So I haven't been blogging as much as I'd like to recently because, well, I have no energy. I'm currently hosting a Swiss short-term missionary who is helping out with Nagahama and Maibara, and I guess I feel quite a lot of pressure - self-inflicted of course - particularly in this first week or so, to make sure he is OK and well looked-after and entertained. The downside of this is that I feel I have to be on duty 24/7, not just making sure everything is OK but also making conversation and finding useful and interesting things to do. I am very bad at all of the above, hence the stress.
So this CC Blogs thing provides lot of opportunity for hearing what other vaguely like-minded theologians around the world are doing, and I got caught up the other day in someone's blog post about Luke 4. Now this is something we'd just been doing in JET group, (as well as a pretty fundamental passage for liberation theologians and my first sermon passage here in Japan) so I barrelled in with my own exegesis.
Today I raced down (and back) to Shizuoka, about half way to Tokyo, to meet a man who's working on issues of church growth and the lack of it in Japan. We had a good chat, more of a get-to-know-you thing than any real deep content, but important to do none the less. And now I have come back with a head full of thoughts, which is always good.
I remember reading - I don't remember where - about one of the key questions in Trinitarian missiology is “Who's not here?” Symbolically it pictures the Trinity in a “dance of love”, and while they enjoyed perfect community together, the question “Who's not here?” leads to them reaching out to include humanity. Then the dance expands to include the Israelites, the Gentiles, and so on until all are included. The challenge, then, for the church is to keep on asking “Who's not here?” Which sectors of society are we lacking? What part of the richness of God's creation have we failed to take account of?
Kosuke Koyama is a preacher and theologian whose work I really enjoy and am inspired by. This is the operative bit of Sunday's sermon on Exodus 3. There's more, which I'll put up when I've finished the translation, but this is the theological key to the passage as far as I'm concerned. Nothing here is Koyama's words, but his spirit was definitely at work while I was writing it. My pastor, whose sermon style is very different, asked me after checking my Japanese “How do you come up with this kind of meditation?” Well, I just look at the text, then a look at a map, then I ask stupid questions, and I try to find the answers…
So I don't think it's cool to judge politicians, or indeed anyone, on what their preacher says, or else, well, all of my congregation would be in deep trouble. But a recent sermon at Sarah Palin's church kind of raised my interest a bit. The passage in question, about 1 minute 20 in:
Moving from a technical profession to a spiritual vocation has been a weird process for me and has brought a few surprises. But there is one particular element that still gets to me every time. It is what I would call the closed nature of the spiritual community rather than the open nature of the technical community.
It has been striking me more and more recently that I am, at this point in my ministry, doing pretty much everything I said I would never do on the mission field before I got here. I am teaching English for ministry. I am using - and creating - systematized programmes for evangelism and discipleship rather than responding flexibly to individual situations. And, as we plan what happens to my various preaching and teaching slots from January, I realise that I have taken on more work than is sustainable and reproducible.
Just after writing about Christ as a critical category over our theologies, I turned to the next part of our series through Acts to see what I had to preach on this week. Chapter five, oh yummy. One of the reasons I prefer preaching in series like this is because it keeps me honest, stops me from picking and choosing, and encourages me to deal with passages I would prefer to avoid. I believe that reading the Bible is meant to change you, not just reinforce your existing views, and grappling with the bits you find unpleasant is a necessary part of this.