Friday, December 30, 2011

Winter @ Camp Calumet: ABBA, Holden Evening Prayer and WWF

Wow, it's been a pretty amazing last few days at Camp Calumet.  My first few days mostly involved relaxing by the fire, taking short walks by the lake and having some great conversations about how God is present in our everyday lives.  Last night we capped that quieter period off with a wonderful vespers singing Holden Evening Prayer.  My fiancee Molly was able to learn the whole piece in a day with the help of one young camper who played guitar.  Singing around the dining hall fireplace with lights dimmed was a particularly beautiful way to do vespers on a cold winter night.

As the snow finally began to fall and the lake finally began to freeze, Calumet's conference started filling up for New Year's weekend.  During the afternoon a number of folks went geo-caching while the rest of us gathered for an awesome game of girls vs. guys snow-kickball.  While the guys started off with a pretty big lead, the girls were able to tie it all up by the end.  After resting up for a bit (once again by the fire) after the game, we had a pretty epic dinner of braised pork and calzones as a vegetarian option.  The highlight of the evening though was a game of "How Well Do You Know Your Family" similar to the Newlywed Game.  The major change was a spontaneously added family dance contest to ABBA's "Dancing Queen" as a final bonus round.  We finished up the night with a large game of Taboo.

Oh, did I mention that most of the staff was constantly playing the internet game sensation Words With Friends during breaks throughout the weekend?  WWF is basically an online game of Scrabble and it's ridiculously addictive.  Last night alone we each sat around the fireplace for a couple hours playing each other and helping out in other games against our friends from all around the world.  I hadn't heard about WWF until this weekend, and boy, I am absolutely hooked.

In the end, my few days at Camp Calumet were exactly what I expected.  My faith was renewed through fun and fellowship with others living in Christian community.  What an amazing experience, and I'm already looking forward to coming back again soon.

God's peace,

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Christmas Vacation @ Camp Calumet: Ruth Bible Study

While I've been hanging out at Camp Calumet Lutheran since the December 27th as a volunteer retreat chaplain, most of time has been spent sitting by the fire, enjoy a couple hikes and just generally relaxing with my new fiancee Molly.  Overall, it's been an amazingly fun and rejuvenating time and I'm very much looking forward to the next two days I have here.  The loose theme we've had for the week is "Don't Forget," and we've been talking about the many ways God is present in everyday life.  Yesterday for morning devotions we used Psalm 148 to begin thinking about how God is reflected in creation and how creation sings It's praises.  In the afternoon we gathered around the fireplace to discuss how God is present in the lives of not just kings, prophets and pastors, but everyone.

We centered this hour of "God talk" on the story of two everyday folks, Ruth and Naomi, and how God was present in their sometimes very difficult lives.  It's a shame really that the book of Ruth gets relegated to just women's Bible studies, because there is so much there that we all can learn from.  After reading through the whole story, we had a very free flowing conversation about how it feels like God abandons us at times, much like how Ruth and Naomi felt.  Most of our discussion however centered on the Hebrew concept of khesed/ חֶסֶד, or (roughly translated as) loving kindness and loyalty.  Ruth, Naomi and Boaz all display acts of khesed throughout the story, and its often through those everyday "khesed moments" where folks are acting in right relationship that we experience God in our lives.  More often than not we don't even notice those khesed moments where someone might open a door for us or share a kind word.  During this Christmas season though, as we celebrate the coming of Christ into our lives, we can also take some extra time to pay attention and celebrate those khesed moments while experiencing the in-breaking of God's kingdom into our lives.

Later today we'll be talking about a Lutheran concept of evangelism and how God acts through us when we share the gospel with others... stay tuned for an update on what promises to be another great conversation at Camp Calumet!

God's peace,

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Rebel Jesus, Prophetic Witness Sermon (in video)

What follows is the final practice sermon I gave for my Homiletics course at LTSP.  It was on the Advent 3B lectionary texts and boy... due to it being a busy end of the semester I didn't have a wink of sleep the night before.  You can definitely tell (it takes me a bit to get going and I messed up both the Bible verse and narrative portion a bit), but overall I didn't think it turned out TOO bad.  It'd love to hear your input.  Thanks for viewing friends!

God's peace,

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Prophetic Preaching, Grounded in the Cross

What follows is an assignment I recently completed for preaching class that summarized theology of and approach to preaching.  Thanks for reading and I'd greatly appreciate your input.

               I was never a big fan of church growing up: waking up early, wearing uncomfortable dress clothes and sitting through a boring service only to then get in trouble during Sunday school was not my thing.  My friends and I were so misbehaved for so many years that our senior pastor once held a meeting to discuss whether or not we could remain in the program.  I did occasionally enjoy a song or activity but it was not until confirmation class that I actually looked forward to attending church, and even then it was just to hang out with the girls.  Luckily, my apathetic stance towards Christianity began changing around my senior year of high school.  While the Spirit worked through a number of channels to strengthen my faith that year, it was one particular sermon on Christmas Eve that made the greatest difference.  Instead of preaching what was expected, a lighthearted and gentle sermon, my pastor took a bold stand and spoke out against the war in Iraq.  I sometimes wonder if folks were upset by his message that evening, but for me it meant the world.  Despite years of attending Sunday school, confirmation class and worship, it was not until I heard the prophetic witness of my pastor on Christmas Eve that I grasped why church really does matter.
            In order to be a prophetic witness, to be a voice calling out in the wilderness of our broken world, one must be grounded in the cross.  Without the cross, it is all too easy to put our selves at the center of a sermon instead of the good news of God’s saving grace in Christ.  Turned in on ourselves, we often preach for influence, to look intelligent or for the approval of our congregations, despite our best efforts to do otherwise.  Amidst these human temptations, it is only the cross that can keep our ego in check and center us on what we are actually called to do… to proclaim the gospel and comfort troubled consciences.  As Philip Melanchthon states in the Augsburg Confession:
For through the Word and the sacraments as through instruments the Holy Spirit is given, who effects faith where and when it pleases God in those who hear the gospel, that is to say, in those who hear that God, not on account of our own merits but on account of Christ, justifies those who believe that they are received into grace on account of Christ.[1]

