This sermon is on the story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman from John 4, and originally preached this past Trinity Sunday at Church of the Cross. I won't spoil the point, but I think this passage has much to say about the ministry of our triune God.
A dead body isn't what we expected to see when we planned this trip. But in southern China on a small fisherman's rig in 2005, that's exactly what we saw drifting past the boat. And not just one, but five dead, bloated corpses bobbing ahead, beside, and then behind us.
I'm not sure which was more rare on the river: dead people or my buddies and me. We were probably the only white folks for a few hundred miles. The other passengers on the boat, rural Chinese who had most likely never traveled more than a few days from the river, flicked their faces towards the sky, pretending like they didn't see death in the water. I guess when you grow up in a communist country, you're trained to ignore quiet horrors like this. Even if I knew their language, I'm not sure I would have inquired about the floating bodies anyway.
In the end this incident didn't bother us too much. It was a long day. The air was thick with humidity. After reaching our destination late in the afternoon, the temptation of the water was too great, and we decided that dead bodies or not, we wanted to swim. Besides, dead people weren't the most unusual thing we saw that summer.
We stayed in this town for the next day or so. The owner of the only hotel gifted us with a karaoke room and a huge feast of duck and Tsingtao. The local English teacher, who was kindly translating for us, said we were the first white people their village has ever seen. The newspaper published our photograph. Traffic literally stopped when we walked down the street. Mothers asked us to hold their babies. We were given a car tour of the town. On that ride, the English teacher leaned over to me and said, "You come back to China. I marry you."
As you can imagine, we felt important. But our feelings of grandeur quickly evaporated just a few days later. We went from river, to motorcycle, to bus and finally arrived at the end of our journey: Hong Kong. Here, the Chinese speak better English than us; and they definitely dress better, too. Unlike ourselves, they shower regularly. Our status flipped from celebrity to smelly foreigner as soon as we stepped foot into Hong Kong. No free karaoke parties here.
That summer in Asia was a whirlwind. It began two months eariler when we arrived in Beijing, caught a train to the capital of Mongolia, drove seven days to Olgiy, flew into Kazakhstan to visit old friends, bussed back to Urumqi in western China, smuggled ourselves into Tibet, flew to Chengdue, and boated down to Hong Kong. But these locations only provide the scaffolding for the actual content of the trip. Our tent was pitched in snow, sand, and forrest. We burned yak dung to boil water, bribed border police, discussed spirituality with a Tibetan nun, hiked a mountain which stood at the corner of four countries, ate curdled horse milk, conveyed via charades to a medical staff that we needed constipation relief, and stumbled across a Mongolian horse race.
It's been almost ten years since this oddyssy, and I think about often. It shapes and describes who I am. Not completely, of course, but significantly. I might not pay off police, bathe with snow, and recline on bamboo rafts every day, but the times those things did actually happen serve to remind me in the monotonous times of life that I have drank deeply from what this fantastic planet has to offer. In a world that is too often framed by screens and concrete, we need experiences like this to remind us to stay awake.
My guess is that you also have past events which stand as tent posts to the canvas of your life. They don't define you, per se, but they do point to what it is in life you stand for. They steer our attention away from ourselves and towards the beauty this world has to offer. We become inspired.
But maybe you haven't yet had such adventures. If not, it's time. Life's too short, transportation is too cheap, and humanity is too fascinating to not circumvent the globe at least once in your life.
Light one for Bishop Samuel Seabury.
You think about it whilst you’re mowing the lawn. A couple things occur to you and you realize that actually the first idea you had was OK, but really it’s just part of a larger idea. That larger idea is something you haven’t ever considered. It seems pretty fresh. You ponder it some more, think of a couple nice analogies that help explain the concept.
Boredom, which is the enemy of technology, provides furtile soil for curiosity and imagination.
My passage was Mark 5:1-20, which is the story of Jesus casting out a legion of demons from a man. Preached on June 21 at Church of the Cross, and my message is that confronting evil is supposed to be an ordinary part of the Christian life.
