Showing posts from March, 2010

Bearing Witness Through the Spirit -- A Meditation for Holy Wednesday

Acts 1:8

8 “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."

It is the Wednesday before Easter – a sort of in-between time. It is a time of waiting and wondering what will happen next. Jesus has entered the city in triumph, and now is teaching daily in the Temple. According to the Gospels, the authorities are worried and plotting to rid themselves of a person they believe could upset the political balance that had agreed upon by the religious leaders and the Roman authorities.  The leaders feared the people, and Jesus seemed to be the kind of person who might stir up the hornets’ nest. So, in their mind, it was best to get rid of him and to their delight a disgruntled or may be disappointed disciple offered to turn him over to them (Luke 22:1-6).
As we read Acts 1:8, Good Friday and Easter are behind us, and Pentecost still awaits us. Once again,  we’re in an in-betw…

2010 Academy of Parish Clergy Book of the Year and Top Ten List

Below is a press release from the Academy of Parish Clergy, for which I edit a journal called Sharing the Practice.  I did not, however, participate in the choosing of these books, beyond making my suggestions.   ********************************************

The Academy of Parish Clergy, Inc. announces the 2010 Book of the Year Award to be Tending To The Holy: The Practice of the Presence of God in Ministry by Bruce G. Epperly and Katherine Gould Epperly (Alban Institute). The Book of the Year Award is given to the best book published for parish ministry in the previous year. In addition, the Reference Book of the Year Award is given to Revelation: A Commentary in The New Testament Library by Brian K. Blount (Westminster/John Knox Press). These awards will be made at the Annual Conference of the Academy, April 20-22, 2010, at the Sienna Center, in Racine, Wisconsin.

In addition to the Book of the Year, the Academy has selected the following books  to complete its list o…

The Word in this World -- Review

THE WORD IN THIS WORLD: Two Sermons by Karl Barth.  Edited by Kurt I. Johanson.  Introduction by William H. Willimon.  Translated by Christopher Asprey.    Vancouver, BC: Regent University Press, 2007.  66 pages.

    Karl Barth has been hailed as the greatest theologian of the Twentieth Century.  He has left a legacy that continues to be felt by the church, despite the fact that his death occurred four decades back.  Indeed, I can say that my own theological journey has been influenced by Barth’s work – his thoughts on the Word of God helping me come to grips with the biblical story.  But Barth was not only a profound and influential theologian, he was also a preacher.  William Willimon, writing in the introduction to the booklet, notes that Barth saw his theological work, especially the Church Dogmatics,  as being a support to the work of the preacher serving in the local church.   

    Recently I had the opportunity to review a collection of sermons that Barth preached while servin…

Easter Song

As we prepare to celebrate Easter Sunday -- knowing that we must first go through Good Friday -- I share a favorite song of Easter.  It's a song that goes back to my adolescent days-- Barry McGuire and the 2nd Chapter of Acts came through Klamath Falls several times, and so I was able to hear the song performed live.  So, here is Easter Song written and sung by the 2nd Chapter of Acts.

A Cry from the Cross: Sermons for Good Friday

I realize that Good Friday is only a few days away, but if you're in need of a resource for preaching or for devotional use that looks at the Seven Last Words of Christ, I'd like to suggest my collection of sermons entitled A Cry from the Cross(CSS, 2008).
These sermons were preached over a course of seven years, as I participated in an ecumenical Good Friday service in Santa Barbara.  For those living in the vicinity of Troy, MI -- Central Woodward Christian Church is hosting a similar service on Friday at 1:00 PM.  There will be seven preachers and seven words -- along with a joint choir.

A Covenant for Civility: Come Let Us Reason Together

The rhetoric has gotten nasty.  There are preachers praying for the death of the President and members of Congress.  Aspersions are being cast upon the motivations and salvation of other Christians.  The tone has gotten so nasty that it's difficult not to get caught up in it.  In response, Jim Wallis has drawn up a "Covenant for Civility," to which he has invited other Christians to sign.  More than 100 Christian leaders have signed up, representing folks from across the ideological spectrum, from Jim Wallis to Chuck Colson.   I'm in agreement with the statements that I've reproduced below.  I'm wondering how we can move the conversation in this direction.  As I consider this statement, I'm cognizant that I have said or written things in the past about folks I disagree with that have been less than civil.  So, as part of the problem I seek to be part of the solution.  I invite you to read and consider your response.****************************************…

The Subversiveness of the Lord's Prayer

Over the course of Lent, and leading into Easter, I have been preaching a series of sermons exploring the Lord's Prayer.  My understanding of this prayer was challenged when I picked up a book by Michael Crosby calledThe Prayer that Jesus Taught Us(Orbis, 2002).  I found the book lying a table of resources for our congregation's Advent prayer vigil.  I'd not seen the book before, so I picked up during my chosen prayer time, and began to skim through it.  I decided to take it home and read through it as I made my way through the prayer, and it became my guide.  I appreciated the author's interpretation because it highlighted the subversive nature of Jesus' ministry.  It reminded me that Jesus came bearing a message very different from that being promulgated in the society of the day.  It was a message that had deep roots in the prophetic tradition, which called for justice and a new society.  
Crosby notes that it is important that we hear this subversive message in …

