Traditional Marriage

marriageWhen I think about the definition many use for the term “Traditional Marriage”, I wonder whether it is right or fair to define all that marriage is based upon what we do with our genitals, and/or who we do it with.

There are many kinds of traditions out there.  But when the term “Traditional Marriage” is used, it is referring to what the speaker sees as a faith tradition.  Yet, as I spoke about in a recent sermon, “Tradition” is not synonymous with “Faith.”  One must be dependent upon the other, but which one is primary: Faith or Tradition?

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The Lord’s Prayer, Counterpoint

A short meditation written yesterday morning as I pondered all that is going on around us: in our homes, in our nation, and in the world…

Can we pray “Our God” if our faith has no room for others and their needs?

Can we pray “in Heaven” if our interests and pursuits are in earthly things?

Can we truly honor your name if we do not strive to be holy ourselves?

Can we pray “Your Kingdom come” if we are unwilling to accept it into our own lives?

Can we pray “on earth as it is in heaven” if we do not diligently work to make God’s Kingdom a reality here and now?

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Sermon: Something Has Changed

Our world is always changing, and yet we hang on to our old traditions and ways of seeing and doing things. We just sort of muddle along: usually (but not always) aware of these changes happening all around us. It often takes a crisis for us to fully appreciate how things have changed: that the old ways no longer work; that we must adapt.

capernaumsynagogue
The restored 4th Century Synagogue at Capernaum, built on the foundations of the Centurion’s Synagogue

As you may know, my father was a Minister, too.  And, it’s both humbling and surprising to find myself standing here nearly 60 years after he entered Seminary, a Minister myself. It was not a career I had any wish or plan to pursue – ever!

But, things change…

Some of my earliest memories are of my Father leading a worship service. I particularly remember his voice booming out over the congregation as we sang hymns. But, I have no memory of this from when I was older!

When I asked him about this a few years ago, he told me the following story. You see, he was called to the church (that I first remember him in) when I was about 3. On Sundays, he’d sing from the pulpit as he’d always done in his other churches.  But, in this new church something was different, something that he did not realize mattered.

His previous churches had no audio system. So, singing from the pulpit had never been an issue, he’d never thought about it. And, he didn’t think about it in the new Church either, because the speakers pointed towards the congregation, not towards him. He didn’t hear what everyone else heard.

As a three year old, I had no idea that hearing the preacher sing so LOUDLY was not normal. To me, that was just the way things were, and should be.  My perspective was never challenged until that moment in my late 40’s when my Father told me how “Pony” Felch, the church moderator, took him aside one day. Then, in his wonderful old Vermont twang he said, “You know Reverend, we really appreciate your singing.  But, the next time you sing a hymn from the pulpit, take a step or two back!”

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What is Faith?

Hebrews is unique, no other book in the Bible is quite like it. It reads like an old time evangelist’s sermon: full of color, movement, stirring imagery and ringing phrases that were meant to be memorable when spoken. We are familiar with many of those phrases, such as: “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things unseen” – and – “we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses” – or – “Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.” So then, what is Hebrews 11 teaching us about what “Faith” is?

JoanOfArc-JohnEverettMillais-1865

What is Faith?

 

It’s not a simple question.  For us, the answer to that question begins with Genesis … and never really ends.

As I’ve said before, Faith defines how we see ourselves, who and what we choose to have relationships with, and what we envision our end (and the eventual end of all Creation) to be.  Faith helps us make sense of the events and circumstances that shape us and our world.  It lays out a path for us to follow into the future.  Faith enables us to gaze into the infinite and the unknowable and find a place there for ourselves.  It helps us make sense of the mystery of God and the vastness and beauty of Creation.  And, it enables us to exist in a world of uncertainty and change.

HarryPotterAndSnape

A lot has been written on the topic of Faith; not just the in Bible, but in everything from Hamlet or Pilgrim’s Progress, to Harry Potter and Star Trek. We admire those who have faith, and we honor those who die for their faith.  We seek to encourage faith in others, and our faith impels us to minister to those in need.  Faith is a powerful thing, and central to our existence, even though we may have a hard time defining exactly what it is.

 

The 11th chapter of the Book of Hebrews is a profound response to the question of “What is Faith?”  Hebrews is unique, no other book in the Bible is quite like it.  It reads like an old time evangelist’s sermon: full of color, movement, stirring imagery and ringing phrases that were meant to be memorable when spoken.  We are familiar with many of those phrases, such as: “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things unseen” – and – “we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses” – or – “Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith”.

