Showing posts from January, 2016

No hometown Hero - Sermon for Epiphany 4C

Luke 4:21-30

Don’t you love cliff hangers? If you’re old enough, you might remember that for an entire summer the nation’s attention was arrested by the question of “Who shot J.R.?” The lectionary left us in a somewhat similar position last week. When last we gathered, Jesus was making a few comments about the reading from Isaiah 61, which spoke of the Year of Jubilee. When he sat down, he told the congregation: “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” That’s where we pick up the story this morning. Jesus is telling the people that he is the fulfillment of Isaiah 61. He is the one anointed with the Spirit who will institute the Year of Jubilee, and with it freedom from poverty, imprisonment, and captivity. 
The people are still amazed at his words, after all this is Joseph’s son. We know this man. We watched him grow up. So how did he become such a great preacher? Well that’s as good as it gets, because Jesus quickly moves from hometown hero to persona non grata! 

Mystic Chapel (The Project) -- Album Review

Music is always in the ear of the beholder. It can be generational as well. What appeals to me as someone in his 50s might be different than someone who is in their 80s or 20s. When it comes to religiously oriented music, that adds in another layer of interpretation. There are often theological concerns to be taken into consideration. Thus, offering a review of an album is very different from that of a book.

Having been approached by Michael Glen Bell, one of the two artists comprising The Project, I agreed to take up the task. I found the album on Spotify and began listening to it. I took a look at the lyrics. What if found was an album that has a bit of the electronic and a bit of the acoustic to it. I hear a bit of Jars of Clay in the album, though I can also hear a bit of Phil Keaggy and John Michael Talbot, all Christian singers and groups that I have enjoyed over the years. The theology expressed in the lyrics is evangelical, but not overly conservative. The title of the album i…

Rabbi, Rabba, Maharat, Rabbanit: For Orthodox Jewish Women, What's In a Title? -- Sightings (Pamela Nadell)

I found this Sightings essay by Pamela Nardell intriguing. We think of Orthodox Judaism as the Jewish equivalent to conservative evangelicalism, maybe even Fundamentalism. The essay notes a crack in the clerical glass ceiling within the Orthodox Jewish movement, with women being ordained and even called to serve as Rabbis. This just goes to show you that old ways are not always set in stone. The Spirit does move!! I share for your reflection and celebration!

Rabbi, Rabba, Maharat, Rabbanit: For Orthodox Jewish Women, What's In a Title?
By PAMELA S. NADELL   JAN. 28, 2016U.S. Air Force Rabbi (Reform), Chaplain, Captain Sarah D. Schechter, and trainees celebrate Shabbat (Sept. 4, 2009) at Lackland Air Force Base. Chaplain, Captain Schechter was the first woman rabbi in the U.S. Air Force.                               Credit: Lance Cheung / U.S. Air Force PhotoAlmost two decades ago, I ended my book Women Who Would Be Rabbis: A History of Women’s Ordination, 1889-1985 with a questio…

Can't we have a bit of Civility?

I've been trying to refrain from engaging in too much political talk on the blog. I have decided on a candidate for President. I hope she wins, not because she's a perfect candidate but because of those running I feel like she's the most equipped to handle a difficult job.  
My concern as I watch the current situation is the lack of civility that is present in our current context. I understand why people get angry and get upset. But anger by itself is destructive. We can't let anger drive our lives, especially when that anger keeps us from pursuing the greater good. Yelling obscenities. Calling opponents names. It's just not productive. 
We need cool heads who can find solutions to deep and abiding challenges. We have an immigration problem. It needs to be fixed so that people can come out of the shadows and live productive lives. Young people who came here as children, who have lived their entire lives in this country, need to have the freedom to live out the Ame…

The Ups and Downs of Religion

Religion is a complicated subject. We hear that religion is on the decline in certain parts of the west, while it's very present in the Global South and elsewhere in what we once called the "Third World." Times have changed and so have our categories. In this week's essay, Martin Marty takes a look at two phenomena -- the "most-Bible-minded cities" in America. Where do you think they lie? And what does that mean? The other item of interest is an essay on the death of the Midwestern Church. The latter is related, it would seem, to the move from rural to urban in the Midwest. Marty has some pithy statements on both that are worth contemplating!

The Ups and Downs of Religion
By MARTIN E. MARTY   JAN. 25, 2016Church near Weeping Water, Nebraska.                                                                Credit: Rich / flickr Those (of us) who do sightings of religion in public life are schooled to notice not only the “what” of religious phenomena and happeni…

Home Town Visit Goes Awry - Lectionary Reflection for Epiphany 4C

Luke 4:21-30 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
21 Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” 22 All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” 23 He said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Doctor, cure yourself!’ And you will say, ‘Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.’” 24 And he said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown. 25 But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; 26 yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. 27 There were also many lepers[a] in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.” 28 When they heard this, all in the synagogue were fil…

Tending to the Tree of Life (Richard Voelz) -- A Review

TENDING THE TREE OFLIFE: Preaching and Worship through Reproductive Loss and Adoption.  By Richard W. Voelz. Shook Foil Books, 2015. 123 pages (e-book format).