Abuse in the News -- Sightings

It seems as if we read stories about priestly abuse in the Catholic Church -- but little of this is coming from Protestant sources.  As Martin Marty notes, this is a great change from a half century back.  Wondering why he and others like him haven't focused on this issue, Marty offers some thoughts of his own.  I invite you to read and consider:

Sightings 3/29/10

Abuse in the News -- Martin E. Marty
Sightings weekly scans newspapers, magazines, press releases, newsletters, blogs, books, and more, and then references its stories. This week there are no citations, because the religion-in-public-life story of the week, coded as “Clerical Abuse” is “all over the place.” It has been a major story for years, but Sightings, to my knowledge, devoted only one column to it in recent years (January 12, 2009) and included a couple of incidental references elsewhere. Why so little coverage here and in general, from those who are not anti-relig…

Faith in the Public Square -- Four Manifestations

People of faith have long wrestled with the place of faith in the public square.  At times religious groups have sought to dominate or control the public square.  At other times, they have allowed the state/nation to dominate and control the faith community.  Others have sought to distance themselves from the public square -- with the Amish being the most distinct example of this.  There was a time, a half century ago or more that mainline Protestantism played a significant role in the public square while evangelicals largely stepped away.  In the past three decades the roles have reversed.
The question that is being raised at this time in a number of sectors has to do with whether faith should engage the public square and if so, how should this engagement occur.  I have found Mark Toulouse's book God in Public:  Four Ways American Christian and Public Life Relate (WJK Press, 2006), to be very helpful in this matter.  Mark has a good sense of the relationship between religion and …

Deliverance from Evil: Lord's Prayer Sermon Series #5

Matthew 6:7-13; Luke 4:1-15

We began this morning’s service with a procession of palms, singing “All Glory, Laud, and Honor,” thereby celebrating Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem.  According to the gospels, Jesus rode into the city of Jerusalem on a donkey as a large crowd hailed him as their king.  The authorities, as they watched this scene unfold, would have seen this as a rejection of Caesar’s rule.  Many others in the crowd might have wondered whether they were witnessing the inauguration of God’s reign in the world.  Yes, it would seem as if Jesus had the city in the palm of his hand.  It must have been tempting to hear the cries of the crowd.  If he chose this moment to launch a revolution, surely the people would have come out in force to overturn the system.  Yes, it must have been tempting, but Jesus understood that God’s kingdom would come into the world in a very different way.  
    The journey that led to this apparent day of triumph begins in the desert after Jesus’…

New Covenant -- A Lenten Devotional

Jeremiah 31:31-3331 The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with thehouse of Israel and the house of Judah. 32 It will not be like the covenant that I made withtheir ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt--a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the LORD. 33 But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Jeremiah speaks here of a new covenant that God– in the future -- would institute. Unlike the previous covenant, which was written on stone tablets, this covenant would be written on hearts. That is, instead of being an external covenant, this one would be internal. While the covenant made through Moses came with rules and regulations that clearly spelled out God’s directives for the covenant people, there would come a t…

Being a Public Christian in a Public Church

The recent, and still ongoing, debate over health care reform has provoked another serious (and at times not so serious) debate over the role of religion in public life.  Glen Beck has undertaken an offensive against those who believe that social justice is part of our calling.  In doing this, he attacks not only Jim Wallis, but Bishops of Rome for the past century.  There are, and have been, different understandings of the role and purpose of the church and of Christians in government and society.  There has always been a tradition that calls for the church to remain outside the world -- the most distinctive example being the Amish.  There have also been examples, including the Social Gospel movement, that called for the church to be actively engaged in the transformation of society.  Still others, including fellow blogger Allan Bevere, are arguing that the church should be the locus of transformation and that the reach of government should be constrained rather than encouraged. 

The data of evolution and the Christian faith

I am on record as affirming the validity of the scientific concept of evolution. Scientists might disagree on the details, but with very few exceptions that agree that evolution is the scientific explanation for how things came to be. 
From a theological perspective, we must wrestle with this data and discern what it means for us as believers.  What is helpful, in my mind, is to hear from those whose credentials as conservative theologians/biblical scholars are really beyond question affirm that if the data of evolution is overwhelming, then we must accept it or face spiritual and intellectual consequences.
Thus, I'm very pleased to hear Bruce Waltke, a conservative Old Testament scholar teaching at the very conservative Reformed Theological Seminary, make the point -- if the data is overwhelming and we reject it then we become a cult.  He also suggests that if we choose not to use our minds, which God has given us, then we face spiritual death.  With that, I invite you to watch th…

Tending to the Holy -- Academy of Parish Clergy's Book of the Year

I wanted to announce that the book Tending to the Holy, written by Bruce and Kate Epperly, has been named Book of the Year by the Academy of Parish Clergy. This book, along with nine others, will be honored at the upcoming Academy of Parish Clergy Annual Meeting in Racine, WI. I happen to be the editor of the Academy's journal, Sharing the Practice.  Below is my review published here at the blog -- a briefer version was published in the journal. ______________________________________

TENDING TO THE HOLY: The Practice of the Presence of God in Ministry. By Bruce G. Epperly and Katherine Gould Epperly. Foreword by Kent Ira Goff. Herndon, VA: Alban Institute, 2009. xii + 196 pp.

