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Showing posts from October, 2017

The Protestant Reformation - Commemorating 500 Years

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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.

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

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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 w…

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

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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…

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

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

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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 de…

The Disciples of Christ and the Spirit in the Biblical Narrative

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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. 
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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 Sp…

Change of Leadership - A Lectionary Reflection for Pentecost 21A

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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 …

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

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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.
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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 …

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

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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 stranger…

Killing Religion? -- Sightings (Martin Marty)

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

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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…

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

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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.

A Disciples Witness - A Sermon

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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.

Mindfulness and Christian Spirituality (Tim Stead) - Review

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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…

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

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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. 
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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, a…

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

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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 …

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

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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?
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                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…

Fruit of the Realm - A Sermon for Pentecost 18A

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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 …

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

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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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Christological Titles and their Meaning for Disciples of Christ

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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.

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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.

Christ/Messiah
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 communi…

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

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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 …