Craft of Preaching

Dear Working Preacher

Insights, ideas and inspiration related to the coming week's lectionary texts.

Words For A Time Such As This

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As Year A, the year of the Gospel of Matthew, winds down, a revisiting of the Beatitudes seems appropriate, timely, even necessary. For those of you preaching on Jesus’ opening words of the Sermon on the Mount for All Saints’ Sunday, these statements of hope and promise are exactly what people need to hear as they reflect back on those whom they have lost this past year, even on those they might be currently losing or expect to lose.

For those of you preaching on Matthew 23:1-12 for the twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost, Jesus’ words to the crowds and the disciples about the hypocrisy of the scribes and the Pharisees, about their intentional acts of burdening others so as to exalt themselves, these words of judgment and a call to action are what must be heard. In fact, Jesus’ admonition here is a rephrasing, a re-languaging, if you will, of the Beatitudes. The behavior of the scribes and the Pharisees is what anti-Beatitude living looks like.

The Beatitudes, both in their original form and as they get re-presented and re-imagined by Jesus, again and again, and then also by how we choose to live, are words for a time such as this.

As we mourn our dead, both personally and communally, these are words that give comfort and hope.

As we recall our dead, both nationally and globally, these are words that promise the presence of the Kingdom of Heaven here and now, and in our future.

As we remember our dead who died at the hands of hate and violence, these are words that remind us of how distant righteousness really is and ask us how truly thirsty for righteousness we are.

As those of us in the United States approach the one-year anniversary of our presidential election, Jesus’ words in Matthew 5 and now again in Matthew 23 are words to embolden resistance and persistence.

As anti-Beatitude living becomes more acceptable, more normative, more regularized, these are words that call us out of our complacency and conformity.

As we continue to experience the effects of national and global trauma, of natural and human made disasters, these are words to believe in, to count on, to trust.

As we feel the burden of compassion fatigue, of empathetic exhaustion, as a result of the many perils of the people in our parishes, in our communities, in our nation, and in our world, these words bring peace.

As we profess God, creator of the universe, and then take advantage of and abuse our earth, these words insist that the earth deserves justice, too.

As churches bask in celebrations of reformation, and yet continue to perpetuate practices that refute renewal and transformation, these are words that call us to account, that assert that the church can never stop reforming.

As the church’s institutions make statements about justice and inclusivity, and then do nothing to reform the systems born out of injustice and exclusivity, these words charge us to change -- now.

As the church’s places of learning seek to live into the vision of God’s Kingdom, and then revert back to the safe and secure insistence that faith is simply sola information, these words vow that belief is being and doing.

As the church’s denominations celebrate their distinctiveness, but then allow difference to dissolve into dissention and dissonance, these words make a demand for unity.

As the church contends that it is a place of safety and refuge, and then turns away those who have nowhere else to go, not lifting a finger to help, these words are quick to point out our charade.

As we call ourselves Christians, and yet remain silent about, and even deny, white privilege and racism, these are words that require our humility.

As we claim the worth of all human beings, and then sit back and stay silent about sexism or disbelieve claims of sexual harassment, these words empower us to reclaim our time.

As we go about preaching and teaching that all are made in the image of God, and yet do not speak up for our LGBTQ sisters and brothers, these words tell the truth about our duplicity.

As leaders, both political and pastoral, call themselves public servants, and then seek only their own gain, these are words that tell the truth, in no uncertain terms, of their pretense.

As pastors and politicians call upon the name of God to justify their speech and actions, and yet disregard and displace the very persons Jesus loved so much, these words are straightforward -- they do not practice what they preach.

But…as we hear once again Jesus’ words of blessedness and happiness, that those who humble themselves will be exalted, that we are called to lift the burdens of others and to liberate those who bear the weights of this world, we truly are blessed.

Karoline

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