Showing posts from April, 2016

Worship's Narrative Arc -- Christian Formation

I believe that worship stands at the center of the Christian faith. During this Easter season I have been preaching from the lectionary texts drawn from the Book of Revelation. This very apocalyptic book is also a book of worship. It reveals to us the importance of being engaged in fellowship with the Creator by offering songs of praise and thanksgiving. 
Worship is one of my passions. I grew up in the Episcopal Church, and that liturgical tradition helped form me as a Christian in ways I didn't understand at the time. Though I left the Episcopal Church during high school and settled within a Pentecostal Community (with it leaving its deposit in my understanding of worship), for most of my adult life I have been part of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). The Disciples are a Free Church tradition that doesn't have a prescribed liturgy, though a liturgy of sorts emerged over time. Central to Disciples worship, as is true for the Episcopal Church, is the Table. Each wee…

The Lord's Prayer and Allegiance -- A word for our times

As I watch the political drama unfolding in our land, I do so with a mixture of emotions. While I believe strongly in the importance of being involved in public life, especially when matters of social justice are involved. However, as a Christian, I must affirm the premise that my ultimate loyalties belong God and not to nation. For those of us who recite the Lord's Prayer each week, we're reminded of that loyalty. Several years ago I preached a series of sermons on the Lord's Prayer, which became the foundation of a book titled Ultimate Allegiance: The Subversive Nature of the Lord's Prayer, which explores the relevance of the prayer for our times. I believe that a close study of the prayer (hopefully guided by my book) can be of help as we navigate the political waters. Whether Republican or Democrat, Libertarian or Green, or simply Independent, our ultimate allegiance is to God.  Below are a few paragraphs extracted from the book's preface, which gives a flavor…

Time to Get Going - Lectionary Reflection for Easter 6C

John 5:1-9  New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

5 After this there was a festival of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 2 Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in Hebrew Beth-zatha, which has five porticoes. 3 In these lay many invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. 5 One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. 6 When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be made well?” 7 The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.” 8 Jesus said to him, “Stand up, take your mat and walk.” 9 At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk.  Now that day was a sabbath.
*******                 A man had been ill for thirty-eight years. During all this time he’d been sitting by a pool located in the Temple Precincts. It was known in Hebrew as Beth-zatha, but…

The Woman, the Hour, and the Garden (Addison Hodges Hart) -- Review

THE WOMAN, THE HOUR, AND THE GARDEN: A Study of the Imagery of the Gospel of John. By Addison Hodges Hart. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2016. X + 113 pages.
                Among progressive/liberal Christians there is strong preference for the Synoptic Gospels. John is often set aside because it seems more other-worldly than the Synoptics. Of course, the Synoptics have parables, while John has speeches. The Synoptics have miracles, John has Signs (even if they’re miraculous events they seem to give off a different sensibility. Because John seems rather mystical in orientation, it doesn’t lend itself to quests for the historical Jesus. Nonetheless, John offers us great riches if we're willing to engage the Gospel on John’s own terms.
                One who embraces John’s mystical side is Addison Hodges Hart. Hart is a retired pastor and college chaplain. This is the third book by Hart that I’ve read, and from these books I have gleaned a sense of Hart’s interest…

God’s Home Is with Us - Sermon for Easter 5C

Revelation 21:1-6

One of the consistent messages of the Book of Revelation is that God is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end of all things. To borrow from Aristotle, God is the first cause. Or, as the Prologue to the Gospel of John puts it:  “in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” And, everything that exists was created through and by this  Word. Finally, a few verses later we learn that this “Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (Jn. 1:1-18). Not only is God the beginning of all things, but according to the Book of Revelation God is also the completion of all things.   
If God is the beginning and the end of all things, should we not also say that God is also present in all things at all times? As Rick Lowery reminded us yesterday in his sermon at the Festival of Faith, in a moment of theological crisis, the people of Israel learned that God is not limited to a piece of land, but that God is the God of all places and all people…

France's "Incomplete Citizens" and Why Some Put Islam First -- Sightings (Myriam Renaud)

