Thursday, June 30, 2016

The Very Good Gospel (Lisa Sharon Harper) -- A Review

THE VERY GOOD GOSPEL: How Everything Wrong Can Be Made Right. By Lisa Sharon Harper. Foreword by Walter Brueggemann. New York: WaterBrook, 2016.  Xiv + 224 pages.

                Jesus came preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom. That is, he came preaching good news that promised a restoration of that which is good. This is not just good news, it is very good news, as the title of Lisa Sharon Harper’s book suggests. Recognizing that the Bible is ultimately a narrative of God’s work that begins in creation and ends in restoration, Harper invites us to inhabit this narrative so that we might be drawn into this “very good gospel.” It is a gospel that offers shalom, or peace and wholeness.

                Before getting to the author, I need to take note of the one who wrote the foreword to this book. Anytime Walter Brueggemann puts his imprimatur on a book, we should pay attention. We might not agree with the sentiments at points, but if he finds it intriguing then so should we. As for the author, Lisa Sharon Harper is "chief church engagement officer" for Sojourners. Sojourners is a community and movement that seeks to connect faith and social justice. Harper is tasked with inviting churches to enter into this work. Besides her status as being a Sojourner’s staff member, she is also the author of several books, has worked as a community organizer, and has become a widely recognized faith leader. From her vantage point at Sojourners she wants to invite us to inhabit this "very good gospel," so that what is wrong/broken can be made right/healed.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Convulsive Ingatherings - Sightings (Martin Marty)

There are many, among whom I count myself, who are still trying to make sense of Brexit. Why would the citizens of Great Britain vote to exit the European Union. I'm not a Brit so there is much about the situation that I lack knowledge. My sense is that this is a complicated issue, and there different rationales embraced by different folk. Martin Marty takes a look at Brexit and other similar expressions of what might best be termed tribalism. The EU, like the UN, emerged out of a world gone mad. Two world wars had convulsed Europe and had drawn in much of the rest of the world, bringing death and destruction to millions. Maybe cooperation would be a better option, but at least for some, if not many, cooperation isn't welcome. In any case, Marty offers us some food for thought.

Convulsive Ingatherings
By MARTIN E. MARTY   JUNE 27, 2016
Great Britain votes to leave the EU.                                    Artist: / 
The text for our mid-year, mid-decade Sightings has been with us from the beginnings of The Fundamentalism Project of the American Academy of Arts and Science, which R. Scott Appleby and I co-directed decades ago. Its words addressed discontents and upheavals associated with the word “Fundamentalism” and its synonyms, but their applicability is portable. Think of “Brexit” and other stresses on The European Union, the character of American partisanship in this election year, the fights over the word “Islam,” and language about immigration, classes (as in “elites” versus “dissenters”) etc. as we repeat these opening words from Harold Isaacs’ still-important Idols of the Tribe. 

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Mission and the Realm of God - Lectionary Reflection for Pentecost 7C

Luke 10:1-11, 16-20 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
10 After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. 2 He said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore, ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. 3 Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. 4 Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. 5 Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house!’ 6 And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. 7 Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the laborer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house. 8 Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; 9 cure the sick who are there, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ 10 But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, 11 ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.’ 
16 “Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.” 
17 The seventy returned with joy, saying, “Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!” 18 He said to them, “I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning. 19 See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you. 20 Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

                In the previous reading from Luke, we heard Jesus call forth disciples, people who would leave everything behind and commit themselves to the work of the realm of God. The message Jesus had for his followers, those who would take up the challenge, is not to look back once they put the plow to the earth (Luke 9:51-62). In this reading those who took up the challenge, understanding that Jesus had no place to lay his head (a reminder that this was an itinerant form of mission), have been sent out in pairs to engage in ministry—to proclaim the message of the kingdom in word and deed. According to Luke Jesus sent out seventy people on a mission to the communities he is about to encounter. He had already sent out the twelve on a similar mission (Luke 9:1-6). Now the mission is being expanded. Jesus sends out the seventy disciples as harvesters (remember that they had first been called to the ministry of preparing soil). They’re given instructions as to how to do this. They’re to go out into the world, with nothing on them, except the clothes on their backs. Don’t carry a purse or extra clothing. Travel light. Go to a town and stay in the homes of the residents who are receptive to the message. They’re supposed to stay in one place for as long as they’re present in that community. No moving around from house to house. And as we were told as children, they are told, to eat what is served. Don’t complain. Don’t go looking for a better meal. Be thankful for the hospitality presented to you.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Public Faith in Strange Times

