Lord, Save Me! A Sermon for Proper 14, Year A

 

We’ve been paying close attention to Paul’s letter to the Romans this summer, taking our cues from the lectionary which includes readings from that great letter for thirteen consecutive weeks. Still, we are barely scratching the surface. The lectionary omits significant chunks of Paul’s writing, including some of his most challenging and important themes. For example, chapters 9-11, where Paul talks about the doctrine of election and seeks to explain how God includes both Jews and Gentiles in God’s providence, are largely ignored. We had a few verses from chapter 9 last week; this week we read from chapter 10; and next week we’ll hear a few verses from the beginning and the end of chapter 11. Continue reading

God in Proof, God in Prayer: A Sermon for Proper 12, Year A

Proper 12, Year A

July 27, 2014

“The Spirit intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words.”

Right now I’m reading a book by Nathan Schneider called God in Proof. I first encountered Schneider’s writing some years ago through the website he began with some other young writers called “Killing the Buddha.” It’s hard to describe in a few words what they’re trying to do with the site, but at its core is the quest of young people, millennials, to explore questions of faith and spirituality in our modern world. Continue reading

Buried with Christ in Baptism–A Sermon for Proper 7, Year A

There’s an interesting discussion on one of the Christianity websites I regularly visit about the role of scripture in Progressive Christianity. Now, to be honest, I’m not comfortable with the term. Too often, those who identify themselves as “progressive” Christians have more to say about national and international politics than about the good news of Jesus Christ. In addition, I find progressives defining themselves over against what they oppose than offering a positive vision and message of what it might mean to be disciples of Jesus Christ in community. Still, if I’m honest with myself, for the most part the theological positions staked out by most in the progressive camp are closer to my own positions than those of the conservative evangelical camp. Continue reading

The Idols of the City: A Sermon for the Sixth Sunday of Easter, 2014

I’ve long been interested in how our built environments, our cities, for example, reflect our deepest values and passions. You can see that clearly in a city like Madison, which was laid out as Wisconsin’s capital, with capitol square in the middle and streets radiating out from it. If you’re familiar with cities on the east coast—Boston, for example—you know that such planning isn’t always the case. In Europe, it’s interesting to see how order and power were imposed and projected on capital cities—Paris or Vienna, for example.
What do the cities of today say about our values? On the one hand, there are cities like Detroit, that have collapsed economically, demographically, and politically and have become laboratories for experiments in creating new ways for people to come together. On the other hand, there are cities like San Francisco where gentrification is running amok, with housing prices again going through the roof, and forcing lower income and working class people to relocate. Madison is closer to the latter than the former as we are seeing a boom in the construction of upscale apartments across the city but especially downtown. We’ve been learning about the consequences of such economic growth—increasing inequality, growing gaps between rich and poor, white and black. Continue reading

Knowing nothing but Jesus Christ and Him Crucified: A Sermon for the Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany

I’ve been thinking a lot about Paul these past few weeks. Our second reading throughout the Season of Epiphany comes from I Corinthians, a letter I have found fascinating since my first undergraduate course in Paul more than thirty-five years ago. I was also engaged with Paul because of the recent screening and conversation at UW of the Film “The Polite Bribe.” I’m not sure why, but in January, I also began reading N.T. Wright’s new 2-volume work on Paul, Paul and the Faithfulness of God. Let me confess right now, this is the first scholarly work of Wright’s that I’ve read. I’ve avoided him because of his reputation for being on the conservative side of Pauline scholarship, and because as Bishop of Durham, he contributed to the difficult relationship between the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion. Still, I had read some early reviews and thought it might be worth taking a look at. I’m glad I did. Continue reading

A Polite Bribe: Provocative Documentary about St. Paul

On January 29 at 7:00pm at Union South, there will be a screening of the new documentary Apostle Paul: A Polite Bribe. More information about the screening is here. It’s an innovative documentary in that it avoids the usual techniques of biblical and historical films. There no shots of intrepid scholars walking through ancient ruins and no actors in bathrobes and sandals depicting scenes from the New Testament.

Instead, film-maker Robert Orlando makes effective use of animation to tell the story but much of the narrative is carried by New Testament scholars. What’s perhaps most interesting is that he weaves together the words of scholars from very different perspectives to create a coherent story.

It’s a story that rarely is given a central place in the scholarly treatment of Paul (although I remember that when I took an undergraduate course on Paul many years ago, we began with the collection). In his letters, Paul mentions a collection he is taking up for the church in Jerusalem (eg I Cor. 16:1-4). In Acts, Paul brings the collection to Jerusalem where he is arrested. Orlando interprets the story of the collection that Paul brings to Jerusalem as an attempt to preserve the unity within earliest Christianity, his effort to maintain relations between the predominantly Jewish Christian community of Jerusalem, and the communities of largely Gentile Christians that Paul was creating in Asia Minor and Greece.

Mark Goodacre, Professor of New Testament at Duke Divinity School reviews it here. He writes:

I was impressed by the way that the film manages to weave a story that scholars know well into a narrative that would be comprehensible and compelling to those with no knowledge of the field.  It’s certainly something I would enjoy using in the classroom, but I suspect that those who will enjoy it most will be those who are unaccustomed to reflecting critically on Paul’s biography.

David Mays offers what he likes and doesn’t like about the film, concluding that it is well-worth watching.

James McGrath writes:

I honestly cannot think of another single documentary film about the Bible which has such a wide array of the very best and best-known scholars from around the world in it. The movie would be worth watching just to hear those scholars speak, even if they only spoke in the proportion that is common in documentaries. But scholars speaking makes up the vast majority of the film’s verbal component. And in addition to hearing scholars speak clearly and compellingly about Paul, you’ll also get to hear Ben Witherington do an impression of a mafia godfather.

I had a chance to watch it a couple of months ago and I was struck by the wide range of scholars who were interviewed, by the depth of the scholarship behind the film and conveyed by it as well. I was also intrigued by the film’s overall perspective. Having taught Paul in Intro to Bible and Intro to NT classes many times over the years, I know that the collection never played a significant role in the story of Paul that I taught even if it had in my own undergraduate introduction to Paul. Was it a bribe? Who knows? Was it at least partly Paul’s attempt to smooth over relations with the Jerusalem community? Undoubtedly.

The evening at UW a talk by Orlando, a panel discussion by UW faculty, as well as the screening. I hope a lot of people turn out. More information is available here.