We're hearing a lot about the Islamization of Europe, especially France. There is concern in an increasingly secularized Europe that the religious identity of Muslims overshadows their loyalty to nation. At the same time, for many Muslims, there is significant discrimination against them due to religion -- in part perhaps because of more overt displays of religion. Having written a book titled Ultimate Allegiance,  in which I suggest that the Lord's Prayer is the Christian pledge of allegiance to God, I would affirm the prior allegiance to God over nation.  Myriam Renaud offers us a look at the challenges facing Muslims in France and why they are finding their identity in religion.  I invite you to read and offer your thoughts.  
France's "Incomplete Citizens" and Why Some Put Islam First
By MYRIAM RENAUD   APR. 21, 2016 Credit: ilolab / Shutterstock When most readers survey the media’s analysis of last year’s Paris terrorist attacks, they ask, “Why?” Why do some Fr…

The Earth is the Lord's, So Take Care of It (For Earth Day)

Whether it's global warming, air pollution, lack of safe drinking water, or the extinction of species, from the looks of things we humans have created a mess. It was for this reason that Earth Day was born in 1970. Inspired by a devastating 1969 oil spill off our own Santa Barbara County coast, a movement was born that called the nation's attention to the fact that we had clogged our rivers and streams and fouled our air with any number of pollutants, making the earth less livable for all of God's creatures. Much progress has been made since then, but work remains to be done.

In recent years the issue of climate change has grabbed our attention. Although some in national leadership pooh-pooh global warming as some kind of environmentalist scam, and some preachers have called this ecological movement a Satanic distraction, the scientific evidence continues to mount that we humans contribute significantly to a burgeoning crisis. If current trends continue, we will likely see…

Rethinking Baptism in an Open Table Theology

Reposted from Energion Discussion Network: 
            In a previous post I argued for the adoption of a completely open Eucharistic Table. I made this argument on the basis of Jesus’ own practice of Table Fellowship. In the practices of most American congregations, at least Protestant ones, the Table is completely open. That is, rarely does a congregation bar a person from taking Communion. They may suggest that it is open to believers and may even suggest that children refrain from taking communion if they’re not baptized, but other than that it’s open. The rationale for this practice is more pragmatic than theological. We want to be nice and hospitable, but is that enough? As for me, I would like to have a theological foundation for my practice. I hope to explore these ideas in more depth over the next few years.  One of the components of this conversation is the role of Baptism. If you open the Table to all-comers, what does that do to Baptism, which has traditionally functioned a…

Sustained by the Bread of Life

I have long been fascinated by John 6. It is a passage of Scripture that proved to be highly influential among high church Anglicans and Nonjurors in the 19th century. John Johnson, vicar of Cranbrook wrote a lengthy book titled: The Unbloody Sacrifice and Altar Unvailed and Supported (1718).  The chapter, which features the feeding of the 5000 and Jesus' discourse about him being the bread of life has been used to define the idea of real presence.

Today in our bible study we will be looking at John 5-6, with most of our attention directed to John 6. While the passage does lend itself to eucharistic interpretation/usage, it may go deeper. In preparing for the session I encountered this nugget from Karoline Lewis, in her book: John:Fortress Biblical Preaching Commentaries. She focuses on what John has to say about abundant life, and how the relationship with God in Jesus relates. She writes:

Jesus as the Bread of Life cannot be understood as merely metaphor, but rather as a literal…

Love each other—Like I love you -- Lectionary Reflection for Easter 5C

John 13:31-35 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
31 When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. 32 If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. 33 Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ 34 I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” ******
                We remain in the Easter season, but the lectionary takes us back to John’s story of the pre-Easter Jesus.  This time we’re in the upper room. Jesus and the disciples are having that final meal that has given birth to the Maundy Thursday remembrance that underlies our Eucharistic celebrations.  According to John, Judas has left the buil…

