Wednesday, November 26, 2014

It’s Christmas Time Once Again

With Thanksgiving a day away and shopping time coming with it, I am reposting a piece written for the Thoughtful Christian's Gathering Voices Blog earlier this month.  May it provide a word of hope in the midst of all the hullabaloo of the season.  

A Gathering Voices Post by Bob Cornwall  (Reposted)

While many Christians find it difficult toCorbis-42-57053253keep focused, others are also upset at store clerks who greet them with “Happy Holidays” instead of the obligatory “Merry Christmas.” They get angry the “Christmas party” is now a “holiday party.” To them, December belongs to Christians, and they want to be treated with “respect.” Never mind that not everyone enjoying the season is a Christian.  Indeed, our Jewish friends speak of a “December Dilemma.”  
Christmas has long had both a secular and a religious side to it. At least since the mid-nineteenth century Santa has played a key role in the story of the season. Even if the legend of Santa is rooted in Christian lore, Santa long ago transcended religious and ethnic boundaries. Surely Santa’s sleigh visits every child’s home, no matter their religious profession. Still, in an age when Christians are feeling like they’re losing market share in the religious marketplace, many seem intent on claiming the season as their own. Thus, they feel obliged to berate poor sales clerks who offer them a joyous “season’s greeting,” when “Merry Christmas” is supposedly the only legitimate greeting. 
In the midst of the secular and commercial side of the season, Christians have been asking -- how do we keep Christ in Christmas? Here are five suggestions on how you can:
1. Be kinder  
Perhaps the first way we could go about this is to bring an end talk about the war on Christmas. We can do this by offering a different witness when we go shopping (and most of us will do at least some shopping). Knowing that some of our sisters and brothers will have attacked retail clerks, let us offer a word of grace and thanks to those who often work long hours for little pay so that we can get our shopping in before the dawning of Christmas morn. 
2. Wait to go (or limit) your shopping
Maybe it would be wise to avoid seeking out the big deals on Thanksgiving Evening. Waiting to go shopping, even if you don’t get the best bargains, might be a worthwhile discipline. Yes, fasting from Black Friday frenzy might be a good spiritual discipline. I’m not saying don’t go shopping, just don’t make it the focus of your life calling. 
3. Observe Advent
Observing Advent is always a helpful antidote. The message of Advent is one of preparation and anticipation. It has dark overtones due to its penitential origins. As with Lent, Advent helps us set aside our self-absorption. It is a call to let go of the need for instant gratification. Yes, the message of Advent is one of waiting patiently for the coming of God’s realm.
4. Give back
Setting aside time for service to others can redirect our attention away from the commercial side. There are many ways we can do this. Our congregation has for many years created gift bags for the Detroit Head Start, with clothing, books, and gifts for the children. Making the holiday a bright one for the “least of these” can be a way of stepping back from the brink.
5. Go to church
Finally, make it a priority to attend worship on Christmas Eve or on Christmas Morning.  For me, Christmas hasn’t been Christmas without Christmas Eve worship. Growing up in the Episcopal Church we attended Midnight Mass – at least from the time that I was old enough to stay up that late. Sure I was dead-tired the next afternoon, but Christmas was defined by the singing of sacred carols and sharing at the altar. I still feel that this is the key to Christmas. If you want to put Christ back into Christmas, be sure to come and worship at the feet of the babe born in Bethlehem.
Yes, we can keep Christ in Christmas even in the midst of an increasingly commercialized age.  The choice is ours! 


Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Awake, Awake, the Son of Man is Coming -- Lectionary Reflection for Advent 1B

Mark 13:24-37 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

24 “But in those days, after that suffering,
the sun will be darkened,
    and the moon will not give its light,
25 and the stars will be falling from heaven,
    and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.

26 Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. 27 Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.

28 “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. 29 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he[a] is near, at the very gates. 30 Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. 31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

32 “But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Beware, keep alert;[b] for you do not know when the time will come. 34 It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. 35 Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, 36 or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly.37 And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”

                The ancient hymn Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence (4th Century) sets a penitential tone for the season of Advent, which is an appropriate stance as we begin the journey of a new liturgical year:

                Let all mortal flesh keep silence, and with fear and trembling stand;
                Ponder nothing earthly minded,
for with blessing in his hand Christ our God to earth descendeth,
                our full homage to demand.

                Advent is a penitential season.  It is a time to take stock of one’s life in preparation for the great festival to be held in the coming weeks.  It is a season of hope and expectation.  It is also a season where we begin to look at how faith is related to the facts of life and whether judgment is in store for us.  In other words, Advent is an eschatological season.    

Monday, November 24, 2014

John Wesley in America (Geordan Hammond) -- A Review

JOHN WESLEY IN AMERICA: Restoring Primitive ChristianityBy Geordan Hammond.  Oxford, UK:  Oxford University Press, 2014.  Xv + 237 pages.

