You Are What You Eat – Norman Wirzba

Norman Wirzba, in addition to being an author and professor at Duke Divinity, he is also an eco-theologian.

Raised on a farm in Southern Alberta, Norman went on to study history at the University of Lethbridge, theology at Yale University Divinity School, and philosophy at Loyola University Chicago. Since then he has taught at Saint Thomas More College/University of Saskatchewan, Georgetown College (KY), and Duke University Divinity School. He’s the father of four children and is married to Gretchen Ziegenhals. He likes to bake, cook and make things with wood. He also enjoys playing the guitar. He used to be a good athlete! He enjoys being outdoors and spending time with his family and friends. He tries to grow some food.

“According to Scripture, the world we live in is God’s creation. It is the visual, fragrant, audible, touchable, and tastable manifestation of God’s love, the place where God’s desire that others be and be well finds earthly expression.”


In the coming weeks we have interviews with Brad Todd, and Lisa Sharon Harper, Walter Brueggemann, and more!

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Eugene Peterson Reveals A Power Struggle

Over the past week the internet-church has been all a fluster when Jonathan Martin shared an interview he did with Eugene Peterson. Peterson is famously known for The Message translation of the Bible, which took the church’s sacred texts and made them widely understandable to the casual reader.

Here’s how it went down

Peterson begins responding to Martin’s question,

“You are Presbyterian, and your denomination has really been grappling with some of the hot button issues that we face as a culture. I think particularly of homosexuality and same-sex marriage. Has your view on that changed over the years? What’s your position on the morality of same-sex relationships?”

Peterson’s response,

“…I know a lot of people who are gay and lesbian and they seem to have as good a spiritual life as I do. I think that kind of debate about lesbians and gays might be over. People who disapprove of it, they’ll probably just go to another church.”

Martin’s follow up is where Peterson created a sticky-wicket for himself.

“If you were pastoring today and a gay couple in your church who were Christians of good faith asked you to perform their same-sex wedding ceremony, is that something you would do?”

Peterson’s response,

“Yes.”

And with Peterson’s “yes”, the conservative-evangelicals lost their minds, while at the same time, progressives began shouting for joy.

 

Lifeway Bookstore, affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention released the following in response:

 “We are attempting to confirm with Eugene Peterson or his representatives that his recent interview on same-sex marriage accurately reflects his views. If he confirms he does not hold to a biblical view of marriage, LifeWay will no longer sell any resources by him, including The Message.”

Twitter did not remain silent either:

Progressives were pretty happy too.

 

 

Just a few hours later the story changed. Peterson changed his position, saying,

Recently a reporter asked me whether my personal opinions about homosexuality and same-sex marriage have changed over the years. I presume I was asked this question because of my former career as a pastor in the Presbyterian Church (USA), which recently affirmed homosexuality and began allowing its clergy to perform same-sex weddings. Having retired from the pastorate more than 25 years ago, I acknowledged to the reporter that I “haven’t had a lot of experience with it.”

To clarify, I affirm a biblical view of marriage: one man to one woman. I affirm a biblical view of everything.


In less than 24 hours, Peterson revealed a few things.

First, the Church is still divided over human-sexuality.

For those of us in the UMC this is nothing new as we are awaiting the report from the Commission on the Way Forward. But while we wait, the divide is growing deeper as groups with the Wesley Covenant Association and Reconciling Ministries Network strategize for what they think is to come.

Second, the division over human-sexuality is not about sex. It’s about power.

I do not deny there are faithful readers of scripture who truly believe, and truly being an important word here, homosexuality is against God’s law. I do not happen to be one of those people, but for those who believe this as the result of study, prayer, and reflection I can at the least respect their position.

The problem is that many conservative-evangelicals are fighting against the rights of LGBT couples because there is power at stake. If conservative-evangelical leaders lose this fight, there is not another big ticket item for them. This is it.

And Peterson’s quick about-face on the issue shows how much power is being wielded in this debate blood-bath.

I use the term “blood-bath” for two reasons. One, those in the LGBT community, especially teens, are more at risk of suicide and self-harm than their straight counterparts. Blood is literally being spilled. According to the CDC, LGBT teenagers are 4x more likely to attempt suicide (2016. Sexual Identity, Sex of Sexual Contacts, and Health-Risk Behaviors Among Students in Grades 9-12: Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.).

