Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Nativity Sets: The good, the bad, the kitschy

Ok... no good ones... but over at Mark Oestreicher's blog, he posted his list of the 27 worst nativity sets he has found.  They are amazingly bad. 

One person's comments showed a Star Wars nativity set... it is fantastic. Wrong but fantastic.

The bacon/sausage one is clearly my favorite.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Thanksgiving Service 2011 -- Praise and Thanksgiving

Luke 17:11-19
The story of Jesus healing the ten lepers, but only the Samaritan returning is often used as a morality lesson for giving thanks.  The story though is more about Jesus' identity.  Our praise and thanksgiving is rooted in that identity.

Listen to it.


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Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Christ the King Sunday -- Power and Rulers

The text from Ezekiel 34 has the Lord railing against the leaders of Israel for their selfish outlook.  Jesus echoes the refrain of judgment as he tags the leaders of the nations for their treatment of the "least of these."  

Here is an excerpt:
The bigwigs in Israel are clearly not looking out for the best of all but just themselves.  Now I realize that much of the discussion so far has been of rich and poor, rather than dealing with rulers… and Ezekiel is dealing with rulers… but one of the stark realities that the Occupy movement is attempting to bring to light is precisely the notion that money is power.  The Supreme Court has ruled that campaign contributions are protected free speech.  Today to be rich is to wield power that most of us have no access to.  Ezekiel’s opening of chapter 34 is a brief theological summary of politics.  Those who wield political power is an opportunity to exercise righteousness.  They can be a part of ordering a community that is based on mutual love.  But in the end they reject that opportunity and seek their own good.  And the sheep are then subject to forces that treat them as prey.  The flock scatters. 

Or read it here. 
Or listen to it. 


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22nd Sunday after Pentecost -- The Joy of the Kingdom

I'm a little behind on posting this sermon, I know.  But here it is. 

In telling the parable of the talents, Jesus nears the end of his eschatological discourse.  Here he focuses on judgment and narrow thinking of one servant.  The servant thinks from a scarcity viewpoint.  The life of a disciple is one of joy, Jesus teaches us.  And there is more joy to come. 

An exccerpt from my sermon:
The focal point for Jesus is the perspective the servants have toward the talents.  The third servant is afraid because of the view he has of the Master and the talent. For this servant, the talent could only be lost or used up.  The talent becomes then, not a gift, but a possession.  He views the talent through a lens of scarcity.  The other two servants on the other hand see the talents not as possessions, but as the gifts they were meant to be.  Securing the gifts would be to lose them.  These two servants then use the talents in that spirit… gifts that are meant to be given. 

Read the whole thing here

Or listen to it. 


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Thursday, November 17, 2011

Final Things: Leaving a Call and Eschatology

So the word is out... I am leaving my call at St. Paul Lutheran Church in Morgantown, WV at the end of this calendar year and will be beginning a new call as the chaplain at the Lutheran University Center in Pittsburgh.  As the calendar goes this year, that means my last Sunday will be Christmas Day.  I begin January 1, 2012 a the campus ministry, although there is no service that day since the campuses around the chapel will not be in session.

I have been struck more by the things that are ending.  I keep running into "final things": the last newsletter, the last calendar review... soon it will be last Thanksgiving service then last midweek Advent service and sooner or later, last service.  I have been surprised by the grief.  While I am excited about the new possibility I am moving through lots of little deaths.  This congregation was my first call.  It was where I was formed as a pastor at least as much as seminary formed me.  This congregation is where my family was started.  My oldest was six months old when I began.  I now have three children, the youngest of which is almost 17 months. 

But I reflected on the upcoming readings for the lectionary... Christ the King and Advent... all eschatological readings that put these in a new context for me.  I wrote these reflections up as my final newsletter article...

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Obedience and Scandal: Football, Military, Church

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German pastor and theologian made a connection in the life of faith between believing and obeying.  To believe is to obey. To obey is to believe.  There is an inherent trust in the act of obedience.  The practices and habits of developing the virtue of obedience will also likely tie people very closely to the ideals of the organization but also to the structure of the organization itself.

There are a number of organizations that seek to develop obedience.  This has become clearest unfortunately in the aftermath of scandals.  The church, the military and football programs, most recently and horribly at Penn State University.  These organizations seek to develop obedience because trust or faith are important aspects of the life of these organizations.

The church seeks to develop obedience to God and this can hardly be accomplished without some structure around it.  Whether there is a distinct authoritative structure or a less authoritative structure, as people develop their obedience to God, they become enmeshed in the structure itself.

The military seeks to develop obedience so that the organization may move smoothly even in times of great stress and crisis.

College football programs seek to develop obedience so the players will perform at an incredibly high level.  People I have spoken with who have played top level college football say that in those programs the coach's word is akin to the word of God.

I have pondered the situation at Penn State, and have been surrounded by the sex abuse scandal in churches (when I was serving my internship, I ended up going to court to support a refugee member of the congregation and it happened to be the same day that the John Geoghan was having one of his first hearings in the Cambridge courthouse).  I am convinced that the issue is our understanding of authority.  Clearly the priests who abuse children, as well as Jerry Sandusky allegedly, have misunderstood their authority and taken advantage of it.  But what about Joe Paterno?

