Preaching and Discovering Incarnation

National Flags of Russia and United States. Superimposed over them is the National Flag of Syria in the form of a map of Syria. For those aware of current political dynamics, this image is potent and full of meaning.

If the Independent Fundamental Baptist movement ranked claims that ‘validate’ its interpretation of the Christian faith, strong preaching would be one of the top two. Yet the movement itself would never endure pointed preaching. If exceptions exist, IFBs have little patience for in-depth exploration of Scripture. Thoughtful questions little interest them, and those who want depth will find their way out of the IFB movement.

Over the years, I’ve practiced a self-made spiritual discipline that places highly disparate perspectives beside Scripture, and then teases out a kind of dialogue between them. The extra-biblical texts intentionally contain deep social antagonisms.

The intent in doing this is not to create a simplistic parody. That is not right, desirable, honest or even possible. Rather, the intent is to think about the text and social conditions creatively, deeply and incarnationally. Often, more questions than answers result. But the questions generated in this way can broaden and deepen our understanding of faith and life.

Social Antagonism:

As the Presidential election spectacle unfolds, the unmentionable reality is that US/Russian relations are quickly metastasizing with substantial risk of direct military confrontation with Russia. This means a new world war.

This also explains why Clinton’s campaign attacks Donald the Despicable from the right as being soft on Russia/Putin. A Clinton victory can then be twisted to infer that the election was a referendum on war on Russia.

The Disparate Reading:

‘With boundless hypocrisy, US State Department spokesman John Kirby said in a statement that Russia had failed to maintain its end of the bargain…’

‘Moscow has instead made increasingly clear that it is unwilling to back down in the face of US threats to encourage Islamist terrorists to direct their attacks against Russia. After Kirby menacingly declared last week that extremists could attack “Russian interests” and even Russian cities, an ominous pronouncement given Washington’s long-standing collaboration with Jihadi terrorists, Russia shot back that any US escalation in Syria would lead to “total war” and cause “tectonic shifts” throughout the Middle East.’

— Jordan Shilton, Oct 4, 2016 in US Suspends Talks with Russia

Terrorism, Patriotism, Nationalism, Preaching

US citizens know that they are often held in contempt. But they might be surprised to learn that in part, this is because we are sometimes seen as a supporter of terrorism. Seems absurd, right? Yet it does no violence to read John Kirby’s words to mean, ‘do as we say about Syria, or we’ll introduce terrorists into Russian cities and destabilize your country.

The point here is not to debate ‘facts,’ premises or politics, or to decide who to blame. Instead, this is held up as a kind of ‘still picture’ in which the spiritual dynamics at work in the cited commentary are studied.

The Biblical Reading:

‘While He was on the way to Jerusalem, he was passing between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered a village, ten leprous men who stood at a distance met Him; and they raised their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” When he saw them, he said to them, “go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they were going, they were cleansed. Now one of them, when he saw that he had been healed, turned back, glorifying God with a loud voice, and he fell on his face at His feet, giving thanks to him. And he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus answered and said, “Were there not ten cleansed? But the nine– where are they? “Was no one found who returned to give glory to God, except this foreigner?” And he said to him, “Stand up and go; your faith has made you well”‘ [Lu 17:11-19].

— Revised Common Lectionary, Gospel lesson for Oct 9, ’16.

Beginning Dialogue:

What are God’s kingdom interests in the John Shilton quote? How might the antagonisms of the Shilton quote inform our reading of Lu 17:11-19?

How do we understand ‘disease’ in the Biblical text? We know Hansen’s Disease [leprosy] results from bacteria; and we cannot endow bacteria with personality. But in the Biblical world, leprosy was understood to have a spiritual and religious dimension, not so unlike demonic personalities. What, if anything, might this suggest about the Shilton quote and how we understand the demonic potentialities of US/Russian relations?

How might the symbols/imagery of the story connect these two readings? If only in an ‘hypothetical’ sense, can we ‘see’ disease as spiritual power? Is it possible for us to ‘see through the eyes’ of disease? Or is it possible to see political relations as ‘diseased’ or through the eyes of disease? Can we relate the antagonisms between Jews and Samaritans to relations between the US, Russia, Syria, Israel, the Occupied Territories, Iraq, Iran, China and others? If so, what does Lu 17 suggest about these relations?

