Showing posts from February, 2015

Dominion Belongs to the Lord -- Reflection on Psalm 22:23-28

Saturday, February 28, 2015 Psalm 22:23-28 

You who fear the LORD, praise him! All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him; stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel! For he did not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted; he did not hide his face from me, but heard when I cried to him. From you comes my praise in the great congregation; my vows I will pay before those who fear him. The poor shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek him shall praise the LORD. May your hearts live forever! All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD; and all the families of the nations shall worship before him. For dominion belongs to the LORD, and he rules over the nations.
Psalm 22 begins with words that Jesus cried out from the cross: "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me." These words reveal not only physical suffering, which most assuredly Jesus experienced, but also the emotional and spiritual suffering that emerged from his sense of abando…

Live Long and Prosper -- Leonard Nimoy (d. 2-27-15)

I didn't encounter Star Trek until it had finished its original run in the 1960s. I was around, but I expect we didn't get the channel.  But in the years since my first encounter,  I have probably watched every episode of every series, and every movie, multiple times.   Few fictional characters have made as much an impression on me or just about anyone else as Mr. Spock.  His Vulcan salute, his eybrow movements, and his embrace of logic, have all caught our attention.  While he at first sought to distance himself from the character, ultimately he embraced one of the great characters of TV and film.  I for one am deeply appreciative of that decision.
As many may have heard by now, Leonard Nimoy, known best to us as Mr. Spock, passed away today at the age of 83.  He will be missed, but to quote Mr. Spock, he will "live long and prosper" in our thoughts and memories. He will continue to remind us of the value of science and learning and reason, even if we need the bala…

Destroying History

It isn't the first time and it won't be the last that extremist groups will seek to destroy the historical record.  While the ransacking of the important museum in Mosul by ISIS is horrific, Humans have been hard at work destroying historical and cultural artifacts, often in the name of God, for centuries. You would think that things would be different in the 21st century, but such is not the case.
In case you've not heard (I just learned yesterday), evidence has emerged that ISIS has broken into the Museum in Mosul, Iraq's second largest city, and one that is under their control (at least for now), and destroyed priceless artifacts of the history of the region.  These include evidence of the culture of ancient Assyria, which had its heartland in northern Iraq.  If you know your Bible, you will have heard of the Assyrian empire, which destroyed the northern kingdom of Israel in the 8th Century BCE. It is said that this is done in the name of religion, but perhaps this…

Word AND Sacrament

I am a pastor within a denomination that sees itself as being “Table-Centered.” That is, we have made weekly communion a hallmark of our life together.  Many other Protestant traditions could be considered “Word-Centered,” since they feature weekly readings from Scripture and a sermon, but not a time gathering at the Table (except perhaps monthly or quarterly).  In part this is due to a Zwinglian desire to stand separate from the Roman Catholic focus on the Mass.  [The Eucharist: Encounters with Jesus at the Table].

                My question is this – if we consider ourselves to be Table-centered, does that mean we can downplay the importance of the Ministry of the Word?  That is, can we just go to Communion without hearing the Scriptures read and the Word proclaimed?  I occasionally hear people in Disciples circles, including members of the congregations I’ve served, saying Communion is central to their spiritual life, but that they really don’t need the sermon.  N…

Pope Francis -- Sightings (Martin Marty)

Pope Francis is probably the most compelling religious personage of our day. His style and attitudes, his commitment to social justice and embrace of simplicity have gained for him multitudes of admirers, including among Protestants of most stripes (not that group that still wants to see the Pope as the anti-Christ).  He has his critics, especially among Catholic traditionalists who had welcomed the pontificate of Benedict.  He's still taking traditional lines on things like women clergy and LGBT folks, though less hard line.  In any case, we  have found much to admire.  Martin Marty takes a tour of the responses in this week's Sightings column.   Pope Francis
By MARTIN E. MARTY   FEB. 19, 2015Pope Francis greets pilgrims during a general audience                  Giulio Napolitano / ShutterstockDepressed, weary, or frightened by stories of USIS and ISIS and other horrors, plus by debates over “religious extremism” and the role of Islam, we focus instead on the not-unimportant f…

Divine Things or Human Things -- Lectionary Reflection for Lent 2B

Mark 8:31-38 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) 31 Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32 He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”34 He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. 36 For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37 Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38 Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulter…

The Church in Exile (Lee Beach) -- A Review

THE CHURCH IN EXILE: Living in Hope After Christendom By Lee Beach. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2015. 240 pages.
The age of Christendom is rapidly coming to an end. In fact, we are living in a post-Christendom world.  Christianity remains the largest religion in the world, but the former heartland of Christianity – Europe and North America is rapidly become more secular religious. Churches still exist and shall exist for the foreseeable future, but they no longer hold positions of honor and influence in our culture. Younger generations are either fleeing our churches or never entered them to begin with. For religious professionals, which includes me, it is almost as if we’re outposts of the Pony Express watching as the telegraph poles are being put up across the landscape. These are difficult times for the church. But this new post-Christendom age offers potential opportunities, if only we’re willing to open ourselves up to them. We may not have a seat at the table with the mov…

