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.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Year C - Proper 13

Liturgy of the Word:
Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14; 2:18-23
Psalm 49:1-12
Colossians 3:1-11
Luke 12:13-21

Monday, July 30, 2007

Pastor and Tentmaker: Reserved for a few?

I received an interesting email this week. You can read it here. I have been a bi-vocational pastor for nine years, which is a very small number of my 62 years. I have never been a full-time pastor. I have nothing to compare my current experience with that of a full-time pastor. Each of us have our own journey to take. What follows is my answer to this email:

Thanks for your email. You know, there are a lot more of us out there than you realize. Every little church with less than 100 active and tithing members has a pastor who is a tentmaker. These churches do not have enough income to pay a full-time pastor’s salary. Usually, as in my case, they pay what they can and the pastor works either a part-time or full-time job to supplement her/his income. By being willing to work in the market place to earn enough to support oneself, we provide a service to small churches that could not hire a pastor otherwise.

You speak of King and Priest as separate functions. For the most part they are. But remember Melchizedek (Genesis 14; Psalm 110; Hebrews 5 & 7) The writer to the Hebrews compares Melchizedek with Jesus. Melchizedek was both a priest of the God Most High (el-elyon) and king of Salem (jeru-salem). Jesus is prophet, priest and king. Should we not walk even as He walked?

I truly believe that God calls men and women to bi-vocational pastorates. I certainly believe he called me here. A few years ago I was laid off from my secular job. I prayed that God would give me a full-time pastorate. He didn’t. I was disappointed at first until I realized that God had me right where He wanted me.

My own formation included many of the concerns you have. I told myself that if I truly had faith, I would quit my secular job and trust God to take care of all my needs (ref: Matthew 6.) Those thoughts were based primarily on my lack of knowledge of the bi-vocational ministry. I was raised in a church that could provide for a full-time pastor. When I attended college at Baylor University, I attended only large churches near the campus. They, of course, could afford multiple ministers. When I finally surrendered to God to enter the ministry, He called me to this small church. They could not pay me a full-time salary. I truly felt God’s call to this church. The church members expressed the same sense of God’s will. Then, I began to learn of other pastors in the local association who were bi-vocational. In the years that I have had my blog, I have come in contact with many brothers and sisters who serve as pastors and work full-time jobs in the market.

You mention the ethics of the business world and the conflict you feel with your Christian ethics. I constantly struggle with this conflict. It takes a lot of knee time to keep from being sucked into the trap of being what you have to be to be a success in the business world. I am not an entrepreneur. I work for the secular state. I have found that one can bring Christian ethics to the workplace if you work at it. God doesn’t expect us to be perfect, and He knows, I am not. But I keep trying.

Thomas Merton wrote a prayer that I’d like to share with you:
My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone. Amen.

Gil, may God bless you in your journey, and may you listen to the still small voice with an open mind that does not limit God and all of His possibilities.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Year C - Proper 12

Liturgy of the Word:
Genesis 18:20-32
Psalm 138
Colossians 2:6-19
Luke 11:1-13

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Year C - Proper 11

Liturgy of the Word:
Genesis 18:1-14
Psalm 15
Colossians 1:15-28
Luke 10:38-42

Are you Listening?

The Listeners
By Walter de la Mare

“IS there anybody there?” said the Traveller,
Knocking on the moonlit door;
And his horse in the silence champed the grasses
Of the forest’s ferny floor;

And a bird flew up out of the turret,
Above the Traveller’s head;
And he smote upon the door again a second time;
“Is there anybody there?” he said.

But no one descended to the Traveller;
No head from the leaf-fringed sill
Leaned over and looked into his grey eyes,
Where he stood perplexed and still.

But only a host of phantom listeners
That dwelt in the lone house then
Stood listening in the quiet of the moonlight
To that voice from the world of men:

Stood thronging the faint moonbeams on the dark stair,
That goes down to the empty hall,
Hearkening in an air stirred and shaken
By the lonely Traveller’s call.

And he felt in his heart their strangeness,
Their stillness answering his cry,
While his horse moved, cropping the dark turf,
’Neath the starred and leafy sky;

For he suddenly smote on the door, even
Louder, and lifted his head:—
Tell them I came, and no one answered
That I kept my word,” he said.

