Sunday, October 04, 2015

Welcome to the Global Table

Today is World Communion Sunday. Christians around the world are gathering at the Table of the Lord whether or not they do it with great frequency. It is understood to be a sign of our common faith. Of course the Table, while it could be a sign of unity, is often not. Too many fences have been erected over the years.  

I believe in an open Table, one where all are invited no matter their ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, educational level, economic situation, citizenship, or even religion. It's not that I don't take communion seriously. I take the Table very seriously. I believe that the Risen Christ is present at the Table through the work of the Holy Spirit. I believe that Jesus meets us there, no matter where we come from, no matter who we are. 

As we gather at the Table, recognizing that fences have often been erected to keep out the other, I share this word from Brazilian liturgical theologian Claudio Carvalhaes, who speaks of solidarity with the poor as an expression of the Table: 

 This feast of hospitality, justice and solidarity for the poor is constantly re-enacted around the Eucharist. There, always at a certain time and in a certain space, in a neighborhood somewhere in the world, we are connected to God, each other and the larger world by the mysterious presence of the Christ through the Holy Spirit. There, at the table/ altar, which always points us to elsewhere, under the powerful message of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we experience past, present, and future united in hopes for the fulfillment of history, announcing the new parousia of Christ in our midst, creating and realizing a new world order. At this table we say to each other and to the world: Lift up your hearts! Glory be to God! Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again. We sing Gloria, Alleluia, Christe Eleison, and we pray Come Holy Spirit, come! While we do it, our checking accounts, endowments, credit cards, and possessions will be challenged and we will have to be accountable to the concrete ways we relate to the singing, praying and remembering this mystery.  [Carvalhaes, Cláudio (2013-10-29). Eucharist and Globalization: Redrawing the Borders of Eucharistic Hospitality (p. 8). Pickwick Publications - An Imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers. Kindle Edition. ]
As we gather at the Table, with Jesus meeting us, we celebrate his presence by the Spirit. The question is -- how will we be challenged by that experience?   Where will our experience at the table take us?  At Central Woodward Christian Church this morning we are being challenged to consider our response to those who identify themselves as being LGBT by our preacher of the day, Dr. David Gushee, who has been speaking to us on a topic of utmost importance for the ministry of the congregation I serve.  Are we ready to take down fences so Jesus can work? 

Contagious Armadillos: Spreading Leprosy and Archaic Biblical Narratives - Sightings (Mark Lambert)

This summer I got into some poisonous plant life, the effects of which have been difficult to eradicate. I jokingly spoke of being struck with leprosy. But of course leprosy is not a laughing matter. If you know the biblical story to be a "leper," which likely wasn't Hansen's Disease (leprosy proper), but other forms of skin disease that led to people being segregated, then you know something about the issue. If you know the story of Father now Saint Damian and the lepers of Molokai, then again you know something of the social and physical dimensions of this disease. 

Because I'm not preaching this morning I'm sharing the Sightings essay of Mark Lambert, a PhD student at the University of Chicago, who writes of a recent outbreak of Hansen's Disease and the religious dimensions of that outbreak, as well as the broader conversation about disease and separation.  I invite you to consider his message in lieu of my sermon!

Contagious Armadillos: Spreading Leprosy and Archaic Biblical Narratives
            Credit: Tashatuvango /
The old adage that truth is stranger than fiction is abundantly apparent in recent headlines linking together the disparate words: leprosy, armadillo, and Florida. We can add “religion” to this uncanny trinity of terms.

A number of news outlets have recently reported on the surge in leprosy cases, or more properly, Hansen’s disease, in Florida. Whereas the state typically sees between two and twelve cases per year, nine have already been reported in 2015. The common denominator between these cases appears to be the innocuous armadillo.

Saturday, October 03, 2015

Moms and Gay Children - A Call to Ministry

This weekend David Gushee is speaking at Central Woodward Christian Church. David is an evangelical ethicist and LGBT ally. His book Changing Our Mind  is his effort to speak to this issue. We as a congregation haven't finished our journey with this, but I think we've reached a tipping point. As I have shared numerous times, I am an ally. My brother is gay. My cousin is gay. Cheryl's cousin is gay. It's a family issue.

