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The Letters of John -- Introductory words to a new Study Guide

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The Letters of John lay at the end of the New Testament. There are a few passages that we hold on to because of love. But, do we pay attention to the entirety of these letters. I've written a study guide that fits the Energion PublicationsParticipatory Study Guide series (it's the third book I've written for this series, the others being on Ephesians and marriage). I think these letters are worth exploring either in groups or as individuals. I hope my attempt at creating a resource will facilitate that conversation. Below are the opening paragraphs of my introduction, just to give you a sense of where I'm going with this book. 

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“What the world needs now is love, sweet love.” Love is a central theme in the letters of John. The author of the first letter declares that “God is love.” Indeed, we are to love one another, because “love is from God” (1 John 4:7). There is more to these letters than a message of love, or perhaps I might put it this way. While love …

Interfaith Conversations -- Building Bridges

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Amin is a Muslim friend with whom I have had many a conversation about things of faith, family, and the world. A group of us get together when we can to have conversations -- we usually gather at a local Tim Horton's and generally are sent packing at closing time. Amin contacted me to see if some of us could gather -- his invitation was last minute so most were unsure of gathering. But Amin and I could get together if nothing else. So we did. At first, it was just the two of us. We talked about religion, politics, the community in which we live. In the course of our conversations, the various eastern churches came up -- perhaps because my son is going to focus his thesis on medieval hagiography comparing a figure from the Church of the East (Iraq) and a Muslim figure yet to be determined. Whatever it was that we were discussing at the moment, a young man sitting nearby turned to us, noting he had overheard us talking. He revealed to us that he is a Coptic (Egyptian) Christian. So…

Judgment Day -- A Lectionary Reflection for Pentecost 6C (Amos 8)

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Amos8:1-12 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
This is what the Lord God showed me—a basket of summer fruit. He said, “Amos, what do you see?” And I said, “A basket of summer fruit.” Then the Lord said to me, “The end has come upon my people Israel;
    I will never again pass them by.
The songs of the temple shall become wailings in that day,”
says the Lord God;
“the dead bodies shall be many,
    cast out in every place. Be silent!” Hear this, you that trample on the needy,
    and bring to ruin the poor of the land,
saying, “When will the new moon be over
    so that we may sell grain;
and the sabbath,
    so that we may offer wheat for sale?
We will make the ephah small and the shekel great,
    and practice deceit with false balances,
buying the poor for silver
    and the needy for a pair of sandals,
    and selling the sweepings of the wheat.” The Lord has sworn by the pride of Jacob:
Surely I will never forget any of their deeds.
Shall not the land tremble on this acco…

Sacred Misinterpretation (Martin Accad) -- A Review

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SACRED MISINTERPRETATION: Reaching Across the Christian-Muslim Divide. By Martin Accad. Foreword by Gabriel Said Reynolds. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2019. Xxx + 366 pages.
There is much that Christians and Muslims share in common. We claim a common inheritance from Abraham. We both venerate in some form or another Jesus. At the same time, there is much that separates us. Part of what separates us from one another is our differing understandings of who Jesus is. Christians have, traditionally, affirmed the doctrine of the Trinity and the divinity of Christ (the second person of the aforementioned Trinity). Muslims consider Jesus to be one of the great prophets of God, but they reject both the Trinity and the divinity of Christ. The story of Christian-Muslim relations, therefore, is a complicated one. It involves differences in theology, but also crusades, colonialism, and the conquest of formerly Christian lands by Muslim forces. Both sides have killed each othe…

Neighborliness - A Sermon for Pentecost 5C (Luke 10)

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Luke 10:25-37

Who wouldn’t want to be a “Good Samaritan?” We’re so used to connecting the word “good” to the character of the Samaritan it’s easy to miss the scandalous nature of this parable. What if there’s nothing good about a Samaritan? No one in Jesus’ audience would have applied the word “good” to a “Samaritan.” Do you still want to be a Good Samaritan?  If you go back to chapter nine, you’ll discover that Jesus ran into trouble in Samaria. He was turned away from a village because he was heading toward Jerusalem. Fortunately, Jesus didn’t follow the advice of James and John who wanted to call down fire from heaven to consume the village, but that goes to show that something is up in the story of the Good Samaritan (Lk 9:51-56).
Not long after Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan villagers, he sent out the seventy to preach. After they returned from their mission trip, Jesus was approached by a lawyer. Now, I need to let you know that Luke doesn’t seem to like lawyers. I’m not sure…

Labels and Christian Identity

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A colleague recently opened a conversation on Facebook about labels. He confessed his discomfort with the label Progressive Christian. He asked his Facebook audience if they had any suggested alternatives. You can only imagine the response. I thought about entering in, but your voice quickly gets lost in the mass of comments. So, I decided to write a blog post instead.
Both Phil and I are Disciples of Christ pastors. Both of us are left of center on the political and religious spectrum, though I imagine he is farther left than am I. I too am uncomfortable with the available labels, which tend to be more political than theological. The words liberal and conservative have lost their original meanings, and for many on the "left" liberal is old hat. So, progressive has been adopted. Here's the thing, the opposite of progressive isn't conservative, it's regressive. If we take the word seriously, then it's opposite becomes a pejorative. If you disagree with me, th…

