A Response to Recent Misunderstandings (2007)

Being a follower of Jesus requires two things of me: 1) a desire to love Jesus with all my being 2) a devoted humility to please God–no if, ands, buts, or a comma between the “please” and “God.” My dream is to render both faithfully every day. But Jesus-following and God-pleasing–not people-pleasing–can sometimes lead me up a hill, often carrying a cross. It can mean being silent when accused, even refusing to defend myself or push back when my faith or character is unjustly attacked by brothers and sisters in the faith. Nothing hurts more than being shot by friendly fire. Yet, I recognize that God can use my critics to humble me, teach me, and transform me and in so doing revitalize and empower my ministry even more so than before. So despite the confusion and harm such onslaughts can seem to be either to me or to others around me, I welcome them from the sovereign hand of God and am thankful that they exist, especially in that they can help me to clarify the tenets of my faith and to reiterate my mission and ministry to others. I take my commitment to those whom I may influence by my ministry very seriously. And it is for this reason that I pause now to address some issues of faith that are dear to my heart and important to the many followers of Jesus who look to me for guidance, hope and inspiration as we journey together in the path of Christ. First, I thank the many of you, who have been kind enough to approach me with...

Freely You Have Received, Freely Give

Toward a Post-Tithing, Post-Stewardship, Postmodern Theology of Receiving “What have you got that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if it were not a gift?” Apostle Paul (1Cor.4:7) *** “It is not what we eat but what we digest that makes us strong; not what we gain but what we save that makes us rich; not what we read but what we remember that makes us learned; not what we preach but what we practice that makes us Christian.” — Francis Bacon   The mysterious Watergate informant known as “Deep Throat” was right. “Follow the money,” he told reporters Woodward and Bernstein. “Follow the money.”   It’s a lesson the church, fixed on the power of politics in a world where the power paradigms are economic, has yet to learn. Money talks. And how Jesus loved to talk about money. If clergy preached on economics as often as Jesus did, there would be at least one sermon a month devoted to what Douglas W. Johnson calls “a theology of finance,” or “think[ing] about money theologically.” 1 But clergy have historically been reluctant to take a leadership role in the church’s money matters and fund-raising.   There are lots of reasons for this, not the least of which is that nothing has produced more friction over the years between a pastor and a congregation so much as economics. 2 Likewise, some of the biggest fights in church history were caused by economic issues. The Reformation after all began in part as a dispute over stewardship and fund-raising. But generally, stewardship thinking and planning...

Announcing PreachTheStory.com

Leonard Sweet has launched his new website PreachTheStory.com where you can find free preaching resources, as well as premium sermons and preaching advice: PreachTheStory.com Are you ready for the Revolution? Embrace the 21st century with sermons that speak the language of your culture.  Join the Homiletic Revolution and Preaching Renaissance.  A revolution is a protest–against word-based exegesis. A renaissance is a positive expression of construction and creativity–founded on stories and images, narratives and metaphors (narraphors)—with a soundtrack. Join at $9 per month and login to get: A weekly sermon based on the traditional lectionary by Len Sweet. A weekly story lectionary. A weekly Image Exegesis based on the story of the week by Lori with comments section for your additions and discussions of the metaphor. A weekly story sermon, based on the scriptural metaphor of the week by Len Sweet and with comments section for your responses, ideas, and the ways you’ve used the material. Sweet Nothings – weekly 3-5 minute semiotic videos of Len Sweet –connecting scripture to the semiotics of everyday life The Commons – a preaching blog with ideas for interactive Story sermon writing and image exegesis (a la Giving Blood) *Coming Soon In the future: special creative sections on preaching and ministry by some of the country’s budding pastors FREE at preachthestory.com: Pastor’s Prayer  – by Len The Open Table – an interactive Book gathering Sound Theology –a sound bite for your sermon writing Napkin Scribbles   – words of wisdom from Len Sweet The Lectionary Readings The Story Lectionary Passage The Images of the Week “Tweetables” from each...

The Big “W”

Mark 8:31-38 There are two kinds of dogs in this world (not people this time!). There are the dogs who eat everything and anything – toss them a bit of anything, meat, cauliflower, mushrooms, shoe leather – and it will be snapped out of the sky and scarfed down without hesitation. Then there are the dogs that approach every tidbit offered to them with suspicion. They stop, they sniff, they consider, and then they finally — tentatively — accept the goodie offered to them. The spoiled doggie message being sent here is that the gift you offer is accepted with the attitude that “I am doing you a favor by eating this.” The “scarf hounds” joyously wolf down whatever comes their way from our hands because they trust that we are always offering them something good, something that they want and they need. The “spoiled dogs” also show up for treat time, but they convey an attitude that suggests that we need them to be there. Those pampered pups take their invitation as a given, and their finicky feeding manners emphasize that they are “gracing us” with their presence and their acceptance of what we offer to them. Did you come to worship this morning as a “scarf hound” or as a “spoiled dog”? Are you here because your soul trusts in God’s providence and presence, and hungers for the divine gift of being able to draw near to God? Or are you here because you are doing God a “favor” by showing up? Do you somehow imagine that God needs your presence and the witness of your worship...

Why Christmas is So Dangerous

There is no doubt about it. Christmas is a dangerous time of year. You ever tried negotiating a mall parking lot between Black Friday and Christmas Eve? You know one level of danger. You ever tried to gather together a fractious, far-flung family into one Christmas moment? You know another level of danger. You ever tried buying a toy for the kids or grandkids, a toy where levers don’t break off, where there are no hidden, choky bits, where glitches galore don’t make the toy “unsafe?” You know another whole kind of threat. But the real “danger” of Christmas is not about parking spaces or perilous toys or dysfunctional families, but is the danger we are all called to open ourselves to during this season of miracles. Why is Christmas dangerous? It could go to your head. It’s hard on your heart. It callouses your hands and feet. In this week’s gospel text Luke unveils the vision Mary had of the angel Gabriel announcing to her the astounding message of the work of God that would change her life. Mary was a first century young Jewish girl, most likely around 13 or 14 years old. As was the custom, and to her good fortune, she was already “betrothed” to be married to Joseph. This “betrothal” was far more than our modern notion of an “engagement.” Betrothal was legally binding, a solemn contract. Promises and “bride prices” would have already been exchanged. As a “betrothed” woman Mary was in effect already legally and morally bound to Joseph. Both her family and Joseph’s family were already committed and connected. To “disengage”...