Showing posts from December, 2011

Seeking the Common Good in the New Year

I appreciate the opportunity afforded me by theTroy Patch to engage my Troy neighbors in a conversation about issues and concerns that are important to me and that intersect with my faith.  My first two posts have focused on Christmas, but with the turning of the page from 2011 to 2012, it’s time to look forward into the future, and to ponder what that future looks like.  My plan is to use this space to speak to matters of public interest that is informed by my Christian faith, as well as by my engagement with the broader religious world.  I pastor a local Christian congregation, but I’m also a leader of the Troy-area Interfaith Group.  While I don’t claim to speak for all Christians or for people of faith in general, I do speak from a perspective that is informed by this faith, which is informed by study, experience, and by a long-standing commitment to being engaged in the public square.  Not everyone will agree with my perspective or my interpretation of things, but hopefully what I …

A Call to Representative Ministry

Eighth in a series on developing a theology of ministry
            If we are, as baptized Christians, all priests of God, with Jesus being our high priest, then the pastoral ministry might best be defined as representative ministry.  The pastor could be seen as the bearer of a call to ministry that all Christians participate in.  Standing in the pulpit or at the table, the pastor is not only a representative of God (as one who inspired by the Spirit speaks for God) but also as the representative of the people, sharing a message in word and sacrament that emerges from within the community itself.[1]
            By thinking of pastoral ministry as representative ministry, we start with the premise that all ministry is important.  No Christian is by virtue of their office holier than any other.  There may be a difference in roles and even charism, but not in importance to the health of the body.  The calling of the pastoral leadership is not to do ministry for God’s people but to equip an…

Time to Rejoice -- Lectionary Reflection

Isaiah 61:10-62:3
Galatians 4:4-7
Luke 2:22-40

Time to Rejoice!!
Christmas is over, or so it would seem.  The stores have had their after-Christmas sales, the unwanted gifts have been returned, and we’re getting set to take down the tree and its accoutrements.  Indeed, it’s time to replace the Christmas “stuff” with the Valentine’s Day “stuff” on our store shelves.  That is one way of telling the story, but if we want to tell it liturgically, then Christmas is still with us, and will remain with us until the day of Epiphany (January 6).   We may have grown weary of the Christmas music by the time that Christmas Day arrived – that’s because the radio stations and the stores start playing it earlier and earlier each year – but there is still time to sing the carols that declare our praise to God that Emmanuel is with us.  Now, some of us try to limit the church’s exposure to carols, so that we’re not ready to move on by Christmas Eve, but the pressure is strong to do otherwise.  Advent hymn…

Everything Is Everywhere -- A Review

EVERYTHING IS EVERYWHERE.  By Carrie Newcomer with Amaan Ali Khan, Amjad Ali Khan, and Ayaan Ali Khan.   Available Light Records, 2011.
                I must preface this by saying, once again, that I’m not a music critic.  I know what I like, and what I don’t like.  For me the tune/melody is the key.  Whatever message or meaning the lyrics might carry is secondary.  If I like the tune, I’ll pay attention to the lyrics (assuming that there are lyrics).   Part of the reason why this might be true is that I’m not especially drawn to poetry, and song lyrics are essentially poetry.  All of this being true, I can say that I truly enjoy the music of Carrie Newcomer.
This is the third album of Carrie Newcomers that has been provided to me, and as with the previous two I have found it inviting and enjoyable to listen to.  As I noted in my first review of an album by her, her voice and style remind me of Karla Bonhoff, a singer/songwriter that I’ve enjoyed since my college years. 
Pulled in by …

What Kind of “Heaven is for Real?” By Bruce Epperly

Bruce Epperly offers us another Christmas gift -- a response to the highly popular "testimony" of a three-year old about his near-death experience.  Bruce offers a reasoned and critical, but sympathetic read.  Check it out.  What do you think of the book and Bruce's reading of it?

