Saturday, May 13, 2006

Prophetic preaching, Life rituals

We got to watch a DVD of Peter Storey in my preaching class (he was Methodist Archbishop of South Africa and chaplain to Nelson Mandela in prison). Even via dvd it was amazing. Here are some of the great moments:

Preach to the people who are not in your church, and they will come.

I have no time for a gospel that has no potential to change the world. If God can't change the world I'm not sure why I'd spend time with God.

Preaching is Evangelical and Prophetic - evangelical in that it contends with the loyalties and wills of people, struggling to help them discover the implications of the gospel for their lives. If we do that, our preaching will inevitably become prophetic.

Falsehood: some called to prophetic and others pastoral. No, we have one ministry! "Simon of Cyrene wasn't 'called' to carry Jesus' cross, he just found it on his back."

The Kingdom is here and now. There is a dimension of the Kingdom in the sweet by-and-by, but it really doesn't interest me until then.
Did the Word become flesh just to get people to the sweet by and by? That's an absurdity. The Word became flesh to reclaim a rebel world for the God it deserted.
If this is true, there is no part of the world off-limits to preachers.

Prophetic ministry is driven by the love of of Christ. You're not much good to God unless you're willing to love God's people enough to die for them. Anger is not absence of love, it is the recoil of indignant love. The kind of anger and sorrow that Jesus showed when he healed the man with the withered hand who was being used as a pawn by the Pharisees to trap Jesus.

Where injustice is common, anger is appropriate. I'm not impressed with a Christian who can look upon injustice and not feel angry.

Prophetic ministry is evangelization. Seriously. It takes this task beyond the individual - they are not the only focus - to the systems that hurt and dehumanize and marginalize and destroy people. It recognizes that we often let our institutions do our sinning for us.

The honest thing to do is to let people know the cost of discipleship before they come forward to accept the gospel.

Principalities and powers are not spooky forces! They are found in corporations, in armies, in governments. They are the way in which evil expresses itself in institutions.
You can afford to be nice to people if the government keeps them in their place. The institutions are doing our sinning for us. Unless we recognize that, our ministries will miss half of what the devil is doing in this world. And we will focus on the individual sins of people and helping them find salvation and power...which is part of the job, but not all of it.

People ask, why do you preach on politics? "I'm preaching the gospel. The politicians keep interfering with the gospel."

What is the point of being an ambulance for alcoholics if you never question the industry that is working to make them drink more all the time?

90% of the Bible is gone if you cut out references to the poor - and that is the Bible used in the majority of our churches.

Some of the religious groupings in this country are actually serving the powerful. If they make political statements that align with the powerful they are chaplains to power, not prophets. If there's one definition of a prophet that cannot be challenged, it is that a prophet never serves the powerful.

Definition of a Prophet:
Advocacy on behalf of God's little people.
Courage to speak truth to power.
The prophet always looks to see who are God's little ones NOW. That group can change - when new people take power, the prophet switches sides. The prophet is always on the side of the weak, poor, marginalized.
Whose image is on the coin? Whose image is on a human being?
God's. Do not let Caesar mess with people whose image is of the living God.
The prophet always stands with the people made in God's image who are being treated as if they belonged to Caesar.

I cannot understand the theology that permits the American flag into the sanctuary. Our flag was so stained with injustice that we could not imagine it coming into our sanctuary. We got a great new flag, but it's also not allowed.
You show me a flag that is unstained and pure, that belongs in the sanctuary. How can you preach when the symbol of the Caesar, of the ultimate authority against the living God, is a few feet away from you?

It doesn't matter who is in that position of power. You are not for the power.

Later, in the class I am TAing, we were talking about life rituals - rites of passage. An amazing anthology of liturgies is found in Healing Liturgies for the Seasons of Life by somebody Evans (pub Westminster/Knox) and some psychological/theological insight in Mighty Stories/Dangerous Rituals by Anderson & Foley.

The latter have this idea about Myth vs. Parable. Myth is the way things ought to be. Parable is what ought not happen. We have lots of rituals that reinforce myth - think of any wedding (happily ever after) or even a funeral (eulogizing a long, well-lived life).

We are less well-prepared to deal with parable. We are better at weddings than divorces. We don't know how to eulogize when a life has barely begun.

But good news: the Scriptures provide language for us. Just look at the Psalms - over half say something is wrong with the world. [definitions Confession: something wrong is my fault; Lament: something wrong is not my fault.]

The Scriptures are unapologetic in their language for lament - "God you promised and look what I got!" We have praise bands but not lament bands, because we're better at myth than parable. But the faith we give people has to get them through both - both the way things ought to be and when things don't go right. How are we doing that?

Here are some more thoughts about rituals:
For college students: we need rituals of welcoming and homegoing. How do we value education along with vocational work (in Christ there is no Phd or plumber)?

Why not celebrate a life while the person is still alive? Why wait until they are dead - or without memory? Do a life remembrance while the person can be there to be celebrated - and be there fully in mind as well as body!

Praying over pregnant couples allows them to grieve or celebrate publicly no matter what happens with the baby. If we don't recognize the pregnancy in the church community, they could miscarry and nobody will know. That is not loving them the best we could. Yet it is difficult to have a funeral for a 5, 6, 7 month old fetus if there's not been acknowledgment of the life. This stuff has to be intentional - it won't happen by accident.

If you baptize infants, anniversaries of baptisms should be announced because we ask people to commit to the children and we should hold them to it. People of faith should not take vows we do not intend to keep. This means when we say we're going to "do all in our power" to raise this child in the knowledge and love of Christ, we better damn well be ready to take that kid to church if the parents can't or won't!

And then, I had a funny exchange:
Me: God wasn't good at being God until he became one of us.
My friend: Seriously, not until Jesus.
Me: Yeah, he became one of us and then he was like, "Oh, this is why they're so stupid!"


Elizabeth said...

Those Peter Storey quotes are amAZing. Wow.

Mike L. said...

That is a wonderful understanding a prophet. Christianity would be so much better off if people would stop viewing prophets as people predicting the future and begin understanding them as critics of the present.