Tuesday, February 28, 2017

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


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 was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate. 7 Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.

*********  

                I recently watched an old Star Trek episode. The title of the episode is “TheApple.” In this episode, the Enterprise crew encounters a planet that seems Edenic, with a people who seem happy but culturally stagnant. These people live to serve what they believe is their god, though we discover that it is a really powerful computer that both provides for the people and protects its domain from outsiders. I won’t go into the details, but the episode raises questions about innocence and progress. Ultimately, Kirk, McCoy, and Spock, play the role of the serpent, opening the eyes of the innocent. They do this by destroying Vol, which allows the people of Vaal (Ba'al?) to begin the road to “progress.”  In reviewing their experience, Kirk, Spock, and McCoy ponder what has happened. Kirk makes reference to the story of Adam and Eve being driven out of Paradise, to which Spock replied:
"Precisely, Captain. And, in a manner of speaking, we have given the people of Vaal "the apple" - the knowledge of good and evil if you will - as a result of which they too have been driven out of paradise."

As we read the story of Eden in the twenty-first century, do we long for the innocence and sense of dependence on God that marks life in the Garden? Or are we grateful that the first couple ate the forbidden fruit and gained knowledge of good and evil? Is having our eyes opened to things God had chosen not to reveal a good thing? In other words, would you agree with McCoy, that knowledge and freedom is better than innocence and protection? Or is Spock correct, that despite their lack of progress, was it their place to intervene, especially since the people seemed happy with their lot? In other words, had they played the role of the Tempter?    

Monday, February 27, 2017

Culture Care (Makato Fujimura) -- A Review

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 comments are meant to provide a context for my review of Makoto Fujimura’s book Culture Care. Fujimura is an artist and the newly appointed director of the Brehm Center for Worship, Theology, and the Arts at Fuller Theological Seminary. My initial interest in the book stems in part from the fact that I’m a Fuller alum, but the topic of culture, art, and beauty is also something that interests me. When we bring theology and spirituality into the conversation, I’m even more interested.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

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


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 about eating the supper in a worthy manner. 

Thursday, February 23, 2017

The Rejected Prince of Peace? A Conversation with Karl Barth


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 in favor of a war Spirit.  I want to share this paragraph from that sermon and invite us all to consider his plea to attend to the message of the Prince of Peace:
At present, we live in a world that does not believe that Christ is sent by God. Yes, it seems to believe in Jesus. It builds churches in his name. It reveres his cross. It calls itself by his name. But in deed and in truth it has rejected the prince of peace. It considers it a matter of foolishness that there could be a truly inclusive community of love, of love of all people; instead it preaches hate and so inflames the passions of one nation against the other. It does not want to be a great in spirit and greatest in service but great in the might that is based on power, and it prides itself that it is so dispassionate and free of fanaticism. It does not see that "righteousness exalts a people and a nation" (see Prov. 14:34) but boasts instead in its financial wealth, the number of its soldiers, and the size of its cannons. It supposes that the saber rather than the cross has the last word and proclaims over against Jesus: "Those who want to follow me must assert themselves and defend themselves as best they can" (see Matt. 16:24). So the word has rejected Christ. And as a consequence the word is now at war. [A Unique Time of God, p. 167]. 
 Does this sound familiar? Do we, in our time, claim to believe in Jesus and yet fail to follow him. Have we decided that way of Jesus is not relevant for our day? While we may not be, at the moment, fully engaged in war, we have been at war for almost the entirety of the 21st century. World War I was supposed to be the war that ended all wars, but the spirit of war doesn't seem to be going away. We choose the saber rather than the cross.  I'm not consistent pacifist, neither was Barth, but I agree with him that we have a tendency to reject the idea that an inclusive community of love is possible, and thus we fall into the trap of preaching hate.  God help us! God forgive us!

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

The Table of God's Future

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. Envisioning ourselves as that reconciled people, that is a new social reality having taken form, where the church serves as a witness to reconciliation can be a challenge, because we tend to think of communion in very personal/private terms.  

In any case, in my final sermon this series, I;m turning to Matthew's version of the institution of the Lord's Supper. In Matthew 26:29, Jesus says: "I will never again drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom."  This is an important connector of the Last Supper with the Great Banquet in Heaven. While Jesus does share post-resurrection meals in Luke and John, there is no post-resurrection meal in Matthew or Mark.  This gives the Supper an eschatological feel. 

