Posts Tagged ‘PC(USA)

03
Oct
09

Buffet or Banquet – Acts 11:1-18

In order to be faithful to the gospel of Christ, we must have boundaries, right? There are things that are normal and proper – limits to what we do and believe. And yet to be faithful to the gospel, there is this nudging, this incessant prodding, as the Holy Spirit pushes us out beyond our limits. There is this nagging voice always whispering in our ear, “Are these limits God’s – or are they ours?”

Peter believed in limits. We learn that in the reading. We could easily think that Peter’s limits are simply the dietary laws of Leviticus. But, there is a much larger issue going on here.

Peter believed in the validity of all the Levitical laws. Those laws not only said what you could eat, but what you could wear, which nation you should belong to, how you should worship and who you should love. You see, for Peter and some other church leaders, you had to be a Jew in good standing to be considered a follower of Christ. To be in good standing you had to be “pure” and live up to all the laws – end of discussion.

Well, actually not the end of discussion. To be a Jew in good standing, you had to live up to those Levitical laws that the hierarchy decided were still binding. Just as in current times, some were and some weren’t. The Levitical laws have been used selectively ever since they were formalized. It just depended on who was calling the shots at the time. Continue reading ‘Buffet or Banquet – Acts 11:1-18’

29
Sep
09

It Isn’t Easy to Love – a reflection on Matt 22:34-46

Readings: 1 Thess 2 & Matt 22:34-46.

In the first century Roman world, status was critical. By someone’s place in the social order, he or she would be allocated value or worth. The emperor stood at the top of Roman culture. Everyone else like politicians, soldiers, business people, general citizens and slaves had their places in relation to those above and below them.

Like Rome, every outlying city had its own social stratification. People attempted to maintain or raise their position in many ways. Making major gifts to the city was a way of gaining public honor. Funding a building, education or some other public facility like a bath or gymnasium, which were very important in Roman culture, were all ways to gain status. So was supporting an artist or artisan, guiding a young person or helping people find work.

These were all very good things, but the reasons for doing them were self-serving. It was called patronage and it was essential to the social system. Beneficiaries gave respect and status to their patron – flattery that had currency because it elevated the patron’s power, prestige and position.

In return, the beneficiaries expected more favors, assistance and general support. Conferring honor to those higher up in the social order was an economic transaction that had material benefit for those lower on the scale. It was a system designed to keep people in place in the social order by making each dependent on the patronage of those above them. Continue reading ‘It Isn’t Easy to Love – a reflection on Matt 22:34-46′

18
Sep
09

Reflection on the Fig Tree – Luke 13:1-9

Reading: Luke 13:1-9.

“If the fig tree bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.” Well, that could generate a little stress for the fig tree, couldn’t it? It really does sound kind of harsh.

Since it is a continuation, to grasp the meaning we need to briefly revisit chapter 12. Luke 12, leading up to this reading, can be a little disconcerting. Jesus made a comment of the sort we don’t usually associate with him; Jesus said he had come to bring to the earth not peace, but division. Family member will be set against family member. This challenges our image of Jesus as the “prince of Peace”, doesn’t it?

Still, as God’s own Messenger in the midst of this world, there is no avoiding a certain degree of conflict. Jesus’ insertion into this world as a truly holy person was like putting a white hot piece of iron into a bucket of cold water—a boiling reaction was inevitable. Continue reading ‘Reflection on the Fig Tree – Luke 13:1-9’

16
Sep
09

IS THERE A DISTINCTIVE REFORMED THEOLOGY?

Around the world there are myriad variations of the churches that fit under the general banner of Reformed. The World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC) alone boasts membership of 215 denominations in 107 countries with over seventy five million members, the majority of which are in the southern hemisphere.[1]  This vast number still does not contain all the denominations with roots in the 16th-century Reformation led by John Calvin, John Knox, Ulrich Zwingli, and others. Many of these denominations, especially in the United States, developed after previous church bodies split apart over irreconcilable differences, while others exist separately because of geographic location, or ethnic origin. Some others have been drawn together into larger groups or denominations, such as the United Reformed Church in the United Kingdom or the Uniting Church in Australia. While belonging to the WARC, to foster common mission and ministry, relations between some of these various ‘partners’ are tenuous at best. An example is found in the way many members of the Christian Reformed Church in the U.S. refer to the Presbyterian Church (USA) disparagingly as Neo-Reformed, while some of the latter refers to the former as Neo-Nazi. Among those that have recently united, there has been a blending of polity and theology, or at least a tolerance developed for varying beliefs and processes within the same body, that may leave some wondering whether they still possess a truly definable theological identity. Continue reading ‘IS THERE A DISTINCTIVE REFORMED THEOLOGY?’

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’

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’

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’

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)’

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’

19
Jul
09

An Episcopalian Triple Play. Arms wide open – well, kind of.

It is unlike church hierarchies today to risk alienating anyone, especially large numbers of people, and to risk the secession of member churches and expulsion from a world-wide organization that gives them political and financial clout. It is even more unusual that decisions having those potential outcomes would be made in the name of justice. But, this past week, The Episcopal Church (TEC), the American branch of the Anglican Communion, risked all three possibilities by passing three of their own decisions that throw their doors wide open. Continue reading ‘An Episcopalian Triple Play. Arms wide open – well, kind of.’

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’




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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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