Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Precious Water - Lectionary Reflection for Pentecost 17A (Exodus 17)

Exodus 17:1-7  New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
17 From the wilderness of Sin the whole congregation of the Israelites journeyed by stages, as the Lord commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. The people quarreled with Moses, and said, “Give us water to drink.” Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?” But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?” So Moses cried out to the Lord, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.” The Lord said to Moses, “Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink.” Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. He called the place Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarreled and tested the Lord, saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”

                Water is a precious resource. We cannot live for long without it. Perhaps that is because our bodies are largely composed of water. Many conflicts around the globe center on access to water, and with increasing desertification, drought, and pollution, this will become even more a problem in the days and years to come. Having lived in California much of my life, I’m only to aware of the issue of drought. For a moment there is a reprieve, but for how long? Now, living in Michigan, I’m well aware of the issue of water pollution. Not far from where I live sits the city of Flint, a community that has suffered greatly due to political decisions that led to a contaminated water supply that led to deaths from Legionnaires Disease and countless cases of lead poisoning.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Hearing God’s Voice – Disciples of Christ and Revelation

This is the second in what will be a series of outtakes from an attempt at writing a book exploring theology in the context of the Disciples of Christ. This emerged from a "Theology 101" study we did at Central Woodward nearly eight years ago. This excerpt and another to follow form parts of chapter two: "Revelation and Our Knowledge of God." I am offering these as a discussion starter among fellow Disciples and others who are interested in the conversation (and perhaps I'll find the wherewithal to further develop the book). 

St. Augustine is credited with the phrase “faith seeking understanding.”  This phrase has important implications for the church at large, but especially for Disciples.  The Disciples are a rational people, who seek out a faith that is understandable and practical.  Ronald Osborn suggests that “the early leaders of the Disciples of Christ contended for a faith characterized as sane, scriptural, and practical.  They were motivated by a faith which, to them, “made sense.” [Ronald Osborn, The Faith We Affirm: Basic Beliefs of Disciples of Christ, (St. Louis: Chalice Press, 1979), p.  12].

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Fair Wages in God’s Realm -Sermon for Pentecost 16A

Matthew 20:1-16

Jesus’ parables are subversive, because they reveal things about the realm of God. They’re stories we can read in different ways. Sometimes parables clarify things, but they can also confuse things enough that they start important conversations about what it means to live in the realm of God. The realm of God doesn’t operate like other realms, which is  why Jesus told Pilate that “my kingdom is not of this world.” (John 18:36)

Ever since Peter made the Good Confession and received his commission (Matt. 16:13-20), Jesus had been revealing things about the “Kingdom of Heaven” and the Church.  This parable is another contribution to that conversation. There is an important phrase that surrounds the parable: “The last will be first, and the first will be last.” 

The first instance of the phrase brings to a close Jesus’ conversation with the one we often call the “Rich Young Ruler” about what is required to enter the realm of God. That conversation centered around the hold our treasure has on our hearts and minds. In many ways, this parable is a continuation of that conversation. (Matt. 19:16-30)

Thursday, September 21, 2017

A Week in the Fall of Jerusalem (Ben Witherington III) - A Review

A WEEK IN THE FALL OFJERUSALEM. By Ben Witherington III. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2017. 158 pages.

                It is the year 70 CE. The Roman general Titus, the son of Emperor Vespasian and a future emperor himself, is nearing the completion of a devastating war in Palestine, a war that would prove pivotal for the Jewish people, and in many ways, for Christianity. It was in that year that the Romans destroyed Jerusalem, and with it the Second Temple, which had been expanded and rebuilt by Herod, making it one of the great marvels of the ancient world. The aftermath of the destruction of the Temple included a refocusing of Judaism away from the Temple and its priesthood, to the centrality of the Book and synagogue. There would be one last stand by the anti-imperial zealots at Masada, but for most Jews a new reality emerged. With the priestly ruling class and the zealots destroyed or sidelined, two groups strands of Judaism came to prominence. One group, which gathered at Jamnia and set parameters for the Hebrew Bible is known to us as the Pharisees. The other strand was the followers of Jesus, a community that was becoming increasingly Gentile, but which still had a significant Jewish component.

                In A Week in the Fall of Jerusalem, Ben Witherington, a New Testament scholar and professor at Asbury Seminary, imaginatively reconstructs what life was like during the week following the breaching of the walls of Jerusalem. He weaves the two strands together, the Jewish and the Christian, but the focus is on the Christian strand, which still abided in the region, a community that still might have included some of Jesus’ original followers. These would be names that someone familiar with the Gospels would recognize, people like Joanna, Mary and Martha, and Levi.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

A Time to Pray

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases,
    his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.  [Lam. 3:22-23]

As I was pondering life on a Tuesday evening, thinking about what I might post for Wednesday reading, it seemed appropriate to simply ask you, my readers, to join me in prayer. In recent weeks we have seen Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma hit the Texas, Florida, and the Caribbean, as well as fires in the west. On Tuesday Hurricane Maria, another category 5 storm hit Dominica, a small island nation, where a sister of a member of the church resides with her family, a hurricane that will hit elsewhere in the Caribbean, including Puerto Rico (I have friends with family in Puerto Rico), and then a massive 7.1 earthquake hit the Mexico City area. All of this happens while the UN General Assembly is meeting, at which the President of the United States warned of the possibility of wiping a nation off the map.

These are sobering times. I do not live in fear. That is not who I am. Indeed, I am by nature an optimistic realist. But, that does not mean I am unconcerned about the state of things. It does not mean I do not care. I simply recognize that there are somethings over which I have no control, though I also understand that there are things I can do to make a difference. One of the things I can do is pray. After all, prayer centers us in God's presence. So, acting in the Spirit, I can pray for peace, healing, hope, resilience, fortitude, good will.  I would invite you to do the same.

In the spirit of the writer of Lamentations, let us come before God, whose love never ceases, and whose faithfulness is great. It is not a controlling love, but a love that invites us to participate in the work of God in the world.

God of peace, 
You are ever faithful to your promises,
You are steadfast in your love.
Even in the midst of great tragedy, you are never far away from us.
We cry out to you, we release our fear, our sense of foreboding.
We commit ourselves to you and to your cause, the realm of God. 
We look at the world, we watch as nature unleashes its destructive force.
We understand that at one level, this is simply nature being nature.
But, we know that we must confess, that we have contributed to at least some of nature's fury.
We seek your forgiveness and your comfort.
We pray for all who are affected by hurricanes, floods, fires, earthquakes, 
famine, war, the threat of war. 
When all seems lost, we come before you, trusting in your steadfast love.