How’s this for a resume? The Rev. Dr. Luke A. Powery, Dean of Chapel and Associate Professor of the Practice of Homiletics at Duke Divinity School, has a B.A. in vocal performance from Stanford University, a Master of Divinity degree from Princeton, and a Doctorate in Theology from Emmanuel College at the University of Toronto. He calls himself a “Baptiscotal” as he was raised Pentecostal and ordained Baptist.
He preached about John the Baptist and how unlikely it was that God would choose to work through “a weirdo in the wilderness” instead of those who were powerful and connected. He challenged us with these questions, “What unlikely person from an unlikely place might God be speaking through today?” and “In what wilderness experiences of your life do you find God?”
Heard Walter Brueggemann preach last night; heard him lecture this morning, speaking about what I assume is the subject of his latest book. It’s hard to quickly summarize, but I’ll try. He said we live in a culture that craves certitude and easy black-and-white answers. We turn to the Bible for certitude, but the Bible (like the human self) is multi-layered, the Bible speaks in many voices, the Bible is complex and conflicted. When we turn to God for quick and easy answers, we’ll be disappointed. But when we turn to God, what we will find is steadfastness, mercy and faithfulness…though we may not experience those qualities in the way (or in the time) we expect.
She preached an extremely provocative sermon on a very difficult text: the story of the killing of the concubine in Judges 19. The meaning of “concubine” is: one who is used by another person for one’s own purposes. She lifted up some ways in which all of us use other people, and the way in which we use this earth. Nothing in God’s creation is meant to be “used”.
Fourth presentation of the day was by Diana Butler Bass.
I’ve read several of her books, and was really looking forward to hearing her talk about the research that was just released from the Pew Research Center. Here are some sobering statistics: In just 7 years, mainline Protestants have gone from representing 18.1 of the population to 14.7. The category of those who identify as “unaffiliated” has grown from 16.1 to 22.8%. We spent an hour or so talking about “why” and “what can we do about it.”
In the middle of her presentation, one man from Denver’s large and visible homeless population walked to the front of the room and started speaking, chastising people for sitting in a church while ignoring the needs of the hungry. “I’m hungry,” he began shouting. Diana handled the situation beautifully, explaining that all of us want to see him be fed. One person offered a bag of pretzels. One man escorted him out. The second he left the sanctuary, she led us in prayer. No introduction. No “shall we pray”. Just a prayer that God would forgive us for the times we’ve ignored the needs of the poor. A prayer for that gentleman and others like him. I had been afraid, I admit, probably not the only person in the room thinking, “Is he going to pull out a gun?” After she prayed, I could not speak.
There was a thread to the four presentations I heard today…each of the speakers encouraged us to broaden our reading of scripture, to read those portions of the Bible we often ignore, because our troubled world needs to hear the whole of the biblical message…not only did I hear about the troubles of the world, and pray about them, but I saw them today with my own eyes.