Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Biblical Translation Leads to Tussles, Clashes - Sightings (Martin Marty)

We readers of the Bible often have our favorite translations. I am partial to translations that emerge from committees, like the NRSV and CEB. Others like the more personal translations like Eugene Peterson's The Message. Debates can get heated, as we engage in conversation about which underlying texts should be used and whether to go in a more formal or dynamic direction. While I've not engaged in much reading of the new translation from David Bentley Hart, apparently N.T. Wright doesn't like it very much (as seen in his scathing review in the Christian Century). According to Martin Marty, Hart pushes back with great vigor and perhaps a bit of vitriol.  But then, is this really new?  Anyway, Marty lays things out nicely. If you've read Hart's self described wild and repellent "formal" translation with an Orthodox twist, I'd love to hear your reactions. 

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Biblical Translation Leads to Tussles, Clashes
By MARTIN E. MARTY   January 29, 2018
Photo Credit: Olga Caprotti/Flickr (cc)
One scholar, N. T. Wright, reviewing another, David Bentley Hart, prompted a response from the latter that the former’s writing was a “catalogue of complaints” by someone whose work “suffers from a dangerous combination of the conventional and the idiosyncratic,” and other nice judgments. Headlines of stories about the exchange speak of all this as a “tussle” or a “clash.” Were this to-do about two heavyweight boxers or politicians debating war and peace or decline and fall, it would not draw the attention of us pacific Sightings authors. But when we read on to learn that the antagonists are top Orthodox theologian Hart and equally top Anglican biblical scholar Wright, we have to step up in an effort to fulfill part of our mission to connect the interpretation of religious themes with their “public understanding.”

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Lift Your Eyes and See the Majesty of God - Lectionary Reflection for Epiphany 5B (Isaiah 40)

Isaiah 40:21-31 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

21 Have you not known? Have you not heard?
    Has it not been told you from the beginning?
    Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?
22 It is he who sits above the circle of the earth,
    and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers;
who stretches out the heavens like a curtain,
    and spreads them like a tent to live in;
23 who brings princes to naught,
    and makes the rulers of the earth as nothing.
24 Scarcely are they planted, scarcely sown,
    scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth,
when he blows upon them, and they wither,
    and the tempest carries them off like stubble.
25 To whom then will you compare me,
    or who is my equal? says the Holy One.
26 Lift up your eyes on high and see:
    Who created these?
He who brings out their host and numbers them,
    calling them all by name;
because he is great in strength,
    mighty in power,
    not one is missing.
27 Why do you say, O Jacob,
    and speak, O Israel,
“My way is hidden from the Lord,
    and my right is disregarded by my God”?
28 Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
    the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
    his understanding is unsearchable.
29 He gives power to the faint,
    and strengthens the powerless.
30 Even youths will faint and be weary,
    and the young will fall exhausted;
but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,
    they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
    they shall walk and not faint.


Monday, January 29, 2018

Welcoming the Stranger

Mariachi Agape - worship leaders - CICW

At the present moment, here in the United States, but not just here in the States, a spirit is on the arise. May I call it a demonic spirit? It is actually two related spirits, the spirits of nationalism and nativism. The debate over extending protection from deportation for hundreds of thousands of young adults who were brought here as children by parents who either came into the country without documentation or who overstayed visas has been front and center. In fact, it was brought into the debate over passing a debt extension. Much of the debate about immigration and welcoming refugees is related to the ever present demon of nativism. This demon isn't new. It's been with us for a very long time, perhaps from the beginning of the Republic. And, it is rearing its head at this moment. In fact, I learned something interesting at a seminar I attended recently (described below). Nativism tends to rear its head when the foreign born population reaches the 15% mark. We saw this at the beginning of the 20th century. We've seen it arise again. Nativism is the fear of the foreigner. We have seen politicians prey upon fears of the others, especially those whose ethnicity/race is not of European stock (sometimes Asian immigrants are given a pass, due to their being dubbed by some as honorary whites. This is a status that undermines and devalues Asian Americans). 

