Theology of Failure
2010-08-04 by Adam Grosch
I was reading an article on here that talked about the need for us to have a "theology of failure."
It recalled a quote that I have remembered but not sure who said it or where I first heard it. It goes something like this: "It is better to fail at something that will ultimately succeed than to succeed at something that will ultimately fail." (A quick google search gives a version of the quote to Peter Marshall - a Scottish pastor from early 20th century and/or Woodrow Wilson).
We don't do very well at failure in our society. We are so results driven. I am thinking about some of our NBA players. LeBron James recently had tons of publicity switching to Miami Heat - abandoning Cleveland for the simple reason "I want to win." It seems like this reasoning is completely acceptable to us. NBA star Chris Paul talks similarly. He plays for the Hornets which didn't even make it to the playoffs . He was recently quoted, "I would love to be here. I want to win many, many championships here, I just want to make sure we're committed to winning. ... I love everything about the city, but at the end of the day, I want to win and I don't want to win years from now. I want to win now.'' For now his commitment to them may be more related to the fact that he is stuck under contract with them for at least two more seasons.
For these players it isn't even about the money so much as it is about winning - about success. I am sure this is true probably for most players even if they don't voice it so blatantly as the ones above have. I hear Shaq may be headed to the Celtics - certianly a winning team - but he also may be an example to lift up in a discussion on the theology of failure. I noticed for the first time last night a TV series titled "Shaq vs." Shaq who is talked about as one of the best athletes in the world is placed in a competition against the experts in other sports. The two examples last night included him going up against the national spelling bee winner in a spelling contest and against Dale Earnhardt Jr. in a nascar race. In both cases the "experts" were given handicaps to give Shaq a fighting chance but nevertheless, it seemed like the cards were stacked against him. He never stood a chance in either of the competitions. Shaq, who is a competitor at heart, was such a gracious player and loser. The fact that he is willing to compete against such ridiculous odds and the way that he lost so graciously are certainly examples of how it doesn't always have to be about "winning." Sometimes it is just about getting out there and playing the game.
Is playing for the kindgom seen as a winning game or a losing game in our society today? With the decline of the institutional church - there is certainly the anxiety in our pews that the church is losing. How prophetic it may be to lift up losing as a kingdom value as well as the quote "It is better to fail at something that will ultimately succeed than to succeed at something that will ultimately fail." v.40 promises that Jesus will indeed return. In the end God will bring all things together under Christ - fully redeemed. This may seem like a far away impossibility to some and choosing it in today's world may look like we are joining the losing side but we can be assured that the kingdom is indeed the only treasure worth investing in (even if it leads us to a life of failure in this lifetime).
The Thief and Death
2010-08-04 by Adam Grosch
Yesterday I was considering how each of the three sections were connected to each other especially why verses 32-34 were included as they seemed more closely tied to the "do not worry" section. Today I noticed that both 32-34 and 39-40 mention a thief. The image of a thief seems to be one way that these two sections can be connected. In the first case, if we are striving after the kingdom of heaven the suggestion is that the thief will not be able to reach us. The treasures of heaven are not susceptible to being stolen. If we are invested in heavenly treasures they cannot be taken away from us. I was reading in an article on this site about how we are so invested in our consumer culture in America. Speaking against consumerism may be one of the biggest challenges that the church is called to do today. This passage certainly gives us a jumping off point.
But lets look at the second use of thief. If we consider ourselves to be the house owner in 39-40 then a thief may come in and steal our posessions. If we knew when the thief would arrive then we wouldn't leave our house and we could stand guard. We don't know when the thief might arrive - so what are we suppose to do, never leave our houses? I think this would be missing the point. If we connect it back to the first thief - if we are totally invested in the kingdom then there may be nothing for the thief to steal when he breaks in. Jut like we don't know when a thief may come we don't know when the Son of Man will arrive. If we knew when the Son of Man was going to arrive then we could make sure we are fully invested in the kingdom just like if we knew the thief was coming we wouldn't leave our house. But since we don't know these things - we can only be ready for them to happen. Being ready for either would mean striving and investing in the kingdom and not worrying about values that are other than the kingdom. This then brings us back to the "do not worry" section. Do not worry and have anxiety about non-kingdom issues.
