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Showing posts from September, 2017

Nonwhitesome Mormons - Sightings (Martin Marty)

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Questions about white privilege and white supremacy abound. Charlottesville highlighted this reality. The NFL protests offer another vantage point. Much is made of the 81% of so-called white evangelicals who voted for Donald Trump. Even as Americans of European descent, especially Northern European descent, lose their dominance, we see great angst expressed. This leads us to the Mormon community, an American born religion, whose sacred book speaks of a "white and delightsome people." Martin Marty points us to conversations happening in and around the LDS community regarding their racial history, especially since the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints has become a global religion, whose membership is likely more non-white than white. I offer this up for your conversation. I need to add that as I grew up several of my friends were Mormons, and I always found them gracious and honorable. I share this because it reminds us that we all have histories that require our att…

Planetary Solidarity (Grace Ji-Sun Kim & Hilda Koster, eds) - Review

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PLANETARY SOLIDARITY: Global Women’s Voices on Christian Doctrine and Climate Justice. Edited by Grace Ji-Sun Kim and Hilda P. Koster. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2017. 392 pages.
As category 5 hurricanes rage and hills are alight with fire, as record temperatures strike and the seas warm, we hear voices loudly denying the reality of climate change. The science is rejected or belittled. At the same time voices arise calling for climate justice. These voices come in many languages, religions, and backgrounds. In my country these voices are being suppressed, but they persist. For those of us who recognize that we are careening toward disaster, it is important to amplify these voices. In this review of Planetary Solidarity, I seek to do just that. Here before us is a collection of essays written by women from across the globe. All are feminist in their orientation, who call for us to reimagine the Christian faith so that we might pay greater attention to the dangers facing us. They invi…

Principles for Reading Scripture for Disciples of Christ

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This is the third in a  series of outtakes from an attempt at writing a book exploring theology in the context of the Disciples of Christ. This emerged from a "Theology 101" study we did at Central Woodward nearly eight years ago. This us the second excerpt from chapter two of the book titled: "Revelation and Our Knowledge of God." I am offering these as a discussion starter among fellow Disciples and others who are interested in the conversation (and perhaps I'll find the wherewithal to further develop the book).  ******


If the Bible is one of the normative resources for doing theology, then how should we interpret this ancient document? I found the following four principles, elucidated by the late Disciples of Christ historian/theologian Ronald Osborn illuminating and helpful. As a historian, Osborn had an excellent grasp of the Disciple understanding of its context and purpose. He suggested that historically, Disciples have read the Bible with four mindsets in…

Precious Water - Lectionary Reflection for Pentecost 17A (Exodus 17)

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Exodus 17:1-7  New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) 17 From the wilderness of Sin the whole congregation of the Israelites journeyed by stages, as the Lord commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. The people quarreled with Moses, and said, “Give us water to drink.” Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?” But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?” So Moses cried out to the Lord, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.” The Lord said to Moses, “Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink.” Moses did …

Hearing God’s Voice – Disciples of Christ and Revelation

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This is the second in what will be a series of outtakes from an attempt at writing a book exploring theology in the context of the Disciples of Christ. This emerged from a "Theology 101" study we did at Central Woodward nearly eight years ago. This excerpt and another to follow form parts of chapter two: "Revelation and Our Knowledge of God." I am offering these as a discussion starter among fellow Disciples and others who are interested in the conversation (and perhaps I'll find the wherewithal to further develop the book). **********
St. Augustine is credited with the phrase “faith seeking understanding.”  This phrase has important implications for the church at large, but especially for Disciples.  The Disciples are a rational people, who seek out a faith that is understandable and practical.  Ronald Osborn suggests that “the early leaders of the Disciples of Christ contended for a faith characterized as sane, scriptural, and practical.  They were motivated b…

Fair Wages in God’s Realm -Sermon for Pentecost 16A

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Matthew 20:1-16

Jesus’ parables are subversive, because they reveal things about the realm of God. They’re stories we can read in different ways. Sometimes parables clarify things, but they can also confuse things enough that they start important conversations about what it means to live in the realm of God. The realm of God doesn’t operate like other realms, which is  why Jesus told Pilate that “my kingdom is not of this world.” (John 18:36)
Ever since Peter made the Good Confession and received his commission (Matt. 16:13-20), Jesus had been revealing things about the “Kingdom of Heaven” and the Church.  This parable is another contribution to that conversation. There is an important phrase that surrounds the parable: “The last will be first, and the first will be last.” 
The first instance of the phrase brings to a close Jesus’ conversation with the one we often call the “Rich Young Ruler” about what is required to enter the realm of God. That conversation centered around the hold our…

