Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Sermon Scraps from 11/21 -- Christ the King Sunday and Biblical Authority

In my sermon on Christ the King Sunday, you might have missed that I was actually picking apart my understanding of Biblical authority. I said, in the UMC we have no specific doctrine to say what we believe about the Bible. Yes, we hold that it "contains all things necessary for salvation," (forgive me if I'm not quoting properly -- I have no books with me), and we hold that in the epistemic quadralateral, scripture is primary, sort of above tradition, reason, and experience.

As I discussed a narrative of salvation, or story of our salvation, I was touching on Narrative Theology. Being the English major I am, narrative theology tends to speak to me. I tend to find myself thinking in narrative terms. My story is taking place within the story of others, and those stories are taking place within an even larger story. This is comfortable for my mind. It's kind of Fulgum-ish (All I Really Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarden) way of thinking. The problem is, narrative theology is inadequate. As a Francesca Aran Murphy says, God is Not a Story (see the book by the same title). And truthfully, the Bible is not a story. Narrative theology speaks to the reasonable part of me, the part that craves logic and understanding. God, however, is rarely logical or reasonable -- seriously why would God chose to come to earth as a baby to an unwed teenage girl?

So if God is not a story, and the Bible is not a story, what's going on? I believe the question I am asked for ordination is, "What is meant in the claim that the Bible contains all things necessary for salvation?" or something to that effect (it's been a year since I answered my commissioning questions, and I haven't yet pulled out my ordination questions). Anyway the question comes down to Biblical authority. I don't know that I'm going to answer that question here today, unless you view my answer through the lens of sanctification.

During my last semester of classwork at Perkins, I foolishly decided to take a class called the Authority of the Bible as a Source for Theology. It was foolish for many reasons, one -- I didn't need it (I graduated with 3 extra hours), and 2ndly this class really messed with me. I wanted to take it because Charles Wood and Roy Heller were team teaching and when presented a class like this from GIANTS in their fields, it's hard to pass it up. About mid-way through the semester, while eating lunch with Dr. Wood, I told him that he had destroyed my faith. I didn't know what I believed anymore, but I was pretty sure the Bible didn't have any authority. His response was, 'Good, let's get to work.'

As I begin with my answer, a brief disclaimer -- please remember me that I have none of books with me and I'm doing this from memory.

The Bible  is filled with beautiful writings of the people of God who have spent generations upon generations trying to be open to God's continuing self-revelation. Sometimes God's self-revelation comes through brightly--think of the repeated OT description that God is merciful, gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. Even better, read Psalm 137, and ask yourself, why is the psalmist reminding God to remember the Edomites? Sometimes what God does not do reveals more than what God does. And sometimes, we have to search or struggle to understand the revelation. God is tricky that way.

This collection of writings came together over centuries. Many of the early stories began around campfires, with elders telling the tribal stories to the next generation. Think of the liturgy of the Passover -- Papa why is this night different from all other nights? Anthropologically speaking, it is probable that there were other stories, beyond those that were codified and bound together with our Bible. In the Jewish tradition, we have the Tanakh, (Torah, Nevim or prophets, and ketuvim or writings), we have centuries of Midrash, and the Talmud. In the NT tradition, we're discovering texts still that we did not include in our Bible for one reason or another.

Schubert Ogden says that there was a certain kerygma of God or even of Christ that drove the creation of the canon. The canon created the text. Delwin Brown says that may or may not be a central principle or kerygma which drove that process, but that there are boundaries or canons that guided that process -- for instance, we don't know exactly who God is, but there are things we know God is not. Over time, those writings that did not play within the boudaries or traveled too far over the canon line, (or maybe even there were other reasons), those writings fell away. Sometimes, people just stopped telling those stories, they were forgotten, and in our more recent NT history, sometimes we burned the writers at the stake as heretics. For Brown, the text played within on the boundaries of the canon.

As a christian and a United Methodist, I really do believe that Holy Spirit works in groups (or committees). I believe that the Holy Spirit was involved in the writing of what became our scriptures, in maintanence and its inclusion in our current protestant canon. The Holy Spirit spoke to and through the prophets. Hear this, there were other prophets outside of those we know as the Biblical prophets, but the test of a prophet is did what he said happen. Those who could not pass this test, fell away. I believe that the Holy Spirit, as the Triune vehicle of revelation, speaks to our spirits and shows us what is of God and what is not. Think of the gospels according to whoever that have been discovered in the last century. Contrary to the fascinating stories contrived by Dan Brown, many of these gnostic gospels were excluded because they were inconsistent with God's self-revelation. These gnostic gospels describe secret wisdom, but the Hebrew wisdom tradtion tells us that Wisdom stands on the streets calling out to anyone who passes. The wisdom of God is not a secret. These gnostic gospels were inconsistent with the revelation we have previously known from God -- not just inconsistent, but opposed. God does not hide but wants to be known.

But still, there are writings in the Bible that I absolutely hate -- Judges 19, the haustafeln (The household codes in jazz-fusion Pauline writings). What do we do with those? If God has been involved in the creation and preseveration of these writings, why are these texts excluded? Or said another way, if they are still in the Bible, why do I get to treat them the way I do-- with distain. Do they not reveal something about God? Who are we to know how God feels about Judges 19? How do we know this is not a consistent revelation of what God would want us to do in a similar situation?

I've been trying to remember the scholar, and I believe it is Ellen Davis who wrote about the virtuous reader. If not, I'll correct this later. She wrote that the way we approach these texts makes all the difference. If we come with humility, with charity, with patience (other virtues as well), then we come prepared to struggle with our Scirpture. And we SHOULD struggle with all of the scriptures. All of them. We should never simply accept them at face value. First of all, we can't. We're incapable of unbiased readings. Secondly, it's not just the words that reveal God to us. It's the struggle as well, if not more -- the struggle breaks our hips and renames us. I'm not sure I know who to explain this any better, but I would recommend trying it. Find a scripture that you really love or that you really hate and read it. Read it again and again. Then read about it. Pray over it. Pray about it. Read commentary. Invite the Holy Spirit into the struggle, and see if your understanding of God is not broadened, and see if you're not changed in the process.

I'll tell you, the other day, in our Bend Bible study on the gospel of John, I read something I had never read before in the account of Jesus' arrest. When the guards first come to arrest him, they ask for him, and responds I am. They all fall down. I'm turning this over and over in my head. Jesus spoke the Divine Name, and they fell to their knees. I'm struggling with this old and new part of the story I thought I knew. The more I pray, the more I read, the  more I think about it, my understanding of the power of God is in motion.

So what does all this mean about the authority of the Bible? In Ellen Davis's explanation of the virtuous reader, the Bible has defacto authority -- its all in the way I approach it. While there is something to this, it's not fully adequate. It's not just the way I or we approach the text, but also it's testimony. Generations of church mothers and fathers, of scholars and pastors, and friends whom I trust have testified to its dejure authority. Morever, the revelation of God testifies to the Bible. I experience God when I come to the Bible. We might even say, though I am not at all comfortable with this language, that the Bible testifies to itself. Let me put it in United Methodist terms.

If we hold the Outler quadralateral of scripture,tradition, reason and experience as a basic epistemic frame (Br Scot will be all over this -- I can feel his argument already), then what we read in scripture should testify to our tradition. It should be consistent and even expand our reason. It should be consistent with our experience and expand it. Our reason should testify to it, and so on and so forth. And the Great Cloud of Witnesses (saints militant and triumphant) stands with us as we approach the text. And in all, God is revealing God's self to us -- which really is the whole point. Our whole purpose in study is to learn more about God, to learn more about ourselves, and to learn who we are as children of God. I should say, not just learn in a gathering-knowledge way, but learning in a way that fosters growth.

I welcome your questions. I know there are holes all over this, so please bring it.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Sermon Scraps: the not-so-left-overs, continued

I believe I left off with Maryology. I love Maryology. I truly believe we are supposed to be (metaphorical) Marys for the world -- we are supposed to be the God bearers (theotokas) in the world. I heard once that we may be the only Bible that some people read. I believe that is our mission, to carry God, to carry the Word to the world. Anyway . . . I digress.

I believe it is essential that Mary was fully human. Jesus had to be born with all the trappings of original sin. Now, don't go saying that I said Jesus was born with original sin. That's not what I said. That's an entirely different topic. If God became human, I believe that shows an ontological shift for God. We were incapable of moving ourselves closer to God, so God moved closer to us.

While the divinity of Jesus is important, I believe we get that. I can understand that Jesus was God. We seem to have trouble understanding that Jesus was human -- like us. He laughed, cried, told jokes, went to the bathroom, had headaches, toothaches (poor dental coverage in the 1st Century). He got angry; he may have suffered bouts of insomnia. He was hungry, and thirsty. He was like us. He experienced what we experience.

