Wednesday, May 04, 2016

Religion in Global Affairs -- Sightings (Martin Marty)

Understanding the role of religion in global affairs is often lacking among pundits and politicians. It is either discounted as irrelevant in a secular world or thought to be destructive. But the situation is much more complicated than many of us realize. Martin Marty has long been a keen observer, especially of fundamentalisms, which he mentions in this essay.  The highlight of the essay is a report on Secretary of State John Kerry's acknowledgement of the important roles that religion plays, both positively and negatively. He recognizes that religion is central to the lives of billions across the globe. To discount or ignore religion, therefore is dangerous. Thus, I invite you to read and consider this question -- what role does religion play across the globe? 

Religion in Global Affairs
By MARTIN E. MARTY   MAY 2, 2016
Secretary of State John Kerry, Rice University's Stude Concert Hall, April 26, 2016
Image Credit: Karen Warren / Houston Chronicle via AP
When in the 1980s Scott Appleby and I were first chartered to deal with one particular public expression of religion, the complex of militant fundamentalisms, we were confronted with a global scene for which we were not prepared. We soon found out also that very few others were equipped to monitor and highlight these and other negative and positive religious outbursts. We were well supported and soon well surrounded by the few pioneers in this field.

Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Unity and Mission -- Lectionary Reflection for Easter 7C

John 17:20-26 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

20 “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. 24 Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. 

25 “Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. 26 I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”
                On the Seventh Sunday of Easter, many preachers/congregations will choose to celebrate Ascension Sunday. The Gospel reading for Ascension Sunday is Luke 24:44-53. The promise of Ascension Sunday is that Jesus, despite leaving the disciples physically, is sending them out on a mission. Luke will pick this up again in the first chapter of Acts, where he recounts the ascension story and tells the gathered community that when the Spirit falls on them, they are to preach the good news to the world beginning in Jerusalem (Acts 1:8). The reading for the seventh Sunday of Easter also speaks of mission, though we find Jesus engaged in a final moment of teaching before going to the cross. Thus, for this reading Jesus has not yet died or risen from the grave, and thus isn’t ready to ascend. But, he does pray for the disciples in what is often known as Jesus’ high priestly prayer. In this prayer he offers up a vision of mission that is tied to unity among the members of his community.

Monday, May 02, 2016

The Sin of Certainty (Peter Enns) -- Review

THE SIN OF CERTAINTY: Why God Desires our Trust More than our “Correct” Beliefs. By Peter Enns. San Francisco: Harper One, 2016. 230 pages.

                The book of Hebrews declares that “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1). The author of Hebrews tells us that our spiritual ancestors received approval for their faith, even though they could not see their hopes come to fruition. To live by faith is to trust your life to a God who remains unseen. Nevertheless, many of us have a need more certainty than this. There is a need on the part of many for a bit more definition of the faith. That leads to a desire for what Peter Enns calls “correct” beliefs. Whether those correct beliefs emerge from Scripture or from tradition, they offer a sense of certainty. Peter Enns learned the hard way that this can be dangerous. Thus, he concluded that the search for certainty is in itself a matter of sin.

                Peter Enns is a bible scholar who got in trouble with the seminary where he did his own seminary work and then where he taught for fourteen years. He got in trouble because he voiced opinions that didn’t accord with what the administration and at least parts of the constituency of the seminary believed to be correct. Even though the opinions he published were no different from what he had taught in class, now that they were out there in public they were no longer acceptable. Ultimately he was forced to resign his position at the seminary that nurtured his own faith and provide him a work environment he loved. What that resignation did was free him to deal with long-standing doubts and questions, and it allowed him to be more open to the leading of the Spirit and to the findings of critical biblical scholarship. The seminary’s loss, is the broader Christian community’s gain. As an aside it is interesting that Enns never names the seminary in the text of the book. You’ll only find mention of Westminster Theological Seminary in a note at the end of the book (and who reads the notes?).

Sunday, May 01, 2016

God Is Our Light - Sermon for Easter 6C

Revelation 21:10, 22-22:5

On the first day of creation, God said: “‘let there be light’; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good” (Genesis 1:3-4a). Every day when the sun rises the darkness flees, and we rejoice in the goodness that the light of the sun brings to our lives. As the Psalmist declares:
  15 Happy are the people who know the festal shout,
   who walk, O Lord, in the light of your countenance;
16 they exult in your name all day long, 
and extol your righteousness. (Ps. 89:15-16).
When I chose to preach on this reading from the Book of Revelation, I didn’t know that this would be the week that our new lighting system would be installed. I call it providential that we’re celebrating God’s light on the day that this room, which has been rather dark in recent years, gets bathed in new light. As we contemplate the new brightness of the room, we can imagine for a moment walking in the light of God’s countenance. 

Last Sunday we watched as the New Jerusalem descended from heaven to the New Earth. We heard the message that God had chosen to dwell among us. This morning, we hear that the Spirit has taken John to the top of a great mountain. From this perch, he can watch as the holy city of Jerusalem descends to earth. John invites us to use our spiritual imaginations to envision the breadth and length of the city, as well as the glory that radiates from it. If you take a look at the verses we skipped, you will get a good sense of the magnificence of this holy city of God.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Worship's Narrative Arc -- Christian Formation

I believe that worship stands at the center of the Christian faith. During this Easter season I have been preaching from the lectionary texts drawn from the Book of Revelation. This very apocalyptic book is also a book of worship. It reveals to us the importance of being engaged in fellowship with the Creator by offering songs of praise and thanksgiving. 

Worship is one of my passions. I grew up in the Episcopal Church, and that liturgical tradition helped form me as a Christian in ways I didn't understand at the time. Though I left the Episcopal Church during high school and settled within a Pentecostal Community (with it leaving its deposit in my understanding of worship), for most of my adult life I have been part of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). The Disciples are a Free Church tradition that doesn't have a prescribed liturgy, though a liturgy of sorts emerged over time. Central to Disciples worship, as is true for the Episcopal Church, is the Table. Each week we gather at the Table to celebrate the Eucharist. That very decision helps form us as Christians, even if we don't always consciously understand how it is forming us.

With these introductory words I'd like to share a word from a new book by James K. A. Smith.  Central to Smith's book is the premise that Christian worship, indeed, Christian discipleship is less about information (intellectual) and more about habit. Sometimes we think that habits are bad things, but perhaps not. So with this in mind I share this word about how historic liturgy helps form us:

Worship that restores our loves will be worship that restor(i)es our imagination.  Historic Christian worship has a narrative arc that rehearses the story of redemption in the very form of worship--enacting the "true story of the whole world." And it does so in a way that speaks in the language of imagination, the part of us that understands in story. Intentional, historic liturgy restores our imagination because it sanctifies our perception -- it implants the biblical story so deeply in to our preconscious that the gospel becomes the "background" against and through which we perceive the world, even without "thinking" about it. Only when you are formed this deeply can you say as C.S. Lewis did, "I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else." This is a "belief" that you carry in your bones. [You Are What You Love, p. 94].
When we share the Lord's Prayer each week, it can be, and often is, something we say by rote. But then at points in our lives it connects with God in a way that we had thought about. It was simply there to remind us to whom we owe allegiance. When we gather at the Table and share the words of institution we're drawn back to a meal that Jesus shared with his disciples. We remember, and as we remember, we participate in that meal with Jesus. For some of us, we do this each week. And often we do so by rote. It's simply something we do, but then at certain moments we recognize that God is forming us by this narrative arc.  We discern God's act of redemption. 

Worship is not simply singing a bunch of songs followed by a speech. It is a lot more than that. It is a connector to a long line of Christian experiences, that help form us as Christians.