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Prayer for International Day of Peace 2018 -- Troy, Michigan

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Today is the International Day of Peace, an annual event sponsored by the United Nations. I was asked to participate in the local celebration of this day. It was held last evening at the Troy Public Library. In the spirit of peace, I'd like to share that prayer today:
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We have gathered as a community to celebrate the International Day of Peace. We know that peace is elusive. Wars and conflicts are many. Some among us might be refugees from some of these conflicts, and so peace seems even more elusive. While peace seems far away, the call for peace remains strong within us. It is rooted in our faith traditions. So, even when we fail to live in peace, the witness to peace remains with us.
Jesus proclaimed: “Blessed are the Peacemakers for they shall be called children of God.” May we hear this call to become peace-makers in our community, by pursuing justice in our world and by recognizing that our common humanity transcends ethnicity, nationhood, religion.
Peacemaking is relati…

Making Faithful Decisions at the End of Life (Nancy Duff) -- A Review

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MAKING FAITHFUL DECISIONS AT THE END OF LIFE. By Nancy J. Duff. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2018. 134 pages.

People don't like talking about dying. There is something unsettling about such conversations. If you talk about it, death might come. If you ignore it, well maybe you keep it at bay. Unfortunately, everyone will face the prospect of dying at some point. More likely than not we will experience the deaths of loved ones. It might be parents or a spouse or a child, a sibling or a friend. As a pastor I have stood with many a family as they said goodbye to a loved one. I have been in the room with a church member, when the ventilator was turned off and the last breath was taken away. Deciding to "pull the plug" is always difficult, especially if we've not had the conversations about what to do when life is no longer sustainable (without the aid of a ventilator). While I have had conversations about end of life decisions, I know that more could have bee…

Dealing With Daniel

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Today the Bible Study I lead begins a new series focusing on the Book of Daniel. I've never led a study on Daniel, but the group decided it would be an interesting subject. As I have been preparing for the study, knowing that the book is divided into parts --- the first part sharing what some scholars call "Court Tales" (Daniel 1-6) and part two being the apocalyptic visions (Daniel 7-12) --- we will need to ask a number of questions of the book. The first question we must address is the role God plays in the book. How is God sovereign? It is an intriguing question for us to address in our own day. In terms of interpretation, there are two basic paradigms. An older paradigm suggests that the message of Daniel is that one can remain faithful while participating in life in a foreign land, much as Esther did. On the other hand, there is a more recent post-colonial vision that suggests that this is a story of resistance. Could it be that the book will speak differently in d…

The Warrior-like Woman of Wisdom - A Lectionary Reflection for Pentecost 18A

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Proverbs 31:10-31 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
10 A capable wife who can find?
    She is far more precious than jewels.
11 The heart of her husband trusts in her,
    and he will have no lack of gain.
12 She does him good, and not harm,
    all the days of her life.
13 She seeks wool and flax,
    and works with willing hands.
14 She is like the ships of the merchant,
    she brings her food from far away.
15 She rises while it is still night
    and provides food for her household
    and tasks for her servant-girls.
16 She considers a field and buys it;
    with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard.
17 She girds herself with strength,
    and makes her arms strong.
18 She perceives that her merchandise is profitable.
    Her lamp does not go out at night.
19 She puts her hands to the distaff,
    and her hands hold the spindle.
20 She opens her hand to the poor,
    and reaches out her hands to the needy.
21 She is not afraid for her household when it snows,
    for all her hous…

Sacred Signposts (Benjamin Dueholm) - A Review

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SACRED SIGNPOSTS: Words, Water, and Other Acts of Resistance. By Benjamin J. Dueholm. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2018. X + 180 pages.

Much has been written in recent years about spiritual practices. These are the practices like prayer, study, acts of contemplation, among other things we do that reflect and define our faith. In his letter James calls on us to be not mere hearers of the word, but doers. I believe that Lutheran pastor and author Benjamin J. Dueholm would agree with James, for he suggests that "if nothing else, a religion is what it does" (p. 1). While I do believe that what we believe influences what we do, what we believe has little value if it doesn't lead to doing something.
Benjamin Dueholm, the author of Sacred Signposts, is an Evangelical Lutheran pastor serving in Wauconda, Illinois. His book takes us on a journey through a series of sacred signs or faith practices, which he calls "holy possessions." The subtitle…

The Fiery Power of the Tongue - A Sermon for Pentecost 17B (James 3)

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James 3:1-12

Growing up, my mother drilled into me that it was unbecoming of a young man to use “swear words.” I seem to have learned the lesson well. While these words have become commonplace in our culture, they’re not part of my vocabulary. Thanks Mom!  As Brett and I drove across the country, this very topic came up. It seems that we had conveyed a similar message to him. That doesn’t mean any of us are perfect in the way we speak. I might not use “swear words,” but I have said things that are inappropriate and perhaps destructive. So, I too am a sinner!  
On that note we return to the Letter of James, which tells us: “If anyone appears to be ‘religious’ but cannot control his tongue, he deceives himself and we may be sure that his religion is useless” (Jms. 1:26 JB Phillips). James made that comment as he tried to define religion that is “pure and undefiled before God.” Besides controlling or bridling the tongue, he added caring for widows and orphans and keeping oneself unstained …

Thinking Revelation

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For the better part of three days this week I gathered with six colleagues and our teacher, Dr. Ron Allen, recently retired as professor of preaching, as well as Gospels and Letters at Christian Theological Seminary. The six of us worked through six passages drawn from Revelation under the tutelage of Ron. We walked through the passages and then yesterday morning we offered sermons (prepared somewhat on the fly), which were critiqued by the group. It is a bit humbling to stand before colleagues and preach a sermon written on short order, but we did it.
As to why I am offering a reflection on the Book of Revelation, I will confess that it is fresh in my mind. One thing we discovered in our conversations is that most of us haven't spent a lot of time with this particular text, which is unlike anything else in the New Testament. I shared with the group that years ago I was at an academic meeting where Robert Funk, a founder of the Jesus Seminar, suggested that Revelation should be r…