Tag Archives: humour

A Sermon on Sunday – John 5:1-20

At our church we have been reflecting on the seven signs of Jesus in the gospel of John. We are now up to sign number three, the healing of the lame man at the pool of Bethesda in Jerusalem (see John 5:1-20). I was given the task of introducing the sign by teaching, providing some background, giving an overview or account of the main features of the passage, and so on. Subsequent messages will then reflect on the sign from different perspectives such as its meaning or use with respect to prayer, discipleship, relationships, or mission.

As I prepared for the message I was confronted by the fact that I did not really ‘get’ the passage; it seemed weird to me. Of course I have read it many times in the past, and even preached on it, I think. But coming to it now, I found it disruptive, unusual, challenging.

And so did many in the congregation. We had a brief Q&A session after the message, and the folk raised questions about my interpretation of the passage. One person found themselves fuming while I preached because it was evident I was wrong! It was a great time of discussion and continued reflection. I love it that the Scriptures can still speak to us freshly, and that we as the church can discuss and debate our understanding, and come to a deeper apprehension of what God is saying to us through his Word. I am reminded of a saying attributed to John Robinson, one of the Pilgrim pastors, to the effect that “God has still more light and truth to break forth for us from his Word.”

And something else happened while I was preaching this message: unexpected humour. I had not planned on some of the things I said; it just happened. And in the dynamic between preacher and congregation something awoke and we were carried along together.

There’s a fine line to be observed here. I think that if I’d tried to be amusing it would have fallen flat. That was not part of my intent. I don’t mind humour, and in fact, can often appreciate it. Nevertheless, the intent of the preacher should never be to draw attention to themselves but to proclaim Jesus Christ.

On the other hand I was glad that the message went the way it did. I think it helped make the story come alive, to embed it more deeply into memory, to highlight something about it unfamiliar to those who have heard it all before.

Preaching is hard work, a never-ending challenge, and my hope is always to communicate faithfully the message I hear in the passage I am studying. That people receive it as God’s Word is not something in any preacher’s power, but something for which we can only pray. But it is fun, it is rewarding, when we sense the Spirit speaking his Word again, here and now in our time and place.

If you are interested, you can listen to the message here.

No Solipsistic Waffle!

Solipsism CartoonThis semester I have trialed the use of reflection papers in two of my units – one of them an introductory unit, the other an advanced unit. In my instructions to students in the advanced cohort I wrote:

Students are to reflect critically on their own learning with respect to the assigned readings and intensive class experience. The reflection is to address one or two key aspects of learning, examining what new knowledge they have obtained (or new understanding of previous knowledge already held), and exploring how this newly acquired knowledge/understanding will shape their life in Christian community and Christian service. Students are to share key aspects of their reflection in an online forum discussion, giving and receiving feedback on the material learned.

Notes: this exercise is not an opportunity for solipsistic waffle. A critical reflection involves questioning and interrogation, and bringing the topic into critical and evaluative dialogue with other sources…

I did not remember writing it, so was a little surprised when students on the first day of class complained about the question. “What’s wrong with it?” I asked.

“We don’t know what you mean. I have never even heard of ‘solipsistic’…” I had forgotten I had written it, but decided not to back down. “Well, that’s what dictionaries are for: have you looked?” No surprises that a number had not yet gone to a dictionary. But then when pressed I admit having to search my own brain and “pull” for an explanation, not having a precise definition on the tip of my tongue.

I remember saying something like, “It means to be caught up with only your own thoughts,
going round and round as though there is nothing outside your own head worth talking about.”

I was rescued, however, by a conscientious student who took to dictionary.com and loudly proclaimed: “Solipsism: the theory that only the self exists, or can be proved to exist. Or, extreme preoccupation with and indulgence of one’s feelings, desires, etc.; egoistic self-absorption.”

“Yes,” I said, all knowledgeable, “That’s exactly what I meant.”

Having now marked the papers of the advanced class, I am very pleased to announce that there was no solipsistic waffle!

Back from a Break

Outofoffice_thinkstockI have had a few weeks of holiday, enjoying doing very little, except being at home, seeing friends, taking care of a few small maintenance items, doing a little – not much! – reading, and watching some of the Hopman Cup. But I am back at work now, and hopefully other regular routines (like blogging) will kick in as well. So I apologise to all those avid readers who wait breathlessly for each new post…

To start off, here are a few articles that may be of interest.
1. Mark Galli at Christianity Today has written a piece on the controversy that has erupted at Wheaton College over Professor Hawkins’ claim that Christians and Muslims worship the same God. Galli’s article is not about the issue per se, but how those in theological institutions deal with doctrinal and relational differences.

