Monday, June 20, 2011


I found this arctile on a website I use regularly for sermon prepaartion and I like the fellow in particular. I thought it importnat to put the whole attribution on this morning after watching what happen to the Dean of Medicine at the Universtiy of Alberta. Thanks David for your thoughts!

David J. Lose holds The Marbury E. Anderson Chair in Biblical Preaching at Luther Seminary, where he also serves as the Director of the Center for Biblical Preaching. He is the author of Making Sense of the Christian Faith (2010), Making Sense of Scripture (2009), and Confessing Jesus Christ: Preaching in a Postmodern World (2003). He speaks widely in the United States and abroad on preaching, Christian faith in a postmodern world, and biblical interpretation. The article can be found at

Dear Working Preacher,
Looking for a chance to name an element of the Christian faith that a) addresses issues that have occupied the headlines our people have been reading, b) offers a clear alternative to one of the more destructive elements of our popular culture, and c) makes a real difference in everyday life? Then look no further.

Among the many issues that the Apostle Paul tackles in his letter to the church at Rome is the nature of freedom. And here's the thing: where Paul sees freedom as obedience to the will of God, contemporary Americans – and perhaps this is true of most of humanity – tend to think of freedom precisely as freedom to do whatever you want, freedom, that is, from being obedient to anything or anyone, a view of freedom has disastrous consequences.

Witness, by example, the recent exploits and downfall of Representative Anthony Weiner after he sent lewd photographs of himself to various women. Or of Arnold Schwarzenegger. Or John Edwards. Or Dominique Strauss-Kahn. These are the recent ones, but don't forget Elliot Spitzer, Mark Sanford, or Bill Clinton (no, he wasn't toppled from office, just publicly disgraced and, among other things, tied up in impeachment hearings instead of tending the needs of the country). The pattern here is men who believe that their power and prestige enable them to do anything – the American ideal of freedom – and yet who ultimately reap the ruin of their misconceptions.

In light of this, hear again Paul's admonition, "do not let sin exercise dominion in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions" (6:12). And, later, his assertions that "sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but grace" (14) and "you, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness" (18) and "the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (23). What Paul is talking about is freedom, Christian freedom in particular, but it doesn't always sound that way to us because it stems from a very different notion of not just freedom but human life in general.

According to Paul, you see, humans are never not under obligation to something. Therefore he writes, "you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness" (17). The question is therefore not whether you will be follow something (or someone), but what (or who) you will follow. Will you follow your passions or self control? Will you follow ambition or honor? Will you follow the promises you made or believe yourself exempt from those requirements? It's not a question of whether, but of what, and Paul urges Christians to be slaves not of unrighteousness – doing whatever you want regardless of the consequences to others – but to righteousness, a life in service to others and to God.

Freedom, from this point of view, comes from self-mastery. Only by saying "no" to one thing can you truly say "yes" to another. While this runs starkly against the contemporary belief that freedom implies no obligations and no commitments – the freedom to do whatever you please apart from any laws or restrictions – it reflects a worldview common not only to Paul but to much of western history (on this point, see Sara Lipton's recent Op-Ed in the New York Times). Further, most of us live this truth daily: where is the freedom to drive in safety apart from manifold traffic laws, the freedom to express oneself clearly apart from the restrictions of grammar and syntax, the freedom to be committed to one person apart from denying the invitations of all others?

The contemporary understanding of freedom misleads us into believing that, if you are lucky or strong or bold or beautiful and powerful enough, you can live absent any obligations, any commitments, any requirements whatsoever. Paul therefore invites the Christians in Rome – and by extension all of us – to consider that the choice before us is not whether to be obedient or free, but rather to what we will be freely obedient. Further, Paul knows both that a) human nature tends to slide toward whatever seems easiest in the short run and b) that sacrificing short term gratification for long term happiness is difficult. He therefore promises that God has granted to us the freedom in Christ to strive for things that bring long term happiness and eternal blessings. Paul believes, that is, that God has granted us the power to aspire to and achieve more than our surroundings or culture offers.

Where does that power come from? Paul suggests three places. 1), Baptism, the place where God names us as God's own children (see the verses just preceding today's reading, Rom. 6:1-11) and not because of what we have attained, accomplished, bought, or achieved, but simply because God has chosen to love us and adopt us as God's own. 2) Christian community, the company of believers were baptized into Christ's death and resurrection (6:3-5) and that gathers to remember and rehearse the promises of God and encourage each other in lives of righteousness. 3) Prayer in the Holy Spirit, which draws us more closely into relationship with God and neighbor and serves to remind us that we are, indeed, God's own children (see 8:14-17).