                There are some life experiences that people have traditionally kept private. The church for its own part has often remained silent about such experiences or simply avoided dealing with them. Those days are ending and we who serve in the church find ourselves faced with new opportunities for ministry. At the same time many of us find ourselves unprepared for these opportunities. Such is the case with reproductive loss and adoption.  I recently found myself faced with this very reality. I had missed signals, and failed to respond. In the end I was able to provide at least some pastoral support for the family. It was a learning experience. As the conversation began I discovered that a significant number of the women in the church had experienced a miscarriage or some other form of reproductive loss. If only I had r…

Anointed Mission -- Sermon for Epiphany 3C

Luke 4:14-21

Monday was Martin Luther King Day, and I attended the Troy community celebration of Dr. King’s life. Our speaker reminded us that Dr. King’s message was quite revolutionary. Not only did he want to end segregation, he wanted to tackle two other related issues of his day: poverty and militarism. He recognized that poverty and militarism were related and that they disproportionately affected people of color. In taking up these causes he made enemies. At the time of his assassination he was trying to create a coalition of poor people whom he was going to lead in a March on Washington to make sure that Washington understood the plight of the nation’s poor and marginalized.

Religion, Globalization, & Public Life

I write a lot about religion and public life. I've written book titled Faith in the Public Square. I've been active in a variety of public roles as a Christian. I believe that religion has role to play in public life, but it needs to walk a fine line.  The danger that faces people of faith is getting too closely aligned with the state, lest one becomes a tool of the state!
I am currently reading Miroslav Volf's new book --Flourishing(Yale, 2016). I will be reviewing the book at a later date, but I would like to share this piece with you.  He notes that there have been in recent years attempts to strengthen ties between world religions and the political order. We see this in the Christian Right, Political Islam, and elsewhere.  The problem is that such attempts to connect the two usually leads to religion becoming subservient to the state and a loss of identity. They simply become tools of the powers that be.
However, if religion is "decoupled from the state, religion…

Fractured Christian World(s) - Sightings (Martin Marty)

This past week a gathering of Anglican religious leaders, heads of the various branches of the world-wide Anglican communion. They voted to suspend the American branch (the Episcopal Church) from participating in the business of the Anglican Communion for a period of three years. The primary point of division is differing understandings of sexuality, especially regard LGBT persons. This event is evidence of fractures within the broader Christian community, some of which is rooted in the tensions between European and North American churches and the churches of the global south. There has been tremendous growth in the Global South and in Asia (a majority of Christians now live outside the traditional homeland). Theologically and socially the churches of the South are more conservative than their northern siblings. This has caused tension. Martin Marty lifts up the issue, noting that the diversity and fracturing isn't new. The question is where does it lead? Take a read, offer your …

Here I Am (Grace Ji-Sun Kim, Editor) - A Review

HERE I AM: Faith Stories of Korean American Clergywomen. Edited by Grace Ji-Sun Kim. Foreword by Neal D. Presa. Valley Forge, PA: Judson Press, 2015. Xi + 162.
Each of us have stories to tell, and each story has a context. I am, for instance, a white straight married male Protestant clergyman living in the United States. That’s not my entire identity, but these are key markers. My experiences in life will be different from a Korean American clergywoman. One major difference is that society is more likely to accept my identity as a member of the clergy than a Korean woman. Indeed, to be a woman in a Korean context is to flout expectations, even more so than for a white woman. To hear stories of call and ministry is illuminating, if we’re willing to listen closely.
Here I Am is a collection of stories. They are enlightening, though they’re not always happy stories. In many cases these are stories of survival and perseverance in the face of difficult cultural challenges. To be Korean in Am…

The Charismatic Messiah -- Lectionary Reflection for Epiphany 3C

Luke 4:14-21 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
14 Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. 15 He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.16 When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    because he has anointed me
        to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
    and recovery of sight to the blind,
        to let the oppressed go free,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”20 And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21 Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been …

Black Lives Do Matter - A Reflection for Martin Luther King Day

Today we stop to honor and remember the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I wish I could say that the dream offered more than fifty years in the past had come to pass. It was a dream first enunciated in Detroit and later in Washington. Many have tried to take hold of the dream and recast it in a way that Dr. King did not mean it. In recent months we've heard the cry #BlackLivesMatter. In response some have declared that #AllLivesMatter. While this is true, until we recognize that our society values some lives over other lives the latter slogan is meaningless.

