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

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

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

shapeimage_1

Rocking the Boat

Proper 14A/Ordinary 19A/Pentecost +9

Genesis 37:1-4Psalm 105:1-6, 16-22, 45bRomans 10:5-15Matthew 14:22-33

This week’s post is a reflection originally published in 2008.

 

I’ve been following a blog debate over at www.theolog.org [ed. note - this blog is now part of http://www.christiancentury.org/blogs] between a scientist of some sort, hostile to religion generally and Christianity particularly, and a pious defender of the faith. In my view, neither has been very impressive in articulating his case against the other, and the back-and-forth accusations and “gotcha’s” and outright vitriol have only escalated as the debate has gone on (and on and on). I tried briefly to weigh in on it earlier this week, calling for a little charity and humility from both sides, but, like a sister trying to pull her two brothers off each other in a backyard brawl, I was roundly ignored. Lesson learned.

The gospel text from Matthew 14 this week strikes me as the kind of passage over which science guy and defender guy would go at it, arguing past each other all the while—as they have been doing all week. The ghostly Jesus walking on the water is too much for the rationalist to take in; it’s laughable, even—easy pickins. The mocking denial of such an archetype biblical image of Jesus (and the sacrosanct truth it represents) is scandalous to the defender’s deeply-felt piety. You can almost hear defender guy quoting Jesus back at his opponent: “You of little faith, why do you doubt?” (14:31). Disagreement. Accusation. Counter-accusation.

Impasse.

What to say about such a text when there are probably many science guys and defenders guys (and gals) in our congregations? Whose side does the preacher take? Read more

prostrate

A Glory that Breathes Life

Sixth Sunday of Easter

Acts 8:5-17 OR Acts 17:22-31
1 Peter 3:13-22
John 14:15-21

There is a glory that breathes life back
in a corpse and brings strangers together

as friends. Call that one back who fills
the held-out robe of a thornbush with

flowers, who clears muddied minds, who
gives a two-day-old infant wisdom beyond

anyone’s learning. “What baby?” you ask.
There is a fountain, a passion circulating.

I’m not saying this well, because I’m too
much in the scatterbrain sweetness. Listen

anyway. It must be said. There are eyes
that see into eternity. A presence beyond

the power and magic of shamans. Let that
in. Sink to the floor, full prostration.

- Rumi (“Scatterbrain Sweetness” in The Soul of Rumi, Barks, Coleman, ed.)

Growing up in my small-town Midwestern church, we were, on the whole, conservative in our speech about the Holy Spirit. Being committed to the practice of baptism, we immersed in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, but baptisms are the only memories I have where the Spirit was spoken of among our church people, let alone invited as a presence into our worship or shared life together. Read more