I have always believed that my faith has a public dimension. That is, my faith should guide the way in live in public. As a Christian that means Jesus should be the norm for my actions and beliefs. I may not always live out these beliefs fully and completely, but that is my intention. In every age we must figure out how this is going to work. Modern American political life is not the same is the first century Roman imperial context in which Jesus acted and Paul wrote. No voted for the emperor or Herod or any other political leader. People might not like the choices their presented with in the contemporary American political scene, but there are choices that are to be made. 

I have written variously on matters of faith and politics. I think we need to have conversations about their intersection, lest we fail to understand how they connect. Too often we have equated God's realm with the political realm, as if creating a "godly kingdom" or "Christian America" will be the harbinger of the kingdom of God. But such is not the case. That doesn't mean that God is not active in our world (and even active beyond the church). I cannot enact the kingdom through my political acts, but the kingdom can guide my political involvement.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Seek God in Times of Trouble - A Sermon for Pentecost 6C

Psalm 77:1-2, 11-20

In the words of Isaac Watts’ hymn, which we sang earlier this morning, we capture the message
of Psalm 77:
O God, our help in ages past, our hope for years to come,
our shelter from the stormy blast, and our eternal home. 
When times of trouble strike, and they will strike, where do you turn? To whom do you look for guidance and protection? Do you turn to God, who is “our help in ages past, our hope for years to come?”

As we have been moving through the Psalms, we’ve discovered that they invite us to cry out in laments. They give us permission to rage and complain. It’s okay that our souls refuse to be comforted. It’s not a sin to have doubts. Here in Psalm 77 the Psalmist cries out to God demanding to be heard. After issuing a torrent of complaints, the Psalmist then remembers that God has been our help in ages past. Recognizing the prospect that life can be challenging, Martin Luther wrote a hymn that picked up on another Psalm, Psalm 46, where he also affirmed God’s strong presence in the face of difficulty. This hymn is a favorite of many, who sing boldly: “A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing, our present help amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing.”

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Marriage in Interesting Times -- A Bible Study for Our Times

This is a study guide on marriage. Discussions include: covenant vs contract, concepts of biblical marriage, loneliness and looking for a mate, the realities of divorce, and family in the larger community.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Race in a Post-Obama America (David Maxwell) - Review

RACE IN A POST-OBAMA AMERICA: The Church Responds. Edited by David Maxwell; Foreword by Otis Moss III. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2016. Xix + 139 pages.

                Racism is referred to as America’s “original sin.” It is a sin that led to the genocide of much of the Native American population. It was expressed in chattel slavery of persons brought to this continent from Africa. It was also expressed in laws that denied persons from Asia from either immigrating or gaining citizenship in the United States. It has also been expressed in the treatment of Latinos/as—a community of peoples, many of whom trace their ancestry to a time before much of the Southwest was part of the United States. The ramifications of these original sins remain with us. We might like to believe that all of this lies behind us, but the truth is, racism remains a scourge on the American psyche. Many hoped that the election of Barack Obama as President of the United States would mark the dawn of a new post-racial era. While his election was an important milestone in American history, the past seven years has seen not the decrease of racism but an increase in its public presence.

                Even as attempts are made to build relationships, educate against racism, and reform institutions change has proven to be slow. Indeed, the names Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown that gave birth to the #BlackLivesMatter movement, along with the rise of the Birther Movement, and growing Islamophobia are all signs that there is much work to do. Simply claiming to be color-blind will not suffice.  

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Hate is Mobile - Sightings (Martin Marty)

I once served as project coordinator for the Santa Barbara ADL's No Place for Hate Campaign. I was tasked with helping schools, congregations, businesses, etc. find ways to be educated about becoming places where hate was not present. Of course, hate is present in many places as seen in the recent attack on a gay nightclub in Orlando as well as the murders of church members in Charleston the year before. How do we create a world where hate no longer prevails? Martin Marty does some reflecting on these topics in this week's posting, which I would like to share with you. Take a read and offer your thoughts. 

