Showing posts from 2019

Unbelievable (John Shelby Spong) - A Review

UNBELIEVABLE: Why Neither Ancient Creeds nor the Reformation Can Produce a Living Faith Today.By John Shelby Spong. San Francisco: Harper One, 2018. (paperback edition: 2019)

What kind of Christianity is left when much that has been traditionally affirmed as marking the essence of Christianity is deemed "unbelievable"? John Shelby Spong, a retired Episcopal bishop, who has a lot in common with another radical Episcopal Bishop—James Pike—has made a name for himself by challenging traditional beliefs and practices, even as he served as a leader in one of the most traditional of Christian denominations. Nonetheless, he offers us in this book a manifesto of sorts, calling on Christians to abandon the old ways and follow a different path. As the declaration on the book’s cover, attributed to "Booklist," puts it: "Luther launched a reformation with 95 Theses. Spong would launch another with 12." I expect that there will be much pushback on that assertion, but Sp…

All Things to All People

1 Corinthians 9:19-23 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)19 For though I am free with respect to all, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I might win more of them. 20 To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though I myself am not under the law) so that I might win those under the law. 21 To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law) so that I might win those outside the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some. 23 I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings.
Although winter played havoc on our ability to meet regularly for our Wednesday Bible Study, we’re finally back on schedule. Today we turn to chapters 8-9 of 1 Corinthians. Chapter 8 speaks to the question of meat sacrificed to idols. It is sai…

Come to the Waters of the Lord -- Lectionary Reflection for Lent 3C (Isaiah 55)

Isaiah 55:1-9 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
55 Ho, everyone who thirsts,
    come to the waters;
and you that have no money,
    come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
    without money and without price.
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
    and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good,
    and delight yourselves in rich food.
Incline your ear, and come to me;
    listen, so that you may live.
I will make with you an everlasting covenant,
    my steadfast, sure love for David.
See, I made him a witness to the peoples,
    a leader and commander for the peoples.
See, you shall call nations that you do not know,
    and nations that do not know you shall run to you,
because of the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel,
    for he has glorified you. Seek the Lord while he may be found,
    call upon him while he is near;
let the wicked forsake their way,
    and the unrighteous their thoughts;
let them…

Piloting Church (Cameron Trimble) - - A Review

PILOTING CHURCH: Helping Your Congregation Take Flight. By Cameron Trimble. St. Louis: Chalice Press, 2019. 136 pages.

I was ordained nearly thirty-five years ago and have been serving as pastor of small congregations for the past twenty years. Being small, the congregations I’ve served wrestle with sustainability, but perhaps more importantly, they struggle to find energy for ministry. These are congregations made up of good people, many of whom are senior citizens, who seek to be faithful in their service of God and participation in the church. They wonder why people aren't coming to church like they did in years past. Those of us who serve such congregations have read our share of church growth books. We’ve seen the proposed solutions. We may have tried to implement the proposed solutions. They may make some impact, but it’s clear there are no silver bullets. While this is true, we may learn something that could improve the situation. Many church growth books are written from a…

Whom Shall I Fear? -- A Sermon for Lent 2C (Psalm 27)

Psalm 27

Whenever an angel or even God appears in the biblical story, the first words we hear are usually “Be not afraid.”  There’s a reason for this. Heavenly visitations don’t occur very often, so we need to hear words of  assurance that everything is going to be okay. The word we hear this morning is that the Lord is our light and salvation, so “whom shall I fear?”
The word of the Lord this morning might be “do not be afraid,” but if we’re honest with ourselves, we all experience fear once in awhile. It might be spiders or snakes, or heights, or something else. Whatever it is, what does fear to do us?  Does it paralyze us? Does it cause us to flee? Does it cause us to fight? I expect our answer depends on the person and the situation, but whatever the situation, fear usually brings a reaction of some kind. 
In The Charlie Brown Christmas, Charlie Brown is feeling depressed. He’s not sure why, but he knows something is wrong. So, he pays a visit to Lucy’s psychiatrist booth.  After he …

A Time to Grieve -- Reflections on the Attack on the Christ Church Mosques

Before I went to bed last night I saw reports of a mass killing at mosques in Christ Church, New Zealand. I woke up to learn that at forty-nine were dead with others critically injured. Reports like this do not generally emerge from New Zealand, but here we are. It was Friday in New Zealand when the shootings took place, and the Muslim community was gathering for Friday prayers. The person who is taking responsibility for this, provided a manifesto, targeting immigrants and refugees. We must call this what it is, and that is a terrorist attack on peaceful people gathered for worship. 

Of course, I like most decent people, condemn the attacks on these two mosques. Unfortunately, these kinds of "events" have become all too common. Whether mosques or synagogues or churches or gurdwaras or temples, they have become targets of hate and violence. I'm preaching this Sunday from Psalm 27, which declares "The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?" A mom…

Varieties of Unbelief - Sightings (Martin Marty)

Unbelief isn't new. It's quite ancient in fact. Early Christians were charged with atheism because they refused to honor the traditional gods. Time passes and new forms emerge, but unbelief/atheism never seems to triumph. Nevertheless we should take note of and engage with those forms of unbelief that come our way. Martin Marty has some experience charting such things, having done so even before I was born.In this Sightings essay, he takes note of a book by philosopher John Gray who describes seven forms of atheism. You might find all of this interesting, whether you are a believer or an unbeliever.  Take a read!


Marriage as Equal Partnership in 1 Corinthians 7 (Excerpt from Marriage in Interesting Times)

In our Bible Study session today we are looking at 1 Corinthians 7, a portion of Paul's Corinthian letter that covers a variety of issues concerning human relationships, including marriage, divorce, singleness, and celibacy, to name a few. The chapter begins with Paul answering the question of whether it is good for a man to touch a woman, that is, have sexual relations with a woman. I believe this was a question posed to Paul. He seeks to answer that question and others in an intriguing way. Although Paul is often seen as having misogynistic views, in this chapter he almost bends over backwards to suggest that men and women, at least in the marriage relationship, are equals. Below is an excerpt from chapter 7 of my book Marriage in Interesting Times: A Participatory Study Guide, (Energion Publications, 2016). In this portion of the chapter, I point to this call for equality in the face of traditional hierarchical claims. I invite you to read this portion, and of course, pick up a…

Standing on the Promises of God - A Lectionary Reflection for Lent 2C (Genesis 15)

Genesis 15:1-18 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) 15 After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, “Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” But Abram said, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir.” But the word of the Lord came to him, “This man shall not be your heir; no one but your very own issue shall be your heir.” He brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” And he believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness. Then he said to him, “I am the Lord who brought you from Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to possess.” But he said, “O Lord God, how am I to know that I shall possess it?” He said to him,…