Busy pastors often take little time to attend to their physical, emotional, or spiritual life. They also often compartmentalize parts of their ministry – assuming that some parts are spiritual (preaching and praying) and others not so spiritual (administration). Bruce and Kate Epperly pick up on Brother Lawrenc…

Health Care -- Semper Reformanda

One of the principles of the Reformation is that the Church must always be in the process of reforming itself.  We can't let ourselves think that we've brought the church back to perfection.  I'm part of a movement that has referred to itself as the Restoration Movement, and at times some of our folks have looked to the 1st Century church as the perfect golden age to which we need to return.
Well, now that the House has re-passed the fixes sent to the Senate to redeem the Senate bill, and which required a bit of amending, the final bills are now being sent to the President.  We have a new health care plan that will provide insurance coverage (eventually) for millions of Americans.  It will end unfair practices such as cutting people off from their plans if they use them or refuse folks if they have pre-existing conditions.  This latter reform will be of great help, because it will prevent insurance companies from cherry-picking healthy clients, and leaving those with pre-ex…

Salome -- A Theolog Review

My review of Patti Rutka's midrashic novel, Salome, (Eugene:  Resource Publications, 2010), a book that explores the person behind an infamous dance, is now up at Theolog, the Christian Century blog.  While the book is relatively brief, just 107 pages, it is a most helpful exploration of this biblical story of a dance that cost a prophet his head. 
 The review begins:
While the name “Salome” conjures images of eroticism and violence, the Bible doesn’t actually name the dancer who seduces Herod Antipas. According to the two gospelaccounts, Herodias seeks revenge on John the Baptist for daring to condemn her illicit marriage to Herod. She manipulates her husband into killing John by having her beautiful daughter dance before him. Drunk with wine and lust, Herod promises the daughter anything she wants—and she demands the prophet’s head. The reluctant tetrarch complies, lest he lose face with his birthday party guests.  (To continue reading, click here).

Remembering the Christians of Iraq

When we think of Iraq we often think in monolithic terms -- it is a Muslim country.  We know that there are Sunni Arabs and Sunni Kurds, along with Shiva Arabs living in Iraq, but we often forget that there is a small but significant Christian community in Iraq.  This community has existed from the earliest days of Christianity.   Philip Jenkins has told their story in in his book, theLost History of Christianity, the review of which can be found here.
It is always difficult to live as a religious minority, and this becomes increasingly difficult in times of transition and change.  One of the unintended consequences of the fall of Saddam Hussein is that religiously oriented parties came to the fore and sectarian violence increased -- to the point of Sunni-Shia civil war.  Caught in the middle of this sectarian violence was the small Christian community, a community that has gotten increasingly smaller due to the persecution and flight from Iraq.  Many Iraqi Christians have found refug…

Deliverance from Evil and Social Justice

I'm preparing to preach on the final petition of the Lord's Prayer.  Yes, I must find a way to connect Palm Sunday with the Lord's Prayer!  This petition reads "Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil."  This phrase is loaded with possibilities, some of which I'll try to unpack in the sermon.  But as I'm reading in preparation for the sermon from Michael Crosby's The Prayer that Jesus Taught Us,I came across this poignant paragraph that seeks to unpack the word evil.  
In light of all the conversations about social justice, the church, health care reform, immigration reform, etc., the question of one's role in the conversation is always present.  Crosby has hit on something that I think has merit and is worth pondering.
At the end of the paragraph prior to the one I'm going to quote, Crosby notes that in Matthew's understanding, the evil from which we're asking to be delivered "originates not from the 'devil [who] …

The Dangers of Triumphalism -- A Reprint

With Palm Sunday on the horizon, a Sunday in the liturgical calendar that carries with it a sense of irony, I thought I would repost a column written for Palm Sunday in 2007 for the Lompoc Record.  I think it will help us prepare for the coming Holy Week.


Faith in the Public Square
Lompoc Record,
April 1, 2007

Palm Sunday, in the Christian tradition, celebrates Jesus' “triumphal entry” into Jerusalem. The Gospels picture a crowd hailing Jesus as Israel's deliverer from Roman occupation, but as the story continues, we discover that the crowd has misinterpreted the signs. Jesus, it seems, has a different mission, one that calls into question the whole premise of a “triumphal entry.”
Instead, Jesus dies on an imperial Roman cross. Christians, including me, are tempted to skip over the dark clouds of Good Friday to the triumph of Easter, for we would prefer good news to bad, victory to defeat, winners over losers. Indeed, in some sectors of t…