Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Guns and Other Idols

From time to time I see a post on  Facebook talking about how guns aren't the root cause of all the gun violence in America. They speak of growing up with guns, being taught to respect them, and never using them in ways that create a danger to others.

I can appreciate such a stance because I had that sort of experience growing up. I was raised "in the country," as they say. My father taught me to shoot with a .22 caliber rifle. When I was a teenager I saved up my money and bought a shotgun, but I never really cared much for hunting, so I eventually got rid of it.

I've had the opportunity from time to time to do a little target shooting, and I've enjoyed it. But I don't own a gun and have no plans to do so. In general I avoid guns in large part because I don't want to be part of a culture that has become more and more idolatrous over the years. Respect for guns has turned into veneration of guns, and I see that as a problem.

It's by no means the only such problem in our country. Some might say there's been a similar progression in the realm of income and possessions. Making a decent living and providing for one's family has increasingly become an obsession about having more. Consumerism is an idolatry that is much more tempting to me personally than gun obsession is, so I won't claim that those who worship at the altar of the 2nd Amendment are somehow worse than me. Still, I think it's worth naming idols for what they are.

My theological tradition, with includes Presbyterians, Reformed, parts of the UCC, and a few others, traces its peculiar brand of Christianity back to John Calvin in Geneva, Switzerland. Calvin was adamant on a number of things. One was the absolute sovereignty of God. And another was the human tendency toward idolatry, our propensity to organize our lives around things other than God. These things need not be inherently evil in order to become our idols. In fact the very best idols are not. Family, country, church, even the Bible, can all become idols, things that occupy a place that belongs only to God.

In America, with our focus on individual freedoms and rights, the self often becomes an idol. The worship of guns and wealth and possessions may all be subsets of this idolatry of self, which is likely why Jesus says that no one can become his follower without denying oneself. "Deny yourself and take up your cross," is a familiar command to many Christians, but not one we're all that inclined to take too seriously.

That said, I do think that there is a distinction to be made between the idolatry of guns (and likely some other of "my rights") and that of the more widely practiced idolatry of wealth and possessions. The idolatry of consumerism has been fully named in our society. Its allure may be strong, but many people of faith have recognized it for what it is and struggle against it as an alcoholic struggles with drink. I'm not sure the same can be said for the veneration of guns.

However, one thing is painfully obvious to me. John Calvin was certainly correct that we humans are remarkably skilled at devising things other than God to serve.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Sermon: Functional Unitarians and Unflattening God

Ephesians 4:1-16
Functional Unitarians and Unflattening God
James Sledge                                                                                       June 28, 2015

I had a theology professor in seminary who was fond of saying that nearly all of us are functional Unitarians. We may sing Holy, Holy, Holy on Trinity Sunday and baptize people in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but when it comes right down to it, we reduce God to one person of the Trinity.
It is possible to do a Unitarianism of the Son, begining every prayer with “Jesus we just ask you…” Quakers and others sometimes reduce God to Spirit. But I think by far the most popular choice is a Unitarianism of the Father.
Many open their prayers with “Heavenly Father” or even “Father God.” In fact this form of Unitarianism is so pervasive that” God” and “Father” become virtual synonyms in a way that never happens with Jesus or the Spirit. Just look at the hymnals in our pews. They have various sections, seasonal ones for Advent, Christmas, Lent, sections for baptism and the Lord’s Supper and other parts of worship. And there are sections for the Trinity labeled “Holy Spirit, Jesus Christ,” and “God.”
I realize that for many the Trinity is some esoteric doctrine with no real connection to faith, but it seems to me that we flatten and diminish the incredible mystery of God when we reduce God to one thing, when we require God to conform to our conceptual  limitations.
We humans have a tendency to think that unity or oneness means sameness. That is why sports teams and armies wear uniforms, a visible display of sameness. When Christian missionaries first went to Africa, they assumed that converting people the faith meant making them look and act like Christians in America and Europe. In Ghana and Congo they insisted that pastors wear black robes in stifling heat and import pianos or small organs for playing Western hymns. No indigenous instruments or music allowed.
Thankfully we eventually saw the arrogance of this, yet functionally, we still struggle with this need for sameness. There are successful multi-cultural congregations in America, but they are few. Many more are mostly one race, one socio-economic group, one political leaning, and so on. And I have to think such sameness impacts our images of God.
Our reading from Ephesians speaks a lot about unity and oneness. There is one body, one baptism, one faith, one Lord, one Spirit, one God and Father of us all. There is unity in the Spirit and the unity of faith. However the one body is marked not by sameness but rather diversity. The body is a complex organism working together for a common goal, and in this it somehow mimics that complex relationship that is God.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Trouble in Paradise

