Monday Mull: Ephesians

I know, it’s the Acropolis, and that’s in Athens, not Ephesus.

One of my favorite things to do in ministry is to plan, build and then execute sermon series. Another is to work ahead, and have a working, but flexible, plan at least six months out.

I need the flexibility. COVID, having never left, is back here in Wichita. And while I’d like to do a series based on Faithful Presence: Seven Disciples That Shape the Church for Mission, by David Fitch (which is a great read, so good, in fact, that I’ll link to it), we are probably going to be on digital duty for a while yet, until people start acting the least bit interdependent for one another.

So I’ve punted the Faithful Presence series, and the secondary stewardship series I had ready for September. I’m now working* on an outline to preach Ephesians the next thirteen weeks.

Ephesians, along with Colossians and 2 Thessalonians, are disputed letters of Paul. If they were written by the authentic Paul, it was late in his ministry–grammar is completely different from earlier, authenticated writing, and his theology… uh, evolved? Shifted? I’ve realized I have avoided these three letters just on the matter of disputation; I’d rather get really deep into Ephesians, and see what happens.

So there we go. That’s the mull–go read Ephesians, and tell me what you think. I’m going to do the same.

*I’m on vacation through tomorrow, which–awesome! And I’ll begin working in earnest, probably on Friday and Saturday, too, to get this series ready, planned and prepped.

Monday Mull: Revelation 21:1-8

I’m never sure what to do with Revelation. I love the letters in the beginning, once I learned how to read them contextually and not presently. (YOU are not lukewarm, you do not need to worry about being spat from God’s mouth.)

My friend Spiff, with whom I co-host Two on One (a conversation on pop culture, church and the intersections inherent), loves the Jezebel preacher mentioned in the opening letters–there must have been a woman who would not shut up, who cheesed off John of Patmos, and who had a following for her different views.

And there’s the end of the letter–the finale, the word of hope. That God will triumph; when God can say, “It’s over!” there’s a new earth and new Jerusalem and there are no more tears and it is the Zed at the end just like there’s the alpha in the beginning.

I guess I wish more people spoke Greek, or read it? I feel like I’ll be preaching to former frat boys and sorority girls, and the occasional biblical scholar with this text. A-to-Z, or a-to-zed, just doesn’t cut it yet. How do we enclose the full narrative? Tie the beginning to the end? How does one inherit from that which never dies?

What happens when the entire book is a metaphor except this chapter, which is the culmination of hope we need in this current moment, not just against Rome but all Romes? What does a post-progressive do with Revelation and all its baggage?

Full and fair disclosure, friends: I am mulling four separate sermon texts (Hosea and John, Romans 10, and Mark 7) in the same week, as I prepare for a concentrated week of doctoral classes, and then a week of vacation. I am not writing all of these sermons in a week… probably… but if these seem more clipped than normal, perhaps that is why.

Monday Mull: Romans 10:5-17

Hail, Caesar! was not my favorite Coen Brothers movie, but I loved Clooney in it.

What does it mean to call Jesus Christ Lord?

It’s subversive at its heart. It implies a continuation, to say “Jesus Christ is Lord,” and that continuation is, “…and Caesar is not.”

And who is Caesar? Why the Empire, of course.

And you may say to me there is no Empire, but there is. There is oligarchy. There is the status quo. There is discrimination and powers and principalities and institutions and spin-zones and supremacy and fragility and recolored flags flying trying to invoke a country that’s theoretical.

Caesar does not need more worship. We must repent for that. Caesar does not care for the individual; Caesar is not here among us. Christ needs not ascend or descend or even be invited to be present.

Full and fair disclosure, friends: I am mulling four separate sermon texts (Hosea and John, Revelation and Mark 7) in the same week, as I prepare for a concentrated week of doctoral classes, and then a week of vacation. I am not writing all of these sermons in a week… probably… but if these seem more clipped than normal, perhaps that is why.

Monday Mull: John 14 and Hosea 11

Harmonia Rosales, The Creation of God

Doing this Names of God thing is a little different this summer, though, I shouldn’t be surprised; nothing is going as planned this year, and it is most certainly a gift, no matter what anyone tells us. This is the moment of awakening, it seems, for far too many people far too comfortable with hegemony and the default.

I am one of them, actively trying to stay awake and keep momentum. I have let my sibs and folx down. I reaffirm my call to do justice, to preach bravely, to love mightily.

This Sunday is Father’s Day, and since we’re doing “ways to refer to God,” it makes sense, I think, to talk about patristic language for the Divine. I’m using John 14–already a problematic text because of bad interpretation of Jesus as Way/Truth/Life–and of course, there’s this idea of Jesus running interference to keep people away from God who he calls Father.

