Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Sermon Imagery for 11/6/11: Daily Called Towards Christ

This Sunday’s lectionary readings are absolutely filled with movement. Movement is a universal thing, something that we do by our very definition as living things. We move for a wide variety of reasons… we dance in community to celebrate great joys; we spend our lives running from death and great sorrow. We move to supply our most basic needs, whether it is through hunting a wild animal or traveling long distances to seek proper nutrition in an urban food desert. The theme of movement throughout this Sunday’s readings (Amos 5: 18 – 24, Psalm 70, 1 Thessalonians 4: 13 – 18 and Matthew 25: 1 – 13) could thus speak to congregations and individuals of any context.

What then is the nature of this movement? “Movement” of course is a fairly generic term… what specific image of movement could one convey in a sermon? Each reading illustrates a movement towards hope of one type or another. Amos is rich in movement imagery: one flees from a lion toward a bear and flees into a seemingly welcoming home only to be bitten by a snake. These words paint the image of a nightmare yet are also juxtaposed with the rolling waters of justice and the ever-flowing stream of righteousness. The Amos text places hope in God working through the right actions of humanity; the right actions of believers slowly, like an ever-flowing stream, chip away at what has been constructed by the powers of sin and death. 1 Thessalonians also illustrates movement towards hope. The dead rise at the archangel’s call and the sound of God’s trumpet while the living meet Christ in the clouds. Here, the embrace of our loving Christ is the hope we are drawn towards. In the gospel reading there are two types of movement. While bridesmaids either wisely or frantically prepare for the coming of the bridegroom, it is fact the bridegroom’s slow, steady movement towards the banquet that provides hope in the darkness of the night.

The image of movement towards hope in these Biblical texts puts emphasis on the actions of God rather than our own. That’s because while hope looks somewhat different in each of this Sunday’s readings, they all in different ways describe hope in terms of the eschatological event. The eschatological event is portrayed positively in 1 Thessalonians, negatively in Amos and ambivalently in Matthew. In the lives of believers every day is one of positives and negatives… every day we are drowned and reborn in the waters of baptism. All days in the lives of believers thus become their own little eschatological events. We die… we literally die, the world ends, and then we are reborn in the coming of Christ. Dying is not fun and by no means feels good. At times we might feel like we’ve fled into a cozy home only to be bitten by a snake or feel like we’re the bridesmaids left out in the cold. In that dying though we move from darkness to light… we’re reborn in Christ and respond to the hope of God’s loving saving grace by serving our neighbor as Christ.

While the imagery of movement towards hope can be used to preach law and gospel it also compels us to respond in action… and it is in that action where a preacher can crystallize the image for each individual in the congregation. Perhaps one’s congregants might be struggling simply to make ends meet, struggling to put food on the table and pay for rising healthcare costs in face of diminishing government support. Perhaps one’s congregants are struggling to make meaning out of the recent death of a loved one. Perhaps one’s congregants are simply struggling to discern how they should respond to God’s saving grace. Sunday’s lectionary readings can speak to whatever trials one might face. By painting a portrait of being moved towards hope in Christ, the preacher can help congregants see the “little eschatological events” of everyday life.

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