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Showing posts from February, 2017

With Eyes Open Wide -- Lectionary Reflection for Lent 1A (Genesis)

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Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1-7 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. 16 And the Lord God commanded the man, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.”3 Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?” 2 The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; 3 but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.’” 4 But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die; 5 for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” 6 So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it wa…

Culture Care (Makato Fujimura) -- A Review

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CULTURE CARE: Reconnecting with Beauty for Our Common Life. By Makoto Fujimura. Foreword by Mark Labberton. Downers Grove: IVP Books, 2017. 158 pages.
                I am not an artist, but I do appreciate art. I enjoy wandering through a world class art museum, like the one in Detroit. We almost lost the museum, or at least much of the art due to a municipal bankruptcy. There were those who argued that since the city owned much of the art in the museum, it should be sold to pay off debts. The museum and its art was saved, but not without philanthropic help. The rationale for selling the art was that art museums are a luxury, and in time of need it should be sacrificed. I realize that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and there are some pieces in the museum that don’t seem all that beautiful to me, but other works of art can be inspirational. The great thing about museums is that the art is on display for everyone, not just wealthy collectors.
                These opening commen…

Eating with Jesus Again in God’s Realm - A Sermon (Eating with Jesus)

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Matthew 26:26-30

Since today is Transfiguration Sunday, we celebrate the glory of God revealed to the world through the ministry of Jesus. On this Transfiguration Sunday we also bring to a close my “Eating with Jesus” sermon series. Throughout this series we’ve been meditating on what it means to be a missional congregation that gathers for communion with Jesus at an open table.   
We began this conversation in Genesis, on the day the Lord met Abraham and Sarah in the persons of three strangers, whom Abraham and Sarah welcomed to their Table (Gen. 18:1-8). We were reminded that it’s possible to entertain angels without knowing it, which means that it’s important that we show hospitality to everyone (Hebrews 13:2), including sinners and tax-collectors. Yes, Jesus ate with “those kinds of people” as well. We’ve been to the wilderness, where Jesus fed the 5000. We’ve contemplated the meaning of Jesus’ words about his body and his blood. We’ve also considered what Paul meant when he wrote a…

The Rejected Prince of Peace? A Conversation with Karl Barth

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On Monday I posted my review of Karl Barth's book of World War I sermons titled A Unique Time of God.  I found the message of Barth's sermons preached as Europe was throwing itself into a most destructive war that would set up an even more destructive war to be rather relevant. It's not that everything is the same, but I found Barth's passionate plea for peace, even as he was willing to pronounce judgment on the world around him to be powerful. One thing you will notice if you read the sermons is that he doesn't spare the churches. In fact, he doesn't spare his own teachers, who backed the Kaiser's war effort without any qualification. Barth preached to a congregation that existed in a neutral country, but the war was nearby, and it was easy for nationalist passions to cross the border into Switzerland.  
In the last sermon in the series, preached on Reformation Sunday, November 1,1914, Barth threw up his hands in disgust at the seeming rejection of Jesus …

The Table of God's Future

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On Sunday I will conclude my six-sermon series I've titled "Eating with Jesus." The series is part of our congregation's nearly year long emphasis on the Open Table and Mission, which is being funded by a Vital Worship Grant from the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship (and the Lilly Endowment). We've been having some really great conversations, and hopefully in the end we will have a better sense of the meaning of the Table (we celebrate weekly as Disciples) and its relationship to our call to mission. This past weekend Dr. Mark Love of Rochester College spoke to this very subject, helping us better understand mission (it's more than outreach) and Table/Worship. We gather, he reminded us, as part of God's New Creation in Christ, that is, we are part of God's new social reality in Christ, where there is no longer Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male and female (Gal. 3:28). We serve as a witness to the world of God's reconciling work in Christ. E…

On the Mountain with God - Lectionary Reflection for Transfiguration Sunday (Exodus)

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Exodus 24:12-18 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) 12 The Lord said to Moses, “Come up to me on the mountain, and wait there; and I will give you the tablets of stone, with the law and the commandment, which I have written for their instruction.” 13 So Moses set out with his assistant Joshua, and Moses went up into the mountain of God. 14 To the elders he had said, “Wait here for us, until we come to you again; for Aaron and Hur are with you; whoever has a dispute may go to them.”
15 Then Moses went up on the mountain, and the cloud covered the mountain. 16 The glory of the Lord settled on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it for six days; on the seventh day he called to Moses out of the cloud. 17 Now the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel. 18 Moses entered the cloud, and went up on the mountain. Moses was on the mountain for forty days and forty nights. *******
                For six years I …

A Unique Time of God (Karl Barth) -- Review

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A UNIQUE TIME OF GOD: Karl Barth’s WWI Sermons. By Karl Barth. Translated and Edited by William Klempa. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2016.
                A century ago the United States entered what was known as the Great War. By the time the United States entered the war, after the sinking of the Lusitania, it had been raging across Europe for three years, and it would continue for another year after the Americans entered the fray. It was a horrific and devastating war, but it was not without its religious cheerleaders. Among those who opposed the war, from the very beginning, was a young Swiss pastor, serving a predominantly German Reformed congregation in a Swiss village. This war contributed greatly to the theological rebirth of that pastor, who would go on to be one of the most important theologians of the twentieth century.

