Wednesday, May 31, 2017

2017 Reading Challenge

This list was a "challenge" that was going around Facebook at the beginning of the year, so thought I would add it to my list as I am selecting books to read this year. I will update the list with what book qualifies as we go through the year.

1. A book you read in school
   
2. A book from your childhood
     The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe by CS Lewis
3. A book published over 100 years ago.

4. A book published this year
     Irresistable: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked by Adam Alter
5. A non-fiction book.
     Lost at Sea: An American Tragedy by Patrick Dillon
6. A book written by a male author.
     The World America Made by Robert Kagan
7. A book written by a female author.
     A Fighting Chance by Elizabeth Warren
8. A book by someone who isn't a writer.
      This is a hard one because if they wrote it aren't they a writer? But going with Raising the Floor by Andy Stern and Lee Kravitz (Lee Kravitz is a named ghost writer, or assistant writer)
9. A book that became a film.
     The Hunger Games series
10. A book published in the 20th century.
     Mere Christianity by CS Lewis
11. A book set in your hometown/region.
      Christmas Every Day by Lisa Tawn Bergren set in Taos, which is the region, but the main character is also an alum of St. John's College in Santa Fe, as am I, and will be joining the faculty there by the end of the story.
12. A book with someone's name in the title
      The Second Death of George Mallory by Reinhold Messner
13. A book with a number in the title.
      23 Things They Don't Tell You About Capitalism by Ha-Joong Chang
14. A book with a character with your first name.
     John Birch: A Life by Terry Lautz
15. A book someone else recommended to you.
      The End of White Christian America by Robert P. Jones
16. A book with over 500 pages.
     One Summer: America, 1927 by Bill Bryson
17. A book you can finish in a day.
     How English Became English: A Short History of a Global Language by Simon Horobin
18. A previously banned book.
     Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by JK Rowling
19. A book with a one-word title.
     Thrawn by Timothy Zahn
20. A book translated from another language.
     Utopia for Realists by Rutger Bregman, translated by Elizabeth Manton
21. A book that will improve a specific area of your life.
     The Kindness Challenge: 30 Days to Improve Any Relationship by Shaunti Feldhahn
22. A memoir or journal.

23. A book written by someone younger than you.
      Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
24. A book set somewhere you will be visiting this year.
     Engineered for Murder by Aileen Schumacher (takes place in Las Cruces, NM)
25. An award-winning book.

26. A self-published book.
     All that Glitters by Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez

Monday, May 29, 2017

I've Got The Power

Here is my sermon from Sunday. The text was Acts 1:1-14:

I want you to imagine that you have found a ring that makes you invisible, no one can see you when you have it on. What would you do if you had such a ring? Think about that for a moment and then share with the person sitting next to you what you think you would do….  Now, that scenario is known as the Ring of Gyges, which comes to us from Plato’s Republic, in which a tale is told by Plato’s brother, Glaucon, of whether someone could actually be so virtuous as to not do something even if they knew they could get away with it. He argues that if we had the power of this ring that we would use it for our own benefit, just as the shepherd boy in the story who has found the ring does; using it to seduce the queen, kill the king and become king himself. If you have the power of the ring how could you not use it for your own benefit, or how could you not exercise the power that you have? I was a political science major in college, and I remember the first time encountering this story in a political philosophy class, but before we had read the Republic, the professor asked the same question I asked you. If you had the power of this ring, what would you do with it? My answer was that I would use it to travel the world without having to pay for it, not exactly honorable, but better than some of the other answers, but I still remember one of the women in the class who said that she would refuse to use the ring. She would not trust herself with it and so therefore wouldn’t give in to the temptations of its power. I remember being amazed at that answer, and perhaps she had already read the Republic, because that’s similar to what Socrates eventually says, which is that the person who uses the ring becomes not its master but its slave because they become entrapped by their own passions and appetites in the use of the ring, whereas the person who refuses to use the ring remains in control over their own lives, they retain their own power, and thus remain happy.

