Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Hi. My name is Alex DeMarco, and I’m a new contributor here at DET.

“Whoever looks at Jesus Christ sees in fact God and the world in one. From then on they can no longer see God without the world, or the world without God.” [1]

- Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Ethics

This is one of my favorite little quotes from Bonhoeffer, and it’s a good illustration of the kind of theology that interests me most.

My name is Alex DeMarco, and I’m a new contributor here at DET.

I grew up in the northwest suburbs of Chicago, where I was an enthusiastic youth group convert at a local Baptist church in my early teens. After a short stint in Arizona, I moved just north of Philadelphia, where I majored in biblical studies at what is now Cairn University—a small, evangelical, liberal arts university where I met my future wife Jenna, and where I learned the value of critical investigation, generous dialogue, and good writing. From there, I crossed the river and entered the MDiv program at Princeton Theological Seminary.

At Princeton I was drawn to the logical and philosophical rigor I encountered in the work of Friedrich Schleiermacher. If theology is, in Alister McGrath’s words, “taking rational trouble over a mystery,” then Schleiermacher certainly seemed to be taking the necessary rational trouble.[2] But it was Karl Barth who, more than anyone, seemed to display the reticence required by the subject matter as mystery. It was also Barth who turned my theological attention to Jesus Christ, in whom (if I may paraphrase Prof. Hunsinger), mystery has broken into history, to be seen and known.

If it was from Barth that I learned to find God in Christ, it was from Dietrich Bonhoeffer then that I learned to find Christ in the world and the world in Christ.

“Whoever looks at Jesus Christ,” he says, “sees in fact God and the world in one. From then on they can no longer see God without the world, or the world without God.”[3[

After my graduation from PTS in 2015, Jenna and I moved back (well, back for me) to Chicago. Aside from going online and pretending I’m still in seminary, I also enjoy reading, ping-pong, skateboarding, drinking good beer, eating good food, and spending time with the wonderful folks at All Saints Episcopal Church. I’m currently working as a mediocre barista at our local Starbucks (though, for your sake, I hope I’m better at blogging than I am at making lattes). And I’m exploring PhD study and/or ordained ministry in the Episcopal Church as possible futures.

Having long appreciated reading the thought-provoking content put out by DET, I’m very excited to now be joining the team!

While it can be discussed in the abstract, I believe (with Bonhoeffer) that Christian theology finds its true home in the concrete world—in the world of creaturely relationships, events, and experiences. Therefore, my posts will often attempt to point out where theological realities like sin, grace, reconciliation, etc. show up in the world.

After all, the God revealed in Christ is not some remote, otherworldly deity. The God revealed in Christ is Immanuel—God with us, right here, right now.

Blessings & cheers to you all!

Sincerely,

- Alex



[1] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Ethics, DBWE, vol. 6 (Minneapolis, MN: Fortres Press, 2009), 82.

[2] https://www.scienceandchristianbelief.org/articles/McGrath%20article%20172.pdf (pg.17)

[3] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Ethics, DBWE, vol. 6 (Minneapolis, MN: Fortres Press, 2009), 82.

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Friday, August 26, 2016

Read Barth and Get Over Yourself

Like many of you, dear readers, I grew up within a strand of North American evangelicalism which, at its best, fosters a deep piety and a robust affirmation of personal religious experience.
 Jesus vertreibt die Händler aus dem Tempelby Giovanni Paolo Pannini
via Wikimedia Commons (PD-US)
I remain profoundly grateful for this formation. Still, on the down side, this faith tradition can slip into some worrisome solipsistic tendencies. Fortunately, these proclivities are often transcended in real communities, in great acts of solidarity and sacrifice. (For example, a friend who has spent time recently volunteering to help flood victims in the Baton Rouge area attests to the herculean disaster relief efforts led by Southern Baptists there).

