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Showing posts from June, 2015

Can’t Go Back Home! -- Lectionary Reflection for Pentecost 6B

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Mark 6:1-13 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
He left that place and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him.On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, “Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary[a] and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense[b] at him. Then Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. And he was amazed at their unbelief.Then he went about among the villages teaching. He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. He ordered them to take…

Do We Need the New Testament? (John Goldingay) -- Review

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DO WE NEED THE NEW TESTAMENT?: Letting the Old Testament Speak for Itself Downers Grove, IL: IVPAcademic, 2015. 183 pages.
                Do we need the New Testament? Now that’s an odd question for a Christian biblical scholar to ask. Of course we need the New Testament. How else would we know about Jesus and the church’s earliest testimony about him? For many Christians the question has been the opposite. Why do we need the Old Testament? My own tradition has emphasized our identity as “New Testament Christians.” As I was recently reminded by a theologian who wrote a commentary on Deuteronomy, Christians often take a rather Marcionite view of the Old Testament/First Testament. The church may have declared Marcion a heretic for suggesting that the God of the Old Testament wasn’t the same as the God of Jesus, but in many ways we read the Bible in that fashion. At the very least, our tendency to read the Old Testament through a New Testament filter/lens causes the Old Testament to l…

The Mighty Have Fallen - Sermon for Pentecost 5B

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2 Samuel 1:1, 17-27


On Friday afternoon, the President delivered the eulogy for Pastor Clementa Pinckney, one of the nine members of Emanuel AME Church who were gunned down the week before during Bible study. It is a powerful statement addressing the ills that confront our nation, including racism and violence. It is also a strong statement of the grace that redeems and heals. The President began his eulogy with these words:  We are here today to remember a man of God who lived by faith. A man who believed in things not seen. A man who believed there were better days ahead, off in the distance. A man of service who persevered, knowing full well he would not receive all those things he was promised, because he believed his efforts would deliver a better life for those who followed. After leading the congregation in singing “Amazing Grace,” the President intoned the names of those slain and called on the congregation and the nation to share in the grace that these nine had come to know: Th…

The Profundity of Marriage

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Yesterday we witnessed a turning point in the history of the American people. The Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples have the same right to be married as opposite-sex couples. While some fear that extending marriage to same-sex couples will undermine marriages like my own, I believe that the opposite might be true. The very fact that gay and lesbian couples have sought such state recognition of their unions could provide a strong witness to the straight community that this institution called marriage is not dead, but is very much alive!

SCOTUS, Marriage, and the Church

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I wasn't sure what I was going to write about today. I knew that a ruling by the Supreme Court on marriage equality was due at any time. It could have come today or perhaps next week.  So, as I sat down this morning with my coffee, looked at the latest news on the internet, I discovered that the Supreme Court had done what most of us expected. While, I was hoping for a larger majority, by a 5-4 vote the Court ruled that civil marriage must be extended to same-sex couples. It should not surprise anyone that Anthony Kennedy again wrote for the majority, as he has written most of the recent rulings affecting the LGBT community. Of course the legal battles have not ended, nor have all the implications of the ruling been uncovered, but this is a historic day. 
So, let me offer my initial reaction.  I've tried to remain rather quiet on the subject in recent months, in part because we're having our own conversations within the congregation. It's not that the congregation is …

Unholy Holy War -- Sightings (Martin Marty)

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I must admit that I have not yet read through Pope Francis' encyclical on climate change, Laudato Si, but fortunately Martin Marty has. In this week's edition of Sightings Marty takes note of both the negative responses, which decry the Pope's analysis of our situation in the name of unbridled free markets, what he terms an unholy holy war. Marty notes however that Francis' message is similar to or in the vein of a prophetic word found in scripture, which he remembers Bonhoeffer defining as "hope projected backwards." What he finds here then is a call to hope, and the good news is that over time words of support for Francis' message of joy and hope have emerged. May we also find hope in those efforts emerging to deal with the damaging effects of climate change.
Unholy Holy War
By MARTIN E. MARTY   JUNE 22, 2015                                                                                                               Credit: GongTo / Shutterstock244. In …

Day of Atonement (David de Silva) -- Review

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DAY OF ATONEMENT: A Novel of the Maccabean RevoltBy David A. de Silva. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2015. 320 Pages.
                From the time of the Babylonian conquest of Judah in the sixth century BCE, the Jewish people lived under foreign domination. First the Babylonians, then the Persians, and then came the Greeks. The Babylonians had destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem, but the Persians allowed for the people of Jerusalem to rebuild it in the fifth century. In many ways the Temple served as a beacon of Jewish identity. The High Priests served not only as religious leaders, but often as political ones as well. In these dual roles they tried to navigate between the needs of the people and the demands of the empires that held ultimate power. By the time the second century BCE rolled around, the region was caught up between the imperial designs of two Greek kingdoms—one centered in Egypt and the other in Antioch. Both kingdoms sought to Hellenize their domains, so th…