Now during those days, when the disciples were increasing in number, the Hellenists complained against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution of food. 
 Acts 6:1

Acts depicts an idyllic community of love and sharing that emerges in the wake of Pentecost. Present day Christians who assume that God is fond of capitalism are often uneasy when they read its description. "All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need." But Acts lets us know that there were always threats to this community. First we hear of hoarding by the couple Ananias and Sapphira. And in today's reading, we read that Hellenist widows weren't faring as well as Hebrew ones.

There aren't many details in the story, but one thing is clear. Hebrews get better treatment than Hellenist. (This seems to be a division within a church that is entirely Jewish, some who able to worship and pray in Hebrew and/or Aramaic, and some who can speak only Greek.) The problem is quickly resolved as Stephen and others are selected to lead this service. But it points to a problem that has plagued the Church from its infancy, fights and divisions about boundaries, about who's in and who's out, about the requirements for inclusion.

Despite statements about there no longer being Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female, about all becoming one in Christ, the faith has been remarkably good over the years at coming up with grounds for and exceptions to genuine unity. In today's reading it is cultural and language differences, but that is just a start.

In the book of Genesis, the Tower of Babel story is a mythic explanation of how humanity became divided. But in the Pentecost story of Acts, the gift of the Holy Spirit undoes this division. Yet we in the Church keep honoring the old curse rather than living into the new day of the Spirit.

The struggle for full inclusion in the Church by LGBT people is a very current example of the curse's persistence. But division over race is America's most profound experience of this curse, and one we seem unwilling to confront fully.

It is easy, and often convenient, to forget the deep, religious roots of American racism. Slavery in the Bible was not racially based, and thus was more fluid than the US version. American slavery required that Africans be less than fully human to justify slavery as a status conferred at birth, and the Church was more than willing to help in this effort. It succeeded so thoroughly that even many abolitionists assumed that freed slaves would never be able to take their place as full citizens in America.

Slaveholders actively discouraged slaves from becoming Christian, for obvious reasons. And when the Civil War brought an end to slavery, it hardly brought an end to deeply held and religiously buttressed ideas that those of African descent were not full human partners. I think many would be surprised at the number of people who still hold to such ideas. But even for those who do not, the legacy is still a curse on our society.


In the aftermath of the Emmanuel AME Church murders, there are signs of Pentecost-like possibility. People have reached across the divide to say, "We are one!" But there are others who are waiting and hoping for things to go "back like they were." And if people of faith do not seize this moment, inertia and long standing practice will be on the side of those who prefer the curse of division to the new community of love Christ proclaims.

The writer of Acts cast the Apostle Paul as his leading hero, and Paul struggles mightily to push the Church beyond the boundaries it had inherited from Judaism. It is well past time for the Church in our day to actively struggle against the boundaries and divisions and inequalities that we inherited and have too often helped maintain.

Last Thursday, the Rev. Tawnya Denise Anderson, a PC(USA) pastor, posted a blog entitled, "'Allies,' the Time for Your Silence Has Expired." She spoke of white friends and their willingness to listen and offer sympathy toward the plight of black America. But then she said, "White allies, I thank you for your thoughtfulness in this regard. Now allow me to be your stopwatch; Time’s up." And she went on to share a Facebook post of a colleague who she said captured her thoughts. "If you love me and mine, fight for me. If you are unwilling to fight for me, clearly there is no way we can walk together."

Too often the white church's work to break down the curse of racism has looked a bit like the advocacy of country club members who insist that these things take time, that the best way to go about it is gently to convince more and more members that being more open is a good idea. Very rarely has the white church been willing to act like the Apostle Paul, who fought the church leaders in Jerusalem and risked his very life to remove the boundaries that Christ had made meaningless.

