william stringfellow

Saying “Yes” and Saying “No”

First Sunday in Lent

Luke 4: 1-13

I was ordained over 30 years ago by a small, rural Texas Baptist church who had called me as their new young pastor a couple of months before. I invited to preach my ordination service a retired preacher whom I knew from my college church. He was in his mid-80’s, gentle and kind, as attentive to others as anyone I’d ever known, had a deep prayer life, and rumor had it that he had memorized the entire King James Bible. He preached a fine sermon on loving God, loving the Bible, and loving God’s people. After the service, of course, we all joined in a country church dinner on the grounds of which legends are made. Soon thereafter, I escorted the old preacher to his car. He laid his Bible on the roof of the car as he opened the door and turned to me, “There are two more things you need to know about being a pastor. You’ll need to learn to say ‘No!’ and ‘Hell no!’” With that parting word he got in his car and drove away. Read more

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Risky Waters

Baptism of the Lord

Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

Since leaving the pulpit three years ago to be a full time homemaker, our family has had more opportunity to worship with diverse strands of the Christian church and witness the baptisms of family, friends and strangers. Immersion, sprinkling, hot tubs, porcelain shells, flowing gowns, bathing suits, candles, vows, handshakes, testimonies, processions, and creeds. There is no standard form in which baptism is celebrated, and just below the surface a great deal of history about how we have fought and killed one another over the rite.

When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. (NIV)

It strikes me that Jesus isn’t alone. There are others there being baptized, and there is someone there to baptize Jesus. If anyone was qualified to baptize themselves and leave the whole messy religious system behind, it was Jesus. But that’s not what happened. Jesus isn’t a religious lone ranger. Read more

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Dead in the Water

First Sunday of Lent

Genesis 9:8-17
1 Peter 3:18-22
Mark 1:9-15

Lent is wasted on the orderly, the continent, the well-behaved. Forego some trivial luxury if it makes you feel better, but do it on your own time, please.

Lent is for those whose lives are a mess: an invitation, once again, to acknowledge the fragile illusions in which we place so much trust, to name the destructive power of our deep habits. The traditional practices of Lent – prayer, fasting, and almsgiving – were never meant to make good people better, much less make them more appealing to God.

Lenten practices are nothing less than little deaths, killing off the unnecessary within what we like to call “ourselves,” chiseling away chunks of rough marble hiding the delicate human figure inside. Not that we are the killers or sculptors. We enter the practice the way one enters the waters of baptism: called but never in control, ready at last to drown in the ocean of God’s unearned forgiveness. Read more

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God Abstracted

Matthew 4:1-11

Lent begins with Jesus fresh from the waters of his baptism, being led by the Spirit into the wilderness.  At baptism, Jesus is reminded that he is called as God’s anointed, the Messiah.  But what kind of messiah is he going to be?  It is in the wilderness, where everything is stripped away, in prayer and fasting that Jesus seeks to clarify who he is and what he is going to do.

Satan, the Great Deceiver, shows up to steer Jesus away from God’s call upon him and uses three of the greatest temptations for those who want to change this world: economics/money – turning stones to bread; religion – spectacular religion which will make the crowds want to follow you anywhere; and politics – to get the power to make things turn out the way you want. Read more

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And the Wind Began to Howl

Revised Common Lectionary Readings: Isaiah 5:1-7; Hebrews 11:29-12:2; Luke 12:49-56

“So let us not talk falsely now; the hour is getting late.”
– From “All Along the Watchtower,” by Bob Dylan

Christendom’s demise is a gift to the church. No longer responsible for underwriting the ruling entities of the world, nor longer required to “make nice” with the principalities, no longer dutifully excusing the violence of power politics, the church can at long last resume the serious business of being the church.

Playing church is, of course, far easier than being it. But, barring a powerfully rejuvenated alliance of accommodated Christianity and American nationalism, reasons to pretend should grow increasingly rare. The benefits of claiming default Christian identity have disappeared in many parts of the United States. Even the assumed American requirement that Presidents endorse “strong beliefs vaguely held or vague beliefs strongly held,” has nearly run its course.

The wall of the vineyard is broken; the hedge is devoured.  Read more