Saturday, April 26, 2014

Remembering the just ways of Glen Stassen

Dr. Glen Stassen
Around Advent in 2012, I was working with the familiar refrains of John the Baptist, roaring on the banks of the River Jordan, preaching with fire and ire about repentance and our sore need for it.  As fellow lectionary preachers know, the readings during Advent are a hard-sell, as our congregants are often impatiently wondering, "So, when do we sing "Away in the Manger" and "Silent Night", preacher?"

As I wrote the sermon, I received a new book in the mail, and while playing hooky from sermon writing, I read a few pages.  Lo and behold, I discovered a delightful word about repentance that helped me shape a sermon about repentance that offered more grace than fire and brimstone.

My finished draft included the following thoughts:

By avoiding or denying our need to repent, we continue ways leading to sadness and despair, no matter how we might tell ourselves otherwise.  To repent is to turn things around, to let your life find balance, to welcome grace into your life.  You realize there is a wonderful fullness to life that is not like the illusions we chase after.  As the Baptist ethicist Glen Stassen recently observed, “The Christian life is continuously repenting, continuously learning” (A Thicker Jesus: Incarnational Discipleship in a Secular Age, W/JKP, 2012, p. 7).

Upon hearing Stassen's word, some congregants smiled.  One congregant could be seen writing the quote down hurriedly in her bulletin.  Such good words!  I had some great conversations afterwards about what Glen Stassen said in his new book, and I expressed my gratitude in an email later that week.

Over the weekend, word came of the death of Dr. Stassen, whose career in Baptist theological education and Christian ethics was exemplary.   In his later years, Stassen served as the Lewis B. Smedes Professor of Christian Ethics in Pasedena, CA.   In 2013, the Baptist World Alliance awarded Dr. Stassen with their Human Rights Award, recognizing his work as "the foremost proponent of the globally recognized 'just peacemaking' theory in matters of war and conflict and was hailed as 'arguably the leading Baptist peace theorist-activist of the twentieth century'."

Appropriately, the quote I discovered in what would be his final book summarized a profoundly Christian ethic that Dr. Stassen not only taught, he lived out.  An eager scholarly mind, a pastoral voice and a prophet when it came to calling us away from the "warring madness" (to quote Fosdick's hymn), Glen Stassen lived in the fullness of the gospel and challenged us through his writings and his ministry to be at the radical edges of the gospel.  It's a tall order to take leave of the "eye for an eye" type world we live in, but Dr. Stassen called us back again and again to the Sermon on the Mount and other New Testament core values of peace, love and justice.

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