Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Jesus: Agent Provocateur -- A Lectionary Reflection for Lent 3B

13 The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. 15 Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16 He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” 17 His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” 18 The Jews then said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?” 19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 20 The Jews then said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?” 21 But he was speaking of the temple of his body. 22 After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.

                Jesus is a confounding person. We have tried desperately to domesticate him, and with him, we seek to domesticate God.  We want to claim God for our own causes, dividing up along lines of blue and red states.  We have the Christian Right and the Christian Left, both claiming to represent Jesus’ cause.  As Abraham Lincoln profoundly noted in his Second Inaugural Address, both sides in the Civil War that intractably engaged the nation for four years prayed to the same God, pleading with that God to bless their efforts, for both believed that their cause was just. 
Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. 
Yes, the “Almighty has His own purposes.” While religion is often the tool of oppression, or at least a co-conspirator, Jesus offers us a different vision, one that challenges our attempts to manipulate the faith for partisan purposes.  That’s not to say that there is no place for activism on the part of the church or of Christians, or that we need to abandon participation in the body politic, but it is a warning to be conscious of where one stands in relation to God and the powers that be.

                So, what should we make of the Jesus who appears at the Temple here in the Gospel of John? Is he an agent provocateur?

Monday, March 02, 2015

Gender and Pentecostal Revivalism (Leah Payne) -- A Review

                Carved into the mantle of the sitting room at the Disciples Divinity House at the University of Chicago are words of expectation that God would send “manly men” to the divinity house to prepare for ministry. The person who made that request was Edward Scribner Ames, one of the leading Modernist religious scholars of the day.  That was a hope and expectation shared by the majority of church leaders in the period running from around 1890 into the 1920s. This was an age of change, and there was a growing concern that men were not being attracted to ministry because the work of ministry – pastoral care and home visitation – seemed too feminine. To make church acceptable to men and ministry to men as well, there was the need to stress the masculinity of the profession.  One of the best known evangelists of the day, Billy Sunday, who was a former baseball player, made great use of his “manliness” in his preaching.  As a result, even though the Victorian Age, with its picture of women as being dainty and in need of care, the age of the corset, was passing, women did not find many avenues into ministry, even among the most liberal bastions of Protestantism. 

                Among those who found a way to swim against the tide were Marie Woodworth-Etter, a founder of the Assemblies of God, and Aimee Semple McPherson, founder of the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel.  Both women were evangelists of note in their day. Both women had to find a way to utilize their gender in a way that allowed them to take a place in this male dominated world of ministry and evangelism.

Sunday, March 01, 2015

Decision Time -- Sermon for Lent 2B

Mark 8:31-38

We’ve all faced the prospect of making life-altering decisions.  Where do I go to school?  What kind of job should I pursue?  Whom should I marry?  Should I get married? What about children?   Oh, and will I be a follower of Jesus?     

We started our Lenten journey last Sunday with Mark’s brief introduction to the beginnings of Jesus’s ministry. We watched as Jesus was ordained at his baptism, received his orientation in the wilderness, and then returned to Galilee to start preaching the good news of God’s kingdom.  That story has moved along quite a bit in our reading today from the Gospel of Mark. Jesus has had some success as a preacher and as a healer. He’s gathered a group of disciples, healed the sick and the injured, fed the multitudes, and he has caught the attention of the people.  If Twitter existed back then, news of his exploits would be trending.  

When we catch up with Jesus in Mark 8, he is explaining to his disciples what was about to happen with his ministry.  This conversation takes place not long after Jesus had received an update from the disciples about what people were saying about him. As part of that earlier conversation, Peter boldly declared that Jesus was the Messiah.  It would seem that Peter had been paying attention, and he believed he was on the winning team. But now, Peter’s hopes and dreams are shattered because Jesus starts talking about suffering and death. That’s not what he had signed up for, or so he thought.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Dominion Belongs to the Lord -- Reflection on Psalm 22:23-28

Saturday, February 28, 2015 Psalm 22:23-28 

You who fear the LORD, praise him! All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him; stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel! For he did not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted; he did not hide his face from me, but heard when I cried to him. From you comes my praise in the great congregation; my vows I will pay before those who fear him. The poor shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek him shall praise the LORD. May your hearts live forever! All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD; and all the families of the nations shall worship before him. For dominion belongs to the LORD, and he rules over the nations.


Psalm 22 begins with words that Jesus cried out from the cross: "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me." These words reveal not only physical suffering, which most assuredly Jesus experienced, but also the emotional and spiritual suffering that emerged from his sense of abandonment by God. If we read this Psalm from a Trinitarian perspective, then surely the God whom Jesus cried out to must have experienced a sense of separation as well. Here in this moment a family bond is broken, even if not eternally. 

Friday, February 27, 2015

Live Long and Prosper -- Leonard Nimoy (d. 2-27-15)

I didn't encounter Star Trek until it had finished its original run in the 1960s. I was around, but I expect we didn't get the channel.  But in the years since my first encounter,  I have probably watched every episode of every series, and every movie, multiple times.   Few fictional characters have made as much an impression on me or just about anyone else as Mr. Spock.  His Vulcan salute, his eybrow movements, and his embrace of logic, have all caught our attention.  While he at first sought to distance himself from the character, ultimately he embraced one of the great characters of TV and film.  I for one am deeply appreciative of that decision.

As many may have heard by now, Leonard Nimoy, known best to us as Mr. Spock, passed away today at the age of 83.  He will be missed, but to quote Mr. Spock, he will "live long and prosper" in our thoughts and memories. He will continue to remind us of the value of science and learning and reason, even if we need the balance of Dr. McCoy.  Together those two characters offered a sort of yin/yang expression of humanity.  McCoy was a man of science, but he was also a man of deep emotion.  The two were always in debate, much to the amusement of Captain Kirk.  

Yes, we must stop to mourn one who has accompanied us through life.  May his family and his friends find peace.  May we continue to engage him in our lives as well.