Monday, October 31, 2016

The Invisible Bestseller (Kenneth Briggs) -- Review

THE INVISIBLE BESTSELLER: Searching for the Bible in America. By Kenneth A. Briggs. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, Co., 2016. Xvi + 239 pages.

                The American People buy Bibles, lots of Bibles. It remains a perennial bestseller. Part of the reason for this might be the penchant publishers to continually bring out new translations and new editions. There are study Bibles, children’s Bibles, men’s devotional Bibles, women’s devotional Bibles, etc. There is a Bible for every person and every need in most every recent translation. If you’re like me, you have multitudes of Bibles, covering numerous translations. Of course, today we are “blessed” with numerous on-line apps that will give us access to multiple translations, reading guides, and study helps. Despite the riches out there, there’s lots of evidence that people simply people aren’t reading the Bible. I would have added “like they used to,” but I’m not sure that more people read the Bible in the past, they just didn’t have so many choices.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Go and Do the Same: Change Your Direction - A Stewardship Sermon

Luke 19:1-10

We’re in the midst of a conversation about the meaning of the Lord’s Table, but we’ve also been talking about stewardship. The question is what, if anything, do they have to do with each other? 
There are those who think it odd that we bring our offerings to the communion table. They might wonder if there is a fee that needs to be paid to receive this meal. Some ask why churches seem to talk so much about money? There are fiduciary reasons, but that’s not all. 

Jesus talked a lot about money because he understood that how we view money has a lot to do who we are as children of God. On at least one occasion, he suggested that where our treasure lies, there our hearts will be. So perhaps bringing treasure to the Table is a sign of where we want our hearts to be. 

Friday, October 28, 2016

How Waiting 108 Years Makes the Good Life - Sightings (Holly Swyers)

I am a Giants fan, and have been since I was a child. When the Giants won the World Series in 2010 it was their first Series win since before I was born. They had three visits prior, but without success. I shared my joy with my fellow Giant fans in various ways that year and then two more times in 2012 and 2014. They didn't get back to the Series this year, losing to the Cubs, who finally made it for the first time 71 years. If they win the series it will be their first since 1908. Holly Swyers writes about how sharing moments of joy in sporting events is an expression of the good life. That is, you need others to share it with you. She writes as an anthropologist and as a Cubs fan about the prospect of the Cubs finally winning. I leave it to your reading and commentary!

How Waiting 108 Years Makes the Good Life
By HOLLY SWYERS   October 27, 2016
Photo credit: spablab/Flickr via Compfight (cc)
For years, people have been asking me what I will do if the Chicago Cubs ever win the World Series. I don't actually know. The closest I've come to what that moment might be like was when the Cubs won the National League Division Series against the Cardinals in 2015. I was as surprised as anyone when I burst into tears on the spot, overwhelmed by emotion. It was the biggest game at which I had been in the ballpark, caught up not only in my own excitement but in the energy of the crowd, participating in a roar of joy in which I could not distinguish my own voice. Émile Durkheim would call this "collective effervescence," and he would point out that those present had entered a sacred time/space, from which we would return the next morning to our profane lives and realize the everyday bodiliness of them in contrast to the spiritual experience of that moment at the end of the game.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Refugees and Local Politics

I live in Southeast Michigan/MetroDetroit. This region has a very diverse population, in large part due to the auto industry. As many know, Dearborn is home to a large Arab-American population. Some are Muslim and some are Christian. There are Syrian, Egyptian, Chaldean (Iraqi), Assyrian (Iraqi), Lebannese, Coptic Christian communities and Muslim communities, both Sunni and Shia. It should come as no surprise that this region would be a natural place for Iraqi and Syrian refugees to come. They many have family, and even if they don't have family, there are communities that share their religions, cultures, and languages. Having lived in the area for more than eight years I know that my life has been enriched by my encounters with folks who have roots in these regions (along with quite a number of other regions).  

Unfortunately, there's a political climate that is increasingly unwelcoming. One local community in my county has voted to reject any settling of refugees. The response of one of the Township Commissioners was that they needed "to protect what is ours." I guess that's their right but it saddens me that we would turn our backs on people fleeing violence to "protect what is ours." At one level it runs counter to our national heritage (though nativism has had a long history), and as person of faith it runs counter to the call to love one's neighbors and to welcome the stranger (both biblical principles).