Here’s a stat that underlines where the blood is being spilled in this struggle for power, according to The Family Acceptance Project, “LGB youth who come from highly rejecting families are 8.4 times as likely to have attempted suicide as LGB peers who reported no or low levels of family rejection.”  Churches are families. Close-knit churches are in my experience more family-like that some families. Telling LGBT teens that the were somehow “defectively” made by the same creator who made a sinful creature like me, is the ultimate way of exhorting power of a minority who has been fighting for equal-standing.

Two, when (because the time is coming) conservative-evangelicals lose this battle the only issue they will have left to defend in the church is guns. Again, literally a blood-bath (and this is a harder sell because Jesus wasn’t packing a concealed handgun during the sermon on the mount).

 

We saw the same thing when World-Vision pissed off conservative and progressive Christians in a similar manner.

This is not about Eugene Peterson being open and affirming. It’s about controlling the various mouthpieces the SBC and it’s allies control.

Finally, because the division is not over an issue but rather over who has the power, the division within the church over human-sexuality will take generations to resolve.

With more and more millennials throwing their arms in air, giving up the title of disciple for “none” or “done”, the damage being done by the SBC and others like it will take generations to undo. We have families who are already 3 generations removed from the church and while that might not scare those of us who see this as a time for revival in the church, the anti-LGBT attitudes should scare us all.

The Church is at a crossroads. Eugene Peterson’s flip-flop is nothing new, nor should we be overly excited over it. We should however see this as an opportunity to call out the struggle for power that conservative-evangelicals have been fighting over for decades. Peterson didn’t do anything new other than exposing conservative-evangelicals’ obsession over sex and power.

An Altar Call to Dust

Should the altar call come before or after the sermon? Is it better to be like the stars in the sky or the dust of the earth? These and more questions on this episode of Strangely Warmed.

This week’s lectionary texts are Genesis 28.10-19a, Isaiah 44.6-8, Romans 8.12-25, Matthew 13.24-30, 36-43


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The Sower

The parables of Jesus, aside from the Sermon on the Mount, are the most distinctive way Jesus taught his disciples. Parables in general would have been familiar to the disciples, along with the bystanders who were also listening to Jesus as he taught.  The parable of the sower, along with the rest of the parables in chapter 13 have shaped the way we speak of growing our faith and the way we think of the Kingdom of God.

Something that often aids us in understanding a story or teaching, is to acknowledge what the story and teaching is and is not.

Jesus’ parables are telling us who Jesus is not. Jesus is not proclaiming the Kingdom of God, using either military force or coercion. Jesus is not using these stories to mount an insurrection. Many of the first listeners to this parable were expecting the Kingdom of God to be ushered in with military force, mirroring the work the Maccabees started. Our parable this morning is not what the average listener would have been expecting, the stories are not out of reach, but are not what they. They are not what we expected.

Next, we need to know why these simple and distinctive stories are important. Parables provide us with tangible, real-life things to which we can compare areas of our faith. Parables take the hard-to-explain parts of life and make them a bit more explainable using metaphors most of us are familiar with. Parables often hit the listener with a counterintuitive conclusion, a jab to the gut, that parallels the counterintuitive nature of the Gospel – God dying for the ungodly.

If these stories are so important, what are we, 21st century listeners, missing out on that the first century listeners would have picked up on?

The metaphor used in this parable, the sowing of seeds, was a common metaphor used in the Hebrew Bible.

“The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will sow the house of Israel and the house of Judah with the seed of humans and the seed of animals. And just as I have watched over them to pluck up and break down, to overthrow, destroy, and bring evil, so I will watch over them to build and to plant, says the Lord.” – Jeremiah 31.27-28

“See now, I am for you; I will turn to you, and you shall be tilled and sow” – Ezekiel 36.9

Because Jesus is speaking to a first century Jewish audience, people would not have had access to written copies of their sacred texts, but the hearers of this teaching would have at the least been familiar with the metaphor Jesus chose to use. Furthermore, as farmers, many of them would have been intimately familiar with the practice of sowing.

Sowing is very different from the mechanical farming practices we use today, which is why there remains confusion in this text for 21st century hearers. Whereas today farmers utilize tools like seed-drills that precisely plant seeds, the practice of sowing was less accurate. Workers would take handfuls of seeds and cast them over a prepared area.  There would be some effort to place the seeds where they needed to go but this method was less than precise. Seeds would fall onto the fertile, prepared soil, but also would fall onto the rocky and thorny ground surrounding the fields.

