Thursday, February 23, 2017

The Rejected Prince of Peace? A Conversation with Karl Barth


On Monday I posted my review of Karl Barth's book of World War I sermons titled A Unique Time of God.  I found the message of Barth's sermons preached as Europe was throwing itself into a most destructive war that would set up an even more destructive war to be rather relevant. It's not that everything is the same, but I found Barth's passionate plea for peace, even as he was willing to pronounce judgment on the world around him to be powerful. One thing you will notice if you read the sermons is that he doesn't spare the churches. In fact, he doesn't spare his own teachers, who backed the Kaiser's war effort without any qualification. Barth preached to a congregation that existed in a neutral country, but the war was nearby, and it was easy for nationalist passions to cross the border into Switzerland.  

In the last sermon in the series, preached on Reformation Sunday, November 1,1914, Barth threw up his hands in disgust at the seeming rejection of Jesus in favor of a war Spirit.  I want to share this paragraph from that sermon and invite us all to consider his plea to attend to the message of the Prince of Peace:
At present, we live in a world that does not believe that Christ is sent by God. Yes, it seems to believe in Jesus. It builds churches in his name. It reveres his cross. It calls itself by his name. But in deed and in truth it has rejected the prince of peace. It considers it a matter of foolishness that there could be a truly inclusive community of love, of love of all people; instead it preaches hate and so inflames the passions of one nation against the other. It does not want to be a great in spirit and greatest in service but great in the might that is based on power, and it prides itself that it is so dispassionate and free of fanaticism. It does not see that "righteousness exalts a people and a nation" (see Prov. 14:34) but boasts instead in its financial wealth, the number of its soldiers, and the size of its cannons. It supposes that the saber rather than the cross has the last word and proclaims over against Jesus: "Those who want to follow me must assert themselves and defend themselves as best they can" (see Matt. 16:24). So the word has rejected Christ. And as a consequence the word is now at war. [A Unique Time of God, p. 167]. 
 Does this sound familiar? Do we, in our time, claim to believe in Jesus and yet fail to follow him. Have we decided that way of Jesus is not relevant for our day? While we may not be, at the moment, fully engaged in war, we have been at war for almost the entirety of the 21st century. World War I was supposed to be the war that ended all wars, but the spirit of war doesn't seem to be going away. We choose the saber rather than the cross.  I'm not consistent pacifist, neither was Barth, but I agree with him that we have a tendency to reject the idea that an inclusive community of love is possible, and thus we fall into the trap of preaching hate.  God help us! God forgive us!

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

The Table of God's Future

On Sunday I will conclude my six-sermon series I've titled "Eating with Jesus." The series is part of our congregation's nearly year long emphasis on the Open Table and Mission, which is being funded by a Vital Worship Grant from the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship (and the Lilly Endowment). We've been having some really great conversations, and hopefully in the end we will have a better sense of the meaning of the Table (we celebrate weekly as Disciples) and its relationship to our call to mission. This past weekend Dr. Mark Love of Rochester College spoke to this very subject, helping us better understand mission (it's more than outreach) and Table/Worship. We gather, he reminded us, as part of God's New Creation in Christ, that is, we are part of God's new social reality in Christ, where there is no longer Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male and female (Gal. 3:28). We serve as a witness to the world of God's reconciling work in Christ. Envisioning ourselves as that reconciled people, that is a new social reality having taken form, where the church serves as a witness to reconciliation can be a challenge, because we tend to think of communion in very personal/private terms.  

In any case, in my final sermon this series, I;m turning to Matthew's version of the institution of the Lord's Supper. In Matthew 26:29, Jesus says: "I will never again drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom."  This is an important connector of the Last Supper with the Great Banquet in Heaven. While Jesus does share post-resurrection meals in Luke and John, there is no post-resurrection meal in Matthew or Mark.  This gives the Supper an eschatological feel. 

