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Showing posts from April, 2015

Hope for More

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As I was reading Deanna Thompson's memoir of her battle with metastatic cancer -- a memoir that engages her journey theologically -- she speaks of the need to do more work on eschatology. She points out something that I've noticed myself -- there is a strong aversion among progressives/liberals to talk about life beyond the grave. Let's focus on the present, they say!  Talking about the afterlife distracts from engaging the present. There are certainly escapist eschatologies out there, but affirming the possibility of something lying beyond the grave need not preclude being concerned with the present. 

Grace in the Media -- Sightings (Martin Marty)

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Martin Marty's column this week might be an appropriate one for the week, for it speaks of grace. He notes that when we talk about important issues, especially issues that affect human life, we tend to grab for theological language, including the language of grace.  We need some of that right now as we live in an increasingly polarized and uncivil society. Whether it's the debate over same-sex marriage or the violence in Baltimore, we need some grace. Maybe the one place we're seeing it is in the global response to the tragedy in Nepal.  But the question of why we have to wait for disasters to experience grace is best left for another conversation. In the meantime, I invite your to ponder Dr. Marty's commentary.  
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Grace in the Media
By MARTIN E. MARTY   APRIL 27, 2015                                                                Image Credit: Boonroong / Shutterstock creative commonsNOTESightings has a new comment policy. When you email a comment t…

The Vine and the Branches -- Lectionary Reflection for Easter 5B

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John 15:1-8  New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

15 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes[a] to make it bear more fruit. You have already been cleansed[b] by the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become[c] my disciples.
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            In John we often hear something about the need to abide …

PRE-POST-RACIAL AMERICA (Sandhya Rani Jha) -- Review

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PRE-POST-RACIAL AMERICA: Spiritual Stories from the Front LinesBy Sandhya Rani Jha. St. Louis: Chalice Press, 2015. 154 pages.

                When Barack Obama was elected President of the United States in 2008 many Americans proclaimed that we had moved as a country into a post-racial era. They declared that we had finally crossed the river into a new land where Martin Luther King's vision of a day when people would be judged not on the color of their skin, but on the content of their character. For many White Americans, this election meant that we no longer had to deal with issues of race. One more social issue had been crossed off the list. If you've been watching the news over the past six years you may have discerned that we may not have moved as far into this new land as many thought. While we’re not in the same place regarding race as we were in 1963—most of the legal barriers in place then have been overturned—our society remains largely segregated and racial tensio…

A Word of Healing -- Salvation Sermon Series #3

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Luke 18:35-43

When we get sick, we may ask for prayers, but we probably will also go to the doctor. That’s probably a smart move. But, according to the letter of James, if you’re sick you “should call for the elders and have them pray over you, anointing you with oil in the name of the Lord. The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and any one who has committed sins will be forgiven” (James 5:14-15).
The Gospels tell us that Jesus was a healer. Morton Kelsey has pointed out that the gospel writers devote 20% of their accounts to Jesus’ healing ministry. When Jesus came to town it’s quite likely that he healed someone. That might make him a healing evangelist like Aimee Semple McPherson.

STEWARDSHIP: God’s Way of Recreating the World (Steve Kindle) -- Review

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STEWARDSHIP: God's Way of Recreating the World. (Topical Line Drives volume 18). By Steve Kindle. Gonzalez, FL: Energion Publications, 2015. 44 pages.

                Every Sunday in my church one of the Elders will invite the congregation to consider their stewardship responsibilities. They may speak of the need to support the ministries of the church (though conveniently most leave out the fact that the pastor is a major expenditure), and perhaps they will expand the definition of stewardship to include our gifts and talents. The latter are non-monetary gifts, but they still largely benefit the congregation. Each year, in the month of November we will conduct a stewardship campaign. Normally I will begin and end the season with a stewardship sermon. I will talk about money but perhaps other elements of stewardship as well. We preachers dread the season of stewardship, because most of us don’t like to talk about money. Perhaps that is due in large part to the fact that we are the …

Disciples -- Are We Really Creedless?

