Archive for January, 2011

Sermon for 01-30-11: “The Ten Commandments, Part 4: Sabbath”

January 31, 2011

Sermon Text: Exodus 20:8-11

[Please note: The video takes several seconds to load after you press the play button.]

The following is my original sermon manuscript.

Today we’re looking at commandment number four: “Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy.” This commandment was by far my favorite of the ten when I was growing up. It’s because my parents, who were not the most faithful churchgoers, and who didn’t experience a deepening of their Christian faith until later in life, were funny about doing certain kinds of work on Sunday, especially yard work. Yard work on Sunday was not allowed. This meant they wouldn’t let me cut the grass on Sunday, which of course was just heartbreaking to me.

No, it was great because they usually made me mow the lawn on Saturday. If it were raining on Saturday, however, this meant I was in the clear until at least Monday! My motto growing up was, “Why do something today that you can put off until later.” So the fourth commandment was my friend. But it was a little hypocritical because if there was work to be done inside—including homework—they didn’t have a problem with that. They just didn’t want anyone to see us working. Read the rest of this entry »

Patience and temper

January 29, 2011

"Because I'm evil/ My middle name is misery/ Well, I'm evil/ So don't you mess around with me"

“The dog ate my passport.” Unlike the child who blames the dog for his failure to do his homework, I meant these words almost literally yesterday. While my dog didn’t quite eat my passport, she did badly gnaw on it. This wouldn’t be a problem normally, but as it happens, I’m paid up to go to Israel with my bishop and some of my fellow recent ordinands in mid-February.

Needless to say, I was frantic yesterday morning.

It happened like this: On Thursday afternoon, my son Townshend needed to retrieve something that he left in the backseat of my car. My car was locked. I keep my keys, wallet, and other important items including my passport, in a basket on the kitchen counter. Townshend was fumbling around for my keys and unwittingly knocked my passport onto the kitchen floor.

Lisa and I had a meeting Thursday night. We left the kids with a sitter. We returned home to find my mutilated passport—with teeth marks and dog slobber all over it—in the middle of the family room.

Why the passport? Why couldn’t my bicycle owner’s manual, which has been sitting in that basket for two years, untouched, have fallen onto the floor? I would never have missed it.

I got so angry. I lost my cool. I didn’t bother yelling at Townshend—he was in bed anyway, and it was an accident. I turned my anger on Lisa at first, whose calm, reasonable, and reassuring words only made me feel worse. And then I turned it on myself, telling myself what an idiot I was (and worse) for leaving my passport in that basket. (That isn’t normally where it lives, but I had to photocopy it recently for travel documentation.)

After yelling, raging, and stomping around for a while, I dutifully expedited a new passport application—for a whopping $250—to the State Department. The passport people say it will take two to three weeks to turn it around. (Two weeks is good. Three weeks is not good.) A parishioner encouraged me to call Sen. Isakson’s office and explain my problem. To my surprise, I talked to someone whose job is solving passport problems. He couldn’t have been more helpful and reassuring. He’s on the case.

All that to say that it’s very likely that I’ll have my passport in time.

In a moment of calm after the storm yesterday, I told some of my clergy friends that the fact that this happened at all is evidence of the reality of the demonic. I’m not even joking! After all, one of my New Year’s resolutions is to work on becoming more patient—with myself and others; to not lose my temper so easily; to not get upset when things don’t go as planned. I’ve been praying about it.

A friend told me, “Isn’t it great that God gave you such a golden opportunity to practice being patient and staying calm?”

“What good is that,” I asked, “when I failed so miserably?”

“You failed this time, but the fact that you are aware that you failed, and that this behavior is a problem, represents growth on your part.”

I hope and believe he’s right.

Sabbath means that all time belongs to God

January 27, 2011

If Prof. John Hayes shared this idea in my Old Testament class, I was asleep—which, let’s face, is a distinct possibility. The following comes from the long out-of-print Broadman Bible Commentary, published in 1969 by the Southern Baptists—before a theological civil war ripped that denomination apart. (If you can’t tell, I used to be Baptist.)

If you’re Methodist, I know you’re instantly suspicious of anything “Baptist,” but the scholarship is first-rate. It’s an excellent intermediate commentary. In this commentary on the fourth commandment, Roy Honeycutt, Jr. shares a perspective on Sabbath I’ve never heard before.

What was the principle inherent within the sanctity of the seventh day, and its relationship to the covenant? The principle of pars pro toto (the part may stand for the whole) was significant for several Old Testament practices. For example, first fruits were dedicated to the Lord in the belief that the whole of the crop was compressed into the first offering. In the giving of the part, the whole was also being offered up to God. The same was true of the sacrifice of the firstborn animal, or the dedication of the firstborn of men. Future offspring were symbolically compressed into the animal sacrificed or the child dedicated. Even part of the people could stand or act for the whole family or nation, as in the case of Aachan (Joshua 7:1 ff.) or the Suffering Servant (Isa. 53:1 ff.).

