A homily on the Gospel lesson for the 5th Sunday in Lent, Year B – John 12:20-33

Gerard Sloyan, a 95 year old Catholic priest from New Jersey, made a statement on which I would like us to meditate today. Hear these words: “Faith in the cross is the world’s great exorcism. Anything else, whatever its flamboyance, is powerless.” Now let that thought settle in the back of your mind.

This message of Jesus is a message about atonement, but not in the way that atonement is often understood or presented. It is a message about “the System,” or the ways of the world that seek to draw us under its own power and to play by its rules. It is about evil and our search for the means by which evil is overcome. So how do we typically envision that?

Perhaps, when thinking of atonement as a victory over the powers of evil, we think of something like the heroic actions of the sailor man we know as Popeye, who in ransoming his true love, Olive Oil, from the grips of the evil, burly bully Bluto, opens his can of spinach which bulks up his muscles so he can knock him out and then rescue his dame from whatever entrapment Bluto had placed her. Sometimes that sort of caricature gets read into our understanding of the way in which Christ redeems us or rescues us from evil. Or, more often, we go to the pragmatic side of things and search for how we think we are to “resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves,” as our vows of faith in Christ put it.

To buck the system, in other words, we think we have to play by the rules of the system – which often abides in cycle of ‘violence.’ It’s clear based on the evil we see and experience in the world that we need an exorcism of the system, and it certainly looks as though the only potential for a successful exorcism is a violent one. The way to bring order out of the chaos of “the System” is through violently defeating “the other.”

The revolution of Jesus as the Son of Man, the Messiah, is coming to a head and the sign that the time is nearly there is when a group of Greeks, or outsiders, came to the disciples and wanted to see Jesus. This can be a sermon unto itself. When “the others,” the outcast, the ones who ain’t our kin, come and want to see Jesus or even just want a cup of coffee, how do we respond? Suspicion? Do our defense mechanisms come into play?

When the request makes its way to Jesus, he doesn’t say, “Well, bring them here.” Instead he goes into an odd diatribe of some agricultural reference of a grain of wheat being planted, dying, and bringing about a harvest; then speaks about the honor to be conferred upon those who serve him; and then expresses his inner turmoil about the fact that “this hour” had come and that it would glorify God. And after a mysterious encounter between earth and heaven, between a voice from the sky and Jesus in the flesh that sounded like thunder came from heaven, Jesus says these words: “Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out.” Now before we get to what he says next let’s think about what this means.

This is a cry of revolution; a seeming appeal for a great exorcism of the evil ruler of the world. Time to overthrow the empire, time to buck the system! This is the point at which it would be oh, so inviting, for everyone to grab their swords and weapons of destruction to take out the enemy. This is what so many had been waiting for! Time to end the evil regime that has oppressed us for years, decades, centuries! Time to, as they say, “open a can” of spinach…or of something else that you’re likely familiar with…and wipe ‘em out!

Now here is the turning point. Jesus is going to buck the system, alright; he will perform the great exorcism, but after he says the time has come for it to happen, he uncovers the means by which it will be done; and that means is not by opening a can, or taking up a sword, but this – “I, when I am lifted up from the earth…” – to indicate, as John interprets for us, “the kind of death he was to die.” Now this is an exorcism that does more than turn heads; it is one that Jesus says will draw the whole word to itself, to a love so amazing, so divine; and this is done not through violence, but through the death of God’s own Son! How odd!

Why didn’t Jesus take up the sword? Why isn’t that the means by which to overcome evil? Walter Wink says something quite remarkable about Jesus’ point here: “Violent revolution fails because it is not revolutionary enough. It changes the rulers but not the rules, the ends but not the means.”