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Liberty and the Neighbor - Sermon for Advent 4B

1 Corinthians 8:1-13

Patrick Henry issued the rallying cry of the American Revolution: “Give me liberty, or give me death.” In the early days of the Republic, many citizens embraced the message of liberty by moving into the frontier, which is where our Disciples movement got its start. In true democratic fashion, we rebelled against hierarchy and tossed away the creeds. Disciples took up the cause of religious freedom, not only from government but also from religious authorities. Liberty is great, but as Paul reminded the Corinthians on several occasions, not everything is beneficial.  

This morning we again find Paul dealing with the dysfunctions that mark the Corinthian church. He takes up another issue that is dividing the congregation. While it might seem like the issue is food, the real issue is the socioeconomic differences that marked the congregation. These differences were expressed through a debate about whether it was permissible to eat meat that had been sacrificed to idols.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Disciples and Eschatology Part 2 -- The Kingdom of God

     Note: This is the second of three posts exploring Eschatology in a Disciples of Christ context. Part 3 will appear next week.
  The realm of God stands at the center of Jesus’ preaching. As Mark puts it, after his temptation in the wilderness and the arrest of John the Baptist, “Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the goodness of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe in the good news’” (Mark 1:14-15). The kingdom has come near, so repent and believe the good news. When those who heard this good news joined his band of disciples, they asked him to teach them how to pray. The result is the prayer that so many Christians recite each week. As we pray the Lord’s Prayer, ask that God’s kingdom will come into our midst, and as we make this request, we are, I believe, pledging our allegiance to God our King. We make this pledge of allegiance, even as a competing realm (that of Rome) is demanding allegiance [Cornwall, Ultimate Allegiance: The Subversive Natureof the Lord’s Prayer, pp. 15-18].

Kingdom language dominates the New Testament, reflecting language from the Old Testament. But, what do we mean by the kingdom of God?  As we ponder this question, another question emerges. That question has to do with the words we use to refer to the Kingdom or realm of God. Should we replace kingdom language with language of the realm, because it is less patriarchal. Yes, the first century was a patriarchal age, but we live in the twenty-first century. With monarchy on the wane, might we replace monarchical language with more democratic language, like the Presidency of God?  After all, we now live in a world of liberal democracy, how can we affirm monarchy in religion when we reject it in politics?  These are good questions, but since the biblical texts use this kind of language, it would be fruitful to try to understand what is meant by the term kingdom, even as we seek to bring the idea into the present. 

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Disciples of Christ and Eschatology—Part One

 Note: This is the first in a series of posts that will conclude my postings about Disciples Theology that first appeared in 2017. This will be one of several posts, appearing over the next two weeks. The hope is that these posts will form the foundation for a book on basic theology for Disciples. 
                What do we mean, when we pray each Sunday the words: “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven?” In the Nicene Creed, Christians have for centuries confessed that:
And he ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of the Father: And he shall come again, with glory, to judge both the quick and the dead; Whose kingdom shall have no end.  (Nicene Creed – Book of Common Prayer, 1928).
Moreover, there is the confession that Disciples affirm (in The Design) these words that look to the future of God’s reign: 

                In the bonds of Christian faith we yield ourselves to God
                                that we may serve the One whose kingdom has no end.
                Blessing, glory and honor be to God forever Amen.

While monarchical language might seem out of place in denomination like the Disciples, which emphasizes liberty and freedom and generally practices democratic principles in its governance, it is nonetheless present in some form. This is true whether we use kingly language or language of the reign of God.  

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

The Voice of the Prophets - A Lectionary Reflection for Epiphany 4B (Deuteronomy)

Deuteronomy 18:15-20 Common English Bible (CEB)
15 The Lord your God will raise up a prophet like me from your community, from your fellow Israelites. He’s the one you must listen to. 16 That’s exactly what you requested from the Lord your God at Horeb, on the day of the assembly, when you said, “I can’t listen to the Lord my God’s voice anymore or look at this great fire any longer. I don’t want to die!” 
17 The Lord said to me: What they’ve said is right. 18 I’ll raise up a prophet for them from among their fellow Israelites—one just like you. I’ll put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command him. 19 I myself will hold accountable anyone who doesn’t listen to my words, which that prophet will speak in my name. 20 However, any prophet who arrogantly speaks a word in my name that I haven’t commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods—that prophet must die.

