Lent 3 A: Living Water, Living Faith

John 4:5-42 Dear Partner in Preaching, How does someone come to faith? Not simply “faith” in the sense of intellectual or cognitive assent to doctrinal formulations like “Jesus is the Son of God.” But “faith” more in its biblical sense of trust, a living and active trust that makes it possible to take significant risks. I ask this question because I think today’s lengthy reading from John offers a vivid portrait of one such person coming to this kind of vibrant, trusting, risking-taking faith. In order to highlight the possibility of not just lifting up but inviting such faith, I’ll make one brief observation about the use of...

Lent 1 A: Identity as Gift and Promise

Matthew 4:1-11 Dear Partner in Preaching, I’m going to boil the heart of this passage down into one, probably pretty familiar, saying: You only know who you are when you realize whose you are. I usually mention this in terms of Baptism, and I’ll get there in this passage, I promise. But for now, I want to reference some research I read a long time ago (and so can’t remember the source, though I suspect it might be Seth Godin’s Tribes). Essentially, it contended that while we typically think of identity as something we forge on our own, most of our sense of ourselves comes from the community we belong to, our family of origin, and the...

Baptism of our Lord A: Family Name

Matthew 3:13-17 Dear Partner in Preaching, In the summer of 1906, my great-grandfather, a pastor and professor of theology at Wittenberg Seminary, ventured east to look for a summer cottage. The cottage he bought, on Otsego Lake in Cooperstown, New York, has been in our family ever since and has served as a wonderful retreat for several generations of pastors and their families who otherwise would have had a hard time affording a summer getaway. The last name of my great-grandfather, and the majority of my aunts and uncles and cousins descended from him, is Gotwald, and as a kid I would go by that name, rather than my own, while at...

Pentecost 18 B: Who Are You?

Dear Partner in Preaching, Who are you? Really. Take a moment to ponder that question…and then ask yourself how you came to that answer. Do you, that is, define yourself by your accomplishments, or your history, or particular critical experiences, or your relationships, or some combination of the above? Another way to get at this question might be to ask, who gets to tell you who you are? Who, that is, has the most influence in shaping your self-image? Is it your parents, your partner or spouse, your friends and colleagues? Or perhaps it’s the world of advertising, which constantly tries to overwhelm us with ads picturing perfect people...

Matthew 5:48

“Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” I have to admit that I have always found this verse, which serves as something of a climax to this section of Jesus’ teaching on the relational ethics of the kingdom, rather intimidating. Be perfect? Come on! As God is perfect?...