Hate is Mobile
By MARTIN E. MARTY   JUNE 20, 2016
Demonstrators show support near funeral service for Christopher Andrew Leinonen, victim of Pulse nightclub shooting, outside Cathedral Church of St. Luke, June 18, 2016, in Orlando, Forida.     Credit: John Raoux / AP Images
Three week-end stories about mass murders help frame crisis issues. The first recalls the murders of nine blacks in and during church in Charleston, South Carolina, exactly one year ago by a white supremacist. (New York Times, June 16). The same paper, the same day, front page, dealt with “Young New York Muslims, Robbed of a Respite” because of anti-Muslim speech and actions after the mass murder in Orlando. The third, same day, in the Wall Street Journal, dealt with “Orlando Shooting Leaves Gay Survivors, Mourning Families Struggling with Secrets,” also by reference to the Orlando killings.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Don’t Look Back! - Lectionary Reflection for Pentecost 6C

Luke 9:51-62 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

51 When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. 52 And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; 53 but they did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. 54 When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” 55 But he turned and rebuked them. 56 Then they went on to another village. 
57 As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” 58 And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” 59 To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” 60 But Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” 61 Another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” 62 Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

                I’ve read a number of books of late that raise concerns about the pursuit of certainty. Peter Enns calls it a sin. “The need for certainty,” he writes, “is sin because it works off of fear and limits God to our mental images. And God does not like being boxed in” [The Sin of Certainty, p. 19]. Enns is responding to the need on the part of some to hold fast to correct doctrine, but doesn’t being faithful to God require our complete attention? Shouldn’t we be all in or not at all? Isn’t look back and wondering if we’re on the right path problematic? Look what happened to Lot’s wife! So, if you’re going to follow Jesus, really follow him, shouldn’t you abandon your previous life and embrace him solely. St. Francis did it. Bonhoeffer spoke of discipleship in terms of dying. If you know nothing else from the pen of Bonhoeffer, you know that he declared that “when Christ calls, he bids us come and die!” So, are you in?

Monday, June 20, 2016

Tending the Margins

I was on vacation this past week, thus there were new blog posts. When I last sat down to write a posting it was Sunday June 12. I woke up that Sunday morning to news that at least twenty were dead and scores more wounded at a night club in Orlando. By afternoon we were clearer about the who and the where. The victims were mostly gay and lesbian folks who had gathered for an evening of dancing and fun at a well known gay night club. In theory this was supposed to be a safe place to gather for those in the LGBT community. By the time church ended the death toll had risen to fifty, with fifty-three wounded. 

As for the perpetrator. He, Omar Mateen, was a Muslim, of Afghan ancestry. Apparently he claimed in phone message to 911 that he was acting in the name of ISIS. So, this was an act of terrorism. ISIS had hit the homeland. Donald Trump reiterated his call for bans on Muslim immigration and travel to America. He crowed that this mass murder had vindicated his vision (except that Mateen was American born and a citizen, not an immigrant). 

Thursday, June 16, 2016

What is the Lord's Table's Role in Worship?

This essay is reposted from August 11, 2011.It is another reprised post as I'm not able to post at this moment.
For me the Table of the Lord is the central act of worship.  Regular attendance at the Eucharist serves to remind us all that Jesus is truly present with us as we take this journey of faith. Bread and wine stand forth as witnesses that the Logos of God became flesh and dwelt among us (Jn 1:14).   AI am the bread of life@ Jesus tells the crowd in John 6.  In him we find the answer to our spiritual hunger and thirst.  Come and eat, Jesus says to us, eat of the bread of heaven. 

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

WORSHIP FOR THE WHOLE PEOPLE OF GOD: Vital Worship for the 21st Century (Ruth Duck): A Review (repost)

Central Woodward Christian Church in Troy, MI (the congregation I serve as pastor) will be hosting Dr. Ruth Duck for our annual Perry Gresham lectures -- November 4-6, 2016. With that in mind, and since I'm not in a position to do much blogging this week, I'm resharing this review of her important introduction to Christian worship. 
WORSHIP FOR THE WHOLE PEOPLE OF GOD: Vital Worship for the 21st Century.  By Ruth C. Duck.  Louisville:  Westminster John Knox Press, 2013.  Xxii + 334 pages.

