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Showing posts from August, 2015

LOVING LATER LIFE: An Ethics of Aging (Frits de Lange): A Review

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LOVING LATER LIFE: An Ethics of AgingBy Frits de Lange. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2015. X + 159 pages.
                Although the young continue to set the trends and advertisers (and media) target the 18-35 demographic, the population in the developed world, including the United States, is aging. The largest generation ever is retiring at rapid pace and will like live for several decades past retirement. These new retirees and those following on their heels (myself included) are likely the parents of that preferred generational target. We are aging for two reasons—birth rates are down and we live longer than ever before. If you’ve visited a mainline Protestant or a Catholic Church, you will likely notice many people with gray hair, many of whom are over 80. This growing demographic of aging Americans will likely spend at least a decade or more attempting to remain in control of their own destiny and enjoying as much of life as their bodies and minds will allow…

The Beloved Calls - Sermon for Pentecost 14B

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Song of Solomon 2:8-13

Every generation since the beginning of recorded human history has had its love songs. You might have a favorite and I might have mine. It’s likely that our differences of generation will influence our choices. Our scripture reading this morning is itself a love song, or at least a small portion of one of the great epic love songs ever written.
As I was thinking about this song, a tune from my teen years came to mind. It’s one of Paul McCartney’s post-Beatles hits, and I think it fits the moment. The first stanza goes like this:  You'd think that people would have had enough of silly love songs
I look around me and I see it isn't so Some people want to fill the world with silly love songs And what's wrong with that? I'd like to know 'Cause here I go again I love you, I love you I love you, I love you. Yes, what’s wrong with singing silly love songs? 
There’s another song from those years that also speaks of love, but in a somewhat different way than McC…

Loving our Aging Selves

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Like many mainline pastors I have in my congregation a goodly number of older persons. Many have children my age, so they could be a parent to me. I've not reached old age yet, but having reached my late fifties, I am becoming more cognizant of my own aging self. I'm not as young as I used to be! My hair is gray, my joints stiffen up, and the flesh isn't nearly as supple as before. By the world's standards of beauty, I'm past my prime. We can try to stave off aging, but it will eventually catch up with us, whether we're ready for it or not. As I wrestle with my own aging, I must also be attuned to my aging congregants, quite a number of whom are in their 80s. I'm amazed at times how vibrant some of them are. They keep on going. They stay active. But time is not on their side. 
While I've not finished the book yet, so this isn't a book review, I have found Frits de Lange's book Loving Later Life: An Ethics of Aging(Eerdmans, 2015) to be an inc…

Reading and Preaching the Song of Solomon

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It is rare that the lectionary takes us to the Song of Solomon. It is probably rarer still that a preacher would choose to focus on this passage. If you're a lectionary preacher are you going to join me in taking up Song of Solomon 2:8-13?
The question raised by the song as a whole has centered on whether to read it as a secular love song -- after all, nowhere does God appear in the poem.  It is a conversation between two lovers. It is erotic in nature. While the language is poetic and full of euphemism, it is fairly easy to figure things out. Thus, there is a clear reason why ancient Christian interpreters chose to follow rabbinic interpretations and move toward spiritual/allegorical readings. We're just not that comfortable talking about sex in church.  It's not just the question of gay and lesbian relationships, it's sex in general.
So, what do we do with this song?  It sits there within the borders of Scripture. It is sacred scripture. Perhaps it is the link to So…

Defiled by Traditions? -- Lectionary Reflection for Pentecost 14B

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Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

Now when the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him, they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them. (For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands, thus observing the tradition of the elders;and they do not eat anything from the market unless they wash it; and there are also many other traditions that they observe, the washing of cups, pots, and bronze kettles.) So the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” He said to them, “Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honors me with their lips,
    but their hearts are far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
    teaching human precepts as doctrines.’
You abandon the…

The Vicar of Tent Town (Shauna Hyde): An Endorsement

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THE VICAR OF TENT TOWNBy Shauna Hyde. Gonzalez, FL: Energion Publications, 2015. vi + 89 pages.


