Tuesday, October 31, 2017

The Protestant Reformation - Commemorating 500 Years

It was 500 hundred years ago, on All Hallows Eve (October 31) 1517 that a bible professor and monk named Martin Luther is said to have nailed a manifesto containing Ninety-Five Theses on the door of the Wittenberg Castle. This was the beginning of what came to be known as the Protestant Reformation. Those of us who find ourselves within the Protestant portion of the Christian community are, to some degree, theological descendants of those sixteenth century reformers who challenged the reigning religious authorities. Luther nailed those theses to the door in order to start a conversation about reforming the church, as well as the nature of religious authority. At first Luther had no reason to believe that a schism within the church would emerge, but it did. So, in many ways this 500th anniversary is more commemoration than celebration.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Crossing the River - Lectionary Reflection for Pentecost 21 A (Joshua)

Joshua 3:7-17 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
The Lord said to Joshua, “This day I will begin to exalt you in the sight of all Israel, so that they may know that I will be with you as I was with Moses. You are the one who shall command the priests who bear the ark of the covenant, ‘When you come to the edge of the waters of the Jordan, you shall stand still in the Jordan.’” Joshua then said to the Israelites, “Draw near and hear the words of the Lord your God.” 10 Joshua said, “By this you shall know that among you is the living God who without fail will drive out from before you the Canaanites, Hittites, Hivites, Perizzites, Girgashites, Amorites, and Jebusites: 11 the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth is going to pass before you into the Jordan. 12 So now select twelve men from the tribes of Israel, one from each tribe. 13 When the soles of the feet of the priests who bear the ark of the Lord, the Lord of all the earth, rest in the waters of the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan flowing from above shall be cut off; they shall stand in a single heap.” 
14 When the people set out from their tents to cross over the Jordan, the priests bearing the ark of the covenant were in front of the people. 15 Now the Jordan overflows all its banks throughout the time of harvest. So when those who bore the ark had come to the Jordan, and the feet of the priests bearing the ark were dipped in the edge of the water, 16 the waters flowing from above stood still, rising up in a single heap far off at Adam, the city that is beside Zarethan, while those flowing toward the sea of the Arabah, the Dead Sea, were wholly cut off. Then the people crossed over opposite Jericho. 17 While all Israel were crossing over on dry ground, the priests who bore the ark of the covenant of the Lord stood on dry ground in the middle of the Jordan, until the entire nation finished crossing over the Jordan.

                Rivers and other bodies of water play a significant role in the biblical story. Crossing rivers often signifies an important transition in the life of God’s people.  Jacob had his wrestling match with the angel of God at the ford of the Jabbok River, an encounter with the divine on the eve of his reunion with Esau, a reunion that required the crossing of a river (Gen. 32-33). A body of water needed to be crossed so that the people of Israel, led by Moses, could escape slavery (Exodus 14). Each of these stories play a role in God’s ongoing covenant relationship with Israel. The same is true in many ways with the prophets Elijah and Elisha, who called for Israel to remain true to its calling. A crossing of the river plays a role in the passing of the prophetic mantle from Elijah to Elisha (2 Kings 2).

Sunday, October 29, 2017

A New Command (Journey to Generosity) - A Sermon for Pentecost 21A

Matthew 22:34-46

In recent days political leaders from both major parties have spoken out against the coarseness of our political conversation. Something is afoot in the land, and it seems as if that would be a lack of generosity of spirit. If we’re honest with ourselves, we’ve all contributed to this coarseness. Our Disciples mission statement speaks of being a movement of wholeness in a fragmented world. It does seem as if the brokenness and fragmentation of our world is now fully out in the open. If there is a lack of generosity of spirit in the land, how will we as followers of Jesus respond?

I raise this question on Commitment Sunday. This morning we bring to a close our annual stewardship emphasis, the “Journey to Generosity.” It’s time to turn in our commitment cards so that budgets can be made and plans made for the new year. We’ll have a party after church, with good food and good conversation. As we make these commitments, large and small, we begin imagining the congregation’s future. As we ponder these cards, deciding what to give or if we’ll give, we need to ask: Who are we as a people? How is our life together a reflection of God’s realm? Yes, these are the kinds of questions we need to ask as we continue along this journey to generosity. While the stewardship season nears its end, the journey to generosity will not end.