Worship and Divine Action

Over the recent past we've heard a lot about worship wars. Should worship follow traditional lines or should be more contemporary? In answering this question we often raise the question of authenticity. Which form of worship is most expressive of my faith?  In asking the question this way, worship is seen as something we do. We are the subject of worship. But what if God is the subject? What if worship that is true and reflective of the Spirit isn't something we do, but is something that is done to us. 
I'm reading James K. A. Smith's book You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit {Smith will be speaking on this subject next fall at Rochester College's Streaming Conference.] In the book, which I'm only about a third of the way through, Smith is arguing that we are often formed by secular liturgies, including consumerism. He believes that worship can offer an alternative liturgy, a spiritual liturgy, that can form us spiritually.  Worship that focuses…

Drinking from the Water of Life -- Sermon for Easter 4C

Revelation 7:9-17

On this fourth Sunday of Easter we continue our journey through the Book of Revelation. When we last gathered, we found ourselves standing before the throne of God. We were singing praises to God and to the Lamb who was slain. This morning, we again find ourselves standing before the throne of God. We look around and we see a great multitude that is drawn from every nation and tribe and people and language. Together we declare that “Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!” 
There is a company of people robed in white garments standing in the midst of this multitude. One of the twenty-four elders asks John: “who are these, robed in white, and where do they come from?” While John didn’t know the answer, he learned that they are the faithful witnesses who stood firm in the midst of persecution at the cost of their own lives. These martyrs stand before the throne of God waiting to receive their reward. This is their reward: they will hung…

The Loss of Nuance

One of the biggest losses in any political season is nuance. Stump speeches and debates leave little room for nuanced discussion.  Part of this is due to the way the media poses questions, but they're not the only ones to blame. Our attention span seems to short at times to take in nuanced views. So, we jump on bandwagons without really examining the full range of pros and cons. 
Let's take income inequality. It is a problem. But how do we resolve it?  I'm not sure I've heard good answers from any political candidate, because it's often placed in us versus them language.  Nuance is the  casualty.

Identity and Institution

Yesterday I spent much of the day at my first Commission on the Ministry meeting for the Michigan Region of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).  In May I will become the new chair, which means I will lead the group that decides the fate of ministerial candidates, as well as determines standing for current clergy. It's an important responsibility, because churches need competent, faithful, and committed leaders. 
I can't reveal anything about any of the candidates we met with. That would be inappropriate, but thinking about the process we undertook got me thinking about the role of denominational identity in one's call to ministry. Should a congregation expect their pastor to not only have an understanding of the denomination, but a commitment to it? I don't mean blind allegiance, but a commitment to represent the values and theology of that denomination to the community we are to called to lead?  I ask these questions as one who has strong ecumenical inclinati…

Conscience -- Sightings (Martin Marty)

Pope Francis is a beloved figure in many circles. Progressives love his economic and environmental vision, but they seem confounded by his mostly traditional views on marriage equality and birth control. Traditional Catholics on the other hand don't seem enthralled by his economic views and his less that passionate commitment to medieval liturgies. So, his latest missive will likely frustrate many.  Titled Amoris Laetitia, it emphasizes mercy and pastoral accommodation, but doesn't change the rules. Thus, it won't satisfy those wanting change, but then if he had gone all the way he would have had a major revolt from those on the right and from those in the Global South, whose views of marriage and sexuality are much more traditional.  I offer Martin Marty's analysis, which is always helpful.  Take a read and offer your thoughts!

By MARTIN E. MARTY   APR. 11, 2016                  Credit: Giulio Napolitano / “Surprised!” is the rarest response …

Marriage in Interesting Times -- Book Announcement

I wanted to share word that the release of my newest book is on the near horizon.  Titled Marriage in Interesting Times, this is part of the Energion Publications Participatory Study Guide series. It is specifically a bible study guide dealing with marriage that invites us to rethink how we understand the Bible and what it might say about marriage for a twenty-first context where marriage is no longer the sole domain of a "man and a woman." We hear people talk about "biblical marriage," but in many ways this vision of "biblical marriage" is more a twentieth century vision than a biblical one.
In the introduction to the book I write this about my reasoning with regard to the book: 
 I titled the study guide “Marriage in Interesting Times,” because we are living at a time when profound changes in the way marriage is understood. Not that long ago, it was assumed by many in American society that traditional marriage not only involved a man and a woman, but the …

