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Showing posts from January, 2011

Church Mortgages and Foreclosure -- Sightings

The recent period of financial distress, which has led to increased unemployment and home-foreclosures.  People lost jobs and couldn't pay mortgages on homes, they probably couldn't afford in the first place, which led to an ongoing cycle of woe.  Well, it appears that churches have been caught up in the cycle -- many of these churches, both large and small, bit off more than they could chew and now can't pay the bills.  Is the end near?  We live by faith, but Jesus also reminds us that a builder will count the cost first.  We passed our budget yesterday, knowing that we'll have to tap our nest egg.  We're fortunate -- no mortgage and a nice cushion -- but for many this is not true.  Martin Marty speaks to this crisis in his own inimitable way!!
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Sightings 1/31/2011


Church Mortgages and Foreclosures -- Martin E. Marty
“Churches Find End Is Nigh” is the kind of headline which should produce ennui. One expects to read under it of the 1900th ann…

Happy People? -- A Sermon on the Beatitudes

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Matthew 5:1-12

This morning we begin a rather lengthy journey through one of the most powerful sections of Scripture. Although there will be a few breaks in this journey, we will focus our attention, between now and Palm Sunday, on the Sermon on the Mount. In the previous chapter of Matthew, Jesus calls to himself a group of disciples from among the many who came to hear him proclaim the message of the kingdom and bring healing to the body and spirit, giving them a new identity and purpose. Now, Jesus draws to himself this small group so he can teach them what it means to live in God’s realm. As he takes them with him to the mountain, he teaches them that God’s realm is very different in tone and purpose from human realms and empires. It doesn’t matter if these worldly governments are limited or big, democratic or autocratic, they are not the same as God’s realm, and if they are to follow Jesus, then they must give their complete allegiance to God’s reign. And, as Warren Carter points …

Egypt -- Will Freedom Ring?

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I've been watching the events unfolding in Egypt with a great deal of concern and hope.  Egypt has been a stalwart US ally and "friend of Israel."  This reality has led American American governments to turn a blind eye from the autocratic nature of this regime.  We've stood by allowing Hosni Mubarak to rule without many questions because of the fear of Islamist takeover.  Unfortunately, our willingness to abide secular autocrats has only further alienated the Arab populace and given Islamists the high ground. 
After the people of Tunis rose up and pushed out the dictatorial regime there, the populace in Egypt has risen up.  Mubarak has, so far, refused to give up power, though he has fired his cabinet.  Of course, this fools no one.  The problem isn't with the cabinet, but with the one who appoints the cabinet.  Mubarak also is 82 and wanting to pass on power to his son -- but the people and perhaps even the Army isn't happy with this idea.  And so the nation…

Making Friends, Making Disciples -- A Review

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MAKING FRIENDS, MAKING DISCIPLES: Growing Your Church through Authentic Relationships. By Lee B. Spitzer. Valley Forge, PA: Judson Press, 2010. Xiv +161 pages.

The idea of “friendship evangelism” has been with us for as long as I can remember. It’s a pretty simple concept – people are more likely to come to church if they’re invited by their friends. Sometimes, however, this principle gets turned into a manipulative program. It’s a bit like multi-level marketing. You “make friends” with the goal in mind being growing the church. If the intended “friend” (victim) doesn’t look promising, well then you drop them in and move onto a more receptive “friend.” Although Making Friends, Making Disciples does speak to the question of growing churches through friendship circles, for the most part it doesn’t fall into this trap. The key part of the subtitle is the word "authentic."  In fact, the book takes a much broader look at the importance of friendship – not just in terms of the chur…

Good Sufi, Bad Muslim -- Sightings

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In Thursday's edition of Sightings, University of North Carolina Religious Studies professor Omid Safi takes on the issue of dividing Muslims between good and bad.  In this case, pointing to comments made in support of the Parc 51 project by politicians, including former governor David Paterson, who suggested that this project was okay because it was sponsored by mystical (pietistic) Sufi Muslims, who aren't a threat.  Of course the flip side of this compliment is that Sufi Muslims -- unlike Shiite Muslims are okay, but other Muslims, perhaps most Muslims are dangerous.  Safi also takes a look at the call for supposedly "moderate Muslims" to speak out, but who are they?  Are they, in fact, Muslims who stand with the American empire?  It is an important look at the continuing effort to demonize the majority of the world's Muslims. 
I think it is a piece worth looking at, even as we watch forces of change erupting first in Tunisia and now in Egypt.  What will come …

A Pastoral Letter on Bullying -- Sharon Watkins

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I decided to share this important word to the Disciples of Christ community on the subject of bullying.  It comes in the form of a Pastoral Letter from the General Minister and President of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), the Rev. Dr. Sharon Watkins.  I believe it is a word we need to hear, whether we're Disciples or not.
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“How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help? Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.”   - I John 3:17-18
Dear Disciples,
The wave of publicity has passed regarding bullying and suicide, but the problem has not gone away. In this New Year, families and friends of those who died are feeling the loss deeply.
In my own community, two young people died last year by suicide as a result of bullying at school. These are two we know about – there may be others. Bullying involves a repeated pattern of aggressive, unwa…

