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Showing posts from May, 2015

We Are Children of God - A Sermon for Trinity Sunday -- Year B

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Romans 8:12-17

I’m not a fan of reality TV, so I don’t ordinarily keep up with the Duggars or the Kardashians. Of course, they’re hard to ignore when they break into the regular news cycles.  While none of us are participants in reality TV, many of us share snippets of family life with the broader public on social media. Sometimes we might even share too much information about our family life with the public! But, whether or not we share the contents of family life with the world by way of Facebook or Instagram, isn’t family life fun? 
It’s good to remember that families come in all shapes and sizes, so that in some way we’re all part of a family of some kind! 
Some people dream of being part of the perfect family. It’s probably not the kind of family we see portrayed on reality TV, but it could be the Cleavers or the Huxtables.  I realize I’m dating myself by mentioning these two TV families of yesteryear, but they do live on in reruns. In many ways Cliff and Ward aren’t that different.…

Barth, the Trinity and the Multiplicity of Gifts

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Tomorrow is Trinity Sunday. I recognize that the doctrine of the Trinity is complicated and thus we have a tendency, even if we affirm the Trinity, to not give it much thought. Since Trinity Sunday follows Pentecost Sunday -- where we celebrate the coming of the Spirit upon the gathered followers of Jesus, empowering them to proclaim the Gospel in the languages of the Jewish pilgrims who have journeyed to Jerusalem from across the diaspora -- it's appropriate to consider the connection to things church, ministry, Spirit, and Trinity.

Peaceful Neighbor (Michael G. Long) -- Review

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PEACEFUL NEIGHBOR: Discovering the Countercultural Mister RogersBy Michael G. Long. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2015. Xvii + 203 pages
                I was already well into elementary school when Mr. Rogers came on the scene.  My morning staple was Captain Kangaroo instead. Nonetheless, over the years I’ve caught snippets of Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, which appeared for decades on local PBS stations, offering to America’s children a gentle, sweater-wearing father figure.  Compared to its PBS neighbor Sesame Street, Mr. Rogers was pretty low key. Despite the lack of high octane elements, it held the attention of several generations of children.
While I knew that Fred Rogers was an ordained Presbyterian minister who saw his show as an expression of his ministry calling, even if the religious element wasn't explicit, I didn’t realize that his message was rather radical. Not having spent much time watching the show—it’s possible I watched it with my son when he was yo…

Progressives Look Forward -- Sightings (Martin Marty)

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It's been thirty years since I graduated from seminary (or it will be in June). I'm a graduate of what many consider the flagship progressive evangelical seminary, but it shares many of the qualities found in more liberal seminaries, which Paul Raushenbusch, Great Grandson of Walter Rauschenbusch, addressed in a recent graduation speech. He declared, surprising some, that it's a good time to graduate from a Progressive Seminary. While it might not seem like this is a good time, with declining congregations and all, Raushenbush the younger believes that the message that his ancestor once preached continues to resonate today. Martin Marty, always on the lookout for interesting thoughts, engages the conversation here, inviting us to dream!
Progressives Look Forward
By MARTIN E. MARTY   MAY 25, 2015Rev. Paul Raushenbush, Huffington Post's Executive Religion Editor     Screenshot: YouTube videoNOTESightings has a new comment policy. When you email a comment to DivSighting…

Born of the Spirit - Lectionary Reflection for Trinity Sunday B

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John 3:1-17 Common English Bible (CEB)
3 There was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a Jewish leader. 2 He came to Jesus at night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God, for no one could do these miraculous signs that you do unless God is with him.” 3 Jesus answered, “I assure you, unless someone is born anew,[a] it’s not possible to see God’s kingdom.” 4 Nicodemus asked, “How is it possible for an adult to be born? It’s impossible to enter the mother’s womb for a second time and be born, isn’t it?” 5 Jesus answered, “I assure you, unless someone is born of water and the Spirit, it’s not possible to enter God’s kingdom. 6 Whatever is born of the flesh is flesh, and whatever is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Don’t be surprised that I said to you, ‘You must be born anew.’ 8 God’s Spirit[b] blows wherever it wishes. You hear its sound, but you don’t know where it comes from or where it is going. It’s the same with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” 9 Ni…

Memorials and War -- A Reflection

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Memorial Day is a national holiday that has its roots in what was once known as Decoration Day. It was established in the late 19th century to honor Union Soldiers who had died during the Civil War. Since war has been part of our national ethos for much of our history, a day of remembrance of those who died to keep together a nation that President Lincoln had declared could not survive half slave and half free has become a day to remember all who have died in service to country. That is as it should be, though we can pray that the day will come when we're no longer adding names to the long list of those who have died in times of war.
Because this observance has its roots in remembering those who died in the Civil War (specifically Union war dead), it is appropriate that we stop to remember a war that kept the nation together and ended slavery in the nation (at least in those states that had rebelled).  While the nation remained one and slavery ended, we're still living with t…

Living Bones -- A Sermon for Pentecost Sunday B

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Ezekiel 37:1-14


Do you need a vacation?  Is life pressing in on you? Do your bones feel dry and lifeless? It’s a holiday weekend, the sun is out, summer is near at hand, shouldn’t we all be sitting by a lake enjoying a bit of sunshine and relaxation instead of sitting here listening to the preacher talk about dry bones? Don’t answer that last question!!
There’s a song from my childhood that goes like this:   “When you're weary, feeling small, when tears are in your eyes, I will dry them all; I'm on your side.” The words of this song echo those of Jesus:  28 “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30).So, when you’re struggling with a heavy load and tears are in your eyes, do you hear Jesus calling out? “I’m on your side.”