                Moses was the one through whom God spoke to Israel as the nation traveled through the Wilderness toward the Promised Land. While the people of Israel decided they were not prepared to hear directly from God, fearing that getting too close to God might lead to their deaths, they decided to rely on the mediation of Moses.  Now, as they drew closer to the Promised Land, Moses informed them that his time with them was growing short. He wouldn’t cross the river with them. That caused the people to get anxious. If Moses was gone, who would speak for God? Who would be the mediator? The verses just prior to this reading we hear a concern about the different voices that would be present in this land. How would they know what was from God and what was not? To this point, they put their trust in Moses. Yes, they did ignore his words on occasion, but still, there was a sense of trust. So, how would they hear from God in this new context if Moses wasn’t with them?

Monday, January 22, 2018

Preaching in the Age of Trump (O. Wesley Allen, Jr.) -- A Review

PREACHING IN THE ERAOF TRUMP. By O. Wesley Allen, Jr. St. Louis: Chalice Press, 2017. 117 pages.

     Talking politics from the pulpit is always a risky proposition. Many Mainline (Mainstream/Historic) Protestant preachers likely face congregations made up of people who are Republican, Democrat, Independent, and any number of other possibilities. The safest thing to do is to be silent on anything that might be considered political in nature. Preachers are supposed to focus on spiritual things, and not meddle in things outside their expertise. But, what happens when the Gospel collides with the events of the day? While I am a firm believer in the principle of not endorsing candidates from the pulpit, I also know that the Gospel speaks to issues that have significant political implications. What happens when the country elects a President whose behavior and policies seem so far outside the mainstream, do we remain silent and focus only on the spiritual and ignore the political? As we ponder that question, without equating the current President with Hitler, we know happened in Germany when the churches failed to speak out against a movement that was evil incarnate.

I have voted in every Presidential Election since 1976. Sometimes my candidate won. Sometimes they lost. Even when I had strong feelings about a newly-elected President, I have assumed that no matter what they did during their term, the nation would endure. The 2016 election had a different spirit about it. Neither candidate was popular with the electorate, though for different reasons. The candidate who was declared the winner, lost the popular vote by a wide margin, but received a majority of the electoral college votes (and that’s what counts in the United States). The person who won the election promised to break the mold, and he has fulfilled the promise (and more).  The question is, what should we, who are preachers, do? What advice is out there that can help us navigate this most unusual situation?

Sunday, January 21, 2018

A Big Fish Story -- A Sermon for Epiphany 3B (2009)

Note: Since we have a guest preacher today, and therefore not in the pulpit, I thought I might share a previous sermon for today. This comes from January 25, 2009. 

Mark 1:14-20

I know that some of you here today, could tell some really good fish stories. You could talk about dragging a shed out onto the ice and doing some really fun ice fishing; or maybe you could tell us about going out on Lake Huron and catching a really big bass. Something like that. Alas I can’t join you in telling such tales. I’ve lived my life near rivers and streams and lakes and oceans, but I’ve only caught one small fish, and that was when I was but a child. Since I can’t tell a good fish story, I’m going to rely on a famous author.

In The Old Man and the Sea, Ernest Hemingway told the story of Santiago the fisherman. Santiago was an old and experienced fisherman, but at one point he’d gone out to sea eighty-four straight times without catching a thing. He would have given up, except this young boy kept cajoling him and encouraging him to keep going in the hope of making that last big catch. Yes, it was that boy’s faith in his fishing abilities that pushed him further out to sea, far beyond the usual boundaries, in the hope of success. As the story goes, one day Santiago’s luck changed. He hooked a great and mighty marlin, but when he tried to reel the great fish in the Marlin had other ideas. It didn’t jump or dive, it just headed further out to sea, with Santiago’s boat in tow. But, after what seemed like days, that marlin decided it was time to dislodge the hook and its baggage. That’s when the great battle between man and fish began. That marlin began to jump and dive and attack the line. But as it circled the boat, Santiago patiently reeled it in. It took a lot of time to reel it in, but finally the marlin gave up, having earned the respect of its opponent.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Angels, Mysteries, and Miracles (Bruce Epperly) -- A Review

ANGELS, MYSTERIES,AND MIRACLES:  A Progressive Vision. By Bruce G. Epperly, Gonzalez, FL: Energion Publications, 2017. 104 pages.

