Tuesday, October 06, 2015

All Things Are Possible? -- Lectionary Reflection for Pentecost 20B

Mark 1:17-31 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

17 As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18 Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.’” 20 He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.” 21 Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money[a] to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” 22 When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions. 
23 Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” 24 And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how hard it is[b] to enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” 26 They were greatly astounded and said to one another,[c] “Then who can be saved?” 27 Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.” 
28 Peter began to say to him, “Look, we have left everything and followed you.” 29 Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news,[d] 30 who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. 31 But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.” 

            Jesus continually turns conventional wisdom on its head. We view the world through a lens of hierarchies. We affirm the trappings of power. We assume that wealth and privilege are marks of blessing. We look at a person of wealth or distinction and assume they must have done something right. At the same time, we often find ourselves looking at those on the bottom of the social hierarchy and assume that they have done something inappropriate. Why else would they be in that position. I confess that this is as true of me as it is of any other person. I don’t necessarily look at the rich with admiration for their virtue, but it is easy to look at the poor and marginalized and assume they have done something wrong. Perhaps they have, but is that the point? At least, when it comes to Jesus and his vision for society? Thus, Jesus turns things upside down, by placing first at the end of the line and those at the back get moved up to the front.

Monday, October 05, 2015

Gifts of the Dark Wood (Eric Elnes) -- A Review

GIFTS OF THE DARK WOOD: Seven Blessings for Soulful Skeptics (and other Wanderers). By Eric Elnes. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. Xiii + 183 pages.

In a world of uncertainty, surely religion can offer a word of certainty. We turn to sacred texts, religious leaders, and institutions for a word from God that will make sense of everything. When things seem to be spinning out of control, we want something permanent and unmovable to hang on to.  When it comes to things spiritual, many Christians are most comfortable when the preacher or other religious leader declares: “The Bible Says.” If the Bible says it then our questions are settled. That is, if you don’t ask too many questions or push too hard, you should be okay. Isn’t that the word that the Wizard of Oz wanted Dorothy and her companions to hear? Unfortunately for the Wizard, Toto figured out who was standing behind the curtain. What happens when we look behind the curtain of our own spiritual traditions? Many give it up as a farce and enter the world sans any spiritual vision. To those who have found themselves in such a position, Eric Elnes, a United Church of Christ pastor wishes to offer a word of wisdom.

Sunday, October 04, 2015

Welcome to the Global Table

Today is World Communion Sunday. Christians around the world are gathering at the Table of the Lord whether or not they do it with great frequency. It is understood to be a sign of our common faith. Of course the Table, while it could be a sign of unity, is often not. Too many fences have been erected over the years.  

I believe in an open Table, one where all are invited no matter their ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, educational level, economic situation, citizenship, or even religion. It's not that I don't take communion seriously. I take the Table very seriously. I believe that the Risen Christ is present at the Table through the work of the Holy Spirit. I believe that Jesus meets us there, no matter where we come from, no matter who we are. 

As we gather at the Table, recognizing that fences have often been erected to keep out the other, I share this word from Brazilian liturgical theologian Claudio Carvalhaes, who speaks of solidarity with the poor as an expression of the Table: 

 This feast of hospitality, justice and solidarity for the poor is constantly re-enacted around the Eucharist. There, always at a certain time and in a certain space, in a neighborhood somewhere in the world, we are connected to God, each other and the larger world by the mysterious presence of the Christ through the Holy Spirit. There, at the table/ altar, which always points us to elsewhere, under the powerful message of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we experience past, present, and future united in hopes for the fulfillment of history, announcing the new parousia of Christ in our midst, creating and realizing a new world order. At this table we say to each other and to the world: Lift up your hearts! Glory be to God! Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again. We sing Gloria, Alleluia, Christe Eleison, and we pray Come Holy Spirit, come! While we do it, our checking accounts, endowments, credit cards, and possessions will be challenged and we will have to be accountable to the concrete ways we relate to the singing, praying and remembering this mystery.  [Carvalhaes, Cláudio (2013-10-29). Eucharist and Globalization: Redrawing the Borders of Eucharistic Hospitality (p. 8). Pickwick Publications - An Imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers. Kindle Edition. ]
As we gather at the Table, with Jesus meeting us, we celebrate his presence by the Spirit. The question is -- how will we be challenged by that experience?   Where will our experience at the table take us?  At Central Woodward Christian Church this morning we are being challenged to consider our response to those who identify themselves as being LGBT by our preacher of the day, Dr. David Gushee, who has been speaking to us on a topic of utmost importance for the ministry of the congregation I serve.  Are we ready to take down fences so Jesus can work? 