Verse 39 took on new meaning for me tonight as I just returned from an emergency call where I was at the house of a member of the church. Her husband who was not a church goer or a believer had just committed suicide. I had only met him a few times. She had left the house in order to go for a walk and it was an hour after she returned before she discovered him. If she had known this was going to happen - she most certainly would not have left the house. But of course, she had no idea that the "thief" would arrive and take her husband's life. How ever could she be prepared for a death like this? How could her husband do something like this to her?
"You must be ready for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour." The chances are that we will not probably see the second coming in each of our lifetimes...I mean it certainly is possible - but tonight I am realizing that death often comes to us at an unexpected hour as well. Are we ready for death? For the death of our spouse, family member, or friend? If we are invested in kingdom values vs. consumer values does it make us more ready to face death? I hope so. How I am be too tired to articulate right now.
2010-08-02 by Adam Grosch
Hi my name is Adam Grosch, your guest blogger for this week. It is a sunny day here in Salem Oregon. It is beautiful, breezy and in the low 80s. We are certainly in the heart of summer as a majority of our staff here at Westminster Presbyterian Church is out on vacation. Worship was even a little thin yesterday. Our high school mission team just left for New Orleans and I imagine there are a lot of others in the congregation who are traveling as well.
For some reason, when I was outlining my sermons for the summer I chose the lectionary passage from Isaiah. I think I probably chose it because at the time I had been working on Micah 6. Now I feel like anything I offer on Isaiah would just be a stale regurgitation of Micah so with the informality of the summer, I think I may choose to focus on the gospel this week instead.
I know why I shied away from the gospel when I first looked at the lectionary choices for this week. I was afraid of it, which is probably a good reason why I should preach on it. That last verse is a tough one, “You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.” I don’t really understand what this means. Is it a reference to the second coming of Christ? I have a fairly orthodox understanding of Christian eschatology – that our true hope rests in resurrection on the day of our Lord and that a new age will be inaugurated when heaven and earth become one. Is all this related to this verse? Whenever I talk about the second coming with my congregation, they always get a glazed look in their eyes. I am not sure why – it may be because I haven’t done a good job of explaining true Christian hope and they only have some quasi-Christian understanding of “going to heaven when I die.” The one time that I can get away with talking about the second coming is when we celebrate the Lord’s Supper – “whenever we eat this bread or drink this cup, we proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes again.” Too bad we just celebrated communion yesterday. The other problem I run into when talking about Jesus’ return is that it seems like an event that is so far away that it really doesn’t have any practical application for today. I can understand the feeling. But there must be some implication for us today – even if it is an event of the distant future.
The other thing I am wondering is the boundaries of the pericope for the gospel lection. There really seems to be three distinct sections: 32 through 34; 35 through 38; and 39 through 40. I wonder why they are all put together. 32 through 34 I always thought was more related to the verses that come before it, Luke’s version of “do not worry” found in Matthew 6, rather than the verses that come after it. As I begin my study of this passage, I will have to look more closely at this.
Well, I certianly have more questions than answers for you. Maybe you have questions to. Feel free to send them to me. The more questions the better - especially for a Monday. Questions are a pretty good thing to have for a sermon that has all week to come together.
Westminster Presbyterian Church
Existential Angst and the Metaphysical Band-Aid
2010-07-29 by David von Schlichten
Thank you to Jacqueline King for her post, especially her quote from John Wesley. Please scroll down to read all that. You'll be glad you did.
The first reading for this Sunday in the ELCA is from the opening verses of Ecclesiastes and focuses on the dread and despair many of us feel about the injustice and inscrutability of life. This message is worth voicing from the pulpit, because many of us have thought these words. This Sunday, I will preach this angst.