From Diversity to Inclusion in Troy, MI

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Last night I had the privilege to attend a Unity Forum here in Troy, Michigan. The event was sponsored by the Troy-Area Alliance Against Hate Crimes. I was not involved in the planning of the event, but I had a hand in forming the organization as leader of Troy-area Interfaith Group, in partnership with the Troy Police Department, serving as its first convener (it's really taken off since I handed off the baton! Thanks Jen and everyone!).  It was a powerful evening as members of the community gathered for food, fellowship, and a panel discussion. The panelists represented a cross-section of the community and its neighbors. The focus was on community, but especially what it means to be a safe and inclusive community when you have a rather diverse population.
From the surface Troy appears to be a predominantly white, affluent, suburban community. At one level that is who we are. Our community leadership is predominantly white, but the community itself is quite diverse. In fact, we&…

God's Borderless Realm - A Conversation with Karl Barth

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We've been hearing a lot lately about walls and borders.  Now, I'm not against national borders, but I think we need to put them in perspective. As a Christian, if I a embrace the concept of the kingdom of God, then I need to let go of a nationalistic vision. I need to embrace the premise that all humanity is created in the image of God. I need to affirm the premise that God is no respecter of borders. 
I say this to introduce something that Karl Barth shares in one of his World War I sermons.  I'm currently reading a recently published collection of sermons preached by Karl Barth at the beginning of World War I. The book is appropriately titled A Unique Time of God,because Barth, who opposed the war, believed that this was a "unique time of God," in which God's judgment was being revealed on a continent that had let racial/ethnic based nationalism lead to unnecessary power struggles.  
In a sermon preached August 30, 1914, some three weeks into the war, whi…

Sacred Sites Violated -- Sightings (Martin Marty)

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During the waning days of the Obama administration protests sprang up in North Dakota, as the Standing Rock tribe of the Sioux sought to keep an oil pipeline from crossing what they believed were sacred lands. Now that a new administration has taken office, it does appear that the protests did not achieve their purpose. The pipeline will go forward. In this post, Martin Marty takes note of the debates and protests, the differing sides, and the question of the sacred. What is sacred land and how do we honor it? I invite you to read and offer your thoughts.
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Be Holy, Love Thy Neighbor! - Lectionary Reflection - Epiphany 7A (Leviticus)

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Leviticus 19:1-2,9-18  New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) 19 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying:  2 Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.9 When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest. 10 You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien: I am the Lord your God.11 You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; and you shall not lie to one another. 12 And you shall not swear falsely by my name, profaning the name of your God: I am the Lord.13 You shall not defraud your neighbor; you shall not steal; and you shall not keep for yourself the wages of a laborer until morning. 14 You shall not revile the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind; you shall fear your God: I am the Lord.15 You shall not render an unjust judgment; you sha…

Reading the Bible Missionally (Michael Goheen) -- Review

READING THE BIBLE MISSIONALLY. Edited by Michael W. Goheen. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2016. Xiv + 343 pages.
Over the past few decades many in the Christian community have begun to realize that mission isn’t only something done cross-culturally, but forms the center of the church’s identity. It is, by nature, missional, because God is engaged in mission. Among the leading figures in this rediscovery of the church’s missional identity was Leslie Newbigin, a British missionary and at one time a Bishop of the Church of South India. The missional conversation, which had its roots in Newbigin’s writings, as well as the work of Karl Barth, first took root within the Evangelical world. In time the reach of the movement expanded to include more liberal/mainline churches. In fact, the idea has spread so widely that some wonder whether the word missional has any real meaning. That is, however, a conversation for another day. In this review, I take up a book exploring wha…

Eating Worthily? - A Sermon (Eating with Jesus)

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1 Corinthians 11:27-34

When we are young, we learn our table manners. They may be culturally defined, but there are some things that you do and some things you don’t do. That makes cross cultural dining an adventure, because when you go into a different culture you may not know the proper etiquette! 
As for me, when I was a child I learned that I shouldn’t talk with my mouth full of food. I also learned a proper way of holding the fork and the knife. And, I was taught to wait until everyone was served before I began eating. Whether we obey the rules or not, they have a purpose!

Who Was Paul? -- A Conversation

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I recently participated in a conversation about Paul and his identity with Henry Neufeld, owner of Energion publications.  Henry asked me to participate in a series of conversations with some of his authors who have dealt with Paul.  I was invited into this conversation due to my study guide for Ephesians.

