Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Sons and Daughters of Abraham - A Lectionary Reflection for Pentecost 24C

Luke 19:1-10 Common English Bible (CEB)
19 Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through town. 2 A man there named Zacchaeus, a ruler among tax collectors, was rich. 3 He was trying to see who Jesus was, but, being a short man, he couldn’t because of the crowd. 4 So he ran ahead and climbed up a sycamore tree so he could see Jesus, who was about to pass that way. 5 When Jesus came to that spot, he looked up and said, “Zacchaeus, come down at once. I must stay in your home today.” 6 So Zacchaeus came down at once, happy to welcome Jesus. 
7 Everyone who saw this grumbled, saying, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.” 
8 Zacchaeus stopped and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord, I give half of my possessions to the poor. And if I have cheated anyone, I repay them four times as much.” 
9 Jesus said to him, “Today, salvation has come to this household because he too is a son of Abraham. 10 The Human One came to seek and save the lost.”

                Zacchaeus is one of the best-known characters in the Bible. That’s probably because of his shortness of stature. When were children, we might have identified with this character, because like him we often found it difficult to see over the crowd. Whether we were brave enough to climb a tree, we understood why Zacchaeus might have tried this ploy so he could see Jesus. What we might not have understood is why everyone around Jesus thought it odd that Jesus would want to eat with Zacchaeus. This whole business about tax-collectors being bad people requires a few more details than children might be ready to absorb. Perhaps the lesson would have something to do with Jesus loving short people (including children).

Monday, October 24, 2016

Freedom in Covenant: A Reflection on Disciples of Christ Identity

The reflection that follows was originally shared at the Regional Board meeting of the Michigan Region of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) on October 22, 2016.


            Disciples have always valued the principle of freedom.  We hold tight to our non-creedal identity and grant each other room to interpret and apply Scripture as we believe the Spirit leads. That doesn’t mean, however, that you can be a Disciple and believe anything you want to believe. That’s a statement I’ve heard over the years, but we call ourselves Disciples of Christ for a reason. If we’re disciples of Christ, then Jesus must have a prominent place in our life together.

            If we don’t have creeds and we grant each other a certain amount of freedom of interpretation, what does it mean to be a Disciple? I thought I might share a quote from Edgar Dewitt Jones, Central Woodward’s founding pastor: 
Progressively interpreted, the Disciples of Christ embody a noble plea and an arresting program. They cherish the dream of a reunited church, and make Christ central in teaching and in life. They emphasize unity but not uniformity. It is a roomy fellowship, holding to a universal creed: “I believe in Christ as the Son of God and my personal Savior.”  [Quoted in Freedom in Covenant, pp. 2-3]

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Dinner Invitation -- A Communion Sermon

Revelation 19:6-10
Photo by Crystal Balogh

If you got invited to a big wedding banquet, would you get all excited? Would you see it as an opportunity to get all dressed up? Or would you wait to see if a better invitation came your way? I’ve been to a few wedding banquets in my time. Some were large and some small. Some were fancy and others were informal. Weddings are special events, and depending on your relationship with the couple, they might be can’t miss events.  

A few weeks back we heard Jesus tell a parable about a big banquet, which could have been a wedding banquet. In that story all the invited guests discovered that they had something better to do than attend the banquet (Luke 14:15-24). Our reading from Revelation 19 offers us another dinner invitation. This invitation is to the “marriage supper of the Lamb,” which takes place in the heavenly realm. The angel or messenger of God has declared that “blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.”  Yes, simply to be invited to this marriage supper is a blessing!

Friday, October 21, 2016

Table-Centered Worship and the Sermon

photo by Crystal Balogh
As I thought about what I might share this morning, I read Mark Love's blog post about shifting the locus of worship planning from sermon-centered to Table centered. Mark created a survey, which I participated in, that asked worship planners about their process.  The consensus was that planning on the sermon.  All of this was in preparation for Rochester College's annual Streaming Conference. After reading and interacting with Jamie Smith, Mark began to formulate a new paradigm.  

Mark is Church of Christ and I'm Disciples of Christ. We are of the same heritage, but different branches. Disciples have become more liturgical over time, especially since the 1960s. Still, we have share some habits that go back to earlier days -- prior to separation.  One of those habits is passing communion down rows.  

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Allegiances and Politics

I didn't watch the debate last night between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. I didn't watch the previous debates either, though I've followed along on Twitter and watched some of the analysis. At this point I'm not sure debates add much to the decision making of the voters. I know who I'm voting for, and have known for some time. This has been a most depressing election cycle, and many are disillusioned by the process. Politics and democracy itself can be and often is messy.  I made that point in one of the chapters of my book Faith in the Public Square. The choices we make and the votes we cast can be driven by a number of factors, including fear, that do not seek the best for all, but perhaps only for the few, including ourselves.  I wrote in that book:

In real life, numerous factors influence our choices, some of which may be less than honorable. It could be the way a candidate speaks or looks. We may take into consideration a candidate‟s gender, race, or age. Fear is a potent influence – and candidates and parties are very adept at manipulating them. Then there are the promises candidates make, promises that often pander to our prejudices or sense of entitlement. Too often we vote our own self-interest at the expense of our neighbors. That is, altruism often takes a back seat to me-firstism. We may voice our support for the biblical premise that calls on us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves, but too often love of self comes before love of neighbor.  [Faith in the Public Square, p. 101].
As we enter the final stretch of this election season, I would ask those of us who are people of faith to consider our allegiances. If I believe, as I do, that God is my ultimate allegiance then how should that work itself out in life? How should it guide my votes? And as I ask that question, of course, I need to take into consideration my understanding of God's nature. For me that means recognizing that love of God is partnered with love of neighbor, and neighbor isn't just the person who looks like me, thinks like me, talks like me. My neighbor might be the person I vehemently disagree with. My neighbor might be that politician for whom I have no political regard. Nonetheless that candidate, that politician, was created in the image of God and is one whom God loves.  

There are no perfect candidates. We may have to live with decisions that others make that we disagree with. That said, may that principle of ultimate allegiance, which is ensrined in the Lord's Prayer, guide us as we make political decisions. May our commitment be to find a way through they messiness of politics to a decision that best reflects God's vision of love of neighbor.