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Showing posts from July, 2011

Wrestling till Daybreak -- A sermon

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Genesis 32:22-31
When I was a kid, my mother decided I needed to learn how to defend myself and so she signed me up for wrestling camp.  Although I’d rather have been at basketball camp, for the next six Saturdays I learned to wrestle.  Since I never became a very proficient wrestler, I got knocked out in the first round of the tournament that ended the camp.  Much to my relief!   There’s another kind of wrestling besides the one I learned at camp.  They call it professional wrestling, and in professional wrestling, which I used to watch on Saturday afternoons, neither desire nor proficiency is the key to success.  That’s because the outcome is determined by a script.   
When it comes to wrestling Jacob wasn’t a professional!  No, he was a competitive wrestler, who when challenged would fight to win.  He’d been that way since he shared his mother’s womb with his twin brother.  His parents named him Jacob because he grabbed Esau’s heel and tried to pass him in the birth canal.  It didn’t…

At an Impasse? August 2nd looms large!

August 2nd has become an increasingly important day in the life of many Americans, and it is also an important day in the lives of the people of Troy, MI.  On August 2nd, the American government will run out of money.  It will be facing the prospect of having more budgeted obligations to pay for than moneys to pay the bills.  Much of this obligation includes Social Security and Medicare payments, Medicare and military pay.  That is coupled with interest on the debt.  The last must be paid or we will officially be deadbeats, and will lose all credibility with those who own this debt.  It's likely that this will be paid, but there are a lot of other payments that need to be made, from those social security checks to the sent out to the pay for our military.  Oh, and then there are the meat inspectors at USDA and the security folk at our airports, Pell grants for students and more.  Come Tuesday, the executive branch will have to decide which bills to pay, and somebody isn't goi…

Voting Yes for a Library and the Value of Public Spaces

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On Tuesday, August 2, 2011, the people of Troy, MI have the opportunity to vote for a property tax increase (it's really not an increase because housing values are diminishing and so the amount of tax we're paying each year is decreasing).  But, we will go to the polls to vote yes or no on a .70 millage for 5 years.  That "tax" calls for property owners to pay .70 cents per 1000 dollars of taxable property value (half the assessed value).  I can tell you that my increase will be well below $100, and I'm quite willing to pay for it.   Now the opponents of this increase have used all manner of convoluted arguments, many of which are false or misleading, to try to convince the community that we can have a library without an increase.  This simply isn't true.  If the library stays then cuts elsewhere in the budget, probably in public safety, will have to be made.  So, my family and I will all be voting yes on this very reasonable assessment to protect a vital se…

Divine Blessings -- A Lectionary Meditation

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Genesis 32:22-31
Romans 9:1-5
Matthew 14:13-21

Divine Blessings
The 18th century Baptist minister and hymn writer Robert Robinson opens his hymn by defining God as the “fount of every blessing,” a fount that tunes “my heart to sing thy grace; streams of mercy, never ceasing, call for songs of loudest praise.”God is our fount of every blessing, the one who showers down upon creation divine favor.There is in the biblical story a constant refrain of divine abundance, which creation is invited to share in.For some this idea of divine favor or blessing is taken to rather crass lengths, for it is defined in completely material terms (prosperity gospel).When we define divine favor in such ways, it is easy for us to begin to judge our neighbors on the basis of their material prosperity.If you are healthy and wealthy, then you must be wise.For how else would you be in such a good position?But, if you struggle with your health or with your finances, then something must be wrong with you.Surely you …

An Ode to Borders

I remember the first time I ever entered a Borders bookstore. It was in suburban Kansas City. I was amazed at the size of this store and the breadth of its coverage. Now this wasn’t the biggest bookstore I’d ever entered. I had spent time at Powell’s in Portland, which is the biggest store I’d ever entered, and still is among the largest in the country. So, it wasn’t the size so much as the reality that here was a store where I could indulge my interests without having to fly to Portland.
Being a theology professor, and knowing that most Christian bookstores had ceased selling anything but the narrowest of lines (and what we not so lovingly call “Jesus Junk”), it was nice to be able to see what was new, not only among Christian writers, but Jewish and Muslim and even secular writers.
Now we watch as this giant of chains is near its demise. We mourn its loss as symbolic of the loss of presence of brick and mortar stores, even as we (I) obtain more and more of our goods online at places l…

Deal or No Deal?

The NFL Players Association have voted to accept the Owner's offers and so come fall we'll have NFL football.  Our nation's economy may be in free-fall and we may have defaulted on outstanding debt.  But, at least we'll have Monday Night Football, even if Howard and Dandy Don are long since dead.  And so all will be good, as long as we can afford to keep the TV set running!
If you're intently following every zig and zag of the Debt Limit talks you're exhausted by now.  Maybe you have a good idea about what all this means or maybe you're totally confused.  After all, there are all these competing TV ads telling us to cut all that waste and fraud (but don't touch my subsidies or my benefits or raise my taxes).  Now, I'll admit that I've thrown my lot in with one side of the debate (I'm not against partisanship, as long as at the end of the day the parties remain committed to achieving the common good).  I'm also a political realist and no…

The Sin of Traditionalism?

