Time for a Reset

Who’s right, who’s wrong, who hasn’t got a clue? Count me in that third category when it comes to the COVID-19 outbreak currently running its way through the population of most of the nations of the world. I have ideas, impressions, reactions, guesses, suspicions, and hopes; what I don’t have is solid answers. And I’m not alone, even among experts. Did I say experts? It’s a little difficult to cede that designation to anyone with great confidence, given the fact that even the most competent of researchers and physicians are still finding their way into the mysteries of this oddly behaving virus. Because of this, I have no interest in berating one side or the other regarding the best way to handle the political, medical, or economic challenges societies are facing. 

By the time much of the trauma, recession, and finger-pointing have subsided, however, I do sincerely hope that we will have used the enforced “time-out” to do something of a reset. Simply the manner in which people have responded to the crisis and to the opinions of other people toward the crisis should tell us that something is askew. And while I write as a Christian, I believe the issues to be addressed are those with which anyone should be concerned. Simply stated, we should be well underway in the process of questioning our guiding principles, especially those that have been operating without our conscious permission. The questions involved are many, but they include these, at least: what is important to me and why; is what I declare to be important expressed in my reactions to events and statements about them; have my actions given testimony to the kind of person I want to be and profess to be; have I treated others fairly according to who they are as bearers of the divine image; do I need to reconsider some of those guiding principles? 

The questions above are posed in the first person singular. While societies need to grapple with them on the larger scale, deferring personal responsibility for one’s own place in the world is not an option for successful living. That would leave us in the place the ancient Greek philosopher Socrates described as living the unexamined life–the one not worth living. The fact is that when most of the pandemic has subsided, one side or the other will have been proven to have had the best approach to handling the interactions among people. Maybe the tighter control will have been proven best; perhaps Sweden’s more subdued response will turn out better in the long run. Maybe it will happen that we could have done just as well with fewer restrictions. In any outcome, we will move forward. Will it be as better people, or will the toxic rhetoric simply continue with finger-pointing and shouting ruling the day? The former will only happen if we use the time in deliberate reflection, in the examination Socrates thought necessary for worthwhile living. For Christians, such reflection is an integral part of the renewing of the mind that transforms our lives.

Greek philosophy bequeathed to the west the categories of truth, goodness, and beauty. It was believed that by thinking upon these three that virtue would ensue and societies would prosper. The true, the good, and the beautiful, yielding the branches of philosophy we know as epistemology, ethics, aesthetics, would provide the grounding of our common life. Since the Enlightenment, however, confidence in the objectivity of these ideals has been slowly but surely eroding. First it was beauty that was questioned–it’s in the eye of the beholder, we have been told, not in any transcendent reality. Later, morality was subjected to the same fate; doesn’t everyone know that what’s good for you might not be good for me? More recently, truth itself has been called into question, such that everyone is said to be entitled their own “truth.” If these things be so, how can a society with various and mutually exclusive ideas of truth hope to succeed? What good will resets do if there is nowhere to land–other than in the story of those in power? So the warring parties contend for the right to dictate what will be regarded as true. 

I said earlier that I write as a Christian. In this context, wherein I am espousing a serious, deliberate reset of our minds and actions, that cannot mean that we are best serving God or our fellow man by raising the pitch and volume of our voices with our understanding of the truth, hoping somehow it will be installed as the reigning story of the day. We are to be guided by virtues that transcend philosophies, even while being aware of what those are. We are called to the virtues of faith, hope, and love, none of which can be uprooted by any given philosophy or politics of the day. Nor should we become so attached to any philosophy or political vision that its demise will imply the falsehood of our belief in the reconciliation of all things through Christ. Our reset, then, is to measure the degree to which we have truly fixed our faith in the promise of the kingdom of God, our hope in its power to transform both the present and the future, and our love (God’s own love expressed through us by the power of the Holy Spirit) to both friend and foe. Where we find ourselves lacking–and we will–we resolve to encourage one another to press on. If we come out of the pandemic unchanged, we will have missed a wonderful opportunity. May it not be so.