On the contrary, Jesus changes not merely one throne of tyranny for another, but changes the entire system. He bucks the system not by playing according to the rules of the system, but by exposing the system for what it is and where it can only lead by his own willingness to die at the hands of that very system. Jesus changes not only the end, but the means, by appealing to a tradition that sounds equally odd to our modern ears – “being lifted up.” Here is an allusion to the somewhat obscure passage in Numbers 21 when God, so it seemed, sent poisonous snakes into the camp of the Israelites because they complained about having a hard time in the wilderness. But when the Israelites confessed of their sins and asked Moses for a means by which to be saved from the poisonous snakes, God instructed Moses to make a bronze serpent and lift it upon a pole and that if a poisonous snake bit an Israelite, it could look at the bronze serpent and be healed. Now digging deeply into that passage would uncover some interesting and heavy questions about what in the world is going on there. But where this meets Jesus’ words, I think, is that a poison had infiltrated the system of the world and of God’s people. And the means by which to be healed of the poison is not to fight back with poison but to look upon the one who is lifted up, and see the poisonous system for what it is and where it leads.

A serpent lifted up on a pole, as the means of healing for the people of God - see Numbers 21 (photo credit: cathnews.com)

A serpent lifted up on a pole, as the means of healing for the people of God – see Numbers 21 (photo credit: cathnews.com)

To use another metaphor, the world is caught up in a seemingly never-ending cycle of violence that operates like a whirlpool. Think The Hunger Games and you’re really in a no-win situation where the world grimaces at you saying, “May the odds be ever in your favor,” all the while pleading for a blood bath to keep the system going the way it always has. The human tendency is to think that the way to stop the whirlpool is to react violently by spinning in the opposite direction, or by joining in so long as you’re the last one standing.

But Jesus’ action is something wholly different. His action, as theologian Mark Baker put it, was like that of a rock in a river that absorbs the energy of the whirlpool and stops it. Baker writes:

In a definitive way the cross broke the cycle of increasing alienation and violence because it absorbed the worst act of violence in the world—the killing of God incarnate. God did not respond to this by lashing out with a vengeful counter blow, but with forgiving love, thus responding to the root causes of a violent society. The ultimate act of hatred was answered with the ultimate act of forgiving love.

What does this look like, practically speaking, for us? Maybe something like this. I was in a covenant group with an elementary school teacher when I lived in Nicholasville. One day my friend came to our group on edge and broke down before us about a student in his class who was having difficulty at home and appeared to be caught up in a cycle of violence for generation upon generation in his family. My friend looked at the future of this boy and wept over what seemed an inevitability of the continuation of the cycle. But what we were able to encourage our friend to do was to, with the help of Christ, be like the rock, the catalyst that for this young man could be drawn in and see an alternative way to be human that doesn’t have to go with the flow nor attempt to fight against it alone. I believe the same could be said of the way things are in downtown Jackson and the world around us. The world needs some rocks, not to be thrown at it, but to stop the whirlpool.

Jesus’ way of bucking the system is this: “I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”

“Faith in the cross is the world’s great exorcism. Anything else, whatever its flamboyance, is powerless.” – Fr. Gerard Sloyan

Let’s pray…

Oh Christ, who was lifted up and has drawn us unto yourself. Forgive us of the times when we have caved to the systems of the world and fought using its weapons rather than allowing them to be transformed into plows and pruning hooks. Help us to mind the good ground and patiently wait for the bearing of fruit that comes not through suspicion or drawing boundaries around which we demarcate “us” from “them,” but through the faithful following of your way of obedience, humility, and putting others before ourselves. Grant us the freedom that comes with learning the art of “letting go” rather than tightening our grips to the ways that ultimately lead to the destruction of others and ourselves. May we join your loving embrace of drawing the world to yourself. In your holy name, Jesus Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit, to the glory of God the Father, we pray. Amen.

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As some of you who read my blog are aware, not long ago I was a PhD student at Nazarene Theological College (accredited by The University of Manchester) in the United Kingdom. I wrote about the decision to step back from that pursuit in this post from August of 2012. What I didn’t share in that post but what has become clear since then is that there has been a transition in my research interests of a Wesleyan doctrine of the atonement from an historical quest to more of an investigation of the doctrine and its implication for the contemporary audience. In other words, I’ve been drawn to wrestle with this question: “What would a Wesleyan theology of the atonement look like in the church?” I think this transition has been quite natural given the shift in my vocational path from the classroom to the pulpit.

