Tuesday, May 31, 2016

A Prophet Rises - Lectionary Reflection for Pentecost 3C

Luke 7:11-17 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

                11 Soon afterwards he went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went with him. 12 As he approached the gate of the town, a man who had died was being carried out. He was his mother’s only son, and she was a widow; and with her was a large crowd from the town. 13 When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, “Do not weep.” 14 Then he came forward and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, rise!” 15 The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. 16 Fear seized all of them; and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has risen among us!” and “God has looked favorably on his people!” 17 This word about him spread throughout Judea and all the surrounding country.

                The Gospels seek to answer the question: “Who is Jesus?” This is a question that has been on the lips of people from the first century to the present. Each of the Gospels offers a somewhat different answer to the question; an answer that is fitting for the particular community addressed by the Gospel writer.  While the Gospels give an account of Jesus’ teachings, they also give an account of acts of power in which Jesus heals people and in some cases raises them from the dead. Jesus’ words fare better in our modern day than his healing efforts. Remember that Thomas Jefferson took scissors to the “supernatural” parts and left the pithy statements of wisdom. Thus, we become red-letter Christians, with the stuff in black being deemed expendable, largely because the supernatural parts make us uncomfortable. Who wants to look unscientific in an enlightened age?  I have no desire to get rid of science. I think it offers us an important voice, but our discomfort may arise because we’ve missed the point of stories like the one in front of us.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Memorial Day Reflection and Benediction

I was asked to participate in a Memorial Day observance in the city of Troy, Michigan. I was tasked with giving the closing words and benediction. I am committed to being a peacemaker and a bridge-builder. I believe there is a place for faith in the public square. I am also keenly aware that down through history there has often been an unfortunate alliance with the public square that gives up the prophetic role in exchange for civil honors. Finding an appropriate position in this setting isn't easy, but I believe that we must at times take the risk if we're to be partners in creating a just and peaceful world.  So here are my words and my prayer. 


Sunday, May 29, 2016

Great Is the Lord, and Greatly to be Praised - A Sermon for Pentecost 2C

Last Sunday when I preached the first in a series of sermons from the Psalms, we heard the Psalmist declare: “O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name” (Ps. 8:1). This morning the Psalmist invites us to sing a new song, for “great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised.” 

The Book of Psalms is a prayer book and a hymnal that is designed to help us be in relationship with the living God. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote that “the Psalms have been given to us precisely so that we can learn to pray them in the name of Jesus Christ” [DBW, 5:157].

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Explained: Donald Trump's Unlikely Support from White Evangelicals -- Sightings (Theo Anderson)

Many observers, me included, have been befuddled by the support given by white evangelicals to Donald Trump. His life and his rhetoric, don't seem to fit what an evangelical would give approval. In this essay from Sightings, journalist and scholar Theo Anderson gives the most cogent response I've yet seen. I commend it to you. It's not the policies, it's the anti-establishment rhetoric that is drawing support. I might add there is a similar trend among liberal Christians supporting Bernie Sanders. There is the feeling that the establishment has betrayed their trust and thus Trump's run offers them an opportunity to punish the establishment.

Explained: Donald Trump's Unlikely Support from White Evangelicals 
Sarah Palin endorsed Donald Trump's bid for U.S. President on January 19, 2016, in Ames, Iowa.
Credit: Alex Hanson / flickr.
Donald Trump is deeply divisive among white evangelical Christians. In a recent story on NPR, one evangelical called the billionaire New Yorker a “reprehensible” and “wicked” man. Even so, Trump has done well enough among conservative Christians to become the GOP’s presumptive nominee. In the recent, decisive primary in Indiana, where more than half of voters were white evangelicals, exit polls showed Trump winning their votes by a margin of three points over Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. In other words, they preferred a man who has been married three times, and has been pro-choice much of his life, to the most aggressively evangelical Republican in the race. Why?