But, until this week I really hadn't realized how crucial it is for the church to minister to families of LGBT children. It wasn't until I had a mother call to see if she could come, and bring some other mothers, who want to know how to bring the church along -- for the sake of their children. They need to know where can they go when the faith they've held sacred comes into conflict with the realities of their children whom they love. When my brother came out, my mom embraced him. My brother, however, let my mother tell me, as he wasn't sure how I would respond. Well, I must confess that I was problem conflicted at the time. I stood against discrimination, but I wasn't ready to affirm. But through study, praying, and meeting more and more gay folks, I chose to be an ally. It may have cost me one pastorate, but it gave me a new calling.

So here we are, more than a dozen years later, and I'm sensing a new calling and a new opportunity for ministry. One of the things I know to be true and David's book confirms is that there are a lot of people who are evangelical in orientation but who find themselves in a new place. They need to hear that their faith needn't conflict with their realities. They don't need to hear that Paul is wrong. They need to hear that Jesus loves their children. They need to hear a word of compassion and support, one that is rooted in the biblical story.

Of course we'll need help in figuring all of this out. David's book is an excellent primer.  I would like to add into the conversation another book written by a friend. Steve Kindle has written a little book titled If Your Child Is Gay: What every parent of a gay child needs to know to insure a positive outcome in an often negative world, (CreateSpace, 2013). There are other resources out there as well.

When the Spirit moves, we must respond. I'm hearing the Spirit speak. The wind is blowing. I'm ready to set sail!

Friday, October 02, 2015

Freedom in Covenant -- A Word to the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

I am a Disciples of Christ pastor and I'm trained as a historian and theologian. I care about my church and its message. I also am concerned that most Disciples are unclear as to who we are and why we exist. We revel in our freedom, but forget at times what binds us together. With that in mind I pursued publication of this small book, which has its roots in a series of sermons I shared with the three congregations I have served as pastor. It is now available from Wipf and Stock Publishers. 

The book is titled Freedom in Covenant: Reflections on the Distinctive Values and Practices of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), (Wipf and Stock, 2015). In the book I cover Disciples values and emphases including freedom (in biblical interpretation), restoration, eschatology, sacraments and more. The title serves as a reminder that whatever freedom we hold dear is placed in a context of covenant. 

Thursday, October 01, 2015

The Uncontrolling Love of God (Thomas Oord) -- Review

THE UNCONTROLLING LOVE OF GOD: An Open and Relational Account of Providence. By Thomas Jay Oord. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2015.

            Who is God? If you believe in God, as do I, what characteristics do you apply to this God? What is God’s identity? Depending on whom you ask you might hear that God is distant and capricious. Or you might say that God is loving and gracious. How you choose to live in relationship with this God may depend on your vision of God. If God is angry and capricious you likely will live in fear (and I don’t mean reverence). If you believe God is loving and gracious you may seek to draw close. There is another issue involved in this conversation and that has to do with the degree to which God is involved in history. That is, does God control things? If so, how much does God control and how much freedom do we have to determine our fate? The theological term here is providence, which speaks to the degree to which God’s hand rests on history.

            A traditional understanding of providence assumes that God is in control and not only that but God already knows the outcome of history. Before we ever act, the future is already decided. We can’t really change things—at least from the divine perspective. We might think that we’re acting on our own, but in reality it’s all settled. That is, unless you embrace an open-relational view of reality. This vision comes in a couple of forms, including Process Theology and Open Theology. The latter has its location within evangelical circles, mostly Wesleyan in nature. Among the most prominent of these “Openness of God” theologians is Tom Oord, who is nearing the end of his tenure as a professor at Northwest Nazarene University. One of the features of Tom’s work has been his stress on the place of love in our theological understandings. In fact, his book The Nature of Love, (Chalice Press, 2010) has been a constant companion in my own theological and pastoral work.