the tentmaker

daily thoughts on the common lectionary

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Location: Sharpsburg, Georgia, United States

"...because he was of the same trade, he stayed with them, and they worked together — by trade they were tentmakers." Acts 18:3. Tentmaker is a title taken by bi-vocational pastors. As such, I am both a pastor and a project manager. I am a pastor of a local congregation of moderate, accepting and affirming people who worship in the Baptist tradition. We call our church "Hope Memorial Baptist" and we are about 40 in number. I am also a project manager of major construction projects for the State of Georgia. My home and church is in rural Coweta County, between Peachtree City and Newnan, with a mailing address of Sharpsburg, Georgia.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Sunday, May 7, 2006 - Easter 4

Ezekiel 34:1-10
Psalm 23
1 John 3:16-24
John 10:11-18

I have chosen the passage from Ezekiel over the passage from Acts because, as Raymond Brown has said, it lies behind the good shepherd passage in John which is our Gospel passage for this Sunday. More about this later.
Over at theopraxis, Scott Berkhimer has been writing about a theology of the suburbs. His particular approach to the suburbs has a connection with this good shepherd passage and its background passage in Ezekiel.

The Good Shepherd.
Jesus or the Market?

Why is it so difficult to get young, educated, successful, people into church, or more fundamentally, into a close relationship with God and Jesus Christ? The standard answer to this problem is that the church is no longer relevant to the needs and problems of the modern world, or post-modern, which I believe is the current buzz-word. Our worship services are old, boring and stale. The songs we sing are out of date and do not speak to the needs of a new generation. The basic story of the fall of man, the broken relationship with God, and the need for God's salvation no longer has meaning in a world that is becoming more and more atheistic.

Eric Gill. 1822-1940.
The Good Shepherd 1926.
Relief print on paper image.
Or, so it is said.

Now, I'm sure that there is some truth to the criticisms of the church and in every age we must make every effort to interpret the gospel in terms that are relevant to the current generation. But this approach is rather too simplistic. It's easy to place blame on the Church especially when our own faith is vested in another god. And I think that much of the problem is not with the Church or the gospel, but with churchmen and churchwomen who have placed their own personal faith in a modern myth that does, in fact bring immediate gratification. But faith in such a god ultimately brings destruction of the soul and ruin of the spirit.

What am I talking about? The modern world tells a story that is a story of lack, as opposed to the story of the bible which is a story of abundance. The story goes something like this: True sin is poverty, homelessness, interruption, filth, etc. Deliverance from this kind of sin is made possible by the acquiring of wealth, power and possessions. A certain level of income provides the power to make choices. Choices like where to live, what schools to send our children to, what kind of car to drive, what group to socialize with, etc. But, as the story goes, there is not enough wealth, power and material possessions in the world to go around. The only way to get your fair share, or more, is to get out there in the marketplace and fight for every thing you can get. Is this not the American Dream?

And this dream is embraced not only by corporate America, but by the church in America and in the affluent parts of the world as well. Remember the Prayer of Jabez?

Jabez called on the God of Israel, saying, 'Oh that Thou would bless me indeed, and enlarge my coast [territory], and that Thine hand might be with me, and that Thou would keep me from evil, that it may not grieve me!' And God granted him that which he requested. 1 Chron 4:10.
Here is our gospel:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
This text has become sacred text in America. The pursuit of happiness, especially, espouses the core values of capitalism. Get what you can. Get as much as you can. Don't worry about what others get, that's their problem. If they make the wrong choices in life and they end up with less and wanting, then it is none of my concern. My superiority is defined by what I have and what I have achieved, of course I'm better than them.

That does not sound much like the God who said "go, sell your possessions and give the proceeds to the poor, then come, take up your cross and follow me.

I've told you this before but it is so relevant to what I am trying to say here, that I need to tell you again. Stephen Covey writes of a man who spent all of his adult life climbing the ladder of success only to find that when he reached the top it was leaning against the wrong wall. He had worked hard all of his life and finally, when he achieved his goal, it did not bring the inner peace or the happiness that he was seeking.

The problem with this story is that it takes until the end of a life to discover that the acquisition of things does not bring salvation. The energy of youth is spent going after false gods and only after the best years are wasted and all is lost does one realize that where they were going was not where they wanted to be. And that is because there are rewards in following the story of the market. Living in a nice neighborhood is better than living in a ghetto. Sending our children to upscale private schools is better than having them mix with the unwashed masses in public school. Driving a new Lexus or Mercedes is better than an old beat-up derelict of a car, or having to take public transit because you don't have a car. Having a good education gives you more choices in the types of jobs you can get than those jobs available to the high school dropout.

