Showing posts from July, 2015

Talking Stewardship!

Every year congregations will establish budgets and invite members and friends to contribute to the sustenance of that budget. As pastor I will preach on stewardship, though I don't generally teach tithing. I have members who do tithe and their commitment to giving has been a blessing to the congregation. One of the reasons I don't focus on it is that when we focus on tithing we end up focusing on rule and duty and not divine grace. Stewardship involves financial giving, but it is much broader than following a rule. As my friends declares in the video I'm going to recommend to you, stewardship is not about how much we give, but how much we keep. That is, everything belongs to God, so how much of that do we need to live on. I want to invite you to watch and consider the video below. This conversation is part of the weekly hangouts offered by Energion Publications, with whom I have published several books. The conversationists here are my good friend Rev. Steve Kindle, a …

Encountering Jesus in the Eucharist

What happens when we gather at the Lord's Table?  Is what we do a simple memorial of Jesus death (he died for our sins is a common prayer)? Are we encountering Jesus at the Table in a unique way? My own theology of the Table has been evolving in recent years. I believe that the Table should be all. As one of our church members in a conversation about a grant proposal suggested -- the Table is a crossroads where people come and go and in the midst of that coming and going encounter God in a transformative manner.  I wrote a little book about the evolving theology of the Eucharist that was published last year. I think it's a good place to start -- to see the way in which we have as Christians theologized our Table practices: The Eucharist: Encounters with Jesus at the Table (Topical Line Drives Book 10).
My own tradition, the Disciples of Christ, gather weekly at the Table. Our theology of the Table is Reformed (of the Zwinglian kind). My own theology is closer to that of John …

Vanishing Clergy -- Sightings (Martin Marty)

Before he takes the month of August off, Sightings contributor Martin Marty has decided to opine on the state of the clergy -- or the vanishing of the clergy in America. As churches shrink and close opportunities for clergy, most of us being rather well educated, are becoming fewer in number. There are plenty of churches out there, but fewer can sustain paid staff at a rate that is commensurate with their education and experience. I'm less than a decade from retirement. I think I'll make it, but what about the future. How many churches will be in the position to call a full-time clergyperson. There may be benefits to serving bi-vocationally, but there are many challenges as well.  In any case, this posting is worth reading, whether or not you are clergy. 

Vanishing Clergy
By MARTIN E. MARTY   JULY 27, 2015George Fox Evangelical Seminary Graduation 2015                                Credit: flickr via Compfight  Our editor suggests that we postpone our next Sightings until Septe…

Bread of Life Available Today -- Lectionary Reflection for Pentecost 10B

John 6:24-35 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

24 So when the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum looking for Jesus.25 When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” 26 Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. 27 Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal.” 28 Then they said to him, “What must we do to perform the works of God?” 29 Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” 30 So they said to him, “What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing? 31 Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘…

Disciples -- What's Your Eschatalogical Vision?

My Disciples ministerial colleague Brian Morse responded to my posting from yesterday by arguing for the importance of eschatology to the Disciples theological vision. I would agree whole-heartedly with Brian's assessment.  In fact, I devote one of the chapters of my upcoming book with Wipf and Stock Publishers -- Freedom in Covenant -- on this very topic. It is good to remember that Alexander Campbell titled his influential journal the Millennial Harbinger. For his part, Alexander Campbell was a Postmillennialist who took an optimistic view of the future. It seemed as if Protestant Christianity was on the move, with America at the forefront of the missionary movement that was spreading across the world (often on the coattails of European empire builders). Be that as it may, the point is -- Disciples had eschatological visions, even if not all were in agreement as to that vision.

Theology, the Church, and the Disciples of Christ

I spent much of the past week in Columbus, Ohio at the biennial General Assembly of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). Since I returned home to finish my vacation I'm not posting my usual Sunday sermon. Feeling the need, however, of sharing something with the blogosphere, I decided to continue my reflections that emerged out of the General Assembly. What has been on my mind and continues to be on my mind concerns the importance of theology to the life of the church. I know that there has been some resistance recently to putting much emphasis on doctrine in some circles, especially progressive ones. This is always an attractive option to Disciples who have a tendency to dismiss theology as being divisive. Unfortunately our avoidance of doctrinal conversations haven't prevented division, it has just changed the focus of our conversations.

Culture Wars about Culture Wars -- Sightings (Martin Marty)

Are you as tired of the "Culture Wars" am I?  Is there an alternative to the constant Left-Right bickering that so dominates modern conversation? Martin Marty takes note of a David Brooks column that seems to have upset the apple cart a bit, leading Marty to offer his own thoughts on a more fruitful path. Brooks is a thoughtful conservative who is able to dialog with more liberal folks. The question is this -- can we find a different avenue for pursuing our conversations that go beyond constant battles for supremacy?  Or following Oliver Cromwell (of all people) might we recognize that we could be wrong!  Take a read and offer your thoughts.

Culture Wars About Culture Wars
By MARTIN E. MARTY   JULY 20, 2015David Brooks                                                                                           Credit: Aspen Institute / flickr “The Next Culture War,” a New York Times op-ed (June 30) by David Brooks, set off one of the high-level debates of this summer, and will be…

Did We Soar? Reflections on Disciples General Assembly

I'm home from the 2015 General Assembly of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).  I have gone to all but one Assembly since the Denver Assembly in 1997 (my first). At the time I was in the midst of a job search since I had been forced to resign my teaching position at a small Christian college in Kansas. By my count that's nine assemblies.  I have been fortunate that the congregations I serve and have served have deemed it appropriate for me to attend and have provided the necessary funds to make that possible. As I have stated in previous posts, the General Assembly serves as the primary gathering point of the extended Disciples ecclesial community. I know that Assemblies are costly, and it appears that the General Church is being forced to look at different means of gathering (perhaps less frequently -- not a good idea in my mind -- or in less costly venues -- my preference). Nonetheless I believe that this is an important part of being in a larger covenant body, whic…

Is the "Institutional Church" Inevitable?

It is Wednesday at the General Assembly of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). The Assembly will close this evening and we will head home to our congregations. Some of us will be inspired and others frustrated. The questions that have been facing us for some time haven't gone away. Is the day of the denomination over? Is instituional structure a hindrance that we should abandon. At the time the Disciples tradition emerged, we were an anti-institutional bunch. Now we have a structure that is nearly fifty years old. The questions that haunt us concern whether it is time to reinvision what it means to be Disciples. In this post I wrote two years ago after the closing of the 2013 General Assembly, I asked the question of whether institutionalization is inevitable. I repost that essay and ask the question once more.  
Many people decry the existence of the institutional church.  It is seen as wasteful, inert, unproductive, and perhaps even unbib…

Kingdom Signs -- Lectionary Reflection for Pentecost 9B

John 6:1-21 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias.[a]A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near. When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. Philip answered him, “Six months’ wages[b] would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him,“There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?” 10 Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.” Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they[c] sat down, about five thousand in all. 11 

Disciples of Christ Polity -- A Congregation's Rights and Responsibilities

It is Monday at the General Assembly of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), meeting in Columbus, Ohio. I'm continuing to repost a series of reflections I wrote soon after the General Assembly of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Orlando in July 2013. In this piece I take up the issue of the relationship of the congregation to General and Regional Manifestations. I think that many of the issues that emerged at the last Assembly will emerge once again, so here is my "re-take."  Take a read and offer your thoughts.

As I continue this series of posts concerning the polity of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) as laid out in The Design of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) I would like to come back to the role of the congregation in our understanding of the church.  In the previous post I suggested that we might look a the social Trinity as a model for our understanding of the relationships among c…

Where is the Church? Thoughts on Disciples of Christ Polity

Yesterday the General Assembly of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) began. As promised I'm reposting the second of several pieces I wrote not long after the Orlando Assembly in 2013. I am sharing these pieces to spark conversation about identity as we near the fiftieth anniversary of Restructure, a process that turned the Disciples into a self-affirming denomination, complete with structures we called church.  So the question is -- what does it mean to be church as Disciples?  Take a read and offer your thoughts. 

When we talk about the nature of the church, where do we find its fundamental unit?  Is it the congregation? Is it the denomination? Is it something beyond the congregation? Is it visible?  Or is it invisible?  If I were to venture a guess, I would say that most people who call themselves Disciples of Christ, would claim that the "fundamental unit" is the congregation.  In fact, I have often thought in this vein.  But is this tru…

Gathering as Church: The General Assembly of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).

Today the General Assembly of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) begins. Several thousand Disciples will be gathering for the next few days in Columbus, Ohio. We will worship, study, fellowship, and of course do some business. Not long after I returned from the last Assembly in Orlando, I wrote several postings speaking to some of the questions we face as a denomination. We are forty-six years removed from what Disciples call "Restructure." Most of us who serve churches today were old enough at the time to have participated in any meaningful way (if we were alive). In 1969 I was 11 years old and not yet a confirmed Episcopalian. So as we gather, I am going to be reposting several of these pieces to spark conversation, the first of which addresses the question of whether we gather here as church or not.


