Friday, January 13, 2012

Trouble Ahead

If you are preaching Sunday, disregard this post. It is devoted to bad ideas that won't offer you any help, and may actually do you some harm.

The lessons for 2 Epiphany B center on vocation and discipleship -- the call of Samuel, the call of Nathaniel, and Paul's encouragement of the Corinthians to refrain from sexual sin, on the grounds that their bodies are now also the Body of Christ. Good stuff.

Preachers in the United States may naturally be inclined to work Martin Luther King Jr. into this mix, and well they might. He is a great hero in one of the defining struggles of our nation's history. Because he was a clergyman, and because his civil rights mission sprang so evidently from his religious ministry -- and because he was killed for it, and is now safely deceased -- King is a ready example of vocation and discipleship. Were we stateside, he'd find a place in our sermon as well.

But we're not. Here in central Europe, the collective memory is different. There have been, and still are, people struggling for equality under the law; but for a foreigner to talk about them (or to them, or to the people with whom they are struggling) is tricky business. We could use King as a stalking horse, if we were determined, a way to introduce the idea safely. But it would involve filling in a lot of background, and take us away from the theme of discipleship as such.

Instead, we may talk about Michael Moller. He was a Lutheran pastor in East Germany, and was moved by conscience to help organize the resistance movement which eventually brought down the Berlin Wall. In the subsequent chaos, Moller -- still a very young man -- was drafted by the new government, and became (if memory serves) the last East German ambassador to the US. As unification approached, he had to choose between service to church and state, and he chose the church. In 1990, he was appointed to teach systematic theology at LTSP. In March 1997, while teaching in Thailand on sabbatical, he was killed in a car accident.

Other religious leaders were involved in the resistance movement, including some prominent Protestants here where we live. But it is easier to talk about Moller: he is foreign, meaning that he has no part in the painful local ethno-religious politics, and he is dead -- meaning that he never had to make the compromises that long-term political leaders do, and his memory is suitably unstained.

Speaking of stained memories, there is a way to work King into one's sermon which has some theological value, although it is a homiletical dead end of stupefying stature. One might draw together both the call of the prophet Samuel (who was more a prophet than King?) and Paul's warning against sexual misconduct (because, as his old friend Ralph Abernathy has testified sadly, King was a frequent adulterer). This is a way to make the important point that Christian heroes are not sinless plaster saints, but real people struggling daily with sin, death and hell -- simul iustus, as we say for short. But we can only imagine it would be received poorly in most assemblies, and uncharitably in the rest.


Alexandra Moller said...

Just to correct your facts- Michael Moller died in Thailand while teaching on sabbatical in March of 1997
- family of Michael Moller

Father Anonymous said...

Thanks -- duly corrected.