A Week in the Fall of Jerusalem (Ben Witherington III) - A Review

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A WEEK IN THE FALL OFJERUSALEM. By Ben Witherington III. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2017. 158 pages.
                It is the year 70 CE. The Roman general Titus, the son of Emperor Vespasian and a future emperor himself, is nearing the completion of a devastating war in Palestine, a war that would prove pivotal for the Jewish people, and in many ways, for Christianity. It was in that year that the Romans destroyed Jerusalem, and with it the Second Temple, which had been expanded and rebuilt by Herod, making it one of the great marvels of the ancient world. The aftermath of the destruction of the Temple included a refocusing of Judaism away from the Temple and its priesthood, to the centrality of the Book and synagogue. There would be one last stand by the anti-imperial zealots at Masada, but for most Jews a new reality emerged. With the priestly ruling class and the zealots destroyed or sidelined, two groups strands of Judaism came to prominence. One group, which gathered at J…

A Time to Pray

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The steadfast love of the Lordnever ceases, his mercies never come to an end; 23  they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.  [Lam. 3:22-23]

As I was pondering life on a Tuesday evening, thinking about what I might post for Wednesday reading, it seemed appropriate to simply ask you, my readers, to join me in prayer. In recent weeks we have seen Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma hit the Texas, Florida, and the Caribbean, as well as fires in the west. On Tuesday Hurricane Maria, another category 5 storm hit Dominica, a small island nation, where a sister of a member of the church resides with her family, a hurricane that will hit elsewhere in the Caribbean, including Puerto Rico (I have friends with family in Puerto Rico), and then a massive 7.1 earthquake hit the Mexico City area. All of this happens while the UN General Assembly is meeting, at which the President of the United States warned of the possibility of wiping a nation off the map.

These are sobering times. I do n…

Confessing Faith as Disciples of Christ

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Note: What follows is the bulk of a chapter of a book on Disciples theology that I had begun to write in 2009. I had been teaching a Theology 101 study at the church, and thought there was a need for something akin to Ronald Osborn's The Faith We Affirm. I still think this is true, and perhaps someday I'll complete the project.  For now, I'd like to share this word on confession of faith---with Disciples of Christ in mind.
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Theology may seem like a strange and esoteric idea. It may sound as if it is something highly trained, professional people would do, or at least those with an avocation to talking about things that have little to do with normal life. But, the fact is, theology should be very close to the hearts of every Christian, for if we think about and talk about God and the things of God, we’re doing theology.  It is, as Philip Clayton writes: “Theology therefore belongs to everyone who is drawn to Jesus and wants to figure out what it means to be i…

Bread for the Journey - Lectionary Reflection for Pentecost 16A

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Exodus 16:2-15 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.” Then the Lord said to Moses, “I am going to rain bread from heaven for you, and each day the people shall go out and gather enough for that day. In that way I will test them, whether they will follow my instruction or not. On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather on other days.” So Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites, “In the evening you shall know that it was the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt, and in the morning you shall see the glory of the Lord, because he has heard your complaining against the Lord. For what ar…

Forgiveness—Journey to Generosity - A Sermon for Pentecost 15A

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Matthew 18:21-35

We pick up our journey to generosity on the road with Jesus. After Jesus gave the disciples a lesson on conflict resolution, Peter raises a question about forgiveness in the context of the church.  He asks: If someone in “the church sins against me, how often should I forgive?” Is seven times enough? While that may seem generous to us, Jesus decided to raise the ante to seventy-seven times. Isn’t that a bit extreme? How is anybody going to keep track of that many offenses?
If we’re honest, we all keep a list of people whose offenses against us we would rather not forgive. Truth be told, we would like to take our revenge against them. But, if we follow Jesus’ word of wisdom here, that won’t happen. Vengeance is off the table. 
This morning we have a convergence of themes in the service. We have a word about forgiveness, a word about stewardship, and a word about peace. How might these three themes fit together? What do forgiveness, stewardship, and peace have to do with J…

I Am an Evangelical - Of a Liberal Sort!

