Thursday, August 31, 2017

Finding God in the Midst of a Natural Disaster


We have all been watching the effects of Hurricane Harvey, which came ashore last Friday evening, bringing devastation to parts of the Texas coast. The storm continued to hover over the region, moving along the coast toward the city of Houston and beyond. It is still with us as I write (from the safety of SE Michigan). I am praying for the folks caught in this disaster, some of whom have lost their lives, while thousands have lost their homes and businesses. I made a small contribution to the relief effort through Week of Compassion, the relief arm of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). I invite you who are reading this to contribute in anyway you can. I trust Week of Compassion, and recommend it (you can contribute by clicking here, and once through click on the donate button). You can read a report from Week of Compassion, written on Monday here.  

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Adopted (Kelley Nikondeha) -- A Review

ADOPTED: The Sacrament of Belonging in a Fractured World. By Kelley Nikondeha. Foreword by Share Claiborne. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2017. Xi + 185 pages.

                The idea of adoption often has a negative connotation. If one is adopted, there is often the stigma of being less than one who is unadopted. As for the mother, questions abound as to why she would give up a child. Yet, adoption is an important biblical concept. If one is a child of God, one is, as Paul suggests, adopted. In Paul’s understanding of things, to be adopted as a child of God makes one a joint heir with Jesus, God’s only begotten. Adoption is a complicated reality, but also one that has personal and theological implications.

So, what does it mean to be adopted? Kelley Nikondeha seeks to answer that question in this very personal and theologically provocative book. Nikondeha brings her own experience to the story, as one who is adopted herself, and who with her husband, has adopted two children from Burundi, which is her husband’s country of origin. Nikondeha is also the codirector and chief storyteller for Communities of Hope, which is a community development organization working in Burundi. She is also the cofounder of Amahoro Africa, which seeks to encourage conversation between theologians and practitioners in Africa.  I also gleaned from the book that she is a graduate of Fuller Theological Seminary (my alma mater).

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Out of Egypt - Lectionary Reflection for Pentecost 13A (Exodus 3)


Exodus 3:1-15 Common English Bible (CEB)

Moses was taking care of the flock for his father-in-law Jethro, Midian’s priest. He led his flock out to the edge of the desert, and he came to God’s mountain called Horeb. The Lord’s messenger appeared to him in a flame of fire in the middle of a bush. Moses saw that the bush was in flames, but it didn’t burn up. Then Moses said to himself, Let me check out this amazing sight and find out why the bush isn’t burning up. 
When the Lord saw that he was coming to look, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” 
Moses said, “I’m here.” 
Then the Lord said, “Don’t come any closer! Take off your sandals, because you are standing on holy ground.” He continued, “I am the God of your father, Abraham’s God, Isaac’s God, and Jacob’s God.” Moses hid his face because he was afraid to look at God. 
Then the Lord said, “I’ve clearly seen my people oppressed in Egypt. I’ve heard their cry of injustice because of their slave masters. I know about their pain. I’ve come down to rescue them from the Egyptians in order to take them out of that land and bring them to a good and broad land, a land that’s full of milk and honey, a place where the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites all live. Now the Israelites’ cries of injustice have reached me. I’ve seen just how much the Egyptians have oppressed them. 10 So get going. I’m sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.” 
11 But Moses said to God, “Who am I to go to Pharaoh and to bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” 
12 God said, “I’ll be with you. And this will show you that I’m the one who sent you. After you bring the people out of Egypt, you will come back here and worship God on this mountain.” 
13 But Moses said to God, “If I now come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ they are going to ask me, ‘What’s this God’s name?’ What am I supposed to say to them?” 
14 God said to Moses, “I Am Who I Am. So say to the Israelites, ‘I Am has sent me to you.’” 15 God continued, “Say to the Israelites, ‘The Lord, the God of your ancestors, Abraham’s God, Isaac’s God, and Jacob’s God, has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever; this is how all generations will remember me.
*****

