Tuesday, May 31, 2016

A Prophet Rises - Lectionary Reflection for Pentecost 3C

Luke 7:11-17 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

                11 Soon afterwards he went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went with him. 12 As he approached the gate of the town, a man who had died was being carried out. He was his mother’s only son, and she was a widow; and with her was a large crowd from the town. 13 When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, “Do not weep.” 14 Then he came forward and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, rise!” 15 The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. 16 Fear seized all of them; and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has risen among us!” and “God has looked favorably on his people!” 17 This word about him spread throughout Judea and all the surrounding country.

                The Gospels seek to answer the question: “Who is Jesus?” This is a question that has been on the lips of people from the first century to the present. Each of the Gospels offers a somewhat different answer to the question; an answer that is fitting for the particular community addressed by the Gospel writer.  While the Gospels give an account of Jesus’ teachings, they also give an account of acts of power in which Jesus heals people and in some cases raises them from the dead. Jesus’ words fare better in our modern day than his healing efforts. Remember that Thomas Jefferson took scissors to the “supernatural” parts and left the pithy statements of wisdom. Thus, we become red-letter Christians, with the stuff in black being deemed expendable, largely because the supernatural parts make us uncomfortable. Who wants to look unscientific in an enlightened age?  I have no desire to get rid of science. I think it offers us an important voice, but our discomfort may arise because we’ve missed the point of stories like the one in front of us.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Memorial Day Reflection and Benediction

I was asked to participate in a Memorial Day observance in the city of Troy, Michigan. I was tasked with giving the closing words and benediction. I am committed to being a peacemaker and a bridge-builder. I believe there is a place for faith in the public square. I am also keenly aware that down through history there has often been an unfortunate alliance with the public square that gives up the prophetic role in exchange for civil honors. Finding an appropriate position in this setting isn't easy, but I believe that we must at times take the risk if we're to be partners in creating a just and peaceful world.  So here are my words and my prayer. 


Sunday, May 29, 2016

Great Is the Lord, and Greatly to be Praised - A Sermon for Pentecost 2C

Last Sunday when I preached the first in a series of sermons from the Psalms, we heard the Psalmist declare: “O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name” (Ps. 8:1). This morning the Psalmist invites us to sing a new song, for “great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised.” 

The Book of Psalms is a prayer book and a hymnal that is designed to help us be in relationship with the living God. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote that “the Psalms have been given to us precisely so that we can learn to pray them in the name of Jesus Christ” [DBW, 5:157].

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Explained: Donald Trump's Unlikely Support from White Evangelicals -- Sightings (Theo Anderson)

Many observers, me included, have been befuddled by the support given by white evangelicals to Donald Trump. His life and his rhetoric, don't seem to fit what an evangelical would give approval. In this essay from Sightings, journalist and scholar Theo Anderson gives the most cogent response I've yet seen. I commend it to you. It's not the policies, it's the anti-establishment rhetoric that is drawing support. I might add there is a similar trend among liberal Christians supporting Bernie Sanders. There is the feeling that the establishment has betrayed their trust and thus Trump's run offers them an opportunity to punish the establishment.

Explained: Donald Trump's Unlikely Support from White Evangelicals 
Sarah Palin endorsed Donald Trump's bid for U.S. President on January 19, 2016, in Ames, Iowa.
Credit: Alex Hanson / flickr.
Donald Trump is deeply divisive among white evangelical Christians. In a recent story on NPR, one evangelical called the billionaire New Yorker a “reprehensible” and “wicked” man. Even so, Trump has done well enough among conservative Christians to become the GOP’s presumptive nominee. In the recent, decisive primary in Indiana, where more than half of voters were white evangelicals, exit polls showed Trump winning their votes by a margin of three points over Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. In other words, they preferred a man who has been married three times, and has been pro-choice much of his life, to the most aggressively evangelical Republican in the race. Why?

Friday, May 27, 2016

Outlaw Christian (Jacqueline Bussie) -- Review

OUTLAW CHRISTIAN: Finding Authentic Faith by Breaking the “Rules.” By Jacqueline A. Bussie. Nashville: Nelson Books, 2016. 268 pages.

                There seems to be a growing number of books that speak to the unsettled nature of the Christian faith. The allure of Enlightenment certainty is fading. One recent author wrote of the Sin of Certainty (Peter Enns). Now comes a book about Outlaw Christians. Much of this desire to escape the clutches of rules and regulations seems to emerge from within the evangelical community, both Bussie and Enns seem to reflect that current.  and certainty is the product of the Enlightenment.

                The idea of being an outlaw Christian does have an appeal. Too often the Christian faith is defined by rigid creeds and rules of behavior, rules that often detract from living in relationship with God. There is also much talk in recent years about authenticity, though as we’ve seen in the current political scene people seem to have a rather loose definition of authenticity. Bussie has something specific in mind when she invites to break the rules. She doesn’t have in mind biblical rules. Rather it’s the folk rules and customs that develop overtime. These are the rules that emerge out of fear rather than love of God and neighbor. At the same time, she speaks to rules that tell us that it’s not appropriate to argue with or get angry with God (obviously those who believe this way have never read the Psalms or Job).  The same goes for doubt. Even the greatest of saints have had doubts—witness Mother Teresa.  What does doubt offer? She suggests authenticity, for we as humans cannot claim to fully understand the infinite. If authenticity is a goal, then we must let go of the clichés that deny the reality of suffering and evil. Bussie invites us to transgress the rules and discover our own stories. This leads in the end to an invitation to embrace a life of hope.