Showing posts from August, 2019

What Is the Identity of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)?

I got involved in a conversation on a Disciples of Christ clergy Facebook Group that raised the question of why increasing numbers of Disciples clergy seem not to understand the basics of who we are as a denomination. There's concern that clergy and thus congregations don't have sufficient knowledge of our history and beliefs. I agree with this in great measure. There's also concern that many clergy and congregations lack an understanding of our ecclesiology as it exists beyond the local congregation. Since it's difficult to fully express one's views in FB comments, I decided to take my portion of the conversation to my blog. If you're part of the Disciples community, this might interest you. If not, it still might interest you to see how at least one denomination has conceived its identity and what that means for today.
Some of the respondents to the question suggested that the problem might be attributed to growing numbers of non-Disciples serving congregation…

What Rivers Do -- A Reflection

In my sermon on Sunday, which drew upon Joshua 3:7-17, I offered a quote from T.S. McMillin's book The Meaning of Rivers.The quotation below appears in the book's introduction. He notes four things Rivers do:  They move, they stay, they connect, and they separate. I invite you to read and contemplate the words below.   Rivers move, flowing over land, through history, and among diverse groups of people, changing considerably from their source to their destination; they also stay, permanent blue lines on our maps, constant waypoints and lasting landmarks. Rivers connect—state with state, interior with exterior, one region with another, the past with the present; but they also separate nations, subcultures, and families. In short, rivers do not cede their meanings easily. [The Meaning of Rivers, p. xii].
 Having read these words, what do they say to you? How do rivers and other bodies of water function in your life?  Do you see spiritual implications present in them?  If you go t…

Surprised by Jesus Again: Reading the Bible in Communion with the Saints (Jason Byassee) -- A Review

SURPRISED BY JESUS AGAIN: Reading the Bible in Communion with the Saints. By Jason Byassee. Foreword by Michael Gulker. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2019. Xvii + 190 pages.

If you are a Protestant, you might be suspicious about any attempt to bring “tradition” into the conversation about matters of faith and practice. The Reformers and their heirs went all-in on Sola Scriptura. That is, when it comes to matters of authority, Scripture alone is the relevant voice. Truth be told, even Protestants have traditions. Reformed folks like to appeal to Calvin; Lutherans give deference to Luther; Wesleyans like to quote John Wesley. My tradition, the Disciples of Christ and our siblings have taken things even further. We have embraced the slogan “No Creed but Christ, No Book but the Bible,” but we have our own traditions. One of the challenges of my tradition is that there has been a tendency to define the Bible almost solely in terms of the New Testament. By suggesting in his …

Gone Astray -- Lectionary Reflection for Pentecost 12 C (Jeremiah 2)

Jeremiah2:4-13 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) Hear the word of the Lord, O house of Jacob, and all the families of the house of Israel. Thus says the Lord: What wrong did your ancestors find in me
that they went far from me,
and went after worthless things, and became worthless themselves?
They did not say, “Where is the Lord
who brought us up from the land of Egypt,
who led us in the wilderness,
in a land of deserts and pits,
in a land of drought and deep darkness,
in a land that no one passes through,
where no one lives?”
I brought you into a plentiful land
to eat its fruits and its good things.
But when you entered you defiled my land
and made my heritage an abomination.
The priests did not say, “Where is the Lord?”
Those who handle the law did not know me;
the rulers transgressed against me;
the prophets prophesied by Baal
and went after things that do not profit. Therefore once more I accuse you,
says the Lord,
and I accuse your children’s children.
10 Cross to the coasts of Cyp…

Crossing Over - A Sermon from Joshua 3

Joshua 3:7-17

“Shall we gather at the river, where bright angel feet have trod, with its crystal tide forever flowing by the throne of God?” The people of God had finally reached their destination. The Promised Land lay on the other side of the Jordan. Joshua gathers the people at the river’s edge and tells them to follow the Ark of the Covenant into the river. The Ark of the Covenant is the sign of God’s presence with the people. If you’ve seen the movie Raiders of the Lost Ark, you know what the Ark looks like. Joshua tells the people that when the feet of the priests carrying the Ark touch the water, the river will part, so they can pass to the other side on dry land.
We gather this morning at the river’s edge to prepare for own river crossing experience. It’s called a sabbatical, and for the next three months you and I, in different ways, will be reflecting on the River Crossings theme. Just so you won’t forget the theme, the sanctuary has been dressed to remind everyone what is hap…

August 1619 -- Slavery in the American Context

While many Americans would rather not address the reality of slavery in America, it is deeply rooted in our national ethos. The very home that every President since John Adams has lived in was built with slave labor. While slavery was uncommon in the north, its economy benefited from it. This month marks the four hundredth anniversary of the arrival of the first African slaves into the American colonies. In August 1619, twenty Africans arrived in Virginia. Over time slavery took hold and became part of the economic engine of the country. It took a bloody Civil War to bring it to a close.
I have not yet acquainted myself with the materials that make up the 1619 project of the New York Times, but historian John Fea provides a helpful introduction to the project and answers conservative critics who are not at all happy with the reminder that slavery has and continues to play a role in our national psyche. Below are the opening paragraphs of John's piece for Penn Live. I encourage y…

Shall We Gather at the River? A Reflection

In the course of the next several months, I will be reflecting on the theme "River Crossings." This is the theme of my sabbatical, which I and the church will be reflecting on in different ways.  I just completed reading the book The Meaning of Rivers, by T.S. McMillan. The book has introduced me to a variety of literature that has inspired my thinking about not only crossing rivers but experiencing rivers as a whole.
The hymn by Robert Lowery, which draws from Revelation 22, has a definite eschatological feel. It invites us to envision gathering at the heavenly river, that flows by the throne of God. It speaks of peace, something we often long for. One of the sections of McMillan's book invites to consider stories that speak of being by rivers. These stories often have a spiritual dimension. 
McMillan writes after having considered poems by Anne Bradstreet, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Langston Hughes, noting that in the poetry of each of these three "rivers are remin…

Fethullah Gülen: A Life of Hizmet -- A Review (Jon Pahl)

FETHULLAH GÜLEN: A Life of Hizmet. By John Pahl. Clifton, NJ: Blue Dome Press, 2019. Xix + 419 pages.

Several years ago I became acquainted with a Turkish-originated movement that sponsored interfaith dialogue. The members of the group, most of whom are Turkish are also Muslims. I later discovered that this group was part of a movement known as Hizmet, which is Turkish for service. I’ve come to know and respect that members of this movement, at least those whom I’ve encountered. They are faithful Muslims who embrace service to others and interfaith dialog and partnerships. Since these are core values for me as a person, it seemed appropriate to build on the relationships that were developing. Since this is a book that tells the story of the founder of Hizmet, it should not come as a surprise that what I share here will be sympathetic to the movement and its founder.
This book, which was provided to me as a gift from one of the local Hizmet leaders, tells the life-story of the Turkish …

The Prophetic Call -- A Lectionary Reflection for Pentecost 11C (Jeremiah 1)

Jeremiah 1:4-10 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
Now the word of the Lord came to me saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” Then I said, “Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.” But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am only a boy’;
for you shall go to all to whom I send you,
and you shall speak whatever I command you.
Do not be afraid of them,
for I am with you to deliver you,
says the Lord.” Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth; and the Lord said to me, “Now I have put my words in your mouth.
10 See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms,
to pluck up and to pull down,
to destroy and to overthrow,
to build and to plant.”
I was ordained some thirty-four years ago, the day after I received my M.Div. degree. Even though hands were laid on me that day in June and I received the marks of the profession, I nev…