But is that our understanding of power? What does it mean to have power or to be powerful? One definition of power is the act of being able to do something, such as having the power of speech. A second definition, and one that is very important, is the ability to get extra base hits, that is the Yankees right fielder Aaron Judge hits for power. Third definition is the one most of us think of, and that is having the power, control or authority, and those are not the same things, over another in order to direct, coerce, influence or use force to get them to do something that you want or need them to do. But, there is another corollary to that, and that is having power not to be forced by another. So, for example, I have the power to tell members of the staff that they need to be at worship, and I have the power to enforce that statement. But while I may have the authority to say to all of you, you need to be at worship, I don’t have the power to enforce it, because you have the power to say “no” to me. So, we now have some understanding of what it means to have power, but what does it mean when we are told that when we receive the Holy Spirit that we will receive… power. Unfortunately, I can unequivocally say that that power is not the ability to get extra base hits, but what does that power actually look like in our lives? Is our power as Christians different from the power of the world? What does it mean to say we have the power of the Holy Spirit?

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Spiritual Milk

Here is my sermon from Sunday. The text was 1 Peter 2:2-10:

According to futurists, the first person to ever live to be 1000 has already been born. That seems really hard to believe, but we really have no idea of what medicine will be able to do in 50 years, or how the things that are likely to kill us now will be fixable in the not too distant future, and so I have to at least give those who postulate these things some benefit of the doubt. Or at least admit that while they might not be born yet, they will be born in the near future. Just to give you a perspective, if you had an ancestor born a thousand years ago, and they were still alive, you would be roughly the 50th generation, and when they were born, the emperor Charlemagne’s death would be as recent as Thomas Jefferson’s death is for us. They would have been alive when the Chinese perfected gun powder, Macbeth was becoming king of Scotland, and in 1066 they would be alive to hear about, or participate in, the Battle of Hastings, one of the most  important events in Western history. They would have celebrated their 500th birthday at the time of the Protestant Reformation, and been 600 when Shakespeare actually wrote about Macbeth. That type of life span will radically change how we live, perhaps how we love, and definitely how we relate as family, or perhaps even how we have families.

Rabbi Harold Kushner has written about what might happen if we became immortal, and questioned whether people might stop having children, if for no other reason than a form of population control. But, he says, that means that not only would humanity stop having the joy of having children around, but that they would also stop having the joy of being a parent, and if that happened we would lose the concept of what it meant not only to have the love of a parent, but also of what it meant to dedicate your life, and be prepared to give your life for another person. We would also lose the understanding of the needs of infants, and of milk as life giving force, as we hear in the passage from 1 Peter.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

In the Breaking of Bread

Here is my sermon from Sunday. The text was Luke 24:13-35:

In the Protestant tradition, we have two things which we consider to be sacraments, baptism and communion. This stands in contrast to the seven sacraments in the Roman Catholic and the Orthodox traditions. During the protestant reformation, the seven were narrowed down to two because these are both things that Jesus commanded that we do and also things in which Jesus also participated. And what we see in scripture is that the early church continued and participated in both of these things from the earliest days, and so in today’s scripture readings we find both of them, or at least a form of them, taking place. The first is Peter’s call to baptism in which 3000 people are baptized, which makes me think about the logistics of baptizing 3000 people in one day, and while we never are actually told that the disciples are ever baptized, we presume that they were, maybe by John the Baptist, or perhaps by Jesus, but this becomes an important and identifying aspect of the early church that obviously continues through to today. And then we have Jesus implement the practice of communion on his last night with the disciples, which we know from the writings of Paul continued to be a significant act in the early church, and we have at least a part of a communion meal in today’s passage from Luke.

Even though we are now several weeks past Easter, in today’s passage we find ourselves back on Easter morning, with two followers of Jesus who are traveling out to the town of Emmaus which is said to be some seven miles from Jerusalem, although some manuscript traditions say 19 miles, although where the town is, is unknown because there is no record of a town by that name, although there is much speculation of where it might have been. But, it’s entirely possible, and we’ll return to this idea, that we’re not supposed to know, that it’s supposed to be sort of any town, a generic town, one that is meant to represent our town, or a place where we can put ourselves in the role of making this journey. But regardless of where it is, on Easter morning, they have heard that Jesus’ body was not there, and that the women, or at the very least Mary, have encountered the risen Christ, but, like the other disciples, they don’t appear to believe it yet. They’ve heard it but have not processed it, have not accepted it, it has not taken root in their hearts and mind. And so, they set out going home and as they are making their way, they are discussing the events, although the Greek word used here could also be translated as arguing, when Jesus appears before them. Except, like in other versions of the resurrection story, they don’t know that it is Jesus.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Learning to Let Go

