It would be fairly safe to say I’m a church geek. This past weekend I oversaw — though did not plan — our annual men’s retreat. Larry James, CEO of Central Dallas Ministries was our presenter and was both thoughtful and inspirational as he walked us through Jesus’ teachings regarding the poor from the gospel of Luke. I am not, and I don’t think Larry is, a liberation theologian, but I am a liberation theology sympathizer. I think there’s much good work there, though — like all contextual and systematic theologies — there are some gaps. However, I had not noticed how frequently Jesus’ use of “The Kingdom of God” is connected to issues of poverty and marginalization. It was evident that the men present began to imagine our role as a community of faith a little differently and more boldly than some had before. My prayer is, as my good friend Bill Ward put it, that our concern about the issues that create poverty be more than academic.
I had to leave the retreat early to preach one of my favorite text Sunday morning, 2 Corinthians 4.7-5.10. Though many people have not seen this text partitioned this way, it’s the right way to do it, I think. The problem with 2 Corinthians is that few folks understand it and there are enough pithy sayings in it that it has been given over to a kind of “bumper-sticker” theology. This text in particular has several phrases that folks traditionally have taken out of context and forced to mean things they don’t mean. Going into church Sunday I was fairly confident I was in possession of one of the worst sermons I’ve ever written. Alas, God is good, and, as this text reminds us: God works His treasure through clay jars.
I capped off the weekend with a 2 hour seminar at Houston Mennonite Church. The Mennonites in Houston are attempting to re-engage their mission and identity, so they are hosting a series of lectures on Anabaptist history and theology. I enjoyed the seminar, and, being the only non-Mennonite in the room, the church welcomed me warmly. (They were glad their ad in the newspaper paid off). The Anabaptist tradition (modern descendants include Brethren Mennonites, Amish, and others) have a rich heritage with began in controversy and blood. Sadly, there are only about 350,000 Mennonites in America today. Men like Conrad Grebel, Balthasar Hubmaier,and Felix Manz paid for their deeply held belief that infant baptism was wrong, separation of church and state, and a call to strict Holy living with their lives. Historically they have believed in three baptism: Baptism of th Spirit, Baptism of Water, and Baptism of Blood. And historically, they’ve had rich, deep experience in all three!