From Harry Potter to the Exorcist, from Charmed to the Librarians, we seem rather preoccupied with things that go bump in the night. Magic, the occult, spirits, and demons, even zombies are topics of deep interest. Even Star Wars appeals because it, unlike Star Trek, has at its heart a message of spirituality. We may live in the shadow of David Hume, but the shadow seems to be growing shorter by the day.  While many have a built-in skepticism about mystical claims, there is still a sense of openness to spiritual things. That may explain the growing popularity of Pentecostalism, which emphasizes healing and power encounters with spiritual beings. While there are those who embrace a premodern world view, assuming that supernatural/spiritual incursions into the natural order occur regularly, within mainstream Protestantism and likely many parts of the Catholic church, these are remnants of an old religion that no longer fits our scientifically-informed world view. We put these stories in the category of myth. They may say something about who we are as human beings, but we really don't expect angelic visits or demonic attacks. We have explanations for any strange phenomena.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Best Books of 2017 -- the Cornwall List

I read a lot of books in the past year. Most of the books I read during the year are sent to me by publishers to be reviewed on this blog or elsewhere. All the books in the list below were published in 2017, and except for a few, were read in 2017. Most of the books on the list below were provided by the publisher, and to them I offer my thanks. I have been offering a Best Book List for several years. I started out with top ten lists, along with a Book of the Year Selection. In recent years I’ve found it difficult to limit the list to ten books, so you will find seventeen books. Two of them are named Best Book of 2017. The remaining fifteen are divided into four rather loose categories.  All seventeen books are excellent and worthy of reading. Links to reviews are provided (click on the title).

My Best Book of 2017 nod goes to:
Carol Howard Merritt, Healing Spiritual Wounds: Reconnecting with a Loving God After Experiencing a Hurtful Church, Harper One
Joshua Jipp, Saved by Faith and Hospitality, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
Thanks goes to all seventeen authors! What great contributions to the faith conversation. Consider each of the books listed below, and add them all to your "to read" list if you haven't already.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

A Divine Change of Mind - A Lectionary Reflection for Epiphany 3B (Jonah 3)

Jonah Preaching at Nineveh - John Martin

Jonah 3:1-10 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time, saying, “Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.” So Jonah set out and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly large city, a three days’ walk across. Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s walk. And he cried out, “Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth. 
When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. Then he had a proclamation made in Nineveh: “By the decree of the king and his nobles: No human being or animal, no herd or flock, shall taste anything. They shall not feed, nor shall they drink water. Human beings and animals shall be covered with sackcloth, and they shall cry mightily to God. All shall turn from their evil ways and from the violence that is in their hands. Who knows? God may relent and change his mind; he may turn from his fierce anger, so that we do not perish.” 
10 When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.

                Jonah was a reluctant prophet. He wanted to have nothing to do with Nineveh. As far as he was concerned, it was an evil empire that deserved whatever came its way. When God called him to go to Nineveh and proclaim God’s judgment, he ran away. In fact, he got on the first boat out of town, and headed in the opposite direction. You can run, but can’t hide, and God had other ideas. It seems that those other ideas included having Jonah spend some time in the belly of a fish. With no other choice, Jonah gave in and headed off to Nineveh, where he went around preaching gloom and doom to the people who lived in this city he detested.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Promised Land -- Not Yet - A Reflection for Martin Luther King Day

Today we celebrate the birth of Martin Luther King, Jr. While Dr. King has almost universal approbation, fifty years after his assassination in 1968, we have yet to live into to his dream. We may give lip service to it, but we have not yet come to the point where we recognize each other's full humanity. There is a Promised Land that Dr. King believed lay out in front of him (and us), but we haven't yet crossed the river. 

In the message he delivered, on the night before his death, in Memphis, as he prepared to lead a march in support of sanitation workers in Memphis, he spoke of the land of promise. He told that gathering that he had seen this land, but he wouldn't get there with them. He seemed to know that his life would be cut short, perhaps not as soon as it occurred, but he knew the day was coming when he would die. At the same time, he had confidence that a day was coming when the nation would cross the river into a new reality.  

