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Showing posts from October, 2014

"Heaven Is Not Fear"

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Fear is a great motivator. It motivates because it pushes us to take care of number 1 at all costs. Now from an evolutionary perspective there is a place for fear -- but from the perspective of faith there isn't.
With elections just days away in which there possibly be important national and international consequences, the politics of fear are in full swing. Fear is used to either motivate one to vote for/against a candidate or simply not vote.  If both candidates are a threat to our lives, perhaps it's better to stay home.  Now, on Monday I'll post a piece on the importance of voting, but that's for a different day.  Then there is the hysteria out there concerning Ebola. Ebola is certainly a threat in West Africa, but it isn't a threat here in the States. This business about quarantines is all politics and not science, which is why I throw my support behind nurse Kaci Hickox.  I think in the end she will be vindicated by the facts, and the officialdom who wish to k…

Orange October -- A Celebration

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Last night those watching Game 7 of the World Series got to enjoy watching history in the making. Madison Bumgarner, a twenty-five year old pitcher, pitched five dominant innings of relief to power the San Francisco Giants to their third Championship in five years, to go with two previous dominant wins as a starter (in three World Series he has a .25 ERA -- amazing). Oh, and this series clinching win came on the road in game seven - a fete that hasn't happened since 1979, when the Willie Stargell led Pirates beat the Orioles.  They were a family, and so is this Giants team! 
As a life-long Giants fan who endured years of  unfulfilled hopes and dreams (and a lot of bad teams), these three championships have been wonderful. Bumgarner is a cornerstone to all three.  This one came twenty-five years after the Giants made their first appearance in twenty-seven years (a 1962 series the Giants lost to the Yankees in seven).  That series against the A's, of course was the one interrup…

Southern White Evangelical Decline -- Sightings (Martin Marty)

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The country is becoming more diverse, and thus the cultural leaders of the past are finding it more difficult to retain their influence. In places like the Pacific Northwest and the Northeast religion casts a very short shadow. In the South that shadow is much longer, but as Martin Marty shows us -- it too is shortening. This is especially true of the influence of White Evangelicals who have been a cultural and political force in the South.  But is that drawing to a close?  Take a read.  
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Southern White Evangelical Declineby MARTIN E. MARTY
Monday | Oct 27 2014First Baptist Church of Jacksonville, Florida                            Credit: Fbcjax / Wikemedia CommonsSouthern Evangelicals Dwindling—and Take the GOP Edge With Them screams a headline in the online Atlantic (17 Oct. 2014). Below it, Robert P. Jones, the adventurous and reliable CEO of the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) reports on the Institute's 43,000 interviews throughout 2013.

I’ll exe…

Celebrity Preachers Beware! -- Lectionary Reflection for Pentecost 21A

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Matthew 23:1-12 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
23 Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear,and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them. They do all their deeds to be seen by others; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long. They love to have the place of honor at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have people call them rabbi. But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all students. And call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father—the one in heaven. 10 Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Messiah. 11 The greatest among y…

C.S. Lewis and the Crisis of a Christian (Gregory Cootsona) -- Review

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C. S. LEWIS AND THE CRISIS OF A CHRISTIAN.By Gregory S. Cootsona. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2014. 169 pages.


           Like many Christians C.S. Lewis is one of the authors who has traveled with me over a lifetime. From the Chronicles of Narnia to Mere Christianity, he has inspired our imaginations and helped resolve lingering questions of the faith. Fifty years after his death people continue to delve into his books and make pilgrimages to the places he inhabited in Oxford. During my own time in Oxford, I spent a lunch time in the very room at the Eagle and Child Pub, where Lewis gathered with colleagues and friends including J.R.R. Tolkien to talk about their work and drink beer.  If you happen to go to the Magdalen College chapel you can find the stall where he sat while a Fellow there.  Then there is the pulpit at St. Mary the Virgin University Church where he preached his famed sermon The Weight of Glory, a pulpit that also featured such luminaries as John Wesley …

The Giving Table -- A Stewardship Sermon

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Matthew 26:26-29



It is stewardship season once again. This means that the council members are making out budgets to fund next year’s ministries.  The budget covers things like church maintenance, staff salaries, and funding for the ministries and mission we engage in.
Budget-making requires both realism and faith. We can’t spend more than we take in through pledges, offerings, and endowment earnings, which means that if you’re not up-to-date on your pledge – Wynn Miller would like to see you!  After all, we can’t pay our bills with promises of future income.  At the same time the budget needs to be a document of faith. It needs to tell a story about our vision as a congregation. While we’ve not yet developed what is called a Narrative Budget that focuses more on the mission than numbers, our budget should express a vision for mission and ministry. So, when we write a budget we need to leave some room to grow in our generosity and vision for mission.  
During “stewardship season” I usual…

Carol Howard Merritt at Central Woodward Christian Church

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2014 Perry Gresham Lecture and Clergy Day
November 7-9, 2014
With Rev. Carol Howard Merritt Pastor and Author  

Offered in partnership by Central Woodward Christian Church and Christian Theological Seminary

Deuteronomy (Belief: A Theological Commentary on the Bible) -- Review

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DEUTERONOMY (Belief: A Theological Commentary on the Bible).  By Deanna A. Thompson.  Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2014.  Xvii + 270 pages.