Nonetheless, individualist ideologies suffuse the air we breathe, not only as evangelical or liberal Christians but as North Americans in general, in this decadent age of late-modern consumerist society. Of course, rants about religious individualism are so commonplace as to be banal. My point here is that American individualism, creates some of the major stumbling blocks for new (and even not so new) readers of Karl Barth. Reading Barth well is bloody hard enough, but I'm convinced an individualist hermeneutic fosters distorted readings of the great Swiss theologian, such that it becomes easy to miss the political character of his doctrines of election and reconciliation as well as the crimson thread of social radicalism that (I'm convinced) runs through his corpus from beginning to end.

The situation, arguably, is so bad that one fellow recently quipped on Twitter (and I paraphrase): "Gee, you don't hear that much from Barthians about social justice. It's refreshing." This comment followed on the heels of Travis McMaken's recent podcast with Trip Fuller on "Five Reasons to Go Barthian" wherein McMaken highlights the red pastor of Safenwil's lifelong commitments to democratic socialism.

I hope the tweeter was talking more about popular pieces on Barth and not scholarly work. Nonetheless, shame on us! Let's try to rectify that situation, shall we? Whatever your own take on issues of community and society might be, you will not read Barth well unless you come to terms with his commitments in these areas.

In the introduction to his superb Barth anthology, Clifford Green homes in on the problem beautifully:

It is common to read Barth as the theologian who re-asserted the transcendence and primacy of God over against liberal, anthropocentric theology. But this is at best a problematic half-truth. Barth's protest was not only against anthropo-centric theology, it was equally against its subjectivism and individualism. In other words, anthropocentrism and privatism are for Barth two sides of the one problem. Positively stated, Barth was as much concerned to develop a social and public theology as a theocentric (christocentric and trinitarian!) theologian. From first to last his was a communal theology, and the relation of theology and politics was always intimate in his thinking (Karl Barth: Theologian of Freedom, Fortress, 1991, p. 18).

(By the way, for anyone who is a novice to reading Barth -- and most of us are -- Green's essay is an excellent point of entry.)

Whatever episode from Barth's life or theme of his writings you might be examining, you will struggle to get the main point if you fail to grapple with this anti-individualism in Barth. And that principle applies not only, say, to his anti-Nazi activism and his diffidence toward Western anti-Communism, but also to his accounts of the Trinity, Chalcedon and the fall.

Barth was as political theologian to the bone, obsessed with community. What about you?

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Wednesday, August 24, 2016

A Little Help from Bonhoeffer on Prayer

Over the past few weeks, I have been reading through the fourteenth volume of the Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works series in English (DBWE). It is a trove of historical and theological information that takes the reader behind the scenes of Bonhoeffer’s Discipleship, as well as Life Together and Prayerbook of the Bible. The volume is entitled, “Theological Education at Finkenwalde: 1935-1937,” and includes documents from when Bonhoeffer led the Confessing Church’s seminary in the town of Finkenwalde. The seminary operated for only a few years before the Nazis closed it down in September of 1937. At the seminary, during its third and fourth sessions (out of five) Bonhoeffer offered lectures on confirmation instruction, which Bonhoeffer scholars call his “second attempt at a catechism” (see footnote 407).

Photo by Andreas Steinhoff,
via Wikimedia Commons
When preparing my sermon for this past Sunday, I found some help from Bonhoeffer’s “catechism." The lectionary readings included Luke’s account of the Lord’s Prayer. After struggling with how to interpret the passage, especially verses 9 and 10, I found the catechisms questions and answers on prayer to be particularly helpful, and I thought that I would share them with you. In what follows, the italics indicate the catechism questions. Bold is my emphasis.

Why should you pray?
Because I can take nothing for myself and must instead ask everything of God; because I want to thank God for all his gifts.

Why are you permitted to pray?
Because my Lord Jesus Christ has commanded me to do so and wants to be my intercessor.

For what should you pray?
For all things necessary for the body and soul, which the child asks of its father.

Which prayers are pleasing to God?
I should call on God alone in my prayer. For everything I ask, I should do so for Christ’s sake. I should believe with assurance that God hears me. I should pray with my heart rather than only with my mouth (Matt. 6: 5– 8). I should pray several times each day (in the morning, at midday, and in the evening). (1 Thess. 5: 17; Rom. 12: 12.) [—] John 15: 7; 16: 23– 24; Ps. 119.

