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Topsy-turvy Theological Arts -- Sightings (Martin Marty)

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When religion hits the news, it's usually focused on bad news -- a scandal of some sort. But with Christmas just behind us and the New Year right in front of us (tomorrow), Martin Marty shares some good news. The news concerns the actions of LaSalle Street Church in Chicago, which recently received a considerable sum of money, a portion of which was given to members ($500) each to use as they saw fit. They could keep it or use it to fund causes or projects of their choice, or even reverse the reverse and sign it back to the church. This unique act was highlighted in a Chicago Tribune article, and Martin Marty thought it worth sharing with us -- so take a read and remember that religion isn't completely evil!! 

Topsy-turvy Theological Actsby MARTIN E. MARTY
Monday | Dec 29 2014Laura Truax (r. center), LaSalle Street Church, Dec. 2014   Image: Nancy Stone / Chicago TribuneWe did not have to squint or wear spectacles to sight this top-of-the-front-page headline on Christmas-pa…

A Short World History of Christianity (Robert Bruce Mullin) -- Review

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A SHORT WORLD HISTORY OF CHRISTIANITY, Revised Edition. By Robert Bruce Mullin.  Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2014.  Xiv + 349 pages.

                The story of Christianity is incredibly complex.  It is a religion with roots in Judaism, but quickly evolved from those roots as it moved out across the globe engaging new contexts and cultures.   As it expanded the center moved from Jerusalem to Greco-Roman cities such as Antioch and Alexandria, which became centers of theological formulation in their own right.  We cannot forget Rome, though its influence came later.   While it quickly found a home in the Roman Empire, it also followed trade routes to lands as far off as China and India.  Eventually, as theological rivalries weakened the eastern heartland, the center would move west to Rome, France, Germany and Great Britain and north to Russia.  While vital churches emerged in places like Armenia, Persia, Ethiopia, and India – many the result of missionary efforts by chur…

Close to the Father’s Heart -- Lectionary Reflection for Christmas 2B

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John 1: (1-9) 10-18 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.
10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him.12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood…

Refreshed With Praise -- Sermon for Christmas 1B

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Psalm 148


Just a few days ago many of us opened presents that were laid out under a tree or perhaps hanging in a stocking.  So, here’s my question – when you were opening gifts did you show proper gratitude?  Were you exuberant in your declarations or did you mumble a word of thanks, even as you were thinking – “I'm not sure what to do with this sweater? There is a reason why it’s easier to give a gift card than pick out a gift.  Even if you have a list, you could come home with the wrong thing, and that doesn’t lead to much happiness on the part of the recipient!  
Parents often require their children to say thank you for gifts received.  Call Grandma, we tell them, and tell her how much you love that sweater she knitted for you.  You know, the sweater you wouldn’t be caught dead wearing outside your bedroom.  But whether you liked the gift or not you have to muster enough enthusiasm to thank the giver. 
Saying thanks for gifts seems to be something of a lost art in recent years.  M…

The Mystery of the Incarnation

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This is the mystery of the incarnation.  Though we may try, no one has been able to completely understand how God could become a human being.  It is beyond human comprehension, but it is true nonetheless.  Pope John Paul II described this event in sacramental terms, with Jesus being the "Sacrament of the Invisible God  -- a sacrament that indicates presence.  God is with us.  God, infinitely perfect, is not only with man, but he Himself became a man in Jesus Christ" [John Paul II, Crossing the Threshold of Hope, (NY:  Alfred A. Knopf, 1994), 7].  If Jesus is the sacrament of the invisible God, then in his life and work we see the invisible God revealed.  This is what Christmas is all about.
Matthew doesn't tell us anything about stables or shepherds.  We must turn to Luke to find these details.  Matthew does, however, show us how scandalous this birth really was.  Joseph was on the verge of putting his wife away, since they were not yet married and she was pregnant.  This…

God in Flesh and Blood

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It's the day after Christmas.  After a month of non-stop activity you might be sitting back and doing not much of anything today.  Of course you might be out taking advantage of the after-Christmas sales (or returning gifts that simply don't suit you very well (that's the beauty of gift-cards).  So maybe it's time to turn our thoughts to other holidays, except that the liturgical year still demands that we keep focused on this Christmas story.  
The New Testament is largely mute on the question of Jesus' origins.  Just two canonical gospels share infancy narratives, and Paul  says nothing about a birth.  The Gospel of John doesn't have an infancy narrative per se, but he does declare that the Word of God became flesh and dwelt among us.  That seems good enough for me.  God became flesh and dwelt among us and we have seen his glory, the glory of father's only son (John 1:14).
So this morning as we contemplate the meaning of Christmas -- that God is somehow …

Responding to Christ’s Glory -- A Sermon for Christmas Eve 2014

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Psalm 96


There’s something about Christmas songs that stir the soul.  Although we’ve been judicious here at church with our Christmas songs during Advent, I know that lots of Christmas music has been in the air.  Some of the radio stations have been offering nonstop Christmas songs since before Thanksgiving.  There’s a reason for that – if you haven’t done all your Christmas shopping on Thanksgiving Day, after you've heard Bing sing White Christmas a few dozen times, then you know that you should get busy!  
When it comes to Christmas music, we all have our favorites, from Jingle Bells to Silent Night, from Angels We Have Heard on High to Frosty the Snowman.  When some of us went to Woodward Hills and Chester Street earlier this month to sing carols, we shared the more sacred carols, though we did sing “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” at the end of our time at Chester Street.  Although we did provide songbooks, many of the participants sang at least the first verse of the songs from …

Post-War on Christmas -- Sightings (Martin Marty)

