postmodern preaching

Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B

  • Deuteronomy 18: 15-20

This crucial passage links the unique, defining role of Moses as leader, law-giver and intermediary between God and the people to the prophets, who after Moses will provide that life-line to God.  And, it contains a recurring question in Deuteronomy: how to distinguish between false and true prophets?  If a prophet’s words lead people to another god or are inconsistent with something God has not wanted before, that prophet is false.  Likewise, those who do not listen to a true prophet will be held “accountable.”

  • Psalm 111

The psalmist creates an alphabetical (Acrostic) list of God’s consistent attributes: bountiful, staunch, redemptive, truth and justice.

  • I Corinthians 8: 1-13

Paul responds to a controversy in the church.  Should Christians eat the perfectly good meat left over from sacrifices to pagan gods and idols?  Paul offers a pragmatic solution, but then provides a profound reminder.  He sees no problem with eating the leftovers, because those gods are meaningless to Christians.  However, because there are some over scrupulous Christians and some new converts who might not understand the distinction, he will personally not eat that meat.  He does not linger over these kinds of controversies about God’s ways that “puff-up” the piety of those invested in the controversy.  Rather, he returns to that experience of God’s love through Christ that re-made and continues to re-make him.  He writes that the more crucial dynamic is “anyone who loves God is known by God.”  That person does not seek to emphasize his “knowledge” of God and God’s ways; he is humbled. deeply moved and inclined to loving others because he has discovered how much God loves him!

  • Mark 1: 21-28

Mark inaugurates Jesus’ public life with a revealing event.  With his first followers, Jesus goes to synagogue and, as was the custom, joins in the commentary on the scriptures read that day.  All present notice that he does not meander among possible understandings, but he speaks boldly, clearly, decisively, “with authority,” revealing a distinctive authenticity.   And then, to emphasize his capacities, Mark writes that he acts just as boldly, performing an exorcism.  The unclean spirit recognizes Jesus as “the Holy One of God.”  Right away, we are off on Mark’s fast-paced journey with Jesus to Jerusalem.

The tendency is to complicate religion. Those who participate in making it complicated bring along with them their own needs for personal status or proof of piety and their prejudices.  Paul deals patiently with those who worry over such religious minutiae, but does not miss a chance to return to the one singular experience that changed his life: his encounter with the life-changing love of God, which he discovered in Christ. 

In the synagogue in Capernaum, the community is engaged in it’s weekly sabbath discussion of scripture when they hear a new voice, who speaks clearly, plainly, directly, understandably, and “with authority.”

Luce Irigaray, credentialed in both psychoanalysis and linguistics, is usually described as a leading European Feminist.  Influenced by Freud, Lacan, Levinas and Derrida, she explains to the West some of the consequences of the preference for abstraction to understand and to describe relationships with others that also influence actions.  In The Way of Love writes:

“The philosophers of the West are without doubt the first technocrats of whom we suffer multiple avatars.  Including suffering through the destructive confusion between essences that they have clearly fabricated and the flesh, the breath and the energy that we need to live.”  (p. 4)

When it comes to others, she insists, they “must remain flesh, living, moving.  Not transformed into some idea, no matter how ideal.” (p. 156)  Now she offers a definition hinted at in her title, The Way of Love

“This place of hospitality for the other becomes built as much as, if not more than, we build it deliberately.  Made of our flesh, of our heart, and not only with words, it demands that we accept that it takes place without our unilaterally  over-seeing its construction.”  (p. 154)

Words can produce avoidance as much as understanding.  They can dazzle with “knowledge” that “puffs-up,” as Paul knew well.  They can seem impressive even necessary– for awhile.  But then comes an authentic voice, gesture, act from a person who speaks as one “with authority,” leveling prior questions and controversies.  As those who heard Jesus at the local synagogue in Capernaum, it is immediately recognizable.  Even, (especially ?) the religious are prone to words and abstractions which seem urgent and important– at first.  But, as Paul wrote in the midst of one of those perpetual church controversies, the over-arching reality is that “anyone who loves God is known by God.”  As he did so often, especially with the wrangling Corinthians, Paul returned to what makes the gospel not just another religious argument, but a transforming experience, to which he never tires to testify personally and tell others is just as available to them.  The only “knowledge” that really matters is the knowledge that comes from love of others and of God, because I know God loved me first and always.  This is the consistent theme of the scriptures  and provides the only necessary criterion for distinguishing between “true” and “false” religious interpreters.  Some iteration of healing (“exorcism”) always follows as a result.  We become witnesses to this change.  And witnesses talk.  The same loving God to whom the ancients gave witness I now give witness from my first-hand personal experience,  which is not abstract, but immediate. I can talk about God’s love with personal “authority” because I have experienced it personally.  Furthermore, I can put into practice God’s love, because I have personally experienced it.



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