Showing posts from August, 2014

Living the Faith -- A Sermon for Pentecost 12A

Romans 12:9-21

Sometimes you come across a passage of Scripture that could take several months of sermons to explore.  This is true of today’s reading.  With sentences coming at us in rapid-fire fashion, it demands a great degree of reflection.  Since I’m not planning an extended series at this moment, I will try to refrain from dwelling too long in every nook and cranny of Paul’s message.  
Each statement is an imperative sentence that speaks to what it means to live the Christian life.  It’s fitting that this reading comes on Labor Day Weekend, because it will take a lot of work to fulfill Paul’s expectations.  
The key to this passage is the call to “let love be genuine” (vs. 9).  Everything that follows is an expression of genuine love.  It’s not romantic love.  It’s not just friendship.  It’s Agape love.  When it comes to defining love, I’ve been turning to theologian Tom Oord for help.  His basic definition goes like this: To love is to act intentionally, in sympathetic/empathetic r…

Labor Day and the realities of Labor

It is Labor Day Weekend, a time to stop and remember the value of work and the often problematic aspects of labor.  Being a member of the white collar community, it is easy for me to forget what it means to truly labor, to submit one's body and mind to often dangerous and mind numbing work in factories and fields.  We live at a time when labor unions are in decline and the manufacturing sector is in decline as well in America.  We benefit (Americans that is) from cheap goods imported from other lands where labor practices are often unchecked, meaning that the practices mirror those in America in the 19th century and early 20th.
With this in mind, and as I was thinking about what to share on this Saturday of Labor Day, my mind went to the early Reinhold Niebuhr, who served as a pastor in Detroit during the early days of the Auto boom.  In a posting from 1925 in his book of reflections on his ministry in Detroit -- Leaves from the Notebook of a Tamed Cynic -- he writes of a visit …

Sex and Marriage Go Together -- Part 2

Continued from previous day's post.

Song of Songs 7:10-13; 8:5-7

Our focus here is on the role of sexuality within marriage, and while the Song of Songs (or Song of Solomon) can be interpreted allegorically for a spiritual purpose -- speaking of the love humans share with God -- that is not the original intent of these songs.  They celebrate human love that is expressed physically. The woman speaks to her beloved:   “I am my beloved’s, and his desire is for me.”She celebrates the mutual attraction that binds the couple together.  Seemingly out of step with the culture, the woman also takes the lead in the relationship.  She invites her beloved to walk through the fields and the gardens, where life is lush and fruitful, to a place where she says “There I will give you my love” (Song of Songs 7:10-12).  The sharing of love here is physical.  It is, to use a Greek term, eros.She is going to show him a good time.  But this isn’t just a momentary fling.  It is much more than that. 

Sex and Marriage Go Together -- Part 1

Song of Songs 7:10-13; 8:5-7

In the first creation story, after God created humankind, both male and female, God told them to be “fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:28).   This command implies sex.  In the second creation story we are told that “a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh.”  It is possible, though not necessary, that this statement implies a sexual relationship.  It could also suggest the merging of families. 
From a strictly biological perspective, sex is a normal part of human experience.  It is the means by which humans procreate.  But sex isn’t just about procreation.  Sex can also be about pleasure.  That too might have an evolutionary element to it.  If it were not a pleasurable experience, then it’s likely that humans would forgo it.  That would lead to the demise of the human race. 
From a strictly biological perspective, one needn’t be married to have sex or to procreate.  Many have sex outside of marriage, even if t…

Time to be Arrested? -- Lectionary Reflection for Pentecost 13A

Matthew16:21-28-- New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

21 From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. 22 And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” 23 But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
24 Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.25 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. 26 For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?
27 “For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his F…


THE MAINLINER'S SURVIVAL GUIDE TO THE POST-DENOMINATIONAL WORLD. By Derek Penwell.  St. Louis, MO:  Chalice Press, 2014.  188 pages.

The Mainline Protestant Church has been in decline for much of my life. The churches that make up the Mainline reached their height of influence and numbers within a few years of my birth at the end of the 1950s. Once full churches are either closing or surviving with a scattering of aging members who can remember better days.  Yes, there are a few congregations bucking the trend, but overall, the Mainline has moved to the sidelines.  At least that’s the interpretation of many observers.   Going back a generation we were told that the reason why these churches were struggling was their liberal views – politically and theologically.  Ironically, today demographers are discovering that younger adults are ignoring the church because of its perceived conservatism. That could bode well for Mainliners, except that there’s little social pressure to encoura…

A Call to Representative Ministry -- Reflection on Ordination

Note:  Today (Sunday), Central Woodward Christian Church, the congregation which I serve as pastor, will host the ordination of one of its' own.  In the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), it is the Regional body that ordains on behalf of the entire church.  The local congregation, however, recommends the candidate to the Region, and often hosts the service.  Thus, I will serve as the host pastor for the ordination.  This is an exciting day for the congregation.  With that in mind I am posting excerpts from my book Unfettered Spirit: Spiritual Gifts for the New Great Awakeningthat focus on the question of ordained ministry.  This excerpt focuses on ordained ministry as representative ministry.  

