Monday, May 29, 2006
Thoughts on the prodigal

So that glorious week spent doing nothing? Well, I lied. It never happened.

Instead, I moved. I spent the week packing my stuff and moving it across campus. There are two dorms for men here, and each summer they close one to "clean" it. That is what we are told, anyway. Most of the stuff I could leave in storage, but my room was on the third floor, and storage is in the basement. No elevator. My knees did not like that. On top of that, I had to coordinate getting everyone else out of the dorm, and making sure they didn't go all Johnny Depp on their dorm room.

Therefore, I rewarded this vast exertion of energy by running away to northern Indiana with Miss Jackie for the weekend. And I finally did nothing. Nu-thing.

Okay, I did something. I did hear a sermon on the Prodigal Son. And that got me thinking. If I were asked to speak on this well-known story from the Gospel of Luke, how might I do it?

Stop me if you've ehard this one before. As I was sitting in the pew before the service, I was thumbing through Deuteronomy (when you're a seminary Bible nerd, you do those sorts of things when you think people aren't looking). And I came across there a law quite apropos of the message. So I think I might start mine with Deuteronomy 21:18-21, as any sensible Jew would have this on the tip of their tongue when they begin to hear a story about a rebellious son.

Now, as our text for the day is Luke 15, next, I think I might point out Luke 1:52-53, and mention how Luke has this special affinity for the little guy. He likes to tell his Jesus stories with a focus on how those that The System has excluded and shoved into the margins Jesus now welcomes with open arms into the Kingdom. After all, it's the sick who need a doctor.

Then, to even call it the "Parable of the Prodigal Son" is misleading. It's not about one son; it's about two. Jesus' parables are like jokes. They have punchlines. The last statement of the parable is the key to understanding it all. The story doesn't end at verse 24. In Luke 15, there are eight more verses, and the youngest son has faded into the background. Clearly, this story is about more than just a son who ran away and came home. Any treatment of this story has to deal with the whiny son who stayed home.

Come to think of it, it's not even about the sons. It's about the father who breaks every social expectation. Remember the law from Deuteronomy. The son signs a death warrant by demanding his father's inheritance. The father has every right to have the son stoned right there. But he doesn't. It's not just that the father unexpectedly welcomes the son home. The son rightfully should have never even left alive.

Not only does the story not end where we typically tell it, it also begins earlier--not at verse 11, but at verse 1. Luke gives us two other parables about lost things. Surely, this no accident, and they have some direct connection to a story about a father with one lost son and one grumbling son.

Luke sets these up by giving us Jesus in the middle, in one corner tax collectors and "sinners", and in the other, Pharisees and scribes. We have the "in-crowd" and the "out-crowd". Jesus spends his time with those that every good Jewish boy is told to stay away from. "This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them."

The Pharisee power-brokers are not happy. They must have forgotten to read the Magnificat at the beginning of Luke's story.

So Jesus starts in about sheep. "Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost." Then starts talking about coins. "Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost."

Are we sensing a theme yet? And so how does Jesus wrap up his story about the father and two sons? "But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found."

And so I'm thinking, maybe this story of Jesus' is less directed to those who have lost their way, and it's more for those who need a good kicking reminder to get happy when the lost find the Kingdom.

Yeah, I think that's the general direction I'd take this message if you asked me to talk about it.

posted by Peter at 11:35 PM
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Tuesday, May 23, 2006
Summer: Day #1
School is all finished. Here's a brief recap of what happened in the last seven days...

> Took two tests in a single day--Ethics and history.

> On said day with the two days, I was summoned for jury duty. I whined about it being finals week and all, so the judge sent me back home. But that was an hour wasted that could have been used memorizing the principles of just war theory.

And man, I gotta say it bothers me how much the local county courtroom resembles the local house of worship I attend. Or maybe its the other way around. There are wooden pews. A wooden railing that separates the "speaker" from the "audience." There's "pulpit" on a stage where stands an authoritative dude in a robe. I think there may be a problem here.

> Wrote 10 pages on the Social Gospel and Walter Rauschenbusch. Wish I could have more time to learn more. Ten pages was just enough to get started.