How does God answer prayers?
By relieving us of and bearing all our care, trouble, and sin. All our prayers have been answered in the cross of Jesus Christ.

What does Christ instruct you to pray?
The Lord’s Prayer.

What gift does God give you in prayer?
God gives me the assurance that through Jesus Christ I am and will remain God’s own. [—] Rom. 8: 15– 16.


Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works. Vol. 14, Theological Education at Finkenwalde: 1935-1937. Translated by Douglas W. Stott. Edited by H. Gaylon Barker and Mark Brocker. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2013. Kindle Edition.

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Monday, August 22, 2016

Jürgen Moltmann on lecturing at the beginning of his career

I’ve always been drawn to biography. It combines my interest in and fascination by history on the one hand with my interest in ideas on the other. To top it off, it can give one a new perspective on one’s own struggles and location in one’s own story, and this perspective can be encouraging (it can also be depressing, but we’ll leave that to one side). And autobiography is a particularly enjoyable species of biography. Perhaps the most interesting knowledge that I have gleaned thus far from Moltmann's autobiography was that Ernst Wolf was seriously hardcore: “He smoked black cigars, drank strong coffee in the evenings, and often worked right through the night” (Broad Place, 49)!

By Maeterlinck (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0,
via Wikimedia Commons
But what I really want to highlight today are some of Moltmann’s discussions of his earliest teaching at the seminary in Wuppertal. To begin, here is how he describes lecture preparation:

For me, work on the Sunday sermon now gave way to work for four hours of lectures every week. I remembered what Ernst Käsemann used to say: ‘For every hour’s lecture, ten hours of preparation! Every sentence must be precisely weighted up!’ So I began in the middle of the vacations and wrote and wrote, so as to have a good stock in hand at the beginning of the semester . . . (74-75)

I wish I had time to give 10 hours of preparation to each hour of lectures! Moltmann not only lectured those four hours at a time, but he was also offering other “theological seminars and philosophy classes.” I take it that these classes were much more student-driven and oriented toward discussion, but they would still require time in preparation if for no other reason than to do the reading! Moltmann talks about diving into Bonhoeffer’s work in this context, as well as ethics in general. On the philosophical side he engaged “Feuerbach, Marx, and Bloch” (76). For those of you keeping count, I think we can figure on another 20 hours of work a week to prepare for and meet, let us say, two seminars. But, back to the lectures:

Once one had given a lecture three or four times, with this intensive preparation, the next book was ready.

That brings me to the history of lecturing in German universities: Kant still fell back on philosophical textbooks, reading them aloud and then commenting on them; but from the time of Fichte and Hegel onwards, what the lecturer presented was what he intended to publish himself in the near future. Professors ‘read’ their future works in advance and made the lecture a run-up for their future printed works. It was only in America that I found the old way of lecturing again. It saves a great deal of trouble and time, but is also somewhat unproductive! (75)

Indeed! As a practitioner of the “old German” and “American” model (although I don’t read out textbooks to my students; they read them in advance and then come to class where I expound on them in something of a half-seminar style), I can certainly confirm that it saves time but is also unproductive.

This is a difficult trade-off. It is not clear to me that one method is superior to the other. On the one hand, following this style allows me to spend less time in class preparation and (theoretically) more time in scholarship. The effect is to disconnect my scholarship from my classroom. A negative consequence of this is that making a connection between the two requires a second (and maybe third and fourth) step. A positive consequence of this is that my scholarship can pursue topics, themes, figures, problems, etc., other than those to which I am limited by my department’s curriculum and / or student interest. A negative consequence (if you haven’t figured it out, I’m processing this by writing about it…) is that one’s scholarship isn’t given the impetus of the classroom. It can be put-off until later, and therefore other professional concerns and responsibilities can become your central focus. Speaking of which, the administration sees that you don’t have anything pressing to do with those extra 40 hours or so a week that you would be using on lecture preparation, and they start giving you all kinds of fun things to do instead. Pretty soon things spiral out of control and you have the current American system, where a few professors in each discipline located in the top institutions are able to produce really interesting work and everyone else bends over backwards just trying to keep publishing enough to avoid the proverbial “perish”-ing.

