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Showing posts from March, 2018

Godforsaken? -- The Fourth Word from the Cross

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Note: This is my contribution to the Troy Community Good Friday Service, which lifts up the traditional "Seven Last Words of Christ." I am one of seven preachers, each taking a word and exploring it in brief.
Mark 15:33-34

We now come to the fourth word from the cross, as recorded in the Gospel of Mark: 3 When it was noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. 34 At three o’clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”By the time Jesus cried out the fourth word from the cross, darkness had covered the land for three long hours. At three o’clock in the afternoon, shrouded in cold  darkness and suffering unimaginable pain, Jesus cried out: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

A Day of Remembrance - A Reflection for Holy Thursday (Exodus 12)

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Exodus 12:1-14 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
12 The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt: This month shall mark for you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year for you. Tell the whole congregation of Israel that on the tenth of this month they are to take a lamb for each family, a lamb for each household. If a household is too small for a whole lamb, it shall join its closest neighbor in obtaining one; the lamb shall be divided in proportion to the number of people who eat of it. Your lamb shall be without blemish, a year-old male; you may take it from the sheep or from the goats. You shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month; then the whole assembled congregation of Israel shall slaughter it at twilight. They shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. They shall eat the lamb that same night; they shall eat it roasted over the fire with unleavened br…

Terror and Amazement” -- Lectionary Reflection for Easter, Year B

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Mark 16:1-8 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

16 When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?”When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized the…

Preaching Adverbially (F,. Russell Mitman) - Review

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PREACHING ADVERBIALLY. By F. Russell Mitman. Foreword by Gordon W. Lathrop. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2018. Xi + 184 pages.

There is no shortage of books on preaching. Each book offers a different take or perspective on preaching. Some espouse a particular style, especially if they are text books. Most likely we take on some aspect of the style proposed by our teachers. Those of us who have been at this calling for many years may have developed a style that is rooted in an earlier age. Once you embrace a style, you likely stay with it. You may tweak things, but not make a major change. I’m not sure how to describe the style of preaching I have developed over the years. I’m not sure we even talked about style back then, though I did start out with the assumption that a sermon had an introduction, three points that developed the thesis of the sermon, and then bring things to a conclusion. I didn’t use a poem, since I’m not a big poetry person. All that is introduc…

Death Has Been Swallowed Up Forever - A Lectionary Reflection for Easter Year B (Isaiah 25)

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Isaiah 25:6-9 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples     a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines,     of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear.And he will destroy on this mountain     the shroud that is cast over all peoples,     the sheet that is spread over all nations;    he will swallow up death forever. Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces,     and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth,     for the Lord has spoken.It will be said on that day,     Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us.     This is the Lord for whom we have waited;     let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.
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Easter celebrates the victory of life over death. We gather on Easter morning to declare in song and prayer: “Christ the Lord is Risen today.” We joyfully sing: “The strife is o’er, the battle done, the victory of …

Every Knee Shall Bow - A Sermon for Palm/Passion Sunday (Philippians 2)

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Philippians 2:5-11

Do you remember starting each school day standing beside your desk, placing your hand upon our heart, and reciting the Pledge of Allegiance? Did you raise any questions with the teacher about this practice? Although, we probably didn’t understand the implications of our pledge, we recited the words and then sat down and began the day. It’s quite possible that the wording that some of you used was different from what I recited, but the implications are the same. We pledged to be good citizens of our country.  
I do need to add that there was one child who stayed seated during the pledge. He was a Jehovah’s Witness. They refuse to say the pledge, because they believe that it is a form of idol worship. Since the rest of us didn’t have any religious qualms about the pledge or the flag, we did our duty and got on with our day without much thought.

Path of the Prophets (Rabbi Barry L. Schwartz) -- A Review

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PATH OF THE PROPHETS:The Ethics-Driven Life. By Rabbi Barry L. Schwartz. Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society, 2018. Lxiii + 286 pages.