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

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


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 lived at the base of a 14,000 foot mountain, for the next nine years of my life I lived within sight of that same mountain. It’s made an impression on me, and many others. There’s a sense of sacredness to Mount Shasta, especially when it’s enshrouded by lenticular clouds. As we come to Transfiguration Sunday, I can’t help but think of Mount Shasta, and the vision it offers of God’s sacred presence. To enter the cloud would be to enter a sacred space or what some call a thin place.

Monday, February 20, 2017

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

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.

Friday, February 17, 2017

From Diversity to Inclusion in Troy, MI

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're the most diverse community in Michigan. I learned something new last night -- we have the largest of foreign born residents of any city in Michigan. Moving from diversity to inclusion isn't easy. We tend to gather in our self-segregated enclaves, rarely reaching across our ethnic and religious divides. There are places, like the Troy-area Interfaith Group, which I once led, that provides a gathering point. But we need to take advantage of these opportunities to get to know our neighbors. Last night was one of those important gathering points. It was a great evening of sharing. Good questions, good answers. Good people! We even heard from a recently arrived Syrian refugee, who shared how grateful he was to be in such a welcoming and safe space (if only this were really true).

As I drove home, however, I realized one things was missing -- media coverage. If this had been a different kind of meeting, one where the point was exclusion, we might have had more coverage.

Moving from diversity to inclusion isn't easy, but if we are willing to listen to each other, maybe there is hope. As a person who is White, Male, Christian (Protestant) -- what is considered normative American -- it is incumbent, as my friend Steve Spreitzer, of the Michigan Roundtable for Diversity Inclusion confessed as one of the panelists.

I'm going to leave you with a video that was shown at the beginning of the evening. It is a TED talk given in Detroit by Palestinian-American comedian Amer Zahr. It's a poignant piece, worth considering.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

God's Borderless Realm - A Conversation with Karl Barth


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, which would devastate Europe and set the stage for the carnage of World War II (as well as the Holocaust), he shares this timely word:

It is simply out of the question that God "helps" the Germans or the French or the English. God does not even "help" us Swiss. God helps justice and love. God helps the kingdom of heaven, and that exists across all national boundaries. "God is Spirit, and those who worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth" (John 4:24). The foolish mixing of patriotism, war enthusiasm, and Christian faith could one day lead to the bitterest disappointment. "He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord has them in derision" (Ps. 2:4). We will not join in drinking this intoxicating potion. We want to look steadfastly and unwaveringly here to God, who loves everyone equally, who is above all the nations, from whom all have similarly departed, and from whose glory they have fallen short (see Rom. 3:23) -- the God who in like manner wants to draw all people to himself and gather them under the rule of his good and holy will. [A Unique Time of God: Karl Barth's WWI Sermons. William Klempa, ed, WJK Books, p. 100], 
In all our nationalistic fervor, claiming that perhaps God blesses us, Barth suggests that we take a broader perspective. In the sermon he reminds his own community, which was German, that Switzerland included among its citizenry German, French, and Italian. If they were to embrace their own land, then they couldn't and shouldn't take sides. But, even the Swiss had no reason for pride, for God is bigger than Switzerland. So, perhaps we might take a bit of wisdom from the great Swiss theologian for our own times, and affirm God's greater vision of a borderless realm.

Note: a full review will be forthcoming.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Sacred Sites Violated -- Sightings (Martin Marty)

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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Sacred Sites Violated
By MARTIN E. MARTY   February 13, 2017
The Cannonball River in North Dakota | Credit: Bryan Boyce via Wikimedia Commons (cc)
What if the Sioux Nation decided to build a pipeline through Arlington Cemetery? This question from Faith Spotted Eagle—who lacks a Ph.D. in comparative religion and who would never be employed to teach the phenomenology of burial ritual—got at the heart of at least one of the three main issues in the prolonged debate over the Dakota Access Pipeline project. Opposition to wealthy oil companies and their potential profits if and after the pipeline is completed would have been sufficient to attract the thousands who came to support Sioux protestors at Standing Rock. Meanwhile, environmentalists, who care and worry about what such a pipeline under the plains and river might do, have raised appropriate questions. But “grandmother”—a technical title among the Sioux for women like Spotted Eagle—really got at the heart of what animates the protesters and their sympathizers.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Be Holy, Love Thy Neighbor! - Lectionary Reflection - Epiphany 7A (Leviticus)

