Showing posts from September, 2014

Plotting a Coup? -- Lectionary Reflection for Pentecost 17A

Matthew 21:33-46 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

33 “Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a watchtower. Then he leased it to tenants and went to another country. 34 When the harvest time had come, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his produce. 35 But the tenants seized his slaves and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. 36 Again he sent other slaves, more than the first; and they treated them in the same way. 37 Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’38 But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance.’ 39 So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. 40 Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” 41 They said to him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will …

Where Is the Water? -- A Sermon from Exodus 17 for Pentecost 16A

Exodus 17:1-7

The Psalmist cries out:

O God, you are my God, I seek you,
   my soul thirsts for you;
my flesh faints for you,
   as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.  (Psalm 63:1)

Here in Michigan we don’t live in a “dry and weary land where there is no water.” No, we live in a state that is surrounded by 20% of the world’s fresh water.  So, thirst isn’t at the top of our concerns – is it?  
But, if you’ve ever traveled through the desert, you’ve seen a “dry and wear land.”  Just looking out the window at the desolate landscape can make you thirsty.  You might even begin to get an uneasy feeling, fearing what would happen if the car stalled. What would you do?  Did you bring enough water with you?  While many plants and animals that have adapted to the desert, human beings aren’t quite so well equipped.
As we think about the importance of water, perhaps we can look farther afield – to outer space.  I was listening to Science Friday on NPR and a University of Michigan scientis…

Living in a Post-Theodosian World?

I have been reading Scot McKnight's Kingdom Conspiracy: Returning to the Radical Mission of the Local Church(Brazos, 2014), in which Scot emphasizes the linkage between the local church and the kingdom of God. He insists that to live in the kingdom, one must live under the rule of King Jesus.  The role of the church is not to transform the world, but rather bear witness to kingdom values within an alternative community.  There is something enticing about building the church, and thus building the kingdom. But I'm not convinced.  In fact, I think that it can lead us to further abdicate responsibility for this world.  For me the mission that Jesus sends us on is rooted in the Abrahamic one of being a blessing to the nations.  My full review will have to wait for my finishing the book, but in my reflecting on this and other conversations about the role of the church in the world, I had this idea.  Perhaps we're not living in a post-Constantinian world, but a post Theodosia…

For ISIS, the United States’ Military Strikes Confirm God’s Favor -- Sightings (Jeffrey Kaplan)

You might say that what is happening in Iraq and Syria is a battle for the soul of Islam.  For many Muslims ISIS or ISIL or IS is an apostate version of Islam.  They don't wish to accord it legitimacy than most Christians want to accord legitimacy to the Aryan Nation or Westboro Baptist Church.  But there are others, taken with apocalyptic visions of service to the cause of world Islam who are quite happy to follow one who claims to be Caliph and might even be the expected Mahdi (an Islamic Messiah).  In this Sightings piece, Jeffrey Kaplan points out the religious foundations for this movement that has sent shivers up the spines of persons everywhere.  Since the essay leaves us without a concluding interpretation, I will leave that up to you to consider what all of this means.  

For ISIS, the United States’ Military Strikes Confirm God’s Favorby JEFFREY KAPLAN
Thursday | Sept 25 2014Territory under the control of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria                  Image: CBSNews.…


RED, BROWN, YELLOW, BLACK, WHITE WHO'S MORE PRECIOUS IN GOD'S SIGHT?: A call for diversity in Christian missions and ministry By Leroy Barber with Velma Maia Thomas.  New York:  Jericho Books, 2014.  Xiv + 206 pages.
The election of Barack Obama as President gave, for a moment, the illusion that America was now a post-racial society.  It was time to celebrate the fact that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream had been fulfilled.  Yes, we had reached the goal where people are now judged not by the “color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”  If only this were true.  While many White Americans are convinced that President Obama’s election heralded a new day in America, facts on the ground should have disabused us of that notion.  Yes, we elected a Black President, but many of the problems facing people of color, which the Civil Rights Movement hoped to deal with, remain with us.  So, is it really time to move on to other things, having checked this issue off t…

Resident Aliens -- Sightings (Martin E. Marty)

It has been 25 years since Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon published their provocative book Resident Aliens: Life in the Christian Colony (Expanded 25th Anniversary Edition).  As is often true of anniversaries, there has been an effort to commemorate it.  Among those efforts is that of Christian Century.  Since my copy hasn't arrived in my mail box I've yet to read the responses.  The book itself has inspired much conversation about what it means to be Christian in America.  What kind of distance should we place between church and state.  Hauerwas especially has gained quite a following on this issue.  I'm reading Scot McKnight's Kingdom Conspiracy: Returning to the Radical Mission of the Local Churchwhich is an expression of this vision of the church staying separate.  The question that seems to be raised by critics is whether this is possible, and whether it is a luxury that upper middle class whites can bask in.  I can't remember if I read the book back …