Very often, we white Christians have been unwilling fully to acknowledge how pervasive the curse of racism is. Perhaps because to do so would be to demand more action and more confession of our own willful blindness and culpability than we can handle. 


When Acts tells us about how divisions began to sow trouble in the Church's post-Pentecost Paradise, it is a segue into the story of how Paul and others took on the biggest division for the early Church, that between Jew and Gentile, and eventually overcame it. We Americans have a division problem of similar magnitude, one with roots in the churches we attend and serve. Surely Christ is calling us to do everything we can, to struggle and to risk, until we truly live into our oneness in Christ.

Click to learn more about the lectionary.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

A Sermon That Didn't Get Preached

This is the draft of a sermon I intended to preach last Sunday... before the murders in Charleston were committed. But rather than just toss it. Here it is.

Proverbs 4; James 3:13-18 
James Sledge                                                                                                   June 21, 2015

Some of you may be familiar with H. L. Mencken’s take on the Puritans. He wrote, “Puritanism: The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.” And just in case you didn’t know it, Presbyterians are close theological relatives of Puritans. Presbyterian was the name chosen by the Reformed Church in Scotland, while the Reformed Christians in England were called Puritans.
People of faith are known for a few “Thou shalt nots,” and I suspect most people recognize the need for some of these. When we had the Deacons’ picnic a couple of weeks ago, a group of us was talking about how the church was a great location for the event except for the closeness to Broad Street. About that time a soccer ball got loose and rolled into the street, a child close behind. Immediately shouts of “Stop! Don’t go after it! Don’t go in the road!” came from all over. A few, well-placed “thou shalt nots” are sometimes necessary.
Parents usually know something about shalt nots and other prohibitions. Children may disagree, but most parents don’t see their primary purpose as ensuring children experience a healthy dose of unhappiness. “Yes, ice cream tastes great, but no, you cannot eat it for breakfast, lunch, and supper. Yes, it would be wonderful to be able to fly like Superman, but no, you may not tie a cape around your neck and jump off the roof.”
Certain prohibitions and shalt nots are essential to create some safe boundaries within which a child can go about the business of figuring out how to be a reasonably healthy, well-adjusted, contributing member of human society. But the rules are not goals in and of themselves. They are simply a framework to help along the way.
In the weeks following Pentecost, we have been talking each Sunday about how the Spirit equips us for life as followers of Jesus. The last two weeks we’ve spoken of loving God and of loving neighbor. Many are familiar with the words Jesus spoke about what is most important for walking in the way of God, how we should love God with heart, mind and soul, and how we should love our neighbor as ourselves. But what, exactly, does it mean to love others as we love ourselves? Do we even know what it means to love ourselves?
Very often, self love is understood as catering to my preferences, giving me what I want. But as any parent can tell you, indulging wants and desires is far from a foolproof guide to happiness. Eating ice cream all day long or jumping off the roof turns out to have some real negative consequences. Parents who allow their children to do such things might rightly be regarded as not loving those children at all. Children, it seems, can have faulty ideas about loving themselves, as can I.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Sermon: Anger to Action?

Psalm 22:1-11; James 3:13-18
Anger to Action?
James Sledge                                                                                       June 21, 2015

