Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Restoring Fellowship in the Church -- Lectionary Reflection for Pentecost 13A

Matthew 18:15-20  New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

15 “If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. 16 But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 18 Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. 19 Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”

          What responsibility do we have for each other?  If someone sins against us (does something to harm us or another) do we have a responsibility to pursue a resolution, and what is it we should pursue?  Justice (whatever that means) or reconciliation or something else?    Do we have a responsibility to correct a brother or sister, if we see they are taking a spiritually dangerous path?  Questions like these ask us to consider the nature of our relationships within the church.  In essence they are similar to the question that Cain asked about Abel – Am I my brother’s keeper?  What would Jesus say?

Monday, September 01, 2014

Ferguson -- Sightings (Martin Marty)

It is Labor Day and the first day of September. Martin Marty has returned, offering his wisdom, in his weekly Sightings column.  Having been off for a month, he takes up the issue that has dominated the conversation for the past month -- the events in Ferguson, Missouri.  He raises the question both of the sense of hopelessness that pervades the country and the role that religion is playing in the context -- beyond the celebrity sightings (Al Sharpton) -- and ends with a note about the response of Mark Labberton, president of my alma mater, Fuller Theological Seminary, a response he thought might be the most eloquent of all.  Take a read and offer your thoughts.  

Monday | Sept 1 2014
                                                                                          Photo: Light Brigading / flickr creative commons
I am back to “sighting” for Sightings, after what the editor called an August “hiatus” and this scribe called a Summer “sabbatical.” Pleased to hear that we were missed, we are discussing whether (or not) to publish relentlessly through all the weeks next year.

What did we miss? Frank Bruni in “Lost in America” (New York Times, Aug. 25) captures too well the spirit of a dispiriting period. America right now, Bruni writes, is “a country surrendering to a new identity and era, in which optimism is quaint and the frontier is anything but endless. There’s a feeling of helplessness… Americans are apprehensive… They are hungry for hope…” No political leaders inspire hope, and institutions seem self-serving and stagnant. Etc. You all know all of that. The sign above my desk reads “NO WHINING,” so let us move on with Sightings.

In a world of utter upset, one story more than any other appeared on the “religion in public life” screen, code-named “Ferguson,” after the St. Louis-area site of a police shooting of an unarmed African-American man and the protests, disruptions, and sometimes chaos which followed.

I knew Ferguson, and one church there, decades ago when the mainly-white church-goers had little cause for complaint except for the noise of planes taking off and landing at the not-too-far-away Lambert field. Now Ferguson is largely black, though ruled by whites. Religion on the scene? Let’s look.

The Rev. Bernice King drew notice as she dialogued with and promoted non-violence among thirty high-schoolers. Her “show your hand” poll turned up only one who, in the heat of the moment, thought her late father’s non-violent approach had much of a presence or future in Fergusonian circumstances.

Among senior leaders, the Rev. Jesse Jackson showed up, marched some, but was treated to or mistreated in a brief media encounter when some angry locals encountered him, captive in a seat-belt, and subjected him to verbal attack: “Where were you?” Also, of course, the Rev. Al Sharpton was there and, no surprise, drew much media attention. Yet it was not these celebrities who left their mark. Others, somewhat later, and more quietly, appeared, served, and spoke up.

Most important during the protests were the actions of a new “Clergy United,” 200-strong, who mediated between frustrated and angry local people and police. They were organized by, among others, Rob White, pastor of Peace of Mind Church and Bishop Edwin Bass of the Church of God in Christ.

The memorial service for the killed Michael Brown, at Friendly Temple Missionary Baptist Church in St. Louis, drew four or five thousand to hear eulogies, including from Brown’s uncle, Pastor Charles Ewing, who said that his nephew’s blood was “crying from the ground.” (No one needed to explain the biblical references to these church-going citizen-mourners.)

Nationally, church leaders wrote eloquently about the need for local churches of all sorts to step up to the awesome challenges of racial prejudice, and to note that 86.3% of local churches in America failed to have at least 20% “diversity” in their membership. In this and all other such declarations, the “confessors” pledged new energies so that the voice of the local church might be more prominent, and so that congregations would embody and exemplify more diversity.

If forty and fifty years ago Evangelical-type churches, not only in the South, were seldom seen as leaders in moves to integrate and work for racial justice, let it be noted that one of the most eloquent statements of confession of guilt and resolve to change came from Mark Labberton, President of Pasadena’s Fuller Theological Seminary, considered by many to be the flagship Evangelical ministerial school.

A sign, among many, to hope once again?


Bruni, Frank. “Lost in America.” New York Times, August 25, 2014, The Opinion Pages. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/26/opinion/frank-bruni-lost-in-america.html?_r=0.

Elisa Crouch. “Rev. Bernice King Promotes Father Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Nonviolent Legacy in Ferguson.” Religion News Service/Huffington Post, August 27, 2014. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/08/27/bernice-king-ferguson_n_5724894.html.

Jervis, Rick. “Clergy and activists help Ferguson protests remain calm.” USA Today, August 24, 2014. http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2014/08/24/ferguson-protests-peaceful-clergy/14531429/.

AP. “Michael Brown’s funeral draws thousands in Missouri.” CBS News, August 25, 2014. http://www.cbsnews.com/news/michael-brown-funeral-draws-hundreds-in-ferguson-missouri/.

Banks, Adelle. “Ferguson letter from black clergy becomes interracial call for justice.”Religion News Service, August 22, 2014.http://www.religionnews.com/2014/08/22/ferguson-letter-black-clergy-becomes-interracial-call-justice/.