But Jesus was also God. He loved like only God can -- fully, in your face, confrontationally, unconditionally. In truth, I don't think we know what do with divine love. I have a wonderful friend (a former brother in ministry) who preached the gospel -- he preached the love of God. When I had my spirit and my heart broken, he was there to pick me up, to show me God's love for me. And yet, he could not believe the love that he preached. He could not believe that God loved him, that God forgave him, even him, and he self-destructed. And the truth of the matter is that God's love is overwhelming. I don't pretend to understand how God could love me, how God could forgive me. I know what I've done. I asked in the last post about whether or not we could worship a God who could forgive us.

This is the question. How can God forgive us? I believe God can forgive us because God lived as one of us, because God felt our brokeness. God felt our hurts, our alienation, our lonliness, our shame. God took our brokeness upon God's self, and responded with love. When confronted with divine love, we (humanity) responded with the cross. Often, we fear what we don't understand, and we don't understand God's love. Moreover, what we fear, we often try to destroy, and so we tried. We tried all the way to the cross. I don't know have any theological weight to explain this, but somehow I believe that Jesus experienced every sin on the cross -- he felt every sin from mine to the Sho-ah. He took on every sin, all sin, Sin itself.

And it was enough to kill him. It's important to say that Jesus wasn't pretending to be dead. It's not like he was faking it, or just passed out. Jesus really, really died on the cross. Sin killed him. On the last men's Walk to Emmaus I worked, one of the pastoral team said something that really struck me as particularly apt. When we forgive someone, we take on the consequences of their action. The example (I think it was) Jason (or maybe Bill) was gave the thrown baseball. If you throw a baseball through my window and break it, you owe some money. If I forgive you of that burden, then I take on that burden -- I pay for the window. Don't push this example too far -- you'll end up back with St. Anselm and Cur Deus Homo.

But hear this, Paul wasn't kidding when he said that the wages of Sin is death (Romans 6:23). Sin will kill us. Sin does kill us. In my head I always think of Sin as Mestophales -- so cunning, promising good things, but those same things we think we want, usually are not what we need and are often the very worst for us. As an example, consider this: I love junk food. I could live on hamburgers and pizza, but hamburgers and pizza will raise my bad cholestoral level, raise my blood pressure, and they will kill me. Morever, Sin alienates us from one another. We were created for relationship (with God and with each other). If I eat nothing but hamburgers and pizza, I'll be as big as my house, unable to leave my house, and I will have fractured my relationship with others. Moreover, science has shown that junk food like hamburgers and pizza release neurotransmitters of joy (happy feeling stuff) in our brains, like drugs, or dark chocolate. In essence, we can become almost addicted to this food. It can become our obsession, our God, and then we've fractured our relationship with God.

The wages of Sin is death. This isn't metaphorical. Sin kills. It killed Jesus. Jesus took on the consequences of Sin. He died. But that's not the end of the story.

Now for some undeveloped theories. Billy Abraham (google him) makes it a point to say that in atonement, God makes an ontological shift toward us. Schubert Ogden (google him) wrote that the Christ event (that is the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus) re-presents salvation to us. In the end, I would lump Ogden in the narrative theology of atonement group (I'm skipping some steps here; it's worth reading Ogden on your own). I find this inadequate. Yes, on one hand, the narrative of the Christ event does re-present the possibility of salvation to each of us individually. We all make the choice. But if God ontologically moved toward us, it's God who's done the work, not us.

Billy also goes on to say that atonement has to be bi-lateral. God moved toward us, and we move toward God. I like to think of the empty tomb accounts. The women come to the tomb. The women come toward God. In my mind (as yet, this is still an undeveloped theory), the women were the first to move toward God, even if they didn't know that was what they were doing.

I think somehow, all of us come to the empty tomb. Sin killed Jesus, but as I said above, that is not the end. Sin does not have the last word. Death is not the end of that story. We come to the empty tomb, like Peter and the beloved disciple, hoping to see for ourselves that the story isn't over. Some of us come, like the women, believing the story is over, ready to bury the one who took on our Sin, but he will not be buried. He lives. Some of us can't even bring ourselves to the empty tomb -- it's too much to believe. And Jesus walks through walls and tells us, like Thomas to touch the wounds. Each of us comes to a point where we have to choose to believe that the tomb is empty and Jesus is risen indeed, or we choose not to believe.

In exploring this with my theological sparring partner, Br Scot, I asked, but what if the women hadn't come to the tomb? What if we didn't move toward God? I don't know the answer to the 'what ifs' of this particular story, but I believe God would have found another way. Br Scot's answer to this was, do you have to know what God is doing for God to work in your life? But it still come down to this; we have a faithful step that we must take, an epistemic step to take. We have to choose to believe or accept that what has been told to us, or revealed to us is true. In that step, we are shifted ontologically (notice the use of the passive voice). We do not change ourselves, but we are changed. For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son that whoever would believe in him would not perish, but have eternal life (paraphrase of John 3:16).

So can I worship a God who could forgive me? Yes. If I can  be forgiven, if my sin is forgiven, then the worst of humanity's sin is also forgiven. Sin is sin is sin in God's eyes. Jesus forgave all sin -- even those we can't forgive yet. If I can accept my own forgiveness, then I can accept (even if I don't understand) that God's forgiveness is for all.

Well, bring on the hole-pokers. I want to be ready for questions, so seriously, ask me now, when I have to look for answers. I would rather hear them now, not in my mock-board of ordained ministry interview.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Sermon Scraps: the not-so-leftovers

I haven't blogged in a couple of weeks, but I have a really good excuse. 1) I was sickity-sick-sick last Sunday (11/7), so much so that everyone kept their distance from me and my fever. 2) I didn't preach this Sunday.
So, what's been on my mind lately? Well a whole lot of stuff--holiday preparations, theology, worship planning, theology, church conference preparations, theology, family, theology . . . Are you noticing a trend? At our last ordination meeting / RIM retreat / whatever you call it, the leaders mentioned that when we meet in January, we will go through a mock board of ordained ministry interview. So I'm thinking, I've got to get my theological chops in back in shape. So, let's get started. How about we begin with atonement (everybody's favorite BOoM subject).
When I was being interviewed for commissioning, the question was something like, 'how would you explain atonement to a young adult -- say a young man says to you, Pastor if God really knew what I had done, how could I ever be forgiven?'
The question reminds me of a quote, but I can't remember from where it comes right now. The quote is, "I'm not sure I can worship a God who would forgive me." If I ever remember where it's from, I'll post it. Nevertheless, let's dig deeper. Can we worship a God who would forgive Hitler? What about a God who forgives a child predator? or Chuck Taylor (if you're unfamiliar with him, Google him w/ chuck taylor + warlord, and then check out the work of Exile International)?
The Apostle Paul told us that there is no one righteous, no, not even one (Romans 3.10). Even those we believe to be the most saintly, they fall short. All of us fall short (again, paraphrasing Paul in his letter to the Romans).
So what does it mean that we have fallen short? What does it mean that we've sinned. Let me back up to say, I know I'm a sinner. I committ deadly sins -- If I learned anything during my sermon series on the 7 deadly sins, it is that I can see myself in all of them. St. Anselm said that our sin causes it to appear as though we have offended the righteousness of God (Cur Deus Homo). Anselm also spoke of an immutable God, and I find flaws in that theology. But the question remains, how does our sin affect God? Does it affect God? If not, then what's the problem? Does Sin only affect us? Instead of asking questions, how about some answers?
Yes, our Sin affects us. It also affects our relationship with God. It moves us farther from God. Being that I cut my theological teeth in process theology, I would even go so far as to say that our sin affects God. I believe it causes God grief. God feels the pain of seperation. Beyond that, I'm not comfortable deciding how our sin affects God. Perhaps more learned scholars could comment.
I believe God feels our need for healing. If you're interested in reading more about our need for healing, I would recommend reading some of Andrew Sung Park's work on the concept of Han.
In order to break the cycle of Han, to release us from the power (read: lordship) of Sin, God chose to become us -- to enter into creation, to take on all the trappings of our sinful condition. This is where many Roman Catholic theologians and I disagree. I believe it is essential to atonement that Mary be fully human -- born with original sin. Mary is just like us. Mary is the one from whom Jesus gets his humaness. Does anyone know any good Maryology scholars. I would like to be able to quote some here.

And now . . . well, I hope I've whetted your appetite for a good theological discussion. Alas, the topic is bigger than one post. Here's my deal. I'll try to continue sometime this week, but I want comments. The whole reason I started this blog to talk theology and to have an outlet for the stuff that I can't seem to fit in my sermons. So I want comments. I want suggestions. I want folks to find the holes in my theology.

Monday, November 1, 2010

To Make Up for Last Week: A Sermon

With my travel schedule last week, I never got to post anything. I didn't really have anything new to post about a sermon anyway. Last week, Bend UMC heard the final sermon in the "I am" series and Lometa UMC had laity Sunday (I don't blog about other's sermons, most of the time).