I had a sermon all prepared for today. It continued our series connected to Brian McLaren’s book and talked about becoming spiritually mature, moving beyond juvenile versions of faith that get overly focused on rules or doctrines meant to guide us to maturity, and moving toward maturity, toward the spiritual wisdom James talks about in his letter. But then the shooting in Charleston happened.
When I heard the first new reports, it wasn’t clear exactly what had happened. But as more information came in, I first hoped it wasn’t as bad as it sounded, that it wasn’t as evil as it sounded. But as the reality of it kicked in, I just felt numb.
But that began to shift toward anger. The first anger was petty and selfish. “Now I have to write a new sermon.” But that was quickly replace by anger that this had happened again. Another mass shooting. Another example of America’s horrible culture of guns and violence.
And then there was the racial component. Race, the issue we wish would just go away. The issue we think will somehow just fade away eventually. But here it is again, in all its ugliness, from a young man who grew up in what was supposed to be post racial America.
I felt anger toward the culture that nurtures such racism. I grew up in North and South Carolina. There is much I love about both states, and there have been real changes from the segregated days of my childhood. But there is still much deeply ingrained racism.. The N-word is common speech in many areas, and resentment toward blacks is deep for some.
Proper southern culture that disdains this racism nonetheless supports it. The governor of South Carolina in one breath condemned the shooting, offering heartfelt condolences and prayers for the victims and families and church, and in the next breath defended the Confederate flag flying on the grounds of the SC Statehouse.
I’ve heard all the arguments about how the flag is not about hate, but about southern heritage and pride. But a heritage of what? Pride in what? In a war the South started that cost more Americans their lives than World War II did. In a war fought to keep some human in the chains of slavery. I’m angry at a culture that imagines it can venerate those who fought such a war, can send black children to schools named for people who thought they were sub human, and it not have any hate connected to it.
And speaking of politicians, I’m angry that another mass shooting has happened, and the politicians will wring their hands and over condolences and prayers and then do absolutely nothing about an America awash in guns.
As I stewed in my anger, I even felt anger toward the Church, not Emmanuel AME Church but the church at large, because it too will wring its hands and offer its prayers and then do nothing. I’ve been in the church business now for over 20 years, and I’ve learned that I’ll get calls and emails if we sing a song people don’t like, if we change something about the worship service or the children’s programs. But no one ever calls or emails after a shooting or some other huge tragedy and says, “We have to do something.” Maybe it just seems impossible. Maybe we’ve just become cynical and think we can’t change anything other than the hymns or the children’s programs, but that alone is enough to make me angry.
And truth be told, I am angry at God, angry that God allowed this to happen, angry that God doesn’t stir up the church or the world to make things better.
But of course I knew I could not stand here today with nothing more than, “I am grieving. I am angry.” True there is a long tradition of lament in the Bible, by some counts psalms of lament are the most common sort of psalm. But even they usually have an element of hope, and I am a minister of the gospel, one called to proclaim good news.

Sermon video: Anger to Action?

Audios of sermons and worship available on the FCPC website.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

What Belongs to Whom?

You've probably heard a conversation between children that went something like this. "Hey, you're sitting in my seat." To which comes the reply, "Well I don't see your name on it anywhere."

Perhaps a parent wrote your name in items that you took to school with you. I still have my name in dress shirts that get taken to the cleaners. I've known people who divvied the furniture in their home by letting children and grandchildren put their names on the pieces they wanted.

"Show me a denarius," says Jesus. "Whose head and whose title does it bear?" Whose name is on it? Jesus, as he so often does, asks a question in response to a question. This time it was a question about whether Jews should pay taxes to the emperor, an especially loaded question for any would-be Messiah. To answer "Yes" offered support to the occupying Romans, but to say "No" would risk arrest for inciting rebellion. It's a carefully crafted "gotcha" on the part of Jesus' opponents.

Jesus parries his opponents, though some of his technique is hard for modern readers to notice. It starts when his opponents are able to show Jesus a denarius, a coin that not only had a picture of the emperor but included the inscription, "Tiberius Augustus Caesar, Son of the Divine Augustus." Such a coin was blasphemous to Jews and a violation of the second commandment, yet Jesus' questioners apparently have just such a coin on them.

Finally Jesus answers them, though not exactly. "Then give to the emperor the things that are the emperor's, and to God the things that are Gods." Jesus doesn't say which is which, but any good Jew who knows her psalms is well aware that "The earth is the LORD's and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it." (Psalm 24)


The second question in the Presbyterian Study Catechism asks, "How do you live by the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ?" The answer begins, "I am not my own. I have been bought with a price." (See 1 Corinthians 6:19-20) Someone else's name is on me, and on everything and everyone else.

This has huge implication, impacting everything from what I do with "my" money and "my" time to how humanity cares for the earth, yet the individualism of our culture often seems to obliterate such notions, even among those who profess the faith. I find it incredibly odd that some of the politicians most prone to trumpet their Christianity seem to think that the earth is ours to use as we see fit, that the disappearance of vast numbers of species is unimportant. Never mind that God "gives to the animals their food, and to the young ravens when they cry," (Psalm 147) and "not one sparrow is forgotten in God's sight." (Luke 12)

And if we belong to God we also belong to one another. We are not independent agents free to do whatever is best for us and us alone. Yet I saw this headline in the Washington Post earlier in the week. "Rich Californians Balk at Limits: 'We're Not All Equal When It Comes to Water.'" The attitude of some in the article seemed to be, "If I have the money to pay for it, the hell with any problems it causes for others." No wonder Jesus was a lot more popular with the poor than he was with rich folks.