On the surface, parables seem to be deceptively simple. On the surface, we think we how exactly what Jesus is talking about. Sowing seeds, growing our faith.  On the surface when we read this story we are drawn to thinking about which soil we are planting the seeds of our own faith. Are we planting on rocky ground, hearing the Word of God and then immediately jumping into action? If not that, maybe our lives are full of thorns, and upon hearing God’s word we do not fully understand what we are hearing because our lives are hostile towards God. Or maybe, we think, the seeds of faith we are planting are planted with precision into the fertile ground needed to grow faith in “a hundredfold”.

But Jesus was intentional in these stories, leaving ambiguity and confusion on the table. Later in chapter 13, after Jesus has shared his teachings, he asks the disciples, “have you understood all this?” The disciples response of “yes”, is a lie. Jesus intentionally left these parables with confusion, misdirection, and today many of us who are charged with preaching on this text are confused and misdirected.

Confusion and misdirection.

Is this story really about us?

Are we the sower?

The parable of the sower is more so about the sower and less about how we change our lives, creating good soil where the seeds of our faith can grow. The sower, God, will continue to cast seeds where God knows they will not grow. Or where they will grow but will later be scorched.

In the corporate world, results increase revenue, which increases company performance, which can increase our standing within the company.

In the church, as much as we hate to admit it, results are important as well. They determine which clergy are appointed where. Results determine the programs we choose to invest more financial resources into. Results determine where we choose to allocate volunteers and staff time.

We are captivated by results.

That should not be a big surprise to most of us as we live in a results driven world. We want plant the seeds of our faith in fertile soil. We want to help others do the same. We spend countless hours, and lets not forget a lot of financial resources, trying to help our communities do this. We record and track attendance and engagement. We produce reports, study the statistics, trying to figure out the secret recipe for good soil.

But if we read this parable closely, is that really whats going on? Is this story about the soil?

While we are captivated by results, God is not. If we read this parable closely we realize that God is sowing seeds, casting out the love and grace we all need in our lives, the love and grace we need to establish our faith, indiscriminately. God knows, even when we pretend otherwise, that when the seeds of love and grace, the seeds that establish deep roots of faith, that some seeds will not establish the roots necessary for a bountiful harvest.

God knows this, and still God, the Sower, continues to sow the fields.

God knows of our hostility towards the Gospel and still, the Sower sows the fields. God continues to bless us, Christ’s church, all the while knowing that our agendas, predisposition with results driven ministries, will cause some of the seeds to burn up or be eaten by the birds.

How are we hostile towards the Gospel?

Often times, we fail to listen to and hear God’s word because like Pharaoh, our hearts are hardened. We are unable to discern God’s calling, we are unable to see love and grace being sown in our lives because the Gospel is counterintuitive to world we are living in.

The early church faced this problem. Paul said this to the church in Rome, “For this people’s heart has grown dull, and their ears are hard of hearing, and they have shut their eyes; so that they might not look with their eyes, and listen with their ears, and understand with their heart and turn.”

We live in a time when many Christians, primarily, in the United States argue that the world has become hostile towards the Gospel. From removing the Ten Commandments from public squares and courtrooms, and banning students from praying in school (if we pray the way Jesus instructs us to in Matthew 6.5-6, in secret, can that really be banned?) to Sunday no longer being observed as the Sabbath for our communities there is a strong argument to be made in defense of the position that we as communities are becoming hostile to the Gospel. But if we take a deeper look at what Jesus is speaking of, we see that Jesus is not speaking in generalities. He is being specific. You and me. Not us or we.

We allow the superficiality of our lives and the vested interest we have in wealth, self-promotion, and prosperity to harden our hearts, hardening the ground around us. We are motived by greed, even when our best intentions tell us otherwise and still the Sower continues to sow. 

We fail to see God’s love for us.

We fail to see God’s love for those around us.

We fail to see God’s love for those who we think are unloveable.

We read this parable and think that we are the sower, sowing seeds in our own lives as well as the lives of those around us. We think, at times, that we are in control of our own justification and thus our own salvation. We think we can control whether or not we are sanctified before God, and that we can do likewise for those around us.

This parable tells us otherwise. This parable tells us that in the face our best efforts and failings, God is still sowing.

God is sowing seeds so that we will be liberated from the Evil One. Sowing seeds is God’s work of liberating us from a Captor. There’s more at stake than just our faith, growing in grace, and being acceptable to God. God sows in the face of an enemy. God knows there is competition for our hearts and still the Sower sows.

