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postmodern preaching

Proper 11 Year A

  • Genesis 28: 10-19a

As his father, Isaac, and grandfather, Abraham before him, Jacob experiences his own affirmation of God’s covenant.  Also like his father, Isaac insists that his son, Jacob,  return to the homeland to find a wife who is not a Canaanite.  On the way, Jacob stops in a “certain place” to rest.  There he dreams of a ladder to heaven, with angels ascending and descending between earth and heaven.  The Lord is “poised” over Jacob and identifies God’s-Self as the God of his forefathers, Abraham and Isaac, and  that “this place” will be given to Jacob and his descendents, who will become  as ubiquitous as “dust.”  Then, astoundingly, he is also told that all the “clans of the earth shall be blessed through you.”  Jacob awakes from his dream, anoints the stone on which he had slept and builds a monument at the place of the dream and calls it Bethel, changing its name from Luz.

  • Psalm 139: 1-11, 22-33

The psalmist acknowledges that the Lord’s knowledge of him is complete, thorough and inescapable.

OR

  • Wisdom 12: 13, 16-19

The poetry of Wisdom describes God’s reign as the perfect balance between power and justice.  We can teach this vital insight to our children and, therefore, also have hope.

OR

  • Isaiah 44: 6-8

Isaiah reminds the people that, due to their history with God, they are first-hand witnesses of God’s relationship.

  • Psalm 86: 11-17

Even in the most dire circumstances in life, the psalmist turns  to God who has been reliably “merciful, gracious,” and “slow to anger.”  Give a sign, the psalmist prays.

  • Romans 8: 12-25

Previously Paul has defined the “spirit of Christ” as the transformative experience of his life and the impetus for his love for all persons, which gives him hope.  Paul calls his generation of believers the “first fruits” of Christ’s spirit, for which all previous generations have been “moaning.”  Now, he declares, we are “adopted” and entitled to address God as “Abba,”  We live by this hope, which is not easily seen or understood in our own personal confusion and the world’s turmoil.

  • Matthew 13: 24-30, 36-43

In that section of Matthew’s gospel designated chapters 11, 12 and 13 just before the arrest and execution of Jesus, he addresses his followers, the religious establishment and then the people in the streets about the confusion caused by him and his message as well as the wide range of reactions to him.  Apparently, there is confusion in Matthew’s own community of faith.  So the issue becomes: how to distinguish between the “good seed” and the “weeds.”   Jesus says leave it to God to make the final judgment.  In the meantime, you can be certain that “the good seed” will “shine like the sun.”  Just prior to this section, Matthew’s readers have been told you will know the “good seed” because they will be productive, as much as a “hundredfold.”   Or, as Jesus says on another occasion, “you will know them by their fruits.”

An early, persistent and important theme that recurs in writers deemed “postmodern” is that the God of philosophy is not the biblical God.  The God of [Western] philosophy places “Him” at the pinnacle of the most sublime human experience and understanding; the biblical God, in direct contrast, is “wholly Other.”  The difference, Emmanuel Levinas writes, in Alterity and Transcendence between the God of philosophy and the God of biblical texts is the difference between “totality” and “infinity,” between comprehension and bedazzlement, between adequacy and spilling beyond comprehension.  God in biblical texts  is always excess!  Yet, for reasons known to God alone, God makes God’s-Self available to us in unique and surprising ways.

Jacob dreams of a ladder between heaven and earth, on which God’s angels move easily back and forth.  The psalmist admits that God knows him better than he knows himself.  God’s excess, which surpasses any human concepts or language of generosity, can only be approximated metaphorically by the Wisdom poet as “the perfect balance of power and justice.”  Having experienced God’s unique love through his profoundly personal encounter with the Risen  Christ, Paul declares that anyone- and he means that literally– can draw hope from his personal experience. 

Not only does the biblical God surpass any and all human speculation, the biblical God defies “religious” expectations.  This can get confusing.

Matthew devotes a sizable portion of his narrative to the confusion regarding Jesus and his message.    Today’s appointed excerpt provides a simple test to unscramble the confusion about Jesus and his message.  Apply this simple test to yourself and leave the rest to God, Jesus says.  That simple test is: you will know if someone or something is authentic by their “fruits,” their “righteousness,”  their “shining,” which always in Jesus’ message means bread for the hungry, water for the thirsty, hope for the hopeless, justice for the disenfranchised. 

Emmanuel Levinas, in his own highly personal way, shook up his peers and still irritates/inspires many by making such assertions as “ethics precedes metaphysics,” “the infinite is in the face of the other,” and “the most finite creature is filled with the infinite in its own way.”   (Alterity and Transcendence, p. 67)  He insists that although we get easily confused when we try to describe God and God’s ways, the ethical requirement is easily understood and easily put into practice.  It is as clear as the person standing in front of me.

Following the patriarchs,  matriarchs and prophets who came before him, Jesus’ message is not complex; it is, however, different than our instincts, prejudices and preoccupations that have miss-led us away from the real and actual import of God’s message to us.  It is the daily, real results (the “fruits”) in everyday living with one another that matter not just most but only!

Referring to Jacob’s ladder, John Donne, the seventeenth century Anglican priest and poet preached in a sermon as Dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral, London that “all the good works which are put upon the lowest step [of God’s “ladder” between God and us] … ascend to him and descend to us.”  By “works,” actions, priorities you can tell if you or anyone else is following through on God’s actual desire for us.  It’s that basic.  Everything else is a distraction that causes confusion.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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