Ed Peterman on Fear of Life

You see, if you are afraid of dying, then you will be afraid of living, and you will be afraid to be compassionate and kind lest you be taken advantage of. You will be afraid to be lowly and meek for fear of being powerless. You will be afraid to be patient and forgiving for fear of not appearing strong. You will be afraid to be thankful for fear of seeming dependent on others. All these fears are overcome when you accept the new relationship to your own life and death. If in Christ you are free to die and therefore free to live, your life will bear these fruits of righteousness and peace.

from Who Do You Say I Am? Sermons for Year B Mark (Practically Preaching, 2002), 33.

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Gordon Graham on imagination in worship 

The greatest poetry is an imaginative achievement, not a biographical report. It would be absurd to think, for instance, that Shakespeare had to experience all the jealousy, ambition, love, despair, remorse, paranoia, light heartedness, or grief that he powerfully depicts in the poetry of his plays. It is his astonishing, and seemingly unlimited power to give imaginative expression to these many states of mind without having experienced them, that constitutes his unsurpassed literary gift.

So too with religious poems and hymns. When ordinary worshippers sing some of the finest Christian hymns, for instance, the religious sentiments expressed often far exceed their own. They may also exceed the religious sentiments of those who wrote the hymns. Contrary to what is often supposed … this need not imply either insincerity or a lack of understanding. Religious worshippers set their sights on higher things, hoping to connect with something that transcends ordinary experience. Emotional elevation by means of hymns, poems, and prayers that imaginatively express ideals of feeling play an important part in this endeavor.

from Philosophy, Art and Religion: Understanding Faith and Creativity (Cambridge Univ Pr), 110-111.

2017 Book Round-Up

Just a few books I thought I’d like to shine a light on before the year ends.

2017 Theology & Philosophy Titles

Books to look forward to early 2018

A miscellany of recent responses to our besetting American civic malaise: 

David Brooks on politics as a limited good

To fix politics, care more about other things. […]

It should be said that people on the left and on the right who try to use politics to find their moral meaning are turning politics into an idol. Idolatry is what happens when people give ultimate allegiance to something that should be serving only an intermediate purpose, whether it is money, technology, alcohol, success or politics.

[…] we…need to put politics in its place. The excessive dependence on politics has to be displaced by the expulsive power of more important dependencies, whether family, friendship, neighborhood, community, faith or basic life creed.

[…] our politics probably can’t be fixed by political means. It needs repair of the deeper communal bonds that politics rest on, and which political conflict cannot heal.

from “When Politics Becomes Your Idol,” New York Times, (Oct 30, 2017)

I’d add, don’t care more about other things only for the sake of fixing politics, but also to fix yourself.

Peter Speckhard on the confession of actual sins

A confession of sins that only focuses on original sin to the practical exclusion of actual, concrete sins changes the whole nature of being sorry and repenting. … If you find out a friend has insulted you and lied about you behind your back, and he … apologizes to you by saying, ‘Everything I’ve ever said or done has been vile and inexcusable,’ he’s neatly avoided the only hard and only spiritually salutary part of confession. In theory he has apologized even more than necessary. He has utterly abased himself before you. But in fact he has not apologized at all. … [for] it is the pit-in-the-stomach, fear-and-trembling[ly] difficult to enumerate, even to oneself, any actual sins as though they are spiritually, eternally significant [sic]. But it is also the only thing the Gospel speaks to, the only thing that brings peace. It is way easier to say, “I am the worst, most horrible person who has ever lived,” than to say, “I stole ten dollars from the cash register at work.” The Old Adam is only really afraid of saying the latter. … In our day, it might be a lost cause to make individual, private confession and absolution a regular, normal part of the typical Lutheran person’s piety. But if we’re going to rely on a rite of corporate confession to take its place, we need to make sure we’re retaining the essential character of confessing one’s sins, not reciting a creed.

from “In bondage to sin — not exactly!” Forum Lettter 46.10 (Oct, 2017): 3-4.

Three Readings of Matthew 16:18’s “πυλαι αδου”

“on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of [hades / hell / sheol] will not [prevail against / overpower, overcome, overrun / dominate] it [the church].”

  1. The Defensive Church

As the phrase “gates of Hades” is used in Matt 16:18, it seems to include not just the city of the dead itself but also its inhabitants, especially its demonic rulers. […]The image in Matthew is of the rulers of the underworld bursting forward from the gates of their heavily guarded, walled city to attack God’s people on earth.

When we speak of demonic powers flooding the earth, we are speaking the language of Jewish apocalyptic. Jewish apocalyptists believed that, in the end-time, the powers of cosmic chaos, restrained since creation, would break forth from their restraint and bring unparalleled tribulation upon the world. [445]

[…] In the age inaugurated by Jesus’ death and resurrection, the gates of the underworld will swing open and the horrors of the pit will erupt onto the earth with a roar, attacking everything on it—including the church—with unbridled fury. In the midst of this peril, however, Peter will be given the keys that unlock the gates of heaven. Those gates, too, will swing open, and the kingly power of God will break forth from heaven to enter the arena against the demons. Hades will not prevail against the church because God will be powerfully at work in it, revealing his purposes for it and imparting the heavenly power to fulfill those purposes, so that his will is done on earth as it is in heaven. [455]

from Joel Marcus, “The Gates of Hades and the Keys of the Kingdom,” CBQ (1988).

2. The Offensive Church

For most people, I suspect, the church is pictured in their minds as a strong enclosure, a mighty fortress, that devotes most of its time and energy to defending itself against the assaults of wickedness and evil. The church, surrounded by thick walls, just sits there on a high mountain, while the powers of hell creep up form the murky valleys around it, trying to invade and destroy it. Most people imagine the church as the defender and evil as the aggressor. Evil is loose in the world and the church is scared to death.

That is backwards, according to this text. “The gates of Hades will not prevail against it,” Jesus says. The gates of hell will not prevail against the church. Think what that means. The church is the aggressor, according to Jesus, and hell is scared to death. Hell throws up enormous walls with strong gates to protect itself against the grace of God, but no walls or gates that hell can erect will ever keep the church out. The church’s assignment is to go to hell and attack it, and Jesus’ promise is that hell will eventually be defeated by the church and its Gospel.

from Ed Peterman, Practically Preaching: When Did We See You? Sermons for Year A Matthew, (2004), 210.

3. The Immortal Church

“The gates of Hades” is a metaphor for death. …The “gates” thus represent the imprisoning power of death: death will not be able to imprison and hold the church of the living God. …The imagery is rather of death being unable to swallow up the new community which Jesus is building. It will never be destroyed.”

from R. T. France, The Gospel of Matthew (Eerdmans, 2007), 624-5.