Monday, March 12, 2018

Desiring Jesus - 18 March 2018 - Fifth Sunday in Lent

On this last Sunday in Lent, the last Sunday before Holy Week begins, we are challenged to preach on desire for the high priest who comes into the world to live and die and be raised from the dead, who tells us about dying in order to become something larger (single grain to wheat that has full heads––many grains), all wrapped in the mystery of the Resurrection.

The preacher must help the assembly enter into the willingness to lose established patterns in order to see or know or move into yet greater ways of living. This is not to validate suffering or encourage martyrdom. This is to become reflective about our allegiances and believe that we can detach for the sake of life abundant.

John 12:20-33

Walter Brueggeman preached on the verse, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus,” noting it offers the strongest rationale for a Christocentric theory of homiletic. The role of the homilist, particularly, is to offer a message that is transparent to the person of Jesus.

. . . The desire to see Jesus may have been mere curiosity, or search for some new religious or political cause célèbre. For whatever reason, the seeking crowds were sufficient in number for some authorities to exaggerate: “Look, the world has gone after him.”

There follows Jesus' teaching to a select few, presumably Phillip, Andrew and some of the other disciples. He speaks of a reversal of fortunes, one of those rare sayings recorded in all four gospels: “Those who love their life in this world lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” Those who seek to lead must serve. Then follows a revelation of glory. His glorification will be the product of a similar reversal. The loss of life in abject circumstance will initiate eternal life in glory; the grain of wheat that dies will grow, bloom, and bear much fruit. –– Jeffrey VanderWilt

Jeremiah 31:31-34

In this season, when we focus on stories in which Jewish authorities plot Jesus' demise, it is crucial to recall how the new covenant is both like and unlike the old. It is the same God, the same promise, the same expectations, the same people. The One who brought Israel out from a land of bondage to a new place of freedom remains author of the new promise, restorer and sustainer of the people. Israel, now subject to punishment, remains the people to be loved and redeemed and transformed, the people who are to keep the law and witness to the One who saves and liberates before all the nations. None of these things change. The new does not contradict or rescind the old. The new is unlike the old simply in that God will no longer be satisfied to have the law carved in stone but will write the law on each heart. –– Scott Haldeman

Hebrews 5:5-10

[This passage] offers an extended treatise on the analogy between Jesus and Melchizedek. (Genesis 14) To understand the analogy, one must read beyond the lectionary verses. Christ, as priest, (Heb. 6: 19) is comparable to the High Priest who, on Yom Kippur, would enter the Holy of Holies to intercede before God for the forgiveness of the nation.

The early Christians knew that Jesus was not of the tribe of Levi and could not have been an Aaronic priest. Yet, they remained convinced of his having performed a proper “priestly role” throughout his saving death, resurrection, atoning and eternal presence before God. The reference to a priesthood long before Aaron, in the person of Melchizedek, who offered cereal offerings of bread and wine to the God “El,” was powerfully attractive to ancient Christians who saw in him a prototype for the saving works of Christ. –– Jeffrey VanderWilt

Jeffery VanderWilt, author of Communion with Non-Catholic Christians (Collegville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2003) teaches at Santa Margarita Catholic High School in Southern California.

W. Scott Haldeman is associate professor of worship at Chicago Theological Seminary, Chicago, Illinois.

Homily Service 39, no. 5 (2006): 2-8.

