Text: 1 Samuel 15

Speaker: Jim Fredal

When I first decided on this text, and this theme, as a topic for a sermon on violence in the Bible, I asked some friends about it.  We read the passage and talked about it one evening for several hours and I have to say the conversation was heated, intense, and quite diverse. Some thought passages like this should be eliminated from the Bible, others found new ways to think about it, like the effect of trauma (the Amalekites harassing the Israelites immediately after their exodus) on victims and their inclination toward violence against perpetrators.  Others cited passages like this as good reason not to pay much attention to Christianity or Judaism.  I found all of their arguments compelling if not ultimately convincing, and have gone through a range of responses myself.
So how does one respond to a text like this?  We cannot in good conscience accept it and yet we hold it to be scripture, and as scripture it makes claims on us.  What do we do with a text that we don’t really understand and can’t agree with?  I have experienced and chosen a variety of responses in my...

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Text: Numbers 25:1-18

Today’s reading contains just about all the elements one could fit into a “difficult passage.”  There’s forbidden sex.  There’s idolatry and sacrifices to the wrong god.  There’s a treatment of foreigners, and specifically foreign women, as inherently dangerous.   There’s Divine wrath which demands public executions.  There’s a respected leader, Moses, ordering his people to kill their fellow Israelites.  There’s a plague that wipes out 24,000 people, many of them no doubt innocent.  There’s violent vigilante justice by a zealous individual, Phinehas, which apparently brings resolution to all the above problems.  Phinehas is rewarded by the Lord with “a covenant of peace,” for him and his descendants.  To top it all off, there is a final command from the Lord for Moses and the Israelites to keep harassing these foreign neighbors.  Forgive me if I’ve failed to name another feature of the story you find particularly troubling.

Welcome to worship.  Today’s lesson has been rated R.

This is indeed a difficult passage.

But, as we are committed to doing during this series, rather than cut this page out of the Bible or pretend like it’s not there, we’ll confront the story head on, wrestle around...

First, let me thank you for the fact that during these first two weeks of the “Difficult Passages” series you have allowed two white men to tell you all about the subordination of women.  As ironic as it is, we need to be reminded that this issue belongs to all of us and that men have their own work to do in making sure that gender equality and justice are available for all people.  So thank you for allowing me to do some of my own important work.

When Joel and I were first talking about this difficult passages series, he told me that there were a large number of scripture passages named by the congregation that were either directly about or have been used by some to subjugate women.  He said that he would be very narrowly focusing his sermon on Ephesians 5:22-24, the one passage that was named the most, so he said it might be nice for me to cast a wide net and preach about a number of the other difficult passages.  I think that in the world of ministry teams, this is what they refer to as hazing. 

As someone who has had to spend...

Text: Ephesians 5:21 – 28

This is the first of four sermons in our Difficult Passages series.

In the Twelve Scriptures series this summer we highlighted the passages in the Bible that we see as guiding lights.  We received a lot of appreciative feedback, although several of you came to me and said something to the effect, “This is a good series, but what I’m really looking forward to is that other one about the bad Scriptures.”  That day has arrived, and for the month of October we are switching from the goodies to the baddies, pondering parts of the Bible that we find especially troubling and difficult, even antithetical to our values.

Unlike the Twelve Scriptures Project, our survey in the spring showed no clear top vote getters for the difficult passages, except for one: today’s passage from Ephesians that contains the lines “wives, be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord.”  “For the husband is the head of the wife.”  A little later in the passage, beyond what was read, it says, “slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, in singleness of heart, as you obey Christ.”  “Fear and trembling” is a...

“Holding the World in the Light”

Speaker: Becca J.R. Lachman

Text: Psalm 27

It’s truly special to be able to share with you this morning. My husband Michael and I usually only get to join this congregation when we download Sunday services online in our Athens, Ohio home--so imagine us folding laundry or washing dishes while listening in, saying “Amen!” Secondly, my family’s 1840s farm sits just a few miles down the road. I grew up less than a 5 minutes’ drive from here, so you could say this weekend’s a homecoming for me in multiple ways.

In preparing to talk this morning, I (re)learned new layers of my extended family story. Joel read excerpts from prayers written by Johannes J. Amstutz, my Great(x3)-grandfather, who was one of the original Sonnenberg Mennonite settlers in this area from Switzerland, Sonnenberg meaning “Sun Mountain.” During his lifetime, Johannes was a farmer-artist with a severe limp, recorded in history by his faith community as the head of a household who gave the smallest donation toward the new church building. The ministers at that time did not approve of his personal prayerbook-- today, it sells roughly 2,000 copies per year. It turns out that...