Author Archive for Rev Andy Little



25
Aug
09

Women’s Equality Day – Liturgy and Sermon notes

Special Service Recognizing Women’s Right to Vote

 Service of Word and Sacrament                                                                                  August 26, 2009

Continue reading ‘Women’s Equality Day – Liturgy and Sermon notes’

19
Aug
09

What Kind of Peace? – Matthew 10:24-39

In this chapter of the Gospel of Matthew I hear Jesus saying to the disciples, “So, you want to be a follower of Christ?”

The chapter begins with Jesus giving the disciples’ ministry and mission, “proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment.” Then, Jesus tells them what might happen to them on the way, culminating in the instructions to flee to another town when they are persecuted. Jesus tells the disciples that because the culture opposes Jesus, it will also oppose them – they are not above the same treatment that their teacher encounters.

But, Jesus says, do not be afraid – bring what you have seen and learned in secret into the light and proclaim it from the rooftops. And God will know and value you for doing so. Not only that, but knowing what they are doing as followers of Christ, Jesus promises to testify on their behalf before God.

And, lastly, Jesus tells the disciples what they will witness in families and communities as they deliver the good news. The reaction to the good news of the gospel may not be good news. Continue reading ‘What Kind of Peace? – Matthew 10:24-39’

18
Aug
09

The Power and the Glory – Matthew 4:1-11

Read the passage here.

Being a numbers geek, I am always tempted to craft an artful sermon about the significance of forty – you know, going over the theological, cultural and political significance of forty as it appears so many times in scripture. I am tempted, but I know that I would probably be the only one who got anything out of it – and, as I so often need to be reminded, it’s not about me.

I am still tempted, though. If I did it well, it would be a sign that I was pretty gifted when it comes to theological study – it could make me look good. But, then again, looking good – making a big impression – is that what ministry is really about?

Then again, if I did it REALLY well and used a lot of theological language that was tough to understand – and I made sure that the right people got a copy of it – I could get some real mileage out of it in the presbytery. I could gain some power and prestige out of that, couldn’t I?

Okay – probably not. Continue reading ‘The Power and the Glory – Matthew 4:1-11’

13
Aug
09

A home run for willis

I have known conservatives and liberals both who wore their theology as a cloak of colors – a piece of finery aimed at showing just how special they are. Each have doctrines that are honorable in many respects, edified by scripture and suitably pious. In the end, however – that end where who and what we are is best recognized by how we act – there is something lacking. Humility is manytimes absent in such folk, or at least overshadowed by stubborn certainty.

I would like to tell myself that this is true mostly for people towards the conservative end of the imaginary line on which we keep God, but I know just as many on the left. Being a centrist who waddles to one side or the other as the issues change, I am thrown into the category sometimes of being wishy-washy theologically. I would beg to differ, but these folks aren’t going to believe someone who doesn’t sit at their table.

Then you have true believers – I am not referring just to faith, but to theology. I find that people who truly believe what they stand for are really quite humble. They recognize that the theological sun does not set on them, but that they need to cleave to their set of beliefs that their integrity requires. Conservative or liberal – or somewhere in between – I have all the time in the world for these people. Such a person is Willis at Willohroots – certainly more conservative than I, but equally grounded in scripture. Would we agree in a theological debate about minutae – I doubt it. But we agree on the far more important stuff.  I could be very happy attending his church. Read what he had to say – it’s brilliant in its truth. Continue reading ‘A home run for willis’

10
Aug
09

Walter Wink co-sponsored by Church Within a Church

CWAC logo 1

“A progressive Methodist movement dedicated to BEing the fully inclusive church.”

 


 

Walter Wink

 

 

Grand Taylor Chapel of Chicago Theological Seminary,

5757 S. University Ave, Chicago, Ill 

Thursday, September 24, 2009, 7pm—9pm

  Continue reading ‘Walter Wink co-sponsored by Church Within a Church’

10
Aug
09

Devouring Creation – greed and God

It is, at least to me, moot whether the Scripture’s description of Creation is literal, or a metaphorical story to illustrate the process undertaken by God to form our universe and all in it. The argument of Creation vs. evolution has equally debatable value. The only more miraculous notion than God creating every thing that exists is the idea that God created every living thing with the built-in ability to adapt to its environment.

Science calls the universe random, but that requires the presence of no laws, parameters or order whatsoever. Random, which means unsystematic or haphazard, cannot exist in the presence of order or laws. Once it is determined that even one law or parameter is present, and science has declared a multitude, or one prediction can be made, the quality of ‘random’ cannot be applied.

The opposite, then, must be true. The universe is systematic, and therefore the product of design. Science simply tends, as it always has, to discount that which cannot be quantified or qualified, in this case the hand of God.

