Monday, August 26, 2013

Preacher's Study - Year C, Proper 17 (22), 2013

Monday Morning in the Preacher’s Study
First thoughts about next Sunday’s sermon
(15th Sunday after Pentecost, Sept 1, 2013)

D. Jay Koyle

It would be easy to esteem Jesus’ words this Sunday as a reprise of shrewd social etiquette from some ancient Hebrew Emily Post (Proverbs 25.6-7). In fact, however, today’s outtake from Luke’s first symphonic masterpiece is a brilliant development of themes introduced in the Gospel’s Exposition, themes that will climax in its Recapitulation, the Passion and Resurrection narratives.

Staged in the home of a leading Pharisee, the meal we witness today is the third recorded on route to Jerusalem, to the appointment Jesus must keep at Calvary. (The first was in 10.38-42, the second in 11.37-54). While most translations miss it, verse one actually refers to our Lord’s passage to this ultimate destination, saying literally, “and it happened in his going.” Luke links this episode, then, to the fulfillment of Jesus’ life and mission. The scene is no diversion from his movement toward the Cross; it is integral to the journey.

Jesus speaks with great clarity to both would-be guests and hosts. To the former he advises taking the lowest place upon arrival at a banquet. His counsel to the latter is that they address their festive invitations to those who have no means of returning the favor. Each exhortation echoes themes sounded consistently throughout the third Gospel.

Luke makes it clear that in his birth and baptism, in his table fellowship and in his death, the Son of God identifies with those who are considered outcasts, those relegated to the fringe of society (2.7; 3.21; 5.29; 7.39; 9.16; 13.29; 15.2; 19.5; 23.33). Indeed from Mary’s song of praise in the opening bars of Luke (1.46-55) to Jesus’ homecoming homily in the congregation at Nazareth (4.18-21), from the reorienting Sermon on the Plain (6.20-26) to table turning talk of true greatness (9.46-48; 22.24-30), this motif is sounded repeatedly.

Jesus not only speaks of this reality; he embodies it. For Luke, table fellowship with Jesus is nothing less than the revelation of the coming and near Reign of God.

In the eyes of the third evangelist, the table activity of the Lord continues in the life and mission of the Spirit-filled church. It is at table that the Risen Christ is recognized in the midst of believers (24.28-32). In table fellowship, Christ promises the gift of the Spirit and commissions his followers for mission (Acts 1.4-8). As Jews and Gentiles are gathered around the table, the church fulfills its mission and the breadth of God’s Reign is realized in its midst (Acts 11.1-18).

It would seem that today’s second reading from the Epistle to the Hebrews reinforces the revelations of the Lukan table. The text speaks of the mutuality of love between believers. This phenomenon is meant to spill out and embrace the stranger, something Christine Pohl names as a “spiritual obligation” and a “dynamic expression of vibrant Christianity.” (Welcoming the Stranger. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1999)

Undoubtedly such hospitality may be the most profound theological statement and the greatest gift the church can ever offer. Sociologist Rodney Stark sketches the rise of Christianity from a tiny Jewish sect to a dominant force in the ancient Greco-Roman world. Most new religious movements fade away, he explains, because they quickly become closed networks. Christianity’s rise was due to love and service on the part of Christians. The church rolls swelled in number due to risky service not only to one another, but also to anyone in need. (The Rise of Christianity, New York: HarperCollins, 1997.)

With such rich texts, the preacher can readily herald the welcoming God at work in today’s world, and the church’s participation in this work. 

For example, today Christians of varying perspectives tend to limit the discussion of “Eucharistic hospitality” to whether those not baptized should receive explicit invitation to fully participate at the liturgical table. This reinforces our tendency to see Eucharist as only something we receive rather than something that we do and something we are.

This Sunday, it would be timely to consider the church itself as the table of hospitality God sets in the world. The Eucharist is missional, after all, not because it can be employed as a tool of connecting with seekers. Eucharist is missional because it is the action in which the church ritually discovers and deepens its profound identification with the One who is God’s hospitality made flesh and his ongoing work of gathering into the Kingdom.

Jay Koyle is president of The Associated Parishes for Liturgy and Mission. He serves as Congregational Development Officer for the Diocese of Algoma (Anglican Church of Canada). This reflection is based on a commentary published previously in Preaching: Word & Witness.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Preacher's Study - Year C, Proper 16 (21), 2013

Monday Morning in the Preacher’s Study
First thoughts about next Sunday’s sermon
(14th Sunday after Pentecost, August 25, 2013)

Frank Logue

In the Hebrews reading, we get three images of God through the three mountains of Sinai, Zion, and Calvary. Only Zion is named, but a close reading shows clear allusions to Sinai and Calvary. The author of Hebrews presents a spiritual geography with each mountain presenting a fuller picture of God without superseding the image that came before it.