Anyway, I figured that instead of blogging my sermon scraps (what didn't make it into the sermon), I would post one of my sermons -- sort of. I gave this sermon for my RIM (Residency in Ministry) group last month, so it's a sermon to pastors. Still I think there is something for all christians. Where I said "sort of" above, I should explain. This is the sermon as well as I can remember it. I usually preach from notes, not a full manuscript. I have only recently, for discipline and training purposes, gone back to writing out my entire sermon. I wrote this manuscript based on my notes and what I could remember about what I said. Without further ado . . 

Galatians 6:14 – 18 (NRSV)
May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything; but a new creation is everything! As for those who will follow this rule—peace be upon them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God. From now on, let no one make trouble for me; for I carry the marks of Jesus branded on my body. May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers and sisters. Amen.

Matthew 11: 25 – 30 (NRSV) 
At that time Jesus said, ‘I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. ‘Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.’ 

The Marks of Ministry
When I was preparing to leave Perkins for in my internship, one of my professors said to our group, from now on, wherever you go, you will have a steeple coming out of your foreheads. You don’t know what that means until you know what that means, am I right? In our epistle lesson today, St. Paul writes, From now on, let no one make trouble for me; for I carry the marks of Jesus branded on my body. This is his hand written benediction to this letter. As he wrote this, he was referring to the actual marks that had been branded on his body, the scars he had received from his years of imprisonment for having the audacity to preach the gospel. He refers to the scars he received because he bore the name of Jesus Christ.

Marks -- Car, banners, tree limbs
But this got me to thinking about the marks of ministry, the marks of being a Christian. My car marks me as a pastor. A few weeks ago I was driving to an Emmaus meeting when a bird of scavenge hit my passenger side mirror and took it off. I swear; it hit me. I did everything I could to avoid it, but it had its aim. I have a perkins sticker on my back windshield, and an OSL sticker. I even bought one of those clergy stickers with the cross and flame, but I haven’t put it on yet. I tend to multitask while I drive and I don’t want to give anyone the wrong idea about pastors.

I’ve been keeping a mental list of the things they didn’t teach us in seminary that come up with some regularity. How to get a cow back in the fence. I could have used a course on banner hanging 101. That left a mark. The other day, I found that one of my other duties as assigned included piling up branches. While I was piling up the branches, my foot found the fire ant bed. Did I mention I was wearing flip flops? Yeah, that left a mark.

Marks of Sound
But we receive other marks from ministry, don’t we? Our people make their marks on us. I was having a discussion with one of my musicians the other day about changing the 2nd hymn on Sunday. I said, I’m preaching on I am the light of the world, and the words to I want to walk as a child of the light works well. And he said, yes, but we don’t know that hymn pastor. And I said, I’ll sing loudly; and he said, I know. And then he said, listen to this pastor. Doesn’t this sound like light? And he was right. Later on, he came to asked, it’s the words that are important to you isn’t it pastor? And I said, yes. I’m a poet. I studied poetry in college. It’s not for you. And he said, no, it’s the music. I’ve been mulling over this conversation for a while now, and it’s affecting my theology. It’s marked me.

There are sounds in ministry that mark us. When my congregation sings How Great Thou Art, and we get to that last verse, and I hear so many voices singing about bowing at the throne of our Lord. I’m overwhelmed every time.

Other sounds in ministry mark us, brand us with the marks of Jesus. I met Jerry a week after I moved to Lometa. Over the next few weeks, each time I was in Lampasas I would stop by his nursing home for a visit. I didn’t know that 6 weeks later I would walk into Jerry’s room for the last time. I had been told about that sound. That sound, you’ll know it when you hear it, and when you hear it, you’ll never forget it. That sound that people make as they’re dying. And then there was the silence that followed. Jerry branded me with the marks of Jesus.

St. Francis’s Marks
The reason this lesson was chosen for the feast of St. Francis, is because St. Francis himself was branded with the marks of Jesus. One day, while he was deep in prayer he received a vision of the feast of the cross. Upon having this vision, he received the stigmata – the wounds of Christ. He lived with them for the rest of his life. But long before he received the stigmata, he had been branded with the marks of Jesus. Later in his life, when he was no longer able to work, he dictated his memoirs. He told a story about his life before he belonged to Jesus. He would leave his house and if the wind was coming from the right direction, the stench coming from the homes of the lepers would overpower him. He would hold his nose and run to get away from that smell. Later, after his conversion, he told about the joy he had in ministering to those same lepers from whom he used to run. He told of his joy in caring for them, and tending to their needs, even cleaning their wounds. Long before he received the stigmata, he bore the marks of Jesus branded on his body.

In our gospel lesson, Jesus said, Come to me to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.

In the rabbinic tradition to take the yoke of your rabbi meant to take on his teachings, to follow your rabbi, wherever he went. Rob Bell reminds us about that old saying for the rabbinical students. May you follow your rabbi so closely that the dust from your rabbi’s feet covers you. The whole thing about taking on the yoke of a rabbi means that we will do what our rabbi does, go where our rabbi goes, that we will follow so closely that the dust from his feet will fall on us. And if we have studied his teachings, if we have followed closely enough, if we have listened to him closely enough, if we have truly taken on his yoke, eventually, we will begin to look like our rabbi.

If we go where our rabbi is already at work, we’re going to receive the marks that our rabbi has received. If we do what our rabbi does, we will be marked like our rabbi is marked. That easy yoke of Jesus sends us out to hospital rooms, and nursing home, to bad neighborhoods. That yoke of Jesus sends us out to receive the marks of Jesus branded onto our bodies. And may it be that the dust from our rabbi’s feet covers and we look like him. Amen.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Sermon Scraps: The end of the “I am” series

I decided I’ve missed so many blogs, there is no way for me to remember what it was I wanted to blog about for the last 3 weeks. So what have I been thinking about with this series? I revealed this week (next week for you Bend folks) the grammar of the “I am” statements.

Why is the grammar important? The answer: because grammar is always important. I admit it; I’m a member of a group on facebook called, ‘I judge you when you use poor grammar.” Grammar is important, not just because of my judgement, but for the safety of grandmothers everywhere. Example:

Notice the difference in this sentence:

Let’s eat grandma.

Let’s eat, grandma.

That’s a very important comma. Nonetheless, you should all realize this little grammar lesson is brought to you by someone who couldn’t spell her way out of a paper bag. Seriously, I misspelled resurrection last week on the church sign. I tried to warn my Lotemians about my poor spelling ability, but they wouldn’t listen.

Anyway, back to the grammar of the I am statements. Jesus repeatedly uses the syntax ego eimi. Skipping a few steps, I’ll say this, the grammar of Koine Greek is such that we can translate this ego eimi as I am I am . . . For instance, I am I am, the bread of life. In these 7 I am statements, and in other places as well, Jesus is using the Divine Name for his own – meaning I am the one who is called I am, or I am I am, who is the bread of life.

Again, why is this important? These 7 statements are not just good sermon fodder. They tell us something about who Jesus is. Jesus is the perfect image of the Triune God (think, when you see me you have seen the Father), or said another way, God is most fully revealed in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. As such, these 7 I am statements tell us about who God is.

God is the Bread of Life: the basic staple of our lives. Or I should say, God wants to be our food. God is all we need, but we forget that. It is no accident that there is so much bread in Luke’s gospel. At the beginning of the gospel, the baby Jesus is placed (or seated, according to the verb) in a place for food. Throughout the gospel story, Jesus eats and eats and eats. We’re supposed to get that connection.

God is the True Vine: the source of our lives. When I think of this, I remember the 2nd creation account of the making of humanity. God formed the adam and breathed into his nostril the breath of life and the adam became a nephesh hiyah, or a living being. Our very breath is from God. Every time we breathe in we breathe in a gift from God. When we exhale, we give it back to God, only to be replenished again.

God is the Way, the Truth, and the Life: the path we should follow. I’ve blogged about my feelings about the ways this verse has been misused. One of the teachings I have taken from my time with Ruben Habito is this: we search for the path, for the truth, for the way, and in so searching, we miss that the path was there all along. We search for God, only to find that God has never moved.

God is the Door: the way. When we’ve searched and searched, and found that God has never left us, the only thing left to do is to come in. Do I need to say more?

God is the Light of the World: that which destroys darkness. In the Hebrew tradition, the glory of God or the cavod was bright, but it was more than just light. In that cavod was power and presence and something we can’t understand. God told Moses he could not see the glory of God and live, but he could see where God had been. In VELVET ELVIS, Rob Bell only briefly touches on this, but I’d like to take it a step further. We may not be able to see God directly, but we can see where God has been – we see the light of God remaining where God has been. Think about it. In the sanctuary in my church in Bedford, someone prayed over every seat before the service began. In a way that I can’t fully explain, when you left worship, you knew you had been in the presence of God. It left a mark or brightness on you.