               Pharaoh was afraid of the Israelites, whose numbers had increased. He saw them as a threat, so he ordered them to be enslaved. When that didn’t slow down the growth, he had the first-born son killed. One child, however, was rescued, ironically, by Pharaoh’s own daughter. This daughter of the king adopted the child, named him Moses, and raised him as royalty. But, as the story goes, eventually Moses, intervenes on behalf of a Hebrew slave, kills the Egyptian oppressor, and then flees for his life. There is a lot to this story that is left unexplained, but the point is, upon achieving adulthood, Moses had felt the pull of kinship and acted in support of his people at the cost of rank and privilege. Now he is living in the Sinai desert, watching over the sheep for his father-in-law, the Midianite priest Jethro. From prince to shepherd, such it seems was the destiny of the one called Moses. Moses the shepherd of Midianite sheep had seemingly wasted his opportunity to serve his people. That is, until the day he saw something glowing on the horizon.  Being the curious type, Moses decided to check it out, and the rest is history.

Monday, August 28, 2017

What Use Is God? A Conversation on Uncontrolling Love



I want to invite you share in a video conversation about the nature and purpose of God, especially in response to the reality of evil. What is the nature of God? Do we believe that God is defined primarily by power or by love. I try to take up some of these questions, as I participated last Friday in a 24 hour Facebook Live presentation. The event was connected to the recent publication of the book Uncontrolling Love: Essays Exploring the Love of God with Introductions by Thomas Jay Oord,  (SacraSage Press, 2017).  

In my response to Tom's book, I suggest that it might be read fruitfully in tandem with Richard Beck's book Reviving Old Scratch (Fortress).  Perhaps we would be wise to think of our engagement with the world in participation with the God who is Love as spiritual warfare, with the cross as the defining element. Anyway, watch the video, pick up a copy of the book, read my essay. Take the way of uncontrolling love!

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Who Do You Say that I Am? - Sermon for Pentecost 12A


Matthew 16:13-20

Maybe a pollster has called you wanting your opinion on a product, issue or politician. Politicians don’t want their approval numbers to dip under 50%. There’s a problem when your numbers dip below that mark. 

Jesus once took a different kind of poll. What he wanted to know was what people were saying about him. Who did they think he was? The disciples reported that based on what they were hearing, most people thought he was a prophet, like John the Baptist, Elijah, or Jeremiah. It’s interesting that Matthew chose these three prophets, because they all had run-ins with the authorities. John was executed, Elijah was chased out of the country, and Jeremiah was sent into exile. That put Jesus in dangerous company! 

Friday, August 25, 2017

Uncontrolling Love -- the Facebook Event



This afternoon at 3 PM EDT, I will be on Facebook Live asking the question: What Use is God?  This is the title of my essay published in the book Uncontrolling Love, which contains responses to Tom Oord's book The Uncontrolling Love of God.  Tom's premise is that God is Love, and thus love is prior power. Using the concept of Essential Kenosis, he asserts that "God's love is necessarily self-giving and other's empowering," which means that because love is prior to power, there are things that God cannot do.  I want to explore this idea, which I embrace, but which raises some questions that I wrestle with. You can read my response by buying the book. You can also listen in at 3 PM, or later as it's posted on my facebook page and probably here as well.

So, to prepare for my presentation, I invite you to watch Tom's introductory presentation from last evening.  Just click on the link below and check it out.  It's 30 minutes long.  Then I'll see you at 3 PM EDT.

https://www.facebook.com/thomas.oord/videos/10154636629461455/

After watching Tom's video, you can watch mine, which is now completed:

https://www.facebook.com/drbobcornwall/videos/10212848054049317/

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Conversations on the Uncontrolling Love of God - Facebook Live Event



In his book The Uncontrolling Love of God (IVP2015), theologian Tom Oord offers a vision of God in which love is primary to power. In this vision love is defined as being noncoercive and uncontrolling. It's a different vision of God than the one that starts with God's omnipotence and then works towards love. It's a compelling vision, but it does pose challenges.

Tom's book prompted a wide variety of responses, a number of which were gathered up into the book Uncontrolling Love: Essays Exploring the Love of God with Introductions by Thomas Jay Oord, (SacraSage Press, 2017). I contributed one of the more than 80 essays in this book. It's titled "What Use Is God?" Isn't that intriguing? Well there is an opportunity, beginning this evening, for us to hear from some of the essayists as to their understanding of Tom's vision and our own responses. 

