March 25th: How Jesus & my birthday relate

The way I conceive of my birthday changed forever when I read the paragraphs quoted below.

For the first time in my life, I realized that on the day I was born — March 25th, nine months before December 25th — Jesus entered this world as prophet, priest, and king.  Some churches celebrate this day as the Feast of the Annunciation.

These excerpts are from an article that transcribes a talk that was given by Frederica Mathewes-Green at an Orthodox Christian Pro-Life Event.  On the 39th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion, she narrated with great clarity and sensitivity the universal church’s position throughout history regarding abortion and why we should be hopeful for the future of the pro-life movement.

Our faith’s affirmation of life from the moment of conception is evident in the passage in the Gospel of Luke, in which Mary goes to visit Elizabeth, and Elizabeth says that her unborn son leaped for joy at the sound of Mary’s voice. She says, “Why do I deserve such honor, that the mother of my Lord would come to me? For when the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the babe in my womb leaped for joy.” (Luke 1:39-45) The unborn John the Forerunner recognized the presence of Christ and his mother, and Elizabeth, with prophetic insight, realized what was happening.

Our Lord Jesus Christ did not become a human being on Christmas Day, but 9 months earlier, on March 25, the Feast of the Annunciation, when the angel appeared to the Virgin Mary and told her that she would conceive a child. The Forerunner did not become a human being on the day he was born; he was already a prophet and a servant of the Most High, even in his mother’s womb.  Click here to read the rest of The Pro-Life Cause, Orthodoxy, and Hope.

 

 

Where is God in the Hunger Games?

The Hunger Games trilogy is set in the nation of Panem, home to a dystopian society that exists in a post-America and “post-God” world.

Panem largely occupies what was formally North America.  Its residents live in “The Capitol” and thirteen other geographically distinct districts.  The elite and wealthy of the nation live in the Capitol alongside the leaders of Panem’s dictatorial government.  The districts are governed by this regime and face constant oppression as they fulfill what the Capitol sees as their sole purpose for the nation — the production of goods and services for the people of the Capitol.  In most of the districts the people are poor, dependent on welfare from the government, and live in fear of what may happen if they step out of line.

The Hunger Games are an annual event that the Capitol established for the purposes of keeping the districts in line and providing the citizens of the Capitol entertainment.  The Hunger Games Wiki (yes, the trilogy has its own dedicated wiki community) sums up the games well when it states that the games are an event “in which twenty-four children between the ages of twelve and eighteen, one boy and one girl from each district, are chosen from a lottery and entered into a gladitorial competition where they must fight each other to the death until only one remains standing.”

The games are brutal and savage.  They put on display the gross manifestations of the sin and desire for survival that lies deep within the contestants.  The games also display ways the oppressive government sins against the contestants and the districts.  And if all of this weren’t bad enough, the people in the Capitol love watching every minute of the games, capitalizing on the contestants who become celebrities, and talking about them wherever they go.

This background material helps one understand why the author, Suzanne Collins, named the nation Panem.  According to The Hunger Games Wiki, the name “derives from the Latin phrase panem et circenses, which literally translates into ‘bread and circuses’.  The phrase itself is ‘used to describe entertainment used to distract public attention from more important matters.’”

The idea of distraction and the nation of Panem fit well together.  The Hunger Games distract the people of the Capitol from realizing the ways that they oppress the people of the districts.  The Hunger Games distract the people of the districts from realizing that they have great power even in the midst of the oppressive system that they are under.  And everyone in the nation is distracted from asking big questions about the government or why their world is organized the way it is.

The questions that the series raises about oppressive governments, love beyond boundaries, the effects of war, self-sacrifice, the brutality that people can inflict upon others, dedication, and hopelessness are all relevant for us today.

Yet, readers may notice that in the midst of these “ultimate questions” there is no form of religion or concept of God among the people of Panem.

This fact is what led the professor of one of my preaching classes, Dr. Joy Moore, to assign our class the first book of the trilogy.  Dr. Moore pointed out to us that a “post-God” and “post-Christian” world is one that we as preachers may soon inhabit.  As religious concepts and the story of God’s redemption of the world in Jesus Christ fade in importance throughout society, the preacher will have to be ready to tell the story in new ways.

In order to help us begin practicing living and preaching in such a world, Dr. Moore assigned us the task of preaching a sermon to the people who reside in the Capitol city of Panem based on the first book in the trilogy, The Hunger Games.  Dr. Moore asked us to look for echoes of the Christian story and glimpses of ways God might be working in the post-America and post-God world of Panem that is narrated in the book.  We were then asked to faithfully preach the Christian story, the Gospel, to this “congregation” who has no conception of God.

Below are three sermons from my class.  We each took a different creative approach.

I envisioned preaching my sermon, which is audio only, to a group of Capitol citizens I encountered on the Capitol’s busy streets. Here is the audio:

Audio MP3

 

Pete Brazier, a visiting student from the Methodist Church in Britain, produced a short sermon that he envisioned would be given to small groups of Capitol citizens and perhaps also be broadcasted over the airwaves.


