Posts Tagged ‘Anne Kennedy’

Maundy Thursday Sermon 2017

April 13, 2017

In tonight’s Maundy Thursday service, I preached a series of three short homilies on scripture related to this night. While I read the scripture for each homily, some of our youth acted it out. The following is my original manuscript of these homilies.

Homily 1 Text: John 13:1-20

Belle (Emma Watson) dancing with the Beast.

Last weekend, I saw Disney’s new live-action remake of Beauty and the Beast. Somehow, watching flesh-and-blood human beings act out the story—as opposed to cartoon characters—brought home to me just how beastly the beast’s behavior was toward Belle. Think about it: The Beast, whom the audience quickly ends up rooting for, was literally holding a young woman captive in his castle—trying to make her fall in love with him. Because only the giving and receiving of love will undo the curse of the enchantress who turned this vain, uncaring, self-centered prince into a beast in the first place.

It’s as if the Beast were saying, “You better love me or else—or else I’ll never let you out of this prison!” It’s insane… It’s so wrong! Read the rest of this entry »

“Welcome to the human race”

April 12, 2017

Recently, a clergy friend posted on Facebook a complaint about what he perceived to be a hypocritical lapse in compassion on the part of our denomination and its leaders. I don’t know if his complaint is justified or not. What matters for my purpose is the way the comments section spiraled out of control, with both sides pointing fingers at the other: “Who are you to talk? You’re not doing enough to solve the problem!” “No, you’re not doing enough!” That sort of thing.

What struck me is how fervently both sides were arguing that the other side was wrong. I wanted to say, “Guys, can’t you see that both sides are wrong, that you’re all hypocrites—that we’re all hypocrites? None of us is very good at loving our neighbor or being compassionate.”

I remember sitting in a therapist’s office once, confiding in him about a dark episode in my life about which I felt an overwhelming sense of guilt and shame. He listened sympathetically, shrugged, and said, “Welcome to the human race.”

Welcome to the human race.

Exactly. We are all miserable sinners. I am. You are. Or haven’t you noticed?

Anne Kennedy has, and she wrote a fine blog post about it yesterday. She said that PepsiCo and United Airlines performed a great service for us last week.

Why? you ask. Well, think about it this way. Part of having technology and ease of lifestyle and a first world context where things basically work is the ridiculous idea that maybe human beings are good. When you’re walking down a shiny grocery aisle picking up the things that you want to eat that aren’t going to kill you, and then you go through the line where you can not only easily get change, you can even get change for a big fat bill without having to argue with the check out person about how that’s impossible, you might be inclined to go home and think that you are good and the grocery people are good and all the people are good. But see, that’s just not true. People are bad. The Pepsi Ad and the United Ugliness show all of us how bad we really are…

See, what’s so beautiful about these two fantastic moments is that they illumine that we are bad and stupid even when (sometimes especially when) we are trying to be good and awesome. Pepsi did not wake up that auspicious morning and say to itself in its tinny multimillion dollar voice, ‘How can I literally offend every single person in the world today?’ They said, ‘How can we get people to buy this gross sugary drink thereby increasing our shareholder whatchamacallit and making all people love us more.” They were trying to do a nice thing.

Likewise, all the people working at United didn’t wake up and think, ‘You know what would be great? Publicly shaming and humiliating and abusing a person who paid us more money than we’re worth for a product we’re not that great at delivering anyway!’…

Finally, bringing her focus back to Holy Week and Good Friday, she writes:

And so God… is able to take all our ‘good intentions’ which lead us directly into the lap of humiliating evil, to bring about the best good ever, which is the salvation of humanity from itself and all its ‘good works’ and ‘good intentions.’ (Sorry about all the scare quotes.)

 

What’s wrong with believing that God speaks to us outside of scripture?

April 22, 2016

Roger Olson has been reading my blog! Just kidding, but he has a post this week on a topic that I wrote about a couple of months ago. He asks, “Does God still speak to us today—outside of the ways God speaks to us through scripture?” Olson believes that he does and gives a recent personal anecdote to illustrate one way that God has spoken to him.