Many people are mocking the sale of Path, a social network founded on the principles of privacy, intimacy, and intentionality. That's fine. I understand folks were burned by Path's pitch of being an escape from the ad driven business models of Facebook and Twitter. The problem is that Path didn't come up with an alternative business model that actually makes money. App.net was a similar failed experiment.
I'll continue to use Path, though. The reason is simple. The ten active users who I am friends with on Path happen to be family members. Our parents and siblings are all on it. We post daily. We post pictures of kids, thoughtful comments, current movie viewing, and even the occasional location check-in. We like Path.
Twitter is contextless communication that is increasingly losing interest to me and will never appeal to my mom. Facebook is a reminder of the wide bredth of political opinions held by my acquaintances. What I like about Path is its focused audience. The sad truth, though, is that intentionally small networks don't make the dollars. My family and I cannot sustain Path's San Francisco based staff for the long haul, especially since none of us are paying members. Maybe that's the problem. Maybe we all should pony up.
But, there is a reason why I never give Path dollars. Their inventory is entirely made up of virtual sticker packs. You know, images of Power Rangers and barfing dogs that you can embed into a post. Oh, I almost forgot; they also sell photo filters that can make my pictures look like they have overlays from the Matrix or whatever. I believe in supporting developers by paying for their services, but if that means buying tangential products that provide zero intrinsic value, then no thanks. Sticker packs and photo filters are lame attempts at making money no matter what the other underlying principles being championed by Path, Inc. I will not spend my dollars on sticker packs.
Give me useful features that make Path even more of a knock out solution for families who want to keep in touch without the boat load of carp from the Facebook. I have dollars waiting to go to Path when they add features like profile pages, photo albums, and event sharing.
But that won't happen. And that's fine. Because for the time being, my family and I just want to share our daily happenings without complication. Until Path ceases to make that simple, we'll be around.
From Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis:
Let him begin by treating the patriotism or the pacifism as a part of his religion. Then let him, under the influence of partisan spirit, come to regard it as the most important part. Then quietly and gradually nurse him on to the stage at which the religion becomes merely part of the ‘cause’, in which Christianity is valued chiefly because of the excellent arguments it can produce in favour of the British war effort or of pacifism.
The attitude which you want to guard against is that in which temporal affairs are treated primarily as material for obedience. Once you have made the World an end, and faith a means, you have almost won your man, and it makes very little difference what kind of worldly end he is pursuing. Provided that meetings, pamphlets, policies, movements, causes and crusades matter more to him than prayers and sacraments and charity, he is ours – and the more ‘religious’ (on those terms) the more securely ours.
I had fun. My sermon from the Sunday before last, January 25. Took it as an opportunity to talk about my crush on science, why Christians should still care about the Old Testament, why I love my wife, and God's intimate construction of our lives. The passage is Acts 13:13-42, which is Paul's first recorded sermon on his first missionary journey. I hope you're blessed.
When the proponents of one Christian tradition assume that it holds in its hands all the resources needed for the flourishing of the church, and when we read other traditions in reductive and simplistic ways, then we are unnecessarily impoverishing ourselves and weakening our cause.
As one of my mentors would say, "We are all different regiments in God's army." Many bemoan the fact that we have so many different denominations, but one thing I drew from my experiences at an inter-denominational seminary, Beeson Divinity School, is that each regiment has specialties that serve the greater community of God.
I see at least two benefits. First, I need the voice of my Baptist, Catholic, Methodist, Pentacostal, and Prebyterian brothers and sisters to make sure that I stay true to the core doctrines of Christian faith. The histories and cultures of other denominations provide a unique perspective from which my own theological and pragmatic blind spots can be spotted. If I ever sway from orthodox belief, my friends will steer me back on course.
Second, diversity inspires innovation. The problems I face in my own life and the life of our church are well aided by the voices of other travelers. As long as we hold tight to the essentials of our faith, then we become more willing to listen to each other's thoughts and solutions. My tradition might not have a history that fully equips me for addressing every issue, and so I can borrow from the experiences of others.
And as Jacobs points out, we're especially going to need each other as we move into this next era of God's people.