Put in simpler terms, when we preach in congregations, in classrooms or in abandoned city streets, we are not actually doing anything.  Rather, we are merely instruments through which the Spirit works, bringing faith to those that hear our humble words.  Without the humility of the cross, we make it difficult for the Spirit to get through.  We become instruments clogged with sin and vanity, blocking the Spirit from bearing the good news of God’s saving grace to a needy world.
            The humility of prophetic preaching centered on the cross transforms the faith community into an environment where all can teach and learn from each other.  As Norma Cook Everist describes it, “each individual needs to be a teacher in order to be a learner, and a learner in order to become and continue to be a teacher.”[2]  In such a community, prophetic preaching becomes an ongoing conversation where the voices of all are valued, including those not sitting in the pews each Sunday.  The Spirit dances amidst the community as all talk and share, creating faith and inspiring action.  Fueled by the Spirit, the conversation grows while more individuals of diverse backgrounds, both church natives and exiles, are welcomed.  As Otis Moss III points out about those exiled from the church, “Their understanding is filtered; they view the church through the lens of the media, hip-hop culture, and street rhetoric.  From their perspective, the church and specifically the preacher are seen as irrelevant at best.”[3]  When prophetic preaching is viewed as inclusive conversation rather than as a solitary event, the gospel can become more relevant and speak to a more diverse set of experiences.
            Barbara K. Lundblad provides a helpful of explanation of preaching as a community conversation:
That’s how I think about preaching; it’s a conversation, even if one person is doing most of the talking.  I think of people in the congregation as my preaching partners.  They’re with me as I hear the text, discern the focus, shape the sermon, and in the moment of preaching…  That’s what a sermon is for me: It’s a meeting place between the scripture text and the community text.  It’s holy ground, where people turn aside to hear God’s word passed down over centuries, yet new in this time and place.[4]

Prophetic preaching centered on the cross is a holy ground, a meeting place where not just those in the congregation but also those outside the church doors can enter into conversation.  Simply taking into account current events, a congregation’s needs, the time of the year and other contextual factors can enrich one’s preaching but in my view the conversation is further cultivated by other intentional methods.  Sitting in on a pericope group with other pastors may be helpful, but holding discussions with other congregants about the upcoming Sunday’s texts could be even more fruitful.  It was a great experience this semester to blog about my initial impressions of the lectionary texts and thus have access to the insights of readers all over the world.  While it is my role as an ordained minister to introduce new texts into the community each week, the whole community takes part in both birthing the sermon and continuing the conversation:  As Veronica R. Goines states, “The origin of preaching may emerge out of a dialogue between the preacher and God, but its effectiveness is evidenced when the congregation takes hold of the sermon and carries its message beyond the preaching moment.”[5]
            As I fulfill my role of introducing new texts into the community conversation each week, informed by my Lutheran tradition I believe that it is best to use the common lectionary texts whenever possible.  While there may be occasional emergencies or joys in the community that warrant an alternative text or topic, using the lectionary helps to firmly center one’s preaching on the cross.  In being forced to humbly tackle difficult texts and being prevented from relying on one’s favorite verses, preaching the lectionary focuses me on the Spirit rather that my own concerns.  This perspective is described quite eloquently in Birthing the Sermon:
My appreciation of the lectionary has grown deeper because it gives me a broad range and a diverse diet of Scripture.  Otherwise, I think I would tend to stick with the familiar, neglecting to discover the gems and pearls of wisdom that are contained in the whole of sacred writ.  I am forced to consider what the relevant word is even from the difficult, seemingly inconsequential and neglected passages.[6]

Beyond centering one on the Spirit, the lectionary broadens the community conversation and contributes to church unity.  Through sharing a common set of texts each week, Christians from all over the world can engage in one global conversation online.  As more believers get connected and talk with each other, even those who do not have Internet access can benefit from the sharing of stories and insights across political and cultural boundaries.  Lectionary preaching can serve believers in even the most rural and unconnected villages by sparking conversation and mutual understanding, thereby contributing not just to Christian community but the local community as a whole.
            Centered on the cross, prophetic preaching bears witness to the oppression, violence and sorrow of the human condition, thereby comforting troubled consciences and drawing believers to faith in Christ.  While our broken humanity has been a universal reality since the time of Adam and Eve, our language for and our characterization of that reality is always changing.  As is reflected in The Book of Concord, Northern Europeans in the sixteenth century were pretty concerned about their souls and eternal damnation.  They also thought the newly invented printing press was pretty darn cool.  Many Americans in the twenty-first century simply do not believe in hell, and fewer still worry about the condition of their souls on an everyday basis. We do though constantly hear from our selves and others that we are not good enough, or pretty enough, hard working enough or rich of enough.  We all face the oppression of our imperfections at very least and most of us contend with many other oppressive forces.  While the printing press is old news for us, we are surrounded by Facebook, iPhones and Livestreams.  In order to comfort troubled consciences and bring believers to faith, prophetic preaching must use language and a means of presentation that reflects this contemporary reality.
            Although prophetic preaching must speak to the brokenness of our humanity, it must also celebrate the amazing things God is doing:
When I preach, I celebrate all the way through.  I preach with joy and with passion.  I have heard Henry Mitchell say on occasion that folks will do what they celebrate.  We have to help people understand that there is joy in living for Jesus and in serving the Lord, and that the joy of the Lord is our strength.[7]

