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Showing posts from April, 2018

Paul: A Biography (N.T. Wright) -- A Review

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PAUL: A Biography. By N.T. Wright. San Francisco: Harper One, 2018. Xiii + 464 pages.

As the title of one book puts it, Jesus Have I Loved, But Paul?It is common place to hear people declare that Jesus did wonderful things and had great ideas. It’s too bad Paul messed things up. There is only one problem with this scenario, Paul’s writings came before any of the Gospels were written, whether canonical or not. I will grant that there are those whose quest for the historical Jesus leads them to believe that they have ascertained the “true words” of Jesus, but these are reconstructions based on presuppositions that may or may not hold true. In the meantime, there are the letters of Paul, some of which may have been written within two decades of Jesus’ earthly life. This fact makes the attempt to skip over Paul to get to Jesus problematic. Although Paul can be frustrating and even infuriating at times, he can also inspire us to spiritual heights and he contributed greatly to what became t…

Abiding in God’s Love - A Sermon for Easter 5B (1 John 4)

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1 John 4:7-21

“What the world needs now is love, sweet love.” That may be true, but what is love and where does it come from? Do we need to just sing some silly love songs, because, as Paul McCartney put it, “some people wanna fill the world with silly love songs, and what’s wrong with that?”  
If what the world needs now is love, then we need to define our terms. Is love a feeling, an emotion, or something else? The love songs that fill the air usually speak of tender feelings between two people, because “when I fall in love, it will be forever, or I’ll never fall in love.” If we’re honest with ourselves, each of us has probably “fallen in love” a couple of times. It’s possible that we have found a love that  “will be forever,” but perhaps not. 
When Jesus shared the two love commands, which he drew from the Hebrew Bible, he had more in mind than feelings. He used the parable of the Good Samaritan to illustrate neighborly love. You know the story, a person gets mugged, and one by one th…

Saying No to Hate and Bigotry in Michigan and Beyond

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Last night I attended the Unity Forum sponsored by the Troy-area Alliance Against Hate Crime (this is an excellent organization I had a hand in founding, and I'm pleased to see where the current leaders have taken it), as well as the city of Troy. The focus last nigh was on "Interrupting Bias," and among the three panelists was my friend Saeed Khan. Saeed talked a bit about Islamaphobia as one expression of bias. Then when I got home and began reading the front section of the Detroit Free-Press and I discovered both a major article detailing bigoted anti-Muslim conspiracy theories shared by one of the four Republican candidates for Governor, Patrick Colbeck (a state senator). Colbeck appeared at a forum of some type and made wild accusations against a Democratic candidate for Governor, who is a Muslim, accusing him of being a member of the Muslim Brotherhood intent on taking over the country and imposing Sharia (Islamic law) on the nation. This is a common conspiracy the…

Our Latino Neighbors - Sightings (Martin Marty)

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You may have heard about the effort on the part of the current administration to build a wall on our Southern border to bar entry to the country on the part of our Latino Neighbors. You may have also heard about the slowness of our governments response to the hurricanes that hit Puerto Rico. You may have also heard concerns being raised by some white Americans about "those people" who are threatening our traditional way of life. Yes, Nativism is on the rise. The fact is, Latinos comprise the second largest ethnic/linguistic community in the country, and their numbers are growing (not only from immigration!). Martin Marty cites articles about "Our Latino Neighbors" published in the current issue of the Jesuit magazine - America. The essay is brief, but it does provide some consciousness raising that is necessary as we navigate a new future in which non-Hispanic European Americans hold an overwhelming hold on our demographics and culture. Take a read. It's a good…

Tending the Tree of Life (Richard W. Voelz) - A Review

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TENDING THE TREE OF LIFE: Preaching & Worship through Reproductive Loss & Adoption. (Academy of Parish Clergy Guides to Practical Ministry). By Richard W. Voelz. Gonzalez, FL: Energion Publications, 2018. ix + 130 pages.