Friday, October 27, 2017

In Search of a Rectification of Names -- Sightings -- (Nathan J. Ristuccia)

It's possible that labels have a shelf-life, especially religious ones. One of those labels is the word "evangelical." With headlines constantly telling us that 81% of white evangelicals voted for Donald Trump, it seems clear that to be evangelical is to be a white fundamentalist nationalist. That surely doesn't describe me. I have an evangelical pedigree--after all I have a M.Div. and a Ph.D. from a flagship evangelical seminary -- but that is not the kind of evangelicalism I've embraced, at least not since the early days of college, if then. I was conservative, but never like that. Anyway, in this interesting Sightings article Nathan Ristuccia speaks to the reasons behind the name change by the former Princeton Evangelical Fellowship (now Princeton Christian Fellowship). He speaks to the difficulty of finding clarity in our labeling -- it's a really good piece, so take a read and let me know what you think. 

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In Search of a Rectification of Names
By NATHAN J. RISTUCCIA   October 26, 2017
Princeton University Chapel, door detail | Photo Credit: Michael A. Herzog/Flickr (cc)
After eighty years, the college fellowship that I attended as an undergraduate at Princeton has altered its name. “Princeton Evangelical Fellowship” is gone, replaced by “Princeton Christian Fellowship.” I was not surprised or annoyed. The original title had discomfited some members for years, and Trump’s election only heightened matters. Already back in August I had heard that a name change was certain. Nonetheless, I frowned a little when I read a Christianity Today article on the shift earlier this month. Intimate familial squabbles seemed tawdry once posted on the website of a major magazine.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Rise Up Shepherd! (Luke Powery) -- A Review

RISE UP SHEPHERD!Advent Reflections on the Spirituals. By Luke A. Powery. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2017. Xiii + 89 pages.

Luke Powery is a powerful, thoughtful, thought-provoking, spiritually gifted preacher. That’s what I took away from my experience with him as a preacher. He understands scripture and worship and culture. He brings these gifts to this set of Advent devotions/reflections. Many people like to use devotional guides during Advent to help navigate the busyness and the commercial side of the season. It’s easy to get caught up in the race to Christmas, and miss the path of preparation. Many devotional guides start with scripture, maybe the lectionary texts for the season, and that is always a good way to go. This set, however, is unique in that the starting point for each reflection is a spiritual. Powery believes that spirituals are apropos for this age of political, racial, economic, and religious division. They speak to our “sense of hopelessness and despair with no end in sight.” This is because spirituals are "songs sung by weary throats, created in a brutal historical setting of slavery by the enslaved, yet resonating with hope through all the sinister splinters of social sin. They are musical memorabilia of hope in seemingly helpless situations" (p. ix). Yes, these are songs that speak to the depths of our own realities, and there is no better time for such reflections than at Advent. 

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

The Disciples of Christ and the Spirit in the Biblical Narrative

This is part two of my conversation regarding the Holy Spirit for Disciples, part of a more expansive theological conversation that I would like to stir up. In this posting I invite us to look into the biblical narrative for guidance regarding the Spirit today. 


We Disciples are a biblical people. The Founders decided that creeds were not needed if we gave ourselves to Scripture, and Scripture alone. In fact, Alexander Campbell was an advocate of focusing on the New Testament witness. In the restorationist vision that we embraced, the goal was the restoration of the pristine New Testament church. We Disciples have largely given up on the restorationist vision, though I think there is value to be found in that old restorationist vision, in that it involved a commitment to a biblical faith [See chapter 3 in my book Freedom in Covenant, (Wipf & Stock, 2015)]. With that, I’d like to continue our conversation about Holy Spirit in Disciples Theology, by looking at the way the Spirit is portrayed in the biblical narrative.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Change of Leadership - A Lectionary Reflection for Pentecost 21A

Deuteronomy 34:1-12 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
34 Then Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, which is opposite Jericho, and the Lord showed him the whole land: Gilead as far as Dan, all Naphtali, the land of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the Western Sea, the Negeb, and the Plain—that is, the valley of Jericho, the city of palm trees—as far as Zoar. The Lord said to him, “This is the land of which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, saying, ‘I will give it to your descendants’; I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not cross over there.” Then Moses, the servant of the Lord, died there in the land of Moab, at the Lord’s command. He was buried in a valley in the land of Moab, opposite Beth-peor, but no one knows his burial place to this day. Moses was one hundred twenty years old when he died; his sight was unimpaired and his vigor had not abated. The Israelites wept for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days; then the period of mourning for Moses was ended. 
Joshua son of Nun was full of the spirit of wisdom, because Moses had laid his hands on him; and the Israelites obeyed him, doing as the Lord had commanded Moses. 
10 Never since has there arisen a prophet in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face. 11 He was unequaled for all the signs and wonders that the Lord sent him to perform in the land of Egypt, against Pharaoh and all his servants and his entire land, 12 and for all the mighty deeds and all the terrifying displays of power that Moses performed in the sight of all Israel.


