Lead me not into temptation

Natural disasters seem to bring out the best and worst in our humanity.  We watch with awe as first responders rush in, risking life and limb, to save the inured and trapped.  We offer spiritual and tangible support through our thoughts and prayers and by making donations to the Red Cross or Episcopal Relief and Development.  We often ask tough questions about God and Creation.  Without fail, some moron spouts off his lame-brained theology and either blames the victims or the wider culture for events that we know are random occurrences and natural pressure relief valves.

Most of the time, better theology prevails, and the vast majority of Christians will gather on Sunday to hear words of comfort and love rather than hate and stupidity, but there is a temptation lurking in the combination of Trinity Sunday and Romans 5 that I want to use my blog today to caution preacher against.

It is a well known fact that preachers dislike preaching Trinity Sunday.  We clergy think we hide that fact, but our congregations notice that the seminarian, last curate on the totem pole, or graduating high school senior always preaches the First Sunday after Pentecost.  Many preachers: rectors, curates, and graduating seniors alike, are looking for a way to avoid heresy and preach anything other than the Doctrine of the Trinity, so with the best of intentions, they’ll think of the weather events of the past few days, pray for the people of the Great Plains, and then launch into a sermon that begins, “We know that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us.”  The temptation will be strong, but I urge you to avoid it at all costs.

First, unless you are actually the one suffering, quote Romans 5 sounds at best, trite, and at worst, condescending and idiotic.  Second, it is too soon, way too soon to saying anything like, “suffering leads to hope.”  And finally, and perhaps more theologically, while I’m sure Paul could have been thinking of natural disasters, it seems highly more likely, given his constant focus on the cross of Christ, that Paul was equating “suffering” with persecution for the sake of the Gospel, that is to say, the suffering to which Paul refers is the result of a decision for Jesus, not because one happens to live or go to school in the mile-wide path of a tornado.

Romans 5 might look like your out this Trinity Sunday, dear reader, but I implore you, resist the temptation.  Instead, preach Jesus or the ever present Holy Spirit or the good work of the Red Cross and ERD or even the Trinity.  Goodness knows, it’ll be better than whatever foolishness Pat Robertson will get press for saying.

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3 thoughts on “Lead me not into temptation

  1. So that’s exactly what I’m doing, but I’m most appreciative of your words of caution. But my proclamation isn’t that this specific instance of suffering will lead to hope but that I personally search for the kind of faith Paul talks about that is able to somehow transform my own sufferings into hope. Hope in the face of disaster–that’s the gospel. Your post helps me remember not to assume anything about the experience of the people in Moore–nor to preach at them in asbentia–but purely to say that I am supposed to be searching for the kind of faith Paul has in mind.

    Or is that still a homiletic disaster waiting to happen?

    • At this point in history, I think what you are suggesting is probably OK. We’ve been inundated with disasters over the last decade plus: from 9/11 to Katrina to the Southeast Asian Tsunami to the Haiti earthquake to Aurora, Sandy Hook, Boston, West, and Moore. Suffering is a universal experience, made more so in the disaster porn industry known as 24 hours cable news. I think you can probably pull it off, and I look forward to reading or listening to it next week.

      • Why do I still feel uneasy about this? Probably because I’m supposed to. I think preachers are supposed to avoid the “how” and “why” and “when” questions and simply cling to the “what” of God’s promise of redemption. Explaining it is as heretical and disastrous as trying to explain the Trinity.

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