Tag Archives: theological agenda

First Things First

This sermon was inspired by the following notes.

In our lives, we have many things surrounding us attempting to claim a higher position on our priority list. The hardest decisions in our lives tend to not be between good and evil, but between competing “good” things. Often we make choices and wonder if we chose the right good thing to take precedence. The difficulty for us is compounded by the messages and advertisements around us that each tout themselves as “the best thing”. We have foods that claim to be “superfoods”, insurance companies with “superhero” mascots, politicians claiming to be saviors, and all kinds of products with words designed to make us prioritize that product over everything else. In today’s scripture we see what Jesus’ coming does to our priority structures and what we have to gain from the change.

35 The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. 36 When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!”37 When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus. 38 Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, “What do you want?” They said, “Rabbi” (which means “Teacher”), “where are you staying?” 39 “Come,” he replied, “and you will see.” So they went and saw where he was staying, and they spent that day with him. It was about four in the afternoon. 40 Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus. 41 The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, “We have found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ). 42 And he brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which, when translated, is Peter). John 1:35-42

  • A relationship with someone who knows.
  • The responsibility to point to Jesus when we see him at work.
  • Jesus is inviting of people right where they are. He had no entrance exam for following. You start where you are.
  • When we welcome people to be in relationship right where they are with no conditions that is incredibly inviting and when that invitation is accepted Jesus begins to teach.
  • Andrew could have gone back to John, back to work, etc, but he found his brother first and told him about the Messiah. When people encounter the God who loves them Just as they are it changes priority structures. Priority one becomes sharing that love, that good news with loved ones.
  • What would have happened if Andrew had gone back to life as usual? No Peter. A different set of disciples. A different story. A story with a huge missing piece.
  • Andrew’s priorities were not to make Peter acceptable than to bring him, but to drag him exactly as he was, with all of the flaws we have come to know and love, the cowardice, the rashness, the temper, the fear, and all that sheer impulsive open mouth insert footedness that made Peter what he was, directly to Jesus to meet the Messiah.
  • Jesus didn’t give Peter the fifth degree over his theology or lifestyle, but gave him a new name and an invitation.
  • The “Bounded Set” mentality vs. the “Centered Set” mentality.

Bounded Set: Do you believe like me? Concerned with enforcing conformity to a norm. What would you say the pros are to this kind of setup? Pros: Easily defined boundary. Easy to determine who “belongs”. How about the Cons? Cons: Who controls the measuring stick? Not welcoming if not ready to 100% conform.

 

Centered Set: Where are you in relation to Jesus? Concerned with relationship building. What would you say the pros are to this kind of setup? Pros: Welcoming to all. Focused on drawing closer to Jesus. How about the Cons? Cons: Can become relativistic rather than relational. Requires more work.

 

 

[The] situation in the actual world is much more complicated than that. The world does not consist of 100% Christians and 100% non-Christians. There are people (a great many of them) who are slowly ceasing to be Christians but who still call themselves by that name: some of them are clergymen. There are other people who are slowly becoming Christians though they do not yet call themselves so. There are people who do not accept the full Christian doctrine about Christ but who are so strongly attracted by Him that they are His in a much deeper sense than they themselves understand…. And always, of course, there are a great many people who are just confused in mind and have a lot of inconsistent beliefs all jumbled up together.    Consequently, it is not much use trying to make judgments about Christians and non-Christians in the mass. It is some use comparing cats and dogs, or even men and women, in the mass, because there one knows definitely which is which. Also, an animal does not turn (either slowly or suddenly) from a dog into a cat. But when we are comparing Christians in general with non-Christians in general, we are usually not thinking about real people whom we know at all, but only about two vague ideas which we have got from novels and newspapers. If you want to compare the bad Christian and the good Atheist, you must think about two real specimens whom you have actually met. Unless we come down to brass tacks in that way, we shall only be wasting time. C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (1952; Harper Collins: 2001), 208-209.

