Thursday, June 26, 2008

A Day's Journey Into Ninevah

Eugene Peterson, Under the Unpredictable Plant: An Exploration in Vocational Holiness, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1992), 128-130. To Peterson’s analysis, we would commend the incarnational locatedness of Christ in the water and the Word of Holy Baptism, Christ’s own body and blood with the bread and wine in his testament of Holy Communion — and the Church not as invisible, but visibly gathered at that place and time where the Word is preached and the Sacraments bestowed.

Pastoral work is local: Ninevah. The difficulty in carrying it out is that we have a universal gospel but distressingly limited by time and space. We are under command to go into all the world to proclaim the gospel to every creature. We work under the large rubrics of heaven and hell. And now we find ourselves in a town of three thousand people on the far edge of Kansas, in which the library is underbudgeted, the radio station plays only country music, the high school football team provides all the celebrities the town can manage, and a covered-dish supper is the high-point in congregational life.

It is hard for a person who has been schooled in the urgencies of apocalyptic and with an imagination furnished with saints and angels to live in this town very long and take part in its conversations without getting a little impatient, growing pretty bored, and wondering if it wasn’t an impulsive mistake to abandon that ship going to Tarshish.

We start dreaming of greener pastures. We preach BIG IDEA sermons. Our voices take on a certain stridency as our anger and disappointment at being stuck in this place begin to leak into our discourse.

Now is the time to rediscover the meaning of the local, and in terms of church, the parish. All churches are local. All pastoral work takes place geographically. “If you would do good,” wrote William Blake, “you must do it in Minute Particulars.” When Jonah began his proper work, he went a day’s journey into Ninevah. He didn’t stand at the edge and preach at them; he entered into the midst of their living – heard what they were saying, smelled the cooking, picked up the colloquialisms, lived “on the economy,” not aloof from it, not superior to it.

The gospel is emphatically geographical. Place names — Sinai, Hebron, Machpelah, Shiloh, Nazareth, Jezreel, Samaria, Bethlehem, Jerusalem, Bethsaida — these are embedded in the gospel. All theology is rooted in geography.

Pilgrims to biblical lands find that the towns in which David camped and Jesus lived are no better or more beautiful or more exciting than their hometowns.

The reason we get restless with where we are and want, as we say, “more of a challenge” or “a larger field of opportunity” has nothing to do with prophetic zeal or priestly devotion; it is the product of spiritual sin. The sin is generated by the virus of gnosticism.

Gnosticism is the ancient but persistently contemporary perversion of the gospel that is contemptuous of place and matter. It holds for that salvation consists in having the right ideas, and the fancier the better. It is impatient with restrictions of place and time and embarrassed by the garbage and disorder of everyday living. It constructs a gospel that majors in fine feelings embellished by the sayings of Jesus. Gnosticism is also impatient with slow-witted people and plodding companions and so always ends up being highly selective, appealing to an elite group of people who are “spiritually deep,” attuned to each other and quoting a cabal of experts.


secoleman said...

Pastor wondering IF you ever check what comment might be left. Was doing a bit of research on Ninevah, read Nahum two days ago and did Zephaniah today. I was "thrown" by how you just used the word "rubrics". I know several meanings of the word, but didn't not understand in your context. Overall thought it an interesting article and will read more of your work.

Rev. Joel A. Brondos said...

I believe "rubrics" in this context refer to "operating guidelines."

"Rubrics" comes from the Latin, "red". In liturgical contexts, the instructions or directions for how something is to be done, said, or sung, were printed in red.

The idea of rubrics in an educational context might also apply. Heaven and hell are "rubrics" in the sense that they are [for some people] the reason why we do or don't do things.