Showing posts from December, 2016

Jesus the Refugee - Lectionary Reflection (Matthew 2) for Christmas 1A

Matthew 2:13-23 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
13 Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” 14 Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, 15 and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.” 16 When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. 17 Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah: 18 “A voice was heard in Ramah,     wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children;     she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.”

Reading John for Dear Life (Jaime Clark-Soles) -- A Review

READING JOHN FOR DEAR LIFE: ASpiritual Walk with the Fourth Gospel. By Jaime Clark-Soles. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2016. Xi + 173 pages.

            Perhaps it’s because of the three-year cycle of the lectionary, which centers on the Synoptic Gospels, or the feverishly pursued quest for the historical Jesus, but John's Gospel is often set aside as theologically intriguing but historically irrelevant. When scholars attempt to put together the life of the historical Jesus, they don’t find much room for John’s portrayal of Jesus. It is true that John’s portrayal of Jesus differs significantly from that of the Synoptics, but perhaps we miss out on something important if we neglect the fourth gospel, especially in terms of our preaching.  
            We are fortunate that there are scholars willing to invest their life and work in John’s Gospel. One of those scholars is Jaime Clark-Soles, Professor of New Testament at Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist Univer…

Reviving Old Scratch (Richard Beck) -- Again

As we close 2016 and brace ourselves for what 2017 will bring, I thought it might be fruitful to reshare my review of Richard Beck's book on spiritual warfare -- Reviving Old Scratch -- not only is it one of the best books I read this past year, I believe Beck has something important to share with us, especially we who consider ourselves progressive, social justice, types of Christians.  Lest we fall into the trap of dehumanizing those whom we believe would lead us in the wrong direction, looking at things from a spiritual point of view may prove valuable. So, please, read Beck's book. While I might receive a bonus from Amazon for suggesting this, if you click on the in the image to the left to order a copy on Amazon so you can prepare spiritually for the year to come. Let us not be afraid. Let us be prepared!  


REVIVING OLD SCRATCH:  Demons and the Devil for Doubters and the Disenchanted.By Richard Beck. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2016. Xviii + 192 pages.

Celebrating God’s Faithfulness - Lectionary Reflection for Christmas 1A (Isaiah)

Isaiah 63:7-9 Common English Bible (CEB)

I will recount the Lord’s faithful acts;
    I will sing the Lord’s praises,
    because of all the Lord did for us,
    for God’s great favor toward the house of Israel.
    God treated them compassionately
    and with deep affection.
God said, “Truly, they are my people,
    children who won’t do what is wrong.”
    God became their savior.
During all their distress, God also was distressed,
    so a messenger who served him saved them.
In love and mercy God redeemed them,
    lifting and carrying them throughout earlier times.
I realize the consumer world has moved on from Christmas. The sales are over and the Valentine’s Day merchandise has already replaced Christmas. Since Christmas seems to begin earlier every year, by the time we get to Christmas Day we may have moved on as well. It’s sort of anti-climactic, which may be why people want to dispense with Advent and start singing Christmas carols as soon as Thanksgiving is over…

A Light Shines in the Darkness - Homily for Christmas Eve 2016

Isaiah 9:2-7 We all have our favorite Christmas shows. It might be the Christmas Carol or the Grinch – two of my favorites – or maybe White Christmas or It’s a Wonderful Life. As a preacher, I have a Christmas Eve tradition of drawing an image or two from these cultural icons as part of my Christmas Eve meditation. My family always asks whether it will be Scrooge, the Grinch, or Charlie Brown. This year, as you’‘ll see, I decided to go with a different Christmas story.
This year I’m looking to the reading from Isaiah for guidance, and the opening line of the passage caught my eye: "The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light." So, can you guess which Christmas show features an image of light shining in the darkness? Let me give you a hint. There’s a red nose involved!

