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“Good morning.”

“Praise the Lord! Good morning,” he replied.

The man was a large and odd looking fellow with a big round face and glasses pushed up on his nose, windows through which his kind looking eyes viewed the world. I shook his hand and he shook mine. I watched from the back of the church as the man made his way up the center aisle to find a seat. About one-quarter of the way up he stopped, faltered for a moment as if he were lost, turned around, and walked back towards me. “I see you have a nursery school here, for kids aged one and a half to four?” I smiled and nodded, “yes, I believe those are the ages.” “Who is preaching this morning?” asked the man. “Ajit is,” I said, gesturing towards the front of the church where Ajit stood with this weeks lay reader, a woman. “Ajitis?” he said as he turned to look at me, quizzically, as if he were thinking he had outsmarted me somehow. I could detect a small and discrete smile forming at the corners of his mouth. What the hell was he so jolly about, I wondered? “Doesn’t it say in the Bible that women aren’t to speak in church?” The words slid out from his lips like a lasso, as if he wanted to tie me up real good and pin me down, so as he could teach me somethin’ without my really wantin’ to know it. I knew this man. We’d never met before, but I knew his type. I smiled back at him, “Well…” “Yes it does,” he proclaimed, cutting me off, “that’s the problem these days, everybody wants to say it doesn’t.”

He turned to walk back out the door he had entered a few minutes prior, handing his bulletin back to the greeter. “Ajit is a man,” I said. The man stopped and looked back at me, “Huh?” “Ajit, he’s a man,” I said again. “Oh. Well then.” He took back his bulletin and began to walk towards the pews. As he passed by he looked at me, “So, no women preach in this church?” “Not today.” “Not today?” he muttered as he walked back up the center aisle of the church towards the front where he found his seat, directly below the towering pulpit.

The church greeter turned to me with a worried look on his face, “He must be new here, I’ve never seen him before.” I smiled, “vistin’ perhaps.”

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The following is a short five-minute homily I preached during morning prayer in the Wycliffe College chapel on Tuesday, March 13, 2012. The New Testament reading, from which I preached, was 1 Corinthians 7:32-40.

Funny side-note. Prior to preaching at 8:30am I had not eaten anything nor had I drank anything. Further, when I got up to preach in what was a very warm chapel I was wearing a heavy knit sweater. As I preached, I became very hot and began to feel light-headed, dizzy, and yes even nauseous. I figured I had three options: I could try to tough it out but then I would risk passing out in the middle of my short sermon. On the other hand, I could make a dash for the open door at the side of the chapel where I would no doubt vomit. Those two options would have proven rather embarrassing (and gross) so I opted for the third option and excused myself as I stopped preaching to take off my sweater. Crisis averted.

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It makes all the difference in the world how one regards the end of the world. By “end” I do not mean a temporal point beyond which we cannot venture but rather the goal, the purpose, the telos of the world. Talking about the end of the world may seem like an odd way to begin a short homily on a portion of Scripture addressed to virgins. Yet this is precisely the context in which we are to hear Paul’s seemingly odd relational advice. If the Apostle had a “Dear Paul,” column in the local paper his advice to a young engaged couple may have gone something like this: “Dear Young-and-in-love: Marriage? The time is near, the world as we know it is passing away! Perhaps there are other things you may want to consider such as, I don’t know, concerning yourself with the affairs of the Lord in what little time you have left. Plus, marriage will bring you great distress so, you’re welcome.”

Of course, Paul isn’t writing a general treatise on marriage here and given his expectations his opinion on the matter makes more sense. Paul’s advice is conditioned by his belief that the day of the Lord is immanent. In the few verses prior to this mornings reading Paul says that “the appointed time has grown short,” (7:29a) and that “the present form of this world is passing away,” (7:31b). Later on Paul will refer to himself and the recipients of his letter as “us, on whom the ends of the ages have come,” (10:11). Indeed, nothing less than this has happened in the death and resurrection of Christ Jesus. In Jesus, the ends of the ages have come upon us. The old age, ruled as it was by sin and death has passed away and the new age, the fullness of God’s reign in Christ, has come. The tension, of course, is that while this new reality has indeed altered the present world it has not yet arrived in all of it’s glory and splendor. In the present we have a foretaste, a downpayment. But, when Christ returns (any moment now, for Paul) he will once and for all judge evil and wickedness and set the world aright.