Reading biblical commentaries is a necessary but often daunting task for a preacher or bible teacher.  This can be especially true if the focus is on textual or historical intricacies. This work is essential, but for the non-specialist a trip down such methodologies can mean getting lost in the weeds.  When the biblical book under review is a book like Deuteronomy, which seem so distant from our own world, getting lost in the weeds can keep us from finding anything of true value.  For the preacher and teacher, what is needed most are commentaries that show understanding of the theology and practices contained within those books, so that we might hear something of value for own time.  The Belief Commentary series, edited by the late William Placher and Amy Plantinga Pauw offers us just such trove of riches.  Deanna Thompson's contri…

Bob Gray -- Remembering a Childhood Hero

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When you are a child you probably have a hero or two.  These are the people whom you want to emulate in life.  It might be a parent or an older sibling, or maybe a neighbor.  In my case, as a child living in Mt. Shasta, California my hero was Mr. Gray.  My father was a rather detached parent, and into that role in many ways stepped my neighbor.  
The Gray family became my family too.  There were four children.  Doug was the oldest and already nearing high school.  Mary was younger, but old enough to serve as a baby sitter.  David was just a couple of years older and Don was my age -- and my first best friend.  We moved to Klamath Falls when I was nine, but during that six year period living in Mt. Shasta, we were like family.
Bob Gray was a kind, gentle father to his own children and he reached out to me as well.  What gave excitement to the story, however was Bob's job.  He was a Fire Control Officer with the US Forest Service.  With lots of National Forest land in the area, the…

Religion Unites or Divides -- Sightings (Martin Marty)

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Does religion unite or divide? That's a complex question. Why know lots of stories about religiously inspired or at least rationalized violence. It is present in every culture and religious context. We also know stories of how it unites and serves. The question raised by Martin Marty in this essay concerns why in the United States there has been so little religiously inspired violence. It's not that it is totally absent, but it is less than many other places in the world.  Could it be a result of something present in our "constitutional polity"?  One that is in its essence secular but allowing for full expression of religious expression (as long as it does not infringe on the rights of others or injure them in some way)?  I invite you to take a read and offer your thoughts.



Religion Unites or Dividesby MARTIN E. MARTY
Monday | Oct 20 2014Rally in Pensacola to support educators on trial in federal court for praying in school (2009)             Image Credit: Cher…

Finals Week -- Lectionary Reflection for Pentecost 20A

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Matthew22:34-46 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
34 When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, 35 and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36 “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” 37 He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
41 Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them this question: 42 “What do you think of the Messiah? Whose son is he?” They said to him, “The son of David.” 43 He said to them, “How is it then that David by the Spirit calls him Lord, saying, 44 ‘The Lord said to my Lord,
“Sit at my right hand,
    until I put your enemies under your feet”’? 45 If David thus calls him Lord, how can he be his son?” 46 No one w…

God Is Not Afraid of New Things

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Like m any I've been watching with great interest reports on the recently concluded Roman Catholic Synod on the Family. Pope Francis has been at the very minimum calling for a change of tone in the church, along with moving the focus away from a narrow spectrum of issues to a a broader, more open agenda.  This turn has not been welcomed by all. Indeed, a vocal group of "traditionalists" has been resisting this change with all their might, which goes to show you that the Papacy might be a monarchy, but it's not an absolute one.  
While earlier messages from the Pope have focused on economic justice, provoking much angst on the part of politically conservative Catholics -- especially those working for Fox or in Congress.  This time it has been issues of the family, and whether the church should be more welcoming to those who are divorced, who live together before marriage, and of course LGBT folks.  The initial reports were very promising.  The report from preliminary…

Arguing With God - A Sermon for Pentecost 19A

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Exodus 33:12-23


Is it okay to argue with God?  Moses thought so.  So did Abraham. You might say that to argue with God is to intercede with God. And it seems as if God invites us to bring our concerns into God’s presence.
As we bring our journey through Exodus to a close, the people are about to leave Sinai. They can see the light at the end of the tunnel.  There’s only one problem, God isn’t sure whether to continue on with them.  God has had enough dealing with this “stiff-necked people,” and while God hasn’t unleashed his wrath on them, he’s not sure how long this can continue.  Apparently, that Golden Calf affair was the last straw.
If God isn’t sure whether it’s a good idea to continue on, Moses won’t hear of it.  To Moses, there’s no point going on to the Promised Land without God.