Gray and Gold, John Rogers Cox - Cleveland Museum of Art

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 shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great: with justice you shall judge your neighbor. 16 You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not profit by the blood of your neighbor: I am the Lord. 
17 You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin; you shall reprove your neighbor, or you will incur guilt yourself. 18 You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.

********

The people of God are called to emulate God’s holiness. The word “holy” carries a bit of baggage, because it’s often linked to smug self-righteousness. Words like puritanical, legalistic, and pharisaical are offered as synonyms.  When it comes to the holiness code detailed in Leviticus, we tend to think in terms of ritual purity, rather than in terms of calls for compassion and service. Then we come to Leviticus 19, which calls for the people of God to be holy, even as God is holy. Here holiness is spoken of in terms of loving one’s neighbor as one’s self.  Indeed, Jesus draws the second great command from Leviticus 19:18—the first command, the call to love God with one’s entire being is drawn from Deuteronomy 6:4-5 (Matt. 22:34-40). So, perhaps we need rethink our understanding of holiness.

Monday, February 13, 2017

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 what it means to read the Bible missionally.  

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Eating Worthily? - A Sermon (Eating with Jesus)


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!

Friday, February 10, 2017

Who Was Paul? -- A Conversation


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!




Thursday, February 09, 2017

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

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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What's Ressentiment Got to Do with It
By MARTIN E. MARTY   February 6, 2017
Max Ferdinand Scheler (1874-1928)
Should our republic and, with it, its kin in Western Europe survive, any and all attempts to transcend the current chaos will have to begin with, or at least include, diagnosis and analysis of what got us here. Whoever reads the internet messages, editorials, and serious books on our culture(s), whoever listens to the pundits, philosophers, and ranters, will come across numberless references to inter-class (and other “inter-”) phenomena such as “revenge, hatred, malice, envy, the impulse to detract, and spite.” These are not new in politics, religion, or culture, but, taken together, they appear to be grounded in profound, bone-deep, soul-destroying resentment, and are efficiently mobilized by modern media, on the internet, and with expensive advertising. The analysts point to the special character of our current explosions and often render their view technical by using the French word ressentiment.

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

Native Americans, The Mainline Church and the Quest for Interracial Justice (David Phillips Hansen) - Review

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.  

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

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

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 that you may live in the land that the Lord swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.

*********

                We have choices to make in life. Sometimes the choices are inconsequential, such as a flavor of ice cream. Other times, they determine life and death. I’m not of the mindset or theology that suggests that God has everything planned out. That’s not to say I don’t think that God is active in the world, it’s just that I think we contribute a great deal to our futures. In my understanding of things, we have free will and so our choices make a difference. Such is the message we find here in Deuteronomy 30.

Monday, February 06, 2017

Crossing Myself (Greg Garrett) -- A Review

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.

Sunday, February 05, 2017

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


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 to provide.

Thursday, February 02, 2017

Gathering at the River of Life



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 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. 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; they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. 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.
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.”
“See, I am coming soon! Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book.”  (Revelation 22:1-7)

******
The banner above appeared in the auditorium at Calvin College, which was holding the annual Calvin Institute of Christian Worship Symposium.  I was taken by the visual imagery of the banner. My picture doesn't do it justice, but I would invite you to meditate on it and the accompanying reading from Revelation 22. We're in the midst of difficult times. We're apt to lose our grip, unless we find an anchor. The Book of Revelation isn't escapist literature. It's a call to abide in the Spirit of God in the midst of challenging times. May we draw strength from the Water of Life and the Tree of Life! There is no need to lose hope, but we must find the right anchor, so we can move forward into the future in the power of the Spirit.

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

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

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 people involved are far from perfect. We hope both candidates and search committees have a good sense of what is needed, but that's not always the case. From a candidates perspective, it’s not always easy to see red flags. The same is likely true on the other side. We all put on our best faces.