Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Festival of Homiletics: David Lose

Still a few more posts about May's Festival of Homiletics! I think I have two more posts after this one. I don't know if you're tired of them, but they help me to actually retain the content of all the great preachers I heard. Up today: David Lose. Parishioners of mine might recognize his name - he's the source I'm most likely to quote in my sermons. I love his unique and pastoral perspective on the texts, and he brought a unique perspective to the Festival's theme of Preaching and Politics.

Lose lectured and preached. His sermon was titled, "Nothing Comes from Nothing," based on Isaiah 55:1-13 and Matthew 20:1-16.

Isaiah's text starts with "Ho!" Untranslatable in the Hebrew, the word serves as exclamation of delight, joy, surprise, or just to get our attention. It is always emphatic. It says, "Pay attention, this matters!" Isaiah's message is: "Stop looking and start living. It is hard to believe this promise, but listen! This is for free!!"

We have Isaiah’s promise, Lose said, but no record of response. The parable of the laborers in the vineyard is Matthew/Jesus's attempt to respond.

The last-hired workers work an hour – after all, a little is better than nothing, because nothing comes from nothing. But, grace and mercy screw everything up!Day in day out, grace messes with our order and is the last thing we want. If it turns out that something comes from nothing, what will we do?

There's no more counting in Jesus’ world, Lose said. We are willing to kill and die for our false sense of order, sense of control, until we realize we were never in control in the first place. Being out of control scares us! It makes us vote for anyone who promises law and order.

But when you realize you have nothing, then God’s word of daily bread for free is finally good news. It never will make sense. It is always absurd. But it is good news. The moment you say you’ve got nothing, you hear God say, “Nothing! Now that’s something I can work with.” No one has done enough to "earn" from God – we deserve nothing – but we given all things through God! Creating something out of nothing happens to be one of God’s favorite things to do. Nothing comes from nothing – except for with God.

David Lose
Lose's lecture was titled, "The Gospel of Jesus: Political or Parabolic?" and it was particularly fascinating. I hope my notes convey any sense of it.

"How do we persuade one another?" Lose asked. Science tells us that when we're presented with conflicting facts that go against our deeply held convictions, it isn't our rational brain that responds, but the part of our brain that responds to threatening information. "We don’t distinguish between intellectual threats and physical threats."

Lose talked about how taste tests showed that people liked New Coke better than Classic Coke - but we still hated New Coke as consumers. Taste tests also show that people like RC Cola better than other colas, but we still don't buy that the most (where it is available.) Why? Because we like the "story" of Coca-Cola, and who we are as soda drinkers - our place in the story, and we reject things that don't go with this story. Lose talked about a professor sharing this story with his family - how people like RC better, but wouldn't believe it even after they saw taste-test results, and the professor's family wanted to take the test themselves. Test results? They preferred the taste of RC. But they weren't persuaded! Even with the results, the facts, they still didn't believe they liked it better, and got angry at their husband/father for trying to tell them otherwise.

We use stories to make sense of our lives and organize our experiences. When we get together, we share our stories. We have stories we tell ourselves: I do this _____ because I believe that ____________. The political parties in the United States are keepers of a particular story about what America is. What is the most compelling story of America? There is more than one. John Kerry wasn’t relatable, but George W. Bush told good stories. Facts are unpersuasive.

Lose argues that most political preaching that happens can take place because it takes place in very homogeneous communities: You are preaching to your choir that tells the same story as you are telling.

Jesus clearly didn’t take a homiletics class, said Lose. He rarely quotes scripture. When he does, he usually does for 1 of 2 reasons. 1. To answer a question. (But then he tells a story.) or 2. In order to reinterpret scripture or to call a passage into question, to challenge validity of it.

Yet, we preachers are taught to start and stick and end with text. This is not what Jesus does (in the synoptics)! Mostly he just tells stories. Improbable stories. Intriguing stories. Dysfunctional but familiar family dynamics. Filling us with wonder. Violence and power grabs. Mercy and grace. Reversals of fortune.

He isn’t trying to persuade his audience. He’s trying to overwhelm them narratively with a better story, more life-giving story, more filled with God’s character than one they are currently living. And he didn’t just tell parables. His whole life-ministry-death-resurrection is one whole parable. To throw one story alongside another to see what happens – that’s what parables do. A familiar-enough-to-be-recognized story that is challenged with twists and turns.

Jesus threw his life’s story alongside the story of empire. He’s raised! But that’s just another story, right? And those who see him are "in joy disbelieving," even while they see it. Resurrection is not even quite meant to be explained, but entered into.

What story can we tell people that will overwhelm their story? This story: You are enough. You have enough.

Lose concluded with two hunches:
Hunch 1: We share Jesus best through telling stories of scriptures, and our lives as people transformed by faith.
Hunch 2: Parables are helpful but hard to interpret. Whose parable is it? How you see and understand Jesus will influence how you interpret parables.

I found this lecture to be brilliant, and I've been mulling it over a lot. I'm fascinated by how people change their minds about things, about long-held beliefs. Our current political/cultural context should tell us, as Lose says, that facts are not persuasive. But Jesus is, isn't he? So how can we tell people a better story - the story of the life-transforming work of Jesus? I'll be thinking about that.

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