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Showing posts from November, 2015

Advent: Preparation for What?

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O come, O come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel, that mourns in lonely exile here until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel
Advent is a time of preparation. It is rooted in the longing to see the Son of God appear, for the promise is that Emmanuel shall appear to us.  While there is the urge to jump start Christmas by displacing Advent, Advent plays an important role in our spiritual journeys.  There is, of course, an apocalyptic aspect to the season, for at least some of the lectionary texts speak of a sudden inbreaking of God's realm.  
While this is a season of preparation, it is good not to lose sight of the primary message of the larger season that connects Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany. God is coming. God is here. We're not alone. At the moment one of the books I'm reading is William Willimon's How Odd of God: Chosen for the Curious Vocation of Preaching. The book is a reflection on preaching in conversation with Karl B…

Promises Fulfilled -- Advent 1C

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14 The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 15 In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. 16 In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is the name by which it will be called: “The Lord is our righteousness.”[Jeremiah 33:14-16 (NRSV)]
Since I'm not preaching this morning, I thought I might share a brief reflection on the reading from the Hebrew Bible. It is a word from Jeremiah to exiles, who worry about their future.
We all want to live lives that are safe and secure. It's true there are those who push the boundaries of safety, but even climbers and skydivers try to make sure that there actions are relatively safe. There is a thrill of defying the odds, but it's a good chance one will survive.  In daily life, however, we like security. We lock our doo…

Searching for Home

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For many Thanksgiving Weekend is a time to travel back home.  Whether flying or driving, Americans are on the move this weekend.  It's been a long time since my family traveled "home." In fact, I've not been to "my home" for Thanksgiving since perhaps my college days. Part of the reason is vocational.  The other piece is that we live far away from our "hometowns" and our families.  So, we make new traditions -- a visit to Golden Corral and a movie!  It works for us.  But the focus of the weekend (if we discount shopping and football) connects with a point made by Diana Butler Bass in her book Grounded.
She writes of what she calls the overarching narrative of the Bible.
The overarching narrative of the Bible is that of humanity searching for home. In the beginning, God created the beautiful earth as our home, but we carelessly misused it, resulting in exile from our natal place. The rest of the story recounts how we either faithfully sought God…

Religious Children More Ungenerous? -- Sightings (Martin Marty)

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It is the day after Thanksgiving and all through the land, many a creature is stirring, seeking out the best deals on things needed and unneeded. As I write this, I've yet to venture out into the world of the shopping frenzy. Yesterday was set aside for us to stop and consider for a moment what we're thankful for. So, perhaps it is a good day to finally re-post Martin Marty's comments on a recent study that suggests that religious children are less generous than non-religious children. The point of the study, as detailed below, was to see whether religion is required for morality and altruism. The findings suggest not. While we can critique the study and its basis -- that's something we might do with any survey, including the one that tell us bacon is bad for us, perhaps we might take something different from this. As Marty suggests maybe we can take this as cause to look inside the community to see if there is truth to the charge. With that I invite you to read and c…

Every Good and Perfect Gift -- A Thanksgiving Reflection

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Thanksgiving Day has arrived once again. Whether we are spending the day with family or friends or alone, whether we are watching football or perhaps working, it is right and good to spend a few moments offering words of thanksgiving to God.  My reflections are rooted in this statement from the book of James. I've chosen to use the words from the King James Version.
Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning. (James 1:17 KJV).   Every good and perfect gift comes to us from God our Creator, therefore we give thanks.  The Psalmist declares:
It is good to give thanks to the Lord,to sing praises to your name, O Most High;to declare your steadfast love in the morning,and your faithfulness by night,to the music of the lute and the harp,to the melody of the lyre. For you, O Lord, have made me glad by your work;at the works of your hands I sing for joy.  (Ps. 92:1-4)
I realize thes…

Watching for Signs of the Kingdom - Lectionary Reflection - Advent 1

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Luke 21:25-36 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
25 “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. 26 People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27 Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. 28 Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
29 Then he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees; 30 as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. 31 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near.32 Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place.33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
34 “Be on guard so that your hearts are not weig…

Blue Note Preaching in a Post-Soul World (Otis Moss III) -- A Review

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BLUE NOTE PREACHING IN A POST-SOUL WORLD: Finding Hope in an Age of Despair. By Otis Moss III. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2015. Xiv + 127 pages.
                Preaching is a calling. It is also an art. Preaching draws on particular cultural and societal forms of communication, and it is reflected in the personality of the one in the pulpit (if one preaches from a pulpit). I start from a particular social location. I am white, male, Mainline Protestant, and I have an academic background as well. I learned particular styles in college and seminary and have a style that seems appropriate to my own personality. That said, it is important that we continually take into consideration the world around us and draw from forms that might not be as natural to our own realities. It is with this context in mind that I read Blue Note Preaching in a Post-Soul World.The author is a preacher serving a predominantly African American congregation of the United Church of Christ. It is both…

