Mouthy Prophets

Sunday’s scripture passage is wonderful! In fact, as I have tried to prepare worship this Sunday, I basically came up with 3 different sermons, you’ll hear one this Sunday, one on June 7th, and I will briefly tell you about the one I won’t be preaching here.

The passage is Isaiah 6—the call of the Prophet Isaiah. Call stories are always interesting for a couple of reasons. First, God never calls who we think he ought to call. Isaiah’s immediate response to being called is that he is a person of unclean lips that comes from a people of unclean lips. He is not worthy and is fearful that God will strike him dead for having come face to face with him and not being worthy. What I find to be particularly interesting about Isaiah is that his excuse is basically that he is mouthy, he says things he thinks he shouldn’t, he isn’t pure enough. I think that is an interesting commentary on what makes us worthy or not. In the case of a prophet, it would appear God chose an impure loud mouth on purpose—Isaiah’s very failings may have been exactly what made him right for the job. Perhaps there is something in that for us too! Where do you feel unclean and impure? Is there a way in which God may want to use those weaknesses to make a difference in this world?

Secondly, be careful what you wish for. In this case, after being purified God sends Isaiah to the people to give them bad news. Wonder if Isaiah would’ve been so anxious to be chosen if he knew that was what he was being called to do. Unfortunately, sometimes we all face that dilemma. We know there is something that has to be done, it is the last thing we want to do, but we know that we need to be the one to do it. What does it say to us that sometimes God is working through those laborious tasks that we really don’t want to do?

Even with all that wonderful food for thought, there is still so much more that we will be discussing about this passage for the next few Sundays.

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Reading the Bible Again for the First Time

The strangest things can get a pastor excited. I had so much fun yesterday with our two bible study groups as we talked about the different English Translations of scripture—where they came from, what politics were involved in their creation, what affects accuracy of translation. We even played a little game where we had the different members of the class transcribe someone favorite verse of scripture with various “challenges” like rain, insects, darkness and poor eyesight. Let’s just say, we had a lot of fun playing with the Bible yesterday, and we will continue to do so on Sunday!

A few important thoughts came out of all of this. Whatever version of scripture we hold dear, we must know that there was a great deal of love and care put into bringing that version to paper (or ebook). Centuries of scholars, struggles, and discoveries went into every word. That being said, we must also come to the Bible, whichever version we may be reading, with a sense of humility. I think that one thing that was highlighted in our discussions was that there are so many things that effect the finished product, having the arrogance to say that the Bible unequivocally supports my position on a certain issue is to be ignorant of the rich and wonderful history that produced our Holy Scriptures. Some would say this means we should abandon any hope of finding “Truth” there. I would say that it means there is so much more richness and depth to be explored and appreciated.

One result of my trip to Chicago, is that I personally am changing the version of scripture that will be my go to version. For the entirety of my life, I have always turned to the NRSV as the gold standard of scholarship and Biblical understanding. However, after sitting at the feet of a great Biblical Scholar for a week, I will now be turning to the new Common English Bible (CEB) translation—it just came out in 2013, so don’t be alarmed if you haven’t heard of this version. It just so happened that the Biblical scholar my pastor’s group was learning from happened to be the primary translator for the book of Genesis in the CEB, and when we heard about the CEB translation process as compared to that of the NRSV process, I decided it was time to make the switch. As many of you know, this is hard to contemplate. Whatever version you grew up with, be it the King James, the NIV, the Good News, or something else; you start to memorize the important pieces of scripture in that version alone, and anything else sounds funny. For example, though I grew up on the NRSV, I have noticed that Psalm 23 doesn’t sound right in any version but the King James. I am sure you can relate to this. Many of you have had to become used to the church changing versions from that beloved old standard—whatever it may be.

Don’t be alarmed by this though. The switch may be tough, but it also pushes your faith deeper. I am discovering that I don’t take scripture for granted as I hear it again for the first time. Things that I had previously memorized in the NRSV sound different in the CEB, and I am discovering new depths of meaning in every word and nuance. It is coming as a humble reminder that whenever I think I really know what a particular scripture is about, God can do something new and powerful by opening my ears to new meaning through the power of the Holy Spirit.

One last note: since my time as head of staff, I have most regularly printed the NRSV translation in the bulletin on Sunday morning—though if you pay attention, I often switch it up and using everything from the KJV to the NIV to The Message and so many more. However, going forward, I will often use the CEB version. Rather than see this as a challenging change, I encourage you to bring your favorite version with you. Bring your favorite bible to church, and as the scripture is read, see how your version differs. There is so much learning that can happen just by asking, “Why did that version use a different word here than my version?”

The blessing of scripture is that there is always more to learn and more to discover. As you dive into it, dive in deeply and be open to the fact that through the power of the Holy Spirit, God speaks to us in new ways through the same old words all the time. I pray you find as much wonderful richness and depth in scripture as I do!

In Her Holy Name…

Mother’s day can be a tricky Sunday in the life of the church. The way that we have handled it over the last 3-4 years has been to celebrate women in general. Certainly, there is a great deal to celebrate about Mothers, but that can also be a bit of a tricky topic as well. Not everyone has ideal feelings about Mother’s Day, and for a variety of reasons.

One thing is for sure, we could all do a better job of celebrating the women who have had an impact on our lives, whether they are mothers or not. This is particularly important within the church, where our history has strayed towards patriarchy.

I don’t want to steal any of Sarah Kotchian’s thunder this Sunday, but one thing I lament is the direction that the protestant tradition went in regards to Mary the mother of Jesus. Unfortunately, many of our Protestant forefathers (specifically gendered here!) were…well…misogynists; and as they decided what should be kept and what should be abandoned, Mary was left behind. There are vibrant and wonderful traditions in both Eastern Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism regarding Mary, and in some ways that has helped to offset the incredibly patriarchal tradition to make way for some regard for the sacred feminine. Alas, we protestants jettisoned those traditions, and have often ignored the numerous female heroes of our faith, and have neglected the abundant use of feminine imagery for God in scripture.

Whatever your feelings for Mother’s Day, we could always use the reminder to be more thankful for the women in our lives, and the women of our faith.