Monday, June 19, 2017

The Sword and Baptismal Transformation – 25 June 2017 – Third Sunday after Pentecost/ Lectionary 17

Christians are called to testify to what we know to be true, but we like to shrink from responsibilities that bring discomfort. The truth can confront lies that may be swirling around families, churches, and nations intended to keep the boat from rocking. 

I knew a pastor once who said she welcomed conflict because it brought light and clarity. Amen to that! A sigh runs through the crowd when the elephant has been named or the divergent perspectives on an issue are aired. And we can welcome the consequences of truth revealed when we are standing on sure ground: the place God gives us as in baptism, the identity as children of God.

The sword cuts through nonsense as well as falsehood. Baptism mends the brokenness.

Matthew 10:24-39

Jesus sends out the Twelve to announce and enact the good news that the kingdom of heaven is near. His instructions concerning the mission of the Twelve launch the “Mission Discourse.”

. . . Having just told the disciples that they will be persecuted “because of my name” (v 22), Jesus tells them that the student should not expect to receive better treatment than the teacher nor the slave better than the master did. Three times the disciples are urged not to “be afraid.” At worst, their treatment can mean death. But a worse fate awaits those who deny the message: the destruction of both body and soul in Gehenna (the New Testament image of hell as the burning garbage pit in the Valley of Hinnom south of Jerusalem).

In spite of being the prince of peace, Jesus has not come to bring peace but a sword of division. Even families will turn against one another because of him. This is not his intention, but it is the consequence of hostile resistance to the Gospel. Matthew's Gospel is written after persecution of Christians has begun. Following Jesus touches off conflict between people who were once as close as families. We see this happening in the world today when people convert to Christianity. – Frank C. Senn

Jeremiah 20:7-13

Jeremiah's fifth personal lament. . . was chosen to correlate with the Gospel reading, which speaks of the persecution that the Twelve will experience on their mission. Because Jeremiah preached God's word of doom in Judah, which clung to God's promise in the Davidic covenant (though without a corresponding obedience), he was ridiculed and abused. Here he complains to God that God has “enticed” and “overpowered” him (literally “seduced” and “raped”), forcing him to deliver a message he personally did not like. He was made a “laughingstock” because he had to shout out, “Violence and destruction!” He prays that a violent God will pay back his violent enemies with violence. Like psalms of lament, this lament of Jeremiah ends with praise of God for delivering his prophet from his enemies.

To be a bearer of God's word means to suffer rejection. This is tricky. It has been said that the offense of God's word should not be confused with the possible offensiveness of the preacher. Yet, as the example of Jeremiah shows, the message cannot always be separated from the messenger. The offense of the message makes the messenger offensive. – Frank C. Senn

Romans 6:1b-11

Writing to a church he did not found, Paul could not have assumed what the Roman church understood about baptism. The congregation was both gentile and Jewish. Gentile believers might have believed that baptism effected a mystical union with the deity along the lines of a mystery religion. Jewish believers might have regarded baptism as a turning point in one's life. Paul has deftly combined both views: baptism joins one to Christ and marks a turning point in one's life. – Frank C. Senn


Frank C. Senn, an ELCA pastor who served Immanuel Lutheran Church in Evanston, Illinois, from 1990-2013, has also taught liturgy courses at a number of seminaries and divinity schools and published thirteen books mostly on the history of the liturgy.

Homily Service 41, no. 3 (2008): 63-74.



Monday, June 12, 2017

Endurance Produces Hope – 18 June 2017 – Second Sunday after Pentecost

We enter Ordinary Time with Jesus’ call to proclaim the reign of God. The preacher’s challenge today is to wed that proclamation to the healing Jesus’ gives his messengers authority to bring about. Where is the healing happening in your community?

Matthew 9:35––­10:8[9-23]

By joining together these verses, the lectionary shows Matthew's intention that the disciples should do what Jesus did. Jesus proclaimed the “good news of the kingdom of heaven” (9:35); the disciples are to proclaim the good news that “the kingdom of heaven has come near” (10:7). Jesus cures every disease and sickness (9:35) and gives the disciples authority “to cure every disease and every sickness” (10:1). Jesus views the crowds “like sheep without a shepherd” (9:36) and sends the disciples to “the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (10:6).

The mission of the Twelve is not just to preach about the kingdom but also to actualize it through deeds of spiritual power: driving out demons and curing diseases (manifestations in human life and evil and brokenness). . .

