Category: Bible


On Tuesday night I began to jot down a few notes about Mother’s Day.  I didn’t intend to post them…until Wednesday afternoon.  While eating lunch with several staff persons on Wednesday the senior pastor said to me, “Oh yeah, I forgot to tell you: You need to acknowledge the oldest and youngest mothers at the 9:00a worship service on Sunday.”  Before he could get out another word I responded in exuberant and honest haste, “You can forget about that!”  He laughed; I calmed down.  “I knew that would get to you,” he joked.  He was right.  (So below are a few incomplete thoughts…!)  

I grew up in a church with two Mother’s Day rituals: 1) the “oldest/youngest/most times a mother/most children present” mothers were awarded flowers, and 2) all willing and able men sang “Church in the Wildwood” during the special music moment.  The service always had a certain innocent charm.

But something seemed amiss.  You could see some women fidget in their seats.  I always felt a strange twinge of uneasiness during the service.

I always wondered how the celebration of motherhood affected some in the pews:

– the woman who desperately wanted a child but could not conceive?

– the woman who lost a child during pregnancy or delivery?

– the son or daughter who was celebrating the first mother’s day without mom?

– the child whose mother abused or abandoned him or her?

– the person whose memory of “mom” is more painful than heartwarming?

For people who have been told Leave it to Beaver motherhood is the norm (we’re looking at you, Hallmark), I can only imagine that they are not looking for the church to reinforce that myth.   How painful some silly celebration might be for those unable, though desperately wanting, to be a candidate.  (Is it not God, the parent of all, whom worship is all about anyways?)

Is eliminating such moments from worship too pandering, too much trying to meet the needs of all?  Perhaps.  And it’s true that the Church must say something meaningful and compelling about parenthood and families.  We should celebrate those who have nurtured and loved us.  But the reality is that parenthood and families are not one-size-fits-all entities.  Families are different, unique, and messy.  Mothers – and those who wish to be – come from a variety of social locations.  We must be aware that motherhood – or lack thereof – means different things to the women in the pews.

On Mother’s Day I like to think of Mary, the mother of Jesus.  She carried Jesus for nine months in her womb.  She was there when he was born…and when he died.  I imagine she held him, cooed at him, and giggled with him.  She taught him to talk and set the table.  I like to think that she corrected and reprimanded him when necessary.  She counseled; she loved; she nurtured.

When Jesus was young, Mary took him to the Temple where Simon told her that a “sword will pierce your own soul too” (Luke 2:35).  Can you imagine living with those words echoing in your mind?  Years earlier she told the angel that announced Jesus’ birth, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).  Of course, at that moment she was speaking of her conception by the Spirit, but what trust, what faith, what commitment.  Think of the beauty of Mary’s openness to God to “let it be.”  (This is not a fatalistic “let it be.”  But rather, a trusting in the grace and goodness of God “let it be.”)

Very few words in Methodist literature are devoted to Mary.  If she is mentioned at all it usually comes in the way of saying, “See Apostles’ Creed and Nicene Creed,’ which state that Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of a virgin.  Perhaps Mother’s Day is a day to think of Mary in all of her fullness and beauty.  To put aside differences in the doctrines of the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption, and to ponder in our hearts her commitment, obedience, and trust.  To be reminded of her openness to being a vessel for God’s glory.  I suppose it is some folks’ Protestant desire to not be Catholic that leads them away from spending time with Mary.  What a shame.  Thinking of Mary more often and more intimately would do our souls good – our longing, fearful, and thirsty souls.

What would it look like to love God with one of the most precious gifts God has given – our body.   How might we engage our five sense in loving God?  Is this how we might embody Jesus’ command to love God with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind?  A few days ago we said something about our eyes; then our ears, then our hands and feet, then our mouth, now our nose… 

The nose is an interesting part of God’s creation.  Some noses are large with twists, crooks, and humps.  Others are petite, unobtrusive, and barely noticeable.  All noses, however, serve wonderful and important purposes.  Our noses inform us that a delicious meal is cooking in the kitchen.  We use our noses to enjoy the pleasure that comes from fresh-cut flowers.  Noses alert us to danger such as smoke or gas.  For some, noses fulfill a role that only they can – our noses hold our eyeglasses in place.