A Time for Healing -- Lectionary Reflection for Pentecost 5B

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Mark 5:21-43 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

21 When Jesus had crossed again in the boat[a] to the other side, a great crowd gathered around him; and he was by the sea. 22 Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet 23 and begged him repeatedly, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.” 24 So he went with him. And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him. 25 Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. 26 She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. 27 She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, 28 for she said, “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.”29 Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. 30 Immediately aware that power had…

The Bigger They Are . . . Lectionary Reading for Pentecost 4B

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1 Samuel 17:32-49New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)32 David said to Saul, “Let no one’s heart fail because of him; your servant will go and fight with this Philistine.” 33 Saul said to David, “You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him; for you are just a boy, and he has been a warrior from his youth.” 34 But David said to Saul, “Your servant used to keep sheep for his father; and whenever a lion or a bear came, and took a lamb from the flock, 35 I went after it and struck it down, rescuing the lamb from its mouth; and if it turned against me, I would catch it by the jaw, strike it down, and kill it. 36 Your servant has killed both lions and bears; and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them, since he has defied the armies of the living God.” 37 David said, “The Lord, who saved me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, will save me from the hand of this Philistine.” So Saul said to David, “Go, and may the Lord be with you!” 38 Saul…

Boom or Bust, Consumerism Is Still America's Religion -- Sightings (Bruce P. Rittenhouse)

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We are a consumer driven society. Our economy is dependent on people buying things. Therefore, it would seem that the way that the nation sustains itself is by buying things, often things we really don't need. Our homes are filled with clothes and gadgets that we have purchased, probably because they made us feel good, but we really don't need. Bruce Rittenhouse, an ethicist, suggests that consumerism has a religious element to it. That is, it gives meaning to life. We buy because it produces a religious experience. Because we find meaning in buying, when push comes to shove, we will set aside the public good in order to feed our need to consume. That has, he believes, dangerous consequences for the nation.  It is a thought-provoking piece, so check it out. 
Boom or Bust, Consumerism Is Still America's Religion
By BRUCE P. RITTENHOUSE   JUNE 18, 2015                                                                                                                    Credit: Fel…

When Racism and Murder Merge

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Wednesday evening a group of people had gathered to study the Bible at the historic were meeting for Bible study at the historic Emanuel AME church in Charleston, SC. One of those who gathered for the study was a young white man, who apparently got up after about an hour and started shooting the people at the study. He killed nine, including the pastor, all of whom were African American. Most assuredly this young man was disturbed. Most mass killers are. But, whatever his mental state, his actions were racially motivated. However it occurred he had had his heart and mind corrupted by racism, and this combined with access to a firearm.  We can call this a crime of hate, and most assuredly it is one. I think that we should also be willing to call this an act of terror, for the purpose of hate-motivated acts of violence such as this is to instill terror and fear in the hearts of others.

Remembering and Forgetting

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I am a historian by training, and so I have a vested interest in remembering the past. I get concerned when people discount the past and history. There is a richness in the past that gives foundation to what we believe and what we do. That said, as any historian will tell you, when creating a historical narrative you can't say everything. You have to decide what to include and what to exclude. Our own biases influence such choices. Anyone who says that they offer a fully objective historical account is not a historian!
I titled this post remembering and forgetting, for in living life we must do both. Some things must be forgotten so that we might remember.  Hebrew Bible professor John Goldingay (of Fuller Seminary) speaks of the way the Deuteronomist tells the history of Israel.  He notes that at the heart of Deuteronomy is  a deep fear about forgetting.  Memory he says is a "struggle against forgetting."  But we can't remember everything. Somethings need to be forg…

How Not to Kill A Muslim (Josh Graves) -- A Review

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HOW NOT TO KILL A MUSLIM: A Manifesto of Hope for Christianity and Islam in North America.By Joshua Graves.  Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2015. Xii + 128 pages.

It is likely that we are not immune from making judgments based on stereotypes.  It's almost inevitable. The world is complex and complicated, and so we try to find ways to simplify the world by characterizing people and things. This requires us to prejudge people by making use of the assumptions of others.   Unfortunately, these characterizations are often incomplete or even untrue. Still, we make use of stereotypes to make sense of the world.
Many Christians, especially in the United States, have come to believe that Islam is by nature a violent religion that seeks to suppress women and encourages followers to take over the world. Now many Muslims have swallowed similar stereotypes of Christians. As a result, we approach each other (if we ever do so) in fear.
If we’re going to break free of our enslavement to unwarranted…