Thus, Paul’s powerful apocalyptic expectation shaped his advice to the young virgins, that they remain single. Because, for Paul, the time is short ordinary temporal matters dwindle in significance or rather they “assume the significance that is properly theirs in the light of God’s eschatological judgment”[1]. Whether married, single, or engaged Christians ought to live as people who know that all these things are made sense of and find their fulfillment in Christ. Since the future is impinging upon the present Paul simply thought it illogical to undertake such long-term commitments as marriage.

However, Paul was also concerned that marriage presents many distractions that hinder service to the Lord. At best, marriage will produce divided interests as the husband considers how to please his wife (and rightly so!). For Paul, the potential danger of marriage is that it will hinder the Christian’s singleminded devotion to the mission of the church. Paul thinks it urgent that we be about the affairs of the Lord, proclaiming the gospel in the short time that remains, and singleness simply frees up time, attention, and energy to do this crucial work.

Alright, so Paul’s eschatological expectations were off a bit (two millennia or so and counting). What now? We along with Paul are indeed those upon whom the ends of the ages have come. In Christ, we are re-socialized into a pattern shaped by the gospel and illuminated by our eschatological setting between the cross and the final day of the Lord. As Christians our stories are caught up into the story God is telling and has told, the story which culminates in Christ Jesus who is coming again soon to judge the world and subject all things to the Father, “so that God may be all in all,” (15:28). Whether married or single, this story makes sense of our lives and reveals that we are a people on a journey.

Our society has lost good reasons for getting married and having children. We appear even more-so to have lost good reasons for staying single. “Ultimately,” says Stanley Hauerwas, “for the believer there is only one good reason to get married or to stay single, namely, that this has something to do with our discipleship”[2]. In light of Christ’s return marriage and singleness help to cultivate those virtues needed to keep us on the journey. So then, let us not be anxious but instead pursue wholehearted service of the Lord who has authority over our lives be we married or single. Amen.

Footnotes:

[1] Richard Hayes, Interpretation: First Corinthians (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1997), 127.

[2] Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon, Resident Aliens (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1989), 66.

More evidence that we need a community in which to learn to be Christian. From Hauerwas:

“What so often makes us liars is not what we do, but the justifications we offer for what we do. Our justifications become the way we try to defeat the contingencies of our lives by telling ourselves consoling stories that suggest we have done as well as possible…Being Christian means that I must try to make sense of my life in the light of the gospel, and so I do not get to determine the truthfulness of my story. Rather, those who live according to the gospel will be the ones to determine where I have been truthful and where I have deceived myself,” (Hannah’s Child, 159).

Am I a Christian? I don’t know. Ask those around me.

It is well known that the ancient Greek society was rigidly structured. Individuals within that society each had roles that they were born into (i.e. master, slave, male, female , rich, poor etc). Aristotle has much to say regarding this. For Aristotle, in order for a society to be good and just each member of the society had to accept his/her role and play it and this began in the family. So then, for Aristotle, there could be no ordered society if there were no ordered family.

This is similar talk that you might here nowadays from particular (conservative?) Christian circles. Exceedingly, the emphasis is placed on the family unit (for example). What is needed is a focus on the family. A properly ordered family will lead to a properly ordered society (for example). The purpose of life, “is lived out first within our own families then extended, in love, to an increasingly broken world that desperately needs Him.”

To be sure I have a family. I love my family. I think family is important. My goal here is not to detract from the family. No, I think that Jesus and other New Testament figures do a better job of that than I. Consider some of the following sayings of Jesus:

“Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household. He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it,” (Mt. 10:34-39).

“While He was still speaking to the crowds, behold, His mother and brothers were standing outside, seeking to speak to Him. Someone said to Him, “Behold, Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside seeking to speak to You.” But Jesus answered the one who was telling Him and said, “Who is My mother and who are My brothers?” And stretching out His hand toward His disciples, He said, “Behold My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother,” (Mt. 12:46-50).

