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A trip through the mountains.

Second Sunday after the Epiphany--Fifth Sunday in Lent, Series A

This set of Preaching Helps takes us on a trip through the mountains. We begin our journey at the beginning of Jesus' public ministry, with a call to repentance and the calling of disciples. We pause on a mountain to hear the most "blessed" part of a sermon. Then, with Peter, James, and John, we follow Jesus up the mount of transfiguration. From this summit of light we quickly descend to a valley of ash. Then it's a slow, steady trek. We'll wander through the wilderness of temptation and a valley of dry bones. Our traveling companions are some of the Bible's best: Abraham and Sarah, Moses and Nicodemus, who are all on journeys of their own. We will pause to rest by a well and be refreshed not so much by the water as by the woman we encounter there. We will watch as a man born blind comes to sight and a man dead and gone comes to life. And we will wind up poised to climb another hill, this one crowned with a cross.

Our guide for this trip through the mountains is David L. Nevergall, pastor of Grace Lutheran Church in Elmore, Ohio. David has served the people of Grace for the past ten years. A 1994 graduate of Trinity Seminary, David enjoyed a career of nearly fifteen years in advertising and marketing communications prior to entering seminary. Sometime during those years, I came to know David in Fairport, New York, where I served as one of David's pastors. I recall publicly praising David's voice as he sang the Easter Proclamation at our Easter Vigils and privately cursing David's questions--probing questions asked at an early-morning Bible study when I was scarcely awake. David reports that he has "one wife (Karen), two college-aged sons (Michael and John), and one yippy schnauzer who likes to bark at parishioners." I am glad these years later to turn to David for answers to what Scripture means for preaching.

As I made this trip through the mountains, I noticed that the song I sang changed. "Brightest and best of the stars of the morning, dawn on our darkness and lend us your aid" (LBW #84) gave way to "Beneath the cross of Jesus" (LBW #107). I found myself longing for "a home within the wilderness, a rest along the way." I found myself mindful that, while God's grace is free, faith can be hard. So often, we preachers want our hearers to do something in response to our sermons. We look for change, for growth, for things to be different. But Paul reminds us that trusting, believing, and having faith was the first and most important thing Abraham did. Moses and Nicodemus reveal to us the strong forces that want to counter our faith, whether those forces are at work in the people around us, in the voices within us, or in the institutions that order and govern our lives and our world. A man born blind shows us that it can be costly to see with eyes of faith. And both a woman at a well and a woman at a tomb teach us that trust transcends what we know to be true.

In his thought-provoking book The Word before the Powers: An Ethic of Preaching my friend Chuck Campbell offers valuable insight into the forces that resist faith. Campbell argues that the powers and principalities of the world aggressively act in subtle but deadly ways that shape human life today and provide the context for Christian preaching. The New Testament writers capture a sense of the multiplicity and omnipresence of these powers, which impinge on human life from every conceivable angle. The powers work through concrete, material institutions, structures, and systems to rebel against God by making idols of themselves and placing their own desires above God's purpose for humanity and creation. The powers use tactics including negative sanctions, rewards and promises, isolation and division, demoralization and diversion, surveillance and secrecy, language and image to secure their own survival, dominate humanity, and bring chaos to the world.

Campbell presents preaching the Word of God as a critical act of nonviolent resistance to the work of these destructive powers. Preaching as an act of nonviolent resistance is central to both Jesus' own preaching and our proclamation of Jesus' life, death, and resurrection. Campbell suggests that preaching is a way the faithful engage the powers as communities of resistance shaped by a distinctive worldview and specific practices and virtues.

And so the mountains on this journey are more than geographic. They are the ups and downs of life with God and of daring to use our words to proclaim what that life means. Perhaps the most we can hope for is that we trust God enough to take another step. Then again, that's a lot!

Craig A. Satterlee

Editor of Preaching Helps

Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago
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Title Annotation:Preaching Helps
Author:Satterlee, Craig A.
Publication:Currents in Theology and Mission
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 1, 2004
Previous Article:Help. Thanks. Wow!
Next Article:Second Sunday after the Epiphany: January 16, 2005.

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