The same principle was probably inherent in the sabbath. The whole of the week was symbolically compressed into the one day and dedicated to the Lord. By refraining from his own efforts on that day, man effectually recognized divine ownership. Thus, all time belonged to God, as did the whole of the creation…

This “part standing for the whole” also helps me better fit the cross and atonement in its proper Old Testament context. How does Jesus represent all of humanity on the cross, such that his suffering and death could be “in our place”? This principle is common in the Old Testament in ways I hadn’t thought of before.

Roy L. Honeycutt Jr., “Exodus” in The Broadman Bible Commentary, vol. 1 (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1969), 397.

Profanity-proxy

January 27, 2011

While last Sunday’s sermon is still fresh in my mind, this status update made me laugh out loud. It reminds me of that great scene in Wes Anderson’s family-friendly Fantastic Mr. Fox: “Are you cussing me?… What the cuss?”

A little bit of Easter before Lent

January 27, 2011
In a very thoughtful dialogue about the Bible, miracles, and resurrection, I was asked on another blog if there were any evidence outside of the Bible for Jesus’ resurrection. Here’s what I wrote—very quickly—which some of you might find helpful. I prefaced it by saying that it was too large a topic, and I recommended that they start with N.T. Wright’s 1,000-page Resurrection of the Son of God, and then let’s talk.

Briefly, if it helps, no one set out to write something called “The Bible.” For example, Paul didn’t know he was going to be prominently featured in a small section called “The New Testament” when he was writing his letters to little churches scattered around the Roman Empire. Moreover, most of the documents of the New Testament were written independently of one another. Most of its writers didn’t have access to most of the other material in the N.T. So why think of the New Testament as one thing instead of 27 things?

Your answer might be, “Because the people who wrote these 27 things were already convinced.” O.K., but you might instead ask yourself, “Why were they convinced?” The church’s proclamation from the earliest moment was that Jesus had been resurrected. This wasn’t wish fulfillment, as modern critics often say, because it’s clear that no one, not even his closest disciples, expected Jesus’ resurrection. If the historical Jesus talked about his resurrection to them,1 they didn’t understand what he was talking about. The disciples were confused and scattered after Jesus was crucified. Many Jews believed in resurrection at the end of the age, and many Palestinian revolutionaries challenged Rome and were defeated and killed. None of their disciples claimed their leader was resurrected.

We often hear that resurrection legends sprung up around charismatic people all the time in antiquity (didn’t Hume say something damning to that effect?), but that’s simply not true. There are legends of people who weren’t really dead and returned from the grave, who were killed and resuscitated, who came back as visible ghosts or spirits, and who were assumed or translated into heaven with the gods. But there were plenty of other Greek words that the Bible writers had at their disposal if they wished to describe these other things. They chose “resurrection,” which has a specific meaning in a specific context. And never before Jesus had anyone ever said that resurrection had happened to anyone. Again, this was a Jewish expectation for the end of history, not the present.

What accounts for that, except that many, many people, contrary to common messianic belief or expectation, actually believed that Jesus had been resurrected? Look at it this way: If it were nearly any other well-attested event—like Caesar crossing the Rubicon, for example—we would conclude, “The reason people reported seeing and experiencing this event is because this event happened.” We don’t say that about resurrection because why? It’s too far outside of the realm of our experience. Of course it is, but that alone doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.

We also have, in 1 Corinthians 15, Paul’s eyewitness account of resurrection. By their own methodology, modern historians can’t simply say, “That didn’t happen.” They must count that as evidence (not proof, but evidence in favor of it). As Paul points out there, as of his writing, there were 500 or so eyewitnesses still living who could confirm the truth of Jesus’ resurrection, not to mention many key leaders in the church (who often did suffer and die because of this belief). Again, it’s our modern prejudice that people in antiquity were dumb and gullible, but there’s no reason to think that’s true.

This is scratching the surface… But look: No one, no one, no one comes to faith in Jesus because they’re intellectually convinced. Such conviction would contradict faith, obviously. Faith is like falling in love. The story rings true to me.

1. I believe he did, but many scholars dispute it. It doesn’t matter for my argument.

“I like the Christian life”

January 26, 2011

Country singer-songwriter Charlie Louvin, who died today

I grew up listening to country music against my will. Mom’s radio station of choice was Atlanta’s WBIE FM, which we listened to in the car regularly, and we watched Hee Haw every Saturday night. To me it was all hopelessly corny. Even though country was, for better or worse, the music of my people. My people were all rural and southern. Country and southern gospel were the soundtrack of all family reunions, parties, cook-outs, and dinners.