None of this is up to us to do on our own. The task of sowing seeds has not been left up to the church.  Changing the soil seeds are sown into is not something we can do on our own. The work of sowing seeds has always been and will never stop being God’s work. We participate in this work individual and as a community, trusting that God will work in and through us individually and collectively because once we have faith and are baptized into new life through Christ, we are Christ’s regardless of what your soil seems.


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Grace & Peace,

Teer

Yoked In Thankfulness

“But to what will I compare this generation” Jesus says.

This generation. That generation.

My generation. Your generation.

Their generation.

741 days ago, Allison, Camden, and I packed up all our belongings. We put all of Camden’s toys, Allison’s artwork, and all of my Weber grills into a large moving truck and left the D.C. area for good.

We left the beltway banter and bickering. We left the partisan divides that are run deeper than the biggest hole young preachers dig themselves into, and, that at times are downright nasty (and that was before the past presidential election really ramped up). We packed up our dearest possessions, making sure to leave room in the car for Rosie Penelope, our barely 18 pound beagle, and headed south.

It wasn’t soon after we arrived in Chesapeake that we learned the Tidewater/Hampton Roads area of Virginia is not unlike Northern Virginia. Yes, we learned that Chesapeake was voted the #3 most boring city in America, but we also realized that we traded the beltway banter and bickering in for backhanded Southern compliments, “oh bless your heart”, and that the deep partisan divides ran all the way down I-95, across I-64, and continued into what we thought would be a new home, far away from what our new church family referred to as, “the crazy D.C. life.” We learned quickly the “crazy D.C. life”, was not isolated to just D.C.

Now don’t get me wrong here, Allison, Camden, and I loved Chesapeake. And why wouldn’t we? We were just a short drive away from the beach, we had a great group of friends, and frankly Allison and I both were able to grow professionally in a new area. But still, it seemed like something followed us.

This generation.

That generation.

Living here.

Living there. Did anything really change?

Yes, we moved into a new house. Allison and I both had new jobs. Camden started a new school. And yes, even Rosie Penelope the beagle had a new yard to play in. But the climate of unhappiness and unthankfulness, the atmosphere of “more is more” and “I am right and you will always be wrong”, still seemed to weigh heavy on the day-to-day routines of everyone’s lives.

What I learned, what we learned in our move 741 days ago is that the human spirit is not easily, if ever, satisfied. 

Don’t believe me? Look at John the Baptizer. He was a holy man. He did everything by the book. He was ushering in, preparing the way for the Messiah, preparing the way for God’s reign to take control, and still John was called demon-possessed.

Even when we do everything by the book, the book of living a happy life that typically makes the New York Times Best Sellers list, we come up short. We will wait in line for hours to make sure we don’t miss the moment when sales begin for the latest and greatest devices, only to become unimpressed, less than happy with the very same thing that brought us so much joy a few months later.

We meet new friends, sometimes even church friends, and begin comparing our stuff to their stuff. Quickly realizing, we think, that they have found the secret to living the happy life we had read about in that New York Times book and immediately we have to act.

We are not easily satisfied.

I learned, and I think I had always known this but was wishfully thinking, that no matter where you go, either generation to generation or geographic location to location, there will be times when we simply refuse to see “the opposition” as having anything of value to say. We refuse to see people beyond their ideologies and political beliefs, to say nothing of their theology.

Let’s go a step farther. Even when we live the happy life outlined in whatever book or internet article we read most recently, we find that because we have found happiness this way, the people living that way must be wrong, and therefore they must assimilate into our way of thinking or else.

Or else they become the villain of our own happy life. They are possessed by a “demon”. They are the “drunkards”. 

Does this not challenge us? Why are we so unhappy?

What is so wrong that we cannot view someone that thinks differently from us as a beloved child of God, who has lungs filled with breath from the divine, and who was uniquely created by the same being who created us?

Why can’t we live with the childlike joy that so many of our children live with? The joy that we used to live with.

The joy our kids, my Camden, lives everyday with. Have you ever noticed that our children are the happiest when we, parents, grandparents, aunt and uncles, and family friends are offering them a gift? Better yet, if you have a teenager you know this well, when we take a burden, a chore, or responsibility off the shoulders of our child?

Every time I return from a trip, every time without fail, Camden will greet me at the door, throwing his arms around me, shouting, “Thank you for coming home daddy”.

Or when I get home late from a church meeting and I go into Camden’s room to tuck him in, grabbing me by the shirt to pull me in close for a hug he will say, “I knew you’d tuck me in!” (with a smile from ear to ear).

