Thursday, January 18, 2018

Angels, Mysteries, and Miracles (Bruce Epperly) -- A Review

ANGELS, MYSTERIES,AND MIRACLES:  A Progressive Vision. By Bruce G. Epperly, Gonzalez, FL: Energion Publications, 2017. 104 pages.

From Harry Potter to the Exorcist, from Charmed to the Librarians, we seem rather preoccupied with things that go bump in the night. Magic, the occult, spirits, and demons, even zombies are topics of deep interest. Even Star Wars appeals because it, unlike Star Trek, has at its heart a message of spirituality. We may live in the shadow of David Hume, but the shadow seems to be growing shorter by the day.  While many have a built-in skepticism about mystical claims, there is still a sense of openness to spiritual things. That may explain the growing popularity of Pentecostalism, which emphasizes healing and power encounters with spiritual beings. While there are those who embrace a premodern world view, assuming that supernatural/spiritual incursions into the natural order occur regularly, within mainstream Protestantism and likely many parts of the Catholic church, these are remnants of an old religion that no longer fits our scientifically-informed world view. We put these stories in the category of myth. They may say something about who we are as human beings, but we really don't expect angelic visits or demonic attacks. We have explanations for any strange phenomena.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Best Books of 2017 -- the Cornwall List

I read a lot of books in the past year. Most of the books I read during the year are sent to me by publishers to be reviewed on this blog or elsewhere. All the books in the list below were published in 2017, and except for a few, were read in 2017. Most of the books on the list below were provided by the publisher, and to them I offer my thanks. I have been offering a Best Book List for several years. I started out with top ten lists, along with a Book of the Year Selection. In recent years I’ve found it difficult to limit the list to ten books, so you will find seventeen books. Two of them are named Best Book of 2017. The remaining fifteen are divided into four rather loose categories.  All seventeen books are excellent and worthy of reading. Links to reviews are provided (click on the title).

My Best Book of 2017 nod goes to:
Carol Howard Merritt, Healing Spiritual Wounds: Reconnecting with a Loving God After Experiencing a Hurtful Church, Harper One
Joshua Jipp, Saved by Faith and Hospitality, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
Thanks goes to all seventeen authors! What great contributions to the faith conversation. Consider each of the books listed below, and add them all to your "to read" list if you haven't already.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

A Divine Change of Mind - A Lectionary Reflection for Epiphany 3B (Jonah 3)

Jonah Preaching at Nineveh - John Martin

Jonah 3:1-10 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time, saying, “Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.” So Jonah set out and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly large city, a three days’ walk across. Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s walk. And he cried out, “Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth. 
When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. Then he had a proclamation made in Nineveh: “By the decree of the king and his nobles: No human being or animal, no herd or flock, shall taste anything. They shall not feed, nor shall they drink water. Human beings and animals shall be covered with sackcloth, and they shall cry mightily to God. All shall turn from their evil ways and from the violence that is in their hands. Who knows? God may relent and change his mind; he may turn from his fierce anger, so that we do not perish.” 
10 When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.

                Jonah was a reluctant prophet. He wanted to have nothing to do with Nineveh. As far as he was concerned, it was an evil empire that deserved whatever came its way. When God called him to go to Nineveh and proclaim God’s judgment, he ran away. In fact, he got on the first boat out of town, and headed in the opposite direction. You can run, but can’t hide, and God had other ideas. It seems that those other ideas included having Jonah spend some time in the belly of a fish. With no other choice, Jonah gave in and headed off to Nineveh, where he went around preaching gloom and doom to the people who lived in this city he detested.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Promised Land -- Not Yet - A Reflection for Martin Luther King Day

Today we celebrate the birth of Martin Luther King, Jr. While Dr. King has almost universal approbation, fifty years after his assassination in 1968, we have yet to live into to his dream. We may give lip service to it, but we have not yet come to the point where we recognize each other's full humanity. There is a Promised Land that Dr. King believed lay out in front of him (and us), but we haven't yet crossed the river. 

In the message he delivered, on the night before his death, in Memphis, as he prepared to lead a march in support of sanitation workers in Memphis, he spoke of the land of promise. He told that gathering that he had seen this land, but he wouldn't get there with them. He seemed to know that his life would be cut short, perhaps not as soon as it occurred, but he knew the day was coming when he would die. At the same time, he had confidence that a day was coming when the nation would cross the river into a new reality.  

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Body and Spirit - A sermon for Epiphany 2B (1 Corinthians 6)

1 Corinthians 6:12-20

I find Paul’s Corinthian letters to be intriguing. There is so much going on in these letters. They address real life issues and concerns. So, when I was in seminary, I took two classes that focused on all or part of 1 Corinthians. In fact, a friend and I drove across LA from Pasadena to Westwood in my less than reliable Ford Maverick to study 1 Corinthians with Scott Bartchy. Going to class wasn’t a problem, but coming home around five o’clock on the 405 Freeway was an adventure. But it was worth the effort! When I sat down to plan my sermons for the season of Epiphany, and noticed that the epistle readings in the lectionary came from the Corinthian letters, I got excited. 

Paul wrote these letters to a congregation filled with new converts who came out of a very different cultural context than he did. So, when they heard Paul’s message of grace and freedom, they interpreted it in light of their former lives, and what they heard was an invitation to live with reckless abandon. They heard Paul saying that no rules applied. That’s not what he intended, and so he had to address the situation brewing in that community. One of the issues that emerged had to do with a topic that is rarely discussed in church, and that is sex. So, when I sat down to read the text again on Monday, I asked myself—why did I choose to preach on this passage? This can only get me in trouble. But here we are, with a word from Paul addressing a forbidden subject.