Epiphany 2 B: Gracious Invitation

John 1:43-51 Dear Partner in Preaching, What struck me in this week’s passage is the degree to which Nathaniel’s first reaction to Jesus feels rather tinged by sarcasm. I say “feels” only because sarcasm seems more frequent in our media than in our Scriptures. We are used to talk radio hosts, media pundits, cultural commentators, or sports analysts employing sarcasm from time to time to make a point. (And lately, perhaps, more than “from time to time”!) But rarely do you hear something sarcastic in Scripture, and that caught my attention. While I first found Nathaniel’s reaction – and John’s reporting of it, for that matter...

Epiphany 1 B: Powerful Words for a New Year

Mark 1:4-11 Dear Partner in Preaching, I don’t know about you, but from time to time – okay, so maybe a little more often than from time to time – I find myself wondering whether my preaching makes a difference. That’s not to say I doubt that it should make a difference – we’re talking about proclaiming the Gospel, after all! – but whether it actually does. On a Sunday like this, that question feels both more persistent and more urgent. It is, after all, one of those “minor” feasts, the Baptism of our Lord, and I can’t help but wonder how many people understand why Jesus’ baptism matters. Or why Jesus was baptized in...

Christmas 1 B: Christmas Courage

Luke 2:22-40 Dear Partner in Preaching, It’s amazing how quickly Christmas passes, isn’t it? After all the preparations – both in church and at home – after four weeks of Advent, after carols and service projects, special music and Christmas Eve services…. After all this, it’s suddenly done. The presents are opened, the wrapping paper put in the recycling bin, needles are falling from the tree, and it’s 364 more days until next year’s celebration. Of course, Christmas isn’t done. The church knew that there was no way you could really celebrate, let alone comprehend, the Incarnation in a day, so it recognized twelve days of...

Adv 4B/Christmas Eve: God’s Surprising Choic...

Luke 1:26-38 Luke 2:1-20 Dear Partner in Preaching, Martin Luther loved Mary. You may already have known that. As a life-long Lutheran pastor, I have regularly been surprised by how few Lutherans know that. I suspect that’s because, while Lutherans often know too little about their Roman Catholic kindred, one of the things they do know is that Mary has a significant place in Roman Catholic piety and so assume Luther would not have been a fan. But he was; indeed, he was a huge fan. To Luther, Mary represented the typical pattern of God’s interaction with humans. Indeed, not just interaction, but election. That is, it wasn’t Mary’s...

Advent 3 B: Sacred Leadership

John 1:6-8, 19-28 Dear Partner in Preaching, Oh, for a few more folks like John the Baptist these days! That was my overriding reaction when I read of John’s unusual, even odd, and certainly negative “confession.” John the Baptist’s role in the Fourth Gospel is a little different than it is in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Starting with the fact that he’s not actually identified as John the Baptist. Yes, he baptizes. But while in the Synoptics he baptizes Jesus, he does not do so in this account. Instead, his primary role is to witness. As it says, in what can feel like a misplaced verse in the prologue – although I think it clarifies...