For myself, I would like to find a way to bring at least part of my teaching and scholarship more closely together, but I’m not really sure how that might be done…

But, back to Moltmann – he also tells us what he was lecturing on during his years in Wuppertal, which is interesting in itself. So, here is what he enumerates (some of these are formal titles and some of them are more general descriptors): “‘The History of Hope for the Kingdom of God,’” “‘A Comparison between the Theology of the Reformers (Luther – Zwingli – Calvin),’” “patristic Christology and the theology of the Reformed and the Lutheran confessional writings,” “‘Introduction to Present-Day Theology,’” “‘The Beginnings of Dialectical Theology,’” and finally, “in 1963-64 I then took as my subject my ‘theology of hope’” (75).

It’s fascinating to get this peek at Moltmann’s early development. I hadn’t realized that his first decade of theological work was so historical in orientation.

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Saturday, August 20, 2016

Meanwhile, back at the ranch…


…or, Something to keep you busy over the weekend…

…or, The Past Fortnight in the Theoblogosphere.

Well, it has been well over a month since the last link post and DET has been on extended summer hiatus since then. We did break hiatus twice. The first time was to bring you a timely sermon from contributing author Henry Coates. It is well worth your time if you haven’t read it yet: "Christians are people who say, 'Black lives matter'": A sermon on Jonah 1.

The second time we broke hiatus was to announce my participation in a webinar with the folks at Homebrewed Christianity: Why Go Barthian? Upcoming Webinar with Travis McMaken and Tripp Fuller. I had a lot of fun doing it, and you can watch the video on Youtube (and I’ve embedded it below). The interview will also go out on the Homebrewed Christianity podcast eventually.



Speaking of Youtube, I now have a channel! There isn’t much up there yet: a brief video tribute I did to Heiko Oberman, and a playlist linking to two videos with me on other channels. But I plan to add to it from time to time, and I hope to get some other DET folks in on it. So subscribe and stay tuned for more.

Finally, I've got some new stuff up on my Academia.edu profile: Review of Ashley Cocksworth's Karl Barth on Prayer, A Brief Introduction to Calvin and his Institutes, and the text of my commencement address from back in May, "Keep Faith Also With Us."

Speaking of other DET folks, if you check out the contributors page you will notice some changes. First, Scott Jackson has been promoted from “senior contributing author” to “associate editor.” Over the years that Scott has been a part of DET, he has increasingly helped me to shoulder editorial responsibilities: editing guest posts, brainstorming about which direction we should go in terms of content and identity, recruiting, etc. And I wanted to recognize his role in these regards. So, three cheers for Scott’s promotion!

Speaking of Scott: during the hiatus he published an article with The Other Journal that you will want to read: ”The Two Deaths of Joe Paterno: Stringfellow on the Principality of Image and the Life of a Football Icon”.

Also, we have two new contributing authors that I’m very excited about: Alex DeMarco, and J. T. Young. You can read a little about them on the contributors page, and you can expect posts introducing them in the near future.

Also, DET celebrated its 10th birthday back at the end of July.

Whew! Even though DET has been on hiatus, we’ve been busy behind the scenes, and I’m excited for what the next year will bring. Posting will resume on Monday. Until then, here’s some fresh, hot links to keep you busy over the weekend!



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Sunday, August 07, 2016

Why Go Barthian? Upcoming Webinar with Travis McMaken and Tripp Fuller

We interrupt this DET hiatus to bring you some breaking news: I - intrepid, fearless, and usually not too excessively misanthropic and full of himself editor of DET - will be going toe-to-toe with Tripp Fuller in an upcoming webinar on why you - yes, you! - should consider going "Barthian." The accompanying image has all the vital stats, and you can sign up for FREE to participate in the webinar, get an e-mail about it, etc.

It would be great if we had a good contingent of DET readers in attendance and, for those of you who can make it, I'll "see" you in there!


