Archive for September, 2009

Tough Texts: a new Vinebranch sermon series

September 17, 2009

Like most Methodist preachers of a recent vintage, I preach from the Revised Common Lectionary. The Lectionary is an ecumenical three-year calendar of scripture readings—one from the Old Testament, a Psalm, an Epistle, and a Gospel—for each Sunday in the Christian year. (This year is Year B, which focuses on scripture from the Gospel of Mark.) For most of my five years in ministry, I have chosen one of these texts to preach from each week. One benefit of using the Lectionary is the reassuring feeling that I’m preaching the same text as much of the rest of the universal Church all over the world—Catholics, Anglicans, and mainline Protestants. It also challenges me to avoid simply preaching the parts of the Bible that I like best.

But here’s one problem with it: The Lectionary sometimes omits tricky, ambiguous, or problematic passages, which many people sitting in the congregation want to hear about. This week, for example, I received an urgent email from a Sunday school class concerning Paul’s challenging words in Romans 13:1-7. Since government, as Paul writes, is “instituted by God” and is a “servant of God,” how are Christians supposed to relate to the state? Should they support their government no matter what? Should they be apathetic in face of tyranny or genocide? Are they supposed to go along to get along? And what about Nazi Germany? Most preachers, including this one, would probably rather avoid this scripture entirely… Too many tough questions involved! The Lectionary includes the passage immediately before 13:1-7 and immediately after, but excludes this one. How convenient! And it’s not fair to you and me because we all ought to hear the gospel proclaimed through this scripture, too.

In light of this challenge, I’m beginning a sermon series this Sunday, September 20, in Vinebranch for the rest of the Christian year (through November 22) that I’m calling “Tough Texts.” We’ll focus on some of these difficult texts, including the aforementioned passage from Romans 13, Ephesians 5:21-33 (“Wives, be subject to your husbands,” etc.), and Romans 9:19-24 (“objects of wrath” and “objects of mercy”).

I bet you have some of your own tough texts. What are they? Feel free to let me know by leaving a comment below. I would love your feedback.

P.S. Did you know that Vinebranch encourages texting in church? Well, sort of… For the past couple of weeks, after the scripture is read, I’ve asked people to text me questions they have about the scripture. I try to answer two or three of them during the sermon time. I’ve gotten a great response so far. Thank you!