Homecoming or Going-Away Party? Questioning the Rapture through the lens of homelessness

This is the sermon I gave at Patchwork Central’s Sunday evening worship on July 26, 2009. Of course, these texts are not the only ones pertinent to discussion of the so-called “end times,” but 1 Thessalonians in particular is of major importance since it is the text most-often used to discuss “what the Rapture will be like.” Judging by the number of bumper stickers and t-shirts with stupid slogans like “in case of Rapture, this car will be UNMANNED,” it is a matter that is sorely in need of an injection of good, contextually-informed Biblical theology in the popular arena.

As this is the full text of a sermon (approximately 30 minutes in length), it’s considerably longer than my usual entries.

First reading: Isaiah 40:9-11
Second reading: 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

[I started the sermon by recalling a story from my time at Harlaxton, when I spent the better part of an afternoon in Cambridge having dinner with a homeless man named Ian. Rather than try and recall exactly how I told the story on Sunday, here is my description of the event upon returning to Harlaxton that evening.]

Of course, as we all know, homelessness is not just something that happens in England. I remember growing up in Petersburg, a town of considerably smaller size than Evansville, and every few months I would hear advertisements on the radio for programs to benefit Street Relief and other efforts to serve the homeless in Evansville in some way. Now, being from a small town and having never seen a real, live homeless person before it was all a bit of an abstraction for me. It was hard enough for me to just get my head around the notion that there were people out there who didn’t have a stable place to go every night to sleep. Homelessness was something that, for me, only existed on the radio or television, or maybe I would have a teacher mention something about it in class. By the time high school rolled around I had a little better grip on things, having taken a few trips to cities such as Washington D.C. and seen first-hand people whom I knew would be sleeping under the stars that night – and not because they were on a camping trip with friends.

When I moved to Evansville for college I began to get a fuller picture of things, though being a dyed-in-the-wool Reaganite conservative I assumed homeless people, or at least most of them anyway, were there because they wanted to be, or because they were just too lazy to get a real job. Needless to say, since then my thoughts on the matter have changed a bit. I have had a few rather significant interactions with homeless people, like Brian whom I mentioned earlier, a guy named John who used to hang out with us around what is now the art colony, back when it was still Synchronicity, who fancied himself a bit of a traveling preacher for one. He and I used to sit on a bench either on Haynie’s Corner or on Main Street and talk about all kinds of stuff, and boy did he have some good stories to tell. I’ve been a part of the crowd at the Rescue Mission, both during times when I volunteered or coordinated groups that wanted to volunteer, and during times when in fact that was the only place I could afford to eat. I’ve never actually been homeless myself, but there have been at least 3 occasions when I’ve been anywhere from a few weeks to a few days away from not having a place to call home. Perhaps some of you have been in the same boat, eh?

There’s been a lot in the news lately about foreclosures and people not being afford to stay in their homes and all that kind of stuff. Not just people on the lower end of the economic ladder, but increasing numbers from the middle and upper-middle classes as well. No doubt the number of certifiable homeless has increased in the past year, though I have found reliable statistics predictably hard to come by. But even before there was talk of a mortgage crisis, a housing sector crash, Wall Street shenanigans, and the “R-” word (not to mention the “D-” word, which you’ll never hear out of any politician’s mouth unless he’s talking about how we’re not going to have one), the fact of the matter is that somewhere in the neighborhood of 1% of the US population, depending on what studies you cite and which methodologies you accept, went from day to day not knowing if they were going to be able to have a shelter to sleep in that night. That’s around 3 million people, if you’re counting. Continue reading

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Big changes!

As I’m sure you’ve noticed, since you’ve all no doubt been checking this site every day, and perhaps even multiple times daily, there hasn’t been an update in nearly two months. That’s because there have been and are some pretty big changes going on both with my life and this site. Here is a brief rundown:

1) I got married! My now-wife, Gretchen, and I were married on June 27. We still have the site for the wedding here, though we plan to update it one day to be more of a personal web site. Because of planning for the wedding, in addition to my ongoing computer problems (I’m currently running my computer off an Ubuntu 8.10 USB live disc because my hard drive is kaput), adding content in June was pretty much a no-go. Then we had the honeymoon, which we spent at the Cornerstone Festival, and then we were off to South Bend for a few days before heading over to Chicago for the Ekklesia Project gathering. Then it was back to South Bend, with a stop by Elkhart, a night in Indianapolis, and then back to Evansville. By the time all that was done, it was time to start planning for the next major change.

