Thursday, September 29, 2016

Vote Your Conscience (Brian Kaylor) - Review

VOTE YOUR CONSCIENCE: Party Must Not Trump Principles. By Brian Kaylor. Jefferson City, MO: Union Mound Publishing, 2016. 219 pages.

                As I write this review it is just a few days after the first 2016 Presidential debate, and less than six weeks until the 2016 elections. Those who choose to vote, and I will be voting, will elect leaders and representatives from local to national. Most prominent, of course, is the Presidential election. This is a most unusual year. Both major candidates carry tremendous baggage, though I would argue that one carries much more than the other. There are minor party candidates but our system isn’t designed for truly multi-party elections. The electoral college requires that the winner garner a majority of electoral votes. It’s been a while since a third party candidate won even one state. It won’t happen this time either.               

                For people of faith elections pose interesting challenges. The government is not a religious entity (though sometimes it’s hard to distinguish between state and church due to a strong tradition of civil religion).  There are no officially religious parties, though people tend to line up with a particular party that seems to best align with their perceived moral visions. I am a registered Democrat and have been since seminary. I am a Democrat because overall it better aligns with my moral principles, which are fueled by my faith tradition. Others will choose a different party because they have chosen to emphasize a different set of principles. This year the candidacy of Donald Trump, a man who seems to have little serious religious sensibilities (beyond the Power of Positive Thinking), is receiving overwhelming support from White Evangelicals, despite what many consider unchristian statements and positions. Their decision is largely due to Trumps promise to nominate so-called “pro-life” judges and support “religious liberty,” including removing the restrictions on political endorsements.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

What's with Relevance in Religion?

Most religions are quite ancient. They preserve ancient practices and rituals that can seem odd and out of place at times. In our day we hear a lot about relevance. Megachurch pastors promise "relevant Bible teaching," which more often than not is pop psychology with a few proof texts mixed in. We clamor for relevance and seek to weed out the obsolete, but is that always the right thing to do?

I must confess that I am a pastor in a denomination that in its origins sought to cleave away all encrustations that got in the way of restoring New Testament Christianity. Thus, in good Enlightenment manner, we tossed away centuries of "tradition." Now, some of that work was probably necessary. Getting back to the roots is often a necessary act, but sometimes we proverbially "throw the baby out with the bathwater."  

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Doing Our Duty - Lectionary Reflection for Pentecost 20C

Luke 17:5-10 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

5 The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” 6 The Lord replied, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you. 
7 “Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, ‘Come here at once and take your place at the table’? 8 Would you not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink’? 9 Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? 10 So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, ‘We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!’”

                Talk of slavery is always difficult, especially in the United States, where race-based slavery is part of our national story. It is as Jim Wallis calls it our “original sin.” Most people in this country who are of African descent are descendants of men and women who were brought here without their consent to serve their white masters. It took a war to end slavery and another century to end Jim Crow. We continue to deal with the ramifications of slavery to this day. So, reading a parable like this one from Luke 17 is difficult. To do so a week after the dedication of the Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture, even as football players protest against injustice and oppression by kneeling during the National Anthem, and the nation tries to make sense of two more shootings of black men by police, this passage seems out of place. With this as our context, what should we make of Jesus’ parable about the proper behavior of a slave? 

Monday, September 26, 2016

Songs for the Waiting (Magrey DeVega) -- Review

SONGS FOR THE WAITING: Devotions Inspired by the Hymns of Advent. By Magrey R. DeVega.  Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2016. Xiv + 102 pages.

            American Christians are an impatient lot, at least that is true around the time of Advent. Although the liturgical season of Advent is designed to help us prepare to welcome the incarnate one into our midst, we seem intent on skipping from the Thanksgiving Table to Christmas morning, when we intend to open the presents that were purchased on Thanksgiving evening, if not before. Indeed, signs of Christmas now can be seen well before Halloween. When it comes to the church, a lot of people struggle with Advent. Since the radio stations begin playing Christmas music on Thanksgiving Day, why should we wait four weeks to sing Christmas songs in church? While I love Christmas carols and hymns, I also find the often neglected Advent hymns to be spiritually inspiring. They tend to be quieter and slower than most Christmas carols, but there are important messages embedded in hymns like “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.”  So what might need is a devotional book that can help us explore these texts.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Go and Do the Same: Feed the Hungry - Sermon for Pentecost 19C

Luke 16:19-31

There are two parables in Luke 16, and in both of them Jesus speaks to the proper valuing of money and material resources. He puts things into proper perspective, and that makes them good texts for stewardship sermons. Stewardship is about more than paying bills. Stewardship is a reflection of our covenant relationship with God and with one another. The picture painted in the parable of Lazarus and the rich man is a bit clearer than the parable of the dishonest steward, but together they remind us about what it means to be a faithful disciple and about our responsibilities to each other.  

There are several verses separating the two parables that the creators of the lectionary chose to omit. That is probably because passages like this can lead to anti-Jewish ideas. In this case Jesus chastises the Pharisees for being lovers of money. If we can steer clear of caricaturing the Pharisees as self-righteous money grubbers, perhaps we can hear in the omitted verses a reminder that the love of money can corrupt us and keep us from loving one another.