A few days ago I got involved in a rather nasty Facebook conversation. I’m not going to get into the details, but I was strongly reminded of something that happened to Jesus. A lot.
As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And he got up and followed him.
And as he sat at dinner in the house, many tax-collectors and sinners came and were sitting with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, ‘Why does your teacher eat with tax-collectors and sinners?’ But when he heard this, he said, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.’
I think we all get the story. The Pharisees are criticising Jesus for eating with the wrong sorts of people, but Jesus points out that, just like healthy people don’t need a doctor, good, moral people don’t need Jesus. Or, at least, the apparently immoral need him more. Let those with ears hear.
Back to the Facebook discussion. A group of people think that I, and some of my friends, are doing ministry the wrong way. They’re concerned that we don’t hate sin enough. Apparently we should be telling all of the sinners around us to stop sinning, and to do anything less is an abrogation, not only of our duty as Salvation Army officers but as disciples of Jesus. The fact that I have friends who are still sinners offends them.
These people sound just like the Pharisees looking through the window of Levi’s house simply to find something wrong with what we’re doing.
But you know what? I got to thinking that Jesus’ comment about the ‘sick needing a doctor’ needs to be reinterpreted. I’m starting to think that Jesus didn’t go to bring healing but to find it. He was talking about himself.
That’s right. Levi and all of his sinner friends were like doctors to Jesus. Jesus was fed up with the self-righteous crap that the Pharisees dumped on him all day. He needed somewhere to clear his head and find a bit of normality.
It’s not like the Pharisees were evil, exactly. They meant well. They were very concerned about sin. About holiness. About offending God. And they were really keen to make sure people didn’t upset God. Upstart preachers like Jesus should do the same.
If Jesus was as loving as people say, he’d be telling them all how much God hates their sin.
But instead, he goes to tea with them. Drinks wine with them. And asks them to hang out some more.
The Pharisees couldn’t handle that. Jesus had to be corrected (in love, of course.) He was a false preacher. He had no business calling himself a righteous Jew. If he had any integrity at all he should get out of the way and let the real preachers in.
The only people who weren’t telling Jesus to pull up his socks were the drunken, whoring, cheating sinners at Levi’s house. These people did Jesus’ soul some good. And I think I know exactly how Jesus felt.
The people I prefer to associate with don’t go to church. Some of them would love to, but they’re scared they won’t be welcome. They’re too gay, too drunk, too mentally ill. Their sins aren’t acceptable in church. Do they really need go to church to be reminded of how bad they are? Do they need people to lovingly come at them with Bibles blazing all barrels?
It’s an unfair caricature, I know. But it only takes one person to properly do your head in.
So go away, Pharisees. I don’t need your style of love and care. I need a doctor, and these guys are it.
Today I had a mystical experience.
I bumped into my friend Horace (name changed to protect the innocent!) outside our church hall. Horace and a few of his friends like to hide behind the hall and drink sometimes, and he’s always passing through our property. Over the last year or two I’ve come to know Horace quite well.
Horace started the conversation by coming to tell me he was quite sober. I guess sobriety’s a relative concept. We had a bit of a chat. Like me, Horace grew up in New Zealand, and he always likes to talk about it. At the end of the conversation, Horace lent in, pointed to his nose, and said, “Give me a hiding.”
I replied, “Why would I want to give you a hiding?”
“Not a hiding!”, he said. “A hongi!”
Now, I’m not that well acquainted with Maori traditions, but I know enough to know that a hongi is a form of greeting involving rubbing noses and foreheads together. It’s more than just the Maori equivalent of a handshake though. It involves exchanging breath, which is a rather intimate act. I believe this has something to do with joining each others spirits together. If any of my Maori friends and whanau out there can explain further, I’d appreciate it!
So there were Horace and I touching faces in a way that some might find awkward. Two things happened.
First, as I shared Horace’s breath I couldn’t help but notice how fruity it was. It wasn’t objectionable. It was sweet yet tart, like a cheap Moselle or a Riesling. It probably was.
Second, I heard a voice say, “Breathe in the Holy Spirit.”
I didn’t hear the voice with my ears. It was inside my head, but it was as clear as anything I’ve ever heard.
Horace shook my hand and walked off, just stopping to turn and yell “WILLIAM BOOTH! GOOD GUY!” as loud as he could.