God is the Good Shepherd: the one who always cares for us. Has it ever happened to you that when you felt most alone, someone called? It has for me. God gave us each other, and still God watches over us, caring for us, leading us beside still waters and through valleys of shadows.

God is the Resurrection and the Life: our hope when there is none. My favorite part of the Emmaus story in Luke’s gospel is the grammar (going full circle). Cleopas and his friend tell the as-yet-unrevealed Jesus that they had hoped Jesus was the messiah, the one. They speak in the past perfect, an event happened, but now it’s over. There grammar betrays that they now have no hope, only a memory of hope. That’s about as bad as it can get. And yet, they are walking beside the resurrected Jesus. I still have an unresolved theological issue at work here. Jesus really, really died. He wasn’t sleeping, or just badly wounded, in a coma, or pretending. He was dead. There was no hope. And then the tomb was empty. We are heirs to that promise, and as such, we always have hope. We always have light in the darkness.

These are just some final thoughts on this sermon series. Next week, I think I’ll post the sermon I gave for my RIM (Residency in Ministry) sermon. I hope you have enjoyed receiving this series as much as I have enjoyed preparing for it.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Sermon Scraps: I am the Gate, John 10: 1 – 10

What can I say about Jesus as the Gate? I think I’ll start with closed doors. I wonder if, for too long, when people came to the church, the body of Christ, they have found a closed door. It seems to me that once we got through the door, we decided to close it behind us. Once we got in, somehow we began to think that we had a say as to the others who would be invited in. And perhaps you are thinking, surely not Pastor. This cannot be.

Well, I think it is. We tell people all the time we don’t want them. When my favorite pink-haired lady (mentioning no names) started coming to church, how many comments did she receive about her hair? Or worse, how many times did she hear, “we’re so glad you’re coming to us?” In this comment, what I hear is, ‘we’re so glad you’re going to stop being yourself and maybe you’ll start being like us.” I can think of nothing worse than for my favorite pink-haired lady to give up who she is, who God created her to be to make feel more comfortable. Two Sundays ago, when we had a new visitor who didn’t look like us, some people came up to her, and conspicuously, there were some who ignored her. Was it the bald head? Was it the cane? Was it the color of her skin?

I’ve been trying to get baby changing stations in the bathrooms. My campaign is in full swing in one church and will begin in the other soon. And I have heard, ‘yes, but Pastor, we don’t have any babies here.’ I would like to point out that I had babies in both of my services yesterday, and, as usual, the grandchildren stole the show. But that’s not the point. That we don’t provide a place to change a baby’s diaper could be translated by some to say that we don’t have a place for young families with babies. Is that really the message we want to give others – there’s no room in the Body of Christ for your family?

I have to ask, do we really believe the kingdom is complete with us? Are we the sum total of who and what makes up the kingdom of God?

It seems to me that the gate remains open behind us on purpose, not just to let others in, but for us to go out as well. John 10: 9 reads, “I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture” (NRSV). Jesus is the gate, the way by which we come in and go out and find pasture. I don’t think we come in and hang out. I believe we are meant to go out and show others and tell others about this wonderful gate we’ve found. I’ve shared this before, but the best definition of evangelism I’ve ever heard was this, ‘one beggar showing another beggar where to find bread.” It’s not like there’s not enough bread for us to share, and I am beginning to believe that if we try to keep all the bread for ourselves, it becomes like manna – it goes bad if you hoard it.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Sermon Scraps: I am the Way the Truth and the Life, John 14: 1- 14

Are you ready to get philosophical? I hope so. I mentioned yesterday in my sermon that this text makes me uncomfortable. Let me begin by saying that we should admit that more often than we do. The Gospel is scandalous and, in places, it should make us uncomfortable. Anyway, I made reference to interpretations of this verse (John 14: 6) being exclusionary and it has. Jesus said, I am the way the truth and the life. No one goes to the Father except through me (or some version of that). It seems to exclude others from going to the Father. Only we get to go to the Father.

I’m not sure this is true for most of Christianity. Christians get it wrong more often than we get it right. True, I believe that the best way to live, the way that leads to eternal life in God is the way of Jesus. I believe that we should all follow Jesus, because it’s the closest to the Truth I have found. If I didn’t, you should all ask me, why I am following Jesus (trying my best, anyway)? Why would I give my life for something I didn’t believe in? But how do I, or we, reconcile this belief in a pluralistic society?

If I were to ask Br Scot (Bontraeger), I believe this would lead to a conversation about Truth, and whether or not Truth is zero-sum. Just because I am right does not mean that another is not also right. And I have to say, that surely our God is big enough that Truth does not have to be zero-sum. To say that I am right (in believing that following Jesus is the best way), does that necessarily mean that another way is not also right? Grammatically speaking, that is an illogical question – there can only be one best, but is God bounded by our grammar?

Shubert Ogden said that we can agree there is Truth (that’s a pretty big first step, philosophically speaking). We can agree that I believe I am following the Truth (or have the Truth, but not in a possessive way), and we can agree that another believes she is following the Truth (or has the Truth). Ogden would say that one of us is right. If that paragraph confused you, you should try reading On Theology. Dr. Ogden is a precise writer, and one must read him slowly, with a straight-edge, a pencil, and a dictionary nearby.

I don’t want to put words in his mouth, I believe that Br Scot (who is my constant theological arguing partner) would say that one or both of us is right (from the paragraph above), that Truth is not zero-sum. Just because I have stumbled on the truth, does not mean that another, taking an entirely different path, did not also do the same thing. Moreover, who is to say that the Truth onto which I have stumbled is the totality of Truth? Surely God is bigger than any one religion.

In seminary I studied (very briefly) with several Sikhs as part of my World Religions class. These Sikhs believed that the collected writings of the Five Gurus, including Guru Nanek, was the wisdom of God come down from heaven. They called this collection the Guru Granth Sahib. It was not God but the Wisdom of God. They believe that the Jesus was a prophet, like one of the five Gurus, who taught the Wisdom of God. I will tell you, in the brief time I studied with them, there was a lot of overlap in that wisdom; there was a lot of truth in their teachings.

But our faith traditions are not equal; they are not the same. And they are not even pointed toward the same horizon. These Sikhs believe that if they lived the right way, following the teachings of God, they would eventually escape the death-and-rebirth cycle. The Christian horizon is pointed toward full communion with God (which some call heaven). These are not the same, nor are they equal. But still isn’t possible there is Truth in Sikhism? Further, to put the question back within the frame of John’s Gospel, let me ask this. If the logos (the wisdom of God) was from the beginning, was with God and was God, and came to dwell among us in Jesus, and Jesus is the Way, wasn’t that Way from beginning? That particular dwelling of the wisdom is no longer dwelling with us (in the same way). So was it the historical Jesus, the one who walked on the earth, that is the Way, or is the Wisdom of God that was from the beginning, the Wisdom that is, and the Wisdom that is to come, is that Wisdom the Way?

I think I jumped around a bit here, so I hope you can follow my flow. I also made a lot of assumptions – like the assumption that there is Truth. That is an entirely different discussion – Is there one Truth, what is it, how do we know when we have found it? Maybe someday, I’ll post that blog.

Sermon Scraps: I am the True Vine. John 15: 1 - 11

I realize I didn’t blog last week for my sermon on “I am the True Vine,” so here it is. I talked quite a bit about grape growing. The truth is I don’t know much about grapes. I know I like them. I enjoy the occasional visit to a vineyard, even the occasional wine tasting. But if you put me to work in a vineyard, I would be lost. Here’s what I do know, there’s a lot of work involved.

In my sermon, I focused on the role of the branches in growing grapes. I said that the branches grow from the vine around each other; they wrap around each other, twisting and turning, supporting and being supported. Here’s what I didn’t say, the branches aren’t responsible for creating fruit. They bear the fruit, but they do not create it; the vine does. The branches are there to hold the fruit, even to help nourish it, you might say, but it is the vine’s responsibility or scope to create it. It takes the whole plant and the vinegrower working together to get good fruit.

What does this mean for us, who are the branches? What is our job in fruit production?

1) We are supposed to stay connected to vine, not grow out on our own. Those branches that grow out of the bundle, they fall to the ground, get dirty, and are susceptible to all kinds of fungi and diseases. And I think, if we leave the metaphor for a minute, it takes work to stay in the bundle. Sometimes other branches poke us, maybe even it feels like they’re choking us, and we have to decide over and over again to honor our vows, that these people are our church. We have to decide over and over again that we will remain faithful to these people of our church with our prayers, presence, gifts, service and witness. It is a choice.

