I have been attending a United Methodist church, and today was the first day that I attended the church’s Sunday school class. I will write about that later this week. Today, I have four items about the church service itself.
1. Last week, someone in the congregation asked us to pray for a
family that got lost while hiking. I prayed about them all this week,
and this morning I asked the lady with that prayer request if they were
found. She replied that they were. They were near enough to a stream
to get water and thus hydration, but they were eaten up by hornets, so
their experience was traumatic.
This reminds me that church presents an opportunity for people to
pray, and then to see what God does. Maybe God was taking care of those
people by allowing them to be near water. The hornets, though, are
hard to explain theologically—-the same way that there are other rough
realities of life that are difficult to explain theologically.
2. Someone else in the church was a leader in the church’s project
to sell fireworks. I was going to ask him this morning if he sold a lot
of fireworks. He was not there, though, and the reason was that his
son, a truck driver, was in a serious accident. The pastor told us that
this man and his wife drove all night to get to their son. This man
told the pastor that the sermon last week really ministered to him.
Last week, a layperson delivered the sermon, and the first words of her
sermon were about how horrible it is to lose a child. The man said that
he is having faith in this difficult time. The pastor said that
sermons can go beyond the preacher and have a life of their own,
especially when God uses them. Fortunately, from what I have heard, the
man’s son is doing better.
I think of something I read a while back in Kimlyn Bender’s Confessing Christ for Church and World,
on page 266: ” “Baptists speak unabashedly of the priesthood of
believers, but at their best they have always recognized that you cannot
be a priest by yourself. Certainly each person can boldly approach the
throne of grace; that is not the question. It is rather that the idea
of an autonomous priest is a contradiction in terms. To be a priest is
to be an intercessor. And to be a priest you need someone to intercede
for. And Christians are called to intercede for each other, and
together, to intercede for the world.”
3. The pastor in her sermon said that the Gospel of John is
optimistic when it comes to the disciples. I got up really early this
morning, so I was a little spaced-out while she was talking during
communion, but I vaguely recall her saying that the Gospel of John does
not have communion, whereas the synoptic Gospels do. Her point, if I
recall correctly, was that the synoptics are open about the weaknesses
of the disciples—-the disciples in the synoptics simply do not
understand who Jesus is—-and thus it presents communion because it is a
ritual that weak people, like the disciples and all of us, can cling
to. Because John’s Gospel was optimistic about the disciples, however,
it did not believe that they needed a physical ritual like communion to
help their faith.
My mind went back to what I learned in my Intro to New Testament
class years ago. That class introduced me to what a number of scholars
characterize as the viewpoint of each Gospel. And, yes, I do recall
that, unlike the synoptics, the Gospel of John does depict some of the
disciples as understanding who Jesus is early on. Yet, as my pastor
acknowledged, there are places even in the Gospel of John where the
disciples are lacking in understanding. Philip wanted Jesus to show the
disciples the Father. Thomas doubted.
4. The pastor was talking about loving God, loving neighbor, and
avoiding what is not of God in the world in preparation for a
transformation from God. According to the pastor, we love God by
spending time with God. We love our neighbor by spending time with them
and being present to them, and also desiring what is good and holy in
their lives. And we avoid what is not of God in the world by avoiding
such things as greed and violence.
On the part about avoiding what is not of God in the world, I thought
of the Sibylline Oracles, which I have been reading for my daily quiet
time. The Sibylline Oracles are not monolithic, for were written over
several centuries and have pagan, Jewish, and Christian contributions.
But there are passages in it that condemn warmongering, violence, and
greed. Some passages envision God’s kingdom as a time when the earth
will be held in common, which may differ from the biblical presentation
of private property in eschatologically-renewed Israel (Micah 4:4;
Ezekiel 47), but which still overlaps with those passages in expressing
the hope that all Israelites will be able to share in prosperity,
without a few people hogging everything up.
On love, I have some difficulty showing love by spending time with
people. I am not going to beat myself up because I have left some
relationships. I would, however, like to highlight to myself the value
of being a compassionate presence in people’s lives.
Do I desire what is good and holy in people’s lives? I cannot say
that I have a deep-down desire for atheists, agnostics, or others to
become evangelical Christians. But maybe I do hope that they can find
some peace with God, whatever form that peace may take. And, when it
comes to Christians I do not like, I pray that God might make them
better, more compassionate people.