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When You’re A Disciple Of Jesus, There Will Be Bound To Be Bonfires (via Will Willimon)

If you think that becoming a disciple of Jesus will lead to a settled, monotonous, status-quo, life that you’re in control of, think again.
From Will Willimon’s memoir, Accidental Preacher.

It’s odd that some characterize God’s creative work as the making of order and stability. I’ve found the opposite to be true; you’ll know it’s the Trinity if it’s disruptive. Because of God’s refusal to leave well enough alone, Christians’ lives are always on the verge of being out of control. Jesus intrudes among us not to care but to call. Disciples are made, not born. Jeremiah compared God’s ways with Israel to a potter pounding a lump of clay to make something out of a mess of mud (Jer. 18:1-12). Disruption — conversion, metanoia, relinquishment, detoxification, purgation, renovation—characterizes the work of the divinepotter who pounded Abraham, Mary, Paul, and maybe me. There are bound to be bonfires..
Will Willimon, Accidental Preacher, Eerdmans, 2019, pg 92.


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Pastoring Based On Calling, Not Feeling (via Will Willimon)

Will Willimon tells the story of his first Christmas in a new appointment serving a very small church, having received the news that his estranged black-sheep father has died in his memoir Accidental Preacher.
His stories resonate with experiences of pastoral life, not in a self-serving or manipulative way that presents the pastoral role as one deserving pity, but in ways that demonstrate that pastors can only minister grace when we continually experience our personal dependence on it.
I’m only held together by gaffer tape, baling wire and grace. And the gaffer tape and baling wire are purely decorational.
That’s not the story of my past, as if I’m now beyond what I commit to people as being their current need.
It’s still my daily experience.
From Willimon:

That’s church for you. Church forces us to march in and sing even when we’re not in a singing mood, not feeling faithful, and “joyful and triumphant” is not us. Church doesn’t wait for you to have the proper motivation for worship in order to call you to worship. And there are so many times, when you have been called to be a pastor, that you don’t feel like being a pastor but still must act the part. You may be in pain, may be in over your head emotionally and theologically. Though you are supposed to be an expert in helping others to grieve, you may not know how publicly to mark your own loss. As a pastor, your personal problems take a backseat to the needs of others. You’re the only pastor they have, and Christmas comes but once a year. So you pull tight the cincture and pray, “God, who got me into this, give me the hardheaded determination to get through it.” You go out and act like their pastor even when you don’t want to.
When seminarians plead for graciousness for “personal reasons,” when they are late with some class assignment because an aunt whom “I revered as if she were my grandmother” departed or they are suffering a bout of depression, I think, Clergy who are not periodically depressed have either given up too soon or expect too little of Jesus. You can’t stand up on Sunday and say, Nothing would have pleased me more than to have a sermon for you but first it was one thing and then another so we’re going to break up into discussion groups. Then we’ll pool our collective ignorance and call that todays’ sermon.
I’d get fired for saying this to a student, but even the dean can’t keep me from thinking it.
Will Willimon, Accidental Preacher, Eerdmans, 2019, pgs 71-72.


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The Difference Between Following A Vocation And Volunteering (via Will Willimon)

Will Willimon’s memoir Accidental Preacher is an engaging collection of memories and observations.
He tells the story, and the art of telling the story is as enjoyable as the stories themselves.
In writing about the somewhat neglected concept of calling, he makes the observation that being a disciple of Jesus is not our idea. We didn’t volunteer, we were called. And that stops our service being about ourselves and makes it about the one who idea our service originated from.

