Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Sermon Link

On November 7th, I preached my first manuscript-free sermon. I was a little nervous about this new approach, but I think it turned out alright. You can find the audio for it here.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Jesus and Politics

I have long been leery of any vision that involves implementing Christian ideas and goals by means of secular politics. This includes issues such as social justice, health care, and abortion. I want the church to have space to offer its own Christ-centered vision and solutions to these issues apart from an ego- and vote-driven, non-Christian political system. In short, I do not want the church to think it has to play the game of secular politics in order for Christ's kingdom to be present. As such, I have traditionally aligned myself with the Libertarian Party. However, lately, I have even shied away from this affiliation, because of the rationale which lies behind the Libertarian Party's tendency towards small government (read: looking out only for the wealthy and so-called "natural rights").

As I wrestle with this myself, I read a pertinent blog today written by my bishop, Will Willimon. Although I did disagree with him on the issue of children's sermons (see below), I feel that he usually hits issues right on target from an orthodox Christian perspective (whether it is pleasant for us to hear or not). I strongly suggest reading his blog post on the relationship between church and state here. Also, I recommend reading John Howard Yoder's classic book The Christian Witness to the State.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Getting in Shape for Jesus

Once on The Johnny Carson Show, Carson interviewed some bodybuilders. They came on the stage with their shirts off, looking all jacked up. They were ready to show the world their hot bods. So Carson asked one of them, "So why do you bodybuild?" All the guy did was flex his guns and smile. So Carson asked him again, "Really, what's the point of bodybuilding?" The guy just flexed harder and smiled bigger.

Stories like that sadden me. It shows me how much of this world is just flash and vanity- and it's all fleeting. Maybe some folks just need to read Ecclesiastes and that will set them straight. Or maybe we are just more hard-hearted than I think.

Dieting, losing weight, and gaining muscle are all the rage, and they have been for quite some time. You even hear this quite frequently around more progressive Christian circles (although I have to say that at every meeting of Methodist pastors that I go to, at least half of the pastors are obese). So should Christians diet and take care of their bodies? If so, why?

On one hand, 2 Corinthians 4:16 says, "Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day." So maybe my fellow pastors are right? Who needs the body when our souls are being saved? But this thinking risks a sort of Platonic dualism or Stoicism. On the other hand, other Christians will point to the creation narrative and claim that a more paradigmatic reading that our bodies are gifts from God and as such, we should take care of them. But paradigmatic readings are often challenged by those who desire a more literal interpretation of Scripture (and to my mind there is no "command" to diet and exercise). In essence, this question is like many ethical questions, it depends on your opinion of the authority of Scripture.

As you might expect if you know me, I choose the latter of these two choices. My theology as a Methodist is shaped by God's grace (a word that we have butchered over time, but simply means "free gift"). Our bodies are absolutely included in the gifts we are given by God, so we must be good stewards of them. But, I must confess, I have not been faithful to this. It's not that I haven't been taking care of my body. I have. In fact, I have lost 20 pounds since June (This is the 3rd time in my life I have lost at least this much weight. Keeping it off is the hard part. My suggestion: don't get married; the first year will get you.). But my rationale for losing weight was all wrong. You know why I lost weight? 2 reasons: 1) because I was tired of my double chin 2) because I didn't think I would get any respect as a preacher if I was fat. And on some level, those reasons are valid. But on the theological level, they are vapid. In fact, I don't think my reasoning makes me any better than those bodybuilders on Carson.

All this is to say that abstract theology is fun, but it is not really Christian theology. Real Christian theology is ethical, embodied practice of the knowledge of the risen Lord of all creation. So when we watch over that creation, to whom do we give the glory?