The Realm of God Draws Near -- Sermon for Lent 1B

Mark 1:9-15

Each Sunday we pray: “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”  What does this request of God mean? What is this heavenly reality that we seek to experience here on earth?
After his baptism and sojourn in the wilderness, Jesus went into Galilee preaching the good news that God’s realm was near at hand? What does Jesus’ preaching mission have to do with you and me? How is this good news?
On the first Sunday of Lent, the lectionary readings from the Gospels focus on Jesus’ sojourn in the wilderness where he faced a time of testing before he began his public ministry. While Matthew and Luke are a bit more expansive than Mark, they all tell us that Jesus experienced what some would call an ordeal. In many cultures young people go through some kind of rite of passage. It might simply be a ceremony, like confirmation or baptism, or it might be something more demanding, like going out in the wilderness and facing down a lion. When you return home, you have …

Politics and the Church

I participate in a Facebook Group that is designed to give members of my denomination the opportunity to share ideas and create conversation.  For the most part it works.  It can get a bit rowdy at times.  After all, we Disciples are a faith community that values freedom to explore and espouse one's faith.  But, when it comes to politics things can get dicey.  Sometimes the tone of the conversation can get heated, and we can lose sight of what unites us. Indeed the  political polarization that exists within the broader community can infect the church. I've seen that happen lately, and people are choosing to leave the group, which is unfortunate.  
I participate in congregation-centered community organizing, with a focus on organizing suburban congregations. That is not an easy task because most suburban congregations, especially Mainline Protestant and Roman Catholic congregations, are comprised  of people with a wide spectrum of political beliefs and positions.  While politi…

The Silent Minority -- Sightings (Martin Marty)

Which ethnic group can claim to be number 1 in terms of population? You probably will be surprised by the answer. Context and history tells us a lot about how and why Americans understand themselves. As we debate immigration matters, it is good to have a conversation as well about the way diversity and assimilation enter into the conversation. So, let me introduce to you Martin Marty, who will tell us the story of America's largest ethnic grouping!

The Silent Minority
By MARTIN E. MARTY   FEB. 16, 2015German immigrants boarding ship for US (late 19th Cent)                     Credit: German Traces NYC America’s largest ethnic group has assimilated so well that people barely notice it. So ran a headline in The Economist (Feb 7). Those of us who sight and study and report on ethnic groups are also busy studying their role in religion in American public life.

Of course, everyone knows about whom, in this case, we are reporting. Ask the politicians, the media leaders, and the pollste…

Ash Wednesday: Washed and Ready

Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven. “So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. “And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. ********16 “And whenever you fast, d…

Ministry Prep --Lectionary Reflection for Lent 1B

Mark 1:9-15 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved;[a] with you I am well pleased.” 12 And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13 He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him. 14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news[b] of God,[c]15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near;[d]repent, and believe in the good news.”[e]
                The season of Lent begins in the very same place as did the season of Epiphany – with the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River by John the Baptist. The gospel readings for the first Sunday after Epiphany celebrates Jesus’ b…

Missional Worship, Worshipful Mission (Ruth A. Meyers) -- Review

MISSIONAL WORSHIP, WORSHIPFUL MISSION: Gathering as God's People, Going Out in God's Name (Calvin Institute of Christian Worship (CICW))By Ruth A. Meyers. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2014.  Xiv + 242 pages.

                In recent years there has been a strong trend among Christian congregations to deem themselves to be missional.  This is especially true among mainline Protestant congregations who have been seeking ways of getting out of their survivalist funk. To be missional is to focus on what God is doing outside the walls of the church, and then joining with God in that work.  It is a good focus—one that I have pursued. But, where does worship fit? Is it relevant to the world in which we live, especially worship that reaches back to earlier centuries? The use of rock music and drama—now that has evangelistic potential—but should we be engaging in something that seems so inward focused as worship within the walls of a church?
Ruth A. Meyers, dean of ac…

Circle of Redemption -- Speaking of God Sermon Series

Ephesians 1:3-14

During this season of Epiphany we’ve been reflecting on our “God-Talk.” Even though our words are inadequate to the task, we do speak about God.  We use metaphors and analogies and stories to give voice to what lies beyond human understanding. We are like Peter, who came up to Jesus after watching him being  transfigured on the mountain and offered to set up tents for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. He made this offer because “he did not know what to say.”  
Can you identify with Peter?  Do you find it difficult knowing what to say about God?  And yet, we do speak of God.  We speak of God the creator, the God who is love, the God who judges, and the God who saves. As Christians we often point to Jesus and say, whoever God is, God is like Jesus! 
That is why most Christians use the word Trinity to speak of the God whom we experience in Christ and through the presence of the Holy Spirit. Most of us were baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It doesn’t matter …

Disciples of Christ and the Creeds

I am about to conclude an Epiphany sermon series with a sermon that will lift up the importance of the Trinity to our ability to fruitfully speak of God.  My denomination -- the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) -- has long prided itself on being non-creedal.  We like to say that "We have no Creed but Christ, no book but the Bible." We take the Protestant principle of "Sola Scriptura" very seriously.  We do have something akin to a faith statement -- The Preamble to the Design of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), but while it looks creedal we rarely recite it in worship.  In fact I expect most Disciples don't even know it exists. 
As I was working on formatting a new book on Disciples values and practices that I've titled "Freedom in Covenant," I decided to beef up the section in the book on the role of "Tradition" in our interpretation of Scripture with a quote from William Tabbernee, the former President of Philips Semi…