Eucharist and Discipleship

I've started reading Michael Buckley's What Do You Seek?The heart of the book, which I will review at a later date, concerns the questions that Jesus asks of us. As we make our final step toward Christmas, what questions is Jesus asking. The book's title speaks to our moment -- What or whom do you seek?  As a Jesuit, Buckley is rooted in the Ignatian tradition that asks adherents to examine themselves. 
Being that I'm focused (our congregation as well) on the missional aspects of the Eucharist, I found a paragraph from the book helpful. The chapter reflects on the question Jesus asks his disciples as he washed their feet in John 13. "Do you know what I have done for you?" (vs. 12). That is a good question for us to contemplate as we enter Christmas. What has Jesus done for us? How might we respond?  The Eucharist, Holy Communion, is an expression of gratitude. Many will gather on Saturday or Sunday for worship and come to the Table, and receive bread and cup…

God's Word Made Visible

John 1:1-5, 14-18 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4 in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. 14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. 15 (John testified to him and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’”) 16 From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17 The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known. ***                 I have long been fas…

The Altars Where We Worship, (Juan M. Floyd-Thomas, et al) -- A Review

THE ALTARS WHERE WE WORSHIP: The Religious Significance of Popular Culture. By Juan M. Floyd-Thomas, Stacey M. Floyd-Thomas, and Mark G. Toulouse. Foreword by Martin E. Marty. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2016. Xviii + 230 pages.
                We have heard a great deal about secularizing trends in our culture. It is true that religious communities have observed a decline in membership and participation in the last half-century. It’s well documented by scholars, and experienced with a bit of chagrin by religious leaders. While it is true that organized/institutionalized religion is struggling, is the religious impulse really in decline? Or, is it shifting elsewhere, finding its sustenance in popular culture? When we look at sports and entertainment, business and politics, we do see signs of religious activity. Go to any stadium or ballpark in America, and you will find great numbers of devoted worshippers. We make pilgrimages to stadiums and Halls of Fame. I myself final…

Go Tell It On the Mountains - Lectionary Reflection for Christmas (Isaiah 52)

Isaiah 52:7-10 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
How beautiful upon the mountains
    are the feet of the messenger who announces peace,
who brings good news,
    who announces salvation,
    who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”
Listen! Your sentinels lift up their voices,
    together they sing for joy;
for in plain sight they see
    the return of the Lord to Zion.
Break forth together into singing,
    you ruins of Jerusalem;
for the Lord has comforted his people,
    he has redeemed Jerusalem.
10 The Lord has bared his holy arm
    before the eyes of all the nations;
and all the ends of the earth shall see
    the salvation of our God.
******************                 “Go tell it on the Mountain, over the hills and everywhere, go tell it on the mountain, that Jesus Christ is born.” So goes one of our beloved Christmas carols, this one emerging out of the African-American tradition. In another song, emerging from a different moment, the prophet we know as Second Isaiah sings …

A Child is Born - A Lectionary Reflection For Christmas (Isaiah 9)

Isaiah 9:2-7 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)  The people who walked in darkness
    have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness—
    on them light has shined.
You have multiplied the nation,
    you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you
    as with joy at the harvest,
    as people exult when dividing plunder.
For the yoke of their burden,
    and the bar across their shoulders,
    the rod of their oppressor,
    you have broken as on the day of Midian.
For all the boots of the tramping warriors
    and all the garments rolled in blood
    shall be burned as fuel for the fire.
For a child has been born for us,
    a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
    and he is named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
His authority shall grow continually,
    and there shall be endless peace
for the throne of David and his kingdom.
    He will establish and uphold it
with justice and with righteous…

Behold the Sign -- Sermon for Advent 4A

Isaiah 7:10-17

When I was younger, we would occasionally drive to Portland, which was a 300-mile drive from Klamath Falls. On a good day the trip took about five hours. Of course, if you’re a child that’s a long time, and you can get antsy. So my brother and I would pepper our parents with questions about when we would arrive. Over time, we learned to watch for certain signs that signaled that we were getting close. One sure sign was the big Farmers Insurance building that sat alongside Interstate 5. When we saw it, we knew that Portland was just around the corner!
The season of Advent offers signs that Christmas is close at hand. Each week we’ve lit candles that help us prepare to receive the promise of Christmas.  Since we lit the fourth candle this morning, which is the candle of love, we can be quite certain that the next candle we light will be the Christ Candle, marking the coming of Christmas. So, be on the alert, the time of celebration is at hand!