I recognize that not every Christian would agree with me, but as for me, the worship of God is the heart of Christianity.  According to Jesus there are two commandments that should define our identity as his followers.  First we are to love God with our entire being and that we love our neighbor as we love ourselves.  The second emerges out of the first, and the first command, to love God is defined by the act of worship.  There are many forms that worship takes, but it is in the midst of giving praise and thanksgiving (and even a lament or two) that we encounter the living God, who is revealed to us in the person of Jesus and by the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit.  While worship doesn’t always take corporate form, corporate worship plays a central role in Christian life.  It is, I would suggest, the heart of the church.  Without a vibrant and vital relationship with God, our work as Christians easily becomes drudgery and lifeless. 

Worship should be, though often isn’t vital and vibrant.  It should have roots in traditions passed on from generation to generation, even as it is born anew in each generation.  What we need, in each generation is wise guidance from those who have thought deeply, studied broadly, and who have experienced worship in fresh and vital ways.  Such a wise guide is Ruth Duck, the author ofWorship for the Whole People of God.  The author is professor of worship at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary (a United Methodist seminary) and an ordained minister of the United Church of Christ.  Whether everyone recognizes her name or not, one might know her from her hymns, including: “Womb of Life, and Source of Being,” “Diverse in Culture, Nation, Race,” and “Lead On, O Cloud of Presence.” 

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Tearing Down Dividing Walls -- A Lectionary Reflection for Pentecost 5C

[This reflection was originally posted in June 2013].

                I live north of Eight Mile Road (actually well north).  Eight Mile Road is the dividing line between the city of Detroit and Oakland County.  Below that road lies a city suffering four decades of significant decline -- losing population, tax base, and hope.  It is also predominantly African American (about 80%).  North of that line, in Oakland County, lies a predominantly white, relatively affluent land.  For decades the two sides of the road saw each other in antagonistic fashion.  It was as if a concrete wall had been erected (in places it was) so that the two communities didn’t mingle or acknowledge the presence of the other.  There are cracks in that wall emerging – largely because the economic problems of Detroit are affecting the bond ratings of Oakland County.  We’re finally discovering that maybe we need each other.  But the road forward is a difficult one, because there is great suspicion on both sides of the wall. 

Monday, June 13, 2016

How Jesus Saves the World from Us (Morgan Guyton) - Review

HOW JESUS SAVES THE WORLD FROM US:  12 Antidotes to Toxic Christianity. By Morgan Guyton. Foreword by Jonathan Martin. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2016. Xiv + 166 pages.

                Christianity would be a great religion, if only there weren't any Christians. Christians are supposed to be bearers of good news, and yet too often we’re perceived to be persons/communities that embody bad news. Many of us who are Christians wish this weren't true, but the reality is that Christians often fail to represent Jesus in a positive manner. Many books have been written decrying this reality and they often provide possible solutions. Some are more helpful than others. Morgan Guyton is the latest person to give his take on this unfortunate situation in How Jesus Saves the World from Us.  It is a first book, and an effective one.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

A Day of Mourning - For Orlando and the World

Today is Sunday. It is a day for me to gather with my community of faith for worship. I am tasked with sharing good news of God's realm. I preach a message of God's reign that includes love, peace, justice, grace, forgiveness, and mercy. Our opening hymn invited us to sing: "There's a wideness in God's mercy like the wideness of the sea; there'a kindness in God's justice, which is more than liberty" (F.W. Faber). My sermon drew from Luke 7:36-8:3, a text that speaks of Jesus' grace to one whom the community considers a sinner, and thus is excluded from the community. But in his own way, Jesus restored her to full fellowship in the community. That is what the day was supposed to entail. I preached that sermon, but unfortunately during the time of prayer I had to draw our attention to the events in Orlando.

Go and Do the Same: Give Thanks - Sermon for Pentecost 4C

Luke 7:36-8:3

This morning we’re taking a short break from our summer trek through the Psalms to focus our attention on the call to stewardship. The Stewardship committee has already decided to accept the stewardship theme offered by the Disciples’ Center on Faith and Giving. That theme is  “Go and Do the Same.” The Center also encouraged churches to expand the stewardship conversation beyond the usual stewardship campaign, which we conduct in the fall. That campaign is centered on putting together a budget for the coming year, and convincing you to support it by making a pledge. We took up the suggestion to use some time this summer to think about stewardship as a spiritual discipline and not simply as a means of fund-raising. This is the first of three sermons, one each month, that will draw from the Gospel of Luke and touch upon stewardship. 