  • Today we bear that same trust, to seek God’s face, live for him and reflect the light of his love around us. When this happens we see people coming to God just as they are, with all their flaws and we get to witness the transforming power of God at work in them over the years.
  • Sometimes we allow things about ourselves or others to get in the way of the light we are called to shine, and that light grows dim, we forget to put first things first because our eyes have strayed from the love of Jesus.
  • I am sure that I am not the only one here that is guilty of allowing myself to turn away from God’s light, and I invite all of you to join me in praying that we could have the obstructions and false priorities cleared that we might reflect the unconditional love of God on each person around us, welcoming them into relationship with the Messiah, Jesus. Let us pray. Our Open worship will end with the Keith Green song Oh Lord You’re Beautiful.
  • Open Worship

Friendly Persuasion

(Click here to listen.)

As we look over this week’s and the next few weeks’ texts, I want us to keep in mind that Peter is writing to some people that are experiencing some very scary things. Fear was the main tool that the Roman Empire used to keep its subject peoples in line, and they were brutally effective at instilling fear in conquered territories. Fear was a part of daily life in the Roman Empire, and fear is still used by entities in our time to control others for power and profit. The sad thing is that fear mongering is effective. We see people from all walks of life driven by fear of others who are different from them, or who live by different principles, or who they think might want what they have. This fear creeps its way into my life, and I am sure yours as well, until suddenly God opens my eyes to the fact that I have been operating from fear. When I began the recording process for Friends ministers there was a fear that I hadn’t recognized until someone said that they thought I should go to seminary before I was recorded. I kind of lashed out a bit because I was afraid of those snobby educated types. I was afraid that my lack of education would make me look foolish and that I would be looked down on. These were fears based on the experience of watching others with access to education look down on the folks from my neighborhood. These fears of our neighbors are used to manipulate us and to generate conflict that draws our attention away from what is important. It almost drew me away from God’s call on my life to be a pastor. Into our fearful society Peter’s words speak with surprising relevance:

13 Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? 14 But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats[or what they fear]; do not be frightened.” 15 But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. 17 For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. (1 Peter 2:13-17 NIV)

Peter starts out with what might first be considered a rhetorical question, “Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good?” Well, the Wednesday night bible study came up with a fairly depressing list of all sorts of people that could fit into that category. Needless to say what all of the categories had in common was that there are some people who stand to gain in one way or another from others who are not eager to do what is good. Kathy pointed out last week that some of those who benefit from our accepting a broken role in our families will lash out at us when we reject a bad relationship and enforce boundaries that are healthy and good. Peter doesn’t gloss over the brokenness of the world or of the various institutional and personal relationships we have to navigate.  I would say that every culture, nation or relationship has some form of brokenness built into it, so when we go about our daily lives maybe we can keep our eyes open for the opportunities to repair things. The good work of repairing what is broken exposes us to the jagged edges of raw emotion and occasionally we will get hurt by those edges, occasionally we will suffer for our repair efforts. Peter reminds us to not let our fear of pain, rejection, and loss stop us from doing the good work we have been given. The work of healing broken relationships is worth a little pain and suffering, isn’t it? Especially when we get the blessing of seeing a broken relationship with God healed.

This section of the letter is about witness, and Peter’s instruction is even more relevant to us than those to whom he wrote. Christianity has a bit of a PR problem. There are people who claim to follow Jesus as their Lord that picket funerals and attack people who are hurting rather than extending healing hands. There are people who claim the name of Jesus that do not act lovingly at all times, and to my great sadness I have to admit to being one of them. God has chosen to reveal himself through broken people like me who still have large imperfections and flaws that in their clumsy attempts to bring healing instead cause harm. When I was in my discernment process for coming here and was feeling unsure about the call, one of the elders of my church asked me what I was afraid of. I thought about it for a minute and said that I was afraid that my mouth would move ahead of my brain and I would hurt someone and not realize it until it was too late. My elder looked over at me with a chuckle and said “Don’t worry about that Gil. I guarantee you that it will happen, the only question you need to keep asking yourself is will you keep yourself ready to do what you must to make things right.” Following Jesus and revering him as Lord means paying attention to the fact that some of the brokenness I have to work on is in me, that some of the broken relationships I am called to repair were broken by me.

