Thursday, November 30, 2006

St. Andrew, Apostle—The “Peter Before Peter”

John 1:35-42
The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, "Look, here is the Lamb of God!" The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, "What are you looking for?" They said to him, "Rabbi" (which translated means Teacher), "where are you staying?" He said to them, "Come and see." They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o'clock in the afternoon. One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter's brother. He first found his brother Simon and said to him, "We have found the Messiah" (which is translated Anointed). He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, "You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas" (which is translated Peter).

On his hagiography page, James Kiefer notes that the bishopric of Byzantium claimed Andrew as their first bishop. Andrew was claimed to be the first disciple to follow Jesus and even brought his brother Peter to Jesus (as above). Hence, they claimed he was the “Peter before Peter.”

Why bother with remembering apostles? Are these apostles remembered simply for being among the first people to follow Jesus? Remembering apostles, though is more than just that. The apostles are remembered because apostolicity is at the heart of the character of the Church. Being a member of the Church entails being an apostle. We are those who are sent (the meaning of the Greek root of apostle—to send).

We are sent into the world with various gifts and skills to proclaim God’s good news. But what does this mean? Luther responded to a cobbler, that being a Christian and a shoemaker meant that he was to make good shoes and sell them for a fair price. Maybe this also cuts back on us consumers that we are to seek out quality goods and pay a fair price, rather than run to the Targets and Wal-Marts buy the questionable quality merchandise that while inexpensive has been constructed most likely by underpaid and exploited third-world workers. Or to go out buy the hottest item (like the PS3) and turn it over on ebay for triple or quadruple the price just so someone can have the coolest gift this Christmas.

But what are we sent to do? Proclaim the good news, right… but does that mean accosting folks on the street in guerilla-style evangelism asking if they have accepted Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior? I don’t think so. Being sent touches upon our notion of vocation, what we are called to do. The very jobs that allow us to earn our daily bread should not be disconnected from our sense of our identity as Christians. If those occupations are, then we are in trouble. Whether we work in the world as a busboy or a high-tech CEO, or we stay at home as a parent, our vocations better reflect the discipleship we claim.

So some applications:

Busboys, cooks, and other restaurant workers: You are sent into a ministry of hospitality. You are means to people’s daily bread. When your customers (for those who are Christian) pray, “Give us this day our daily bread” they have just prayed for you, as you have become part of what God uses to provide for people’s daily needs.

Nurses, doctors and other healthcare professionals: You are sent into a ministry of healing. You are signposts to the wholeness that God promises in the Kingdom. You stand against the forces of darkness and brokenness as bodies rebel against themselves. You participate in the healing miracles of Jesus.

Machinists, Carpenters, and others who build and create: You are sent into a ministry of creation. You build and manufacture seemingly out of nothing, echoing the creation of the world when God creates out of nothing.

All of us bear the title, apostle, on our brow as we have been baptized and marked with the cross of Christ forever. We remember apostles to remember that all of us are sent into the world. At the end of each Communion liturgy, we sing:

Thank the Lord and sing his praise; tell ev'ryone what he has done.

Let all who seek the Lord rejoice and proudly bear his name.

He recalls his promises and leads his people forth in joy

with shouts of thanksgiving. Alleluia. Alleluia.

We are sent to proclaim what God has done, in all that we do. We remember those who have showed us how.


Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The Promise

Because Jesus lives, rules and will judge as the particular person he is, the outcome of history will be different than could otherwise have expectedalso with respect to its having any outcome at all. We must ask, in all deliberate naivete. How different? What does the gospel promise?

The whole of Christian theology can be understood as the attempt to answer this question. A systematic theology's proposal will therefore not emerge only in a final section thematically devoted to it. This work's offering became explicit within the first few chapters: the gospel's promises inclusion in the triune community by virtue of union with Christ and just so in a perfected human community.

That is, the gospel promises what this work has described in various connections and called deification, following the example of the fathers. So Basil the Great: the final result of the Spirit's work in us is "endless joy in the presence of God, becoming like God, and... becoming God." We should note the dialectics of Basil's vision: we will simultaneously be with God and so other than he, like God in sanctity and righteousness, and personally identified with God. Or let us again quote Martin Luther, to dispel any suspicion that interpretation of salvation as deification may be an Eastern peculiarity: "Our shame is great, that we were the devil's children. But the honor is much greater, that we are children of God. For what greater fame and pride could we have... than to be called the children of the Highest and to have all he is, and has?"

