Sermon: Speak Up! Proverbs 31.8a

The following is a sermon I preached in Trinity chapel (Friday, January 12, 2018) that is offered as part of an interview on questions of social justice that I did for the Trinity Bible College Leadership Podcast. The audio of the sermon is included as a part of the podcast and I have also included the manuscript of the sermon for those interested (click the title below for the podcast).

SPEAK UP! (Proverbs 31.8a)

“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves…” (Prov. 31:8 NLT)

This text is brought into the canon of Israel’s scriptures and thus our own as the words of an unnamed woman giving wisdom to her son Lemuel. This text is from a message of King Lemuel’s mom to him concerning wisdom specifically to ruling as a wise king. He apparently was a Gentile king because his name is nowhere in the kings of Israel and Judah. One might suppose if he heeded these words of his mother he would be indeed a great and wise king. Now given such a beginning these words ring with truth even for those who are outside of Israel proper, but who speak with the wisdom of the God of Israel. This Gentile wisdom then becomes Israelite wisdom, by the addition of this proverb to the collection of the proverbs of Israel and then for us as Christian scripture through our incorporation into Christ Jesus. This is how we come to hear that a properly wise king must speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves. Such a king must not allow for those without a voice to be silenced or ignored. He must speak up and act justly towards everyone and particularly those who cannot speak for themselves. He must speak when they cannot, and having spoken up, he must act justly. Who exactly are these muted voices?

They are both those who are marginalized and those who are silenced. I will suggest to you by the marginalized, that they are the poor, the needy, and the homeless. I’m thinking here of widows and orphans … I’m thinking of children and the elderly. They stand outside of the mainstream as it was. I’m thinking here of minorities … I’m thinking here of foreigners living in a strange land. These are those marginalized of society. I’m also thinking not just of the marginalized, but the silenced. These are those who perhaps should or could have had a voice but no longer do, they have been disempowered for one reason or another. These are those who have been silenced by abuse. They feel as if their voice has been taken from them. And the wise king hears the words of his mother saying, “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves.”

They speak of the first silencing of a man at the hands of his own brother (Cain and Abel) even though his blood still cried out from the ground. They speak of Lamech seizing wives for himself in order to dominate others. They speak of the drowned out sufferings of the earth in the days of Noah resulting in the watery renovation of all of creation. They speak of the cries of the stranger suffering in the inhospitable hands of Sodom and her allies. They speak of the wailings of those under the whip “way down in Egypt land.” They speak of the oppressions of tribal Israel seeking a deliverer to save from the hands of her enemies. They speak of the later kings of Israel enslaving for their own for self-advancement. They speak of the needy downtrodden by the rich in Amos just to make houses of ivory for themselves. They speak of the exiles mocked to sing their happy songs of now desolate Zion. They speak of wives divorced and children abandoned in favor of property and titles. They speak of the voices silenced in blood by wicked powers … the silenced voices who spoke prophetically against those powers. And they speak still.

And I hear the voice of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German Lutheran pastor, who spoke up for those who became part of his family: the Jewish people, who actually entered into his family through marriage. And he worked for their redemption and salvation in the midst of Nazi Germany. He had his opportunity to not speak up, or speak up from a distance, but he chose to speak up in Germany and he paid with his life. And I hear the voice of Martin Luther King Jr. who had a dream for this land that still is not fulfilled. I hear his voice beckoning to a culture that would silence others … that would mute the voices of those who cry out for justice and equality. I still hear their voices.

And I even still hear the voices of the children I’ve held who climbed out of the sewers in the streets of Romania. I still hear the voices of the one destitute family searching for food in a garbage city in Mexico. I still hear the prostitutes selling their body on the streets of Brussels in an attempt to make a life for themselves. I still hear the voices of Somali war refugees begging for their bread in Northern Kenya. I still hear the voices of three Rwandan widows grappling with their survival of genocide as they told the story in my church. I still hear the voices of the homeless and the impoverished in the now silenced ghettos of Chicago. I still hear the voices of women abused by their husbands and molested in their workplaces with little to say today but “me too”. I still hear the voice of my black family and friends who fear a culture set against them. I still hear the voices of the North Dakota foster children that Jenn and I have welcome into our home who were abused and rejected by their drug addicted parents. I hear and I cannot be silent! I must speak up…

And I know from the Scriptures that such voices have made their way to heaven. And they are heard! And God is not silent! He sent such a voice crying in the wilderness on behalf of those who could not speak for themselves … a voice of preparatory repentance for the soon coming King … a voice to make the path of the Lord straight where it was crooked, to level every mountain, and fill every valley. And how can we not also cry out. God is not silent. His son our King speaks. Our righteous and wise King: He speaks. And He speaks up for the poor, and He speaks up for the children, and He speaks up for the widows, and He speaks up for the lepers, and He speaks up for the demonized, and the blind, and the mute. And He even speaks up for those like Lazarus who are too long silenced in their grave. This speaking up was taken up by His Church in her care for widows and orphans as the “true religion” of James…as the message of liberation for the nations in Paul’s writings … and even in the blood washed righteous robes of the Revelation.

