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Festival of Homiletics: Jacqui Lewis and M. Craig Barnes

More Festival of Homiletics catch up. Jacqui Lewis preached a sermon titled,
"Identity Politics," based on Matthew 6:9-14, Jesus sharing what we call the Lord's Prayer. I didn't take a ton of notes during worship, but the sermon was excellent. Lewis's style was extremely engaging. We were roaring with laughter, but her points still hit home - there was a lot of poignant truth in the midst of the humor.
Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis
Lewis spoke about Jesus being born in scandal. "We have let the world whiten up and nicen up that baby, who was brown enough to go undercover in Egypt." Our salvation, Lewis said, is corporate: "We're not saved until everyone is saved." We develop theologies of "it will all get better" in light of our current realities, but Jesus says in his prayer "now." Of God's reign on earth, God's "now," Lewis says she knows what it looks like: It looks like a "die-in" of activists saying "I can't breathe," referencing the death of Eric Garner at the hands of police. "It tastes like sweet Hawaiian bread."

"Safe preaching is too costly," Lewis said. "We don’t have the luxury of that. We’re on the precipice." And, "We have the gift of liberated tongues."

 M. Craig Barnes
M. Craig Barnes
I've heard M. Craig Barnes preach and lecture before at the Festival. I found him particularly compelling this time around. He lectured on “Preaching in the Age of Anxiety," focusing on Matthew 4.

We are judged in so many places by others and self, Barnes said, and what we see is not good. So we go out to be judged by John the Baptist. John points to Jesus, but Jesus doesn’t even have a winnowing fork! And this one who is without sin identifies totally with us. And when he is baptized, God is "so-pleased" with Jesus. When Jesus is identified with us in baptism, God says that Jesus is "beloved of God," which claims us as God's beloved too, not because we are judged good enough, but because we’ve always belonged to God, and in Christ, God has found us.

We’re anxious, though, Barnes argued. We wonder: is God really saying this about us? Are we really beloved?

The first temptation of Satan for Jesus is not to eat, but to not be hungry. We are always hungry. It is when we reach for what is not given to us by God that we destroy the garden, Barnes said. "We always sacrifice freedom out of our anxiety." Barnes spoke about the anxiety of the privileged class. We are enslaved by desire for happiness and fulfillment. Sure the next thing will fill us up. This is how Satan tempts Jesus, with his conditional language: If you are the son of God…” But our yearning is necessary. Yearning is a part of our created condition that is meant to be an embrace and a call to worship. We shouldn't communicate that yearning will be eliminated. But it can be focused. We're meant to be yearning for God.

The second temptation is the temptation of certainty. At the top of the temple, Satan says, "if God catches you, then you can be certain that God loves you." We would love to be certain! "But few things are more dangerous to our spirituality than certainty. We live by faith not by certainty." The more certain you become the less room you have for faith, God, and one another. Creeds don’t start, “I know” but “I believe.” We crave certainty of one miracle, Barnes said, but it would be deadly to our souls. Jesus is harder on those of us with a little faith than on those of us with no faith at all.

Speaking to a room of pastors, Barnes said that we love to do well at the church and are tempted, then, to be necessary at the church. To be the messiah at the church. But, being necessary robs us of being chosen. "You’re too important to be necessary. You are cherished by God. We can’t cherish things that are necessary. Cherishing comes as a choice, but if it is necessary there is no choice." We should stop knocking selves out to be necessary, Barnes urged. It is also futile, he insisted, to think that what you want is to be protected. That isn’t what we really want. We want to be loved. If we are loved, we can live with the insecurity of all life.

In the third temptation, Satan says, "I’ll give you all the kingdoms if you worship me." Jesus doesn’t say, “I don’t want those.” Devil wants to tempt us with our goals – let me help you with what would really tempt us. To clergy, "I can give you pastoral success." The devil says, "You have to ease up, though, on your high ideals. You just have to be a little complicit with 'the way it is!'" The temptation is the devil saying, "Be realistic. This is the best it can be." The temptation is to demonize others, other Christians. But, Barnes reminded us, "Not only do we allow sinners in our congregation, but frankly, that’s only who we allow in. And we say to each other, 'In Jesus Christ you are forgiven.'" “If you find a church like this," Barnes said, that doesn't want anyone who is a sinner (however they qualify that word), "they don’t need a pastor." And for pastors who say they want a congregation that already has it all together? "It’s like saying want you to be a doctor, but don't want to be around sick people."

Barnes concluded with a reminder that there is a stark difference between truth and clarity. "You can be flagrantly racist and clear about what you think. Truth is often found in nuance, in places that are not so clear." A thought-provoking lecture. 


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