This is what I think Peter is referring to when he speaks about being prepared to give an answer to the hope we have with gentleness and respect: we must acknowledge our brokenness in order for others to ask us why on earth we would have any hope, and we must be sympathetic to the brokenness in others, not passing judgment, but carrying the fragile light of hope into someone’s personal darkness. We as the church and me personally have gotten this dead wrong all too often, and I can only speak to my own condition here, but I mostly get it wrong when I allow fear to set my agenda. It is a natural thing for us to be afraid of what is different from us. We have had thousands of years to set up mental structures that tell us who to be near and who to avoid, and the people who are most like us fall into the category of people to be around. Unfortunately for this tribal imperative Jesus teaches that the people who God loves tends to not fit into those neat categories. Keeping a clear conscience in God’s sight then leads us to look beyond the surface impressions and false identities and see the beloved child of God in each face we encounter no matter how unlike us that face appears to be. Jesus taught about this in a parable:

25Just then a scholar of the Hebrew Scriptures tried to trap Jesus.

Scholar: Teacher, what must I do to experience the eternal life?

Jesus (answering with a question)26What is written in the Hebrew Scriptures? How do you interpret their answer to your question?

Scholar: 27You shall love—“love the Eternal One your God with everything you have: all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind”* —and “love your neighbor as yourself.”*

Jesus: 28Perfect. Your answer is correct. Follow these commands and you will live. 29The scholar was frustrated by this response because he was hoping to make himself appear smarter than Jesus.

Scholar: Ah, but who is my neighbor?

Jesus: 30This fellow was traveling down from Jerusalem to Jericho when some robbers mugged him. They took his clothes, beat him to a pulp, and left him naked and bleeding and in critical condition. 31By chance, a priest was going down that same road, and when he saw the wounded man, he crossed over to the other side and passed by. 32Then a Levite who was on his way to assist in the temple also came and saw the victim lying there, and he too kept his distance. 33Then a despised Samaritan journeyed by. When he saw the fellow, he felt compassion for him. 34The Samaritan went over to him, stopped the bleeding, applied some first aid, and put the poor fellow on his donkey. He brought the man to an inn and cared for him through the night. 35The next day, the Samaritan took out some money—two days’ wages* to be exact—and paid the innkeeper, saying, “Please take care of this fellow, and if this isn’t enough, I’ll repay you next time I pass through.” 36Which of these three proved himself a neighbor to the man who had been mugged by the robbers?

Scholar: 37The one who showed mercy to him.

Jesus: Well then, go and behave like that Samaritan. (Luke 11:25-37 The Voice)

The Samaritan in Jesus’ parable proved himself to be a friend to the victim of the robbers, and Jesus tells this scholar, a Jew raised to despise the Samaritans as half-breeds who taught all kinds of wrong things about God, to emulate the Samaritan in this story. If we would persuade the world around us of the truth of the hope we bear, we also must behave like the Samaritan. The Samaritan didn’t check to see what faith the wounded man was, what class, race or anything else. The Samaritan simply saw someone who was wounded and dying.

Our culture is mired in a culture war that is creating scores of wounded and dying and I wonder if God may not be calling us to lay down any arms and jagged edges that we may be carrying and minister to the wounded rather than fight. As a pastor I have felt pressured to take sides in the culture wars and I will say this: my job is to minister to the wounded not to create more wounds. I will fail at this, but by the grace and mercy of God I will try my hardest to bind up every wound that God brings before me no matter what. It cannot matter to me whether someone agrees or disagrees with what I believe the only thing that can matter is that there is a beloved child of God in front of me that has been wounded and may be in danger of dying. That must be my top priority, not making sure everyone is saying the right words or doing the right things, but that the sick, wounded and dying are being healed, that by my friendship, compassion, and care I might witness to the hope that comes from knowing Jesus as my king. If we are to imitate Jesus we must remember that it was by his wounds that we could be healed and be ready to stand in the gap for others so they might be healed. There will be a price for being conscientious objectors in the culture wars but if we truly befriend the wounded and become as a body a “hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints” the good of planting those seeds of God’s kingdom is, and will be, worth the cost. As we enter into open worship let us listen for the direction of the Holy Spirit, giving him the space to speak to each of our souls. Let us ask that God open our eyes to how we can be Jesus’ hands and feet, binding up the wounds of the fallen and persuading people by our friendship that they not only have a good friend in us, but the best possible friend in Jesus.

