My duty to the Bible’s living interpretive tradition

bibleI had a good discussion yesterday with my pastor covenant group about our discernment process as a church in the wake of the Frank Schaefer trial and controversy. I know that I got a little hot-headed in the debate online so I wanted to offer more circumspect reflections. I believe that each disciple of Jesus Christ not only has the right but actually the duty to contribute to the ongoing living interpretive tradition of our faith. Some Christians think that the Bible doesn’t require any interpretation, but I contend that the way we interpret it is by living it and sharing our testimony with each other. Continue reading

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Justice of the heart and Frank Schaefer

frank schaeferThis week, the United Methodist Church put a pastor on trial named Frank Schaefer for officiating at the wedding of his gay son. The judge, retired bishop Al Gwinn, ruled out as inadmissible any defense arguments based on scripture or other sections of the Book of Discipline, reasoning that only “the facts” of what Schaefer did were relevant to determining the verdict. While I understand the rationale and practical limitations that necessitate this approach to justice, I do not think it does justice to justice. The promise that we receive in scripture is that God judges according to the heart. Hebrews 4:12-13 says: “Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account.” Continue reading

The painter’s studio: a metaphor for thinking about worship

PBS Remix-Happy PainterI’m at the semiannual Five Talent Academy gathering. It’s an initiative of the Virginia Methodist conference among churches who have covenanted around a set of goals for congregational vitality. Our topic today is worship, led by Rev. Dr. Constance Cherry. I’m seeing a lot of intersection between what is being said here and a book I just started reading by Andy Crouch called Playing God: Redeeming the Gift of Power. And it put a metaphor in my head for thinking about worship that seems helpful to me. Continue reading

Five verses God has tattooed on my heart: #2 Matthew 9:13

I’ve often told the story of how I discovered the verse that became the basis for the title of this website. It was the summer of 2008 and I had been working at a summer camp in east Durham. The lectionary gospel readings I had heard over the previous months included Matthew 9:13 and Matthew 12:7, both of which involve Jesus quoting Hosea 6:6, “I desire mercy not sacrifice.” I had been tossing this phrase around in my mind, trying to understand what it meant. Then one morning at the camp, I was given the task of waking up a homeless man in our parking lot and sending him on his way. He was very belligerent, and I was worried for my safety, so I turned to walk away. But then the homeless man said, “Where’s your fucking mercy, man?” It was the only time in my life I ever heard God drop the f-bomb, and it definitely got my attention. Continue reading

“I desire mercy not sacrifice”

“Go and find out what this means: ‘I desire mercy not sacrifice'” (Matthew 9:13). There is not an exhortation in the whole of scripture that needs more desperately to be pondered by Christians today than this sentence that Jesus says to the Pharisees after they criticize him for associating with sinners. Jesus is quoting Hosea 6:6, which he does again in Matthew 12:7 when the Pharisees criticize him for letting his disciples pluck grain on the Sabbath. No other Old Testament verse is quoted twice in the same gospel in conversation with the same people. Jesus is making a critical distinction between His way (mercy) and the Pharisees’ way (sacrifice). The reason Christians need to let this verse smack us in the face is that we have become the Pharisees Jesus came to Earth to stop us from being. Continue reading

From self-justification to mercy

Like many other evangelicals in my generation, I’ve got a kind of rage inside of me that keeps me awake at night. It comes from looking around and feeling convicted that we Christians have become exactly what Jesus came to Earth to stop us from being. We have become the same as the Pharisees who made it necessary for Jesus to come to Earth in the first place. We have taken the Word that was given to us as a gift and turned it into a means of one-upping each other and winning political power for ourselves. Continue reading