand on its own, of course, and not necessarily comment on the gospel. Yet, it does, in its exhortation to patience in tribulation, and returning blessing for cursing.

Psalm 26:1-8
1 Give judgment for me, O Lord,
for I have lived with integrity; *
I have trusted in the Lord and have not faltered.
2 Test me, O Lord, and try me; *
examine my heart and my mind.
3 For your love is before my eyes; *
I have walked faithfully with you.
4 I have not sat with the worthless, *
nor do I consort with the deceitful.
5 I have hated the company of evildoers; *
I will not sit down with the wicked.
I will wash my hands in innocence, O Lord, *
that I may go in procession round your altar
7 Singing aloud a song of thanksgiving *
and recounting all your wonderful deeds.
8 Lord, I love the house in which you dwell *
and the place where your glory abides.

· In context, this Psalm passage highlight the “innocent victim” dimension of our Lord’s Passion.

That's it for now. Next week I'll look at some commentaries and do some serious exegesis, probably focusing on the Matthew reading.

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