Monday, December 10, 2012

Cracking Open This Sunday's Sermon, 16 Dec '12

As a little experiment in a direction a friend has been pressing me, towards the possibility that Mondays on ADU might present material on the coming Sunday's readings, I am going to see if world-shaking Anglican news stays away from Mondays, opening up the possibility of a regular Monday forecast for the sermon ahead.

Here is what I have put together on the planning sheet for my local parish for this Sunday:

"16 December (Advent 3) – Peter Carrell (8am) // Christmas Plays (10 am)
Theme                  True fruit in God’s kingdom        
Sentence             p. 552 [A New Zealand Prayer Book]
Collect                  p. 552 God for whom we wait and watch             
Philippians 4:4-7
                      Luke 3:7-18"

Sadly, in the light of the past week on ADU, Euodia and Syntyche are missed out in the Philippians reading! But they are worth a glance as they represent an unhappy situation in the church at Philippi, thus the command to 'Rejoice', underlined by repetition, v.4, has an edge: let nothing, nobody and no situation dissuade you from rejoicing, Paul says, as he moves to the conclusion of his letter. In keeping with all his letters, his last comments are about Christian character. Having articulated who Christ is and what Christ has done for the Philippians, Paul urges them to rejoice, be gentle, worry about nothing and let God's peace guard their hearts. With helpful practicality he makes the point that the antidote to anxiety is not earnest effort to pretend not to be anxious, but fervant prayer. Sometimes in modern life we say, "Don't worry; be happy!" Not so, Paul. His motto is, "Don't worry; pray about what worries you!"

All this means Christians, whether in Philippi or our city today, as citizens of God's kingdom are to be known by the fruit we bear as the seed of the gospel takes root in our lives.

That fruit-bearing is pressed on us as a kingdom priority in our gospel reading from a different perspective when John the Baptists cries to the crowds which flock to him, Bear fruits worthy of repentance!

They must have been a very keen congregation, those crowds, because it is hard to think of any congregation today which would stick around for long if the preacher's first words to them  were, "You brood of vipers!" No introductory joke when John was preaching. No flattery. No trick of speech-making to establish rapport with his hearers. Just a straightforward suspicion as to what their real motives were in coming to his church! "You snakes!!"

His fiery language through verses 7-9 set the scene for the mission of Jesus. Israel is resting on its laurels. It is taking for granted that it is in the right place before God. But it is not. Radical treatment is needed: a tree that does not bear fruit is not pruned, but chopped down at the roots. A new tree is being planted by God through the coming Messiah, one which grows fruitfully from its Abrahamic roots.

The crowd were a great congregation. Not only did they not get up and leave when John denounced them as a brood of vipers, they took on his message of severe repentance. "What then should we do?"

Three times, in fact, Luke tells us of this response: "What then should we do?" - generally from the crowds, and specifically from the tax collectors (the bad men of Israel) and from the soldiers (the oppressors of Israel).

Do we want to be fruit-bearers in God's kingdom? We need not only development of Christian character a la Philippians, we also need outward actions which show we are part of the new and radical kingdom of God. The thrust of John's prescription for kingdom life is just dealings with one another. 'Social justice' perhaps trips off our lips too easily. Perhaps too we think of 'social justice', as something a specialist in the church will take care of. John's personalises social justice. If you have more possessions than you need, downsize. If you charge people for a professional service, do not overcharge. If you are powerful do not use that power for unjust gain. Be content with your wages.

At that point John the Baptist could be Paul speaking at the end of Philippians, "I have learned to be content with whatever I have" (4:11).

The great question of Advent is Are we ready for the second coming of Christ in judgement? In the past two weeks we have heard Paul press the matter of being 'blameless' on that great day.

Today's readings press the question again. Repentance is life being lived in the direction of God, having turned around from moving away from God. Actions speak louder than words and words are cheap.

Between epistle and gospel, God is looking for true fruit of the kingdom in our lives, measured by real change in our character and behaviour.


Anonymous said...

Hi Peter,

I am intrigued by the connections between rejoicing in Phil 4:4 and gentleness in v5.

It is a joy not insensitive to the situation of others. Revelry can sometimes be at the expense of others. Christian rejoicing, however, seeks to be contagious.

Gentleness is great strength under greater control. To be rejoicing with the gentle is to be in a place of safety.


liturgy said...

Greetings Peter,

I would encourage you, Peter, to continue this. I tried to produce background information for each Sunday’s readings (social, cultural). I struggled to sustain the work it required, and have not (yet) completed the three years. Rev. Howard Pilgrim attempted to provide exegesis as a podcast. He also, unfortunately, could not sustain it for the full three year cycle. May you have greater perseverance!

Might I add some suggestions that I’m sure you will take in the positive way that I am trying to encourage you.

