Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Water! Baptism? Time to Rejoice! - A Lectionary Reflecton for Easter 5B (Acts 8)

Art is by Mengistu Cherenet

Acts 8:26-40 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
26 Then an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Get up and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (This is a wilderness road.) 27 So he got up and went. Now there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of the Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of her entire treasury. He had come to Jerusalem to worship 28 and was returning home; seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah. 29 Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over to this chariot and join it.” 30 So Philip ran up to it and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah. He asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” 31 He replied, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to get in and sit beside him. 32 Now the passage of the scripture that he was reading was this: 
“Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter,
    and like a lamb silent before its shearer,
        so he does not open his mouth.
33 In his humiliation justice was denied him.
    Who can describe his generation?
        For his life is taken away from the earth.” 
34 The eunuch asked Philip, “About whom, may I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” 35 Then Philip began to speak, and starting with this scripture, he proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus. 36 As they were going along the road, they came to some water; and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?” 38 He commanded the chariot to stop, and both of them, Philip and the eunuch, went down into the water, and Philip baptized him. 39 When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing. 40 But Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he was passing through the region, he proclaimed the good news to all the towns until he came to Caesarea.

                Here lies one of the most unique passages in scripture. It involves two primary characters—Philip, one of the Seven called by the church to serve tables (Acts 6) and the Ethiopian Eunuch, who is traveling home from Jerusalem by way of the road leading from Jerusalem to Gaza (most likely to pick up a ship that would transport him toward home). There is also an angel of God, who sets up a meeting between these two men. Standing behind this encounter is the church’s mission statement found in Acts 1:8. In that verse Jesus tells his followers that when the Spirit comes, they will bear witness to him beginning in Jerusalem, and from there to Judea and Samaria, and then to the ends of the earth. Philip has already participated in that expansion by preaching in Samaria, in what was the first outreach of the early church beyond the original core Jewish audience. Now, with this encounter, it appears that the expansion continues, with Ethiopia being opened up to the message of the gospel. But not only that, but there is a word of inclusion of one who had been excluded or at least marginalized.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music (Gregory Alan Thornbury) -- A Review

WHY SHOULD THE DEVIL HAVE ALL THE GOOD MUSIC? Larry Norman and the Perils of Christian Rock. By Gregory Alan Thornbury. New York: Convergent Books, 2018. 292 pages.

“Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music?” That's a question that resonated with me as I traversed high school and college during the 1970s. Growing up on the Beatles, Moody Blues, and Three Dog Night, I faced the question as a newly “born again” Christian whether I should abandon my former listening habits without abandoning the musical style in which it was conveyed. Could I as a good Christian enjoy rock music and be faithful to Jesus? Fortunately for me, there was a burgeoning Christian music scene that allowed me to enjoy the music of the day, only with Christian lyrics. By the time I entered this Christian music world, the offerings were quite broad, ranging from Barry McGuire to Andrae Crouch. Keith Green sang at my church before he became a household name. Many of these groups came out of Calvary Chapel and traveled up and down the West Coast, visiting towns like mine, even coming to my church. Like many of my friends I went through this stage where I got rid of my secular records and replaced them with Christian ones. Yes, I wanted rock and religion both, and I got my fill (though I later went back and added all that music back into the mix, along with new musicians). As a sidelight, I should add that we were told to view these concerts as worship settings. We were told to beware of a concert mentality, whatever that meant. After all it was a concert not a worship service, though there might be a lot of religious talk, but it was more evangelistic that worshipful. Besides, when the concert was over, albums were sold, and autographs sought.

Among those musicians whom I embraced was Larry Norman, though he was of a different sort than many of the other Christians musicians I encountered. He was more aloof and iconoclastic. He was also acclaimed as the father of Christian rock, and the most important forerunner of the Contemporary Christian Music scene. I had the good fortune to hear him at least once in concert in Portland. It was probably 1977. The Grateful Dead were to perform in the same venue the next evening, and Dead Heads were already camping out. Norman made comments about their devotion. He also had something to say about the Christian world, out of which he spoke and sang, noting that while the local Christian bookstores would sell his albums, they wouldn't promote his concerts (not that he needed much promotion as the theater was full of fans). I remember his seemingly deadpan humor, as he told stories that made you laugh, but as they were told with a straight face, you wondered whether laughter was the best response. While there were imitators, there was no one quite like him in the Christian music scene. 