Henry Mitchell was right… folks will do what they celebrate.  That is one of the many reasons why preaching must be an ongoing conversation… the preacher must know about what successes, joys and gifts the Spirit is working in his or her community.  Without celebrating such successes, how can we ever ask the community to do more?  Without knowing about the joys of another’s life, how can we truly be in Christian community with that individual?  Without celebrating the joy of Christ’s love and redemption of humanity, why would we ever proclaim our sin and brokenness at all?
            Centered on the cross, one must humbly admit that prophetic preaching does not come easy… it takes discipline and work.  While I have yet to develop an exact method for sermon preparation, a general sense of the process has taken shape.  When working a typical parish schedule, I plan on first reading the following Sunday’s texts a week ahead of time on Sunday or Monday morning at latest.  By simply meditating on the texts for a day or so while attending to my other responsibilities, I believe I can best provide space for the Spirit to begin working on me, “watering my soul like the moisture in a dry sponge.”[8]  I would then block out a regularly scheduled “meeting” with text for Tuesday afternoon in which I would read the text more careful, to initial exegetical work and publish my initial impressions on either a blog or through a YouTube clip.  Having thereby introduced the new texts into my faith community’s collective conversation, I would try elicit input both online and perhaps through a small group meeting on Wednesday.  Thursday would be my primary day for constructing a manuscript that I would then use to practice and refine my sermon.  Friday would be my day of rest, a Sabbath in which I could rest and refresh myself through exercise, quiet meditation and ideally a whole lot of fun.  In terms of self-care, regularly seeing a therapist is a non-negotiable… I need the supervisions to maintain both my health and ability to effectively preach.  Saturday would be the time to polish and practice my sermon, translating my manuscript into something I could preach without notes.  I have to come to see preaching without notes as my other great non-negotiable… notes limit me, tie me down and dampen the conversation between the assembly, the Spirit and myself.  On Sunday (and ideally not too early in the morning) I would arrive at church with enough time to practice once or twice more and pray with those who are assisting with worship.  I might occasionally use the pulpit if appropriate but typically I will preach from the floor, directly connected with the congregation in conversation (both spiritually and at times literally).
            I strongly disagree with those who spend thirty or forty hours actively preparing a sermon each week… in my mind that completely contradicts the idea of being a prophetic witness.  By spending any more than fifteen hours in active sermon preparation, I would be neglecting my call to proclaim the gospel through other means such as pastoral care, mission and evangelism.  Even while actively preparing a sermon, I would prefer to be out in a coffee shop, urban garden or neighborhood bar, surrounded by helpful distractions.  All those helpful distractions, unique situations and colorful people who would not typically be in the pews need to be part of the community conversation.  In neglecting to go out and meet those exiles, we ignore the humility of the cross and begin to worshipping ourselves rather than following God’s call to be a prophetic voice in the wilderness, proclaiming the gospel.

[1] Robert Kolb and Timothy J. Wengert, eds., The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2000), 41.
[2] Norma Cook Everist, The Church as Learning Community (Nashville, Tennessee: Abingdon Press, 2002), 23.
[3] Cleophus James LaRue, More Power in the Pulpit: How America's Most Effective Black Preachers Prepare Their Sermons (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 99.
[4] Jana Childers, Birthing the Sermon: Women Preachers on the Creative Process (St. Louis, Missouri: Chalice Press, 2001), 119-120.
[5] LaRue, More Power in the Pulpit, 45.
[6] Childers, Birthing the Sermon, 31.
[7] LaRue, More Power in the Pulpit, 64.
[8] Childers, Birthing the Sermon, 20.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Advent 3B Sermon: Don't Quench the Spirit!

This is still a work in progress but tell me what you think... not preaching it until Thursday:

I want to do something a little atypical and begin with a song that helps illustrate today’s texts in this season of watching and hopeful waiting. It’s called “The Rebel Jesus,” by Jackson Browne:


My sisters and brothers, much like Jackson Browne, I have no wish to come between this day and your enjoyment. Rather, I intend to talk today about that which truly frees us.

Today’s texts are all about prophetic witness… they’re all about believers preaching the gospel through word and action. In our first lesson from Isaiah we hear of God’s children building up ancient ruins, repairing ruined cities and the devastations of many generations. We hear John the Baptizer crying out in the wilderness “make straight the way of the Lord!” We hear from Paul that despite whatever wilderness we may find ourselves in we can “rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances for it is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” And Paul adds, “Do not quench the Spirit!” DO NOT QUENCH THE SPIRIT!