 At the time of Restructure in the 1960s, the Disciples of Christ, my denomination, was known as the Christian Churches (Disciples of Christ).  Note t…

Religious Revitalization of US Muslim-Palestinians: New Solidarities and New Tensions -- Sightings (Loren Lybarger)

The United States has often been the destination for migrations of displaced persons, whether the displacement is economic or political in origin.  One of those communities that has migrated over the years is the Palestinian community, whether Muslim, Christian, or secular in orientation. Chicago and its suburbs has become the most important destination of Palestinians, whose presence continues to grow, especially as the Israeli occupation continues without end. The orientation of the immigrants has moved from secular to religious, making it more difficult to create unity across religious lines.  I invite you to read Loren Lybarger's very insightful essay, which helps bring the issues at hand into focus.  

Religious Revitalization of US Muslim-Palestinians: New Solidarities and New Tensions

By LOREN LYBARGER   JULY 16, 2015The Prayer Center Mosque in Orland Park, Illinois, built in 2004        Credit: flickr creative commonsImmigration to Europe, Australia, and the Americas…

Turning Points in Iranian-American Relationship?

Yesterday we awoke to news that a historic nuclear arms deal had been agreed to by Iran and a group of world powers, including the United States.  For the majority of my adult life the USA and Iran have been at odds. I was in college when the Shah fell and the present order was instituted. I remember during college the nightly reports on ABC with Ted Koppel updating us on America taken Hostage.  I remember as a recent college graduate the news that the hostages had been released even as Ronald Reagan was being inaugurated. Since then we have lived at odds with this ancient nation.

I am not naive to think that this deal will lead to peaceful easy feelings in the region or between the USA and Iran. I do have hopes however that this could be the beginning of a new engagement with Iran. I'm hopeful that this deal will strengthen the more moderate/progressive parties in the country, while weakening the hardliners (who oppose the deal).

No Rest for the Weary -- Lectionary Meditation for Pentecost 8B

Mark 6:30-34, 53-56 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

30 The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. 31 He said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. 32 And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. 33 Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. 34 As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things. 53 When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored the boat. 54 When they got out of the boat, people at once recognized him, 55 and rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. 56 And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the ma…

General Assemblies -- Disciples and the Doctrine of the Church

Later this week Cheryl and I, along with several thousand other Disciples of Christ clergy and lay persons will travel to Columbus, Ohio to attend our denomination's General Assembly. We have a good group of people going from Central Woodward Christian Church, several of whom will be attending their first General Assembly.  I have attended all but one General Assembly since going for the first time in 1995 (Denver).  While I will admit that I don't go for the business part of the experience, I do believe that the General Assembly -- a biennial gathering -- is an essential part of our denomination's life together. Unlike many mainline denominations, every congregation can send delegates (all clergy with standing along with at least two lay members can vote) to the Assembly.  Since we don't have a creed or a true hierarchy (we have a General Minister/President, but that person's power is largely persuasive and not administrative), the General Assembly is that one pi…

A Time to Celebrate - A Sermon for Pentecost 7B

2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12-19

What religious symbols stir in you an awareness of God’s presence? Is it the communion table? The chalice and the bread that sit on the table? Is it an open Bible or a pulpit? For the people ancient Israel one of the most potent symbols of God’s presence was the Ark of the Covenant. This Ark, according to the book of Exodus, was a wooden box overlaid with pure gold. On that box sat the mercy seat and two cherubs with wings outstretched. This wasn’t a magical box, but it did represent the presence of God to the people (Exodus 25:10-22). 
In modern times this sacred symbol became the centerpiece of a popular action-adventure movie. You may have even seen this movie titled Raiders of the Lost Ark!  The setting of the movie is World War II. Adolph Hitler is trying to collect artifacts that can help empower his dreams of world conquest. One of these artifacts that he wants to find and control is the Ark, which according to the book of Hebrews contained the stone tablets…

The Bedrock of Civil Society? Mercy in the Face of Death -- Sightings (William Schweiker)

Ever since we first heard about how a young man chose to attend and then shoot a group of men and women studying the Bible, we have been talking about what led up to that shooting and how we might or should respond. Yesterday, we watched as the state of South Carolina took down a divisive symbol (Confederate battle flag) as one response. While it may get lost in the noise of our conversations, another thing happened in the aftermath. A number of the families pronounced forgiveness of the young perpetrator of this act of unspeakable violence.  William Schweiker of the University of Chicago Divinity School wants us to focus on that act of forgiveness, insisting that it is the key to peace. Yes, forgiveness, something Jesus pronounced from the cross, is the foundation of a new vision for society.  In the midst of the meditation Schweiker makes this point:  One of the major challenges—maybe the major challenge—facing religious people in all of the world’s religions, is, to be frank, how to…