                There comes a time in every community when it will be time for a transition in leadership. It is possible that the outgoing leadership will not see the full flowering of their efforts, but that the leaders who follow will benefit from what went before. In other words, you may lead the community to the river, but not cross over to the Promised land. That responsibility will be transferred to another. I believe that is often true in pastoral transitions. One pastor sets things in motion, and another takes up the mantle and continues the journey (though adding their own mark to the journey). It’s one of the reasons why clergy are often encouraged to make a clean break from their former congregations. The new person will do things differently, and you may not always agree with their decisions. But that’s not for you, the former pastor, to decide.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Experiencing God’s Presence in the World: Thoughts on the Holy Spirit for Disciples of Christ

We pick up again the conversation on Disciples Theology with a series of posts on the Holy Spirit. These psts are part of a project that I have been working on over the years to write a short theology for Disciples of Christ adherents. I invite you to join in the conversation.


The Holy Spirit receives very little attention in the early creeds. Early theological conversations tended to be more binatarian than Trinitarian. At times the Holy Spirit appears to be an add-on to the emerging Christian definition of God. In the Disciples of Christ theological confessions, such as they are, the Spirit again stands in the background. The Preamble to the Design of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)simply declares: “In the communion of the Holy Spirit we are joined together in discipleship and in obedience to Christ” This may fit well with the Disciples Enlightenment origins, but as Harvey Cox suggests, we stand at the edge of an Age of the Spirit, a Pentecostal age, which has born the greatest fruit in the Global South He writes that "the tidal shift of the world’s Christian population from the “north to the global South is one of the reasons for the present decline in creed-bound Christianity, the revival of faith, and the birth of an Age of the Spirit"[Harvey Cox, The Future of Faith, (San Francisco:  Harper One, 2009), p. 199]. The fact that there is growing interest in the Holy Spirit, it would be a mistake to ignore the person and role of the Holy Spirit in Christian theology, including Disciples theology. To gain a deeper understanding of the Spirit would be helpful to set out what Christians have said about the Spirit over time, including the Biblical witness.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Saved by Faith and Hospitality (Joshua Jipp) -- A Review

SAVED BY FAITH AND HOSPITALITY. By Joshua W. Jipp. Foreword by Christine D. Pohl. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. Xiii + 206 pages.

Sola Fide!  The declaration that we are saved by faith alone has been one of the hallmarks of the Protestant tradition. There has long been an aversion to “works righteousness,” but this too often has led to what Bonhoeffer called “cheap grace.” Perhaps, in our time, there is a need to reclaim a fuller biblical vision of salvation, one that is not merely individualistic, but that engages all of life, here on this planet. So, perhaps we would be well-served to speak of being saved by faith and “hospitality.” Such is the premise of Joshua Jipp’s profound and prophetic book.

Hospitality is a central theme in the biblical story, for good and for ill. Abraham and Sarah were commended for showing hospitality to the three strangers at the Oaks of Mamre, while the peole of Sodom and Gomorrah became known for their violent response to the strangers who came to their own community. Jesus' own ministry was defined by his Table Fellowship. Even when he was a guest, he became host. It was in the breaking of bread at Emmaus that the two disciples recognized him. Paul gave instructions to the church of Corinth so that they might show proper hospitality to all members, no matter their social class or gender. In Saved by Faith and Hospitality, Joshua Jipp, a New Testament scholar who teaches at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, speaks to this core theme, shedding light upon it in a powerful way. Thus, he has written an inspiring treatise for the church in our times. 

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Killing Religion? -- Sightings (Martin Marty)

We've heard much about the disaffiliation of millennials from organized religion. Some have chosen to blame higher education. College professors, we're told, are out to destroy the faith of unsuspecting students. But is this true? Does college destroy faith? Or, could it be, that decisions about religious affiliation is made long before one enters college? This is the conversation that Martin Marty takes up. Apparently, scholarly studies suggest that college does little to affect religion. Instead, it lies dormant waiting to be awakened. This is an interesting piece, worth examining. I should note the reference here to the difference between attendance at a religious community growing up among Baby Boomers and Millennials. We Baby Boomers, it seems, did grow up going to church. We just didn't take our kids with the same regularity. Could that be a key difference? Take and read and respond.