NoteRichard Voelz's book Tending the Tree of Life first appeared as an e-book. The review appearing below was written with that format before me. In a conversation with Rich at the Disciples General Assembly we talked about his desire for a paperback version, and I suggested he might let me publish it in the Academy of Parish Clergy's Guides to Practical Ministry series published by Energion Publications. Rich agreed and the book is now available through Energion Publications. I believe that this book can be of great help to clergy seeking to minister to those who have experienced reproductive loss or who have pursued adoption. I invite you to read the review, which led me to pursue the publication in our series.   *******
There are some life experien…

Water! Baptism? Time to Rejoice! - A Lectionary Reflecton for Easter 5B (Acts 8)

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Acts 8:26-40 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) 26 Then an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Get up and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (This is a wilderness road.) 27 So he got up and went. Now there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of the Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of her entire treasury. He had come to Jerusalem to worship 28 and was returning home; seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah. 29 Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over to this chariot and join it.” 30 So Philip ran up to it and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah. He asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” 31 He replied, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to get in and sit beside him. 32 Now the passage of the scripture that he was reading was this:  “Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter,     and like a lamb silent before its shearer,         so he does not open his mouth. 33 In his humiliation justi…

Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music (Gregory Alan Thornbury) -- A Review

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WHY SHOULD THE DEVIL HAVE ALL THE GOOD MUSIC? Larry Norman and the Perils of Christian Rock. By Gregory Alan Thornbury. New York: Convergent Books, 2018. 292 pages.


“Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music?” That's a question that resonated with me as I traversed high school and college during the 1970s. Growing up on the Beatles, Moody Blues, and Three Dog Night, I faced the question as a newly “born again” Christian whether I should abandon my former listening habits without abandoning the musical style in which it was conveyed. Could I as a good Christian enjoy rock music and be faithful to Jesus? Fortunately for me, there was a burgeoning Christian music scene that allowed me to enjoy the music of the day, only with Christian lyrics. By the time I entered this Christian music world, the offerings were quite broad, ranging from Barry McGuire to Andrae Crouch. Keith Green sang at my church before he became a household name. Many of these groups came out of Calvary Chapel an…

Love in Deed, Not Word - Thoughts on the 2nd Reading - Easter 4B

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1 John 3:16-24 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
16 We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. 17 How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?18 Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. 19 And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him 20 whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. 21 Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have boldness before God; 22 and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we obey his commandments and do what pleases him.  23 And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. 24 All who obey his commandments abide in him, and he abides in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spiri…

Academy of Parish Clergy Book of the Year Awards for 2018

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2018 Academy of Parish Clergy Book of the Year Announcement The Academy of Parish Clergy, Inc. proudly announces that the 2018 Book of the Year Award has been awarded to Saved by Faith and Hospitality by Joshua W. Jipp and published by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company (2017). Jipp is Assistant Professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. The Book of the Year Award is given to the best book published for parish ministry in the previous year. In addition, the Academy presents the Reference Book of the Year Award to Acts: Belief: A Theological Commentary on the Bible by Willie James Jennings and published by Westminster John Knox Publishing Company (2017)). Jennings is Associate Professor of Systematic Theology and Africana Studies at Yale Divinity School. In addition to the Book of the Year and Reference Book of the Year awards, the Academy offers two lists of books recommended for use by clergy in parish ministry. The first list offers the Top Ten Books for Paris…

Clergy Supporting Clergy --- Academy of Parish Clergy

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I am at the annual conference of the Academy of Parish Clergy. I have been a member for some 13 years or there about. I am editor of the journal -- Sharing the Practice -- and last year joined what we call the College of Fellows -- that makes me a FAPC (Fellow of the Academy of Parish Clergy). This is a multi-faith organization of professional religious leaders who are dedicated to growing in the practice of ministry. To be honest almost all of our members are Protestant, with one exception -- a Buddhist nun (also a Fellow). I share this as a way of reporting the importance of peer support.