Sometime back I was asked to write an endorsement of a book written by a United Methodist pastor about her ministry with the homeless in Charleston, WV.  I'd like to share that brief word of endorsement and recommend to you this book from Energion Publications, which I must add has published several of my own books.  
In The Vicar of Tent Town the Rev. Shauna Hyde tells the story of her calling to what most would consider a rather unusual ministry. Newly called to a Charleston, WV United Methodist church, she is introduced by members of her own congregation to a homeless encampment, and in the course of the story she becomes its Vicar – the pastor for the homeless, even as she served a traditional congregation. In the course of this insightful book Shauna Hyde we are drawn into her ministry, getting to know both members of her congregation who encouraged her in this ministry and who sha…

No House for God - Sermon for Pentecost 13B

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1 Kings 8:22-30, 41-43

Having a house is a good thing. It doesn’t matter if you’re buying or renting, whether it’s big or small, it’s good to have a roof over your head. Soon we’ll be hosting SOS, and I expect that during that week many of us will pause to give thanks for our homes. Home ownership has its challenges, but it is good to have a home. 
We can give thanks that as a congregation we have a roof over our heads and a fairly comfortable space to gather for worship, for fellowship, and for study. Since this building has been around for more than thirty years, it’s easy to take this blessing for granted, forgetting that it takes a lot of resources to keep up the place. 
This morning’s reading from 1 Kings forms part of a story about a house built for God. We meet up again with Solomon, that wise king whom Susan introduced last week. He’s standing before the altar of the newly constructed Temple in Jerusalem, getting ready to deliver his prayer of dedication for the house he built fo…

Know-Nothings Redux

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Back in the 1850s a political party emerged that came to be known by the moniker "the Know-Nothings. The official name was the "American Party." The "know-nothing" label was a reflection of its "secret society" inclinations. More specifically it was a nativist party, that largely directed its ire against Roman Catholics. In 1856 they even put up former President Millard Fillmore as their candidate, though it's not clear that he was a member of their group.  The targets at the time were the Irish and Italians, both of which came from predominantly Catholic countries. It may be hard for many today to conceive of a large anti-Catholic contingent in the American populace, especially when six of the nine Supreme Court justices are Roman Catholic, but such was the case back then.
Well, that mood is with us again.  We see it in the anti-immigrant verbage of Donald Trump, which has pushed other GOP candidates, though not all, to adopt similar verbage. T…

Jesus' Welcome Table

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As I continue to reflect on the open table, and Jesus' practice, I want to turn from my conversation with Dennis Smith's book From Symposium to Eucharist: The Banquet in the Early Christian World,which is a scholarly examination of the origins of the Eucharist to a more "popular" reflection. So, for this reflection I want to turn to Nora Gallagher's book The Sacred Meal: The Ancient Practices SeriesNora writes not as a professional theologian but as a lay Christian -- she is, to my knowledge, still a member of Trinity Episcopal Church in Santa Barbara -- a church I know well.
In the book Nora offers her position on the Open Table, noting that "if you make up a bunch of rules about who gets to take Communion and who doesn't, then Communion is reduced either to a special club with only certain kinds of people who are allowed in, or magic: "If I have confessed my sins, the something wonderful will happen. If I have not, then it won't."(The …

Worshiping at the Table -- Thoughts on an Open Table

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There is a tendency for people in every age to try to envision something from the past in contemporary terms. Therefore, when my own denominational tradition was born at the turn of the nineteenth century on the "American frontier," the founders tried to "restore" the worship and practices of the early church, but did so in 19th century garb. That's understandable.  If we are to learn from the practices of the early church, it's important to remember that we probably won't be able to completely "restore" what went before.
I've been reflecting on the Eucharist and the Lord's Table (the recent lectionary reflections on John 6 can be added into this conversation, but this will be the third to draw upon Dennis Smith's From Symposium to Eucharist: The Banquet in the Early Christian WorldWhat I want to take notice of here today is Smith's point that Pauline congregations likely worshiped at the tables where they ate their dinner. …

Where Would We Go? - Lectionary Reflection for Pentecost 13B

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John 6:56-69 Common English Bible (CEB) 56 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in them.57 As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me lives because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven. It isn’t like the bread your ancestors ate, and then they died. Whoever eats this bread will live forever.” 59 Jesus said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.60 Many of his disciples who heard this said, “This message is harsh. Who can hear it?”61 Jesus knew that the disciples were grumbling about this and he said to them, “Does this offend you? 62 What if you were to see the Human One[a] going up where he was before? 63 The Spirit is the one who gives life and the flesh doesn’t help at all. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 64 Yet some of you don’t believe.” Jesus knew from the beginning who wouldn’t believe and the one who would betray him. 65 He said, “For this reason I sa…