How can we not also cry out with the saints gathered under the altar of God Almighty “How long, O Sovereign Lord…” We must speak up for justice in the earth! We must speak up for those whose cries for justice have not been heard, whose voices have been silenced. We must speak up!

But it is exactly at this point we find ourselves at a loss. The strength of our voices … they fail us. Our hearts are not even truly in it. We don’t even know well enough how to call out for our own justice let alone the justice of others. Our voices have been silenced in sin, marginalized in pride. We don’t know how to speak up to this Holy God. We feel the weight of our brokenness, indeed, the brokenness of the whole world and our feeble voices stammer to speak, but the words escape us and our own silence sets in.

Yet the silence does not have the last word. We praise the Lord who has heard these feeble cries and He has given His own thundering voice and it speaks for us. And we have been spoken up for by one who never ceases to speak up for us before the throne of God. Indeed, our King is not silent. We have an intercessor seated at the right hand of God who speaks up for us that we might have the justice due His goodness and mercy. He speaks up for us, even for the world. Our King speaks up. The lamb who was silent before the shearers … He has raised His voice as a lion roaring in these last days. And our King He has poured out His spirit who compels us to cry out to His Father, and now our Father knowing we have been heard and will be answered in righteousness. Our voices cannot help but speak with His voice: the voice of the son, the voice of the King of heaven and earth. We pray for ourselves. We also pray for those who do not yet know well enough to speak up to God for themselves. We speak up for the poor and the hungry, widows and orphans, homeless and foreigner. We speak up for those lost in darkness, for those abandoned and forgotten, for those whom the King Himself is not silent. Our voices joining His voice, joining their voices. We speak up and we cannot be silent. We speak up and are moved to action. The voice of righteousness finds the work of righteousness. And we hear and join our voices to the psalmist’s shout.

Honor the Lord, you sons of God;
honor the Lord for his glory and strength.
Honor the Lord for the glory of his name.
Worship the Lord in the splendor of his holiness.

The voice of the Lord echoes above the sea.
The God of glory thunders.
The Lord thunders over the mighty sea.
The voice of the Lord is powerful;
the voice of the Lord is majestic.
The voice of the Lord splits the mighty cedars;
the Lord shatters the cedars of Lebanon.
He makes Lebanon’s mountains skip like a calf;
he makes Mount Hermon leap like a young wild ox.
The voice of the Lord strikes
with bolts of lightning.
The voice of the Lord makes the barren wilderness quake;
the Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.
The voice of the Lord twists mighty oaks
and strips the forests bare.
In his Temple everyone shouts, “Glory!”

The Lord rules over the floodwaters.
The Lord reigns as king forever.
The Lord gives his people strength.
The Lord blesses them with peace. (Psalm 29, NLT)

He speaks and He cannot be silenced. He speaks and gives strength, and He blesses with peace. And we shout Glory! He speaks and is heard. And those in His house shout Glory! He speaks and righteousness reigns. He speaks and His people do right and everyone in His house shouts Glory! The wise and great King speaks, and who can but answer: Glory! Glory! Glory!

Let it be, King Jesus, let it be. Hear this call today, to not let your voice be silenced or marginalized. The King speaks on your behalf. Speak boldly therefore, let your feeble voice be raised to the one who hears and speaks up for you. Let your King work justice in and for you. And let your cheerful voice be raised in unison with others who need the King to work justice for them also. Let His Spirit speak in and through you that they might know and enjoy life … that they might also find the voice of the wise and great King who speaks up on their behalf.

Here I invite you if you’d stand with me and the worship team would come. This is a short message. I’m inviting you to call on Jesus who answers. I’m inviting you to raise your voice for those who have yet to call on Jesus: Jesus who answers. We cannot be silent. We cannot be silent. King Jesus speaks and we speak also. We cannot be silent. We must speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves because Jesus does.