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

On the Mountain with God - Lectionary Reflection for Transfiguration Sunday (Exodus)


Exodus 24:12-18 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
12 The Lord said to Moses, “Come up to me on the mountain, and wait there; and I will give you the tablets of stone, with the law and the commandment, which I have written for their instruction.” 13 So Moses set out with his assistant Joshua, and Moses went up into the mountain of God. 14 To the elders he had said, “Wait here for us, until we come to you again; for Aaron and Hur are with you; whoever has a dispute may go to them.”
15 Then Moses went up on the mountain, and the cloud covered the mountain. 16 The glory of the Lord settled on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it for six days; on the seventh day he called to Moses out of the cloud. 17 Now the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel. 18 Moses entered the cloud, and went up on the mountain. Moses was on the mountain for forty days and forty nights.
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                For six years I lived at the base of a 14,000 foot mountain, for the next nine years of my life I lived within sight of that same mountain. It’s made an impression on me, and many others. There’s a sense of sacredness to Mount Shasta, especially when it’s enshrouded by lenticular clouds. As we come to Transfiguration Sunday, I can’t help but think of Mount Shasta, and the vision it offers of God’s sacred presence. To enter the cloud would be to enter a sacred space or what some call a thin place.

Monday, February 20, 2017

A Unique Time of God (Karl Barth) -- Review

A UNIQUE TIME OF GOD: Karl Barth’s WWI Sermons. By Karl Barth. Translated and Edited by William Klempa. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2016.

                A century ago the United States entered what was known as the Great War. By the time the United States entered the war, after the sinking of the Lusitania, it had been raging across Europe for three years, and it would continue for another year after the Americans entered the fray. It was a horrific and devastating war, but it was not without its religious cheerleaders. Among those who opposed the war, from the very beginning, was a young Swiss pastor, serving a predominantly German Reformed congregation in a Swiss village. This war contributed greatly to the theological rebirth of that pastor, who would go on to be one of the most important theologians of the twentieth century.

Friday, February 17, 2017

From Diversity to Inclusion in Troy, MI

Last night I had the privilege to attend a Unity Forum here in Troy, Michigan. The event was sponsored by the Troy-Area Alliance Against Hate Crimes. I was not involved in the planning of the event, but I had a hand in forming the organization as leader of Troy-area Interfaith Group, in partnership with the Troy Police Department, serving as its first convener (it's really taken off since I handed off the baton! Thanks Jen and everyone!).  It was a powerful evening as members of the community gathered for food, fellowship, and a panel discussion. The panelists represented a cross-section of the community and its neighbors. The focus was on community, but especially what it means to be a safe and inclusive community when you have a rather diverse population.

From the surface Troy appears to be a predominantly white, affluent, suburban community. At one level that is who we are. Our community leadership is predominantly white, but the community itself is quite diverse. In fact, we're the most diverse community in Michigan. I learned something new last night -- we have the largest of foreign born residents of any city in Michigan. Moving from diversity to inclusion isn't easy. We tend to gather in our self-segregated enclaves, rarely reaching across our ethnic and religious divides. There are places, like the Troy-area Interfaith Group, which I once led, that provides a gathering point. But we need to take advantage of these opportunities to get to know our neighbors. Last night was one of those important gathering points. It was a great evening of sharing. Good questions, good answers. Good people! We even heard from a recently arrived Syrian refugee, who shared how grateful he was to be in such a welcoming and safe space (if only this were really true).

As I drove home, however, I realized one things was missing -- media coverage. If this had been a different kind of meeting, one where the point was exclusion, we might have had more coverage.

Moving from diversity to inclusion isn't easy, but if we are willing to listen to each other, maybe there is hope. As a person who is White, Male, Christian (Protestant) -- what is considered normative American -- it is incumbent, as my friend Steve Spreitzer, of the Michigan Roundtable for Diversity Inclusion confessed as one of the panelists.

I'm going to leave you with a video that was shown at the beginning of the evening. It is a TED talk given in Detroit by Palestinian-American comedian Amer Zahr. It's a poignant piece, worth considering.