Friday, March 9, 2018

The Roots of Pope Francis' Preaching

This posting from the issue of Liturgy dealing with “Pastoral Liturgy and Pope Francis,” guest-edited by Katharine Harmon, looks at Pope Francis’ approach to his ministry as a preacher.
In the Sistine Chapel on March 13, 2013, when Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires was elected bishop of Rome, his friend Cardinal Claudio Hummes—a Franciscan friar from Brazil—turned to the new pope to say, “Don’t forget the poor.” Moments later, Bergoglio chose, as his papal name and inspiration, Saint Francis of Assisi. 
 Six months later, Pope Francis made a pilgrimage north from Rome to Assisi, a city on a hill from which for centuries pilgrims have come upon the breathtaking panorama of the Umbrian countryside. There, on the Feast of Saint Francis, the pope preached:
Today, I too have come, like countless other pilgrims, to give thanks to the Father for all that he wished to reveal to one of the “little ones” mentioned in today’s Gospel: Francis, the son of a wealthy merchant of Assisi. His encounter with Jesus led him to strip himself of an easy and carefree life in order to espouse “Lady Poverty” and to live as a true son of our heavenly Father. This decision of Saint Francis was a radical way of imitating Christ: he clothed himself anew, putting on Christ, who, though he was rich, became poor in order to make us rich by his poverty (cf. 2 Cor. 8:9). In all of Francis’ life, love for the poor and the imitation of Christ in his poverty were inseparably united, like the two sides of the same coin.
 . . . The point of [Saint] Francis’s discipleship is not so much that he chose a life of material poverty. . . [but rather] that [he] recognized the image and likeness of Christ in God’s creation and in each person—and most particularly in the faces of the poor. More than anything, Francis made of his life a fundamental option for relationship with the poor. . .
Early in his papacy, Pope Francis taught that growth in the Christian life requires an “‘art of accompaniment’ which teaches us to remove our sandals before the sacred ground of the other (cf. Exod. 3:5).” [See Evangelii Gaudium, ¶169,]
As in the liturgy, Christian life is a performance in both word and action that acknowledges the presence of the Risen Jesus in our midst. Each of us, according to our calling, is in some way a performer and preacher of the Gospel. 
. . . By the time he became auxiliary bishop of Buenos Aires in 1992, Jorge Bergoglio had embraced the church’s preferential option of the poor. When he became pope in 2013, he was prepared by experience to be consistently on message about action for justice and the Gospel option for the poor—to which he often speaks by way of the counter-cultural expression of “going to the peripheries.”
[This phrase is found in the Pope’s Evangelii Gaudium, ¶ 20:] “Each Christian and every community must discern the path that the Lord points out, but all of us are asked to obey his call to go forth from our own comfort zone in order to reach all the ‘peripheries’ in need of the light of the Gospel.”

Heille’s full essay is available in Liturgy 33, no. 2 available by personal subscription and through many libraries. For more, see Gregory Heille, O.P., The Preaching of Pope Francis: Missionary Discipleship and the Ministry of the Word (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2015).

Gregory Heille, O.P., “Pope Francis: Preacher,” Liturgy 33, no. 2 (2018): 3-10.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Looking Honestly at What Harms Us - 11 March 2018 - Fourth Sunday in Lent

Parallels and paradox abound in these passages: the source of harm becomes the source of healing, those who see the darkness are brought to the light. What is exposed offers a route toward wholeness despite––and even because of––brokenness.

The preacher today may focus on the call in Lent to look squarely at the roots of self-deception and dishonesty. Looking at what harms us is the beginning of life abundant.

John 3:14-21

While nearly everyone is familiar with John 3:16 and the verses that immediately follow it, most readers are probably unaware of the verses that immediately precede it, included in today's reading. “And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness. . .” refers to an oft-overlooked incident during the Israelites’ wandering in the wilderness (see below).

Just as Moses turned the serpent, something that was originally the cause of suffering, into a means of saving lives, the gospel writers made the cross, originally a symbol of shame and suffering, into a symbol of eternal life. . . .

While most readers are familiar with John 3:16, many may overlook the inherent tension between inclusivity and exclusivity in [the passage as a whole]. . . “God so loved the world” suggests the possibility of inclusion (whereas many places in the Bible speak of God's exclusive love for the chosen people), but “everyone who believes in him” limits the reward of eternal life to believers. The next verses increase this tension, since unbelievers are condemned on the assumption that they've had the opportunity to believe and have chosen not to. . .

While many readers have accepted this exclusivity. . . we must consider the audience to whom this gospel is speaking. Some have suggested that the Johannine community felt so beleaguered by “enemies,” not only the synagogues from which they'd been expelled, but the followers of John the Baptist as well as other early variants of Christianity, that they needed encouragement that they had made the right choice. From this perspective then, the exclusivity may be less important than the emphasis on belief in and loyalty to Jesus. –– Jonathan Lawrence

Numbers 21:4-9

This passage provides the background to the cryptic statement that precedes John 3:16. As they often do, the Israelites complain against God and Moses. . . [but] unlike the other times when they complained and God provided food or water, this time God sent poisonous serpents among them and many people died.

When the people realize their sin in criticizing God and Moses, they repent and God instructs Moses to place a bronze serpent on a pole so that anyone who was bitten by the serpents could look at it and live. . .  The concept is of God providing a way to rescue the people from the situation they found themselves in due to their sin, offering a logical parallel for the gospel of John. –– Jonathan Lawrence

Ephesians 2:1-10

Whereas John described Jesus as a signpost of hope to which people could look and be saved by belief, the writer of Ephesians sees the problem not so much as unbelief as the sins they have committed under the influence of the “ruler of the power of the air.” No longer under the sway of their fleshly passions, the Ephesians have been “raised” up and seated with Christ in the “heavenly places.” As in John, they are saved through faith, but there are also echoes of Psalm 107 in the references to God's help and healing. –– Jonathan Lawrence

Jonathan D. Lawrence, an American Baptist Church ordained minister, teaches Religious Studies and Theology at Canisius College, Buffalo, New York.

Homily Service 39, no. 4 (2006): 44-52.