Friday, June 10, 2016

Taking Exception: How Muhammad Ali Transformed American Religion - Sightings (M. Cooper Harriss)

America took notice when word came that Muhammad Ali had died. Boxing champion, entertainer, one-time pariah, and religious figure. I didn't really come to know about him until his return to the ring in 1971. I wasn't paying attention in 1967 as he stood against the Vietnam War and ended up losing his boxing title and his freedom. I always knew him as Muhammad Ali. Only later did I learn about his political stand against the war and against white racism. As for his religion, I never really thought about it as I watched him interact with Howard Cosell. Perhaps only now, in death, will we come to grapple with his religion. This essay by M. Cooper Harriss lays out in brief a starting point for that conversation. I invite you to read and offer your thoughts. As a Christian who affirms the inclusive nature of Jesus' message, Muhammad Ali's experience with Jim Crow that led to his conversion to the Nation of Islam, is a reminder that Christians have not always represented Jesus well.

Taking Exception: How Muhammad Ali Transformed American Religion
Muhammad Ali prays in Dafaalah el Sa'em Mosque in Khartoum, Sudan (Nov. 23. 1988).                Credit: Abder Raouf / AP Photo, file)
The morning after he defeated Sonny Liston for the world’s heavyweight boxing championship in February, 1964, Cassius Clay confirmed that he was a Muslim, a convert to Elijah Muhammad’s Nation of Islam. To a reporter who referred to him as a “card-carrying member of the Black Muslims,” the man who was becoming Cassius X and would become Muhammad Ali responded “I believe in Allah and in peace. . . . I’m not a Christian anymore. . . . I know the truth, and I don’t have to be what you want me to be.” The obituaries for Ali, the three-time champion who died June 3, speak of his iconic stature and monumental courage. He was a man ahead of his time as a boxer, a showman, a prophet, and a humanitarian who became arguably the most famous person in the world—a global American who exuded charisma, empathy, and love. Though certainly very human, Ali proved extraordinary across the many arenas of his life.

Thursday, June 09, 2016

Drawn Three Ways (A.E. Harvey) - A Review

DRAWN THREE WAYS: AMemoir of a Ministry, a Profession, and a Marriage. By A. E. Harvey. Foreword by Rowan Williams. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2016. X + 182 pages.

                Writing memoirs involves telling personal stories. Most are reflective. They seek to make sense of a journey. They reflect a persons' own vision of themselves and their world. They are published because the author of the memoir and the publisher believe that telling this story will prove interesting and helpful to others. Since memoirs are personal, we gravitate to the stories either told by persons we know or by persons whose story resonates with our own. I've read a number of memoirs over time, for the most part these have been written by people I know in some form or another. At the very least, when it comes to theologians and religious leaders, these are the memoirs of people whose works I've read prior to reading the memoir. Thus, I greatly enjoyed reading Jürgen Moltmann's A Broad Place and Fred Craddock's Reflections on My Call to Preach: Connecting the Dots. These are people I respect and whose works I have known. So, what to make of the memoir written by someone I had never encountered before?

Wednesday, June 08, 2016

Considering the Roles of Women in Society

Aimee Semple McPherson
It is quite likely that Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic nominee for the presidency. Whatever your views of her as a person or as a candidate, I think it is appropriate to consider the importance of this moment in American history. While other nations, including Muslim-majority nations (Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia), the Philippines, Germany, Israel, India, Great Britain, just to name a few have had women national leaders, we lag behind on this score. 

I grew up in the Episcopal Church, leaving it for the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel during the latter half of my high school years. The Episcopal Church was a relatively liberal denomination, though with a strong bent toward tradition. Though eleven women were irregularly ordained in 1974, it wasn't until 1976 (after I left the Episcopal Church) that the Episcopal Church decided to open the priesthood officially to women. Now, back the the Foursquare Church. It was founded in the 1920s by Aimee Semple McPherson (a woman). Now Foursquare is a Pentecostal denomination, while theologically more conservative than the Episcopal Church, it is less beholden to tradition, so Aimee claimed that the Spirit called and she answered. She developed a following, and the rest is history. 