I couldn’t help but think of the opening chapters of Genesis, in which God creates a creature out of dirt and puts his breath into it, making the first human. The word for ‘breath’ in the ancient texts is the same as the word for ‘spirit.’ God imparted life to our first ancestor by breathing spirit into a bit of dirt. I wasn’t breathing the fumes of Horace’s liquid breakfast. Horace wasn’t breathing the consequence of my not having time to brush my teeth before I left home this morning.
We were sharing the Spirit of God. We were imparting life to one another.
It also brought to mind a song I used to like back in the days when I listened to Christian radio. Not only is the title perfect, but the song pretty well sums everything up too. It’s the Lost Dogs, singing “Breathe deep, the breath of God.” (I can’t embed this—please click through. The song’s wonderful.)
Here’s my sermon from Sunday, January 18, based on Matthew 4:1–17.
Here’s my sermon from Sunday, January 11 based on Matthew 3:1–17.
I’ve been wanting to start recording my sermons for a while. I don’t actually write anything down, so having some sort of a record of what I said for future reference would be useful. I also get a few requests from corps folk for recordings. So a few weeks ago the corps bought a small recorder we could plug into the sounddesk, and it works really quite well.
I haven’t done a lot of processing—just tidy up the beginning and end, run a noise removal filter, and that’s about it. I might try getting fancy later on, but in the meantime, I’m sure this will suffice. Eventually I want to be able to set it up as a podcast, get a proper web host and so one but one thing at a time!
Oh, apologies for the file size. I’m going to fiddle with a few settings to get the size down a bit in the future.
This sermon is based on Matthew 2:13–23.
Over the last few months I’ve been involved with a Facebook group called the ‘Progressive Salvationist.’ The aim of the group is simple: “This group is for Salvationists with a liberal/progressive worldview to talk freely about their beliefs without fear of condemnation. We’re not heretics, just heterodox!”
I was having a conversation on the group a while back, and somebody suggested we come up with a manifesto. I was looking for a writing project, so to cut a long story short, here we are.
This post isn’t intended as that manifesto. Rather, I just want to kick a few ideas around in case I ever get to writing the thing. Feel free to weigh in!
At this stage I’m assuming we know what is meant by ‘progressive.’ There are plenty of descriptions around the internet.
Towards a Manifesto for Progressive Salvationism
We march behind one flag
In another context I’d prefer to say, ‘There’s plenty of room at the table.’ It’s an historical peculiarity that this metaphor doesn’t work so well for the Salvation Army, but we have some good metaphors of our own.
Generally speaking, we see Progressivism as not only compatible with the fundamental core of Salvationism, but consonant. Progressive Salvationists identify as Salvationists and gladly serve in the same Army as non-Progressive Salvationists. We’re happy to work and worship alongside brother- and sister-Salvationists who might disagree with us on many points.
Progressive Salvationists affirm the Eleven Articles of Faith. It is recognised that there are a range of interpretations of these articles.
There’s room behind the flag
We’re committed to welcoming as many people as possible into the Army’s fellowship. Welcoming the ‘whosoever’ has been an historical strength of the Salvation Army and we wish this to continue as a defining aspect of Salvationism.
Progressive Salvationists particularly see that the mission of the Salvation Army to the poor is a necessary response to the claims of the Gospel. It is incumbent on the Progressive Salvationist not only to help meet the material and spiritual needs of poor people, but to advocate for poor people as a matter of justice.
Progressive Salvationists do not believe people should be excluded from soldiership or officership on the basis of their sexuality or gender identity. Moreover, we affirm the right of same-sex attracted people to live fulfilled sexual lives according to the same standards as opposite-sex attracted people. We do not believe the gender of either party in a relationship should prevent them from being married.
There’s only one flag for me
Progressive Salvationists see that their loyalty is to the Commonwealth of God rather than a particular state or nation. Whilst they may enjoy a particular affection for their country, and they may legitimately and conscionably take part in some celebrations, observances and obligations of their country, they recognise that their allegiance is to God alone.
Other things I’d like to put in here…
I haven’t really dealt with theological things yet. I’d like to put in something about evangelism and reaching the lost, perhaps with an explanation of what we mean by ‘lost.’
Do I offer a run-down of some of the interpretations of the Eleven Articles? For example, it would be good to mention that Progressives don’t necessarily like the idea of Penal Substitutionary Atonement, and that there are other ways of reading the Fifth Article.
I’d like to add something about environmental matters. This could also address eschatology, a Progressive view of science and creation…
A sI said above, this isn’t even at the rough draft stage. Comments, please!