Our reading says we have come, “to the blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.” So I pause to ask, “What did Abel’s blood say?” After Abel’s murder, God tells Cain, “Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground. Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood.”

Abel’s blood cried out for justice through revenge by way of a curse. Jesus’ blood shed on Calvary cried out not for vengeance, but for justice through love. His sprinkled blood cried “enough” to the sacrificial system, paying the price of sin once, for all.

From the cloud hovering over Sinai, to the incense shrouded sanctuary in the Temple on Zion, to the darkness-enveloped Calvary, each mountain speaks of an encounter with the Holy. Theologian Rudolph Otto described “the Holy” as mysterium tremendum et fascinans—God is fearsome and yet fascinating. The people of Israel were both drawn to and fearful of God on Sinai and on Zion.

On Calvary, we encounter not the judgment of an uncaring judge, but an outpouring of love, as Luke will later record the words “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do”. As with Aslan in C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, Jesus is neither safe nor tame, but good. God is a consuming fire. For those of us who through our baptisms were buried with Christ in his death and raised with him in resurrection are to respond in thankfulness and worship “with reverence and awe.”

I am wondering how worship this Sunday may be an awe-filled encounter with God through word, sacrament, and the flawed texts of our sermons. For after our worship, will we “have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem?” Or will it have been an encounter far short of inspiring awe?

My preaching (while not using the image) tends toward “What a friend we have in Jesus.” How might the sermon work with the music and liturgy to draw the congregation into an awe filled encounter fearsome and yet fascinating?

Frank Logue is a member of the APLM Council having served previously as its secretary. He is the Canon to the Ordinary of the Diocese of Georgia and blogs on congregational development at

Photo by Frank Logue

Monday, August 12, 2013

Preacher's Study - Year C, Proper 15 (20), 2013

Monday Morning in the Preacher’s Study
First thoughts about next Sunday’s sermon
(13th Sunday after Pentecost, August 18, 2013)

Frank Logue

The King of Peace tells us this coming Sunday, “Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!”

As I consider these words, I recall Hymn 661 in the Hymnal 1982, “They Cast Their Nets in Galilee” which warns that “The peace of God, it is no peace, but strife closed in the sod.” That text was written by the Mississippi poet-lawyer, William Alexander Percy, who served in the infantry in World War I, earning the French Croix de Guerre and a silver star. When he returned to Mississippi and opposed the rise the Ku Klux Klan, angry neighbors dismissed him as a “sissy”. This is when he wrote the poem “His Peace” which provides the text for the hymn. Percy ends the poem with the words, “Yet let us pray for but one thing—the marvelous peace of God.”

This paradox of praying for a peace that brings division is at the heart of Jesus’ teaching. I am southerner, born in Alabama and raised in Georgia. I recall a kind of racial peace that was a lesser peace at best. The peace was maintained by blacks who sat in the back of the bus and knew better than to enter white restaurants. The promise of God’s peace called people black and white to stand up for their own rights and the rights of others and led them to refuse to settle for any lesser peace.

The peace of God brings an end to the false peace and, as Jesus says, pits family members against each other. Jesus saw his mother and brothers turn against him. Reconciliation did come for Jesus and his family, but first came division. Jesus did come to bring God’s peace to the earth, a true and lasting peace, but to bring this about, any lesser peace must go.

Living into your baptismal identity can and will change your behavior and your attitude over time if you take it seriously. Yet, this is in tension with a desire to avoid conflict and so to preserve a lesser peace. The cost of accepting these accommodations and compromises is that this prevents our breaking through to the deeper peace waiting for us. Shalom, God’s true and lasting peace, calls us to stand against injustice. Any time we preserve the peace at someone or some group’s expense, we trade God’s Shalom for a poor imitation. This week, I will be praying through why the faith that is in me isn’t more disturbing to others.

Note: For congregations unfamiliar with the tune, Hymn 661 can be sung to Amazing Grace or any other familiar common meter tune.

Frank Logue is a member of the APLM Council having served previously as its secretary. He is the Canon to the Ordinary of the Diocese of Georgia and blogs on congregational development at

Photo by Frank Logue.