Robert Jenson
Systematic Theology, Volume 2: The Works of God

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Christ -- King of Kings and Lord of Lords

Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, 5and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, 6and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. 7Look! He is coming with the clouds; every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail. So it is to be. Amen. 8“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty. -Rev. 1:4b-7

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Toys For Tots refuses Jesus... well, a Jesus doll

A news report in my daily newspaper but that appears elsewhere in fuller detail tells that the Marines Reserve's program Toys For Tots has turned down the offer for 4000 talking Jesus dolls. The verses Jesus spouts are listed at the one2believe website. You can actually hear the recording in mp3 version there.

Toys For Tots wants to be sensitive to those who might receive the gift and are not Christian. The director of business development, Michael La Roe is quoted in the article as saying, " "I believe as a churchgoing person, anyone can benefit from hearing the words of the Bible."

But benefit to what end is what I would ask? There are some words of the Bible that would fall under Natural Law... certainly many proverbs fall under this category. But the doll only gives one of those kind of quotes, and that is rooted in the character of the community of God's people ("Love your neighbor as yourself). Instead the other verses are all about the unique position Jesus plays in the life of faith: his death, belief in Jesus, the kingdom, etc.

These verses are explicitly evangelistic in nature. But the evangelism being foisted upon the receivers of this gift is a guerilla evangelism, a surprise attack of the gospel. For many there will be no way to take this gift as anything but propaganda. This gift is not evangelism plain and simple.

The Bible gives many stories of evangelism and none would fit this. Prime in my thinking is the story of Philip and the Ethiopian eunnuch. Phillip didn't just throw the Scripture at the official, but took the time to explain what the eunnuch was reading... that led to baptism, and a relationship... a grafting of someone into the body.

We let people off the hook if we continue to let them think that evangelism is solely about hearing the Bible and then making the hearer decide what to do based on that. And given that Toys For Tots is a program for the poor, we allow folks to think that ministry can be done without having to actually deal with the poor. We can just send talking Jesus dolls instead. And while I am hesitant to say it, I fear the true motivation of one2believe will be accomplished even with the rebuff of Toys For Tots. Dolls will be sold in greater number now. People will buy them just to show their support and then give them away at Christmas to some unsuspecting child, who by the way might not need the doll (i.e. the boy or girl is a Christian already). Anyway... the question here is what kind of people are we forming when we undertake such an action.

Evangelism is both simple and complicated. Simple, in that, evangelism is about speaking God's good news in Christ Jesus; complicated though, because evangelism requires relationship and risk. But it is precisely this risk for which we are freed in the waters of baptism. We are free to risk and open ourselves to those in need, so that they might experience God's grace. We are freed not only to send goods (of various quality) to the poor but actually to identify with the poor. Somehow sending 4000 Jesus dolls doesn't quite seem to do that.


Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Fallen Powers and God's Providence

Most of the reference to the "Powers" in the New Testament consider them as fallen. It is important therefore to begin with the reminder that they were part of the good creation of God. Society and history, even nature, would be impossible without regularity, system, order--and God has provided for this need. The universe is not sustained arbitrarily, immediately and erratically by an unbroken succession of new divine interventions. It was made in an ordered form and "it was good." The creative power worked in a mediated form, by means of the Powers that regularized all visible reality.

Unfortunately, however, we have no access to the good creation of God. The creature and the world are fallen, and in this the powers have their own share. They are no longer active only as mediators of the saving creative purpose of God; now we find them seeking to separate us from the love of God (Rom. 8:38); we find them ruling over the lives of those who live far from the love of God (Eph. 2:2); we find them holding us in servitude to their rules (Col. 2: 20); we find them holding us under their tutelage (Gal. 4:3). These structures which were supposed to be our servants have become our masters and our guardians.

Yet even in this fallen and rebellious state the working of the Powers is not simply something limitlessly evil. The Powers, despite their fallenness, continue to exercise an ordering function. Even tyranny (which according to Rom. 13:1 is to be counted among the powers) is still better than the chaos and we should be subject to it. The law (which according to Gal 4:5 prevents us from attaining to filial maturity) is nevertheless righteous and good and we should obey it. Even the pagan and primitive forms of social and religious expression, although obviously unworthy of being imitated, remain a sign of preserving patience of God toward a world that has not yet heard of its redemption (Acts 17:22-28).

