Sunday, July 23, 2017

The Groaning of Creation - A Sermon for Pentecost 7A

Romans 8:12-25

There are seven parables in Matthew 13. I preached on the parable of the sower last Sunday, and next Sunday Naomi will have five other parables to choose from. That leaves the parable of the Weeds, which is this week’s reading from the Gospel of Matthew. Even though I’m focusing most of my preaching this Pentecost season on the Gospel of Matthew, this morning we’re taking a short break and attending to a word from the book of Romans.

In Romans 8, Paul speaks of two kinds of obligation. According to Paul we owe a debt either to the flesh or to the Spirit. We call the first obligation selfishness, and it leads to death and destruction. The other possible debt or obligation leads to freedom from fear and abundant life. If we embrace the Spirit, we will be adopted as children of God. If we’re children of God, then we are joint heirs with Christ of all the promises of God. That means that we can, with Jesus, address God as “Abba, Father.” 

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Dangers of Teaching Theology at Christian Colleges

I didn't know how to title this posting, so hopefully no one is expecting something about being attacked with a knife or something. I was once a theology professor at a Christian College, and am no longer a Theology professor!  It was twenty years ago this summer that I was asked to resign from my position as Associate Professor of Theology at Manhattan Christian College (Kansas). The reason for my resignation is that some in the college's constituency thought I was teaching liberal theology and so they demanded that I be fired. The ax fell shortly after I signed the contract for the year. I can say this, the college honored that contract, paying me not to teach for a year. I didn't want to resign at the time, because I enjoyed teaching and had good relationships with most faculty and a goodly number of students, and even though I was on the left end of the school theologically, I didn't think I was that far afield. But, alas, the die was cast, and my journey took me from academia to the church. The reason why I'm writing this reflection isn't because I want to come back to haunt my former employer. What transpired then, transpired. So, my reason for writing this "anniversary post" (I do find it difficult to imagine that it's been 20 years since my inglorious departure) will become clear momentarily.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Ayn Rand Mugged -- Sightings (Martin Marty)

Ayn Rand was the apostle of the philosophy of selfishness. By all means, do everything you can to put yourself first. It's a philosophy that has been having a lot of traction lately, in business circles and in political circles. It's linked to a hard-line liberterianism, that both Ron Paul and Rand Paul espouse (among others). While she continues to have many devotees, as Martin Marty notes, some of them have been falling from favor, their selfish behavior getting them in trouble. The question is, can one embrace her philosophy and a Christian one? While Marty doesn't mention the current President, one of the articles he points us to does, suggesting that this is the underlying philosophy of the administration, which again raises questions about how one squares Christian faith with a Randian world view? It makes no sense to me, but I guess some can keep the two together. In any case, take a read, and offer your thoughts.

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Ayn Rand Mugged
By MARTIN E. MARTY   July 17, 2017
Photo Credit: StefanoRR/Wikimedia Commons
Ayn Rand, in the years of her prime, told Playboy her overarching philosophy was that “man exists for his own sake, that the pursuit of his own happiness is his highest moral purpose, that he must not sacrifice himself to others, nor sacrifice others to himself.” A recent chronicler, Mark David Henderson, said that “[s]he wanted to be known as the greatest enemy to religion that ever lived. She put together this philosophy that is all throughout her writing—from Atlas Shrugged written in 1957, which is still the bestselling novel of all time.” Henderson summarized Rand’s creed, which she professed and expounded in her novels and endless short writings, talks, and interviews: “She believed that the individual is the highest possible occupation of any one person. She believed that one should always occupy their minds, will, and emotions with the highest possible occupation and she believed that would be the self.”

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Sacred Places, Divine Callings - Lectionary Reflection for Pentecost 7A (Genesis 28)

Genesis 28:10-19 Common English Bible (CEB)

10 Jacob left Beer-sheba and set out for Haran. 11 He reached a certain place and spent the night there. When the sun had set, he took one of the stones at that place and put it near his head. Then he lay down there. 12 He dreamed and saw a raised staircase, its foundation on earth and its top touching the sky, and God’s messengers were ascending and descending on it. 13 Suddenly the Lord was standing on it and saying, “I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. 14 Your descendants will become like the dust of the earth; you will spread out to the west, east, north, and south. Every family of earth will be blessed because of you and your descendants. 15 I am with you now, I will protect you everywhere you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done everything that I have promised you.” 
16 When Jacob woke from his sleep, he thought to himself, The Lord is definitely in this place, but I didn’t know it. 17 He was terrified and thought, This sacred place is awesome. It’s none other than God’s house and the entrance to heaven. 18 After Jacob got up early in the morning, he took the stone that he had put near his head, set it up as a sacred pillar, and poured oil on the top of it. 19 He named that sacred place Bethel, though Luz was the city’s original name.
                I have been tasked with writing a lengthy (10,000 words) chapter for a book focusing on the cultural history of religion in the 18th century. It’s due the first of September, and I have only begun my research and writing. That chapter came to mind, as I read this story from Genesis 28. In this passage, we discover that Jacob has a dream in which he hears God reinforce the covenant made first with his grandparents, of which he is now the third-generation carrier. God has promised to bless Abraham and his descendants (Genesis 12). Now, God reaffirms that promise, telling Jacob that this land upon which he is lying, is given to him and his descendants. While his descendants will span out in all directions, they will always have this land as their inheritance, even as they serve as a blessing to the peoples of the earth. When Jacob woke up from this dream, he declared that Yahweh (the LORD) was definitely in this place. He recognized this place to be sacred (even if he didn’t at first recognize its sacredness). As we ponder this reading for the seventh Sunday of Pentecost, the author invites us to consider the spaces that are sacred because they are places where God is encountered.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Always with Us (Liz Theoharis) -- A Review

ALWAYS WITH US? What Jesus Really Said about the Poor (Prophetic Christianity). By Liz Theoharis. Foreword by William J. Barber II. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2017. Xxii + 185 pages.

Will the poor always be with us? Is poverty a chronic situation that no matter how hard we try, it can’t be eliminated? If so, is the only option that we manage poverty through charitable action? As Christians, seeking to answer that question, what would Jesus have us do?

Liz Theoharis, the founder and codirector of the Kairos Center for Religions, Rights and Social Justice and coordinator of Union Theological Seminary’s Poverty Initiative, seeks to make the case that not only can poverty be eliminated, it is an imperative. Unfortunately, in her experience, Christians resist this message, arguing on the basis of a statement in Matthew 26, that the poor will always be with us, and that Jesus makes it clear that he’s more interested in being worshiped than dealing with poverty (beyond charitable action). She challenges this sentiment in this contribution to Eerdmans' Prophetic Christianity series, which is based upon what appears to be a revision of her Ph.D. dissertation in New Testament at Union Seminary. Central to her work is the idea of "Reading the Bible with the Poor." She uses historical critical methods to engage the text of scripture, but does so in conversation with persons who experience poverty, much like Ernesto Cardenal's "Gospel in Solentiname," recognizing the importance of this too often-neglected voice.