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 2 A: Just One More Verse!

John 3:1-17 Dear Partner in Preaching, There’s a lot going on in today’s reading from John’s Gospel. And I mean A LOT! This passage, filled with images both familiar and odd, can be a lot to take in. St. Augustine chose an eagle to represent St. John because he felt the theology of the Fourth Evangelist soared so high above the other gospels, but sometimes it reaches heights that can be hard for many of us – both in the pulpit and in the pew – to follow. My guess is that amid the imagery of water and Spirit and the serpent lifted up in the wilderness and all the rest, our hearers’ attention will be drawn to two places in...

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...

Transfiguration A: Timely Words

Matthew 17:1-9 Dear Partner in Preaching, “Listen to him.” “Be raised up.” “Do not be afraid.” If there were ever three words of instruction, command, and promise I need to hear right now, it’s probably these. Just to set the scene: six days after Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Messiah – and Jesus’ rebuke of Peter’s understanding of what it means to be the Messiah – Jesus takes Peter, James, and John up a mountain and is transfigured. That is, his appearance is literally changed right in front of them, so that while they recognize their Lord they also perceive his heavenly glory in a way they had not before....

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...

Epiphany 6A: On Love and the Law

Matthew 5:21-37 Dear Partner, What do you think of when you think of God? What picture comes to mind when you imagine what God is like? It’s a tricky question, I realize, as Scripture regularly describes the impossibility of seeing, let alone fully understanding, God. When Moses wants to see God, for instance, the most God offers is facing Moses toward the cleft of a rock so he can see the “trail of God’s glory” as God passes by for, as God says, “no one can see me and live” (Ex. 33:20-23). Similarly, St. John, in the prologue to his Gospel, says that “no one has seen God” (Jn. 1:18a). Despite these biblical affirmations,...