Of couirse, it's not just this one community. The current County Executive, who has a history of making racially insensitive statements, has taken the lead in resisting resettlement efforts in the county -- going so far as to file suit against the Federal Government. Frankly, I'm embarrassed by this action.  

Why are we afraid of the refugee? As far as I know the Federal Government does a pretty decent job vetting refugees. Nothing is fool - proof, of course, but shouldn't we extend a bit of grace to those who are afflicted?  Indeed, and can we refrain from using refugees as political fodder in order to retain power?  I close with these words from the Prophet Jeremiah to the king of Judah:

The Lord proclaims: Do what is just and right; rescue the oppressed from the power of the oppressor. Don’t exploit or mistreat the refugee, the orphan, and the widow. Don’t spill the blood of the innocent in this place.  (Jeremiah 22:3 Common English Bible)

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Very Married (Katherine Willis Pershey) -- A Review

VERY MARRIED: Field Notes on Love and Fidelity. By Katherine Willis Pershey. Foreword by Eugene H. Peterson. Harrisonburg, VA: Herald Press, 2016. 223 pages.

                There are those who say that marriage is an archaic institution whose best days are in the past. Yes, people still get married, but it’s more out of habit than any real sense of value. It is true that people are delaying marriage, often after living together for a few years, and after children start coming along. It’s true that divorce is more commonplace, or at least it has become less stigmatized. Yet, despite all the bad press there is a good number of us who still believe that marriage is a societal good and that it is a sacred institution. While many opponents of gay marriage suggested that such marriages would undermine marriage, the desire among gay and lesbian couples to seek marriage suggests that if anything, their push for legalization should be viewed as a strong endorsement for the institution as being not only a social good, but a human one. 

                Numerous books have been written about marriage. Many are written from a faith perspective. I recently offered up my own contribution with a bible study guide I titled Marriage in Interesting Times: A Participatory Study Guide. Another offering has come from the pen of Katherine Willis Pershey, a friend and clergy colleague. Katherine’s book is titled Very Married. She covers some of the material I covered, but from a much more distinctly personal perspective (I believe that the two books can be fruitfully read together). This book, which is a celebration of fidelity, is part memoir and part pastoral reflection. Like me, Katherine affirms marriage equality, and that perspective is present in the book, but this is first and foremost a personal reflection, though the implications found in the book apply equally to cross-gender and same-gender marriages.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Sons and Daughters of Abraham - A Lectionary Reflection for Pentecost 24C

Luke 19:1-10 Common English Bible (CEB)
19 Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through town. 2 A man there named Zacchaeus, a ruler among tax collectors, was rich. 3 He was trying to see who Jesus was, but, being a short man, he couldn’t because of the crowd. 4 So he ran ahead and climbed up a sycamore tree so he could see Jesus, who was about to pass that way. 5 When Jesus came to that spot, he looked up and said, “Zacchaeus, come down at once. I must stay in your home today.” 6 So Zacchaeus came down at once, happy to welcome Jesus. 
7 Everyone who saw this grumbled, saying, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.” 
8 Zacchaeus stopped and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord, I give half of my possessions to the poor. And if I have cheated anyone, I repay them four times as much.” 
9 Jesus said to him, “Today, salvation has come to this household because he too is a son of Abraham. 10 The Human One came to seek and save the lost.”

                Zacchaeus is one of the best-known characters in the Bible. That’s probably because of his shortness of stature. When were children, we might have identified with this character, because like him we often found it difficult to see over the crowd. Whether we were brave enough to climb a tree, we understood why Zacchaeus might have tried this ploy so he could see Jesus. What we might not have understood is why everyone around Jesus thought it odd that Jesus would want to eat with Zacchaeus. This whole business about tax-collectors being bad people requires a few more details than children might be ready to absorb. Perhaps the lesson would have something to do with Jesus loving short people (including children).

Monday, October 24, 2016

Freedom in Covenant: A Reflection on Disciples of Christ Identity

The reflection that follows was originally shared at the Regional Board meeting of the Michigan Region of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) on October 22, 2016.


            Disciples have always valued the principle of freedom.  We hold tight to our non-creedal identity and grant each other room to interpret and apply Scripture as we believe the Spirit leads. That doesn’t mean, however, that you can be a Disciple and believe anything you want to believe. That’s a statement I’ve heard over the years, but we call ourselves Disciples of Christ for a reason. If we’re disciples of Christ, then Jesus must have a prominent place in our life together.