Here is my sermon from Easter Sunday. The scripture was John 20:1-18:

Benjamin Franklin once said that there are two certainties in this life: death and taxes.  One of the oldest translated pieces of writing is about the collection of taxes, and people have been dying for as long as there have been people. But today, on this day, we get out of both, or at least a little bit for a little while, because we get to delay filing our taxes until Tuesday because April 15th fell on the weekend, and we celebrate the fact that when Mary went to the tomb on that first Easter that Jesus wasn’t there, that he had been raised from the dead. Now this is not to deny either taxes or death, because they are still a reality for us. Now you may think you can cheat on our taxes or cheat death, but we have to remember that of the two, only one of them can truly be overcome. And totally off the topic, I would be remiss in noting that yesterday the 15th was the 70th anniversary of Jackie Robinson playing his first game in the major leagues, and while he was not the first African-American to play professional baseball, that honor goes to Moses Fleetwood walker, he was the first in the modern era and he was also the first to stay playing and set the stage for the integration, not just of sports, but also of society as his event happened more than a year before President Truman desegregated the military and 7 years before the supreme court held that segregated schools were unconstitutional. A truly momentous occasion in our society, but unrelated to today, or at least only tangentially related to today.

Now, if Shakespeare were to have written a play about Easter, he would have used the version of the story we find in the gospel of John, and it would have been a comedy as there are lots of characters running around, coming in and out of the scene, there is confusion and missing bodies and mistaken identities and then doesn’t end with a resolution, but instead leads on to what will happen next.  And, just another piece of trivia, does anyone know the only Shakespearean play to mention Easter? Romeo and Juliet. Now in the synoptic gospels, that is Matthew, Mark and Luke, Mary and some other women show up at the tomb on that Sunday morning because they want to prepare Jesus’ body for burial as there wasn’t time to do so before putting his body in the tomb and the beginning of the sabbath when no work could be done. But, in John Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus prepare the body, in fact it seems they over prepare it as John says they show up with 100 pounds of spices, and so instead of coming to prepare the body, it appears as if Mary comes to the grave, just by herself in this version, simply to be there in order to grieve. Her weeping is mentioned four times later in the passage. This too is unique to John, as in the other versions while there is fear and astonishment and confusion, only John mentions her grief over Jesus death.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Malachi: Prepare Ye the Way

Here is my sermon from Sunday. The text was Malachi 1:1, 3:1-3, 4:1-6:

Repent, for the Kingdom of God has come near. That is the message that begins Jesus’ ministry, it’s also the message proclaimed by John the Baptist, although how we normally hear it is repent for the end is near, or at least that’s how cartoonists like to picture it, and I think that’s appropriate for today’s message because we are coming to an end. Today is the end of life without real baseball. It’s the end of our normal Sunday’s of Lent as next Sunday is Palm and Passion Sunday. Malachi is the last book in the Hebrew Bible, and so his writings marks the end, or as Tertullian says, the boundary of the New Testament, and today also represents the end of our sermon series on the 12 Minor Prophets, and we end with the prophet Malachi and his message about the coming of the messenger who will make the way for the messiah.

Malachi is another one of the prophets that we are not given any genealogy about, as the book simply starts telling us that these are some oracles from God delivered by Malachi, of whom we know nothing. The word Malachi means “messenger of God” and so it’s possible that this is not even a proper name but instead that it is a title that this prophet held, much like is possible with the prophet Obadiah. There is no specific information given about events that are taking place during the time of his prophecy, but we do have some hints that give us possible dating points. The first is that he refers to governors of Judah, rather than kings, which would seem to indicate that the Jews are not in political control of the territory, and he also refers to sacrificial activities as if the Temple is built and functioning, which would mean that it has to be either before the destruction of the first temple, when there were kings not governors, or after the Temple has been rebuilt after their return from the Babylonian exile, which is certainly the most likely period. In addition, the linguistic style that is being used is from the Persian period, and so most scholars date the work around the mid 5th century, but there is no certainty on that dating.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Zechariah: This is a King?