Tradition has its place.  After all, I'm a historian, so by my own professional training I have committed myself to the study of the past.  Tradition provides a foundation for who we are and what we do in life.  As a Christian, the traditions of baptism and the Lord's Supper have provided me with an anchor.  The faith that we embrace is a "tradition" passed from one generation to the next.  Consider the way that Paul laid out the message he was sharing with the churches he had founded: 3 I passed on to you as most important what I also received: Christ died for our sins in line with the scriptures, 4 he was buried, and he rose on the third day in line with the scripture. (I Cor. 15:3-4 CEB). This message goes on from there to include the full accounting of the death, resurrection, and appearances.  For Paul this is the summary of first importance.  We are heirs of that story, but what if tradition turns into traditionalism.  That is, what happens when what once was don…

If God Is for Us . . . A Sermon

Romans 8:26-39

On a hot and humid evening this past week, as we watched the Tigers play the Oakland A’s, John Balogh asked me whether I would be preaching a baseball-themed sermon?  Being a lifelong baseball fan,  I couldn’t let a request like that get away, and so I began thinking about how baseball might fit with this morning’s sermon theme.      
In Romans 8 Paul poses a question:  “If God is for us, then who can be against us?”   Now, if you’re a Tiger’s fan, could you see God’s hand at work during the game Tuesday evening?  Because they won big, surely God must be on the side of the Tigers!   Of course, not everyone saw things this way, because two members of our group wore caps of the then first place Cleveland Indians.   And while I donned a Tiger’s hat and rooted them on as they played the hapless Oakland A’s, just few weeks earlier I wore a San Francisco Giants cap to the Giants-Tigers game and rooted for my boyhood team.   So, on that night I was one of the few in the stadium …

Harry Potter -- The Final Battle

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My son is now 21 and is quite able to read for himself, but when the first of the Harry Potter books came out more than a decade ago it fell to me to read the stories to him, at least the first volume and maybe the second.  By then I was hooked, and continued reading until the end.  I also became hooked on the movies, which weave their own magic (you might say).  And yesterday Cheryl and I went and watched the final installment of the series. 

At the time the books first were published there was great debate as to whether good Christians should read stuff like this (even though Lewis's Narnia series also features wizards and witches -- both good and evil ones).  But I think most Christians, along with most everyone else, realized that this was a series worth reading and enjoying.  Not only that, we began to recognize important lessons emerging from the books.  I should note that the books matured as the characters matured (and that is maybe why this series has succeeded where othe…

Dual Citizenship?

To whom do I owe my allegiance?  In my book on the Lord's Prayer -- Ultimate Allegiance:  The Subversive Nature of the Lord's Prayer -- I wrote that the Lord's Prayer is not just a prayer, it is a pledge of allegiance to God and to living in God's realm.  It is important to remember that in Matthew's version of the prayer, it is placed in the midst of the Sermon on the Mount, which lays out Jesus' kingdom ethic.  As Allan Bevere notes in his book The Politics of Witness,which I reviewed recently, in the course of time, following the embrace of the church by Constantine, this kingdom ethic has largely been put on the shelf as unworkable.  I stand by my claim for the Lord's Prayer, and Allan is largely correct as to how we've understood the Sermon on the Mount in the Constantinian era.  I want to reiterate up front that my ultimate allegiance is to God and to God's realm revealed to us in the life and ministry of Jesus the Christ.  That said, I need …

Taking the Long View -- A lectionary meditation

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Genesis 29:15-28
Romans 8:26-39
Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52

Taking the Long View
It’s probably not news to many reading this meditation that we live in an age of instant gratification.  Although there are those who embrace simplicity, slow food and the bicycle as a mode of transportation, most of us want results now.  In politics, we give the elected about two weeks to solve all the problems of the world before we’re ready to vote them out of office, even though the problems in front of us have taken a long time in developing.  Therefore, we find it difficult to take the long view.  This is true even in the church, where we demand results right now.  So, we go to a church growth seminar, come back home and try out a few ideas and then expect the church to be full of new people the next week.  Of course, this doesn’t happen and so we jettison what we learned and look for the next fix (or go looking for a new job if we’re clergy!).  Persistence and patience, these are not the virtues of the pre…

The Politics of Witness -- A Review

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THE POLITICS OF WITNESS:  The Character of the Church in the World. (Areopagus Critical Christian Issues). By Allan Bevere.Gonzalez, FL:Energion Publications, 2011.Xiv + 69 pages.
I need to start this review by acknowledging that the book under review appears in a series to which I have contributed a book.Indeed, the author is co-editor of the series in which this book appears.The point of the series is to offer relatively brief books that tackle important issues of the day from an orthodox Christian perspective.That I contributed a volume to the series suggests that the orthodoxy in mind here is a generous one, and not a narrow version.
As for the book itself, Allan Bevere, an evangelical United Methodist Pastor with a Ph.D. in biblical studies from the University of Durham, where he studied under James Dunn, and an M.Div., where he came under the influence of Stanley Hauerwas.The influence of the latter is definitely on display in this book, where Bevere argues that the church must re…