When we read the story of Jesus’ anointing we can engage our noses in the scene.  We can imagine the smells emanating from around the table (Lk. 7:36-50).  The small of fresh baked bread rises from the table.  The salty and cool Mediterranean breeze fills the house.  Perhaps the men are sweaty from a laborious day of work.  And then a woman enters with an alabaster of jar of ointment.  As she cracks open the jar and pours the contents on Jesus’ feet the sweet aroma wafts up from the dust.  The smell is strong but sweet, intense yet pleasing.  However, she seems to be wasting the expensive perfume.  She pours more and more upon Jesus’ feet, weeping and kissing his feet.  The aroma is overwhelming and attractive.  Those gathered around the table are indignant at the seeming wastefulness of the woman, but they are nonetheless drawn to the sweet smell.

Sweet smelling things draw our attention.  We are attracted to pleasant fragrances.  What if we, Christians, were like a sweet smelling fragrance?  What if we, the Church, clothed ourselves with the aroma of Christ in a world polluted by sour and stingy odors?  (Have you smelled the stink of corporate greed lately?  Or the repugnant scent of prejudice?  Or the vile fumes of violence?)

Quite interestingly, Paul calls us to be just that, the aroma of Christ.  Paul writes to the Corinthian church, “But thanks be to God, who always leads us as captives in Christ’s triumphal procession and uses us to spread the aroma of the knowledge of him everywhere.  For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing” (2 Cor. 2:15-16).

We, the Church, are the aroma of Christ.  We take in the lovely fragrance of the candles, hymns, and words of worship on Sunday mornings, and we go into the world emanating that same scent.  Through our actions and voices we give off a pleasant and acceptable aroma.  God calls for our business decisions, our relationships, and our day-to-day living to cast an aroma that draws, and does not repel, people to Christ.  God wishes to woo all people to God’s self. Perhaps we too, the Church, are the pleasing aroma that woos, entices, and attracts a sullied world.

Let us be the aroma of Christ.

What would it look like to love God with one of the most precious gifts God has given – our body.   Is this one way to embody Jesus’ command to love God with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind?  A few days ago we said something about our eyes; then our ears, then our hands and feet, now our mouths…

Taste and see that the Lord is good

In one of his most important works, the 20th century German theologian Karl Barth wrote of the “strange new world within the bible.”  He suggested that we should not read the bible like we read the daily newspapers or the New York Times bestsellers.  Yes, the bible is only a book, but yet it so much more.  The bible contains the words of God, words that tell of God’s love.  The bible reveals God’s heart, a heart that is most visible in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

When we read scripture we often think, “How pleasant.  How lovely.  How uplifting.” And the Bible certainly is!  Jesus speaks of rest, redemption, forgiveness – the very things we need so desperately in our world.  But then we read further and think, “How demanding!  Is Jesus serious?”  Jesus says wonderfully comforting things like, “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Lk. 12:32).  And then he immediately adds in the next sentence, “Sell all your possessions, and give to the needy” (Lk. 12:33).  Jesus comforts the tired and weary, and then demands cross-bearing of all disciples.  Jesus offers rest and then calls us to action.  The words of Jesus are so sweet, and yet after further digestion they seem bitter, daunting, and challenging.

A view of Patmos from the cave where tradition says John wrote Revelation

John, writing the book of Revelation from the island of Patmos has a similar response to the words offered to him by an angel.  He writes, “So I went to the angel and asked him to give me the little scroll. He said to me, “Take it and eat it. It will turn your stomach sour, but ‘in your mouth it will be as sweet as honey.’  I took the little scroll from the angel’s hand and ate it. It tasted as sweet as honey in my mouth, but when I had eaten it, my stomach turned sour” (Rev. 10:9-10).

Why might the words of scripture, even the words we cling to in tough moments, seem unsettling over time?  Perhaps the change comes when we realize that the bible doesn’t simply say back to us the things we think we know.  So often, we fashion its words in ways that are pleasing and acceptable to us – sweet to us, we might say.  But then we realize that the strange world of the bible doesn’t simply echo back to us our own prejudices, biases, and presuppositions.  The bible provides us new words, new meanings, and a new way of speaking and living.

Like John, we take in the words of scripture, chewing on them, digesting them, allowing them to transform our lives.  And then, as Barth wrote, “The spirit of God will and must break forth from quiet hearts into the world outside, that it may be manifest, visible, and comprehensible…The Holy Spirit makes a new heaven and new earth and, therefore, new [wo]men, new families, new relationships, new politics.”

“Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.”  – Psalm 34:8

Yesterday, we asked…What would it look like to love God with one of the most precious gifts God has given – our body.   Is this one way to embody Jesus’ command to love God with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind?  Yesterday we said something about our eyes; today we turn to our ears…

Those who have ear let them hear

In the book of Revelation John provides an interesting image of God’s voice.  For John, God’s voice is something to be heard and seen.  John hears God’s voice “like a trumpet,” but then he turns to also “see” God’s voice speaking to him.  What must it have been like to hear the voice of God?  To see God’s voice?

If we’re honest with ourselves, we are often skeptical of God’s voice.  How and why would God speak to us?  We’ve never heard, much less seen, God’s voice.  At the very least, we relegate God’s voice to ages past.  God speaking was something that happened long ago.  God spoke to Abraham and Moses, Isaiah and Jeremiah.  God called out to Mary and Paul.  But God’s voice – whether seen or heard – was for some other people in some other place at some other time.

But has God really stopped speaking?  Has the voice of God gone silent?  Has God’s voice, both it’s sound and it’s beauty, really been lost for our day?  Surely not.  Perhaps it’s not God’s voice that has grown quiet.  Maybe it’s our ears that have failed.  Could it be that our ears are directed elsewhere?  Are our ears too full of the noise that surrounds us?  Are our ears too busy?

If you’re like me, everywhere you go noise is being pumped into your ears.  The radio in the car blasts music and ranting talk show hosts.  The television in the living room drones with noise.  The cell phone (or bluetooth headset) is held tightly to our ears and mouth.  The iPod earbud wires dangle from our ears.  We are “plugged in” people.  We are people with busy ears.

Could it be, we are so “in touch” (with one another) that we are not “in touch” (with God).  We are so plugged in to our social and professional networks that we are not plugged and tuned in to God.

God wishes to speak to us.  God calls us, sometimes loudly, sometimes softly.  At times God’s voice comes as a loud trumpet, echoing in our ears and springing us into action.  Other times God’s call is subtler, gentler.  It is as that favorite hymn proclaims, “Softly and tenderly Jesus is calling, calling for you and for me.”  God desires to reach us; to let us know God is thinking of us; to let us know God loves us.  God is our calling shepherd, and we are God’s listening flock.

Those who have ears let them hear.

Sharing the eyes of God

I have always puzzled over Jesus’ high command to the lawyer in Luke 10.  Jesus instructs him,”You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself.”  What does it look like to love God with our heart?  How does the soul love?  With what strength – biceps and triceps(?) – are we to love God?  What happens in the mind when it loves?

Of course, part of  the significance of Jesus’ answer to the lawyer  is it’s capturing of the essence of the 10 Commandments, to love God and love neighbor.  Jesus is also quoting Deuteronomy 6:5, a command that would have been familiar to the lawyer and other Jews of the day.  (Isn’t it strange how we often think of Jesus as purely original, as if he was the first to say such profound, true, and meaningful things?)

I wonder if Jesus meant – in a frank, down-home, charming way – we’re to “love God with all we got?”  With whatever energy we can muster. With whatever sensibilities we can direct to God and neighbor.  With all the thoughts and passions we can cultivate in glory to God.  We’re to love God with any gift God has given, at any time we can, and in any place we can.

So…what about the gift of our body…or our senses…

Seeing as God sees

The story of Samuel’s search for a king is telling of God’s vision.  God has grown weary of Saul as king, and sends Samuel to Jesse’s house in search of a new king (1 Sam. 16:1-13).  As Jesse’s sons trot out before the search committee, Samuel is sure he will be able to spot the new king.  He assumes the new king will be tall, good-looking, and commanding.

But as the first son approaches, the words of the Lord come to Samuel: “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature.”  Several more sons pass before Samuel, but they are not chosen either.  The Lord’s instruction to Samuel remains steadfast: “For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on outward appearances, but the Lord looks on the heart.”

“For the Lord sees not at man sees.”  How amazing.  How wonderful.  How much better is God’s vision than our vision.  While God’s eyes penetrate beyond the surface, our purview captures only fleeting glances of other persons.  Part of our vision problem is time.  We are hurried; we are busy.  We catch only a glimpse or snapshot of someone and believe we’ve seen the whole picture.  We fail to plumb the depths of persons’ hearts and convictions, joys and concerns.

God’s vision seems so grand compared to our pithy eyesight.  God’s scan of the world captures all, bringing all people into God’s line of sight.  When Jesus entered one synagogue he saw a woman who had been bent over for 18 years.  How long had she been coming to the synagogue seeking help, longing for someone to notice her?  While the others’ eyes passed over her (for what seems like quite a long time), Jesus noticed her, laid his hands on her, and sent her away standing upright.