                Primitivism comes in many forms.  Throughout the history of Christianity reformers have attempted to return to the pristine purity of the primitive church, even if they haven’t always agreed on what marks the true primitive church.  For some the true primitive church is to be found in the pages of the New Testament Church (especially the Book of Acts), while others extend the boundaries of primitive Christianity into the fifth century, long enough to include Nicaea and Chalcedon.  Counted among these primitivists was John Wesley.  Wesley had imbibed a high church vision of primitive Christianity, one that was rooted in the traditions of the early church during his days at Oxford. When an assignment came to go as a missionary in the new British colony in Georgia, Wesley decided to use this assignment as an opportunity to implement his primitivist vision among his charges.  While he believed that he was being assigned by the Society for the Proclamation of Christian Knowledge (SPCK) to minister to the Native Americans of the region, when he arrived in Georgia it became clear that his parish would be the community in Savannah.  Although he continued to envision a mission among Native Americans, he did not let this setback deter him from pursuing his dream of restoring the primitive church in America. 

The normative interpretation of Wesley’s sojourn in Georgia is that it was a failure.  Not only did he fail to institute his primitivist vision, he was brought up on charges for his narrowness of practice and ultimately moved away from the theology that drove his mission in Georgia.  That is, his time in Georgia has been interpreted in light of his later Aldersgate experience, in which Wesley saw himself experiencing new birth.  This has led many Methodists to look at mission in Georgia a period of spiritual darkness and therefore of little value to understand Wesley’s later vision.  Geordan Hammond offers us a different picture.  Having consulted the primary sources, including Wesley’s own diaries from the period, he tells a different story.  Even if Wesley reconfigured the nature of his primitivist vision, he never lost the belief that the renewal of the church depended on restoring primitive Christianity.  As it is recorded on his tombstone, his mission was “to revive, enforce, and defend the Pure, Apostolical Doctrines and Practices of the PRIMITIVE CHURCH” (p. 203).  The way in which he understood this mission was developed in the crucible of his mission in Georgia. 

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Abiding with Christ at the Table -- A Stewardship Sermon

Altar at Bath Abbey

John 6:53-59

This morning we celebrate both Christ the King Sunday and Thanksgiving Sunday.  We are also bringing in the harvest of our stewardship conversation.  During the offering you will have the opportunity to share your estimate of giving cards so that we might celebrate the commitment that we are making as a community to support the ministry of this church.
Christ the King Sunday brings to a close the liturgical year that began on the First Sunday of Advent.  The liturgical year begins with a word of hope and anticipation. We move through the year lifting up stories of how God is present with us in Christ and through the Spirit.  On this day we celebrate the coming of Christ’s reign in its fullness on earth as in heaven. We will continue repeating the cycle until the Day of the Lord comes.  

This Thursday has been set aside by presidential decree as a day to give thanks for the abundance given to us.  Although Thursday has become synonymous with turkey, football, and now shopping, we will have two opportunities this week to join with others in the community to offer thanksgiving for the blessings that have come to us.  You can join me this evening at Big Beaver United Methodist Church for the annual Troy-area Interfaith Group celebration. Then on Tuesday we will be hosting the Troy Clergy Group Thanksgiving Service, which will feature a joint choir. Both services will help us focus on the call to give thanks.  As the Psalmist declares:
Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise.
Give thanks to him, bless his name.
For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever,
and his faithfulness to all generations.
 (Psalm 100:4-5).  
The theme of our stewardship season has been “From Bread and Wine to Faith and Giving.”  In each of the sermons I have been trying to connect the call to stewardship with the call to the Table.  One of the ways in which we name what happens at the Table is the word Eucharist, which comes from the Greek word that means “to give thanks.”  

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Income and Wealth Inequality: Religion's Current Efforts Won't Cut It -- Sightings (Myriam Renaud)

It is increasingly clear that the income inequality gap is not only getting larger, but it is proving to be damaging to the country. With money being the key to power, we seem to be moving toward an era of rule by oligarchs. Just to make sure we know what we're talking about, an oligarchy is defined as "a country, business, etc., that is controlled by a small group of people."  Myriam Renaud suggests that one of the few institutions left that can challenge this trend are religious ones, but right now our efforts at charity and advocacy are not dealing with the core issue -- the power of money in politics.    I am involved in community organizing, but we haven't tackled this one yet.  None of our efforts are really dealing with it.  So, take a read, offer your thoughts.

Income and Wealth Inequality: Religion's Current Efforts Won't Cut It
Thursday | Nov 20 2014
                                                                                                                     Image: smikeymikey1 / Shutterstock
The only remaining, major, organized institutions in the US with enough scope and moral authority to launch efforts to reverse this country’s growing income and wealth inequality are the religions. Other institutions have waned; today’s labor unions represent only 7% of private sector employees. Delays matter: as income inequality increases, more children are going to bed hungry.