Imagine . . . But Then Think

As a young man who had just escaped his teen years when John Lennon’s “Imagine” was released, I clearly remember being angered every time it was played. That was always the response, in spite of what I had to admit was a beautifully flowing, simple tune. You know what is was–the righteous indignation of a conservative Christian offended by the attack on most things sacred. How could I be asked to imagine–happily, no less–a world in which heaven and hell, national borders, and private property did not exist? (Please note: I am NOT happy about the hell part.) Then there was the ironic fact that this song espousing the elimination of private property was sung by a still young man who was enormously wealthy. The angry voice in my head would hear the line, “Imagine no possessions; I wonder if you can,” and shout back to no one, since the voice remained inside my head, “I wonder if YOU can, John!”

The song never really went away. Recently, it has resurfaced with greater frequency, including being featured in one of those amazingly clever digital sing-a-longs put together by NBC’s Today Show, in which various artists sing together in spite of being in different locations. I don’t think Lennon imagined that technological trick! As I listen to the song as a significantly older person I still have an overall negative reaction. But it is not one of anger as much as it is one of sadness. I think I know why,

I’ve come to realized that the utopian dreams of the human heart are born of an innate longing for the true destiny of human life–the Kingdom of God. That kingdom is not some shadowy, disembodied existence, but is truly a kingdom, a culture of interactions between and among embodied citizens. Living for today, living life in peace, the brotherhood of man–yes! I don’t think Lennon, or anyone else who has dared to imagine a better world than what is presently experienced is wrong. As a matter of fact, it should sadden the heart of every member of the race to see how far away we are from that brotherhood; we really should dream of it and work toward it. And we should work together against the things that impede, diminish, and devalue the lives of other people.

Aye, there’s the rub, the cause of my sadness when listening to the song. The simplistic, and simply wrong, identification of nation, religion, and just plain otherness as the causes of human suffering and oppression misses the mark, and misses it badly and dangerously. And as the song’s popularity continues to grow, so too does the misplaced anger thrown at the putative culprits. With 2021, the 50th anniversary of “Imagine(‘s)” release, on the near horizon, I believe we can expect to hear it even more. What will this generation hear when it is subjected to its strains? Not my generation, for whom the big, bad wolf was identified as the Vietnam war and the military-industrial complex that created and supported it; but this generation, to whom nation (especially its law enforcement arm) and religion, racism and sexism, and “the wealthy” are the blockades between the present and the fulfillment of human longings.

No one should minimize the problems that have been created by the misuse of religious authority, or of state power, and certainly not of the unbridled pursuit of wealth at the expense of another’s daily bread. The fact that these things occur is responsible for much of the appeal of the alternative of supposed equality through “democratic socialism” or its true name, communism. If the “successful” persons betray their trust in responsibility toward the rest of the people, from who their wealth ultimately derives, it is inevitable that revolt will occur at some point. If the guardians of God’s gospel of grace turn good news into a weapon of fear, they are deserving of both God’s wrath and ours. But imagining that a world in which there is no appeal to a power beyond this world will prove more oppressive than its advocates imagine. For it must put down any dissent, any free thought that contradicts the narrative of the state, especially if the “state” is a worldwide phenomenon. Those who are tempted to think otherwise have neither read the 20th century classics Brave New World, Animal Farm, or 1984. nor have they paid attention to 20th century history, spilling into the 21st century. It’s not just the fictitious worlds of Huxley and Orwell in which what seemed like freedom turned into nightmarish control; it’s the real world of eastern Europe and Central America. And that without exception–there isn’t a single instance in which what was advertised as democratic socialism remained truly democratic or produced a prosperous, classless society. And I’m sad to see so many rushing toward it nonetheless, singing Lennon as they go.

Yes, imagine we can do better. Become better stewards of grace, of wealth, of the sacred trust of governing others. And recognize that none of these entities have gone any farther astray than have the human hearts of those who constitute all nations. Our own hearts included.

The Return of the Prof

The Return of the Prof


Okay, so it’s not in the same category as The Return of the King, part of the epic Tolkien series brought back to prominence by Peter Jackson a few years ago. Thankfully, this return is also different in that it does not follow a protracted and extremely violent battle, claiming innumerable casualties in the process. Just a few demons of doubt, misgivings, fear, and critical retrospection to contend with since posting the last entry.


