I had work to do the other day, but I set it aside to reread Elie Wiesel’s Night as a way to mark the great man’s death and remember his life.
While I was struck by passages I anticipated, like his account of how his belief was shattered upon seeing the furnaces of Auschwitz—“Never shall I forget those flames which consumed my faith forever”—it was an unexpected line that caught me, given a current news story I’d been following.
It’s that time of the year: the time when I need to carry my favorite poem in my pocket and read it frequently. I do this to inoculate myself against the fantasies that come up about now. Not Christmas fantasies of sugar plums dancing in my head—New Year’s fantasies.
When you read children’s literature you expect to smile at the quirky characters fumbling to figure out their growing independence. You might expect to cry as you watch characters face the pain of growing up.
You don’t expect to be confronted by current events like a refugee crisis—and inspired to imagine the kind of society we could be even in the face of terror and fear.
I put it off for a while. I don’t like to read people who are so popular, so trendy. Furthermore, I’m a United Methodist minister teaching at a PC(USA) seminary—why would I want to read a story of a young evangelical who has a few doubts and then joins the Episcopal Church?
South Carolina did it. It removed a “permanently” raised Confederate flag from the statehouse grounds. Now the leaders of the National Cathedral have a decision to make: Will the Jackson-Lee windows—windows extolling the Christian faith and virtue of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson, and featuring images of the Confederate flag—stay or go?
Amid weeks with more than their share of bad news, one story before the new year seemed like a glimmer of light in the darkness. The world grabbed onto it: Pope Francis comforting a boy as he grieved the death of his dog, telling the boy he’ll see his dog in heaven.
For mainline pastors, the Driscoll saga—the conflict at Seattle’s Mars Hill Church leading to the resignation of superstar pastor Mark Driscoll—can seem like a number of things: an entertaining but irrelevant sideshow, a distraction from the real work of God’s kingdom, or the long-overdue fall of someone whose theological views and ideology are so different from ours. We feel so distant from Driscoll and what he stands for that we can almost watch with bemused smiles.
And it’s just this sense of distance that might keep us for seeing this situation the way we should: as a cautionary tale.
Larry was my spiritual director for seven years, but when I moved from Durham, North Carolina, to Pittsburgh, I could no longer make the monthly drive. On my last visit, instead of lighting a candle and inviting me to sit with him in a time of silence, he suggested we take a walk.
When I read this passage from Luke I immediately remembered an exegesis paper I once wrote after reading an article by a doctor about what disease the woman might have. He concluded that she has a certain kind of arthritis—the same kind I had been recently diagnosed with. This gave me a sense of immediate connection with the woman in the story.
Such personal identification is homiletically useful.
Richard Lischer suggests that one of the ways to organize a sermon is around a “master metaphor”—that key image on which the sermon’s progress and structure can hang. More often than not, the scripture passage itself gives us the master metaphor.
If it’s difficult for listeners today to connect with the Bible’s injunctions against idolatry because our own idolatry looks so different, the metaphor of God as “fountain of living water” being forsaken for self-dug, cracked cisterns is striking.
I once read an article by a medical doctor who tried to identify the condition that kept the woman in Luke 13 crippled for 18 years. I don’t remember his methodology, and in retrospect it seems to me a dubious endeavor, but I was deeply interested in his conclusion: the woman suffered from an arthritic condition called spondyloarthritis.
When I first read Wendell Berry's 1985 essay "What Are People For?" 12 years ago, I was in college preparing to do exactly what Berry says that colleges prepare people to do—move to someplace that is not home and serve the economy. I read with academic disinterest his lament for the fate of the many "country people" who moved to cities and became unemployed.