The Parable of the Fisheries Manager

There was once a young fisheries manager in charge of a pristine trout stream high in the Sierra Nevada. Well, almost pristine. You see, the stream, though pretty in appearance, contained nothing but stunted, invasive brook trout. And so, the fishery manager decided to improve things. He obtained a batch of native California golden trout and dumped them in the stream. Later in the year, when he surveyed the fish population, not a single golden trout remained. The stunted brook trout had out-competed and starved them all to death. He tried again, this time with more fish, planted in multiple locations. Again, the stunted brook trout ate them out of house and home. He tried a third time. This time, he embarked on a comprehensive program of habitat improvement beforehand and selected the finest golden trout he could find. But once again, the brook trout out-competed them and the golden trout didn’t survive.

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At his wit’s end, he called the senior fisheries manager from two drainages over. “You silly goose,” said the senior fisheries manager. “You forgot to kill the stunted brook trout first. It’s rule number one of good preaching.”

“Good preaching, sir?” the young fisheries manager replied.

“Did I say preaching? Excuse me, I meant good native trout restoration. Now go get some rotenone and remove the idolatrous misconceptions of those stunted brook trout.”

The young fisheries manager decided not to question the idolatry of brook trout and went out to do as he was told. Let the one who has ears to hear, listen! The End.

Friday Facts: Lectionary A – Advent 4

Friday Facts is a new weekly feature here on Trout and Cast Iron. Every week, I’ll read through the lectionary texts for the following Sunday in their original Hebrew and Greek. On Friday, I’ll choose one of the texts, provide a new translation, and highlight one point of interest from a linguistic, ancient history, or concordance point of view. The hope is that Friday Facts can provide a spark to preachers who find themselves preparing their Sunday sermon on a short schedule. 

Romans 1.1-7

1 Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus, called, an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, 2 who long ago promised through his prophets in the holy writings 3 concerning his son, the one who became the offspring of David, according to the flesh, 4 the one appointed son of God according to the Spirit, consecrated by means of the resurrection of the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, 5 through whom we have received grace and a calling into the obedience of faith among all the gentiles for the sake of his name, 6 in whom you also are called by Jesus Christ, 7 to all the beloved of God who are in Rome, the called saints, grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.

In reading my translation, you may notice that the opening seven verses of Romans are long, rambling, and not quite a sentence. The reason for Paul’s rambling lies in the genre. Romans is an ancient letter, and at the beginning of an ancient letter, the author often listed three things: 1) their name 2) their credentials 3) to whom they wrote. In today’s post, I’d like to focus on number two, Paul’s credentials, and one of the credentials in particular.

Paul calls himself several titles at the beginning of his letter. While there’s different ways the relationship between them, I’ve chosen to list them separately in my translation, because I’d like to discuss one in particular: “called.” The word that Paul uses for “called” is κλητός and it occurs ten times total in the New Testament. Eight of the occurrences come in letters (seven in Paul, once in Jude), usually during the greeting, as we have here in Romans. It seems to be a standard word to describe Christians in the 1st century AD and in fact, Paul uses it three times in these seven verses alone: Paul is called, the Christians in Rome are both called by Jesus Christ, and called saints. At face value, the adjective (which comes from the verb καλέω “to summon”), simply means that Christians have been summoned by Jesus Christ, just as he summoned the disciples on the lake shore. But, there’s another resonance in the word that comes out when we look at its only occurrence in the Gospels.

κλητός appears only once in the Gospels. It makes its appearance in Matthew 22.14, usually translated “For many are called.” However, in looking at the context of 22.14, coming at the end of the parable of the banquet, it becomes clear that “called” is too blase a translation. Better would be “for many are invited” or even more strongly “for many are summoned to the banquet.” And a look in a lexicon of Koine Greek confirms that the primary sense of κλητός is “to be invited for dinner.” To be κλητός is not simply to have your name read out at the beginning of God’s eternal roll call; to be κλητός is to have your name on the guest list for the eternal feast of the Lamb. Taken together with the Gospel reading for the day, a preacher could even say that God has invited us in for Christmas dinner.

