Hauerwas, Rolling Stone, and Mars Hill

It is probably because I’m reading Resident Aliens again, but I keep hearing Stanley Hauerwas when I’m reading other things.

For instance, this Christianity Today piece on this Rolling Stone article about the sex lives and norms of Millennials strikes me as something straight out of Hauerwas. (BTW, read the Rolling Stone piece and tell me again how polyamory is not something the church needs to be able to talk about.)

The gist of the CT piece is the author’s shock at the sexual norms of Millennials followed by the realization that advocating for conventional biblical sexual norms will either be drowned out or will drive people away from the church. Instead, the author comes to realize, all that talk about what to do with our private parts is intended not for the pagan culture outside the church but for those inside the church trying to live a new people.

From the records we have, we can deduce that Paul talked about sex with people who were already within a church community. He didn’t stand up on Mars Hill in Athens and preach about immorality. He told the story of Jesus, the one who rose from the dead. He didn’t argue about “lifestyle issues” with pagans. If he argued about anything, it was about grace and truth and love. And then he told the story of Jesus again. (See Acts 13, and Acts 17 for two examples.)

Of course Paul writes plenty about sex, but again, he does so to people in Christian communities and he almost always does so in the context of whole-life change. Sex is one moral issue amidst a host of others. Paul assumes that for these Christians to change—whether in what they eat or who they sleep with or how they talk or anything else—Paul assumes change will be radical, positive, and ongoing. He assumes it will only happen with the help of the Spirit, in the context of Christian community, and only as they grow up in the knowledge and love of Christ.

Christian speech is only intelligible inside the community called church. This sounds a lot like Hauerwas to me.

The writer concludes that she should not speak of biblical morality at all outside the church community. I’m not convinced that is the right approach.

I’m certainly not advocating getting on a soap box and screaming “fornicators!” at people on the street. But there is something to be said, I think, for the claim that Jesus Christ is Lord and he offers something that all the sexual exploits in the world cannot. When Paul stood up in Athens, he did not shy away from saying he knew something about God that all their searching and striving had missed.

We should never be smug. To be a Christian is to be humble and meek. But I don’t think we want to hide the holiness of Jesus Christ under a basket.

I could be argued out of this thought. What do you think?

The inconvenient Jesus

It isn’t long before we realize that to find God and to accept Jesus Christ is a very inconvenient experience for most people. It would involve rethinking our whole outlook on life and lead to major changes in the way we live. … We do not find because we do not seek. And the truth is that we do not seek because we do not really want to find.

– John Stott, Basic Christianity

How to fight for the faith

Dear friends, I wanted very much to write to you concerning the salvation we share. Instead, I must write to urge you to fight for the faith delivered once and for all to God’s holy people. (Jude 3, CEB)

It is sometimes implied that Jude does not deserve our attention because it is a disputed addition to the canon. We who say with Jesus our Lord that the last will be first, somehow hold Jude’s contested inclusion in the New Testament as a mark against it.

When I read Jude, though, I feel it is among the most timely texts in the New Testament. Its warnings and exhortations seem to speak directly to our day.

In this verse, Jude tells the church that he’d rather write to it about the salvation that they share — or that all Christians share — but he is compelled to address other matters. The influence of false teachers among them has left him with no choice but to exhort them to reclaim or hold on to the ancient faith of the people of God.

It is interesting to me that all the examples in the letter are Old Testament stories — even if some apparently belong to writings that were not in the Old Testament canon that would later be settled. We read of the Exodus, the revolt of the fallen angels, and Sodom and Gomorrah. We read of Cain, Balaam, and Korah. We read of Enoch and Adam.

And we read Jude’s counsel to the church — the means by which we should fight for the faith delivered to the chosen people and opened to all through faith in Jesus Christ.

But you, dear friends: build each other up on the foundation of your most holy faith, pray in the Holy Spirit, keep each other in the love of God, wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will give you eternal life. (Jude 20-21, CEB)

Build each other up. Pray in the Holy Spirit. Keep each other in the love of God. Wait for the mercy of Jesus Christ.

These are the tactics with which we are urged to fight for the faith.

In the verse 19 — right before the quote above — Jude names the scoffers and the ungodly as the source of division within the church. They are worldly and without the Spirit.

But what does Jude suggest as a response to these people who divide and disrupt the church?

Build each other up. Pray in the Holy Spirit. Keep each other in the love of God. Wait for the mercy of Jesus Christ.

We are exhorted to have mercy on those who waver and are led astray by false teaching and have mercy on those caught up in sin, even as we hate the defilement of the sin itself.

Fight for the faith, I hear Jude teaching, by being disciples of our Lord and Savior.

Healing on the Sabbath #LukeActs2014

One Sabbath, when Jesus went to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee, he was being carefully watched. There in front of him was a man suffering from abnormal swelling of his body. Jesus asked the Pharisees and experts in the law, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?” But they remained silent. So taking hold of the man, he healed him and sent him on his way. Then he asked them, “If one of you has a child or an ox that falls into a well on the Sabbath day, will you not immediately pull it out?” And they had nothing to say. (Luke 14:1-6, NIV)

This is merely another statement of the Parable of the Good Samaritan, is it not? In that parable, we are often told of the pious motives of the priest and the Levite who pass by on the other side. It is not cold indifference that causes them to avoid the man in the ditch but a misunderstanding of the relative importance of mercy and piety.