Despite the examples of Paul, John the Baptizer and countless others throughout our history, we often fail to be prophetic witnesses… we often fail to be a voice calling out in the wilderness of injustice in ours troubled, broken world. Despite being the body of Christ in this world, through both our action and inaction, we quench the Spirit. Moreover, we all know this, at least deep down, and we feel guilty. We feel guilty and doubting ourselves, we feel alone in our guilt… again and again we here a quiet voice telling us do not quench the Spirit.

The good and bad news about our situation my sisters and brothers is that while we may feel like we’re alone in our guilt, we are not. As a human institution, the church is broken and sinful too. As a community of faith we all too often fail to raise a collective voice of prophetic witness. In fact, the church frequently stands against the prophetic voice of others. I first heard of the song “The Rebel Jesus” when a close friend of mine told me about his father playing it in church during the holiday season. Instead of embracing the song as a thought provoking look at Christian religion, the congregation simply shrugged off the song and raised their eyebrows at my friend’s father.

Isn’t this why it is so difficult to be a prophetic witness? Turned in on ourselves, we worry too much about not being accepted by others… as a church we worship the approval of our community rather than following God’s call.  We don’t want to cause trouble and instead stick to what’s safe.  We worry more about the color of the carpet in our sanctuaries than the injustice and violent oppression happening all around us.  As a church we frequently fail to bind up the brokenhearted by speaking out against bullying in our schools.  We fail to advocate for programs that could liberate our neighbors from the captivity of underwater mortgages.  We fail to help release those imprisoned by unemployment or marriage inequality or a broken immigration system.  All too often, we quench the Spirit.

Of course it isn’t always possible to speak with a prophetic voice. We all do some of the time though… many of us are very active in our communities, volunteering with Habitat for Humanity or serving in soup kitchens. Some of us even write letters to our congressmen or the editor our local newspaper advocating for programs that help the most vulnerable in our society.  The good news my sisters and brothers is that while we can always do better, we can’t be perfect and God doesn’t expect us to be.  God loves us and we couldn’t earn God’s favor even if we wanted to… Christ has already done that for us. In this season of Advent we wait and hope and joyfully celebrate the coming of our Savior. We wait and hope for our Savior who has called each of us by name… Christ our Savior who called YOU and YOU and YOU… we watch in great expectation for God to come as a humble child, born to love and redeem all of us.

In fact it is because of Christ’s sacrifice that we’re all freed… freed from the need to justify ourselves, to make up for past mistakes or to clamor for power and glory.  We’re freed from all those things to be a prophetic voice and serve our neighbor solely out of love for God. There are a lot of folks who aren’t big fans of the church, and some for good reason. Much like Jackson Browne though, many of those “heathens” and “pagans,” are on the side of the Rebel Jesus. Folks might not support the church, but they probably support the idea of a community selflessly serving others as one voice, crying out in the wilderness. Don’t quench the Spirit… Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances and support each other in being a prophetic voice against the unjust world around us. In doing so may we live out our call to spread the gospel, solely out of love for God.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

The LORD Liveth: 2 Samuel 22, Pt. 2

The following is the second of two posts, separated for length.  It is an exegetical take on 2 Samuel 22.  Thanks for reading and please leave comments!
There are functionally three characters in 2 Samuel 22: David, his enemies, and the LORD.  How is each portrayed?  As stated above David is characterized as militarily triumphant and almost invincibly supported by God in the latter portion of the song: “Foreigners are powerless before me; when they hear of my exploits, they submit to me” (2 Samuel 22:45).  David is similarly idealized in the middle Deuteronomistic bridge as a blameless, perfect character.  In the first portion of the song however, David is portrayed as weak and weathered by life.  In verses five and six four different construct phrases describing death are followed by four different verbs in quick succession.  The four verbs PApDa “to surround,” tAoD;b “to fall upon or terrify,” bAbDs “to surround or besiege” and MAd∂q “to anticipate” when used elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible typically indicate a sense of the direct object’s powerlessness (in this case David).[1]  The actions of death and his enemies have rårDx or “bound/ tied up” David in verse seven and he is in need of swønDm or “retreat/ refuge” in verse three.[2]  While David did indeed experience many individual triumphs in life, his portrayal as helpless without God and in need of refuge in the first portion of 2 Samuel 22 seems to better reflect overall experience.
            David’s enemies and death are accordingly described quite differently in each half of 2 Samuel 22.  As mentioned above, in the first portion David’s enemies seem to have complete control… they are portrayed very actively, forcefully ensnaring and drowning David.  For example t‰w¡Dm_yérV;bVvIm, translated as “wave of death” in the NET, is derived from the primitive root rAbÎv, which involves a sense of birthing, bursting, crushing or destroying when used throughout the rest of the Hebrew Bible, predominantly in the Psalms.[3]  Except for mention of Saul in the introductory verse, David’s enemies are never characterized as human opponents in the first half of 2 Samuel 22.  They rather have a more abstract characterization: t…wm or “death,” lwäøaVv or “Sheol” and lAo¥ÅyIl;Vb or “being without worth.”[4]  In the second half of the song David’s enemies are in fact portrayed as human or at least as military opponents.  They are also represented as weak, inconsequential and especially passive to the LORD’s power working through David: “I grind them as fine as the dust of the ground; I crush them and stomp on them like clay in the streets” (2 Samuel 22: 43).
            In stark contrast to characterizations of both and David and his enemies in 2 Samuel 22, the song’s portrayal of the God is remarkably consistent.  Despite this being David’s song of Thanksgiving, God is in fact the main character and chief subject of the text.  hwhy is mentioned eighteen times while y¶EhølTa is alluded to eleven times; taken together these names alone refer to God more than once every other verse.  The song features many other ‘names’ for God as well:
… the piling up of divine appellatives is imposing. The deity is the psalmist's 'strength', 'rock' (sela' and sur both appear), 'fortress', 'deliverer', 'shield', 'horn of salvation', and 'stronghold'… Suffice it to say that the poet appears to have moved in a deliberate and artful manner as he incorporated several divine appellatives of high antiquity that were available to him.  He thereby fashioned a rhetorically strong introductory element capable of serving the entire lengthy poem that would ensue.[5]