2) We are supposed to help support other branches, in the way they need to be supported. So often we feel like we know the right way to help people, and so our help comes with strings. I’ll pay this bill, if you’ll just do what I tell you. I’ll pray for you, if you will completely change your life for me. I’ll help you but you have to start coming to church, my church. I think this may be human nature. We really do want to help, and we think we have the answers, the right answer. If you’ll just do it my way, things will be better. The truth is that I am not you and you are not me, and my answer may or may not work for you. My job is not to fix you, but to support you, the way you need to be supported. This does not mean that we need to let other branches demand so much support that we are broken. In the famous serenity prayer we ask for courage to change what we can, serenity to accept what we can’t change and wisdom to know the difference. Again, we are not responsible for the creating the fruit, but bearing it.

3) We have to remain open to receive sunlight and water. There are times when we would rather not let any light shine on us, when the dark seems more comfortable. But the truth is that the dark will kill us. We need light. In this metaphor, I think the darkness is shame, sin, depression, etc. The thing about sin and shame is that they lie to us. They tell us that the light doesn’t want us. If we are branches with a wound, and we let that wound hide in the dark, it will fester. Other germs and fungi will get in there. We need sunlight and water, and the vinegrower knows how to ensure we get just the right amount of each. We have to be willing to let the vinegrower see that wound, bring it out in the sunlight. That’s the only way it gets healed.

Anyway, these are just a few scraps that didn’t make it into my sermon. They weren’t any less important, but I always have choices to make about what I include and what it left out. Enjoy my thoughts with some fava beans and a nice Chianti.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Sermon Scraps: I am the Bread of Life

Well, we’re now on a new journey through John’s gospel together. I’m so glad we’ve finished with that nasty sin business, and we’re onto brighter topics. I will confess to you all that I have my difficulties with John’s gospel. I’ve never understood those fundamentalist who would give the Gospel of John to a new Christian, and say, just read this. It’s what you need to know. I don’t always get John, but I do understand that there is usually more happening than just the surface level of the text. It’s a definitely a polyvalent text.

So about Sunday’s service . . .

I think, for the most part, everything went as I had planned. I loved that so many people asked about the baptismal fonts. Why were they there? Hmm. I suppose that it’s partially my fault that I have never done that with them before – that is place a font in the isle. To answer why they were there, let me say this. In many churches, as you enter the sanctuary, there is a baptismal font. I had someone say to me yesterday, “yes, but it’s all just a symbol, pastor.” That’s true, to some extent, but what we do in worship is more than merely symbolism, right? If it’s only a symbol, then why bother? Because it’s more than a symbol. A service of Word and Table are, like John’s gospel, polyvalent. There is more happening than just what we see on the surface. We practicing our worship; we’re reliving the story of salvation; we’re even communing with all the saints of the church.

Baptism is our entry into the Church, so why would we not try to remember our baptism every time we entered into our church building, into worship with the Body of Christ? Also, in our history as the Church, baptism has come before participating in Holy Communion. Br Mark Stamm reminded our Word and Worship class that our UM rubrics indicate that the Eucharist is open to all baptized Christians. I’ve been trying to find that rubric this morning, but to no avail. If I search my memory, I believe I read something similar in THIS HOLY MYSTERY, with the addendum, that the pastor should not refuse service to those who wish to receive, but they should counsel about the importance of baptism. Moreover, our BOOK OF WORSHIP says, “We have no tradition of refusing any who present themselves desiring to receive,” (BOW, 29).

This discussion reminds me of a movie I saw a few years ago, AU REVOIR LES ENFANTS (Good bye little children). It’s a depressing semi-autobiographical movie about a French boarding school run by priests during the German occupation of France. The school hides several Jewish boys from the Germans in with the Catholic boys. There is one scene when the parents are visiting the children, during mass when one of the Jewish boys comes up to receive the Host. The priest does not serve him. The scene bothered me for many reasons, at the same time, the priest (re-presenting Christ) later gave his life for hiding this boy. I’m still puzzled that the priest would not serve him the Host, but would give his very life for him. Is that not (sort of) the same thing? In the Great Thanksgiving, we retell and, in fact, relive the narrative of salvation – in fancy terms, we call this anamnesis. What did this priest do but relive and re-present Christ to this boy?

So, why did I place the baptismal font in the isle? Because we approach the table of our Lord through our baptism. Why didn’t I make a big deal of them? Because I don’t know that everyone in my congregation has participated in the sacrament of baptism, and I refuse to set a stumbling block before those who would come to the Lord.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Sermon Scraps: No More Deadly Sins

I realize this blog is late. I know; I know. There’s no excuse, except that on Monday I was at Mt. Wesley for RIM. I was occupied the entire time I was there, seriously.

Anywho . . .

At my pastors’ breakfast group this morning, I was asked what I learned from my series on the 7 deadly sins. Here are my take-aways.

1) It will be a long time until I write a sermon using an acrostic.

2) I can see myself in every sin – I am prideful, envious, greedy, gluttonous, lustful, slothful, and even wrathful at times. I think most of us can say this about ourselves, or we should be able to admit it about ourselves.

3) We have to want salvation. The primary book I read to prepare for this series was written by a Roman Catholic theologian, and the RC doctrine of salvation differs from the UMC doctrine. In RC soteriology, there is an element of works – penance, keeping of the 10 commandments, etc. Whereas in the UMC, we profess that we are saved by grace though faith. Good works are the fruit of the work God does in us. Regardless, the difference, as I saw it, was that DeYoung emphasized the forming of virtuous habits. In response to lust, we should practice chastity, for instance. This morning as I ate and discussed with my group, it occurred to me that regardless of your church doctrine, you have to want salvation.

If I truly wish to live without sin, I have to want to do it – not just say that I do, but really want it. You have to want to live differently, to be a different person. When we UMs talk about sanctification, we tend to use passive language – we talk about what God is doing in us. But there is something we are doing as well.

In VELVET ELVIS, Rob Bell spends some time talking about living like we are forgiven. He tells a story about having his bill paid at restaurant by an anonymous diner. He said, I could sit there, trying to pay the bill, or I could get up and leave, living my life as if what I had been told was true – my bill was already paid. To make the point more scholarly, I remember in his book, WALKING BETWEEN THE TIMES, J Paul Sampley says that the Apostle Paul tells us (or his original audience) that they are Christians, so they should act like it. They (read: we) are no longer slaves to the lordship of Sin, and so we should live like it. We are under the lordship of Christ, and so we should live like it.

Said another way, I am no longer under the power of pride (or insert whatever sin you’d like), so I should live like it. I believe DeYoung would say that means forming virtuous habits. If I am no longer prideful because of Christ, then I practice living with humility. And in so practicing, I become humble. This is all a discussion of imputed and imparted righteousnessm, to which I say boo.

This blog really comes from an email I received this week and conversation I had today. A dear, beloved friend sent me an email telling me her husband (an alcoholic) asked to go to rehab. He’s there now. Another dear beloved friend presided at a funeral of a friend’s son whose alcoholism finally killed him. One man is in rehab, and the other with our Lord. And I believe that God’s grace was there for both of them – equally (as if grace could be quantified). God’s grace was always enough for them to be redeemed from the lordship of alcohol, but one of them is trying to live as if this is true and the other could not. Paul says that the wages of sin are death. It’s not judgment – at least not in the way we might think. It’s not that God will kill us for sinning; it’s that sin kills us. We have to want salvation. We have to be willing to live as if it’s true, as if God’s grace is real, as if because of the life death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ we are forgiven and freed from sin, and that takes faith.

Next week begins a new series – the 7 I am statements of Jesus in John’s Gospel. In case you were wondering, I don’t have any particular affinity for the number 7, but the early church did, and the gospel writers did because they came out of the Jewish tradition, which did have an affinity for the number 7. That I have chosen 2 series of 7 has more to do with the number of Sundays in ordinary time and wanting to help my congregations move through the Christian year together.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Sermon Scraps: Gluttony

I know I didn't post last week, but I also didn't preach. Thank you Charlie Parker for your wonderful homiletic weavings at the Bend camp meeting this year. Now, on to this week's scraps.

Gluttony . . . hmm, how I know you well. I remember Dr. McKenzie telling our preaching class that a sermon was an event, not a manuscript. Yesterday, that happened. I preached one sermon at the Bend UMC, and I preached a different one at Lometa UMC. I mean, they were the same basic sermon – same basic points in each, same scripture, same acrostic, but I hit on something in Lometa that I would like to explore a little more today.

I sit here in my office today, with my computer. I’ve updated my twitter and facebook, played my moves in the millions of online scrabble games I have going and while I’m working, I have the Big Brother live feed up. In addition to all this electronic feeding, I have Julie with me here today and she’s totally obsessed with playing fetch. I have a lot going on around me, and I haven’t really done anything yet. And it all seems to distract me from the work I’m supposed to be doing.

Jen (a dearly loved houseguest of mine this weekend) talked about cable television. When I was in seminary, I didn’t have cable or satellite TV. My logic was that if I had time to watch television, then I was neglecting my homework or reading or both. Now I have a satellite provider. I have well over 1000 channels to watch all the time. And if there’s nothing on live television, I have my DVR. At last check, I had over 150 programs recorded that I can watch anytime.