So, for a 24 hour period beginning tonight, Thursday, August 24, at 7 PM EDT, and running through tomorrow, Friday, August 25, at 7:00 PM, there will be a Facebook Live event, in which essayists will respond to Tom's vision.  You can find the conversations posted at the Conversations on the Uncontrolling Love of God Facebook page.  

My time is 3:00 PM EDT on Friday August 25. I will make sure to post the link on the above site and at Robert D. Cornwall Facebook Page.

My presentation has now occurred, but you can watch it here:   https://www.facebook.com/drbobcornwall/videos/10212848054049317/

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Basic Christianity (John Stott) -- A Review

BASIC CHRISTIANITY.  Third Edition. By John Stott; Foreword by Rick Warren. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2017. xiii + 160 Pages.

Over the years I’ve had occasion to read and hear John Stott, the late Anglican evangelical preacher and writer. My experience of him was that he was a classical evangelical of an Anglican type, who was similar to some of my seminary professors at Fuller, but a bit more conservative. I had the opportunity to hear him speak at a packed audience at a Presbyterian Church in Santa Barbara. The church brought in both conservative and liberal speakers, so this was a normal occurrence. I don’t remember the message, but I do remember that the church member who accompanied me thought he was fairly conservative. My sense was that Stott was conservative, but generous in his conservativism, which was fairly par for the course among British evangelicals, who are a different breed than many conservative American evangelicals. My experience with him was that he believed strongly in the traditional evangelical message of salvation in Christ, but steered away from political involvements, at least of an aggressive sort.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Egypt First - A Lectionary Reflection for Pentecost 12A (Exodus)


Exodus 1:8-2:10 Common English Bible (CEB)

1:8 Now a new king came to power in Egypt who didn’t know Joseph. 9 He said to his people, “The Israelite people are now larger in number and stronger than we are. 10 Come on, let’s be smart and deal with them. Otherwise, they will only grow in number. And if war breaks out, they will join our enemies, fight against us, and then escape from the land.” 11 As a result, the Egyptians put foremen of forced work gangs over the Israelites to harass them with hard work. They had to build storage cities named Pithom and Rameses for Pharaoh. 12 But the more they were oppressed, the more they grew and spread, so much so that the Egyptians started to look at the Israelites with disgust and dread. 13 So the Egyptians enslaved the Israelites. 14 They made their lives miserable with hard labor, making mortar and bricks, doing field work, and by forcing them to do all kinds of other cruel work. 
15 The king of Egypt spoke to two Hebrew midwives named Shiphrah and Puah: 16 “When you are helping the Hebrew women give birth and you see the baby being born, if it’s a boy, kill him. But if it’s a girl, you can let her live.” 17 Now the two midwives respected God so they didn’t obey the Egyptian king’s order. Instead, they let the baby boys live. 
18 So the king of Egypt called the two midwives and said to them, “Why are you doing this? Why are you letting the baby boys live?”  
19 The two midwives said to Pharaoh, “Because Hebrew women aren’t like Egyptian women. They’re much stronger and give birth before any midwives can get to them.” 20 So God treated the midwives well, and the people kept on multiplying and became very strong. 21 And because the midwives respected God, God gave them households of their own. 
22 Then Pharaoh gave an order to all his people: “Throw every baby boy born to the Hebrews into the Nile River, but you can let all the girls live.” 
2:1 Now a man from Levi’s household married a Levite woman. 2 The woman became pregnant and gave birth to a son. She saw that the baby was healthy and beautiful, so she hid him for three months. 3 When she couldn’t hide him any longer, she took a reed basket and sealed it up with black tar. She put the child in the basket and set the basket among the reeds at the riverbank. 4 The baby’s older sister stood watch nearby to see what would happen to him. 
5 Pharaoh’s daughter came down to bathe in the river, while her women servants walked along beside the river. She saw the basket among the reeds, and she sent one of her servants to bring it to her. 6 When she opened it, she saw the child. The boy was crying, and she felt sorry for him. She said, “This must be one of the Hebrews’ children.” 
7 Then the baby’s sister said to Pharaoh’s daughter, “Would you like me to go and find one of the Hebrew women to nurse the child for you?” 
8 Pharaoh’s daughter agreed, “Yes, do that.” So the girl went and called the child’s mother. 9 Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Take this child and nurse it for me, and I’ll pay you for your work.” So the woman took the child and nursed it. 10 After the child had grown up, she brought him back to Pharaoh’s daughter, who adopted him as her son. She named him Moses, “because,” she said, “I pulled him out of the water.”

