Thursday, April 26, 2012

Is John Ortberg Wrong?

Ever since my encounter with the Text, a long time ago (Ha!) in seminary days, and Peter’s walk on the water, I’ve seen that passage as a commentary on Peter’s impulsive and individualist approach to faith and life. In other words, this is no story to be mined for the typical American “you-can-do-anything” approach to life.

Peter was wrong to get out of the boat!

His moment of exultation lasted only a moment, his 15-minutes of fame, if you will. Glory of this kind is always a passing fancy, a story without substance, an experience without purpose (which seems to be very much a part of the American religious story).

Jesus saves Peter from the waves, of course. 

But here’s where the story turns important. Not only for what is said. But for what isn’t said.

Jesus doesn’t invite Peter to try it again.

Nor does Jesus invite the other disciples to try it, either.

Jesus takes Peter in hand and they both return to the boat.

It’s in the boat where the fellowship of faith is experienced, and that was the point of Jesus coming to them. Not to invite them out on to the waves, but to join them, or at least, as Mark puts it, to “pass by them,” as God “passed by Moses in the cleft of the rock,” to reveal God’s glory. 

In Mark and John, there’s no Peter doing his thing. But only in Matthew, and there, Matthew makes it clear when Jesus says to Peter, “You of weak faith; why did you doubt?” Not his ability to walk on water, but that it was the LORD coming to them. 

Peter’s impulsive move contradicts one of the central tenants of Christianity spirituality - waiting. Waiting on the LORD. Peter couldn’t wait, and that can only end badly, for everyone!

Impulsively, Peter leaves the boat, even as he did in the post-resurrection account in John. Peter dives into the water, wanting Jesus for himself, abandoning the work of his fellow-fisherman who have just taken a miraculous haul of fish and need help.

Peter is always about Peter … and he wants Jesus all to himself.

Which is why Jesus instructs Peter to “feed my sheep.” It’s not about Peter; it never is. It’s about others; it always is.

When I first read Ortberg’s book, I was taken with the story as he re-tells it. Yes, and wow, “you can be just like your rabbi; you, too, can walk on water. But ya’ gotta get outta of the boat first.”

It makes for great American preaching.

It appeals to our narcissistic instincts and our “Jesus and me” attitudes.

It appeals to our pride of power, and our daring-do stories.

But is it faithful to the text?

Is this what God wants us to hear?

Is this the Gospel?

I think not.

And more, I think Ortberg is wrong on this point. Seriously, terribly, tragically, wrong, misleading so many who are hell-bent on their pathway to the American version of faith.

It’s not about daring-do and water-walking - this is not what faith is all about, because faith is defined by love, by the Beatitudes, by mercy and compassion, forgiveness and bonding in Jesus, and through Jesus to the fellowship of faith and to the whole wide world. 

Faith about loving one another as Jesus loves us, by washing feet and putting our lives on the line, not for personal achievement, but for the sake of one another.

Faith is all about getting back into the boat with Jesus! It’s about feeding and tending the flock.

Peter has always been willing to abandon the others to secure his own place.

Peter has a lot to learn.

So do we!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Dank, Damp and Dark Places

As I write, and read in these morning hours, I'm overwhelmed and saddened by the drift into ignorance occurring in this nation right now. The megachurches have recruited millions who "love Jesus" and know nothing about him, other than the hope that he might help them achieve the American Dream.

Combine this with the far-right's love of military might (all they read in the Bible are the books of Samuel and Kings, along with some verses ripped from Revelation), combined with a long-standing hatred of FDR and the "welfare society" he allegedly created ... sorry, I'm going on, but there are times I feel like I'm slogging through some dank, damp and dark places where hope is lost amid violence, ignorance and a vast self-interest ... I go on too long.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Rich Fools

The Parable of the Rich Fool by Rembrandt, 1627.

"It's hard for the wealthy to enter the Kingdom of Heaven" because they consistently fail to recognize their dependence upon the goodness and kindness and decency of millions who've made this a great country in which the wealthy could be creative and enjoy success. Their failure to acknowledge their dependence and only build "larger barns" - a form of market manipulation - (see parable of The Rich Fool) ultimately renders them "the fool." Please note: in this case, it's God who terms the man, "Fool" - Luke 12.13-21.