The more money we have, the more stuff we start to put our names on. Do this with enough stuff and you may start to think it really is yours and yours alone. Get wealthy enough and you may even start to think you are different and better than regular people. You may not put "divine" or "Augustus" next to your name (unless, perhaps, you're Donald Trump), yet you may well begin to imagine that you matter more than other people do.

"Give to the emperor the things that belong to the emperor, and to God the things that belong to God," says Jesus. He also says that following him requires self denial, giving up possessions, and losing one's life. He actually asks me to give up things that I've written my name on. Just who does he think he is?

Click to learn more about the lectionary.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Sermon: On One-Anothering

Acts 10:34-48; 1 Corinthians 13:1-13
On One-Anothering
James Sledge                                                                                       June 14, 2015

One Sunday, right after Shawn and I first got engaged, we were sitting in a pew at her home church, First Baptist of Gaffney, SC. We were beginning to think about the actual service, and Shawn mentioned wanting to use the famous Bible passage on love that was our scripture for this morning. So I grabbed a pew Bible and started looking for it. This was long before I ever thought about being a pastor, and I didn’t know exactly where to look. I thought it might be one of Paul’s letters, but I searched and searched without finding it.
Turns out my scant biblical knowledge was only a part of the problem. That pew Bible was a King James version, and in place of the word “love” it had “charity.” And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.
Doesn’t quite have the same ring to it, does it? “Charity” isn’t really the best translation, but discovering that word was my first hint that Paul never imagined that his difficult letter to a troubled and fractured congregation would become a staple at weddings. Not that Paul’s words are bad advice to newlyweds, but he has a larger community in mind.
Paul was not happy when he wrote the Corinthians. He’d received reports of quarrels and divisions in the congregation, and he sees that as a clear indication that the Corinthians have not yet grasped the full meaning of their faith.
We humans are remarkably skilled at dividing ourselves into groups, clustering into clumps of those who are like us. We get started as toddlers on playgrounds and only get more sophisticated at is as we grow older. This likely served some evolutionary purpose in our ancient past, but now it seems more a curse. We tend to fear and distrust those who are different from us, and we presume that our group is better than their group. It’s a problem that afflicts even our most noble undertakings. Just consider the connotations of that word “charity.” Very often it is something that we do for them.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

But I Don't Wanna Be Weak

Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, but he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness." So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong. 
2 Corinthians 12:8-10

Paul's words about God's grace being sufficient, about power made perfect in weakness, are much quoted in Christian circles, thought I'm not sure that means many of us believe such things. Whenever I am weak, then I am strong? Really? Is that why I make such efforts to hide my weaknesses, to project strength and certainty? And I don't think I'm the only one. 

Think of all the phrases that speak to situations with competition, conflict, difficulty, or struggle. Bring your A-game. Never let them see you sweat. You can do it. Man up. Don't tread on me. Speak softly and carry a big stick. I can't think of any that say, "Boast in your weakness."

Over the years, I have seen that the more bluster I use, the more I try to project power and might, the more I usually end up regretting things later. Yet that still hasn't made me want to embrace weakness. It still hasn't made me willing to be vulnerable in the face of people who frighten me, or worry me, or who I think might cause trouble if I don't stop them.

It's rarely a good idea to treat a single scripture verse as though it was an end all and be all. Indeed there are other scripture verses that call us to be bold or strong or courageous. Yet clearly Jesus exemplified the sort of weakness Paul speaks of here. Jesus was brave and steadfast in the face of difficulties, even in the face of death, but he did not employ power or might to deal with them. He employed what looked to all the world like weakness.

I wonder if one area where church leaders would do well to display "weakness" more isn't in the area of faith itself, to be more vulnerable and forthcoming about our own doubts and faith struggles. There is already a tendency for people to assume that pastors are some sort of spiritual titans. And quite often we are more than happy to feed such assumptions. I wonder if we worry that showing our faith weaknesses might damage our pastoral reputations. Or maybe our projections of spiritual strength are for our own benefit, to ward off our own fears.