We speak up and we cannot be silent!

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Preaching and the Sanctified Imagination

One of the most wonderful things about teaching in a Bible College as a practitioner (I preach and teach in local churches regularly) is that my calling encourages me to reflect more critically upon my pastoral practices. Though my specialization for academia is in Old Testament and theology, I’ve been afforded the opportunities to be the preaching professor for five years now. This has enriched my life as a preacher immensely (whether the congregants have felt so is another issue).

One area that recently has caught my attention in a fresh way is the need for a sanctified imagination in the pulpit.

I know many folks have witnessed imagination in the pulpit, but this is not that. Though, to be sure, one cannot preach without imagination. The very act of preaching requires a movement beyond the text of Scripture even while it should flow from and to Scripture. To simply read the Scriptures is not necessarily to engage the imagination (though any good reading of a text should do so). To say anything beyond simply reading is to engage the imagination and offer something extra-textual. While the act of reading (and hearing) invites imagination we have too often considered ourselves as preachers to simply be saying what the Scriptures say in our preaching. But that would be to only read Scripture (and one might even argue that is still not the case). If we would preach, we must imagine that world as it was, as it is, and as it must finally be (e.g., see Walter Brueggemann’s, The Prophetic Imagination and The Practice of the Prophetic Imagination). Thus, my own reflections on the act of preaching lead me to conclude the act of preaching is an act of the imagination.

This does not mean a free-for-all imagining, but a sanctified imagination. If a preacher would preach Christ they must have a sanctified imagination.

A sanctified magination is one that has been immersed in, and is being transformed by, the Spirit through the Word. It is consumed with meditating on the Word. It sings, speaks, thinks, reads, prays, and then eventually preaches that Word. Such an imagination has found itself in the unbreakable grip of the Father’s love in Christ Jesus–a love that consumes the passions and will of the preacher.

Such a sanctified imagination cannot but declare the revelation of God in Christ. It cannot but speak of King Jesus saving, healing, and baptizing in the Spirit. Such a sanctified imagination sees the world of Scripture playing out before them in fresh ways. This sanctified imagination declares the kingdom of God even as it enacts it in the life of the Spirit-filled community caught in the midst of the world (and living for that world and its redemption).

My prayer for myself, my students and those to whom I share in the preaching of the Word is that our imaginations might increasingly be caught up into the sanctifying life, death, resurrection, and soon coming of Christ who makes all things new.

Where He Leads I’ll Follow

The Winding Path - Leiden, Zuid Holland
The Winding Path – Leiden, Zuid Holland

I never cease being surprised by the many places the Lord will take those who follow his calling. One could never conceive what such a journey might look like. Following Jesus is an adventure.

As a newborn I was prayed over in the Block Memorial Chapel of Trinity Bible Institute (now College and Graduate School). I had been born just a few blocks away in the old hospital in Ellendale, North Dakota. A visiting evangelist prayed blessings over me that someday I might preach Jesus to many around the world.

As a sixteen year old, I heard the voice of Jesus calling me in a church service in Omaha, Nebraska, to give my life for the ministry of sharing Jesus among Muslims. I intended to go straight upon graduation to some far off land and figure things out en-route. Instead, I heard the words of a district youth leader in the Assemblies of God of Nebraska (who went on to serve in missions full-time) addressing the need to commit to training because the cost of serving Jesus demanded that I demonstrate faithfulness to study and be discipled  into the man of God I was called to be. So I enrolled at Trinity Bible College for their Missions Major.

After Trinity I pastored several churches in rural North Dakota and Minnesota over the course of 14 years. This was the result of hearing the call of the Lord to preach followed immediately by an unquenchable passion to do just that. I had not intended to be a preacher (or a pastor).  But Jesus had other plans.

I found myself preaching for youth conferences, family and youth camps, special services, and missions conventions around the region. And I could not help but preach Jesus wherever I found an open invitation. It has led to ministry among German Lutherans and Mennonites, Swedish Baptists, Norwegian and Romanian Pentecostals, and African diaspora on three different continents. I have preached under trees, in soup kitchens, on streets, in stone churches, and private homes. I have witnessed Jesus healing and setting free. I have shared Jesus among the poor of central Mexico and on the streets of El Salvador. I have fed the hungry, clothed the naked and visited the sick. I have joined the chorus of saints gathered from across Europe and Africa worshiping Jesus in northern Italy.