The River of Life (Lee Harmon) -- A Review

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THE RIVER OF LIFE: Where Liberal and Conservative Christianity Meet Gonzalez, FL:  Energion Publications, 2014.  84 pages.

                What is a liberal Christian (I realize that there are those who think that these terms are mutually exclusive)?  Can a liberal Christian meet up with a conservative one and have a truly constructive conversation?  Lee Harmon, a writer/blogger, sets out to present his vision of liberal Christianity in order to prepare for that conversation. He does so by addressing the chief dividing issues by seeking to interpret them in light of the biblical story. 
                 In The River of Life Harmon offers us the defining marks of what he believes a liberal/agnostic Christian faith looks like.  He offers a vision of what it means to be a follower of Jesus, even if he finds it necessary to be agnostic as to the nature of the God whom Jesus seeks to represent.  In other words, he’s not too sure about the God we find described in the biblical story, eve…

The Giants Win the Pennant! The Giants Win the Pennant! The Giants Win the Pennant!!

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After last night's dramatic ending to a hard fought National League Championship Series -- the Giants won 4 games to one, but every game went down to the wire -- I decided I had to shift from religion and politics to my other passion -- the San Francisco Giants.  Yes, in memorable fashion - -like the 1951 Giants with Bobby Thomson's Shot Heard Around the World, an unexpected home run sent the Giants on to the World Series!
The Giants aren't a poor team, but they can't compete with the Dodgers and Yankees for the biggest names.  They have their stars, but during this post season it was the unsung heroes that stood out.  Think about Matt Duffy bunting or Yusmeiro Petit pitching six innings of relief in what became essentially a second game against the Nationals, and then coming back on Wednesday evening and shutting the door on the Cardinals when it looked as if things would get out of hand.  The Giants capitalized on mistakes by their opponents rather that (at least un…

Feasting on the Word: Advent Companion -- Book Note

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FEASTING ON THE WORD ADVENT COMPANION: A Thematic Resource for Preaching and Worship.  Edited by David L. Bartlett, Barbara Brown Taylor, and Kimberly Bracken Long. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2014. x + 195 Pages.

As I write this the worship team from my congregation and I have been working on plans for Advent. Advent is, as any pastor or music minister knows, is a difficult season to plan for. There is this heavy cloud of the commercialized Christmas vision hanging over it. The texts and hymns for the season tend to be dark, while the people want to sing Joy to the World and Jingle Bells.  Advent is supposed to be a season of contemplation, reflection, even penitence. Since it is a new season for many Protestants we're not really sure what to do with it.  For lectionary preachers, and I count myself among them, there comes a point when you feel like you need to turn to something else for inspiration.  You are ready to try something new.
Many preachers, especially lec…

GOD AND CAESAR - A sermon on Matthew 22:15-22

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Note:  The Gospel reading for Sunday comes from Matthew 22:15-22. The only time I've preached on the text came in 2002, before I started blogging.  I decided that it might be helpful/useful to share this sermon for the first time outside First Christian Church of Santa Barbara.

Matthew 22:15-22
When I was young, I think ninth grade, I thought about being a politician.  We had a class called SUTOE, which was short for Self Understanding Through Occupational Exploration.  I think you can understand why we called SUTOE.   This class was supposed to help us decide what to do when we grew up.  Since I was thinking about politics, I decided to visit with an attorney.  After all, most politicians start out as attorneys.  So Harold, when are you going to run for office?
My interest in politics comes naturally.  My father served as Richard Nixon's campaign chair for San Francisco in the 1962 gubernatorial election.  When we moved to Mt. Shasta my dad served as chair of the Republican Cent…

Caesar’s Due -- Lectionary Reflection for Pentecost 19A

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Matthew 22:15-22 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) 15 Then the Pharisees went and plotted to entrap him in what he said. 16 So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality. 17 Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” 18 But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? 19 Show me the coin used for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. 20 Then he said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” 21 They answered, “The emperor’s.” Then he said to them, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”22 When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away.
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            There are two things that are certain in life – …

Kingdom Conspiracy (Scot McKnight) -- A Review

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KINGDOM CONSPIRACY: Returning to the Radical Mission of the Local Church. By Scot McKnight. Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2014. 289 pages.

What does the kingdom of God look like? Is it a heavenly place that those who accept Jesus get to experience when they die?  Or is it a matter of pursuing social justice and the common good? What role does the church play in this kingdom? Is the kingdom synonymous with the church, or is it much larger than the church?  Is it possible that they have no relationship with each other? These are questions that Christians have been debating for generations. In what looks like a post-Constantinian era (or a post-Theodosian era), the question of whether the kingdom has something to do with the public square becomes even more germane.
The question of how the church fits into the biblical definition of the kingdom has become pertinent because many Christians, as well as non-Christians have begun to wonder whether God has anything to do with the church.  Is the …

God Under Control -- A Sermon for Pentecost 18A

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Exodus 32:1-14

Last Sunday Rick preached on the Ten Commandments – the biblical ones, not the movie! According to the Exodus story, these commandments define God’s covenant expectations. In making the covenant with Israel, God said to them – I will bless you, but this is what I expect of you in return. The commandments begin with this proclamation: I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth (Ex. 20:1-4). The point being – there is just one God, and don’t make images of God.

