Wednesday, November 30, 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-examination. He brought that insight to the life of faith. One who has taken hold of this insight is Chris Anderson, author of Light When It Comes. 

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

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

Peaceable Kingdom - Edward Hicks

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.
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.
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;
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.
Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist,
    and faithfulness the belt around his loins.
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.
The cow and the bear shall graze,
    their young shall lie down together;
    and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
    and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.
They will not hurt or destroy
    on all my holy mountain;
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord
    as the waters cover the sea.
10 On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious.


                On the first Sunday of Advent, we lit the candle of hope. This candle invited us to look forward to a time when, as Isaiah declared, the nations would turn their swords into plowshares, and no longer learn the art of war (Isa. 2:1-5). As we know, that vision remains unfulfilled. Wars and rumors of wars have been with us in the millennia since these words were written down for our instruction. Nonetheless, the call of God to be peacemakers is ever with us. As we gather on the second Sunday of Advent we will light the candle of peace. The reading from Isaiah 11 is a fitting one, for it expands the vision of peace that was first revealed in Isaiah 2. It moves us beyond warring parties to the whole of creation. Indeed, the image that most clearly emerges from Isaiah 11 is that of lion and the lamb lying together in peace, though Isaiah doesn’t pair these two animals (lamb is with the wolf and lion with the calf). Most of us have watched enough nature programs to know that this isn’t normal behavior. Nonetheless, this is the vision proffered by Isaiah.

Monday, November 28, 2016

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 beyond. Such is not the case here. This is a book meant to be read and used by those called to preach to congregations.  That is not to say that it lacks scholarly acumen, just that it was constructed with a practical agenda in mind. This, I believe does truly honor the work of Tom Long.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

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. 

Thursday, November 24, 2016

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).

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Memory and Thankgiving - A Meditation

John Cox - Gray and Gold - Cleveland Museum of Art

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.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

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, I have written a weekly reflection on the lectionary selection from the Gospel. As we return to Year A, I have decided to write my lectionary reflections for the next three years on the first lectionary reading, normally a reading from the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament. I pray that you will find these reflections as beneficial as the reflections on the Gospel readings.

Monday, November 21, 2016

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 graduate student in American history, with a focus on the Civil War era. In my study at home hangs a print of Tom Lovell’s “Surrender at Appomattox.” I have always had a predisposition toward the Union side in the War Between the States, a war that was finally won by the Union Army under the command of Ulysses S. Grant.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

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 the one who is “the image of the invisible God, the one who is first over all creation.”  It is through the one we call the Christ that God has reconciled all things and brought peace through the blood of the cross. This is the promise that will sustain us. It is the promise that sustains me. 

Thursday, November 17, 2016

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:

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

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 book examines Christian practices, this one moves us into expressions of that faith we build through practices. Being disciples involves at least two things, according to Williams. First we must continually ask "whether what we do, how we think and speak and act is open to Christ and Christ's Spirit." Secondly, it has to do with the way in which the church is a learning community, so that we might grow in our relationship with God and each other (pp. vii-viii).

               In the Being Christian Williams looks at two sacraments, a source of revelation, and finally a means of communication with God. As you can see these aren’t doctrines, they are ways we hear and express faith. Being Disciples looks at the way these practices affect daily life.

         What does it mean to be a disciple? In the book’s first chapter, Williams reveals that discipleship involves the way we live. While it does involve being a student, it is much more than simply showing up for class once a week. It more an apprenticeship that is very relational.  A disciple will listen attentively to every word shared by the master, and pay close attention to the master’s behavior.  He writes that "being with the Master is recognizing that who you are is finally going to be determined by your relationship with him" (p. 10). There are three "indispensable qualities" to the Christian life: faith, hope, and love. According to Williams, this involves a journey that begins with understanding, then to faith, which leads to hope, and then finally to love. These three qualities are followed by forgiveness. Regarding forgiveness, he turns to the metaphor of bread, speaking of the “bread of forgiveness” and the “bread of tomorrow.” When speaking of the former, he borrows from the Lords’ Prayer. He speaks of forgiveness being "one of the most radical ways in which we are able to nourish one another's humanity" (p. 40). In the same context, he speaks of the "bread of tomorrow, by which he means that forgiveness is a path toward the future. It is an expression of that bread of the Eucharist that we partake now in anticipation of the meal we will experience. 

                I think I found the chapter on holiness to be the most intriguing. Perhaps it is because as a pastor I so often hear the refrain from those outside the church that those inside the church are hypocrites. One response to the critique is to fall back on the retort that Christians "aren't perfect, just forgiven." When we think in such terms we offer an excuse for misbehavior or a “get out of jail free" card. But surely that's not the kind of holiness envisioned here! It's not. While we think of holiness as being set apart or separated from the world or others. Williams disagrees. The holy person is one who "enlarges your world, makes you feel more yourself, opens you up, affirms you." a holy person he suggests, makes you feel better about one's self than worse" (p. 50). That means letting go of trying to be holy. "If you want to be holy," he writes, "stop thinking about it. If you want to be holy, look at God" (pp. 54-55). The way to do this is to look at Jesus and "explore the world around you.”

