saints

Do As They Say, Not As They Do

Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost
Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time

Micah 3:5-12
Psalm 43
1 Thessalonians 2:9-13
Matthew 23: 1-12

Apart from a somewhat odd convergence of occurrences over the past few days, I would have been clueless as to how to write about this week’s lectionary readings. To be honest, my first couple passes at them left me mostly flat and uninspired. And then, as sometimes happens, things became just a bit clearer.

I was first awakened to the possibilities offered by the texts when I read Kyle Childress’s bLogos post from last week, which focused on that week’s epistle (1 Thessalonians 2:1-8, the verses immediately preceding today’s epistle lesson). Serendipitously for Kyle, and by extension, for me, this passage from Paul’s earliest extant letter was the text which our mutual friend Stanley Hauerwas had preached several years ago at a celebration of the tenth anniversary of Kyle’s pastorate at Austin Heights Baptist Church down in east Texas.

Kyle channels Stanley in noting the outrageousness of Paul’s words for those of us who, having been thoroughly formed, first by certain strands of Protestantism and then by modernity and its emphasis on the autonomy of the individual, to think of our relationship to God as pretty much our own private business, mediated neither by community nor priest nor pastor. Read more

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

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

weaving

Whose You Are

Third Sunday after Epiphany
Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

1 Corinthians 1:10-18
Matthew 4:12-23

While in Divinity school, I went on a travel seminar to the Middle East with thirty-nine other seminary students and lay people. During our time in Jerusalem, we visited the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which sits atop the traditional site of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection.

It is a place of immense consequence for the Christian faith, and it’s unsurprising that representatives from multiple denominations are housed inside the church. The description “sharing space” would be too strongly worded and ultimately inaccurate, for these six denominations have partitioned the churches down to the tile. Armenians are only allowed in a certain area, Orthodox in another, Catholics can process in a certain area for a determined amount of time, etc. Our guide recounted stories of garbed priests name-calling and throwing punches because a priest moved a piece of furniture or stepped a couple of tiles too far to the left during a procession.

Despite the fact that these men all follow the Prince of Peace, they’ve allowed their denominational affiliation to supersede their common Christian identity. Centuries of very public bickering and violence is the result. Read more

potter's wheel

To Rest in Requiring Hands

Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Jeremiah 18:1-11
Philemon 1-21
Luke 14:25-33

I have long admired hand-made pottery. So when a friend who had been throwing pots for some time asked me if I would be interested in learning, I was more than enthusiastic. All of my exposure to wheel-thrown pottery indicated a serene, meditative act, and I could use a bit more of that in my life. The first day at the wheel, I held my newly kneaded lump of clay, eager for peaceful art-making, when my friend instructed me to raise up my clay in both hands and slam it down on the wheel.

“Slam?” I asked, perplexed.

“Slam,” she answered. Read more