That was five years ago. As with life in general, a lot has happened since then, both personally and, far more importantly, in our culture, nation, and world. On the first of those levels, I’ve had to make the very painful decision to leave a job I frequently described as the best I could have had. Seminary teaching was a challenge, a delight, an occasional frustration, a trust, a responsibility, a calling. Leaving was a loss of all of those things and m;ore, including a sense of place. Much as I’ve tried, transitioning to pastoral work only is only a partially completed journey. The decision had much to do with the cultural changes that have taken place, both within the Christian church and the culture at large. Theological education has lost its place in the minds and hearts of too much of the church, for reasons upon which many others have speculated and commented; I’ll not rehearse those ruminations here. Higher education in general now takes place on more computer screens and in fewer actual classrooms. “Virtual” is not an adjective I like to have attached to “classroom” in the training of pastors. Call me a dinosaur. I use the technologies, particularly for connecting with congregants during the present health crisis; they are useful, but not ideal.


Be that as it may, the return to Theostory is one I’ve contemplated for much of the five year hiatus. This seems to be the time to do so, and I’m hoping to engage some ideas and questions that matter. The individual topics might not matter in equal measure to everyone who reads and responds, of course. They will deal, in no particular order, with questions of faith, theology, culture, the nature and identity of the church, political issues, news events, and occasional personal ramblings such as are found in the previous paragraph. They’ll engage things I’ve been reading and hearing and thinking about, and I invite you to suggest similar items that are gnawing at you, motivating you, plaguing you, or bringing you joy. In that category of current reading, I’ve recently looked at Dana Loesch (there’s a non-controversial figure, right?) and her new book Grace Canceled; Terry Turchie and Donaugh Bracken’s In Their Own Words; and, to maintain a semblance of sanity, a reread of what I consider a very good introduction to theology, Beth Welker Jones’ Practicing Christian Theology. I’d ask for other suggestions, but my list is already so long that the Lord will have to grant me the grace of 50 more years to complete it. Having just recently turned 69, that request already seems sufficiently bold.


Assuming anyone out there is still interested in what I and fellow readers have to say, send back a brief comment that includes something you’d like to think about together. The exercise of thinking about things that matter from the perspective of the Christian narrative seems as needful now as ever. Let’s do it together.


A short postscript: Prayers will not be included on this site, as they were before I suspended my posts, but you can find them weekly at the website for the congregation I’m happy to serve: www.stpaulsrothsville.org

Prayer for the Week, Sept. 13

Eternal Father, Holy Lord, Abiding Spirit, we humbly, yet gratefully present ourselves before You this day. We come to be healed of our self-inflicted wounds of mind and spirit, to be reminded of our worth as Your children, and to repent of our foolishness. All of these things and more are at Your invitation. 

You, Our Father, have called us to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with our God. Then You demonstrated what these mean in the earthly life of Your Incarnate Son. He displayed before us, as recorded in the inspired Gospels, an unparalleled concern for justice, offering Himself for the sins of the world, removing the condemnation rightly falling upon us; he modeled mercy in reaching to the neglected, the wounded, the poor of spirit, the ones laid aside by illness of mind, body, and spirit; and humbled himself to walk among us, the ones who offended the truth.

We pray for his mind to dwell and work in our lives. We confess that we are yet at a distance from this mind, preferring our own ways and priorities. In very recent days, we have overlooked the right things to do; we have thought ourselves too busy to extend mercy to those right in front of us, sometimes thinking them unworthy of our time and resources; we have thought ourselves to be more important than others. Lord, have mercy upon us, and forgive our sin.

Refresh us yet again, we ask, by Your Holy Spirit, in ways that tell us the mind of our savior; implant his thoughts, his love in our inner being, even as we bring ourselves before Your Holy Word, there to be shown not only our failures, but our possibilities as we allow You to live in us and through us. Then will we more truly live as we pray, when we say,

Our Father, who art in heaven,

Hallowed be Thy name.

Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth,

As it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread,

And for give us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.

And lead us, not into temptation,

But deliver us from evil;

For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever.


Prayer for the Week, September 6

Our vision, our best thought; our wisdom and true Word. We bow before You, our Father, knowing that You are these things and eternally more. You have made us and known us, loved us and called us.