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It is Christmas Eve.  For me and my family the day will punctuated by participation in our congregation's Christmas Eve service. I of course will have a part to play in the service -- being that I am the preacher.  In doing this I will do my part in affirming the "religio" part of the Christmas event.  But as we all know Christmas isn't just a religious holy day, it is also a secular holiday.  Apparently Bill O'Reilly has declared the War on Christmas to be over -- but from all signs it appears that the secular side of the coin may have the upper hand.  White Christmas and Rudolph more likely will grab our attention than the Babe lying in the Manger.  But if that is so, especially for those who have some connection to the faith, well we have only ourselves to blame.  In any case, Martin Marty offers us a postmortem on the post-War on Christmas.  Take a read!  And of course, Have a Merry Christmas!  
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Post-War on Christmasby MARTIN E. MARTY
Monday…

Dedication Day -- Lectionary Reflection for Christmas 1B

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Luke 2:22-40 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

22 When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”), 24 and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”
25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. 26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. 27 Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, 28 Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying,
29 “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace,
    according to you…

Worship with Gladness (Joyce Ann Zimmerman) -- A Review

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WORSHIP WITH GLADNESS: Understanding Worship from the Heart (Calvin Institute of Christian Worship (CICW))By Joyce Ann Zimmerman.  Grand Rapids:  Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2014.  Xvii + 163 pages.
                What is worship? That is a difficult question to answer, but it’s a question that those of us involved in worship planning, especially clergy, regularly wrestle with.  The way we approach the question often is determined by the concerns of the hour.  When we deal with the question it is tempting to either through up our hands at say the worship has something to do with spirit (John 4:24) or we jump and focus on the nuts and bolts and the mechanics.
                One who has had to deal with such questions is Joyce Ann Zimmerman, a Roman Catholic theologian and director of the Institute for Liturgical Ministry in Dayton, Ohio.    Besides her work with this Catholic agency, she has a long standing relationship with the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship and it…

Reviving Love -- A Sermon for Advent 4B

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Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26


We have reached the end of our Advent journey.  On Wednesday evening we will light the Christ candle and celebrate the coming of the Rock of our salvation into the world. The advent of Jesus in the world fulfills the covenant promises God made with our spiritual ancestors.   God covenanted with Abraham and Sarah, promising that their descendants would be a blessing to the world.  God covenanted with Moses to bring to bring order and purpose to the people of Israel.  God covenanted with David, promising, that his throne would be established for all generations.  Yes, as the Psalmist declares, this covenant is a sign of God’s “faithfulness to all generations”  (Psalm  89:1-4).

Singing Songs of Justice with Mary

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46 And Mary[a] said,“My soul magnifies the Lord,
47     and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
    Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
    and holy is his name.
50 His mercy is for those who fear him
    from generation to generation.
51 He has shown strength with his arm;
    he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
    and lifted up the lowly;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
    and sent the rich away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
    in remembrance of his mercy,
55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
    to Abraham and to his descendants forever.” Luke 1:46-55 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
I am preaching from the 89th Psalm on this the Fourth Sunday of Advent. I have already shared my thoughts concerning the story of the annunciati…

Changing Our Mind (David P. Gushee) -- A Review

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CHANGING OUR MIND:  A Call from America’s Leading Evangelical Ethics Scholar for Full Acceptance of LGBT Christians in the Church.  By David P. Gushee.  Canton, MI:  Read the Spirit Books, 2014.  Xxiii + 131 pages.

Until recently it was generally believed that one could not be both Christian and Gay.  After all, didn’t the Bible declare homosexuality to be a sin, and besides that doesn’t nature itself suggest that humans are designed for heterosexual coupling?  At least that had been the prevailing opinion.  Things have changed dramatically in recent years.  The status of the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender (LGBT) community continues to be a vexing question for the church.   Many Christians continue to hold the line on the traditional views, while many others are challenging the traditional understanding.  In part this due to the fact that many good solid Bible-believing Jesus professing Christians have begun to come out of the closet.  As LGBT folks begin to come out of the closet w…

The Authority of Scripture in a Postmodern Age (excerpt)

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Over the past few centuries, both those who challenge the value of the Bible as a source of divine revelation and those who defend it have done so with the tools of the Enlightenment. Both sides of the debate believed they could ascertain the truth – either through historical criticism or through assumptions of historicity. As we take our journey of faith into the twenty-first century, many people both inside and outside the church believe that this earlier paradigm no longer works. If there is no certainty, can we still hope to hear the voice of God in an authoritative way in Scripture? That is, if the historical-critical method of biblical interpretation, which emerged during the modern era undermines claims of infallibility and inerrancy, how do we know when we’ve heard the divine voice in these texts we call Scripture? That is, for those of us living on the moderate to liberal side of the Christian spectrum, what authority does Scripture have for our lives?

Many years ago, as I st…

Torture in America -- Sightings (Martin Marty)

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Martin Marty writes in response to the release of the torture report, inviting us to do a bit of self-examination. Whether we like it or not, all of us need to examine our own motivations and understandings, that we might move forward. Americans have a tendency toward reveling in a sense of moral superiority, but events like this remind us that we too can perpetrate "gross evil."  Listening to some who seek to reconcile these actions with our American identity, it is clear that the only way to do this is avoid the term "torture."  Instead, as I heard one woman on NPR talk, we must carefully cling to the words "enhanced interrogation techniques."  Of course we can't end up wallowing in self-loathing, but we must be willing to recognize that we too are capable of such evil. I invite you to take and read and continue the conversation.

Torture in Americaby MARTIN E. MARTY
Monday | Dec 15 2014                                                              …