I now write as one who has been training workers for the Lord of the Harvest for 4 years in two colleges, one graduate school and one seminary (between two countries). I write this as one about to preach on “prayer and action” for a series of meetings in an African church in western North Dakota. Who could have imagined such a thing?

I write this as one who sees the great harvest before me. I am moved to weeping. I am compelled to preach. I am enjoined to prayer. I hear Jesus calling…where it takes me before he comes again, I don’t know.

But I will follow! And I gaze longingly into the future before me!

A Sermon No One Should Preach

David and GoliathI know it’s often easier to critique than to offer positive contributions, but I was just meditating again on the story of David and Goliath in 1 Samuel 17. And I was remembering poor sermons I have heard over the years on this favorite Sunday School story (you know it’s fun when talking veggies have their own rendition). At the time, they seemed like poignant Biblically-based messages that spoke to my life, but as a pastor now (and wanting to be faithful to the intent of Scripture) they were simply atrocious (even when offering valuable points that have little if anything to do with the text’s intent itself).

So here’s one: “You need to slay the giants in your life!” The preacher begins to name those giants: pride, lust, fear, smoking-drinking-and-chew, and going-with-girls-who-do (or something like that). It’s animated. You bring to mind all the sins you have committed and all the potential challenges you may face in life. You swing your air sling, followed by a chopping motion…and now the head of victory is in hand. It’s powerful. You are ready for any altar call given. The problem is…it just isn’t the point of this story.

Another day, another preacher: “God has given you five stones to defeat your enemies!” The stones are rattled off with exaggerated booming-voiced, staccato-like gunfire. The giants from the last message won’t stand a chance. Your stones of faith, forgiveness, prayer, reading your Bible, and going to Sunday School (or something like that) are powerful weapons in the arsenal of any David looking to be victorious over the enemies of their soul. The problem is…this also is not the point of the story.

Yet another day and another preacher (indicating the rejection by David of Saul’s armaments): “Use what has been tested and proven!”- followed by six more points every David-like leader needs to know in order to succeed (you have to have at least seven to be a truly spiritual leader after all). The litany of kingdom-wise business bullet points is overwhelming. You know you will actually need to have a couple of pens just to take all of the notes, because this message is LOADED with truthiness. Again, not the point of the story.

Is there no end to the directions this favorite tale has been taken? What is the point anyways? Put simply, the LORD (the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob…the God of Israel) is lord of all. The LORD will not be mocked. The LORD is truly God. The LORD is the champion of His people. The LORD will act to deliver through those whom the LORD chooses to anoint.* This is ultimately a story about the LORD.

So the next time you preach 1 Samuel 17…make sure you know the point of the story…and don’t just start loading your slingshot with whatever you find along the way, try using what is already there. You may be surprised what the LORD will do with His own word.

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* I just realized I gave five points…now that should go in my pouch for future slinging. 🙂

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Adapted from my post authored at bluechippastor.org on July 1, 2013.

Listening to the Spirit…Ahead of Time

Preaching CalendarI have a friend whom I remember visiting with about his preparations for preaching. He didn’t prepare. He would simply show up to the service a little early…play some worship music and “let the Spirit lead to whatever text the Spirit wants” and then he would go to the pulpit when it was time and preach “as the Spirit led.” (Or so his story to me went).

My version is, he was just being lazy about his preparations and study and not listening to the Spirit ahead of time. After all, the last I checked, the Spirit speaks if we will listen. My friend’s “prep” was bogus. And sadly there is a temptation among many pastors to do similar things and blame (er…”name”) the Spirit for their message. This can even occur when we are simply not giving ourselves to the faithful meditation of Scripture that God demands if we will truly desire to listen and be changed by this word to us. Pastors MUST prepare and be faithful persistent students of the Scriptures ever listening to the message God would speak to His Church.

But the Spirit IS speaking…are we listening? Are we planning and preparing in advance by attuning ourselves to the leading of the Spirit as we give ourselves to study the Scriptures and hear what the Spirit is saying to the church? Can’t the Spirit be involved in the preparations of a preaching calendar (especially if we actually believe the Spirit superintended the composition and compiling of the Scriptures)?

I personally “know” what I’ll be preaching for the next year or more at any given time (how NOT very Pentecostal of me 😉 )…and that’s for three different messages a week. For me, I’m currently doing Sunday AM through the Gospels and Epistles (alternating one Gospel and one or two Epistles…currently Matthew), Sunday PM in the Psalms (and currently with an interlude of Marriage video with discussions), and Wednesdays are OT books (currently Leviticus). But that is what I felt the Lord would have my congregation to do for this time. This way I can look down the road and see where I believe the Lord may be leading us and try to attune myself and my congregation’s ears to hear what the Spirit is saying.