What are the worst effects of disease? Do we desire to be rid of them? Or do we cling to disease as a weapon to be used? What would it mean if the ten lepers refused to keep their distance? In today’s world, what does ‘showing yourself to the priest [i.e., to be ‘clean’] mean? Is this like transparency? Is this revealing ourselves? In what ways might threats of war or of unleashing terror relate to possession/ownership of disease?

What is revealed about spiritual pathology in ‘keeping one’s distance?’ What do alienation and reconciliation mean in the Biblical reading? What do alienation and reconciliation mean in Shilton’s quote? What is revealed about Dread and Death as demonic powers of this age? What does it mean that Christ overcame all earthly powers? How do the healed lepers in general, and the Samaritan leper in particular say about preaching Christ and praising Christ in our world?

In such a world, what does it mean to ‘turn back,’ prostrate one’s self, give thanks, praise, or be made whole? What does ‘faith’ mean in such a world? Understanding ‘prostration’ as a relinquishing of power/will, at whose feet have we ever prostrated ourselves — as a people, a nation, a church or as individuals? Will we ever do this? What might that suggest about our relationship with God as alienation or reconciliation? What does this say about our faith and wholeness and wellness?

The first question asked in this ‘Beginning Dialogue’ section was, ‘what are God’s kingdom interests in the John Shilton quote.’ If we can find no indication of God’s kingdom interests in that quote, how might that relate to the nine whose praise to God is absented from the picture? And if we can find nothing to say about God’s kingdom interests and praise in our world, what does this reveal about our church/nation grasp of the gospel?

Concluding Question:

Suppose that after prayer, a pastor’s next step in sermon writing was to prepare a list such questions for their text, and keep that before her/him as [s]he brokered issues of disease/alienation/faith/reconciliation in the life of members, the church, nation and world with the Biblical text.

What difference would that make for preaching?

Discovering Preaching:

Those who embrace what that means will never be IFBs. And we DO need that list. Whether the story is a young, unarmed man shot in the back by police, the breakdown of a cease-fire, or a story of rescue or perhaps of deep reconciliation at great, personal cost — it is simply imperative that preachers incarnationally connect faith to life. And that means that one seeks out points where life and the cross intersect.

Where life and the cross intersect, they interpret each other. And at that point, incarnational preaching happens.

4 thoughts on “Preaching and Discovering Incarnation”

  1. Can you explain more about your thoughts on demons, and how they affect life in this world? In your discussion, are you referring to them literally or figuratively?

    1. Dear First time caller:

      You’re one of these people I always found to be such a delight in Bible studies. You keep pushing ahead with questions; and I’m glad you do. It’s always so refreshing to meet people who WANT to learn/know! This one will take some thought, but I’ll work on it.


      1. My questions are usually a source of irritation to people. So, thank you for your patience with them.

        I’ve been curious about the topic of angels and demons for quite some time. When I have tried to ask questions on this topic, I’m just told that I shouldn’t be curious about evil things. Trying to search for answers myself led me down paths that were either extremely frightening or extremely confusing – which makes me believe they were not of God.

        Hence my interest in your thoughts on the matter. Though if it is something that is difficult for you, or requires a great deal of work, there’s no need to make things hard for yourself.

        1. Dear First time caller:

          This isn’t easy, and it will require some work. But I believe that it is vitally important to proceed with this. This may require several posts, and it may mean a day or two without a post; but I am determined to do it. I believe that the matter of evil and the nature of its work in the world relates profoundly to who we are as God’s people, what the Gospel means, what is the nature of Christian existence in the world, and what we are called to be and do.

          For too long, this subject has been the special preserve of eccentrics and other theological oddities. That may be why you’ve been told to avoid such things. I on the other hand believe that while avoiding theological aberrations, we need to incorporate insights from these matters into a stable theological perspective. I believe that this will enable God’s people to see many things differently, including the world of Christian fundamentalism.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *