Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Watching for Signs of the Kingdom - Lectionary Reflection - Advent 1

Luke 21:25-36 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
25 “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. 26 People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27 Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. 28 Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

29 Then he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees; 30 as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. 31 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near.32 Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place.33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. 

34 “Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day does not catch you unexpectedly,35 like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. 36 Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”


                We are living in an apocalyptic moment. At least it is easy to read the situation at hand in an apocalyptic manner. Things seem to be coming to a head. The battle lines are being drawn and the various military forces are gathering.  The Middle East seems to be in a constant state of chaos, with violence the norm. I was talking to a couple of friends who happen to be Muslim, and they are worried that this will lead to another World War that would erupt in the Middle East. For some this would be “good news.” We’ve been hearing from certain sectors of the Christian community for several decades that the we live in the last days, and thus the outbreak of a world war in this region would be the sign that the end has come. The only thing lacking, it would seem, is a rebuilt Jewish Temple. According to some accounts this is a necessary prerequisite, but perhaps not. If all the parties are present—Russia, China(?), the United States, France, Israel, and the many varying Islamic nations ranging from Saudi Arabia to Iran are present. Isn’t this all laid out somewhere in Revelation or maybe Daniel? In the aftermath of the attacks in Paris the great powers do seem ready to engage in a major military operation, which is fueling this apocalyptic fever. The only question left concerns who will light the match to set off the explosion that will trigger Armageddon.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Blue Note Preaching in a Post-Soul World (Otis Moss III) -- A Review

BLUE NOTE PREACHING IN A POST-SOUL WORLD: Finding Hope in an Age of Despair.  By Otis Moss III. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2015. Xiv + 127 pages.

                Preaching is a calling. It is also an art. Preaching draws on particular cultural and societal forms of communication, and it is reflected in the personality of the one in the pulpit (if one preaches from a pulpit). I start from a particular social location. I am white, male, Mainline Protestant, and I have an academic background as well. I learned particular styles in college and seminary and have a style that seems appropriate to my own personality. That said, it is important that we continually take into consideration the world around us and draw from forms that might not be as natural to our own realities. It is with this context in mind that I read Blue Note Preaching in a Post-Soul World. The author is a preacher serving a predominantly African American congregation of the United Church of Christ. It is both progressive and rooted in a distinctly Afro-centric context. 

                Blue Note Preaching in a Post-Soul World is authored by Otis Moss III, the senior pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ of Chicago, making him the successor to Jeremiah Wright. The book is comprised of two parts. Part one brings to us Moss’s Beecher Lectures on Preaching at Yale University Divinity School. The Beecher Lectures are among the most prestigious religious lectures in the country. Part two reprints four sermons that reflect the vision expressed in the published lectures.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

He’s Coming Back - A Sermon for Christ The King Sunday

Revelation 1:4b-8

Over the next few days we’ll have an opportunity to consider the blessings that have been poured out upon us by God. It really doesn’t matter where we gather. The important thing is to stop and offer words of praise to God, “from whom all blessings flow.” We’ll have at least two community opportunities to share in words of Thanksgiving before Thursday. Tonight the Troy-area Interfaith Group is hosting a service at the Islamic Association of Greater Detroit in Rochester Hills. Then on Tuesday evening the Troy Clergy Group is sponsoring a service at Northminster Presbyterian. We also have the opportunity this morning to offer up symbols of gratitude to God through signs of our commitment to the life and ministry of this congregation.

These celebrations occur under the shadow of the recent terrorist attacks in Mali, Beirut, Nigeria, and Paris, that have raised our anxiety levels. Fear seems to be taking hold of many in our midst, and there are people and groups who are making use of this fear for political ends. Even as people flee the violence in the Middle East, political leaders from across the country, including close at home, are shutting the door of welcome to those fleeing this violence. The good news is that other voices are being raised within the faith community reminding us of our calling by God to welcome the stranger.  Disciples and United Church of Christ leaders have issued a statement calling on the nation to live up to its better nature and welcome those who flee violence. Week of Compassion and Church World Service are providing support for refugees that reflect the vision cast in the closing words of this statement by our leaders:
We are called to be a merciful and caring community; to seek justice and to honor every person; and to stand up and shout out when such a vision is challenged or violated. We urge caution and caring in our discourse and in our actions, so that we all may hold ourselves to a higher standard and ideal.
We’re hearing similar statements from across the religious spectrum – conservative, liberal and in between. The president of the National Association of Evangelicals made this statement:  “We are horrified and heartbroken by the terrorist atrocities in Paris, but we must not forget that there are thousands more victims of these same terrorists who are fleeing Syria with their families and desperately need some place to go.” 

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Welcoming the Stranger and the Refugees

Flight into Egypt - Jacopo Bassano
Toledo Museum of Art

The Bible is full of refugees stories. Jacob and his family left Canaan for Egypt because of famine. Moses and the Israelites fled Egypt for the Promised Land because Pharaoh had forgotten Joseph. Jesus was himself a refugee, his family fleeing Herod and finding refuge in Egypt. The lesson here is that because the people of God have been refugees and migrants -- strangers in strange lands -- they should welcome the stranger. It is stated in Deuteronomy, as part of the summary of the law: "You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt" (Deuteronomy 10:19). 

Friday, November 20, 2015

Disciples, UCC make joint statement on refugees

In light of the recent terrorist attacks by ISIS and Boko Haram in France, Beruit, and Nigeria (along with the earlier bombing of a Russian plane, there has been increasingly strident responses from political leaders in response. This includes the County Executive here in the county where I live. As a Disciples pastor I would like to share this joint statement of the leaders of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and the United Church of Christ.

Last Updated 11/17/15
 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” 37Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” 40And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family,* you did it to me.”—Matthew 25:36-40
 In the past few days, we have shared in the public and global outpouring of sympathy and support for the victims, their families, and the people of France, Lebanon, and Russia. We reiterate that expression of solidarity, and our condemnation of these acts of violence, all of which have been claimed by the “Islamic State.”