Whether you believe in Creation as a 6-day or an evolving process, we generally seem to have no doubt we, as humans, were the ultimate goal in God’s Creation. In either case we have assumed dominion over the earth, ruling over all its inhabitants and resources. Is this really what God had in mind? We obviously have no way of knowing absolutely, but we certainly can gain clues from Scripture. The point of this essay is not to determine the answer to those questions, but simply to offer other, possibly more controversial, views of God’s position. Continue reading ‘Devouring Creation – greed and God’

09
Aug
09

The Ten Commandments – Exodus 20:1-20

One of my former ministers once told me that if I ever get a chance to preach on the Ten Commandments – don’t. He told me that whenever he had preached about them in the past, someone got very upset. Some people, he said, think they are the cornerstone of righteousness – the sign of a faithful nation that should be displayed prominently on every government building. And some, he said, think they are pie-in-the sky ideals that are impossible to live up to, and have no place in public discourse.

So I well imagine Thom shaking his finger at me right now and saying, “I warned you.”

The Ten Commandments or Decalogue – literally “Ten Words” – are foundational in both Judaism and Christianity, and for good reason. Scripture tells us they were given to Moses directly from God. The scripture that tells us this is our reading that follows, but also Exodus 34 and Deuteronomy 5.

The Ten Commandments are clear, concise, memorable and unambiguous, and form the basis for ethical behavior of two of the world’s prominent religions. That, at least, is what we learn in Sunday School or catechism. Reality, as usual, says something different. Continue reading ‘The Ten Commandments – Exodus 20:1-20’

07
Aug
09

Times that try our souls – Micah 3:5-12

The first part of the Micah reading is the alternate lectionary OT reading for the Sunday after All Saints Day. The second part from Micah I included to remind us of the prophets consistent theme. Rarely are the prophets the primary reading, except for some parts of Isaiah and Ezekiel, because they can sound harsh to our ears.

The function of the Biblical prophets was to call the Israelite leadership back into right relations with God, and they did this by speaking to those in power using very clear and stark words. They preached at times of chaos and social unrest – when there was dis-ease and oppression of the many by the dominant few.

Contrary to the way we tend to understand prophecy in our times, the Biblical prophets weren’t fortune-tellers predicting a future event. Their purpose – their call – was to describe to the Jewish leadership the current state of affairs – the way in which God saw current situations and events – and to communicate the consequences of continuing to ignore God’s law and staying this same course. Continue reading ‘Times that try our souls – Micah 3:5-12’

03
Aug
09

The Shalom of El Shaddai

Shalom! Psalm 34 says to us “Bekhesh shalom v’radphehu” – seek shalom and pursue it. Shalom means variously peace, happiness, prosperity, health, wellness, safety, welfare, and recovery – in short, wholeness. Jesus based most of what he taught about the nature of God on Jewish scripture, in which shalom is the overwhelming characteristic of God.

Contrast this with El Shaddai – God Almighty. The word translated into English as “almighty” or “all-powerful” assumes, incorrectly, that Shaddai is based on the word shadad, which means “destroyer”. Shaddai, however, actually derives from the word shad, which means breast.  El Shaddai, therefore, means “God with breasts.” Rabbis generally translate this as “God who is enough.”  If you’ll forgive me, I’d like to delve briefly into why “God with breasts” could mean “God who is enough.” There are multiple references in scripture to God’s breast or bosom. And I’d like to explore the relationship between “breasts” and the Rabbinic concept of “enough.” Continue reading ‘The Shalom of El Shaddai’

31
Jul
09

Comparative exegesis – Romans 1:14 – 2:3

When doing exegesis, I do not rely on one translation exclusively, because each have taken certain liberties in syntax or word choice, and even added the occasional word where it did not exist in the original language. Experience has taught me that no version can made a claim to be “the right” translation or interpretation of the scriptures, and to rely solely on one version is to elevate or even idolize a work of human endeavor. Translating and interpreting are human exercises to bring ancient texts to more modern readers who speak different languages, after all. The question, then, is not one of inerrancy of the texts in the original languages, but the inaccuracies of translated and interpreted versions.

I will also be making an argument that, to separate that chapter 1 of this epistle from the beginning of chapter 2, abuses the scripture and robs Paul’s argument of its greatest import. It must be remembered that chapter and verse were added well after the fact.

While the scriptures were divided into paragraphs by time of the Council of Nicea (325 AD), these are not the same as those in our modern translations. The New Testament was divided into chapters by Archbishop Steven Langdon around 1230 AD, and verses were introduced in 1551 by Robert Estienne. The first English Bible to make use of both chapter and verse was the translation of the Geneva Bible in 1560.

The decision to separate 1:14 through 2:16 remains a quandary but has substantially altered what may be one of Paul’s most remarkable arguments.
Continue reading ‘Comparative exegesis – Romans 1:14 – 2:3’

30
Jul
09

The Bread of Life II

The text for this section is John 6: 22-36. If you have not read the section on John 6:1-21, click here.

After Jesus fed the five thousand, the people misunderstood who Jesus was – or, maybe more correctly, misunderstood his purpose. Read verses 14 and 15 from John chapter 6:

When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, “This is indeed the prophet returning to the world.” When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.