Friday, May 27, 2016

Outlaw Christian (Jacqueline Bussie) -- Review

OUTLAW CHRISTIAN: Finding Authentic Faith by Breaking the “Rules.” By Jacqueline A. Bussie. Nashville: Nelson Books, 2016. 268 pages.

                There seems to be a growing number of books that speak to the unsettled nature of the Christian faith. The allure of Enlightenment certainty is fading. One recent author wrote of the Sin of Certainty (Peter Enns). Now comes a book about Outlaw Christians. Much of this desire to escape the clutches of rules and regulations seems to emerge from within the evangelical community, both Bussie and Enns seem to reflect that current.  and certainty is the product of the Enlightenment.

                The idea of being an outlaw Christian does have an appeal. Too often the Christian faith is defined by rigid creeds and rules of behavior, rules that often detract from living in relationship with God. There is also much talk in recent years about authenticity, though as we’ve seen in the current political scene people seem to have a rather loose definition of authenticity. Bussie has something specific in mind when she invites to break the rules. She doesn’t have in mind biblical rules. Rather it’s the folk rules and customs that develop overtime. These are the rules that emerge out of fear rather than love of God and neighbor. At the same time, she speaks to rules that tell us that it’s not appropriate to argue with or get angry with God (obviously those who believe this way have never read the Psalms or Job).  The same goes for doubt. Even the greatest of saints have had doubts—witness Mother Teresa.  What does doubt offer? She suggests authenticity, for we as humans cannot claim to fully understand the infinite. If authenticity is a goal, then we must let go of the clich├ęs that deny the reality of suffering and evil. Bussie invites us to transgress the rules and discover our own stories. This leads in the end to an invitation to embrace a life of hope.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Muslim-Christian Relations in Times of Fear -- Fuller Dialogues

Here in the United States we hear a lot about the threat of Islam to the West, especially the United States. Islamaphobia is driving at least parts of the current political rhetoric, such that some candidates (and not just Donald Trump) are making use of it for their own political purposes. The fact is that Christianity and Islam are the two largest religions in the world, with nearly 4 billion adherents. The two religions often abut each other, and even overlap territory. Right now in the Middle East and Africa and elsewhere there is great tension and fear. The question is why and what does religion have to do with it? To answer such questions we need to be in conversation. I was delighted to come across the video below produced by my alma mater Fuller Theological Seminary. There are several videos available, but the one I picked to watch featured Jihad Turk, the current President of Bayan Claremont Islamic Graduate School, an Islamic seminary situated at Claremont School of Theology in Southern California. In this presentation at Fuller, Jihad Turk speaks about the challenges to relations between the two faith communities in times of political instability -- his preferred title for his talk. Such are the times we live in. I want to invite you to watch and consider his message that much of the fear being generated isn't rooted in religion but other factors. We may have differing theologies and visions at certain points, but there other points where we converge. With that in mind we pursue the conversation.  I should note that in a couple of weeks my family and I will be visiting Claremont where my son will be checking out their M.A. program in Christian-Muslim relations.   With that I invite you to watch and comment. 

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Water Before Table? Or Not?

In a previous posting I raised the question of what baptism might look like, or at least be understood, in the context of the practice of the Open Table. If all are invited to the Lord’s Table, where does that leave baptism? As I’ve noted in previous essays I am part of a Believer Baptism tradition. It is a position that I have come to embrace. I believe that it has a strong biblical foundation, but I understand that the infant baptism tradition has a long pedigree.