The descriptions attached to the names [of the apostles] show what a motley crew this was: Simon was called “Rock” (Peter); Matthew was a tax collector; the other Simon was a Canaanite, a zealot for the law (from the Aramaic kanana, enthusiast, not a resident of the land of Canaan), and Judas Iscariot was a traitor. Those who are gathered by Jesus and commissioned for leadership roles in the church are a diverse and imperfect group, and this was apparently the Master's intention. – Frank C. Senn

Exodus 19:2-8a

This pericope affirms God's call to his people to be “holy,” that is, to belong to God. Holiness or sanctification means that the people have been set apart like priests in order to offer a sacrifice that is pleasing to the Lord. Holiness in the biblical tradition implied that the people should be like God, who is distinct from the creation. Therefore, the people of God are to be distinct from all the peoples and cultures around them, both morally and ritually. –– Frank C. Senn

Romans 5:1-8

Peace is here understood as reconciliation (making peace), which is referred to explicitly in verses 10–11. The condition of reconciliation through Christ gives us access to the grace of God. This access gives us the right to boast not only of glory but also of suffering. We highly regard suffering because it leads to endurance, which produces character, which produces a hope that does not disappoint because it resides in hearts into which God's love has been poured through the gift of the Holy Spirit. A homily might unpack each of these concepts, showing how one builds on the other.

God has overcome his own wrath against sin. . . by the sacrifice of his Son. This is an expression of God's love for his weak and fallen human creatures. Paul never speaks of God being reconciled with us but of us being reconciled with God, since we were the estranged party. Christ's blood is the condition of our restoration to divine favor. This has consequences for both the present and the future. Christ's sacrificial death reconciles us now in our present life before God and also saves us in the final judgment. – Frank C. Senn



Frank C. Senn, an ELCA pastor who served Immanuel Lutheran Church in Evanston, Illinois, from 1990-2013, has also taught liturgy courses at a number of seminaries and divinity schools and published thirteen books mostly on the history of the liturgy.

Homily Service 41, no. 3 (2008): 54-62.



Friday, June 9, 2017

A Jewish Perspective on Memorials to the Holocaust

A variety of views on pilgrimage are contained in Liturgy 32, no. 3, including the question asked by scholar, Brigitte Sion, whether Jewish tourism or pilgrimage is appropriately focused on Holocaust sites. Here she describes the need for remembrance while challenging the commercialization that so often attends places where tourists will gather.

What is presented here can only be an excerpt from the essay in Liturgy. For the full text, see your library’s subscription or visit The Liturgical Conference website tab “Liturgy: Our journal” for information on subscriptions.
Is Jewish tourism always death tourism, and sometimes exclusively Holocaust tourism? When visiting the Venice ghetto, I felt I was visiting places with dead Jews under my feet or on the commemorative monuments. Jewish death tourism has been increasing in recent years: tour operators, tour guides, blog writers, curators, and other cultural tourism professionals, are investing more on Jewish death tourism (or thanatourism. . . based on the Greek root Thanatos, which is a personification of death), not only because it is a lucrative niche, but because there is obviously a strong demand. It is not (only) about visiting Auschwitz, Bergen-Belsen, and other sites associated with the Holocaust. It is about re-creating virtual itineraries in former Jewish ghettos, opening a kosher-style restaurant in a place with no Jews, turning an abandoned synagogue into a cultural center, and establishing a museum whose collection was “found” (if not looted) from Jewish families. All this constitutes death tourism, and it is not a Polish exclusive because of the proximity of the Nazi camps: it is visible in Germany and in Italy, in Amsterdam and in Barcelona, in Slovakia and in Slovenia. 
. . . This form of negative sightseeing is incorporated into an industry that is otherwise dedicated to pleasure, time out of time, and escape, as well as to edification, spiritual experience, and personal transformation.  
The phenomenon is not new. Jews, like others, have made pilgrimages to the graves of holy men (Maimonides in Tiberias, famous sages in Morocco, Nachman of Bratzlav in Uman, Ukraine, and, more recently, the Lubavitcher rebbe in Montefiore Cemetery in Queens, New York City). However, the phenomenon of memorial pilgrimage that used to focus on famous Jewish figures has taken a new turn after the Holocaust. 
In Judaism, as in Christianity, funerary and mourning practices center on the body of the deceased. Relatives and community members symbolically mark the departure from the world of the living by disposing of the body. When bodily remains cannot be found, or have been destroyed, the mourning process is compromised, and a social drama unfolds in the absence of the main character. The Nazis’ murder of European Jews went even further: their political objective was not only to deport civilians to remote sites of death and to exterminate them in systematic, industrial mass-murder operations, but also to destroy any physical evidence of their crimes. Millions of Jewish corpses were cremated and the ashes volatized in the air. This conscious act of erasure has resulted in depriving victims of appropriate funerary rites and depriving relatives of a way to complete their mourning process. The Holocaust marks a turning point for commemoration in absentia, since it was the first occurrence of a genocide combined with the destruction of body remains, thus creating a mourning vacuum.
This blogsite will return to Sion’s exploration on June 23 with Part 2 of her essay.



Brigitte Sion, a guest researcher at the Global Studies Institute, University of Geneva, Switzerland, is an international expert on memorial sites, commemorative practices, death tourism, and historical museums particularly in Europe, Argentina, and Cambodia. Sion is the author of Memorials in Berlin and Buenos Aires: Balancing Memory, Architecture and Tourismand editor of Death Tourism: Disaster Sites as Recreational Landscapes. 


Brigitte Sion, “Memorial Pilgrimage or Death Tourism? A Jewish Perspective,” Liturgy 32, no. 3 (2017): 23-28.