February 26, 2011

What it is, and is not, to be an EP Endorser

by Brent Laytham
Early on, we said that The Ekklesia Project was a "school for subversive friendship," an opportunity to discover friends you didn't know you had who were busy letting Jesus turn the world right-side up (dethroning the powers in the process). That was in 2000. Now, thanks to Web2.0 social media, it appears that discovering 'friends' is as easy as clicking "accept" whenever Facebook invites me to. I've accumulated 180 'friends' that way, some of whom I actually know.


February 23, 2011

The Economics of Anxiety

by Debra D. Murphy
Eighth Sunday After Epiphany
Isaiah 49:8-16; Psalm 131; 1 Corinthians 4:1-5; Matthew 6:24-34

One of the steadfast realities of following the lectionary is the predictable rhythm of its three-year cycle of readings. Preparing a sermon for Baptism of the Lord Sunday in 2011?  You might go back to your files from 2008 to see what text(s) you focused on, what themes prevailed, what prayers and hymns were chosen for worship. You might—depending on your congregation’s current needs and challenges—revisit, rework, recycle, as it were, the riches of the lectionary cycle.

But because Easter is so late this year—a day short of the latest date possible—there was no eighth Sunday After Epiphany in 2008 or 2005 or 2002. In fact, the factors that determine the date of the Church's prime moveable feast are so unusual this year that an eighth Sunday after Epiphany is an astronomical and liturgical rarity. This means that, with a longer stretch of Sundays between Epiphany and Lent, we take in much more of the Sermon on the Mount, Year A’s appointed reading for the Sundays after Epiphany. And this week’s portion from Matthew 6—rare in the Sunday cycle but familiar in our hearing—couldn’t be more timely.


February 15, 2011

Realist of Grace

 by Brian Volck
Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18; 1 Corinthians 3:16-23; Matthew 5:38-48

“Love your enemies
and pray for those who persecute you,” Jesus commands. That’s nowhere near as rosy and na├»ve as the bumper sticker I once came across, in a boutique full of inspirational art and Buddhist tchotckes, that read: “Love your enemies and you won’t have any.”

There once was at time that I, too, believed I could change the world and others by wishing or willing it so. I was fortunate to unlearn that nonsense before I caused too much harm.

Jesus is far more realistic than we give him credit. The only certainty in Jesus’ command is that we will have enemies.  There’s no reassurance that our love will transform them, improve our earthly status, or end wars. We are simply told to love and pray for adversaries so that we “…may be children of (our) heavenly Father.” 


February 09, 2011

Reality Hunger

by Ragan Sutterfield
Deuteronomy 30:15-20; Psalm 119:1-8; Matthew 5:21-37

Reality hunger.  I read a book by that title last summer and the title, more than the book, describes what many of us are feeling these days.  We long for the concrete, the real, the hard surfaced world against all of the abstractions of the Economy, of the powers and institutions that seem to dictate our lives without our understanding the what and who and why of their existence.  And yet, we must understand that this abstraction is a choice, that our hunger goes unsatiated because we continue to eat the high fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated fare of the convenience stores lining the interstate through nowhere and to nowhere.  Call them the temple foods of false gods—cheap, convenient, subsidized lies that seem like the real stuff, but leave us sick and unhealthy.


February 03, 2011

Still the Crucified

by Doug Lee
Isaiah 58:1-9a; 1 Corinthians 2:1-16; Matthew 5:13-20

When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.

Paul’s description of his preaching is enough to stop any preacher in her or his tracks.
It is certainly enough to stop this one.

What do I regard as essential in my preaching? Do I rely on sounding scholarly or worldly wise? Do I trust in having something new and captivating to say?

What goal am I aiming at as I prepare my message? Is it to be identified as a powerful and effective speaker? Is to gain the esteem of my hearers and burnish my reputation?

What kind of gospel do my preparation and style of delivery (and not just my actual words) testify to?

Is it a gospel of anxious striving, of certainty and self-confidence? Is it a message of professionalism and accomplishment?

More generally, Paul’s words raise questions about the way Church performs her ministry in the world. Jesus’ descriptions of the Church as the salt of the earth and the light of the world in the Sermon on the Mount have inspired believers to take up great missionary works. These are forceful images of the Church “making a difference” in the world. In the soil of American optimism, Christians has excelled in envisioning a gospel of triumph and acclaim. Our ministries aim at “making the biggest bang for the buck.” Nearly a century of unquestioned American supremacy in the world has encouraged us to believe that anything worth doing is worth doing big and loud.

But Paul insists that the inescapable starting point of gospel ministry is the cross. And we wouldn’t dare argue with Paul. But the apostle pushes the cross as the one and only starting point for all proclamation and mission past even where other New Testament writers would. Paul’s letters testify that his assertion about knowing nothing except Jesus Christ crucified is not stretching the truth too far. His writings make little mention of Jesus’ life and ministry prior to the crucifixion. Where we and the authors of the gospels would derive our knowledge of Jesus, the Church, and her mission from Christ’s authoritative teaching and miraculous signs, Paul seems genuinely to believe that all anyone needs to know about Christ begins with the cross. Everything else finds its source and coherence there. Christian character finds its source there. Mission finds its beginning there. Our preaching finds its content there. Human sexuality and wealth find their purpose there. Reading the wide range of topics Paul takes up in his letters to the Corinthians is enough for us to see that the cross is the lens through which Paul sees every facet of existence.

And were this not enough, the cross also defines the continuing contours of the Church and her message. In our American triumphalism, we can easily assume that Easter erases the shame and the horror of the crucifixion. The weakness of the cross was only momentary and can therefore be cast off in favor of the triumph of Resurrection. We can graduate from crucifixion humiliation to resurrection victory. However, Paul does not use the simple past tense to refer to Jesus Christ the “crucified”, as if that were just a phase in the life of Christ that is over and done with. Paul utilizes a verb tense that asserts a past event that has continuing force into the present. For Paul, the risen and glorified Jesus Christ is still the crucified. The weakness of the cross continues to define who our Lord is. When resurrected Jesus appeared to the disciples (and presumably Paul himself), he still bore his wounds and showed them not merely as proofs that he died a shameful, disfiguring death but now as proofs of God’s glory and power triumphing in weakness and shame. If the Son of God can freely show proofs of his humiliation publicly even on this side of Easter, then what have we to fear? If Paul can put the words “crucified” and “the Lord of glory” into the same sentence (v. 8), then what deadly event can God not redeem?

The Church’s preaching and mission do not live by her capacity to put inadequacy and failure behind her. But by beginning and continuing on in weakness, the Church shines forth as the light of the world. Our salty distinctiveness does not result from becoming a forceful or accomplished community, but precisely in our capacity to remain in the blessing God pours out on the poor in spirit, the meek, and those reviled because of Christ.

As John Stott so clearly puts it, “We have a weak message (Christ crucified), proclaimed by weak preachers (full of fear and trembling), received by weak hearers (the socially despised). For God chose a weak instrument (Paul), to bring a weak message (the cross) to weak people (the Corinthian working class). But through this triple weakness the power of God was—and still is—displayed.”