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Body and Spirit - A sermon for Epiphany 2B (1 Corinthians 6)

1 Corinthians 6:12-20

I find Paul’s Corinthian letters to be intriguing. There is so much going on in these letters. They address real life issues and concerns. So, when I was in seminary, I took two classes that focused on all or part of 1 Corinthians. In fact, a friend and I drove across LA from Pasadena to Westwood in my less than reliable Ford Maverick to study 1 Corinthians with Scott Bartchy. Going to class wasn’t a problem, but coming home around five o’clock on the 405 Freeway was an adventure. But it was worth the effort! When I sat down to plan my sermons for the season of Epiphany, and noticed that the epistle readings in the lectionary came from the Corinthian letters, I got excited. 

Paul wrote these letters to a congregation filled with new converts who came out of a very different cultural context than he did. So, when they heard Paul’s message of grace and freedom, they interpreted it in light of their former lives, and what they heard was an invitation to live with reckless abandon. They heard Paul saying that no rules applied. That’s not what he intended, and so he had to address the situation brewing in that community. One of the issues that emerged had to do with a topic that is rarely discussed in church, and that is sex. So, when I sat down to read the text again on Monday, I asked myself—why did I choose to preach on this passage? This can only get me in trouble. But here we are, with a word from Paul addressing a forbidden subject.    

Friday, January 12, 2018

Disciples Leader Speaks to President's Words

If the reports are true, and I believe they are, the President spoke offensive and derogatory words about persons from the Caribbean and African nations who have come to our nation. The words are ripe with racism. Rather than writing my own reflection, I have decided to share the message published by the Rev. Dr. Teresa Hord Owens, the General Minister and President of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). Unfortunately, fifty years after the assassination of Martin Luther King, we must continue to address the racism and nativism in our midst. 


As a follower of Jesus Christ, as a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ, I must speak to repudiate the comments from the President of the United States on Jan. 11, 2018. As Christians, we believe that all humans are made in the image of God and therefore worth of dignity and respect. We are called to love, and Jesus tells us that we will be known as his disciples if we have love for one another. (John 13:35).

There are certain roads that love cannot take. Love cannot take the road of discrimination; love cannot take the road of hate; love cannot take the road of oppression; love cannot take the road of racism; love cannot take the road of gender bias; love cannot take the road of homophobia. There is no justification for these hateful and racist comments. None. As the nation prepares to honor the birthday of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I remind all  those who claimed to be followers of Christ of Dr. King’s admonition to speak up against injustice, to work for human dignity, for peace, and for equal justice for all. Dr.  King was most disappointed that those who called themselves Christians were telling him to wait until a more judicious time for action.
Today it is clear that we still cannot wait. I call upon those who believe in the dignity of all persons to not only speak, but work together to rid our nation of systemic injustice, to register to vote, and hold those who are not in solidarity with basic human dignity and justice to account. Acts of charity and songs of unity will not be enough to dismantle the structural injustice that exists in our society.  We cannot allow such hatred to stand unchallenged, and we cannot be silent or inactive in the face of words and actions that violate the Christian mandate to love all whom God has created.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Still Christian (David Gushee) -- A Review

STILL CHRISTIAN: Following Jesus out of American Evangelicalism. By David P. Gushee. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2017. Xvi + 151 pages.

I am four years older than David Gushee, which means I've traveled similar terrain, even if we grew up in opposite sides of the country and in different denominational traditions. He was raised Catholic. I was raised Episcopalian. He left the Catholics for the Southern Baptists. I left the Episcopalians for Pentecostalism. We both felt the call to ministry and academia. He went to a large Southern Baptist Seminary and then a very liberal seminary for doctoral work. I went to a very large multi-denominational evangelical seminary, earning both my masters and doctorate at the same institution. Unlike David, I have spent most of my life as a pastor, and likely because I took up an area of academic interest (historical theology) that was less controversial, I never found myself in the public eye in quite the same way as was true for him. 

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Tales of the Religious and the Secular - Sightings (Martin Marty)

It is a new year, and Martin Marty is out and about sighting things religious and secular. In his opening salvo for the year, he takes note of those who seek to find some sense of meaning in the region between secularist partisans on one side who see anything religious being foolishness, and those on the other end of the spectrum who allow nothing that is not "sacred." He takes note of several expressions of religious sensibility living within the broader culture, bearing witness to the transcendent. I invite you to take a read and consider what it means to live in this middle space. I want to commend the Martin Marty Center and the University of Chicago Divinity School for making these columns available --- and allow we bloggers to repost!  