Henry asks questions about Paul's identity, sources of his thought, his theological views, and my own thoughts about Paul and what Paul has to say to us. You might be surprised by the emphasis I place on the Corinthian letters as giving the essence of Paul.  
It's about 30 minutes long, so take a listen!



What's Ressentiment Got to Do with It - Sightings (Martin Marty)

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Things are a bit wild out there; not just here in the USA, but around the world. A good word to describe things might be Ressentiment, a French word that describes the rather poisonous feeling out there that is driving people apart. It's reflected in the populism that elected Donald Trump and the forces that led to the Brexit vote, as well as the "elitism" that is expressed in celebrity worship. In this context, Martin Marty offers us a helpful picture of our situation, which might help us navigate things better.  
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Native Americans, The Mainline Church and the Quest for Interracial Justice (David Phillips Hansen) - Review

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NATIVE AMERICANS, THE MAINLINE CHURCH, AND THE QUEST FOR INTERRACIAL JUSTICE. By David Phillips Hansen. St. Louis:  Chalice Press, 2016. 150 pages.
                Many years ago, I authored an article on a figure of note in my hometown. His name was O.C. Applegate. He was one of the first white children born in the Oregon Territory, and his father who helped led pioneers into the Oregon Territory, would be one of the first agents for the Klamath Indian Reservation. O.C. would later serve in a similar capacity, and he saw himself as friend and protector of the people of the reservation, but he did so in a paternalistic manner.” Thus, the title of the article was “Oliver Cromwell Applegate – Paternalistic Friend of the Indians” (Journal of theShaw Historical Library). I thought about Applegate and my article as I opened this book by David Phillips Hansen. I thought about how the images I grew up with, and how they formed me and my view of the world.

Choose God, Choose Life -- Lectionary Reflection for Epiphany 6A (Deuteronomy)

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Deuteronomy 30:15-20 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
15 See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. 16 If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the Lord your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess. 17 But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, 18 I declare to you today that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. 19 I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, 20 loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days, so th…

Crossing Myself (Greg Garrett) -- A Review

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CROSSING MYSELF: A Story of Spiritual Rebirth.New York: Morehouse Publishing, 2016. Xviii + 206 pages.
Spiritual memoirs are tricky things. Often, they move from dark places to places of enlightenment or salvation. Luke Augustine’s Confessions, the writer shares with us the path of discovery taken, with the hope that the story can help others find their way. With mention made of the Confessions, it’s clear that this kind of a story has a long pedigree. It can also be very effective. On the other hand, a reader might feel like a bit of a voyeur, reading details that can seem private and personal. Still, testimony like this can have a powerful effect on people, which is why the stories get told whether in a revival meeting or a memoir.

Eating the Bread of Life - Sermon (Eating with Jesus)

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John 6:25-40

After his baptism, Jesus went out into the wilderness and fasted for forty days and nights. By the time the fast ended, Jesus was famished. Then the tempter came and said to him: “If you are the Son of God command these stones to become loaves of bread.” Though Jesus was very hungry, he told the tempter that “one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” (Mt. 4:1-4). 
In the Gospel of John we find Jesus facing another temptation. On the morning after he fed the multitude, the crowd followed him across the lake, hoping that he would feed them once again. Jesus left the crowd behind the day before because he realized that they wanted to take him by force and make him their king (Jn. 6:15). Clearly his withdrawal didn’t deter them, because they hoped he would be a new Moses who would provide manna from heaven. Jesus responded to their requests by telling them that he was the bread of life. He was the bread from heaven that God desires t…

Gathering at the River of Life

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22 Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2 through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. 3 Nothing accursed will be found there any more. But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants[c] will worship him; 4 they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. 5 And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever. 6 And he said to me, “These words are trustworthy and true, for the Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, has sent his angel to show his servants[d] what must soon take place.” 7 “See, I am coming soon! Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book.”  (Revelation 22:1-…

Tactful Advice for Calling Your Next Pastor (Gary Straub) - Review

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TACTFUL ADVICE FORCALLING YOUR NEXT PASTOR. By Gary Straub. St. Louis: CBP Books, 2016. Iv + 92 pages.


When it comes to calling a pastor/minister/priest, some ecclesial traditions have an appointment process (a bishop or someone in authority sends a new minister to a congregation), while others use some form of congregational call. Such is the case with my own tradition. In such cases, a congregation will likely form a search committee, and then, possibly, in concert with what some call "middle judicatories," the congregation will put together a congregational profile.  Then, candidates will be matched with a congregation based on this profile. Then the real work begins, as the committee goes through the profiles of candidates, hoping to find someone who will fit their perceived needs. Sometimes it works well, sometimes it doesn't. 
Having been on the "other side" of the Search and Call process, I have my own sentiments. No process is perfect, because the peopl…