@lmjread, AKA Larry James asks hard questions; questions that are hard to answer without implicating yourself.
The Lord works vindication
and justice for all who are oppressed.
He made known his ways to Moses,
his acts to the people of Israel.
The Lord is merciful and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. (Psalm 103:6-8)
But, truly, I’d rather hear the steadfast love part, and sing a song, and go eat pie. Mmmmm…. Pie….
What does a Lectureship do? We gather year after year in this place, for something nearly remarkable. Thousands of folks bound by a common religious heritage; a family reunion, often literally. I’d wager its the largest assembly of unprofessional acapella singers in the US, making our big joyful noises in the Pepperdine fieldhouse for three straight nights of re-unity. Aaron’s beard oiled up for another 365 days. God must like the sound of that.
You know, I think he does. But that tweet, a prophetic burr in the saddle, keeps me uncomfortable.
What does a Lectureship do? We plow though our booklets with eager enthusiasm for the fantastic gathering of teachers, preachers, performers and presentations collected here. Not an hour goes by that is not full of the potential for faith-refining, mind-transforming, spirit-lifting lectures, conversations, worship and prayer. New relationships and commitments are made. Valuable ministries are sustained. The saints are remembered. God must like the look of that.
And I think so. People leave energized. But that nagging question about the poor….
It gets at something that all of us associated with institutions claiming Christian faith have to wrestle with. The resources at our fingertips and the parameters of our mission statements often clash with the prophetic voices calling out on behalf of our underdressed neighbors or our un-enrolled neighborhoods. This mission of Jesus – an announcement that is somehow good news for the poor – tests every budget line in the system.
The last time I heard Larry preach, it was Ash Wednesday at a Church of Christ in Abilene. Which is to say, it’s quite possible that only a handful of us knew it. But Larry did, and he preached a passage into the center of how I understand the gospel: Isaiah 58.
6 Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
8 Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up quickly;
your vindicator* shall go before you,
the glory of the Lord shall be your rearguard.
9 Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.
Larry said, this is a passage in which God tells us how to get him to do our will. This could be important.
In my research lately, I’ve had the opportunity to read a fantastic dissertation by Monique Ingalls on participation in Modern Worship music, media, and events. She points out a striking difference between two major conferences she’d attended. At one, worshipers were led into an overwhelming experience of transcendent worship in song, an experience shaped by the lights, media, and worship leaders to draw worshipers into a sense of being alone before God, all together yet enveloped in a personal presence, carried deeper and deeper into God’s heart. It was pitched as a vision of unending worship before the throne of God in heaven. The follow up from conference organizers included invitations to download music from the event, keep up with their blogs and subscribe to their resources, in hopes that participants would carry the heavenly experience to their own assemblies, and return for another renewing event the following year.
At the second event, worship leaders left the lights on. Participants were drawn into an event that looked not only to the gathering as a diverse and unified congregation, but as people connected to the urban context of the event itself. They were led in ways of worshiping different from what they were used to, that drew them into a better understanding of one another and many beyond their experience; styles, languages, sounds that were unfamiliar. Everything done in corporate praise dovetailed into corporate calling. The revelation of God among them included both an opportunity to celebrate who God is and to commit to what God is doing. It was pitched as a vision of the whole redeemed planet before God in heaven; every tongue, tribe, and nation, and many we had forgotten but God had not. The follow up included free access to resources intended to equip participants for taking back to their churches the vision of a worshiping people leading others in lives of purposeful service to their communities.
What does a Lectureship do?
David Dark recently brought us a whole boat load of good questions to carry. In his conversation with some of us gathered to discuss his book, he commented that the first Christians were given the name; it was placed on them by others who saw what they did and labeled it Jesus.
What will they call our gathering of 4,000?
What will our housekeeping staff say of those who occupy our dorm rooms this week? What will the servers at Malibu restaurants call us? Will the community gathered at Standing on Stones’ Thursday night dinner have any words about the sudden demographic shift in town?
This week is an opportunity for celebration. It is an opportunity for worship. It is an opportunity for growth. We are thankful to God, and we are eager for the great blessing of fellowship. And if we are to bridge the gap between our purposes and Gospel Purpose, we must find ourselves being good news for the poor. The prophets are frank on this point. We ignore this burr in the saddle to the detriment of our progress as God’s people. We risk infection, immobility, and perhaps a distraction that prevents our arrival at our intended destination.
And this is not a purpose contrary to a Lectureship. It’s just not what sometimes sells tickets. But come one, come all, and come knowing that when we see Jesus together, we will be called to follow God in a life of good-news-announcing that can be buffered by our sacred assembly, but in which we will find the Kingdom – unity, renewal, transformation – as we share life with God among the unprogrammed and uninvited. If we are lucky, they will invite us to the banquet we are longing for.
They will know we are Christians by our love.
What can a Lectureship do? May we discover this week what God can do with a Lectureship, and whether we can be a sacred assembly that others point to as good news. May we come open not just to unique experiences, but to being disoriented and reoriented for the work of good news in the world. May we connect the dots between what is spoken and what must happen to fulfill it. May we think, feel, and act in a way that God will wish to work on our behalf, and others will want to call us by the name of our Liberating King. I believe this is possible. It’s why I’m still here. And I know it is not easy to do together. May we find ways to draw others into a life with God that is good news for us and for them.