Several people in the churches I am serving have been made aware of this shift and of my continued interest in the subject. So when a couple from Liberty UMC went with Carrie and me to the opening weekend of the Generative Leadership Academy, and we were challenged to do some sort of Lenten project, they asked me about the possibility of my leading a study on the atonement during the Lenten season. It seemed like an ideal time to talk about such a topic. Lent is about the journey to the cross. Jesus’ sacrificial death there is at the heart of what we mean when we talk about the atonement. Sure, let’s do this! In my mind (and in my saved files) I had a structure in mind for how the study might go if we broke it up into a weekly study, so we began making plans on making this idea a reality.

We talked about the nature of Lent, how it is a season of ‘fasting’ for 40 days, excepting Sundays which are days when most observers of Lent are encouraged or at least permitted to ‘break’ their fast (otherwise the fast is 46 days, in total). And as you can easily discern, the meaning of the word that describes our first meal of the day is derived from this very sort of practice (break-fast). So we thought an ideal pairing would be to have a breakfast meal before each session of the study. The trouble is, however, that Sunday morning breakfasts at Liberty UMC are not feasible as the first worship service I lead is at the other church to which I am appointed, Post Oak UMC. So we talked about other days when a breakfast meal would provide an opportunity for people to participate in the study. That’s how we arrived at Saturdays, when most people are off work, and we wouldn’t have to make it too early (we’re set to begin at 9:30am each week).

I’m really excited about this study and it seems to have garnered a good deal of interest from lots of people in the church as the sign-up list has grown over the weeks that we have announced it, and I’m aware of neighboring churches advertising it and that we’ll have outside participation as well. My hope is that we as United Methodists can discover how this central doctrine to our faith is related to the rest of it and how the atonement in Christ can be seen as the shape of how God’s grace is made known in the world and in our lives.

Image created by the folks at memphis-umc.net

Image created by the folks at memphis-umc.net

So if you are anywhere near Camden and have an interest in the doctrine of the atonement can be seen through the lens of Wesleyan/United Methodist way of being a follower of the Christ, or if you just like to eat breakfast with other people, I encourage you to join us on Saturdays in Lent at Liberty UMC at 9:30am. The first breakfast (March 8) will begin in the Wrather auditorium, which will require your entrance through the sanctuary. (We’ll have signs and people pointing the way.) The remaining breakfasts will be served in the fellowship hall. All of the sessions for the study itself will be in the sanctuary. Come and join us! (If you’re not able to join us, I plan on sharing highlights here when possible.) The address for Liberty UMC: 3135 Highway 69A, Camden, TN 38320.

May God guide us in our quest this Lenten season as we journey to the cross!

…So begins what is perhaps the most moving, disturbing, and haunting of statements ever uttered. Per Matthew’s telling: “And about three o’clock Jesus cried with a loud voice, ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ that is, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?'”

Each year on Good Friday we commemorate the event which brings out the very worst and the very best of humanity. The very worst is obvious in the vitriol, the hatred, the mockery, the torture of One who told his right hand man to put away his sword yet who was tried and assailed as a terrorist. It’s too easy to distance ourselves from the crowd and it is our tendency to do so. That is part of why I think it is so easy to miss what is behind Jesus’ troublesome cry. And until we can see ourselves somewhere in the midst of this scene: either as the disciples who betrayed or scattered; or as the crowd or the soldiers who mock Jesus; or even as the One condemned by the crowds, we will miss something quite significant about what Jesus screamed.

I don’t think, as others do, that Jesus was making a theological statement about him being sin and God not being able to look at sin. That concept is frequently read into Jesus’ cry of dereliction (or forsaken-ness). The idea (from Paul in Galatians 3) that Jesus became a curse for us is seen as the backdrop for Jesus’ words rather than looking to another passage…the very one Jesus was quoting, which was a lament psalm (#22) in which the speaker is wondering where is God and why hasn’t God come to the rescue. The psalmist experiences the things Jesus experiences: being scorned, mocked, despised, ridiculed, stripped of clothes which are divided amongst the assailants. And I am among them.

…………….