UPDATE

I had a lot of fun doing the webinar, and it's now up on Youtube. Check it out!



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Monday, July 11, 2016

"Christians are people who say, 'Black lives matter'": A sermon on Jonah 1

[Ed. note: We interrupt our regularly scheduled hiatus to bring you this timely sermon from DET contributor Hank Coates.]

Dearly beloved,

I thought long and hard about what I was going to preach on this morning. I’ve been planning this sermon series on Jonah, but in light of events of last week, 300 killed in a bombing in Iraq, two black men seemingly executed for no good reason other than being black in the wrong place at the wrong time, revenge violence of the worst kind in Dallas which left five dutiful public servants, officers of the law, killed while defending people who were exercising their constitutional right to protest, well, I had to think long and hard about what text to craft my sermon around. And that’s just last week, we are less than one month out from the largest mass shooting in modern American history at a night club in Orlando, Florida. Throw in the most bizarre, toxic, and downright frightening election season in my lifetime at least, and you know, it can honestly feel at times that things are coming apart. That things are bad, and that’s scary and we don’t know what’s going on. Now things aren’t as bad as they were in 1968, with massive riots, with MLK and Bobby Kennedy being assassinated, 300 a day getting killed in Vietnam. But I wasn’t born in 68! And so it feels like, to some, that we are on the brink of something. It doesn’t feel like 1968, but for some of us, we wondering if we’re in 1967. In the midst of all this, one thing becomes clear to me.

By Tony Webster (Black Lives Matter Minneapolis) [CC BY 2.0] via Wikimedia Commons
This long, hot summer, when tensions seem at a long time high, we need Jesus. We need him, now, because things are scary out there and it is ok to admit that. America doesn’t need to be made great again, American Christians need to repent of our sins, I need to repent of my sins, which include the sin of staying silent when the innocent are killed, repent of the sin of holding to the sidelines in the face of great injustices being perpetuated against black people every day, repent of the sin of desiring vengeance and justifying the murder of cops doing their job because a couple of bad cops literally get away with murder, and instead, stand in awe of our great, loving God, and in dong so learn again what it means to be Christians. Because at the start of the day and at the end of the day, what is a Christian?

Christians are sinners saved by the power of God in Jesus, who died so that we might live. Christians are people who love neighbors as much as we love ourselves. Christians are people who work for the reconciliation of all peoples. Christians are people who can say black lives matter because all lives matter and that’s why black lives matter. Christians say black lives matter. Full stop. Christians are people who mourn with the broken hearted, be it with the families of the police officers ambushed a couple of nights ago in Dallas, or with the family of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, and say to all, “this is not right. This is not how the world is meant to be.” Christians are people who answer the call of Christ to be peacemakers, no matter what the cost or inconvenience. This is what Christians do: they answer the call of the God who loves us, who tells us to arise, go, do something, be my people, obey my command to love, be my witnesses in a broken world. Go, answer the call, tell the world that I am with the world because I love the world! This is hard. And it seems impossible. And so, for all of us, we refuse to answer this call, because it is simply too hard, too scary. God’s call for us is to speak. The human inclination is to remain silent.

But our scripture today, Jonah 1, is about a man who didn’t answer the call of God and instead ran away! Now look, I’m not your pastor. I am privileged to stand in front of you all this summer, it is a real gift to be with you. But I don’t know you as well as Pastor Karen does. You don’t know me. So I have to discern, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, what the Word of the Lord to you, to all of us particularly, today, is. And this is hard. This is scary, and maybe I wanted to run away! But, Jonah, all four chapters, seems strangely appropriate for this moment.

We are Jonah. Jonah is the typical human, fallen, scared, confused, seeming out of his league in the midst of crazy circustances. We are Jonah, we can show him a little grace, can’t we? So let’s see what we can learn, if anything, from Jonah.