In my recent response to a post by blogger Anne Kennedy, I wrote the following:

Having said all that, while Kennedy’s (and Cary’s) words serve as a helpful warning, I don’t buy in to their argument completely. For one thing, I’ve had those strong intuitions that God is “speaking” to me. Maybe that’s an understatement: I’ve felt as if God has zapped me with lightning sometimes. Maybe that’s not God’s “voice,” but it’s something! So perhaps the language we use to describe these intuitions is imprecise or inaccurate, but that doesn’t mean the Holy Spirit isn’t guiding us in some way through them.

Besides, God foreknew that we would have these strong intuitions, including how we would interpret and respond to them. Therefore, it’s no stretch to imagine that he uses them—as he does everything else—for our good. If we’re wrong, he’ll redeem this mistake too.

In my comment on Dr. Olson’s blog (awaiting moderation), I said that we evangelicals believe in God’s providence—that God guides us through external events in our lives. Why would it be difficult to believe that God guides us through internal events, such as our thoughts, intuitions, and even dreams? God is sovereign over those things, too, isn’t he?

But I share Olson’s word of caution: To say God speaks to us outside of scripture does not mean “with the same inspiration and authority as in Scripture.” I would also add—for the sake of many United Methodists who get confused about this—that what God tells us can’t contradict what God has told us through scripture, either.

What do you think? Does God speak to us outside of scripture?

Sermon 02-07-16: “He Must Increase”

February 16, 2016

John Sermon Series Graphic

In today’s scripture, John the Baptist is not like most of us: Instead of being unhappy that his own work is declining in popularity, he’s happier than he’s ever been. Why? Because he understands that what matters most isn’t his own personal glory, but Christ’s glory. He understands that in spite of this apparent setback, God is in control and God is working his plan for him and the world. If this is true for John, it’s true for us as well. God is always working his plan for our lives, even in the face of mistakes, failures, and setbacks.

Sermon Text: John 3:22-36

[To listen on the go, right-click here to download an MP3.]

Show of hands… How many in here are rooting for the Broncos? How many are rooting for the Panthers? How many are rooting for the commercials? I am 45, so I’m cheering for the guy who’s very close to my age, Peyton Manning. I’m sentimental; I would love to see him get his long-sought-after second Super Bowl ring before retiring riding and off into the sunset. It would be a storybook ending to his career; it would seal his legacy as one of the best who ever played the game; it would silence all the skeptics who wonder why he wasn’t more effective in the playoffs.

manning

But what if he doesn’t get the storybook ending? What if the Broncos lose? How will Peyton live with the disappointment, the sorrow, the heartbreak, the failure?

How do we handle these things in our own lives? We all want to be happy, after all, yet doesn’t life often seem to put obstacles to happiness in our way? How do we deal with them, while at the same time rejoicing in the Lord always, the way Christians are supposed to? Read the rest of this entry »

How does God “speak” to us?

February 2, 2016

In a blog post today, Anne Kennedy tackles a popular idea in evangelical thought: that God speaks to us outside of his Word—so much so that we say, “God told me to do this,” or “I feel that God is leading me to do that” without reference to what God tells us through scripture. She admits she’s tempted to use this language, and she has used this language in the past, but she’s giving it up.

It’s a principled, theological choice, and it’s been very hard to carry forward. First of all, it has forced me to see where I haven’t really believed scripture to be sufficient. Has God spoken? Why, yes he has. In the scriptures. They were written a long time ago, but God uses them to work on the insides of each Christian in an intimate, personal way. I read the bible all the time, and God uses those words to cut open my heart of stone. Often, it feels like he’s leaping out of the page in bodily form. But he isn’t speaking audibly to me. He isn’t using impressions and feelings. He is speaking to me, through the scriptures. I don’t really always enjoy that process. It is often painful and difficult. I would like something extra and something more than the bible. But the bible itself says it is enough. The scriptures are sufficient to make me complete for every good work.