These childlike responses are no different from what Jesus is talking about in verse 17, “We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn”. Or this way, there were opportunities to have fun and live as a part of the community but you were too busy with your agendas and dissatisfaction.

“Well Teer” some might say, “we’ve been out in the world, we know how bad it is out there. Our childlike wonder disappeared with our childhood as we grew up to see the world for what it is.”

I will concede here that some of that statement is true. Yes, there is evil in the world. Evil so vile and repugnant that it makes the best of us throw our hands up and look the the heavens shouting, “HEY GOD, A LITTLE HELP DOWN HERE!”

Can I get a little help down here? Sure.

Jesus, God incarnate, came into this world, taking on human flesh. Jesus walked the earth, had friends, ministered to countless people, was killed, rose from the dead, and ascended.

God did that. So when we are looking up to the heavens, bellowing out that it seems all hope is lost, we have Jesus who offers us His yoke. God is offering us the help that we say is so far out of reach.

To receive this yoke, to have God walking alongside us, requires that we look at the community around us just like a child looks at the world, viewing the world full of hope and thankfulness.

Imagine for just a moment, how dramatically things would change if we, as disciples of the risen and ascended Christ, looked at the world with the view made possible by the resurrection and ascension of Jesus?

Even more, how would this attitude change the world?

“I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.”

Living thankful lives, not lives of despair, beltway banter and bickering, leads us then to living in a constant state of prayer.

John Wesley said this on the matter,

“Thanksgiving is inseparable from true prayer; it is almost essentially connected with it. One who always prays is ever giving praise, whether in ease or pain, both for prosperity and for the greatest adversity. He blesses God for all things, looks on them as coming from God, and receives them for God’s sake- not choosing nor refusing, liking or disliking, anything, but only as it is agreeable or disagreeable to God’s perfect will.”

Even when we pray for our greatest adversity, whether that adversity be a person, issue of the day, or personal situation, we are presented the opportunity to be thankful to God when we go to God in prayer.

Is this what Paul meant when he tells us to pray without ceasing?

And, in by doing this, we can rise above what every generation has gone through, and truly live a life of thankfulness.

Prayer is a way for us to yoke ourselves alongside Christ.  The Son of God is offering to come alongside us, to share the load so that we can keep moving forward. We can keep moving forward being fathers and mothers, sisters and brothers, friends and neighbors, and people who have committed to living lives together, living as a witness to the resurrected Christ.

All of this, however, is countercultural from what we are told. A life of prayerful thanksgiving is contrary to what you and I read about in those New York Times best selling books. Instead of being thankful, we are supposed to be living in fear. Living in a fear that not only cripples us but then leads us to a state of unwillingness to see one another as the divinely created beings that we all are.

We are living this mindset out right now, are we not, in the United Methodist Church. Not a mindset of prayerful thanksgiving but instead becoming fearful of the “other side” as we seek ways to move forward as a global denomination. This attitude of fear is something I hear constantly as I talk with clergy colleague and friends.

Attitudes of fear paralyze us, while an attitude of prayer, an attitude that yokes us alongside Jesus, keeps us moving forward. Thankful prayer does not just give us the opportunity to possibly move forward. No, an attitude of thankful prayer keeps us moving forward, even while we feel like and it seems like there is no way forward.

The beauty of this is we only need to yoke ourselves alongside Jesus, his yoke is not a burden. Discipleship is not a heavy thing.

Our life, in all of its complexity, burden, and fear is now in God. So maybe the only way Jesus’ yoke feels light, because lets remember that forgiving someone 77 times isn’t all that easy, is knowing that by grace, and grace alone, we are incorporated into God through Christ Jesus.

In other words, while the yoke of Jesus seems light and easy to carry, it’s not. But because our own failings, fears, and bickering are part of our story, and because of Jesus our story is enfolded into God’s story, the yoke is a relief. A rest provided to us by God.

Yoked with Jesus, we do not have to carry the burden generations before us carried, Jesus is offering us a new way. The burden once carried is now replaced by grace and by grace alone.

Rather than a laundry list of things we have to worry about, a list of things we need to make sure those people are not doing, instead we now have two things to do: “love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind… love your neighbor as yourself.” That’s it. That’s the cost of the yoke.

The burden of discipleship is light because of the risen and ascended Christ and in the midst of our own fear God is present. Is that not Good News?