Jesus had previously explained that actually doing God’s will was the bread of life – the nourishment that strengthened Jesus and the same food that he offered to his followers. Jesus offered discipleship – active engagement in bringing God’s love to the world as the source of spiritual sustenance. The crowd had misunderstood Jesus’ message and the miracle. While they had shared in a common meal, they believed Jesus had been the source of the bread that satisfied their physical hunger.

This, then, led them to believe that Jesus was the messiah. Actually, they were okay to that point. Their problem was that they believed Jesus was the prophet of old returning to be their king. Continue reading ‘The Bread of Life II’

29
Jul
09

Can the Church Reconcile with it’s Own Victims? (Part 1)

Like almost every human endeavor, the approximately 2000 years of Christianity have periodically been marred by brutal and violent events, and have been fraught with human failures.  Historically, the church[1] has been both oppressed by the prevailing society within which it existed and oppressive during the many times when it represented the dominant culture. Its checkered and sometimes sordid history has led to the propagation of an amazing number of denominations, with competing factions within them, which have varying levels of difficulty co-existing due to dogma, doctrine and/or practice. Within this history the church has perpetrated social violence, in the name of God, that has had lasting and debilitating consequences for the victims  – many times, if not all, in concert with the dominant political powers of the various cultures within which it has functioned. Can the church truly reconcile with the victims of its past, aiding in the healing of centuries of violence? The goal of this paper is to examine the possibilities that may exist for reconciliation. Continue reading ‘Can the Church Reconcile with it’s Own Victims? (Part 1)’

26
Jul
09

Job, God & Innocent Suffering

How Adequately does the Book of Job deal with the Problem of Innocent Suffering?

More often than not, when the question of innocent suffering arises, the Book of Job enters the conversation. That pattern reflects certain assumptions with respect to the Book of Job (JOB)[1], not the least of which is the supposition that JOB actually deals, to any significant degree, with innocent suffering. Did the author intend that JOB wrestle with the issue of suffering itself, or were his/her main themes discussions of the natures of piety, religious dogma and God, with the suffering of Job simply functioning as a vehicle for the diatribe? If it was the latter, it would not seem to be required that dealing with the quandary used as the plot be done satisfactorily.

The notion of innocence also complicates the matter since it is rife with subjective inferences. Is the adjective ‘innocent’ predicated on guiltlessness, the lack of choice, or on a sense of some results or circumstances being undeserved? With regard to the latter, is any suffering, especially to the degree described in JOB, ever deserved?

Continue reading ‘Job, God & Innocent Suffering’

25
Jul
09

Theology Where it Belongs

As a frustrated writer and teacher, and someone who loves doing both, I recognize a need in churches to teach folks how to reflect theologically. The single biggest reason for this, quite honestly, is that I believe church hierarchies have done the local church member a grave disservice by allowing them to excluse themselves from the conversation. Increasingly, the theological discussions surrounding potentially contentious issues have occurred in denominational ivory towers, leaving the average church-goer divorced from the process of contemplating God’s place in any controversy.

There seems to have developed an attitude that only trained and qualified clergy, and the most mature elders in some instances, have the capacity to truly understand the theological implications of any number of church initiatives and stands. A case in point might be the Presbyterian debate surrounding an upcoming constitutional amendment. Where is the basic discussion occurring on this subject? On the floor of presbytery meetings, which is not so much a problem as an indicator. Continue reading ‘Theology Where it Belongs’

21
Jul
09

Marx on Religion & its Role in Oppression (Part 1)

Illusion that Numbs 

“Religious distress is at the same time the expression of real distress and the protest against real distress. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of a spiritless situation. It is the opium of the people. The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is required for their real happiness. The demand to give up the illusion about its condition is the demand to give up a condition which needs illusions.”[i]Karl Marx, On Religion

Karl Marx has long been considered an absolute critic of religion in general, and Christianity in particular. Parts of the above quote are often used by Christians and non-Christians alike to fully express Marx’s attitude, but rarely are these snippets used within the full context of this excerpt. While this passage is, indeed, criticism it does not represent the scathing and total rejection of the value of religion that many people would have us believe. “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature” does not convey the full meaning of the sentence within which it is contained, and it is rarely connected in context with the remainder, “the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of a spiritless situation.” Marx’s stance is, I believe, more correctly interpreted as a critique of society that has become heartless and spiritless – one in which, however ineffective it may be, religion attempted to be society’s missing heart and provide some hope for those in need. Continue reading ‘Marx on Religion & its Role in Oppression (Part 1)’




... or, preaching from both ends

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That's too bad - I'm so sorry. Oh, well, just try to make the best of it. What you'll find here is a variety of essays and ramblings to do with things theological, social, whimsical and, sometimes, all three. I don't write to get famous - trust me, I've been told how futile that would be - but to express myself. I love to communicate and browbeat - ummm, I mean dialogue - about the things I find intriguing. Since you're here, and the door's locked, why don't you stay a while. There's a page bar under the header with links to information about us - I mean me. Don't forget to tell me what you think - in a nice way, I mean.

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