Friday, September 7, 2007

I have beautiful feet

"How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: 'How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!'" (Rom. 10:14-15; TNIV)

I'm not a big fan of feet. I suppose it has something to do with my background in ballet, a physically taxing artform that commonly results in calloused, bloodied, and blistered feet. I recall many evenings following grueling rehearsals, soaking my toes in salt water, wondering to myself if my feet would ever recover from the abuse my pointe shoes were causing. It seemed no matter how many times I taped my knuckles or how much lamb's wool I stuffed in the "box" of the shoe, my feet would emerge like a red-faced, battered boxer after ten rounds.

So, like I said, I'm not crazy about feet. I think they are generally ugly and sad indicators of the wear and tear of life--dry skin, cuts, moles, and even little hairs. Ew! And yet, the Apostle Paul affirms with confidence the "beauty" of the "feet" belonging to those "who bring good news." Why? How can feet possibly be beautiful?

In v. 13, Paul contends that “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” In the case of the Roman believers, he is concerned especially to establish that Jews and Gentiles have equal access to the Lord's salvation by employing the same means: calling upon the Lord. An expanded understanding of this truth is that no matter one’s religion, socio-economic background, gender, sexual preferences, or general sin history, all who cry out to Jesus in faith will be rescued: from the powers of evil, from the ways of this world, from themselves.

In v. 14 Paul makes it clear that he understands the proclamation of the good news to be essential to the salvation of people who call on the Lord. There is a clear progression in his mind: preaching leads to hearing, which leads to believing, which leads to calling, which leads to saving.

But, is this emphasis on preaching really necessary? This seems so “old fashioned.” Can a fifteen to forty-five minute monologue really make a difference in the world? Is preaching really that big of a deal?

In the tradition of Jesus of Nazareth, the Apostles, and all who followed after them, preaching is announcing the reality of the Kingdom of God, as a herald or witness. The emphasis is not on being a sophisticated orator, although such skills are to be valued if one has them. Essentially, preachers announce “good news”—previously unknown news of a cataclysmic change in reality—to people who have not yet received the word.

Like the announcement of a new president over the airwaves on election night, heralds of the good news announce the inauguration of Christ’s Rule to people who are ignorant. This announcement provides people with an opportunity to call upon the one who reigns as King, either swearing allegiance to him or denouncing his prerogatives over them.

Paul understands that even before preaching takes place, however, heralds must be “sent.” That is to say, the people of God must send emissaries in order to share the news of God’s Rule with those who know not of it.

He quotes a beautiful passage in Isaiah 52 as support for the need to “send” preachers. The verse comes from a joyful proclamation regarding the end of Israel’s exile in Babylon and their anticipated return to the holy land. Verses 7-10 are particularly moving:

How beautiful on the mountains
are the feet of those who bring good news,
who proclaim peace,
who bring good tidings,
who proclaim salvation,
who say to Zion,
“Your God reigns!”

Listen! Your watchmen lift up their voices;
together they shout for joy.
When the Lord returns to Zion,
they will see it with their own eyes.

Burst into songs of joy together,
you ruins of Jerusalem,
for the Lord has comforted his people,
he has redeemed Jerusalem.

The Lord will lay bare his holy arm
in the sight of all the nations,
and all the ends of the earth will see
the salvation of our God.

In this way, the preaching of the good news of the Kingdom of God is analogous to the announcement of the end of Israel's exile. The time of God's punishment is over. The people of God may dwell in their land in safety. In the time of Isaiah and the time of Paul, this "good news" contains peace, good tidings, and salvation.

Despite the postmodern tendency to discount preaching as "dated" and unnecessary, we must conclude that in the preaching event, in these seemingly simple snippets of human communication, God is at work. In the heralding of the Kingdom, God comforts his people, he redeems his people, he bares his holy arm in the sight of all nations, and allows the ends of the earth to see his salvation.

Now, we see why Paul believes that feet are beautiful. Preachers are “sent” as representatives of God’s Rule, engaging all earthly gifts and abilities through the grace of God so that all nations may hear and believe the truth.

Whatever our disagreements about whether or not women should be pastors, there is little doubt, I think, that all disciples of Jesus proclaim in one way or another. We announce the victory of God, the enthronement of Jesus, the arrival of a new era. We are preachers. We have beautiful feet.


traveller said...

Yes, preaching is important....the declaration of the good news of God's kingdom coming to earth.

I think you have made an important point at the end of your post. Is preaching (a pastor) a position of authority within an institution or is it a gift of the Spirit to those who follow Jesus? To me, the answer is clear: An institution that calls itself church may restrict who is a pastor (and who may "preach") within the institution but this may have nothing to do with what the Holy Spirit is doing in the lives of those who follow Jesus. Since I have the choice to either listen to humans in an institution or to the Holy Spirit I prefer listenting to the Holy Spirit much more.

Emily, may the Spirit continue to speak to, and through, you.

Anonymous said...

These words of yours are pure gold. I sense you might have been in a good mood when you wrote them! (All of us old arthritic fat guys know about achy footsies.)

I do pray that the move to Greater Cicny is going smoothly apace.

Steve A

Emily Hunter McGowin said...


Thank you for the encouragement.

Traveller, I just told a friend recently that the Holy Spirit always trumps tradition. Sometimes churches are led to do things against their traditions because the movement of the Spirit is so obvious they can do nothing else. I believe the pastor-teachers among us are here by the "gracing" of the Spirit, not because every business needs a CEO.

Steve, the move to Liberty Township is going well. Thanks for asking. Currently, we're house hunting--Ronnie in-town and me at a distance. I am grateful we're of the same mind about our choice of homes.

Grace and peace for today,