2. Over at Books and Culture Ron Sider argues once more that the pre-Constantinian church was pacifist in orientation, even if not every Christian practised this.

On the other hand, there is not a single extant Christian author before Constantine who says killing or joining the military by Christians is ever legitimate. Whenever our extant texts mention killing—whether in abortion, capital punishment, or war—they always say Christians must not do that…

That a growing number of Christians, especially in the late 3rd and early 4th centuries, acted contrary to that teaching is also clear. That in doing so they were following other Christian teachers and leaders who justified their conduct, we cannot deny with absolute certainty. But we have no evidence to support the suggestion that such teachers ever existed until the time of Constantine.

3. The Monthly included an article entitled “A Rich History of Failure: Australian History According to Undergraduates.” Comprised of excerpts from genuine undergraduate history essays across Australia, and compiled by Professor Neve R. Stenning-Stihl, it makes for fun reading. It includes such detail as:

British migrants who came to Australia from 1788 didn’t bring much cultural baggage because the boats were so small. On the convict ships, bibles were given to convicts and women. Women ripped out the pages for hair curls. This was to teach moral upright behaviour.

4. While on holidays I saw on Matt Malcolm’s blog that renowned British Evangelical i-howard-marshallscholar I. Howard Marshall had passed away. Although I am not a New Testament scholar I have greatly benefited from Marshall’s work in New Testament Theology, his little books on Biblical Inspiration and Beyond the Bible? Moving Beyond Scripture to Theology, and other occasional essays. If I was studying a passage in the New Testament and Marshall had a commentary on it, I would examine his work on the passage. As a British evangelical, Marshall did not seem as constrained or as conservative as some of his American counterparts, and his scholarship was always of the highest order. Stanley Porter has written A Brief Tribute.

Enthusiasm in Ministry

A Serious MinisterI have heard it claimed that somewhere there is a plaque celebrating a minister of a church who served for decades “without ever once showing any trace of enthusiasm in his ministry.”

I think I know this person – kidding! I found this humorous aside in Stephen Holmes’ article on the Trinity in Gundry & Sexton (eds), Two Views on the Doctrine of the Trinity (Counterpoints: Bible and Theology; Zondervan. Kindle Edition), 48; p. 28 in the print edition. Holmes is discussing the changing character of words. In the eighteenth century, when the plaque was supposedly written, enthusiast meant fanatic.


Child’s Play

Moral of the story: don’t leave cherished handwritten letters from legendary theologians lying around the house!

Some of the comments were funny:

How dare J.I. Packer write on your child’s sweet and considerate note to you.

This is how text criticism starts …

Wow, what a pity. An object lesson that even the best of us are mere men and God uses children to remind us of that truth.

Gunkel, Bultmann & Barth Walk into a Bar…

Gunkel as a young "dude"
Gunkel as a young “dude”

One of our students, Mark Beadle, posted this on the Vose Students’ Facebook page. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Gunkel, Bultmann and Barth walk into a bar.
Barth orders a club sandwich.
Gunkel says: “I can tell by the form of this narrative that this is a joke. By definition then nothing here is real.
Barth replies: “This club sandwich is the best I have eaten.”
Gunkel says: “Of course. It is an idealised club sandwich for the purpose of the joke. What would you expect?”
Bultmann adds: “Who would want it to be real? A joke doesn’t need to be real to convey humour. The point is that it is not intended to be real so why try to make it so? The fact is that in the normal course of events you wouldn’t see three famous theologians like us going into a bar together. The narrative is obviously the creation of an imaginative mind.”
Bultmann then orders a glass of wine.

BarthBultmannThe next night Gunkel, Bultmann and Barth walk into a bar.
Bultmann buys a bottle of wine and pours himself a glass.
Barth orders the chicken schnitzel and salad. He receives a large serve and when he has had enough he orders a doggy bag for the rest.
Barth says: “Is this real enough for you? This is now the second time we have been here.”
Gunkel replies: “It is only the second redaction of the same story. We can tell by the form of the narrative that this is the same joke retold.”
Barth responds: “But we have done totally different things this time.”
Gunkel answers: “Not totally different. The same elements are present, the same people eat, drink and abstain. It is the same story. I can tell it is a later redaction because everything is exaggerated.”
Bultmann chips in: “The trouble is, Barth, that as a neo-evangelical you expect to find reality everywhere. I, on the other hand, am happy to enjoy the savour of the wine without it being real.”

By the last day of the Berlin Theological Conference of 1929 Barth observed that he had put on a few pounds (that is not uncommon at this type of gathering), Bultmann had a hangover (but could not understand why) and Gunkel was looking poorly and thin.