Hearing the Shepherd’s Voice - Lectionary Reflection for Easter 4C

John 10:22-30 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
22 At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, 23 and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon. 24 So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” 25 Jesus answered, “I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me; 26 but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep.27 My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand. 30 The Father and I are one.” ****
                The fourth Sunday of Easter has been deemed Good Shepherd Sunday. Therefore, the lectionary deviates to some extent from its Easter reflections on the resurrection a…

Wholeheartedness (Chuck DeGroat) -- Review

WHOLEHEARTEDNESS: Busyness, exhaustion, and healing the divided self. By Chuck DeGroat. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2016. Viii + 200 pages.
                Are you exhausted? Do you feel like you’re so busy with life that it seems like you’re being pulled in a thousand different directions? If you’re not, God bless you!  As for the rest of us, exhaustion is the name of the game. As a pastor I often feel pulled in multiple directions. Part of that is my own failure to set boundaries and say no when necessary.  But again, I doubt that I’m all that different from many others, including members of my own congregation. So, what is the solution? Some would say, get some rest, but is that possible and is that the solution? Just sleeping more might not rectify the situation.
                For those seeking some guidance in these matters, Chuck DeGroat’s book Wholeheartedness might prove helpful.  DeGroat is a therapist and professor of pastoral care at Western Theologi…

Time for Worship - Sermon for Easter 3C

Revelation 5:11-14

The Book of Revelation is in many ways a book of worship! In fact, I think it is a call to engage our holy imaginations in the worship of God. 
If you’ve read any of the Chronicles of Narnia books, you know that the imagination can have a powerful effect on the way we see spiritual realities. In the best known of these books, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Lucy, who is the youngest of four siblings, discovers a pathway into the magical land of Narnia. When Lucy returns from her visit to Narnia, she shares her discovery with her older brother and sister. They dismiss her report as a mere tall tale. When she shows them the wardrobe, all they find is a wardrobe filled with old coats. There is no pathway, no portal, just the wooden back wall of the wardrobe.

Beyond Therapeutic Christianity

There has been much talk of late about what has been termed "moral therapeutic deism." In MTD content doesn't really matter when it comes to religion. What matters is that it makes one a better person and it enables one to get through life. It's understandable that such a vision has taken root in our society, and its understandable that churches and preachers, seeking to survive in this environment have taken our cues from MTD. But the question is, will such a vision transform lives? Will it make a difference, or does it simply allow me to make due with the status quo? 

Explained: Religion, the Birth-Control Controversy and the Supreme Court -- Sightings (Douglas Laycock)

The question of how we express religious liberty is a complicated one. It involves questions of the role government has in both accommodating religion and regulating aspects of life. We often talk about the government's compelling interest. Thus, religious communities are subject zoning regulations and safety regulations. As for matters of doctrine and practice, unless they endanger lives there is a lot of freedom. Currently there is a case before the Supreme Court that deals with contraception. There are religious exemptions, but how far do they go. Is there a better way? The Court will decide (maybe), and Douglas Laycock offers us his take, which seems to offer a way through the Gordian's knot.  Take a read and add your thoughts!
Explained: Religion, the Birth-Control Controversy and the Supreme Court
By DOUGLAS LAYCOCK   APR. 7, 2016 Credit: American Life League / flickr The Supreme Court recently heard arguments in seven cases of religious nonprofit organizations that do not …

Ten Prayers that Changed the World (Jean-Pierre Isbouts) -- Review

TEN PRAYERS THATCHANGED THE WORLD: Extraordinary Stories of Faith that Shaped the Course of History. By Jean-Pierre Isbouts.  Washington, DC: National Geographic, 2016. 270 pages.