So what would you say, Working Preacher, about drawing our attention to the power God bequeaths to us through these three things this very week? Perhaps after delving into Paul's notions about freedom in Christ we might invite people to write down on a piece of paper one act of obedience (to friend, partner, children, parents, work, congregation, country, honor, commitment to the poor, whatever) that they have freely chosen and would like the support of God and the congregation to live into. No names, just requests. Then, in the prayers, we could read some or all of those petitions and as a community invite the presence of the Holy Spirit into our individual and corporate lives as we strive for and taste again the freedom and joy that comes from embracing obedience not to our fleeting desire but instead to our holy commitments.

This may, I realize, be a different venture for many of us, especially those who, like I, were trained to avoid too much talk of what we should do lest we fall into "works righteousness" or what we should obey less we be labeled "moralists." But I think we need – at least I know I need – to move beyond only talk about freedom and obedience and all the rest into some kind of practice and experience of such freedom, and this exercise would help me – and perhaps others, too – move in that direction. Thanks for considering this, Working Preacher, and for all that you do for the people of God.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Let God do the math!

I have to admit that when I was a teenager, I was terrible at math. And as the yeas have gone by and I am now helping (and sometimes confusing) and child who is learning to do math, I realize that not much has changed, accept for one thing. I have the patience now to stay with it and to work until I understand. Patience was not my strong suit in my youth. Math teaches me that I have grown, even if I have not gotten it all yet.
The same goes for theology. There are things I know. I spent a lot of years studying theology. And because I have studied theology I have also had to learn to use the English language better and more effectively to communicate not only what I have read, but to communicate the Gospel to others as well as I can possibly do it. Maybe that is why I like a sentence in story of the great commission in Matthew’s Gospel. They worshipped, but some doubted. Even at the great and historic moment as Jesus is going back to the Father to take his place and position of authority in the kingdom, some of the disciples still don’t get “it”. They haven’t got all the theology worked out. They haven’t got the systematic understanding of how God is God, that God is one God and yet is three persons.

What they are told is to go and follow Jesus into the world – and the disciples are allowed to question things they see and hear. After all, how to we initial believe something if we are not allowed to work it out. Being bad at something doesn’t mean that you should stay home because you’re lousy at it. We are called to go and in the going to live and to make mistakes and to be Church wherever and whenever we find ourselves. Plus we are to recognize that we are looking for Jesus who said, who promised that he would be with us in the going and the doing and that we would see him there.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, William Temple once said that, “Church exists to bring into is membership those who do not yet belong to it.” Many good Christians fail to commend the faith that is within in them because they think they are bad at it, or worse, that it is solely the pastor’s job. The Church exists to be the community into which the world is drawn. The Church is about making disciples not decisions. I often sense that our beloved Anglicans feel guilt because they do not readily share their faith. Sundays like this one might even make more difficult because they are hearing that that have to share their faith and be “all that and a bag of chips and a bar” to someone. And there is often an accompanying sense of embarrassment to Anglicans because we have grown up thinking and being taught that faith is something deeply personal and tightly held. It is be guarded, shaded and or veiled; not revealed for everyone to see (…and criticize!).

The good thing about a Sunday like this is that we are not here to do the math or to learn some new idea of systematic theology, as much fun as I might have with that. We are here because we have been called into relationship with one another by God. God has revealed himself in Christ and we are called to witness to what has been done for us by God in the life and person of Christ. Ultimately we bear the name of the triune God – the God who lives and works in community. And we worship a God who, even when God was alone in the whole wide universe before the beginning of creation, is still in relationship. Trinity Sunday reminds us of that. That we were called to worship and drawn to witness to this God who desires us and that we reach out to draw one another in.

Maybe it is that God is poor at math too? God wants us to be one as God is one and that we in turn reach out with all the diversity of our gifts and talents to bring home all those whom he would call, as many as he will draw; just as God has done with us and is doing right now? Let us go too and in the going, make disciples. Let God worry about the math of it all.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Enter in the New Creation

Most seem to think that the Day the Spirit came was about a moment of personal spiritual moxie. In fact it is much more than that. The disciples huddled in fear in the upper room suddenly find Jesus with them even though the doors are locked and the windows are barred. Jesus offers them peace. Twice. The first time he offers them peace so that they might know that they know it is really him. And Jesus is not just the Master now, he is the risen Lord. And the disciples know that too. It is the first moments of the new creation that God has begun. And the disciples are going to be called to be the first drops of a great Niagara of transformation that is going to be ring the world back to relationship with God – bringing us back to be the community we were meant to be.