Our prayer this day is that we would be so captured by Your redemptive love that we would want in full what we want only in part. We confess that instead we want to see things for ourselves and order life according to our own vision; we want to be wise in our own eyes and in the eyes of our fellow man and woman; we struggle to find our worth in who we can make ourselves to be, and it is always inadequate. Have mercy on us, O Lord.

We work for things that do not last, instead of fixing our eyes on our inheritance in Christ, in whom are all the true riches the world will ever know. Come, and lift us from our impoverished lives.

With You as our vision, and Your passion becoming our own, let us see what You see when You look at the world. For those who are fallen under the weight of addictions, let us see souls precious to You, capable of being what they cannot imagine for themselves. For those whose joy has been robbed by despair, let us see them as ready to laugh and sing once more, needing only Your touch. For those imprisoned in faraway places for their faithfulness, let us see brothers and sisters for whom we tirelessly pray. For those lost in the pursuit of self, let us see people in need of a Savior.

We pray for Your wisdom in the midst of political unrest; for Your confidence in the midst of growing financial uncertainty; for Your presence in what seems an increasingly empty world, devoid of value. We pray for Your guidance of a generation that is living in the hopelessness of life without boundaries; all of which causes us to pray as Jesus still teaches us by saying . . .

 Our Father, who art in heaven,

 Hallowed be Thy name.

 Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth,

 As it is in heaven.

 Give us this day our daily bread,

 And forgive us our debts,

 As we forgive our debtors.

 And lead us,

 Not into temptation,

 But deliver us from evil,

 For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, Forever.


Prayer for the Week, August 23

To You, Our Father, through the work of Your Son, Jesus the Christ, and by the strength and encouragement of Your Holy Spirit, we come to pray.

We pray because we lack wisdom for the decisions we make; we pray because we lack strength to live according to what wisdom we gain; we pray because we lack power to remove the obstacles in our path. We pray because we lack authority to forgive sins and thus find new life. Most of all we pray because You have invited us to come, to taste and see that You are good. 

We pray because we live in a darkened world. Even on a bright and beautiful Sunday morning of Your making, darkness infringes upon us. It keeps many, many people from presenting themselves before You in worship and thanksgiving for all the gifts this world has to offer. Shine, Lord Jesus, into such darkness.

In the darkness, wrong seems right and right seems wrong. Shine the light of true wisdom upon our pathways. In the darkness, we struggle with relationships, so easily broken, so inadequately mended. Shine You light of forgiving wholeness. In the darkness, the enemy comes in to kill and destroy, fostering hatred, envy, greed, despair, revenge, and terror. Shine, Lord Jesus, with Your powerful, redemptive love. 

Your light will shine to the measure that we allow it to shine through us. Forgive us, we pray, for keeping the light You have placed within us under all manner of shade. We do what we should not, and dampen the light; we fail to do what we should, and the light does not shine. Have mercy upon us; Lord have mercy. We have not offered the cup of cold water, the healing words, the extended hand of forgiveness. We have not sought first the kingdom of God, the rule of the Son, or the strength of the Spirit. So once again, we pray with Your fallen yet chosen and redeemed people of all times, Our Father . . . 

Prayer for the Week, August 16

Heavenly Father, the One who knows us and loves us, we bow our heads before You this day. We consider so little the wisdom that resides in You and You alone. The majestic creation, so intricately designed and fit together in ways the best of our efforts can only begin to understand, speaks of wisdom beyond comprehension. The complexities of human hearts, minds, and wills are all known to You as well; we cannot begin to truly assess ourselves and know even as we are known. Yet You do know us—and love us still. May our praise therefore arise daily.

Joy and sorrow, pain and pleasure, insight and confusion are our constant companions in this world, combining in ways that move us and shape us. We know not what to ask or imagine; we struggle to know where to focus our energy, our time, our concerns. Make us wise, we pray.

We confess this day that we have worked hard for the wrong things, the unimportant things; we have given time to fruitless pursuits, to idle hours; we have stressed over insignificant things, over uncontrollable events. Forgive us, we pray; Lord have mercy.

