Archive for the 'Sermons & Studies' Category



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’

16
Jul
09

Have you not heard? – Sermon on Mark 1:29-39

“The time is fulfilled, and the reign of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news!” 

Verse 14 points to the message that Jesus is proclaiming in Capernaum, and that the gospel of Mark has at its core. The Good News is that the time of waiting is over and that the Reign of God has begun to take shape among them.  That is the message, and Mark – whoever she or he really was –  gave us in last week’s and this week’s text the effect the message has.

Without keeping that in mind, Chapter one appears to read like a choppy series of unrelated incidents.  While it is true that the gospel showed us last week Jesus’ power as an exorcist, and this week as a healer, it isn’t trying to tell us, “Hey, this guy Jesus is a great preacher … and exorcist … and healer!”  The gospel is telling us about the Good News in this opening summary – the gospel of the Reign of God – and starting to flesh out what it looks like from a purely Markan perspective.  Jesus is not only the bearer and herald of the Good News of the Reign of God; Jesus is the Good News of the Kingdom. Where Jesus is, the kingdom has drawn near. Continue reading ‘Have you not heard? – Sermon on Mark 1:29-39’

14
Jul
09

Lifesaving Stations (Part 2) – the Sermon

Continued from Lifesaving Stations – The Parable“.

In listening to the scripture in the first part of this post, we heard Paul’s hope for a particular church. Yes, it was written to a gentile church almost a couple of thousand years ago, but I think it still expresses some things that are valuable for churches today.

Churches, like any human organizations, can become exclusionary when they seek to insulate themselves from ideological or theological differences. Churches can accomplish this in at least a couple of different ways. Continue reading ‘Lifesaving Stations (Part 2) – the Sermon’

14
Jul
09

Lifesaving Stations – the parable

Ephesians 4:1-7, 11-16

I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and [Creator] of all, who is above all and through all and in all. But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift.

The gifts [Christ] gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.

We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.

THE PARABLE OF THE LIFESAVING STATIONS  Continue reading ‘Lifesaving Stations – the parable’

03
Jul
09

Idolizing Wealth – Luke 12:12-21

Jesus is asked to intervene in an inheritance dispute, and responds by telling a parable about greed. Obviously, Jesus has decided that greed is the underlying motivation of the person who asks for their share of the inheritance … and that this is a good time for a lesson about greed in general.

Quite simple, really. Hardly much point in preaching about it, since it’s just so obvious, eh?

There is more here than is initially apparent, however. To find it we have to delve a little deeper into the text. And my job is to do that without turning this sermon into a geek fest of language and theological study that leaves you groping for the exit door in a bored stupor. We’ll see how I do.

There are many patterns in Luke, but one in particular is how Jesus answers questions. Rarely does Jesus give direct answers to direct questions. Jesus generally answers a question with either another question or a parable, and many times with both… and it strikes me that Jesus does this so people can learn to discern their own answers. Continue reading ‘Idolizing Wealth – Luke 12:12-21’

21
Jun
09

The Bread of Life IV

I am having difficulty settling on a sermon for the third section of John 6, so I have decided to move into the fourth segment of John’s continuing Bread of Life discourse. The text for this is John 6:51-58. The sermon for John 6:1-21 can be found here and John 6:22-36 here.

If we read Chapter 6 superficially, it sounds like many, many words saying the same thing. It sounds repetitious and redundant. “I am the bread of life.” Five weeks of sermons saying the same thing.

There are two ways to read virtually any written work, however – literally and figuratively. Most of us don’t stop at the literal wording of John’s gospel – even literal fundamentalists. This gospel defies a literal reading. Jesus is not actually a light, a word or a loaf of bread. We are not literally sheep. The figurative reading, however, can be just as shallow and repetitious – leading many to think that all God expects is to accept Jesus as savior and put him into your pocket as a free “get out of hell” card. Continue reading ‘The Bread of Life IV’

22
May
09

Being Prodigal

The Prodigal Son becomes a new creation – reconciled with his loving father. Among other things, this story is a wonderful story that exhibits the flow of worshipful life perfectly.

All the elements are there – the son turns his back on his parent and heritage – takes his material wealth as if it were his own just reward – squanders it on the things that the worldly things that he knows his father would disapprove of – eventually recognizes his own poverty of spirit – reluctantly returns in contrition to his father, prepared to confess and accept his punishment – and encounters a loving parent, willing to accept the slings and arrows of his culture for forgiving his child, and running to him with arms wide open to accept him back into the household.

If that is not the flow of life, what is? It is a beautiful parable, is it not? It is a true work of art being told by Jesus to illustrate a point. But, sometimes, in appreciating the beauty and warmth of the story, we neglect to realize the real purpose Jesus told it. We gloss over the most important aspects. Continue reading ‘Being Prodigal’

18
May
09

Scarcity Trumps Abundance Almost Every Time

Jesus is asked to intervene in an inheritance dispute, and responds by telling a parable about greed. Obviously, Jesus has decided that greed is the underlying motivation of the person who asks for their share of the inheritance, and that this is a good time for a lesson about greed in general.

Quite simple, really. Hardly much point in preaching about it, since it’s just so obvious, eh?

