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Showing posts from September, 2016

Vote Your Conscience (Brian Kaylor) - Review

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VOTE YOUR CONSCIENCE: Party Must Not Trump Principles.By Brian Kaylor. Jefferson City, MO: Union Mound Publishing, 2016. 219 pages.
                As I write this review it is just a few days after the first 2016 Presidential debate, and less than six weeks until the 2016 elections. Those who choose to vote, and I will be voting, will elect leaders and representatives from local to national. Most prominent, of course, is the Presidential election. This is a most unusual year. Both major candidates carry tremendous baggage, though I would argue that one carries much more than the other. There are minor party candidates but our system isn’t designed for truly multi-party elections. The electoral college requires that the winner garner a majority of electoral votes. It’s been a while since a third party candidate won even one state. It won’t happen this time either.               
                For people of faith elections pose interesting challenges. The government is not a religio…

What's with Relevance in Religion?

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Most religions are quite ancient. They preserve ancient practices and rituals that can seem odd and out of place at times. In our day we hear a lot about relevance. Megachurch pastors promise "relevant Bible teaching," which more often than not is pop psychology with a few proof texts mixed in. We clamor for relevance and seek to weed out the obsolete, but is that always the right thing to do?
I must confess that I am a pastor in a denomination that in its origins sought to cleave away all encrustations that got in the way of restoring New Testament Christianity. Thus, in good Enlightenment manner, we tossed away centuries of "tradition." Now, some of that work was probably necessary. Getting back to the roots is often a necessary act, but sometimes we proverbially "throw the baby out with the bathwater."  

Doing Our Duty - Lectionary Reflection for Pentecost 20C

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Luke 17:5-10 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
5 The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” 6 The Lord replied, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.7 “Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, ‘Come here at once and take your place at the table’? 8 Would you not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink’? 9 Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? 10 So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, ‘We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!’”
****************************                 Talk of slavery is always difficult, especially in the United States, where race-based slavery is part of our national story. It is as Jim Wallis calls it our “original sin.” Most peo…

Songs for the Waiting (Magrey DeVega) -- Review

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SONGS FOR THE WAITING: Devotions Inspired by the Hymns of Advent. By Magrey R. DeVega.  Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2016. Xiv + 102 pages.
            American Christians are an impatient lot, at least that is true around the time of Advent. Although the liturgical season of Advent is designed to help us prepare to welcome the incarnate one into our midst, we seem intent on skipping from the Thanksgiving Table to Christmas morning, when we intend to open the presents that were purchased on Thanksgiving evening, if not before. Indeed, signs of Christmas now can be seen well before Halloween. When it comes to the church, a lot of people struggle with Advent. Since the radio stations begin playing Christmas music on Thanksgiving Day, why should we wait four weeks to sing Christmas songs in church? While I love Christmas carols and hymns, I also find the often neglected Advent hymns to be spiritually inspiring. They tend to be quieter and slower than most Christmas carols, bu…

Go and Do the Same: Feed the Hungry - Sermon for Pentecost 19C

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Luke 16:19-31

There are two parables in Luke 16, and in both of them Jesus speaks to the proper valuing of money and material resources. He puts things into proper perspective, and that makes them good texts for stewardship sermons. Stewardship is about more than paying bills. Stewardship is a reflection of our covenant relationship with God and with one another. The picture painted in the parable of Lazarus and the rich man is a bit clearer than the parable of the dishonest steward, but together they remind us about what it means to be a faithful disciple and about our responsibilities to each other.  
There are several verses separating the two parables that the creators of the lectionary chose to omit. That is probably because passages like this can lead to anti-Jewish ideas. In this case Jesus chastises the Pharisees for being lovers of money. If we can steer clear of caricaturing the Pharisees as self-righteous money grubbers, perhaps we can hear in the omitted verses a reminder th…

Refusing to Stand: Can America's Civil Religion Tolerate Dissent? -- Sightings (John Stackhouse)

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Colin Kaepernick has caused quite a stir -- not for his prowess on the football field -- but for his refusal to stand during the National Anthem. While he has his reasons, many believe that since he's paid to entertain, then he should stand and stop talking about politics. John Stackhouse, a Canadian evangelical historian and theologian, offers his take on the mixture of civil religion and athletics, inviting us to consider whether this is a good mixture. I want to note that Stackhouse is Canadian, as it is often good to get an outside viewpoint!  Take a read and offer your thoughts.  
Refusing to Stand: Can America's Civil Religion Tolerate Dissent?
By JOHN G. STACKHOUSE, JR.   September 22, 2016San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick | Photo credit: bmward_2000 viaCompfightccEven people who do not follow the National Football League likely have heard of San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s refusal to stand for the national anthem before games this season…