On some level, my fear of being weak or showing weakness is about trusting my own abilities over the power of Christ working through me. But given how often I mess things us, it seems strange that I haven't leaned this lesson a little better by now.

Monday, June 8, 2015

The Pastor Is In

I recently started the practice of keeping Monday afternoon office hours at the local Starbucks. I've even made myself a little sign in the manner of the one Lucy used in old Peanuts cartoons. Mine reads, "The Pastor Is In."

These new office hours are supposed to get me out where I'll bump into folks, both church members and others. I have seen quite a few members who I would not have seen had I been in my church office. It hasn't yet happened, but I envision someone asking me a theological question, wanting to know about the church and same sex marriage, or having some other spiritual issue to explore.

I suppose I think it would be a bit cool to be the "Starbucks pastor," and so I found it somewhat irritating when all the non members who approached me today were people looking for financial assistance. Some already knew me, another didn't, but regardless, they were interrupting my chance for someone to ask me a stimulating theological question.

I suppose I would have been among those who told the blind man to be quiet in today's gospel reading. Jesus was headed to Jerusalem, to the important events about to take place there. He didn't have time for a blind beggar. Or so everyone but Jesus seemed to think.

What exactly does it mean to be a pastor? For that matter, what exactly does it mean to be a Christian? Sometimes my notions get interrupted by God's.

Click to learn more about the lectionary.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Acting like Foreigners

Then Jesus asked, "Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?"

I'm certainly no foreigner. I'm a native. I was baptized as an infant, brought up in the church, had Bible stories read to me by my Father, and rarely missed worship on Sunday until heading off for college.

I had my away time, but it's not like I every forgot my native tongue. For a time I was quite content without going to church on Sunday, but I never renounced my citizenship. In time, I became active at church again. At some point in my mid 30s, I even felt a "call" to attend seminary and become a pastor. And for the entire time, from birth to this moment, I've been Presbyterian.

Natives have a different perspective than do foreigners. We know things they don't, but they notice things we miss. And in the story of Jesus healing 10 lepers, being a native seems to be a negative. The foreigner returns to give thanks and praise God, but the other 9, presumably natives, continued on to get their certificates of cleanliness from the priests. (That's required somewhere in the rules of Leviticus.) Either that or they just went home.

You have to think those natives were happy, even grateful, with how things turned out. But Jesus had sent them to the priests and the rules required the priest to certify them as clean and they ought to do as the rules said. Besides, Jesus was likely to have moved on by the time they could have returned to say thank you.

And just look at the way that foreigner came back yelling and screaming and throwing himself on the ground. Natives have a little better sense of decorum. We know how to keep this faith thing presentable and respectable, "decently and in order" as we Presbyterians like to say. No yelling or flopping on the ground.

I've occasionally spoken with religious foreigners who've told me how intimidating it can be to attend a worship service populated mostly by natives, people who know all that stuff they don't know.  We do have a facility with the language that foreigners don't, but we may not really know all that much. (It's not unlike how people applying to become US citizens learn a lot more about American civics and government that most natives ever knew.)

But we natives don't dare act like foreigners. Pastors can be the worst. We don't dare act like we don't know what's going on, like we don't have it figured out. I rarely hear church members being open about their doubts and faith struggles, but I almost never hear it from pastors. That makes it difficult to make comparisons, but I dare say I have as many doubts and as many days when I question the wisdom of even believing in God as the next person. But I'm a native and a leader of natives. I'm not supposed to act that way.

If things get bad enough in my life, I can cry out for help, just as the native lepers did in the story. But once things get back to normal, I part company with the foreigners and act like a native again. I don't know if that's what happened with the lepers, but it makes sense to me.

I read this recently in Rachel Held Evan's latest book. "I often wonder if the role of the clergy in this age is not to dispense information or guard the prestige of their authority, but rather to go first, to volunteer the truth about their sins, their dreams, their failures, and their fears in order to free others to do the same. Such an approach may repel the masses looking for easy answers from flawless leaders, but I think it might make more disciples of Jesus, and I think it might make healthier, happier pastors."

I wonder if we don't need to start acting more like foreigners.