Sleeping through the Storm -- Lectionary Reflection for Pentecost 4B

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Mark 4:35-41 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)  35 On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” 36 And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. 37 A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. 38 But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” 39 He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. 40 He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” 41 And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”
**********                 When my son was very little the Northridge earthquake shook our apartment.  Although the quake struck miles away from where we lived, we knew it was a lar…

No More Fear

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18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. 19 We love[a] because he first loved us.  [1 John 4:18-19]  There is no fear in love, only boldness. But, we all live with fear. I live with fear -- so do you.  And yet, if God is love and we live in God, then fear should not define our realities.
In the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:23:37) one who is despised/an outcast becomes the neighbor to the one who lies in the ditch. The question that we probably need to wrestle with concerns who had the most fear in this exchange.  Did the two who walked away?  Perhaps. Could it have been the one in the ditch?  Could he have feared being helped by the Samaritan?  Or the Samaritan?  I don't know for sure. But I'm sure there was fear involved.
When we are faced with change or difficult situations in life, our tendency is to react (and usually to react is to act out of fear). Whe…

Divine Criteria -- Sermon for Pentecost 3B

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1 Samuel 15:34-16:13

Do you know what it feels like to be the last person chosen for the team? Neither team captain really wants you, but you have to go somewhere. While it’s not fun being in that position, maybe you’ll surprise your doubters! 
Let’s consider, for example, the annual NFL draft.  Each year teams covet certain players because they’re sure they’re going to make a difference. Sometimes it works out; sometimes it doesn’t. I think most of us will agree that Matthew Stafford has worked out pretty well for the Lions, but Cleveland can’t say the same for last year’s first round choice of Johnny “Football” Manziel, who might already be on his way out of the league.  There are always first round picks who end up as flops, while players picked in the later rounds, or even as undrafted free agents, can go on to be stars. I know that the Michigan fans in the room will remember a guy named Tom Brady. He went to the New England Patriots in the sixth round of the 2000 draft. Six quarter…

Seeing the New Creation -- by faith not sight

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2 Corinthians 5:6-10, 14-17 Common English Bible (CEB)
6 So we are always confident, because we know that while we are living in the body, we are away from our home with the Lord. 7 We live by faith and not by sight. 8 We are confident, and we would prefer to leave the body and to be at home with the Lord. 9 So our goal is to be acceptable to him, whether we are at home or away from home. 10 We all must appear before Christ in court so that each person can be paid back for the things that were done while in the body, whether they were good or bad. 
14 The love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: one died for the sake of all; therefore, all died. 15 He died for the sake of all so that those who are alive should live not for themselves but for the one who died for them and was raised. 16 So then, from this point on we won’t recognize people by human standards. Even though we used to know Christ by human standards, that isn’t how we know him now. 17 So then, if anyone is…

No More Enemies

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Jesus told us not to just love our friends, but love our enemies as well.   43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers and sisters,[a] what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.  [Matthew 5:43-48] That's a tall order isn't it, especially if we're willing to admit that we really do have enemies.  I'm increasingly frustrated by the vitriol that I am hearing on all sides of the political and religious spectrum. We find it difficult to listen to other…

#HestoNoNo -- Giants Baseball

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There's a lot going on in the world -- religiously, culturally, and politically, the things I often comment on.  But on a morning when I just didn't know what to say, a gift was handed to me.  
Last night rookie pitcher Chris Heston, a player who wasn't even on the Giants radar as being a mainstay of their rotation at the beginning of the year, threw the first no-hitter of the year.  He is the first Giant rookie to throw a no-hitter in more than a century, and its only the 17th no-hitter in franchise history. He has been a godsend for the Giants, who are awaiting two veteran pitchers to come off the Disabled List. He's had a few bad games, but most of the time he's been great, and last night he was near perfect (with the exception of those three hit batsmen!).  Oh, there's another kicker to this -- two other young players, Matt Duffy and Joe Panik, each contributed a home run.  And did I report that Heston had two singles, one of which drove in two runs.
So to…

Mysteries of God’s Realm - Lectionary Reflections for Pentecost 3B

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Mark 4:26-34 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
26 He also said, “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground,27 and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. 28 The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. 29 But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.”30 He also said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? 31 It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; 32 yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”33 With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it;34 he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.
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Milestone Anniversaries --June 8-9, 1985

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Over a two day period thirty years ago, I had the opportunity to celebrate two milestones in my life. In many ways, probably in ways I didn't anticipate at the time, the course of my life was being set.  
The first of two milestones came on June 8, 1985.  This was my graduation from Fuller Theological Seminary with my Masters of Divinity degree.  I had gone to Fuller without a clear sense of purpose. I knew I wanted to go to seminary. I had intended to go to Emmanuel School of Religion, but when a friend described Fuller, I decided that was the place for me. So, in the fall of 1981, I packed up my Ford Maverick and took off from Oregon with $500 in my pocket and no job or housing in place in Pasadena. Looking back it seems sort of foolish to do what I did, but it all worked out. I got a room at the YMCA and got a job at Lighthouse Christian Stores, before starting school in January of 1982. Later that spring I met Cheryl, and well you know how that ended. So, thirty years ago tod…

