Showing posts from March, 2019

The Joy of Forgiveness -- A Sermon for Lent 4C (Psalm 32)

Psalm 32

Are you happy? Then you must be forgiven! While none of us is  completely sinless, apparently it’s possible to be free of that nagging joy-killing sense of guilt that comes with sin. It appears that we can “be glad in the Lord and rejoice,” if we’re found to be among the righteous. We can “shout for joy,” if “we’re upright in heart.” The good news is we can start with the promise of forgiveness. So says the Psalmist.
We’re at the halfway point in our Lenten journey, and during this season we’ve been spending time with the Psalms. We’ve mostly heard words of assurance. We’ve heard that God is our refuge and our fortress, and that we live under the protective cover of God’s wings. We’ve heard the promise of God’s steadfast love surrounding us.  These are words of divine grace that offer us comfort and encouragement, especially when life’s circumstances are challenging. 
Of course, Lent is a season of reflection and even penitence. So, could another shoe be waiting to drop? Could t…

Go the Distance

It is perhaps my favorite movie. It is about baseball and father/son relationships. You guessed it -- it's Field of Dreams.  Ray Kinsella keeps hearing this voice telling him to do two things -- "heal his pain" and "go the distance." He builds the baseball field in an Iowa cornfield, which is inhabited by old time players, now dead, led by Shoeless Joe Jackson. If you know the movie, you know the story.
I draw on that image, as I reflect on the current state of affairs in our country. The Mueller Report was turned in, a summary has been released, but we do not really know what it says and why it says what it does. On one side there are those who are doing a victory dance. On the other side there are those who feel betrayed, believing that the President would be found out, and now feel dejected. Both sides are probably jumping to conclusions, but it's understandable. 
I used to enjoy writing about politics, but not so much these days. There doesn't seem…

Lawful, but not beneficial -- Implications of 1 Corinthians 10

In the Wednesday afternoon Bible Study, we’ve reached 1 Corinthians 10. There is much to explore in this passage. Paul talks about baptism and the Eucharist, at least implicitly. He reads the Exodus story typologically, incorporating the Corinthian church in the story of Israel. He also addresses, once again, the issue of eating meat sacrificed to idols. As I read the final section (verses 23-32), I sensed that these verses are rather pertinent to our times.
1 Corinthians 10:23 repeats a statement Paul first made in 1 Corinthians 6:12: “’All things are lawful,’” but not all things are beneficial. ‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things build up.” The context is eating meat sacrificed to idols. As far as Paul is concerned the meat itself isn’t tainted, and thus if offered to you, eat it. After all, the idols are not real. You won’t be infected with a demon by eating it. Paul doesn’t want them to share the table of demons, by which he means, participating in idolatry (1 Cor. 10:19-…

Settling in the Promised Land - Lectionary Reflection for Lent 4C (Joshua 5)

Joshua 5:9-12  New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
The Lord said to Joshua, “Today I have rolled away from you the disgrace of Egypt.” And so that place is called Gilgal to this day.10 While the Israelites were camped in Gilgal they kept the passover in the evening on the fourteenth day of the month in the plains of Jericho. 11 On the day after the passover, on that very day, they ate the produce of the land, unleavened cakes and parched grain. 12 The manna ceased on the day they ate the produce of the land, and the Israelites no longer had manna; they ate the crops of the land of Canaan that year.
On the day the people of Israel left Egypt for the freedom that would come when they reached the Promised Land, they observed Passover (Exodus 12). It is revealed to Moses, that “you shall observe the festival of unleavened bread, for on this very day I brought your companies out of the land of Egypt: you shall observe this day throughout your generations as a day of perp…

Jesus According to the New Testament (James D. G. Dunn) - A Review

JESUS ACCORDING TO THE NEW TESTAMENT. By James D. G. Dunn. Foreword by Rowan Williams. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2019. Xv + 211 pages.

When we think of Jesus and his story, we think of the Gospels. We're not wrong in doing so. The Gospels provide us with much of what we know about Jesus. However, Jesus plays a central role in the entire New Testament. The question is, what does the New Testament as a whole have to say about Jesus? Let us remember that the oldest parts of the New Testament are not the Gospels but Paul’s letters. Therefore, if we want a full picture of Jesus—or as full as is possible—we need to consider the entire canon of the New Testament. Who better to guide us along the way than James D. G. Dunn, the Lightfoot Professor Emeritus of Divinity at Durham University.
I first encountered Dunn in seminary through his work on the Holy Spirit. I have since come to know him to be one of the foremost New Testament scholars of our day and a mentor to …

Thirsting for God -- Sermon for Lent 3C (Psalm 63)

Psalm 63:1-8

Isaiah called out to the exiles living in Babylon:
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.  (Is. 55:1) Are you thirsty? Are you hungry? Then come and drink and eat, freely, for the gift of God is one of grace, and it alone will satisfy. 
As we continue our Lenten journey, the word we hear from the Psalmist echoes the words of Isaiah. This Psalm is said to come from David as he was in the wilderness of Judah. Both Isaiah and David speak of hunger and thirst. The question then becomes, for what do you hunger and thirst? Is it physical or is it spiritual? The fact is we will experience both forms in the course of lives. Both are real and both seek satisfaction. And in way or another, God is the source of that satisfaction.
This morning as we ponder the words of the Psalm, we are invited to consider what it means to be truly thirsty. As we consider what this means, the wo…

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…