            If we don’t have creeds and we grant each other a certain amount of freedom of interpretation, what does it mean to be a Disciple? I thought I might share a quote from Edgar Dewitt Jones, Central Woodward’s founding pastor: 
Progressively interpreted, the Disciples of Christ embody a noble plea and an arresting program. They cherish the dream of a reunited church, and make Christ central in teaching and in life. They emphasize unity but not uniformity. It is a roomy fellowship, holding to a universal creed: “I believe in Christ as the Son of God and my personal Savior.”  [Quoted in Freedom in Covenant, pp. 2-3]

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Dinner Invitation -- A Communion Sermon

Revelation 19:6-10
Photo by Crystal Balogh

If you got invited to a big wedding banquet, would you get all excited? Would you see it as an opportunity to get all dressed up? Or would you wait to see if a better invitation came your way? I’ve been to a few wedding banquets in my time. Some were large and some small. Some were fancy and others were informal. Weddings are special events, and depending on your relationship with the couple, they might be can’t miss events.  

A few weeks back we heard Jesus tell a parable about a big banquet, which could have been a wedding banquet. In that story all the invited guests discovered that they had something better to do than attend the banquet (Luke 14:15-24). Our reading from Revelation 19 offers us another dinner invitation. This invitation is to the “marriage supper of the Lamb,” which takes place in the heavenly realm. The angel or messenger of God has declared that “blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.”  Yes, simply to be invited to this marriage supper is a blessing!

Friday, October 21, 2016

Table-Centered Worship and the Sermon

photo by Crystal Balogh
As I thought about what I might share this morning, I read Mark Love's blog post about shifting the locus of worship planning from sermon-centered to Table centered. Mark created a survey, which I participated in, that asked worship planners about their process.  The consensus was that planning on the sermon.  All of this was in preparation for Rochester College's annual Streaming Conference. After reading and interacting with Jamie Smith, Mark began to formulate a new paradigm.  

Mark is Church of Christ and I'm Disciples of Christ. We are of the same heritage, but different branches. Disciples have become more liturgical over time, especially since the 1960s. Still, we have share some habits that go back to earlier days -- prior to separation.  One of those habits is passing communion down rows.  

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Allegiances and Politics

I didn't watch the debate last night between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. I didn't watch the previous debates either, though I've followed along on Twitter and watched some of the analysis. At this point I'm not sure debates add much to the decision making of the voters. I know who I'm voting for, and have known for some time. This has been a most depressing election cycle, and many are disillusioned by the process. Politics and democracy itself can be and often is messy.  I made that point in one of the chapters of my book Faith in the Public Square. The choices we make and the votes we cast can be driven by a number of factors, including fear, that do not seek the best for all, but perhaps only for the few, including ourselves.  I wrote in that book:

In real life, numerous factors influence our choices, some of which may be less than honorable. It could be the way a candidate speaks or looks. We may take into consideration a candidate‟s gender, race, or age. Fear is a potent influence – and candidates and parties are very adept at manipulating them. Then there are the promises candidates make, promises that often pander to our prejudices or sense of entitlement. Too often we vote our own self-interest at the expense of our neighbors. That is, altruism often takes a back seat to me-firstism. We may voice our support for the biblical premise that calls on us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves, but too often love of self comes before love of neighbor.  [Faith in the Public Square, p. 101].
As we enter the final stretch of this election season, I would ask those of us who are people of faith to consider our allegiances. If I believe, as I do, that God is my ultimate allegiance then how should that work itself out in life? How should it guide my votes? And as I ask that question, of course, I need to take into consideration my understanding of God's nature. For me that means recognizing that love of God is partnered with love of neighbor, and neighbor isn't just the person who looks like me, thinks like me, talks like me. My neighbor might be the person I vehemently disagree with. My neighbor might be that politician for whom I have no political regard. Nonetheless that candidate, that politician, was created in the image of God and is one whom God loves.  

There are no perfect candidates. We may have to live with decisions that others make that we disagree with. That said, may that principle of ultimate allegiance, which is ensrined in the Lord's Prayer, guide us as we make political decisions. May our commitment be to find a way through they messiness of politics to a decision that best reflects God's vision of love of neighbor.  

