[[This past January, I gave a version of this parable at the Academy of Preachers in Atlanta, GA.]]
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I have begun a new blogging adventure at eireinei.com. Contained here are all of the posts from The Reluctant Baptist should anyone want access to them. No more new content will be posted here. All your subscriptions (via email, facebook, twitter, RSS) should bring you to the new blog without you having to do anything. If there are any hiccups, you can just add the new blog manually. Thanks for following and you can still contact me via twitter or the new blog if you have any questions.
Grace and peace,
[[So, being the good Christian I am, I woke up at 11:20 am this morning (how did that happen? I'd spent a long week in Chicago. I'll tell you about it later.) and was unable to go to my church here in Birmingham for service. In lieu of being able to attend, I prayer the liturgy from Claiborne, Wilson-Hartgrove, and Okoro's Common Prayer for Palm Sunday and read Pope Francis' homily (it wasn't my most Baptist Sunday, sorry). I wanted to share a bit from that sermon with you, though. The pope picked out three words that he wanted to talk about to the crowd. The firs two: Joy and Cross are excerpted here from the Vatican news services.]]
Jesus enters Jerusalem. The crowd of disciples accompanies him in festive mood, their garments are stretched out before him, there is talk of the miracles he has accomplished, and loud praises are heard: “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord. Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” (Lk 19:38).
Crowds, celebrating, praise, blessing, peace: joy fills the air. Jesus has awakened great hopes, especially in the hearts of the simple, the humble, the poor, the forgotten, those who do not matter in the eyes of the world. He understands human sufferings, he has shown the face of God’s mercy, he has bent down to heal body and soul. Now he enters the Holy City! This is Jesus.This is the heart that looks on all of us, watching our illnesses, our sins. The love of Jesus is great. He enters Jerusalem with this love and watches all of us.
It is a beautiful scene, the light of the love of Jesus, that light of his heart, joy, celebration.
At the beginning of Mass, we repeated all this. We waved our palms, our olive branches, we sang “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord” (Antiphon); we too welcomed Jesus; we too expressed our joy at accompanying him, at knowing him to be close, present in us and among us as a friend, a brother, and also as a King: that is, a shining beacon for our lives. Jesus is God, but he humbled himself to walk with us. He is our friend, our brother. Here, he enlightens us on the journey. And so today we welcome Him And here the first word that comes to mind is “joy!” Do not be men and women of sadness: a Christian can never be sad! Never give way to discouragement! Ours is not a joy that comes from having many possessions, but from having encountered a Person: Jesus, from knowing that with him we are never alone, even at difficult moments, even when our life’s journey comes up against problems and obstacles that seem insurmountable, and there are so many of them! It is at this time that the enemy comes, the devil comes, often disguised as an angel who insidiously tells us his word. Do not listen to him! We follow Jesus!
We accompany, we follow Jesus, but above all we know that he accompanies us and carries us on his shoulders. This is our joy, this is the hope that we must bring to this world of ours. Let us bring the joy of the faith to everyone! Let us not be robbed of hope! Let us not be robbed of hope! The hope that Jesus gives us!
A second word: why does Jesus enter Jerusalem? Or better: how does Jesus enter Jerusalem? The crowds acclaim him as King. And he does not deny it, he does not tell them to be silent (cf. Lk 19:39-40). But what kind of a King is Jesus? Let us take a look at him: he is riding on a donkey, he is not accompanied by a court, he is not surrounded by an army as a symbol of power. He is received by humble people, simple folk, who sense that there is more to Jesus, who have the sense of faith that says, “This is the Savior.” Jesus does not enter the Holy City to receive the honours reserved to earthly kings, to the powerful, to rulers; he enters to be scourged, insulted and abused, as Isaiah foretold in the First Reading (cf. Is 50:6). He enters to receive a crown of thorns, a staff, a purple robe: his kingship becomes an object of derision. He enters to climb Calvary, carrying his burden of wood. And this brings us to the second word: Cross. Jesus enters Jerusalem in order to die on the Cross. And it is here that his kingship shines forth in godly fashion: his royal throne is the wood of the Cross! … Jesus takes it upon himself..why? Why the Cross? Jesus takes upon himself the evil, the filth, the sin of the world, including our own sin, and he cleanses it, he cleanses it with his blood, with the mercy and the love of God. Let us look around: how many wounds are inflicted upon humanity by evil! Wars, violence, economic conflicts that hit the weakest, greed for money, which no-one can bring with him. My grandmother would say to us children, no shroud has pockets! Greed for money, power, corruption, divisions, crimes against human life and against creation! And – each of us knows well – our personal sins: our failures in love and respect towards God, towards our neighbour and towards the whole of creation. Jesus on the Cross feels the whole weight of the evil, and with the force of God’s love he conquers it, he defeats it with his resurrection. This is the good that Christ brings to all of us from the Cross, his throne. Christ’s Cross embraced with love does not lead to sadness, but to joy! The joy of being saved and doing a little bit what he did that day of his death.
