Doing Theology Emphatically

given on Sunday, July 24, 2011:  the second of three sermons on theology

            Do, does, did:  three verbs when used alone simply indicate action, but when they are put together with an additional verb, these three verbs become emphatic auxiliary verbs.  The use of auxiliary verbs more clearly defines the action, and the emphatic form punctuates that action in a very definitive manner.

Consider the scripture we just read but look at all the do, does, did forms of the verbs:

What I don’t understand about myself is that I decide one way, but then I act another, doing things I absolutely despise. So if I can’t be trusted to figure out what is best for myself and then do it, it becomes obvious that God’s command is necessary.

17-20But I need something more! For if I know the law but still can’t keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! I realize that I don’t have what it takes. I can will it, but I can’t do it. I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time.

21-23It happens so regularly that it’s predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. I truly delight in God’s commands, but it’s pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge.

24I’ve tried everything and nothing helps. I’m at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn’t that the real question?

 

If I counted correctly, there are 13 of which four are ‘don’t’ and one is ‘doing.’  The repetition of that emphatic, action verb stood out in bright orange for me.  I could not get away from the use of that word in this scripture especially in view of the topic “doing theology.”

But then, a problem developed:  the scripture, when isolated, could be used to talk about doing theology but in context it does not work.  In fact, it is almost the opposite of what I am hoping to cover today.  Last week we went over what theology is and how Carl Holloway divides it into three types of theology:  having, doing, and living theology.

Having theology is being able to state what you believe.  If someone asks if you have a theology, we can simply fall back on the creeds and affirmations used in our worship to provide an answer.  Having theology is your foundation, but doing theology is another level or phase.  Doing theology is taking what you believe and putting it into action.

Holloway defines this form of theology in these words:

. . . (doing theology) implies certain well-defined theological practices that have been shaped in a variety of contexts, including churches, schools, homes and various public institutions.  (p.11)

Doing theology is emphatic.  We must take what we believe and do it.  I am doing theology as I try to resolve my conflict between Holloway’s definition and the study notes for today’s scripture from Romans 7 that are almost in direct conflict.

In this scripture, Paul is using the emphatic word “do” repeatedly.  At first I thought each line sounded like he is encouraging the Roman Christians to do, to act as Christians, but re-reading the scripture my understanding changed.            I began reading the various study notes and groaned as I realized my flaw in understanding.  Certainly Paul is using the emphatic verb, but he is also showing his own human limitations.  Instead of taking his faith and putting it into action, as I anticipated, he is talking about how when he does do something, he struggles with following the Old Jewish Law and the new covenant—to love one another.  He struggles with his self-directed efforts versus letting God direct the work.

What I did discover is that I was doing theology while reading and working with the scripture.  Doing theology means working to understand your faith—intentional faith development.  Doing theology means the scripture delivers the guidelines for our lives.  We are to emphatically do whatever we can to learn about our faith.  We are to emphatically take the words and move them into action.  We are to serve.

For five years we have followed the Bishop’s guidance in developing the five practices for a fruitful life as United Methodists.  These five practices may be committed to memory, but are they put into action?  Doing theology is actually following those practices:  radical hospitality, passionate worship, intentional faith development, risk-taking mission and service, and extravagant generosity.

We have covered these five practices and this year we are asked to be emphatic about extravagant generosity and what a way to kick-off the year than to have a spring, and now summer, that weather has forced many to face rebuilding their own lives.  The opportunities for extravagant generosity are infinite.  Joplin’s tornado hit the week before Annual Conference.  “Having theology” transformed into “doing theology” in the wake of a tornado.

Are we able to say emphatically that we are doing theology?  I, all too often, feel like I am failing to demonstrate my theology in an active form.  Oh I know, I have long believed that working in alternative education is putting my faith into action, but is it enough?  Having theology is not a problem, the problem is whether we can demonstrate that our theology is really at a doing level.

As we review what is going on in Joplin, we need to take an honest assessment of our own theology—individually and as a church family.  The conflict that Paul shares in Romans 7 is a conflict of “that is how we have always done it” and “what do we need to do now.”  The faith we find joy in is a faith we want others to experience.  If our world is different than Paul’s world, then maybe our doing theology needs work.

Doing theology is emphatically practicing what we believe.  Doing theology is demonstrating what our beliefs really are.  And the more we practice our theology, the closer to living theology we get.

Dear Wise Father,

We read Paul’s words and try to understand.

We re-read the words and struggle.

Today we ask that our understanding

Of having theology

Transform into doing theology.

We practice doing to strengthen our faith.

We work together, pray together,

And serve together as we emphatically practice

Loving one another.  –Amen.

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