Jesus has, how shall we say it, universal vision.  The eyes of God, of Jesus, see all.  Jesus’ vision captures those who go unnoticed, those on the margins.  Jesus sees the invisible people in a crowded world.

I remember several years ago my church celebrated a Hanging of the Greens service.  During the service, children processed into the sanctuary with chrismons, stars, ivy, and poinsettias.   Many children participated in the service, cutely prancing down the aisle to the front of the sanctuary.   Despite all the kids, however, I waited to see just one, my cousin.  I had eyes for her only.  While all the children beautifully participated in the service my eyes were locked in to see only one person.  I was concerned with laying my eyes upon my cousin, delighting in how precious and cute she was in her role.

We have, how shall we say it, selective vision.  We have tunnel vision.  Our eyes see those things that we choose to see, those persons that are convenient and attractive to us.  God’s vision is much grander, much more encompassing, much broader.  Unlike our eyes, the wide scope of God’s vision captures all, looking not upon outward appearances.

Those who have eyes let them see.

While preaching from scripture this week (Philemon) this past Sunday I could not help to be reminded of a similar story in American literature, Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.  I also wished I had preached from Twain’s tale.

In Philemon, Paul is writing to Philemon concerning his slave Onesimus. Onesimus has become separated from Philemon (for a reason that is not clear), but has come into contact with Paul while he is in prison. In the letter, Paul commends and sends Onesimus back to his owner, pleading with Philemon to forgive, love, and restore Onesimus back into his house. In fact, Paul wants Philemon to accept Onesimus no longer as a slave, but as a dear brother, as Paul’s own heart.

Paul’s letter to Philemon reminds me of Huck’s letter to Miss Watson. As Huck is sailing down the river with Jim (one of Miss Watson’s house slaves) he realizes that it would be right and proper to return Jim to his owner. Societal norms, in fact, dictate that the responsible course of action for Huck is to turn in Jim to the authorities. So, Huck writes a letter to Miss Watson to do just that, return Jim to her. However, as Huck ponders his relationship with Jim he recalls Jim’s friendship and companionship.  He delights in the wonderful times they have shared together. Huck then tears up the letter.

After preaching on the scriptural story yesterday I wished that I had chosen Twain’s text.

Immediately after the service folks asked, “Was Paul condoning slavery? If Paul was against slavery why would he send the slave back to the master?  In Paul’s other letters doesn’t he say for salves to obey masters?”  (I wasn’t sure if should be pleased or disturbed.  On one hand the questioners demonstrated a knowledgeable and close reading of scripture.  Yet, perhaps it wasn’t close enough!)

In Philemon, we could say that Paul dearly loves Onesimus and praises him for his faith in Christ.  He hopes for Philemon to forgo punishment and restore Onesimus to a right relationship with him.  Grace is present.  However, in returning Onesimus  to his owner we might wonder why Paul doesn’t take a stand against slavery.  We are left asking why Paul does not explicitly reject the institution which holds Onesismus in bondage.

What about Huck?  Is Huck more gracious?  It might appear so.   He refuses to see Jim as the “thing” society defines him as.  Huck will not participate in any way in the evil institution of slavery and racism.  Huck acts in ways to subvert the cultural mores.  In the end, he praises and enjoys Jim for being the very thing he was created to be – a friend and a beloved child of God.

Could it be that Huck tears up the letter that Paul actually sent?

In chapter five the authors investigate how the Church might discard the Christendom mind-set (i.e. the church is not privileged in society today) and become truly apostolic.  How might the Church live “in,” but not “of” the world?  How can the church be sent out on behalf of the reign of God, participating in God’s victory over evil?

The authors first note that the Church must be bicultural.  The Church needs to be “conversant in the language and customs of the surrounding culture and living toward the language and ethics of the gospel” (114).  A nonconformist stance towards the world must be buffeted by conformity with Christ.  The Church is a community shaped by the life and ministry of Jesus Christ, living according to the pattern of the resurrected life in the age to come.

In an attempt to capture the political image of the Church, the authors offer the metaphor of the “church as holy nation (117).”  Scripturally, they point to 1 Peter 2.9, Matthew’s interpretation of the kingdom, and Jesus as King of kings.  The Church exists as a “political” ekklesia, an assembly gathered for decision-making.  Even more, Church worship becomes a political act.  Praise, prayer, and Scripture reading/preaching all give light to an alternative community with alternative allegiances.  Worship roots the community in the vocabulary of Jesus (Lord’s Prayer, teachings, etc.), the economics of the early church (Acts 2), and a right understanding of power (Sermon on the Mount).  “The church can make a powerful witness when it chooses to live differently from the dominate society even at just a few key points” (127).  The task of the church is to discern those key points and act!

