Sunday, April 23, 2017

Breath of the Spirit -- Sermon for Easter 2A

John 20:19-31

Seeing is believing. Mary Magdalene saw Jesus on Easter morning, and she believed, and then she told the rest of the disciples “I have seen the Lord.” Later that evening, Jesus appeared to the disciples who had locked themselves in out of fear of the authorities. He came to them in the darkness of night, which in the Gospel John serves as a symbol for unbelief. At the beginning of his Gospel, John declares that the Word of God “was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it” (Jn. 1:4-5). Jesus came to them that evening as light shining into their darkness of unbelief. 

Mary prepared them for what came next, but I’m not sure they were completely ready when Jesus suddenly appeared in the room. He said to them: “Peace be with you,” and then he showed them the wounds in his hands and side. Then the disciples “rejoiced when they saw the Lord,” moving them from darkness into the light. But that’s not the end of the story, because Jesus gives them a commission. He told them: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” Then he breathed on the disciples and said: “Receive the Holy Spirit.”  

Friday, April 21, 2017

The Front National and the “Religion” of Ethnic Nationalism -- Sightings (Tamir Bar-On)

Around the globe we are seeing the rise of political movements centered on ethnic nationalism. Sometimes religion seems to play a role, but is it religion itself, or a new form of religion, that would be the religion of ethnic nationalism.In this interesting essay by Tamir Bar-On for Sightings, the French election this weekend serves as a means of exploring the idea of the "religion" of ethnic nationalism, which sacralizes politics and pushes for homogeneity in the state -- thus immigrants, especially Islamic immigrants are seen as polluting the French identity (as one example).  Invite you to read and consider trends in Europe and here at home, to see if there is some truth here!!

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The Front National and the Religion of Ethnic Nationalism
By TAMIR BAR-ON   April 20, 2017
Marine Le Pen | Photo Credit: staffpresi_esj/Flickr via Wikimedia Commons (cc)
The radical right is increasingly mainstream throughout Europe. Sarah de Lange notes how, since the 1990s, radical right-wing parties have joined coalition governments in Austria, Denmark, Estonia, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Romania, and Slovakia. The UK Independence Party played a key role in 2016’s Brexit result. That same year, the anti-immigrant Freedom Party of Austria under Norbert Hofer finished second in the Austrian presidential elections with a whopping 46% of the popular vote. Geert Wilders, a Dutch nationalist firebrand who once compared the Qur’an to Mein Kampf, finished third in Holland’s recent parliamentary elections. Farther east, a radical nationalist named Viktor Orbán is the Prime Minister of Hungary.      

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Bowing Toward Babylon (Craig M. Watts) -- A Review

BOWING TOWARD BABYLON: The Nationalistic Subversion of Christian Worship in America. By Craig M. Watts. Foreword by Michael Kinnamon. Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2017. Xi + 183 pages.

Walk into the sanctuary of the typical American church and you will find an American flag somewhere in the room. It will probably be found in the chancel. It’s possible that you’ll find a flag in the room, but not a cross (too religious). You might even see one flying on a pole outside the church, with the “Christian” flag flanking it, a step lower than the national flag. If you grab a hymnal, you will find several national songs. find a hymnal, you will likely find a few patriotic songs as well. If you go to church on Memorial Day or Fourth of July, it’s possible that you’ll experience a patriotic themed service. But is this appropriate? Or is it a nationalistic subversion of Christian worship? As you can tell from the title of Craig Watt’s book Bowing Toward Babylon, he believes that these nationalistic elements are expressions of idolatry that displace God from the center of worship, and therefore have no place in Christian worship.

The author of the book, Craig Watts, is a Disciples of Christ pastor who serves a congregation in Coral Gables, Florida. He is a leader in the Disciples Peace Fellowship, and has by his own admission strong Anabaptist leanings. He is also a student of liturgical theology. In this book, he brings these concerns together into a strongly-worded, no-holds-barred, prophetic call to the church, calling on it to change its ways. Thus, Craig asks the question: “How can the church be true to its God-given character, message, and mission when it emphasizes national identity and pride in the context of worship?” (p. 5).

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Credible Christian Worship

Churches do many things, including things that look rather political. They can engage in charitable activities, advocate for social justice, provide social outlets (often called fellowship). But at the heart of the church is, I believe, the worship of God. It is worship that defines the mission of the church, so that it is more than "outreach." I realize people come to church buildings and join congregations for many different reasons, but are they formed by what happens in worship? 

I recently re-read Craig Watt's powerful and provocative book Bowing Toward Babylon (Cascade, 2017) --- and my review of the book should be up tomorrow --- which speaks to the way in which nationalism too often malforms our worship, which leads to the malformation of the Christian. The question is --- what is credible Christian worship? That's a question that I, as one who is engaged in planning and leading worship, that I have great interest in.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Bearing Witness to the Risen Christ -- Lectionary Reflection for Easter 2A

Acts 2:14a, 22-32 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, . . .\ 

22 “You that are Israelites, listen to what I have to say: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know— 23 this man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law. 24 But God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power. 25 For David says concerning him,
‘I saw the Lord always before me,    for he is at my right hand so that I will not be shaken;26 therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced;    moreover my flesh will live in hope.27 For you will not abandon my soul to Hades,
    or let your Holy One experience corruption.28 You have made known to me the ways of life;    you will make me full of gladness with your presence.’

29 “Fellow Israelites, I may say to you confidently of our ancestor David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. 30 Since he was a prophet, he knew that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would put one of his descendants on his throne. 31 Foreseeing this, David spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, saying,

‘He was not abandoned to Hades,    nor did his flesh experience corruption.’
32 This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses.


                It is the second Sunday of Easter, but the reading from Acts 2 describes an event taking place on the Day of Pentecost. While the lection omits the Pentecost context, it is helpful to understand that it is the events of Pentecost that enables Peter to deliver the sermon we’re about to take in. The phenomena of Pentecost draws the crowd that gives Peter the opportunity to preach, and the Spirit that falls on the community at Pentecost emboldens Peter so he can stand before the people and share the good news of Jesus with those who had gathered due to the declaration of the gospel in languages understood by members of the crowd, but evidently not by the ones sharing the message