As I read the psalm and I witness the worst of humanity in what is done to Jesus, my heart changes and aches, and I observe the Psalmist knows something about the character of God, that God has come to the rescue of those who cried out to and put their trust in the Lord. Surely, Jesus knows that character, too! And in that knowledge, Jesus cries what people cry when an injustice is being done: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

(credit: journeywithjesus.net)

(credit: journeywithjesus.net)

So now I see the Psalm (and Jesus’ utterance of its beginning at the cross) as a cry of the righteous innocent calling upon the faithfulness and justice of God and asking why God hasn’t come to the rescue in this case. The garments of the innocent are shredded and divided among God’s enemies all the time. Faithful people are and have been oppressed countless times in history. Many people die alone, being rejected and despised, or worse, ignored by others. Maybe Jesus, in making such a loud cry in his greatest moment of desperation, is resonating and empathizing with the suffering of ones such as these through all of time and saying, “Where are you, God?” So they (or we) are not alone in feeling abandoned by everyone, including God. That’s good.

But wait…he breathes his last. Did God really not rescue him? But I know he was innocent! Surely he was God’s Son! Where were you, God? Where are you, God?

In mid-January I went to a training event in Dickson, Tennessee with other young clergy in the Memphis & Tennessee Annual Conferences in the United Methodist Church. That weekend was special in that our bishop, Bill McAlilly, was present with us and led us as he began to reveal more about the missional theme of his vision for the Nashville Episcopal Area. In short, he led us in conversation that centered on two key passages that are often in view when we think of mission and evangelism: Matthew 25:31-46 and Matthew 28:16-20. It became clear as we shared with one another that it is a rare thing for a congregation to excel in both of these areas. If a local church is vital in the least, it will do well in one (the social justice ministries often associated with what is mentioned in Matthew 25, like feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned, and so on) or the other (experiencing growth through evangelism and discipleship with an eye toward the Great Commission in Matthew 28), but typically not both.

The conversation then began to shift toward what would it look like if we didn’t divorce these two areas of mission (social justice & disciple-making) but integrated them and saw missions & evangelism as two sides of the same coin, so to speak. While we were having these conversations, at some point my mind began to wonder about those two passages and the fact that they both come toward the end of Matthew’s account of Jesus’ life. Beyond the missional connection between the two passages, it wasn’t long before I began to wonder what is the literary connection between the two in Matthew? Maybe it was the long time I have spent studying the doctrine of the atonement that drew my attention to the cross and resurrection as that narrative is found between the two passages. So internally I began asking: What is the relationship between Matthew 25 & 28 and the narrative in between them? What does mission and evangelism have to do with Jesus’ Passion and Resurrection?

Let’s let that narrative sink in…what is found in between? The plotting of the chief priests to capture Jesus, the worshiping of Jesus by the woman with perfume, the disciples scandalized by Jesus’ allowance of this, Judas’ agreement to betray Jesus, preparation for and celebration of the Passover, confusion, more worship in the sharing of the bread and the cup and singing, hollow promises of faithfulness, agonizing prayer for another way, betrayal with a kiss, a battle abated, disciples scatter, a sham arraignment, ridicule, adamant denial, deep regret and a failed attempt to undo betrayal, sham trial, speechless lamb, the guilty goes free and the innocent one is condemned to die, washed hands, swayed crowds, more ridicule, beating, more ridicule, more beating, more ridicule, more ridicule, more ridicule, darkness, a cry for rescue, pause, death, a curtain torn in divine grief, earth shook, rocks split, (are those zombies?), identification of God’s Son from an unlikely source (a Roman centurion), women watching and waiting, burial, an attempt to be sure he stays buried…

cross in office

…the attempt fails – Resurrection…

Those 72+ hours between Matthew 25:31-46 & Matthew 28:16-20 are, for the community who follows the crucified and risen Lord, the most intense hours in human history. In those moments are the darkest of hours of despair that bring out the worst in humanity’s capacity to do harm. But in these moments we also find in the Human One’s actions the very best of humanity (Jesus was and is fully human, after all) and the very source of our hope. These hours proclaim that even in the midst of betrayal, sin an darkness there is Eucharist, and that on the other side of suffering and death is their defeat at the hands of Life.