I’m writing this essay on the afternoon of Pentecost Sunday. It is on the Day of Pentecost that the Spirit falls on the church leading to a display of the Spirit’s presence that leads to a sermon by Peter. People ask Peter about the steps needed to be taken to be saved, and Peter offers this formula – repentance, baptism, forgiveness of sins, and the gift of the Holy Spirit. It’s a simple process that offers a strong foundation to the Christian experience. In Romans 6, Paul dives deeper into the meaning of baptism. He suggests that baptism connects us with Jesus. That is, we identify ourselves completely with Jesus’ own experience of death, burial, and resurrection. The actual process of immersion beautifully illustrates this act of identification. We experience and burial as we enter the water, and we experience Jesus’ resurrection as we come out of the water.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Living Under Authority - Lectionary Reflection for Pentecost 2C

Luke 7:1-10 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
7 After Jesus had finished all his sayings in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum. 2 A centurion there had a slave whom he valued highly, and who was ill and close to death. 3 When he heard about Jesus, he sent some Jewish elders to him, asking him to come and heal his slave. 4 When they came to Jesus, they appealed to him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy of having you do this for him, 5 for he loves our people, and it is he who built our synagogue for us.” 6 And Jesus went with them, but when he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to say to him, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; 7 therefore I did not presume to come to you. But only speak the word, and let my servant be healed. 8 For I also am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and the slave does it.” 9 When Jesus heard this he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, he said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” 10 When those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the slave in good health.


                A Roman Centurion was a patron of the synagogue in Capernaum. I think we need to start there. Does this surprise you? After all, the centurion was an officer in an occupying army. You would think he was a hated figure in the community, and yet he seems to be rather beloved. What should we make of this? What message does it send? Maybe we need to take each person on their own, and recognize their humanity, whatever their background or position.

Monday, May 23, 2016

You Are What You Love (James K. A. Smith) -- Review

YOU ARE WHAT YOU LOVE:  The Spiritual Power of Habit. By James K. A. Smith. Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2016. Xii + 210 pages.

                “You are what you love.” That is, you will become that which you desire. You may want to be something different from your desires, but you can’t think your way to change. Without being in any way anti-intellectual, Christian philosopher James K. A. Smith suggests that to be transformed one must develop habits. To give an example. Although I know that I need to lose weight—something my doctor reminds me of and which my joints can attest—my desire for food and failure to engage in sufficient exercise means that I carry more weight than I probably should.

                So, how do we form habits that can spiritually form our lives. That is, how can we find a new love? If you’re like me, you live in a context that values being a consumer of goods. We are more likely to be formed by our culture than to form the culture. Smith offers this book as a guide to the development of “a spirituality for culture-makers, showing (I hope) why discipleship needs to be centered in and fueled by our immersion in the body of Christ” (p. xi). The key to the kind of discipleship that will form us in this way is worship. Christian discipleship, Smith argues is rooted in the way we answer the question of what do we want. Worship puts us in a position to find the answer to the question, but as one discovers in reading the book, not all forms of worship are equal when it comes to this work. Too often we fall into one of two camps. Either we focus on the mind with rationalist forms of worship and education or we give ourselves to what he calls an “expressivist” version, where we do all the acting and fail to put ourselves in a position where God can act on us. Thus, he suggests that we purse forms of worship that build in us habits of the heart.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

How Majestic Is Your Name! - Sermon for Trinity Sunday

Psalm 8

Homiletical theory suggests that the genre of a text should determine how it is preached. When it comes to the Psalms that bit of advice poses a problem for me.  Since I’m not a poet, trying to write a poetic sermon might not work all that well. But, even if you’re not a poet, it is good to regularly visit the Psalms. That’s because they speak powerfully about God and God’s creation. So, in the coming weeks most of my sermons will draw from the Psalms. However, I do want to put your minds at ease. I won’t be writing any bad poetry to share with you!  

The Sunday after Pentecost is known as Trinity Sunday. It’s on this day in the church year that we focus our attention on the nature of God. From a theological point of view, the doctrine of the Trinity is a good reminder that God transcends our attempts to define God’s nature. When we look to the Psalms for guidance on such matters there is a Latin phrase that captures the essence of this: Lex orandi, lex credendi. This translates in English to “the law of prayer is the law of belief.” 