Draw our minds to Your words, we ask this day. In Your written Word are all the instruction that we need in the way of wisdom; in Your living Word, even Your Son, our Savior and Lord, are all we can ever know about who You are, what You desire, and how to truly prosper in this world. Forgive us for looking elsewhere, we pray; Lord have mercy.

Even as Your own heart weeps for the poor, the needy, the despairing, the sick and infirm, soften our hearts, open our hands, increase our compassion for them all, so that we may be prepared to act in Your place when they come across our path. Then shall we become wise and truly live, even as we pray,

 Our Father . . .

Sunday Prayer for August 9, 2015

We have sung it innumerable times, O Lord, our God; we have repeated the words that still comfort, encourage, and inspire us: “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound.” It is sweet because we know our need and we know your provision.

We know inside the deepest recesses of our lives that we have not done all the things you have wanted us to do; we have done things we know we ought not to have done. These we confess before You now. … We recognize that we have not the power, the strength to overcome the sins that beset us; otherwise we would have ceased. Your grace comes in our need, to our aid, and stands for us in presenting our petitions before Your throne.

We live in a world so deeply in need of grace; You send us as Your emissaries. So often have we failed. Forgive us, we humbly pray. We are prone to responding to the pain and confusion of the world in the world’s own way; we’ve encountered the darkness, but have shed insufficient light. We talk about that darkness in many ways, but too seldom bring the light of grace to bear upon it, to dispel the blindness and bring wholeness to life by means of Your own word.

For the grace of forgiveness, we pray. We also pray that our hearts will be as forgiving as Yours. For the grace of second chances, third chances and many more, we give You humble thanks; teach us not to condemn as worthless those who need to know that their lives, too, still matter, regardless of what they have done.

For the grace of hope, the boundless future awaiting those You are redeeming, we offer joyful praise; teach to live in ways that communicate that hope is real, its dream secure, its way through love.

For the grace to bear the trials and tribulations, the disappointments and the pain that comes to all in a broken world, we pray. Teach us to live above the world, seated where Christ is seated, above the power of anything in this world. Then will people ask us about the hope that lies within.

And so for the sick, the poor, the homeless, the jobless, we pray. And for our faithfulness to Jesus we pray, even as the church has prayed for centuries,

Our Father . . .

Thoughts on Finding Our Place

I suppose I should know better by this time. There are more than enough opinions competing for market share in a ridiculously overcrowded blogosphere; why bother to add another to the cloud of unknowing, to borrow a phrase?

Perhaps that “unknowing” is a word that aptly fits where we find ourselves as confessing Christians in a world order we have not known. We don’t know what has happened to the world as we’ve known it in the west, and particularly in the USA. We don’t know what the ramifications will be, either for the church or for the society. We don’t know how to pray–at least it appears so in many quarters, especially those previously given to equating being American with being conservative Christian, or in some cases, vice versa.

I am, of course, referring to the Supreme Court decision declaring same-sex couples able to be legally married, with every pertinent right as enjoyed by opposite-sex couples. The present court, though deeply divided, does not appear to be of a mind to hear cases that would call the decision into further review. Before expressing my thoughts on how Christians might most redemptively respond to the ruling and the possible outfalls, it might be helpful to answer a question on the minds of many who do not pay particular attention to the Supreme Court, other than when warning sirens are sounded by certain interest groups.

What Just Happened?

The case was brought before the court on the grounds that laws prohibiting same-sex marriage violated the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution. For the sake of convenience, I include the text of that amendment’s first and fifth sections here:

Section 1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

. . .

Section 5. The Congress shall have power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.[1]

The amendment itself was part of the Reconstruction period legislation in 1868. As can be seen, it covers a wide range of interests. The most relevant section, of course, is the first. It was enacted primarily to protect the interests of former slaves. Since then, it has been used many times in an ever-expanding array of cases in which an aggrieved party believes existing laws restrict in some meaningful way their liberty to do something the state has unreasonably forbidden. In the cases at hand, same-sex couples argued that the state unreasonably hindered their liberty by prohibiting their ability to participate in and benefit from the legal benefits enjoyed by married opposite-sex couples, asking that their unions be placed on the same footing.