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Killing Religion?
By MARTIN E. MARTY   October 16, 2017
Three famed former faculty members of the Divinity School: Mircea Eliade (1907-1986), Jerald C. Brauer (1921-1999), Paul Tillich (1886-1965) | Credit: University of Chicago Photographic Archive, [apf1-05444], Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library
 “College Professors Aren’t Killing Religion” reads a recent headline, whose claim is qualified by its subhead: “But college degrees certainly aren’t helping.” Daniel Cox “[f]iled under Religion” at FiveThirtyEight (October 10, 2017) to tell us this. He dealt with attacks by someone named Donald Trump Jr. from a speech at “an Alabama university.” Cox recognizes that many “claim that a college education adversely affects religiosity,” but points out that “[t]hough the U.S. is becoming less religious, college curricula have little or nothing to do with it.” He cites surveys about the decline in American religion and presents evidence that “[m]ost young people who wind up leaving their religious commitments do so before ever stepping foot on campus.” Further, “[r]eligious attendance is also falling precipitously among incoming students” (emphasis mine).

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Face to Face with God - A Lectionary Reflection for Pentecost 20A (Exodus 33)

Exodus 33:12-23 Common English Bible (CEB)
12 Moses said to the Lord, “Look, you’ve been telling me, ‘Lead these people forward.’ But you haven’t told me whom you will send with me. Yet you’ve assured me, ‘I know you by name and think highly of you.’ 13 Now if you do think highly of me, show me your ways so that I may know you and so that you may really approve of me. Remember too that this nation is your people.” 
14 The Lord replied, “I’ll go myself, and I’ll help you.” 
15 Moses replied, “If you won’t go yourself, don’t make us leave here. 16 Because how will anyone know that we have your special approval, both I and your people, unless you go with us? Only that distinguishes us, me and your people, from every other people on the earth.” 
17 The Lord said to Moses, “I’ll do exactly what you’ve asked because you have my special approval, and I know you by name.” 
18 Moses said, “Please show me your glorious presence.” 
19 The Lord said, “I’ll make all my goodness pass in front of you, and I’ll proclaim before you the name, ‘The Lord.’ I will be kind to whomever I wish to be kind, and I will have compassion to whomever I wish to be compassionate.20 But,” the Lord said, “you can’t see my face because no one can see me and live.” 21 The Lord said, “Here is a place near me where you will stand beside the rock. 22 As my glorious presence passes by, I’ll set you in a gap in the rock, and I’ll cover you with my hand until I’ve passed by. 23 Then I’ll take away my hand, and you will see my back, but my face won’t be visible.”

                While Moses was up on the mountain conversing with God, Aaron created a golden calf so that the people of Israel could see and touch their God. They felt alone and abandoned and needed something tangible to go before them. They did have a party, but things didn’t go well afterward. God had given a set of rules that forbade the creation of images. They broke the law and it appears that God was ready to destroy the people and start over with a new covenant people.  When Moses went down to check things out, he was carrying the tablets of stone upon which was written the commands. Moses was so horrified, that he dropped the tablets, breaking them. Moses found himself in a difficult position. He had to plead with God not to destroy God’s people, even as he had to regain control of a people who were running wild.

Monday, October 16, 2017

The Path of Christianity (John Anthony McGuckin) -- A Review

THE PATH OFCHRISTIANITY: The First Thousand Years. By John Anthony McGuckin. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2017. Xviii + 1207 pages.

The history of Christianity is filled twists and turns that need to be documented, explored, and interpreted. One cannot understand church history outside the flow of history itself, because every religious act occurs within the broad stream of world history. That means even those of us who approach the history of Christianity from within, may believe that God’s providence plays a role in the story, but we still use the same principles and tools that any historian might use.  As a church historian myself, I appreciate those persons who write from within the faith community, but also have an appreciation for the complexity of the story and take their task as a historian seriously. Such is the case here with The Path of Christianity, written by John Anthony McGuckin.  

