Monday, October 20, 2014

God Is Not Afraid of New Things

Like m any I've been watching with great interest reports on the recently concluded Roman Catholic Synod on the Family. Pope Francis has been at the very minimum calling for a change of tone in the church, along with moving the focus away from a narrow spectrum of issues to a a broader, more open agenda.  This turn has not been welcomed by all. Indeed, a vocal group of "traditionalists" has been resisting this change with all their might, which goes to show you that the Papacy might be a monarchy, but it's not an absolute one.  

While earlier messages from the Pope have focused on economic justice, provoking much angst on the part of politically conservative Catholics -- especially those working for Fox or in Congress.  This time it has been issues of the family, and whether the church should be more welcoming to those who are divorced, who live together before marriage, and of course LGBT folks.  The initial reports were very promising.  The report from preliminary report from the Synod showed real movement toward openness and acceptance. This raised much hue and cry from conservatives.  In the end those paragraphs of openness were toned down.  But even in this form they couldn't get the required 2/3rds vote to move forward.  The paragraphs had a majority of supporters, just not enough.  What is interesting is that normally such paragraphs would be stricken from the final document published by the church.  The Pope, however, wanting the church to be more open, requested that they be included for discussion by the faithful.  

The Pope is steering an interesting course. The Roman Catholic Church will not see overnight change, but there does seem to be a new spirit. And as is seen with the demotion of one of the leading traditionalists -- Raymond Burke -- the Pope will use whatever power at his disposal to sideline his critics.  Monarchs can do that!!

What I find fascinating here is the message Pope Francis delivered to worship yesterday morning in a Mass that concluded the Synod:  "God is not afraid of new things."  That is an important word from the midst of a church that has seen itself as the protector of tradition.  May we who stem from the Reformation, with its message of "semper reformanda" (always reforming) hear that message in our own contexts.  What is the new thing that God is wanting to do in our midst?  

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Arguing With God - A Sermon for Pentecost 19A

Exodus 33:12-23

Is it okay to argue with God?  Moses thought so.  So did Abraham. You might say that to argue with God is to intercede with God. And it seems as if God invites us to bring our concerns into God’s presence.

As we bring our journey through Exodus to a close, the people are about to leave Sinai. They can see the light at the end of the tunnel.  There’s only one problem, God isn’t sure whether to continue on with them.  God has had enough dealing with this “stiff-necked people,” and while God hasn’t unleashed his wrath on them, he’s not sure how long this can continue.  Apparently, that Golden Calf affair was the last straw.

If God isn’t sure whether it’s a good idea to continue on, Moses won’t hear of it.  To Moses, there’s no point going on to the Promised Land without God.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

The River of Life (Lee Harmon) -- A Review

THE RIVER OF LIFE: Where Liberal and Conservative Christianity Meet Gonzalez, FL:  Energion Publications, 2014.  84 pages.

                What is a liberal Christian (I realize that there are those who think that these terms are mutually exclusive)?  Can a liberal Christian meet up with a conservative one and have a truly constructive conversation?  Lee Harmon, a writer/blogger, sets out to present his vision of liberal Christianity in order to prepare for that conversation. He does so by addressing the chief dividing issues by seeking to interpret them in light of the biblical story. 

                 In The River of Life Harmon offers us the defining marks of what he believes a liberal/agnostic Christian faith looks like.  He offers a vision of what it means to be a follower of Jesus, even if he finds it necessary to be agnostic as to the nature of the God whom Jesus seeks to represent.  In other words, he’s not too sure about the God we find described in the biblical story, even if the one representing God seems to be a good guide to life.

Friday, October 17, 2014

The Giants Win the Pennant! The Giants Win the Pennant! The Giants Win the Pennant!!

After last night's dramatic ending to a hard fought National League Championship Series -- the Giants won 4 games to one, but every game went down to the wire -- I decided I had to shift from religion and politics to my other passion -- the San Francisco Giants.  Yes, in memorable fashion - -like the 1951 Giants with Bobby Thomson's Shot Heard Around the World, an unexpected home run sent the Giants on to the World Series!

The Giants aren't a poor team, but they can't compete with the Dodgers and Yankees for the biggest names.  They have their stars, but during this post season it was the unsung heroes that stood out.  Think about Matt Duffy bunting or Yusmeiro Petit pitching six innings of relief in what became essentially a second game against the Nationals, and then coming back on Wednesday evening and shutting the door on the Cardinals when it looked as if things would get out of hand.  The Giants capitalized on mistakes by their opponents rather that (at least until last night) depending on the long ball. But even there it wasn't the expected bangers who stood out.  It wasn't Posey, Sandoval, or Pence who hit the big home runs.  It was little Joe Panik, a rusty Michael Morse, and a converted first-baseman/pinch hitter playing in left field who did the damage.  

Baseball may not be the "National Pastime" as it once was, but this series against the Cardinals demonstrates the beauty of baseball.  It offered a picture of passion and determination, skill and desire. Unexpected players can rise to the occasion, like Joe Panik for the Giants or fellow rookie Kelton Wong of the Cardinals. 

Now it's on to Kansas City where we will take on an equally unlikely opponent -- the other league's Wild Card, who are playing in their first World Series in twenty-nine years.  I feel their pain and desire.  After all, it was twenty-seven years between the 1962 World Series, when the Giants lost a heart-breaker to the Yankees (I was four and do not remember the game), and the 1989 series against the A's, a series marked by a major earthquake.  I got to go to the make up game.  And it wasn't until four years ago -- 2010 -- that I got to see the team I've supported all my life win the Championship.  Now, were' back for a third championship in five years.  

Go Giants!!

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Feasting on the Word: Advent Companion -- Book Note

FEASTING ON THE WORD ADVENT COMPANION: A Thematic Resource for Preaching and Worship.  Edited by David L. Bartlett, Barbara Brown Taylor, and Kimberly Bracken Long. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2014. x + 195 Pages.

As I write this the worship team from my congregation and I have been working on plans for Advent. Advent is, as any pastor or music minister knows, is a difficult season to plan for. There is this heavy cloud of the commercialized Christmas vision hanging over it. The texts and hymns for the season tend to be dark, while the people want to sing Joy to the World and Jingle Bells.  Advent is supposed to be a season of contemplation, reflection, even penitence. Since it is a new season for many Protestants we're not really sure what to do with it.  For lectionary preachers, and I count myself among them, there comes a point when you feel like you need to turn to something else for inspiration.  You are ready to try something new.

Many preachers, especially lectionary preachers already know about the Feasting on the Word series of commentaries, edited by David Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, a series that is now complete. Westminster John Knox has begun to build upon that foundation with a second series focusing on the Gospels, appropriately named Feasting on the Gospels (edited by Cynthia Jarvis and E. Elizabeth Johnson).   Building further on that series, Kimberly Bracken Long, Associate Professor of Worship at Colombia Theological Seminary edits the Feasting on the Word Worship Companion, several volumes of which are now in press.