             Williams helpfully reminds us that the Christian life is contextual. That is, when we envision following Jesus, we must envision what it means to follow Jesus in the modern world, not just the first century. Thus, we ask questions like how does one be a disciple in a democratic society? What about secularism? We ask this question knowing that the market doesn't lead to fairness. Secondly, there is the relativity of values. We're simply not all on the same page when it comes to what we value most. Some of this is cultural. Of course, it’s not completely relative, for the Bible affirms that humans all have equal value in the sight of God. That leads to the premise that we are dependent on each other. It means seeing each other from the perspective of an "eternal and unalterable love." That leads to the final chapter, which is about life in the Spirit. This life in the spirit involves self-knowledge, stillness, growth and joy. These four elements are the building blocks, according to Williams, of the life of discipleship. 

                Like its predecessor, this is a brief book. It will be a quick read, but it packs a punch. That it is because Williams reminds us that to be a Christian is more than simply “believing” doctrines. It involves the entirety of our lives—Sunday through Saturday. I may get a day off from work, but not from discipleship. Therefore, this book should help followers of Jesus dive deeper into Christian life.  It’s not just because it’s brief that the book can be commended to people. It happens to be not only accessible but a good read. It’s also the kind of book that can be read alone or in groups. For the latter, each chapter includes a set of discussion questions. I think it will prove to be a good study guide for congregations. So, take and read.  

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

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 condemned, for we are receiving the appropriate sentence for what we did. But this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 
43 Jesus replied, “I assure you that today you will be with me in paradise.”

                There is a phrase in the Mel Brooks movie, History of the World, Part 1, that always makes me chuckle. One of the characters, played by Brooks, declares at one point: “It’s good to be the king.” Or is it? It wasn’t good for Charles I of England or Louis XVI, or most of the Roman emperors for that matter. This week brings the liturgical year to a close. We’ve spent most of our time in the Gospel of Luke. Luke has much to say to us about Jesus and the realm of God. But surely the creators of the lectionary could find a more appropriate reading from the Gospel to celebrate Christ the King Sunday. Why do we find Jesus on the cross? Perhaps the reason is that this is Jesus’ crowning moment. This is the moment when he demonstrates the kind of king he truly is.

Monday, November 14, 2016


                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 cohesion that we respect our democratic institutions, some of which have some cracks in them and need to be fixed. One of those is the electoral college, but it needs to be said that both candidates operated under this system knowing how it works. If the electoral college were abolished they would spend most of their time in a different set of battle ground states. Florida would remain in the mix, but New York, California, and Texas would get the bulk of the attention. That said, when the people in office act in ways that we cannot abide, it’s important that we stand up for what we believe is right.

                I titled this post “solidarity” for a reason. We need to stand in solidarity with all those who are feeling afraid and threatened. So, I stand in solidarity with my Muslim neighbors who have heard anti-Islamic rhetoric from Donald Trump. I stand in solidarity with my Latina/o neighbors who fear deportation. I stand in solidarity with my African-American neighbors who are uncertain as to whether their lives truly matter. I stand in solidarity with my neighbors (and my family members) who are women who are uncertain as to whether they will face harassment and worse. I stand in solidarity with my LGBT neighbors who are uncertain as to how this new government will treat them. Will hard-won victories be rolled back? I stand in solidarity with all those who feel uncertain about their futures and the future of this nation.

                The nation itself is resilient. In two years there will be important elections, we must be prepared for those elections. We can’t be complacent. We can’t skip the votes. There will be important state and local elections that will have much to say about how life is lived. In the meantime, however, much damage can be done in two years. So, we must be ready to stand in the gap.  Love does cast out fear, but it’s not a passive form of love that does this!

Sunday, November 13, 2016

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).

Friday, November 11, 2016

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 Troy Police Department. This is my way of serving my community and those who are called upon to protect and serve.

In honor of veterans young and old, I share these prayers -- the invocation and a benediction. 

Thursday, November 10, 2016

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, 2016
Photo credit: torbakhopper/Flickr via Compfight (cc)
Saints are getting pushed around these years, if they are not being forgotten. Jews may not share the Christian belief in the Resurrection and the afterlife of saints, but few faith communities have done more to honor their dead, especially those who led exemplary lives, than do Jews. For Christians, saints are those gifted with “eternal life” thanks to the work of Jesus Christ. Through the ages Christians have set aside days to honor saints, and in Roman Catholicism, at least, they pray to them or through them. Thus, I am writing this on the Day of Saints Zachary and Elizabeth; tomorrow it’s Saint Leonard of Noblac Day, and you will receive this on Saint Herculanus Day. (You can look them up, if you are burning with curiosity about them.)