A Letter to My Anxious Christian Friends (David Gushee) -- Review

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A LETTER TO MY ANXIOUS CHRISTIAN FRIENDS: From Fear to Faith in Unsettled Times. By David P. Gushee. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2016. 130 pages.
                We live in unsettled times, when fear seems to be the driving force in our lives. It is reflected at times in our religious life, and it is especially prevalent in our political life. What is a Christian to do? Perfect love may cast out all fear, but sometimes love is in short supply, even in Christian communities. This leads to anxiety. This current 2016 election cycle is one of the most angst producing seasons I’ve known in my life. The political season is causing Christians to wrestle with uncomfortable questions about our relationship to culture and nation.
                Having written two books on faith and public life, one being a collection of essays and the other a meditation on the Lord’s Prayer, I have given some attention over the years to this question. Even if my first allegiance is to God, and th…

Getting Religion -- Sightings (Martin Marty)

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We live in a time when faith communities are struggling to attract new members. Once large churches are a fraction of their size. Church members wonder what happened. Where did all the children go? There are lots of organizations that promise to help us bring in members by the droves, for a fee, but their solutions rarely work. In large part because they are one size fits all and don't consider context or the people already there. In this week's posting Martin Marty reflects on a new book by Kenneth Woodward, the long time religion editor for Newsweek, titled Getting Religion. Marty says this isn't a review, because he's too close to the author and the book, but he wants us to join him in considering the state of things as Woodward lays them out.  I think I'll have to get a copy of the book! In the meantime, take a read and offer your thoughts!

Getting Religion
By MARTIN E. MARTY   September 19, 2016“Getting Religion” is a concept born of H. L. Mencken’s observation …

Reversal of Fortune - Lectionary Reflection for Pentecost 19C

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Luke 16:19-31 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) 19 “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20 And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21 who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. 22 The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. 24 He called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.’25 But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. 26 Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that tho…

Names for the Messiah (Walter Brueggemann) -- Review

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NAMES FOR THE MESSIAH: An Advent Study. By Walter Brueggemann. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2016. Ix + 86 pages.



                Advent is a season of anticipation. In our consumer-oriented culture, there’s little room for anticipation. We like instant gratification. Still, Advent is a season of anticipation, and what better way to spend it than in the company of Walter Brueggemann, the now retired professor of Old Testament at Columbia Theological Seminary. Brueggemann knows the Bible and he is a master at connecting it to our day. Since Advent is a brief season of the church year—just four weeks—there is need for a brief yet deep book for study, and such is the case here.  In four brief chapters, Brueggemann helps us reflect on the meaning of four titles or names given to the Messiah by the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 9:6).

                In this one verse from Isaiah can be found four names that in the course of church history have been applied to Jesus:  Wonderful Counselor…

Go and Do the Same: Choose Wisely -- A Stewardship Sermon

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Luke 16:1-13

What do you think about the manager’s behavior in this parable we just heard? Do you think the manager would be a good model for Christian behavior? It is true that the Prodigal Son was forgiven for squandering his father’s estate, but what about this squanderer? Do you think he deserves forgiveness?  
This is a most unusual parable, which most scholars can’t seem to crack. Every time you read it, you’re left wondering why Jesus told a story like this! But Luke seemed to think that it merited inclusion in his Gospel. So, it must have something to say to us. But, is it the right passage to be used in a stewardship sermon? The answer to that is simple – the people at the Center for Faith and Giving, including Ron Allen, thought it would be a perfect stewardship text.

Clergy for a New Drug Policy - Sightings (Martin Marty)

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The War on Drugs apparently is our longest running American war, and it doesn't appear that the anti-drug side is winning. This war was declared back when I was in Junior High, so that's a bit of time passing. As the war "escalated" our prisons have expanded exponentially. So, maybe it's time to reconsider our efforts. That is the feeling among a growing number of clergy who work with those caught in this war. Like Martin Marty, I have no expertise in such matters, but maybe it's time to do some creative thinking. In this article Marty introduces us to at least some of that creative thinking so the war on drugs doesn't rival the 100 Years War!
. Clergy for a New Drug Policy
By MARTIN E. MARTY   September 12, 2016U.S. Marshals fingerprinting prisoner | Source: United States Marshals ServiceWhen was the last time any of us read of a war being over? The War in Afghanistan? The Culture War(s)? The War on Poverty? For all we know, factions may still be seething …