***************
                Jacob and his family joined Joseph and his family in Egypt, where they found refuge (Genesis 46-50). But a time came, when a “king came to power in Egypt who didn’t know Joseph.” This new king looked out over the realm and saw that the Hebrews had been fruitful and they had multiplied, and pharaoh become concerned. The demographics of the nation were changing, and the powers that be feared that Israelites would become so powerful, they would replace the Egyptians. And so, Pharaoh decided to do something. He decided to implement an “Egypt First” policy. That entailed enslaving and oppressing a people who had migrated to Egypt hundreds of years before. While he hoped that these oppressive methods would limit the growth in numbers and perceived power, the community continued to grow, despite the oppression. That led Pharaoh to turn the screws even tighter, “forcing them to do all kinds of other cruel work.” Still, the community grew. So, he chose to engage in even more drastic methods, to purify the land, and keep the foreigners at bay.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Time to Study History

Antietam Battlefield
History is a subject we all take in school. Sometimes it's taught well. Sometimes it's not. Either way, the study of history is often viewed as irrelevant to daily life. History is about the past, and while we're told at times that if we fail to learn the lessons of the past, we're fated to repeat them, I'm not sure that's true, but we can learn a lot from history about context and the way things have evolved. 

Many of the issues of our day have roots in the past, none more serious than the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow, two legacies of our past that are enshrined in monuments remembering and even celebrating the Lost Cause of the Confederacy. These monuments began to emerge in the 1890s as a way of pushing back against gains made by African Americans, putting them in their place. These monuments were accompanied by the reign of terror that was wrought by a resurgent KKK, which not only took on black Americans, but Jews, Catholics, and immigrants from Southern Europe (immigration from Asia was already being banned). The goal of all of these efforts, rooted in history, was keeping America in the hands of White Protestant Americans (Anglo-Saxons). Of course, this is my own heritage (I'm the product of immigrants from Western Europe and the British Isles).

Thursday, August 17, 2017

The Lost Cause Lost


Hanging on the wall of my study at home is a print of Tom Lovell's The Surrender at Appomattox.  At times I've hung it in my college office and even my church office. It pictures Robert E. Lee signing the surrender document essentially ending the Civil War. In later years, after Lee's death a movement was born known as "The Lost Cause." It was born out of an attempt to reframe the history of the Civil War away from slavery to states rights.  It was also a response to attempts by African Americans to claim rights granted to them by the Constitution, rights that were often denied through Jim Crow laws. It was during the early 20th century and then again during the era of the Civil Rights Movement that statues were erected lionizing Confederate leaders such as Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and Jefferson Davis. Those statues and monuments, many of which stand at the center of city parks or along boulevards around the country are not meant just to honor long dead leaders, but to send a message. That message is simply one of white superiority. That the "Unite the Right" rally was held in a park where the local leaders planned to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee was also meant to send a message. People of color, Jews, Muslims, people who don't fit the vision of a white dominated America need to remember their place. 

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Pondering Charlottesville

It's now Wednesday. Charlottesville remains a topic of conversation in the country and beyond (I spent a couple of nights in Canada earlier this week and it's interesting to watch coverage of American political life from that vantage point -- let me just say they're concerned that racist nationalism could spill over the border). On Sunday, like many of my colleagues, I condemned white nationalism and called for the church to be a beacon of hope. I knew what needed to be said, I said  it the best I could on short notice, and and my congregation seems to have received it well. I might even say that they expected me to speak to the moment. But where do we go from here? How do we change the rhetoric of our era which is increasingly course and often dehumanizing, a rhetoric that unfortunately has been given cover by the President. 

