Friday, July 31, 2015

Talking Stewardship!

Every year congregations will establish budgets and invite members and friends to contribute to the sustenance of that budget. As pastor I will preach on stewardship, though I don't generally teach tithing. I have members who do tithe and their commitment to giving has been a blessing to the congregation. One of the reasons I don't focus on it is that when we focus on tithing we end up focusing on rule and duty and not divine grace. Stewardship involves financial giving, but it is much broader than following a rule. As my friends declares in the video I'm going to recommend to you, stewardship is not about how much we give, but how much we keep. That is, everything belongs to God, so how much of that do we need to live on. I want to invite you to watch and consider the video below. This conversation is part of the weekly hangouts offered by Energion Publications, with whom I have published several books. The conversationists here are my good friend Rev. Steve Kindle, a retired Disciples pastor, who has written a brief examination of stewardship titled: Stewardship: God's Way of Recreating the World and Tithing after the Cross: A Refutation of the Top Arguments for Tithing and New Paradigm for Giving by David Croteau, a New Testament professor at Columbia International University.  I've read Steve's book, which I recommend, and am intrigued by David's book. What is interesting is that the two conversationists come from different theological perspectives. One is a conservative evangelical (David) and a liberal (Steve), and yet they come to similar perspectives. This is an interesting conversation, which I recommend. 

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Encountering Jesus in the Eucharist

What happens when we gather at the Lord's Table?  Is what we do a simple memorial of Jesus death (he died for our sins is a common prayer)? Are we encountering Jesus at the Table in a unique way? My own theology of the Table has been evolving in recent years. I believe that the Table should be all. As one of our church members in a conversation about a grant proposal suggested -- the Table is a crossroads where people come and go and in the midst of that coming and going encounter God in a transformative manner.  I wrote a little book about the evolving theology of the Eucharist that was published last year. I think it's a good place to start -- to see the way in which we have as Christians theologized our Table practices: The Eucharist: Encounters with Jesus at the Table (Topical Line Drives Book 10).

My own tradition, the Disciples of Christ, gather weekly at the Table. Our theology of the Table is Reformed (of the Zwinglian kind). My own theology is closer to that of John Calvin, who embraced a much more robust understanding of presence. For Calvin, as we partake of the elements of bread and wine/juice we are taking into ourselves the very person of Jesus. The Table is a point of communion with Christ that is transformative.  Calvin's theology didn't win out in this case among Protestants, but it's much richer.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Vanishing Clergy -- Sightings (Martin Marty)

Before he takes the month of August off, Sightings contributor Martin Marty has decided to opine on the state of the clergy -- or the vanishing of the clergy in America. As churches shrink and close opportunities for clergy, most of us being rather well educated, are becoming fewer in number. There are plenty of churches out there, but fewer can sustain paid staff at a rate that is commensurate with their education and experience. I'm less than a decade from retirement. I think I'll make it, but what about the future. How many churches will be in the position to call a full-time clergyperson. There may be benefits to serving bi-vocationally, but there are many challenges as well.  In any case, this posting is worth reading, whether or not you are clergy. 

Vanishing Clergy
By MARTIN E. MARTY   JULY 27, 2015
George Fox Evangelical Seminary Graduation 2015                                Credit: flickr via Compfight 
Our editor suggests that we postpone our next Sightings until September, to give a busy staff a breather after the busiest summer-news of news-logging we can remember.

Our files and e-files bulge or pulse with folders called “Current.” Before we tuck them away, one file stands out for timely comment almost any week of any year. Making the rounds after its publication in July 2014 is an item forwarded by many: from The Atlantic, David Wheeler’s catchily-titled “Higher Calling, Lower Wages: The Vanishing of the Middle-Class Clergy.”

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Bread of Life Available Today -- Lectionary Reflection for Pentecost 10B

John 6:24-35 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

24 So when the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum looking for Jesus. 
25 When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” 26 Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. 27 Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal.” 28 Then they said to him, “What must we do to perform the works of God?” 29 Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” 30 So they said to him, “What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing? 31 Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” 32 Then Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is that which[a] comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” 34 They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.” 
35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.


               My preferred words for sharing the bread and cup at communion are these: “The Bread of Life” and “The Cup of Salvation.” I use them rather than the more traditional Body and Blood of Christ. I’m not quite sure why I chose to embrace this alternative, but I have found them to be more expansive than the traditional words.

                The people whom Jesus fed (the 5000) are hungry once again. Since Jesus had fed them the day before, why not today? It is important to note that Jesus had crossed the lake in the night so this group decided to get into boats themselves and find him. When they do find him they go back to the original question—what sign are you going to give to get our allegiance. Jesus, of course, sees through the ruse. They really don’t want a sign. They want bread. Bread was the staple of life. The Romans understood this, so they used bread and circuses to distract the people, allowing them to essentially do as they pleased. When the crowds began to demand more liberty, they offered more bread. It was simple and relatively cheap (at least it was cheaper than expanding the military).

Monday, July 27, 2015

Disciples -- What's Your Eschatalogical Vision?

My Disciples ministerial colleague Brian Morse responded to my posting from yesterday by arguing for the importance of eschatology to the Disciples theological vision. I would agree whole-heartedly with Brian's assessment.  In fact, I devote one of the chapters of my upcoming book with Wipf and Stock Publishers -- Freedom in Covenant -- on this very topic. It is good to remember that Alexander Campbell titled his influential journal the Millennial Harbinger. For his part, Alexander Campbell was a Postmillennialist who took an optimistic view of the future. It seemed as if Protestant Christianity was on the move, with America at the forefront of the missionary movement that was spreading across the world (often on the coattails of European empire builders). Be that as it may, the point is -- Disciples had eschatological visions, even if not all were in agreement as to that vision.