Tuesday, June 07, 2016

The Women Disciples of Jesus -- Lectionary Reflection for Pentecost 4C

Luke 7:36-8:3 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
36 One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and took his place at the table. 37 And a woman in the city, who was a sinner, having learned that he was eating in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment. 38 She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment. 39 Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him—that she is a sinner.” 40 Jesus spoke up and said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” “Teacher,” he replied, “speak.” 41 “A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 When they could not pay, he canceled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?” 43 Simon answered, “I suppose the one for whom he canceled the greater debt.” And Jesus said to him, “You have judged rightly.” 44 Then turning toward the woman, he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. 45 You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. 47 Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.” 48 Then he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” 49 But those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” 50 And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” 
8 Soon afterwards he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve were with him, 2 as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, 3 and Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources.
                Women figure prominently in the Gospel of Luke. In this lectionary reading, Luke first tells us about Jesus’ encounter with a woman who burst into the home of Simon, who, according to Luke, is a Pharisee. This unnamed woman engages in an act that scandalizes Jesus’ host. After this episode, Jesus goes out proclaiming the Gospel of the kingdom, accompanied not only by his male disciples, but also by several women, who are providing financial support to the group. For some reason the creators of the lectionary connected the scene at Simon’s house, with this account of the three women who are part of Jesus’ community.  Apparently they, like the woman who washes Jesus’ feet with her hair and tears, have reason to be thankful to Jesus, for they had been delivered from evil spirits.  

Monday, June 06, 2016

The Christian Life and Hope (Alister McGrath) -- Review

THE CHRISTIAN LIFE AND HOPE: A Guide for Study and Devotion (The Heart of Christian Faith). By Alister E. McGrath. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2016. X + 118 pages.

                Although there is a trend within the Christian community to downplay the importance of doctrine and theology, knowing the content of one’s faith is, in my estimation, still important. While I embrace the concept of orthopraxy (right behavior), I sense that orthopraxy is rooted in theology. While I am a member of a non-creedal denomination, where great freedom is offered to persons to explore their faith, there are important touchstones that help us make sense of our faith. What we need then are accessible resources that lay out the elemental doctrines of the faith so we can have good conversations about theology. That is the purpose of Alister McGrath’s The Heart of Christian Faith series. That series has reached its conclusion with the fifth volume—The Christian Life andHope. These five brief and readable books provide a study guide for anyone wishing to explore their faith.

                As for the author of these books, McGrath is a British theologian teaching at Oxford University. He is evangelical, but British evangelicals tend to be a bit more moderate than many of their American counterparts. He’s also Anglican. McGrath has been a prolific author over the years, writing on a wide variety of topics. He was a scientist before he was a theologian, so that precision of thought is often present in books. He was also trained theologically in a historical fashion, which I personally prefer! I used the first edition of his textbook Christian Theology: An Introduction when I taught theology two decades back. I did so in large part because he approached theology from a historical perspective. In this series of books, he doesn’t go into quite as much detail, especially historically, but he does help us get the picture of the Christian faith.

Sunday, June 05, 2016

The Reign of God Is Forever -- Sermon for Pentecost 3C

Psalm 146

We’ve come to the third stop on our summer journey through the Psalms. So far the Psalmist has reminded us that God is our creator and our judge. In Psalm 146, the Psalmist declares that Yahweh is the ruler of all creation. Indeed, the Psalmist invites us to “sing praises to [our] God for as long as we live,” because God will reign forever. 

We come to this place to give praise and thanksgiving to the one who “made heaven and earth, the seas, and all that is in them.” It is God, who “executes justice for the oppressed; who gives food to the hungry.” 

Saturday, June 04, 2016

Regional Transit System for Metro-Detroit -- Finally?

For several years, due to my involvement with the Metro Coalition of Congregations, which recently merged into what became the Detroit Regional Interfaith Voice for Equity (DRIVE), I have been involved conversations about improved mass public transit for the Detroit region. We are on the verge of having, for the first time in a generation, a full fledged public transit system that will connect the city of Detroit and the surrounding region, from Anne Arbor in the west to Mount Clemens in the east. City and suburbs united by a transit system that has the potential to radically improve the region's economic situation. It will, if fully funded, connect people with their jobs, and with all of the amenities of the region, from art museums to football games. It will connect universities and health systems with the broader community.

