The Boxing Preacher

Preachers have different goals to their preaching styles and content. Some talk about changing our heads and thus preach intellectually engaging sermons. Others talk about changing our hands and give us actionable steps to go out into the world and do something. Still others speak of preaching to the heart so that over time the heart is converted to Christ and love for neighbor expands beyond our small identities. Still others argue for a combination of these three goals.

In this way, preaching is like boxing. Using different moves, statements and arguments, the preacher is attempting to spar with the congregation. Not in a combative way, but in a way that builds stamina and endurance for the struggles of life.

And so, many preachers are looking for the one line, the one idea the one point for a sermon that can “land”. Something so poignant, clever, beautiful or compelling that it hits people and knocks them off their feet. Some preachers might even try to preach to hit you in the face so hard that it knocks you out! The preacher is trying to land blows on a congregation that is sparing with her.

However, in our attempts to "“knock people out” or “hit em in the head” with such powerful sermons, we are overlooking that Jesus is more of a body puncher than one who goes for the face.

Going for the knock out blow is quick and exciting, and going for the body is slow and less flashy. The preacher who “hits” people in the stomach with the sermon, may never knock anyone out. But after we are hit in the body a few times our breathing changes.

Rather than preach to the head, hands or heart, what would it look like for the preacher to preach to the breath.

What would it look like for sermons not to change our minds or even our hearts, but the very way we breathe? The very way we take in and let go of the breath/spirit in our lungs?

The Church as a World Changing Agent

There are many who see the Church as an agent for social change. It is an organization that is called to impact the world and some believe that by changing policy or the law of the land is a very appropriate role of the Church.

The intermingling of Church and State is an interesting line. Some say that it is not okay to have the symbols of the State (such as the flag) in the sanctuary. While others are okay with it. Some argue that symbols of the state are okay in the worship setting, but find it inappropriate for the Church to “talk politics” in worship. There is not one side that has a monopoly on being inconsistent in the separation of Church and State. It is a human thing. If you believe something then you will justify all the means to achieve the desired end. Even do something that you would not allow those who disagree with you to do.

Christians do not have a monopoly on hypocrisy, but humans do.

In all our efforts to change the world “out there” it has become clear to me that a dwindling number of people join in the Spirit’s work to change the world “in here”. That is, we see the problems in the world beyond us and are blind to the problems within us.

The Church is an agent for change, but the change the Church is most equipped to address is the change within. As it is said by Thomas Merton in the book The Wisdom of the Desert:

“What can we gain by sailing to the moon if we are not able to cross the abyss that separates us from ourselves? This is the most important of all voyages of discovery, and without it all the rest are not only useless but disastrous.”

The Church is an agent for great change. Perhaps the greatest change is the change of heart that Christ works in us. The change of action that repentance calls us to. The change of reaction that forgiveness gives us.

Few disagree that we should “be the change we wish to see in the world.” The question is what world are we talking about? Too often we only think of the world out there and ignore the world within.

Praying Your Lenten Fast Fails

Giving up or fasting during the season of Lent is a tradition in the Christian church which many today still subscribe to. This is a noble discipline, one which I also participate in. However, I pray that we fail our fasts.

Photo by  Kamil Szumotalski  on  Unsplash

Photo by Kamil Szumotalski on Unsplash

Fasting seems to be understood by many people less as a spiritual discipline and more as a personal betterment practice. Many who fast from certain food types are doing so for weight loss. Many who fast from technology do so to avoid the toxicity of twitter. There is nothing wrong with these sorts of fasts at all! However, fasting in this way feeds the myth (myth is a unifying narrative not something that is always factually true) that through our thoughts, actions, and will power, we can become a better version of ourselves.

I pray that we all fail our Lenten fasts so that when we do we are faced with the reality that the myth of self betterment is a hallow myth. It is a myth that leads to guilt, shame and even fatalism.

The myth that I hope to live my life around is that of the Gospel of Christ. Jesus Christ reminds us that no amount of will power or determination will bring you to a better self. In fact Christianity points out that there is not a better self to obtain. That in fact the real journey is to embrace who we are, warts and all, and be able to discover the joy in it. When we fail, we come face to face with the reality that we are not god or perfect. We face the truth that we are in need of a grace. We encounter the reality that we are unable to transform ourselves, that we are in need. We need that which is beyond us and that which is outside of us.

May you fail your Lenten fast and experience the grace of forgiveness and pick the fast up the next day.

Giving up Bible Reading in 2019

Photo by  Priscilla Du Preez  on  Unsplash

Reading the Bible is a time honored tradition in the life of the Christian and this year I think I am giving it up. I am giving up reading the Bible for scripture reading.

Reading the Bible and scripture reading are different not in content but in posture. The same words are engaged but it is a different approach. When we read the Bible we tend to look for what we can learn or what we can gain. We look for the teaching or the wisdom we need to get through the moment. We find something that can challenge us or stimulate our thinking. The vast majority of Bible studies that I have been apart are interested in expanding your thinking in order to shore up belief structures. Reading the Bible puts the reader as the protagonist (the main actor) in the process.

Reading scripture is different.

First of all, we do not read scripture - scripture reads us. Scripture exposes to us the things in our life and world that we are blind to and even need to repent of. However the primary difference is that scripture reading means that we are open to (and expectant of) an encounter with the living Christ. This means scripture reading is not an action but an event. It is a “happening”. It is a theophany.

Shifting from reading the Bible to scripture reading is ultimately differentiated by the fruit each practice bears. If we are not transformed by the words we read, then we are reading the Bible. And so, as a start consider this scripture reading:

But if you had known what this means, “I desire mercy and not sacrifice”, you would not have condemned the guiltless.
— Jesus, Matthew 12:7