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

InterVarsity Blues -- Sightings (Martin Marty)

I am strongly supportive of full inclusion of LGBT persons in church and society. I also have evangelical roots and am the graduate twice over of the leading evangelical seminary in the world. I value much from my past, but also stand apart from it on a number of issues, including this one. Hearing of the decision by InterVarsity to dismiss all employees who support same-sex marriage saddens me. Perhaps this is the last stand on this issue, but I believe it is a futile one as millennials by and large have moved away from such views. It is good to see, however, that numerous InterVarsity Press authors are opposing the move, and that is good to know as IVP produces some really good books! Martin Marty takes a look at the aftermath, offering some helpful words about how we might move forward. Take a read and offer your thoughts.

InterVarsity Blues
By MARTIN E. MARTY   October 17, 2016
Students pray during an InterVarsity Christian Fellowship gathering at Roanoke College in Salem, Va. | Photo credit: Roanoke College / Flickr via Wikimedia Commons (CC)
The world of Evangelical higher education keeps making news. Wheaton College in Illinois recently dealt with a flap over a faculty member’s theological comments about Christianity and Islam. She is no longer at Wheaton. And last week, the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship received some unwelcome attention. IVCF is an exemplary Evangelical organization which flourishes on 667 (!) college campuses nationwide. Its leadership announced that the Fellowship would begin “‘involuntarily terminating’ employees who hold a theological position supporting gay marriage.”

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Righteous Humility - Lectionary Reflection for Pentecost 23C

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’ 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’14 I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”

                What does it mean to be righteous? Does it mean that you are religiously devout and follow all the protocols of the faith to the letter? Or does it involve humble submission to God? These are questions that emerge from this parable. It’s one encounter and one more parable that redefines what God is looking for from us. The characters in the parable stand as far apart as is possible in ancient Jewish culture. The Pharisees were upstanding religious leaders; tax collectors were not only collaborators with the Romans they often robbed from their own people to benefit Rome and themselves. The Pharisees were respected; tax collectors were reviled. It should be noted that both Pharisees and tax collectors tended to be wealthy. We know where the tax collectors got their wealth. It's less clear how a Pharisee got his wealth, though perhaps it was inherited wealth.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Theology and Science Fiction (James McGrath) -- Review

THEOLOGY AND SCIENCE FICTION (Cascade Companion). By James F. McGrath. Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2016. Viii + 113 pages.

                I love both theology and science fiction.  Star Wars, Star Trek, Dr. Who, Stargate SG-1, Dune (books not movie), just to name a few of the franchises I have embraced over time. So if someone chooses to write a book that treats theology and science fiction together in a way that respects the integrity of both will have my attention. James F. McGrath is just the person to engage both with insight and wisdom, so that we can move beyond borrowing from a franchise for a sermon illustration to true integration.

                McGrath is a biblical scholar and blogger who has a strong interest in science fiction. He is a New Testament scholar and a professor of religion at Butler University. He deals regularly with science fiction on his blog and teaches about the relationship in classes at Butler, but this is his first full length book on the two (and hopefully not the last). I know from reading his blog that McGrath is a true fan of science fiction, and that love of science fiction comes through in this book. It’s especially seen in the decision to focus us attention on Dr. Who and Star Wars, along with regular visits to the Star Trek Universe.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Is Liturgical Order Important?

Picking up on what I posted yesterday, concerning whether the Disciples of Christ celebration of the eucharist is a system in crisis, I thought I'd share something about about liturgical order.  There is no prescribed worship order for Disciples churches. Congregations can pretty much do anything they want, and they do. I'm of the view that the way we order worship speaks to how we understand worship. Whether we realize or not, it reflects a certain theology. For Disciples communion is a non-negotiable. We will have it, whether we do it well or not).

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Lord's Supper: System Under Stress

In recent days I have been preaching and sharing about the Lord's Table. I believe it is important that if we believe as Christians that the Table has great importance we need to do some thinking about happens there. Disciples of Christ embrace the principle that the Table stands at the center of worship. Every Sunday communion is served after the Words of Institution are pronounced and a prayer offered. Usually the Words of Institution are offered by one of the two pastors, while the prayer is given by the Elder (a lay person). Many congregations practice an open table of sorts, but what do we mean by the open Table? Do we have a theological rationale or are we simply being nice? 

My tradition embraced weekly communion because people like Alexander Campbell believed that this was the New Testament pattern. While weekly communion was restored, Campbell and others didn't say much about how to do it or when to do it in a service. Just do it, and we did. Over the paste half century some work has been done on addressing meaning and means, but not much. As we move into a new era where people coming into the church, if they do so, have little connection with earlier practices what are we teaching about the Supper? 