One way to make sense of ordained ministry while affirming the premise that all baptized Christians are priests of God is to see pastoral ministry defined as representative ministry. The pastor would embody for the congregation the call that all members share in. Therefore, whether sta…

The Biblical Call to Ordained Ministry

Note:  Tomorrow (Sunday), Central Woodward Christian Church, the congregation which I serve as pastor, will host the ordination of one of its' own.  In the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), it is the Regional body that ordains on behalf of the entire church.  The local congregation, however, recommends the candidate to the Region, and often hosts the service.  Thus, I will serve as the host pastor for the ordination.  This is an exciting day for the congregation.  With that in mind I am going to be posting excerpts from my book Unfettered Spirit: Spiritual Gifts for the New Great Awakeningtoday and tomorrow that focus on the question of ordained ministry.  This excerpt focuses on biblical visions of ordination.

Pushing the conversation further, we need to remember that there isn’t a New Testament doctrine that envisions today’s professional minister. The New Testament offers a variety of structures, some more formal than others, with Corinth and Ephesus offering contrasting …

WE MAKE THE ROAD BY WALKING (Brian McLaren) -- Review:

WE MAKE THE ROAD BY WALKING: A Year-Long Quest for Spiritual Formation, Reorientation, and Activation.  By Brian D. McLaren.  New York:  Jericho Books, 2014.  Xxii + 282 pages.

                The Christian community is in a period of transition.  We don’t know what the future holds.  Certain strands of theology suggest that God has already planned out everything.  We may not know the intricacies of the plan, but God does.  Such a vision can lead to a degree of passivity.  What will happen, will happen.  There are others, however, who believe that future is much more open.  They believe that we have a role to play in that future (I count myself among this group).  The question is – how do we prepare ourselves for this journey into the future?  We might also ask about the resources available to us so we can work with God in creating this future.   One of these resources is the Bible.  The various lectionaries have offered the community ways in which to draw upon this resource in a some…

Marriage and the Problem of Brokenness -- Part 2

Mark 10:2-12

 In his words about divorce, Jesus takes us beyond what the law allows, to what we might call the ideal for marriage.  Looking back to Genesis 1 and 2, Jesus says, "from the beginning of creation `God made them male and female'."  And, "for this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh."   But what does it mean to be one flesh?  Well, it could mean that the man and woman are exactly alike, duplicates of each other, or it could mean that one spouse controls the marriage.  These are possible definitions, but there is no mutuality in them.  Then there is the popular fifty-fifty marriage, but as Walter Wangerin points out, when we think of ourselves as fractions we will discover that "these two halves don't fit perfectly together."  There is, however, another possible definition.  Wangerin suggests that in a marriage, there are three complete beings:  the couple and the re…

Marriage and the Problem of Brokenness -- Part 1

 Mark 10:2-12

            The need for companionship and community is deeply rooted in our human nature.  It is, one might say, a reflection of being created in the image of God.  In the first creation story, a poetic statement of God’s creative activity, we hear God say to God’s self:  “Let us create humankind in our image,” and so “in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:26-27).  The use of the plural here invites speculation, and theological speculation isn’t the point here – but it does invite us to consider within the oneness that is God there is a plurality of existence – a community within the one.  The Christian doctrine of the Trinity is one way of expressing this sense of plurality within the oneness of God.
The Genesis story begins with two stories of God’s creation of humanity as male and female.These stories speak of community and companionship.But then the story takes a dark turn.In Genesis 3, brokenness enters the picture.The rela…

Messianic Complex? -- Lectionary Reflection for Pentecost 11A

Matthew 16:13-20 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” 20 Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah. ************** Who is Jesus?  That is a question than…

No Marriage in Heaven? Oh My!

Luke 20:27-38
There is a common hope among family members that when they die that they will be reunited with their loved ones – including their spouses.  Some faith traditions, like Mormonism, make this idea a centerpiece of their faith.  Marriages performed in a Mormon Temple are consecrated not only for the present life, but also for the next life.  While mainstream Christianity doesn’t make that belief quite as explicit as does Mormonism, the expectation for many is that family life will continue on in the next life much as it does in the present life.  While this view is common, is this the way Jesus understands marriage and family?  In other words, did Jesus preach a message of family values – at least in a way that many modern American Christians understand that concept?
            Throughout this study we have been wrestling with what the Bible has to say about marriage.  One thing that is clear is that the Bible doesn’t contain one continuous understanding from beginning to e…