Contagious Armadillos: Spreading Leprosy and Archaic Biblical Narratives - Sightings (Mark Lambert)

This summer I got into some poisonous plant life, the effects of which have been difficult to eradicate. I jokingly spoke of being struck with leprosy. But of course leprosy is not a laughing matter. If you know the biblical story to be a "leper," which likely wasn't Hansen's Disease (leprosy proper), but other forms of skin disease that led to people being segregated, then you know something about the issue. If you know the story of Father now Saint Damian and the lepers of Molokai, then again you know something of the social and physical dimensions of this disease. 

Because I'm not preaching this morning I'm sharing the Sightings essay of Mark Lambert, a PhD student at the University of Chicago, who writes of a recent outbreak of Hansen's Disease and the religious dimensions of that outbreak, as well as the broader conversation about disease and separation.  I invite you to consider his message in lieu of my sermon!

Contagious Armadillos: Spreading Leprosy and Archaic Biblical Narratives
            Credit: Tashatuvango / Shutterstock.com
The old adage that truth is stranger than fiction is abundantly apparent in recent headlines linking together the disparate words: leprosy, armadillo, and Florida. We can add “religion” to this uncanny trinity of terms.

A number of news outlets have recently reported on the surge in leprosy cases, or more properly, Hansen’s disease, in Florida. Whereas the state typically sees between two and twelve cases per year, nine have already been reported in 2015. The common denominator between these cases appears to be the innocuous armadillo.

Saturday, October 03, 2015

Moms and Gay Children - A Call to Ministry

This weekend David Gushee is speaking at Central Woodward Christian Church. David is an evangelical ethicist and LGBT ally. His book Changing Our Mind  is his effort to speak to this issue. We as a congregation haven't finished our journey with this, but I think we've reached a tipping point. As I have shared numerous times, I am an ally. My brother is gay. My cousin is gay. Cheryl's cousin is gay. It's a family issue.

But, until this week I really hadn't realized how crucial it is for the church to minister to families of LGBT children. It wasn't until I had a mother call to see if she could come, and bring some other mothers, who want to know how to bring the church along -- for the sake of their children. They need to know where can they go when the faith they've held sacred comes into conflict with the realities of their children whom they love. When my brother came out, my mom embraced him. My brother, however, let my mother tell me, as he wasn't sure how I would respond. Well, I must confess that I was problem conflicted at the time. I stood against discrimination, but I wasn't ready to affirm. But through study, praying, and meeting more and more gay folks, I chose to be an ally. It may have cost me one pastorate, but it gave me a new calling.

So here we are, more than a dozen years later, and I'm sensing a new calling and a new opportunity for ministry. One of the things I know to be true and David's book confirms is that there are a lot of people who are evangelical in orientation but who find themselves in a new place. They need to hear that their faith needn't conflict with their realities. They don't need to hear that Paul is wrong. They need to hear that Jesus loves their children. They need to hear a word of compassion and support, one that is rooted in the biblical story.

Of course we'll need help in figuring all of this out. David's book is an excellent primer.  I would like to add into the conversation another book written by a friend. Steve Kindle has written a little book titled If Your Child Is Gay: What every parent of a gay child needs to know to insure a positive outcome in an often negative world, (CreateSpace, 2013). There are other resources out there as well.

When the Spirit moves, we must respond. I'm hearing the Spirit speak. The wind is blowing. I'm ready to set sail!