Clergy are human. We get tired and weary. We can become fearful and angry. We often feel that our calling and identity are not well understood. On one level, we want to be seen as ordinary people. At the same time we engage in a vocation that often separates us out from others (whether that is our intention or not). I greatly appreciate this group because it offers an opportunity to share our burd…

A Word about Salvation - Lectionary Reflection for Easter 4B

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Acts 4:5-12 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) The next day their rulers, elders, and scribes assembled in Jerusalem, with Annas the high priest, Caiaphas, John, and Alexander, and all who were of the high-priestly family. When they had made the prisoners stand in their midst, they inquired, “By what power or by what name did you do this?” Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders, if we are questioned today because of a good deed done to someone who was sick and are asked how this man has been healed, 10 let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel, that this man is standing before you in good health by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead. 11 This Jesus is
‘the stone that was rejected by you, the builders;     it has become the cornerstone.’ 12 There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved…

Children of God and the Problem of Sin - A Sermon for Easter 3B

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1 John 3:1-7

Who am I? What is my identity? We’ve all asked these kinds of questions of ourselves. In that spirit, let me introduce myself to you, as I know myself relationally. I am Bob, the son of Robert and Beverly, brother of Jim, husband of Cheryl, and father of Brett. If that doesn’t tell you enough about who I am, I could add that I am pastor of Central Woodward Christian Church in Troy, Michigan. If you need more, I can show you my resume, which gives details about my occupational and educational background, along with a lot of other details. 
Our reading this morning from 1 John adds another important element to my identity. In fact, it might be the most important factor of all, because it applies to all of us gathered here this morning. John invites us to “see what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God.”

Grateful (Diana Butler Bass) -- A Review

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GRATEFUL: The Transformative Power of Giving Thanks. By Diana Butler Bass. San Francisco: Harper One, 2018. Xxxi + 224 pages.


What are you grateful for? Are you even grateful? While many of us grew up learning that it is proper etiquette to say thank you for gifts, even gifts we really don't like (you know the sweater that a relative gave you that is really hideous!), we might not be very good at saying thank you. That is especially true when it comes to sending thank you notes. Whether or not we are competent at expressing our gratitude, surely there is something to be thank for, even in moments of difficulty. Especially if we find expressing gratitude difficult, not because we’re ungrateful, but we just find it difficult to give expression, perhaps we need a word of wisdom from one who also struggles with gratitude. Diana Butler Bass confesses “I have always struggled with gratitude. I wanted to be grateful, but too often I find myself with no thanks” (p. xiii). It is out of thos…

John Wesley - Optimist of Grace (Henry Knight III) - A Review

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JOHN WESLEY: Optimistof Grace (Cambridge Companions).By Henry H. Knight III. Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2018. Xv + 152 pages.



There was a time, not long ago, when conventional wisdom suggested that the eighteenth century was a time of religious negligence, marked by latitudinarianism and deism. The one bright spot was Methodism. Recent scholarship has offered a more nuanced perspective, but Methodism still plays a significant role in that story. While scholars explore the period, offering their perspectives on the various movements that were active in England and North America during this period, interest in John Wesley and the movement that he helped create is not only of historical interest. Wesley’s influence continues to this day, as adherents to the various forms of Wesleyanism number around seventy-five million. The descendants of Wesley’s movement include Methodism, but also various holiness churches, and Pentecostalism (though not all Pentecostals are Wesleyan). Thus, John Wesl…

Turn Back to God - A Lectionary Reflection for Easter 3B

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Acts 3:12-19 Common English Bible (CEB) 12 Seeing this, Peter addressed the people: “You Israelites, why are you amazed at this? Why are you staring at us as if we made him walk by our own power or piety? 13 The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—the God of our ancestors—has glorified his servant Jesus. This is the one you handed over and denied in Pilate’s presence, even though he had already decided to release him. 14 You rejected the holy and righteous one, and asked that a murderer be released to you instead. 15 You killed the author of life, the very one whom God raised from the dead. We are witnesses of this. 16 His name itself has made this man strong. That is, because of faith in Jesus’ name, God has strengthened this man whom you see and know. The faith that comes through Jesus gave him complete health right before your eyes.
17 “Brothers and sisters, I know you acted in ignorance. So did your rulers. 18 But this is how God fulfilled what he foretold through all the prophets: tha…

