May 29, 2005

The pacifist sermon.

"My rector's sermons tend to be merely vapid, digressive, undisciplined, and soporific, but today's was the biggest pile of horseshit I've heard in a long time."

UDATE: An emailer writes: "When an Episcopal postulant for ordination feels that way, you know it was bad." He also recommends this analysis by Philip Turner, the former Dean of the Berkeley Divinity School at Yale. Turner writes:
The Episcopal sermon, at its most fulsome, begins with a statement to the effect that the incarnation is to be understood as merely a manifestation of divine love. From this starting point, several conclusions are drawn. The first is that God is love pure and simple. Thus, one is to see in Christ's death no judgment upon the human condition. Rather, one is to see an affirmation of creation and the persons we are. The life and death of Jesus reveal the fact that God accepts and affirms us.

From this revelation, we can draw a further conclusion: God wants us to love one another, and such love requires of us both acceptance and affirmation of the other. From this point we can derive yet another: Accepting love requires a form of justice that is inclu­sive of all people, particularly those who in some way have been marginalized by oppressive social practice. The mission of the Church is, therefore, to see that those who have been rejected are included – for justice as inclusion defines public policy. The result is a practical equivalence between the Gospel of the Kingdom of God and a particular form of social justice.


Mark Kaplan said...

that rector certainly contrasts with the reverend in The Patriot who is preaching in one scene and joining the militia, rifle in hand, in the next . . . . I prefer the one in the movie.

Mark Daniels said...

As a pastor myself, I know how tempting it is for preachers to jump on their favorite hobby horses. The call for preachers, though, is to only go where the texts take us. Of course, we have to interpret the appointed Biblical text with consideration of what the whole Bible says. Doing so will generally speaking, keep us from obsessing on notions that may or may not be Biblical.

The fault that the blogger sees in the rector's preaching is what we were taught in seminary to call "eisegesis." This means reading our personal views into a text. It's the equivalent of putting words in God's mouth.

The aim of a preacher is to engage in "exegesis," pulling the meaning or meanings out of the text, being faithful to God's intentions, not our own desires. (No one, of course, can ever be fully faithful to this. But when we allow ourselves to be accountable to God, the Bible, and the Church, it helps us to be faithful to the text.)

Of course, any preacher should strive toward connecting the ancient texts to people's real lives. This is actually a fairly easy thing to do because the Bible is so real, relevant, and earthy.

But if a preacher is more intent on pushing a particular philosophy or cause than discussing and fleshing out what is in the Biblical text, the "connections" between text and life they make will be faulty.

Of course, it would be irresponsible for me to say anything harsh about the rector; I've never heard what the rector said. But anyone who preaches must take great care and address a lot of prayer to avoid the faults the blogger claimed to see in the rector's preaching. Such "preaching" truly is the result of an undisciplined approach to the call of the preacher.

Ann Althouse said...

There's a funny scene in "Divorce Italian Style" -- the movie I watched last night -- where a priest is telling the parishioners how to vote and palming it off as the word of God.

Mark Daniels said...

The Italian priest reminds me of a lot of Christian preachers and "leaders" of both the right and the left in the US today.

One thing I constantly tell people is that God isn't a Democrat, Republican, libertarian, or free soiler. God is God. (When I said this during a presentation to a group of wealthy women in Cincinnati on the day after the election last November, one woman said, only half-jokingly, that she was certain God was a Republican.)

To use a worn-out analogy, to get agitated over humanly-created political philosophies is a bit like fancying particular deck chairs on the Titanic. They're all going down with the ship anyway. That's not to say that politics is unimportant. But its importance is, at best, secondary from a Christian perspective. I get concerned that so many political preachers subordinate God to their politics.

This is a subject to which I seem to return again and again on my blog. While I am deeply interested in politics--and even ran for the state House of Representatives last year--I almost never allude to political matters in my sermons and believe that only when the Bible speaks unambiguously can the Church say about a political issue, "Thus saith the Lord."

I guess for me, the tenet of "the priesthood of all believers" is very important. It causes me to trust that if, with God's help, people become sufficiently acquainted with God and with the Scriptures, they will make good decisions, decisions so good that we who are Christian "leaders" couldn't have even anticipated them.

Rooted especially in First Peter 2:9-10, the idea of the priesthood of all believers holds that all followers of Christ, having a direct link to God and each having the gift of God's Spirit, are given the capacity and the freedom to address the decisions of their lives prayerfully and confidently. That includes political decisions.

There is a lot of ambiguity in life, of course. What's a "Christian" position on Social Security reform or filibusters of judicial nominations? I don't know and so far as I'm concerned, anyone who claims to know such things is at the very least, highly presumptuous and probably bordering on blashphemous, holding God hostage to their own preferences.

My motto is "ora et labora," pray and work. Seek God's guidance and do what seems best.

This is what Martin Luther called "sinning boldly": Forging ahead after prayer, consultation with wise people, and reading the Scripture, acknowledging that we could be taking the wrong course, but seeking to do what's right.

It seems to me that anyone who thinks that mere mortals can do any better than that ignores two fundamental facts: God is God and we're not.

I think I'm going to have to check out "Divorce Italian Style." I'll shut up now.


Richard Lawrence Cohen said...

Mark: As far as I'm concerned, you never have to shut up. And DIVORCE ITALIAN STYLE is -- or was -- just about the funniest movie I've ever seen.

Mark Daniels said...

Thanks for your second to Ann's motion. I just told my wife that both of you recommended it. So, we'll have to put it on our list of pics to see.

The truth is that even if you told me to shut up, I probably would be incapable of doing so.


leeontheroad said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
leeontheroad said...

It's too bad "The Aspirant" doesn't tell us what other readings in the lectionary his rector preached on. I might well complain about a "hobbyhorse" sermon, also-- especially if it was made possible by using only the OT/Hebrew Scriptures reading and not also at least the Gospel (if not the Epistle.)

We had Deuteronomy-- not Genesis, which is the other choice in the Revised Common Lectionary. But everyone was also supposed to have Matthew 7:21-27 for Proper 4 Sunday ("closest to June 1st").

I don't know if the blogger's commentary on being Christological is supposed to tell us that the rector made no mention of the Gospel in the sermon. Folks like to throw around the word "Christological" to indicate they know something. For me, here, it's not revealing.

But it's pretty predictable that Episcopalians complain about sermons: it may be the one thing that holds the "big tent" of the denomination together ;-)

Freeman Hunt said...

Funny to read this now since I officially left the Episcopal church just last week, and my formal resignation as the church's youth minister is effective today.

I got tired of the Christianity = socialism/communism/anti-war sermons. But even more tiring was the tortured theology associated with those ideas (process theology and liberation theology at my church).

If someone thinks that God is a member of his political party (or any political party!) he's gotten something wrong somewhere.