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I am a minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).  We claim to be a non-creedal church. Our founders were somewhat averse to creedal statements, believing them to be divisive. The "devil is in the details." One of our old slogans was "No Creed but Christ, No Book but the Bible."  It sounds good, but are we really creedless?
I recently finished reading George Lindbeck's post-liberal tome -- The Nature of Doctrine (a book I should have read long ago).  Lindbeck argues for the primacy of a "cultural-linguistic" understanding of Christian doctrine/theology -- in contrast to propositional and experiential-expressive versions. In the Cultural-Linguistic model, which appeals to me, doctrine is understood to be a set of grammatical rules that govern the way we speak of faith. Leaving aside propositionalism, which no one on the center-left spectrum embraces, whereas the experiential-expressivism of liberalism starts with the premise that there is …

Jesus, Healing, and Salvation

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As I continue my sermon series on salvation, I will be turning to the idea that salvation includes healing. In preparation for that sermon, I thought I would share a few paragraphs that I wrote about healing in my book on spiritual gifts (Unfettered Spirit: Spiritual Gifts for the New Great Awakening). The idea that God heals and that this is connected to the idea of salvation is not always an easy one to embrace for many modern Christians. When we get sick, we go to the doctor. We pray for healing, but do we really believe that God heals. I invite you to read these paragraphs and then pursue the question more fully in my book on spiritual gifts. This excerpt is found on page 147 of Unfettered Spirit. 


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Healing is a sign of the reign of God present among us. Amos Yong, a Pentecostal theologian writes that healing not only leads to the restoring of human bodies, it serves as a sign that Jesus is “representative of the messianic promise to bring about the redemption, rec…

One Flock, One Shepherd

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John 10:11-18 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them.13 The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. 17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. 18 No one takes[a] it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.” ********                 One of the…

Jesus the Liberator -- Salvation Sermon Series #2

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Luke 4:16-21


Jesus was a church-going man. Actually, he was a synagogue-going man, but you know what I mean. So, when he went home for a visit after his ordination by the Holy Spirit and the training exercise in the desert, he went to the synagogue in Nazareth on the Sabbath “as was his custom.” As is often the case when young adults return home, perhaps from college, they get asked to help with the service. In this case, the leaders asked Jesus to read the scriptures and share a word of interpretation.
Now preaching in your home church can be a blessing or a curse, depending on what you have to say. Sometimes it’s not wise to go home and share everything you’ve learned at seminary. The people back home might not like those newfangled ideas you learned at school and won’t appreciate your message.  That’s what happened to Jesus after he opened the scroll to Isaiah 61 and read about how the Spirit fell on the messiah, anointing him to bring good news to the poor and preach the year of jub…

Proverbs and Ecclesiastes (Amy Plantinga Pauw) -- Review

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PROVERBS AND ECCLESIASTES (Belief: a Theological Commentary on the Bible)By Amy Plantinga Pauw. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2015. Xx + 238 pages.

                Every culture seems to produce a form of wisdom literature—sacred words meant to give guidance for daily life. The Bible is no different. While very different in their message, two books of the Hebrew Bible, both traditionally linked to Solomon, who was renowned for his wisdom, exemplify this tradition. Preachers are often wary of taking up the texts of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, the two forms of Wisdom Literature, which receive attention in this commentary by theologian Amy Plantinga Pauw. As Pauw puts it in the introduction “until rather recently, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes were viewed by many modern Christian biblical scholars as stepchildren of the canon, awkward presences whose concerns were largely alien to the center of Israel’s faith” (p. 1). Torah and the Prophets, along with the Psalms seemed more prom…

Sin, Redemption, and Liberation

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I am in the midst of a sermon series that is exploring the concept of salvation (soteriology). In my second sermon in the series, I am focusing on the premise of Jesus as liberator. In the course of that conversation I am working with Liberation Theology, to which I devoted considerable attention during my seminary studies (yes I delved into Liberation Theology at an evangelical institution!). I believe that there is a strong liberationist message in scripture. It is present in the Exodus. It is present in the Prophets, and it is present in the Gospels as well (consider the Magnificat). 
One of the premises of Liberation Theology is that sin is not simply personal, but that it is social as well -- perhaps even first of all social.  Gustavo Gutierrez is one of the founders of the Latin American version of Liberation Theology.  He speaks of sin in this way (and I should note the masculine language present throughout): But in the liberation approach sin is not considered as an individual…

Billy Graham -- Sightings (Martin Marty)

