Recently I served as the chairperson for a search committee that was seeking to hire a new professor of missions and missiology at Calvin Seminary. That task meant that I had the chance to bring myself up to speed a bit on the current state of conversations about missions and where some of the primary foci are in the field of missiology.
Drills and Scales as Building Blocks
Every good soccer or basketball team does drills to practice basic skills. Every good pianist or saxophonist practices scales. Drills and scales are the building blocks of success any time our bodies and minds are involved in an activity we love.
Scales and drills shape how human nerves and muscles work together seamlessly in real time. They get us ready to respond to whatever a game or musical performance brings our way. They make doing the right thing instinctive, like second nature.
The climactic scene of Matthew’s gospel describes the risen Christ standing with his disciples in Galilee as he gives them final instructions. He tells them to go and “make disciples of all nations.” As Jesus invited each of them to follow him and to form a community with each other, Jesus now asks them to invite others to come into communities of discipleship. He institutionalizes his own method of community organizing: inviting people into relationship with a leader and then with each other.
Over the nearly sixteen years when I was preaching two new sermons every week, I dipped into the Revised Common Lectionary only sporadically. Typically I’d turn to Lectionary texts for Advent or maybe for Lent, especially if I had no fresh ideas for a sermon series. However, since coming to Calvin Seminary seven years ago, I use the Lectionary every week as the basis of the sermon-starter articles some colleagues and I have been posting on the Center for Excellence in Preaching website every Monday morning.
In the Christmas classic It’s a Wonderful Life, George Bailey (played by Jimmy Stewart) yearns for something better. But, beginning with his father’s untimely death, circumstances beyond George’s control thwart each of his plans to escape the runty town of his birth. George doles out his life helping small people live their small-town dreams. All the while, he believes he is missing something. He longs for something more, something exotic and adventurous, and audiences all over the world have identified with his longings for more than sixty years.
There it stands, so innocent, at the front of the sanctuary. Yet whether it’s a modern Plexiglas lecturn, an elevated baroque booth, or a humble music stand, the pulpit should come with a “Danger” warning label. Externally, the preacher must contend with spiritually toxic fumes that collect around the pulpit; internally, there is a fire.
Historically, Christians have used some verses from the gospel accounts of Jesus’ suffering to figuratively bludgeon Jewish people. But does our awareness of this historical misuse of Scripture make any difference in the way we plan and lead worship, especially during Lent and Holy Week? Can we apply some principles to dealing with those “troubling tellings” while still taking the Scriptures very seriously?