Wednesday, December 13, 2017

The Disciples of Christ and the Sacraments -- Initial Comments

Note: This post is a continuation of exploration of theology from within the context of the Stone-Campbell Movement/Disciples of Christ. 
            The church is a body that is marked by its sacraments and rituals—two of which have become preeminent within Protestantism: Baptism and the Eucharist. The Stone-Campbell Movement, of which the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) is a branch, have placed great emphasis on these two sacraments, though by tradition that have been referred to as ordinances rather than sacraments. The word sacrament was seen as non-biblical and carried baggage of tradition that early Disciples like Alexander Campbell sought avoid. Nonetheless much of the Christian community speaks of these two elements of Christian experience as Sacraments.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Good News of God’s Favor - Lectionary Reflection for Advent 3B (Isaiah 61).

61 The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
    because the Lord has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
    to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
    and release to the prisoners;
2 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,
    and the day of vengeance of our God;
    to comfort all who mourn;
3 to provide for those who mourn in Zion—
    to give them a garland instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
    the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
    the planting of the Lord, to display his glory.
4 They shall build up the ancient ruins,
    they shall raise up the former devastations;
they shall repair the ruined cities,
    the devastations of many generations.

8 For I the Lord love justice,
    I hate robbery and wrongdoing;
I will faithfully give them their recompense,
    and I will make an everlasting covenant with them.
9 Their descendants shall be known among the nations,
    and their offspring among the peoples;
all who see them shall acknowledge
    that they are a people whom the Lord has blessed.
10 I will greatly rejoice in the Lord,
    my whole being shall exult in my God;
for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation,
    he has covered me with the robe of righteousness,
as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland,
    and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
11 For as the earth brings forth its shoots,
    and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up,
so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise
    to spring up before all the nations.

                We have arrived at the Third Sunday of Advent. This brief and often neglected season has reached its midpoint. Soon, we will gather to celebrate the birth of the one Christians call the Christ, the one who incarnates God to the world. The reading from Isaiah 61 will likely resonate with followers of Jesus, who hear in it Jesus’ own sense of calling. It was early in his ministry, after baptism and temptation, that Jesus returned home to Nazareth and took an opportunity to preach in the synagogue. Having read this very passage, Jesus applied it to himself. Although the hometown folks did not respond well to his proclamation of himself as fulfillment of the word of Isaiah, we who are Christians have looked to it to understand Jesus’ own sense of call (Luke 4:16-30).

Monday, December 11, 2017

Awaiting the King (James K. A. Smith) -- A Review

AWAITING THE KING: Reforming Public Theology. (Cultural Liturgies, Volume 3). By James K. A. Smith.  Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2017. Xvii + 233 pages.

                Preachers are cautioned to steer clear of politics. Not only is there the issue of tax exempt status, but going political can cause dissension in the congregation. Stick to religion and stay out of politics. The only problem with this advice is that the biblical story is very political. Jesus himself was executed as political figure. The Romans didn't care about the intricacies of Jewish theology, but they did pay attention to talk about alternative kingdoms and kings not on their payroll. So, Pilate had Jesus executed. Then there are the prophets of Israel, who often stepped on the toes of the political establishment. Politics and religion have long been connected for as long as there has been human history, even if the relationship is often tenuous. This leads us to the book under review, James K. A. Smith’s Awaiting the King, the third volume of his Cultural Liturgies project. It is, as the subtitle claims, an attempt to reform public theology (by public he means more than simply the state, though he does include the state within those parameters).

I approached this book with a degree of eagerness. For one thing, I am very interested in public theology (having written a book titled Faith in the Public Square and having been actively engaged in public life as a pastor). Although I hadn't read the first two volumes in this series, I did read his book You Are What You Love, which is a more popular version of the earlier volumes. The point of that book, which I read and enjoyed, was this—we are what we worship. That is, liturgies help form us, whether they're Christian or secular (thus the liturgies of the mall or sports have an important formational effect on us.) Now that I’ve finished reading Awaiting the King, I’m ambivalent about its message. This may have to do with differing spiritual/theological inclinations on my part. I'm not evangelical in the current sense of the word, nor am I Reformed in the way that Smith is? In other words, I lean more toward Reinhold Niebuhr than to Abraham Kuyper. And for those who do not know James K. A. Smith, he is professor of philosophy at Calvin College, holding the Gary and Henrietta Byker Chair in Applied Reformed Theology and Worldview, and a confessed admirer of the Dutch politician/theology Abraham Kuyper. He is also a fellow of Cardus, a Canadian Christian think tank apparently interested in changing Canada’s “social architecture.”

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Divine Patience - A Sermon for Advent 2B

2 Peter 3:8-15

If you’ve been out Christmas shopping, you may have found yourself standing in long lines. The same might be true at the Post Office. When it comes to calling customer service or tech support, time may slow down to a crawl. The occasional reminder that a representative will answer as soon as possible doesn’t make the wait any easier. So, what should you do while you wait? How do you keep yourself occupied, when half an hour seems like a day? Having a smart phone may prove helpful, at least while waiting in a line at the store or the post office. At least I can check Facebook and Twitter, and if the line is too long, I can open a book on my Kindle app.  But, what if you’re waiting for God to act?  

This season of Advent is by definition a season of waiting. We pray “O come, o come Emmanuel and ransom captive Israel.” Each year we sing these words of expectation, while waiting for Emmanuel to be fully revealed to us, not as a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes, but as the returning king. We sing: “Desire of nations bind all peoples in one heart and mind” and “bid envy, strife, and quarrels cease.” Today, on Peace Sunday, we offer this prayer, longing for the time when the world will be filled with “heaven’s peace.”

Saturday, December 09, 2017

What is "Essential Kenosis"?

How should we understand how God interacts with creation? Is God all powerful, and therefore able to do anything God desires? Are there limitations, even if self-generated limitations? In other words, does Gods' character define how God engages creation? In the view of Thomas Jay Oord, any conversation about the actions of God must be understood in the context of God's "uncontrolling love." Tom explores this concept in his book The Uncontrolling Love of God: An Open and Relational Account of Providence (IVP Academic, 2015). He then invited a number of people including scholars and pastors and lay persons to respond. Those responses appear in the book Uncontrolling Love: Essays Exploring the Love of God with Introductions by Thomas Jay Oord, (SacraSage Press, 2017). [Note: the cost of the paperback has been lowered from 24.95 to 11:95 on Amazon until Christmas Eve]. I contributed one of the essays to that book.  Now, as part of an effort to broaden the conversation about the "uncontrolling love of God," Tom, who is a theologian teaching at Northwest Nazarene University, has produced a brief video describing what he calls "essential kenosis." I'd like to invite you to view it, reflect on it, and hopefully respond here with your thoughts. Is this an understanding of God's nature and God's relationship to creation that makes sense? How does this understanding of God who is love invite us to participate in the work of God and empower us for that work?