Monthly Archives: August 2010

Status Games

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Text: Luke 14:1-14

“…The human economy runs on quid pro quo. We buy things to signal status. We look at each other for affirmation of our status. We give and get expecting repayment. Those who can’t repay or can’t help are either in our debt or never considered. But Jesus is talking about the wedding feast, the resurrection of the just. In the Kingdom of God, there is only one person who can give status – the Father alone. And the Father has chosen to give the Kingdom to the crucified. The Father has chosen to give the good news to the poor, the blind, the dead…”

Teaching Virtue

Confirmation instruction will be starting up again. This year is the church doctrine year, and while the doctrine is not all ethics, church doctrine helps us answer the question of how should we live and thrive? This essay is from a Sociology Prof teaching an introductory course that focuses on many of the same questions. These lines caught my eye…

The danger in instrumentalizing virtue is that the young will come to discard a particular virtue if they decide it no longer helps them to reach a desired goal. But behaving virtuously requires both right belief and right practice. Focusing on practice has two big benefits: It’s the language that young adults understand, and it’s a tried-and-true way to accomplish personal change.

As a general rule, American men and women now in their 20s aren’t known for their warm embrace of authority. For a generation that grew up on the Internet, a bureaucratic, top-down method of instruction is a non-starter. Today’s young adults live in a networked society, in which learning is collaborative and personal experience is central. The old-fashioned way to “teach virtue” may have been through church and other institutions of cultural authority, but my students aren’t interested in the bully pulpit…

Living a virtuous life doesn’t mean being boring or preachy. It’s about approaching the rules that we learned as children with a more mature understanding and reapplying them to our adult lives.

Right belief and right practice. Reapplying the rules to our adult lives. The best education creates a space to think about how we live and move and have our being. Confirmands are not adults, but they aren’t elementary kids either. My 4 year old (David), he doesn’t listen all that well, but he gets a lot of law anyway. We direct the 4 year old even over his complaints. Anna, the 7 year old, is getting less direct instruction and more coaching (what do you think, have you seen anything like this before, go try, how did that work). The confirmands (11-14 years olds) get a little more freedom. They also start to bear the responsibility of decisions. The questions get more complex as we get older. We lose our coaches. We have to learn to train ourselves. We all run our own race of faith. Paul, the great apostle of grace alone, instructs everyone to work out their salvation with fear and trembling. Finding our way as a church to be a place that teaches the faith includes being that safe space to learn together right practice. Creating that space is a personal goal of mine this year.

No Ownership of the Future

Maybe a little intellectual, but good philosophy.

Although I think it was said shorter in a couple of places like: Luke 12:23-25 (“who can add a single hour to his span of life?) or Philippians 1:21-23 or Luke 17:33 or Matt 6:11 (daily bread) or Exod 16:18-20 (the manna only lasts one day) or a whole bunch of others.

With great effort, pure reason can get us enough truth to despair or at best a stoic acceptance. What it can’t do is provide the complete picture. That requires revelation. And revelation requires faith. It is not a faith grounded in nothing – the resurrection is not nothing. But it is still faith. Faith that while we do not own our future (or our past, or even our present), there is one who does. And he has promised good to us. Are you not worth more than the grass of the field that is here today and tomorrow tossed into the fire?

Joseph Bottom has been Listening to the Lectionary…

Here is an essay by the above mentioned Joseph Bottom at First Things. Warning, it is deep and political and not a simple read. Truly about First Things as an American.

We come across these hard sayings like, “I’ve not come to bring peace but division (Luke 12:51)” or the refrain “the first will be last and the last first (Luke 13:30)”, and they shake us a bit. All political orders are built on the law. And the law is good. We understand the law. The law gives us sure ground to stand upon. But when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away (1 Cor 13:10). And the perfect has come in Jesus Christ. The perfect is the gospel of grace. Just like those sayings, the gospel is counter-intuitive. That’s why it needs repeating. It is also why any institution or political order, as good as the law is, must make room for something other than itself. It is very hard for any institution or order to admit to another sovereign. Primarily because we make them up, and we aren’t too good at it ourselves.

Who’s afraid of ET?

From this article

In our own time, most Christians are in denial about these difficulties. The few contemporary theologians who dare to pronounce on the subject usually shrug it aside with the comment that the existence of intelligent aliens would not pose a problem for Christianity. But it would pose a problem, and a huge one at that. The Church would do well to take it seriously and to fundamentally revise its salvation narrative ahead of any discovery.

Yes, because it is always wise to change the gospel handed down from the Apostles because someone is shouting he’s over there?!? (Luke 17:23) [Snark mode off]

The Narrow Door…Big Enough for Everyone

Text: Luke 13:22-30

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I like the word cloud. Grace makes things topsy-turvy. It scrambles our hard won pieties. But thankfully, the narrow door is one opened by grace. A door made of anything else and nobody would be thin enough.

The text is interesting to me because of who it appears to be addressed to. The questioner calls Jesus Lord. That usually implies a follower, disciple or believer. The parable that follows puts this fellow outside of the narrow door. And the replies of those in the parable are of shock. They can’t believe they are outside. It is not a large problem today – those who are religious, but not very spiritually attuned. But that is the problem addressed. The core of the gospel, what brings people from the east and the west, the north and the south, is grace. A grace that puts the first last and the last first. A grace that doesn’t pay us what we deserve, but pays us all the same regardless of when we entered the field. A grace that big enough to let in the uncountable multitude through a narrow door.