This summer, I had the opportunity to sit down with many future leaders in ministry with the Fund for Theological Education. I learned a lot from the people I met and the conversations I had. One of those people was Kenny Clewett. I saw the video of his interview from that week online today and thought I’d share.
From Dr. Charles Negy in the Huffington Post Religion section…
Assuming my speculation is accurate — that gun zealots in the U.S. tend to be religious and conservative — I wonder if they ever pause to ask themselves what would Jesus do in reaction to the sporadic, yet persistent incidents of violence in the country. In addition to advocating for more peace, compassion and assistance for those who are disadvantaged, would Jesus advocate for better gun control and a reduction of gun ownership as ways to mitigate violence? Or would he advocate rushing out to purchase more guns, including automatic assault weapons? I wonder if Jesus would encourage all citizens to carry concealed weapons, or if he would propose that school teachers be permitted to possess guns in the classrooms?
I don’t think it’s a useful exercise to claim your perspective in line with the perspective of Jesus too often, but I think some of these questions are important. I’ve found the question “What is the Christian response?” to be divisive, but perhaps “What is a Christian response?” is valid. I just see a significant disconnect between harping on supposed Second Amendment rights and the Gospel. Rationally, I don’t see why anyone needs an assault weapon and I have no problem at all in making them increasingly more difficult to obtain … but do your religious convictions play a role at all in where you fall on this issue, as well?
Is the question, “Would Jesus buy an automatic assault weapon?” a valid one? What’s the answer and what impact does that have on our lives and policy-making?
The Associated Baptist Press picked up the article on Rachel Held Evans’ book from the Crimson this week! See it here.
And it’s endorsed!
[[I wrote this column for the Samford Crimson last week and thought I'd share.]]
My least favorite word in the English language is not too hard to spell, difficult to pronounce or obscure to reference. Rather, we hear this word more often on our campus and in our “Christian” culture than perhaps any other adjective—at least when it comes to anything “important.”
How often do you hear about biblical lifestyles, biblical marriage, biblical economics, biblical education and biblical manhood (or womanhood for that matter)?
I hate the word “biblical.” Strictly speaking, the word “biblical” should only refer to the text of the Bible. However, people often use “biblical” to justify their own position regardless of whether it has anything to do with the Bible at all. Even if their opinion (note: opinion) has something to do with the Bible, using the word “biblical” to describe their position automatically shuts down discussion. “Biblical” suggests that one opinion is final, absolute, infallible, and unquestionable. There is not room for dialogue when someone plays the biblical card. The game is over.
Using the word at all also suggests that Christians all agree on what they think about certain issues. The biblical position on gay marriage, for example, seems to be that we should be against it. However, in October 2011, the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life found that 46 percent of American Christians favored it, while 44 percent opposed it.
What about the death penalty? 64 percent favor it and 29 percent oppose it. What about evolution? The official positions of the Roman Catholic Church, Episcopal Church, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), United Church of Christ and the United Methodist Church do not see evolution and the Bible as incompatible. However, the Missouri Synod Lutheran Church and Southern Baptist Convention clearly do not agree. On almost every controversial issue, there is no Christian consensus.
Just as Christians do not agree with each other on everything, the Bible itself does not agree with itself on everything either. James’s letter contends with some points Paul makes in his letters. Martin Luther found this disagreement so problematic that he wanted to remove James from the canon.
The Gospels tell different stories about Jesus. That is unsurprising, but in some cases, the Gospel accounts disagree with each other over particular details or perspectives. However, the Church rejected early attempts to harmonize the Gospels into one book. Instead, the early Christians chose to canonize Matthew, Mark, Luke and John as well as the Pauline letters and James. From the beginning, the Bible has been a canon of difference.
Christians should disagree with each other, and that should be acceptable. There should be dialogue, discussion and argument. These exchanges sharpen our perspectives, or worldviews. They either strengthen our own opinions or turn us to better ones. Disagreement is good and we should condone it—nothing, after all, is more biblical.
I had a thought this weekend. I’ve been out on a farm with some friends on break from our university. The other night I looked up and saw stars. That’s significant for me because I don’t often see them as I’ve always lived in or near urban centers where the population is too bright. I also sat on the porch with the cat for a good period of time just watching my surroundings, being aware of the experience or being fully present. Barbara Brown Taylor calls this the spiritual practice of paying attention.
When I was in a medieval history class last year, I heard about a guy who must have practiced this a lot. A man named Simon in North Africa was known for achieving sainthood having sat on a pillar for 37 years. I wonder what things God told Simon when he paid that close attention. What sorts of things did he learn? We’ll never know, I suppose, as Simon — to my knowledge — didn’t leave behind any writings. But what about you? Do you learn things by paying attention? Would you be willing to sit long enough for God to say something?
Would you sit on a pillar waiting for God for 37 years or is that ridiculous?