Andrew Ruth’s sermon assumed that any challenge to the Capitol’s reign would warrant immediate death.  He produced a 5 minute video to quickly convey his message.

Andrew aptly introduced his video by stating:

I don’t think that my single sermon can include neither all the nuances of Christian faith nor the particularities of every Bible story. These will require conversations and community to gain intelligibility (cf. Kallenberg).

Thus, I am pretending that there exists an underground Christian community. I assume that I am a product of this community, and their faithful, though clandestine witness to the Triune God. This underground movement retains copies of the Bible in languages they comprehend. As I imagine myself in this community, I assume that at one point I was a full participant in the culture and life of the Capital City. I altered my appearance and filled my existence with entertainment. The physical alterations I made to my body via cosmetic tattoos still remain, while I have slowly relinquished other practices I once held.

We as a community have decided after much prayer and fasting that the Lord is calling us to announce our existence, even if it means inviting persecution. To do so, I will hack into the national television feed during the middle of the Hunger Games, and as quickly as possible share the content of the Christian faith. We pray that the Holy Spirit falls, like at Pentecost, and that through this sermon and the subsequent conversations instigated by the Underground. Pray with us.

This assignment stretched our thinking about how we are to proclaim Christ in a modern world that is quickly changing.  And it led most of us to delay our other assigned readings so that we could finish the trilogy.

Best of all, it pushed us to see anew that God’s redeeming activity pops up in our everyday lives.  We asked: Can we recognize it?  Can we communicate it?

Can you?

Have you read The Hunger Games? If so, what were your thoughts on the book and how it could connect to Christianity?

Are you running to win?

Below is the sermon I preached last week in Goodson Chapel at Duke Divinity School on 1 Corinthians 9:24-27.  It was a privilege to share the Word of God with students and professors who have journeyed with me over the past three years in school.

“Do you not know that in a race the runners all compete, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win it. Athletes exercise self-control in all things; they do it to receive a perishable garland, but we an imperishable one. So I do not run aimlessly, nor do I box as though beating the air; but I punish my body and enslave it, so that after proclaiming to others I myself should not be disqualified.”

While this theme wasn’t fully explored in the sermon, never forget that God invites us to start the race, the Holy Spirit is our strength throughout the race, and a life fully conformed to the image of Christ is the finish line of the race.

A Prayer for Power

This week I’ve been preparing a sermon to preach in Goodson Chapel.  Goodson Chapel is where Duke Divinity School holds worship services throughout the week for students, faculty, and whoever else decides to drop in.  I was nominated to preach there by one of my preaching professors, and I feel very honored to have this privilege.

As you can imagine, preaching in front of a crowd of preachers and professors is a little intimidating.  Most people there will have strong thoughts about preaching styles and in-depth knowledge of the scripture passage I’m preaching (1 Corinthians 9:24-27).  There is no doubt that some will say to themselves, as I have before, “I would’ve preached that passage a little differently.”

Yet, I am confident that God has prepared me for this day, Jesus Christ will be preached, and the Holy Spirit will use the Word of God to transform lives.

I was powerfully reminded of the truth above when I came across the following prayer in the book “Conversations with God: Two Centuries of Prayers by African Americans.”  The only thing known about the author, Orrin Stone, is that he was a minister in South Carolina in the late 19th century.

This week I’m reading the prayer as if it were prayed about me, and I’m praying it for my friends in ministry as if it were written about them.

A Prayer for Power (1889) – Orrin Stone

O Lawd, gib dy sarvint, dis Sunday mawnin’, de eye of an eagle dat he may see sin f’om afar.  Put his han’s to de gospel pulpit; glue his ears to the gospel telefoam an’ conneck him wid de Glory in de skies.  ‘Luminate his brow wid a holy light dat will make de fiahs of hell look like a tallah candle.  Bow his head down in humility, in dat lonesome valley wheah de pearl of truth is much needed to be said.  Grease his lips wid possum ‘ile to make it easy fo’ love to slip outen his mouth…

Turpentine his ‘magination; ‘lectrify his brain wid de powah of the Word.  Put ‘petual motion in his arms.  Fill him full of de dynamite of Dy awful powah; ‘noint him all ovah wid de kerosene of Dy salvation, an’ den, O Lawd, sot him on fiah wid de sperrit of de Holy Ghos’.

Reflecting on the past year


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Last year one of my friends passed along this list of statements to complete which helped me reflect on the past year and prepare for the new year.  I pulled them out again today and found them to be a valuable resource.  I hope they serve you well.

2011 was…

I experienced Jesus through…

I was surprised by…

The Holy Spirit taught me about…

Two blessings from this year that I am very thankful for are…

If I had a chance to do 2011 over again, I would…

In 2012, I hope to see God…

Next year I want to show the love of Christ through…

In pursuit of Jesus, I hope to cast aside…

In 2012, I want to work on myself in these ways…

I want to serve those around me through….

The three things I hope to pursue next year are…

 

Sunrise at Black Balsam Knob – January 2, 2012