A strong ‘naming’ section near the beginning of 2 Samuel 22 combined with the frequent naming of God throughout the song frames David’s savior as always present and worthy to be praised.  In the powerful theophany section of the song, verses eight to seventeen or eighteen, the LORD is described as a brave, righteously angry warrior.  One can almost picture God swooping down from a heavenly temple to pull David from the surging waters of chaos.  This ‘warrior God’ is also intentionally hidden while still visibly and auditorially manifest, thundering and shooting arrows from his shroud of darkness and rain clouds.
            Taken together, our extrinsic and intrinsic exegetical observations can tell us a great deal about the meaning of David’s song of thanksgiving.  Given both the form and distinct nature of both halves of 2 Samuel 22, it seems likely that a Deuteronomistic editor combined two well known earlier traditions with new material at the beginning, middle and end of the song.  This fact, coupled with the presence of a nearly identical song in Psalm 18 suggests 2 Samuel 22 was added to the narrative material of earlier chapters in Samuel to make a specific or to (as Polzin puts it) be a “message to the exiles” in Babylon.  Many scholars, including Brevard Childs, have argued this point in observing how David’s song of thanksgiving bookends with the song of Hannah at the beginning of 1 Samuel:
Both the hymnic introduction of ch. 2 and the thanksgiving psalm at the book's conclusion (ch. 22) establish a dominant eschatological, messianic perspective for the whole. Israel's history reflects the ways of God in the world which typologizes events into patterns of divine response.  God exalts the poor and debases the proud.[6]

Despite being portrayed as a victorious warrior king, David suffers greatly in much of 1 and 2 Samuel: he faces the rape of his daughter Tamar, the death of his friend Jonathan and the betrayal of his own son Absalom.  The Deuteronomistic editor’s audience while living under the oppression of Babylon would likely have related well to this story.  The characterization of a helpless David and an overwhelming, abstract enemy in the first half of 2 Samuel 22 would further speak to an exilic Jewish context.  However, it is the always present yet mysteriously hidden portrayal of God throughout David’s song of Thanksgiving that reminds both the original audience and us that no matter how difficult life gets, God is there and at work.
            We now arrive back at our original question: did the triumphant message of my favorite childhood hymn accurately represent the true meaning of 2 Samuel 22?  It seems that answer could be yes or no, depending on one’s perspective.  As we have shown, David’s song of thanksgiving functions as an interpretive frame for God’s actions throughout the book of Samuel, perhaps working in tandem with the song of Hannah.  For it’s original exilic audience, this frame communicated that God was still at work in the face of overwhelming adversity and oppression.  For the perspective of poorly behaving, apathetic little boy like I was, 2 Samuel 22 could indeed convey a message of celebration, but not of triumph.  Rather, it confirms that we can celebrate how God is present, supporting and rescuing us, in the messiness of everyday life.

[1] Strong’s Hebrew and Chaldee Dictionary of the Old Testament, s.v. “PApDa,” “tAoD;b,” “bAbDs,” and “MAd∂q” in Accordance Bible Software.
[2] Ibid, s.v. “rårDx” and “swønDm.”
[3] Ibid, s.v. “rAbÎv.”
[4] Ibid, s.v. “t…wm,”lAo¥ÅyIl;Vb” and “lwäøaVv.”
[5] Kuntz, “Psalm 18,” 9.
[6] Brevard Childs, Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture (Philadelphia, PA: Fortress Press, 1979), 273.