Church -- the invisible in the visible.

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You might say that Pentecost was an event. Something happened that caught the attention of the people in Jerusalem (Acts 2).  The Spirit opened the doors and the windows and got things going.  And here we are, today, centuries later, wondering what actually the church is.  Is it people or a building, a community or an institution?
I've been reading a book entitled Karl Barth's Christological Ecclesiology(Cascade, 2013).  It's a scholarly work that helps us understand the development of Barth's understanding of the church. As I was reading I encountered a chapter entitled "The Origin of the Church as the Fellowship of the Spirit." Those who have read Barth know that his is a dialectical theology, in which he seeks balance between two seemingly opposite points. Thus, for Barth the church is both visible and invisible. In exploring this dialectic, Barth avers that church is event. As Kimlyn Bender, author of this book suggests, for Barth "the real church…

Children and Gifts - Excerpt from Unfettered Spirit

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Note:  With Pentecost on the horizon, and in light of a conversation with Bruce Epperly earlier this week focusing on the Spirit and Ministry, I wanted to share a few paragraphs from a section of my book dealing with children and gifts. 

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When the disciples sought to push the children away, Jesus asked that they be brought to him. To such persons as these, belonged the kingdom of God (Mk 10:13-16; Mt. 19:13-15; Lk. 18:15-17). Children are often spoken of as the future of the church, but they’re more than the future, they’re gifted members of the body whose place in the body needs to be recognized.
Congregations have a responsibility to provide spiritual nurture and care to children, and to pass on to them the traditions of the faith. Churches, whatever the form and timing of their baptismal practices, face the issue of when a child truly becomes a member of the community in their own right and not simply as an extension of their family. Is it at Baptism or Confirmation (d…

Pentecost and Ministry - A Conversation

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Pentecost is at hand. Jesus has ascended (Acts 1) and the people of God are waiting to know what comes next. Are we open to what God is about to do? If the Spirit is unfettered and the story of Acts is transforming, what does that mean for us today. Could we be entering a New Great Awakening as Diana Butler Bass (Christianity After Religion: The End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening) suggests? These are the kinds of questions that Bruce Epperly and I talked about in an Energion Google Hangout.  Bruce and I speak specifically to our more liberal and progressive Christian compatriots who struggle with the idea of the Spirit and spiritual experience.
Our conversation centers on two books that deal with these issues.  The first is Bruce's book Transforming Acts: Acts of the Apostles as a 21st Century Gospel and my book Unfettered Spirit: Spiritual Gifts for the New Great Awakening, both of which come from Energion Publications.  So, as we move toward the comin…

Rightist Critics of Pope Francis -- Sightings (Martin Marty)

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Pope Francis and I don't see eye to eye on everything, but overall I'm a fan. He has given attention to poverty, climate change, violence and war. He is truly pro-life in the broadest sense of the word.  He does have his detractors, both within and without the Roman Catholic Church.  His fiercest critics might be right wing Catholics who dislike his political and economic positions. They disdain his outreach to persons like Gustavo Gutierrez and many on the right want him to "stay out of politics." He's been accused by politicians of not knowing his Bible, because most assuredly Jesus didn't tell us to help the poor. Well, enough of my introduction. Martin Marty takes a look at the Rightist critique and what it means for the church.  Take a read, won't you? 
Rightist Critics of Pope Francis 
By MARTIN E. MARTY   MAY 18, 2015Cliff Kincaid, Director of the AIM Center for Investigative Journalism       Screenshot: YouTube videoNOTESightings has a new comment…

Passing the Baton - Lectionary reflection for Pentecost Sunday (Year B)

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John15:26-27; 16:4b-15 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)


15:26“When the Advocate[a] comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf. 27 You also are to testify because you have been with me from the beginning. 16:4b “I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you.But now I am going to him who sent me; yet none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your hearts.Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate[a]will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong about[b]sin and righteousness and judgment:about sin, because they do not believe in me;10 about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer;11 about judgment, because the ruler of this world has been c…

Salvation and the Church

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I have finished my Easter sermon series on the rich and complex vision of salvation present in Scripture and in the traditions of the church. While there is much more that I could say about salvation, I had to bring the series to a close. But, thinking back on that series, I felt like I needed to at least take note of the role that the church plays in process of salvation.  
As Cyprian put it in the third century, "Outside the Church there is no Salvation." In part this is due to the fact that the church had control of the sacraments, which were seen as the means of grace.  How else would you gain access to baptism and the Eucharist, but through the church. Since Cyprian placed a major emphasis on the role of the bishop (and thus the clergy), effective sacraments required clergy (who were in fellowship with the bishop, whose lineage was supposed to be linked to the apostles themselves. 

Participants in the Divine Nature -- Salvation Series - Sermon #5

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2 Peter 1:3-11


All good things must come to an end, and so while there is much more to say about salvation we come to the end of our journey this morning. Over the past several weeks we’ve discovered that salvation is a complex idea. Because it can be seen as otherworldly it can seem irrelevant and even off-putting. Let’s stick with the here-and-now. But, as we’ve seen salvation is about more than Jesus dying for our personal sins so we can get to heaven. Salvation includes reconciliation, liberation, healing, and taking on a new identity in Christ.
As we celebrate Ascension Sunday, it’s appropriate that we focus on salvation as union with God, or as we read in 2 Peter, in Christ we are becoming “participants in the divine nature.”  
Eastern Christianity tends to be more mystical than western forms. They place great emphasis on becoming one with God, and they use the Greek word theosis to describe this union. Theosis can be translated as deification, or as St. Athanasius, a fourth centur…