Just like with Paul, at the Academy of Preachers, my “us” grew

How was the Academy of Preachers National Convention 2017?

I now have Facebook.

For ten years, I have held out. I have given many legitimate reasons for not being on Facebook.

And, after the Academy of Preachers, I signed up.

Why, you may ask, would an internet recluse suddenly accept the barrage of so-called “friend” requests? (That’s as far as I’ve gotten on Facebook, by the way).

Ephesians 1 – but that is a longer story.

The Academy of Preachers

As I mentioned in my previous blog, I went in ready to make a point about preachers – that we shouldn’t be preachers. I had my passage lined up (Matthew 23, by the way), my logical progression developed, my illustrations refined – I was ready to dangle my audience from a spider web over a vast inferno, calling them to repentance before it was too late and they became pastors instead of just young pastors.

Then, I walked into a bar (literally, this isn’t a joke). I sat down at a table with some Anglicans from Washington D.C. We were joined by future Catholic priests and a female process theologian from the Methodist church. As I listened to their stories of life and ministry, I realized something – these people should be pastors!

I went to bed that night full of doubt. When I woke up, my Nigerian roommate forced me to pray with him (yeah, I know, not very pastoral). During the day, I heard profound sermon after profound sermon. With each sermon I heard, my sermon became less clear.

Finally, I asked one of my new friends how much of my story I should tell. His response? Don’t make yourself the hero.

The walls came crashing down, just like they did in the story of my heroic namesake. Except this time, Joshua was in Jericho.

I was trying to make myself the hero of the story. I wanted people to tell me how cool my vision for a farm based ministry was. I wanted people to be like me. In the process, I replaced myself with God and became the very Pharisees and Sadducees I was about to decry.

Luckily, there was time for repentance (including an apology to Dwight Moody, founder of the Academy of Preachers, for being a bit arrogant).

Luckily, there was also time for relationships. Later that night, my new friends and I gathered around in hotel lobby chairs and engaged in a new form of corporate lectio divina (a group prayerful reading of scripture) to help me write a sermon.

For two hours, black and white, American and foreign, men and women of completely different communions respectfully shared differing opinions on a vexing Biblical passage – Ephesians 1 – complete with nearly every point of contention which hasn’t been solved in over 2000 years of theological conversations (although, I hear some have claimed to have figured them out – maybe I would as well if I had Facebook).

As we finished, my new Roman Catholic friend approached me with these words: “I’ve enjoyed the speakers, the groups, and the sermons, but these last two hours were the highlight of my conference – I have never experienced anything like this. This was a sacrament (little s) of Ephesians 1”.

Here I was, amongst the very people I was most disgusted with, a group of preachers, and I experienced a physical, tangible reality which made present the reality of Ephesians 1.

In Ephesians 1, something almost unthinkable in our polarized society happens – when Paul contemplates Jesus, his “us” expands. No longer is the in group simply Jews. No longer are the Gentiles a “you”.

Just like with Paul, at the Academy of Preachers, my “us” grew.

The Tie Back to Facebook

So, I did what every non-Facebook using millennial does when they want to keep in contact – I asked for phone numbers, at which I was mocked. Supposedly, some people hardly even send text messages, and it would be much easier to keep in contact if I had Facebook.

Granted I had heard this argument before, but this time was different – I guess my “us” can even expand into Facebook.