Archive for June, 2013

I was reading from Fred Craddock’s book, Preaching, this evening.  It is a very engaging read thus far.  I only managed to get through the first chapter because it was so thick with great thoughts on the task and art of preaching.  Given that he is a very accomplished preacher, it seemed appropriate to let the words soak in and to think carefully through his thoughts.

In talking about preaching, Craddock noted the importance of the Spirit’s work in preaching.  Craddock writes, “The Spirit is of God and not contingent upon our willing or doing.  The truth is, and by this the church sometimes feels embarrassed, there is no agreement among Christians as to the canons for ascertaining the Spirit’s absence or presence at the time of an event.  Afterward, of course, the evidences of love, hope, trust, truth, and justice can be read clearly as footprints that say, ‘Yes, the Spirit was here'” (29). 

This thought, that we cannot control God’s Spirit or presence, got me to thinking about another verse that we often quote in services.  We say, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there will I be also.”  It’s Scripture, of course.  But, we use it in a very mechanical way.  Thus, if we have a group of “Christians” together in a place, by extension, God MUST be there. 

I don’t want to deny the fact that where the Spirit of God is, there is the Church.  I think we have sufficient warrant in Scripture to say that this is a truth.  However, we rarely mention the impetus and foundation of our gathering.  God’s presence is not dependent upon our willing or doing (as per Craddock).  Rather, the inverse is true.  It is because God is present that we have gathered (prevenient grace – which is to say – God calls us into relationship).  Thus, our gathering is a testimony to God’s presence whenever we “gather in His Name.” 

I especially find this to be important.  Not any, old gathering will do.  “Gathering in His Name” directs our purpose, shapes our imaginations, purifies our hearts, molds us into His likeness, transforms us for passionate ministry, and energizes us with hearts of compassion.  “Gathering in His Name” means that we are shaped by God’s story of Creation and Redemption, have been reconciled to Him, and have received and responded to the call to be a light to all nations.  And, while it is an inclusive call for all to come, “Gathering in His Name” also brings a particular kind of exclusion… our gathering is not in the name of another.  We would call that “idolatry.”

Our gathering is not in the name of a nation.  The gathering is not in the name of a political party.  The gathering is not in the name of a particular interest group.  The gathering is not in the name of the gods of this world: Mammon (wealth), Aphrodite (pleasure), Mars (violence), Zeus (power).  And, it is not a gathering for the “cult of I”, where we seek self-sufficiency, self-realization, self-congratulation, self-flagulation, self-confidence, and self-indulgence.

It is against these that Jesus tells his disciples the way that the world will recognize them as his followers: They love one another in his name.  Ultimately, this resembles the cross.  It looks like Jesus washing feet as a servant; holding children as honored; eating with sinners, taxcollectors, and prostitutes; touching lepers; giving sight to the blind; and, giving hope and healing to the broken and battered in society.  “Where Two or Three are Gathered” might be better understood that we need to be where Jesus would be… not expecting Jesus to show up where we are because we had a meeting.

 

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Sometimes life just seems like there is no possibility of something changing.  We make arguments for it all the time.  “Well, that’s just how it’s always been.”  Or, “I’m sorry, but we (I) didn’t have a choice in the matter.”  Life and reality just seem to be given to us as if there are no real alternative, no real options.  Life is what it is and what it always will be.  The person writing Ecclesiastes felt this way: “There’s nothing new under the sun.” 

            This plays itself out in a number of different arenas of life: government, work, family, and, sometimes, the Church.  In actuality, what underlies many of these arenas is a culture that has significantly shaped us to think and act in specific ways and always on its own terms.  Thus, when our “rights” are trampled by someone else, we feel the need to secure our privileges.  And, most of the time, this is done through violence.  Violence here is used in its broadest sense (not simply physical violence).  And, it happens in all areas of life.  Scripture, in fact, is full of examples (I’ll use physical violence, as an example): Cain kills Abel, Herod and Pharaoh slay children and David has Uriah killed, Eli’s sons use the Ark as a tool of war and to legitimate their own reign of terror (which backfires).  Maintaining the illusion of certainty, that there is no alternative to the way things are, requires brute force and strength… which ultimately produces death and suffering, especially among the weak and disadvantaged of any society.

            The Gospel is a dangerous alternative in a world of certainty.  It is a “testimony to otherwise.”  It suggests that the current arrangements of this world are death-dealing traps.  The Gospel is a call to a renewed imagination that goes beyond the surface of reality and looks to discern God’s alternative Kingdom in the midst of broken creation.  Jesus has some very peculiar words, like: “blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are those who mourn, blessed are the meek, blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, blessed are the merciful, blessed are the pure in heart, blessed are the peacemakers, blessed are those who are persecuted…”

            We look at that description of the Kingdom of Heaven and wonder: “How are those people ‘blessed?’”  We wonder how something is so possible when the exact opposite seems to be true in our world.  Have our imaginations not been so shaped by our culture and our world that we cannot see, nor understand, the Kingdom of God? 

            I think it is important and imperative, especially during this time of season, to remember where our allegiance truly lies.  The Kingdom is not a call to security or to certainty, as if we can explain everything and control it.  The Church is a testimony to otherwise in the midst of a world that cannot see or perceive God’s Kingdom way.  Living faithfully in a world of ideological idolatry opens up new imaginative possibilities for life in the present, as well as, the future.  Rather than saying, “That’s the way it’s always been.”  Let us ask, “Is that the way God would want it to be?”

           

Dr. Dan Boone is the President of Trevecca Nazarene University and also a well-known preacher in the Church of the Nazarene.  This past year he spoke at a local church and I had opportunity to go and listen.  It was a very powerful sermon on living in a time when there is a sort of nostalgia for the past that cannot be fully recovered but must be re-appropriated for the future.  Israel finds itself in a similar situation in Isaiah 40-55.  His sermon text focused on Isaiah 45, on which I took a few notes.  These may be seemingly random thoughts, but I found them helpful in looking at our current context in light of Isaiah.

Dan begins with “odd names” of towns.  He moves to a town (fictive) called “yesteryear”, which is the ideal of 2 generations previous.  “Exile” is the reality of today, though without the harsh Babylonians.  From this context, there is a “sigh for yesteryear.”

History: People of God are living in Jerusalem in security when “exile” happens.  Israel is now confronted with the gods of Babylon.  It is culture shock – in Jerusalem, everything pointed to YHWH.  That is the subtle assurance of “yesteryear.”

Isaiah 45

God calls Cyrus – “Does/Can God use ‘pagans’?”

God is doing a new thing unlike it was done in the past.

God is Creator.

Are we willing to let God use Cyrus, which leaves us unsettled?  Our reaction is typically fear.  In exile, we are susceptible to false gods and the culture that surrounds us.  Isaiah teaches Israel to respond faithfully.  The gods that requier us to save them are not the One, True God: YHWH.  God will carry us into His future.  It is too tiny a thing to take Israel back to “yesteryear.”  Instead, He calls them into a new future. 

We do not need to save God.  If we must save God from our culture, then we do not really serve God in the first place.  God is not in danger of defeat.

Where do we move from here.  It is like teaching a child to walk.  You prop them up on something sturdy (yesteryear).  You call them to come (a move into a future they wouldn’t have done without being called).  That is the very thing that God does with us.  We are called to remember, not so that we can go back, so that we can move into God’s new future.