A Prayer Rooted Church

One thing you may have noticed is that every sermon I have given so far has been somewhat about prayer. It is my firm belief that there is nothing more important to our lives as followers of Christ than keeping the lines of communication open to the one we follow. Let me tell you, I have an agenda for this church. My agenda is to establish a culture in which the words: “Let’s pray about that.” become a part of everyone’s daily vocabulary. Prayer is a powerful thing and for most of us is a frightening thing. Our God is a consuming fire and it can be a painful process to be consumed by that fire, but when we walk through those flames, Friends, we are not merely consumed, we are refined. Before I go on, I have a confession to make: my prayer life needs work. I get too busy to pray, I talk a lot about prayer and then don’t do it, I get distracted by my kids, I get so wrapped up in tasks that I not only don’t invite God into them, I want to hide from God because I fell short again, and sometimes I am mad at God and don’t want to talk or have anything to do with him. In other words I am just like you and this sermon is a challenge to me as well.
Trying to pick just one text for prayer is like trying to pick just one kernel of corn from the field. The Bible gives us insight into the history of the ongoing conversation between God and humanity. Some would even say that the Bile is prayer. Not only that, we cannot rightly understand the Bible or what it has to teach us if we do not have the words’ meanings opened to us by the Holy Spirit. God so strongly desires our relationship that we cannot rightly understand the scriptures without that prayer base. God placed this text on my mind last week at the Youth Sunday School class.
13 Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise. 14 Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. 16 Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective. James 5:13-16

