Our senior pastor Larry Buxton, who’s a baseball nut, says that parables are supposed to be stories that have a “late-breaking curveball.” He threw a curveball this past weekend with his sermon on the familiar parable of the Pharisee and tax collector in Luke 18:9-14. The Pharisee says, “I thank you God that I’m not like other people,” and the tax collector says, “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Pastor Larry shared that too often, we come away from this parable thinking that the moral of the story is to be more conspicuously self-deprecating in our prayer life. So we become people who say, “I thank you God that I’m a humble sinner, unlike those Pharisees who thank you that they’re not like other people.”
The gospel reading at my Monday mass was Luke 7:1-10, the story of the centurion whose servant is healed by Jesus without setting foot in his house. A line that the centurion says has become a key part of the weekly Eucharistic liturgy: “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.” There is something essential about that posture of humility for us to be able to encounter Christ authentically and receive the transformation that He wants to instill in us. I worry sometimes that Christians like me define ourselves so much against the overemphasis on human wickedness in fundamentalist Christianity that we end up having a blithe presumptuousness about Jesus’ grace in our lives which turns our prayer and worship life into a farce.
I’m hoping to write this in a vague enough way so as not to call out anyone specifically, but several people I care about have been delivered from sin into fundamentalism. It seems like certain types of sin, addictions like pornography and alcoholism, lend themselves to fundamentalist recoveries. Sometimes I wonder if the God whom I have experienced and gotten to know would be enough of a hardass to rescue me from a serious addiction if I ever fell into one. Can God be a hardass to some people and not to others according to what we need in our discipleship journey?
To paraphrase that annoying hit dance song “Party Rock,” everyday we’re posturing. What I mean by “posturing” is that our conversations are constant performances of self-definition, at least those that happen in cyberspace where words are all that we are. Because conversation itself has turned into a primary object of our analysis, we do a lot of meta-conversation, talking about talking about things. The Christian blogosphere talks a lot about talking about sin, which is different than talking directly about sin. It is in these meta-conversations that a tired debate cycles endlessly: “Why do we need to talk about talking about sin all the time? Jesus ate and drink with sinners.” “Ah… but he would always tell them to go and sin no more.” Understanding the distinction between talking about sin and talking about talking about sin is critical if we are to avoid talking past each other as seems to have occurred in a recent sin meta-conversation between Rachel Held Evans and Kevin Watson. Continue reading
In a recent post, John Meunier writes, “You cannot speak intelligently about Wesleyan theology if you discard the doctrine of Original Sin.” He shares a statement in the Book of Discipline which says, “We believe man is fallen from righteousness and, apart from the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, is destitute of holiness and inclined to evil.” I agree that we need to know we’re sinful in order to recognize our need for Christ. But is the Christian gospel really unintelligible unless we believe that every non-Christian around us is “destitute of holiness and inclined to evil”? I wanted to offer a different way to narrate this, with the help of 4th century saint John Cassian. I ultimately think a doctrine of total providence is more faithful to John Wesley’s vision than total depravity.
There’s an African folktale that I’ve read with both of my sons. In the story, every child born in a village is given a song that tells them who they are, giving them their role to play within the village community. Whenever kids start misbehaving and causing conflict, the other villagers sing their song to them so that they will remember who they really are. This was basically the topic of a podcast sermon from the Meeting House that I listened to on my drive home tonight from North Carolina. I needed to hear this word because I’ve forgotten my song recently, namely that who I really am is an encourager, not a mocker or scornful accuser. Continue reading
In the spring of 2010, I bought a Spanish language theology book, El Principio Misericordia (The Mercy Principle) by Jon Sobrino, at the bookstore of the Universidad de Centroamerica (UCA) in San Salvador. I’ve been reading it off and on for the past three years, and I finally finished it in my most recent trip to the Dominican Republic (my Spanish reading tends to happen when I’m actively thinking in Spanish). So I’ve decided to do a series exploring some of the concepts Sobrino introduces in his book. This first post has to do with his definition of sin. Continue reading
I knew it was coming: the Piper tweet, this time quoting Job in response to the Oklahoma tornado. As the dean of the neo-Calvinist movement, John Piper likes to push the envelope with his commentary on God’s role in natural disasters. He did it about a year ago when tornadoes hit the midwest. In 2007 after the Minneapolis bridge collapsed, he wrote that he and his daughter discussed how God must have done it so the people of Minneapolis would fear Him because our sin against God is “an outrage ten thousand times worse than the collapse of the 35W bridge.” Piper would say that he’s just being Biblical and that it shouldn’t be surprising that speaking Biblically would make people feel uncomfortable. So how do we talk about God’s role in tragedies?
The Daily Office reading for today was Romans 14:13-23. I was particularly struck by verses 22-23: “The faith that you have, have as your own conviction before God. Blessed are those who have no reason to condemn themselves because of what they approve. But those who have doubts are condemned if they eat, because they do not act from faith;for whatever does not proceed from faithis sin.” So basically Paul defines sin as “whatever does not proceed from faith.” But what does this mean? Continue reading
I’m on our church’s confirmation retreat. For the last three years, we’ve framed our retreat around a discussion of the three questions you get asked when you join the United Methodist Church in tandem with three verses Ephesians 4:14-16. The first question asks us whether we “renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of our sins,” while Ephesians 4:14 in the NIV talks about humanity being “like infants tossed back and forth between the waves.” So I’ve gone with the metaphor of sin as a “sea of wrath.” This year, a kid was asking but what about sins that the Bible doesn’t talk about, how do we tell what they are? We had just read Galatians 5:19-21 about the works of the flesh. So I said sin is doing things that create “drama” in the negative teenage sense of the word, because I think that’s a much better way of understanding it than “not following the rules.”