So my question to you pastor is: Are you taking time and energy to lay out a preaching calendar and begin your preparations on messages BEFORE the few days you are due to preach? I’m not talking about writing out every detail, but are you taking time to discern just where your congregation might need to go in Scripture over the next month, several months, or year?

If so, what have you found helpful for such preparations? Pre-selected topics? Pre-selected texts? Church calendar days for particular messages or series?

The Spirit is speaking…are you listening?

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Originally blogged by myself at bluechippastors.org on February 1, 2013.

DISCLAIMER: While I do not preach this regularly in my current ministry, I still plan out my preaching calendar well in advance: enough so that I know what I will still be preaching about 6 months out for the services I have booked at camps, conferences, and churches. For this, I have found great help in a regular Bible reading plan as well as making good use of the Revised Common Lectionary.

A Fairy Tale Parable

CastleI enjoy and encourage creativity in my classes and it delights my heart to witness students expressing themselves through the various gifts God has given them. One of my Advanced Preaching students (Paige Koch) shared a homespun parable told as a fairy tale for the introduction to her sermon today and I thought it was simply too good not to pass along. So I asked her if I might share it. Enjoy!

Once upon a time there was a princess who lived in a kingdom that she could not call home. See her prince had come and saved her when she was nothing but a mere peasant. She wasn’t born of royalty like snow white or sleeping beauty but she was born into filth and darkness. As she grew up she would look out her window and see the princes’ castle and dreamed that one day he might notice her. But she banished those thoughts off quickly for she knew that a girl like her would never catch the princes’ eye. For she knew the law and knew that she was dirty and so unworthy to even be allowed in his presence.

But one day the prince came down and visited the small town and as he walked the streets he noticed the girl in filthy rags and the hurt in her eyes. And as he saw her He was drawn to her and he wanted a relationship with her. He knew that she wasn’t royalty and by his laws he couldn’t even allow her to stand in his presence. But he decided that he wanted a relationship with her no matter the cost. So He paid the price the law demanded in order to have that relationship with her.

He wanted to save this girl from the world she had been born into. For he knew that there was a better world for her that he could provide. After he paid the ultimate price he began to have a relationship with this girl. He would talk with her and listen to her. He had compassion on what she had gone through and eventually he asked her to marry him. She of course said yes and was rescued from the filth and darkness that she had known her whole life.

But that’s not where the story ends though she was rescued from the darkness and filth and now lives inside the kingdom gates life wouldn’t be as easy as she thought.  For the prince had to leave for a short time. See he had to prepare a place for her in his castle.  So he bid her a far well and promised her that her new home would be like nothing she could imagine and that he would return for her quickly. He told her to be patient for his return but to be a guard for he will come swiftly to take her home.

The years passed by as she waited for her prince to come back and she lived among the kings people and learned there ways. She learned to dress like them and talk like them but as the years passed by the kingdom grew dark. Fights broke out worse then she had ever seen, the kingdom was falling apart around her, taxes were being raised, people put to death unjustly, liars were rising up and perverting the prince’s name. And the kingdom was in panic but she knew not to worry for her prince had promised her that he would be back to take her away to her new home.

She knew that this wasn’t her permanent home. She knew that her prince would be coming back to finish the job he had started so long ago. She knew he would keep his promise even if it seemed to be taking him so long. For she had faith that if he could save her from her filth and darkness she once knew  that he would finish saving her from this new trouble that had arisen. So the princess waited for the prince to rescue her again.

Preaching Jesus’ Parables

Sound advice on preaching/teaching the parables of Jesus. 🙂

Concrete Theology

Jesus Parables

Below are 10 rules on preaching Jesus’ parables that I found written over Faith and Theology, a blog by Benjamin Myers, whom I do not know (but just came across he blog). So I take zero credit for them but find them to be enlightening, funny and quite helpful. Enjoy, and feel free to comment.

Rule #1: Don’t assume that God is necessarily one of the characters in the parable.

Rule #2: Don’t assume that the parable is trying to tell you how to improve your life.

Rule #3: Don’t assume that you’re the goodie in the story (and that other people are the baddies).

Rule #4: If you can explain the whole parable without mentioning the words “kingdom of God,” you’re probably doing it wrong.

Rule #5: If it ends up having anything to do with going to heaven when we die, you’re probably doing it wrong

Rule…

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