This day of Spirit giving is meant to help us see that that God is not limited to one person (i.e. Moses) or to a moment like with the seventy elders at the tent of meeting or even the one nation of Israel who are called to be the priestly presence among the nations of the earth. For the first time, people from all over the earth get to hear what God has done in Christ for them in their own home language. God over comes barriers to make the ministry of the Church possible and effective so that in turn the Church might declare Christ and draw others to him. Thus the task of the Church is to seek “at-one-ment” for God and his creation.

In sending us to our task, Jesus breathed on those first disciples just has God has breathed into us to give life and the Spirit. And we need to recognize that this is not just a onetime event. It goes on constantly throughout Scriptures. The giving of the Spirit went on then and it is still available for us today. We are part of this great story and this grand venture. We are called to participate in the drawing in of the new creation. And if we are tempted to think that this is a simple matter, it is not. The Spirit does not make things better or easier. The Spirit enables us to face what needs to be faced and to deal with things head on. We are challenged to become better disciples and better leaders – not just to sit and soak in the tub of redemption waiting for the moment when everything will be made all right again. The Spirit does not solve our problems and make us all spiritual. The Spirit confronts us and causes us to move into those places and spaces where we are needed by God, to be who we are.

Moreover, now that the Spirit is the reality of the life of the Church, there is no more “normal” in the lives of the members of the Church. There is a new reality. The old life and its old ways of doing things are not an option. It is not possible because the old life with its old ways has been nailed to the cross and died with Christ and went to the grave. And those old ways stayed there when he was raised from death. Therefore in this moment, we are called into new life and new creation. We are drawn into the new life by the Spirit and we are to proclaim this new life by what we say and do. We are to make known to this world that this crucified God is God of all the nations not just some. And in the going, we are not called to be popular or successful. We are calling to be faithful and to proclaim what God is doing.

Let’s take the opportunity to make Christ and his risen life known and to offer his peace that others will be draw to him and thus into life in his name.           

Friday, June 3, 2011

Wait a moment

There are lots of ways to think about this particular Sunday and the way it falls in the Christian calendar. For Instance, I heard an expression this week calling this Sunday the “Sunday of the Real Absence”. Such a Sunday is used to recognize that Jesus has ascended; the disciples have walked back into Jerusalem. The disciples were excited, sacred and willing to be patient for whatever God had next for them. Thing is, there is according to Luke’s Gospel some time to wait between Christ’s Ascension and the coming of the Paraklete. It is not that this was idle time though. The Church was still praying for the Spirit to come. The Church was still expecting the kingdom to come. And the Church still had to be the Church while it was waiting for the nest step to begin.

It is counter to everything that our culture teaches and preaches… you remember? Maybe I can sum that up this way, “Just do it.” You figure it out and make it happen so you can be the hero or heroine. The white knight in shinny armour on his white charger. There is a real need for the “go to” girl. But the Church waited. They worked while the waited. They slept while they waited. They ate and drank while they waited. They prayed while they waited. Jesus promised it won’t be long. And when has he not been faithful to a promise?

Perhaps it is because we are not as good at keeping our promises that we find it hard to wait for things. Or maybe that’s because we figure we have to do this with our own muscle and our own brains to make the Church work. Maybe it is because we believe we can see what needs to be done and all we need to do is, well… do it. There is a spiritual problem in such an attitude. We see ourselves in it, but what about God. Is God in it? Has God moved in and shown us the way that we should walk and move and do his will? Whatever the reason is, we seem to like to plunge head first into things without being willing to wait. The first great act of the Church was to wait and be patient until God moved.

We are not required as the Church to be the brains behind the mission nor are we expected to move solely on our own power. The Church can and does do many good things. But how often do we wait to be ready and to see God make the first move. We need to remember that the Ascension is not the final act of Jesus. Rather, it is a move on the part of Jesus to come back to his place of power and authority that he might enable his Church to be Church and to fulfill the mission of God through him. The Church in this Ascensiontide then needs to stop and consider who their power and authority for mission comes from. The Ascension does not mean that Jesus is done but rather is ready to draw us in to help us participate in the redemption of the people and the world around us. Jesus reigns over all creation. He has been given the power and authority from the Father to reign over heaven and earth. Jesus is still the head of the Church and we are called to follow him into the kingdom and the life that the kingdom brings. In a real way, we are living in Acts 29. We are called to be the witnesses of Christ’s death, resurrection and ascension in all the world. Easter is still happening and it is more than resurrection. It is exaltation. It is glorification. It is ascension. He is not gone from us. Jesus is not absent from his Church. He is with us through his Spirit. Let us proclaim that this week in his name.