Sunday, October 15, 2017

A Disciples Witness - A Sermon

John 8:31-36

What does it mean to be a Disciples of Christ Church in Michigan in the 21st Century? Who are we as a people, and what is our witness? I must confess that I am not a lifelong Disciple. My faith journey began in the Episcopal Church and it took a few twists and turns before the Spirit led me to a community of Christians that prizes unity, freedom, and the life of the mind. In the years that I’ve been a Disciple, I’ve come to believe that we have an important witness to share. I’d like to share a few words this morning about our witness as a community of faith. I’ll begin with our witness in unity, and then move to our witness in freedom and covenant. 

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Mindfulness and Christian Spirituality (Tim Stead) - Review

MINDFULNESS AND CHRISTIAN SPIRITUALITY: Making Space for God. By Tim Stead. Foreword by Eden Koz. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2017. Xvi + 144 pages.

                How do we make space for God? Most of us living in the Western world always seem to be on the run. Americans are known for their “doing” not their “being.” As for Christians, it has been said that most of us are “practical atheists.” We say we believe in God, but we operate without giving much thought to God. I must confess, I am guilty of this myself, and I am a religious professional. So, how do we make space for God? What disciplines might help us focus our lives better?

                Although the practice of "mindfulness" is often seen as a Buddhist practice, many Christians have found that the principles of “mindfulness” can be of help to the spiritual life. It can help us make space for God. Tim Stead, an Anglican priest, serving a congregation in Oxford that once welcomed C.S. Lewis a member, has written a helpful guide to the use of “mindfulness” within the Christian community. He acknowledges the Buddhist connections, but suggests that many of the principles of “mindfulness” are deeply rooted in Christianity. Even as he is an Anglican priest, he is a teacher of mindfulness for the Christian community.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Who Is God? Part 2 - A Disciple Conversation about God's Triune Nature

Today, I am sharing part two of a two-part conversation about the nature of God. I take up what might be controversial in Disciples circles --- the doctrine of the Trinity. We are not of one mind on this topic, but the majority of our ecumenical partners embrace it. So, it's important that we be conversant. I will state up front that I am a Trinitarian, so much of what I share below reflects my own perspectives. I invite your contributions to the conversation. For that is what this is intended to be, a conversation starter about the key elements of Christian theology. 


                The Christian understanding of God has been largely defined in Trinitarian terms.  The Trinity is the way in which most Christians have named God.  We maybe monotheistic, but Judaism and Islam have a much more consistent and narrow understanding of monotheism. While the majority of Christian traditions are Trinitarian, the Disciples have been largely ambivalent about the doctrine of the Trinity. Thus, as Ronald Osborn notes:
The Disciples regarded themselves as neither Trinitarian nor Unitarian.  Alexander Campbell would not use the term Trinitarian because it did not appear in scripture.  He even changed one line in the great Trinitarian hymn, “Holy, Holy, Holy,” so that instead of saying “God in three persons, blessed Trinity,” people would sing, “God over all, and blest eternally. [ Ronald Osborn, TheFaith We Affirm: Basic Beliefs of Disciples of Christ, (St. Louis: Chalice Press, 1979), p. 52.]
One could say that among Disciples affirmation of the doctrine of the Trinity is not a test of fellowship.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Make gods to lead us - Lectionary Reflection for Pentecost 19A (Exodus)

 Exodus 32:1-14 Common English Bible (CEB)
32 The people saw that Moses was taking a long time to come down from the mountain. They gathered around Aaron and said to him, “Come on! Make us gods who can lead us. As for this man Moses who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we don’t have a clue what has happened to him.” 
Aaron said to them, “All right, take out the gold rings from the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” So all the people took out the gold rings from their ears and brought them to Aaron. He collected them and tied them up in a cloth. Then he made a metal image of a bull calf, and the people declared, “These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” 
When Aaron saw this, he built an altar in front of the calf. Then Aaron announced, “Tomorrow will be a festival to the Lord!” They got up early the next day and offered up entirely burned offerings and brought well-being sacrifices. The people sat down to eat and drink and then got up to celebrate. 
The Lord spoke to Moses: “Hurry up and go down! Your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, are ruining everything! They’ve already abandoned the path that I commanded. They have made a metal bull calf for themselves. They’ve bowed down to it and offered sacrifices to it and declared, ‘These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!’” The Lord said to Moses, “I’ve been watching these people, and I’ve seen how stubborn they are. 10 Now leave me alone! Let my fury burn and devour them. Then I’ll make a great nation out of you.”  
11 But Moses pleaded with the Lord his God, “Lord, why does your fury burn against your own people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and amazing force? 12 Why should the Egyptians say, ‘He had an evil plan to take the people out and kill them in the mountains and so wipe them off the earth’? Calm down your fierce anger. Change your mind about doing terrible things to your own people. 13 Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, whom you yourself promised, ‘I’ll make your descendants as many as the stars in the sky. And I’ve promised to give your descendants this whole land to possess for all time.’” 14 Then the Lord changed his mind about the terrible things he said he would do to his people.

