[[This past week I had the privilege and pleasure of attending the Academy of Preachers' National Festival of Young Preachers. I spent the week with fellow Christians of all theological temperaments, races, ages, denominations, and preaching styles. The themes this year was the Gospel and the City. You can also find the collection of last year's sermons, in which I also have a chapter, here. Also, this marks my 250th post and the first post of 2013! Happy Epiphany!]]
He went to his hometown, Nazareth. As was his custom, he went to the synagogue that Sabbath day. He stood up to read and they handed him the book of the Prophet Isaiah. He opened the book and found where it is written:
The Lord’s spirit is upon me,
because God anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
God sent me to proclaim
pardon for prisoners,
sight for the blind,
freedom for the oppressed,
to proclaim the time of God’s favor.
He closed the book, returned it, and sat down. Everyone’s eyes were on him.
“Today, this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing,” he said.
They all started talking about him, amazed at the words of grace falling from his lips.
“Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” they asked.
“Surely, you will remind me,” he said, “‘Doctor, fix yourself!’ and ‘Do what you did in Capernaum here in your hometown!’ But I’ll tell you that no prophet is well-liked in his hometown. Truthfully, there were many widows in Israel during Elijah’s time when the sky closed up and there was a great famine for three and a half years. And Elijah wasn’t sent to any of them; instead, he was sent to a widowed woman in Zarephath in Sidon. There were many lepers in Israel while Elisha was around, but none of them were cleaned, only Naaman from Syria.”
Everyone in the synagogue was enraged when they heard these things. They got up, kicked him out of the city, and brought him to the cliff at the edge of town so they could throw him off it.
He passed through the middle of them and left.
Luke 4:16-30 (author’s rendition)
There is an old story that Irish theologian Peter Rollins like to tell about the second coming of Jesus. “It is said that he arrived anonymously one dull Monday morning at the gates of a great city to go about his Father’s business. There was much for him to do. While many years had passed since his last visit, the same suffering was present all around. Still there were the poor, the sick, and the oppressed. Still there were outcasts, and still there were the righteous who pitied them, and the authorities who exploited them. For a long time no one took any notice of the desert wanderer with his weather-beaten face and ragged, dusty clothes — this quiet man who spent his time living among the sick and unwanted. The great city labored on like a mammoth beast, ignorant of the one who dwelt within its bowels.” The story goes on, but that first part has always left me disturbed. A question plagues me; a realization haunts me. At this point in my life, when I hear that story — and when I read the Gospels — I cannot escape the sinking, nagging feeling that we might be missing something. I read about the life of Jesus, I read about what he said and did, and I read about how God chose to spend God’s time on the earth, and I am perplexed. All of it seems so foreign to me, and not necessarily foreign in a first-century Palestinian sort of way. Read the rest of this entry
[[This sermon was given last week (13 November) in the convocation hour at Samford University. Alas, it was not recorded as convocations usually are, but I thought I would post the manuscript as I used it. Unlike usual, there were a few points in which I deviated from the manuscript a bit. Those points are marked with brief explanations of what I said/did. Explanatory remarks are also present for allusions that might not make sense for non-Samfordians. --W]]
[[The Scripture was Galatians 3:26-39, NRSV:
Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to the promise.
It was read prior to the sermon by multiple members of the present congregation.]]
All right, it’s early, so let’s stand up again and stretch for a second. Now that you are all so very uncomfortable standing next to each other without any song to sing, look at the person on your left. Now look to the person on your right. Now what did we learn from this little exercise?
Not much? You’re not very observant then.
No, that’s what I thought. We’ll come back to that later. You can sit down again.
How many of you have heard this passage before? I would wager that a great deal of you should be raising your hands with me right now. I think this is a part of Paul that we like to throw around with reckless abandon. It sounds nice, doesn’t it? But what does it mean?
The New Testament tells us that Paul himself founded the Church in Galatia and taught them much of the theology that you and I have grown up hearing in churches around the country. They were taught all of this, yes, but after a while, other people showed up in Galatia teaching some things that Paul did not care for. Many scholars believe that these were Jewish Christians who still adhered to the Torah and thought others ought to do so as well. Now, since his meeting with Peter and others in Jerusalem, Paul had been very adamant (even more than a little angry) about this not being the case. But what happened was not that Paul simply won the argument over the Torah but the two sides of the theological debate began to think that the other was dead wrong, that their Christianity was bankrupt.
Undoubtedly, there were questions of who was following Jesus and who was not, who was listening to the right authority and who was listening to a fool, and Paul steps in to settle the issue.
I think that’s the moment when we truly had a church, don’t you think? It was that moment when we had a church with one kind of Christian who thought one way and another kind who thought another way. We have a Church where Christians call each other anything but Christians. We have a Church where circumcision trumps discipleship, Sabbath observation overrules devotion — we have a Church where piety usurps love. Read the rest of this entry
[[I read this article on the front page of the Guardian over here in the UK this morning. I thought it had some appropriate contributions for thinking about St. Valentine's Day.]]
Occupy Valentine’s Day. This is the day to recognise love in every shape and size and disguise. Known love, new love, love’s ghosts, love’s hopes. Loss is here too, and the spaces in between love.
Reclaiming love is the best thing we can do. Love has been squatted for too long by those false cupids with their “for sale” signs. It’s not a coincidence that Venus is the goddess of love and money. Or that her fat friend with the arrows lends his name to desire of both kinds. Cupidity is the all-consuming longing for riches. Love and money are both an exchange.
In 1967 100,000 or so idealists decided to occupy love – in Haight-Ashbury, San Francisco. They stood for communality, sharing, an end to excessive greed, and for peace. This was the Make Love not War generation.
The most conclusive response to this conscious, if chaotic, challenge by love’s disciples to the supremacy of power and wealth happened in the mid-80s – the Thatcher/Reagan de-reg years, when money cloned itself as an alternative to every other expression of life. Wealth became the avatar of love; it’s sinister flashy alter-ego. Love was for weekends. Love was a leisure activity. Hotels, flowers, chocolates, jewels, celebrity divorces, serial monogamy, porn and prenups. Love as commodity, like everything else. The upgrade generation realised that people could be traded in. Relationship not working? Get a new model.
What happened to love?