Christ and Culture -- A Sermon for Pentecost 2B

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1 Samuel 8:4-11, 16-20


The Elders of Israel went to Samuel the prophet and judge, and told him it was time for a change in leadership. Yes, it was time to retire, and since his sons weren’t up to the job of leading them, they wanted a king, so they could be like all the other nations.  Apparently Samuel wasn’t thrilled with their request and so he complained to Yahweh. Yahweh told Samuel that the Elders weren’t rejecting Samuel’s leadership; they were rejecting Yahweh’s kingship.  While Samuel might have hoped for more backing from God, Yahweh told him to give the people what they wanted.  But, Yahweh told Samuel to warn the people about the downside of having a king.
If they had a king, the king would want to control their lives. A king would draft their sons to serve in the military, take their crops and flocks, and essentially make them slaves.  Yes, as Louis XVI put it in Mel Brooks’s History of the World, Part 1: “It’s good to be the king!”  

Creeds, Church, the Individual and American Christianity

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Americans worship the individual. We hold the individual to be sacrosanct, so that community comes second. That often includes family.  There is value in the principle of individual freedom. I'm glad I live in a country where I'm free to worship as I please and decide, within limits, my destiny. I'm free to choose the communities that I wish to be engaged with, from church to family. I even get to participate in choosing who will govern me, though my choices may not reach a majority. 
My own denomination, which was rooted in this American context has always prized the individual's right to interpret the Bible and affirm those aspects of faith that lie beyond the essentials, and the essentials are few -- mainly confessing Jesus to be the Christ (Matthew 16:16).  Beyond that I'm free to choose whether, for instance, I will affirm the Trinity and other elements of faith that appear in many statements of faith. So, there is in most of our congregations quite a bit of …

Charisma and Institution -- A Biblical Case Study

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This Sunday I will be starting a summer journey through 1 and 2 Samuel, lectionary readings from the Hebrew Bible.  The reading for Sunday comes from 1 Samuel 8:4-20; 11:14-15.  In this reading the Elders of Israel come to Samuel and request a king, just like all the nations.  This isn't a welcome turn by Samuel (whose sons were administering things in his name) or even Yahweh, because Yahweh was king.   But the people wouldn't give up on this request, so Samuel goes out and finds Saul, who is a fine specimen of a man and even displays charismatic properties (he gets caught up with a group of ecstatic prophets).  Surely this was the right man. He has physical presence and he has charismatic properties.  You might say that he is spirit-filled.  If you know the story, things don't work out well for Saul or Israel. Eventually, he gets a bit caught up in himself and the Spirit leaves and he falls into insanity, especially as a young David begins to emerge as a rival.
So, what…

Karl Barth's Christological Ecclesiology (Kimlyn Bender) -- Review

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KARL BARTH'S CHRISTOLOGICAL ECCLESIOLOGY.  New Paperback Edition. By Kimlyn J. Bender. Foreword by D. Stephen Long. Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2013.  Xix + 304 pages.


Karl Barth continues to influence Christian theological conversation long after his death in 1968. Even if the heyday of Neo-Orthodoxy is long past, you cannot do theology even today without at least taking stock of his work.  His influence is especially felt among the Post-Liberals, but many progressive Evangelicals have found him to be extremely influential. I know that my own theological development during my seminary years took place in conversation with his theology (I was fortunate to take a Barth seminar with Geoffrey Bromiley, who translated much of Barth’s work into English).  In the end, one needn't be a Barthian to learn from him. You just have to be open to engaging his ever evolving system. 
While Barth’s written corpus is much larger than his Church Dogmatics, this theological enterprise that emerge…

Ringing the Changes on Change -- Sightings (Martin Marty)

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Since taking over as Pope, Francis has been slowly turning the ship called the Catholic Church away from its recent fascination with culture war issues, pointing to the importance of compassionate ministry, especially among the poor. Not everyone is happy with the changes within the church, though Francis has a lot of supporters. While Francis hasn't signaled a change in his lack of support for marriage equality, he does seem to understand the importance of change. As Martin Marty notes, there are within the Catholic tradition resources that can help them and all of us deal with the reality that sometimes change just is needed!  The recent vote in overwhelmingly Roman Catholic Ireland to embrace same-sex marriage (by a huge margin) has gotten Catholic leaders, at least in Ireland, paying attention to the changes afoot.  The question is -- are the rest of us aware?  Take a read!
Ringing the Changes on Change
By MARTIN E. MARTY   June 1, 2015Carmelite sisters vote on a referendum on …