The hymns and prayers that we find in the Book of Psalms can lift up our hearts to God in praise and thanksgiving. They also give us the words to share our laments and our complaints. Anyone who says that you can’t argue with God has never read the Psalms! 

Friday, May 20, 2016

A Theology of Popular Music, Arts and Culture -- Sightings (William C. Banfield)

What is the theological relevance of popular music? How does the blues and other forms of folk music speak to our spiritual lives? William Banfield takes up these questions and more in this reflection on the arts as a creative expression of spiritual life. I invite you to explore the concept with him, including the call to engage in activism on behalf of the world.

A Theology of Popular Music, Arts and Culture 
B. B. King. Africa, 1974.                                                                       Screen grab of YouTube video
One of the greatest achievements in terms of the expressive culture of modernity is popular music. Much of the music of the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s (social protest/soul, funk, reggae, rock, rap and punk) was made by young musicians (Jimi Hendrix, Nina Simone, John Lennon, Bob Marley, Carole King), people who were using their music to respond to world challenges—and engaging transformative ideas.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Marriage In Interesting Times -- Another Endorsement

My latest book, Marriage in Interesting Times: A Participatory Study Guide (Energion, 2016) is now available in paperback from the publisher or at Amazon (among other outlets). 

This is a Bible study guide that invites readers and participants in study groups to rethink the way in which we understand what the Bible might have to say about marriage. This is important at this moment in time because marriage is another period of evolution. With last summer's  Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage across the country, greater attention is being given to the question of what marriage will look like in the coming years. Churches are finding it necessary to hard questions. Denominations are struggling to stay together as a result. 

So, what does the Bible have to say about marriage that speak to our current realities?  That is the premise of this study guide. As far as I know it's the only study guide of its kind, in that I approach the biblical stories from the perspective of one who has come to believe that the what we read about marriage can apply equally to straight and gay couples who seek to live together in covenant marriage. With that said I'd like share this word about the book from the Rev. Dr. Mark Johnston, the Executive Director of GLAD (Gay Lesbian Affirming Disciples Alliance).  That he has embraced the book is a true blessing for me. It says that I'm on the right track.
How many times have you been told what the Bible says about marriage? Isn’t it time you took a look for yourself? Marriage in Interesting Times by Robert Cornwall is just the place to start. Rev. Cornwall covers all the bases related to marriage and family: How does marriage fit into our lives and our culture? What is marriage for? And singleness? What about marriage and sex and children? And divorce? Have you thought about marriage and eternity? Rev. Cornwall provides a thoughtful and thought provoking essay on each of the ten scriptures he has selected for this study guide. And perhaps more important, this guide provides provocative questions for reflection on each scripture alongside a call to action on each scripture, encouraging us to learn more and live out the biblical message. This book is an excellent resource for personal and group reflection on the Bible’s message on marriage in our interesting times.
Rev. Mark C. Johnston, Ph.D., Executive Director
Open and Affirming Ministry Program
Gay Lesbian and Affirming Disciples Alliance

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Defining Religion -- Sightings (Martin Marty)

Who gets to decide what counts as religion? That is an important question, especially when it comes to tax exempt status. Is it possible that religion in the Unites States is subordinate to the State? That is the question raised here by Martin Marty. It's an intriguing question for us all to consider!!  Take a read, offer your thoughts!

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Defining Religion
By MARTIN E. MARTY   MAY 16, 2016
Path of the Marian apparition at the National Shrine of Our Lady of La Salette in Attleboro, MA.
Credit: Jacob Watson / flickr
Sightings is commissioned to deal with “religion in/and public life,” an assignment that prompts me to spend time on the concept of “the public.” Doing so is problematic, even risky, but still simple compared to the corollary burden: “define ‘religion.’”