Never the least stir made the listeners,
Though every word he spake
Fell echoing through the shadowiness of the still house
From the one man left awake:

Ay, they heard his foot upon the stirrup,
And the sound of iron on stone,
And how the silence surged softly backward,
When the plunging hoofs were gone.
Behold I stand at the door and knock...
Are you listening?

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Year C - Proper 10

Liturgy of the Word:
Deut. 30:9-14
Psalm 25:1-10
Colossians 1:1-14
Luke 10:25-37

This week the Gospel passage is the parable of the "Good Samaritan." As always, the challenge is to read this story in a new and different way than I have before.

One way to view this story is to see it as Jesus subverting the prominent world view of first century Judaism.1 The Jews were God's chosen people. They believed that it was only through them, either through the law or through the Temple cult, that one could approach God and receive his forgiveness.

"There was a man who went from Jerusalem down to Jericho," this man represents Everyman. "he fell among thieves," who represent the evil forces at work in the world. Forces that have stripped Everyman from his most precious possession, fellowship with God. The priest represents the whole system of Temple worship in Jerusalem and it's ineffectiveness to restore God's fellowship to Everyman. The Levite represents legalism in all it's forms and it's failure to restore God's fellowship to Everyman. If the temple worship and keeping the law will not restore the fellowship of God, then the ministry of reconciliation must be passed on. It is the Samaratan who represents the outsider to the people of the covenant who finally brings about the restoration of fellowship of God to Everyman.

The Jews looked for a military leader, the annointed one of God like the kings of old, to marshall their forces and drive the infidel from their land. Then, and only then, could they truly be fulfilled as the chosen ones of God. Jesus came on the scene eating and drinking and carousing with all sorts of common folk. He angered the established religious authorities. Almost everything he said and did was subversive to the religious status quo. For this they handed him over to the Romans to be killed. And as history tells us, it was to the Gentiles that the ministry of reconciliation would fall.

The problem with the above interpretation is that I have used the story without any regard for Luke's context. More about this later.

1 Wright, N. T.; The New Testament and the People of God; While my interpretation of this story follows similar guidlines laid out by Wright in NTPG, he actually interprets this story himself in Jesus and the Victory of God, pp 305-308. Wright's own interpretion is different from my own.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Ain't it the truth

From anglobaptist
I have three things I'd like to say today. First, while you were sleeping last night, 30,000 kids died of starvation or diseases related to malnutrition. Second, most of you don't give a shit. What's worse is that you're more upset with the fact that I said shit than the fact that 30,000 kids died last night.
-Tony Campolo, pastor, evangelist, educator

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Year C - Proper 9

Liturgy of the Word:
2 Kings 5:1-14
Psalm 30
Galatians 6:1-16
Luke 10:1-20

Sundays into Silence

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Year C - Proper 8

Liturgy of the Word:
1 Kings 19:15-21
Psalm 16 (NRS)
Galatians 5:1, 13-25
Luke 9:51-62

Counting the Cost

Strong and kindhearted Father, in Jesus your Son you reveal to us how love is a gift from you calling us to give ourselves without hesitation. We want to be his disciples, and so we pray: Open our ears to his call, commit us with open hearts and hands to follow him all the way in faithful and joyful service to you and to people. We ask this in the name of Jesus the Lord. Amen.

Concerning the call of God, Jesus said:
If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. Matthew 16:24

What does it mean to take up our cross? I suspect that it meant something very different to Jesus’ audience than it meant to Luke’s readers. For the crowd listening to Jesus, the cross was a symbol of Roman cruelty and a reminder of their total and ultimate control over their subjects. What it meant for Luke’s readers, including us, was something quite different.

Since the crucifixion of Jesus, the cross has been a great symbol for Christians throughout the centuries. As a symbol, the cross takes two forms: the crucifix, with Jesus still hanging on the cross has been a symbol of Jesus’ sacrifice and great suffering, the bare cross has been a symbol of the triumph of God over sin and evil. In both cases the cross has been a symbol for giving up one’s own will and desires for the will of God.

