In ministry, there are sometimes moments when something unexpected happens, something that spills out of our careful containers of planning and order, something that points simply, poignantly, and powerfully to the hope of the gospel in a way that no eloquent sermon or finely crafted liturgy ever could. I love these moments. Even when I don’t notice them.
Jahi McMath is dead. Or, Jahi McMath is alive. Each statement is true—depending upon the person you ask. Thirteen-year-old Jahi had complications after surgery in Oakland, California. Doctors later pronounced her brain dead; there was no brain activity. Yet to her family, she remains alive.
When it comes to church, I’m a wanderer: I don’t have a church home so much as a village of church tents. All this wandering has made me a connoisseur of church welcomes or the lack thereof. I can tell you where I did or didn’t feel welcome—though I can’t always say why.
The story of Jesus, at least the way John tells it, begins unspectacularly. “There was a man sent by God, and his name was John.” What does John do for a living? He is a preacher. We can’t get to Jesus without going through a witness, no epiphany without preaching.
Sunday night, a homeless man died on the steps just outside the entrance to the men’s drop-in shelter at Grace Episcopal Church in Madison, WIsconsin, the church I serve. I don’t know much more than that. Apparently he had left Grace to go to one of the overflow shelters to spend the night. I don’t know what the cause of death was.
Referring to age or style just isn’t helpful, any more than referring to a woman as “the one with the great legs” would be in a professional setting. It diminishes people. We have different identifiers for Christian authors—reformed, social-gospel, neo-orthodox, liberal, evangelical, progressive, social justice, etc. But none of them reflect Rauschenbush’s clothing or Barth’s haircut.
Our intellectual architecture is being dismantled. But it is also being reassembled. I use the architecture metaphor because I believe that what we are creating will be in place for many decades to come.