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Daniel: A Conspiracy of Hope

daniel-in-lions-denIt’s the first Sunday in Advent—a time when when we’re usually prepared to sing songs of the season and hear the familiar stories that will lead us up to the manger, whether it’s the preparatory texts in Luke’s Gospel or the prophecies of Isaiah, or the echoes of the Exodus story in Matthew’s Gospel. While there are lots of texts to choose from, Advent is always a challenge for preachers because we tend to cover the same territory.

But this year, using the Narrative Lectionary, we’re confronted with a text that looks like anything but an Advent story. If you grew up in the church, the story of Daniel in the lion’s den (Daniel 6) is a familiar one that we learn in Sunday School as children. It’s a wonderful story of faithful resistance in the midst of a pagan and hostile culture—something we’ve been talking about a lot over the last few weeks.

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A Game of Thrones: A Sermon After the Election

Text: Isaiah 6:1-8

campaign-signs-president-1This has been a historic week by any measure. As we gather here on Sunday, after Tuesday’s election, we suddenly realize that the usual way of things—the predictable politics of the past—is no more. Whether you are dejected or elated over the results, we share in common the fact that none of us knows how the future will play out. Pundits, both professional and amateur, have been offering their predictions since early Wednesday morning, but if we’ve learned anything this week it’s that polls and predictions can be dead wrong.

I’ve seen a lot of Christians posting this week on how to respond to the election. Some are quoting Bible verses, some urging caution and kindness, others despairing, and still others are shocked with no clue as to what to do. I suspect most people are in that latter category. We don’t have a real precedent for this kind of thing—we’ve now marched off the map. We don’t really know what’s next.

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Moses: Standing in the Gap

Exodus 32:1-14

mosesonthemountainLast week we talked about the Passover as the meal signifying Israel’s freedom from slavery in Egypt. Remember the way the rabbi described it? “They tried to kill us, we won, let’s eat!.” The story of Passover is a microcosm of the larger liberation project God launched for the whole creation, summed up in Jesus’ meal with his disciples. In the communion meal, Jesus announces deliverance from human slavery to sin and death through the shedding of his own blood—the lamb given for his people. That’s how we summed up the Christian message: “They killed him, he won, let’s eat!”

But while we talked last week about what God frees his people from, this week’s text is really about what God frees his people for. What is freedom for?

For the answer, we have to go back a little further. Remember the beginning of the story, when God created humans and gave them the vocation of being his co-regents of creation, to be priests in the temple he has created, mediating and taking care of the creation. That was their mission and they were free to take express it in any way they saw fit, so long as they did not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and circumvent God’s wisdom, which is only given to human beings through relationship with him. They were “naked and unashamed” – which is like the freedom a toddler has when he strips naked in the front yard and runs through the sprinklers – a joyous freedom to experience the life God intends in its fullness.

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Malachi: Putting God on Trial

MASTERPIECE CONTEMPORARY God On Trial Sunday, November 9, 2008 at 9pm ET on PBS Who is to blame for the greatest of all crimes? Facing extermination at Auschwitz, a group of prisoners solemnly weighs the case against the Lord God, in God on Trial, airing on MASTERPIECE CONTEMPORARY. Shown (left to right): Stephen Dillane as Schmidt, Stellan Skarsgard as Baumgarten, and Rupert Graves as Mordechai. (c) Neil Davidson/Hat Trick Productions for MASTERPIECE

MASTERPIECE CONTEMPORARY
God On Trial
Sunday, November 9, 2008 at 9pm ET on PBS
Who is to blame for the greatest of all crimes? Facing extermination at Auschwitz, a group of prisoners solemnly weighs the case against the Lord God, in God on Trial, airing on MASTERPIECE CONTEMPORARY. Shown (left to right): Stephen Dillane as Schmidt, Stellan Skarsgard as Baumgarten, and Rupert Graves as Mordechai.
(c) Neil Davidson/Hat Trick Productions for MASTERPIECE

Elie Wiesel, the Nobel Laureate and survivor of the Holocaust, died this past week and there were a lot of rightfully reflective articles about his life and work in the media. If you’ve read his work, you know that it is powerful because it came through the lens of intense suffering and hope.

One of the stories that has circulated about Wiesel was that one night in the dark corner of a barracks in the Auschwitz concentration camp, three rabbis decided to put God on trial. They charged God with working against the covenant made with his chosen people and accuse him of being the one responsible for their suffering. Wiesel said he witnessed the trial, which ended by not calling God guilty, but rather, in the Hebrew chayav, which means, “He owes us something.” In 1977, Wiesel wrote a play based on that night titled, “The Trial of God.”

It’s not unprecedented for people to put God on trial, of course. In 2007, an agnostic state senator Ernie Chambers from Nebraska filed a law suit against God charging him with “making and continuing to make terroristic threats of grave harm to innumerable persons, including constituents of the plaintiff…” The suit goes on to blame God for all natural disasters, diseases, and death that befalls people.

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Joel: The Crying Game

Minor Prophets LogoWhen was the last time you had a good cry? For some, it might be a long time—tears don’t come easy. But crying isn’t so hard for a lot of us.

Our kids cry when their feelings are injured, when Mommy leaves them with the sitter, or when the teacher scolds them for being disruptive in class. We cry during arguments, at the loss of a loved one, when watching a movie, listening to a song, when a passing thought runs across our minds, when we’ve hit the lotto jackpot, when we’re slapped with a lawsuit, when our children do us proud, when the daughter gets married or because the daughter isn’t married. We cry tears of revenge, seduction, escape and empathy; tears of pleasure and pain. The biblical history of tears shows us David crying at the death of Absalom, Abraham over the death of Sarah. Joseph bawled when meeting Benjamin. Even Jesus, according to that famously short verse in John’s gospel, wept.

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