Monday, August 14, 2017

Divine Providence and Family Reconciliation


Genesis 45:1-15 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

45 Then Joseph could no longer control himself before all those who stood by him, and he cried out, “Send everyone away from me.” So, no one stayed with him when Joseph made himself known to his brothers. And he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard it, and the household of Pharaoh heard it. Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph. Is my father still alive?” But his brothers could not answer him, so dismayed were they at his presence. 
Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come closer to me.” And they came closer. He said, “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. And now do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life. For the famine has been in the land these two years; and there are five more years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. So it was not you who sent me here, but God; he has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt. Hurry and go up to my father and say to him, ‘Thus says your son Joseph, God has made me lord of all Egypt; come down to me, do not delay. 10 You shall settle in the land of Goshen, and you shall be near me, you and your children and your children’s children, as well as your flocks, your herds, and all that you have. 11 I will provide for you there—since there are five more years of famine to come—so that you and your household, and all that you have, will not come to poverty.’ 12 And now your eyes and the eyes of my brother Benjamin see that it is my own mouth that speaks to you. 13 You must tell my father how greatly I am honored in Egypt, and all that you have seen. Hurry and bring my father down here.” 14 Then he fell upon his brother Benjamin’s neck and wept, while Benjamin wept upon his neck. 15 And he kissed all his brothers and wept upon them; and after that his brothers talked with him.
*****

                We continue with our journey through the Genesis story, which takes us from the call of Abraham through to Joseph’s rise to power, which serves as a means of rescuing the family through whom God is going to bless the nations. I used the term “divine providence” in the title, because the trajectory of the Genesis story has in mind God’s intent to bless the nations through Abraham and his descendants. While I embrace this message, believing it connects the Christian community to Abraham, through Jesus, so that we might share in God’s purpose of blessing the peoples of the earth, I also believe that the future is open. That means we humans can choose not to cooperate. Perhaps that is why the covenant story isn’t a straight-line path. We wander off, and God woos us back on the path forward. God knows where God wants to go, but it will take some cooperation on our part to get there.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Come … Why Do You Doubt? -- A Sermon for Pentecost 10A



Matthew 14:22-33

On a day after White Nationalists gathered in Charlottesville, Virginia to protest the removal of a Confederate monument and declared their intent to take back American for white people; a day after violence broke out in that city leading to the death of one and the injuring of others, when a car rammed into a crowd of counter-protesters; in a week when it seemed as if we are on the brink of nuclear war with North Korea, we gather to worship the God who stands firmly against hate, racism, violence, and the destruction of life. We come here needing to say no to white nationalism and nuclear war. We also come to hear Matthew  invite us to use our spiritual imaginations so we can embrace the “impossible possibilities” of the Bible’s miracle stories, so that we can, as Brian McLaren suggests, “play a catalytic role in co-creating new possibilities for the world of tomorrow” [We Make the Road, p. 97]. It is in the midst of all of this that we attend to the story of Jesus walking on water and calming stormy seas. 

Friday, August 11, 2017

Uncontrolling Love -- A Book Announcement


I want to take this opportunity to share word of a new book titled Uncontrolling Love: Essays Exploring the Love of God with Introductions by Thomas Jay Oord,  (SacraSage Press, 2017). One of the reasons I want to share word about the book is that one of the 80 essays in this book was written by me. It's titled: "What Use Is God?" In this essay I engage the question of evil, asking how a God defined as uncoercive or uncontrolling can help us deal with life. 
Below is the description of the book take from Amazon. You can purchase a copy of the book from Amazon by clicking on the image of the cover or by clicking here. 

You might want to also follow the Facebook page, where you'll find more information about upcoming conversations about the book, including a 24-hour Facebook Live event covering August 24-25..  My time for a 30 minute reflection is scheduled for Friday, August 25 at 3 PM (EDT). 
****
What if God is not in control? And what if this lack of control isn’t because God is weak or uninvolved? What if, instead, God’s powerful and universal love is inherently uncontrolling?
In this book, more than eighty writers explore uncontrolling love, an idea first suggested by Thomas Jay Oord in his award-winning work, The Uncontrolling Love of God: An Open and Relational Account of Providence (IVP Academic). Contributors explore uncontrolling love in practical, political, scientific, personal, economic, biblical, ethical, and philosophical dimensions. Many tell stories and pose questions. Others offer novel ideas to make sense of life or promote well-being. Oord offers introductions to key ideas and concepts.
“This book is amazing! Each essay contains precisely worded insights and thoughtful, practical responses to Oord’s book, The Uncontrolling Love of God. Essayists cite their own reasons for recognizing, claiming, and articulating what Oord calls “essential kenosis theology.” In an array of accessible vignettes, essayists illustrate Oord’s relational thesis: God’s love is necessarily self-giving and others-empowering.-- Karen Winslow, Professor and Chair of the Department of Biblical Studies, Azusa Pacific University
“Jesus proclaimed God as a loving parent, and this basic approach dominates in the New Testament. But many people revere controlling power more than love. Thomas Jay Oord has reclaimed the good news of the uncontrolling love of God. Many rejoice and respond with uncontrolling love for one another and all God’s creatures. This book embodies the response of the church, lay people and pastors, students and teachers, liberals and conservatives. Readers can join in this work of theology by witnessing to what a loving God is doing in the world.”-- John B. Cobb, Jr., Professor Emeritus, Claremont School of Theology and Claremont Graduate University