 

Building the Perfect Pastor: Thoughts from Capon

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Though it may come as a surprise to some who know me, the two authors that have made the greatest contribution to my identity as a pastor are not, denomination-wise, Lutherans. They are an Episcopal priest, Robert Farrar Capon, and a Presbyterian pastor, Eugene Peterson. In this new (infrequently) recurring feature, I will lay out some of the insights that I’ve learned from the two of them, as I endeavor to build the perfect pastor, or at least the perfect job description.

Robert Capon (whom I have mentioned before, see here and here) was a pastor after my own heart. He adored New Testament Greek, he appreciated French cooking, and he had a bitterly ironic sense of humor. Perhaps then, it’s no surprise that I resonate with his thoughts on pastoring. While ruminating on the parable of the faithful and wise steward, he puts forward a intriguing argument. The faithful and wise steward, he says, is Jesus’ idea of a pastor. And in following our Lord’s job line of thinking, pastors will be faithful and wise and stewards. Beginning today with faithful, I’m going to tackle his thoughts on each of those three requirements.

In some sense, the requirement to be faithful stands as the most simple requirement. But as anyone who’s taken a cursory glance at this blog knows, it’s the simple that you’ve got to watch out for. Because being faithful means being called to believe and to wait. In a world of doing, in a world of moving and shaking, in a world where 30 seconds of buffering is an eternity, you can see where the difficulty lies. The difficulty lies in not trying to take responsibility for the success of Jesus’ endeavor to save the lost and despairing. It lies in not having much to do other than talk about what Jesus has already done. As Capon writes, “Their vocation is simply to be faithful waiters on the mystery of Jesus’ coming in death and resurrection.” Well, then, you might ask, what’s a pastor to do? Just sit and read in their office all day until the Lord returns? While that’s not a half bad idea, I’d point you back to the lines I just quoted. There’s a fun play on words here: the stewards are also waiters! So, pastors set the table of the Lord’s Supper and preach the Word. And just like waiters, the most important thing is that the pastor is not in charge of the establishment. Just as the wait-staff in a fine dining establishment generally has no hand in the branding, the menu, or the aesthetic of the restaurant, the pastor’s not leading any charge forward or innovating solutions. All that a church needs to see from their pastor is “their commitment to the ministry of waiting for, and waiting on, the only Lord who has the keys of death (Rev. 1:18).”

For those interested in reading Capon’s thoughts in their original context, you can find them in: Kingdom, Grace, Judgement: Paradox, Outrage, and Vindication in the Parables of Jesus. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2002, 243-245. Check back soon for parts 2 and 3.

What Does it Mean to Repent?

Which person among you, who has a hundred sheep and loses one of them, will not leave the ninety nine in the wilderness and go after the one who is lost, until you find it? Luke 15.4

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We have talked about those people who employ God’s love to run away from religion and afterwards smile all the time. But there are others who don’t smile.

There are never many. Jesus gives an illustrative expression in the parable where he talks about the one and the ninety nine.

Listen here, you lonely, fearful, wandering soul: Jesus loves you.

No, he doesn’t love me, you say. He’s mad at me. And rightly so! I have never done anything but sin against him.

Yeah, you’re right. If you look back on what you’ve done, you’ve got no hope. But all those things that you’ve done Jesus took upon himself. “He was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our misdeeds, the punishment lay on him, so that we should have peace.”

That’s how He loves you.

In the same way, he’s worried about you when you run away. He’s been looking for you day and night. Haven’t you heard him calling?

Yes, yes you have. That’s why you’ve become ill at ease. That’s when your sins started to get so heavy.

But what do I do to find my way to God? you ask.

You don’t. And God hasn’t asked you to either. He’s the one who’s been looking for you. And now He’s found you. Now all He asks is that you hold still and He’ll put you on His shoulders and carry you home.

That’s what it means to repent.

