An invitation

(Although our project focused on Reign of Christ Sunday in November of 2010, we are still receiving sermons that engage with the news from WikiLeaks. So we will continue to post sermons. Please take up the invitation below and send us your sermon.)

The news media has been full of reports stemming from the release of thousands of documents which detail the level of American and British complicity in the deaths of civilians in Iraq, including deaths by torture.

As pastors, priests, theologians, and seminarians in the United States, we cannot remain silent in the face of these acts of violence. The recent revelations from WikiLeaks show that the American and British military in Iraq and Afghanistan have disregarded the jus in bello criteria of the Just War tradition.

Proper 29 Project has been set up to provide a forum for homiletic engagement with our moral culpability as Christians in the United States for civilian deaths and torture in Iraq and Afghanistan, and for witnessing to the gospel of Jesus Christ as we process the news that British, U.S., and Iraqi forces have killed over 66,000 civilians. We acknowledge and lament our corporate responsibility for these acts. Knowing that we all stand under God’s judgment, we hope to speak the truth without creating dichotomies which lessen our culpability.

Our Idea

The Proper 29 Project is a call to our sisters and brothers to address this issue from the pulpit from now until November 21, Reign of Christ Sunday (Proper 29), and to share that witness with a broader audience through this webpage.  If you are in a tradition that uses the Revised Common Lectionary, the readings for that day may be found here.

If your church does not follow a lectionary, or follows a different one, we also welcome your sermons on other passages of Scripture.  Manuscripts or audio files may be sent to proper29@gmail.com.  Faculty members, students, and non-parochial clergy who do not ordinarily preach, please join us as well by sending a manuscript.

In Christ’s peace,

Matt Elia, Duke Divinity School, M.Div. student

Rev. Dr. Amy Laura Hall, Duke Divinity School, Associate Professor of Theological Ethics

Dr. Kara Slade, Duke Divinity School, M.Div. student

Rev. Isaac Villegas, Chapel Hill Mennonite Fellowship

wordpress counter

(Spread the Word! Here’s a poster for you to post wherever you can: Proper29Poster)

Immanuel (Joel Miller)

Title: Immanuel
Texts: Isaiah 7:10-16; Matthew 1:18-25
Date: December 19, 2010
Place: Cincinnati Mennonite Fellowship (OH)
Author: Joel Miller

Today is the final Sunday of the Advent season before Christmas.  In our worship we have been guided by a theme related to time – an unexpected hour.  We have allowed for times of silence, we have pondered some of the ways that God’s time is different than our own.

It’s been wonderful to have the youth giving leadership to our worship through the scripture readings and leading the children’s story.  I’m sure in their world right now one of the greatest things about this time has to do with exams being finished and the open days of Christmas vacation in front of them.

I have asked the youth if they would read the Isaiah and Gospel passages at this point in the service, so they can be fresh in our minds for the meditation. Continue reading

untitled (Joanna Shenk)

Texts: Isa 2:1-5, Matt 24:36-44
Date: November 28, 2010
Place: Fellowship of Hope Mennonite Church (Elkhart, IN)
Author: Joanna Shenk

Preparing this sermon has been like a wrestling match in many ways. This past week has been intense, in part due to the changed pace of the holiday, and time with family and friends.

Many unexpected things have happened for me and, in some ways, I am still reeling trying to figure out what’s going on.  So preparing this sermon has struck a deep chord and raised a lot of questions for me.  Many of them I will share with you.

Rather than speaking for 15 minutes straight, or so.  I want to share guiding images, thoughts and MANY questions that have resonated within me as I have wrestled with the biblical texts and the meaning of the season of Advent.

I ask you to reflect on how these thoughts and questions connect with your journey.  What parts resonate with you?  What is God saying to you as we enter this season of expectant waiting?

There will be times of silence interspersed with my speaking. I will ring the bell to indicate a time of silent reflection. Let us move now into this time of reflection…

In the Matthew passage that was just read, we hear a strong warning to be ready for the return of Christ.  We are told the Christ will come like a thief in the night… when we least expect it.

But, is this return only one moment in time or can it be understood as many, many moments throughout our lives when we respond to the in-breaking of the kingdom of God?  Are we awake to what God is doing around us?

Do we expect God to enter this world and enter our lives and transform us?

Are we willing to step into the mystery—step into the unknown spaces of transformation?  When we do this in response to God, we may seemingly disappear from life as we’ve been living it.  Could this be another way of imagining how the Gospel of Matthew talks about people being taken?

Others may feel abandoned as we choose to live in new ways.

Are we willing to take these steps? To become self aware of that which needs to change in us in order to embrace new birth—new ways of being?

Do we trust God enough to give up our familiar ways of being? How do we become a community that nurtures one another in the transformation process?  Are we willing to embrace the pain and stretching that comes as new life grows inside us?  Can we be midwives and dulas to one another as this new life is birthed?