                Many of us are visual people. We need to see it to believe it. Moses may have seen the burning bush, but the rest of the people only saw Yahweh through the eyes of Moses. Now, Moses seemed to have disappeared. He had gone up the mountain to talk with God once again, but hadn’t returned, so the people became afraid. They needed something to reassure them that God was with them on this journey from slavery to a new life in the Promised Land. Yes, they had experienced God’s provisions, but how long would they last without some sense of guidance. What they needed, or so they thought, was a visual image of Yahweh. They needed tangible proof that God was with them. So, they asked Aaron, the brother of Moses, to create an image of Yahweh. Aaron, seemingly without giving any thought to the matter, agreed. Aaron instructed the men of the community to gather gold rings from their wives, sons, and daughters. He told them to bring these items to him, so he could create an image that would serve to reassure the people that the LORD was with them. He created a golden bull calf from the gold he collected, set up an altar on which he sets the image, and then tells the people—here is the Lord who led you out of Egypt. Yes, this golden calf is Yahweh, or so Aaron wanted to believe.  

Monday, October 09, 2017

Who Is God? Reflections for Disciples - Part 1 (Nature of God)

This week, as part of my effort to stimulate theological conversation among Disciples, I post the first of two reflections on the nature of God. I wanted to put forth some foundational issues, and will follow up later with a conversation about the Trinity. It should be noted that the Preamble to the Design places the conversation about God after the statement about Jesus, signalling that one encounters God first of all through the encounter with Jesus. But, with that said, who is God?


                Having attended to the one Christians affirm as revealing the face of God, the person of Jesus the Christ, we come to the question asked for millennia: “Who is God?”  It is a question that has been pondered by many, with many an answer offered.  The answers include "the ground of being" (Tillich), the "soul of the universe" (pantheists), and “unmoved mover" (Aristotle). For some God is wholly other, distant and transcendent. For others, God is close at hand, immanent and relational. In popular culture, God is often referred to as the “Man Upstairs,” an image that conjures in our minds the picture of an old man with a long white beard. On the other hand, one can refer to God as the “womb of being.” While it’s quite understandable, we tend to envision God in our own image, with human traits and characteristics. 

                While Disciples, as a rule, do not treat the Preamble to the Design as a creedal statement, it does offer a confession of faith God, who is described as “maker of heaven and earth.” We are bound to this God and to each other through a covenant of love. Disciples traditionally look to the witness of scripture to discern the nature and character of God. While eschewing official creeds, the way Disciples understand God has been influenced by church tradition as well as philosophical insight. Many of our foundational beliefs have been influenced by Greek philosophy, especially Plato and Aristotle. Many of the terms we use to describe God come from these philosophical traditions, terms like omnipotence, omniscience, possibility/impassibility. Each generation of theologians has engaged the philosophical systems of the day.  In other words, there is no purely New Testament understanding of God to be had.

Sunday, October 08, 2017

Fruit of the Realm - A Sermon for Pentecost 18A

Matthew 21:33-46

Once again we find Jesus in the Temple. It’s Holy Week. Good Friday is on the horizon. We listen as Jesus continues to describe the realm of God through parables. Last Sunday we heard Jesus tell the parable of two brothers. One brother told his father he would go work in the vineyard, but never did. The other resisted, but finally went off to work. Which of the brothers did the will of the father, who asked them to tend the vineyard? Jesus then told another parable of the vineyard. In this parable, a landowner planted a vineyard and then rented it out, hoping to reap a profit from the renters’ produce. Unfortunately, when the time came to collect this produce, the renters violently resisted these efforts. Finally, in desperation, the landowners sent his son, hoping they would respect him. Instead of respecting the son, they decided to kill him and try to take his inheritance. How do you think the landowner will respond? Won’t the landowner respond in kind by punishing those who resisted? 

I expect that many of us struggle with the idea of divine judgment. It doesn’t fit our vision of a loving and merciful God. Yet, here we have a parable of divine judgment. God’s realm will be taken from the original renters and given to others who will produce good fruit for the realm. Those who reject the cornerstone of the realm of God, will be crushed on it. 