Isaiah for Everyone (John Goldingay) -- Review

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ISAIAH FOR EVERYONE (Old Testament for Everyone). By John Goldingay. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2015. Xii + 260 pages.
            The book of Isaiah has long been a flashpoint of controversy within the Christian community. There are several reasons for this. One has to do with authorship. Was there one author, an eighth century prophet in Judah who answered the call of God in the year that Uzziah died (Isaiah 6:1), or were there several, some of whom lived in the post-exilic world? References to Cyrus were seen by some as proof that Isaiah was truly a prophet who could foresee events centuries ahead of time.  This becomes important because Isaiah has been looked to for prophetic insight into the coming of Jesus the Messiah. Thus, the translation of Isaiah 7:14 has proven to be a matter of great concern. Was the prophet pointing to a person born to a virgin or was he speaking of a young woman, perhaps the wife of the king, who was about to bear a son who would be seen as…

Eucharist -- Expanding Boundaries

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Continuing with my conversation about the Eucharist and the development of a theology of the Open Table, I want to once again draw from Dennis Smith's book From Symposium to Eucharist. I am still reading the book and I have questions about his approach, but I do think that he is on to something by suggesting that the Eucharistic practices of the first couple of generations owe much to existing Greco-Roman banqueting practices (though modified by Christian needs). In other words the forms and rules of typical banqueting practices served as a foundation, on  to which a distinctively Christian vision was stamped. In the earlier post I noted the role of boundary setting in these meal practices. Smith goes into great detail showing how meal practices were marked by boundary setting. Thus, while Jews could dine with Gentiles, there were dietary issues involved. There was also social stratification involved as well. As the old adage puts it -- "birds of a feather flock together.&qu…

Eucharist, Boundaries, and the Open Table

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I would say that a majority of progressive/liberal leaning Mainline Protestant churches practice an open table of some sort. We're long past the day when denominational differences preclude coming to the Table. For many congregations the invitation may be given to all baptized Christians or perhaps simply Christians in general. Others of us, believe that the Table is open to all, drawing the circle of inclusion as wide as possible. It's not that we don't take the Table seriously, we simply believe that it is inappropriate to bar people from the Table.  We may do this as an expression of hospitality (or simply out of a desire to be nice), but do we have a theology of the Open Table?  That is a question that I am pursuing with some earnestness with members of the congregation (we're working on a worship  vitality grant application that seeks to link our Table practices with our Missional calling). 

Isn't this the end for the church?

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It is often said that the church and with it Christianity is on the way out. Christendom is dead. The church is irrelevant.  You're heard it said, right?  Maybe you've said it yourself.  But it appears that this sentiment isn't new. Consider this reflection by Burris Jenkins, writing in his memoir published in 1939.  Jenkins was pastor of Community Christian Church in Kansas City. He was a liberal's liberal. He was Disciple, but he didn't consider denominational lables to be that important.
In the concluding chapter, as he's finishing up his life story, he reflects in a brief paragraph about the church and its future.  I thought I'd share it with you.
Ah, but isn't the church losing out? Isn't religion on the wane? Aren't people outgrowing it, becoming absorbed in the matieral, the mundane? Ask history -- the Dark Ages, the Middle Ages, all the ages. The church has its ups and downs, its depressions and recessions. Tim eand again the populace an…

Flesh and Blood Communion -- Lectionary Reflection for Pentecost 12B

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Flesh and Blood Communion

John 6:51-58 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” 52 The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” 53 So Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; 55 for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. 56 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. 57 Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.” ****        …

The Spirit of Grace (Alister McGrath) -- A Review

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THE SPIRIT OF GRACE: A Guide for Study and Devotion (The Heart of Christian Faith).  By Alister E. McGrath. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2015. X + 115 pages.
                With this volume Alister McGrath nears the close of his five volume The Heart of Christian Faith, which offers a basic introduction to what one might call traditional/orthodox Christian faith as outlined in the Apostles Creed. The first book in the series—Faith and Creeds—laid out the value and purpose of the creeds.  McGrath starts with the premise that what one believes is important, for belief forms the foundation of one’s world view, which allows for the moral life to be experienced. McGrath, who serves as the Andreas Idreos Professor of Science and Religion at the University of Oxford insists that faith as outlined in the creeds provides an anchor for life.
                McGrath is an interesting person. He’s a British evangelical, an Anglican Priest, a theologian, and a scientist (his first ed…

You Can Always Write!