One person who has devoted much of his career and writings to the question is Keith Watkins.  Keith is a friend and a mentor. I value his guidance and commiserate with his concerns.  In a book published a quarter century in the past titled Celebrate With Thanksgiving: Patterns of Prayer at the Communion Table, (Chalice Press, 1991), Keith writes about his concern that the system of our practice is under stress. I'm not sure we've addressed his concerns in the interim.  He writes: 

The stress within is also revealed by factors that may not be noticed by most church member but begin to appear when the system is examined from middle distance, It then becomes apparent thaqt Disciples have had little to say about the meaning of the Lord'Supper. despite the every-Sunday celebration, sermons rarely address the topic. Disciples have written a few books of communion meditations and prayers following their own pattern, but they have written virtually nothing thaqt addresses the broader questions of eucharistic theology which are part of the theological literature that interests Lutherans, Episcopalian, Presbyterians, Roman Catholics, and people in other church families. Nor have Disciples developed many hymns or devotional materials that grow out of their eucharistic life.  [Celebrate with Thanksgiving, pp. 15-16].

I'm not sure we've done much to rectify the situation. I do preach on the subject. I've written a small book on the Eucharist, and I touched upon it in my book Freedom In Covenant. Nonetheless I've not dealt with it in a full bodied way or in a specifically Disciples-focused way.  I expect that most Disciples churches have moved the eucharist to the end of the service and clergy are more present at the Table, but I'm not sure we've done much to deepen our understanding of what is occurring or developing patterns that are reflective of a deepened theology of the Table.  I'm committed to working on this, but is this something that Disciples and people of other communions believe to be important to the life of the church?  If not, then the system will continue to be stressed!

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Mormon Leadership -- Sightings (Martin Marty)

Long ago I prepared myself to be a sort of expert on what we called cults. Prime among them was the Mormon Church. I read voraciously and was ready to engage in debate. At the same time I had a number of good friends who were Mormons. I strongly opposed the theology, but they were my friends. Well, that was a long time ago. I still find the Mormon faith fascinating and have my differences, especially theologically, but I'm no longer interested in becoming the next "Walter Martin." In any case, Martin Marty, American Church Historian, takes up conversation centered around recently released videos of presentations made to senior LDS leadership. Nothing earth-shattering here, but apparently they reveal that the Mormon church faces similar institutional concerns as the rest of us. Anyway, take a read and reflect on the state of institutional religion!

Mormon Leadership
By MARTIN E. MARTY   October 10, 2016
Salt Lake Temple in Salt Lake City, Utah | Photo credit: Stefan Jürgensen / Flickr via Compfight cc
“Leaked Videos Pull Back Curtain on…” were six words placed above a New York Times story on Friday. Readers are used to such tantalizers and might ask, “ on whom? On Celebrities… Magnates… Professional Athletes… Entertainers… Politicians…?” Such lures in those cases point to scandals, skullduggery, and more. Now finish the headline with a reference to this or that group of religious leaders, and the headliners will ordinarily lose much of their by now half-lured readers. Write in “Methodist” or “Presbyterian” or other Protestant leaders, and expect yawns. These are too familiar to publics to quicken curiosity. But write in “Mormon,” and you are guaranteed a readership.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Unjust Judges and a Just God - Lectionary Reflection for Pentecost 22C

Luke 18:1-8 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

18 Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. 2 He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. 3 In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent.’ 4 For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’” 6 And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7 And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? 8 I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

                An old spiritual reveals the very foundation of prayer:
                It’s me, it’s me, O Lord, standing in the need of prayer.
                It’s me, it’s me, O Lord, standing in the need of prayer.
                Not my brother, not my sister, but it’s me O Lord, standing in the need of prayer.

We pray because we stand in need of prayer. It’s that simple; that basic. As Augustine puts it in the Confessions: “Man is one of your creatures, Lord, and his instinct is to praise you . . .. The thought of you stirs him so deeply that he cannot be content unless he praises you, because you made us for yourself and our hearts find no peace until they rest in you” [Confessions, Book 1.1, Pine-Coffin, p. 21].  We pray because it is in our bones. We also pray because we stand in need of help, help that only God can provide. Therefore, according to the lectionary reading from Luke 18, we should keep on praying and not lose heart, because God will respond.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Silence is Holy

I spent a goodly portion of this past week at Rochester College for it's annual Streaming Conference. It's always a blessed event, and its just up the road. The focus of conference was worship, which is a topic I am especially interested in. The theme title was "Everybody has a Hungry Heart," which is the title of a Springsteen tune. Jamie Smith spoke about what drives us as human beings. The question then is how does worship help form our desires so that we would desire God, and thus desire what God wants. He suggested that we can't think our way there. Instead, we must develop habits of the heart. 