What Kind of “Heaven is for Real?”  A Response to the Best-selling Narrative of a 
“Little Boy’s Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back” Bruce G. Epperly
It has been said that philosophies err more in what they deny than in what they affirm.  I believe the same holds true for theology.  So, I was positively disposed toward Todd Burpo’s story of his three year old son’s near death experience.  After all, many liberal Christians deny the reality of survival after death and find it an irrelevant appendage to the authentic this-worldly social message of Jesus.  In contrast, many conservative Christians are too certain about the nature of heaven and how to get there, and den…

Theological Foundations of Ministry

Seventh in a series of essays on creating a theology of ministry.
When we think about developing a theology of ministry, we must first affirm what theology is.   What is it that we’re doing when we say we’re creating a theology of ministry?  In simple terms, theology is thoughts about God.  Therefore, to create a theology of ministry is to think about ministry in relationship to God.  And as we do so, we must not think of ministry in isolation from other aspects of the theological conversation.
Thus, we start the question:  Who is God?  Is God a distant overlord or one who remains close at hand?  Is God wrathful or loving or perhaps we can try to receive a more complex view of God and then consider ministry in that light.  Of course theology as a discipline is much broader than simply reflecting on the nature of God.  There are such categories as Christology, pneumatology, ecclesiology, and more.  These categories have bearing on our theological reflections on ministry as well.

Why Jesus Matters -- A Review

WHY JESUS MATTERS.  By George W. Stroup.  Louisville:  Westminster John Knox Press, 2011.  Viii  +152 pages.  
                A future President of the United States offered up Jesus as his favorite philosopher.  It’s an interesting answer since Jesus really wasn’t a philosopher, but more importantly no one asked the follow up question – what is it about Jesus that has formed your world view?   Many people say they admire Jesus or follow Jesus, but how many of us truly attend to his words?    We say that Jesus matters to us, but in what ways?  It’s obvious that many amongst us affirm Jesus as savior, but assume that what has to say about life is rather extraneous to the way we live our lives. 
George W. Stroup, a Presbyterian theologian teaching at Columbia Theological Seminary, believes that Jesus does matter, but he also believes that if we affirm this premise we need to understand what that means for us.  It needs to be an informed statement, one that is informed by Scripture, t…

Awaiting the Blessed Hope -- A Christmas Sermon

Titus 2:11-14

The other day I was asked why we’re reading from Titus 2 on Christmas Eve.   My conversation partner wanted to know what this passage has to do with Christmas.  I have to admit that on the surface it doesn’t seem to fit very well.  It doesn’t say anything about the birth of Jesus, and as far as I know it hasn’t inspired any Christmas carols, but sometimes what we see on the surface is deceiving.  When we look more closely at this passage,  we hear the announcement of “the glorious appearing of our great God and savior Jesus Christ.”   And as the letter writer declares, this is the blessed hope for which we have been waiting.  With Christ comes the grace of God that inspires and empowers us to live into the message of Christmas. 
I imagine that most of us have come here tonight expecting to be drawn into the presence of the God who Scripture says appeared to the world in the babe born in Bethlehem.  Most of us come with hearts full of joy, though some come with a mixture of…

God With Us -- A Christmas Meditation

This weekend, I will be joining millions of Christians in celebrating the holy days of Christmas (I should note that Orthodox Christians will be doing this on Jan. 6). Although many of us will mix into the Christmas celebration the sharing of presents and family meals, at least for me and many others, Christmas is rooted in what we might call the sacred message of Christmas. Santa may have his place, but for me, without the message of Christ there is no Christmas.  When I join together with fellow church members on Saturday evening and again on Sunday morning, the message of Emmanuel, which is Hebrew for “God with us,” will ring out. The promise of Emmanuel is laid out for us by the ancient Hebrew prophet Isaiah, who spoke to a people facing a great crisis of faith. The little kingdom of Judah faced the impending invasion of a powerful empire. Fear had gripped the people, and yet the prophet declared that a young woman would bear a child who would be known as Emmanuel, and this child, wh…