Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Clergy Supporting Clergy --- Academy of Parish Clergy

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I am at the annual conference of the Academy of Parish Clergy. I have been a member for some 13 years or there about. I am editor of the journal -- Sharing the Practice -- and last year joined what we call the College of Fellows -- that makes me a FAPC (Fellow of the Academy of Parish Clergy). This is a multi-faith organization of professional religious leaders who are dedicated to growing in the practice of ministry. To be honest almost all of our members are Protestant, with one exception -- a Buddhist nun (also a Fellow). I share this as a way of reporting the importance of peer support.

Clergy are human. We get tired and weary. We can become fearful and angry. We often feel that our calling and identity are not well understood. On one level, we want to be seen as ordinary people. At the same time we engage in a vocation that often separates us out from others (whether that is our intention or not). I greatly appreciate this group because it offers an opportunity to share our burdens, to bare our souls. I appreciate it as well because it is ecumenical and multi-faith. Sometimes denominational gatherings, as valuable as they might be, can't provide the same sense of freedom and support as this group offers.

So here I am in Wisconsin, on the shore of Lake Michigan, in a winter-like April week, enjoying the blessings of fellowship and learning. If you're clergy of any faith tradition or professional religious leader, and you're looking for the kind of experience I have been having why not join us.

Monday, April 16, 2018

A Word about Salvation - Lectionary Reflection for Easter 4B

Acts 4:5-12 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
The next day their rulers, elders, and scribes assembled in Jerusalem, with Annas the high priest, Caiaphas, John, and Alexander, and all who were of the high-priestly family. When they had made the prisoners stand in their midst, they inquired, “By what power or by what name did you do this?” Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders, if we are questioned today because of a good deed done to someone who was sick and are asked how this man has been healed, 10 let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel, that this man is standing before you in good health by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead. 11 This Jesus is 

‘the stone that was rejected by you, the builders;
    it has become the cornerstone.’ 
12 There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.”


                A healing leads to preaching, and preaching leads to arrest, which leads to a trial, and a trial gives an opportunity for preaching. At least that’s the way things seem to work for Peter and John here in chapters three and four of the Book of Acts. Peter had been preaching to a large crowd in Solomon’s Portico, after healing the man who was disabled at the gate to the Temple. In other words, an act of power opens an opportunity to explain the source of power, which of course leads to the message of the cross and the resurrection. While you might think that it would be the cross that stirs the pot here, it is really the message of the resurrection. It appears from the opening verses of chapter four that it was the message of resurrection of the dead that got the attention of the religious leaders, who order them arrested. That is the background story for Peter’s next sermon, this time delivered in front of the religious leaders who have gathered to pronounce judgment on Peter and John.

Unfortunately for the leaders, Peter takes advantage of this appearance to speak once again about the resurrection. Peter begins his defense with an acknowledgment that it seems they had been arrested for doing something good, that is, bringing healing to a man who had suffered for years. The question was—how did they do this? The answer is simple—they acted in the power of the one whom the religious leaders had crucified, but whom God vindicated by raising him from the dead. If you want to know how this happened, well that’s the answer—Jesus! Yes, this Jesus whom God has raised is the source of healing, which means they have been arrested for doing a good deed in the power of the risen one!

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Children of God and the Problem of Sin - A Sermon for Easter 3B

1 John 3:1-7

Who am I? What is my identity? We’ve all asked these kinds of questions of ourselves. In that spirit, let me introduce myself to you, as I know myself relationally. I am Bob, the son of Robert and Beverly, brother of Jim, husband of Cheryl, and father of Brett. If that doesn’t tell you enough about who I am, I could add that I am pastor of Central Woodward Christian Church in Troy, Michigan. If you need more, I can show you my resume, which gives details about my occupational and educational background, along with a lot of other details. 

Our reading this morning from 1 John adds another important element to my identity. In fact, it might be the most important factor of all, because it applies to all of us gathered here this morning. John invites us to “see what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God.”

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Grateful (Diana Butler Bass) -- A Review

GRATEFUL: The Transformative Power of Giving Thanks. By Diana Butler Bass. San Francisco: Harper One, 2018. Xxxi + 224 pages.

                What are you grateful for? Are you even grateful? While many of us grew up learning that it is proper etiquette to say thank you for gifts, even gifts we really don't like (you know the sweater that a relative gave you that is really hideous!), we might not be very good at saying thank you. That is especially true when it comes to sending thank you notes. Whether or not we are competent at expressing our gratitude, surely there is something to be thank for, even in moments of difficulty. Especially if we find expressing gratitude difficult, not because we’re ungrateful, but we just find it difficult to give expression, perhaps we need a word of wisdom from one who also struggles with gratitude. Diana Butler Bass confesses “I have always struggled with gratitude. I wanted to be grateful, but too often I find myself with no thanks” (p. xiii). It is out of those struggles that she writes this book on “the transformative power of giving thanks.”  

Diana Butler Bass is a gifted writer. I've read most of her books, which tend to focus on religious or spiritual matters. I have found them to be thought-provoking and even inspirational. Diana brings to her books scholarly expertise in the history of American Christianity as well as deep experience in the church and in the broader religious world. So, even when I struggle with what she writes, I find much of value to draw from. In the past many of her books have focused on church life and analysis of religious trends, but this book is different. It is more spiritual in nature, and less religious. Whatever your spiritual or religious or non-religious vantage points, I think you will find this book to be inspiring and a book that speaks to our times.  

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

John Wesley - Optimist of Grace (Henry Knight III) - A Review

JOHN WESLEY: Optimistof Grace (Cambridge Companions). By Henry H. Knight III. Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2018. Xv + 152 pages.

There was a time, not long ago, when conventional wisdom suggested that the eighteenth century was a time of religious negligence, marked by latitudinarianism and deism. The one bright spot was Methodism. Recent scholarship has offered a more nuanced perspective, but Methodism still plays a significant role in that story. While scholars explore the period, offering their perspectives on the various movements that were active in England and North America during this period, interest in John Wesley and the movement that he helped create is not only of historical interest. Wesley’s influence continues to this day, as adherents to the various forms of Wesleyanism number around seventy-five million. The descendants of Wesley’s movement include Methodism, but also various holiness churches, and Pentecostalism (though not all Pentecostals are Wesleyan). Thus, John Wesley helped launch one of the most influential movements in Global Christianity.  

Henry Knight III, a professor of Wesleyan studies and evangelism at Saint Paul School of Theology, a United Methodist seminary located in the metro-Kansas City region, offers us a brief but insightful introduction to the life, ministry, and vision of John Wesley. This small book is a contribution to the Cascade Companions series from Wipf and Stock Publishers. Knight accomplishes his purpose in writing this book. He introduces us to the theological foundations of Wesley’s work. He notes that in recent years scholars have begun to acknowledge Wesley’s importance not only as an evangelist and organizer (he was this, of course), but as an important theologian in his own right. Today he has been placed together with Jonathan Edwards as one of the key theologians of that age, and his influence has continued to this day.