That was the beginning message, and it carried through as we moved forward, trying to move away from being brains on sticks to fully embodied human beings -- bringing heart and mind together. In the midst of the conversation it was suggested that perhaps the most subversive way of moving toward this reality is to embrace the discipline of silence. 

Sunday, October 09, 2016

Dining in God’s Presence - Sermon for Pentecost 21C

Exodus 24:9-11

Eating and drinking is a rather mundane activity. Most of us eat at least a couple of meals each day. We might even have a few snacks in between. In many ways eating and drinking are simply habits. We get up, have some breakfast, and maybe a cup of coffee.  Then sometime around noon, we probably eat another meal. Finally, sometime in the late afternoon or early evening, we have another meal. These meals can be elaborate or they can be simple. Eating alone is different than eating with others. So, do you ever think about how God might be present in such a normal activity as eating and drinking? 

Disciples gather at the Table at least weekly. At least in theory we believe that the Table stands at the center of our worship and our spiritual life. It’s from this Table that our mission in the world extends. The worship grant we received from the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship is focused on helping us better understand the relationship between the Table and our missional calling. In a few weeks time Ruth Duck will be here to help us further unpack this connection.  

Thursday, October 06, 2016

Eucharist, Last Supper, and the Realm of God

I am a member of the Disciples of Christ (I'm a Disciples minister). We practice weekly communion, something I believe in, While we share the meal at least weekly, I wonder at times whether we understand what it is we're doing and why. I must admit that at times the Anglican in me wants a bit more structure to the prayers, but it's likely I'm in the minority. Nonetheless my congregation is in the process of exploring the meaning of the Table and asking important questions. This conversation will continue through May funded by a grant from the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. 

At the moment many in the congregation are reading Nora Gallagher's The Sacred Meal. Gallagher is an Episcopalian lay person who serves as a Lay Eucharistic Minister at her local congregation. The books is insightful and merits close reading. At the same time I'm preaching on the Eucharist and reading some other books including Alexander Schmemann's book The Eucharist, posthumously published by St. Vladimir's Seminary Press.  Schmemann writes from the perspective of the Orthodox tradition and he's predominantly interested in the Orthodox liturgies. There are parts that I completely affirm and others not so much, but he raises an interesting point in his chapter on Remembrance.  He notes that both Roman Catholics and much of Protestantism focus their attention on the cross being the telos, the culmination of what Jesus would have us remember. Schmemann, however, suggests that the telos of the eucharist is the Last Supper itself. Taking note of Jesus words in Luke 22:29-30, he writes:  

In the night of the fallen world, enslaved to sin and death, the last supper manifested the otherworldly, divine light of the kingdom of God. Here is the eternal meaning and the eternal reality of this singular event, which can be compared with  and reduced to no other. The eucharistic experience of the Church discloses precisely the meaning of the last supper. The Church apprehends it as her own ascent to the heavenly reality, which Christ has manifested and granted, once and for all time, on earth at the last supper. And when, approaching for communion, we pray "Of Thy Mystical Supper, O Son of God, accept me today as a communicant," this identification of what is accomplished today  with what was accomplished then is real,and precisely in the full meaning of the word, for today we are gathered in the same kingdom, at the same table, where then, on that festal night, Christ was present among those whom "he loved to the end."  [The Eucharist, p. 200].

He goes on to say that the last supper is the end. It is "the completion, the crowning, the fulfillment of Christ's love, which constitutes the essence of all of this ministry, preaching, miracles, and through which he now gives himself up, as love itself." The supper doesn't just point to the cross, it is an experience of the heavenly banquet. To sit at Table is is to acknowledge the presence of the kingdom. It is a sign of God's love.  

If this is true, and I find it compelling, then we need to broaden conversation about the Table. And for those of us who affirm an open Table, then how does the non-initiated experience the Kingdom?  These are important questions to consider if we're to fully experience the power of Eucharistic fellowship. 

