Unless you are preaching don’t read this book for Lent

Ash Wednesday Year A

crossJust around the corner from Ash Wednesday, two suggestions for reading… a blog post and a book you should NOT read for Lent, unless you are preaching.

The blog post is written by The Rev. Michael Sniffen: “Ashes to Go or not… that seems to be the question” and can be found here —–> https://www.episcopalchurch.org/library/article/ashes-go-or-not-go-seems-be-question%E2%80%A6. He votes against “Ashes to Go” and I agree with him.

He is not against “taking the church to the streets.” On the contrary, he writes:

Let’s do it! Our common life as Episcopalians is grounded in the Eucharist and rooted in resurrection. Why don’t we begin by offering the body and blood of Christ outside the sanctuary? How about washing and massaging the feet of weary commuters waiting for the bus? Let’s offer anointing with holy oil for healing on the sidewalks. Why don’t we venerate the feet of the homeless and outcast on Good Friday at a local shelter? How many baptisms have we conducted in a public park lately? Why don’t we set up hours to hear confessions in local bars and offer God’s forgiveness?

There are so MANY ways we might “take the church to the streets.” Starting with ashes is (a) an odd place to start, and (b) probably meets more of the church’s and maybe the clergy’s needs than it does the world’s.

The book is Bp Jack Spong’s  The Fourth Gospel: Tales of a Jewish Mystic.  If you are preaching this Lent, GET IT AND READ IT!  If you are not preaching this Lent – if you plan to be listening to someone else preach – don’t torment yourself by reading this now. Save it as an Easter treat.  If you read it now and you have to listen to someone else preaching the traditional understanding of John’s Gospel, it will make you nuts.

I loved this book. Spong says it was the fruit of three years of intensive study, and when I finished reading the book all I could think was “thank you for those three years of study!” The book will change the way you think about John’s gospel for ever, in a good way.

Two suggestions…

First, ignore the subtitle (“Tales of a Jewish Mystic.”) It is misleading.  The Fourth Gospel is not about ancient Jewish Mysticism. It is about how we as Christians should/can understand the Gospel of John today.  Second, feel free to skip the Preface. If you read the Preface and feel a little put off by the tone, remember, I warned you. The book is SO MUCH BETTER than the Preface.