Conceived by the Holy Spirit . . . A Reflection

The Gospel reading for the 4th Sunday of Advent is Matthew 1:18-25. Here we read of the angel's appearance to Joseph, letting him know that the child Mary, his betrothed, is carrying, is of the Holy Spirit. This fulfills the word of Isaiah the prophet: "Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel." The promise fulfilled by this child comes from Isaiah 7:14. If you read Isaiah 7 in the NRSV or the CEB, you will see "young woman." Why the discrepancy? Because Matthew was reading Isaiah in the Greek, which used the word for virgin, even if the Hebrew in Isaiah 7 is better translated simply as young woman.  That's an issue of biblical interpretation. But what about theological confession?

"We Don't Have Enough Proof": Pizzagate as Epistemological Panic -- Sightings (Spencer Dew)

What is real news and fake news? We've become so saturated by competing voices that the traditional press is getting crowded out. We don't really know what is true and what is not. This past election has revealed our predilection to believe what want to be believe is true, whether it is or not. This is, according to Spencer Dew, a Religious Studies professor, an epistemological crisis. Not only that, the professorial elite, including the Religious Studies community, may be contributing to the problem because of a desire not to judge what is true or not, letting voice speak equally.  Anyway, using the recent "Pizzagate" event as his starting point, Dew writes in this edition of Sightings about the crisis at hand. For our own sake and that of the world we had better do something quick!
"We Don't Have Enough Proof": Pizzagate as
Epistemological Panic
By SPENCER DEW   December 15, 2016Community messages in front of Comet Ping Pong following a shooting related…

The Virtual Body of Christ in a Suffering World (Deanna Thompson) -- Review

THE VIRTUAL BODY OF CHRIST IN A SUFFERING WORLD. By Deanna A. Thompson. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2016. x + 131 pages.
                We live in a digital age where smart phones, tablets, and computers seem omnipresent. I heard that on average we check our phones 19,000 times each year. There is this need, perhaps addiction, to know what is happening on Facebook and Twitter (among other sites). We don’t want to miss anything. There are benefits to the digital age, but there are also challenges. Both benefits and challenges have been the subject of numerous conversations within religious circles. Some reject and some jump in with both feet, while others of us are more cautious in our engagement. There is great concern in some quarters, that the digital revolution can do irreparable harm to our social fabric. There may be dangers here, but it doesn’t look as if we can retreat to a predigital age.

The Religiocification of Hate -- Sightings (Martin Marty)

Alas, 2016 is drawing to a close. It's been a difficult and disturbing year. There have been good moments, but a lot of really bad ones. In this issue of Sightings, Martin Marty, takes a look at what he calls the "religiocification of hate." His point is that this year has seen a significant uptick of hate that is connected to religion. He notes that the biggest target has been Muslims, and it has emerged out of religious sentiments. When it comes to hate and religion, it is wise to look inside and consider how we might be different in the coming year. I invite you to read and reflect and respond accordingly, with the hope that 2017 is different!  

The Religiocification of Hate
By MARTIN E. MARTY   December 12, 2016A woman holds a sign reading "respect not hate" at a November 19 community rally against racism and hate held in response to racist literature distributed near the campus of Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. | Photo credit: Paul Weaver / …

Signs of Divine Presence - Lectionary reflection for Advent 4A

Isaiah 7:10-17 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) 10 Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, saying, 11 Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven. 12 But Ahaz said, I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test. 13 Then Isaiah said: “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary mortals, that you weary my God also?   14Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel. 15 He shall eat curds and honey by the time he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. 16 For before the child knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land before whose two kings you are in dread will be deserted. 17 The Lord will bring on you and on your people and on your ancestral house such days as have not come since the day that Ephraim departed from Judah—the king of Assyria.” ******                 As a follower of Jesus, I am called to live by faith. Afte…