Party Time - Sermon for Epiphany 2C

John 2:1-11

Everybody loves a wedding!  Well, almost everybody! Weddings are usually joyous occasions. Not only do two people get joined together, but so do two families and all that goes with that. 
I’m not an expert on weddings, but I do have a bit of experience with them. First of all, I should mention my own wedding to Cheryl. It’s been awhile, but I do remember it. I’ve also been in a few weddings as a groomsman or an usher. I’ve also been a guest at weddings. Then, there are the weddings at which I’ve officiated, and I could tell a few stories about these weddings. 
I often tell a story at rehearsals about the bride who almost went up in flames. It was my third wedding, so I was still getting my bearings as an officiant. We had this free standing candelabra that we used for the unity candle. After the couple lit the candle, which was off to my right, they returned to the center of the chancel. The only problem was that the bride’s train got caught on the base of the candelabra. As …

Martin Luther King Jr.: Nonviolence Is the Sword That Heals -- Sightings (Rory Johnson)

On Monday we will celebrate the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. We do so in the shadow of increasing racial tensions. As a white male, I am conscious of the fact that my identity is not a contested one. It has always been assumed in America that my life matters. What has not always been assumed is the #BlackLivesMatter. I found this meditation on forgiveness published this week as the Thursday edition of Sightings to be worthy of a close reading. It is written by an African American professor of religion. His words might help us bridge seemingly unbridgeable divides. As Dr. Rory Johnson notes Dr. King spoke of nonviolence as the "sword that heals." May this be true for us. Read and respond. 
Martin Luther King Jr.: Nonviolence Is the Sword That Heals
By RORY JOHNSON   JAN 14, 2016Parishioners pray and weep during services on June 21, 2015, at Emanuel A.M.E. Church where, four days earlier, Dylann Roof killed nine people                 Credit: David Goldman, Pool / AP …

Religion and Political Brutalism

I was fascinated by New York Times relatively conservative columnist David Brooks' recent response to the politics of Ted Cruz. He called it "pagan brutalism."  There is an apocalyptic, take no prisoners vision enunciated by the Presidential candidate. Now, if you know me at all you know that I'm not a member of Cruz's party and not likely to vote for him. So my concern isn't so much with who is doing what in the primary election race of the "other" party. It has to do with our national mood and the attractiveness of a candidate like Cruz to a significant segment of the Christian community.  

So, first an excerpt from Brooks' column:

But Cruz’s speeches are marked by what you might call pagan brutalism. There is not a hint of compassion, gentleness and mercy. Instead, his speeches are marked by a long list of enemies, and vows to crush, shred, destroy, bomb them. When he is speaking in a church the contrast between the setting and the emotional to…

Blasphemy - Sightings (Martin Marty)

I will admit that I'm a bit old-fashioned. When it comes to things religious, while I'm okay with a bit of irreverence, I'm not sure I like it when things get uncivil and indecorous.  Then there's blasphemy. Accusations of blasphemy often lead to violence or persecution. So when does irreverence become blasphemy?  That's a good question, and one that Martin Marty takes up in this piece for Sightings. I invite you to read and respond. While freedom of speech is vital, when do we push things too far. I'm with Marty that we need a bit of "awe" in at times awful world! 
By MARTIN E. MARTY   JAN. 11, 2016Gathering held in Brussels in solidarity for the deadly attack on Charlie Hebdo, Jan. 7, 2015.
Credit: Valentina Calà / flickr Those [of us] who are expected to monitor religious trends have reason to find talk of blasphemy a complex challenge to commentators and responsible citizens.

Islam is an international supplier of reasons for pondering and …

Joy at the Wedding -- Lectionary Reflection for Epiphany 2C

John 2:1-11 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
2 On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. 2 Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. 3 When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” 4 And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” 5 His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” 6 Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. 7 Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. 8 He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it. 9 When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom 10 and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the…

Oriented to God

We live in a secularized age, right? Or do we? It is true that "religion" is on the outs in much of the West, but to speak of this as a secularized age may be an overly western outlook.  Perhaps it is better to speak of orientation -- whether toward God or not. Some take a more "religious" perspective. Others a more secular one.
I'm reading a Netgalley version of Miroslav Volf's new book Flourishing: Why We Need Religion in a Globalized World. While I will be writing a full review, I thought I might take note of the book and make use of it to encourage some discussion about the role of religion in life.