There is more here than is initially apparent – to find it we have to delve a little deeper into the text. And my job is to do that without turning this into a geek fest of language and theological study that leaves you groping for the back button in a bored stupor. Continue reading ‘Scarcity Trumps Abundance Almost Every Time’

17
May
09

Mary’s Song – Magnificat Not Just for Advent

Normally, we hear this passage in Advent. It prompts images of the gift of God that coincides nicely with our gifts at Christmas. The gift of God in the person of Christ, however, is not limited to one short period in the Christian year – it is ongoing 24/7, 365, year after year. It is the gift that keeps on giving no matter the season.

In return we are meant, as Christians, to be a gift to the world – again, not just at Christmastime, but in all times. This is not a passage for one season, but one for all seasons. Even though we tend to reserve Christmas for the anticipation of the coming Messiah, that too is a constant expectation.

So, this morning, we’re going to continue to wait, while listening again to the song of Mary. Read Luke 1:46-55. Continue reading ‘Mary’s Song – Magnificat Not Just for Advent’

14
May
09

Love & Forgiveness – Reflections on Romans 12

Romans 12: 1-3 and 9-18                                          

I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect. For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.

Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.

 What is “church”? What is its purpose? How is it meant to be or act in the world?

Recently, with a small church, we had to wrestle with the intended nature of the church – what the church should be, and how it should conduct itself – both inside and outside its own structure. For churches, these questions are no less monumental than, “What is the meaning of life?”  In many ways members of the congregation objected, some vehemently. There is no doubt that these are important questions for ministers. But they were equally important for the people of the church. Continue reading ‘Love & Forgiveness – Reflections on Romans 12’

09
May
09

Leviticus – The Case For or Against LGBT – Part 1

[This post has been bumped by request. This is the first of a five-part series that sheds reasonable doubt on the traditional view that Leviticus labels homosexuality as an abomination. Each section is linked through the table of contents.]

ETHIC OF HUMILITY

       As someone who is strongly committed to Christian ethics, especially in conflict resolution, and to theological reflection as a defining characteristic of what makes a church a church, I am committed to the process of engaging in dialogue and conversation about the issues that divide Christianity. Honesty, theological reflection (both individual and communal) and knowledge are all essential components of Christian conversation. When scriptural evidence for particular stands or opinions is argued, experience has taught me that, many times, some or all of these components may be lacking.
Continue reading ‘Leviticus – The Case For or Against LGBT – Part 1’

09
May
09

The Bread of Life I

This is the first of a multi-part post on the “Bread of Life” discourse in John, chapter 6. In the lectionary, and in the minds of many, this chapter is dealt with by breaking it into five parts and trying to understand each part as stand-alone text. This is one discourse, however, that is offered in sequence for a reason – each section builds on what came before and cannot be fully appreciated as snippets of scripture. To understand, as best we can, Jesus’ meaning behind “the bread of life”, we need to unpack the whole. This is just such an attempt.

Text for this section of the series – John 6:1-21.

“When Jesus looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” This was said to test Philip, for Jesus knew what he was going to do. Philip answered Jesus, “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.”

Jesus tests Philip, one of the disciples. But, why? Well, in John’s gospel, the disciples have yet to get it – to actually see the light. They are still being taught and this becomes a teaching moment.

It’s not just that Jesus has been out among the people doing healing miracles, or that Jesus had turned water into enough wine for a large party, that should have clued the disciples in – but that a lesson about the bread of life had already been given. In John 4, the disciples has been concerned that Jesus hadn’t eaten, and Jesus told them that he had food to eat that they did not now about. He then explained that he was fed by “doing the will of God.”

Jesus had already drawn a distinction between food – bread for bodily sustenance – and the bread of life that feeds the soul. So now bread – food – becomes the subject of another lesson in faith. Continue reading ‘The Bread of Life I’

07
May
09

Empty Ritual

Mark 11:15-19 and 1 Corinthians 1:18-25 are texts about showing how empty some common practices have become. Jesus erupts seemingly out of nowhere, upsetting the civic peace that the Roman and Jewish authorities work so hard to maintain. hat is Jesus up to? Aren’t Jesus’ actions immoderate?

It strikes me that Jesus is blowing the whistle on temple practices that have taken on a life and importance of their own, and have no bearing on worshipping or promoting faith in God. Jesus appears to be acting recklessly, by attacking the status quo at the temple. At the same time, the temple practices themselves are deemed foolish and even abusive in the eyes of Jesus. Continue reading ‘Empty Ritual’

06
May
09

The Elusive Promised Land – Gen 15

The Reading:  Genesis 15.1-12,17-18

This kind of ceremony is an ancient Hittite method of forming a contract. The participants in the covenant walk through the animals’ blood as it runs in the ditch. The one who breaks the covenant will forfeit their own blood – their very life.

Likewise, the smoking fire-pot and flaming torch are also Hittite images of gods. God, who figuratively walks through the blood twice, is guaranteeing both sides of the contract. For many this brings to mind how Jesus, God incarnate, lived out the covenant with the offering even of his own mortal life.

What I find interesting, however, is the reason for the covenant in the first place. Abram expresses concern over two things. Continue reading ‘The Elusive Promised Land – Gen 15’

05
May
09

A Vision of Inclusion

The crux of chapter 9 of John, which you’ll be reading shortly, is found at the beginning and end. In between, we find examples that illustrate the points being made.  The verses that make up the middle paragraphs are rich with symbolism, but there’s only so much that can be covered in one page. So I will concentrate mostly on the beginning and ending. This is a powerful testament to including rather than excluding those we deem unacceptable. Continue reading ‘A Vision of Inclusion’




... 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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