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.