Urban Theology & The Lewis Center

On the latest episode of Crackers & Grape Juice, Morgan and I caught up with Wesley Theological Seminary Professor Dr. Doug Powe. We had a conversation about urban theology and ways churches can rally together in times when most UM churches are trying to brace for what is to come.

I find it interesting in our conversation that when it comes to larger churches helping small churches, either in urban or suburban contexts, we (Morgan & I) immediately went to financial support. While financial support is definitely something we need to examine there are many other ways for these necessary partnerships to manifest themselves. Often the financial partnerships lead to awkward relationships where one party feels as though they owe something to the other. This is not how the body of Christ is supposed operate.

Dr. Powe also recently took over as the Director of the Lewis Center For Church Leadership. The Lewis Center is the premier resource for church leadership. Whether you need help with a stewardship campaign or are looking for ideas and resources for evangelism, the Lewis Center has you covered.

From the Lewis Center:

We are pleased to announce that effective July 1, the Rev. Dr. F. Douglas Powe, Jr., will become the Director of the Lewis Center for Church Leadership. We are equally pleased that founding director Dr. Lovett H. Weems, Jr., will remain on the Lewis Center staff as Senior Consultant to write, teach, and consult with denominational leaders.

Learn more about this transition in the video below.

 


In the coming weeks we have interviews with David Bentley Hart, Norman Wirzba, Brad Todd, and Lisa Sharon Harper.

Click the images below and subscribe to the Crackers & Grape Juice Podcast. We promise to provide you with theological conversations without stained glass language. For the love of all that is holy: Give us a review there in the iTunes store, Stitcher, or on Spreaker. It’ll make it more likely more strangers and pilgrims will happen upon our meager podcast.

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Freedom, Favorite Tag Teams, Pledges To Open Worship & Flags In The Sanctuary

I’ve been listening to the Homebrewed Christianity Podcast for as long as I can remember. OK, honestly probably since 2012. Tripp Fuller’s sweet vocals and zesty theological gems have been flowing through my ears buds on trails, airplanes, and in the gym. It’s only natural that when given the opportunity to be on the podcast that I’ve been listening to for so long that I’d jump on the chance. Little did I know we’d be talking about freedom, WWF tag teams, and flags.

HBC meets C&GJ @ Theology Beer Camp – LA

Jason and I were guests on the acclaimed Homebrewed Christianity Podcast to celebrate our nation’s independence and freedom.  Jason reminds us that freedom is not free and freedom from restraint, but instead freedom for Christians is the freedom to be “free for others and free to be fully shaped into the image of Christ.”

We touch base on smashing the idols of the 4th of July, turning your sanctuary into the lobby of the U.N., and our favorite wrestling tag teams of yester-year.

I may have derailed the conversation a bit with my late arrival. We know that freedom is only found in Christ but more often than not we allow fear of stepping out of the shadow of the empire to freely worship Christ. We often trade the liturgy of the church, or the story represented by the Table, for the liturgy of the nation. While the liturgy of the nation is not inherently bad it should not overshadow or take precedence over our shared liturgy with Christ.

Loving our nation is secondary to our call to attentive discipleship. Being a good citizen, as Tripp points out, is being a good citizen of the Kingdom of God as well as the nation in which you live.

Click here or on the image below to listen to the episode.


Get ready for all the freedom, liberty, and patriotic stuff you can handle! Jason Micheli and Teer Hardy from the Crackers & Grape Juice Podcast.

In this episode the Hauerwasian Mafia sent one of its Drill Sergeants, Jason, to talk about the predicament of faith, freedom, and the conflicting calls to allegiance that color the American landscape.

We hope your Independence Day grilling time enjoys this conversation. Word up.

 

Opened Hearts. Opened Minds. Opened Doors.

This morning’s scripture from Matthew is a preachers dream. A few weeks ago when I began preparing for our first week together, trying to get ahead of things before our move from Chesapeake to Arlington, I read these lines from Matthew’s Gospel and thought to myself, “thank you Jesus!”

“Those who receive you are also receiving me, and those who receive me are receiving the one who sent me.”

Or those who receive me and also receiving Jesus, and those who are receiving Jesus also receive God, the one who sent Jesus.

This is a preachers dream come true.

This is the prefect text for this first Sunday of my ministry at Mount Olivet. It’s like the organizers of the lectionary, the three-year cycle of scripture that helps communities read through the whole narrative of scripture, knew that on this Sunday, July 2nd, pastors across the conference would be preaching their first sermons in their new churches. It’s like the organizers of the lectionary knew that I’d be with you here this morning.