(silent reflection)

In the Isaiah passage we encounter a beautiful image of people streaming to the mountain of God.  It is envisioned here that nations will come together, beating their swords into plowshares… choosing peace rather than power struggle.

Reading this imagery in Isaiah, the older of the testaments, reminds us that the idea of peace is not unique to Jesus.  From the beginning, the Eternal One has called Her people to embody shalom.  In the older testament we find many times a God who calls us to embrace the stranger… to learn from unknown visitors… and to live justly with those around us.

Only when the people beg and cry for a king—so that they can be like other nations—does God grant this request.  Yet, it comes with warning after warning and a clear message that this is not what God intended.

Rather than choosing to beat their swords into earth cultivation tools, we see God’s people over and over again choosing to carry weaponry and becoming divided, even among themselves.  Even among ourselves…

Often when hearing this passage, I think immediately of all the wars happening in the world today.  I think of the known and unknown horrors that have been exacted upon those considered ‘terrorist.’  I shutter when the reality sinks in that 66,000 civilians have been killed in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

66,000. In the name of what? Continue reading

It’s a girl (Martin Troyer)

Title: It’s a girl
Text: Isaiah 2:1-5
Date: November 21, 2010
Place: Houston Mennonite Church (TX)
Author: Martin Troyer

This Thanksgiving Sunday – which is also the last day of the liturgical year – I  am thankful that Christ is king.

In 1945 over the desert of the South West United States a code was devised to indicate whether the impending test was successful or not. President Truman would receive a short message saying either, “It’s a boy,” or “It’s a girl” – and he would know instantly the result. The test went forward, the bomb went off, blinding light exploded across the sky, the proverbial mushroom cloud ushered the world into the atomic age, and, with one short message the President heard, “It’s a boy.”

Boys, apparently, are inherently violent.

Today my wife and I celebrate the profound joy of hearing one month ago the sweet words, “It’s a girl” ring out in our delivery room. Welcome to the world Clara Sue!

And with Peace churches around the globe we celebrate that the activity of God in our world is the making of peace, not war. As the father of a newborn baby girl, I celebrate an alternative message that says she is not a failure, not of lesser worth than her big brother. As the father of a 3 year old son I celebrate an alternative message of Christian peace that clarifies masculinity is not tied up with violence and militarism.

The words of the prophet Isaiah from 2:1-5 reveal peace to be the heart of God’s intention for the world. Jesus life and teachings connect peacemaking to an alternative perspective on both power and gender. God, and man, are  NOT inherently violent. Nonviolence is not weak. Continue reading

Render to Caeser (Spencer Bradford)

Title: Render to Caesar
Texts: Jer 22:1-17, Josh 5:13-17, Rom 12:14- 13:8, Mk 12:13-17
Date: October 24, 2010
Place: Durham Mennonite Church (NC)
Author: Spencer Bradford

This year, my son and I went to see an animated movie called “How to Tame Your Dragon.”  It tells the story of a coastal Viking village long ago that was plagued by dragons who would fly in upon it to steal it’s sheep to eat, and burn its buildings with their fire-breathing in the process.  The villagers trained and prepared for perpetual combat with the dragons.  One boy, Hiccup, doesn’t have much aptitude as a warrior, but creates a bolo weapon that he uses during one attack to crash a very dangerous sort of dragon, which lands far off from the village.  When he finds the dragon, Hiccup can’t bring himself to kill it, but begins to tame the dragon by feeding it and caring for it, because in the crash landing, the dragon lost part of its tail that it needed to fly, so it’s grounded.  Hiccup, after taming the dragon and naming it “Toothless”, creates a prosthetic tail fin for it and the dragon takes Hiccup as a rider to flight in the air.  As it takes Hiccup to its island home far off the coast, Hiccup learns that Toothless and the other dragons that raid his village steal sheep to feed a huge monster dragon on the island, because if they don’t feed it enough, it will eat them, the smaller dragons.  Most of the movie revolves around Hiccup’s trying to figure out how to hide his new relationship, and then how to bring his village and his father around to understanding dragons the way he understands them, and to help him set them free from their monster master dragon.

