bLOGOS

WHAT IS bLOGOS?

The Ekklesia Project “bLogos” seeks to bring together relevant theological commentary from our contributing editors and from the wider electronic world.  It regularly reflects on the news of the day from an EP perspective, asking what the news we are offered might look like from an angle that is God-centered, church-centered, peace-centered and political.  In so doing, we hope that our commentary helps members of the church to think more critically and theologically, and to see daily events and ideas in new ways.

And we invite you who read to join the conversation by leaving a comment on our posts.

choir

Priests at Every Elbow

I Thessalonians 2:1-8

Indeed, the appeal we make never springs from error or base motive; there is no attempt to deceive; but God has approved us as fit to be entrusted with the Gospel, and on those terms we speak… With such yearning love we chose to impart to you not only the gospel of God, but our very selves, so dear had you become to us. (I Thessalonians 2: 3-4, 8).

Unbelievable! Paul it seems identifies himself, his very person, with the Gospel.‘God has approved us as fit to be entrusted with the Gospel,’ so that we have imparted ‘to you not only the gospel of God but our very selves.’ These are not exactly expressions of humility. What would you think if Kyle said that of himself? ‘God has entrusted me with the Gospel so that my very self makes present God to you. Indeed, if I fail in the ministry then all our salvation is in doubt.’ I suspect you would think if Kyle expressed such views, he would have gone around the bend. But I am telling you not only is that exactly what Kyle should think about his ministry but also it’s what you should hold him to. For if the Kyles do not exist and churches like Austin Heights Baptist do not exist to make Kyle’s ministry possible, then we are indeed lost.

So said Stanley Hauerwas, preaching on the I Thessalonians lectionary text, in the worship service that was part of my tenth anniversary celebration as pastor of Austin Heights Baptist Church.

These were strong words in Stanley’s provocative sermon. These were words that made all of us in the congregation sit up and pay attention to what the Apostle Paul was saying about ministry to the small, struggling congregation in Thessalonica. For me, they were uncomfortable words.

In listening to Stanley’s high view of pastoral ministry, I squirmed. I was not so sure I agreed with such an elevated perspective of ministry. I mean, I know pastors! I also knew then and know now that when anyone is put up on a pedestal they will eventually fall off or get knocked off. It is much safer to never be on the pedestal in the first place. Read more

prayer

They Cried to the Lord

Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Exodus 33:12-23
Psalm 99
I Thessalonians 1:1-10
Matthew 22:15-22

“They cried to the Lord, and the Lord answered them” (Psalm 99:6b)

The Psalmist’s words will be the entrance into this week’s Scripture passages. The hope as we gather in our respective places of worship is that the words of the texts will not only say something, but also do something. Paul Simon’s song “Wartime Prayers” helps bridge that divide. Simon, who admits he is as surprised as anyone at how God keeps showing up as the subject of his songs, has the poet’s gift of speaking in image rather than in proposition. He also unashamedly joins the chorus of the needy.

“Show me your glory,” Moses cries to the Lord. His plea is occasioned by God’s command to leave the Mountain, the place of special revelation, for an unknown future. He yearns for certainty. “Show me your glory,” he cries. Read more

TV distractions

Deadly Distractions

Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Twenty-Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Matthew 22:1-14

On a recent morning, after listening to my wife read the gospel passage where Jesus compares the Kingdom of Heaven to a wedding banquet, my mind, distracted by a crying child and the anticipation of a day of teaching, was able only to form a somewhat vague prayer: “Lord, help us to discern the kingdom of heaven, and to turn our hearts towards it.” Read more

vineyard

Fruit of the Vine, Work of Human Hands

Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost
Twenty-Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20
Psalm 19
Philippians 3:4b-14
Matthew 21:33-46

“Wine is bottled poetry.” – Robert Louis Stevenson

“Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom.”