Not Measuring Up? Lectionary Reflection for Pentecost 5C (Amos 7)

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Amos 7:7-17 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
This is what he showed me: the Lord was standing beside a wall built with a plumb line, with a plumb line in his hand. And the Lord said to me, “Amos, what do you see?” And I said, “A plumb line.” Then the Lord said, “See, I am setting a plumb line
    in the midst of my people Israel;
    I will never again pass them by;
the high places of Isaac shall be made desolate,
    and the sanctuaries of Israel shall be laid waste,
    and I will rise against the house of Jeroboam with the sword.”
10 Then Amaziah, the priest of Bethel, sent to King Jeroboam of Israel, saying, “Amos has conspired against you in the very center of the house of Israel; the land is not able to bear all his words. 11 For thus Amos has said, ‘Jeroboam shall die by the sword,
    and Israel must go into exile
    away from his land.’”

12 And Amaziah said to Amos, “O seer, go, flee away to the land of Judah, earn your bread there, and prophesy there; 13 but never again …

Connections (Year C, Volume 3) -- A Review of a Lectionary Resource

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CONNECTIONS: A Lectionary Commentary for Preaching and Worship. Year C, Volume 3: Season after Pentecost.Edited by Joel B. Green, Thomas G. Long, Luke A. Powery, and Cynthia L. Rigby. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2019. Xviii + 562 pages.

I am a lectionary preacher. The Revised Common Lectionary may not be perfect, but it does provide a sound basis for preaching that is rooted in Scripture. I’m of the belief that preaching, that becomes a word of God (using Barth’s three-fold Word of God formula) will be rooted in Scripture. Preaching from the Bible, however, does involve interpretation of the text so as to make that word living in the present. It is wise to look to others for wisdom and guidance. The good news is that lectionary preachers have been blessed in recent years by a plethora of new resources. Westminster John Knox Press has been a key contributor to this bounty. Among these treasures is the Connections series, the first cycle of which is now complete (Year C).I …

Greater Love -- Sermon for Outdoor Service (Luke 7)

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Luke 7:36-50

The Fourth of July holiday celebrates freedom, but freedom can come in forms that have nothing to do with where you live. Sometimes freedom is internal, which is the case in the story we’ve heard today. It’s a story about a woman who lived in a certain town, who heard that Jesus was having dinner at the home of a wealthy and influential man named Simon. She decided to crash the party.
We need to use our imaginations to picture the scene. Simon and his guests would have been lying on cushions, with their feet toward the wall and the tables probably laid out in an u-shape in front of them. The woman, whose name Luke doesn’t reveal, slipped in unnoticed. She stood at the feet of Jesus and began to weep. When her tears fell on his dusty feet, she knelt down, loosened her hair, and began to wipe the wetness of her tears from his feet. Then she kissed them. Finally, in an act of great sacrifice, she broke open an alabaster jar of ointment and began to anoint his feet.   
If we had…

Freedom in Covenant -- Questions of Theology and Disciples Identity

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I have been posting of late on our Disciples identity, especially the need for more theological conversation. One of our strong suits, but also a hindrance to a conversation is an appeal to freedom. Since we're free from any coercive power, imposing a particular theology, why have the conversation? Let everyone believe as they choose.  Being a theologian (a historical theologian in particular) I believe theology is important to our identity and mission. The question for Disciples is how to understand the role of freedom in our life together. Ronald Osborn laid out in detail the role that freedom or liberty played in our origin story. It is intertwined with our pursuit of unity and the question of restoration. Since tomorrow is Independence Day in the United States, what better time to raise the question of freedom than right now? What is the value of freedom and how is it tempered?

 Below you'll find a presentation I gave to the Board of the Christian Church (Disciples of Chris…

A Dip in the River—A Moment of Healing - A Lectionary Reflection for Pentecost 4C (2 Kings 5)

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2 Kings 5:1-17 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Aram, was a great man and in high favor with his master, because by him the Lord had given victory to Aram. The man, though a mighty warrior, suffered from leprosy. Now the Arameans on one of their raids had taken a young girl captive from the land of Israel, and she served Naaman’s wife. She said to her mistress, “If only my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.” So Naaman went in and told his lord just what the girl from the land of Israel had said. And the king of Aram said, “Go then, and I will send along a letter to the king of Israel.” He went, taking with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold, and ten sets of garments. He brought the letter to the king of Israel, which read, “When this letter reaches you, know that I have sent to you my servant Naaman, that you may cure him of his leprosy.” When the king of Isra…