Jonah was a prophet, someone called by God to get up, go tell others about what God has done, is doing, and will do. And Jonah was called by God, was given a job to do by God, but Jonah didn’t want to do it. He was supposed to go into the belly of the beast, into the city of Nineveh, and preach judgment upon them. Now we can get why Jonah didn’t want to do this, yea? Nineveh was the capital of the Assyrian Empire, and the Assyrians would destroy Israel someday. He was walking into enemy territory to, cry out against that great city, for the Lord had seen its wicked ways. The people in Nineveh? They didn’t know the Lord. Jonah’s job was to tell them about the Lord. But Jonah got a call from God and went the exact opposite way. We are supposed to think that he is driven by the same fear and unbelief that would drive any of us: faced with the prospect of calling out to the great city of Nineveh in the name of the Lord God of Israel, he does not believe the word of the Lord and does not trust that the Lord can deliver him from Nineveh’s evil. So he runs in the other direction. Let me read the beginning of the passage:

By Pax Ahimsa Gethen [CC BY-SA 4.0] via Wikimedia Commons
Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai, saying, “Go at once to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before me.” But Jonah set out to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish; so he paid his fare and went on board, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the Lord.

Now I can understand his disobedience, can you? He’s afraid. It could be like the fear of a black man or woman being pulled over by a cop late in the night. Paralyzing fear. Jonah’s fear, it’s real. It’s human. And we need to acknowledge Jonah’s fear, like we also need to acknowledge the fear of our black brothers and sisters in 21st century America. But, but! I said this passage was a comedy, a farce. It is. But even in comedy, serious issues, of divine significance, can be present and acknowledged. Jonah is a prophet, he is one who speaks the words of God, he is expected to answer the call of God to go preach, but, this is a prophet who runs away. And that’s kind of funny.

So Jonah is afraid. And so he goes into the direct opposite direction of Nineveh. He buys a ticket to Tarshish, which is on the exact otherside of the world from Nineveh. God says go one way, Jonah goes another. Tarshish was a rich port city somewhere in modern Spain. Tarshish didn’t promise death, Tarshish promised a life of luxury. Now Jonah bought a ticket to get on a ship—he spent money thinking that money would buy him an escape from God’s plan, as if money can fix all of his problems. Hmm.
But when God calls you, God doesn’t let you go. Psalm 139 reads,

O Lord, you have searched me and known me.
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from far away.
You search out my path and my lying down,
and are acquainted with all my ways.
Where can I go from your spirit?
Or where can I flee from your presence?

So he let Jonah run away, but there are consequences for our actions. A great storm came and thrashed the boat. And there is meaning in this storm. Storms always come into our lives, and we’re not the only ones who get wet. That’s what happened here, the sailors on board this ship, they are terrified for their lives because of the storm that Jonah brought. Actions have consequences, and those consequences can impact a whole mess of people. Sometimes we bring other people in advertently into our storms. And these sailors, they cry, they cry out to their gods but nothing seems to work. What is Jonah doing? Well he’s sleeping, unaware of the mess he’s made for others because of his disobedience. God’s prophet, the one God called, is asleep.

Now these men didn’t know the Lord. Like Nineveh, they were lost. But the captain of the ship in the storm, he seems to have some sense. He wants all on board his ship to pray for safety, including this man who is asleep in the ship’s hold. “Get up!” he says, “Perhaps the god will spare us a thought so that we do not perish.” Us. We, Note he says us and we. This captain, who doesn’t know the Lord, is concerned for everyone. He’s not selfish like Jonah, who disobeys the Lord and doesn’t care who such disobedience impacts. No, this captain is a good captain, unlike Jonah, the prophet, who runs away.

These sailors, who don’t know God, they just want to live and they are sure that something, someone can save them, but they don’t know what that something is. The Lord is the only one who can help, but they don’t know the name of the Lord, because Jonah has been silent, Jonah has been asleep, because Jonah ran away. Freshly awakened Jonah emerges on the deck, and they cast lots, and yes, Jonah is outed—he is the one to blame for the storm. And what happens next is profound—these men, who did not know the name of the Lord, come to saving knowledge of the Lord because of Jonah, the prophet of the Lord who ran away!