Piety is good. Prayer is good, and we are commanded and counseled to do it. Studying the scriptures is good. Worship is good and necessary. But if mercy calls, then we are to lay aside piety for the moment.

John Wesley touches on this theme in his sermon “On Zeal.” He puts it this way:

But he should be more zealous for the ordinances of Christ than for the church itself; for prayer in public and private; for the Lord’s supper, for reading, hearing, and meditating on his word; and for the much-neglected duty of fasting. These he should earnestly recommend; first, by his example; and then by advice, by argument, persuasion, and exhortation, as often as occasion offers.

Thus should he show his zeal for works of piety; but much more for works of mercy; seeing “God will have mercy and not sacrifice,” that is, rather than sacrifice. Whenever, therefore, one interferes with the other, works of mercy are to be preferred. Even reading, hearing, prayer are to be omitted, or to be postponed, “at charity’s almighty call;” when we are called to relieve the distress of our neighbour, whether in body or soul.

I see such teaching of Jesus and such interpretations as Wesley’s sometimes get stretched to abolish all sense of the laws or commands of God. We are told that since Jesus requires mercy rather than sacrifice that the law does not apply or that any particular breach of the law of God that we can frame as a mercy issue is okay.

Here, at least, is Wesley’s response to such arguments:

Those, indeed, who are still dead in trespasses and sins have neither part nor lot in this matter; nor those that live in any open sin, such as drunkenness, Sabbath-breaking, or profane swearing. These have nothing to do with zeal; they have no business at all even to take the word in their mouth. It is utter folly and impertinence for any to talk of zeal for God, while he is doing the works of the devil. But if you have renounced the devil and all his works, and have settled it in your heart, I will “worship the Lord my God, and him only will I serve,” then beware of being neither cold nor hot; then be zealous for God.

For Wesley at least, the point here is that to go through pious motions while neglecting mercy makes all our piety an abomination:

Do you follow the example of your Lord, and prefer mercy even before sacrifice? Do you use all diligence in feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting them that are sick and in prison? And, above all, do you use every means in your power to save souls from death? If, as you have time, “you do good unto all men,” though “especially to them that are of the household of faith,” your zeal for the church is pleasing to God: but if not, if you are not “careful to maintain good works,” what have you to do with the church? If you have not “compassion on your fellow-servants,” neither will your Lord have pity on you. “Bring no more vain oblations.” All your service is “an abomination to the Lord.”

This is a framework for a Wesleyan reading of these verses from Luke 14. My takeaway is this. Worship, prayer, fasting, study of scripture, and all the other spiritual disciplines that we commend and practice for good reason should never be used as an excuse to ignore the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of other people. Indeed, to pray with great fervor or fast rigorously while your fellow creatures are in need is to make your prayers repugnant to God.

This is not, of course, the only reading we might make of this text. But it is one that we United Methodists should not ignore, even if we ultimately disagree with it.

Those without voices

I wanted to share this story. It is from a man named Neil Alberson. When I first met him, he was the head custodian at the First United Methodist Church in Bloomington. I count him as one of my spiritual mentors.

Four years ago, he left Indiana to respond to a call to be among the poor in Guatemala. He’s coming back to Indiana this Easter. He shared in a e-mail today this report of his ministry:

On Jan. 1st I moved out of my gated community with it’s guardian, gardener, house keeper, beautiful grounds, modern appliances, etc. to some thing more rustic the average rent being from $20 to $ 30 a month and even that is a struggle for some to pay. It’s been a good experience and a thing I felt compelled to do. I can’t really say why except  the walls bothered me …. to serve the poor and yet be in a place where I was for the most part sheltered and isolated from the very people I believe God has called me to share my life with.

As you may recall in my last news letter, (of too long ago) I have in the course of things helped start an AA meeting, and then out of that started an Al anon type meeting that is named La Casa de Paz or the House of Peace. It’s designed for family members of alcoholics who suffer in abusive situations. Machismo fueled by alcohol is a powerful foe to battle here, especially when your all alone in your own shame. The majority are from very poor and humble places. have little in the way of education, power, money, or influence of any kind, and are for the most part destitute apart from the grace of God. There is little in the way of a safety net here to get food, rent or mental health aid. Due to years of abuse, there are those who have little or no power to even speak, the emotions that seem to rule them are of helplessness, depression, and hopelessness. There are those so plundered, body, soul, and spirit of even their identities, that even if they had a voice they don’t even believe any one would want to hear it. These are the voiceless poor, the prisoners of there own silence, and they are our most honored members. Their stories are the most important for they are yet to be told.

Out of this I’ve written a little book for our number. It’s been a work of faith as less than half of our group can read at all, the highest grade we have is the third, and for most Spanish is not their first language. Every week they amaze me when we get together as they quietly smile and laugh …… and I am blessed by them in ways no words can express.

I read this and thought of all the stories that are yet to be told in the neighborhoods around the churches I serve. I also thanked God for Neil’s ministry.