Jesus’ Conversion -- A Lectionary Reflection for Pentecost 10A

Matthew 15:21-28

21 Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. 22 Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” 23 But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.” 24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” 25 But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” 26 He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” 27 She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” 28 Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly. ******************                 Ethnocentrism and religious exclusivism are symptomatic of the human condition.  Take American Exceptionalism as an example.  If t…

Ferguson, Race, Sin, and White America -- Reflection


Surely he has borne our infirmitiesand carried our diseases;yet we accounted him stricken,struck down by God, and afflicted.5 But he was wounded for our transgressions,crushed for our iniquities;upon him was the punishment that made us whole,and by his bruises we are healed.6 All we like sheep have gone astray;we have all turned to our own way,and the Lord has laid on himthe iniquity of us all.Isaiah 53:4-6 (NRSV)

BEING CHRISTIAN: Baptism, Bible, Eucharist, Prayer -- Review

BEING CHRISTIAN: Baptism, Bible, Eucharist, Prayer.  By Rowan Williams.  Grand Rapids:  Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2014.  Viii + 84 pages.
                What does it mean to be a Christian?  There may be as many answers to that question as there are Christians.  In fact, many outside the Christian community may want to weigh in as well.  Suffice it to say that there is no one answer to the question.  Any attempt at answering the question will have a degree of personal spin added to it.  There are, however, persons of intellect and thoughtfulness that can serve as guides to exploring the faith we call Christian.  Some of these persons have written long and involved tomes, books that require much concentration and time to absorb.  Others have chosen to go a different route.  They have offered up brief responses, but responses that can serve us all quite well.  Among those attempting to do this is Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury. 
Rowan Williams presided o…

THE BIBLE’S YES TO SAME-SEX MARRIAGE: An Evangelical’s Change of Heart (Mark Achtemeier) -- Review.

THE BIBLE'S YES TO SAME-SEX MARRIAGE: An Evangelical's Change of Heart.   By Mark Achtemeier.  Louisville:  Westminster John Knox Press, 2014.  Xv + 137 pages.
While there is still considerable resistance to marriage equality, especially among the religious communities, there is a growing sense within society and even in many parts of the Christian community that the traditional arguments against same-sex marriage are inadequate and should be abandoned.  An increasing number of those who have changed or are changing their minds are, by their own self-definition, evangelicals.  The question that most evangelicals wrestle with concerns the need to reconcile their openness with what they read in the Bible.  Encounters with gay and lesbian Christians may have forced a re-examination of the Bible; even as many did earlier with women’s roles in the church or slavery, but what is it that they find? 
All parties agree that there fairly explicitly texts that prohibit at least some ki…

Vacation, blogging, and a few pictures

I will admit it, I am a blogging addict.  I got the bug to blog daily.  I even pre-load "stuff" to fill the gaps.  But, you know, sometimes you just have to take it easy -- a Sabbath of sorts.  If you go back a few days you'll find a series of posts with excerpts from my book on spiritual gifts --Unfettered Spirit: Spiritual Gifts for the New Great Awakening, (Energion, 2013).  Speaking with due modesty, I do think this is a book worth reading -- and deserving wider readership.  So, click on the link, buy the book, read it, and let me know what you think!!

Love Wins -- A Lectionary Reflection for Pentecost 10A

Genesis 45:1-15
Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32
Matthew 15:21-28

Love Wins?

Not long ago there was a great disturbance in the Christian community.   It began when the trailer for a new book by Rob Bell was released.  A debate arose as to whether the author was an unversalist.  After all, he did raise the question – how do we know for sure that Gandhi is in hell.  There were those who bid him farewell from their ecclesial ranks, while others embraced him for the first time.  It’s likely that partisans on both sides of the debate misread the book, but the debate did raise an important issue.  What is the nature of God’s love?  Is it exclusive and conditional is it inclusive and unconditional?  For much of Christian history, perhaps of human history, our theological voices have assumed some form of exclusivity, and we have hoped that we are on the inside of the circle and not on the outside.  Another reason for our embrace of exclusivity, or a sense of chosenness, is that it gives us a sense of superi…

The Church: Sacramental Presence (Unfettered Spirit)

Another way of envisioning the nature of the church is to turn to sacramental theology. The idea of sacrament, which is traditionally defined in terms of the visible/material serving as signs of invisible grace, allows us to peer beneath the surface of our ecclesial realities. In seeking to reenvision the church sacramentally, I’m not just suggesting that the church is the place where we receive sacraments, but that being in community we experience sacramental grace. If the church is by definition the living body of Christ in the world, then it’s a visible sign of Christ’s spiritual presence. As a sacramental sign, the church brings to an alienated and estranged world the reconciling and transforming work of the Spirit. It’s as Leonardo Boff has written, “the sacrament, sign, and instrument of the now living and risen Christ, that is, the Holy Spirit.” [Boff,Church, Charism and Power: Liberation Theology and the Institutional Church150.]   Where the church as the body of Christ is …