Who does Jesus consider his “mother and brothers”? “Whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven.” In contrast to this, John tells us that, “not even His brothers were believing in Him,” (7:5). Family within the kingdom is not necessarily the same as family in light of the world.

See also Paul’s letter to Philemon. Speculation about the relation between Philemon and Onesimus aside, Paul writes to Philemon, “for perhaps he was for this reason separated from you for a while, that you would have him back forever, no longer as a slave, but more than a slave, a beloved brother,” (v.15-16).

Remember Aristotle and the structured Greek society? Each member had a role that they simply had to play. Well, Paul speaking to this very world, proclaims that, “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ,” (Gal. 3:28). In the kingdoms of Greece and Rome there may very well have been structured roles to play. However, in this new kingdom, in God’s kingdom, all of the roles that would generally serve to separate folks are done away with, “for you are all one in Christ.”

Further, each role in society came with certain expectations. In Romans 13 Paul seemingly plays into this: “Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities,” (13:1). Wayne Meeks argues in The Moral World of the First Christians that the ruling class in these days literally made up 1% of the population (we are the 99%, anyone?!). Paul continues on and it seems that he is arguing for this sort of structure in society: “Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour,” (13:7, emphasis mine). But then he goes on: “Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another,” (13:8, emphasis mine).

So wait, what do we owe people? Tax? Custom? Fear? Honour? Nothing? Love? For Paul (in his own subversive way), as for Jesus, it would seem that this new society is founded on something other than societal and familial roles. “For you are all one in Christ.” This is a society in which the nature of Philemon’s relationship with Onesimus is forever altered—no longer slave, but dear brother. This is a society in which we are to, “owe nothing to anyone except to love one another.” This is a society based on what we might call friendship. And it is thus, as Wayne Meeks argues, that the earliest Christians were ridiculed as not only pagans but as those who were out to destroy the family.

The following is a sermon delivered at Church in the City and Church in the Beach on Sunday, August 7, 2011.

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Out To Sea: A Sermon On Matthew 14:22-33.

One Thing: When Jesus sends us out to sea do we trust and have faith or do we doubt?

Read Matthew 14:22-33

We’re beach people. We like life on the beach. Life on the beach is great. We can set up a volleyball net and play a game or two, or three?! We can break out the BBQ and enjoy a few beverages! We can soak up the sun by day and have bonfires by night. The beach is nice. The beach is safe and comfortable. And boy, do we like comfort. Occasionally we feel daring. So, we’ll get in the boat. We’ll even drift off the shore a bit but as soon as we start to feel unsure we head back for the safety of the sand. Ground to stand on. But Jesus, he sends us out into the sea. In the evening as the sun is going down. During a storm. By ourselves!

There begins todays gospel reading. “Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side…” So, after witnessing Jesus feed over 5,000 people with a couple of fish and some bread, the disciples hop in a boat and begin to row across the Sea of Galilee by themselves. Next thing the disciples know they are miles off shore and the sun has set. It’s dark. It’s easy to miss the significance of this moment for the disciples. In the ancient near-eastern world the night time was terrifying. Remember, there was no electricity. No street lights. No neon Dundas Squares. The night was pure blackness. Dark. Menacing. On top of this, popular belief held that the sea was the home of evil spirits. Here then are the poor disciples wondering what in the world Jesus has done. He sent them out ahead of him and there they are in the middle of the sea, in the darkness, alone. Absolutely terrifying. And as if that wasn’t enough, Matthew wants his readers to know that they were also in the midst of a storm. Their boat (and we’re not talking about a cruise liner here, we’re talking about a small row boat) was being pummeled, literally ‘harassed’, by the waves. Battered: “for the wind was against them.” And this lasted all night.