Elijah is more than a prophet in the tradition of Nathan, Isaiah and Jeremiah. Perhaps we should think of him more as a holy warrior. Following the defeat of the priests of Baal on Carmel, Elijah leads the slaughter of 400 priests. In our passage for this week, Elijah has heard the voice of God sending him on a military recruitment mission. The instruction that God gives him is to mount a coup against Ahab and Jezebel. We never read of Hazael of Aram (now Syria) being anointed. Jehu is anointed later by Elisha, not Elijah (2 Kings 9:1-10).

Perhaps the part of this passage that connects it with this week's Gospel passage is that when Elisha is called he asks to go home to settle his personal affairs and bid farewell to his parents. Elijah allows this preparatory act whereas in the Gospel passage, following Jesus is a more imperative and demanding call.

For Elisha, the call came without warning. He was not prepared to receive the call. Elisha was in the fields plowing. What strength he must have had to wield the reigns of a team of twelve oxen. When Elijah casts his mantle upon him, this same mantle that he had used earlier in the mountain cave to shield himself from the presence of God, Elisha does not question the call. He immediately ran after Elijah and begging for a chance to set his affairs in order. Elijah grants his request. During the preparation to follow the call of God, Elisha sets things right with his family. He also slaughters his oxen both as a sacrifice to God, giving thanks for receiving the call, and as food for the surrounding people.

Jesus tells a story about two men who set out to build a tower. The prudent builder hires an architect, gets estimates of the materials and labor, and checks to see that he has enough money to secure the necessary resources to build the tower. Then he follows through with his plan to completion.

The other man, a foolish builder, has a vision of his tower and begins immediately with its construction. He has no plan. He has no idea what materials he will need or how much labor will be required. He has no way of knowing what it will cost or even if he has enough resources to complete his task. His project is doomed to failure. When he abandons the project for lack of funds the unfinished structure becomes a monument to his folly.

When Jesus called the twelve, he found Andrew, Peter, James and John fishing with their fathers. Their families depended on them for food and for their livelihood. Jesus made such an impression on them that they immediately left home and job to follow this itinerant prophet.

In our Gospel passage this week, Jesus is making his way from Galilee to Jerusalem. As the crowds follow him, Jesus takes the opportunity to enlist other disciples.

One man is eager to follow. Jesus says foxes have holes and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no where to lay his head. There are no guarantees of wealth or material possessions. One must make do and be satisfied with what God provides.

Another needed to bury his father. His father had not died, but it was the duty of every able bodied male to care for his aged parents and provide a proper burial for them. In this case the man is saying to Jesus, “Yes, I will follow you as soon as I have completed my present obligation.” And Jesus says certainly that will not do.

Another had put himself in position to be called by the Lord, but had not made preparation. He wanted to go home and say good-bye to his mother and father.

The cost of discipleship in the Kingdom of God is very high indeed, but the promise of God is greater still.

No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it. 1 Corinthians 10:13

If you are worried about provisions,

Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you-- you of little faith? Matthew 6:28-30

God’s call is not just to a Church-related vocation. It does not come only to those who he wishes to be pastors, missionaries, nuns, priests or monks. God calls us to service for him right where we are. We are His people and the sheep of his pasture. Pray to the Lord often. Listen to what he has to say to you. Make up your mind to follow Him as He wishes, not as you wish.

Jesus said,
Remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age. Matthew 28:20

Thanks be to God!

Let us pray,
Deliver us, Lord, from every evil
and make us truly free for others.
Do not allow us to look back,
not even to our failures,
for you have forgiven them,
but lead us resolutely forward
in the footsteps of our Lord
and Savior Jesus Christ.
For the Kingdom, the power,
and the glory are yours,
both now and forevermore.

And the LORD spoke unto Moses, saying,
Speak unto Aaron and unto his sons, saying,
In this manner you shall bless the children of Israel,
saying unto them...

The LORD bless thee, and keep thee:
The LORD make his face shine upon thee,
and be gracious unto thee:
The LORD lift up his countenance upon thee,
and give thee peace. Numbers 6:22-26