Of course, I will go on to proclaim how the gospel redeems us from death, sin, and, of course, angst, but I don't want to be too quick to dismiss the angst. It is palpable for legions of us, and I don't want the Good News to come across as some metaphysical band-aid.
Yours in Christ,
David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator
The Good Times
2010-07-26 by Jacqueline King
The Good Times
In Louisiana we have a saying, “Laissez le bon temps rouler!” It translates, “Let the good times roll!” In my town, that seems to be the daily mantra. Pageants, parades, parties, fun, festivities, and food dominate the social landscape of many events. We even have drive thru daiquiri shops (actually, they are scattered all throughout Louisiana). How is that legal, you ask? Well, the daiquiri seller puts tape at the top of the straw trusting the driver to take the drink home and consume to one’s satisfaction. (Well, the seller is supposed to apply the tape).
When Oprah Winfrey visited the town a few years back, she commented that it is “the best little city in the U.S.A.” She visited the town few months after September 11, 2001. She remarked that the town was continuing with life. That seems to be the spirit indigenous to these “Steel Magnolias”…they continue with life. As M’Lynn remarked after losing her daughter Shelby to complications of diabetes, “life goes on.”
The strength, the resolve, the reserve is certainly to be commended in this unique town. I see many living their life to the fullest even when tragedy strikes. Life is too short to be haunted by the past, though as I write this I’m praying for those in my town and around the world whose ghosts of life’s-past still haunts them.
I appreciate Brett Younger article “Get a Life Because It Is Shorter than You Think”. He writes it reflecting on Luke 12:32-40, but he inspired me to reflect on the lectionary passage just before that! (Luke (12:13-21) (http://www.goodpreacher.com/journalread.php?id=1651) How do we live life to the fullest and not squandering it away “hour by hour, day by day, in a thousand, small uncaring ways”. The man beheld his goods and said, “I think I’m going to need a bigger barn”. Living the good life is exactly the kind of life Jesus offers to us. And yet, we squander it if we turn the gifts God provides us unto ourselves and being anxious about tomorrow or fully investing in our own securities.
Lately, I’ve been thinking about all those ladies on the Titanic that said “NO” to dessert. Thinking they were being wise to their waistlines, they completely rejected the gift of chocolate. That is not to say “eat whatever you like, gorge, and hoard it all”. There is nothing gospel in that mentality. There is great wisdom in ‘everything in moderation’. There are blessings in the haves as well as the have-nots, but if we just focus on one or the other, we are missing the good life.
We hear the fool who sees his deliciously ample goods and says, ‘relax, eat, drink, be merry’ (vs. 19), he fails because he turns inward and creates his own private island of goods. He does not share. I grow disheartened when I hear Christians turn this text as a way to asceticism and believe Jesus is saying, “avoid all pleasure in life”. Have they read the gospels? Jesus was an exciting person to be around! His fame grew because of the life he chose to lead. Many times he ministered over a meal in the company of friends.
Jesus offers us more than a good time; Jesus offers us life to the fullest even when the life has to meet the cross. Though his earthly life was cut short, his resurrection gives us all Christians hope beyond the earthly goods and anxiety of this time. John Wesley is a patron saint for those who have Wesleyan roots. One of his catchy sayings is an inspiration of how we may live the good life by not squandering it away or storing it up in our own private barns. He modeled living life to the fullest for the glory of God and the love of other:
Do all the good you can
By all the means you can
In all the ways you can
In all the places you can
At all the times you can
As long as you ever can
As time rolls on in the seconds, minutes, and hours to pass may we live life to the fullest in the name of Christ and not cut ourselves short by storing them in bigger better barns! Blessings! Rev. JECK
Rev. Jacqueline E.C. King (or JECK) is an ordained elder in the Louisiana Conference of the United Methodist Church. She serves as an associate pastor at First United Methodist Church in Natchitoches. Natchitoches is the oldest settlement of the Louisiana Purchase and is known for being the story and film location for the movie Steel Magnolias. She loves the work of ministry, preaching, teaching, and sharing her life with her husband who also serves as pastor.
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