This is a great movie, largely about using wits and compassion instead of violence to create peace (along with flying on dragons and creating huge fire explosions with them).  And it inspires a particularly helpful wrestling in my mind, because dragons have been one primary image to me for governments and political authorities.  Adopting the imagery of the Beast in Revelation, a symbol for political authority that serves the dragon Satan, I’ve often imagined national governments to embody oppressive domination through the use of destructive violence and threats.  Which was not to say that all governments are the same, nor that all merited the same kind of response and relationship from Christians.  Some dragons are less destructive than others, would eat fewer children, and some dragons could be induced to become less destructive, such that it’s always worthwhile to save children and families by seeking to constrain the destructiveness of political authorities.  But left to their own devices (and conceiving primarily of national governments with active militaries, this meant lethal force), governments would kill and lie about it in order to secure the accrual of greater power over more wealth, power, and territory.  For illustration, reference this week’s Wikileaks revelations about 66,000 civilian deaths in Iraq in U.S. military logs, death which the U.S. had said it was not tracking. Continue reading

What we all need (Wes Kelley)

Title: What We All Need
Text: Luke 23:33-43
Date: November 21, 2010
Place: Hurricane United Methodist Church and Slocomb First United Methodist Church (Alabama-West Florida Conference of the UMC)
Author: Wes Kelley

I want to talk today about the need that people have to be ruled. God made humankind, and put them on earth, and ever since then, our human story has been a story of us coming apart at the seams. No matter how hard we try to govern ourselves, we can never get to the point where we feel safe, secure, and free. In human government you can’t ever really be both perfectly secure and perfectly free at the same time. There are tradeoffs that have to be made. You can see this in our own nation, that we live in an age where fear rules, and so we become suspicious and needy for a feeling of safety.

You can also see this with the people of Israel in the Old Testament. They wanted kings, like every other nation around them had a king, because a king – they thought – would keep them safe. A king would help them fight their battles. But what they didn’t understand was that battles aren’t for men to fight, the battle is the Lord’s (1 Sam. 17:47).

The other day I saw a map on the Internet that had put a pinpoint on where every death had happened in the country of Iraq—the deaths of our soldiers, of terrorists, of Iraqi civilians. I and a friend were talking about this, and we said, “You know? With all that death, I don’t feel any safer than I did on Sept. 11. If anything, I feel less safe.”

Continue reading

Thy kingdom come (Christopher Klopp)

Title: Thy Kingdom Come
Text: Isaiah 65:17-25, 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13, Luke 21:5-19
Date: November 14, 2010
Place: Bald Eagle United Methodist Parish (Tyrone, PA)
Author: Christopher Klopp

This past Thursday, on Veterans’ Day I had the honor of praying for the gathering of veterans and their families at the American Legion. At one point in the ceremony a list of names were read, names of those who had died in World Wars One and Two, and in Vietnam, and as these names were remembered, red poppies were dropped into a symbolic grave. Soon the grave was full of perhaps a hundred red poppies, each one representing a human being whose life was ended by war.

And as I watched I noticed the great love and pride on the faces of each of the participants. They mourned the dead, and they were thankful for their service to this country. Then there was some music, a speech by our state representative, I said a prayer, and the celebration was over. As I left I realized that Veterans’ Day is a very special day for those who attended the ceremony, but I also realized something else.

As special as Veterans’ Day is, the Church is looking forward to a world when there will be no such thing as Veterans’ Day- a world where Veterans’ Day will not be necessary.

Continue reading

Neither shall they learn war anymore (Alan Combs)

Title: Neither Shall They Learn War Anymore
Text: Isaiah 2:1-5
Date: November 28, 2010
Place: Heritage United Methodist Church (Lynchburg, VA)
Author: Alan Combs

These verses are one of the most beautiful visions of God’s radical transformation of the world that we find in Scripture.  Even more beautiful this vision is not isolated to Isaiah, since there is a nearly identical version of this passage in chapter 4 of Micah.  Now, there is plenty of scholarly debate about whether these prophets somehow had access to one another’s writings or whether there was an older tradition of these versions to which both prophets.[i] However, for us as we worship this morning such debates are eclipsed by our excitement about the way that this vision captured the imaginations of both prophets!

As we gather together on this first Sunday of Advent, God invites us to allow our imaginations to be captured by this vision as well.  We are beginning a season of waiting, a season where we find ourselves resisting the way the society around us measures time and perhaps even our own tendencies to want to rush to Christmas.  We are resisting the world’s time in favor of God’s time.  In the world’s time, Christmas began the day after Halloween, and it has just now reached a fever pitch as we have risen early in the morning from our Turkey-induced slumber to open our wallets to stores that open earlier every year and even chose to pull their own employees away from their own families on Thanksgiving Day with the hopes of drawing in more privileged folks with bigger wallets and more assured Thanksgiving time off.

I don’t say this to condemn you for heading out early on Friday, or even Thursday to get some good deals.  It makes sense to want to get items we were planning on buying one another anyway at a better price. Rather, the lines of late-night tents populating the sidewalks of strip malls is a different vision of time that is predicated upon making Christmas be here sooner and giving us a greater sense of urgency about Christmas, specifically about our Christmas purchases.  But God’s time is different.  God’s time is lived in a tension between the fullness of salvation we now taste, yet will only come to fruition on the last day.