Here is my sermon from Sunday. The text was Zechariah 1:1, 9:9-12:

When President Trump was deciding on cabinet picks, he said that one of the criteria he was using was to find people who, in his words, looked the part. He wanted them to look like they came from central casting so that people would believe they could do they job because they looked like they could do it. That’s not an unusual position, although it’s probably not stated as bluntly as that. One of the things Prince Charles was always going to have a problem with was the fact that he doesn’t look very king like. Now Prince William, who inherited some things from his mother, he looks like a king. We do the same thing as we see movies where Harrison Ford is plays the role of president, but we do not cast Danny DeVito as president. We have an idea of what rulers, leaders, important people are supposed to look like.  In scripture, we are told, when God is deciding to make David the king of Israel, that God looks at what people are like on the inside rather than on the outside to decide if they are worthy or not, and so David is being chosen over others, but then what are we immediately told about David? That he is a good-looking guy. We still do the same thing, after all, we cast Harrison Ford as president but we do not cast Danny DeVito. It’s true even in the church. The clergy who get appointed to the largest churches are all men, an important issue to be considered, and they tend to be tall and they tend to have been jocks in high school, and quarter backs of the football team in particular. That is, they look the part. They match what we want to see in important leaders. But what if the one we are looking for, what if the king does not look like or match what we expect them to be? Will we accept them as such? Or will we seek to change them to become we want them to be rather than who they are and perhaps even who we need them to be?

The prophet Haggai, who we heard from last week, and Zechariah have many similarities. The first is that they are contemporaries with each other, including both beginning their prophetic careers in the same year, 520 BCE. This is the second year of King Darius, the leader of the Persian empire who is ruling over Judah after the people return from the Babylonian exile. Malachi, the last of the 12 Minor Prophets who we will hear from next week, also prophesies during the Persian Empire, so the last 3 books in the 12 all take place roughly during the same time period. Unlike Haggai, we are given a genealogy about Zechariah although there are some questions about it. In Zechariah, we hear that he is the son of Berechiah and the grandson of Iddo, but in the book of Ezra, we are told that Zechariah is the son of Iddo. Because often the superscriptions, which are the lists of genealogies appear to be later additions to the works, not things the prophets included about themselves, we don’t know which is correct.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Haggai: You Can't Go Back

Here is my sermon from Sunday. The text was Haggai 2:1-9:

In just two weeks the Major League Baseball season will start, and baseball is one of those sports that in the more things change, the more they stay the same, so for example, one well known player said of the younger players coming up "The great trouble with baseball today is that most of the players are in the game for the money and that's it, not for the love of it, the excitement of it, the thrill of it." Does anyone want to make a guess what year, or decade, that was uttered in? It was Ty Cobb, and he said it in 1925 while he was still playing the game. So, for all those people who complain today that the athletes are only in it for the money, that’s a complaint that goes back a long, long way, and I am sure that others had said exactly the same thing about Ty Cobb and his peers when they broke into the game as well. There seems to a natural tendency among humans to look to the past and to long for the ways that things used to be done, to wish that if things could only be like they were back then, then everything would be great. Or to phrase it differently, everything was awesome back then, and it’s terrible now, and who do these kids think they are anyways, kids in my day yadda, yadda, yadda. Perhaps it will make you feel better, or maybe not, to know that we see this same story taking place in scripture. There are the people complaining to Moses as they are wandering in the Egypt, who say “remember how good we had it back in Egypt? I mean sure we were slaves and all, but at least we weren’t walking all day following a cloud, Moses, when are we going to get there? Yadda, yadda, yadda.” And then there are the people who were complaining about the state of Judah after the people returned from Exile and how good it used to be, which is where the prophet Haggai comes into play.

All of the minor prophets we have encountered so far have been making prophecies in or to Israel, the northern kingdom, or Judah, which was the southern kingdom during the time of the Assyrian and Babylonian empires. As you may remember, Israel was destroyed by the Assyrian empire in 721 and the 10 northern tribes were removed from the land and basically disappeared to the sands of history. They were replaced on the land by the Samaritans. Then the Assyrian Empire was destroyed by the Babylonian empire, who then laid siege to Judah and Jerusalem destroying the city in 587 and then the Temple in 586 carrying off all the treasures of the Temple, including the Ark of the Covenant, which contained the ten commandments, and set in place Indiana Jones’ search. They also carried off the elites of the society, including the political and religious leaders, into captivity in Babylon, which is why it’s called the Babylonian exile. This is one of the most important events in Jewish history with most of the books in the Hebrew Scripture focusing on the issues surrounding these events. But, then in 538 the Persian Empire conquered the Babylonians, ending their reign, and starting a whole new empire in the region, see you didn’t know you were going to get a history lesson on the empires of the ancient near east. But the last 3 prophets we will encounter deal with Judah under the rule by the Persian Empire. And just so you know it’s Alexander the Great who defeats the Persians, although I’m guessing the Persians didn’t think he was too great.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Zephaniah: A Celebration