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

A Trinitarian Declaration of Truth - A Lectionary Reflection for Trinity Sunday, Year C

John 16:12-15 New Revised Standard Version

12 “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14 He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15 All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.
                It is Trinity Sunday and the lectionary suggests texts that at the very least imply that God is to be named in Trinitarian fashion. Such is the case with this brief reading from Jesus’ Farewell Address. As told to us by John, Jesus tells his disciples, who are receiving one final set of instructions before he goes to the cross, that there is much more to learn but insufficient time to explore it all. There’s no need to despair as the Spirit of Truth will guide them to the truth they need to discover.  

Monday, May 16, 2016

Reviving Old Scratch (Richard Beck) -- Review

REVIVING OLD SCRATCH:  Demons and the Devil for Doubters and the Disenchanted. By Richard Beck. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2016. Xviii + 192 pages.

                Do you believe in the devil? Most progressive Christians living in the West likely will find that question to be rather odd. As heirs of the Enlightenment we live in a largely disenchanted world where angels, demons, and other spiritual beings are not part of our scientific worldview.  And yet, without rejecting science, could it be that we’re missing something?  

                Richard Beck believes we are, and thus he has written a book targeting those of us who are doubters and embrace this disenchanted world view. Indeed, he has written a book inviting us to engage in spiritual warfare. It is an invitation to do battle with the Devil. The problem is, as Beck writes in his introduction, “the Devil has fallen on hard times.” A majority of Christians reject the idea of the Devil or Satan. Talking about demons and such sounds rather crazy, or at least the realm of a more fundamentalist version of the faith. There are good reasons to stay clear of the kind of demonology that was popularized by a series of Frank Peritti novels published back in the 80s and 90s. Nonetheless there may be good reason to revisit this oft neglected topic (at least in the kind of circles I frequent).

Sunday, May 15, 2016

The Spirit Is on the Move - Sermon for Pentecost Sunday, Year C

Acts 2:1-21

The reading from Acts 2 should be familiar, especially since it defines the meaning of Pentecost Sunday. Since it is so familiar, the worship committee decided to present it in a more dramatic fashion. In this reading we’ve heard about fire and wind and movement. We’ve also been invited to envision the work of God’s Spirit in the world. It is a work that involves God’s people.   

The book of Acts focuses on the movement of the Holy Spirit. This movement begins with the commission Jesus gives the disciples in Acts 1:8: 
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”  
The rest of the Book of Acts flows out of this commissioning. That movement of the Spirit gets underway in Acts 2 and it continues to this day. That means we’re part of this movement of the Spirit.  Our story begins in an Upper Room, where the disciples are waiting for the Spirit to come in power. As the followers of Jesus pray for the Spirit to move, the “rush of a violent wind” fills the house. Imagine for a moment the power of a violent windstorm blowing open the windows and filling your house. You would conclude that this wind is quite powerful.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Pakistan's Ahmadi Muslims: Attacked, Impoverished and Ghettoized -- Sightings (Ali Usman Qasmi)

Religion has the potential for good, but it can easily be used in destructive ways, especially when it becomes enmeshed in unsettled cultural dynamics. Minority religions, especially those that are offshoots of the majority faith can fall victim to persecution. Such is the case of the Ahmadi Muslim community in Pakistan. It wasn't until I arrived here in Michigan that I encountered the Ahmadi movement, and it has taken time to understand some of the dynamics at play. It's important to remember that concerns about the homeland often color relationships in immigrant communities. That is true in my community. In this essay published by Sightings Ali Usman Qasmi offers us a helpful look at the plight of the Ahmadi community in Pakistan, where it emerged at the end of the 19th century, and its expansion outside Pakistan. In brief, we learn something of the dynamics at play, and this can be helpful to us, thus I invite you to read and consider.