Left Behind -- Sightings (Martin Marty)

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I did not read the book, nor did I see the original movie based upon it, nor do I plan to see the current movie based upon it. For one thing, I long ago gave up my "rapture" obsessed faith, realizing that this was not the best reading of Scripture nor fitting with the way I had come to understand God. While I do occasionally go to see bad movies, I'm hesitant to see bad movies that have religious themes. Martin Marty writes, as he always does, with wit and wisdom about how we might approach bad movies on religious themes -- both those that seem to support the faith and those that don't. I invite you to read and reflect, but probably not go see the movie!
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Left Behindby MARTIN E. MARTY
Monday | Oct 6 2014Rapture of people out of the world                                   Image Credit: Benjamin Haas / ShutterstockWarning: if you open the links mentioned in the “Sources” section at the end of this column, your agenda of other things to r…

Marriage: A Partnership of Equals (Part 3)

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1 Corinthians 7:1-7 

The traditional model for marriage relationships emphasizes hierarchy or chain of command. The implicit message of this model is that women are by nature inferior to men, and therefore need male guidance.  Therefore, due to their mental and/or physical inferiority women should submit to their husbands (or fathers). This perspective colors the way that families structure themselves, but it also influences they way they interpret biblical passages such as Ephesians 5:22-33.[1]
Although many traditionalists reject the idea that they view women as inferior to men, in practice they demonstrate that they do believe women to be inferior. Resisting women in leadership roles, including the ordained ministry is at least suggestive of such a view. It isn’t that there are no differences between men and women, but do these differences imply subordination?
            If we affirm the essential equality of the sexes then male dominance cannot be affirmed.  I would suggest that…

Marriage -- A Partnership of Equals (Part 2)

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1 Corinthians 7:1-7
            The principle of reciprocal authority or mutual submission is developed by Paul in verses 2-4, and is followed in verses 5-6 with the development of the principle of joint decision making in marriage.  Paul writes: "Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a set time, to devote yourselves to prayer, and then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control."The New International Version brings out with even greater clarity the key phrase, which is "except by mutual consent." This phrase is important, because this is the only example in the New Testament where decision making in marriage is discussed, and it stresses the importance of mutuality.

            In verse 5 of 1 Corinthians 7 Paul addresses those who advocate permanent abstinence from sexual intercourse in marriage on spiritual grounds. Although Paul concedes that spouses might set aside time away from each other f…

The Chosen Few -- Lectionary Reflection for Pentecost 18A

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Matthew 22:1-14 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
22 Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. Again he sent other slaves, saying, ‘Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.’ But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’ 10 Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all …

Marriage – A Partnership of Equals (part 1)

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Corinthians 7:1-7 The Bible was born in a patriarchal age. Women were, for the most part, considered property – first of their fathers and then of their husbands. Although this vision may be the dominant position in the biblical story there are alternative perspectives present in the text. At several points in the story women play either a leading role or have strong roles.  Sarah, Deborah, Tamar, Miriam, Rahab, Ruth and Naomi to name but a few of the leading characters in the Hebrew Bible.  Then there is in the New Testament the way in which Jesus engages with women and raises them up to the status of disciples.  Consider that he makes his first resurrection appearance to Mary Magdalene and speaks to Mary of Bethany as a Disciple.  Although Paul is often viewed as less open to women leaders, he considers women such as Priscilla, Phoebe, and Junia as leaders in the church. 
There are texts, such as 1 Corinthians14 that command women to be silent and yet there are also passages that see…

How Not to Understand Isis -- Sightings (Alireza Doostdar)

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As the world again enters into a conflagration in the Middle East, we are invited to listen to all manner of interpretations of the conflict and its participants. Right now the focus is on ISIS, a militant organization that claims religious roots and seeks to create a modern Caliphate or pan-Islamic state. This group has taken large swathes of territory in both Iraq and Syria. In our attempts to understand the issues, it is easy to move to a singular explanation when things are in reality quite complex. The propagandists of ISIS/ISIL/IS claim roots in the Salafist religious movement, and it has become easy to connect Salafism to Violent Jihad. But is it really so simple? Could there be other factors -- ethnic, cultural, altruism, mental instability, frustration with the realities of life? We don't like complex answers. They don't make for good politics or good war-making for that matter. With regard to Islam and the Middle East, we in the West are largely ignorant of t…