Wednesday, October 05, 2016

"Just a Parish Priest" - Sightings (Martin Marty)

Father Michael Pfleger's name came up a few years ago as one who influenced Barack Obama back in his community organizing days. Martin Marty takes not of Pfleger and his ministry on Chicago's south side at St. Sabina's, a congregation that is celebrating 100 years, and that was on the verge of collapse when Pfleger arrived. Now it is thriving, in large part because it is ministering to its community. Take a read and consider his example.

"Just a Parish Priest"
By MARTIN E. MARTY   October 3, 2016
Father Michael Pfleger of St. Sabina Church is joined by Governor Pat Quinn in a march to stand against gun violence on Chicago's South Side. July 11, 2014. | Photo credit: Christopher Dilts for Quinn for Illinois (CC)
Assignment: to make sense of this week’s Sightings, please take 15 minutes or so to read Evan Osnos’s New Yorker story from this past winter (see “Resources” below). It focuses on a Chicago Catholic priest who has tended ferociously to the faithful in his several parish assignments. Attention to such is rather rare. We and our friends in the “news business”—on whose writings we draw as they cover the remarkable stories of the week—are trained to magnify the already-magnified on the religion beat: stories of saints, denominations and ecumenical agencies, commissions, and the like. But the more astute among these friends know, even if they cannot often devote themselves to it, that the power behind the magnified story comes from the micro-worlds of the local, as in congregations, parishes, cells, and local expressions in general.

Tuesday, October 04, 2016

Thanks for Making Me Clean! - A Lectionary Reflection for Pentecost 21C

Luke 17:11-19 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

11 On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, 13 they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” 14 When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. 15 Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. 16 He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. 17 Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? 18 Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”


                Ten lepers approached Jesus seeking healing, though they kept their distance. After all, to be a leper is to be an outcast. By leprosy, we’re not just talking about Hansen’s disease, but a number of skin conditions that made a person unclean. While the term might be used more broadly than we might today, the point is the same. When I think of leprosy, I think of the story of Fr. Damien and his ministry with the lepers on Molokai. What is interesting about this story is that in the end he himself contracted the disease, and he became as much an outcaste from society as the people with whom he ministered.

Monday, October 03, 2016

When Momma Speaks (Stephanie Buckhanon Crowder)

WHEN MOMMA SPEAKS: The Bible and Motherhood from a Womanist Perspective By Stephanie Buckhanon Crowder.  Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2016. Xvii + 129 pages.

                History has tended to be written by men and focused on the same group of people.  When we read Scripture we tend to focus on the male characters as well. Perhaps we’re missing something important. Perhaps there are voices present in the Bible that have been either ignored or silenced. Perhaps we could learn something valuable from these voices, voices of women, many of whom are marginalized in the story. If we were to pay attention, what would we learn? 

                Stephanie Buckhanon Crowder offers up When Momma Speaks as an opportunity to hear some of those voices. She does so from the perspective of Womanist biblical scholarship. For those unfamiliar with "Womanist" scholarship, it is a theological perspective that is both feminist and rooted in the African American experience.  Crowder is Assistant Professor of Theological Field Education and New Testament and Director of the ACTS D.Min in Preaching program at Chicago Theological Seminary. She is African American, a mother, and a preacher as well as a scholar/teacher. She is also a Disciples of Christ minister. In the end, she brings these experiences in life together with her scholarship to a conversation that is important and illuminating.

Sunday, October 02, 2016

Eating Bread in God’s Realm - Sermon for World Communion Sunday

Luke 14:15-24

Today is World Communion Sunday. It was established years ago as a reminder that God’s Table is a Table of unity, even though God’s church is fragmented. All across the globe Christians are gathering to share the Supper that Jesus established so that we might remember him and in doing so share his love with the world. Though this observance has Presbyterian origins, it began to spread across the globe after the Federal Council of Churches adopted it in the late 1930s. The person who made this happen was Jesse Bader, a Disciple mission leader and ecumenist. I found a quote from Jesse Bader that helps introduce what we’re doing today.

Worldwide Communion Sunday begins on the other side of the International Date Line, so that the observance starts first on Sunday morning in the churches of the Tonga Islands, Fiji Islands, New Zealand, Australia, and so on towards the West during the twenty-four hours of the day. This significant observance around the world on the first Sunday of each October has become a day of united witnessing . . .  In a time when there is so much disunity, here is an opportunity to witness in a broken world to an unbroken Christian fellowship. [quoted in Preaching God’s Transforming Justice, C, p. 417].