Wednesday, September 20, 2017

A Time to Pray


The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases,
    his mercies never come to an end;
23 
they are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.  [Lam. 3:22-23]


As I was pondering life on a Tuesday evening, thinking about what I might post for Wednesday reading, it seemed appropriate to simply ask you, my readers, to join me in prayer. In recent weeks we have seen Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma hit the Texas, Florida, and the Caribbean, as well as fires in the west. On Tuesday Hurricane Maria, another category 5 storm hit Dominica, a small island nation, where a sister of a member of the church resides with her family, a hurricane that will hit elsewhere in the Caribbean, including Puerto Rico (I have friends with family in Puerto Rico), and then a massive 7.1 earthquake hit the Mexico City area. All of this happens while the UN General Assembly is meeting, at which the President of the United States warned of the possibility of wiping a nation off the map.

These are sobering times. I do not live in fear. That is not who I am. Indeed, I am by nature an optimistic realist. But, that does not mean I am unconcerned about the state of things. It does not mean I do not care. I simply recognize that there are somethings over which I have no control, though I also understand that there are things I can do to make a difference. One of the things I can do is pray. After all, prayer centers us in God's presence. So, acting in the Spirit, I can pray for peace, healing, hope, resilience, fortitude, good will.  I would invite you to do the same.

In the spirit of the writer of Lamentations, let us come before God, whose love never ceases, and whose faithfulness is great. It is not a controlling love, but a love that invites us to participate in the work of God in the world.

God of peace, 
You are ever faithful to your promises,
You are steadfast in your love.
Even in the midst of great tragedy, you are never far away from us.
We cry out to you, we release our fear, our sense of foreboding.
We commit ourselves to you and to your cause, the realm of God. 
We look at the world, we watch as nature unleashes its destructive force.
We understand that at one level, this is simply nature being nature.
But, we know that we must confess, that we have contributed to at least some of nature's fury.
We seek your forgiveness and your comfort.
We pray for all who are affected by hurricanes, floods, fires, earthquakes, 
famine, war, the threat of war. 
When all seems lost, we come before you, trusting in your steadfast love.
Amen.


Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Confessing Faith as Disciples of Christ

Note: What follows is the bulk of a chapter of a book on Disciples theology that I had begun to write in 2009. I had been teaching a Theology 101 study at the church, and thought there was a need for something akin to Ronald Osborn's The Faith We Affirm. I still think this is true, and perhaps someday I'll complete the project.  For now, I'd like to share this word on confession of faith---with Disciples of Christ in mind.

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Theology may seem like a strange and esoteric idea. It may sound as if it is something highly trained, professional people would do, or at least those with an avocation to talking about things that have little to do with normal life. But, the fact is, theology should be very close to the hearts of every Christian, for if we think about and talk about God and the things of God, we’re doing theology.  It is, as Philip Clayton writes: “Theology therefore belongs to everyone who is drawn to Jesus and wants to figure out what it means to be identified with him in this immensely complex, twenty-first-century world.” [TransformingChristian Theology, 2-3.]

Theology, when done in faith is also, or can be, transformative.  The reason that this is so is that theology is a spiritual practice, which just like prayer or Bible reading is something that can and should be spiritually enriching.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Bread for the Journey - Lectionary Reflection for Pentecost 16A


The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.” 
Then the Lord said to Moses, “I am going to rain bread from heaven for you, and each day the people shall go out and gather enough for that day. In that way I will test them, whether they will follow my instruction or not. On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather on other days.” So Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites, “In the evening you shall know that it was the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt, and in the morning you shall see the glory of the Lord, because he has heard your complaining against the Lord. For what are we, that you complain against us?” And Moses said, “When the Lord gives you meat to eat in the evening and your fill of bread in the morning, because the Lord has heard the complaining that you utter against him—what are we? Your complaining is not against us but against the Lord.” 
Then Moses said to Aaron, “Say to the whole congregation of the Israelites, ‘Draw near to the Lord, for he has heard your complaining.’” 10 And as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the Israelites, they looked toward the wilderness, and the glory of the Lord appeared in the cloud. 11 The Lord spoke to Moses and said, 12 “I have heard the complaining of the Israelites; say to them, ‘At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall have your fill of bread; then you shall know that I am the Lord your God.’” 
13 In the evening quails came up and covered the camp; and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. 14 When the layer of dew lifted, there on the surface of the wilderness was a fine flaky substance, as fine as frost on the ground. 15 When the Israelites saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was. Moses said to them, “It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat.

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                Israel’s journey through the wilderness was no picnic. It would take time to move from slavery to freedom. Although Israel made it safely through the sea, and the Egyptian army was turned back, they were not home free. Led by Moses and his sister Miriam, they had sung and danced a song of triumphant praise to God, who had become their salvation (Ex. 15:1-21), but the excitement of the crossing of the sea gave way to the realities of wandering in the wilderness. As their stomachs began to growl, they started to complain to Moses and Aaron. Once again, they accused Moses and Aaron of leading them out into the desert to die. Why wander aimlessly in the desert, with nothing to eat, when the “fleshpots of Egypt” danced in their heads.  The known always seems better than the unknown, even if the known is not good. The Israelites had cried out to God for deliverance, but when deliverance seemed risky, they fell back on what they knew.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Forgiveness—Journey to Generosity - A Sermon for Pentecost 15A


Matthew 18:21-35

We pick up our journey to generosity on the road with Jesus. After Jesus gave the disciples a lesson on conflict resolution, Peter raises a question about forgiveness in the context of the church.  He asks: If someone in “the church sins against me, how often should I forgive?” Is seven times enough? While that may seem generous to us, Jesus decided to raise the ante to seventy-seven times. Isn’t that a bit extreme? How is anybody going to keep track of that many offenses?

If we’re honest, we all keep a list of people whose offenses against us we would rather not forgive. Truth be told, we would like to take our revenge against them. But, if we follow Jesus’ word of wisdom here, that won’t happen. Vengeance is off the table. 

This morning we have a convergence of themes in the service. We have a word about forgiveness, a word about stewardship, and a word about peace. How might these three themes fit together? What do forgiveness, stewardship, and peace have to do with Jesus’ vision for the church and for the world?

Thursday, September 14, 2017

I Am an Evangelical - Of a Liberal Sort!

The word “evangelical” has taken on negative connotations in many circles. While it has traditionally been used (in the United States) to designate conservative Protestants who are Biblicist in their reading of the Bible (insists that the Bible is inerrant/infallible) and believe that one’s salvation is dependent on affirming Jesus as one’s savior and lord. In recent decades, it has come to designate persons of conservative political commitments, with strong focus on two social issues (abortion and gay marriage). Now, it is used to describe Protestant supporters of Donald Trump (the so-called 81% of White Evangelicals who are alleged to have supported his candidacy).  While it is true that many evangelicals are among Donald Trump’s most fervent supporters, I’ve become increasingly uncomfortable with the development of this stereotypical view of evangelicalism. In my experience, evangelicalism, including white evangelicalism, is much more diverse politically and even theologically than the stereotype would allow.