What does an alternative community look like?  The authors claim that the “total life” of church matters.  The life of the church is not lived in separate church activities done by committees.  Rather, the whole of church life is wrapped up in witness to reign of God.  Also, the knowing (faith) and doing (works) of the gospel is vital.  An alternative community shares in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ in word and deed.  Such communities are “willing to trust Jesus’ way, all the way – rather than resorting to some other way (hate, violence, deception, etc) (132).

Alternative communities of Christ also practice preaching, teaching, and healing.  Preaching means announcing the reign of God “beyond the four walls of the church building, out of the safe group of people who know and love each other, into the public square” (137).  Teaching, on the other hand, helps those who respond to the good news gospel grow in discipleship as citizens of the reign of God.  Healing comes through offering love and compassion to others, seeking restoration of mind, body, and soul.

Chapter five was spiritual reading for me.  It caused me to reflect and consider my own understanding of the Church.  What is my theology of preaching and teaching?  What am I trying to “get done” through the Spirit in my sermons and teaching moments?  What “gospel” am I conveying in my words and actions?  Does my life and community resemble an alternative to the world?

I might add this to the authors’ discussion of alternative community: When we (church leaders, theologians, etc.) present the “alternative” nature of the church we must be careful to define “alternative.”  For many, an “alternative community” depicts something different from the normal, strange, or otherworldly.  While these are true of the church in a certain sense, the Christian understanding of “alternative” is not exclusively “non-normal.”  That is to say, for the Christian, this “alternative community” is what we were created for.  God created us for worship and praise.  As children of God we were created such that this “alternative community” is “normal.”  I love what Thomas Merton wrote, “A tree gives glory to God be simply being a tree” (New Seeds of Contemplation).  Like the tree, we give glory to God by simply being whom God created us to be, children of God. For the Christian, the alternative is the normal.

This is the fifth review in a ten-part series looking at Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America edited by Darrell Guder.

Since California’s Proposition 8 has been in the news (seemingly forever, but only really since the 2010 Election), many friends, neighbors, and church folks have ask my opinion on the subject.  As a pastor, I sense they are trying to discern my “true Christian-ness.”

“What’s your take?  Where do you stand?” they ask.

My response to the most recent person who asked: “I stand with Christ.  I stand on the Christian side.”

“Oh,” he said. “So, you’re against same-sex marriage.”

Uh?  What?  I never said that!

I stand with Christ.  The Christ that welcomed the outcast and marginalized.  The Jesus who ate with the least and the lowly, the unclean and the tax collectors.  The Savior who refused to ignore those deemed unworthy.  The Christ who touched the untouchable and loved the unlovable.

But my friend’s jump to a conclusion was clear: The “Christian” side is the Rick Warren side.  Or the Albert Mohler side.  To stand with Christ is to stand with those who refute the judge’s findings.

Why is it that “standing with Christ” is interpreted as standing on the side of exclusion?  When did this fusion of Christianity and the Right-Wing happen?  Why is is that the “Christian” side is synonymous with the GOP?  Why do we use Christian and Conservative interchangeably?  When was “Christian”translated as hate, prejudice, and discrimination?

I stand with Christ.

I stand with Peter.  I  echo his words to the Gentiles in Acts 10: “I understand that God shows no partiality” (Acts 10:34).

Where have all the Christians gone?  Where are the voices of compassion, humanity, and tenderness?

I pray for the day when “Christian” becomes  synonymous with love, compassion, inclusion, and grace.  When “standing with Christ” means standing on the side of justice, fairness, and embrace. When being a Christian reveals to the world around us that we truly heed the call of Micah, “to act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6.8)

An age of rationality and autonomy

Auguste Rodin's "The Thinker" at University of Louisville

In chapter two the writers explore the North American context in which the church finds itself.  The Church’s “context” is both its local community and the larger national culture.  For a missional church to flourish it must intimately know and understand its context.  Churches are challenged to “translate the gospel as good news for the society to which it is sent” (18).  Upon unmasking the philosophical foundations, values, and history of a particular context the Church is more equipped to convey the gospel.  As the authors point out, churches today must be culturally relevant in order to connect with community.

