Theological Empathy, Theological Conversation, and the Christian Community

Not all theology is the same. Not all theology is good. That is, there are theological positions that are destructive and must be opposed. Dietrich Bonhoeffer understood this. So did Karl Barth. These two theologians were among those who stood against the German Christian movement that sought to Germanize theology, a process that both denied Jesus’ Jewish origins and made church members open to the anti-Jewish policies of the German regime. All theologies that dehumanize people must be opposed strongly, for they are not of God. At the same time there are plenty of theological positions where there is disagreement, but they neither dehumanize nor destroy. The question is, can we find an arena where we can listen to each other and learn from each other, even if at the end of the day we end up disagreeing with each other? Richard Beck, a psychology professor, blogger, and intuitive theologian, suggests that the key is theological empathy.
Beck suggests that what worries us will pull our …

Love Abides – Thoughts on 1 Corinthians 13

My Bible study group picks up 1 Corinthians 13 today, after a Holy Week break. When last we gathered, we explored Paul’s response to the Corinthian questions regarding spiritual gifts/things/people (pneumatikon). He offered them charismata instead. As chapter 12 ends, Paul promises to show them a better way, and proceeds to offer a vision of love as that which not only abides (along with faith and hope), but also is the greatest.
The centrality of love to the Christian faith is often acknowledged, even if we don’t always embody it. Jesus draws from Deuteronomy and Leviticus to offer two love commands—Love God with your entire being and love your neighbor as yourself (Mk 12:29-31). In John 13Jesus gives the disciples a new command, that they are to love one another as he had loved them. Then in 1 John not only is God defined as love, but “those who abide in love, abide in God” (1 Jn. 4:16).
But what is love? Here in 1 Corinthians 13, Paul offers his definition of love, which in this cas…

Obedience to Whom? A Lectionary Reflection for Easter 2C (Acts 5)

Acts 5:27-32 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

27 When they had brought them, they had them stand before the council. The high priest questioned them, 28 saying, “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and you are determined to bring this man’s blood on us.” 29 But Peter and the apostles answered, We must obey God rather than any human authority. 30 The God of our ancestors raised up Jesus, whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. 31 God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior that he might give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. 32 And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him.”
I woke up Easter morning to news that churches and hotels in Sri Lanka had been bombed with hundreds reported dead or injured. It wasn’t the kind of news I wanted to hear as I prepared to help lead the congregation in worship on Easter …

Four Ministries, One Jesus (Richard Burridge) - A Review

FOUR MINISTRIES, ONE JESUS: Exploring Your Vocation with the Four Gospels. By Richard A. Burridge. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2019. Xviii + 227 pages.
What might the Gospels have to say about the nature and call to Christian ministry? What is it about Jesus, and the four pictures the Gospels offer of him, that might speak to our understanding of the Christian vocation? These are the kinds of questions that those who feel the call and those who have already answered a call might be asking. What does Scripture say, and more specifically the gospels?
Richard Burridge, the Dean of King's College at the University of London, seeks to answer just these kinds of questions. Burridge is a biblical scholar and author of a similarly titled book Four Gospels, One Jesus? A Symbolic Reading. While I haven't read the earlier book, I'm assuming that the two are linked in some way, though this book is focused on the ministry vocation. Burridge notes that this book eme…

A New Creation - A Sermon for Easter Sunday (Isaiah 65)

Isaiah 65:17-25

“Christ is risen! Shout hosanna! Celebrate this day of days.”  [Brian Wren, Chalice Hymnal 222].   Death had its say on Friday, but this morning we gather to celebrate the good news that life reigns victorious in the resurrection of Jesus. Therefore, death has lost its sting.   
We’ve already heard the Word of the Lord from the Book of Isaiah. The prophet speaks to people who have returned from exile, to find that things at home aren’t going as well as they had hoped. It’s in the midst of grief, that the people receive word that God “is about to create new heavens and a new earth.”  Because God is getting busy with acts of creation, the people needn’t remember former things, like the exile. Instead, they can “be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating.” 
Like the returning exiles, the followers of Jesus had reason to grieve on that first Easter morning. They assumed that their teacher and leader lay dead in a tomb, having been executed by the governing authorities …

Eastertide -- Liturgical Meditation (Fuller Theological Seminary)

This meditation for Eastertide comes from Fuller Theological seminary, and as we experience Holy Saturday, living in between cross and resurrection, may it be a blessing.

+ “Death and Resurrection,” portraying the night before and the morning of the resurrection of Jesus, marks the beginning of the season of Eastertide. The scriptures are drawn from Matthew 27-28, John 19, and 1 Corinthians 15. It was filmed by FULLER studio at Paymaster Landing in Imperial County, California. The audio for this video is in French, and the subtitles are in English, Spanish, Mandarin, and Korean—a poetic way to represent the primary tongues of our community. For FULLER studio: Lauralee Farrer, director; Ron Allchin, producer; Nate Harrison, director of photography; Timothy Kay, cinematographer; Patrick O’Neil Duff, editor; Simon Castagna, narration; OX Creative, titles.

The liturgical calendar spans the life of Christ in a single year—from anticipation (Advent), to hope (Christmas), to transcendence (E…

Woman, Here Is Your Son- A Good Friday Meditation

The meditation below was shared as part of a community Good Friday Service at Community of Christ Church of Troy that focused on the Seven Last Words of Christ. I was tasked with reflecting on the third word from the cross -- "Woman, here is your son." My colleagues spoke to the remaining six.

John 19:26-27

25b Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.” 27 Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.********
The mother of Jesus stands before the cross in the company of several women, along with the Beloved Disciple. This is the second time Jesus’ mother is mentioned in the Gospel of John. In both cases John doesn’t name her.  Jesus simply addresses her as “Woman.” 
On the first occ…