The only reason I am here as your pastor is that a man named Gene Cannon prayed. Gene was the manager of the store where my dad worked. My father was the classic angry young man of the 60s, and was caught up in the new drug culture. Gene could have judged my father; fired him and thought nothing more of it, but Gene was a follower of Jesus and he prayed. Gene prayed for years and it looked like nothing was happening. My father moved away and yet Gene still prayed. A seed had been planted and Gene was going to faithfully water that seed with prayer until my father was saved or Gene died and could bother Jesus in person. It was in late September 35 years ago that my mother was brought into the kingdom. The rest of us fell like dominoes, in late November of 1977 Jesus reached out and grabbed me and in late December my father followed. Gene prayed my family into the kingdom, and without that man’s faithfulness, it is very likely that I would not be here as your pastor today. It is because of one person’s prayer that I have been in relationship with Jesus for 35 years. The prayer of the righteous was powerful and effective and is still bearing fruit.
When we pray, we open the doors of our hearts to the God who is always present and invite Him to set our priorities. This is definitely one of the scarier pieces of prayer, but most of us who have been in the faith a while can tell stories of transformation that happened when we trusted God’s judgment over our own. The Friends teach that this transformation occurs when we sit in silence to listen and hear from the voice of God, the promised Holy Spirit who has been poured out on all flesh. That is why it is so important to pause when we pray and listen. With practice our prayer lives begin to have longer and longer silences in which we are taught and transformed by the renewing of our minds. Eventually we get to the point where our first response to any situation is to look to God. When things look grim and we are feeling the hurt that comes to all of us we need to pray. When we have cause to celebrate we need to praise God. Whatever life sends our way, God needs to be our first response. As we listen to God and keep turning to him first, interesting things begin to happen. We begin to see what God is doing in the world around us and start hearing God inviting us to participate in his work. While my father worked at the convenience store, Gene was like a father to my dad. Because Gene prayed he was clued in to the true needs and the truth that my dad didn’t have a male role model in his life because my grandfather had died when dad was 13. Gene went from praying, to listening, to being God’s hands and feet. When we pray and listen, sometimes we are given the opportunity to be the answer to someone else’s prayer. How awesome is that? By paying attention to God and practicing at listening we get invited to be the ones working out God’s redemptive purposes for our broken world. We get to be the ones bearing the oil of anointing to heal.
One of the things it is easy to forget is just how much sin is in each of our lives. Each one of us has thought patterns and commits actions that fall short of the glory of God. Quite often the reason why I don’t pray is that I am all too aware of how much I messed up that day and think that if I hide from God I won’t have to deal with myself. There are some pretty nasty symptoms that come with this lack of confession. I look for distractions so that I don’t have to think about my brokenness. I focus on other people’s sin and point it out so that people are not looking at me. Focusing on someone else’s brokenness also helps me to say in my mind “See, I am not that bad. At least I am not like them.” We are called however to confess our brokenness before God and to each other. It is important to have someone in your life that can hold you accountable, that is a safe person for you to confess with, and someone with whom you can pray for God to come in and heal you. It is this kind of accountability and confession that helps alcoholics overcome their addiction in AA meetings. “Hi my name is Gilbert and I have sinned. Please pray for me.” Of course, this is tough in a church. We are not anonymous and often we have little grace to pray that God will change people. One of the saddest things that I have seen in a church is when a young woman who sang on the choir got pregnant by another young man in the church and was kicked out of the choir and placed under church discipline. Just when this young woman most needed the support of her faith community in facing the challenges that came from succumbing to a moment’s temptation, she was cast aside and punished. We of course do things like this all the time. In Tramp for the Lord, Corrie Ten Boom said that she found it easier to forgive the guards at the concentration camp than it was to forgive other Christians who had sinned against her. We forget just how much the church depends on forgiveness. The Bible teaches very clearly that we are broken and that our brokenness doesn’t magically disappear when we are saved. We are going to wound each other. We are going to sin against each other. We are going to speak words that bring hurt and talk about people behind their backs. Each person in this room has sinned against others in this room. There are no exceptions. In that way we are just like everyone else in the world. There is a difference however. Through prayer we have the power to forgive and the power to confess. Friends, don’t wait for the other person or people to make the first step, don’t let bitterness build up in your heart. No matter how deeply you feel the pain that has been inflicted start with the simple prayer of asking God to help you forgive. Do we want to see this church grow as followers of Christ? Then we need to forgive as Christ did.
This is the hardest part of following Jesus: Forgiving what we think we are owed.
Do you think someone owes you an apology? Forgive that debt. Do you think someone has sinned against you? Forgive that debt. Are you waiting for a Thank You that never came? Forgive that debt. I am sure you can think about other things that fit here as well, but you get my point. When we pray “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors” it should be a reminder to us of what is at stake. Forgiving others what they owe us can feel like the most expensive grace we ever give. Grace is always cheap to the one receiving it and usually too expensive to the one giving it. True grace is unmerited favor; when we give grace it is the opposite of what the other person deserves. Confession time again: I also am not the greatest person in the world when it comes to grace. It doesn’t always show on the outside, but what goes through my head when I am dealing with someone who has wounded me in the past could blister the paint on the walls. Avoiding prayer and silence means I don’t have to confront the absence of the desire to have grace for others within myself. God eventually snags me and I get to have yet another “Come to Jesus” moment. They aren’t fun, but God loves me through the process of learning to share His grace.
When I pray and accept God’s grace and begin allowing that grace to prayerfully overflow into my life, patterns of righteousness develop. It takes a while, but I catch glimpses of the way God sees those people who I have to work at forgiving. Because I stay in prayer I see more clearly, and when my actions are bathed in prayer, I see different results in me. I stop responding in self-centered ways and begin to pray differently. I start asking God to invite me into his plans rather than asking God to bless mine. Then the light of God begins to shine through this cracked pot for the glory of God and I couldn’t be happier for the cracks in what once seemed an “Oh so perfect” façade. Friends, we need to pray together. We not only need to pray together, we need to pray for our church together. We have a business meeting coming up, we have Christmas coming up, and we have many ministry opportunities all around us. If we desire to be truly effective at living into God’s call on us we need to come together to seek God’s heart and hold each other accountable to God’s vision for this church. The only possible way for us to grow well is to have deep roots of prayer connecting us to the God who loves.

