Monday, October 09, 2006

Jesus' Inspriational T-shirt

Listen to (okay, read) Pastor Karl Johnsen, STS, preaching the first Vespers sermon at the General Retreat of the Society of the Holy Trinity. The texts that Tuesday evening were Job 12:1; 13:3-17, 21-27 and St. John 8:33-47:
I have been known at times to frequent certain Christian bookstores of the sort with which I am sure most of you are familiar. You know the ones. The place where you can buy everything from "God's Gym" and "This Blood's for You" T-Shirts, to the latest installment in the ubiquitous Prayer of Jabez franchise. And of course, let us not forget, right up there by the checkout, the ever popular "Testa-Mints". The breath freshener with a message to share.

Somewhere in that same store you are bound to find any number of wall plaques, posters, calendars, and coffee mugs, each bearing some inspirational message straight from the mouth of our Lord. You know the ones; "I am the bread of Life", "I am the light of the world", "Behold I stand at the door and knock". But it strikes me that I have never seen an inspirational poster, coffee mug, calendar, or T-shirt quoting our Lord's words in today's gospel text where he says "You are of your Father the Devil, and your will is to do your Father's desires." (John 8:44a) I guess this is not surprising. When looking for something to put on an inspirational poster, we tend to gravitate toward something more, ... well ..., inspirational. Something more comforting than convicting.

At the end of the day however, we ought not to worry overmuch about what brothers and sisters in other Christian denominations do or do not put on inspirational posters and T-shirts. But perhaps we would do well to worry that we might just be tempted downplay or even ignore words such as these in our ministry of preaching and teaching. They are after all, uncomfortable words, and we like to see ourselves as being in the business of comforting people.

Therefore, perhaps we might be tempted to ignore them, or to relegate them to some sort of secondary status on the grounds that they do not "drive Christ" as well as does a passage like Romans chapter 8. But the mental gymnastics required to contend that the words of St. Paul drive Christ more effectively than the words of Jesus himself is just a bit beyond my ability to bear.

Or, we may choose to interpret these words very narrowly, solely within the context of Jesus' conversation with those particular people, in that particular place, at that particular time. But it strikes me that perhaps we are overly quick to do this. Especially when you consider how quick we are to interpret a more comforting passage such as Jesus' gracious words of forgiveness to the woman caught in adultery in the more universal sense, that is, as being true for all of us, and not just for that woman, in that place, and at that time.

Perhaps there is some benefit in letting Jesus' hard words stand and accuse us, in all of their stark and dark simplicity.

So, let me try this T-shirt on for size:
    "I am of my father the devil, and my will is to do my father's desires."
But immediately, I begin to protest. "Am I really all that bad? Doesn't this sound just a bit too judgmental? Surely I do not deserve God's wrath, if indeed such a thing still exists in these enlightened times. Soon I find myself taking the position of Job, protesting my innocence. Soon I, like Job, am desiring to speak to the Almighty, and to argue my case with God.
Read it all here on the Society's web site.

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