The Good Preacher

This is the message I prepared for Sunday 8th August 2017 at Lakes Entrance Uniting Church.  This one is a little different, and is a modified version of a message I presented in August 2014 at Kingscote Uniting Church

Genesis 32:22-31; Psalm 17:1-7, 15; Romans 9:1-5; Matthew 14:13-21

Last week at our AGM there was some discussion, and a bit of chin-grabbing (hmm), concerning the ways in which this congregation will need to step up into leadership when I move on at the end of September.  In view of that I thought I’d pare back the homily a bit this morning and “preach my notes”.

Now we were taught at college never to preach our notes, but to simply preach the message.  Don’t start a sermon with words like “well when I sat down on Thursday to write this sermon I wondered what the Lord was wanting to say, so I looked at With Love to the World and something on my shelf by Brian McLaren and then…”  No.  Don’t do that, don’t tell us what you did.  Just do it.  Well today I am going to give you both, a message from God and a little bit of a workshop in how I went about writing this week’s message.

So, this week there were four lectionary readings to choose from, as there always are.  And so, I started by finding a common theme.

In todays’ Psalm, Psalm 17 we read the cry for justice of a righteous man, a man who honours and worships God and a man who tries to act obediently to the LORD’s precepts.   In the same way as your preacher I seek to do justice to Jesus, the Word of God, by honouring his call to instruct you in the Way, and to live a life worthy of emulation.

In the Epistle, Romans 9 we read the cry of grief from a truthful man as Paul weeps before the LORD for the lost nation of the Jewish people, Paul’s own people.  In the same way as your preacher I intercede for Jesus, the Word of God, by honouring his call to speak prophetically to you, the people entrusted to my care.  As a resident lay preacher on Long-term Supply here I understand that my ministry is necessarily local, therefore I am speaking to my friends and neighbours.   Lay preachers speak to the people dearest to them, and for some of you who will follow me into this pulpit next month you will no doubt be speaking to your family.

In the Gospel, from Matthew 14, we read of Jesus feeding 5000 men. In the same way as your preacher I act on behalf of Jesus, the Word of God, by honouring his call to feed you.  Where Jesus gave bread and fish, I proclaim the message of Christ the bread of life.  Here and now is where you must receive the promise that you will never hunger.  Here and now is where you must hear the message of the Church that all are to be fishers of men.  Here and now is where you who participate in God’s own mission of salvation must receive the promise that you will see a rich bounty and a ripe harvest.

In summary of the above, the preacher is the man or woman, who stands before God in submission to God’s glory, and before the people in humility to God’s purpose, to lead God’s people in hearing the spoken word, meeting the living Word, and giving glory and worship in the songs, prayers, and rituals of the local congregation.

In view of that let’s unpack the fourth reading this morning, our lectionary Old Testament reading which is found in Genesis 32:22-31.  Here’s the model sermon for you.

First a summary: Jacob was left alone and a stranger came and wrestled with him until daybreak.  Jacob refused to release the stranger until the stranger would bless Jacob.  The stranger renames Jacob “Israel”, a name that indicates the double meaning of one who strives with God and one with whom God strives.

Now a little insight, connected to our theme of the good preacher.  Just as Jacob wrestled with the stranger so as your preacher I wrestle with the Word, both the word as the text and the Word as the LORD Godself.  I sit in prayer and discussion with God about what God wants to say to you, the people of this congregation today, out of what God spoke to different people in an ancient time.  The event described this morning actually took place around 1750 BCE and in the area we now call Israel.  To write and preach is to wrestle, if not to struggle.

And now, the unpacking of the story through some actual Biblical teaching.  As your preacher, I know you expect me to dig into the text a bit, pull out some worthwhile lessons or concepts, and draw some reasonable conclusions about those points that are both Biblical and relevant to life in the twenty-first century.  Well the way in which I was taught to do that is to ask questions, and then answer them.  So let’s do that.

Question One:  Where is the missing girl?   In Genesis 32:22 we read of Jacob’s two wives, his two maidservants, and his eleven sons.  So what has happened to Dinah, the daughter of Jacob and Leah?  Aren’t you worried about Dinah?  Did you even notice she was missing?  Should I spend the next ten minutes discussing her?  This is the sort of question a good preacher will ask about the text.  Like last week’s question about Leah on her honeymoon it’s a valid question.  Like last week’s response from me if I were writing an essay on a feminist critique of the scriptures I’d go into it, but church on Sunday is not the place for essays.  So, I’ll not bother with that question since the absence of Dinah is not the key to how I want you to understand this passage.  A good preacher sticks to what is relevant.

Question Two: So what is the key to understanding this passage?  Actually I’d like to call that “question zero” because it should come before question one.  Read the passage, find the key, and then ask questions about it.  So we have question zero.  And the answer to that question poses another question.  Question Two: Who is the vampire?

