Showing posts from August, 2013



As I prepare for my Sabbatical to begin -- I can begin to count in hours rather than days or weeks -- I do so with great expectancy.  I am by nature a planner -- especially when traveling.  I want to know where I am going and what I'm going to do.  It is a matter of preparation, I suppose.  And I think everything is in place for the sabbatical -- at least all the plane reservations have been made, housing arrangements made.  I am, you might say, excited about what is going to transpire over the next three months.  
I go forth on this adventure, expecting that it will be transformative.  It will be a time of rest (no meetings -- though I've already broken that rule and planned for a meeting of an organization for which I am president).  My trip to England will fulfill a long held dream.  I am by training a British historian, but have never been there.  I am looking forward to walking across Oxford, exploring London, visiting Bath, Stonehenge, and Salisbury.  I'm looking …

Lead Humbly -- An Alternative Lection for Proper 18 (David Ackerman)

The idea of a humble leader seems like an oxymoron.  We hear a lot about servant leadership, and pastors are urged to take up that calling, looking to Jesus as our model, but really it's not all that easy to accomplish this.  When people are looking to you for guidance it can easily lead to hubris.  And yet, this is a calling to which we've been called -- and only by grace are we able to accomplish such a calling.  The call to lead humbly is the theme of David Ackerman's alternative lectionary for September 8th (Proper 18).  If you're a preacher or reader of scripture, perhaps this would be a worthy alternative to the regular lectionary readings.


Proper 18
September 8, 2013 “Lead Humbly” Call to Worship:  Psalm 119:65-72 NRSV One:  You have dealt well with your servant, O Lord, according to your word. Many:  Teach me good judgment and knowledge, for I believe in your commandments. One:  Before I was humbled, I went astray, but now I keep your word…

A Dream Deferred? Remembering Dr. King's Call to Action

Fifty years ago today, Martin Luther King Jr. mounted the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and delivered a powerful, visionary, speech.  It wasn’t the only speech delivered the day of the March on Washington, but it is the one we remember.  It was a moment in time that helped propel the next phase of the Civil Rights Movement.  The March itself was meant to be a catalyst that would lead to furthering justice for the African American Community.  It was meant to send a signal to Congress and to the White House that the time for action had come.  Today, many are stirred by the vision of a world in which color of skin doesn’t determine one’s place in society, but the content of one’s character.As powerful as this dream was, and even though it helped lead Congress to pass important Civil Rights legislation, have we really reached the point where we can say that the dream is fulfilled?
            You might answer:  “well America elected an African-American as President, doesn’t tha…

Last Shall Be First -- Lectionary Meditation for Pentecost 15C

Proverbs 25:6-7

Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16
Luke 14:1, 7-14
Last Shall Be First
Anyone who wants to be President of the United States needs to have a certain amount of hubris to seek the job.   You have to believe that among the millions of Americans you are best qualified to lead what, at least at this point, is the most powerful nation in the world.  It’s not a job that I would seek, but isn’t hubris part of the human drive to succeed?  As a preacher, doesn’t it take a degree of hubris to stand before a congregation and proclaim a word that is deemed a word from God?  Now, being that I am a preacher and believe that God can speak through my words – why else get up there on Sunday morning – I do believe that it is the Spirit and not my genius that ultimately brings the Word of God to the listener.  But, if I’m honest, I do take pride in what I do.
            We talk a lot in Christian circles about servant leadership.  We look to Jesus and see in him a certain degree of humility that we deem w…

Going on Pilgrimage

In just two weeks I will be heading off to England, one of the highlights of my three-month sabbatical.  I go as a visiting scholar at Oxford Brookes University, and will be spending time at the Bodleiean Library at Oxford University.  But while in England -- my first trip to England -- I will be doing some sight-seeing.  The question is -- do I go as a tourist or do I go as a pilgrim?  It would be easy to do the former, but the purpose of going on pilgrimage is to experience spiritual transformation.
My friend and a spiritual mentor, the Rev. Susan Copeland, is one who understands the difference.  She has made a number of pilgrimages and has written a book entitled Finding The Waymarkers: A Pilgrim's Journal for Modern Times.I have been saving the book for just this moment -- the beginning of my sabbatical season.  Susan points to the story of Jacob and his trek to Haran -- both to flee his brother and to find a wife within the family.  Along the way, Jacob has a dream and disco…

I Shall Return -- A Sermon Before a Sabbatical

Leviticus 25:1-12

When Douglas MacArthur retreated from the Philippines in the face of the Japanese invasion early in World War II, he boldly declared: “I shall return.”  And he did!  While we’re not facing invasion as a congregation, and though I’m not fleeing for my life, this phrase popped into my mind when I was thinking about what to say in my final sermon before leaving on my sabbatical.  Now, I could have gone with another famous quote; one that was uttered by Arnold Schwarzenegger in the movie The Terminator:   “I’ll be back!”  Either one works, because even though I’m saying good-bye – I’ll be back before you know it! 
So, by the end of this coming week we will be entering this season of rest and renewal that we call a sabbatical.   Now, I must admit that it’s not going to be  easy for me to do this, because I’m not very good at resting.  John McCauslin is already worried about this!  
Now, I do take a day off most weeks and I take my vacations – as some of you have noticed!  Bu…