The LORD Liveth: 2 Samuel 22, Pt. 1

The following is the first of two posts, separated for length.  It is an exegetical take on 2 Samuel 22.  Thanks for reading and please leave comments!
I was never a big fan of Sunday school.  Having to get up early, wear tight uncomfortable dress clothes and hear the same stories year after year seemed so pointless to me.  My classmates and I were also quite rowdy, to the point that we almost got asked to leave Sunday school around the age of ten.  It was usually not our teachers’ fault… many of my classmates grew up to be Lutheran camp counselors and there are two (and hopefully three) of us who plan on becoming pastors.  Simply put though, up until around I hit confirmation age, church just was not my thing.  Despite such a negative attitude, I always felt happy and close to God when singing one particular song:
            I will call upon the LORD!
            Who is worthy to be praised.
            So shall I be saved from my enemies!
            The LORD liveth, and blessed be the rock,
            and let the God of our salvation be exalted!
What a powerful hymn, filled with triumphant language and joyous words of praise.  Singing it made me feel so good to be a Christian… and we sung it in a round… and there were even hand motions! While reading through 2 Samuel I stumbled upon David’s song of Thanksgiving, the passage from which the lyrics of my favorite childhood hymn were taken.  Once put into the larger narrative arc of 1 and 2 Samuel, it struck me that David’s song might convey a very different meaning from the triumphant message of joy I felt as a child.  I will therefore employ both extrinsic and especially intrinsic exegetical methods in order to find the true message of David’s song of thanksgiving.
            The main function of external criticism in discovering the true meaning of 2 Samuel 22 is not to define exact authorship or whether a historical King David really did sing his song of thanksgiving.  Rather, external critical methods are used only to the extent that they can shed light on the passage’s general historical context.  After reading through 2 Samuel 22 a few times, it quickly became clear that the song splits into at least two main sections.  Following a short introduction, verses two through twenty-nine narrate a story of David’s salvation from deathly forces.  Verses thirty through forty-seven discuss God’s support of David’s many military triumphs.  The song then offers a conclusion in the verses forty-eight through fifty-one.  There is a high (although not universal) level of scholarly consensus on similar formal divisions.  The New Jerome Commentary supports my initial observations, while proposing a possibly deuteronomistic middle section that stretches from verses twenty-one to twenty-nine.[1]  McCarter argues for a similar split while more forcefully identifying deuteronomistic authorship of the middle section.[2]  The strongest dissenting opinion is that of Kuntz, who writes that the similar use of ‘divine epithets’ (such as y¶IoVl`As or ‘rock’) in both major sections supports common authorship.[3]
            Given general scholarly consensus on splitting 2 Samuel 22 into two main portions with a deuteronomistic middle passage, we must identify the historical context of each portion.  Scholars generally agree that Samuel is a collection of earlier narratives with Deuteronomistic edits and additions.  As the Harper Collins Study Bible argues:  “The literary foundation of 1 and 2 Samuel is a group of early narrative sources upon which later editors and compilers drew… In their present form 1 and 2 Samuel are part of the Deuteronomistic History, which extends from Deuteronomy through 2 Kings…”[4] While there is some disagreement, many scholars support an exilic dating and context for the Deuteronomistic history.  Polzin in particular argues that much of Samuel in its final form is a “message to the exiles” in Babylon.[5]  Were all portions of 2 Samuel written during the Babylonian exile by the Deuteronomistic community?  As McCarter states, this is likely not the case:
The presence of Deuteronomistic language in the linking segment indicates that the psalm as a whole probably does not predate the seventh century.  This provides only a terminus ante quem, however, for the two major parts, which can have been much older… Most now agree that the poetry of the psalm is consistently archaic, as show by comparison to Ugaritic poetry, early biblical poetry, and (by contrast) later biblical poetry… One or both of the major parts of the psalm may have been composed as early as the time of David, and it is unlikely that either postdates the ninth century.[6]
McCarthy additionally cites a number of scholars who believe the two archaic portions of 2 Samuel 22 are of a Northern Hebrew character.[7]  It is important to briefly mention that 2 Samuel 22 is nearly identical to Psalm 18.  The only significant difference is the inclusion of :yáîq◊zIj h∞Dwh◊y äÔKVmDj√rRa r&Amaø¥yÅw or “I love you LORD, my source of strength!” at the beginning of the Psalm version.  Ackroyd acknowledges however that, “A close comparison of the two texts shows small but important differences, though the overall effect is the same.”[8]
            If 2 Samuel 22 was indeed arranged and edited by a Deuteronomistic community during the Babylonian exile, what can we then assume about the purpose of the chapter?  Once we define the literary setting, characters and imagery present in the song, we can begin to answer these questions.  While the first portion of 2 Samuel 22 accurately reflects the troubled nature of David’s ascent to power and life as king, the second portion and middle bridge are strangely divorced from the literary setting of previous chapters.  For example, the triumphant tone of verses twenty-nine through fifty-one seem to indicate that with the LORD’s help David’s many victories in life came easily.  Much of David’s life however was a struggle, seemingly quite difficult to bear.  After being anointed by Samuel, David does defeat Goliath easily, yet he must soon flee into the wilderness to escape the jealous hatred of Saul.  David quickly becomes King of Judah after the death of Saul and Jonathan, but is only declared king of all Israel after “a long war between the house of Saul and the house of David” (2 Samuel 3:1).  Even after uniting the kingdom, David still suffers the rape of his daughter Tamar by his son Ammon and the betrayal of his son Absalom.  The sense of absolute victory and triumph present in the second portion David’s thanksgiving song does not really reflect actual experience.  The middle bridge of verses twenty-one through twenty-eight also fails to reflect David’s life; it seems unlikely that Uriah for instance would agree David was My™ImDt “perfect” or “without blemish” before God (2 Samuel 22:24).[9]

[1] Raymond Edward Brown, Joseph A. Fitzmyer, and Roland E. Murphy, The New Jerome Biblical Commentary (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1990), 159.
[2] Kyle P McCarter, II Samuel: A New Translation with Introduction, Notes and Commentary (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1994), 475.
[3] Kenneth Kuntz, "Psalm 18: a rhetorical-critical analysis," Journal For The Study Of The Old Testament no. 26 (June 1, 1983): 19. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed November 28, 2011).
[4] Harold W. Attridge, Wayne A. Meeks, and Jouette M. Bassler. The HarperCollins Study Bible: New Revised Standard Version, Including the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books (San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco, 2006), 390.
[5] Robert Polzin, Samuel and the Deuteronomist: A Literary Study of the Deuteronomic History Part Two, I Samuel (New York, NY: Harper & Row, 1989), 31.
[6] McCarter, II Samuel, 474-475.
[7] Ibid, 464.
[8] Peter R. Ackroyd, The Second Book of Samuel: Commentary. (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1977), 204.
[9] Strong’s Hebrew and Chaldee Dictionary of the Old Testament, v. 2.4. Public domain, s.v. “My™ImDt in Accordance Bible Software, version 8.4, CD-ROM (OakTree Software, 2009).