As everyone is now aware, the court agreed. To do so, however, it had to argue a different definition and understanding of marriage from what many people, particularly religious people, had assumed to be unassailable. In what can only be described as question-begging logic, the court acknowledged that marriage has historically and universally been thought to be a union of one man and one woman. It then argued that since changes have been made to the institution of marriage in the past, such as the decline of arranged marriages, allowing imprisoned persons to marry, and prohibitions against interracial marriage, change itself regarding marriage is a good thing. It seems to acknowledge on one hand that all the changes cited have to do with the practice of marriage and not the nature of the union; but it then argues that change of any kind can be good, and that to refuse this particular change would make the children of same-sex couples stigmatized and inferior, along with a few other unpleasant entailments.

What also becomes clear is that marriage is far more than a building block of society, as it celebrates and legitimates personal choices of intimate association and life choices pertaining to how one will choose to live. It seems far more important to the court to enhance personal satisfaction than to consider the interests of society. Let’s stop here for just a moment. Throughout history, all cultures, universally, have protected the union out of which children arise; it is necessary for the continuation of society in a cohesive fashion. And it is with that in mind that governments, particularly in the west, have extended certain legal priorities, privileges, and protection to married couples. The raising of the next generation is important to the public interest. Marriage may well be more than that institution by which new generations arise; but it is difficult to understand what interest the government would have in any of those additional characteristics. Simply referring to an evolution of understandings of marriage does not answer that question. Nor does it answer how one moves from changes in the way marriages are arranged and which men and which women can enter into the union to what that union is.

The majority opinion also spends considerable time speaking about the benefits to personal happiness of intimate association such as exists in marriage. But love may or may not be present in a marriage and it may well be present in a relationship between two persons who are not married. Formal marriage cannot create the bond; nor can its absence prohibit the bond.

Nonetheless, it has become the law of the land. For those people who complain that Christians or other identifiable groups of people impose their morality on others, two things should be noted. The one-man, one-woman nature of marriage was cross-culturally held for centuries. It was not imposed on people who wanted it to be otherwise. Secondly, it is the Supreme Court that has imposed a new definition of marriage upon the nation. Much of the criticism in the dissenting opinions from Justices Scalia, Thomas, Roberts, and Alito is centered on precisely this point.

Finding Our Place

Now what? For many people, the questions surrounding same-sex marriage have been given far too much attention. They wonder what the big deal has been all along and are happy to simply settle the question once and for all. Just move on and do what you’ve always done. After all, no one is telling anyone that they must marry someone of the same sex.

There is some wisdom in this approach.  It is particularly tempting to adopt it when listening to those who address the issue with palpable hatred and disgust for the persons on the other side of the matter. As Christians, we never serve the cause of Christ well with anger, name-calling, belittling, and censure. Letting our speech be seasoned with grace somehow escapes far too many people as a directive for our interactions. And Paul does tell us to be subject to the governing authorities, to live quiet and peaceful lives, and to be know as people of hope. We do not serve, and we certainly do not owe ourselves to any earthly power. Not even one with the Constitution of the United States of America. And we should not expect any earthly power to substitute for the rule of Christ in our hearts and in our communities of faith, much less expect a secular government to require other to follow a way we don’t do so well at obeying ourselves.

On the other hand, we believe that God’s expressed desires for human living are not arbitrary, but are good for the flourishing of people–all people. He designed us and knows us better than we know ourselves. Thus fearing, reverencing Him by accepting his ways, even when we don’t understand the reasons, is the beginning of wisdom. I have a strong suspicion that it is the loss of the very idea that God made us, intentionally, that lies at the heart of the present debate. If we are the product of a random evolutionary process, then nothing can be forbidden. Blind and dumb nature can only produce things, not “oughts” or “shoulds” to guide our moral lives. We are on our own.

In finding our place, Christians need to pay far greater attention to a robust theology of human nature as the deliberative and purposeful action of the God who finally revealed himself in the person of Jesus. Christian anthropology (the doctrine of mankind) has for too long started and and finished with Genesis 3, skipping over chapters 1 and 2.  We do read there of the creation in the image of God, an image which is born differently by male and female; and it is in their union that the image of God is more fully represented to the succeeding generation. This has much to say about issues of gender equality as well as of gender differences. If we are to have a meaningful contribution to make in the continuing public debate (and it will continue), we need to do more than recite verses from the Bible. We’ve thrown far too many pearls before many angry swine. Instead we need to reflect on the contextual meaning of the text and on the understanding of the present age to see where we fit and where we don’t. Or, more accurately, where the thought of the day does and does not reflect God’s design for human flourishing.