Going to the Head of the Line -- Lectionary Reflection for Pentecost 16A

Matthew 21:23-32 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)  
23 When he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” 24 Jesus said to them, “I will also ask you one question; if you tell me the answer, then I will also tell you by what authority I do these things. 25 Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?” And they argued with one another, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ 26 But if we say, ‘Of human origin,’ we are afraid of the crowd; for all regard John as a prophet.” 27 So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.
28 “What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ 29 He answered, ‘I will not’; but later he changed his min…

Witnessing to Peace

Yesterday was the International Day of Peace.  It is a United Nation's sponsored observance, serving to remind a world that finds peace a difficult goal to achieve, that no matter the difficulties, it is a goal to pursue.  One needn't be a pacifist to be committed to the pursuit of peace.  So, whether we are a pacifist or not, we can bear witness to the call to peace.  Jesus said:  "Blessed are the Peacemakers, for they will be called the Children of God."  Surely that is a family would aspire to!

The Troy-area Interfaith Group, which I serve as Convener, has been celebrating this annual event for much of its decade-long existence, and yesterday TIG partnered with my congregation to draw together the community of Troy and its neighbors to give witness to peace from a variety of faith traditions.  The TIG observance was held in partnership with my own congregation -- Central Woodward Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) -- which was dedicating (planting) a new Peac…

God Provides the Meal -- Sermon for Pentecost 15A

Exodus 16:2-15

When you are hungry, a good meal is always welcomed.  It doesn’t have to be fancy.  It just has to be filling.  
I remember back to my early days living in the Pasadena YMCA.  I didn’t have a lot of money, so I lived on a daily ration of a micro-waved frozen poor boy sandwich and cupful of imitation kool-aid.  I kept the poor boys and the gallon jug in the little fridge at the bookstore where I worked.  You can imagine how I felt when Peggy, the store’s assistant manager, would invite me home for a meal and the opportunity to wash my clothes.  It was like manna from heaven.
As we continue our journey through the Exodus story, the thrill of freedom confronts the reality of hunger.  The people begin complaining – again –  “Did you bring us out here to the desert to starve to death?”  If only we’d stayed back in Egypt where we could enjoy the “fleshpots of Egypt.” Yes, perhaps slavery is better than starvation.

I Survived a Short Term Mission Trip to Honduras! -- Sightings (Brian Howell)

Many churches schedule short term mission trips for their youth. Some travel overseas and others go to places where need is perceived here in the state. Many go to disaster relief sites. I have been intimately involved in the establishment of a mission station in Detroit. For the past four summers mission teams have been coming to Detroit through two ministries my congregation has partnered with -- Motown Mission and Rippling Hope (Gospel in Action Detroit). Motown just finished its tenth season and is a United Methodist related effort. Rippling Hope has its roots in the Disciples, but it seeks to be ecumenical, while Gospel in Action Detroit is a Michigan Region effort working in partnership with Rippling Hope and Motown Mission.  I share this say that I see the value in Short Term Missions, but I also know that there can be a dark side that needs to be acknowledged.  This mixture is explored in brief in this Sightings piece from Wheaton College Anthropology Professor, Brian Ho…

The Gospel and the Importance of Theology

I hear too regularly that the Christian faith isn't about theology -- or something to that effect.  For liberals and even some moderates, in our desire to break free from a narrow dogmatism, we can throw off too much of those beliefs and practices that have proven central to the faith.  In the age of Christendom, which has now largely dissipated, culture reinforced religion.  As Christendom has disintegrated those elements of society that propped churches and religious life are now absent.  So, when I hear fellow clergy say that its about community and not theology that defines our lives, I'm left wondering what the difference is between the church and the PTA or Kiwanis or simply a coffee klatch.  
In recent years I  have found Canadian theologian Douglas John Hall to be thoughtful and provocative in his writings.  In his relatively recent book, Waiting for the Gospel, Hall lift s up the importance of theology.  Christianity if it is to continue existing in those post-Christ…

Hillsong -- Sightings (Martin Marty)

Many years ago -- before I was born -- Aimee Semple McPherson made news with her blend of revival religion and media savvy. She was a Pentecostal evangelist he planted a church, launched a denomination and a Bible College, while establishing one of the first Christian radio stations.  Since she burst on the scene in the early 1920s, many mega-church movements have come on the scene.  One of the most recent is a transplant from Australia, which is probably best known for the music it produces.  Apparently Hillsong, which now has planted a congregation in Los Angeles caught the eye of the New York Times, and from there of Martin Marty.  He provides some interesting insight into this church and its influence on the current religious scene.  As always, take a read and offer your thoughts.   

Hillsongby MARTIN E. MARTY
Monday | Sept 15 2014Hillsong Sydney, Australia, Praise and Worship                               Image: James Kirsop / Compfight“Hillsong.” Never heard of Hillsong, the Aust…