Do we ever feel like this as a church? Because here we are in the 21st C. anticipating Christ’s return. All is not well. Do we ever feel battered? Lost in the dark? Wet and cold? Alone? If not, perhaps it’s because when Jesus sent us on ahead into the sea we chose to set up camp on the beach instead. God forbid that He would ask us to do something that may seem risky, or costly, or futile. We often take conflict, opposition, and hardship as signs that we’re doing something wrong. That perhaps we’re not where we’re meant to be because God promises us safety and security. Yet, here are the disciples, in a boat in the middle of the sea. In the middle of a storm. In the middle of the night. Alone. Because Jesus sent them on ahead.

Where is Jesus? Well, Jesus himself is alone. He’s up on the hillside praying. I wonder what he was praying about. I think he was praying for his disciples, perhaps like he did in the gospel of John, “Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one…I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one…As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world,” (17:11ff). Just as Jesus sent his disciples out into the sea ahead of him so too the church has been sent out by Jesus into the world as a foretaste of the life that is to come, as a sign-post pointing towards the truth of all reality that has burst forth in Christ Jesus. The outer edges of God’s mission are, for us, always penetrating into the dark, cold, and lonely unknown. And just as Jesus was there interceding and praying for the terrified disciples at sea so too he lives to intercede for us now as we await his return. Furthermore, we have been given a gift, the gift of the Spirit who also intercedes for us. See, the mission that Jesus has sent us on is his mission. Thus, when and where he beckons us to join him he intercedes for us, on our behalf, because the success of the mission of God does not rest with us, it rests ultimately with Jesus.

As the disciples set out to sea that evening, sent by Jesus, surely they were expecting him to be along soon. But Matthew writes that, “early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea.” The disciples were out there in that rickety old boat, in the darkness and the storm, cold and wet, all night. It wasn’t until morning that Jesus came out to meet them. When we as God’s pilgrim people face difficulties there is no telling how long we may have to endure. Jesus may not be there to meet us right away at the first sign of a storm. So, the question is, how much to we trust Jesus? Do we trust him fully? Do we trust that it was indeed he who sent us, and that we are therefore in the right place?

When the disciples see Jesus walking on the sea you’d think perhaps they would be overwhelmingly glad. “Finally! We were wondering when you’d show up!” But, according to the gospel writers they were terrified. They cried out in fear: “It is a ghost!” Seeing Jesus walk out to you on the sea, in the midst of a storm can involve what Eugene Peterson calls a “dizzying reorientation” of our assumptions. Everything we think we know about Jesus and how his grace appears to us must be held lightly because at any moment he could show up in ways we may never have imagined, in confusing ways where he is hard to recognize. In terrifying ways. As the church we should be slow to presume what Jesus looks like and how he may think or act. Because the grace revealed to us in Christ Jesus is surprising and there can be no telling in advance how it might appear to us. It may appear to us strange, ungodly even! What would Jesus do? Probably something that I’d never even think of! As the Catholic theologian Hans Urs Von Balthasar said, “There can be intimacy with God, but no getting used to Him.” And this is true even more so when we’re truly living as sent people out on the edges of God’s mission where it can be dark and stormy.

Immediately, there in the midst of their fear, Jesus reveals himself to them: “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” “It is I”. This was more than a simple self-identification. To Matthew’s readers, particularly the Jewish ones, this would hearken them back to the Hebrew Scriptures, to the One who appears in the bush that burns but is not consumed: “I Am”. In Jesus, God is uniquely present. We see this even in the act of Jesus walking on the sea. The sea, the place of chaos and confusion where evil spirits reside, is mastered by the Son of God, the One in whom and through whom all things were made and hold together.