Thursday, October 05, 2017

Freud and Other “God-Killers” Are Here to Stay - Sightings (Martin Marty)

Over the past two centuries a number of "God-killers" have arisen. They have challenged our belief systems. Over time we have discovered that there are holes in their visions, but these people or their identities don't go away. Freud might be a problematic figure, but he remains a point of debate to this day. The same is true of Darwin and Marx and Nietzsche, among others. Martin Marty takes up the topic in this week's Sightings post. He speaks of the need to engage critically, finding those places that provide fruitful conversation. I tried to do this very thing with Darwin in my book Worshiping with Charles Darwin.  I invite you to enter into the conversation with the "God-Killers," but do so with care!

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Freud and Other “God-Killers” Are Here to Stay
By MARTIN E. MARTY   October 2, 2017
Sigmund Freud (1856-1939), Austrian psychoanalyst, in his office in Vienna, ca. 1930.
Darwin-Marx-Nietzsche-Freud—dubbable, and sometimes dubbed, “the four bearded god-killers”—who framed now-classic, career-long attacks on God and gods and religion and religions, enjoy and suffer successions of varying critical fates. We will save Nietzsche and his “death of God” for some future column. What prompts this week’s look at these titans is the headline—typical of many in recent weeks—“Why the Freud Wars Will Never End” in The Wall Street Journal. In a recommendable review by Adam Kirsch, Frederick Crews’s Freud: The Making of an Illusion and its subject’s ever-changing fate get full attention.

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

Christological Titles and their Meaning for Disciples of Christ

Note: This is part 2 of a chapter on Christology, which forms a chapter of a book on theology for Disciples that I have been writing for a number of years. I offer this and the other posts as a way of encouraging theological conversation among Disciples, but also across the Christian community and beyond.


            Being that the Disciples have always focused on the biblical testimony, it would be helpful to consider the titles given to Jesus in the biblical text. As we ponder these titles we can ask what they say to us about who Jesus might be for us.


            The Greek word Christos is simply the equivalent of the Hebrew word masiah (anointed).  This word has a variety of meanings that refer to one who is anointed.  During the period following the Jewish Babylonian exile, the term Messiah took on a new identity.  It expressed the hope that Davidic monarchy might be restored (Hag 2:20-23; Zech 9:9-10; 12:7-13:1). Even here there seems to be some diversity of understanding.  The community of Qumran, the home of the Dead Sea Scrolls, appears to have expected two "anointed ones," one apparently royal and the other priestly, with the latter outranking the former. While there are a variety of images available the primary focus was on deliverance of the Jews from Gentile domination.  

Tuesday, October 03, 2017

Covenant Rules - A Lectionary Reflection for Pentecoste 18A (Exodus 20)

Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20 Common English Bible (CEB)20 Then God spoke all these words: 
2 I am the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. 
3 You must have no other gods before me.
4 Do not make an idol for yourself—no form whatsoever—of anything in the sky above or on the earth below or in the waters under the earth.
7 Do not use the Lord your God’s name as if it were of no significance; the Lord won’t forgive anyone who uses his name that way.
8 Remember the Sabbath day and treat it as holy. 9 Six days you may work and do all your tasks,
12 Honor your father and your mother so that your life will be long on the fertile land that the Lord your God is giving you.
13 Do not kill.
14 Do not commit adultery.
15 Do not steal.
16 Do not testify falsely against your neighbor.
17 Do not desire your neighbor’s house. Do not desire and try to take your neighbor’s wife, male or female servant, ox, donkey, or anything else that belongs to your neighbor.
18 When all the people witnessed the thunder and lightning, the sound of the horn, and the mountain smoking, the people shook with fear and stood at a distance. 19 They said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we’ll listen. But don’t let God speak to us, or we’ll die.” 
20 Moses said to the people, “Don’t be afraid, because God has come only to test you and to make sure you are always in awe of God so that you don’t sin.”
                God is not my buddy. We need not be afraid of God, but we should stand in awe. Maybe it would be better to kneel or lay prostrate before God, our Creator. Be in awe of God, Moses declares, so that you don’t sin. What does this mean?  How does this call for us not to sin relate to God’s covenant with Israel? How does it relate to me, a Christian? In this reading from Exodus, designated for the eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost, the covenant-making God sets forth some rules that should define the relationship between God and God’s covenant partners.