Showing posts from November, 2016

Light When It Comes (Chris Anderson) -- Review

LIGHT WHEN IT COMES:Trusting Joy, Facing Darkness & Seeing God in Everything. By Chris Anderson. Foreword by Brian Doyle. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2016. Xv + 165 pages.

                The spiritual life can be challenging, especially when we’re called upon to examine our lives. To take this journey will require us to examine our relationship with God and with the world around us. Fortunately, down through the ages there have been people who have been willing and able to pave the way. We often tend to call them saints; at least the Roman Catholics and the Orthodox churches do this. Protestants sometimes adopt earlier saints as their own, but for the most part Protestants (and I’m a Protestant) lack the mechanism to truly recognize spiritual pathfinders. For Roman Catholics, one of those pathfinders is Ignatius of Loyola, the sixteenth-century founder of the Jesuits. Ignatius had been a soldier, and he understood the importance of self-discipline and self-e…

The Peaceable Kingdom - Lectionary Reflection from Isaiah for Advent 2A

Isaiah 11:1-10 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
11 A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse,
    and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
2 The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him,
    the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
    the spirit of counsel and might,
    the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
3 His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
    or decide by what his ears hear;
4 but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
    and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
    and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
5 Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist,
    and faithfulness the belt around his loins. 6 The wolf shall live with the lamb,
    the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
    and a little child shall lead them.
7 The cow and the bear shall graze,
    their young shall lie dow…

Questions Preachers Ask (Scott Black Johnston, et al) -- Review

QUESTIONS PREACHERS ASK: Essays in Honor of Thomas G. Long. Edited by Scott Black Johnston, Ted A. Smith, and Leonora Tubbs Tisdale. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2016. Xix + 172 pages.
                As a preacher, I'm keenly aware that we face, as a profession and calling, challenges. We all have questions in search of answers about our craft. That a festschrift honoring Thomas G. Long would carry the title Questions Preachers Ask, if appropriately formulated would be both a tribute to a well-known preacher and teacher of preachers, but it would also provide a welcome resource for preachers. Having co-edited a festschrift myself, I also know the challenges that are faced in bringing together essays that will honor a person's contributions to the academic arena, but have something coherent to say as well. Many a festschrift is simply a collection of essays written by colleagues with no organizing theme. Those books may have value to the honoree, but little life be…

Walking in the Light of God - Homily for Advent 1A

Isaiah 2:1-5

We have lit the first candle of Advent, the candle of hope. 
Hope is what Advent is all about. It looks forward to the fulfillment of promises made by God, for as Paul declares in Romans: For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen?  But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.  (Rom. 8:24-25).  I know that some of us can’t wait for Advent to turn into Christmas, but while signs of Christmas are present, including the tree and the nativity scene, we still have to wait in patience for Advent’s hope to be fulfilled.

Let Us Give Thanks -- A Thanksgiving Meditation

A Thanksgiving Meditation -- reposted from 2009

It's an old hymn, but it says it well:
“Now thank we all our God with heart and hands and voices,
Who wondrous things has done, in whom the world rejoices,
Who, from our mothers' arms, has blessed us on our way
With countless gifts of love, and still is ours today.” (Martin Rinkart, 1636).

Memory and Thankgiving - A Meditation

It is Thanksgiving Eve. Many are traveling or preparing for a day with family and friends. Some, of course, will be alone. Some will be grieving, while others celebrate. Last evening I was tasked with reading from the Book of Deuteronomy at our Troy Community Thanksgiving Service. This was the second service I participated in. The first was an interfaith event and the second a Christian gathering. Thought there were obviously differences between the two, both services gave an opportunity to remember and give thanks.

Hopes for Peace - Lectionary Reflection on Isaiah 2 for Advent 1A

Isaiah 2:1-5 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
2 The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem. In days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
    and shall be raised above the hills;
all the nations shall stream to it.
3     Many peoples shall come and say,
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
    to the house of the God of Jacob;
that he may teach us his ways
    and that we may walk in his paths.”
For out of Zion shall go forth instruction,
    and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
4 He shall judge between the nations,
    and shall arbitrate for many peoples;
they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
    and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
    neither shall they learn war any more.5 O house of Jacob,
    come, let us walk
    in the light of the Lord!