He’s Coming Back - A Sermon for Christ The King Sunday

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Revelation 1:4b-8


Over the next few days we’ll have an opportunity to consider the blessings that have been poured out upon us by God. It really doesn’t matter where we gather. The important thing is to stop and offer words of praise to God, “from whom all blessings flow.” We’ll have at least two community opportunities to share in words of Thanksgiving before Thursday. Tonight the Troy-area Interfaith Group is hosting a service at the Islamic Association of Greater Detroit in Rochester Hills. Then on Tuesday evening the Troy Clergy Group is sponsoring a service at Northminster Presbyterian. We also have the opportunity this morning to offer up symbols of gratitude to God through signs of our commitment to the life and ministry of this congregation.
These celebrations occur under the shadow of the recent terrorist attacks in Mali, Beirut, Nigeria, and Paris, that have raised our anxiety levels. Fear seems to be taking hold of many in our midst, and there are people and groups who are ma…

Welcoming the Stranger and the Refugees

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The Bible is full of refugees stories. Jacob and his family left Canaan for Egypt because of famine. Moses and the Israelites fled Egypt for the Promised Land because Pharaoh had forgotten Joseph. Jesus was himself a refugee, his family fleeing Herod and finding refuge in Egypt. The lesson here is that because the people of God have been refugees and migrants -- strangers in strange lands -- they should welcome the stranger.It is stated in Deuteronomy, as part of the summary of the law:"You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt" (Deuteronomy 10:19). 

Disciples, UCC make joint statement on refugees

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In light of the recent terrorist attacks by ISIS and Boko Haram in France, Beruit, and Nigeria (along with the earlier bombing of a Russian plane, there has been increasingly strident responses from political leaders in response. This includes the County Executive here in the county where I live. As a Disciples pastor I would like to share this joint statement of the leaders of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and the United Church of Christ.
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Last Updated 11/17/15 Not Terrorists; Not Tourists: Refugees are Human Beings I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” 37Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” 40And the king will …

Grounding the Church

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On Monday I posted a lengthy review of Diana Butler Bass's wonderful new book Grounded: Finding God in the World - A Spiritual Revolution. I will admit to have struggled with the book and that came out in the review (perhaps a bit too strongly). Nonetheless, I am in large-part in agreement with the premise of the book. The premise is this, if we're focusing our attention on the institution and its welfare we've missed the point of faith, which is God.

Now, as I noted in the review due to my current context as a pastor of a small mainline congregation that struggles to connect with the world, I like many colleagues tend to ask what may be the wrong question -- how will this help the church?  My situation may not be unique, but there is an added element to my story. You see, a very long time ago my church was one of the most important in the denomination. The pastors were celebrated preachers and leaders. Times changed and by the late 70s we had left our  neo-Gothic cathed…

Public Orthodoxy - Sightings (Martin Marty)

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We don't often hear about the Orthodox Christian Tradition, that eastern branch of the Christian faith that to some is exotic and even attractive as a spiritual tradition, but probably not as a public voice. Martin Marty has chosen to take notice of a journal titled Public Orthodoxy, which seeks to bring the broad Orthodox tradition into the public conversation. Since Orthodox Christianity has lived in recent centuries in the shadow of the Ottoman Empire and the Islamic world, as well as in the Shadow of the Soviet system for much of the 20th Century, it is worth attending to. Thus, I invite you to read and converse!


Public Orthodoxy
By MARTIN E. MARTY   NOV 16, 2015His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew visits the Archbishop of Canterbury to discuss the climate crisis ahead of the U.N. Summit in December. (11.02.15)  Photograph: Lambeth Palace When a message from Public Orthodoxy reaches us, we read it and resolve to do better at sighting Eastern Orthodoxy for this e-col…

What Kind of King Are You? - Lectionary Reflection for Reign of Christ Sunday

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John 18:33-37 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

33 Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” 34 Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” 35 Pilate replied, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?” 36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” 37 Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” ********
                It has been said that despite its faults, democracy is the best governmental system available. It’s not always efficient, but it allows the populace to get involved. O…

Grounded (Diana Butler Bass) - A Review

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GROUNDED: Finding God in the World -- A Spiritual Revolution. By Diana Butler Bass.  San Francisco: Harper One, 2015. 308 pages.



  A number of years ago, Diana Butler Bass (the author of the book under review) and I were comparing life stories. We noticed quite a number of parallels. We both started out our religious lives in traditional mainline Protestant churches, converted to evangelicalism, attended Christian colleges, graduated from evangelical seminaries, and then pursued doctorates in church history. While I pursued ordination, she didn’t. I ended up as a pastor and she became a noted speaker and author (often speaking to groups of pastors that included me). I have read most of her books and find her to be a thoughtful and provocative writer. Her book Christianity for the Rest of Us (her first with Harper One) offered a word of encouragement to those of us in the mainline. Despite declining numbers in our denominations good things were happening. God was at work. In her most re…