Isaiah looks forward to those “days to come” for the time when God’s mountain will definitively be the highest, and where all people will come to that mountain to learn from the Lord.  Isaiah looks forward to those “days to come” from the time when violence will cease as God arbitrates the disputes of the peoples of the earth, where weapons of death and violence are made into weapons of life and growth, and where people will no longer learn war.  Though this vision occurs in the future, Isaiah exhorts his hearers now, “Come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!” He doesn’t say, “let’s wait until this day to walk in the light of the Lord!”  He invites them to live into this reality today, at this very moment. He calls them to be a people who live righteously in the present, even as they wait for the full future fruition of this beautiful vision of people living in peaceful relationship with one another.  He invites his hearers, who now include us, to live into the tension. Continue reading

Following the good shepherd in a time of war (Joel Shenk)

Title:  Following the Good Shepherd in a Time of War
Text: Jeremiah 23:1-6
Date: November 21, 2010
Place: Toledo Mennonite Church (Ohio)
Author: Joel Shenk

Jeremiah 23:1-6 NRSV –  Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! says the LORD. 2 Therefore thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who shepherd my people: It is you who have scattered my flock, and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. So I will attend to you for your evil doings, says the LORD.  3 Then I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the lands where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply.  4 I will raise up shepherds over them who will shepherd them, and they shall not fear any longer, or be dismayed, nor shall any be missing, says the LORD.  5 The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. 6 In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. And this is the name by which he will be called: “The LORD is our righteousness.”

The Context of Jeremiah

This passage in Jeremiah is an indicting passage against the shepherds of Judah.  Jeremiah makes clear that God has certain expectations for those with power and influence in Judah, and there are consequences when those expectations aren’t met.  This is a demanding passage, and I feel humbled by the demand of this passage especially given the nature of my sermon entitled “Following the Good Shepherd in a Time of War;” a message looking at issue of Christian discipleship in the midst of a world ridden with violence and conflict and war. Continue reading

On the Cross: Christ, Criminals, Communion (Mark Schloneger)

Title: On the Cross: Christ, Criminals & Communion
Text: Luke 23:33-43
Date: November 21, 2010
Author: Mark Schloneger
Place: Springdale Mennonite Church

People say that memory is fickle,
and we know well why they say that.
It’s because we so often forget.

A researcher at the University of Oregon has estimated
that people squander more than a month per year
compensating for things that they’ve forgotten.[1]
That seems high to me, but if a researcher said it – with statistics,

it must be true.
We forget things like the location of the car keys.
We forget names and faces and letters and phones and pens
and duct tape and the cheese slicer.

But people say that memory is fickle
not just because of what we don’t remember
but because of what we do remember.
Our memories are unreliable;
we consciously or unconsciously manipulate them for our own purposes.
When we experience something that is upsetting or disturbing –
an experience that could threaten
how we have come to understand ourselves or others –
we do our best to mold it, to form it, to transform it, even to ignore it.
Sometimes, of course, this isn’t a bad thing.
It can be healing when memories of certain traumatic events
fade to gray so they will no longer cause us harm.
But more often, I think,
we manipulate our memories
to avoid looking — truly looking at the truth.

It’s a way for us to go forward as we were
without having to confront the whole truth of what was and what is.

After Jesus was beaten and humiliated,
he was taken to a place called The Skull.
He was nailed to two planks of wood,
and then he was lifted up to die between two criminals.
Jesus Christ, crucified.

As he was hanging there to die,
he prayed for his killers:
“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Continue reading

Our tortured king (Isaac Villegas)

Title: Our tortured king
Texts: Col 1:11-20, Lk 23:33-43
Date: November 21, 2010
Place: Chapel Hill Mennonite Fellowship (Chapel Hill, NC)
Author: Isaac Villegas

Hanging on the cross, tortured, nearing death, a convicted rebel asks Jesus to remember him. Don’t forget me, he says, just before he dies alongside Jesus.

We’re usually very good at running away from death. But our passage from Luke’s Gospel won’t let us look the other way. For the moment, with this story from the bible, our attention must focus on three people, nearing death, on crosses, painfully awaiting their last bit of life to drip to the ground.

Crucifixion isn’t for a run of the mill thief or criminal. Only special people get killed on crosses. To crucify someone takes a lot work and it’s costly. It’s a torturous death reserved for people whom the Roman authorities consider subversives or revolutionaries, enemies of the state, threats to national security, sectarian radicals or freedom fighters.

Sometimes the Bible sounds like it comes from a distant planet, or another world—separated from ours by thousands of years. But not this time, as we read the story of crucifixion and then hear the former president George W. Bush speak, without regret, of his authorization of torture during his war on terror. “Damn right,” he said in response to questions about whether he authorized the torture of Khalid Sheik Mohammed. Continue reading