                It is said that prayer changes things, and I believe that there is truth in this adage. I believe it is especially true when we inhabit prayers that inspire us to action.  As a Christian who recites the Lord’s Prayer most every Sunday in worship, I know its power. It is a call to give allegiance to God, above all other allegiances. There is power is that kind of prayer.
                The Lord’s Prayer, also known as the Our Father is one of many prayers that we could name that have proven influential down through the ages. Indeed, it is one of the ten prayers that historian/author/filmmaker Jean-Pierre Isbouts has chosen to highlight in his book Ten Prayers that Changed the World, a book published by National Geographic. This review of the Isbouts book is one of twelve contributions to the T…

How to Save Your Soul - Sightings (Martin Marty)

We live in a digital age. I use Facebook, Twitter, email, text, and of course I blog. Since I have a smart phone I'm able to check things out whenever I please. It's easy to become overloaded by it all. So, how do we navigate this digital world and still keep our souls intact? Martin Marty points us toward an article that has some strategies to save our souls. I invite you to spend a moment reading this essay and considering how you might keep things in perspective!  

How to Save Your Soul
By MARTIN E. MARTY   APR. 4, 2016                  Credit: Matthew G / flickr “How to Save Your Soul in a Digital Age” is the bold banner on the cover of The American Scholar (Spring, 2016). No, the magazine of the Phi Beta Kappa Society is not turning evangelistic. On page 22 the editors simply translate author James McWilliams’ title to one that is in keeping with secular times: “Saving the Self in the Age of the Selfie.”

Going Fishing - Lectionary Reflection for Easter 3C

John 21:1-19 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
21 After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way. 2 Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples. 3 Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. 4 Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. 5 Jesus said to them, “Children, you have no fish, have you?” They answered him, “No.” 6 He said to them, “Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. 7 That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was…

Releasing the Holy Imagination

During this Easter season we are attending to the words of the Book of Revelation. It is a book of the Bible that many have found difficult to understand and easy to misuse. That has led persons ancient and modern to rid the canon of its embarrassing statements.  Nonetheless, there is something powerful about this image-laden book. It requires that we let loose our holy imaginations. 
As an ordained minister in a denomination that has valued a reasonable/rational faith (we're good Lockeans), I know that our people find it difficult to embrace mystery. I shared in my sermon yesterday a word from Alexander Schmemann, that speaks of being in the Spirit in terms of being drawn into the heavenly realm. It is easy to disparage the idea of being drawn into the heavenly realm as contributing to an abandonment of this world and its need for transformation. My concern is that for many in our churches, we end up in a position of overvaluing the intellect and undervaluing the imagination. 

To God Be the Glory - A Sermon for Easter 2C

Revelation 1:4-8

Easter Sunday was once again glorious! How can you beat trumpet and timpani accompanying the organ as we sang “Christ the Lord is Risen Today?” It’s hard to move on from the glories of Easter Sunday, but the journey of faith must continue. As we go forward, the spirit of Easter remains with us as we worship the God who raised Jesus from the dead. Yes, to this God be glory and dominion forever!
The Book of Revelation is one of those books of the Bible that many find to be strange and even off-putting. Because the imagery and the language are so difficult to decipher, there have been many both ancient and modern who would like to evict it from the canon. Luther declared “It is just the same as if we had it not, and there are many far better books for us to keep.” Since the lectionary rarely offers the book, preachers rarely visit it. Despite the preachers mixed feelings, there is good news to be found in this book, and the creators of the lectionary set out a series of re…

Martin Luther King, Jr.: A Theologian with a Passion for Reconciliation -- Sightings (Noel Leo Erskine)

On Monday we will observe the 48th anniversary of the assassination of the Martin Luther King, Jr. His vision of the Beloved Community, in which humanity experienced true reconciliation, was rooted in his incarnational theology. In some ways we have achieved parts of this vision, but in other ways we remain from its realization. Even in his own frailty Dr. King sought to embody this vision, inviting us as well to embrace the call to love one's neighbor. I invite you to reflect Dr. King's legacy as you read this poignant essay by Noel Leo Erskine of Emory University.  
Martin Luther King, Jr.: A Theologian with a Passion for Reconciliation
By NOEL LEO ERSKINE   MAR. 31, 2016 Martin Luther King, Jr. Though revered and claimed as an inspiration by people with a wide range of religious and political commitments, Martin Luther King, Jr., as he often reminded audiences, was nurtured in the Black Church. King demanded justice for the powerless and advocated on behalf of the voiceless wh…