A Thousand Miles in the Footsteps of Martin Luther

Here is a WSJ article about an interesting trip. Here are the author’s ongoing site.

a snipet…

But we and Luther do share one significant similarity: We’re both living in the midst of a communication revolution. For Luther it was the printing press. He and his followers were able to use pamphlets and ever-cheaper printed books to promote the Reformation cause. This ability to spread the word also hardened the opposing teams in a divided and dividing church…In the discourse between Lutheran and Catholic ecumenists over the past half-century, however, a new picture of Luther has emerged. Both sides have acknowledged that the claim of a severe cleavage between pre- and post-Reformation Luther is simply inaccurate. Luther’s revolutionary insights were firmly grounded in the long tradition of the church. Both Catholic rejection and Protestant triumphalism fail to do justice to the real man and his work.

Grace Alone, Faith Alone, Word Alone. Those are the three “solas” of the reformation. And they are all radical positions. By radical I mean that put on a spectrum, none of them are the middle path, a reasonable man would not gravitate to those poles. And I think that order is telling. Nobody ever really debated grace alone. There were debates over obscure terms like prevenient grace and saving grace, but that was splitting hairs. It was all grace. The debates intensified at faith alone. Faith alone to Lutherans really repeated grace alone. We are saved through faith which is a gift of God by grace. Faith is a visible form of grace. The Catholics of the time and still today will nod that yes it is faith that saves, but faith is fruitful in works. The last sola, Word Alone, is often misrepresented. We often take it today as just the scriptures. The Scriptures were definitely the source, but the reformation understanding is larger. Think through the foolishness of preaching, the proclaimed word, an almost mystical understanding of the active Word in our lives. The Catholics made the same leap we often do. They heard Word Alone as sola scriptura and gagged. The scriptures require interpretation. Tradition, the church, the creeds and the teachers of the church are required. The mystic monk met the legal institution and they talked past each other.

Its a blog, so I can be grossly wrong and retract it later. At heart I’m real simple. It’s all grace. The Christian proclamation is that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. While we were driving the nails and saying we don’t want this grace, the Father gave it anyway. Faith alone, yes, true, but because its all grace. Word alone? That one also, but because God condescended to tell us anything. Everything else kinda falls under Paul’s words, “All things are possible, but not all things are profitable.” Am I going to divide over Word alone – no. Am I going to divide over Faith alone – very doubtful. Am I going to divide over grace alone – yep. If you think anything you do will earn you merit, we part company. I’m not strong enough or wise enough to figure it all out. I need the grace.

So, I wish Sara Wilson grace on her 1000 miles. And in her endeavor. Once things are divided, putting them back together takes a lot of grace. Thankfully I believe in the resurrection – when things do get put back together.

Old as Dirt (or be sure to update you cultural markers…)

In writing sermons the cultural references are always tricky. You come embedded with your own, but you are hopefully preaching for an audience that spans WW2 vets (although fewer) to Dora the Explorer Birthday party people. Being attentive here means trying to work in different references and translating if possible (i.e. Capt. Reynolds from Firefly::Marshall Dillon on Gunsmoke). Here is the Beloit College Mindset list for the new class of 2014. (HT: Scott McKnight/Jesus Creed)

Three struck me a wow statements:
41. American companies have always done business in Vietnam.
52. There have always been women priests in the Anglican Church.
68. They have never worried about a Russian missile strike on the U.S.

Ok a fourth one made me feel real old – 46. Nirvana is on the classic oldies station.

Fights & fears that defined people, that still define people, that people are still fighting – have always been over for this age group.

The medium is the message

That was of course Marshall McLuhan bemoaning the vast wasteland of TV. The more serious point is that particular mediums (TV, books, radio, talking, letters) are not just tubes to deliver something, but they mold or form the message itself. Books are solitary, serious and heavy. TV is fast and visual. i.e. you can’t capture Moby Dick on TV.

In regard to the Christian life the medium has meaning when THE WORD is a core concept, when by the foolishness of preaching THE WORD is given. Can you find THE WORD in this new medium of blogging, and if so, how does it effect it?

Ben Myers has an interesting post and journal article on the Blog as a place for theology. He is perhaps uniquely qualified to discuss this because of his blog which was one of the first to practice Theology in this new medium.

Two quotes – “One no longer publishes and defends an authoritative statement; instead, one participates in a continuing conversation in a collective enterprise…a process that foregrounds dialogue, accountability and self-correction.”

To me that is hopeful. It means that the blog foregrounds the need for ongoing repentance. It also means learning to live in a community defined by repentance and absolution. Things that are remarkably similar to what the local congregation is supposed to be, a gathering of sinners seeking God’s Word of absolution and attempting to live it out.

Second Quote – “The fact that one’s writing is not understood as a fixed artifact means one is free to write about many things…in this respect, theological discourse begins to inch closer toward the work of pastors and clergy, who are constantly challenged to utilize their theological resources in order to address new, unanticipated problems and solutions.”

Also somewhat hopeful. We all have a theology whether we know it or not. Theology shouldn’t be strictly formal things. I’m thinking of the biblical instruction to talk about these things when you walk and when you sit, when you lie down and when you rise (Duet 6:7). Anything that encourages that and not a stultifying seriousness is a good freedom. Do we get things wrong? Yep. Is that a big problem? Not if we remember the first point – repentance.

There are several other good observations in the paper, but I’ll leave it there.

An Incarnate Truth

From Ernst Kasemann – “The worship of the Chirstian community should not be dominated by fanatical ecstasy or profound oracle, but by prophecy as a contemporizing of the message of the past. The gospel concretizes and actualizes.”

In other words – “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us full of grace and truth (John 1:14)…Anyone who has see me has seen the Father…anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father…(John 14:9-12)”