***************                 We are ready to begin another liturgical cycle. For the past three years,…

American Ulysses (Ronald C. White, Jr.) - A Review

AMERICAN ULYSSES: A Life of Ulysses S. Grant. By Ronald C. White, Jr. New York: Random House, 2016. Xxvii + 826 pages.
                Rarely, if ever, do I offer a review on this blog of a book that I purchased on my own. As a rule, the books I review have been provided to me by the publisher. In the case of this book, when I saw it in the store, I had to have it. I wouldn’t necessarily have chosen to write a review, except I think this is a book that is perfectly timed for our moment in history. This is the story of a President whose reputation has been tarnished over time, but a President who was respected and even beloved in his own day. We are fortunate to have this biography, written by a historian who knows how to tell a story in compelling way. As a church historian, myself, I’m pleased that the author of this book is by training a historian of American Christianity, having written several books on the Social Gospel movement.
                At one point in my life I was a gr…

In Christ, the Fullness of God - Sermon for Reign of Christ Sunday, Year C

Colossians 1:11-20

There are different kinds of calendars that we use to keep track of life. There’s the secular calendar that begins in January and ends on December 31. Along the way there are lots of different holidays and observances. In many ways, that’s the calendar that guides daily life. In the old days we turned to paper, now many use their phones to keep track of life. If you’re in business, you might make use of the fiscal calendar, which runs from July to June. There are also many different religious calendars. 
For us, as followers of Jesus, the liturgical calendar or the Christian year reminds us that we are citizens of the realm of God. It begins on the First Sunday of Advent, when we receive the good news that the kingdom of God is at hand. This liturgical calendar comes to a close this morning as we celebrate Reign of Christ Sunday. Today we celebrate the enthronement of the one in whom the fullness of God was pleased to dwell. Yes, we celebrate the full revelation of th…

Power of Loyalty

I am reading Atul Gawande's book Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End,(Metropolitan Books, 2014), together with others in my local clergy group. It's a book about aging and dying, something we all face eventually, and something that we as clergy deal with in pastoral ways. In one of the chapters we read for this month, the author was dealing with the question of meaning of life, especially the contexts of living in a nursing home. He was telling a story of a doctor who decided to do something radical to bring life to the residents. In the context of this discussion he turned to a book by Josiah Royce from 1908. It's titled The Philosophy of Loyalty.
Gawande raises the question of what it takes to make life feel worthwhile. Why live, in other words, if one feels as if they're being warehoused. He writes:

Being Disciples (Rowan Williams) - Review

BEING DISCIPLES: Essentials of the Christian Life. By Rowan Williams. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2016. Viii + 88 pages.
           What does it mean to live a Christian life? That is, if you consider yourself to be a disciple of Jesus what does that mean in terms of how you live not just what you believe? What we believe is important (I’m trained as a theologian, so I have an interest in what we believe), but it’s not enough to believe. So, what are the essentials of Christian living? That is the question raised by Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury in Being Disciples, which is a companion to his earlier book Being Christian.
          The earlier book focuses on four essential practices of the Christian journey—Bible, Eucharist, Baptism, and Prayer—that serve to draw us into God’s presence. In Being Disciples invites us to take the next step so that we might connect being in the presence of God with being present in the world.  Because the first bo…

Remembered in the Realm of God - Lectionary Reflection for Reign of Christ Sunday C

Luke 23:33-43 Common English Bible (CEB) 33 When they arrived at the place called The Skull, they crucified him, along with the criminals, one on his right and the other on his left. 34 Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing.” They drew lots as a way of dividing up his clothing. 35 The people were standing around watching, but the leaders sneered at him, saying, “He saved others. Let him save himself if he really is the Christ sent from God, the chosen one.”  36 The soldiers also mocked him. They came up to him, offering him sour wine 37 and saying, “If you really are the king of the Jews, save yourself.” 38 Above his head was a notice of the formal charge against him. It read “This is the king of the Jews.”  39 One of the criminals hanging next to Jesus insulted him: “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!”  40 Responding, the other criminal spoke harshly to him, “Don’t you fear God, seeing that you’ve also been sentenced to die? 41 We are rightly …


An election has taken place. We have a President-Elect. He’s not the one I would have chosen. He didn't receive my vote. Nonetheless, the Electoral College has weighed in.  On the night of the election, after Hillary Clinton called to concede and congratulate him, he came out and spoke of uniting the nation. As we have seen from comments on social media, in our own conversations, and in the protests that have taken place, not everyone is ready for unity. That is because over the course of the past eighteen months we have heard a candidate speak in divisive terms. Not everyone voted for Donald Trump, because they are bigots or ignorant. People vote for a wide variety of reasons. At the same time, there are elements of his “coalition” who are bigots. They have reveled in their perceived freedom to say and do as they please without any concern for the feelings of others.
                As an American citizen, I respect the office of President. It’s important for our…