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Economy of Care and the Future of the World


With one election out of the way, and a new one in the offering, we will come back to the mantra of the Bill Clinton era -- "it's the economy, stupid." Much of the current debate over immigration, climate change, health care, has economic roots. I don't think that Donald Trump is a true populist, but he  got the votes of many working class Americans who voted for Barack Obama in places like Michigan and Pennsylvania and Ohio. My concern is that both parties are offering economic solutions that are intended to solve 20th century concerns. We're at under 5% unemployment, which is a good number. It's considered full employment. The problem is that we seem intent on bringing back an economy that is no longer feasible. Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders appealed to so-called blue collar manufacturing workers, promising to bring back jobs either through trade policy or immigration policy. The problem is that most unskilled manufacturing jobs are lost not because of immigration or sending plants overseas. They're being lost to robotics. That isn't going to change. So, maybe its time to rethink the economy, and begin to look to other places for employment that has a future.

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Fire and Fury Like the World has Never Seen

As a preacher I am familiar with apocalyptic language. One expression of that language is the promise of fire and brimstone thrown down upon the enemies of God's people. Something of that apocalyptic language came to mind as I heard the President of the United States threaten North Korea with what would appear to be a preemptive nuclear strike against that nation, should it continue to threaten the United States.  Many friends and colleagues have already given their opinion on Facebook and Twitter. I prefer to do my writing on such subjects here on the blog. While I have been reticent to engage in the increasingly negative debates that are tearing at the fabric of the nation, I thought I should say something.

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

The Messiness of Divine Providence - A Lectionary Reflection for Pentecost 10A

Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28 Common English Bible (CEB)
37 Jacob lived in the land of Canaan where his father was an immigrant. 2 This is the account of Jacob’s descendants. Joseph was 17 years old and tended the flock with his brothers. While he was helping the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, his father’s wives, Joseph told their father unflattering things about them. 3 Now Israel loved Joseph more than any of his other sons because he was born when Jacob was old. Jacob had made for him a long robe. 4 When his brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of his brothers, they hated him and couldn’t even talk nicely to him. 

12 Joseph’s brothers went to tend their father’s flocks near Shechem. 13 Israel said to Joseph, “Aren’t your brothers tending the sheep near Shechem? Come, I’ll send you to them.” 

And he said, “I’m ready.”

14 Jacob said to him, “Go! Find out how your brothers are and how the flock is, and report back to me.” 

So Jacob sent him from the Hebron Valley. When he approached Shechem, 15 a man found him wandering in the field and asked him, “What are you looking for?” 

16 Joseph said, “I’m looking for my brothers. Tell me, where are they tending the sheep?” 

17 The man said, “They left here. I heard them saying, ‘Let’s go to Dothan.’” So Joseph went after his brothers and found them in Dothan. 

18 They saw Joseph in the distance before he got close to them, and they plotted to kill him. 19 The brothers said to each other, “Here comes the big dreamer. 20 Come on now, let’s kill him and throw him into one of the cisterns, and we’ll say a wild animal devoured him. Then we will see what becomes of his dreams!” 

21 When Reuben heard what they said, he saved him from them, telling them, “Let’s not take his life.” 22 Reuben said to them, “Don’t spill his blood! Throw him into this desert cistern, but don’t lay a hand on him.” He intended to save Joseph from them and take him back to his father. 