Volf is a theologian, and thus he thinks about God. In this new book Volf writes about the role of religion in providing for the opportunity of flourishing as a species and as a world. Volf suggests that we have been created by God for relationship with God. He writes that "we are oriented toward God in the very fabric of our being." Religions of …

When Jesus was Baptized -- Sermon for Epiphany 1C

Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

In the movie Oh Brother, Where Art Thou, three convicts break free from the chain gang and head off on a journey to the home of the threesome’s leader. Everett, Pete, and Delmar have many interesting encounters and adventures along the way, just like Odysseus in Homer’s Odyssey. In one of these encounters, they come upon a group lining up to be baptized in the river. This gathering multitude sings  Down to the River to Pray as they make their way toward the river and the preacher. 
Delmar seems to hear a  call to go down to the river to be immersed. He doesn’t go to the end of the line. No, he runs right up to the front and immediately gets baptized.  When he comes up out of the water, he claims to be a changed man.  Well that's it boys, I been redeemed! The preacher warshed away all my sins and transgressions. It's the straight-and-narrow from here on out and heaven everlasting's my reward! Not only that but the preacher told him all his sins were washed …

Iran, the Saudis, and the US -Conflict and Complexity

We like easy answers to complex questions. Americans, especially Americans of European descent (like me), don't like to think of ourselves as being a colonial power. We don't mind being seen as the world's police (always keeping peace), but never as colonial powers. While we may never have had the direct rule over as many peoples as the French and British, we have our own colonial past (just ask the people of the Philippines). 
At this moment in time there is great turmoil in the Middle East. Not only is ISIS trying to control much of Syria and Iraq (it seems to be losing steam in Iraq), but we have the geo-political jockeying for power between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Many have taken to paint this as a a centuries old conflict between Shia and Sunni factions within Islam. While there is religious dimensions to the conflict, it's much more complex than that.  And the current conflict isn't a replay of a 7th century conflict. It's a modern one, with deep roots in…

Last Call (Jerry Herships) -- A Review

LAST CALL: From Serving Drinks to Serving Jesus. By Jerry Herships. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2015. Xi + 163 pages.
God gives differing gifts to different people. We’re all empowered by the Spirit, but not all have the same ministries. But in the end the point is the building up of the body of Christ. That's the message that Paul gives to the Corinthians. Jerry Herships is a gifted emcee for Jesus, and that is the story he tells in Last Call. The book under review is a memoir of a call to ministry, a unique path that leads to a somewhat unique form of ministry. 
In Last Call Jerry Herships tells how he got from Detroit, via Cedar Point, Los Angeles, and Orlando, to Denver, where he became an ordained United Methodist pastor of a unique community set in bars with a focused ministry with the homeless. Herships had honed his skill set for ministry over the course of time as an emcee, comedian, and bar tender.  A substantial portion of the book is focused on his journe…

Baptism: Bold Discipleship and Humble Spirit

This Sunday, like many preachers, I will be taking up the reading from Luke 3, which describes Jesus' Baptism. With that in mind I'm republishing a blog posting from 2009. I was reading through and blogging the book Disciples: Reclaiming our Identity, Reforming our Practice, (Chalice Press, 2009).  The book was authored by two Disciples of Christ leaders, one of whom -- Michael Kinnamon -- has been at the forefront of Disciple ecumenical efforts.  I share this because it speaks to the importance of the sacrament, and our dilemma in recognizing it.


As I continue to blog through Disciples: Reclaiming our Identity, Reforming our Practice,by Michael Kinnamon and Jan Linn, I come to their chapter on Baptism. As with the Lord's Table, Baptism has been a point of contention and division within the Christian community. That being said, our authors suggest that ecumenically there is a growing consensus -- despite the fact that the practice remains differentia…

Baptism of God’s Beloved - Lectionary Reflection for Epiphany 1C

Luke 3:15-17, 21-22 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
15 As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, 16 John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” 21 Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, 22 and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
                I was first baptized at St. Luke’s of the Mountains Episcopal Church in LaCrescenta, California. Years later,…

Confucius for Christians (Gregg Ten Elshof) -- A Review

CONFUCIUS FORCHRISTIANS: What an Ancient Chinese Worldview Can Teach Us about Life in Christ. By Gregg A. Ten Elshof. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2015. Vii + 102 pages.
Tertullian may have asked what Athens had to do with Jerusalem, but the fact is as the Christian faith moved out from Jerusalem it took root in particular cultures. That meant that it had to be translated not only in to the language of the receptive communities, but their world views as well. We’ve struggled with this reality from the very beginning of the Christian movement, and it’s not unique to Christianity. Nonetheless, if Christianity is incarnational, it will be reframed in conversation with those world views. For the earliest Christians, that context was Greek. In Acts 17 Paul sought to frame his message within the parameters of Greek thought. While it didn’t work quite as well as Paul had hoped, he didn’t repudiate the effort. Since then, for better or worse, Christian theologians have recas…

The True Light Cometh -- Reflection for Christmas 2C

I'm not preaching this morning, and since I wrote a lectionary reflection for the Epiphany text I thought I'd repost a reflection written for the John 1 text (the Gospel reading for Christmas 2C). John doesn't have an infancy narrative, but it does provide a theological prologue that is worth considering. May your day and the remainder of the year be a blessing! 
John 1:1-18 (New Revised Standard Version)
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. Th…