Go and Do the Same: Transform the World - Stewardship Sermon for Pentecost 26C

Luke 21:5-19

Tuesday brought  a divisive and often bitter election season to a close. There are some who are happy and others who are not. At this point the future is uncertain, making many Americans concerned and even fearful. We will need to listen to each other’s hopes and dreams and keep each other in prayer. Because I know this congregation, I know that we didn’t all vote the same. But, I also believe that despite our political and even theological differences, as followers of Jesus we are bound together by our common love of God and our neighbors. I pray that the message of the prophet Micah will be on our hearts and minds as we move forward into the future. That message is simply this: What God requires of us is that we “do justice, embrace faithful love, and walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8 CEB).

Prayers for Veteran's Day

We are a few days past a divisive election, with an uncertain future. I will have more to say in the near future about my hopes and concerns. But, today Veteran's Day. I'm not a Veteran, but I am the son of a World War II veteran. I have friends, including church members, who are veterans. I respect their service. I'm grateful their sacrifices, even if I might question decisions to go to war by our government. It is important that we not question the service of men and women who served with courage and dignity. I'm using a picture of the Vietnam Memorial Wall as a reminder how soldiers and veterans of that war were treated when they came home. We should do better. We must do better.
This morning I offered prayers at a celebration of the service rendered by veterans to country here in Troy, Michigan. This is the second time I've done this. It is an honor to be asked, and on this occasion I was introduced not only as a local pastor but as the newest chaplain for the…

Saints Displaced and Replaced - Sightings (Martin Marty)

As a pastor I've done my share of funerals and memorial services. I've heard it said that the deceased didn't want any services. Just put me in a pine box or cremate me, with no words. The reasoning is that the deceased didn't want to be a bother. Unfortunately, those who remain behind feel the need to be bothered. Martin Marty uses the image of saints to get us to thinking about how we think of and respond to the dead. He uses the time of All Saints to raise the question. Oh, and he addresses how some in the funeral industry are responding to the trend toward cremation -- replacing expensive caskets with expensive urns.  But thanks to Pope Francis, some words of wisdom are shared. Since Marty shared this on Monday, which was Saint Herculanus Day, I should note that you are seeing this on St. Aedh MacBricc Day (there were several choices, but this one stood out!). I'll let you read and respond!  

Saints Displaced and Replaced
By MARTIN E. MARTY   November 7, 2016Phot…

Coming Together -- An Addendum

I thought about simply adding an addendum to the post I wrote last night and set to appear at 3 AM, EST. When I wrote that post I remained confident that by the time I went to bed the candidate I voted for would be coming out for her victory speech. That didn't happen. When I went to bed around 12:15 it didn't look good, though I remained hopeful. I woke up to President Donald Trump. I'm concerned. I'm anxious. I'm not really afraid for myself, but concerned about my neighbors, especially those who are immigrants and who are Muslims. I don't know how they will fare in the short-run. There will be other elections that can change things, and so we can persevere.  But more than anything there is work to be done.

One thing I learned last night is that not only is there anger at the system, but that a whole swath of the American populace has felt abandoned and unheard. They live in places like rural Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin. They live in rural California, Oregon, …

Coming together Post Election 2016

As I write this post, the country is still voting. I’m hopeful that the candidate that I backed in the presidential contest (Hillary Clinton) will win the election. By the time this appears, we may know the winner of this and many other contests (down ballot races are just as important as presidential ones). Whatever way the election goes, it is important that the nation come together.
This isn’t the first time the nation has been divided. In fact, this moment doesn’t hold a candle to the era just prior to the Civil War, during the Civil War, or right after the Civil War. My sense is that we’re not as divided as we were during the 1960s, when the Civil Rights movement was in full bloom and the nation was caught up in Vietnam. Nevertheless, the nation is feeling horribly divided. People don't trust the government. They feel abandoned, unable to keep up with the fast pace of change. In many ways, it is the way in which our politics is being prosecuted that the nation is experiencing…

Staying True to the End - Lectionary Reflection for Pentecost 26C

Luke 21:5-19 Common English Bible (CEB)