Pakistan's Ahmadi Muslims: Attacked, Impoverished and Ghettoized 
Bullet holes and shrapnel marks inside Garhi Sahu mosque, an Ahmadi mosque in Lahore, after a deadly attack on worshippers at prayer, May 28, 2010.                 Credit: K.M. Chaudhry / AP Photo
On May 28, 2010, in Lahore, Pakistan, armed men opened indiscriminate fire at worshippers offering Friday prayers. They killed about 100 people. After media outlets broke the news of this gruesome act of violence against ‘Muslims’ offering namaz in a ‘mosque,’ an outpouring of grief and condemnation followed.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Spiritual Warfare of Politics

We are living in an interesting political age. I have always had a keen interest in politics -- from a very young age. I've written on it here and in books. I also believe in the importance of social justice work, having been actively involved in community organizing efforts. This political season has opened my eyes to the fact that as a person of faith/Christian I should not put my faith in political solutions. Even the best politicians are human, and theologically that means they, like me, are prone to sin. In one of my books -- Ultimate Allegiance -- I argue that the Lord's Prayer is a Christian pledge of allegiance, committing those who recite it to a higher realm than the national one. That doesn't mean that I don't believe in participating in the political realm, it's just that my ultimate faith (trust) is not placed there. At a time when at least one of the candidates for President has, is, and will engage in a politics of personal destruction, we need to be aware of the spiritual dimensions of the political realm.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Mega-Morality - Sightings (Martin Marty)

We who serve small congregations sometimes give ourselves over to gloating when we hear about the downfall of mega-church pastors. The reality is that we all face the prospect of failure, both in terms of ministry and in personal life. We are human after all.  In any case, Martin Marty lifts up the complexity of downfalls in this story of former mega-church pastor Darren Patrick.  Take a read, offer your thoughts!

By MARTIN E. MARTY   MAY 9, 2016
Darren Patrick, 46, founder of the church "The Journey."             Image: Screen grab from YouTube
The scope Sightings uses can be “tele-” (with a focus on the global) or “micro-” (for scoping on things close-up.) Today we focus on the parochial, a word related to “parish,” because often the most revealing themes of religion occur on that local and intimate level.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

The Spirit of Truth Is in You - Lectionary Reflection for Pentecost Sunday (Year C)

John 14:8-17, 25-27 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

8 Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” 9 Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. 11 Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. 12 Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. 13 I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it. 
15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. 17 This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you. 
25 “I have said these things to you while I am still with you. 26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.
                Pentecost has finally arrived. Since Jesus has been resurrected and ascended, it is time to move on to the next phase of the story. Jesus promised the disciples in John not to leave them as orphans. Instead, he offered them the Spirit as the means by which he would continue to be present with them. Our vision of Pentecost is formed by the story in Acts 2, where the Spirit falls on the gathered community, empowering them for service in God’s kingdom. The subject of the Holy Spirit comes up in the Gospel of John as well, as is seen in this reading from John 14.

Monday, May 09, 2016

Marriage in Interesting Times -- Book Release

Marriage in Interesting Times: A Participatory Study Guide (Energion, 2016) has been released in paperback and is now available direct from the publisher or from Amazon.  Here is the description of the book that I wrote up:

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 man was the head of the household and the woman was a homemaker. The man earned the money, and the woman cared for the children and kept the house in order. Then came the idea that husband and wife were equal partners in the marriage. In most cases both partners worked outside the home, and they shared more equally the duties of the home. Today, the definition of marriage has evolved one more time to include same-sex couples … So, when we talk about marriage in the twenty-first century, at least in the United States, and a number of other nations around the globe, we must remember that the legal definition, if not the religious one, includes both gay and straight couples. Yes, these are interesting times.

Sunday, May 08, 2016

A Mother's Wisdom -- A Sermon for Mother's Day (repost)

As I'm not preaching today, I'm reposting a sermon for Mother's Day preached on May 8, 2011.  I invite you to read and contemplate the role of the mother as well as the feminine images for God that are present in Scripture.