23 When Joseph reached his brothers, they stripped off Joseph’s long robe, 24 took him, and threw him into the cistern, an empty cistern with no water in it. 25 When they sat down to eat, they looked up and saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead, with camels carrying sweet resin, medicinal resin, and fragrant resin on their way down to Egypt. 26 Judah said to his brothers, “What do we gain if we kill our brother and hide his blood? 27 Come on, let’s sell him to the Ishmaelites. Let’s not harm him because he’s our brother; he’s family.” His brothers agreed. 28 When some Midianite traders passed by, they pulled Joseph up out of the cistern. They sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver, and they brought Joseph to Egypt.
****

During this Pentecost season, as we have explored the readings from Genesis, we have seen how the covenant is being passed on from generation to generation. It’s rather messy. Abraham had two sons, but it was the second son whom God chose to be the carrier of the covenant. That son was Isaac, the son of Sarah. Then Isaac had two sons, the younger of whom ended up as the carrier of the covenant. Now we arrive at the sons of Jacob. In the end, there will be twelve sons, but at this moment there are but eleven, with Joseph being the youngest. Joseph, like his father, could be obnoxious, but his father loved him more than the others (in part because he was the son of Jacob’s favorite wife, Rachel, the one whom Jacob loved more than Rachel’s older sister).

Monday, August 07, 2017

God in the Movies (Robert Johnston & Catherine Barsotti) -- A Review

GOD IN THE MOVIES: AGuide for Exploring Four Decades of Film. Edited by Catherine M. Barsotti and Robert K. Johnston. Foreword by Ralph Winter. Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2017. Xxxiii + 264 pages.

                As a preacher, I have been known to refer to a movie or two to illustrate a point. Because I am a fan of both the Star Wars films and all forms of Star Trek—yes, even the first Star Trek movie has its redeeming qualities—I have been known to make special use of imagery from these films and the Star Trek TV series. I know that I am not alone in turning to film and TV for inspiration. While my church isn’t so equipped, I know that many preachers even feature clips in their sermons. So, for now I will remain old school and will make do using my own descriptions, even though I have been known to get things wrong (such mistakes are often pointed out to me afterwards by my son who spent a year in film school). Why do we do this? Because film and TV are now prime carriers of culture.

Sunday, August 06, 2017

Everyone Ate Their Fill - A Sermon for Pentecost 9A

Matthew 14:13-21

When we gather at the Lord’s Table each week, we pause to remember the last meal Jesus shared with his disciples, and continues to share with us through the Spirit. Although this meal stands at the center of our faith tradition, the Gospels are filled with stories about Jesus sharing meals with others.  One of these stories involves a meal with more than five thousand guests, who dined on five loaves of bread and two fish, and still everyone ate their fill. 

The “Feeding of the 5000" is the only miracle story that appears in all four Gospels. It’s easy to get caught up in the mechanics of the miracle. Enquiring minds want to know how Jesus did it. Was it a magic trick? Was it a spontaneous potluck? Is it a myth? Despite our inquisitiveness, Matthew doesn’t give any details. Could that mean that the details are irrelevant? Miracle stories, like parables point beyond themselves to the kingdom of God. So, what Matthew wants us to hear is a message about the reign and realm of God. If this is true, then, what is this miracle story saying to us about the realm of God? 

Thursday, August 03, 2017

What's this about Immigration restrictions?

Iftar Dinner at Central Woodward Christian Church of Troy
I grew up in Oregon, one of the least diverse states in the union. I now live in the most diverse city in Michigan, a city that also claims the largest foreign born population. Troy is a relatively affluent and prosperous city, and the immigrant community contributes greatly to that prosperity. While I enjoyed growing up in Oregon, and may return there some day, I have to say that my life has been enriched greatly by my immigrant friends here in Troy, most of whom hail from Asia or the Middle East. Before coming to Troy, we lived in Santa Barbara, California. My son's high school had a significant Latinx majority. He quite enjoyed that mixture. 

I write this as an introduction to my dismay at today's announcement by the President of his full-throated support of an effort to reduce immigration by 50%, reduce the numbers of refugees admitted, and focus on "merit" rather than family connections. The sponsors of the bill suggest that this needs to be done to support working-class Americans, but is that really the reason for it? Or is something else involved? Much of the anti-immigrant talk has been coupled with expressions of white nationalism, a call to protect "our Judeo-Christian" values, which generally means "Euro-American." Now, I am of European American extraction.I value the legacy of my ancestors, but to value that legacy doesn't mean that the quality of my life will suffer because of the presence of people who hail from Mexico or Guatamala, India or Kenya, Syria or Korea . . .   