John Howard Yoder
"Christ and Power"
The Politics of Jesus

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Trusting in... what?

A piece on Reuters "Oddly Enough" talks about the United Church in Canada and their most recent foray into marketing. The image to the left is part of their campaign. The words in the upper right say, "How much fun can sex be before it's a sin?"

Only the church can screw this up this badly. A recurrent theme on my posts are about forming people to proclaim the gospel so that others might hear it and come to know the true and living God. But here the United Church in Canada turns evangelism into gimmick. Too often people in the church reduce our evangelism to issues of advertising and marketing. To be faithful to the missio Dei, we cannot rely on Madison Ave. techniques to create disciples. These ads might get people in the doors, but they won't last long if they feel they have suffered a bait and switch. Bring them in with tantalizing and scandalous images, and then start talking about what God has done, is doing and will do, and how we who follow should respond, most likely these newcomers will turn off their reception.

But actually,the problem is worse. It lets the normal pew-sitter abandon their role as amabassador of the Kingdom. The work of evangelism and mission is primarily a relational one. There is risk involved when we open to others and confess our faith, telling the story of a God who is active in our lives. We face derision and scorn, but we also might begin a conversation where someone who does not know God feels the call of the gospel and allows him or herself to be pulled into a deeper connection with the God who created and loves him or her. Ads just cannot do that.

The story quotes the executive director of the ad campaign, Keith Howard, who says, "We've had a long tradition of engaging the issues and concerns of the society that we are a part of." The issues that the article mentions are about breaking the stereotypes of religion in a "we're not your grandma's church anymore! We're new and improved."-sense that simply exchanges one set of stereotypes (religion as stuffy and overbearing) for another ( Christians as idiots who cannot even agree amongst themselves). All in all, not only do churches exchange trust in God with trust in marketing, AND form people poorly, they continue to promote the division that exists within the Body of Christ and exalt it. At the heart of this campaign is a not-so subtle dig at the other churches who might interpret things differently. Trying to take advantage of the fissures in the body of Christ is nothing other than sin, plain and simple.

It's about Jesus. Start there.


Wednesday, November 08, 2006

The Biblical Scholar In The Pew

Yesterday, I led my weekly bible study and during the study, I was reminded of something I touched on in the New Atheists blog I did last week. In that posting, I made mention of the secret nature of reason. All of the advocates for reason as religion were all white and educated. I contrasted that education with the gospel that is publicly proclaimed from pulpit and font. I wrote,
... we need to be forming people now to be the type who can proclaim the gospel, who know that Christianity is not just a religion that binds us to some hierarchical structure, but a way of life that binds us to the God of the universe. We rely on reason only after having had the gospel revealed to us, not secretly as much of reason is revealed to the specialists who can afford the education, but openly and publicly from the pulpit, the altar and the font.
The public nature of our liturgy is such that the good news of God in Christ Jesus is proclaimed to all. Our hymns, liturgies, sermons, and sacraments are all about informing and forming people to be the Church, the holy people of God. There are times we rightly place our confidence in biblical scholars, those who are educated specifically for the ministry of interpreting the texts of the bible. But we should not forget that our liturgy forms us all to interpret the message of Scripture.

Case in point, yesterday. The bible study is populated by the older ladies of the congregation. And I love that it is, because they ask the best questions, and now I realize that they have sat through many liturgies to be formed to read the Bible. We were studying the gospel text for this upcoming Sunday, Nov. 12, Mark 12:38-44. We read through the text and focused on the widow's mite. As we talked I mentioned that I just didn't think the text was about giving everything to God, or trusting that God will give us a good return on the investment.

The text's placement in chapter 12, is near the end of a great deal of Jesus being questioned and tested by the scribes, Saducees and Pharisees. And so at the beginning of the passage Jesus warns us of the scribes, and those of great wealth, because they "devour the widow's houses." And as we were talking one of the ladies speaks up, "Well, if the wealthy were devouring widow's houses, the wealth out of which they were giving did not belong to them in the first place." I think she makes a correct reading. I could have read that passage a thousand times in the upcoming week, and not have seen that point.

If we pastors ignore the readers in the pew, we do so at our own peril for they have much to teach us, and much to proclaim. Now, her contribution is not the only point of the passage, but it does give us a good starting point. It is in the Church that the bible is interpreted correctly. Yes, that does mean it can be a messy affair at times, but the Holy Spirit works in all of us who are united with Christ.