Second, it has forced me to exercise my mind and will in the making of decisions. I pray differently now than I did before. When I could say, ‘God called me’ or ‘God led me’, the onus was on God not to screw up. And when I did something foolish, I was quick to blame him for my error. Conflating my sinful desires with the leading of God himself was the easy comfortable way. But also, dare I say it, the ugly way. God, of course leads and guides me, but it’s not me sitting around waiting for the word. I don’t get a special Holy Spirit download of words and impressions. I have to read the bible, pray, look at my actual circumstances, act, beg God to stop me if I’m doing the wrong thing, and keep inching forward in what feels like the darkness. But all the time, the more mature I become as a Christian, God is building wisdom in my inner parts, opening and closing the vistas that surround me, providentially moving me in the direction he wants me to go. I don’t need that special word. The scripture is sufficient especially with the Holy Spirit wielding it deftly at the mind and heart.

She is making the exact same point that theologian Phillip Cary makes in his book Good News for Anxious ChristiansIn fact, Cary complains that this waiting around for God to tell us, for example, whom to marry, or what school to go to, or what job to take, or what kind of $65 million private jet to purchase, is a recent development in the history of evangelical thought. According to Cary, it never occurred to previous generations of Protestants to think that God gave such explicit instructions. Instead, they believed, God’s guidance came through the Bible as mediated by the Holy Spirit and our own God-given wisdom.

In the church I grew up in (a Southern Baptist one in suburban Atlanta), we would be rightly suspicious of people who said, “God told me…,” yet even we talked in youth group of being “in” or “out of” God’s will. (Have you heard that before?) That God has one (ideal) plan for each person’s life, and it’s up to each person to discover what it is. You’d better not get it wrong, either. Because being “out of” God’s will—sometimes called “missing” God’s will—could mean a lifetime of misery—unless or until you decided to get back on the path of God’s will.

One problem with using language of “God told me,” being “in” or “out of” God’s will, or “missing God’s will” is that it underestimates God’s sovereignty and providence. God isn’t “in control” inasmuch as we submit our lives to his will; he’s in control regardless. God’s plan for our lives isn’t sidetracked by our failure to do one thing or another. Why? Because, with his foreknowledge, he’s already accounted for our actions—good and bad, faithful and unfaithful—and worked all of them into his plan for us.

Another problem with this language is that it underestimates God’s grace. Yes, we may feel more confident and courageous knowing that a particular course of action has been sanctioned by a specific “word” from the Lord. But even apart from such a word, we can be confident that God will redeem our actions and use them for good.

Having said all that, while Kennedy’s (and Cary’s) words serve as a helpful warning, I don’t buy in to their argument completely. For one thing, I’ve had those strong intuitions that God is “speaking” to me. Maybe that’s an understatement: I’ve felt as if God has zapped me with lightning sometimes. Maybe that’s not God’s “voice,” but it’s something! So perhaps the language we use to describe these intuitions is imprecise or inaccurate, but that doesn’t mean the Holy Spirit isn’t guiding us in some way through them.

Besides, God foreknew that we would have these strong intuitions, including how we would interpret and respond to them. Therefore, it’s no stretch to imagine that he uses them—as he does everything else—for our good. If we’re wrong, he’ll redeem this mistake too.

You want unity in the church? Then agree on these questions

January 13, 2016

Anne Kennedy, a gifted writer and evangelical Anglican blogger (of the American variety—ACNA?), reflects on the most important questions facing leaders of the worldwide Anglican Communion as they gather this week in Canterbury. Despite what you’ve heard, these questions don’t pertain directly to homosexuality; rather, the debate surrounding that issue is an inevitable symptom of our problem.

We United Methodists should bear her words in mind when leaders from our denomination gather in Portland, Oregon, later this year for General Conference.

How is a person to be saved? More importantly, does anyone need saving? That is the question that the Anglican world has not been able to come to grips with. Tragically, I am of the mind that the human person, every single one of them in fact, is very far gone, is like a sheep who has gone astray, who can’t find her, or even his, way back, is needing to be rescued. I know this because the scriptures themselves say it. And I have taken the trouble to read and understand those same scriptures. I have discovered that they can be known, that they are reliable and true, and that Jesus can’t be grasped apart from them. He himself is the savior, he desires that all should turn from the self and sin and repent. For the one who repents he is faithful to forgive.