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The word “evangelical” has taken on negative connotations in many circles. While it has traditionally been used (in the United States) to designate conservative Protestants who are Biblicist in their reading of the Bible (insists that the Bible is inerrant/infallible) and believe that one’s salvation is dependent on affirming Jesus as one’s savior and lord. In recent decades, it has come to designate persons of conservative political commitments, with strong focus on two social issues (abortion and gay marriage). Now, it is used to describe Protestant supporters of Donald Trump (the so-called 81% of White Evangelicals who are alleged to have supported his candidacy).  While it is true that many evangelicals are among Donald Trump’s most fervent supporters, I’ve become increasingly uncomfortable with the development of this stereotypical view of evangelicalism. In my experience, evangelicalism, including white evangelicalism, is much more diverse politically and even theologically tha…

Football Religion - Sightings (Martin Marty)

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Football season is again with us. Since my baseball teams -- Giants and Tigers --are extraordinarily bad this year, I'm paying less attention to them than might be the case in better years, I can then turn my attention to the return of football. So far my Ducks are 2-0 and show promise of a return to previous heights and the local Lions are 1-0. But, as a Christian, should I be watching football? After all, this is a violent game and studies are showing that it poses long-term dangers to participants. On the other hand, I've been watching since I was a kid. I didn't play "real" football, but I did play flag football in college. In other words, I like football. But should I?  Well, Martin Marty returns from his one month hiatus to delve into the question (he's a fan as well, though my Ducks just beat his Cornhuskers!). Take a read and offer your thoughts on the future of football. 
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Saved Through the Sea - Lectionary Reflection for Pentecost 15A (Exodus)

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Exodus 14:19-31 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
19 The angel of God who was going before the Israelite army moved and went behind them; and the pillar of cloud moved from in front of them and took its place behind them. 20 It came between the army of Egypt and the army of Israel. And the cloud was there in the midst of the darkness, and it lit up the night; one did not come near the other all night.21 Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea. The Lord drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night, and turned the sea into dry land; and the waters were divided. 22 The Israelites went into the sea on dry ground, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left. 23 The Egyptians pursued, and went into the sea after them, all of Pharaoh’s horses, chariots, and chariot drivers. 24 At the morning watch the Lord in the pillar of fire and cloud looked down upon the Egyptian army, and threw the Egyptian army into panic. 25 He clogged their chariot wheels so that…

Vintage Saints and Sinners (Karen Wright Marsh) -- Review

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VINTAGE SAINTS ANDSINNERS: 25 Christians Who Transformed My Faith. By Karen Wright Marsh. Foreword by Lauren Winner. Downers Grove: IVP Books, 2017. 215 pages.


If you were to write down twenty-five figures in Christian History who have impacted or transformed your faith, who would you put down on your list? They could be famous, but they needn’t be famous. You might consider them saints, but they don’t have to be perfect. In Vintage Saints and Sinners, Karen Wright Marsh tells who she would put on her list, as well as telling us why she did this. Her list includes some big names, like St. Augustine and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. But there are other people on the list who might not be as famous, but who have lived lives that exemplify what it means to be Christian, people like Sophie Scholl and Mary Paik Lee. While not offering us complete biographies of her choices, she tells us why these figures have transformed her faith.
Marsh is the executive director and cofounder with her husband Charl…

Gathering in the Name -- A Sermon for Pentecost 14A

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Matthew 18:15-20

What does it mean to gather in the name of Jesus? What does it mean to say that all are welcome, and all means all? Are there no boundaries? No qualifications? No form of accountability? Are there protocols we should be aware of? Who decides what these protocols might be?    As Disciples, we pride ourselves on our theological openness. We don’t have a creed. There are no theological grounds for excommunication. Instead of focusing on boundaries, we focus on our center, which is our common confession that “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” Even that confession allows for breadth of interpretation. But, does that really mean that anything and everything goes?
The word we’ve heard this morning from Matthew 18 is a challenging one. It’s also unique to Matthew’s Gospel. This suggests that there’s something afoot in Matthew’s community. Someone or some group is causing problems, and Matthew wants to set up a process to handle the problem before it gets out of ha…

Theologians and Philosophers Using Social Media

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I am a user of Social Media.  I use it for personal and "professional" reasons. In fact, in writing this blog post I'm participating in it. After I publish it, I will share news of the post on Facebook and Twitter, and everywhere else my blog shows up. With this morning's post I want to share news of a new book titled Theologians and Philosophers Using Social Media: Advice, Tips, and Testimonials,(SacraSage, 2017), edited by Thomas Jay Oord.  This is the second project Tom has instigated in recent months to which I have contributed an essay.
The book is composed of more than ninety chapters, each written by someone who is in some form a theologian or philosopher. These include people like Brian McLaren, Grace Ji-Sun Kim, James McGrath, Richard Beck, Tripp Fuller, Jory Michel, and more.  Each writes from within their own field. I am, of course, a hybrid sort. On a scholarly level, I write about church history and historical theology. At the same time, I'm a pastor …

Acts - Belief (Willie Jennings) -- A Review

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ACTS: Belief: A Theological Commentary on the Bible. By Willie James Jennings. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2017. Xvii + 289 pages.

