August 26, 2010

Preaching in an Empire...

Today, our conference "Thursday Memo for Preachers" came across my inbox.  I'm usually challenged and inspired by Rev. Bill Cotton's words - and today was no exception. 
“Be appalled, O heavens, at this, be shocked, be utterly desolate, says the Lord...”Jer. 2:12

Abraham Heschel in his classic work on the Prophets describes them as persons who become excited and agitated about matter that most of us take for granted. For example, ignoring the needs of the poor. Those old boys like Jeremiah seemed to have one less layer of skin than the rest of us, and that made then sensitive to all forms of injustice.

Have you wondered what Jeremiah would be saying to the richest nation on earth’s inability or unwillingness to see that children of the poor have access to a doctor. Each Tuesday the Grace Health Clinic discovers people without insurance- victims of this cruel system we live under. And should the church speak the words of Jeremiah regarding this injustice, some would call his words socialism and dismiss his raving. Jeremiah speaks in the text for Sunday of how the people have turned away from God, the fountain of living water, and dug cracked cisterns that can hold no water.

Our first parsonage in Fairly, Texas had a cistern. Along about August it would go dry and crack open and we would buy a load of water for $5.00, and it would be gone in a day or two unless we patched the cracks, only that didn’t work so well either. Cisterns that leak are not much good. Churches that ignore the prophets’ word are like broken cisterns.

Maybe Jeremiah is too much for the church and nation this week. If so we might try Dr. Luke’s description of Jesus telling us that when we give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame.. and you will be blessed because they cannot repay you..Luke 14:13

With all of the injustice that we face in these times, perhaps both Jeremiah and Luke are too troublesome. There simply is no place to run no place to hide from these texts this week if we are faithful to the text.

One last try. Hebrews 13:1-8,15-16 This text invites us to show hospitality to strangers and we do have an open door policy. Well the door is somewhat open. But, within that text are the words “Jesus Christ the Same, yesterday, today and forever”. Those words just feel good in the mouth. The only problem, if we practice the faith of Jesus who is always the same we must include the faith of Jeremiah. Still no place to run, no place to hide. The preaching life is tough with you live in an empire. Go preach anyway!
I was especially moved by the line - "should the church speak the words of Jeremiah regarding this injustice, some would call his words socialism and dismiss his raving." 

Our church is celebrating this Sunday the missional outreach of our congregation.  I am not standing up in the pulpit to preach - but I pray that these words of Jeremiah and Hebrews and Luke will not be ignored.  We will gather to celebrate the ways that we have fed the hungry, and helped those in prison, and brought healing to the sick, and reached out to the poor in this past year.  And I am so proud of my church for the amazing ways that they have given for those in need.

The Christmas Giving Tree for Tanzania
But something that has profoundly stood out to me is how few of us spend time with the poor, the sick, the imprisoned.  We are quick with our pocketbooks or with a food and clothing drive, but there are relatively few who are willing or able to head on over to the meal site and sit down with folks.  That is probably just as much the fault of our busy schedules and prioritizing of family as it is a discomfort with being around those we think might be different.

Dan Dick wrote about our "comfort-zones" this week on his blog.  And it was a reminder to me that discipleship involves growing and stretching and in some cases being disoriented so that we can be realigned with God's priorities.  We all have different gifts and places of spiritual comfort, but the fullness of the experience of God is only reached if we are able to move outside of those areas and encounter God in the unfamiliar, too. 

My prayer is that the testimony of those who have served with their hands and feet might be a witness this week.  My prayer is that their stories might help to nudge their fellow brothers and sisters into a more active and present love of their neighbor.  These are challening times in the rhetorical world.  Our nation is split on ideological lines, and my prayer is that their experience would provide a far better exposition of the challenging words for this Sunday than my preaching ever could.

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