We are gluttons for media, which leads me to explore further a point I hit in my sermon yesterday in Lometa. What are we trying to fill? It seems to me that we are a culture filling ourselves with temporary junk and neglecting our relationships with God and with each other. Moreover, I believe we are a culture hurting, desperately hurting, and we need healing, true-deep down-it will be painful to open these wounds-healing. Instead, we feed ourselves, trying to fill those wounds. They never heal that way. It's only when we willing to expose the wound to the fresh air of the Holy Spirit that healing can begin.

Yesterday I said there is a time to feast, and there is. We need to feast on the goodness of God, but so often we block the goodness God intends for us with other stuff, with food, with alcohol or drugs, with media, with people, and so on. It seems to me that in a culture currently obsessed with “cleanses,” maybe we should be spending some more time fasting. I would not say that I love fasting, but I love what it does to and for me.

Two years ago I went to the OSL retreat in October with a large decision to make. I prayed. I fasted – seriously. If you know me, you know how hard it was to leave my laptop at home. And the answer did not come, then, but it did come later. Instead, I renewed a relationship with a close friend; I came home rested, and ready to be a better pastor. I came home closer to God. And so I’m asking what if we emptied some of the stuff in our life and filled it instead with God – which is the purpose of a fast. What if we purposefully turned off our televisions and live feeds, and gave that time to God? What would God do with us?

To get more specific, I’m thinking about Advent Conspiracy. I wonder if we approached the birth of our savior as a time to not to empty our wallets and fill our lives with more stuff that gets between us and God, what if we “fasted” from over-indulgent Christmas shopping this year? I’m asking . . . Really. Are there folks in my churches interested in joining Advent Conspiracy? Read about it. .

Monday, August 9, 2010

Sermon Scraps: Greed

DeYoung says that, “the mark of generosity is not the size of the gift, or the wealth of the giver, but the readiness to give that one does not have to God” (GLITTERING VICES, 103). Said another way, greed is not about how much we give, but about the how we give. I have two thoughts on this idea.

I remember when I was a child and my mom would give me a dollar to put in the offering plate. I loved it. More than once, I asked for another dollar, because it was so much fun to give her money away. I also remember the year I had to have Gerbaud jeans and Z Cavaricci jeans. They were stupidly expensive, more than $100 a pair, but I had to have them. I had very worry about spending my parents’ money. I was quite prodigal with it.

On the other hand, I remember my second year of seminary when a friend commented about how many shirts of mine had holes in them. I realized that I had not bought ANY new clothes for over a year. Graduate made me poor – seriously. I was lucky to make rent each month; much less to think about spending money on new clothing. Prodigality did not come near my mind. I held on to every penny I could find.

Thought 1: Why was it so easy for me to spend or give away my parents’ money? The answer is obvious. It wasn’t mine. In my sermon yesterday, I spent some time saying that the universe belongs to God. All of creation belongs to God. Think about this for a moment. Your house, your cattle, your car, your family, your job, your computer, all of your books, your bank account, your money market accounts, your CDs (music and banking), everything. Everything belongs to God. Why then are we so stingy with our money? Seriously? Why can’t we give to others with money and belongs to the Lord?

Thought 2: I mentioned in my sermon that the adam was placed in the garden to Avad and Shamar it. Avad is the same root word for servant; shamar is to guard or protect. We are supposed to be the stewards of all of creation. We are not it’s owners. So the opposite of greed is not prodigality (wastefulness) but liberality. Freedom. We are free from the attachment of desire of stuff, but not waste it. We care for creation, knowing that God it belongs to God, we are generous with it, but not wasteful. At least that’s how it supposed to be.

I don’t know. That was point I forgot to mention in my sermon or perhaps I just ran out of time. But it leads me to ask, where is the line between being a steward and being greedy and between being generous and being wasteful?

Sermon Scraps: Sloth

Last week’s sermon was on sloth (acedia). This was the sin with which I believed I struggled with the most. It turns out, that I struggle with all of them, and as I read on about gluttony, I’m becoming more and more uncomfortable. Anyway, I thought I was lazy, and maybe I am, but slothful?

I was not prepared for what I read in preparation for that sermon. I was surprised by the way the author (Rebecca Konyndyk DeYoung, GLITTERING VICES) described the subtle way sloth sneaks up on us. She begins by saying that the vice of sloth is opposed to the virtue of Christian diligence. This got me thinking . . .

In the UMC, we don’t really talk about the work of sanctification much, do we? I’ve given the Sanctifying grace talk at Emmaus, and while I add my own flavor to it, I basically follow the given outline. We talk about the work that God does in us, and I don’t wish to denigrate that. God has done amazing work in me. I am not the same person I was before that night in my room when I finally understood that grace was for me, not just near me, but for me. My journey from that night to sitting here in my office at Bend UMC has taken me years and I’m not finished yet.

On the other hand, God doesn’t do all the work. We have to work, don’t we? If we do not sit silently in prayer, everyday . . . if we do not spend time studying (really studying and arguing about) the Word . . . if do not spend time with the Body of Christ, how does God accomplish sanctification? More to the point, why are we afraid to talk about the work we do in sanctification?

When I wrote my credo, Dr. Charles Wood accused me of pelagianism. I wear the heresy well, and I still we have a part to play in our own salvation. We open ourselves to the work of God. This is not a passive “being open.” Instead, there are practices that open us – pray, study, accountability groups, corporate and private worship, the sacraments. Or as Br John Wesley would say, we attend upon the ordinances of God.

I’m not saying anything here I didn’t say in my sermon or that I haven’t said before, but even as I write, I fear the pushing my words too far, that I might stray into works righteousness. Why do we shy away from telling folks, ‘this is what you need to do to grow in Christ?” Truthfully, we seem to be all about evangelism, spreading the Good News, but what about after the Gospel has been received. If we don’t talk about the habits of a Christian life, aren’t we cheating those whom we evangelize? If we promise the healing of God, but fail to tell folks about the ways we have encountered that healing, aren’t we cheating them? Christianity is not about a magic prayer, it’s a way of living, in every moment, living as one who follows our Lord Jesus Christ, taking purposeful steps as we follow Jesus and the teachings he left with us.

What I mean is, we have to mean to be a Christian. It’s intentional. It takes diligence. Why don’t we tell people that? A life in Christ is not a get-out-of-hell-free card. In fact, it can mean storming the gates of hell. And it takes diligence to be the person who would do that. That, by the way is salvation, being the kind of person who would give her very life, my soul to save another (but that is an entirely different blog. My statement needs a great deal of unpacking, so don’t take it at face value). But if I’m not willing to work to become that kind of person, how will God work in me to make me that kind of person?

I’m trying to throw some of my caution to the wind and perhaps step over the line into heresy to get you thinking. In this day and age, we’re not so much about burning at the stake, so why should we fear heresy – at least in our questioning? We are allowed to push our boundaries, are we not, to learn where they are? If it is God who saves us, will God not also save us from our own heresy?

Monday, July 26, 2010

Sermon Scraps: Biblical Authority (yes . . . again)

What didn’t I say this week in my sermon? Seriously? I think I let everyone know my thoughts about wrath this week and then some, but what about the question I threw away? Why are stories like Judges 19 - 20 and the parable of the wicked tenants in our Bible? What do we do with a text that condemns the concubine’s attackers but not the one who sent her out to her death? In my mind, the Levite is just as culpable as the men surrounding the house, and yet, the text does not judge him as harshly as her attackers. Moreover, the attack on her is really an attack on him. They have destroyed his property – abused it and made it worthless to him.

What purpose do the texts such as this serve? Our Bible is filled with stories about murder and incest and rape and even genocide. What are we to do with these stories?

I think, logically, we are to do what I did this Sunday and preach against them, but who made me the judge. The Levite in Judges 19 was within the law. A concubine is not the same as a wife, and even if she were, she was the property of the Levite. He could do with her as he wished. She was a slave. Wives, also, the property of their husbands, and while I stand in judgment some 4000 – 6000 years later, it was what it was.

Attacking the text, calling out the sin that it refuses to name does not remove it from my Bible. It’s still there. And as it is, we call it the word of God. I don’t know if anyone noticed my reactions when the scriptures were read this week. The rubrics in the bulletin directed the reader of Judges to say, “May the Lord bless the reading and hearing of this holy Word.” When I read it in Lometa, I could not bring myself to say that, so I said, “Thus ends the reading of our Old Testament lesson.” That was the best I could do. I’ve told some of you the story of my good friend Br. John reading the gospel lesson to our preaching class. When he finished, he said, “The Word of God for the people of God,” and we, dutifully replied, “Thanks be to God.” “Really?” he asked us. That is how I felt reading the scripture this Sunday. ‘Really?’ I wanted to ask as we prayed for God’s blessing on the reading and hearing of this holy Word.