Peter here is like us, a paradox, an example of both faith and lack of faith. Peter calls out to the ghostly figure, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” So, Jesus calls him, “Come.” Peter is convinced. He gets out of the boat and begins to walk on the water towards Jesus. This to me is fascinating. I mean, you have to believe that Peter was rather unexperienced when it came to the art of walking on water. This wasn’t a weekend hobby of Peter’s: “Hey Andrew, I’ll see you later. I’m just going to go for a little stroll…on the water.” Yet, for some crazy reason Peter figured that if Jesus called him out on the sea that he could really do it. Physically, it is impossible for Peter to walk on water. But his lack of water-walking skills is not what defines Peter in this moment. In this moment, the truest thing about Peter is the word that Jesus speaks to him: “Come”. The Church, the pilgrim people of God, we often get a bad rap, and rightly so much of the time. Far from being trained professionals we’re simply a bunch of uncoordinated fools stumbling through life. Yet we’re entrusted with this enormously beautiful task that comes with much responsibility. Live faithfully to God in the midst of an unfaithful world. “Oh, alright, no big deal.” Live in such a way as to reveal the beauty of the gospel. “Easy enough.” But we know all too well that the sort of people we actually are is a far cry from the sort of people we’re ideally supposed to be. Be that as it may, in the midst of our uncoordinated Tom Foolery (and often outright unfaithfulness) there is a word that is spoken to us, about us, and for us, and this is the truest word. This is the word that defines us and calls us into being. This is the word that shapes us and sustains us. The word that God speaks to us and about us in Christ Jesus is truer even than what we say and think about ourselves. Regardless of whether or not Peter thought he could really walk on water the fact that Jesus called him out onto the sea meant that he was able. The question then becomes, what is our response? Do we doubt his word or do we trust it?

Matthew tells us that Peter “noticed the strong wind.” As Peter is walking on the water out to Jesus he stops noticing Jesus. He begins, instead, to notice the wind and the waves all around him. For Peter, the word that Jesus spoke to him ceases to be his reality and the storm takes over as ultimate reality. And Peter became frightened and began to sink. As he was sinking in the stormy sea his only reaction was to cry out to Jesus, “Lord, save me!” Do we find ourselves in places where our only cry is a desperate, “Lord, save me!”? If not, perhaps we have forgotten that we are a people sent out into the chaos and unpredictability of the sea. Perhaps we’ve convinced ourselves that we needn’t really paddle all that far off the shore. Perhaps we’ve convinced ourselves that we’re really a people called to set up camp on the safety of the beach. After all, there are barbecues and games on the beach. And immediately, at the very moment that the cry for help was on Peter’s lips Jesus was there, reaching out his hand and grabbing Peter. Pulling him up out of the sea where he was sinking. “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” Who did Peter doubt? I don’t think Peter doubted Jesus. After all, he stepped out of the boat and began walking on the water out to Jesus after a simple, “Come.” No, I think Peter doubted himself. Or, perhaps he doubted that the word which Jesus spoke to him was really true. Can I really walk on the water to Jesus? I mean, look at these waves. Look at this wind. Jesus spoke truth to Peter, truth about Peter, about what he was really capable of, yet Peter doubted it. He doubted that this was really true of him. He doubted that he was really able. Peter and Jesus then get into the boat and the storm ceased. Then, all those in the boat saw Jesus for who he really was and worshipped him saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

And so, here we are. The Church, the pilgrim people of God, waiting around for the return of Jesus. Waiting for the time when he will come to set things right. It’s a tumultuous time. You’d think Jesus might have us build a sanctuary for us to take shelter in. A place we can gather to sing nice songs that make us feel good about ourselves to forget about the storm that is happening outside. But no. What does Jesus do? He sends us out, like the disciples, in a rickety old boat into the middle of the stormy sea. We, the Church, are a sent people. And when I say that we’re a sent people I don’t necessarily mean to some distant land. Here we are, each of us in Toronto, Ontario. God has us here. God has sent us here out into our city, into our neighbourhoods. This is where we live. Outside these doors, these are our people and they are experiencing all sorts of storms. What would it look like if we understood ourselves as a sent people right here in the St. Lawrence Market/Beach? How would it radically shift our life as a church if we could look at our neighbours and see people that we are sent to?

Towards the end of the film ‘No Country For Old Men’ an overwhelmed local Sheriff Ed Tom Bell goes to visit his father Ellis, who turns to him at one point and says, “You can’t stop what’s coming, it ain’t all waitin’ on you. That’s vanity.” I love that line. To be sure, as people on mission we’ll make all sorts of mistakes. But the good news is this. It’s not our mission. See, we’re sent. We’re commanded to go on ahead. And the one who sends us is no less than the Son of God. The one who demonstrates his command of the sea by walking on it. So, while we’re sent to join in on God’s mission in and for the world, in and for our city and neighbourhood, the good news is that the success of this mission does not lie with us. It is not us that guarantees the success of God’s mission, it is Jesus and his kingdom is bursting through all around us. “You can’t stop what’s coming, it ain’t all waitin’ on you. That’s vanity.”