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What do I do for fun? Well, I write things!! So, here I am on vacation and feeling the urge to write. So in my defense I share a word from one of the more intriguing figures in the history of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), the Rev. Burris Jenkins, long time pastor of what is today Community Christian Church in Kansas City, Missouri.  Here is his word of advice to clergy (you must remember that in the 1930s most mainline clergy were male and that the idea of inclusive language had yet to emerge): Every man should possess an avocation, a side line, something to amuse himself with and help release the strain of living and working. Ministers who can no longer play even croquet can always write. It is great fun; and as Robert Louis Stevenson said, it is worth while even if one never publishes a line of it, just for the joy of the working.  [Where My Caravan has Rested, (Chicago: Willett, Clark, and Company, 1939), p. 90]. The great thing about contemporary technology is that yo…

The Ted Nugent Paradox -- Liberals, Small Town America, & Class

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This is likely the first and last mention of Ted Nugent in one of my blog posts. I'm not a fan of his music or his politics. That said, my friend Luke Allen wrote a blog post with that title and I'd like to engage it, because Luke has raised some important questions for those of us on the left side of center, especially those of us in the church! The post isn't about Ted Nugent, but about the realities of white rural America and attitudes among white liberals toward what some term red necks or white trash -- often the white working poor. 
Luke places himself on the liberal side of the political spectrum, but he grew up in small town Michigan. In recent years he has spent considerable time doing urban and suburban community organizing (I partnered with him and another pastor in launching what became the Metro Coalition of Congregations).  Luke has a strong passion for communities like the one he was raised in, even though he lives in the urban/suburban part of southeast Mi…

THE DISCIPLES AT THE LORD’S TABLE (Gerard Moore) -- Review

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THE DISCIPLES AT THE LORD'S TABLE: Prayers Over Bread and Cup across 150 Years of Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) WorshipBy Gerard Moore. Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2015. X + 106 pages.
                It would be appropriate to call the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) a Table-centered communion. From our earliest days as a movement, which spans at least three major groupings in the United States, we have gathered weekly at the Lord’s Table (if not more often). The symbol that represents the denomination is a red chalice with the St. Andrew’s cross imposed upon it. Our liturgy of the Table tends to be simple and among major denominations the Disciples are unique in that they do not require an ordained minister present at the table to consecrate the elements. Indeed, until recently the table was the domain of lay elders. Today most Disciples churches will have the Minister preside, offering the words of institution, while elders will offer the prayer over th…

One In the Spirit -- Stalcup Lecture on Christian Unity (Jose Morales)

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The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) has made the pursuit of Christian unity one of our foundational principles. Thus, we are an ecumenical people. This ecumenical principle has been at the heart of my own spirituality, in large part because my own spiritual journey has taken me to several different denominational traditions, all of which have contributed to my identity. 
With that in mind I would like to share the Rev. Jose Morales' Stalcup Lecture on Christian Unity entitled "One in the Spirit," which is sponsored by the Council on Christian Unity and Brite Divnity School. Jose speaks here of an ecumenizing spirituality that involves lament over our division, our self-emptying of self (church), and movement toward unity of all life -- a new heaven and new earth.
Jose is a good friend with whom I share a passion for theology and its importance to the life of the church. He is currently a Ph.D. student in theology at Claremont School of Theology and Director of Pa…

Come to the Table and Taste the Bread of Heaven

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John 6:35, 41-51 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.41 Then the Jews began to complain about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” 42 They were saying, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” 43 Jesus answered them, “Do not complain among yourselves. 44 No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day. 45 It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me. 46 Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father. 47 Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life. 48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they d…

The God We Worship (Nicholas Wolterstorff) -- A Review

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THE GOD WE WORSHIP: An Exploration of Liturgical Theology (Kantzer Lectures in Revealed Theology)By Nicholas Wolterstorff.  Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2015. Xi + 180 pages.

Theology asks the question: Who is God? Liturgical theology asks the question who is the God confessed and celebrated in the liturgy? That is, how did the creators of the liturgy understand God as they laid out that liturgy? Yale philosophical theologian Nicholas Wolterstorff has written an important book that seeks to make explicit what is implicit in the liturgy. Liturgical theology is different from other forms of theology in that it focuses its attention on lived experience of worship. It is a corporate theology that influences communities of faith as they seek to live out the Christian life. This is a form of what Wolterstorff calls “church-reflexive” theology. It overlaps other forms of theology, but it is undertaken for very different reasons, reasons that are important to the life of th…

You’re the Man - Sermon for Pentecost 10B

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2 Samuel 11:26-12:15

Last Sunday you heard the story of how King David -- who was supposed to be a righteous king and the writer of great spiritual hymns -- took a woman from her husband, raped her, and then had her husband killed to cover up the fact. Bathsheba’s husband was an honorable man who refused to share the comforts of home when his comrades were at the front fighting for the king who had stolen his wife. As I understand it, last Sunday Rick talked about power and how it can corrupt.
We human beings have this tendency, when we accumulate great power, to believe that we’re above the law. We can do whatever we want when we want, and no one can stop us. Sometimes we’re brazen about it. We don’t mind if people see us squishing the little guy. At other times we decide to project an image of uprightness to cover the dark side of our lives. After all, reputations do matter.