What Matters Most: Provision - A Stewardship Sermon

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1 Kings 17:8-16


What matters most? And how do you measure that? These are the questions that our stewardship theme raises. We’ve heard a word about generosity. We’ve heard a word about money. Now we hear a word about provision. 
When Jesus told the man to sell everything and give the proceeds to the poor, the man walked away because he had too many possessions. He wanted to enjoy the presence of God, but apparently his possessions stood in the way (Mark 10:17-31). Like many of us, he was a hoarder who found it difficult to walk by faith.
This morning we have heard part of the story of the prophet Elijah, who had gotten himself into trouble with the king of Israel. Even if you’re a messenger of God, getting in trouble with a king is dangerous. Elijah got in trouble because he told King Ahab and his wife Jezebel that since the king had set up altars to the Phoenician storm god Baal, God was going to stop the rain from falling. When a drought fell upon the land, Elijah had to leave. What is…

A Legacy Greater Than I-Thou: A Usable Bible and a Usable Martin Buber - Sightings (Claire Sufrin)

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Many have heard of Martin Buber, if for no other reason, his book I and Thou, but as Claire Sufrin details, there is much more to Buber than I-Thou. More important is his work with the Bible, and the way he understood Saga,  I invite you to read and consider what Buber has to say to us about a usable Bible!
A Legacy Greater Than I-Thou: A Usable Bible and a Usable Martin Buber 
By CLAIRE E. SUFRIN   NOV 6, 2015Martin Buber             What can German-Jewish philosopher Martin Buber still offer us fifty years after his death?

Best known for his landmark book, I and Thou, which describes the possibility of encountering God when fully present to another person, Buber (1878-1965) was also a close reader of the Hebrew Bible. He translated the Bible into German with Jewish philosopher Franz Rosenzweig; wrote books of thought-provoking biblical commentary; and reflected on its content in numerous essays that continue to be studied and discussed.

The Challenge of Preaching (John Stott and Greg Scharf) -- Review

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THE CHALLENGE OF PREACHING. By John Stott. Abridged and Updated by Greg Scharf.  Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2015. Xii + 132 pages.
If you’ve had any involvement in the Evangelical movement over the past half century you’ve likely encountered John Stott. He was a leading figure in the movement, but being that he was both British and Anglican, he had the ability to transcend boundaries. He was popular at Fuller and I had the opportunity to hear him speak to a large audience gathered at a relatively progressive Presbyterian church in Santa Barbara, California. Nonetheless he was both evangelical and relatively conservative on most issues.             Stott died in 2011 at the age of ninety, probably a decade after I heard him speak. Career-wise he spent most of his adult life as the minister at All Soul’s Church, Langham Place, in London. At the same time, he was a well-traveled speaker and author.  He wrote on a variety of topics, both biblical and theological. He a…

To Whom Do We Owe Allegiance?

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As a child I had a classmate who remained seated as the rest of us stood to say the “Pledge of Allegiance.” While we pledged our allegiance to the nation symbolized by the flag, thinking nothing of the religious implications of our act, my classmate, who happened to be a Jehovah’s Witness, had been taught that to stand and recite the pledge would break one of the Ten Commandments—the one about having no graven images. At the time I didn’t understand why he refused to stand and say this innocuous statement, but when I think about it now it does give me pause. While his religious community refuses to acknowledge any government besides God’s kingdom (they don’t vote or serve in the military either), most of us live with a Constantinian vision. Most Christians don’t see anything wrong with pledging allegiance to the symbol of our national identity. In fact, many American Christians have equated their Christianity with their national loyalty. After all, isn’t the United States a “Christian…

Football - Sightings (Martin Marty)

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I must confess my love of football. I'm an ardent fan of the Oregon Ducks. I have long been a fan of the 49ers, though I have had a wandering eye over the years that led in the 1970s to an embrace of the Pittsburgh Steelers and living as I do in Metro Detroit, I join with long-suffering Lion's fans in hoping that one day success will be visited upon them. At the same time, I understand that this is a violent sport that can lead to serious long-term injuries, including dementia. There is even something verging on the demented with regard to the business side of things. NFL games are played on Sundays, Mondays, Thursdays on multiple channels. Even college football has become big business, with the coaches pulling down salaries in the millions, dwarfing what even the presidents of institutions make. And yet, I love my football.  So what do we make of all of this -- from a faith perspective?  Martin Marty offers us some suggestions as he overlooks Soldier Field from his condo.
Foot…

Beginning of the Birth Pangs - A Lectionary Reflection for Pentecost 25B

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Mark13:1-8 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
13 As he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!” Then Jesus asked him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?” Then Jesus began to say to them, “Beware that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’[a]and they will lead many astray. When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birth pangs.
            It i…

The Work of Theology (Stanley Hauerwas): A Review

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THE WORK OF THEOLOGY. By Stanley Hauerwas. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2015. Xi + 293 pages.
                It is often said that if we think about God, then we are theologians. That is true in part, but there are some who devote their lives to diving deep into questions about God and God’s interactions with creation. Many of these persons live within the academic world, though some of us have found a home within congregational ministry. The church benefits from the ministry of those who choose to think deeply about these matters, and in recent years a much more diverse cadre of theological writers has emerged. Whereas a generation or so in the past the leading theologians were white Euro-American males, that is changing. Nonetheless there are still many theologians who are white and male, even as we continue to learn from Dead White Male theologians like Karl Barth and John Calvin and Thomas Aquinas. Among the living white male theologians who continues to leav…