5 Some people were talking about the temple, how it was decorated with beautiful stones and ornaments dedicated to God. Jesus said, 6 “As for the things you are admiring, the time is coming when not even one stone will be left upon another. All will be demolished.”7 They asked him, “Teacher, when will these things happen? What sign will show that these things are about to happen?”8 Jesus said, “Watch out that you aren’t deceived. Many will come in my name, saying, ‘I’m the one!’ and ‘It’s time!’ Don’t follow them. 9 When you hear of wars and rebellions, don’t be alarmed. These things must happen first, but the end won’t happen immediately.”10 Then Jesus said to them, “Nations and kingdoms will fight against each other. 11 There will be great earthquakes and wide-scale food shortages and epidemics. There will also be terrifying sights and great signs in the sky. 12 But before all this occurs, they will take you into custody and harass you because …

The Mestizo Augustine (Justo González) -- Review

THE MESTIZO AUGUSTINE: A Theologian Between Two Cultures. By Justo L. González. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2016.  175 pages.
                Whether you love him or hate St. Augustine, if you're a Western Christian, you have been influenced by him. That is true even if you don't realize it. Although he did build on the work of others, he set the direction of Latin Christianity. In many ways, he provided the foundation for the emergence of the Reformation as well. He set in place the conversation about grace and salvation and much more. I've read him and read about him, not just because I'm a church historian by training, but also because whether I agree with him, I know he has something important to say.  
                To understand a theologian, one understand the context in which a theologian worked. Theologians don't live in a vacuum. Like the biblical writers, they respond to the issues and culture of the day. As for Augustine, he was born and raised in No…

Election Time - Weighing In

Some of you have already voted. I will be going to my local polling station to vote. I will be casting several important votes, including that of president.  I will, for instance, be casting my vote for the property tax increase to fund the Regional Transit Authority. I have been involved in efforts pursuing such a cause for the past four years. I believe that it is a matter of justice that people have access to affordable transit, whether you are young or old, rich or poor. Metro-Detroit has one of the worst systems (if you can call it that) in the country. If passed, over the next year, we'll see the creation of a workable system that will begin to connect the four counties in this region.

Reformation Jostlings - Sightings (Martin Marty)

Monday was Halloween. It also marked the 499th anniversary of the event that launched the Protestant Reformation. Yesterday, I introduced the topic of Reformation and its players, and I expect to occasionally share a few words here about the Reformation and its extension. Today I want to share a post from Martin Marty that he originally posted on Monday. It too focuses on the anniversary, and as a Lutheran, on Luther's role. But he also highlights the diversity within the Lutheran ranks that has developed over time. He also highlights conversations with the Roman Catholic Church that are paving the way for some rapprochement. So, onward toward the 500th Anniversary!!

Reformation Jostlings
By MARTIN E. MARTY   October 31, 2016Wittenberg, Germany | Photo credit:pixelchecker/Flickr viaCompfight (cc) On this day, 499 years ago, a friar proposed 95 theses for debate and “posted” them (in today’s world and words), meaning he mailed them to his superior, the Archbishop of Mainz, and/or nai…

Remembering the Reformation and its Players

On Monday, many of those who call themselves Protestants stopped to remember that 499 years earlier, an Augustinian monk named Martin Luther nailed his "95 Theses" to the door of the Wittenburg Castle. That marks for most of us who call ourselves Protestants the beginning of our movement. It was to be a movement of reform, but it also lead to increasing division within the body of Christ. That said, this coming year will offer us an opportunity to remember what happened half a millennia in the past and ask how it influences us today.
With that in mind I share a few words about the Reformation. I wrote these words as part of a lecture for Fuller Theological Seminary some time ago, but I think they offer a nice intro upon which I can build. 
If we consider ourselves to be Protestants, we are theological descendants of the sixteenth century reformers.  Religiously, the sixteenth century serves as a crossroads, no matter whether one considers the period an extension of the midd…

Family Values and the Resurrection - Lectionary Reflection for Pentecost 25C

Luke 20:27-38 Common English Bible (CEB)                 27 Some Sadducees, who deny that there’s a resurrection, came to Jesus and asked, 28 “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies leaving a widow but no children, the brother must marry the widow and raise up children for his brother. 29 Now there were seven brothers. The first man married a woman and then died childless. 30 The second 31 and then the third brother married her. Eventually all seven married her, and they all died without leaving any children. 32 Finally, the woman died too. 33 In the resurrection, whose wife will she be? All seven were married to her.”                34 Jesus said to them, “People who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage. 35  But those who are considered worthy to participate in that age, that is, in the age of the resurrection from the dead, won’t marry nor will they be given in marriage. 36 They can no longer die, because they are like angels and are God’s children sin…