Mom, I'm Gay (Susan Cottrell) - Review

MOM, I’M GAY: Loving Your LBGTQ Child and Strengthening Your Faith. Revised Edition. By Susan Cottrell. Foreword by Justin Lee.  Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2016. Xvii + 178 pages.
                It's been a few years since my brother came out as a gay man. That decision some fifteen years in the past opened my eyes to realities I had previously ignored. What was once an academic discussion, became personal. As a family, we embraced my brother. What I have learned over the years is that such revelations not only affect the person coming out, but the family as well. Not every family is equally equipped to deal with this reality. That's one reason why LGBTQ children often find it difficult to come out to family, especially parents. You don't want to risk being rejected by those closest to you. So how do we change the equation?

The Day of Everlasting Joy - A sermon for Advent 3A

Isaiah 35:1-10

Advent is a season of expectation and anticipation. Signs of Christmas are all around us, but it hasn’t arrived. We’re still waiting to join together in celebrating the coming of the promised one, the one born in Bethlehem who will inaugurate the realm of God.  
On this third Sunday of Advent, we look forward with great anticipation to the coming of the day of everlasting joy. We recognize that this day hasn’t been revealed, but we find hope in the promise that a day will come when we “shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.”

A Christmas Carol (Charles Dickens) - A Review

A CHRISTMAS CAROL. By Charles Dickens. Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press, 2016. 125 pages.
                Charles Dickens was a famed nineteenth English author known for his portrayals of English social life, especially the darker and seedier sides. One of his best known and I would most beloved stories A Christmas Carol, first published in 1843. In this story, Dickens tells of the reclamation of Ebenezer Scrooge, a miser who visited misery on himself and on his neighbors. The central character in the story, Ebenezer Scrooge, became the byword for selfishness and greed. Even if you’ve never read the story, simply hearing the name Scrooge will set you back.
                Every Christmas season my family and I will watch several versions of the Christmas Carol. I first encountered this story as a child with the Mr. Magoo version. Then, I discovered the Alister Sims version, in all its black and white glory. Over the years, I’ve discovered several other versions, including those with Pat…

Traveling Home To Happiness -- A Reflection.

I spend a great deal of time reading. I enjoy reading deep theological works. My bookshelves feature Bonhoeffer, Barth, Tillich, Moltmann, Elizaabeth Johnson, just to name a few. They all offer profound wisdom, that have influenced my life and worldview.  
Perhaps its just a moment in life when what I need to hear is a word of simple wisdom,  Sometimes we make life more complicated than it needs to be. We lose sight of what's really important in life. We let things that are big and complicated but outside our immediate control to have power over us. We lose sight of those relationships that bring empowerment.

Yesterday I received a Facebook friend request. It was from a childhood friend with whom I've probably not spoken since high school, and believe me that was some time ago. But in many ways it's been longer since we really were connected, What I most remember of Julie comes from elementary school.  Julie lived on the same street. We went to the same school (Theodore Ro…

Infallibility and Heresy -- Sightings (Martin Marty)

As a somewhat left of center Protestant, I've been accused on occasion of heretical views. I was even fired from teaching post for being too liberal for the school. I'm not averse to occasionally suggesting that certain theological perspectives, while not heretical, are bad theology. As a Protestant, who has come to admire the current holder of Peter's episcopal seat, I find interesting that some of his own flock find the Pope to be heretical. Martin Marty takes note of some of this discussion, helping us make sense of such words as infallibility, dogma, and doctrine. I invite you to read and consider Marty's incisive commentary. Offer up some of your own.

Infallibility and Heresy
By MARTIN E. MARTY   December 5, 2016Not since certain American Protestants were publicly anti-Catholic, as older readers may remember them having been, have we read as many headlines with words like “infallibility,” “heresy,” papal “plots,” “schism,” etc., as we do these days. My late colle…

Remembering Pearl Harbor -- 75 Years

It was 75 years ago today that a force of Japanese naval bombers hit Pearl Harbor, drawing the United States into World War II. Thousands died that day, and many thousands more in the years to come. Franklin Roosevelt called it a "Day that shall live in Infamy." Unfortunately it was not and will not be the only day of infamy to strike our world. War is something that has as yet not been overcome. We have yet to turn our swords into plowshares. 

