Tuesday, January 17, 2017

A Shattered Yoke - A Lectionary Reflection for Epiphany 3A (Isaiah)

9   Nonetheless, those who were in distress won’t be exhausted. At an earlier time, God cursed the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but later he glorified the way of the sea, the far side of the Jordan, and the Galilee of the nations. 
2 The people walking in darkness have seen a great light.
    On those living in a pitch-dark land, light has dawned.
3 You have made the nation great;
    you have increased its joy.
They rejoiced before you as with joy at the harvest,
    as those who divide plunder rejoice.
4 As on the day of Midian, you’ve shattered the yoke that burdened them,
    the staff on their shoulders,
    and the rod of their oppressor.


                When all seems dark light shines into the darkness. When the people find themselves in distress, a sign of hope appears. As I write this reflection for the third Sunday after Epiphany, which is a season of light and revelation, there is much distress in the land I inhabit. The political scene has been disrupted. There is great uncertainty. It feels as if a yoke has been placed on our shoulders, and so we cry out for help. I happen to be writing this reflection on the day the nation celebrates the birth of Dr. Martin Luther King, a modern prophet, whose light one man sought to extinguish. But the light continues to shine. The dream that one day the nation would live out its creed remains with us to this day, even if it remains unfulfilled. I also write this reflection just days before a new president is inaugurated, a president whose statements, often via Twitter, are often caustic and ignoble. They have frightened many in this land and around the world. When we gather on Sunday, we who live in the United States will be living in a land governed by this man. Yes, for many of us, darkness seems to be covering the land. It is in this moment, that we hold out hope that light will shine in the darkness.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Dreaming of the Promised Land with Rosa and Martin

The following essay was published a number of years ago, but in light of what is happening in our nation at this moment, it is as timely as ever. Seeking to honor the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on this his birthday weekend, as well as keeping in mind a presidential inauguration later this week that seems to contradict the dream espoused by Dr. King and by Rosa Parks, I offer this word for your contemplation.


Rosa Parks’ small act of defiance changed history. Her death in 2005 was marked by acts of remembrance fit fora national leader or military hero, but Rosa Parks was neither a politician nor a military hero.  To the unknowing, Rosa was a black woman too tired to get up so that a white man could have his “rightful” seat on a Montgomery, Alabama bus. Whether intended or not, her “act of defiance” and subsequent arrest, sparked a movement that changed America.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Eating with Strangers - A Sermon

Genesis 18:1-8

Today we begin a conversation I call “Eating with Jesus.” It’s my contribution to our emphasis on the relationship of an Open Table to our call to Mission, which is being underwritten by a Vital Worship grant from the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. While most of the sermons in this series will draw from the New Testament, I thought it might be good to start with a story from Genesis about the day that Abraham and Sarah welcomed God to their Table. To give a bit of New Testament support to my thesis, consider this word from Hebrews 13: “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it” (Heb. 13:1, CEB).

Friday, January 13, 2017

A Well of Wonder (Clyde Kilby) - Review

A WELL OF WONDER: Essays on C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the Inklings. By Clyde S. Kilby. Edited by Loren Wilkinson, and Keith Call. Brewster, MA: Mount Tabor Books; Paraclete Press, 2016. Xv + 348 pages.

Christians can be such literalists. I think it's a disease engendered by the Enlightenment. I have nothing against the Enlightenment or being rational, but at times the rationalism engendered by the Enlightenment has diminished the power of our imaginations. I say this as one who is more likely to read non-fiction than fiction. Fortunately, from time to time, figures have emerged from within the Christian community who have broken these barriers and invited us to broaden our hearts and minds to embrace the fruit of our imagination without abandoning our faith. Among those who have contributed to the expansion of our imaginations is a collection of figures who came to be known as the Inklings. Best known amongst this group of writers and thinkers, most of whom were connected to Oxford University, were C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. Both men developed a fandom that continues to this day among religious and non-religious people. 

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Cancer is Funny (Jason Micheli) -- A Review

CANCER IS FUNNY: Keeping Faith in Stage-Serious Chemo (Theology for the People). By Jason Micheli. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2016. Xxi + 226 pages.