What is the North American context?  The authors argue that three trends that have emerged from modernity are reshaping the North American church context.  First, rationality and reason have become the new mode for discerning and knowing beliefs.  Empirical studies and rational thinking are the avenues for discovering the things that are true.  This represents a shift away from the notion that truth is embedded within tradition or revelation.  Second, the autonomous self has replaced the role of institutions in shaping persons’ attitudes and beliefs.  In medieval Europe, institutions (Church, monarchies, feudal system) shaped persons, and personal interests were subservient to larger corporate interests (23).  In the modern North American context, final authority resides inside the human head (23).  Individuals are free from authoritative institutions and able to discern truth and construct knowledge on their own accord.  Third, the modern context emphasizes the role of the social contract, which submits that individuals will make decisions out of self-interest, but the collective effect will lead to the promotion of the common good.  These principles, when exercised and enjoyed, lead to the realization of the full potential of human life.  The authors suggest that these three trends present the Church with a new “audience.”

Even more, the authors describe North Americans as persons who understand themselves as citizen with rights and freedoms to be exercised at all times and at all costs.  Individuals are also consumers, viewing all of life (including church life) as something to be consumed.  North Americans have also constructed roles and identities (career, job title, political affiliation, etc.) that serve as their primary identity markers.  Finally, modern individuals have become a product of product of technique using science-based technology to manipulate the social and natural world.

One of the major implications of these trends of the “new” individual is that one’s context matters for who one is and how he or she understands him or her self.  Each person brings assumptions to his or her search for truth. Objectivity and facts are always contextual.  For the Church (or church leaders), we must wrestle with the notion that one’s understanding or quest of God/Truth is always an interpretation relative to one’s context and cultural understanding.  We must ask, how can the church address a world in which rational and autonomous individuals are free to make decisions, but they do so without normative content common to all persons?  Even more, what might the growth of a North American pluralist society through immigration, migration, or technology mean as we seek to define context and community?

The authors offer much to digest in chapter two about the new cultural currents the church faces.  However, it is interesting that there is very little mention of race or socio-economic status as factors within the North American context.  It seems these things have played a vital role in the formation of the North American culture, yet the authors do not discuss them as factors to navigate in the current discussion.

I might also add another factor, or characteristic, that seems prominent in the North American context: time and priorities.  In a culture that is constantly moving with more activities demanding more time, the North American “audience” will increasingly be asked to arrange priorities.  How will we spend our time?  What is a faithful use of our time?  What activities consume our hours?  The church will need to discern this “time-crunch” and be prepared to speak into the busy lives of those who may feel too busy to listen to the Church or God.

This is the second review in a ten-part series looking at Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America edited by Darrell Guder.

I just finished reading one of my new all-time favorite books, Wendell Berry’s Hannah Coulter.  Berry’s poetic command of  words and storytelling transported me to another time and place.  Berry’s novel – a commentary on war, land, family, farming, modernity, and loss – was simply magnificent.  I often found myself reading the story in the same manner the characters lived…slowly, reflectively, and simply.

I love the moment when the narrator (Hannah Coulter) reflects upon her husband, Nathan: “He had the hardiness of his father and uncle, their indifference to bad weather, and their sufferance of whatever work or difficulty had come or would come.”

Some may say that Nathan was fatalistic; whatever comes, let it come.  And to a certain extent they would be right.  But what if Hannah and Nathan understood something that we struggle so mightily to get our minds around, namely, that there is a season for everything.  The Teacher, Qoheleth, of Ecclesiastes apparently got it.  The Byrds in their song, “Turn! Turn! Turn!” seemed to get it.

So why the fear of seasons?  Perhaps accepting the seasons would require us to give up control, to surrender.  Might we have to admit that we can’t solve a problem of fix it?  Are we more comfortable if we think we’re in control, and God is slightly out of sight, on the margins ready to come to rescue if needed?  What if we give up what we want, and give in to what God wants?

I love also what Nathan says as he ponders his cancer diagnosis.  Hannah asks him, “Well, what are you planning to do?  Just die?  Or what?”  Nathan responds, “Dear Hannah, I’m going to live right on.  Dying is none of my business.  Dying will have to take care of itself.”

Is it fatalism…or trust?  Is it throwing in the towel…or surrendering to a God who is more merciful and gracious than we can imagine?  Does the simple-minded Nathan understand life and death and resurrection more fully and faithfully than those of us privy to education and technology?  I think so.

I am reminded of Mary’s precious words to the angel Gabriel, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word” (Luke 1.38).

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