Sunday, November 26, 2017

Christian love: easy for me to say

A good friend responded to my recent faculty devotion with a brief email saying, succinctly and correctly, "easy for you to say." Naturally I responded at length. Part of my response is below, lightly edited.

I'm more and more convinced of the deeply fallacious nature of our culture's tendency to resort to "easy for you to say"--i.e. to shift attention away from the validity of the claim made and instead focus on whether the person relaying the claim has the right to say it based on their personal situatedness and experience. And in this case, "relaying the claim" is the right phrase, since the claim isn't mine but rather that of Jesus and that of St. Paul, both of whom exchanged privilege for suffering and death.

Do I have their cred (divine and apostolic, respectively)? Of course not. And I am personally much more able to identify with the St. Peter in the courtyard of Caiaphas and especially the apostles fishing out on the sea (who denied the claim of Jesus indirectly--by avoidance and redirection rather than outright rejection) than with the St. Peter who was carried "wither thou wouldest not" at the end of his life. I can more identify with the three disciples snoozing in the Garden of Gethsemane than with their Lord's "not my will but thine be done" on the cross. The demands of Christian love weren't easy for Jesus, and they weren't easy for the apostles.

But what's our job as Christians, if not to present to each other the demands of Jesus? If not to challenge each other to grow in holiness no matter the circumstances? Grace doesn't exist to underwrite or excuse our laziness and complacence. It does not even exist to make us feel better about ourselves as sinners. It exists to transform us "from one degree of glory to another," to raise us from death to life, to fashion us into the hands and feet of Jesus in the world. And, if we let it do its work, it surely will change how we understand ourselves--not as the sinners we once were, but as saints participating in the divine life.

I've long been convinced that Christian leaders (especially priests and pastors, but sometimes also bosses) are almost always wrong to temper their sermons/instructions with "I'm the chief of sinners" or "I really struggle with this myself." What's the point of that stuff? I know it's intended to reflect humility and authenticity, but isn't it basically selfish--to avoid coming across as judgy/preachy?--but what's the purpose of Christian leadership if not to judge rightly and preach truly! And what's the outcome of those disclaimers? Doesn't it just soften the instructions?--as though Jesus never really meant all that stuff in the Sermon of the Mount, as though he was really just exaggerating for effect.

Of course we need wisdom, prudence, and compassion as we call each other to holiness--but (a) there is never a good time to accommodate sin, though there are plenty of times in which a word of correction will only increase sin (so, again, prudence is necessary) and (b) there are simply no circumstances in which the call to love is suspended or abrogated.

Anyone who says otherwise is preaching a different gospel than the gospel of Christ.

Monday, November 20, 2017

An apostasy that is nearly invisible

When I gave a faculty devotion this past Tuesday on self-sacrifice, I did not then realize that it would be but a pale imitation of Fr. Glenn's beautiful and profound sermon this past Sunday meditating on the final passage of the Gospel According to St. John. The Gospel closes with a fishing trip by seven apostles--a return to the vocation from which Jesus had called them--and then an odd and poignant meal these apostles share with Jesus on the beach.

(In a previous faculty devotion, I reflected on the recurrent centrality of food in the resurrection narratives.)

From Fr. Glenn's sermon:

There is an apostasy that draws no attentions to itself because it is so practical. There is an apostasy that is nearly invisible because it hides out in the open spaces of a man’s or woman’s life. Jesus had promised to make them fishers of men and they, after all this, settled for their old way of life. Is that all there is to it? The destiny of all mankind, of all creation, is in the hands of these few men, and what is their posture toward the Pearl of Great Price? Here is an apostasy that so practical, so obviously essential to life, so self-evident and necessary that it will go unnoticed except when it is brought into the presence Christ and his searching, all-demanding claim upon your life just as it was experienced on the beach that morning as seven Apostles ate breakfast with Jesus. Such is the searching, all-demanding eucharistic presence of Christ that comes to us in worship and in perfect judgment. 
"Peter do you love me more than these?" I do not for a moment think there is any reason, textually or morally, to think that Jesus was asking Peter whether or not he, Peter, loved him, Jesus, more than any of the other disciples loved him. Not at all. I think our Lord may well have gestured toward the practical gear and hardware of their practical life: their fishing boats, the ropes, the well-tied nets, the gear and tackle, the fresh fire-coal, the strange, speckled, dappled trout. Do you love me more than these? Do you love me more than the practical? Do you love me more than what others say is feasible, than what they say is real life — do you love me more than this ready-made, ready-at-hand way of getting through? Do you love me more than your life?

Read the whole thing.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

St. Paul, Slavery, and Love

What follows is a devotion given to the faculty this morning, in which I gave a provisional/tentative reading of St. Paul's instructions about slavery and their relationship to the biblical picture of love. I would certainly love any feedback or criticism!

I want to talk this morning about St. Paul and the institution of slavery. As an American history teacher, I think often about the Bible and its relationship to slavery, but today it’s especially relevant, since Titus 2 was appointed as a reading in Morning Prayer (1928 BCP). I saw that, and then I saw that today’s blessing in Seeking God’s Face (a shared faculty devotion) comes from the Sermon on the Mount--and I think St. Paul’s instructions to the enslaved are intimately connected to Jesus’ instructions to the persecuted.

 St. Paul on slavery might seem to be odd devotional material, but I think the apostle provides great (though certainly troubling) insight into what it means to love on a day-to-day basis.