When we are receiving someone, we are engaging in the act of welcoming. In order to receive something, whether that something be a real, living person, or perhaps another Amazon Prime box from UPS, the separation that once existed between us goes away. Upon our act of receiving we are welcoming that person, or object, into our lives. Just as they or it are.

And this plays out perfectly for us, does it not?

Part of our charge as disciples of Jesus is to make more disciples so that we can transform the world, sharing the Good News with the world, being a light to the world, the light of Christ. We are part of a multi-billion member, global organization, that was and is charged by the Giver of All Life to transform the world.

Taking it a step further, we are part of the Methodist family, specifically the United Methodist Church, where our slogan is “Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors.” Have you heard that slogan before?

The slogan of the United Methodist Church pairs perfectly with our scripture this morning. Matthew’s writing tells us welcoming someone, anyone, is the same as welcoming Jesus and thus God. And with our open hearts, open minds, open doors in the UMC, it’s hard to not see the correlation between what Jesus said and what our denomination advertises.

This morning’s scripture from Matthew is a first Sunday at a new appointment, his first appointment, preachers dream.

From the first time I drove by Mount Olivet to just the other evening when Allison, Camden, and I were taking Rosie P. For a walk I could tell this church and the surrounding community is ready to receive others in the name of Jesus. From the sign in the parking lot, “A Welcoming Congregation” and the signs throughout the neighborhood letting all people know they are welcomed neighbors, to the church’s Facebook banner, “Inclusive. Life-changing. Serving.” This church and its members have proclaimed to the community and the world that you are ready to receive anyone in the name of Jesus. I found out those words become reality each month during community assistance. We saw that this past week with VBS as children were invited to take over the church and learn more about Jesus, and my family has seen it as you’ve welcomed us into your community.

Our text this morning from Matthew is typically a rallying cry from pastors to their churches, imploring them for the need to welcome everyone who walks into the church, and that’s good. I think we can all acknowledge the new people into the life of the church is a good thing to do.

But the problem is, the problem with the lections for thisa Sunday is that they are not limited to just the Gospel reading. There are 2 Old Testament readings, 2 Psalter readings, the Gospel reading, and an Epistle reading.

And that’s where this morning’s scripture being a preachers dream come true on his first Sunday at his first appointment, to now getting complicated.

The problem is that we no longer live in a world where people are beating down the doors of the church to get in. Our post-Christiandom ministry field requires us to re-think, re-examine, the techniques and methods of evangelism that worked so well when the church was at the center of each community.

That’s where Paul’s letter to the church in Rome helps us this morning, Romans chapter 6.12-17:

“So then, don’t let sin rule your body, so that you do what it wants. Don’t offer parts of your body to sin, to be used as weapons to do wrong. Instead, present yourselves to God as people who have been brought back to life from the dead, and offer all the parts of your body to God to be used as weapons to do right. Sin will have no power over you, because you aren’t under Law but under grace.

So what? Should we sin because we aren’t under Law but under grace? Absolutely not! Don’t you know that if you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, that you are slaves of the one whom you obey? That’s true whether you serve as slaves of sin, which leads to death, or as slaves of the kind of obedience that leads to righteousness. But thank God that although you used to be slaves of sin, you gave wholehearted obedience to the teaching that was handed down to you, which provides a pattern.”

Paul continues in verse 18:

“Once, you offered the parts of your body to be used as slaves to impurity and to lawless behavior that leads to still more lawless behavior. Now, you should present the parts of your body as slaves to righteousness, which makes your lives holy.”

The problem with our United Methodist sales pitch of “Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors,” is that we think that just by having this printed on advertising materials we somehow now welcoming, ready and willing to receive anyone who walks through our doors.

But what happens after a person or family walks in, and then the honeymoon period is over? What happens after we’ve welcomed someone in and we realize that he, they, she, think differently that we do? Maybe their theology isn’t as Wesleyan as we’d like it to be. Maybe they’re too conservative or not enough. They could be too liberal. Maybe they love the wrong person or have made some decisions in their life that you or I would never make.

When the honeymoon period is over, we forget that we’ve been brought back to life from death by Christ. We forget that as disciples charged with living a righteous life that we need to be aware of our own individual tendencies that allow sin to take power over the relationships we have with those whom we’ve committed to living together with in a faith community.