May we understand that we are a people sent on a mission. There is no guarantee of safety or security but the one who sent us is the one who will see it all through. And when we venture into the unknown and the storms come and we’re cold, wet and feeling alone, may we know that we are able to do the seemingly impossible because it’s ultimately His mission, and He’ll see it through. And may we find the courage the trust and have faith.

Garry Ridge, CEO of WD-40, says that effective leaders “have a clear, teachable leadership point of view and are willing to share it with, and teach it to others.”

Clear.

Teachable.

The following are 10 leadership traits according to Garry:

 1. Do what you say you’re going to do: Organizations don’t pay much attention to what we say. Organizations pay intense attention to what we do and the examples we set, particularly if the actions are inconsistent with the words. Any inconsistency is corrosive.

2. You are expected to be competent: Organizations expect their leaders to be competent and act with integrity. (I mean integrity in the broadest sense of the word to include team play and respect shown to subordinates).

3. Have high self-esteem and self worth: Leaders need to have a strong sense of self worth. This means the ability to accept failures and criticism, but without being so egotistical and hubristic that the person is not open to opinions of others. I’ve heard it said that good leaders have a level of self confidence that is slightly more than what is justified by the facts.

4. Leaders move forward: Leaders are not afraid to act with a sense of urgency. They pay attention to the details (not by micromanaging but by taking the occasional deep dive to test what they’re hearing).

5. Good judgment comes from healthy learning moments: Leaders exercise good judgment, usually a result of learning from mistakes. Our successes normally don’t bring with them the introspection that mistakes do. Good judgment is also a result of a wide variety of, e.g. international, experiences. Good judgment comes from experience, experience comes from bad judgment.

6. Leaders are connected, aware and tuned in: They outwardly act and display what they believe internally. Leaders are particularly tuned in to the people around them and to subtle behavioural clues. They read a room well. This is akin to a good sixth sense about how to act in foreign cultures. They listen well. They have high EQ.

7. Leaders value the gift of contrarians and resistors: Good leaders don’t like yes men and sycophants. They know these people will cause them to fail. They are not afraid of surrounding themselves with strong people.

8. Be a leader of hope: Leaders of hope have a belief that “this too will pass.” They keep the passion of their people and they exercise patience against panic. They gather the facts in a sense of calm.

9. Involve your people: Involve the people: The best ideas and greatest support will come when people are involved and contributing. In the end, every decision will be made by the person who can make the decision – an informed decision-maker has the people involved.

10. Always stay in servant leadership mode: Remember leaders are there to serve. The shepherd is there on behalf of the sheep – the sheep are not there on behalf of the shepherd. Note how in most of these a good quality, such as self confidence, becomes fatal when carried to excess.

Lot’s of important stuff here. I know “leadership” is a contested term in the Church world (and rightly so). However, that being said, I think there is a lot of good in the above list.

Thoughts?

The claim with which church proclamation steps forward and the expectation with which it is surrounded should not mislead us; it is always and always will be man’s word. It is also something more than this and quite different. When and where it pleases God, it is God’s own Word. – Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics I.1 §3.2.

Karl Barth penned the above words in regard to Church proclamation. Proclamation (the preaching of the Word) in the context of a Christian community is the formative event. This is true to a lesser extent, for example, in Catholicism where the sacraments are the formative event. What has always set Protestants apart (and should continue to do so) is the primacy of proclamation. For, we hold that proclamation is not merely man’s (sic) word. It is, without a doubt man’s word and cannot cease to be so. Thus, in one sense proclamation of the Word is human service. However, there is another sense “when and where it pleases God” in which proclamation is God’s “own Word” to the community of believers. This is why proclamation is the event for Protestants. It is that moment when we are confronted by God’s own Word and beckoned to obey. Yet, in affirming this we all too often forget that proclamation is an act of human service. These are and “always will be” our words. And so, inevitably, we end up being far too trusting of our own words. They become God’s Word because we say so. God’s Word is unassailable, thus, our words become unassailable (A different example of a similar confusion might be a Toronto Police officer who assumes that the power granted him by the city gives him the sort of authority that permits him to kick the shit out of homeless folks. Here is a situation where the officer is clearly confused about the sort of authority granted to someone in his position).