“Tell us why this calamity has come upon us. What is your occupation? Where do you come from? What is your country? And of what people are you?” “I am a Hebrew,” he replied. “I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.” Then the men were even more afraid, and said to him, “What is this that you have done!” For the men knew that he was fleeing from the presence of the Lord, because he had told them so.

Then they said to him, “What shall we do to you, that the sea may quiet down for us?” For the sea was growing more and more tempestuous. He said to them, “Pick me up and throw me into the sea; then the sea will quiet down for you; for I know it is because of me that this great storm has come upon you.” Nevertheless the men rowed hard to bring the ship back to land, but they could not, for the sea grew more and more stormy against them.

They don’t want to cast Jonah into the sea, to certain death, because despite them not knowing the name of the Lord, they are good men. They want to save Jonah, despite Jonah being the cause of all their problems. But Jonah, the Prophet who ran away, is the Lord’s. And the Lord won’t let Jonah go. And the Lord gets what the Lord wants. And what the Lord wants is that all people come to know his saving love that stands on the side of the oppressed, makes the crooked straight, and releases the captives from their chains.

Then they cried out to the Lord, “Please, O Lord, we pray, do not let us perish on account of this man’s life. Do not make us guilty of innocent blood; for you, O Lord, have done as it pleased you.” So they picked Jonah up and threw him into the sea; and the sea ceased from its raging. Then the men feared the Lord even more, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows.

Here’s the thing the text is saying: They know the Lord now; they are not only safe under his protection but they know the Lord by name, all because prophet Jonah ran away. Because the Lord will work through all people, and the Lord never gives up on us, even when we run away.

We are all going to run away. That’s what we do. We are human, and we instinctively run away from the call of God. That’s why we live in a broken world. We have a skin problem, yea, but we also have a sin problem, and that’s why obeying God can be so difficult at times. And it is because of Sin that we run away.

And so I say, Thank God for Jesus.

In our New Testament passage Jesus identified himself, directly, with the Prophet Jonah, the chosen one who ran away. Jesus Christ, is the chosen one from God who never for a moment turns and runs away goes where God sends him: And God sends him to be among us to save us. Jesus, the chosen one, our God, redeems all those who flee from the call of God to love our neighbors as self. Jonah does nearly everything wrong, does not love his neighbor as himself and gets into the deepest trouble imaginable, yet all the while he remains God’s beloved and chosen one. He does everything wrong, almost, yet through him the Lord God of Israel does everything right. And Jesus identifies himself with the Prophet Jonah to send us, today, an incredible message: even though we are Jonah, even though we screw up, even though we run away, "I am the God who is with you and I am going to save you and you are going to be my people and I am going to be your God, and I will empower you to go out into the world to be with my people who are suffering, who are crying out in the face of injustice, I am going to empower you to be my hands and feet to witness to a broken world that I am the Lord, that I am the King who saves, that I am the God who saves. That I am the God who hears my people when they cry out!"

By Tony Webster (Black Lives Matter) [CC BY-SA 2.0] via Wikimedia Commons
So brothers and sisters, Grab onto him to learn from him. Let Christ’s light shine on through you. We can’t do this on our own. We need Jesus to get through this moment. And the good news is, that even when things seem dire, we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. So let’s not stop at words: with Christ as our guide let us work, let vote, let us struggle, let us join alongside our black brothers and sisters as we strive after a fair, equitable, just, and safe society for all of God’s people.

And I close with scripture, just so you don't think that it is I who has the last word: Proverbs 31:8-9 commands,

Speak out for those who cannot speak,
for the rights of all the destitute.[a]
Speak out, judge righteously,
defend the rights of the poor and needy.

And Luke 4:18-19 reminds us who it is who we follow:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

[Note from the author: I am preacher at a church where I am not the pastor. I am filling a pulpit this summer of a tiny church, full of God's good people, in rural rural rural North Carolina. I'm called to preach in season and out of season, but I would be lying to you if I didn't say I was nervous about preaching today to a congregation I don't know well. Below is the sermon I preached yesterday. I don't know if it is any good, and I know it doesn't do full justice to our moment. But preachers are called to preach, in season and out. So I preached.]

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