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Tales of the Religious and the Secular
By MARTIN E. MARTY   January 8, 2018
Photo Credit: Fr James Bradley/Flickr (cc)
Setting our sights for another year of Sightings poses our colleagues, counselors, staff, and many presumed readers-to-be at the juncture of realities code-named “religious” and “secular.” We have learned and will continue to learn how difficult it is to disentangle what realities those names signify. We live in a culture conveniently and half-helpfully described as “pluralist,” a term not designed to be satisfying. Can it do justice to either the religious or the secular? Freedom-from-religion advocates have it easy, because they can reduce most signs of transcendence to superstition and folly. The hyper-religious also have it easy, because they can inflate everything to realms they describe as “sacred.” But many kinds of serious people see these two poles as superficial and unsatisfying. They find help from many sources, among them the arts, including poetry, and in academic ventures.

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

God Speaks—Is Anyone Listening? -- A Lectionary Reflection for Epiphany 2B (1 Samuel 3)

Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the Lord under Eli. The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread. 
At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his room; the lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was. Then the Lord called, “Samuel! Samuel!” and he said, “Here I am!” and ran to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call; lie down again.” So he went and lay down. The Lord called again, “Samuel!” Samuel got up and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call, my son; lie down again.” Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him. The Lord called Samuel again, a third time. And he got up and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” Then Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the boy. Therefore Eli said to Samuel, “Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’” So Samuel went and lay down in his place. 
10 Now the Lord came and stood there, calling as before, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”
                If God were to speak to you, would recognize God’s voice? In other words, would you be listening close enough to hear a voice that you might connect with God? Should we even expect God to speak anew? In some parts of the Christian community it is believed that God finished communicating with humanity, at least verbally, once the New Testament came into being. As we consider the question of whether we should expect to hear from God, we have before us this word from 1 Samuel 3, the first verse of which reads: “The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.” Why was that? And, is our day any different?

Monday, January 08, 2018

Death, Immortality, and Resurrection (Edward Vick) -- A Review.

DEATH, IMMORTALITY,AND RESURRECTION. By Edward W. H. Vick. Gonzalez, FL: Energion Publications, 2017. X + 130 pages.

                There is something about the human spirit that hopes for something more than this life. Several books have been published recently that report experiencing what they consider death, and then returning to life. These testimonies are touted as support for the belief in the afterlife, but I think most of us have developed beliefs rooted elsewhere, most likely in the teachings of one’s faith community. Most religions have taught some form of life after death. Christianity, Judaism, and Islam tend to embrace resurrection, while Buddhism, Hinduism, and other eastern forms of religion embrace reincarnation. One question that rises perennially across the religious/philosophical spectrum is whether there is an immortal soul, one that is separate from the body and can break free of the body. While belief in an immortal soul has often been promulgated among Christians, there is some question as to its compatibility with the doctrine of resurrection.  

Among those who have explored these questions, and has raised questions about the compatibility issue is Edward Vick, who has taught religion and philosophy for many years, mostly in Seventh Day Adventist contexts, and holds the Ph.D. from Vanderbilt University. The book’s title covers significant ground, lifting up death, immortality, and resurrection, matters of ultimate concern for many, especially Christians. Standing at the core of the book is the question of the relationship between belief in an immortal soul and resurrection. The question is, might one continue to exist without a body, or is body and soul intrinsically related? More to the point, if the soul continues to exist postmortem, without any involvement of God, how can God be responsible for resurrection as Christianity has traditionally taught? That is, should we not consider whatever form of immortality that comes our way to be a concern of God?  In the eyes of Edward Vick, resurrection is an act of God, and therefore, immortality is not innate to human existence, but is a gift to us from God.

Sunday, January 07, 2018

Baptized in the Spirit - A Sermon for Baptism of Jesus Sunday (Epiphany 1B)

Acts 19:1-7

Yesterday was the Day of Epiphany, which marked the end of the Christmas season for both east and west. Yesterday was the appropriate day to sing “We Three Kings” to remember the visit of the magi to the home of the Holy Family. Yes, if we still had our creche scene out, yesterday would have been the appropriate day to add the “three wise men.” Of course, if we follow scripture the Holy Family would have taken residence in a house, and the shepherds and the sheep would have gone back to their fields.  