Much of its Theology is subtle, but the delivery isn’t, nor was it intended to be. The author was addressing a community in crisis.  The people had lost their faith, and had no hope in their future.  The author intended to stir them up; re-awaken their faith; and help them reclaim God’s hope and plan for themselves, their community, and their future.

Chapter 11 is where the evangelist reaches the crescendo of their message.  I imagine them preaching it: arms waving in the air, voice thundering, starting each new thought with the ringing phrase “By Faith” …

By Faith Abraham obeyed when he was called … (and)

By Faith he and his descendants dwelt in the land God promised them, even though they did not yet possess it… (and)

By Faith Abraham believed God’s promise of descendants, despite he and Sarah being far too old to procreate…

By Faith!

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A Message for All Ages: Faith with a Capital “F”

This example using a Dollar Bill shows how and why Christianity is a communal faith and not an individual one: that we are called to work together to make a difference in the world.

Onedolar2009series

Show a one dollar bill to your audience…

Question: What is it?

Possible Answers: A Dollar, Paper Money, etc.

Question: What is it worth?

Possible Answers: One Dollar!

Question: But it is just a piece of paper with some printing on it!  Why is it worth a Dollar?

…Your audience will (hopefully) get stumped on this one, because there is really no reason why a dollar is worth a dollar other than because everyone agrees that it is worth a dollar.

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Why Isn’t Jesus a Girl?

The point of this exercise is to challenge our preconceptions of what Jesus must have been like: Why do we think he is male, and why do we assume Jesus is just like us?

Slide1This particular discussion was inspired by this (admittedly facetious) blogpost entitled “Where Would Jesus Pee?”

In it, Andrew Seidel raises an interesting point:  Jesus had a biological mother, but no biological father.  Therefore, even if the Holy Spirit intervened to cause Mary to become pregnant, all of the genetic material was from his mother.

Now, a person of female gender has two X chromosomes (XX) while a person of male gender has an X and a Y (XY).   The gender of their child is determined by which chromosome they get from the father – either the X or the Y.  But, since Jesus has no biological father, then all of his genetic material would come from Mary, meaning he got an “X” instead of a “Y” and so must be female.

I recently presented this as part of our church’s “Message for All Ages” (being very careful of how I presented it, given that grammar school aged children were present).  Then asked the question, “So, what do you think; why isn’t Jesus a Girl?”

As you can imagine, this produced some amazing facial expressions (and answers) from kids and adults like!

The point of this exercise is to challenge our preconceptions of what Jesus must have been like: How can we be sure he was genetically male, or even that he presented himself as a typical male, for that matter?  Why do we assume Jesus is just like us?

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When he became a she – walking in love

I just had to share this beautiful post, no additional commentary needed…

The other day, Zac and I went into a retail store and were greeted by an associate. I soon recognized the associate as someone I used to go to church with years ago. Someone close to my age, who I …

Source: When he became a she – walking in love

On Restrooms, Gender, and Fear

I’ve met Rev. Heath only briefly, but her spouse was a classmate of mine in Seminary.  She is far from the only trans or gender non-conforming person I know; and they all relate the same narrative that Emily gives voice to here: “I’m telling you that no trans or gender non-conforming person wants to use the bathroom for any other reason than you do. I’m telling you that this has never been about sexual predators (who don’t need bathrooms to hurt people, and who won’t be discouraged by an anti-trans bathroom law), but about harming trans people. I’m telling you that I’d like to spend a whole lot less time thinking about bathrooms than I do.”

If we are serious about our Christian faith, then we need to ask – FIRST – how our attitudes to others express the love that Christ mandates – MANDATES (via the Second Great Commandment) – that we show in all our dealings them, and that we do so without condition or exception.

And, will they see that love in how we are acting and speaking towards them?  If they don’t, then we are failing to love them as we are required to do by the most basic tenets of our faith.

The anti-LGBTQ laws recently passed in NC and elsewhere do not pass this test.  And so, we must seriously and deeply re-examine our own motivations and faith principles if we believe this was the Christian thing to do.

Source: On Restrooms, Gender, and Fear

A Message for All Ages: “Blue”

In this message, I showed this two minute video: “Blue” by Tech Insider.

The video shows us that a word for the color “Blue” usually develops much later in most languages than do words for “Black,” “White,” “Red,” “Green” or “Yellow.”  So, the question is “Can people without a word for ‘Blue’ in their language actually see the color we know as ‘Blue’?”  The video answers this question by presenting convincing evidence that people have great difficulty in distinguishing Blue from other colors when they have no word for Blue in their language.