Friday, December 09, 2011

Sermon Ideas for Advent 3B


First of all, I want to thank you all so much for reading lately... this blog has really taken off in recent weeks (I hit over one hundred readers for the first time today!) and for that I'm so grateful.  

In an attempt to begin practicing what I intend to do in the parish, I'm putting up some initial sermon ideas and questions for preaching the lectionary texts for this Sunday, December 11th, 2011.  I have the luxury of not actually giving a sermon until this coming Thursday for my Homiletics course, so I would greatly appreciate some feedback in the comments section of my blog.  This and most of my other posts either directly have to do with coursework or something I'm writing for my field internship with Lutheran Advocacy Ministries of PA, so your feedback is a critical part of my education process.  For example, when looking at lectionary texts I often come at them from a social justice perspective (see below) and often worry I'm missing other messages that scripture may be telling me.  Thanks again for helping me fill in the complete picture.

To begin, here are links for the Advent 3, Year B texts in the NRSV: Isaiah 61: 1-4, 8-11 | Psalm 126 | 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24 | John: 6-8, 19-28.  There's three main ideas I see in this Sunday's texts: social justice, release and Christian freedom.  Let's try to treat all of these seperately:

Social Justice
A social justice theme is definitely running through all these texts.  For instance, "the year of the Lord's favor" in verse of two the Isaiah text is probably referring to the concept of a jubilee year.  Basically, jubilee happened every fifty years in Israel in order to maintain a well ordered society.  Debtors would be forgiven of all their debts and indentured servants would be set free.  The jubilee was also a sabbatical year for society: fields would be left to lie follow, giving both people and the land a well-deserved break.  In this age of extreme income disparity when our society's most vulnerable are asked to shoulder ever greater burdens by cuts to government programs, what would declaring something like a jubilee look like?  Isn't forgiving others of their debts (and other things) something the Creator always asks of us?

One line that could provide an organizing idea for this Sunday's sermon is the "Do not quench the Spirit" in 1 Thessalonians.  In response to God's love, don't quench the Spirit.  Don't quench the Spirit and pray without ceasing about how people of faith can best care for their neighbor.  Like John the Baptist, never quench the Spirit, bear prophetic witness to the sins of our society but recognize that it is God doing the work, not you... Don't quench the Spirit, and "raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations" (Isaiah 61: 4).  That sort of stuff could be great right?  What do you think?

Also, for those that are interested in more emerging/ emergent styles of worship, I keep thinking of one of my favorite Jackson Browne songs:

It definitely is all about prophetic witness.  I don't know the exact story around, but I heard from a friend once that his father played "The Rebel Jesus" at church during Advent and was asked to leave... now that's definitely being a prophetic witness.

In this season of hopeful waiting, what exactly are waiting for?  Jesus of course, but what does Christ coming mean for each of us?  What sins do we need to be assured Christ will release us from?  What else troubles our souls?  Parishioners could be asked to take a meditative moment to think about what they need to be released from.  Going back to the jubilee year concept, what can they release others from?  The "may those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy" in Psalm 126:5 could be a central theme of this sermon.

Christian Freedom
Is Advent a good time to get a little doctrinal?  Maybe.  And through talking about Christian freedom could allow you to roll both themes of social justice and release into one sermon.  Verse ten in the Isaiah text could be especially great for talking about Christian freedom:

"I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my whole being shall exult in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels."

How does this state of Christian freedom compel us to serve our neighbor as Christ?  Christian freedom is what allows us to do God's work in the world, to be the body of Christ in the world until the eschaton.  Definitely something you could talk about.  Well that's about it folks.  As Paul says, don't quench the Spirit and may God rock your congregation this Sunday with a good dose of Word.  And please, I'm sure I missed a lot here... leave me some comments.

God's peace,

Prophetic Witness @ OccupyPhilly

As written in an upcoming edition of LTSP's The Seminarian:

Over the last few weeks I had the pleasure of visiting the OccupyPhilly encampment at Dilworth Plaza three times.  Each visit was a uniquely amazing experience.  It was great to talk with folks and feel a strong sense of community during my first visit, but I was also disappointed that people of faith weren’t visibly present at all.  My second time down I attended a meeting of the then newly formed Interfaith Working Group.  Since that meeting, I’ve seen the Interfaith Working Group do some fantastic ministry.  They’ve organized weekly speakers, made appeals for food donations and cared for the many homeless folks living at Occupy.  The group provided a calming presence when police closed the encampment last week and they’ve even worked with the Rev. Jesse Jackson to reach out to the city’s African-American church community.

I purposely made my third visit to OccupyPhilly during one of their public feeding times.  At the encampment’s height they was feeding 900 folks each day of the week and 2100 folks on the weekend free of charge.  Meals were cooked at a local Friends Center kitchen and carted over to the encampment, providing a very public witness to our city’s hunger crisis right in front of City Hall.  Before leaving that evening I briefly spoke with a man who said he wanted to start going to church because the Friends Center was so helpful.