To the degree that [proclamation is human service], it is not an unassailable action whose authenticity is assured. Like all human action it is exposed to the question of its responsibility…Thus it is precisely in terms of its origin and basis, of the being of the Church, that Church proclamation, and with it the Church itself, is assailed and called in question…Because it is God’s service that Church proclamation seeks to be, it is God Himself and God alone who asks here and to whom response must be made here. – Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics I.1 §3.2.

Because proclamation is a human action it is to be held to account. It must be exposed to the question of its responsibility (is it really the responsibility of Toronto police to kick the shit out of homeless folks? In light of the real responsibility of Toronto police these sorts of actions must be exposed and held to account). Because proclamation claims to be God’s Word which gives birth to and forms the Church it must be “assailed and called in question”. Now, this happens all the time of course. People “outside” or opposed to the Church call into question her proclamation and then some. Yet, for Barth, there is a louder and more terrifying voice which calls Church proclamation to account, namely, the voice of God. Because proclamation seeks to be God’s own Word, God Himself (and He alone) is the one who “asks here and to whom response must be made here.”

And so the Church is burdened with this great responsibility. Of continually submitting ourselves to God and willingly allowing Him to call our words which claim to be His Word into question. This is the burning responsibility of the Church (I hear Hauerwas here). If this self-critique ceases to be the burning issue for the Church, “if the Church with its proclamation can feel secure before God,” then other responsibilities become the burning issue for us. When this occurs, when we begin to feel “secure before God” in our proclamation and other responsibilities become the burning issue then all of the opposition to Church proclamation from state, society, culture etc. “though not intrinsically justifiable, will be legitimate in relation to the Church” and will indeed become necessary criticism of the Church in its failure to be the Church (oh hey, there’s Hauerwas again!).

Our main concern must be our own proclamation. We must be conscious of this responsibility and be “seriously concerned about it”. It has always struck me as odd what we get our feathers ruffled over. Be it homosexuality, small/big government, cultural dis/engagement etc. many sermons preached from pulpits and many conversations had between (mostly) comfortable Christian folks portray the Church as under attack. The gays! Big government! Evolution! We consider these all serious opponents. This, to me, betrays just how self-assured we are. For, as Barth notes, it is only an “unconcerned and self-assured Church”, which is not assailed at it’s own centre (proclamation), that views these “opponents” as at all serious opponents. In other words, our first and foremost concern ought to be submitting ourselves before the God who examines and calls into question our proclamation. The attacks we ought to be concerned with come not from man, but from God.

The Church should fear God and not fear the world. But only if and as it fears God need it cease to fear the world. If it does not fear God, then it is not helped at all but genuinely endangered if it fears the world, listens to its opposition, considers its attitudes, and accepts all kinds of responsibilities towards it, no matter how necessary and justified may be the criticism it receives from this quarter. – Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics I.1 §3.2.

This, I think, raises a whole host of questions about everything from apologetic ministries to Christian lobby groups and poses a challenge to liberal Protestants and Christian Re-constructionists alike. When we fear the world and it’s perceived attacks on Christianity perhaps this is because we have ceased fearing God. May we fear God instead and realize that there is no need to fear the world. We are never “genuinely endangered” by the criticism we receive from the world. Rather, if we indeed fear God then perhaps this criticism can serve as a help. Perhaps we may even recognize God’s voice in these alien voices and be reminded of the burden of our particular ministry and all of the promise it thus entails. The Church that submits herself to God has little energy to spend defending herself against perceived threats. Conversely, the Church with energy to spend defending herself against perceived threats loses sight of her call to submit to and fear God alone.

 

Drawing by this nudist.