How is this word holy? How are stories like this holy? How is a parable where everyone dies in the end holy? When I say this is the Word of God, what do you think I mean? Did God actually write the Bible? Did God guide the hands of humans who wrote the Bible? Did God inspire the Bible? How so?

In the realm of scholarship, there are theories about the sources of the Torah, the sources of the gospels, the sources for almost all of the Bible. Those theories take different forms depending upon which text you are studying. When it comes to the Torah, the names of the sources are J, E, P, D, and R (There may be more, but these are the sources as given by Richard Elliot Friedman in, Who Wrote the Bible.) J is the Yahwest; E is the Elohist. P is the priestly writer; D the Deuteronomonic (sp?) writer. And R is the redactor, the one who put them together. Keep in mind that P may not be one person but a group of writers – the same is true for all.

In the New Testament, there is a discussion about Q. Does Q exist? For those of you not familiar, Q is Quella, or the source for Jesus' stories from which the synoptic writers (and perhaps Thomas) drew. I confess I am a product of my professors. My OT professor, Dr. Alejandro Botta, supported the Torah source theory. Moreover, when I translated Genesis 1 and 2, I felt a chasm of separation in the Hebrew of the first creation account and the second. The second one was much harder to translate. My NT professor, Dr. Abraham Smith was not fully convinced that Q existed, and neither am I. That said, Stephen Patterson does support Q and he wrote one of my favorite books on Jesus’ teachings (The God of Jesus).

Anyway (I seemed to have derailed a bit), I mention all of this to say that I do believe that our Bible may have been written by humans, but God played a part in it. What was human and what was divine? That’s a big question. Truly this all boils down to what you believe the authority of the Bible is. Those of you who knew me in my third year of classes at Perkins know I have spent some time on this question. Truthfully, I don’t think I have a satisfactory answer yet.

So I ask you, is the Bible authoritative? If not, why have we kept it around so long? If so, is all of it authoritative? In what way is it authoritative? What do we do with stories like Judges 19? Or the Jazz-fusion Pauline letters that tell wives to submit to their husbands and slaves to their masters? What does it tell us about who God is? If I can simply choose stories I don’t like, that I don’t feel are Godly, can I also choose, then, who God is? Isn't that idolatry? In essence, I’m asking how do I know that Judges 19 doesn’t reflect God’s will or desire for humanity.

Just questions to ponder. I hope I’ve given you something to confuse you for a while. I’m off to Music Arts and Drama camp this week. Have a blessed week.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Sermon Scraps: Envy and Original Sin

On Sunday I preached my second sermon in this series about the 7 deadly sins. Here is what I have experienced thus far:

First, this series is not as easy I thought it would be to write. I was fond of making fun of my friend Paul and his love of acrostics in sermons, saying they were the easy way out. The truth is, it’s pretty difficult to make up acrostics. If ever Paul comes out of hiding, I’ll be sure to apologize to him for that.

Secondly, the statistics I look up each week break my heart. I didn’t include any stats in this week’s sermon. There were just too many choices and the numbers, while true, are unbelievable.

Thirdly, when my buddy Paul preached this series, he said he didn’t grow tired of it. Usually, I can go for a 4 or 5 part series before I get sick of whatever topic I’m covering. Unlike Paul, I’m not sure I’m not going to grow weary of this series before it ends. I’m not tired of it yet, but 7 is a lot of sermons on sin.

On to other topics . . .

After church on Sunday, Walt caught me and offered me a suggestion. In my sermon , I said that I believed the most obvious action of envy was theft. I still stand by that. Envy is not just that I want what you have, but I also don’t want you to have it. Walt offered that vandalism is another obvious action of envy. Very true, and a great insight. Often vandals are more interested in the destruction they can create (if I can use that word for it), than the object they are defaming. In any case, it is a matter of causing pain or anxiety or a great deal of clean-up work for another.

My final thoughts about this week:

I talked to Br. Scot this week, and as usual, we embarked on a serious and meandering theological discussion, this time about original sin (How strange).

We are born into sin. We are born into dysfunctional families (All families have some level of dysfunction, whether we admit it or not). We are born into a world that hurts us out of its own hurt – continuing cycles of poverty, addiction, and abuse. This is where I left my credo and where I left my commissioning question initially. And while I agree with all of this, I am left feeling as though I haven’t fully described original sin.

Like Scot, I am finding myself more and more frustrated that Augustine was not as wrong as I first thought. I believe that original sin is something with which we are born, not just born into. We are born incapable of not sinning. This is not to say that we are born evil, but we are not born knowing how to do what is right. God’s grace, from even before we are born, comes to us through different media and takes away our bent to sinning (to borrow a phrase from our beloved Charles Wesley). This leads me to wonder, however, if original sin is internal, as I have just described it, is it a design flaw? Shouldn’t a good God have created us without sin? Shouldn’t a good God have been able to create us without sin? Is it a matter of God’s ability?

I’m asking these questions to start a discussion. I hope it works.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Sermon Scraps: Overcoming Pride in Your Life

At the last minute . . . well almost the last minute, on Friday night I changed the direction of my sermon. I was always going to use the acrostic for pride, but I wasn't going to focus on children. That inspiration came on Friday night. I thought in my blog for this week, I would show you what I was going to use. I don't know that it's better or worse, but it would have taken us on a different path to end up at a similar place.

P ersonal

God is personal – God wants to be involved in your life. God wants to walk with and help w/ your burdens. God is personally invested in our lives. We are so important to God, and God wants to be in our lives (all of it, not just the pretty part, or the worshipful part, but the ugly parts, the parts we can’t deal w/ on our own) God wants all of us.

R epentance

God’s grace leads us to repentance, which isn’t just being sorry for what we’ve done. Repentance is a complete change in the direction of our lives. We cannot do it by ourselves. God moves us and works in us to change our lives.

I nterdependent

God created us to be interdependent. This is a strange concept for our culture. We are taught to be independent, to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps. We are taught to stand on our own, but God didn’t create us to be alone. When the LORD God decided the make the Isshah, God said, It is not good for the adam to be alone. I will make for him a word that is often translated here as helper, but in other places, it can mean rescuer. We are made to be there for each other. We’re supposed to help each other.

D etermined

God never gives up on us. I posted on facebook about this sermon series. I got quite a reaction, mostly from friends I’ve only recently reconnected with, and I was surprised by their comments. This sermon series is called the 7 deadly sins: how to overcome sin in your life. I had several comments that a life without sin is impossible – that we cannot get rid of our sin. I understand where that comes from because on our own, we can’t. We can’t stop our sinning by ourselves. We can’t white knuckle ourselves into perfection. But with God all things are possible, and God is determined to get to us, to make us into the people God intended for us to be. In this case, it’s God’s faith, its God’s work that is important. God works in us, changing us, perfecting us, because God believes that we’re worth it. God has faith in us.

E verlasting

God is everlasting. There’s nowhere you can go to escape God. There is nowhere where God’s grace is not. God’s grace came before, God’s grace is here, and God’s grace will be.

You can see that I used most of the material included here, but in different places. The point of my sermon was that God overcomes pride. We don’t do it. As soon as we realize that we are not the ones who overcome, a life without sin seems possible. The constant theme running through this series will be the idea expressed by the Apostle Paul in Romans 8.

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. 3For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in the flesh. . . (NRSV)

We are not the ones who overcome sin in our lives, but it is God who has overcome, once and for all in the life, death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. Thanks be to God.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Sermon Scraps from 7/4: The Kingdom of God (Luke 10: 1 - 11, 16 - 20)

Luke is purposeful in the way he tells his gospel story. One of the repeating messages that winds its way through the narrative is who is and who is out. Those who believe they are "in," are usually out and the "out" are in. We see this most plainly in the parable of the Publican and the toll collector, but still there are other places where this message rings. It's all about the kingdom of God.

Let's start in the beginning (it's a very good place to start). Think of the birth narrative. The shepherds were the first to hear of Jesus' birth, shepherds who lived outside of the community, shepherds who were not supposed to be in the "in" crowd. Right away Jesus' ministry begins with him being ousted to the "out" group (see Luke 4:16 - 30). But the truly most prominent expression of who was in and out relates this phrase that we seem to take for granted -- the kingdom of God.

The basilea tou theou can be translated as the kingdom or realm or empire of God. We need not to forget that the Roman Empire was a great force. In its day, there was no other empire. In the days when Luke's gospel was written, it was treasonous even to hint that there was another empire. The Roman leadership proclaimed that Caesar was the representative of the gods. His authority was absolute; his reach of his power was beyond far, but even to the ends of the earth (or so they said).