The Teaching office of the Bishop in a Free Church setting

My denominational tradition – the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) – doesn’t call its “judicatories” bishops.We call them General Ministers and Regional Ministers.We sometimes jokingly call these leaders bishops, but we don’t generally assign them the same kind of authority that a bishop in a Methodist, Episcopal, or Catholic Church would.
            For the most part we assume that these leaders, both in regional and general expressions provide spiritual leadership and administrative leadership, but do we affirm another aspect of leadership that traditionally was assigned to bishops – that is the teaching office.
            Disciples embrace the idea that we all have the freedom to explore the scriptures and interpret them.  We don’t assume that pastors, even highly educated ones, have the right to define the faith for the people.  Preachers can preach and teach, but how much authority is accorded them.
            For the purposes of our ongoing conversations about church polit…

Rationality or Exuberance? Both?

Yesterday, at a Disciples of Christ related Facebook Group site, there was a rather vigorous discussion about the presence of Charismatic/Pentecostal elements with the Disciples.  Although there is a revivalist dimension to the Disciples tradition (Founder Barton Stone hosted the famous Cane Ridge Revival that featured a variety of spiritual phenomena), we have understood ourselves as a rational people.  Born on the frontier, the Disciples have roots in the Scottish Enlightenment.  Logic, facts, proof -- they were the watchwords of the day.  This embrace of reason, exemplified in the work of Alexander Campbell, who among other things was a noted debater, tended to put limits on the Spirit.  It was assumed that the Perfect spoken of in 1 Corinthians 13 had come in the form of the New Testament canon. Therefore, there was no longer a need for extraordinary gifts such as tongues-speaking or healing.  Pentecostalism was deemed inappropriate.  
God has spoken.  The words have been written…

Delving Ever Deeper into Scripture -- God is Still Speaking

I am working on my memorial service meditation for a member of my congregation.  Like a number of the older members of the congregation, she grew up at what we often call "Old Central Woodward," that is, the church building down on Woodward Avenue in Detroit (now Little Rock Baptist Church).  The family chose as one of the scriptures to be read -- 1 Corinthians 13.  It so happens that one of Edgar DeWitt Jones's sermons (the founding pastor) focuses on that text.  The sermon title gives the title to the book of sermons -- The Coming of the Perfect.
As I was reading through his sermon, I came across a lengthy quotation from an early liberal Disciple pastor named Alexander Proctor.  As Jones notes, Proctor didn't write any books, and the one collection of sermons that he did produce was published posthumously from remembrances of those who heard the sermons.  One of those sermons focused on 1 Corinthians 13 and the coming of the perfect.
In this sermon Proctor notes t…

Let Us Work for Christian Unity -- Alternative Lectionary -- Proper 17 (David Ackerman)

As a Disciples of Christ pastor, it would seem imperative that I work for unity.  Unity is, after all, our "Polar Star" (Barton Stone).  In my personal life and ministry this has been a passion.  There are times and places, such as the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity and World Communion Sunday, when we focus on this topic.  But, do we really affirm the premise that Christians should seek unity?  In order to explore that question, the theme of David Ackerman's alternative lectionary --  Beyond the Lectionary: A Year of Alternatives to the Revised Common Lectionary -- for Proper 17 is just that -- a call to work for Christian unity.  I should note that David is a pastor in the United Church of Christ, a tradition that also emphasizes the call to pursue Christian unity.  If you are looking for an alternative to the lectionary, perhaps this would be a good place to start!

Proper 17
September 1, 2013 “Let Us Work for Christian Unity” Call t…

Beware: God at Work -- Lectionary Reflection for Pentecost 14C

Jeremiah 1:4-10
Hebrews 12:18-29
Luke 13:10-17
Beware:  God at Work
Most religious folk have some inkling that God is there – doing something.  The questions are what and how.  For many supernaturalists, God is always busy – turning off the lights when needed, making sure the tides come in and out, and heal their every ailment.  For the Deists in our midst, God is largely finished.  God is or was the “first cause,” and since things have been set in motion, God is largely absent.  OK, maybe God does step in once in a while to tweak things. 
For those of us who recognize the input of modern science, the idea of an interventionist God is something of a problem.  Indeed, if God steps in to heal my cold, then why couldn’t God step in and prevent the holocaust.  The whole issue of evil compromises our efforts to embrace a God at work.  My panentheist friends suggest that God is in the system – always, and thus not intervening, simply inviting reality to move in a Godward direction.  I’m attract…

The Problem of Judicatories -- more thoughts on church organization

Quite a number of years ago, perhaps when I was first serving as a pastor in Santa Barbara I became well acquainted with the word "judicatory."  Perhaps I'd missed it before because it's not a word we used in my circles -- Disciples.  What is a "judicatory?"  Well, as I remember a judicatory is that middle bureaucracy that lies between the congregation and its pastors and the national church, and maybe they're judicatories too!  In any case, I heard lots of complaints about the judicatories.  I think my colleagues used it in a rather derisive sense.  It is true that sometimes extra-congregational entities can prove to be a challenge to the life of a congregation.  They're designed to empower congregations to fulfill their calling, but at times they can draw away people and resources from congregations, inhibiting local ministry.  
In my post yesterday I raised the question of whether institutionalization is inevitable.  Dick Hamm, the former General …