Provoked to Love -- A Sermon for Pentecost 26B (Hebrews 10)

Hebrews 10:11-14, 19-25

Why do we gather together in this space each Sunday morning? Is it because we all agree when it comes to theology, politics, or even music styles? Although church growth theory tells us that churches grow better when everyone looks the same, thinks the same, believes the same, and acts the same, is that really the church of Jesus Christ? Or is that a social club with a religious veneer? 
In my experience, both as a participant and as an observer, I’ve discovered that the church can be one of the most unique places in society. Where else do people gather across generations, as well as gender, political, socioeconomic, and educational lines on a weekly basis? It’s never been easy. Just read Paul’s letters to the Corinthians and the Galatians; or 1 John and the letter of James. While we still have a ways to go before we fully embody Jesus’ vision for the church, sameness can’t be the reason we come together or stay together. 
So, what is the glue that keeps us togeth…

Trump, Erdogan, and the fate of Fethullah Gulen

Over the last number of years I have come to know a group of Turkish people, with whom I've worked in a number of areas. They are all affiliated with a movement founded by a Turkish religious leader now living in exile in the United States. That exiled religious leader is named Fethullah Gulen. His movement is known for its many educational and service projects around the world. Gulen was originally an ally of current president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, but they had as falling out, and Gulen had to flee to the United States. His movement continued to thrive in Turkey until Erdogan decided they were a threat, and he decided to label the movement and its founder terrorists. When a failed coup attempt occurred, Erdogan blamed Gulen and his movement.

I can say that the people I know, most of whom are scientists, engineers, and physicians are anything but terrorists. In fact, I will be sharing a special Thanksgiving dinner with them tomorrow evening (they have even invited me to say the p…

James K.A. Smith's "Cultural Liturgies" - Sightings (Martin Marty)

Martin Marty is not appearing as often in Sightings as he once did, sharing the Monday spot with others. Nonetheless, he appears again this week with comments about James K. A. Smith's "Cultural Liturgies" Project.  I've reviewed a couple of his books Awaiting the King, which is the third volume in his Cultural Liturgies series and You Are What You Love. The latter is a more concise version of the first two volumes, but it nicely explores Smith's contention that we are what we love, and what we love is what we do. I'll let the reviews speak for themselves (just click on the titles to visit). I find some of what Smith writes resonating with me, and others not so much. That said, I appreciate Marty's engagement and the reference at the end to Smith's comments about civil religion at the end. Take a read and offer your thoughts.  


A Vision of Desolation and Restoration - A Reflection on Daniel 9

Daniel 9
            As part of the Bible study I'm leading, we have encountered two dream sequences on the part of Daniel, which suggest patterns of historical developments. In Daniel 7, we read Daniel’s vision of the four beasts, representing four empires. In Daniel 8, we encounter the Ram and Goat (Media-Persia and Greece/Seleucid kingdoms). In both we’re reminded that despite their apparent overwhelming power, they fall short. They may attack God’s sanctuary, even invading heaven, but in the end they fall short, suffer judgment, and watch as the realm of God stands firm eternally. As we come to Daniel 9, we encounter a much different account. For one thing there are no mysterious beasts or animals that are to be interpreted in terms of kings and kingdoms. Things are pretty straightforward in that context. That doesn’t mean, however, that this is not a complex and complicated passage. Much of the same territory is covered, only that it is explored in very different terms.
We can …

A Soul Poured Out - A Lectionary Reflection for Pentecost 26B (1 Samuel 1)

1 Samuel 1:4-20 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) On the day when Elkanah sacrificed, he would give portions to his wife Peninnah and to all her sons and daughters; but to Hannah he gave a double portion, because he loved her, though the Lord had closed her womb. Her rival used to provoke her severely, to irritate her, because the Lord had closed her womb. So it went on year by year; as often as she went up to the house of the Lord, she used to provoke her. Therefore Hannah wept and would not eat. Her husband Elkanah said to her, “Hannah, why do you weep? Why do you not eat? Why is your heart sad? Am I not more to you than ten sons?”
After they had eaten and drunk at Shiloh, Hannah rose and presented herself before the Lord. Now Eli the priest was sitting on the seat beside the doorpost of the temple of the Lord. 10 She was deeply distressed and prayed to the Lord, and wept bitterly. 11 She made this vow: “O Lord of hosts, if only you will look on the misery of your servan…

Evangelism After Pluralism (Bryan Stone) -- A Review

EVANGELISM AFTER PLURALISM: The Ethics of Christian Witness. By Bryan Stone. Grand Rapids: BakerAcademic, 2018. Vii + 151 pages.

How does one evangelize in a pluralistic culture? That is a question that has dogged many Mainline Protestants. This is in part due to having seen heavy-handed efforts used to convert people to the Christian faith. We would like our churches to grow, but we would rather not seem coercive and intolerant. Knocking on doors and handing out tracks isn't our cup of tea. So, we keep quiet about faith matters. Besides, we live in a pluralistic culture, where differences out to be respected. So, who am I to try to convert my neighbor who happens to be part of faith tradition different from mine. Thus, we shy away from what some might call proselytism.
Martha Grace Reese tried to address this challenge a decade back in her Unbinding the Gospel books, which were addressed to congregations struggling with this issue. As helpful as those books were, we still seem to…

What Does the Lord Require? - A Stewardship Sermon for Pentecost 25B

Micah 1:3-5; 5:2-5a; 6:6-8

What shall we bring? This is the question that guides our stewardship season for this year. Over the past few weeks we’ve heard a word from Joshua, asking us whom we will serve. It’s a good question, because there are many claimants to our allegiance. We just had an election that asked us to commit to particular candidates, parties, and platforms. I believe in voting, but I also believe we owe first allegiance to God. That’s the way Joshua answered his own question. He declared: “as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord” (Josh. 24:15). We’ve heard Jesus tell his followers to be salt and light. So, don’t let your salt lose its flavor and don’t hide your light under a bushel. (Mt. 5:13-16). Just remember that song we learned as children: “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.” 
This morning we come to the word found in the Book of Micah. We’ve heard selections from three chapters of the prophet’s message, which leads to the question of the…