But the false promise of the Market is that these things bring satisfaction, peace of mind, true happiness. They do not. In the end, all the money and medical insurance in the world will not cure an incurable cancer. It will bring you better medical care. It will not change the outcome. All the fine houses, fine cars, membership at the country club will not ease the despair of a failed marriage. The major plagues of the modern world are not caused by bacteria or viruses. They are caused by excess stress over time and excess consumption.

Too often we preach from the pulpit that the true advantage of following God over following the Market (mammon) is "pie in the sky bye and bye." Believe in Jesus and you will have salvation, but that salvation will not come until the endtimes when Jesus comes in glory, riding on the clouds. I think one reason that some preachers preach this gospel is that they also believe in the gospel of the Market. Bad things happen to good people and they can't explain it. Good things happen to bad people and they can't explain it. Life in this world is hard, but wait until the next life. It's like the mantra of the losers of the World Series: "Wait until next year."

The message I want you to get this morning is that God is relevant NOW. That the good life comes from following the Good Shepherd rather than following the wolves, or the thieves or the hired hand. Following Jesus does not save us from the sins of poverty, homelessness, interruption, and filth, because these things are not true sin. True sin is the broken relationship with God. It is living life alienated from the one who can bring true happiness and true peace. The peace that passes all understanding is inexplicable. How can poor people be so happy? How can I enjoy the ride to work in an old broken-down jalopy? How can one find joy in the midst of the pain of arthritis? How can one find peace when every moment they have the craving of a cigarette, another drink or a high from some other chemical? It is inexplicable! That's why God's peace is called the peace that passes understanding.

When we have a restored relationship with God, we no longer want the things that the Market promises. We no longer believe in a story of lack. We believe in a story of abundance. That story is that there is enough of what we need to go around. There is enough love. There is enough food. There is enough shelter. When we believe in the story of abundance we can go and sell what we have and give to the poor, and then take up our cross and follow our Lord.

Thanks be to God!
The problem for the church in the post-modern world is not conforming the gospel to the needs of the world. It's finding a way to articulate that the core values of the Market do not satisfy. That only the core values of God can truly satisfy. I would love to begin a dialogue here on ways to articulate the truths of God and Jesus Christ to a world consumed with consumerism. Please join me.


Blogger Electron said...

Nice Blog:)

5/03/2006 10:25 PM  
Blogger HeyJules said...

I'm in! What a great post, Joel. I see materialism so differently now than I used to. Like Steven Covey's guy, my ladder was on the wrong building, too. Thank my God He pulled it out from under me in time for me to see the light!

5/06/2006 8:23 PM  
Blogger the tentmaker said...

Bless you Jules. You are an inspiration to all who know you.

5/06/2006 8:38 PM  
Blogger Addie said...

I want to join in....

"The problem for the church in the post-modern world is not conforming the gospel to the needs of the world. It's finding a way to articulate that the core values of the Market do not satisfy. That only the core values of God can truly satisfy. "

-also want to add, a problem of the churches is also that they dont know what the core values of God are - the church has focused on only the "happy parts" of the Bible and neglected any of the hardships, so that when they come, people in the church dont know how to deal....

5/10/2006 4:23 PM  
Blogger LutheranChik said...

Joel, you may want to pick up a GREAT book by Marva Dawn, Unfettered Hope. It's a biting critique of the "powers and principalities" of market forces, popular culture, technology and the political realm, and a call to Christians to live more mindfully and counterculturally. Dawn rocks.;-) She likes to use the term "buying into the con." In my discussions with Christians who can't seem to distinguish between Christian values and those of our capitalist, free market, consumerist republic (or plutocracy, maybe, is a more accurate term)...methinks they've bought into the con bigtime.

5/10/2006 7:37 PM  
Blogger kpjara said...

I'm in the midst of reading "Transformation" by Bob Roberts and he emphasizes early on, that our "Salt and Light" sometimes either gets one-sided with too much focus on "LIGHT" (the glitz and glammer seekers at church) and not enough salt to support it...or like the Dead Sea, being encrusted in salt and due to lack of outflow, becoming unable to sustain any life.

I think the whole shift of church has to be realigned to what Jesus walked. We can no longer just speak Scripture from the pulpit. We've got to live it on the streets. If the Word isn't transferable to society then I believe it will be rejected for more stuff!

Great Blog by the way!

5/10/2006 9:42 PM  

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