2) At the end of this week, on Friday, June 31, we will be moving to South Bend, which is why we were up there after the honeymoon – we were looking for a living space. We found an apartment in decent shape on the south side. The occasion for the move is my acceptance and decision to enter into the incoming fall ’09 class at Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart. Gretchen will be continuing her studies in library tech at a state college, for which there is a branch in South Bend, which is why we’re living there. I was accepted for the first year of the M.Div, which is really more like a pre- year, as formal acceptance into the M.Div is granted at the end of the first year, but I am fairly confident that it’s the right path for me – and if it isn’t, initial acceptance is into the seminary, not a particular program, so changing programs should be relatively painless.

I have a peace about attending AMBS that I have never experienced with any other program to which I have applied, and I am positive (as much as I can be) that this is the right move both for me and also for us. Gretchen supports it wholeheartedly and is excited about some things going on up north, hopefully I’ll have a chance to blog more about that in the near future. Evansville has been home for 10 years, so it’s not easy to leave, but I really feel this is the correct path. This will put us in northern Indiana for at least the next three years, and if I decide to do doctoral studies and get in at Notre Dame we could end up being up there as long as I’ve been down here. For that matter, I could not go into doctoral studies and we could still stay for a long time – the future is as yet unknown.

3) Gretchen and I are in the final stages of incorporating a nonprofit under the auspices of The Missionary Church International, a church that provides shelter for ministries and missionaries. The purpose of the nonprofit will be to establish a prayer-centered ministry within the city seeking to connect people to the mission of God in ways that flow out of the needs and experience of people in the city itself. The inital goal is to start groups (prayer, Bible study, and other types of discussion) with the intent to move towards a 24-7 kind of thing, though the hope is to connect with good things that are already going on in the city to make it something that makes sense naturally in South Bend, rather than overlaying a preprogrammed ministry plan over the city and trying to make it fit. Once the incorporation is complete I will make sure everyone knows plenty of ways they can help us meet our prayer and material needs. Translation: donations will be accepted. 😉

4) This site is moving! I have a new domain, at http://absolutionrevolution.com (not yet operational). The “prophetic heretic” thing was the idea I had when I first started this blog, with some connections I planned to develop between Bruggemann’s conception of the prophetic imagination and Northumbria Community’s heretical imperative, but I never really developed that train of thought. Right after I registered this WordPress.com subdomain I coined the phrase “absolution revolution” and decided to use it for the blog title. Over the past three years I’ve been sporadically maintaining the blog, that has become its identity both on the web (at least mostly so) and in my mind. While theological explorations of social and political issues have always been part of what I have done here, over these past years my “Christ-archy” leanings have becomed more refined and developed, and what was originally intended to be more of a quasi-emerging kind of thing, with more connection between things like pop culture and the Gospel, became this thing that it is today.

Moving to a new site gives me more freedom with what I can do with it, hopefully moving beyond just being a blog to incorporating other forms of online publishing. I’d like to maybe post larger essays and possibly even host something like a radical Christianarchist wiki, or something along those lines. There are many possibilities. This will, of course, necessitate being more diligent about updating content. I’ve resolved to make contributions to the content of various internet sites to which I’ve contributed in the past, including this one, more of a discipline in the future. I think it’s something for which I have a knack, and my thinking has always been sharper when I’ve been writing and publishing and able to get (hopefully mostly constructive) responses to my thoughts. I also plan to attempt to generate more traffic to the site by participating in other online fora, making comments on blogs, and otherwise finding ways to make myself more visible on the web. I’ve realized more lately that I really do have significant contributions to make to the sorts of discussions that are going on around the web, and part of that realization is the feeling of responsibility to do it in whatever measure I am able – without, of course, compromising my family, school, and ministry life.

I preached again at Patchwork this past Sunday, Gretchen’s and my last with them, and I’ll be posting the manuscript later, when the flash drive on which it is saved is immediately accessible. For now, I’m off to work a bit more on the new site and then call it a night.

Shalom!