Jesus comes along and proclaims that the kingdom of God has come near. First of all, the phrase the kingdom of God implies a kingdom other than Rome's. Secondly, the kingdom of God implies that God's authority and power are greater than the other roman gods. In our day, we would acknowledge that the roman gods were no gods at all, but stories. The implication is that Rome, who believes they are all powerful, that they are the "in" ones are, in fact, out. And this is only a description of roman layer of this onion we call the kingdom of God. There is still an entirely unexplored section of the Hebraic understanding of the kingdom of God (or heaven). Perhaps I'll blog about that some time in the future.

But what does this all mean for us? Today in my sermon, I discuss the expectation of opposition. We are on a mission from God (a la the Blues Brothers). There are powers and principalities that work against God and God's plans for creation. Furthermore, no one wants to hear that they are "out." Those who have been in power do not generally give it up without resistance. That was the opposition to which I was referring this morning. Who in our community benefits from the cyclical and systemic poverty? Who benefits from addicted to drugs? Who benefits from those trapped by violence?

As we answer these questions, we will know from where our opposition will come. Those who profit from poverty will not stand by as their profits decline, and their slum-rated rent houses remain empty. Those who inject poison into our community will not give up their addicted customers quietly. Those who thrive on violence will not suddenly give up their only form of power. Those who live by Sin in this world have worked hard to make our community believe there is no other kingdom but the one they offer.

We are, indeed, lambs sent out among the wolves. We're on a mission from God (a la the Blues Brothers). And we are not unarmed. When we proclaim that the kingdom of God has come near, we carry with the weight and the power of the kingdom of God. Ours are not just words, but a reality that God is with us; God is among us, and God has not given up on us. Furthermore, our mission is not just words, but actions. We are called to go out and love our neighbors -- that is real love, messy love, love that gets involved and takes risks, love that bravely stands in opposition to Sin, and shows that it has no real power. We can do this because; we don't have to destroy Sin. God has done that and is doing that in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. So the good news is good news! Praise be to God.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The sermon scraps are a bit lean this week . . .

I just realized that I didn't blog this week. I didn't preach, so I didn't have any sermon scraps to share with you. So what to blog about . . .
Well, as a description to this blog, I wrote that these were the "ramblings of a young pastor living into her call." So I thought I might ramble a bit today. Yesterday I had a wonderful sacred moment. I was in the sanctuary of the Bend church, playing with Julie. On Mondays I bring Julie to work with me. There are several reasons why, but mostly, because I often visit with Don and Charlie on Monday afternoons, and they love having her over (I'm also invited, but they really love her). I have noticed that Julie doesn't let me work for too long. I have a tendency to sit at my computer and write or research, or do whatever I'm doing, and not look up for a while. At Ministers' week at Perkins last year, Dr. Miles told us we are not made for long-term intense focus (like the focus needed for hunting). Instead, we are supposed to give that kind of focus for short periods , and then take breaks. Julie makes me take a break every so often, either a small one to throw her ball, or a longer one to take her outside.
Yesterday, I was sitting along the chancel rail playing fetch with Julie. It occurred to me that some in my congregation would think it wrong to play fetch with my baby in the sancutary of their church building. They might believe I was acting irreverently, that this kind of activitity was not right in such a holy place. Then I began thinking about Br. Mark Stamm, and the Blessing of Opening day service we had a Perkins Chapel in my last year at Perkins. There were those who asked, "a whole service to celebrate opening day . . . of the baseball season. . . really?" I may have been one of those people. Dr. Stamm reminded us that baseball is 'America's Past-time." He asked why God wouldn't want to bless something that our nation seems to enjoy. He asked, if this activity is so "secular," that God would not bless it, should we be doing it? And of course, we came the conclusion that God could and would bless baseball. Isn't there something biblical about recreation and rest?
As I sat throwing the squeeky tennis ball around the sancuary, I could see that Julie really (I mean REALLY) enjoys fetch. The sanctuary at the Bend Church is a great place for fetch. Occassionally the ball will bounce off of one of the pew backs (or corners or arms, etc.) and jet off in a completely unexpected direction, giving my little dachshund the perfect opportunity to use her hunting genes. Yesterday, as I sat the cushions at the chancel rail and watched Julie run back to search for her ball and bring it to me, with her tail wagging, I knew she was having the time of her life. I knew this was a sacred moment for her. She was doing what she loved, and she had her mama's full attention. As I sat and watched her, and threw the ball around, I loved watching her having so much fun. I wondered if this was anything like the joy God feels when we are joyful. I believe God desires our joy. Jesus said that he came so that we may have life and have it abundantly. Abundant life means that we are who God created us to be, or at least on our way to being what God wanted to us to be. God created us for joy. In those moments when we experience abundant life, I believe God experiences it with us -- that our joy mirrors God's joy. Yesterday was one of those moments for me.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Days of Elijah, Part III: More sermon scraps

I'm not sure I said what I wanted to say in my sermons this morning. In looking at the text (1 Kings 19: 1 - 15a), one might have assumed that I would focus on the sheer silence where Elijah found the Lord, but that seemed far too familiar (and often incorrectly interpreted). That one verse has been misused and misunderstood for too long. It has led people to believe that God's revelation only comes in quiet time -- we're only with God when we are by ourselves. While I have spent hours in silence before God, that is not the only place / time where I encounter God. I have felt God's presence in a crowd, while watching a movie, at a concert . . . You get my point. God finds us where we are, where ever we are. It reminds me of that wonderful camp song, "I have decided to follow Jesus." That song is wonderful, until we get to the 3rd verse, which repeats, "the cross before me, the world behind me." The song pretends that Christ is our escape from the world, but Jesus did not "escape" the world. Jesus was in and is in the world. The cross itself is in the world. Being a christian is not soley about retreating. Don't get me wrong; retreat is a big part of the christian life, but it is not the sum total of the christian life. Retreat is supposed to refill us for our christian life.

On to my second thing . . .
During my benediction, I asked the congregation to pray for someone there, and to ask someone to pray for them. I wasn't kidding. I hope some took it seriously. Asking someone to pray for you, asking your peers to pray for you takes a great amount of trust. When someone else prays for you, it is a vulnerable feeling -- you feel open, exposed. Furthermore, the act of praying for another is an act of compassion. When we agree to pray for another, we learn about who they are. In some sense, we take ownership in their lives. What I mean is this, if I am asked to pray for someone who has no money for groceries, perhaps I am also supposed to play a part in answering that prayer. As one who now knows of a need, I can and therefore should do something about it. I have said before that we (christians, the Body of Christ) belong to God and as such, in some way we belong to each other. We are supposed to hold each other up, hold each other accountable, cry with one another, and laugh with one another. Your joy is my joy. Your pain is my pain. and so on . . .

Anyway, these are my ramblings for the week. I hope you enjoy.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Sermon Scraps from 6/13: The Days of Elijah, Part II

Today I preached on 1 Kings 21: 1 - 21a. The thing about sermon research is that there are always more jewels than I can or should include in my sermon. For instance, in this week's scripture, I was quite interested in the vegtable garden. Why would Ahab want a vegtable garden? I love gardening, but it seems a bit random within in the text.

In Deuteronomy 11: 10 tells the people, "For the land that you are about to enter to occupy is not like the land of Egypt, from which you have come, where you sow your seed and irrigate by foot like a vegetable garden." One of the commentaries I read pointed to this verse, indicating that the same phrase (gan hayaraq) is used both in 1 Kings and in Deuteronomy. I believe words like garden and herb would not be rare in the writings of an agricultural society, but his point is well taken. Perhaps we are supposed to read that Ahab's desire for the garden was not purely asthetic. Perhaps we are to read into this text, something akin to the uses of nagas or hanogsim or taskmasters (slavedrivers, etc.) at various times to describe the "unrighteous" kings. This is to say, perhaps, we should read that Ahab's desire for a vegtable garden is actually a plan to enslave his people, to force them to work in his garden, the way the enslaved Isrealites were forced to work by their Egyptian slavedrivers or hanogsim.

So what does all this mean for us? I'm not entirely sure. The writer of 1 Kings was no fan of the Northern kings, but that does not mean there is nothing for us to learn. Maybe we should be reminded that greed often leads to oppression. Ahab was blocked by his desire for the Naboth's land, and it seems that this land would have been used to further oppress his people. Even something as innocent as a vegtable garden can be an instrument of oppression. Maybe we learn that we should always examine our desires--in what ways can we be corrupted to participate in systemic oppression?

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

LCI: A New Beginning

I admit I wasn't sure why I was coming to LCI. I'm not in a large church, I don't really want to be in a large church. I love small towns, and small churches. They make a home of where ever I happen to be; you know what I mean? But I have found that I am learning; I am getting much from this conference. For instance, now I have a blog and a Youversion account. I really kind of dig the youversion account. I had never heard of it before, but now, I'm here.

I've never really blogged before, but I think I'll give it a try.

I don't promise this blog will be deep or meaningful to anyone, but I do promise that once I go public, I will be faithful to blog consistently.