Have a look at Genesis 32:26.  What’s with the stranger needing to leave at daybreak?  Simple, logical, Biblical answer is that he a vampire.  We all know that vampires hate daylight, so it’s obvious what’s going on here.

Okay, so the vampire is Biblical, but is he relevant to the life of a local church in twenty-first century Australia?  Remember, a good preacher sticks to what is relevant.  So are vampires relevant?  Of course, vampires are relevant, have you not seen all the fuss about the Twilight books and movies in recent years?  Australians, especially teenaged Australians love vampires.  So we can go with that.

So back to our question: “who is the vampire?”  And the obvious answer is…anyone?…c’mon it’s obvious no?  The vampire is Rumpelstiltskin.

Have a look at Genesis 32:29.  What’s with the vampire being so protective over his name? Huh?  Rumpelstiltskin!  It’s Rumpelstiltskin who would not release the queen from her promise to hand over her firstborn child until the true and secret name of the imp could be recited.  And so, amazingly, we have an answer to question one now.  We know where Dinah went; the mad vampire imp stole her!

Question Three:  Why did the vampire steal the little girl?  Are you keeping up?  This is culturally relevant, solidly Biblical stuff here, you might want to take notes.  Answer: because the vampire is Palestinian.  Scholars say, (which by the way is a great phrase to use because it suggests you’ve read the commentaries), scholars say that the stranger who wrestled with Jacob was not a real man but was some sort of spiritual being.  Well duh, he’s a vampire, but anyway that’s what they say.  But the scholars are divided on what sort of spiritual being he was.  An angel?  A demon?  The pre-incarnate Christ, the one who sat with Abraham beneath the trees of Mamre in Genesis 18 and stood in the fire with Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in Daniel 3?  I believe that this being was indeed pre-incarnate, but not Christ.  He was a pre-incarnate Hamas leader appearing in the demonic form of an ancient Canaanite demi-god.  Why do I believe this?  Well to me it is obvious, he is trying to keep “Israel” (Jacob) out of “Palestine” (the Promised Land).

Finally, we come to the end of the sermon.  During this sermon questions have been asked and answered and we come to the logical, Biblical, relevant conclusion which is a word from God for this congregation this morning.

Here it is:  impish vampires, masquerading as Arab settlers, living on the occupied West Bank territories managed by the Palestinian Authority are preparing to launch a supernatural attack by blood-sucking child-stealers at the secular Jewish state of Israel.  Ignore the bombs, it’s the bats and the spinning wheels with golden thread you need to be looking out for.

For the Word of the Lord, thanks be to God.

Amen.

Really.  I mean, really?

gel se-ar as it is in Hebrew, because all great preachers need to quote words in Bible languages.  Cattle dung.  You can translate that into Australian-English if you wish, you have been doing that over the past five minutes.  At least I hope you were!!

So, I hope what you’ve learned is that preaching is far more than just reading and interpreting the Bible, and then speaking in front of a crowd.  In theory my exegesis of Genesis 32:22-31 was logical and appropriate to the task, but of course it leads to a message of utter bullsnot, no matter how eloquent my enunciation.

So, here is the real message of the sermon this morning.  All joking aside, this is the bit you need to write down.  As your preacher, my first allegiance is not actually to the Bible: my allegiance is to you.  If I didn’t go into the scriptures thinking of you then who knows what I might have found in there.  Maybe vampires.

So, what about you?  Now I’m speaking to those of you who are being equipped by God to preach here next month.  We would all acknowledge I hope that being a congregation with lay leadership does not mean that “everyone gets a turn”.  Paul is quite clear where he writes in Ephesians 4:10-12 and mainly verse 11 that while some are called to the ministry of preaching and teaching, many are called to other ministries.  If you are not called by God then you can’t expect to be chosen by the local church.  If you are called by God then what are you doing to work out your call?

I ask you who are preachers, what Bible study are you doing?  I’m not asking where you spend your Wednesday night rather I’m asking what you are doing with the scriptures to build your own faith and life of witness.

I ask you who are preachers, what is your theology and what is your understanding of the Uniting Church?  Are you prepared to honour the heritage of our form of Christianity or do you just want a platform to grind your own axe?  If this is something the Holy Spirit has gifted you in, what conversations have you had with the elders around your sense of call?  How did Trevor, Sue, or Ian help you back in the day?  Have you spoken with other preachers you know about your call and gift?  Have you sought out CTM about some training?

My job has been to point you toward God so that you are looking in God’s direction when God draws you close.  I do this through private study that leads to public preaching, and personal devotion that leads to leading corporate worship.  It is a privilege I have worked towards because I place great value on it, but I acknowledge that this pulpit is not mine; it is God’s.  I charge those of you who will stand here soon to do the same.

Wrestle, cry, and feed.  This is the preaching work of the LORD.

Amen.

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