So what sort of relationship or weight do those days of suffering, death and resurrection bear on the missional passages before and after the Passion narrative? Maybe in telling us that when we give food, drink or clothing to those in need or visiting the sick and imprisoned we are doing these acts of mercy to Christ himself, he was dropping a hint that it would not be long before he would be hungry, thirsty, naked, afflicted, and condemned. When disciples of Jesus do these acts of mercy, we’re ministering to the suffering & crucified Messiah who humbled and emptied himself to such a degree as to be counted among criminals. When we clothe the naked, we condemn the criminal actions of Jesus’ torturers who stripped him down and cast lots for his clothing. When we give water to the thirsty, we cease from stopping the one offering a sponge to the dying Jesus with an ounce of water to soothe his lips. When we visit the imprisoned and offer words of encouragement to them seeking to set them free from whatever holds them in bondage, we display our contempt of the fraudulent court system and trial that condemned the Innocent One to death.

And maybe in telling us to make disciples of all nations, baptizing them and teaching them, Jesus is pointing back to what was just before as the content of what it looks like to live like genuine disciples of his. That is, when we are baptized into Christ, we are united with Christ in his suffering, death and resurrection, and lay claim to hope that sin and death’s defeat has been guaranteed in our own lives and for the world. That is, the closer we draw near to Jesus, the more we are genuine disciples who do not betray, slumber, scatter, or deny, but who follow near and are willing to be counted among the hungry, thirsty, naked, sick, condemned just as Jesus was. That is, that genuine disciples are not afraid to cry out to God when we feel most deserted by the world, by our friends, and even by the God Jesus called Father, too. And that this movement would be so radical that the world could not stamp it out, but that people of all nations would be drawn to the sacrificial love that is willing to forgive those who betray, scatter, deny, and even those who condemn. And in that, we’re given a most blessed promise…that God’s presence in Christ will be with us as we embark on that mission.

And to me, these are the sorts of things that distinguishes a community who follows a crucified and risen Lord from a mere charity organization who just wants to be kind to others or a country club who just wants to increase in size. The narrative in between centers our missional life in that we are united with Christ in his death and resurrection.

I’m now a few weeks removed from having preached the series at Liberty’s revival on the Prodigals & Prophets. One of the details of the parable continues to stick out in my mind and blow me away. With all the love and forgiveness that the father lavishes on his lost son who has returned, the one that stands out to me as the most puzzling, at least at such an early stage is the command given by the father to the servants that they put “sandals on his feet.” I find myself asking, “Really, Jesus? A father who puts sandals back on the son’s feet? Don’t you realize that opens up the door for being hurt again, perhaps even worse than the first time? After all, he’s been in a few rough parts of the world that we wouldn’t dare dream of here in the safety of this farm. Sure, let’s put a robe on him, give him a ring, and have a nice barbecue, but you really want to trust him enough to give him a way back out again?”

In preparation for the sermon on the centrality of the father in the parable, my mind raced back to the class I took in college on the 8th century prophets (Amos, Isaiah, Hosea, & Micah were the prophets whose ministries were during the 8th century BC). With all the things that I forgot from that 8:00 am class, two things I remember: 1. the time the professor started to ramble in his prayer one day and began praying for aliens; and 2. the gut-wrenching, tear-jerking analysis of Hosea 11. Now, Hosea’s story certainly has some interesting twists and turns, many of which are not analogous to a parent-child relationship but to a spousal relationship. Nonetheless, chapter 11 portrays the compassion of a heartbroken parent whose children have lost their way, were “bent on turning away from” God, and yet though showing tremendous disappointment, admits an unwillingness to give up on these children. “My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender.” What moves a parent to have such compassion?

Hosea 11 showcases the “covenant faithfulness” of God: that God remembers his faithfulness. This isn’t meant to imply that God had “forgotten” it, but that the ultimate character of God is remaining true in faithful love to God’s people. God remembers, among other things that, “Yet it was I who taught them to walk.” Examine what happens in the message of Hosea, the parable of the returning son, and a modern rendition…

God’s children had used their pedagogy to walk away. The younger son received the inheritance and walked away with it. A rebellious teenage daughter is taught how to drive and is given the keys to her parents’ car and decides to leave town with it.