Labberton, Mark. “Fuller’s President Reflects on Events in Ferguson.” Fuller Theological Seminary Presidential Communications, August 25, 2014. http://www.fuller.edu/offices/president/from-the-president/2014-posts/fuller-s-president-reflects-on-events-in-ferguson/.

Image Credit: Light Brigading / flickr creative commons

To read previous issues of Sightings, visit http://divinity.uchicago.edu/sightings-archive.
Author, Martin E. Marty, is the Fairfax M. Cone Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus of the History of Modern Christianity at the University of Chicago Divinity School. His biography, publications, and contact information can be found at www.memarty.com.

Editor, Myriam Renaud, is a Ph.D. Candidate in Theology at the University of Chicago Divinity School. She was a 2012-13 Junior Fellow in the Marty Center.
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Sunday, August 31, 2014

Living the Faith -- A Sermon for Pentecost 12A

Romans 12:9-21

Sometimes you come across a passage of Scripture that could take several months of sermons to explore.  This is true of today’s reading.  With sentences coming at us in rapid-fire fashion, it demands a great degree of reflection.  Since I’m not planning an extended series at this moment, I will try to refrain from dwelling too long in every nook and cranny of Paul’s message.  

Each statement is an imperative sentence that speaks to what it means to live the Christian life.  It’s fitting that this reading comes on Labor Day Weekend, because it will take a lot of work to fulfill Paul’s expectations.  

The key to this passage is the call to “let love be genuine” (vs. 9).  Everything that follows is an expression of genuine love.  It’s not romantic love.  It’s not just friendship.  It’s Agape love.  When it comes to defining love, I’ve been turning to theologian Tom Oord for help.  His basic definition goes like this:
To love is to act intentionally, in sympathetic/empathetic response to God and others, to promote overall well-being. [The Nature of Love: A Theology p. 17].
When it comes to the agape form of love, he defines it as “acting intentionally, in response to God and others, to promote overall well-being in response to that which produces ill-being.”  This means, do what is good for the other, “in spite of evil previously inflicted” (p. 56).   This is the kind of love that Jesus had in mind when he spoke of loving our enemies and doing good to those who hate us (Luke 6:27).

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Labor Day and the realities of Labor

It is Labor Day Weekend, a time to stop and remember the value of work and the often problematic aspects of labor.  Being a member of the white collar community, it is easy for me to forget what it means to truly labor, to submit one's body and mind to often dangerous and mind numbing work in factories and fields.  We live at a time when labor unions are in decline and the manufacturing sector is in decline as well in America.  We benefit (Americans that is) from cheap goods imported from other lands where labor practices are often unchecked, meaning that the practices mirror those in America in the 19th century and early 20th.

With this in mind, and as I was thinking about what to share on this Saturday of Labor Day, my mind went to the early Reinhold Niebuhr, who served as a pastor in Detroit during the early days of the Auto boom.  In a posting from 1925 in his book of reflections on his ministry in Detroit -- Leaves from the Notebook of a Tamed Cynic -- he writes of a visit of clergy to an auto factory:   
The foundry interested me particularly. The heat was terrific. The men seemed weary. Here manual labor is a drudgery and toil is slavery. The men cannot possibly find any satisfaction in their work. They simply work to make a living. Their sweat and their dull pain are part of the price paid for the fine cars we all run.
The workers in this factory worked to live -- they needed the wages, even if the work was unfufilling and even dangerous.  

He goes on to speak of our complicity in this reality -- a complicity we often put into the backs of our minds.  As we observe Labor Day, let us consider these words from one of America's most insightful theologians that emerged out of the context of ministry:

We are all responsible. We all want the things which the factory produces and none of us is sensitive enough to care how much in human values the efficiency of the modern factory costs. Beside the brutal facts of modern industrial life, how futile are all our homiletical spoutings! The church is undoubtedly cultivating graces and preserving spiritual amenities in the more protected areas of society. But it isn’t changing the essential facts of modern industrial civilization by a hair’s breadth. It isn’t even thinking about them. 
The morality of the church is anachronistic. Will it ever develop a moral insight and courage sufficient to cope with the real problems of modern society? If it does it will require generations of effort and not a few martyrdoms. We ministers maintain our pride and self-respect and our sense of importance only through a vast and inclusive ignorance. If we knew the world in which we live a little better we would perish in shame or be overcome by a sense of futility.   [Niebuhr,, Reinhold (2013-04-16). Leaves From The Note Book Of A Tamed Cynic (Kindle Locations 641-648). Read Books Ltd.. Kindle Edition.]

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Sex and Marriage Go Together -- Part 2

Continued from previous day's post.

Our focus here is on the role of sexuality within marriage, and while the Song of Songs (or Song of Solomon) can be interpreted allegorically for a spiritual purpose -- speaking of the love humans share with God -- that is not the original intent of these songs.  They celebrate human love that is expressed physically.
The woman speaks to her beloved:   “I am my beloved’s, and his desire is for me.”  She celebrates the mutual attraction that binds the couple together.  Seemingly out of step with the culture, the woman also takes the lead in the relationship.  She invites her beloved to walk through the fields and the gardens, where life is lush and fruitful, to a place where she says “There I will give you my love” (Song of Songs 7:10-12).  The sharing of love here is physical.  It is, to use a Greek term, eros.   She is going to show him a good time.  But this isn’t just a momentary fling.  It is much more than that.