Our text this week of parable and interpretation raises a number of compelling questions for the church. Knowing the story as we do, it is perhaps understandable for us to look at Jesus’ interpretation of the parable of the wicked tenants as a prophecy foretelling the opening of the kingdom of God to the Gentiles. While this isn’t perhaps an invalid interpretation, it is one that allows us, as the church, to be bystanders to the exchange between Jesus and the Pharisees, instead of locating ourselves within the story itself.

The parable begins with the planting and establishing of a vineyard, and the owner of the vineyard leaving tenants in charge. Servants come to collect the produce for the owner, but again and again the tenants wound and kill the servants. Finally the owner’s son comes, and the tenants murder him in order to get his inheritance.

What is at stake in this story? It doesn’t seem to be the vineyard itself in the sense of land lust, but rather the withholding of the fruit which rightly belongs to the owner. The story is that of a harvest theft. Read more

Head of Christ

The Unfairness of God’s Justice

Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Twenty-Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32
Philippians 2:1-13
Matthew 21:23-32

The twentieth century political philosopher, John Rawls, summarily restated his most famous work, A Theory of Justice, as “Justice as Fairness.” Many who know little of his learned, complex argument may have heard of his “Original Position,” the thought experiment that serves as creation myth for Rawls’ social contract.

Rawls asks his reader to imagine a meeting where all parties choose a common social structure from behind a “veil of ignorance.” No one knows his/her/its origin, history, gender, ethnicity, class, religion, talents, abilities, or conception of the Good. This artifice, Rawls believes, forces participants to choose the basic rights and duties of citizens impartially, rationally, and fairly — and Rawls confidently tells us what they will decide.

Many of Rawls’ subsequent conclusions are appealing, but his starting point strikes me as a progressive “just so” story. For Rawls, it seems, people emptied of nearly every personal quality will nevertheless share his late twentieth century bourgeois liberal values.

This week’s lectionary readings envision a radically different universe. Read more

grapes

The Quality of Mercy

Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Exodus 16:2-15 OR Jonah 3:10-4:11
Philippians 1:21-30
Matthew 20:1-16

There are Sundays when it seems that God simply can’t catch a break. In one Old Testament reading, the people of God grumble and complain because they don’t have enough; they are worried about where their next meal will come from; they do not believe that Moses or God can provide; they are uncomfortable with having to rely on God.

Alternatively, if you opt for the reading from Jonah, God gets slammed by Jonah for being merciful to the Ninevites; for treating them better than they deserve; for being steadfast in love: Complaints for not providing enough, complaints for providing too much. Jonah is probably tied more directly to the gospel reading, but before that, we should talk about Paul.

From the depths of a Roman prison Paul writes to his friends in Philippi. His friends are under some pressure from hostile forces because of their faith in Christ. Later in the epistle he worries that this hostility may lead them to start grumbling against God and each other. He subtly notes that this is not the first time that that people of God had “grumbled,” and he urges them to avoid this (Phil 2:12-14).

Grumbling, however, is not Paul’s primary focus. The thing he is most concerned with, the thing is asks them to do first and foremost is this: “Order your life together in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ” (1:27). Paul’s plea is not directed to individuals, but to a whole community. Ordering a community’s life together is, at its most basic level, the work of politics. The politics Paul urges on the Philippians is one that is worthy of the gospel of Christ. Read more

Friedrich_Overbeck_008

Forgiven to Forgive

Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Matthew 18:21-35

American culture has bastardized forgiveness into a self-serving tool. For proof, look no further than the Mayo Clinic website or a personal favorite, wikiHow Comparable to its detailed instructions on how to train for a 5k or get rid of a pimple, Wiki provides a 12-step prescription on “How to Forgive,” complete with additional tips and warnings like “forgiveness is hard!” These sites, in addition to others of the self-help variety, commonly extol using forgiveness as a way to better your own physical and emotional health, with the bonus of decreasing stress and potentially increasing your life span. Forgiveness is 100% about you.