8 Listen, my son, to your father’s instruction and do not forsake your mother’s teaching.
9 They are a garland to grace your head and a chain to adorn your neck. (NIV, 2011)

Today is Mother's Day, which celebrates a very special relationship between mother and child, and by extension - children and parents. Mother's Day, along with Father's Day, celebrates the importance of family, and it's a good thing to celebrate these relationships. But we should also remember that Jesus had a broader vision of family than do most of us. Do you remember what he said when his mother came looking for him? He pointed to his disciples and said:

"Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother." (Matthew 12:49-50).
As we take to heart this word about family, we can then listen to the wisdom we find in Proverbs, which calls on us to listen to our parents and follow their instructions so that life might be good. It's a message that's also present in the commandment to "Honor your Father and Mother." Of course, if children - whatever their ages -- actually listened to their mothers, that would make for a very happy Mother's Day!

Friday, May 06, 2016

Reclaiming the National Day of Prayer

Yesterday was the National Day of Prayer. President Obama issued a proclamation declaring the day to be one of prayer.  The President is authorized by Congress to issue this proclamation, in which he states:

NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim May 5, 2016, as National Day of Prayer.  I invite the citizens of our Nation to give thanks, in accordance with their own faiths and consciences, for our many freedoms and blessings, and I join all people of faith in asking for God's continued guidance, mercy, and protection as we seek a more just world. 
As a faith leader I have no problem with prayer. I don't really have a problem with the President acknowledging the important role that faith plays in the lives of many Americans.  Unfortunately, the day has been hijacked by a conservative brand of Christianity that have tried to claim the day for themselves. There is even a National Day of Prayer Task Force, which is currently chaired by Billy Graham's daughter Ann, and was previously chaired by Shirley Dobson. The message that this group seeks to promote is that the United States is a Christian nation. Whether or not that was ever true, today we are a religiously diverse nation, and if the call goes out to the nation engage in prayer, well that should be a rather broad appeal. 

Thursday, May 05, 2016

1 & 2 Timothy and Titus (Thomas Long) -- Review

1 & 2 TIMOTHY ANDTITUS (Belief: A Theological Commentary on the Bible). Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2016. Xv + 311 pages.

                The Pastoral Epistles are an often ignored set of New Testament texts. While traditionally linked to Paul (after all the letters purport to be from Paul), there are portions of these texts that cause headaches for many Christians. For instance, there are words here that suggest that women should not have authority over men. While there is good material here, we who preach rarely visit. But, as is often true there is good reason to visit these words and discover treasure that is often buried alongside those passages that cause us problems. What we need are accessible and thoughtful commentaries that guide us through the difficult passages and on to the fruit we seek. Such a person can be found in Thomas G. Long (Bandy Professor Emeritus of Preaching at Candler School of Theology, Emory University). Long is a well-regarded teacher of preachers and author of a number of commentaries on various books of the Bible. He is very well qualified to be our guide. Long desires to help us reclaim them for a new day.

Wednesday, May 04, 2016

Religion in Global Affairs -- Sightings (Martin Marty)

Understanding the role of religion in global affairs is often lacking among pundits and politicians. It is either discounted as irrelevant in a secular world or thought to be destructive. But the situation is much more complicated than many of us realize. Martin Marty has long been a keen observer, especially of fundamentalisms, which he mentions in this essay.  The highlight of the essay is a report on Secretary of State John Kerry's acknowledgement of the important roles that religion plays, both positively and negatively. He recognizes that religion is central to the lives of billions across the globe. To discount or ignore religion, therefore is dangerous. Thus, I invite you to read and consider this question -- what role does religion play across the globe? 

Religion in Global Affairs
By MARTIN E. MARTY   MAY 2, 2016
Secretary of State John Kerry, Rice University's Stude Concert Hall, April 26, 2016
Image Credit: Karen Warren / Houston Chronicle via AP
When in the 1980s Scott Appleby and I were first chartered to deal with one particular public expression of religion, the complex of militant fundamentalisms, we were confronted with a global scene for which we were not prepared. We soon found out also that very few others were equipped to monitor and highlight these and other negative and positive religious outbursts. We were well supported and soon well surrounded by the few pioneers in this field.