Karl Barth's Romans commentary was not only theologically provocative it disrupted theological business as usual. While rooted in the study of the text, it was and is a theological masterpiece. While theologians have been known to write commentaries (think of Calvin), most of the biblical commentaries are written by specialists, who look closely at textual and historical matters. While this is valuable, it is beneficial to the church for those who are trained as theologians to take up entire books of the Bible and engage with the text in an extended manner. It is a blessing when publishers will offer commentary series in which theologians have been invited to do just this, write commentary on scripture. One of these series is published by Westminster John Knox Press under the series name: Belief: A Theological Commentary on the Bible. Among…

Standing with Dreamers

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Yesterday, as expected, the Trump Administration announced they were rescinding DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), the executive order of President Obama, issued in 2012, after Congress failed to pass the Dream Act. This program allows persons who arrived in the United states prior to 2007 and before their 16th birthday to apply for deferred action, allowing them to enroll in college, serve in military, get a work permit, and essentially live openly in the United States. Some 800,000 Dreamers applied and were granted this status. I don't know the merits of the case for or against DACA, but I do believe it was and is the right thing to do. Now that the President is rescinding the order, but giving a six month window before completely ending the program, Congress has a responsibility to do the right thing, and fix this problem. 
We are a diverse people, and that's a good thing. I am enriched because of our diversity. While I grew up in a fairly homogeneous community…

Liberation and the Blood of the Lamb -- Lectionary Reflection for Pentecost 14A (Exodus 12)

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Exodus 12:1-14 Common English Bible (CEB)
12 The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, 2 “This month will be the first month; it will be the first month of the year for you. 3 Tell the whole Israelite community: On the tenth day of this month they must take a lamb for each household, a lamb per house. 4 If a household is too small for a lamb, it should share one with a neighbor nearby. You should divide the lamb in proportion to the number of people who will be eating it. 5 Your lamb should be a flawless year-old male. You may take it from the sheep or from the goats. 6 You should keep close watch over it until the fourteenth day of this month. At twilight on that day, the whole assembled Israelite community should slaughter their lambs. 7 They should take some of the blood and smear it on the two doorposts and on the beam over the door of the houses in which they are eating. 8 That same night they should eat the meat roasted over the fire. They should eat it along with un…

What’s With the Cross? A Sermon for Pentecost 13A

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Matthew 16:21-28

Many years ago, as a teenager, we were visiting my aunt and uncle, who happen to be Jehovah’s Witnesses. I don’t remember how the conversation started, but my aunt asked me why I was wearing a cross? At least I think that’s what she asked me, before asking me if I would wear an electric chair around my neck? Now, there’s a long and involved story about how Jehovah’s Witnesses understand the cross, but my aunt did raise a good question. Since crosses are a popular form of jewelry even among non-Christians, what meaning does the cross have for us as Christians? What does it mean for us to have as the symbol of our faith an implement of execution?

The Desperate Citizenship of the Christian

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Martin Luther spoke of two kingdoms, which at least in the way it has gotten worked out, allowed Christians to compartmentalize their two citizenships. It's easy to do. But it's easy to confuse the two, so that merge citizenship in the nation with citizenship in the realm of God. Thus, if you're a good American, you're a good Christian (or something like that). historically, there has often been a battle between church and state as to who will have the upper-hand in the partnership. We see this most famously in the ongoing dispute between Pope Gregory VII and the Holy Roman Emperor, Henry IV, in the 11th century. Both Pope and Emperor sought to depose the other. While Gregory seems to have gotten the upper hand, the conflict between powers didn't end there. 

I'm reading (and will review) Willie James Jennings Belief Commentaryon Acts, and he speaks of Paul as the "citizen-disciple." The kind of citizenship Paul makes use of in his tangles with the la…