This week’s parable in Matthew offers a corrective to this stunted understanding of forgiveness. We first learn, per Jesus, that we have an obligation to extend forgiveness – or release someone from the metaphorical debt they owe you – essentially without limit. The parable also makes clear that we forgive even small slights, because we have already been forgiven a debt that we could never repay. Our ability to forgive is a reflection of and witness to God’s forgiveness of us. Finally, even though it is expected of us, the gesture has to be genuine – “from your heart” (18:35). Read more

three monkeys

Minding Our Own Business

Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Ezekiel 33:7-17
Psalm 119
Romans 13:8-14
Matthew 18:15-20

The students whose work I evaluate would probably disagree, but it’s my disposition, both by nature and upbringing, to be averse to conflict. The very thought of confrontation puts me ill at ease, and I will go out of my way to avoid saying or doing anything that might hurt another’s feelings or create an unhappy tension between us. I am far too captive to and dependent upon the esteem of others. I want not just to be respected, but liked – by just about everyone.

My past is strewn with occasions where I allowed another’s offense against me or someone else to slide simply because I didn’t care to suffer the discomfort of confronting them. Imagine my consternation, then, when I read this week’s lectionary texts, two of which address in a disturbingly direct manner not just the importance, but the absolute necessity of confronting and speaking truthfully to wrongdoers. Both are absolutely clear about what is at stake: compassionate truth telling is often nothing less than a matter of life and death. Read more

crux

Life Threatening

Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost

Exodus 3:1-15
Romans 12:9-21
Matthew 16:21-28

The news story reported that the injuries of the accident victims were “serious but not life threatening.”  It struck me that in addition to being a welcome medical diagnosis, that phrase is also a not-so-welcome description of a very prevalent misunderstanding of discipleship.  Serious, earnest, studious?  Certainly.  But life threatening?  That’s just not in our frame of reference.

So what of Jesus’ words about crosses and losing our lives?  The usual reading strategy, most often unspoken, is to assume that Jesus was “a special case,” or that the things Jesus speaks of in this week’s Gospel passage are either historical relics or are addressed to those who live “way over there” in uncivilized places where fanatics run crazy.  Put this interpretation of the Gospel passage with an Epistle reading for the week that one commentary calls “a miscellany of moral exhortations,” and you have a nice little collection of texts suitable for a Sunday in the long sleepy stretch of Ordinary Time.

Craig Hovey will have none of that.  He writes profoundly in To Share in the Body: A Theology of Martyrdom for Today’s Church that every church is meant to be a martyr-church even though not every Christian’s witness will be a martyr-witness.  The witness of the martyrs “is not only the business of a select few but the shape of the body in which all Christians share” (14).  Hovey argues that since no Christian can know whether she will be killed for her faith until the actual moment of death, martyrdom is an open possibility for every Christian.  If we assume that “we” are not a martyr-church, he charges, “we have ceased to live with a proper and appropriate antagonism to the world in attempts to preclude the possibility that we might die the death of Christ,” thus securing “our own fates as nonmartyrs” (18). Read more

Scream

The Self Under Attack

Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost

Exodus 1:8-2:10 OR Isaiah 51:1-6
Psalm 124
Romans 12:1-8
Matthew 16:13-20

We live in times of anxiety about identity. Philosopher Charles Taylor suggests that modern people are especially pressed to play some active role in determining who we are. We construct our identities not only in conversation with others, though this is an important part of the process. We are also involved in a “self-conversation,” as the story of our lives will often be an uneasy weaving of various threads. These threads are born out of the transitions of our attachments and allegiances over time. Moreover, some new threads will be defined by overcoming earlier ones—i.e., the new, fit, and productive me supersedes the lazy couch potato.

How these threads remain together may itself be an important moral task, a task of proper story construction, or integrity. We face a great temptation to protect our identities against attack. It’s a strange war we wage when fighting for our identities, for we project outward a war raging within. It is difficult to locate one’s enemies in such confusion. For instance, I was raised in a Catholic church, a tradition from which I was in a sense orphaned (or, at least, put up for foster care). Later on, I was taken in by a Protestant community. How do I narrate that story? Dark to light? We are tempted, even here, to do violence to ourselves. Read more