"Unapologetic Theology: A Christian Voice in a Pluralistic Conversation" is the title of a book by my beloved theology professor and friend, the late William C. Placher. It is also now the title of this blog, a place where I hope to add a Christian voice -- God knows, not "the" Christian voice, but "a" Christian voice and not just any old voice, but a distinctly Christian voice -- to the pluralistic conversation going on about just about everything.
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Don't Make Me Poor. Or Rich?
I was recently listening to a
podcast of a wonderful on-line daily prayer resource called "Pray
as You Go," and the day's reflection was on part of Proverbs
" ...give me neither
poverty nor riches,
me only my daily bread."
Can you imagine yourself praying
that prayer to God? Can you imagine sincerely, honestly praying,
"Dear God: please... please
give me neither poverty nor riches. Don't allow me to be poor, but don't allow
me to become rich, either. Please give me only what I need to get through this
It's a counter-cultural (and
counter-intuitive) thing to pray for.
Well, actually, only part of it is
counter-cultural: I'll bet most of us would be perfectly comfortable -
certainly more sincere! - praying the "please don't give me poverty"
part of the prayer. (I don't know too many people who pray on a daily basis for
poverty, do you?)
But listen to the author of
Proverbs tell us, in the next verse, WHY he's praying this prayer, and maybe
it'll make more sense:
[If I become rich] I may have
too much and disown you
and say, 'Who is the Lord?'
Or [if I become poor] I may steal,
dishonor the name of my God.
Or as Eugene Peterson paraphrases
this part of Proverbs in The
Give me enough food to live on,
neither too much nor too little.
If I'm too full, I might get independent,
saying, 'God? Who needs him?'
If I'm poor, I might steal
dishonor the name of my God."
That proverb was written thousands
of years ago, but what a timeless truth it conveys about human nature.
On the one hand, if we are too
hungry - too poor in life, we get desperate.
There's nothing wrong with
feelings of occasional hunger and there is nothing wrong with being poor, but
there is something wrong with being desperate, and chronic hunger, or a state
of poverty tends to breed desperation. And desperation is no way to live: it
makes us do things like lie, cheat, and steal that are contrary to our better
nature (or to put that in more explicit Christian language, it increases our
proclivity to sin.)
But on the other hand, if we are
too full - too rich - we may disown God: we "get independent."
There is nothing wrong with
feelings of occasional fullness, and there is nothing wrong with being rich, but
there is something wrong with forgetting our dependence on God, and chronic
fullness or a state of being rich tends to breed the illusion of independence:
it makes us lose the higher qualities of our human nature like empathy,
humility and service to others.
Or again to put that in more
explicit Christian language, it increases our proclivity to sin: except this
time the Sin is far more serious, because as C.S. Lewis reminded us, the sins
of the heart (pride, arrogance, cold-heartedness, judgmentalism, etc.) are far
more serious than the sins of the flesh (stealing).
And so - Proverbs reminds us - the
way forward...the way of avoiding either danger... is to pray what Jesus taught
us to pray, and that is for "our daily bread."
We're reminded to pray something
"God, give me enough. Not
less than enough because I don't want to fall into desperation.
But not more than enough, either,
because I want to remember my need for you, and my connection to others."
One of the joys of my ministry is leading children's chapel for our Day School every other Wednesday (Rev. Cathy and I take turns). About 11:30 each Wednesday, the children - about a 190 of them, ranging in age from 18 months to five years of age - file in with their teachers, take their places in the pews in the Historic Church, and wait for Mrs. Thomas, the Day School Director, to start us. The service is simple: Mrs. Thomas welcomes everyone, brings us to order with a short prayer, and introduces Rev. Cathy or me. We give a short message based on the theme of the week ("David the Shepherd," "Mary and Joseph Go to Bethlehem," "Jesus is Born," "Jesus as a Little Boy" and so on.) After the homily, we stand and say what's called "The Children's Creed." I believe in God above, I believe in Jesus' love. I believe His Spirit too, comes to tell me what to do. I believe that I can be kind and good, dear Lord, like Thee.
Farewell, The Falls Church Episcopal The Rev. John Ohmer, Rector The Falls Church Episcopal October 27, 2019 Well I’ll name the elephant in the living room up front, which is that this is my last service here with you as your Rector, and therefore this is my final sermon. I don’t have anything new to say to you this morning. But, I hope, I’ve never had anything new to say to you - I hope I have spent seven years and two months reminding you of old truths, ancient truths, lasting truths. Seven years and two months: that's roughly 366 Sundays, and while of course I’ve only preached on slightly more than half of those Sundays, most Sundays we preach twice, and so roughly speaking, I figure I’ve preached over 350 times here. And in all those sermons I’ve really only been trying to make three points. One, you are the Body of Christ and individually members of it. Two, when Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was, he said “love the Lord your