Hosea 11 presents God in maternal, traditionally feminine strength and concern. Are these the same God? Of course.

I have no problem with father-language for God, if it is done in conjunction, in intentional balance, with mother-language. A friend once told me that removing paternal language and replacing it with gender-neutral language still excluded women, just from a different approach, and I seek to balance that. I think of the community herchurch in San Francisco, that only uses feminine language for the divine, but will be more accommodating for male language when all the churches using male language first accommodate. (And I love that.) But maybe my beloved community isn’t there yet.

Something to work towards, surely.

Monday Mull: 1 Kings 18:20-40

There was some 1970s Bible cartoon that told this story–I think if you’ve seen one of them, you’ve seen them all. I guess you either know what I’m talking about or not, in all this.

Anyhow, in this cartoon, they had to add dialogue to fill the time up, and as the priests of Baal (who looked really European, in hindsight?) poured gallons and gallons of water on Elijah’s altar per his instructions, someone–possibly King Ahab–said, “It is so very valuable,” or something close to that.

I’d never connected that. Prior to the story, there’s been years of drought. It seems that the water poured onto the altar of Elijah is not only to mock the whole process–calling fire from the heavens is one thing, but onto damp wood?!–but because God’s action in this world requires sacrifice.

Not necessarily burnt offering and sacrifice–I know, I know, mercy not sacrifice–but rather, giving up something, tearing down something, living without something in order to make room for God.

Even when it’s fire that evaporates, that singes, that burns, that licks up what we hold precious.

I have issues with this story, especially the whole “slaughtering people who do not worship the way one does,” but this isn’t about other religions, it is about idolatry. About our completely ridiculous belief we can control things, command things, contain things.

This is, of course, just the beginning of work on this text. I am getting ready–Sunday’s coming!

Monday Mull: Genesis 16:1-16

It is very hard to find attributable art of Hagar and Ishmael in which they are not, somehow, very Caucasian despite Egyptian and Semitic heritage. (Jean-Charles Cazin, Agar et Ismael; from Wikimedia Commons.)

Through July 5, I’m preaching on some of the names of God found in Scripture, and what we are saying when we talk about God, both in the general sense–how can we contain the essence of the Creator of the Universe in our ridiculous grunts and inflection–and in the specific.

Hagar is a slave to Sarai, the wife of Abram–Sarai will become Sarah; Abram will become Abraham; they are one thousand years old, or so, combined, and there’s fertility issues despite God’s promise to Abram and Sarai that they will be the progenitors of many nations.

And Hagar is given to Abram by Sarai–there is not any word of consent in the text–and Abram impregnates her–again we miss consent in this text–and then Sarai gets mad because she believes Hagar is getting uppity. And Sarai complains to Abram, and Abram tells her to do what she will, and Sarai “dealt harshly with her,” and Hagar bolted to the wilderness.

I guess I don’t have to write out so much in the Monday Mulls, but I’ve done only one other, so there aren’t really a lot of rules, are there?

In the wilderness, a messenger of the Lord sees her, calls her by name and asks her where she has come from, and where she is going–he does not tell her these things. And she’s sent back, promised to begin a line of multitudes that cannot be counted, and she names God.

She is the only person in the Hebrew Scriptures to name God–one could argue in the whole Bible depending on one’s Christology–and she calls him, “El-Roi,” the God who sees. God sees Hagar, not the slave, not the womb, not the person trod for the promise sought. God sees.

Monday Mull: Acts 1:12-2:13

I’ve always been fascinated by Matthias, the apostle chosen to fill the vacancy left by Judas Iscariot. I like that he became one of the twelve on a coin toss. I like that we know nothing about him except a) he was there and b) he beat out Joseph Barsabbas and Joseph was cool with it.

I’ve always loved the Pentecost story, with strong winds and divided tongues as of fire. I like the accusation of the people that these guys aren’t emissaries of the divine rebirth, they are simply drunk! On the cheap stuff!

(Fact: I had a professor in college who grew up in Belgium, and could only remember the words to the Flemish national anthem if he had a few German beers in him. So it does happen, I guess.)

The mulling this week is a complex one, I think–how does one preach on the continuation of the church, beginning with Matthias, continuing on to our congregations today? Especially since if we’re being responsible, the doors are locked and the community is safe? What does it mean for the Spirit to faithfully and consistently birth and rebirth the Church, breathe life into it, blow it out of its shelters and burn down its institutions, when we are in the heart of Coronatide?

Sunday’s only six days away. I better get to work.