In finding our place we must also be honest about what the text does and does not approve, what it does and does not condemn. I’ve said virtually nothing about homosexuality itself to this point, and I won’t say a lot about it here, either (though I am open to talking more about it in a subsequent post). We cannot refashion the text to comport with contemporary sensitivities and thoughts. To put it bluntly, Matthew Vines’ hermeneutic is demonstrably flawed. Homosexuality is not God’s plan for human sexuality. That is abundantly clear on a responsible reading of the text, one which has not decided beforehand to neuter any passages that indicate such divine disapproval. That being said, we are not thereby authorized to go about the business of condemning homosexual person, or even of denying that there may be underlying causes or tendencies toward homosexual desire–most of which we do not fully understand.

Finally, finding our place must be done in full recognition that the place we will occupy is one of the alien and the outcast. And we must accept that as our lot if it comes to pass. We have a hard time fully believing Jesus when he told his followers that if they hated him, they would hate his followers; or Paul when he said that those who live godly lives will be persecuted. I am not sounding alarms here. I am suggesting possibilities. We have heard dire forecasts of what will come next on the agenda of those who believe they have won the day. Perhaps some of it will eventuate, perhaps not. Let those who know Christ be fully committed to him and his kingdom, come what may. Paul learned how to get along in all circumstances; so must we.

House for Prayer? Thoughts on the Third Sunday in Lent

Jesus cleansing the temple. Chasing out the bad guys, the ones who had turned into a place to make a fast denarius or two. And from that little tidbit we build sermons around what we perceive to be the parallel misuses of the buildings used for worship today. You’ve heard them, I’ve heard them; I’ve preached them.

Today, however, I’d like us to focus a little more attention on the first portion of Jesus’s objection to what was happening in Jerusalem. We can lay aside the reality that there are difficulties in identifying each of our respective houses of worship with the “my house” character of the Jerusalem temple. The reality is that any temple or church structure dedicated to the worship of God will encounter the same troublesome tendencies at some time or other. Lots of things happened in that temple on a regular basis; even more activities arguably take place in our buildings today. We play there, we worship there, we exercise there, we study together, we laugh, we cry, we talk about football and politics, we fellowship, we celebrate, we encourage one another, entertain guests and performers, raise funds, etc., etc. But how much do we pray there? Really pray?

The posts in this year’s somewhat shorter Lenten series have been focused on the kingdom of God and how we should make it more of a centering concern for our calling as the people of God. Nowhere can the commitment we have to the kingdom be better seen in our congregations than in the way we think about the places in which we gather as the body of believers. The question is simple–how much of what we do “at church” has prayer at its core, or as a natural outgrowth of the activity?

“My house shall be called a house of prayer.” Did this mean that any other activity was forbidden? No. The temple was a busy place; it was the symbolic center of communal life, where the reason for being was found, where purpose for moving ahead through difficult times was instilled, where hope was renewed, where children were reminded of their special identity in God’s desires for the world and its redemption. Faith was formed in concert between home and temple, and faith was never perceived as some private
decision to believe what one wanted; it was “the faith” before it ever became any particular one’s faith. And prayers both confessed that faith and wove it into the fabric of the lives of its people.

Hence the anger with which Jesus confronted the money changers. Their activities clouded rather than cleared the vision of life and godliness that prayer was to engender where the people of God gathered. They hindered prayer. We are stimulated by and alerted to the real intents and purposes of God for us through the teaching of the scriptures; we commit ourselves to it through prayer. And our very identity as the people of God depends upon it.

What is it in our congregations that cannot continue without prayer? To put it another way, would anything in our regular way of doing things really be different if prayer were removed from it? Is it there at all? Maybe for some of our congregations we don’t need to repent of not praying for the kingdom as much as we need to repent of not really praying at all. Our faith formation and our faith transmission to another generation will not take place without it. And if something is crowding it out of our corporate life, perhaps a few overturned tables are in order. Repentance surely is.