This suggests several things – any one of which would be sufficient for a brief “Message for All Ages” – pick the one that suits your situation best…

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Keeping the Christ in Christianity

Those who seek to minimize the Christ in their Christianity do so out of a conviction that we must not offend, and must not intimidate (through “churchy” language and ritual) those who are looking for a touch of the divine in their lives. This is a worthy impulse, but we must be careful to not allow such thinking to seduce us into creating a faith for ourselves that is inoperative and unchallenging.

NotCrossRev. Heath is absolutely right in her recent article in Christian Century entitled “On Throwing the Baby Jesus Out with the Bath Water”: we need to keep the “Christ” in our Christianity.

In my view, the tradition that has been passed down to us, combined with the teachings and example of Christ and others as found in the New Testament and elsewhere, forms a foundation or framework for our faith: denying, minimizing, or casting aside that framework really would leave our faith “rootless” as many Evangelicals often (erroneously) label we who are Progressive Christians.

Christianity is not about supplying all the answers or enforcing a rigid set of doctrines and laws to live by. Jesus preached against exactly that sort of thinking and practice in the First Century, and it doesn’t work any better now than it did then. (And, frankly, doing so has never worked well.)

On the other hand, our faith isn’t just about making us feel good about who and where we are at the moment, either: Yes, we are to love and accept ourselves and each other as we are right now, but we are called to continually seek to do better, not simply accept what is.

Keeping Christ in our faith is challenging, and should always be so: if our faith is not challenged, if it is not continually being refined in the tension of this place we exist that lies between what was and what is to come, then our faith would be fruitless and meaningless. It would simply be a rationale for accepting things as they are, rather than challenging us to become better: to become more just, more thoughtful, and more compassionate.

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Kim Davis and the Storm of Hypocrisy that Surrounds Her

There is no need to sling mud at Ms. Davis – she’s no more flawed than any of us. There is no need to parade her in front of the cameras as a paragon of Christian Virtue – she isn’t, any more than we are. … We need to stop making her into something she is not. Instead, as Christians, we are called to hope and pray that she will come out of this experience without wrecking her life, and with a deeper and fuller appreciation of what her faith means to her, and how better to live her faith in compassion and love.

Kim-DavisBy now we’ve all heard about the Clerk of Rowan Country Kentucky, Kim Davis, who has refused to issue marriage licenses because she cannot in good conscience sign her name to a marriage license that, in her mind, violates God’s command that marriage is to be a heterosexual union between a man and a woman.

There has been a whole lot of very personal and nasty invective spewed in Ms. Davis’ direction because of this. Factually, most of it is true: she herself admits that her life was a mess until she began attending church about 4 and a half years ago. But does the fact that she has a checkered past matter?  No.  What matters is that she is a faithful person, trying to live out her faith as best she can. That needs to be respected.  We need to remember that digging up such old dirt to throw at another runs contrary to Jesus’ words in Matthew 7:3-5: “Why do you see the speck in your neighbour’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbour, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye’, while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbour’s eye.”

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Sermon: Seeds

Many have used such stories when claiming to know God’s will, and so bull their way ahead towards some predetermined goal. They are full of hubris, not listening – or looking – for any further guidance from anyone, let alone God; confident that they are not mistaken in of their understanding of God’s will. More often than not, they fail, or else their road to success brings such great sacrifices and pain upon others that one rightfully wonders where God is in all of this.

The Anointing of David by Victors Jan, ca 1645
The Anointing of David by Victors Jan, ca 1645

I love reading from the histories in the Old Testament, such as this morning’s text in First Samuel about the anointing of David to replace Saul as King of Israel.

One thread in this story – as with all of our readings today – is about seeing. About what we see vs. what God sees.

This is made very plain at the heart of this passage, where the Lord says to Samuel about Jesse’s son Eliab: “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” To say this another way, God sees that which we cannot see: the Lord sees the Unseen.

And yet, even after God says this, Samuel keeps on looking at six more of Jesse’s sons, and each time fails to discover what he has been sent to find. Finally, Samuel says “The Lord has not chosen any of these. Are all of your sons here?”

Well, it turns out that one of Jesse’s sons was not seen because he could not be seen, he was not there at all. The eighth and youngest son was up in the hills, tending his father’s sheep. David was the least of Jesse’s sons, and no one even bothered sending for him until Samuel explicitly asked that this last son of Jesse be brought before him. We see that David was unseen in many ways, but the Lord saw him!

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