What DOES God Want? Lectionary Meditations

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Micah 6:1-8



1 Corinthians 1:18-31


Matthew 5:1-12

What DOES God Want?
What is it that God wants from us? Is it our money? Our obeisance? Our unwavering belief in the Bible, without having any doubts whatsoever? Is it esoteric knowledge or hidden wisdom? Down through the centuries we have asked the question – what does God want? In the course of time, we’ve also been given lots of answers, some of which are conflicting and some to the minds of many, especially in this modern age, purely nonsensical. Consider the practice of child sacrifice – what kind of God would demand child sacrifice? (Oh, I may need to be careful with this one!) What of temple prostitution? Is God some kind of voyeur who needs to get sexually aroused to give us children or bless our fields? I realize that the Law offers strict guidelines as to which sacrifices should be offered, when they should be offered, and in what manner they should be offered, but the prophets all seem to be of one mind even though religious ritua…

A Nation Enters the Inventive Age

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As I was watching the President speak last night, I couldn't hep but think of Doug Pagitt's new book Church in the Inventive Age.  Like Doug, the President pounded home his conviction that the world has changed and we need to adapt to it.  The road ahead may be difficult to navigate, but America's history shows that we have what it takes.   The key words from last night's speech are EDUCATE and INNOVATE.  This is because the jobs of tomorrow, unlike the jobs of yesterday require education, and the only way we can compete with China and India is if we educate and innovate.  The President noted that in proportional numbers, the US has fallen to 9th in college graduates.  In terms of Internet access we're well behind a number of other countries.  There is the severe problem that 25% of HS seniors fail to graduate from HS at a time when it is next to impossible to get a job without a HS diploma at the very least. 
Now as I listened to the President last night I heard a…

Pseudonymity and the Bible (Excerpt from Ephesians Study Guide)

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Many modern readers find the idea of pseudonymity to be problematic. The idea of a nom de plum is a well understood practice, but writing in the name of a famous person seems unseemly, even fraudulent. The very first syllable is off putting, for “pseudo” means, for us, falsity. Indeed, for me to write a book under the name of a famous theologian, such as Karl Barth, would lead to charges of producing a forgery. How can we accept this text as offering words of truth if it emerges from a false identity. Modern western squeamishness with pseudonymity isn’t something that is shared by every culture, including many cultures living in the early centuries of the Christian era.
It was common practice and considered perfectly acceptable to write a book in the name of another person. Solomon, for example, is the attributed author of most of the Proverbs, while many of the Psalms are attributed to David. There is also a book attributed to Daniel —who may or may not have been a historical figure —…

Living within the Reign of God: A Sermon Series on the Sermon on the Mount

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The “Sermon on the Mount” is the best known and perhaps most challenging speeches/sermons from the Gospels. It’s not a mere compilation of sayings attributed to Jesus, but in the hands of Matthew it becomes a tightly organized and powerful speech that lays out for us Jesus’ vision of what life in God’s Realm should like. It is a rather radical, even revolutionary vision that challenges the way we live our lives in this world. It calls on us to examine our allegiances, and asks us whether we’re willing to live for God or for some other claimant – including our nation. It is to be noted that standing at the center of this sermon is the Lord’s Prayer, which serves as a pledge of allegiance to God and the cause of God’s reign. In the course of Jesus’ sermon, he touches on our calling to be salt and light, reworks the nature of the Law, refocuses our worship, and calls on us to live lives of loving kindness. It closes with warnings of judgment and a call to build our lives of faith on stro…

Memphis Church Preservation -- Sighings

As a historian I hate to see the loss of historic buildings, because they offer insight into periods of time (though there are periods of architectural style that might benefit from being forgotten -- i.e. the 1970s).  As a pastor I recognize the importance of making sure that scarce dollars go to ministry and not preserving aesthetics, for the sake of preserving them.  In recent years churches have gotten caught in a bind as they no longer have the funds to keep up properties, but are prevented from demolishing them or selling them because of historic landmark status or community heritage groups.  So, what to do?  Martin Marty helps us wrestle with the problem in today's issue of Sightings
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Sightings 1/24/2011





Memphis Church Preservation - Martin E. Marty


This season it’s Memphis. Last season it was in some city near you. Next season it will be a challenge in your city, or, if you “have” one, in your denomination. “It” refers to what in my eyes is …

Of One Mind and Purpose -- A Sermon

1 Corinthians 1:10-18

If you go to Beijing, you’ll find the body of Chairman Mao nicely entombed, and if you’re in Moscow, you’ll find Lenin’s body on display, although he’s not as popular as he once was. Back at home, there aren’t any Presidential corpses on display, but depending on your political affiliation, the names FDR and Ronald Reagan may stand out in your pantheon of Great American Heroes.
It would seem that many seemingly larger than life figures, both living and dead, get elevated to almost divine status. Today’s living pantheon includes sports heroes, politicians, super models, film stars, media celebrities, and even big time preachers! Although there are those who relish in tearing down society’s idols, often sharing the most intimate details of these “heroes’s” lives in the various tabloids, we seem to enjoy basking in the glow of knowing even just a little bit about these larger than life people. If we get the chance to meet them, we do so with a great deal of shyness. …