Friday, June 03, 2016

Infallibility: Time To Find Another Term for This Doctrine? - Sightings (Gerard Mannion)

As a Protestant I am at times baffled by the Roman Catholic doctrine of papal infallibility. As I understand it, not everything the Pope says or writes is considered infallible, so when is it infallible and what does that mean for the future? One who has been asking questions from within the Roman Catholic Church for many decades is Hans Küng. Starting with his book on the church published in the 1960s Küng has been calling for an open dialog on the matter. Apparently he has done so once more and Pope Francis apparently is interested. I for one think that such a conversation would benefit not only the Roman Catholic Church, but the church at large. It would further our ecumenical relationships in powerful ways. Many years ago, when I was in seminary, I had the opportunity to hear Dr. Küng speak twice. Once took place immediately after John Paul II had deprived him of his right to teach Catholic theology. I remember him being warmly welcomed by the ecumenical community. I can also add that in those years of my own theological pilgrimage, his was a powerful voice in my journey. May his voice finally be heard! In this article Dr. Gerard Mannion enlightens us as to the issues at hand. I invite you to read and respond. 

Infallibility: Time To Find Another Term for This Doctrine?
Hans Küng.                                                                                        Screen grab from
In March of this year, the Swiss Catholic theologian Hans Küng wrote an open letter to Pope Francis asking the pontiff to allow “a free, unprejudiced and open-ended discussion in our church of all the unresolved and suppressed questions connected with the infallibility dogma.”

Thursday, June 02, 2016

Two Religions Make News -- Sightings (Martin Marty)

Two religions make news? What religions are these? Well, in the case of Baylor University, in Waco, Texas, the religions are Christianity and Football. At least that's the suggestion of Martin Marty, who notes both that football may qualify as religion, and that it has come into conflict with Christianity at one of the largest Christian universities in the country. You may have heard about the scandal at Baptist-related Baylor. It's football team had risen to the heights of glory and now is falling fast, casting a pall over the university, due to sexual assaults committed by football players against female students. Apparently people in power knew and did little to stop it. Having good friends who are graduates of the university, I know they are embarrassed by all of this. I pray the university recovers, but its fall should serve as a warning to us all. I invite you to take a read. 

Two Religions Make News
By MARTIN E. MARTY   MAY 30, 2016
Baylor University's former head football coach, Art Briles.             Credit: Tony Gutierrez / AP Photo
It is not stretching things to conclude, as Sightings does here today, that two religions jarred each other in national big-news and comment-sources last Friday. We are referring to the front-page coverage of the eruption of scandal at Baylor University in Texas.

The headlines stressed the demotion of Baylor’s now-former President and now-chancellor Kenneth Starr in the wake of gross sexual abuse incidents, patterns, and cover-ups at the school, and the suspension-with-intent-to-terminate of the football coach who was accused of mishandling and misrepresenting the occasions in which athletes misused and attacked Baylor women.

Wednesday, June 01, 2016

It's Complicated (Jack Haberer) -- A Review

IT’S COMPLICATED: A Guide to Faithful Decision Making. By Jack Haberer. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2016. Xxiii + 122 pages.

                Life is complicated, and that means that our decision-making will reflect this reality.  We might want absolutes to guide our lives, but rigid rules and regulations tend to fall short when life happens. For Christians, who desire to make good decisions that reflect the tenets of our faith, there is often a desire for certainty. We want to know what is right and what is wrong, because we would like to be on the side of right. But seeking certainty, as several other recently published books have demonstrated, is not always the best policy. People might get hurt!   So what should we do? How do we make good decisions that reflect our commitment to be followers of Jesus?

                Jack Haberer is a Presbyterian pastor and author who has attempted to offer an answer to this question. Haberer is, by background a pro-life evangelical Protestant. He wants to ground his ethical and practice in Scripture, which he holds in highest regard. He wants to hold tight to Scripture, but he understands that Scripture must be interpreted responsibly and applied in the same way. In the introduction he announces his goal to be helping the reader "articulate an authentically Christian way of discerning God's will for your personal life decisions (both the big ones and the small ones) and for your life together with others in Christian community —indeed, in the whole kingdom of God." (p. xxii). From this he hopes that we will "discover a truly ethical way of living" that actualizes maturity in Christ.