I have been to Pearl Harbor twice, both times we visited the Arizona Memorial. The second time around, we also visited the U.S.S. Missouri, the battleship upon which the Japanese surrender was signed. In the picture above you  can see the Arizona Memorial from the deck of the Missouri. To the right you will find the names of those who died that day, those entombed in the waters below the memorial.  Below is what remains of one of the stacks. 

During my ministry in Lompoc, I had a parisioner who was a survivor of the Arizona. I heard …

Marching to Zion with Song - Lectionary Reflection (Isaiah) for Advent 3A

Isaiah 35:1-10  New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
35 The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad,
    the desert shall rejoice and blossom;
like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly,
    and rejoice with joy and singing.
The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it,
    the majesty of Carmel and Sharon.
They shall see the glory of the Lord,
    the majesty of our God.
Strengthen the weak hands,
    and make firm the feeble knees.
Say to those who are of a fearful heart,
    “Be strong, do not fear!
Here is your God.
    He will come with vengeance,
with terrible recompense.
    He will come and save you.”
Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
    and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
then the lame shall leap like a deer,
    and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.
For waters shall break forth in the wilderness,
    and streams in the desert;
the burning sand shall become a pool,
    and the thirsty ground springs of water;
the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp,

Moments with Martin Luther (Donald McKim) - Review

MOMENTS WITH MARTIN LUTHER: 95 Daily Devotions. By Donald K. McKim. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2016. Xvi + 105 pages.
                On October 31, 2017, we will observe the 500th anniversary of the launch of the Protestant Reformation. That is, if we assume as is traditionally done, that the Reformation began when a German Augustinian monk and professor of Bible nailed his “Ninety-Five Theses” on the door of Wittenberg Castle. In the statements posted to the castle door on October 31, 1517, Luther laid his grievances regarding the doctrine and conduct of the Western Church, the church we now call the Roman Catholic Church. Numerous other reformers would emerge in the coming years, but Luther boldly set out a new path for Christians, aided to a great degree by the German princes who embraced his vision (or at least hoped to make use of his effort to gain control of church lands). Whatever your view of Luther, he left a significant legacy to all who followed.

Prayer for Wisdom on Peace Sunday (Advent 2A) - Psalm 72

Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

Give the king your justice, O God,
    and your righteousness to a king’s son.
May he judge your people with righteousness,
    and your poor with justice.
May the mountains yield prosperity for the people,
    and the hills, in righteousness.
May he defend the cause of the poor of the people,
    give deliverance to the needy,
    and crush the oppressor. May he live while the sun endures,
    and as long as the moon, throughout all generations.
May he be like rain that falls on the mown grass,
    like showers that water the earth.
In his days may righteousness flourish
    and peace abound, until the moon is no more. 18 Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel,
    who alone does wondrous things.
19 Blessed be his glorious name forever;
    may his glory fill the whole earth.
Amen and Amen.

I am not preaching today. The choir is sharing the message in music (I'm narrating the cantata). Since I…

CCCU Tries to Thread the Needle - Sightings (Kathryn Lee)

This week's Thursday edition of Sightings hits close to home. The essay focuses on a recent decision by the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities to require of members that they officially affirm a "traditional" understanding of marriage as between a man and a woman. Such a requirement is new to the Council. Why it hits close to home is that the college I graduated from and even served as adjunct faculty many years ago was an original member of the CCCU, and continues its membership. I don't know where the college stands on the issue at this point, nor do I know what kinds of conversations are underway. I do know that many alumni would disagree with the CCCU policy, and I expect that a number of current faculty would oppose it as well. That college, Northwest Christian University, is broadly affiliated with the churches of the Stone-Campbell Movement, including the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), a denomination that has in its General manifestation a…