Here is my sermon from Sunday. The text was Zephaniah 3:14-20:

In Star Wars: Rogue One, the lead female character Jyn Erso says about the rebellion, “We have hope. Rebellions are built on hope.” Of course, we have known that all along because what we know as the original Star Wars was later retitled Star Wars: A New Hope, but this was the first time that phrase had really been uttered in the movies about its necessity for the rebellion. If they didn’t have hope for the future, no one would join the rebellion, no one would dare to take on the empire, no one would risk their lives for something bigger than themselves because what would be the point? If there was no hope, why do anything? Why not just slink back into the woodwork, just keep on keeping on, seeking just to live one more day, and then the day after that. If there is no sense that things will get better, if there is no sense that things can get better, then there is no need to do anything. Thus, saying that rebellions are built on hope says that things not only can, but they must get better, that there is something better out there even if we cannot see it, even if it seems impossible, it’s still there.

Of course, long before we had the wisdom of George Lucas, we also heard the same thing from Paul who tells us “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God… For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” (Romans 8:18-25) That is also part of the message that we get with Zephaniah, that although he gives a prophetic claim not just of the coming destruction of Judah, but of the surrounding nations, that he closes with this truly remarkable message about God and about hope that we heard this morning.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Habakkuk: When Good Things Happen to Bad People

Here is my sermon from Sunday. The scripture was Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2:1-4:

Last week when we looked at the prophet Nahum, we addressed his gleeful delight in God being an avenging warrior who was going to bring destruction to the city of Nineveh, and I used Nahum’s position as a sort of launch pad to look at the question “why do bad things happen to good people?” I didn’t really give a full answer to that question, first because we don’t have enough time in one setting to do that, but secondly because in many ways that question is ultimately unanswerable.  The technical word for the inquiry is known as theodicy, which is if God is just how come there is injustice in the world, or if God is all powerful why doesn’t God use that power to stop bad things from occurring. If superman can stop a plan from falling out of the sky, and even turn time back to undo something that had happened, why doesn’t God do the same? The prophet Habakkuk is asking the same question, although he asks it in a different way, which is why are good things happening to bad people, and they are getting away with it, and in his inquiry Habakkuk is very unlike the other prophets we have encountered.

We know really nothing about Habakkuk, and yet can speculate about a lot. He is the first of the minor prophets we have seen who is specifically called a prophet in the introduction, although several others do have a similar introduction. Like others, there is no specific information given about when he is prophesying, that is there is no list of kings included. But because he is talking about the Babylonian Empire, who are here referred to as the Chaldeans, which is how the Biblical historians called them, we can come pretty close to his dating, or at least make a pretty good guess about it.  The Assyrian empire is not officially defeated by the Babylonians until the year 605, and then the Babylonians appear on the Judean coast in the year 604. Since Habakkuk makes a proclamation that God will use the Babylonians to destroy Judah in punishment for their sins of injustice, it is presumed that Babylon is actually a known threat to them, but has not yet appeared on the scene, although it could be that they are hovering, increasing a sense of doom, but have not yet attacked, which happens when Jerusalem is sacked, but not destroyed, in the year 598. That means we might be able to guess his prophetic career, or at least what we have record of, to a five-year period, which based on some of the other minor prophets we have encountered is remarkable. There is also some speculation that because of Habakkuk’s use of wisdom, lamentation and psalm literature, or at least their genres, that Habakkuk might be involved with, or a member of, the cultic operations of Judah. That is, he might be an official prophet for the Temple. Much of this speculation comes about because of chapter 3 which is phrased as if it is a psalm, and if you didn’t read it in preparation for today, I would encourage you to do so.