But you can’t pry him away from the scripture and expect him to be the savior who saves you. You just can’t do that. If you pry Jesus out and reform him into something that is more suitable to yourself and the culture, any culture, you no longer have a Jesus who can save. That is the essential point. It’s always been the essential point. It hasn’t changed. It isn’t complicated. Meeting together all day long, if you don’t agree about that, isn’t going to bring unity of belief and purpose. It only continues to confuse.

And confusion abounds in every direction. Christianity of every brand and flavor is in chaos. Prominent pastors and teachers are every day inching up closer to that alluring, siren call of heresy. Ordinary people in the west largely believe they are going to heaven, because they are good, and God, whoever he is, and it doesn’t really matter, loves them. In the era of the BuzzFeed Christian, a clear, full throated proclamation of who Jesus is is of the essence.

And on that note, I will go and enjoin my spirit to God in prayer, that he will not only save the lost, but that he will also save and rescue his church.

Thank you, Jesus, for the bad news of the gospel

November 13, 2015

In her November 10 post, “Taking the Merry out of Christmas: The Offense of the Gospel,” blogger Anne Kennedy reflects on two recent events that relate to the taking and giving of offense: the mostly fabricated indignation about Starbucks’s holiday-themed cups and the controversy at Yale relating to racism and free speech.

Before getting to her main point, she takes a well-deserved swipe at the Huffington Post’s “Christianity” section. Referring to the pastor who created the original viral video about Starbucks, she writes:

His chief offense, as I can tell from reading this article in Huffpo, is, and it should be predicated with ‘shut up stupid Christians’, is that he is an ordinary beefy American who is ruining the gospel, which Huffpo knows all about, shut up shut up shut up.

How curious, I thought to myself, that Huffpo believes the gathering up of offense is a Good Thing–you can see it all up and down their page–but as soon as someone who might be identified as a Christian considers it, it becomes instantaneously a Bad Thing.

I like this:

I think the true offense, and why Christians must, absolutely, be constantly told to Shut Up, is because it is the Christian’s job to reveal and speak about the very dire reality of humanity’s true offense. Offense is a problem, but it’s not ours to take. It is God’s to measure and judge. We offend him, every single tiny second. Our sin is a stench rising up in his nostril and sometime he will have enough and come and destroy the offender. If you haven’t flung yourself on his mercy before that you will find all your angers and minute micro aggressions have brought you to a place eternally perishing. The Christian’s job isn’t to take offense, it is to announce the offense of the sinner and plead with the sinner to repent. Starbucks has a lovely, carefully crafted little pagan deity on its cheerful red cup, a cup that pours out coffee to a humanity spiraling into the depths of depravity and sin. That young lady, screaming her rage, later cupping her warm coffee and scrolling down her expensive handheld device, is a sinner in need of mercy from God. She is the offender, not the offended.

Christians do have a purpose in this dark time, but it’s not spread a message of peace and love. Not initially. It’s to say to the person who is gathering their threads of offense and weaving them into a warm, cozy blanket of offense, “Stop It.” And that is the best, most sure way to offend everyone that I can think of.

As she rightly points out, the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ—as opposed, for example, to the lesser gospel I blogged about on Wednesday—begins with bad news. In a vain effort to grow our churches at the expense of the truth, we pastors often try to gloss over this bad news.

But you know what I’ve discovered in my own life? Even this bad news, when you let it sink into your bones, is incredibly good news: What a relief to know—apart from God’s grace, left to my own devices—what a hopeless sinner I am! At last I see there’s a reason I struggle like this! There’s actually a reason, as St. Paul says, that “I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.”

Years ago, I heard an interview with actress Patty Duke, who lived for years with undiagnosed bipolar disorder. She said she was so relieved when her doctor finally told her that something really was wrong with her, and that this problem had a name.

Humanity’s main problem has a name, too—sin. Left untreated, it will destroy us and people we love, both now and for eternity.

When you realize the “very dire reality of humanity’s true offense”—and your own—that all you can do, as Kennedy says, is to “fling yourself on God’s mercies” and cry out, “Help me, Jesus,” that is a wonderful place to be!  Because that’s the place at which God’s all-sufficient grace meets you.

Thank you, Jesus, for this bad news!