Adapted from Hallesby, Ole. Daglig Fornyelse: Andaktsbok for Hjemmet. Translated by Kristofer Coffman. Oslo: Lutherstiftelsens Forlag, 1951, 177.

Aldo Leopold, Self-Evidence, and the Iowa Caucus

As referenced below, this post original was published before the Iowa Caucus. However, I think that the outcome of the election has rendered the contents moot.

Let me begin with two caveats. One, this actually has very little to do with the Iowa Caucus that happened last night. I just thought I’d jump on the trending hashtag. Two, I’m a big fan of Aldo Leopold. In fact, I was once quoted as saying A Sand County Almanac is my favorite book in a seminary admission’s brochure.

Aldo Leopold begins the foreword to A Sand County Almanac with these words: “There are some who can live without wild things, and some who cannot. These essays are the delights and dilemmas of one who cannot.” In making this statement, Leopold takes the humble step of admitting that his deeply held values are not self-evident. He realizes that not all people love the wild places in the world like he does. Now, this doesn’t mean that he doesn’t think those people shouldn’t love and protect those wild places. In fact, in his book, Leopold maintains that people, wilderness lovers and city-slickers alike, need to change their views of the world. But, he realizes that it will not come easily or without careful exposition, and in the opening to his book, he acknowledges that perhaps, some people will never get it.

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Christians in the United States, on both sides of the political spectrum, need to learn this lesson. On both sides of the aisle, the assumption is that the Christian message is self-evident. Whether a message of morality or social justice, the assumption is that people who don’t get on board are ignorant, malicious, etc. As the oft-bandied saying goes “If you’re not angry, you’re not paying attention.” The prevailing wisdom is that the message ought to make sense to everyone, that it’s logical and obvious. The problem, with Christians who don’t march for racial justice or who destroy family values is that they don’t understand.

And, I’m here to say that’s backward. In fact, the Christian message is not self-evident in the least. Jesus didn’t say to his disciples, “Use your common sense,” he said “To you is granted the secret of the kingdom of God, but to those who are outside everything comes in parables, so that they may look and look, but never perceive; listen and listen, but never understand; to avoid changing their ways and being healed” (Mark 4:11-12). The key is not cognitive understanding or emotional relationship. Rather, the secret of the kingdom of God is faith. Faith unlocks the Christian life, not the other way around. “Christian” politics that appeal to general understanding, to natural law, or to common decency are only masquerading as Christian. “Christian” politics that assemble a coalition of support based upon similar philosophies of living are not Christian either. They are simply human attempts to draw lines around who’s in and who’s out.

The irony of Jesus’ promise that he will give the disciples wisdom that the world cannot refute is that the wisdom of God is foolishness in human eyes. As Paul writes, God chose what is foolish in the world to confound worldly wisdom. We do not preach self-evident logic. We preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to the righteous and foolishness to the wise.

Mark 4:1-9 Sower, Soil, and Seeds

Listen! Imagine a sower going out to sow.

Sometimes, in the course of following a lectionary, odd juxtapositions of season and text come about. For those following the Narrative Lectionary, this Sunday is one of those odd juxtapositions. Here in Minnesota, we’re bracing for the coldest weekend of the winter. Snow blankets the ground, and the prediction has the mercury falling down near negative twenty. And yet, in the selections from Mark’s gospel, Jesus tells us a parable about growing seeds.

The parable of the sowers is a parable for preachers, not for hearers.  Too often, the preacher will stand up and shout at their hearers, “Don’t you want to produce a good crop? Be good soil!” But to shout those words is to twist the audience of the parable. This parable doesn’t endeavor to inspire its hearers to run out and produce good fruit. Rather, Jesus intends this parable to give direction to those who are called to preach the word. To his preachers, Jesus says, “Go out and preach the word, in all places. Sometimes it will take root, sometimes it will be choked out, but God (not the preacher) will be responsible for that growth.” The challenge of this parable is to abandon the need to find the best soil and the need to try to change the seed to fit the soil type. The word of God is to be cast out with reckless abandon, and we must trust that God will give the growth.

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