Act Like Gifted and Beloved People, Because That Is What You Are

The scripture passage from Romans this week has a lot of special meaning to me and Tiffany. This particular passage was the basis for our college Chaplain’s benediction. Sure, it was Paul’s benediction first, but John Williams took Paul to a whole new level. Of course, his interpretation is not the standard one, but for my money, it is loaded with a whole lot more relevance and meaning. And of course, for me, it isn’t complete with adding on those words at the end, “And act like gifted and beloved children of God, because that is what you are.”—Imagine that being said with a thick Texan drawl and you’ll get the idea.

What is interesting is that this passage is a benediction (from Latin for Good Words). It is a beautiful passage, but as you start to look a little bit closer at what it is asking us to do as faithful disciples, it may seem like Paul is asking a bit much of us. These tasks are no easy feat for any of us, and yet, this is how a disciple of Christ acts and lives in the world. It’s a tall order, but it is also an essential one.

I think back to the same advice that college chaplain gave me as I was working on my first sermon, “There better be good news there, or its not preaching the gospel—it’s something else not worth anybody’s time.”

So how does this tall order become good news for us?

I think it starts with realizing just what our lives begin to look like when we start living by these “good words,” and indeed, what the whole world starts to look like when it becomes rampant. For the rest, you’ll have to come Sunday or check the podcast of the sermon next week.

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Your Christ is TOO SMALL–so is mine…

“Who do you say I am?” If we are to look at the passage and reflection from last week, we might answer Jesus’ question with, “a jerk.” I think many in this day and age would say that he is the way to punch their golden ticket through the pearly gates. Perhaps he is the meek, mild and peace-loving teacher. Perhaps he is the Holy Troublemaker for which my blog is named. The Son of God. A revolutionary. The Messiah. A prophet. The Word made flesh. A rabbi. God incarnate. A criminal. A man. Something else entirely. Unfortunately, I think we all tend to have our “perfect” answer, that ends up leading us to an ultimately imperfect reality. It seems to me that when we have set our sights on one of these answers as opposed to the rest, we lose some of the richness of how we might answer this question.

At the end of the day, during the council of Chalcedon in 451, I think the church fathers got something right—they didn’t really answer the question! Instead of saying Christ was God or man, they said he was both.

“Therefore, following the holy fathers, we all with one accord teach men to acknowledge one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, at once complete in Godhead and complete in manhood, truly God and truly man, …the distinction of natures being in no way annulled by the union, but rather the characteristics of each nature being preserved and coming together to form one person and subsistence, …”

Now as you can tell by the ellipsis marks, they said a whole lot more than that (If you want the full thing google “Chalcedonian Definition”). But what it boils down to is a wonderful paradox. We know there is God there and we know there is man there, but there is no absolute black and white definition.

Unfortunately, we don’t much care for paradoxes, and rather than live in that tension we often try to eliminate the mystery in favor of the concrete. Perhaps that is why we are so attracted to just one answer to that question, “Who do you say that I am?”

That may be our biggest problem—paradox elimination. We need more paradox and more tension if we are to be faithful. I would suggest that the next time we feel we have it figured out—imagine the opposite of what we think we know, and then live in that tension—Christ Fully God and Fully Human. Christ Fully Meek and Mild and fully radical. Christ the key to salvation and the teacher of great wisdom. Christ the revolutionary and Christ the Peacemaker. None of them are enough on their own, we need the complications. We need the challenge. We need the paradox.

Jesus the Jerk?

We are working on a very interesting text this week—Jesus and the Canaanite woman. This is one of those passages that most of us just don’t know what to do with. Jesus refuses to help a woman who pleads with him and then calls her a dog—not exactly the Sunday school Jesus we all know and love.

David Lose wrote an interesting post about how we have historically approached interpretation of this passage:

“Did the Canaanite woman Matthew describes pass a test or persuade the Lord? If we go with the former – which is probably the more traditional reading – then Jesus didn’t really mean what he said. You know, about saying he was exclusive, ministering only to the Israelites, let alone calling her a dog. All of this was just a test, a way of bringing to harvest the faith that God had already planted in her…I think we favor this interpretation because it saves Jesus from looking like, well, kind of a jerk…The other possibility, of course, is that Jesus’ own sense of God’s kingdom is challenged, stretched, and enhanced by his encounter with this fierce and faithful woman. Maybe, that is, Jesus is serious – that is, he believes he was sent only to the Israelites – and the woman takes him on and, in fact, persuades him that something larger is at stake.”