That was yesterday. Today we gather on the First Sunday after Epiphany, which is a season of light and revelation. On this day we remember the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan at the hands of John the Baptist, who declared that while he baptized with water, someone would come who would baptize with the Holy Spirit (Mk 1:4-11). It’s appropriate on this first Sunday after Epiphany, as we remember the baptism of Jesus, to remember our own baptisms, and recommit ourselves to being disciples of Jesus. 

Saturday, January 06, 2018

The Day of Epiphany

The Twelve Days of Christmas conclude today with the coming of the magi to the little town of Bethlehem. On this day, with the magi, we come to bear homage to Jesus, the one in whom God's light shines upon us, revealing to us the fullness of God's love and presence. On this day, I simply invite you to attend to the reading of this story from Matthew. Yes, in the verses that follow the holy family will flee to Egypt and Herod's soldiers will slaughter the innocents, but can we for a moment simply join with the magi and be overwhelmed with joy as the star leads us to the presence of the holy one?


Matthew 2:1-12New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising,and have come to pay him homage.” When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:
‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
    are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
    who is to shepherd my people Israel.’”
Then Herod secretly called for the wise men[e] and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 11 On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

Picture attribution: He, Qi. Adoration of the Magi, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. [retrieved January 6, 2018]. Original source:

Thursday, January 04, 2018

Stranger God (Richard Beck) -- A Review

STRANGER GOD: Meeting Jesus in Disguise. By Richard Beck. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2017. 245 pages (Kindle Edition).

An ancient belief suggests that when one entertains strangers one might be entertaining angels (gods) unaware. One of the best expressions of this is found in Genesis 18, where Abraham entertains three strangers, who are identified as "the LORD." These same three strangers visit Sodom, and are while they are welcomed by Abraham's nephew Lot, the community at large chooses not to welcome them, but instead seeks to assault them. This leads to the destruction of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, who become symbols of xenophobia and the absence of hospitality. In the New Testament there is no better example of this vision of welcoming the other than in Jesus’ description of the day of judgment, when the king will judge between sheep and goats based on their having served the king in the form of the naked, the imprisoned, the hungry—that is, the stranger (Matthew 25).

In an age where fear of the other has taken hold, when the immigrant and the refugee becomes the new leper, it is time to hear a different word, a word that speaks to the hearts and minds of Christians who claim to be disciples of Jesus, but who struggle to welcome the strangers, and therefore fail to welcome Jesus in disguise. Such a word for our times is found in Richard Beck’s most recent book titled Stranger God. Generally, the reviews I post on this blog are of books that have been sent to me by publishers for reviewing. For some reason, I couldn’t obtain a review copy of Stranger God, so I used some Christmas money to download the Kindle version of the book, because I find Beck’s books to speak powerfully to my life. I am publishing this blog review, because this is the kind of book that I believe needs to be read widely by all who claim to follow Jesus.

Wednesday, January 03, 2018

Better (Melvin Bray) -- A Review

BETTER: Waking Up to Who We Could Be. By Melvin Bray. Foreword by Brittney Cooper. St. Louis: Chalice Press, 2017. Xiv + 169 pages.

Christians—and people of faith in general—live by our stories. For Christians and Jews, these include the biblical story. We also have other stories that describe and define our identities. Some of these stories are good and some are not. Some empower, and others disempower. The way we tell and retell the stories have implications for our lives and for our world. Melvin Bray invites us to tell “better” stories. He invites us to deconstruct many of our stories, taking them apart, but not leaving them in that state. Moving beyond deconstruction, he invites us to reconstruct our stories so that our lives and the world itself might be transformed.

Melvin Bray is an African American man who grew up in a very conservative church. You might call it fundamentalist. Although this congregation was ethnically diverse, its theology was narrow and confining. Bray would break free of that theology, because the way it told the Christian story was not constructive. As to who he is, Bray is married, has children, served in para-church organizations including Young Life, and has spent time as a teacher. Each of these experiences, and many others, including encounters with the police that were less than friendly, contribute to his ability to tell and retell important stories. Sometimes the way he retells biblical stories can make one uncomfortable (at least if you are a white heterosexual male, who is used to having the power to construct and tell the stories of the faith). Bray writes of his project: "What I am arguing for is reimagining the way we tell our faith stories---which for me, a follower of Jesus, is the biblical narrative---so that they point to beloved community and beyond."