> Wrote 12 pages that had to be whittled to 8 on 1 Samuel 2:6-10. Yahweh loves the underdog. That's what 1-2 Samuel are all about. Check it out.

> Wrote 5 pages on the normative sense of the Old Testament, in other words, in what way does the OT apply to me. You know that scene in the NeverEnding Story where Bastian first sees the book, and the old man tells him it isn't safe? Yeah, I think the Bible is kinda like that.

> Read a good 400-500 pages of history and OT theology. It was a long week.

> Saturday morning I donated blood. Two days later, the inside of my arm still makes me look like a junkie. But, I got a free ticket to King's Island, and I probably saved somebody's life. What did you do with your Saturday morning?

> Today I started working fulltime, and this is my fate for the next month: I come home from work, and I will do nothing.

And it will be glorious.

posted by Peter at 12:26 AM
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Saturday, May 06, 2006
We have work to accomplish
From Merton's journal, April 25, 1957:
Most important of all--Man's creative vocation to prepare, consciously, the ultimate triumph of Divine Wisdom. Man, the microcosm, the heart of the universe, is the one who is called to bring about the fusion of cosmic and historic processes in the final invocation of God's wisdom and love. In the name of Christ and by his power, Man has a work to accomplish--to offer the cosmos to the Father, by the power of the Spirit, in the Glory of the Word. Our life is a powerful Pentecost in which the Holy Spirit, ever active in us, seeks to reach through our inspired hands and tongues into the very heart of the material world created to be spiritualized through the work of the Church, the Mystical Body of the Incarnate Word of God.

posted by Peter at 12:26 AM
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Friday, May 05, 2006
I notice things
So there's this guy mowing in front of our house and library today. He's wearing a gas mask. A hardcore gas mask. He looks ready for a mustard gas attack.

This raises all sorts of questions in my mind. When did lawncare begin to involve chemical warfare? Does he know something I don't know? Should I be concerned? Does cutting grass emit noxious fumes into the air? Have I watched too many episodes of the X-Files?

I found Jason reading on the lawn later. I told him I didn't think that was such a good idea.

And Josh is wondering thoughts I was wondering, too, this week:
It turns out that even though I'm finished with 1/3 of Divinity School, they still haven’t started teaching me to be divine. I was hoping to be able to, at least, turn water to wine by now. I'd like to major in Water-Based miracles with a minor in paradoxical sayings. All they've been teaching me about is ministry, theology, history, and biblical studies. I assume we start cracking into the miracles and feats and such next semester.

When do I get to learn how to part the Kentucky River?

I mean, if I'm not multiplying loaves and fishes, manipulating the weather and walking on water once I'm done with these 93 hours of classes, I will be gravely disappointed.

If not that, what's a "Master of Divinity" good for anyway?

posted by Peter at 3:35 PM
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Wednesday, May 03, 2006
Soul-winning effort
I recently received the following email from the Alumni Association where I received my undergraduate education. (Incriminating names are blotted out because, oh I don't know, it makes me feel better about posting it):

Dear Alumnus,

President *** has asked us to come up with some statistics that will give an indication of the impact that *** alumni have had on the world when it comes to salvations.

If you are involved in ministry leadership (pastor, leader of a soul-winning effort, etc.), could you give us a rough estimate of the total number of people that have come to salvation through your testimony, preaching, or influence in the past year (between April 1, 2005 and March 31, 2006)?

Thank you so much for your help, and God bless you.

There are many times when I have been grateful for the experience I gained at this place during that time in my life.

This is not one of those times.

Do you loose the bonds of injustice? Do you break yokes of oppression? Do you share bread with the hungry? Do you invite the homeless into your home? Do you cover the naked?

This is deeper than a semantic issue. This is a theological worldview that does not square with the Scriptures. Nevermind the theological hazard of "my impact on salvations." (Seriously, if I am somehow involved in anyone's salvation, my own included, I really should quit this school thing and just go pro with the salvation thing.)

My every soul-winning effort has failed miserably. For that, I am deeply grateful. Perhaps that's how I should have replied to the email.

Christ have mercy.

posted by Peter at 11:26 PM
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