This presents us with an interesting dilemma as we prepare ourselves for worship on Sunday—was Jesus making this into a teaching moment, or was he being kind of a jerk?

Though Lose goes in the direction of Jesus being kind of a jerk, I think that a bit of a hybrid is going on. Maybe he was being dismissive of her because he had a lot of his own people’s problems to deal with, but once he realized the system that was supposed to care for this woman and her daughter was broken, he had no choice but to help her out.

I think this is really a commentary on broken human systems. But I suppose we will have to save that for Sunday’s sermon (If you are reading this from far away and can’t get there on Sunday, just check out the podcast next week.)

If you want to read Lose’s full post check here: What the Canaanite Woman Teaches.

Celebration of Education Sunday

Can you believe that the kids are already preparing to head back to school? In fact, this Sunday we will be doing Celebration of Education Sunday! This is a week for us to stop and recognize the change that will be happening in the lives of children, youth (students of all ages really), teachers and parents. We have a lot of those folks in our church!

Let’s put this in some context though. We could easily be asking ourselves, “Why not celebration of soldiers, or small business owners, or factory workers, or any other profession?” Well why not? I don’t see a good reason why not, honestly. What should be at the heart of what we do this Sunday is a commissioning that reminds people where their mission field actually is. When Christ sends the disciples out into the world in scripture, he doesn’t say, “Go, therefore, to walled in sanctuaries and make disciples of all nations.” Rather, he sends the disciples out into the world.” WE NEED TO DO MORE SENDING… This is a good occasion to send of students, teachers and parents, but it is also a good time for all of us to reflect on where Christ is calling each of us—(And don’t say to the pew for a nap). Our calling is to the world to share Christ’s good news no matter what our profession. So as we commission students and parents and children, remember this comes as a challenge to us all. Have you been sharing the good news?

Why Holy Troublemakers?

It all started about 3 years ago. [cue flashback sequence]. Since the Presbytery youth retreat happened to fall on Dr. Seuss’ birthday, it seemed only logical at the time to run with Dr. Seuss books as our theme. We looked at the Beatitudes through the different lenses of Seuss’ writings and discovered some wonderful meaning. What was especially helpful was The Message version of the Beatitudes and its wonderful ending, “…my prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble.” Seemed to be the perfect fit, especially given Seussian characters like the Cat in the Hat. In so many ways there is a wonderful connection to the long-standing prophetic tradition in the biblical witness and the idea of being a troublemaker.

Unfortunately, one problem for an institution like the church is that we often are more caught up in maintaining the status quo (since it has long benefited our institution), rather than maintaining a prophetic voice. Needless to say, in this day and age when the status quo is no longer our best buddy, perhaps it is time to re-embrace the prophetic troublemaking voice. So as we considered what kind of voice we wanted to embrace for Covenant on the web, the Holy Troublemaker seemed to be a good fit.

It should probably be mentioned that many of these posts will be critical of who the church is today–as would be fitting for a blog entitled Holy Troublemaker. It should also be mentioned that in no way is the thinking that somehow Covenant is above that kind of critique, but indeed are much in need of such a critical voice to remind us to humbly follow the lead Troublemaker–Jesus. Coming out of the Reformed tradition there is a natural kind of self critique built in to our theology as we remind ourselves of the need for God’s grace. Hopefully, the writing in this blog will continually drive us to a mindset of being reformed, but always in need of more reforming.

Lastly, this world needs our help–all of us. Continuing with the way things are at the moment, just isn’t an option. Again and again, scripture calls us to be involved in this world, and to seek to be a part of God’s transformative and reconciling  kingdom in the midst of this world. Hopefully what will happen here will be inspiration to go upset the status quo and do something to make this world a better place. Thus the plural in the title. Though I will often be doing the writing here, I hope that it will be more than me causing trouble out there!