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We have been watching as an era passes on. Marcus Borg, Fred Craddock, Lyle Schaller, and more have passed away recently. We rightfully remember their contributions. Few persons, perhaps no one has put a greater stamp on American Christianity over the past half century than Billy Graham -- whatever your feelings about him. Now in his 90s, as Martin Marty notes here, he has been turned over to the historians and sociologists who will examine his legacy. In this essay, distinguished American historian and observer of things public and religious, Martin Marty, takes note of Grant Wacker's recent largely appreciative biography of Graham. I invite you to read and consider the legacy -- pro and con!
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Billy Graham
By MARTIN E. MARTY   APR. 13, 2015At 27, Billy Graham resigned his pulpit to go on the road for Youth for Christ    Credit: Richard Bromley/ flickr creative commonsBilly Graham and the Shaping of a Nation is the subtitle of the book, America’s Pastor,an accl…

Joy, Disbelief, and Opened Minds -- Lectionary Reflection for Easter 3B

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Luke 24:36-49 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) 36 While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”[a]37 They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. 38 He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39 Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” 40 And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet.[b]41 While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?”42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate in their presence. 44 Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 46 a…

The Story of Narrative Preaching (Mike Graves) -- Review

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THE STORY OF NARRATIVE PREACHING: Experience and Exposition: A NarrativeBy Mike Graves. Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2015. X + 234 pages.
Like beauty good preaching is in the eye (and ear) of the beholder. Depending on your background and expectations good preaching may come in a variety of forms. You may like the old three points and a poem. It was simple and straightforward. You may like stories.  Perhaps you believe that preaching should exposit the biblical text, and that to deviate from that path is dangerous. If you happen to be a preacher you may look to the lectionary for the source of your sermons or you might decide to go topical and preach a series on a particular subject. Whatever direction you take, as a preacher and as a listener to sermons, the expectation is that something of value will be communicated. You might even expect to hear a word from God in that sermon. 
Several decades back, preachers and teachers of preachers began to despair at the state of preaching. It…

The Gift of Salvation -- Salvation Sermon Series #1

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2 Corinthians 5:16-6:2

Paul declared that “now is the acceptable time; see, now is the Day of Salvation!” That may be true, but what does it mean to be saved or to proclaim Jesus as savior?  This is a question that many struggle with. We sing about it and pray about it, but we’re not sure what salvation really is. 
That’s the impression that Mark Love got from his interviews and surveys. We have a strong sense of the presence of God in the world, but we’re not quite sure how that relates to our own lives. He found that there’s a lot of discomfort with traditional understandings of Jesus being our “personal savior,” despite all the salvation imagery present in our hymns and prayers, including the prayers at the Table. 
Could it be that we’ve been overly influenced by an atonement theory that many of us find problematic? The idea that Jesus died on a cross as a sacrificial victim to satisfy God’s need for blood as atonement for our sins no longer makes sense. The traditional Protestant vis…

Unity, Theological Debate, and Christ

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Efforts have been long made by Christians to bring unity to the Christian community.  My denomination, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) claims it as our prime directive.We have been regular participants in almost every ecumenical endeavor. It's in our DNA, you might say.   But on what basis do we unite?  Is it just good feelings and a lowest common denominator theological foundation?  
I found intriguing these words from Karl Barth, which form part of his little book The Church and the Churches (Eerdmans). When it comes to unity, Barth encourages the different traditions to continue to pursue the issues that are most fully calling to them. Don't let go of your distinctive identities just for the sake of peace. Pursue the study, but do so by listening to Christ.  I found these words intriguing and challenging:
For my part I am convinced that true unity was more of a present and visible reality in the Marburg discussions of 1529 -- which it is fashionable to decry -- o…

Saved from What?

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Are you saved? That's a question that gets asked by some Christian groups.  The rationale behind the question is rooted in the belief that humanity lies under divine judgment because of our sins. Using the penal substitution model of the atonement, the belief holds that because we are under a divine death sentence, the only way out is if someone else takes our place. And, as to who that person is -- it must be Jesus, the God-Man (using Anselm's term). Only the death of the God-Man has the plenitude of power to cover everyone's sins.  Therefore, if you accept Jesus as your savior, you get the benefit of Jesus' blood, and you will be saved (you get to go to heaven). That's a fairly simplistic way of putting it, but that gets the point across.  
At bottom of this question is guilt.  I need to be saved because I am guilty of sin, and as Paul says the "wages of sin is death." while God's free gift is eternal life (Romans 6:23).  Now this all requires us t…

