postmodern preaching

Proper 6 Year A

  • Genesis 18: 1-15 (21: 1-7)

Continuing the story of Abraham and Sarah, we are now told that God repeats the promise of a son to the elderly couple.  But the promise seems silly to Sarah.  The challenging response is: “Is anything too wonderful for the Lord?”  Walter Brueggemann concludes: “Indeed, at the center of Israel’s imaginative enterprise are Yahweh’s impossibilities (pela), which regularly transform, reverse, and invert lived reality….”  (Theology of the Old Testament: Testimony, Dispute, Advocacy, p. 68)

  • Psalm 116: 1, 10-17

The psalmist blurts out his despair that people are unreliable, but then immediately repeats the acts of ritual thanksgiving and he calls on the Lord.


  • Exodus 19: 2-8a

Once again, Yahweh repeats the unique, core promise: “Now therefore, if you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all peoples.”

  • Psalm

Exuberant thanksgiving by the psalmist:  God made us and we are Gods people!

  • Romans 5: 1-8

Paul states the obvious to the church in Rome.  No one achieves what she knows is right; we do not even try very hard most of the time to do what is right.  But then he declares, that did not stop God from giving a gift to us– God’s unconditional, persistent love for us in and through Jesus.   “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

  • Matthew 9: 35- 10: 8 (9-23)

Matthew focuses on his special interest– the acceptance/rejection of Jesus by Israel.  The followers of Jesus are getting the same mixed response as Jesus did from other Jews.  Because his followers have been authorized and deputized by Jesus, they should share his compassion for any “lost sheep.”  So, go witness and perform your own acts of restoration, as Jesus did.

Because God can reverse any human situation, bringing life out of the most barren circumstances– “Is there anything too wonderful for the Lord?”– it is even possible for us to reverse/restore our personal  relationships as well as the human systems and institutions that determine justice for others.  Because we are the beneficiaries of unexpected/undeserved gift, so we are to practice justice freely– “You received without payment; give without payment.”

The surprising “turn to religion” among postmodern writers includes a powerful awareness of moral obligation to one another.  Indeed, the biblical emphasis on equating love of God and neighbor is a recurring and central theme.  Here is a famous version of this emphasis by Jacques Derrida:

“If God is the wholly other, the figure or name of the wholly other, then every other (one) is every (bit) the other.  Tout autre est tout autre.”  “God’s wholly other is to be found everywhere there is something of the wholly other.  And since each of us, every one else, each other, is infinitely other in its absolute singularity, inaccessible, solitary, transcendent, non manifest… then what can be said about Abraham’s relation to God can be said about my relation… to every other (one) as every (bit) other, in particular my relation to my neighbor or my loved ones who are as inaccessible to me, as secret, and as transcendent as Yahweh.”   (The Gift of Death, p. 78)

God has given us the “secret,” which turns out not to be much of a secret at all and not even very complicated: We are capable, even with all our obvious flaws,  of the same kinds of actions and results that God gets when God brings new life out of what seemed impossible.  There really is no difference between what God does and what we can do if we choose to do it.  The same “otherness” of God, which elicits from us awe, respect, empathy, even love, is the same “otherness” due to every human being we encounter.  It is an impossible/possible which we are invited to imagine and to practice.

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