                Cancer (the C-Word) isn’t really funny. Not if you have cancer or a loved one has cancer. Cancer is often rather insidious. Sometimes it is curable, but not always. My brother-in-law recently died of pancreatic cancer (the kind of cancer that usually doesn’t get discovered until it’s fatal). As a pastor, I know the reality of cancer as well. No, cancer isn’t funny, except that sometimes humor is the only medicine available to one going through cancer. That is the conclusion of Jason Micheli, who went through a significant ordeal with cancer (and is currently in remission). When he says that cancer is funny, what he means is that “your every pretense falls away, right along with your pubic hair. It makes you absolutely vulnerable to others, both to their fragile, pitying stares, and to their sincere gestures of support you would’ve proudly shrugged off before cancer” (p. xii). He notes that Steve Allen suggested that “comedy = tragedy + time.”

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Conserving Institutions for the Future

We enter unknown territory. We have a President-Elect, whatever we may think of him, who doesn't fit any previous model. We have a Congress that seems anxious to undo everything that has been laid down over the past eight years and longer. So giddy are some that they don't seem to be heeding warnings that dangerous cliffs lie ahead. Some of those who oppose the majority, seem eager to burn things down as well. I'm not sure this is all good news.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

A Light to the Nations - Lectionary Reflection for Epiphany 2A (Isaiah 49)

 Isaiah 49:1-7 Common English Bible (CEB)

49 Listen to me, coastlands;
    pay attention, peoples far away.
The Lord called me before my birth,
    called my name when I was in my mother’s womb.
He made my mouth like a sharp sword,
    and hid me in the shadow of God’s own hand.
He made me a sharpened arrow,
        and concealed me in God’s quiver,
    saying to me, “You are my servant,
        Israel, in whom I show my glory.”
But I said, “I have wearied myself in vain.
    I have used up my strength for nothing.”
Nevertheless, the Lord will grant me justice;
    my reward is with my God.
And now the Lord has decided—
    the one who formed me from the womb as his servant—
    to restore Jacob to God,
    so that Israel might return to him.
    Moreover, I’m honored in the Lord’s eyes;
    my God has become my strength.
He said: It is not enough, since you are my servant,
    to raise up the tribes of Jacob
    and to bring back the survivors of Israel.
    Hence, I will also appoint you as light to the nations
    so that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.
The Lord, redeemer of Israel and its holy one,
    says to one despised,
    rejected by nations,
    to the slave of rulers:
    Kings will see and stand up;
    commanders will bow down
    on account of the Lord, who is faithful,
    the holy one of Israel,
    who has chosen you.


                We are in the season of Epiphany, the season of revelation and light. It probably is true of every era, but it seems as if we have entered a season of darkness. Many feel like night has fallen, and we simply can’t see our way forward. For some, this might feel like being abandoned by God. They join the Psalmist crying out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me” (Psalm 22:1). There is good news, however, for into this darkness steps the servant of God, who reveals the glory of God.  

Monday, January 09, 2017

What Do You Seek - (Michael Buckley, SJ) - Review

WHAT DO YOU SEEK? The Questions of Jesus as Challenge and Promise. By Michael J. Buckley, SJ. Foreword by Paul G. Crowley, SJ, and Stephen J. Pope. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, Co., 2016. Xii + 146 pages.

                While we may have questions for Jesus, he has questions for us as well. If we read the Gospels, especially the Gospel of John, we will find Jesus posing questions that challenge companions and crowds. But these questions not only challenge, but they also offer promise (as suggested by the subtitle).  Jesuit theologian Michael Buckley, SJ, has written a book that invites us to attend to Jesus’ questions, and in doing so reclaim the power of language to engage with God in Christ.

The author of the book is Bea Professor of Theology Emeritus at Santa Clara University in California. Before teaching there, he taught philosophical theology at Boston College, Notre Dame, and the Jesuit School of Theology (Berkeley, CA). This is a book that is deeply theological and philosophical, but while it challenges, it remains accessible. It is Catholic (Jesuit), but ecumenical as well.