In a rare lapse into autobiography, Isaiah dates his call, “In the year that king Uzziah died,” leaving us to speculate why the death of the king was significant in the young prophet’s vocation. Methodists adore this passage. Our Methodist national anthem is based on Isaiah 6, Dan Shutte’s “Here I Am, Lord.” Few Methodists make it through two stanzas of this hymn without volunteering to go evangelize Zulus or at least to shed a maudlin tear.
Here I am, Lord, is it I, Lord? I have heard you calling in the night. … I will go, Lord, where you send me … I …
Note the prevalence of the first—person personal pronoun as vocation degenerates into volunteering. Rather than risky encounter with a summoning God, worship morphs into sappy songs, syrupy clichés on the screen, followed by the sharing of tiring details about our personal lives at the coffee hour. Christian preaching slides into “Come right over here and sit next to me. I’m dying to tell you all about myself,” and theology becomes commentary on human experience of God rather than God. Interiority writ large.
Here I am, Lord overlooks a great gift of vocation: rescue from our overly cultivated subjectivity. Vocation’s power, said Hermann Hesse, is when “the soul is awakened…, so that instead of dreams and presentiments from within a summons comes from without,” and an external relation “presents itself and makes its claim.”
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Vocation is not evoked by your bundle of need and desire. Vocation is what God wants from you whereby your life is transformed into a consequence of God’s redemption of the world.
Will Willimon, Accidental Preacher, Eerdmans, 2019, pgs 51-52, 54.


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The Resurrection: You Don’t Get It; It Gets You (via Will Willimon)

Will Willimon on why human understanding never expects resurrection:

Mary’s perfectly logical, understandably natural need to pursue the body of her beloved Jesus has not yet room for the miracle that has happened. The voice of Jesus has called to her, across an abyss of death, thrown a line to her across the cavernous expanse between her little logic of red wheelbarrows and all that and the power of God to work wonder. Like the voice that shatters glass, the voice of Jesus has shattered Mary’s world, called her forward to new possibility, new future.
Mary is now able to obey, to tell the others, “I have seen the Lord” (vs. 18). She has moved beyond her preoccupation with the corpse to an encounter with Christ. Her cause-effect logic is replaced by the larger logic called faith. She has been encountered, not by the dead corpse she thought she was seeing, but by a living Lord who is on the move and will not be held by us on our little logic.
Now there are at least two ways to think about things: cognition has two paths to the point of recognition. The first is, say, when you’re working on a tough math problem and after much effort you say, “I got it!”
The other way is, say, when you go to a great movie, and it changes you, lays hold of you to the very depths and you emerge changed. In that case, you don’t say, “I got it!” No. It gets you.

Read the whole post here.


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What About The Word Cross Do You Not Get (via William Willimon)

From an article by William Willimon on pastoral ministry and change titled Why Leaders Are A Pain:

The promise of all bogus religion is the promise of a peaceful life without pain. That’s also the subtext of lots of sermons I hear and some of the ones I preach: pain is avoidable, and here’s my formula for living and loving without discomfort. To which Jesus might respond: What about the word cross do you not get?
Some of the best service that pastors offer arises when we dare to prod, preach, and pray a congregation toward the painful reality it has been avoiding. Yet how many of us went into the ministry in order to hurt people? We enjoy thinking of ourselves as peacemakers and reconcilers.
Jesus Christ embodied truth as well as love, and there’s no way to work for him without also being willing to put people in pain in Jesus’ name.

Read the whole post here.


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The Process Of Conversion Continues

Tomorrow the revolution goes on.

…faithful preaching is always more than a mild-mannered artful description of the world and the human condition. It must also be part of a process of conversion. In order to enter this strange Kingdom of Heaven, we must be born again, and again, and again. And there is rarely any painless birth. In order for something to be born, it must die. An old world must give way for a new one to be born. People generally do not let go of their old, predictable world without a fight. So preaching without conflict is a theological impossibility.
William Willimon, Proclamation and Theology, Abingdon, pg 92.


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Interpreting Our Story In The Light Of God’s Triumph In The Resurrection (via Will Willimon)

“I don’t preach Jesus’ story in the light of my experience, as some sort of helpful symbol or myth that is helpfully illumined by my own story of struggle and triumph. Rather, I am invited by Easter to interpret my story in the light of God’s triumph in the Resurrection. I really don’t have a story, I don’t know the significance of my little life until I read my story and view my life through the lens of the cross and resurrection. One of the things that occurs in the weekly preaching of the gospel is to lay the gospel story over our stories and reread our lives in the light of what is real now that crucified Jesus has been raised from the dead.”
William Willimon, Proclamation and Theology, Abingdon 2005, pgs 81-82.