I think the “quest for a theme” is fraught. Yes, in a minority of Sundays connections may be found across the three readings and the psalm, but in the majority of Sundays seeking a theme results in imposing a theme onto the readings, rather than allowing us to hear what the Spirit is actually saying to the Church through the scriptures. The NZ-grown “Two Years Series” of readings, began with a set of themes, and then sought readings that would fit. The construction of the Three Year Series is quite different, and the quest for a theme superimposes a Two Years Series mentality onto an openness to hearing what God says which is unhelpful IMO. Better to follow the spirit of good expository preaching and allow the scriptures to address us and see where that leads us.

What do you understand as the role of the Sentence? Where do you use it and how? How does it, in your mind, connect with your “theme”? Obviously, it is not a requirement, nor is it part of the lectionary. If it is used, might it be an appropriate verse as part of the “Alleluia” that welcomes the Gospel.

Why are you using only half of the lectionary? There are (very rare) contexts in which the particular community may not be able to sustain attention through what the lectionary provides, but I think the full lectionary should be encouraged whenever possible and as the norm. It is a gift to us ecumenically and internationally. And part of that includes the restoration of the Old Testament. You yourself have been talking about the “Combo readings” and the interesting juxtaposition of readings. That is part of the treasure of the lectionary. We need to avoid neoMarcionism. It continues to fascinate me that those who do not use the lectionary (even contrary to their signed vows) give excuses that their own designed system is better than what has been internationally ecumenically agreed to (and by their own vowing). Yet the lectionary that they are criticising is often not the full provision but the cut-down version that is too often seen.

Here are the texts:

Thanks for all you do.
Advent blessings.


Peter Carrell said...

Hi Bosco,
I am not promising to last three years!

A theme, for me, becomes a short hand which aids music choosers and intercessors as they prepare for the service.

Sentence: am open to learning more about the 'why' but, to be honest, I am not sure what its function is!

Two readings is the norm at St Aidan's, as you know it is in many other parishes. If I were the vicar I would certainly contemplate having three readings.

As for ADU, yes, there is no reason for not having three readings plus Psalm!

liturgy said...

Thanks, Peter,

I continue to caution about the constriction by the construction of themes. The season or feast is like the style of restaurant in which we are nourished, but God meets individual needs which are of a great variety. Music has different roles at different points (gathering in Advent, for example, has a different nuance to gathering in Easter). Prayer leaders (without covering every possibility) need to provide space for the many needs brought (as exemplified in our Prayer Book).

As to why a church like St Aidan’s (and others) would halve the lectionary – I cannot imagine. Please explain. The inclusion of the wonderful reading from Zephaniah wouldn’t lengthen the service by a couple of minutes. And there will be wonderful settings for the community to sing the Isaiah text which (unusually) this Sunday instead of a psalm response.

Thanks again for this new venture.

Advent blessings


Joshua Bovis said...

The Lectionary - I read this recently on the Tasmania Anglican Website:

It doesn’t have to be a choice of one or the other. It’s entirely
possible to alternate between a term preaching through the
Lectionary readings and a term preaching through a biblical book.
At the same time, care must be taken when preaching through the
Lectionary not to impose on the numerous texts chosen for the day
a connection that isn’t there. Where there is recognition of the
diversity of each text in its context, we also need to avoid
overloading and even confusing our hearers with three or even
four mini-sermons within the one sermon. A good way to do that is
to focus the sermon on one passage, and, if it’s helpful to, refer to the others.

Good advice I think.

For my thoughts on the Lectionary see link below

Peter Carrell said...

Thanks Joshua and Bosco for comments.

Joshua, in our diocese Bosoc and I are bound to use the lectionary by virtue of our bishop saying that what our church requires of us, she also requires of us.

Bosco, The history of parish patterns re readings is peculiar to each parish. There is more at stake that's the addition of a few minutes to the service length. There are rosters and what have you. In the case of St Aidan's I do not know the history but I am thankful that there are two readings. Not every evangelical parish in NZ is so blessed!

Joshua Bovis said...


I hear you. I too also use the Lectionary. I still think that "care must be taken when preaching through the
Lectionary not to impose on the numerous texts chosen for the day
a connection that isn’t there. Where there is recognition of the
diversity of each text in its context, we also need to avoid
overloading and even confusing our hearers with three or even
four mini-sermons within the one sermon. A good way to do that is
to focus the sermon on one passage, and, if it’s helpful to, refer to the others".

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Joshua,
I am against more than one sermon per service!

My personal style is to major one passage but to try very hard to draw into the sermon the relevance of the other reading or readings.

Sometimes it is possible to find (as a colleague calls it) the 'golden thread' that runs through all the readings.