150 Years Ago Today -- Civil War "ends"

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On April 9th, just days before President Lincoln was assassinated, General Ulysses S. Grant received General Robert E. Lee's surrender at Appomattox Courthouse.  The were would be a few more small battles to be fought here or there, but this act of surrender effectively ended the war that had taken the lives of thousands of Americans on both sides of the conflict.  It would be nice if we could say that everything worked out perfectly thereafter. It is true that slavery was essentially ended across the nation. Lincoln's statement that the nation could not remain together if it was half free and half slave had borne fruit.  The union was preserved at great cost and slavery ended.  Of course, the end of slavery did not mean that everyone lived happily ever after. The attitudes of White Americans in both north and south regarding Black Americans changed little. Even Lincoln, the Great Emancipator didn't believe that the two races were equal.  Still, he opposed slavery and tha…

40 Days with the Holy Spirit (Jack Levison) -- Review

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40 DAYS WITH THE HOLY SPIRIT: Fresh Air for Every DayBy Jack Levison. Foreword by Eugene H. Peterson.   Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press, 2015. Xx + 153 pages.


Christians are people of the Spirit.  Since the day of Pentecost, we have acknowledged that the Spirit of God plays a central role in the Christian faith. It is true that the Holy Spirit seems marginalized in the creeds, and great effort has been undertaken by church authorities to keep the Spirit under wraps, but without the Spirit Christianity is simply a gathering of dry bones. The doctrine of the Holy Spirit stands as a reminder that we are not alone in our journey through life. God is with us, breathing divine life into our human lives.   
Jack Levison is a biblical scholar who has focused significant attention on the Holy Spirit. His day job may involve teaching the Hebrew Bible to seminarians, but through a number of books he has explored and exposited on the Spirit. Having read a number of his pieces, I was when Paraclet…

Who's Right about the Bible -- A Conversation

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Christians affirm the Bible to be the authoritative text for Christians. But after we make that claim, what do we do with it? When we come to the Bible we need to recognize the lenses through which we read the Bible. Last night Henry Neufeld, the publisher of Energion Publications, hosted a conversation between Steve Kindle and me.  Steve and I have recently published brief books with Energion on the Bible.  My book is titled The Authority of Scripture in a Postmodern Age: Some Help from Karl Barth (Topical Line Drives Book 9).  In this book I share how Karl Barth can help us engage Scripture as revelation, as a word of God, without having to embrace a narrow inerrantist vision of that text.  My friend of fifteen years and like me a Disciples of Christ minister, has written a book that speaks to the question of interpretation -- and the lenses through which we read the text.  Titled I'm Right and You're Wrong: Why we disagree about the Bible and what to do about it (Topica…

Easter Isn't Over Yet -- Lectionary Reflection for Easter 2B

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John 20:19-31 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin[a]), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”26 A week la…

I'm Right and You're Wrong (Steve Kindle) -- Review

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I'M RIGHT AND YOU'RE WRONG: Why we disagree about the Bible and what to do about it (Topical Line Drives Book 16) By Steve Kindle. Gonzalez, FL: Energion Publications, 2015. 44 pages. 
                Why are there so many different Christian denominations and sects?  The easy answer is that while Christians generally affirm the authority of the Bible they disagree among themselves as to the meaning and the application of that text. While Billy Graham would often declare that "the Bible says" in reference to something he was trying to say or prove. The fact is, whatever it was he was trying to say it reflected not what the Bible “says” but his interpretation of the words of the Bible. Issue after issue has come up through the centuries and Christians have appealed to the Bible against each other.  Paedobaptists (those who baptize infants) have their texts, while believer Baptists (those who baptize persons upon confession of faith) have their texts.  Since I’m part…

Unfinished Story? -- Sermon for Easter Sunday 2015

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Mark 16:1-8


The TV show M.A.S.H. ran for eleven years. It first went on the air when I was starting high school and it ended the year Cheryl and I were married.  In between, we hiked into the M.A.S.H. set on our first date.  The series ran nine years longer than the war it portrayed. There were numerous cast changes over the years, but those of us who loved the show enjoyed them all.  It was fitting then that the show closed by bringing the war to an end, and the parting of ways. It was a celebration of peace and the bittersweet nature of going one’s separate ways. The final episode gave the writer
s the opportunity to bring closure to the story and tie up loose ends. 
One by one, beginning with Father Mulcahy, the characters depart for their new lives. In the final scene, after Colonel Potter rides off one more time on his cavalry horse Sophie, only Hawkeye and BJ remain. Hawkeye is frustrated that B.J. won’t say goodbye. In the final moments, Hawkeye boards a helicopter and B.J. heads…