When I read the Hebrew Bible, as I do regularly, I do so with a particular lens in mind. That lens is Jesus. That might be expected of me, as I am a Christian. Most of the commentators I read to help me interpret the Hebrew Bible or Tanakh are Christians as well. While they seek to be fair to what Christians historically call the Old Testament, they too have a Christian-informed lens. Of course, if the publisher is a Christian publisher, then it would be expected that these biblical scholars would keep the Christian audience in mind. While all of this is understandable, it would be wise to approach these texts, at least occasionally, in conversation with Jewish interpreters. Such conversations might shed new and different light on the subjects at hand. With that in mind, I offer these thoughts on Rabbi Barry Schwartz’s book The Path of the Pro…

Protesting Children -- Sightings (Martin Marty)

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Last week, across the country, students walked out to protest the unwillingness of governmental leaders to take seriously the problem of gun violence in the country. These nonviolent protests, which included a major rally in Washington, DC, raised awareness of the problem of gun violence, called for solutions, and stood in solidarity with the victims and survivors of the Parkland, Florida shooting (and all the other school shootings, which seem to happen with greater regularity). Martin Marty takes a look at these protests (and counter-protests) in this week's edition of Sightings, asking the question of whether these students are too young to protest. I invite you to read, but also to take into consideration what these protests might signal. We have been talking a lot of late about Millennials (there is a Millennial-Boomer divide). What needs to be noted is that these protesters are, in the main, part of an as yet unnamed generation. Might this be their political awakening? It…

God the Vindicator -- A Lectionary Reflection for Passion Sunday

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Isaiah 50:4-9A New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
The Lord God has given me
    the tongue of a teacher,
that I may know how to sustain
    the weary with a word.
Morning by morning he wakens—
    wakens my ear
    to listen as those who are taught.
The Lord God has opened my ear,
    and I was not rebellious,
    I did not turn backward.
I gave my back to those who struck me,
    and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard;
I did not hide my face
    from insult and spitting. The Lord God helps me;
    therefore I have not been disgraced;
therefore I have set my face like flint,
    and I know that I shall not be put to shame;
    he who vindicates me is near.
Who will contend with me?
    Let us stand up together.
Who are my adversaries?
    Let them confront me.
9a It is the Lord God who helps me;
    who will declare me guilty?
***************** We have reached the penultimate moment in the Lenten journey. Christians, at least in the West, will be observing Palm Sunday, or…

Christian Hospitality and Muslim Immigration in an Age of Fear (Matthew Kaemingk) - A Review

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CHRISTIAN HOSPITALITYAND MUSLIM IMMIGRATON IN AN AGE OF FEAR. By Matthew Kaemingk. Foreword by James K.A. Smith. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2018. Xiv + 338 pages.


It didn’t take long after Donald Trump became President, that his administration began taking steps to limit travel to the United States from predominantly Muslim countries in the name of homeland security. His presidential campaign had capitalized on Islamophobia, which has taken hold in America over the past two decades. It’s not only in the United States that fear of Muslims has driven political debates. Anti-Muslim sentiment is even stronger in Europe, where far-right populist parties have been pushing the debate. Violence has broken out across the continent as Muslims experience marginalization and persecution, leading to violent responses on their part. That fuels violence in response. Things are not quite to that level yet in the United States, but we can see the possibilities being present, espe…

Christ’s Priestly Work - A Sermon for Lent 5B

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Hebrews 5:1-10
There were Greeks who came to Jerusalem for the Passover festival. They went up to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and they said to him: “Sir, we wish to see Jesus” (Jn. 12:20-21). As we continue our Lenten Journey, with Palm Sunday on the near horizon, is this not our request as well? Don’t we wish to see Jesus?
The author of Hebrews introduces us to Jesus in the form of the great high priest who sympathizes with us in every respect. Hebrews tells us that Jesus has been tested as we have in all things, but is without sin (Heb. 4:14-15). Priests serve as mediators between God and God’s people, bringing sacrifices, prayers, and supplications to God on our behalf. No one takes up this responsibility unless God issues a call, as God did with Aaron and Aaron’s descendants. 
God called Jesus to be our high priest, but he isn’t a descendant of Aaron, which makes him a different kind of high priest. According to Hebrews, he is a priest according to the “Order of Melchi…

Treating the Divine in Science Fiction - Sightings (Ada Palmer)