Sunday, January 08, 2017

Don’t Withhold the Water - Sermon for Baptism of Jesus Sunday

Baptism of Jesus, Holy Trinity Anglican Cathedral, Port au Prince Haiti 

Acts 10:34-48

Today is Baptism of Jesus Sunday. According to the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus journeyed from his home in Nazareth to the Jordan, where John was baptizing. Jesus got in line, and when he got to the front of the line, John asked Jesus to baptize him. But, Jesus insisted on being baptized, so John buried him in the waters of the Jordan. When Jesus emerged from the water, the heavens opened, the Holy Spirit descended, and a voice from heaven declared: “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:13-17). 

In receiving this baptism, Jesus not only set an example, but his experience reminds us that when we are baptized we should expect to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. This is the message that Peter delivered on the Day of Pentecost, and it’s the message we see revealed in the experience of Cornelius and his household.

Friday, January 06, 2017

Following the Star -- A Sermon for Epiphany (reposted)

Matthew 2:1-12

One of the first songs most of us learned as children was this old English lullaby:

Twinkle, twinkle, little star,
How I wonder what you are.
Up above the world so high,  
Like a diamond in the sky.

It’s not a Christmas carol or even an Epiphany hymn, but the third stanza seems to fit today’s service:

Then the traveller in the dark,
Thanks you for your tiny spark,
He could not see which way to go,  
If you did not twinkle so.

Light pollution makes it difficult to see the stars in the night, but if you get away from civilization, maybe go up into the mountains, you might get a sense of how the stars looked to the ancient world.  No wonder ancient travelers looked to the stars for guidance.  If you knew the movement of the stars, you’d know where you were and where you were going.  They were the original GPS, and they weren’t nearly as annoying!   

Thursday, January 05, 2017

Many Sightings of Hope - Sightings (Martin Marty)

We enter a new year (2017). I will complete my 59th cycle on the planet in a couple of months. I've seen a bit of life over the past six decades. I'm also a historian by training, so I think I have a good purview of where we stand in the grand scheme of things. I know that there is a lot of pessimism and fear going into the new year. I've written about it and thought about it and prayed about it. With Martin Marty, also a historian, I have been looking for signs of hope. They're out there, if we're willing to look for them. With this being the first week of the new year, I share Marty's reflections on the past and the future. I invite you to read and reflect on his message as we ponder the way forward.


Many Sightings of Hope
By MARTIN E. MARTY   January 2, 2017
“We have hope” — actress Felicity Jones as Jyn Erso in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)
For more than a year I engaged in the visual and oral analog to “fasting.” Fasters discipline themselves not to eat. I chose not to comment on the election campaigns. A digital word-search will find no mention in 50 Monday Sightings of any presidential candidate or party. The choice was an implicit protest against or retreat from the grossness, waste, distortion, and distraction in what elections have become. Now the bad year of 2016 is past, and it is time to join everyone else in the sighting-and-commentary professions and to re-emerge actively.

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

Time for Real News

In the recent election season, we saw an eruption of "fake news." Fake news, usually in the form of tabloids, has long been with us. Fake news is often the purveyor of conspiracy theories and hoaxes. Unfortunately, as we have watched the growing distrust of traditional institutions, many have turned away from so called - mainstream media. As a result many embrace stories that lack substance,often shared on various forms of social media. Because they reinforce already held beliefs, we affirm the stories without checking them out. We also have a tendency of getting our news from sources that have a ideological bias. Liberals watch MSNBC and Conservatives watch Fox. 

As we enter 2017 and watch as a new President is inaugurated, a person who has shown a great ability to manipulate the media, even as he demonizes traditional media, we will need a free and unfettered press that is committed to journalistic ethics to hold him accountable. This is especially important because the Republican Party will hold power in both houses of Congress and will have the opportunity to appoint a ninth Supreme Court Justice. There is glee in Washington among some celebrating "unified government," which means no checks or balances. In this context the Press is the only check on government. 

For those of us who are concerned about the new President, we must be vigilant about our own sources.  During the election season I saw just as many liberals/progressives sharing "fake news" as I saw conservatives. So, let's commit ourselves to checking our source. We can also encourage the so-called mainstream media to get their stories straight so that there are no questions about authenticity. Truthiness is not sufficient. We need to pursue truth. 