If we are truly going to live as a church with “Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors,” truly being welcoming, and anxiously awaiting the opportunity to receive new disciples of Jesus Christ, then we need to understand that because our relationships with one another, those sitting next to us and upstairs are a witness the the community declaring that our hearts, minds, and doors have been opened. This is what Jesus is talking about, and Paul then elaborates on, tells us that receiving one another with grace just as we are, as people who sinned this morning, will do so tomorrow, and the day after is the same way we are received by the One who receives everyone.

Grace is at the center of what we do as disciples of Jesus and why I love our Wesleyan theology. We know that we have the love of God given to us without cost, given preveniently, and we know that when we accept the grace offered to us but Christ that we are justified before God, and can then move towards sanctification. We know that for ourselves and but how often are we affording grace to one another?

Our witness to the community, the invitation of welcome to a new life in Christ, comes from the way we love one another.

Our slogan of “Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors,” is empty if we do not live out the same attitude with one another.

If we understood receiving and welcoming as our having been welcomed unnaturally by God in Christ our slogan would be “Opened Hearts. Opened Minds. Opened Doors.”

The Hardest Interview We’ve Done So Far

I am the father of a three-year old boy. Most of you know that by now. A few weeks ago, Jason and I interviewed Jason Jones for the newest episode of Crackers & Grape Juice.

Jason Jones is not a pastor. He does not run a ministry. He’s a CFO. That’s right, the profession that most people we interview would not what to do, Jason does it. He lives in Texas with his wife and daughters. Why then would a podcast about faith, specifically Christianity, want to talk to a Texas based CFO?

Jason Jones is the author of Limping But Blessed: Wrestling with God after the Death of a Child, part of the Theology for the People series from Fortress.

There in lies why this was the hardest interview we’ve done so far. Jason Jones speaks with raw authenticity, explaining how his faith was not ready for the sudden and tragic death of his son. To be completely honest, I haven’t finished reading Limping But Blessed: Wrestling with God after the Death of a Child. I plan to but much like Cancer is Funny, I’ll need to read it a little bit at a time.

 


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Rod Dreher & The Benedict Option

Last week we had David Fitch on the podcast to talk about his book, Faithful Presence: Seven Disciplines That Shape the Church for Mission. This week’s episode about the Benedict Option is the yin to David’s yang.

When Jason first told me Rod Dreher (that’s right, THAT Rod Dreher) of The American Conservative had agreed to come onto Crackers & Grape Juice honestly I had no idea who the guy ways (sorry Rod). After a quick Google search and reading an excert of his new book, The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation, I was convinced this conversation was going to go one of two ways: milk-toast boring or a shouting match where I was playing referee between Rod, Jason, and maybe Morgan.

While I don’t agree with everything Rod wrote or spoke about in book or on the podcast I can tell you I appreciate the sincerity with which he spoke.

As Jason put it, “Rod Dreher turned out to be a wonderfully kind and thoughtful guy. His book turned out to be one that could have easily been written by my muse Stanley Hauerwas. And the dust jacket it turns out wasn’t written by him at all.”

And here in-lies the problem we are facing today in the church and in the large ings or society. We are completely unwilling to consider that someone else’s point of view, theology, beliefs, or whatever you want to call it might be acceptable. We want to move on with the idea that the other side is wrong and that we are right, and because of this, we must degrade, belittle, and embarrass those with whom we do not agree with in the public arena.

I’ll be the first the say I don’t think it is a good idea for the Church to retreat at a time where Jesus is desperately needed. I don’t think the Benedict Option is a good option, but it is an option, and at the least, we might be able to learn something from it.

If you will be at the Annual Conference of the Virginia Annual Conference of the UMC, please consider joining us for Pub Theology on June 15th at Bull Island Brewing Company. This is the unofficial kickoff party for Annual Conference.  This year’s theme will be ‘Fatih and Political Engagement’ with special guest, the profane and profound Dr. Jeffrey Pugh, author of the new book The Home-Brewed Christianity Guide to the End Times: Theology After You’ve Been Left Behind.  Live music will be provided by the Clay Mottley Band. Food will be available on site.

Let us know you’re joining us by registering for the event. There is a $5 admission fee to offset the cost of the event.


Click the images below and subscribe to the Crackers & Grape Juice Podcast. We promise to provide you with theological conversations without stained glass language. For the love of all that is holy: Give us a review there in the iTunes store, Stitcher, or on Spreaker. It’ll make it more likely more strangers and pilgrims will happen upon our meager podcast.

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