But I was a mall-prowling suburban kid through and through. Unlike my parents—and their parents, siblings, cousins, and friends—I did not speak with a southern accent. And I did not like country music. And neither did my friends. Once, when I was 9 or 10, my friend Geoff was riding in our station wagon. He was unfamiliar with country music, to say the least. He said, “What’s that beow-beow sound? It’s in every song!” He was trying his best to imitate twang of pedal steel (the defining sound of country music). It embarrassed me.

My attitude toward country began to change when two events happened around the same time in 1987: I saw country songwriting duo Foster & Lloyd on Austin City Limits. They seemed like cool suburban kids who—for some reason—liked country music, which they sang (mostly) without an accent. They had a great hit song around that time called “Texas in 1880.”

The second event was my discovery of the Byrds’ 1968 album Sweetheart of the Rodeo. It was a straight-up country album recorded in Nashville by a band whose hip West Coast rock credentials were beyond reproach. The album included two gospel songs: “I Am a Pilgrim,” whose version I play on guitar to this day, and the Louvin Brothers’ “The Christian Life.” Like the rest of the album, they played it completely straight. No irony. No winking at their audience.

The man who was impetus behind their change in direction, new Byrd member Gram Parsons, jumped ship not long after the album was finished, but Byrd leader Roger McGuinn continued to explore country for the rest of the band’s career. Although McGuinn, like every other rock star in the late-’60s, was exploring Eastern mysticism at the time, he later converted to Christianity, the faith he professes to this day.

One of the composers of “The Christian Life,” Charlie Louvin, died today at 83. I’m including a Byrds version of the song below. Unlike the album version, this one features Parsons on lead vocal. (The copyright holder makes you watch the video within YouTube.)

Sermon for 01-23-11: “The Ten Commandments, Part 3: Protecting God’s Name”

January 25, 2011

One of you told me that you had “never heard a sermon more on point that is more impossible to live out.” I don’t think it’s that difficult, is it? Cursing and profanity are just really bad habits, and like any bad habits can be changed through much effort (in cooperation with the Spirit, of course). Another person told me jokingly that it’s very un-Methodist to actually tell people what they ought to do and expect them to be accountable. Ha! Wesley would disagree! Enjoy. Feel free to share your thoughts.

Sermon Text: Exodus 20:7

The following is my original manuscript.

Are you good with people’s names? My first boss I had out of college, I’m not even sure he knew my name—or anyone else’s for that matter. He would always say, “Hey, buddy.” You can get away with that for men, I’m not sure how that would work with women: what’s the female equivalent of “buddy”? Wouldn’t it be nice if we were a part of a Christian tradition in which it is customary to refer to one another as “brother” or “sister.” “Hey, brother. Hello, sister.” That would solve the problem of names!

But to call someone by their name! It’s a wonderful thing. I had a remarkable experience last week. I went to get takeout from a nearby Mexican restaurant. I eat at this restaurant frequently, but I don’t really know anyone there by name—lots of different servers wait on me, and I frankly don’t pay much attention to their faces and names. So I’m about to place my takeout order and the server says, “Hey, Brent. What can I get for you.” I had just come from a church meeting, and I thought for a moment I was still wearing my name tag. But I wasn’t. And when he gave me my order, he thanked me—by name. Read the rest of this entry »

We get letters

January 24, 2011

I’m pulling out an excerpt from my response in the comment section of this post. Some of you might find it helpful.

Science rules out supernatural explanations at the beginning, as a rule. It only sees natural causes. If there are other aspects of reality out there to “see,” as we Christians believe, science is by definition blind to them. To say, for example, “There is no scientific evidence for God’s existence,” is merely a tautology: “This method that is blind to God cannot see God.” Yes, that’s obviously true. We all should affirm that and move on.

My Ph.D. in Dylanology

January 24, 2011

I could totally see myself getting a Ph.D. in theology if I could write a cool dissertation like this.

Love is the most difficult, necessary, and courageous thing

January 23, 2011

The unstoppable bass riff everyone loves has been so abstracted from its original setting—the amazing Queen/Bowie collaboration that is “Under Pressure”—that it’s easy to overlook how profoundly good the song is.

The best we preachers can do, when you get right down to it, is stare in the face of this world’s evil, pain, and suffering, and shout “Love” at the top of our voice. To be sure, we try our best to describe its cruciform shape, but we can’t improve upon it. Love is still the answer. This song understands that. It also understands the seduction of indifference: It says, “We’ve tried that. It doesn’t work.”

Q: “Why? Why? Why?”
A: “Love, love, love, love, love.”
Amen.

Pressure on people – people on streets
Turned away from it all like a blind man
Sat on a fence but it don’t work
Keep coming up with love
but it’s so slashed and torn
Why – why – why ?
Love love love love love
Insanity laughs under pressure we’re cracking
Can’t we give ourselves one more chance
Why can’t we give love that one more chance
Why can’t we give love give love give love give love
give love give love give love give love give love
‘Cause love’s such an old fashioned word
And love dares you to care for
The people on the edge of the night
And love dares you to change our way of
Caring about ourselves