Contextual Theology Models

We finished reading the book Models of Contextual Theology by Stephen Bevans, and I really enjoyed it. Below is my take on the models that he described. I really recommend this book as useful for understanding the various ways we attempt to contextualize what we believe.

The first model Bevans describes is the Translation Model (TM). The model consists of studying a given culture for potential equivalencies and communicating biblical ideas through them. In this model Bevans says “The values and thought forms of culture and the structures of social change are understood not so much as good in themselves, but as convenient vehicles for this essential, unchanging deposit of truth.”(Bevans 1992 37) The TM is easily suborned for cultural colonization.

The second model is the Anthropological Model (AM) which is pretty much Step 1: taking what exists in a given culture and looking for god in it, Step 2: ???? Step 3: Theology! This model is very strong in taking people seriously and very weak in seeing any change as necessary.

The third model is the Praxis Model (PM) and it is focused on action. In practice it follows a continuous cycle of action—reflection—action. Self-disclosure: I really like this model. The PM “regards theology not as a generally applicable, finished product that is valid for all times and all places, but as an understanding of and wrestling with God’s presence in very particular situations.”(Bevans 1992 78)

The fourth modes is the Synthetic Model (SM): “tries to preserve the importance of the gospel message and the heritage of traditional doctrinal formulations while at the same time acknowledging the vital role that context has played…even to the setting of the theological agenda.”(Bevans Models of Contextual Theology 1992 89) Primary benefit is in the idea that every voice belongs at the theological table, primary concerns are in selling out to a dominant cultural narrative or avoiding confrontation.

The fifth model is the Transcendental Model (XM): “theology happens as a person struggles more adequately and authentically to articulate and appropriate this ongoing relationship with the divine.”(Bevans Models of Contextual Theology 1992 105) There must be a conversion of our minds in order for us to comprehend the revelation of God into ourselves through the Holy Spirit. This reminds a bit of the old African-American saying “So heavenly minded you ain’t no earthly good.” There are some benefits, but also serious concerns in employing this model of theology, the primary benefit is in recognizing that all theology is contextual the primary negative is in the question of who gets to define what “authentic” is.

The sixth and final model is the Countercultural Model (CM): “some contexts are simply antithetical to the gospel and need to be challenged by the gospel’s liberating and healing power…the gospel represents an all-encompassing, radically alternate worldview that differs profoundly from human experiences of the world and the culture that humans create.”(Bevans Models of Contextual Theology 1992 118) Primary benefit is in taking culture seriously and critically, primary concern is that of alienating those we desire to engage.

The TM an AM are opposites, each attached to the poles of the redemption-centered—creation-centered continuum respectively. The TM sees itself as having the answers needed for culture x to be redeemed and the AM sees itself as searching for the created beauty of a given culture. The PM is, by nature, not in a static location in the continuum, but uses aspects of the TM and AM to locate itself in relation to necessary action and reflection. The PM then treats creation-centeredness and redemption-centeredness as a paradox to be held in tension rather than a continuum.

In my current community, there is a combination of models at work. I would say that we are primarily transcendental in our methods with the support of synthetic and anthropological methods. I honestly think we need to adopt a more Countercultural focus with the supports of praxis and synthetic models to better connect what happens on Sunday to the rest of life.

The real lesson in this is that the exclusive use of any of this models is unhealthy, since each model brings important considerations to the table. I think that the measure of which model should be primary at any point in time or space is going to depend entirely on the context we are doing theology.

Bibliography:

Bevans, Stephen B. 1992. Models of Contextual Theology. Faith and Cultures Series. Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books.
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