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

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, and Florida. Yesterday, they came out to vote in huge numbers, even though Donald Trump really lacked an infrastructure. We who feel called to ministries of justice need to pay attention to these voices. 

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 this sense of polarization. Even the reforms we’ve pursued have led to even more gridlock and inability to work together (consider how term limits have empowered lobbyists and the banning of earmarks has removed incentives to work together across party lines). But its not just politics. It's the nature of change, especially demographic changes that have upset earlier visions of what America looks like. I appreciate greatly the diversity, but not everyone is so enamored with it. Unfortunately, there has been through time eruptions of nativism, and it has returned. But we needn't stay in this place. We can embrace the changes, but it won't be easy.

As a pastor of a congregation that is politically and theologically diverse, even if we're not all that ethnically diverse, with people seeing themselves as conservative and liberal and everything in between, I must remember to be the pastor to all the people, not just the ones with whom I share political views. Sure, I’d love it if everyone voted as I did, but that’s not the way things work. I can preach and teach and lead on matters of justice, and I do, but each of us must hear this word and attend to it as we will. The message I hope to share in the aftermath of all of this is one of coming together. Politics is part of life. In a democracy, there will be differences of opinion. We will hold opinions strongly, but we can also hold them in such a way as to respect the other. Jesus commands us to love our neighbor and our enemy. Sometimes we have trouble with loving our neighbor, so it would seem impossible to love our enemy.  That is, however, the task set before us.

So, now that the votes have been cast and the future is somewhat known, might we come together so that we can begin to build a new community, a community that some have called beloved. As for the church, this coming together starts with us. May we bear witness in the way we comport ourselves, so that the world might see something good in the body of Christ.    

Tuesday, November 08, 2016

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 of your faith. They will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. 13 This will provide you with an opportunity to testify. 14 Make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance. 15 I’ll give you words and wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to counter or contradict. 16 You will be betrayed by your parents, brothers and sisters, relatives, and friends. They will execute some of you. 17 Everyone will hate you because of my name. 18 Still, not a hair on your heads will be lost. 19 By holding fast, you will gain your lives.

                Stand fast, because the times of trouble are at hand.  Stay true to your faith, because it will get challenged. What a text to hear for the Sunday following one of the most contentious and divisive elections in recent memory. The American people seem at odds with themselves and with their country. There is discord in the world—wars and rumors of wars. Fear dominates our hearts, seemingly stoked everyday by the headlines. Families are affected. Congregations are affected. Could it be that the end is near? How do we as Christians respond? Should we give in to the fear? Is it naïve for us to live with hope instead of fear? By the time we gather for worship on Sunday the election will be decided, but the issues that drive our fears will still be with us, waiting to be stirred again by those seeking power.

Monday, November 07, 2016

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 North Africa. While his father was a Roman (a minor official), his mother appears to have been a native of the region, probably a Berber. Therefore, he was the child of two cultures. He was both Roman and African, and per historian Justo González, these cultural dynamics helped create the theologian and his theology.

Friday, November 04, 2016

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.

Thursday, November 03, 2016

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, 2016
Wittenberg, Germany | Photo credit: pixelchecker/Flickr via Compfight (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 nailed them to the Castle Church door in Wittenberg, Germany. While that posting was in line with earlier efforts at reform of the Roman Catholic Church in England, Bohemia, and elsewhere, October 31, 1517, is the chosen marker for the beginning of what became the Protestant Reformation. What was, or is, the big deal? What is the “breaking news,” or, at least, “bending” of the Reformation story after five centuries?

Wednesday, November 02, 2016

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 middle ages or the beginnings of the modern era.  For Christians our lives were changed for better or for worse by the events that transpired after 1517.  The Reformation as we know it can be traced back to Martin Luther's nailing of the Ninety-Five Theses on the door of the Church at Wittenburg.  But that event only signaled the beginnings of the process, and Luther himself had not yet come to the full understanding of what his mission would be.

Tuesday, November 01, 2016

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 since they share in the resurrection. 37 Even Moses demonstrated that the dead are raised—in the passage about the burning bush, when he speaks of the Lord as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. 38 He isn’t the God of the dead but of the living. To him they are all alive.”

                Jesus often found himself in the cross-hairs of contemporary debates. Although he had tangled with Pharisees earlier in Luke’s story, now that he has arrived in Jerusalem, he faces a different group of questioners—Sadducees. When this encounter takes place, Jesus has already entered the city in triumph (Luke 19:28-40). He has cleansed the Temple. He has been facing a variety of questions about his authority. The Sadducees formed one of several Jewish religious parties in first century Palestine. You might call them the religious conservatives, because they sought to protect older theologies, including understandings of the afterlife. They were also aristocratic, who were the source of the priesthood. Their primary rivals at the time of Jesus were the Pharisees, who like Jesus embraced the doctrine of the resurrection.