Christ Our Advocate - A Sermon for Easter 2B

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1 John 1:1-2:2

“Christ the Lord is Risen Today. Alleluia” This morning that declaration continues to ring out as we hear the invitation to walk in the light of God. As the author of 1 John points out, we meet the God who “is light and in him there is no darkness at all” in the person of the risen Christ.  
Here is the message of Easter: The risen Christ shines the light of God into the darkness of this world, with that light comes a new age of the Spirit. The old age, which is marked by sin and death has lost its grip on power. It’s still with us. We see it all around us, but a new age is breaking into our world, and Jesus invites us to carry this light of God into a world where the agents of the old age are resisting the light.

Parades, Peeps, and Paradoxes -- Sightings (Martin Marty)

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Easter Sunday is now past, but the season of Easter continues. The egg hunts and other phenomena connected with Easter are done, but at for some of us, Easter still speaks, for the resurrection stands at the center of our faith. Martin Marty's column, which came out on Monday, speaks to the way in which Easter is understood both in its "secular" form and its religious form. He makes mention of an article by conservative Catholic writer George Wiegel in the Wall Street Journal, which speaks to the rise of Christianity as being rooted in the inexplicable nature of the resurrection. I invite you to read Marty's article. Unfortunately, unless you are a Wall Street Journal subscriber you won't be able to read the articles referenced.In any case, I invite you to continue reflecting on the message of resurrection.  
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Remembering the Rev. Dr. Marin Luther King -- Fifty Years After

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Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land. And I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.[King Jr, Martin Luther. The Essential MartinLuther King, Jr.: "I Have a Dream" and Other Great Writings (KingLegacy) (Kindle Locations 2952-2957). Beacon Press. Kindle Edition.]
Today, we stop to remember the fiftieth anniversary of the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Memphis Tennessee. The words abo…

Community in the Shadow of the Resurrection - Lectionary Reflection for Easter 2B (Acts 4)

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Acts 4:32-37 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) 32 Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. 33 With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. 34 There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. 35 They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. 36 There was a Levite, a native of Cyprus, Joseph, to whom the apostles gave the name Barnabas (which means “son of encouragement”). 37 He sold a field that belonged to him, then brought the money, and laid it at the apostles’ feet. ******************
During the Easter season, the first reading in the Revised Common Lectionary comes from the Book of Acts (as opposed to the Hebrew Bible). As we move through this season of po…

Who God Says You Are (Klyne R. Snodgrass) - A Review

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WHO GOD SAYS YOU ARE: A Christian Understanding of Identity. By Klyne R. Snodgrass. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2018. X + 246 pages.
The biblical story begins with God creating the earth and all that it contains. God begins by separating light from darkness, earth and sea, and then one by one the elements of the created order are added, culminating in the creation of humanity in the image of God—as male and female. With each act of creation God pronounced it good. That includes the creation of humanity, who are charged with being stewards of creation (Gen. 1). That God created humanity in God’s image is a reminder that we are who we are because of God’s actions (this is a theological statement not a scientific one). The two creation stories (Genesis 1 and 2) speak to the question of identity, a question that most of us ask regularly. Who am I? What is my purpose? What makes me who I am?
Klyne Snodgrass takes up these questions, suggesting that our identity is defined…

The Power of the Resurrection - Sermon for Easter B

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1 Corinthians 15:1-11

What makes Easter Sunday memorable? I invite you to take a moment to picture in your mind something that stands out about Easter. Maybe it was something recent or something you remember from childhood . . .   What came to my mind was picking up a pansy from the parish hall at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church after the Easter service. I don’t know why I remember those trays of pansies laid out on the table for the children to take home, but I do. I don’t even remember what I did with it when I got it home. Still, I remember those colorful trays beckoning me. Your memory might be similar or very different, but we all have memories of Easter past. 
One of those memories might involve singing “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today.” For many of us, Easter is not Easter without singing this very old Charles Wesley hymn, which boldly proclaims: 
Lives again our Glorious King, Alleluia!  Where, O death is now your sting? Alleluia!
Easter has a lot of traditions. Some are religious and o…