God’s children had lost their way and were scattered without a home and without hope. The younger son wasted half the family fortune and found himself desiring to eat pig slop. The daughter runs out of gas, finds some ways to remedy that and get by for a while,  but eventually runs out of options and gives up the car to keep the collateral from being herself.

God doesn’t give up…

They return. He comes home. She hitches a ride back.

View of the feet from Rembrandt’s painting of ‘The Return of the Prodigal Son’. (Photo credit: snailskin.blogspot.com)

“They will walk after the LORD…” (Hosea 11:10); “put sandals on his feet” (Luke 15:22); “Here’s a key to our new car”

Really, God? You’re willing to trust them? him? her?

“We are accustomed to finding a catch in every promise, but Jesus’ stories of extravagant grace include no catch, no loophole disqualifying us from God’s love…I imagined God as a distant thundering figure who prefers fear and respect to love. Jesus tells instead of a father publicly humiliating himself by rushing out to embrace a son who has squandered half the family fortune.” – Philip Yancey

“Behold with wonder and pleasure the gracious reception they find from Divine, injured goodness!” – John Wesley

“Yep. Sandals. They’re my children. My children, like me, are free.”

Many readers of this blog, friends of mine in person and on facebook, and followers from twitter are aware of the educational journey I have been on for the past 3+ years in pursuit of a PhD in Wesley Studies at Nazarene Theological College (NTC), whose degrees are conferred by the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom. Several of my classes in seminary at Asbury, from which I graduated in 2006, centered upon the theology of the atonement, and this drove me to investigate the doctrine of the atonement in the theology of John Wesley.  In January 2009, after a couple of years getting acquainted to fatherhood in the arrival of Sam into our family, discerning the specific topic I wanted to pursue in my doctoral research, and applying and being accepted into NTC’s PhD program, I began fully investigating this issue, focusing in particular on how Wesley’s atonement theology stood in line or at odds with the diverse theological tradition of the Church of England, in which he was raised, ordained, and remained faithful as clergyman until his death.

View of one of the buildings on NTC’s campus. It’s truly a beautiful place and community in which to study! (Photo credit: http://www.nazarene.ac.uk)

Well, it is with a great deal of sadness but also a great sense of peace that I announce that my pursuit of this degree has come to an end. Although the crayons started making a few subtle marks on the wall a little over a year ago, it really didn’t become fully evident that the end was near until a couple of months ago.

As my family and I moved back to the Memphis Conference of the United Methodist Church for me to re-enter my calling for pastoral ministry, my hope was that I would continue in the program, getting research done when possible at home and continuing my visits to Manchester for 4 weeks per year until I could conclude, which was to be by May of 2014. But as financial resources/assistance began to run dry, as I could tell that time was running short, and even as my attention to the research and desire to make the time kept deteriorating, which was easily noticed by Carrie, she point-blank asked me as we were going to bed one night in early July: “So, are you going to finish your PhD?”

The weight of the question hit me like a load of bricks and after a very long pause where I felt like I was holding my breath, Carrie asked if I was still awake and still thinking about the question. I chuckled a little, said “Yes, I’m still awake” and then began weeping. Here I was in a home (parsonage) that was still quite new, in a community I hardly knew at all, away from most of my dear friends who have been alongside of me during this entire educational journey. Of course, I knew I didn’t have to answer the question right then and there in the middle of the night, but I already had the suspicion that the time had come for me to shut the door on this dream/wish I had been pursuing. Since my district superintendent was on leave for the month of July and I didn’t want to make a decision that might have some bearing on my ordination process, I decided to devote my prayers for the remainder of the month for God’s clear direction, my calling and investigating the desires of my heart. Carrie and I asked a few close friends to join us in these prayers, which they did.