I had been placing his failure to do more in the light of hearing allegations from a graduate assistant/former player who said something about a close friend he has known for quite a while.  Joe reported what he needed to and nothing more.  It boggles all of our minds as to why Joe did not do more.  Part of it might be due to his friendship with Sandusky, but I think there is more, but not necessarily with any nefarious intent on Joe's part.

Joe served Penn State for decades in a position where he wielded incredible authority.  If football coaches speak with a god's authority, then Joe has existed in a position where he does not wonder if people will do what needs to be done.  They just do it.  I have heard of tales where Joe was able to bar then President Spanier from the locker room and the board backed him up.  Joe speaks and players, coaches, and just about everybody else listen.

Except of course the administrators who are not part of such an environment where obedience is unquestioned.  They are less worried about obedience and try to cover up any scandal so the school is not tarnished.  Many steps were taken but not proper ones.  The administrators misunderstood their authority to be a subordinate authority to the government and believed they could save the school's reputation.  If they understood their authority properly they would have hopefully done what was required.  They mistook their authority to be greater than what it was and in the end the institution was rocked by a far greater scandal and they are going to pay a price as well.

None of this reflection should be understood as an excuse for the inaction by Joe or the cover-up by the administration, campus police and likely others.  There is surely something to be learned here for organizations that exist with structures of authority and obedience.  Soldiers cannot simply rely on "we were just following orders" anymore.  Football coaches and priests cannot understand their authority outside of the particular relationship each holds with its institution.  And when their institution must interact with others who do not hold such a high view of obedience and authority, they must not take for granted that everyone will share the same perspective.

All in all, the authority of any human being cannot own the obedience of any other when it seeks to thwart justice.  In the end, while many questions have been raised and much needed conversation will take place, not everyone will receive the appropriate human justice.  We can trust that God's authority will eventually be heeded when judgment is executed. 

In the meantime, I will pray for all involved: the Penn State community, the perpetrators and the victims. 

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Zombies are Us

I have recently begun watching AMC's series, The Walking Dead on Netflix.   I can only watch it in moderate amounts.  No blasting through episodes one after the other. It is not because they are scary... well, not in the normal sense.  The walking dead are gross and creepy.  What scares me is the surviving community of humans.  They live on the edge of devouring themselves...

I wrote a reflection on the show, "Are You What You Eat?," for Mediation, a blog at The Other Journal.

And I ran across an interesting book on zombies over at Google Books. Zombies are Us: Essays on the Humanity of the Walking Dead by Christopher Moreman and Cory James Rushton.  Interesting looks at humanity and zombies.

Monday, November 07, 2011

All Saints' Sunday -- A Vast Multitude

John the Seer reports his vision of a vast multitude gathered around the throne praising God, "Salvation belongs to our God who sits upon the throne and to the Lamb!"  People from all over, gathered into one body for one purpose. 

An excerpt from my sermon:
John gives us a vision of a crowd, a multitude so big no one could count them all and despite being gathered and praising God and the Lamb, they were from every nation, tribe and people, all speaking different languages.  While the many are gathered into one, one people singing the praise of God, the differences are not seen as competitive or destructive.  Rather, the unity is constructive and mutually reinforcing.  Each person gathered around the throne is freed to be uniquely the person they were made to be.  One biblical scholar has written regarding this passage, “Gathered around the divine throne, the tongues of all creatures are loosed to find their own peculiar parts in the cosmic song.”  

Read the whole thing here. 

Or listen to it: 


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Wednesday, November 02, 2011

All Saints' Sunday and Revelation

As I prepare for All Saints' Sunday this week, I am focusing on the text of Rev. 7:9-17 as the basis of my sermon.  The gospel text, the Beatitudes, were done in depth earlier this year when the lectionary went through the Sermon on the Mount.  I read those texts in close conversation with Bonhoeffer and Hauerwas. I feel like I have gone over those texts rather fully for my preaching and I am afraid that I might just be repeating myself even with the lesser festival to add a different context. 

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Reformation Sunday -- Abiding in the Word

Jesus said to the Jews who believed in him, "If you abide in my Word, you are truly my disciples."  Following Jesus is more than just creating a checklist to be followed or knowing doctrine backward and forward.

An excerpt:
When Jesus says “you shall know the truth and the truth shall you free,” again he is not talking about propositional truths.  He is once again pointing to his own reality.  In chapter 14, Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth and the life…”  Jesus opens a new way of knowing truth, a relational knowing where truth comes and dwells with us.  Jesus encounters people who are inquisitive about him “Where are you dwelling?” they ask him.  “Come and see,” Jesus answers.  He doesn’t ask them if they have it all figured out beforehand.  Jesus doesn’t ask us if we have it all figured out before he claims us.  Jesus claims us hoping that over time as we come to know him, we will work on figuring it out.  Jesus comes to us first.  That is the heart of our transformation.  That is the heart of our being made right with God, the heart of our justification. 

Read the whole thing, here.

Or listen to it.


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