The city government evicted occupiers from Dilworth Plaza last week to make way for a construction project without granting a new overnight permit for another location.  Since then OccupyPhilly’s Interfaith Working Group has worked hard to help homeless folks find another long-term residence.  While I pray the movement stays alive and even grows in the coming months, Occupy has already provided us with an important model for being church in the 21st century.  Living amidst such social and economic injustice, the church must bear very public, prophetic witness to the many sins of our contemporary society.  Like Occupy, the church must publicly witness in partnership with our interfaith sisters and brother in manner centered on conversation rather than violence.

God's peace,

Thursday, December 08, 2011

A Christian Response to Rick Perry's Hateful Campaign Ad

Upon first watching Rick Perry's "Faith" ad tonight, I literally felt sick to my stomach.  Gov. Perry not only proclaimed a hateful message just to get some political attention, but he used the Christian faith to do it.  As a gay ally I felt like I was being attacked as well.  Check out the ad:

After my nausea and anger subsided, I watched the video a few more times, and I began to feel profoundly sad.  I felt profoundly sad for my gay sisters and brothers who face messages just like Perry's everyday, I felt profoundly sad for Rick Perry but most of all I felt profoundly sad that this campaign ad that was actually meant to appeal to Christians.  How astray are we that such a hateful message is associated with Christianity?  How is it possible that so many Christians will actually appreciate Gov. Perry's ad?  Most importantly, why are us moderate and progressive Christians so publicly quiet on matters of faith?  The only reason people associate extreme social conservatism with Christianity is because the rest of us don't speak up.
Now, check out this rebuttal spoof ad:

Our "magic spirit guide or whatever" has absolutely not "blessed us with special a-hole privileges."  It is so profoundly sad, yet completely understandable, that this is what many folks, especially young people, think of us Christians.  This is one reason why the Reconciling in Christ movement is so important.  The LGBTQ community has been made to feel so unwelcome by Christians for so long, that congregations need to expressly state they're open to not just tolerating but celebrating God's created humanity in its full diversity.  While RIC is a movement of Lutheran congregations and other communities, many other denominations have similar organizations as well.  I encourage you to be a prophetic witness, speak out against injustice and figure out how you and your faith community can welcome and publicly affirm the lives of LGBTQ believers.  The more we do so, the less we'll frankly seem like "a-holes" and perhaps more folks will be able to hear Christ's good news.

God's peace,

After Dilworth Plaza: Being Forced to Exist Alone

One of the best aspects of OccupyPhilly's former encampment at Dilworth Plaza was that it provided a semi-permanent community for homeless folks in Philadelphia to live in a central location with easy access to food and other important resources.  Since the city evicted the occupiers from Dilworth Plaza last week, the rare sense of community for the city's homeless has been destroyed.  Immediately after the eviction, some homeless occupiers attempted to set-up another encampment in North Philadelphia under a I-95 underpass, but they were recently asked to leave as well.  Paul Klemmer, one of the homeless occupiers, recently wrote an open letter to Mayor Nutter about the situation.  Check out the following heartbreaking excerpt:
Philadelphia has about 4,000 homeless people and 40,000 empty dwelling units, but, apparently, unless the wealthy can profit by our occupying these dwellings, they would rather see us alone, with our possessions if not stolen by regular criminals, "confiscated" by police, since we have no place to store anything we can't carry and are not allowed to congregate to watch one another's belongings.
You can check out more of Paul Klemmer's letter here.  The church needs to be a prophetic witness and support individuals like Paul who want to set up fully functioning communities where homeless folks can live, be good neighbors and even minister to each other without being victimized by our wider society.  As Paul mentions later on his letter, these encampments or facilities could be located in those forgotten, abandoned places in the city like foreclosed homes.  OccupyPhilly's Interfaith Working group has continued working on helping the homeless of our city find new, fully functioning communities to live instead of simply shelters.  The group can certainly provide a strong model for the rest of us.

God's peace,

UPDATE 12:47 PM: Here's a great video segment on this second eviction from Fox29 News:

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Lion King Wedding Sermon (in video)

Here's the video version of the Lion King wedding sermon I posted last week.  Imagine that the movie clip was actually playing on a large screen instead of just my lap-top.  Please make a comment and give me some feedback.  Thanks so much.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

The Case for Mustache December @ LTSP

Good look huh?
The holidays can be a difficult time for everyone, but it is especially so for seminarians.  Amidst the hope of Advent, us seminarians can easily get bogged down by papers, studying for finals, and all sorts of other assignments.  The holidays can also bring up a variety of difficult emotions.  As daylight decreases and it gets colder, we begin to stay inside more, and things can get pretty lonely.  Once you add on top of all that the stress of waiting for CPE, internship and first call placements, we can definitely get pretty blue this time of year.

And thus my sisters and brothers I submit for your consideration holding Mustache December at LTSP.  What better way to proclaim the gospel to troubled souls than growing a sweet 'stache?  Through the growing of epic mustaches, the men of our community could join together in solidarity and spread a little Christmas cheer to all.  Recognizing that most women are unable to participate in this movement, I'd argue that you my sisters in Christ come up with something equally as fun.  Maybe we could hold a mustache judging contest around the time finals begin as well, perhaps with a free razor as the prize for best 'stache?  It's just an idea, but let's start the conversation!  If you're at all interested please comment or shoot me an email.  Thanks friends.

God's peace,

PS: Financial aid extrodinare Liz Bruton has endorsed Mustache December, arguing that mustaches will allow folks to save just a little taste of all those holiday goodies for later.