What is afoot here? What is the fear being capitalized upon?  All I'll say is this, do you see a connection between this announcement and word that the Justice Department's Civil Rights division is hiring lawyers to pursue litigation against colleges and universities who are perceived to be discriminating against white people?  I don't know about you, but I seem to see signs of a connection.

Here is to hoping that members of Congress will see the light, and do what is right.

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Beyond the Modern Age (Bob Goudzwaard & Craig Bartholomew) - A Review

BEYOND THE MODERN AGE: An Archaeology of Contemporary Culture. By Bob Goudzwaard and Craig G. Bartholomew. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2017. Xi + 313 pages.

The eighteenth century brought us the Enlightenment and modernity, with the promise that reason, along with science and technology, would make life better, that it would solve our problems. The truth is, in some ways, life is better. As I sit here at my computer, in an air-conditioned house, I surely do not wish to go back and live in the seventeenth century. However, reason didn’t solve all our problems. In fact, “progress” is a mixed blessing. That may be why many have turned to forms of postmodernism, because it seemed to free us from the shackles of a rather gray and confining mechanical world view.  But, in the age of alternative facts, perhaps the promise of postmodernity has proven problematic. I'm not a philosopher, but how should we understand our age, and where it seems to be leading?
Beyond the Modern Age offers an analysis of our contemporary culture and its antecedents (thus the use of the word archaeology) that is undertaken by two evangelical academics of a Reformed stripe, who seem to have a predilection for the vision of Abraham Kuyper. One of the two authors is an economist from the Netherlands and the other is a Canadian. At a timbeyond the Modern Age (Bob e when we hear that 81% of white evangelicals voted for Donald Trump, apparently embracing his populist white nationalism, it is refreshing to hear that not all evangelicals think alike. While I found places of difference, especially regarding their take on sexuality (they’re traditionalists), I found their analysis thought provoking and insightful. As with Miroslav’s book from a year earlier, Flourishing, the authors make the important claim that religion will need to play a significant role in our attempts to deal with the issues confronting us, especially economic and climate related issues.

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

A Divine Wrestling Match - Lectionary Reflection for Pentecost 9A (Genesis 32)

Genesis 32:22-31 Common English Bible (CEB)
22 Jacob got up during the night, took his two wives, his two women servants, and his eleven sons, and crossed the Jabbok River’s shallow water. 23 He took them and everything that belonged to him, and he helped them cross the river. 24 But Jacob stayed apart by himself, and a man wrestled with him until dawn broke. 25 When the man saw that he couldn’t defeat Jacob, he grabbed Jacob’s thigh and tore a muscle in Jacob’s thigh as he wrestled with him. 26 The man said, “Let me go because the dawn is breaking.”
But Jacob said, “I won’t let you go until you bless me.” 
27 He said to Jacob, “What’s your name?” and he said, “Jacob.” 28 Then he said, “Your name won’t be Jacob any longer, but Israel, because you struggled with God and with men and won.” 
29 Jacob also asked and said, “Tell me your name.” 
But he said, “Why do you ask for my name?” and he blessed Jacob there. 30 Jacob named the place Peniel, “because I’ve seen God face-to-face, and my life has been saved.” 31 The sun rose as Jacob passed Penuel, limping because of his thigh.
 
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                It was the night before Jacob was to face his brother Esau, from whom he had fled years before, after taking the blessing that should have gone to the oldest brother. Jacob had dwelt in the land of his uncle, Laban, had amassed a great family and fortune. Truly, he was blessed. Still, there was that matter of his relationship with his brother, and the promise that he would dwell in the land of Canaan. He had sent presents to appease his brother (and as a show of wealth), and he prayed that God would deliver him from his brother’s anger (Gen. 32:3-21). After sending the presents to his brother, he also sent his family across the river Jabbok. Only Jacob remained behind, on the near side of the river, seeking to gather up strength of courage to face his brother and claim what had been promised him. That is where the story gets interesting. It is the place we shall dwell for a moment in time.