Good Christian Sex (Bromleigh McCleneghan) - A Review

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GOOD CHRISTIAN SEX: Why Chastity Isn’t the Only Option—And other Things the Bible Says about Sex. By Bromleigh McCleneghan. San Francisco: Harper One, 2016. 240 pages.
                Most Christians that I know get uncomfortable when it comes to talking about sex. Yes, sex has become a political football in Christian circles, with debates about abstinence, abortion, same-sex relationships, and contraception often on the table. It’s a live issue in the political realm, but at least in most Mainline Protestant Churches there is rarely a serious conversation about sex. It is as if St. Augustine still patrols the halls, with his discomfort with sex and the related conversation about pleasure. While the church hems and haws, the culture around us has been changing, sometimes radically, since I was a child. I lived through the 1960s, which was the age of sexual liberation, but I came of age in the mid-1970s, when at least in the Christian circles I inhabited, we lived as if little had chan…

A Shrewd Faith? -- Lectionary Reflection for Pentecost 18C

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Luke 16:1-13 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) 16 Then Jesus said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property. So he summoned him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Give me an accounting of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.’ Then the manager said to himself, ‘What will I do, now that my master is taking the position away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.’ So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ He answered, ‘A hundred jugs of olive oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.’ Then he asked another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He replied, ‘A hundred containers of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill and make it…

Why Patriotism?

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Yesterday was the fifteenth anniversary of the 9-11 attacks. I posted my sermon from the Sunday following, and you'll find other pieces I wrote, spoke, and preached in the aftermath of that day that has marked our existence since that time.  September 11 has been designated Patriot Day along with being the National Day of Service and Remembrance. On this day after Patriot Day, I feel inclined to reflect on what it means to me to be patriotic. 
At times I feel ambivalent about patriotism. In part that is because too often we overly mix religion and national identity. Or more specifically, many Christians equate Christianity and American identity. The church is much larger than this nation. That's why I speak of the Lord's Prayer being the Christian pledge of allegiance in my book Ultimate Allegiance: The Subversive Nature of the Lord's Prayer.My allegiance to God stands above my allegiance to nation, but that doesn't mean I don't love and appreciate the nation …

What Amazing Grace! - A Sermon for 9-11 (revisited)

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It is the fifteenth anniversary of the events of September 11, 2001. As with other formative events anniversaries invite us to remember and try to make sense of what happened on that day in history. Such remembrances also invite us to reflect on what has transpired in the intervening years. I knew then that nothing would be the same again, but I couldn't imagine at that moment that we would enter into a myriad of wars and conflicts and that fear would reign. On the Sunday following, I preached a sermon on grace and addressed our feelings at the moment. I wanted to appeal to our better angels, but I'm not sure everyone was ready to sing Amazing Grace. I think many would have preferred the Battle Hymn of the Republic.  In any case, below is the sermon I preached on September 16, 2001. I share the sermon as a remembrance (and because I'm not preaching today). Note, however, that these are lectionary texts for today. 
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1 Timothy 1:12-17; Luke 15:1-10

On the …

Unified We Are a Force (Joerg Rieger & Rosemarie Henkel-Rieger) - A Review

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UNIFIED WE ARE A FORCE: How Faith and Labor Can OvercomeAmerica’s Inequalities. St. Louis: Chalice Press, 2016. Xvi + 176.
                Many years ago Reinhold Niebuhr was a pastor of a Christian congregation in Detroit, Michigan. He was known to complain that his fellow clergy were hesitant to invite labor leaders to address their congregations. In large part that was due to the fact that industry leaders often sat on the boards of those congregations. You don’t want to bite that hand that feeds you.  But: If religion is to contribute anything to the solution of the industrial problem, a more heroic type of religion than flourishes in the average church must be set to the task. I don’t believe that the men who are driven by that kind of religion need to dissociate themselves from the churches, but they must bind themselves together in more effective association than they now possess. [Niebuhr, Reinhold.Leaves From The Note Book Of A Tamed Cynic (Kindle Locations 898-901). Read Boo…

Introduction to World Christian History (Derek Cooper) -- A Review

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INTRODUCTION TO WORLD CHRISTIAN HISTORY. By Derek Cooper. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2016. 254 pages.
                There is a tendency to speak of Christianity as being a "Western" religion, by which most people mean that it is a European-centered religion. The fact is, Christianity, like Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, and a number of other major religions, is in fact an Asian-born religion. Its roots are in West Asia and from there it spread south, east, west, and yes, north over the past two millennia.  Telling the story of Christianity is not easy for it is a diverse religion, that has been formed by both its origins and its expanding contexts. It has ebbed and flowed through time, so that what was originally a West Asian religion came to dominate Europe and North America and now is in the process of finding its strength in the Global South. In part due to conflicts in the Middle East many have rediscovered the Christian communities that have existed th…

