Wednesday, September 28, 2011

How Well Do Progressive Christians Fish?

Copyright © 2011 by Chris R. Glaser. All rights reserved.

When Jesus called some of his disciples, who were fishermen, he told them he would make them fishers of people. He used a metaphor for their calling that they could readily grasp. A net is flexible, stretching to include as many fish as possible.

In a resurrection story from John, Jesus tells his disciples on which side of the boat to cast their net. From his vantage point on shore, he could possibly see a school of fish—a dark patch in the water or the froth of swimming fish. He had the perspective and vision they lacked.

When they drew in the fish, we are provided an exact count: 153 in total. Jerome, an early interpreter of this story, perhaps mistakenly suggested that the number of species of fish known in the time of Jesus was—you guessed it—one hundred and fifty-three. Despite the possible error, I like the implication that this is an inclusive net and this is a most diverse school of fish.  And the net—the church?—didn’t break.

As progressive Christians sometimes embarrassed by our aggressively evangelical siblings, we might ask ourselves, “How good are we at fishing for people?” How flexible is our net? We pride ourselves at the diversity of people we “officially” welcome. But how many people are we actually “catching”?  Are we throwing our net on the correct side of the boat? Is our net strong enough to bring 153 varieties of people to the shore to encounter Jesus on their own? Can our net—of worship, of community, of service—stretch itself enough to include others? Can we summon the same audacity to “fish for people” that we do when collecting signatures on a petition, proclaiming justice from the pulpit, and protesting prejudice and violence?

I served with the late Louisville seminary professor George Edwards on a national church task force toward the end of the 70’s. He was adamant on calling himself “a liberal evangelical,” declaring passionately that he would not surrender the term “evangelical” to conservative Christians.

We too are “evangelicals,” bringing the good news of progressive Christianity to those who think they’re not following Jesus because they don’t profess the certainties of earlier generations or of present-day fundamentalists. Regardless of doubts, or rather, because of our doubts, our gospel may be more accessible.

As Tennyson wrote in his elegiac poem to his late friend, Arthur Hallam, In Memoriam A. H. H.:

Our little systems have their day;
They have their day and cease to be;
They are but broken lights of thee,
And thou, O Lord, art more than they.
There lives more faith in honest doubt,
Believe me, than in half the creeds.

Coming up:
Wilmington, Delaware, Oct. 9: Chris will preach on the parable of “The Wedding Banquet” during the 10 am worship at Hanover Street Presbyterian Church, 1801 North Jefferson Street 19802 and offer “A Brief History of Marriage” for the noon adult class that follows. The day’s theme is same-gender marriage.

Rockville, Maryland, Oct. 23: Chris will speak at the Rockville United Church, 355 Linthicum St. 20851 at the 9:30 am morning class on “Claim the God in You as a Progressive Christian” and his sermon title during the 10:45 worship will be “Jesus Was Not a Literalist.” Lunch follows with a question-and-answer period with Chris.

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