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As a Star Trek fan, I have witnessed the discomfort of that series with the divine. Religion is present, but in in affirming the pluralistic nature of the universe, there is an attempt to explain the supposedly miraculous scientifically. Only on Deep Space 9, does the spiritual play a significant role. I haven't read/watched schience fiction as widely as some, and I can find it difficult to separate sci-fi from fantasy (Star Trek versus Star Wars), but I find this to be an intriguing conversation. With that in mind, I invite you to read this post by University of Chicago history professor and sci-fi writer Ada Palmer. I would be interested in hearing how others enter into the conversation about science and theology in terms of science fiction. 
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Finding the Center

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When I set up this blog, I engaged in more political speech than I have lately. In large part that is because our political discourse has gotten so course and divisive that I find it difficult to enter the conversations. I don't mind a good argument, but when the debate leads to demonizing others, I can't enter in. But I feel the need to say something, especially on the heels of yesterday's student demonstrations and Tuesday's special election. The student demonstrations give me hope, but I fear that other forces will seek to domesticate their voices. Nonetheless, there is hope in their message.

Here is where I stand at this moment. I believe in the American system of governance. It is not perfect, but it has stood the test of time and severe challenges. I believe the system is currently facing a time of testing. I pray that it will hold, though partisans left and right have stretched the bonds of our system to an almost breaking point. I will confess that my politica…

Down and Out in Catholic Ireland - Sightings (Martin Marty)

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Irish and Catholic Priest seem to go together so naturally. It almost seems as if a priest should be Irish, and for decades Ireland exported priests to the United States. That may be coming to a close as Ireland becomes increasingly secular and it produces fewer and fewer priests. Of course, Protestants face our own struggles with few congregations who can support full time clergy, and a decreasing number of candidates for those positions. In this episode of Sightings, Martin Marty takes a look at the situation in Ireland, with thoughts about America as well. I invite you to read and consider the message.
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Covenant of the Heart - Lectionary Reflection for Lent 5B (Jeremiah 31)

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Jeremiah 31:31-34 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) 31 The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 32 It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. 33 But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more. ****************** Jeremiah speaks of a new covenant that God will make with Israel and Judah. It won’t be a covenant written on stone. It will be a covena…

The Bible in a Disenchanted Age (R.W.L. Moberly) -- Review

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THE BIBLE IN ADISENCHANTED AGE: The Enduring Possibility of Christian Faith. By R.W.L. Moberly. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2018. Xvi + 217 pages.

How should we read the Bible? While it is an ancient book, it is also foundational to the belief systems of two religions and influencing a third. This collection of writings which call Scripture emerged in what we might call an enchanted age, but we read it today in the context of a disenchanted age. Questions are constantly raised about its historicity, reliability, and authority. Millions continue to regard it highly, but how should it be read? Should we read the Bible as we would any other book? If we do, what should be the basis of that reading? What kind of book is it? After all, we apply different rules to fiction and nonfiction genres. Standing in the midst of this discussion is whether we can hear a word from God emerging from the pages of this ancient book. As a preacher, I have an interest in the way we answer these questions, …

Created for Good Works -- A Sermon for Lent 4B

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Ephesians 2:1-10

Why do we do the things we do? Is it nature or is it nurture? St. Augustine didn’t know anything about genetics, but he stood on the nature side of the equation. John Locke might not have known about genetics either, but he believed we are blank slates on which society writes. To be honest, they’re probably both correct. Whichever side we choose, we all know that bad stuff happens. This is our world, but does this world define who we are? 
The word we hear in the Ephesian letter tells us that once we were subjects of the “ruler of the power of the air,” but now we are seated with Jesus in the heavenly places. Because we’re seated with Jesus, we are recipients of God’s “immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.”

Chaos - Sightings (Martin Marty)

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It does appear that we live in an age of chaos. It has been noticed that the White House is a rather chaotic place, but it's not just the White House. In this essay, Martin Marty, who last week spoke of cultural disintegration, speaks of chaos. He begins the homily with a reference to Genesis 1:2, where we're told that God presides over and brings order to chaos. In other words, there is hope for people of faith that God will bring light into the darkness that is chaos. The question is, where will this light be found? I invite you to read and consider Marty's suggestions!  

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