Potato Salad and the Church

From Pastor Todd’s Weekly Email – Last Week

Rowena Strickland taught Bible at Oklahoma Baptist University back in “my day.” She would not have made it in some circles today because as a woman she was teaching young “preacher boys.” Godly. Humble. Solid. Once the environment changed in Baptist life, she “retired” from OBU and went to teach in Florida and did so for some time until her death. Today, Alan Bandy holds the Rowena R. Strickland Chair of Bible as associate professor. I am glad for her legacy.

I took “Prison Epistles” with Dr. Strickland. Philippians is one of the books we studied. We reached Philippians 4 – our Epistle text for Sunday. Animating the story she remarked what scholars widely agree that Euodia and Syntyche were experiencing conflict. We laughed when Dr. Strickland suggested they may have been arguing over who made the best potato salad for fellowship meals.¬†

Reflecting on her statement I wonder was she downplaying the fact that most today think they were in leadership – “these women who have labored side by side with me.” Was it that in her day it was not widely accepted to think women held such a place in church life? Surely you see how even this discussion provides a grounds for conflict. Maybe Dr. Strickland wondered if the conflict were silly. You know, something like our much referenced battles over the “color of carpet.” Thankfully we have not had that battle! It could be we young Christian students needed to learn conflict is inevitable even in the church and what we would need is to learn patience with each other.

My friend Danny pitched for Oklahoma City University and ¬†spent one summer with the Toronto Blue Jays farm team in Bradenton, Florida. He once shared his testimony and used the fruit of the Spirit from Galatians 5. As Danny talked about his growing in grace he described the fruit of the Spirit – nine of them – in the framework of a baseball line-up. The one fruit which seemed always elusive was the fourth – the clean-up position. Patience. If we learned patience that flows out of love for one another we might find any number of life’s conflicts “cleaned-up” both in and outside the church.

Combine the Philippian passage with the parable in Matthew 22 and we may press the point further. An invitation to the Wedding Feast implied that the guests would enjoy the experience provided by the King in the “Way” of the King. We read with interest of the person who came but did not have the right clothes on. It seems both petty and consistent. After all, he was once not an invited guest who is now an invited guest. The parable does say they invited both “good and bad.”

We read about clothes in the Scriptures as a euphemism or analogy. In Zechariah, one of the visions we read there references the need for a change of clothes. The Apostle Paul writes on a number of occasions of the need to be “clothed with Jesus.” It really was not so much about wearing a suit or a tux, but that the invitation to the Feast implied enjoying the Feast and its accompanying consequences in the manner consistent with the King’s invitation. In other words, accepting the invitation is to also accept the expectations of enjoying the fellowship at the feast as intended. You could call this an accountability that comes with the receipt of the invitation.

Today we work very hard not to make participation in the life with God a matter of works. But our eagerness to avoid “works” leaves us accountable to nothing. Take for instance the Old Testament passage. The people were impatient, there it is again. Moses had been on the mountain longer than they both expected or wanted. The people wanted to live into an impulse to worship something. Rather than accept the invitation into life with God and its accompanying faithfulness, the people crafted an idol. They created of God a manageable image – one they could control. God cannot be confined to an image of gold or an image in our minds.

Rather than “wait upon the Lord,” the people moved on without the Lord. In their impatience they acted in defiance of the very invitation God gave them to life with him – whether in the dessert or in the land of promise. Moses returned to the people livid at their lack of faithfulness. They were not being the people of God despite their invitation. Seems like the parable Jesus told.

Once again, patience flowing out of our love for God and others would have preserved the kind of unity the Apostle Paul noted important for the people of God living in a fractured world. There is a unity that results in both a witness to God’s goodness and an illustration of life with God.

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Jesus invites people into his life and his way. He takes what is and points to the new way of the Kingdom of God.  Come see what this journey is all about!

One way to think about the mission of Jesus - He calls into question the way things are and points to the way things may be in the Kingdom of God. 

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