During that time, my suspicions were confirmed and I began making the necessary appointments and having conversations with the folks who needed to be made more aware or would be directly affected by such a decision. These conversations took place over the course of the month of August. What was great about all of these meetings and discussions was that everyone wanted to make sure that I wasn’t being forced out of this against my wishes by external forces like financial limitations, travel/time-off restrictions, or limited accessibility to the research resources that would be needed to support the argument(s) I was seeking to make. But what was also communicated to me was that they had my support regardless of the decision I made as I was seeking the will of God in doing what was best for me and my family. To everyone reading this who offered that support either explicitly or implicitly, I deeply feel your prayerful encouragement and advocacy as I have gone through this sort of grieving process on the closure of this endeavor I was pursuing.

Two main questions have risen to the surface in the wake of my decision to withdraw from the PhD program and pursuit: 1. What should/can I do with the research and writing I have done to date in the program? 2. What, if anything, is next on the educational front?

With regard to the former, one of my causes for hesitating on this decision was the fear that the work I’ve done in researching and writing on the atonement in the past few years would go to waste if I didn’t go on and complete the dissertation/thesis. I don’t want that to be the case, but want to contribute to the field of Wesleyan theology or to find a way to adapt the writing to make it accessible more for a lay and/or pastoral audience. To that end, I’m going to spend some time in organizing the work into something cohesive to submit it to a scholarly journal for hopeful publication or develop a primer or short book on the atonement from a Wesleyan theological perspective.

The answer to the second question depends on what directions are given to me by the Board of Ordained Ministry as I apply for provisional membership in pursuit of ordination as elder. To be ordained as an elder in The United Methodist Church, the Book of Discipline requires the ordinand complete a Master of Divinity (MDiv) or its equivalent. My masters degree at Asbury Seminary was a Master of Arts in Theological Studies and was a few hours shy of a full MDiv. So it all will depend on how I respond to the questions as I am interviewed by the Board of Ordained Ministry and their evaluation of my transcripts as to what additional coursework would be deemed necessary so that my education would qualify as the “equivalent” of MDiv. So both you and I will have to stay tuned on this front.

Thanks for reading! And if you have suggestions or questions, please comment or ask me!

The last couple of weeks have been rather busy as I’ve been preparing for speaking at revival services at Post Oak UMC, and an additional service at another church near Camden that invited me to speak on one night of their revival. So that’s why it’s been a little bit since my last post.

At Post Oak’s revival, I wanted to open the window a little bit into the world of what’s been driving my research throughout my graduate and postgraduate journeys as I have been investigating the doctrine of the atonement, in particular from a Wesleyan/Methodist perspective. So I decided to do a series on some of Jesus’ statements from the cross recorded in the Gospels. Jesus’ dying words have been significant in uncovering the mystery and story of our salvation as it has been achieved through the Incarnation, ministry, suffering, death, and resurrection of Christ.

Cover of Adam Hamilton’s ‘Final Words from the Cross,’ which was a very quick read, but beneficial in offering pastoral words that convey the significance of Jesus’ dying words. I heartily recommend this book. Photo credit: sony.com

In the statements he uttered and shouted from the cross, Jesus spoke words of forgiveness, of hope and promise, of provision and encouragement to care for others, of his own need, of bold faith and empathy with the human condition in our times of feeling abandoned, of victory, and ultimately of submission to the will of his Father. These words are moving for us as the speak not only of Christ’s work for us, but also of his work in us, enabling us to offer the same words to those around us as we follow our crucified Messiah.

What I found particularly interesting is the timing of this series and how it coincided quite well in expanding the content of my message  on the Sunday morning on the day the revival started. My message last Sunday was based on the Lectionary reading from Ephesians 4-5, with the key verse being 5:1, “Be imitators of God, as beloved children.”

While most impersonators in comedy sketches today focus their energy on perfecting the tone, accent, and appearance of the famous persons they are imitating, the type of imitation of God that St. Paul encourages us in is in having the same attitudes and feelings, actions, and even words of God. That is, if we are beloved children of God, we imitate God by saying what God says. Again, the Holy Spirit enables us to imitate Christ in our suffering by offering the words of forgiveness, hope, encouragement, pain, thirst, victory, and submission to God.