Showing posts from May, 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 fir…

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. 

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

Psalm 96
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].

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 
By THEO ANDERSON   MAY 26, 2016Sarah 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 eva…

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 d…

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 Theolog…

Water Before Table? Or Not?

Reposted from Energion Discussion Network. 
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 d…

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…

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…

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…

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 
By WILLIAM C. BANFIELD   MAY 19, 2016B. B. King. Africa, 1974.                                                                       Screen grab of YouTube videoOne 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.

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 perspecti…

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!
Having trouble reading this email? Click here. 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.’”

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…

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 s…

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 powe…

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…

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 …

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.

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 …

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 …

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.
***** Proverbs 1:8-9
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 m…

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…

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 …

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, 2016Secretary 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 Sco…