No Longer Lost - Let's Celebrate! - Lectionary Reflection for Pentecost 17C

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Luke 15:1-10 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) 15 Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” So he told them this parable: “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. 8 “Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? 9 When she has found it, she calls together her fr…

The Importance of Work: A Theological Reflection

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Today is Labor Day. For many today is a day to rest from one's labors. For others it is a day for sales, and thus some will will work. As we head into a fall season that will feature an election that will allow Americans to decide who should lead the nation for the next four years, the economy, and therefore jobs, are a topic of conversation. Unfortunately much of the conversation fails to recognize the changing realities of our times. Many jobs lost in the past decades will never return. It's not just because they were sent overseas or to Mexico, but because of automation. I grew up in a community that was defined by the lumber industry. In the 1960s and early 1970s my hometown was in Southern Oregon was a happening place. It's been a decade since last I visited Klamath Falls, but things have changed a lot. The lumber mills and the Air Force base that employed several thousand individuals with good paying jobs are gone. The mills have left in part because of environmenta…

Fearfully and Wonderfully Made A Sermon for Pentecost 16C

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Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18

Over the summer we visited the Psalms on several occasions. We heard in poetic fashion the call to pursue a life of faith with vigor and diligence. We heard messages of judgment and hope. This morning, even as we look forward to a busy fall, we return one more time to the Psalms. The word we’ve heard this morning is a most edifying one. It is a call to praise God “for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” 
These are powerful words that remind us that God is not only the creator of the universe, but God formed our inward parts and knit us together in our mother’s womb. Therefore, our lives matter to God. This reminder that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made” isn’t an expression of the “power of positive thinking.” It is an expression of God’s declaration that all human life is sacred to God. That declaration is affirmed in the person of Jesus, who according to John’s prologue, is “the Word [who] became flesh and dwelt among us” (Jn 1:14). Therefore, as David Gush…

Religion and Labor's Long-time Relationship

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It is Labor Day Weekend. Many will use this weekend for one last fling before fall sets in. As we do so we may miss the connection between the three-day weekend and labor. Perhaps that is due in part to the decline of labor unions in America. I must admit I've never been a member of a union. In high school I worked in a grocery store that was unionized, but since I worked only a few hours a week I wasn't required to join. That said, it is good to remember and honor all those who labor. Indeed, most of us have or are or wish to work. I am employed as a pastor. That is my calling, but it is also my job. 
I will be making note of the importance of work and labor in my sermon on Sunday. We will share in a litany during worship that will lift up all those who labor, in all of the forms it takes. It is perhaps providential that I am reading at this moment a book that explores the relationship of religion and labor. The book is titled Unified We Are a Force: How Faith and Labor Can …

Anthems, Pledges, and the Realm of God

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Over the years I've been a 49ers fan. They've won a few Super Bowls, but right now they're at the bottom of the pile in the NFL. Since they're not doing well, and the local Detroit Lions need support I've focused my attention on Matt Stafford and company. In recent days the 49ers have been in the news, or more specifically their quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, has been in the news. The question of the day isn't about football and whether Kaepernick will be the starting QB, but his decision to sit during the National Anthem. It's pro-forma to start athletic contests with the National Anthem. Sometimes it's done well, but often it's done poorly. I'm not a real fan of the Star Spangled Banner, in large part because it's not an easy song to sing well. The folks to the north in Canada have a much more singable anthem, but that's a different story.
Whether you agree with Kaepernick's action or not, the conversation it has engendered is at …

Moral Injury -- Sightings (Martin Marty)

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Moral Injury is a new concept, one that I've yet to really explore. It has to do with the affects and after-affects of service in time of war. I'm not a veteran. I've never experienced battle. I've ministered to and with those who have experienced war, and my father served World War II in the Navy. I'm not a pacifist, but I do seek to be involved in peace-making. But what is "moral injury" and how should we in the church respond? Martin Marty lifts up this question in this week's edition of Sightings. He points us toward helpful resources, resources I know I need to consult. I invite you to read and respond to Marty's invitation to explore so that we might be more compassionate and supportive of those who serve or have served in time of war. Since we have been in wars of some sort for the past decade or more, it is a question to be addressed.


Moral Injury 
By MARTIN E. MARTY   August 29, 2016Editor's note: Sightings will be taking a break in obs…