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Love in Deed, Not Word - Thoughts on the 2nd Reading - Easter 4B

1 John 3:16-24 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

16 We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. 17 How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?  
 18 Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. 19 And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him 20 whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. 21 Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have boldness before God; 22 and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we obey his commandments and do what pleases him.   
23 And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. 24 All who obey his commandments abide in him, and he abides in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given us.

Note: I was not in the pulpit, but since the Second Reading from the lectionary draws from 1 John, a book that I've been preaching from, I share these reflections taken from a Bible study that I am developing that will hopefully be published in the near future.  

            Having asked how one could say one loved, while refusing one’s brother or sister in need, John reinforces his message by telling the community: “let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action” (vs. 18). What is stated in verse 18, restates what had already been stated in verse 17. How can you say you love God and not help a brother or sister in need? Thus, love is a verb. It requires action, which will lead to reassured hearts.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Academy of Parish Clergy Book of the Year Awards for 2018

2018 Academy of Parish Clergy
Book of the Year Announcement
The Academy of Parish Clergy, Inc. proudly announces that the 2018 Book of the Year Award has been awarded to Saved by Faith and Hospitality by Joshua W. Jipp and published by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company (2017). Jipp is Assistant Professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. The Book of the Year Award is given to the best book published for parish ministry in the previous year. In addition, the Academy presents the Reference Book of the Year Award to Acts: Belief: A Theological Commentary on the Bible by Willie James Jennings and published by Westminster John Knox Publishing Company (2017)). Jennings is Associate Professor of Systematic Theology and Africana Studies at Yale Divinity School.  
In addition to the Book of the Year and Reference Book of the Year awards, the Academy offers two lists of books recommended for use by clergy in parish ministry. The first list offers the Top Ten Books for Parish Ministry published in 2017. The second list offers the Top Five Reference Books for Parish Ministry. They display an excellence and helpfulness that clergy are invited to incorporate into their libraries to benefit their ministries. The two lists appear below alphabetically by author name.
The awards and book lists were presented at the 2018 Annual Meeting of the Academy of Parish Clergy on April 17, 2018 at the Siena Conference Center in Racine, Wisconsin. Dr. Jipp was able to be present and shared a word about his book. Unfortunately, Dr. James was not able to be present, but he was recognized for his outstanding work.
Book of the Year Committee:  Robert Cornwall, Chair, Henry Coates, and Jess Scholten.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Clergy Supporting Clergy --- Academy of Parish Clergy

Add caption
I am at the annual conference of the Academy of Parish Clergy. I have been a member for some 13 years or there about. I am editor of the journal -- Sharing the Practice -- and last year joined what we call the College of Fellows -- that makes me a FAPC (Fellow of the Academy of Parish Clergy). This is a multi-faith organization of professional religious leaders who are dedicated to growing in the practice of ministry. To be honest almost all of our members are Protestant, with one exception -- a Buddhist nun (also a Fellow). I share this as a way of reporting the importance of peer support.

Clergy are human. We get tired and weary. We can become fearful and angry. We often feel that our calling and identity are not well understood. On one level, we want to be seen as ordinary people. At the same time we engage in a vocation that often separates us out from others (whether that is our intention or not). I greatly appreciate this group because it offers an opportunity to share our burdens, to bare our souls. I appreciate it as well because it is ecumenical and multi-faith. Sometimes denominational gatherings, as valuable as they might be, can't provide the same sense of freedom and support as this group offers.

So here I am in Wisconsin, on the shore of Lake Michigan, in a winter-like April week, enjoying the blessings of fellowship and learning. If you're clergy of any faith tradition or professional religious leader, and you're looking for the kind of experience I have been having why not join us.