Reformation Sunday: The Truth About the Truth

John 8:31-36 Dear Partner in Preaching, I suspect that the Gospel doesn’t mean very much to the self-made man or woman. Do you know what I mean? We define “Gospel” in a variety of ways – salvation, grace, forgiveness, life, and so on. Today Jesus adds another way to speak of the Gospel – freedom. Good words, all. But the common denominator among them is that they assume need. The one who values salvation knows that he or she needs saving. The one to whom grace is important is aware of the need for grace. Forgiveness implies sin. And so on. No wonder Jesus’ interlocutors are offended. Jesus says, apparently to persons who already...

Epiphany 7 A: Telos

Matthew 5:38-48 Dear Partner, Ahh, the temptations we preachers are going to feel as we read this difficult passage! I’ve preached it enough, and you probably have to, to be familiar with at least two of them. The first will be to not take it seriously. I call this the “Lutheran temptation” simply because when Lutherans get to really difficult says from Jesus, we tend to assume that Jesus didn’t really expect us to do these things, only to remind us of our inability to satisfy God’s commands so that we might flee to Jesus for forgiveness and grace. While I’m not sure this actually reflects Luther’s thought, some of his...

Pentecost 12 C: What Would You Do…?

Luke 12:32-40 Dear Partner in Preaching, One of my favorite questions to ask in visioning work or counseling sessions is as follows: “What would you love to try if you knew you couldn’t fail?” You may have heard that question, or asked it, yourself. I like it because it prompts us to cast our gaze beyond our present circumstances and challenges, elements in our lives that, while perhaps real, often cast a larger than necessary shadow. We are evolutionarily wired to overestimate risk and danger because, well, in a harsh environment underestimating risk and danger can be deadly. But one might argue that in our relatively civilized world,...

Reformation Sunday/Pentecost 22 B: Freedom!

I’ve just one thing to say to you this week, Dear Partner. Just one thing. And that’s…that it’s about freedom. The story about Bartimaeus, I mean. He won’t shut up. Even though people tell him to. And that’s hard. We are so quick to fall into silence in general, worried about offending or hurting feelings or being rejected or whatever. And so when folks tell us to shut up, we’re all too quick to oblige. But Bartimaeus won’t. He is free. Free to defy his neighbors. Free to call for help. Free to make his needs known to Jesus. Free. Perhaps he’s suffered enough, or feels like there’s nothing left to lose, or just doesn’t...

The Paradox of Choice

On any given day, if you ask me whether I want you to tell me what to order for dinner (or wear, or how to get to work, etc.) or whether I want to choose for myself, I’ll of course say I want the freedom of choice. And you probably would, too. One of the unquestioned assumptions of our modern world is that choice is good. Choice, in fact, is essential to happiness. After all, choice equates freedom, ability, authority, power, possibility. Lack of choice is therefore equated with oppression, depravity, powerlessness, and monotony. Choice is good…always…period. Or is it? In this very engaging TED Talk, Swarthmore psychologist Barry...