The future the Republic may be at stake!

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

Best Books of 2016 - The Cornwall List

        I read a lot of books, thanks in large part to publishers who provide me with reading material, I read a lot of newly published books. Some I loved, others not so much. For the past several years I have offered a list of books I consider to be the best books published during the year prior. Every “best books” list is different, in part because the creators of lists read different books. I look at some lists and see very few books that I’ve read, so I can’t judge if they are better than the ones I’ve read. Sometimes I look at lists and find books that I didn’t care for. Other times, I find confirmation of my own sympathies. So, below you will find a list of books, based on my own reading (and I read nearly 100 books), that I consider best. You will find links to reviews on my blog. Most of the books are religious in nature, reflecting both my interests and what publishers send me. I invite you to take a look and decide if one or more are worthy of your attention in 2017.

Sometimes I’ve selected a book of the year, and sometimes I’ve just offered a list (sometimes the list is broken up in categories). This year I’ve selected twenty books, and I’ve divided them up into three categories for ease of use (the categories aren’t hard and fast either). I decided to choose one to highlight this year as book of the year, because I believe that Richard Beck’s Reviving Old Scratch is essential reading as we head into 2017. While I might have selected Miroslav Volf’s Flourishing as Book of the Year, I believe Beck’s book offers a word to the church that will be needed as we head into 2017. Nonetheless, I believe that each book on this list is worthy of your attention.

Monday, January 02, 2017

Behold, the Servant of God - Lectionary Reading for Baptism of Jesus Sunday (Isaiah 42)

Baptism of Christ - Jacopo Tintoretto (Cleveland) 

Isaiah 42:1-9 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

42 Here is my servant, whom I uphold,
    my chosen, in whom my soul delights;
I have put my spirit upon him;
    he will bring forth justice to the nations.
He will not cry or lift up his voice,
    or make it heard in the street;
a bruised reed he will not break,
    and a dimly burning wick he will not quench;
    he will faithfully bring forth justice.
He will not grow faint or be crushed
    until he has established justice in the earth;
    and the coastlands wait for his teaching.
Thus says God, the Lord,
    who created the heavens and stretched them out,
    who spread out the earth and what comes from it,
who gives breath to the people upon it
    and spirit to those who walk in it:
I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness,
    I have taken you by the hand and kept you;
I have given you as a covenant to the people,
    a light to the nations,
    to open the eyes that are blind,
to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon,
    from the prison those who sit in darkness.
I am the Lord, that is my name;
    my glory I give to no other,
    nor my praise to idols.
See, the former things have come to pass,
    and new things I now declare;
before they spring forth,
    I tell you of them.

                We have arrived at Baptism of Jesus Sunday, the first Sunday after Epiphany. On the Day of Epiphany, we celebrate the coming of light into the world in God’s self-revelation in the person of Jesus. For those in the Eastern Church, January 6 is Christmas. In the West, it is Epiphany, which is according to tradition the day we remember the coming of the Magi to honor Jesus with their gifts. They represent the Gentile nations who have seen the light of God. On Baptism of Jesus Sunday, our attention shifts several decades into the future. Jesus is now a grown man, who, according to Matthew, comes from Galilee to the region of the Jordan River, where John is baptizing. Why does Jesus come to John for baptism? That is the question for the ages, but whatever the answer, in Matthew’s version of the story, John resisted the request. He suggests that Jesus should baptized him, but Jesus insists that John baptize him. When Jesus emerges from the waters of baptism, the Spirit of God descends upon him in the form of a dove. Then a voice from heaven declares: “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:13-17). With this announcement from the heavens, the ministry of Jesus is launched.  

Sunday, January 01, 2017

A Time for Everything—Reflection for a New Year

Ecclesiastes 3:1-13 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to throw away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.
What gain have the workers from their toil? 10 I have seen the business that God has given to everyone to be busy with. 11 He has made everything suitable for its time; moreover he has put a sense of past and future into their minds, yet they cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. 12 I know that there is nothing better for them than to be happy and enjoy themselves as long as they live; 13 moreover, it is God’s gift that all should eat and drink and take pleasure in all their toil.