Sinning Saints Hall of Fame
2010-10-25 by Rina Terry

Every year, when United Methodists gather for their Annual Conference, we have a service that begins with singing, “For all the Saints, who from their labors rest…”  The voices swell with genuine fervor and we have a time when we read the names of those who have “gone on to glory” and we are invited to stand, if we knew the person, when their name is read.  There is no punch line.  We do it to honor their memory, to acknowledge their Christian piety and works of mercy and it’s a good thing.  There are so many for whom I have risen from my seat and remembered with gratitude.Yet, each year, I think, as well, about the not so nice, not so perfect, not so intensely religious people whose memory I honor through their influence on my life.  May I call them “saints?”    Since I don’t want to offend anyone, I’ll call them not-so-saintly Saints.  Because, for good or glib, I’m going to blog on these folks during the upcoming week.  I have quite large posters of three of these people in my home.I want us to think about how the church fails to reach the image of God in such creatively charged, radically alive, sometimes deeply wounded people.  I don’t want to argue whether they are in heaven or hell or whether there is a heaven or a hell.  I do want to remember them, with genuine gratitude, for what they have given, and continue to give me.  Their witness was to life in spite of it all.  And, if we consider life God-given, then they witnessed to that gift. From the very first moment I heard Janis Joplin sing, I knew her.  I knew her because it was full of the truth, the rawest kind of truth—the ugly, lonely, insecure truth that resonates in me so deeply, and so profoundly, I find it difficult to respond to God’s call except among the disenfranchised and the outcast.Yes, Joplin’s lifestyle was fraught with alcohol, drugs, sexual promiscuity and exhausting ambitiousness.  I cannot paint pretty pictures of any of that.  Yet, when she sings Nick Gravenites song, “Work Me, Lord,” I hear the searcher, the soul crying, “Don’t you forget me down here, Lord,” and it breaks my heart for all of us/any of us who, even for a moment, have ever felt forgotten and did not believe there was any hope—looked out on a loveless world, and looked and looked for someone to love us. As I write, I’m listening to Janis sing, “Cry Baby,”  so full of the forgiveness, the invitation home, that is manifested in the gospel.  She knew what she needed, what the world needed, but just couldn’t find it for herself even when she offered it to others in her music.  Janis Joplin’s music and life make me want to empty myself out and embody that missing love, the love of Christ, in our broken world.  I continue to be touched by the saint inside the sinner, knowing full well that I, too, wake each day a sinner in need of God’s grace.


Great Point from Hwa-Young Chong
2010-10-23 by David von Schlichten

Scroll down to read an explanation of the excellent point about the need for us Christians to give voice to the often unvoiced sinned-against.

Yours in Christ,

David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator

The Pharisee, the Tax Collector, and a missing voice Luke 18:9-14
2010-10-23 by Hwa-Young Chong

Luke 18:9-14

The Pharisee, the Tax Collector, and a missing voice

Stephen Prothero in his book God Is Not One examines 8 different world religions, claiming that each religion offers to solve a different human problem.  For instance, in Buddhism the problem is suffering, and the solution is nirvana, or enlightenment. In Confucianism the problem is chaos, and the solution is social order.  In Christianity, the problem is sin, and the solution is salvation. Since I grew up with these three religions, I find Prothero's analysis on them, among others, intriguing.

I especially find it interesting that he points out the sin-salvation emphasis of Christianity.  Our recognition of sin and the subsequent need for repentance are indeed at the heart of Christian conversion, the journey in and towards salvation.  Sin, whether it be personal or structural, does seem to be a central problem Christianity addresses, at least in mainline theologies and homilies.

Reading Luke 18:9-14 in this context, it seems that this parable begins with an assumption that both the Pharisee and the tax collector are sinners.  The difference is that the Pharisee is not aware his sinfulness and the tax collector is full of such awareness. The result? The absence of recognition of his sins in the Pharisee leads to the absence of justification; the presence of recognition of his sins in the tax collector leads to the presence of justification. A familiar homiletic approach might be to find ourselves in either the Pharisee or the tax collector, recognize our own self-righteousness, and change our hearts.

But there is a missing voice here - the voice of the sinned-against.  If the Pharisee and the tax collector are both sinners, who are the victims of their sins?  What was the tax collector thinking about, when he had to beat his breast and said, "God, be merciful"? Was was his soul tormented?  Would he have been thinking about the fact that he collaborated with the unjust imperial power? That he gained his wealth by taking what belonged to others? That his actions might have led to the malnutrition, or even death of innocent children of suffering and poor families?  That he acted to consolidate the structures of oppression?  We know that, regardless of what his issues were, he came home justified.  He was forgiven. He was relieved of his guilt.  He became the model for the Pharisee and others for humble faithfulness.  The troubling part of the story is that the victims of his sinfulness remain voiceless victims. We do not know what happened to the suffering, pain, and injustice done to men, women, and children who struggled under the oppressive tax laws in the colonial structures.

As Korean-American theologian Andrew S. Park points out, the church has tended to focus more on condemning sin or comforting/saving sinners, while the han (Korean word that can be roughly translated as suffering) of the afflicted has been rather ignored.  A task of a preacher for Luke 18:9-14 is perhaps to find a missing voice, the voice of the sinned-against.

Hwa-Young Chong

Pastor, Prince of Peace United Methodist Church, Elk Grove Village, IL

Adjunct Professor, Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, Evanston, IL

Thanks; Luke 18:9-14; Psalm 84:3
2010-10-22 by David von Schlichten

Scroll down to read intelligent contributions about the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector. There are some especially helpful reflections on the meaning of justification in the days of the Roman Empire.

The back cover of my bulletin warns us not to read about the Pharisee and say, "Thank you, God, that I am not like that Pharisee."

That's all I have so far regarding Luke 18:9-14.

The ecofeminist in me finds compelling Psalm 84:3, which talks of birds knowing to build their homes near God's altar. In other words, the non-human animals know to revere God. Let's follow their example. Humans tend to think of themselves as superior in intellect to non-human animals, but passages such as this one remind us that non-human animals are wiser in some ways.

That's all I have so far.

Yours in Christ,

David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator

Values Clarification
2010-10-22 by Stephen Schuette

(Luke 18:9-14)  After last week’s urging of constancy in prayer Luke adds a word about the content of prayer.  One possible summary:  even the recognition of your failures in relationship to your neighbor is more important than all you can do in your relationship with God.

Jesus advised to love God and love your neighbor.  And typically we give them parity in importance.  But in the flaunting of Sabbath practice, in parables like the Good Samaritan and others, and now in this story indications are that the priority for Jesus was consistently upon the relationship with the neighbor.

And there’s the irony of this story.  Although the Pharisee seems to do everything right in relationship to God he uses his neighbor to lift himself up in his prayer, kind of standing on their backs when he says, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people…”  But the one who cannot even look up to heaven but recognizes his faults in his relationship with his neighbors is justified.

And here’s my confession:  it’s stewardship time and I’d rather have the Pharisee as a member of my congregation.  He tithes.  I wish we had more people who were not like other people in their giving habits.  If even half my congregation tithed we’d be wondering what to do with all the new funds.  And although he doesn’t have a positive relationship with his neighbor the Pharisee isn’t doing some of the things his neighbors are doing:  thieving, spouse stealing, or consorting with the enemy for one’s own profit.  So didn’t the good that the Pharisee was doing outweigh the little bit of ego that he brought to his prayer life?  See how easy it is to weigh out our values?

Jesus says, "No."  And here's where we finally get back to God.  The value of all people, each person, as a child of God goes beyond all righteousness.  And that's the odd way that God values us.

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