Tuesday, September 19, 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
     1984 by George Orwell
2. A book from your childhood
     The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe by CS Lewis
3. A book published over 100 years ago.
     Damnation of Theron Ware by Harold Frederic
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.
     Three Weeks with My Brother: A Memoir by Nicholas Sparks
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, July 24, 2017

Giving All You've Got

Here is my sermon from Sunday. The scripture was John 15:12-17 and based on Star Wars: Rogue One.

When we think of the word love and when we talk about love, the most common reference is that of romantic love or the love we feel for our families. The love that’s expressed in Hallmark cards and Lifetime movies. It’s not necessarily physical love, but it does make us feel something different than what we feel for other people, and thus when we hear that we are to love everyone, or that, as the Beatles prophetically said, all we need is love, and we realize how difficult or impossible it is we begin to despair thinking that perhaps we aren’t worthy. That perhaps there are people who are capable of doing this, but we aren’t, and are thus failures. It’s as Father Zosima said in Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, “The more I love humanity in general, the less I love man in particular.” Or worse, we begin to think that maybe Jesus wasn’t actually being serious about this, that it was hyperbole, just as he said that we should rip out our eye or cut off our hand if it causes us to sin. It’s there to help us to understand the seriousness of the command, but to understand that it’s not really what he is saying to do.

Now there are multiple different words in Greek that are translated as love. One of those words is eros, from which we get the word erotic, that touchy feely love, but that is not the word that is translated here that Jesus is using. Instead, the word here is agape, which when translated into Latin was caritas, from which we get words like charity. That is that this is not a feeling that we are supposed to have for one another, this is a doing, a way of being. So, while we can have eros for a few people, we can have agape for everyone. And I think it’s crucial to pay attention to the fact that Jesus does not say this is a recommendation, or even just come out and say love one another. Instead, what does he say? Let’s read it together. “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. And no one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” This is a commandment. The reason why the Thursday of Holy Week is called Maundy Thursday is because this passage is read, and Maundy comes from the Latin word Mandantum, meaning commandment. Jesus commands us to love one another, just as we have first been loved. And so, we are going to be looking at that idea as we conclude our all too brief sermon series on the gospel in Star Wars, although perhaps some think it’s been too long, by looking at the last of the Star Wars films to come out which was Rogue One.

Monday, July 17, 2017


Here is my sermon from Sunday. It was based on Romans 8:31b-39 and Star Wars: Return of the Jedi.

When people are asked to name the best villains in movie history, Darth Vader is consistently near the top of the list. He is easily responsible for hundreds of deaths, and that’s before we begin to talk about the entire destruction of the planet alderon. But one of the things that separates Vader from the other top movie villains, people such as Hannibal Lecter or Norman Bates, is that he is not psychotic, or at least to me Vader doesn’t appear to be psychotic. Now I could be wrong on that, and I’m not saying he’s a good guy. He’s not, for example, Atticus Finch, from To Kill a Mockingbird, who tops the list of the best movie heroes. He seems more like Nurse Ratched from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, or Mr. Potter from It’s a Wonderful Life, who are not mentally ill, they are just mean and nasty people. Perhaps that’s even worse because it means that they intentionally chose to be the people they were, and they are not people you want to invite over for a dinner party. But the question we have to ask ourselves, and the question we will seek to answer today is whether these nasty people, these villains, because of the choices they have made in their life have moved beyond God’s grace and redemption, and we will do so by looking at the film that completed the original Star Wars trilogy Return of the Jedi, which is my personal favorite film.

Released in 1983, Return of the Jedi has the empire working to rebuild the death star, but it begins in the palace of Jabba the Hutt, sort of the Godfather of a crime syndicate, who has Han Solo encased in carbon and hanging on his wall, and so Luke, Chewbacca, Leia and Lando Calrisian undertake a rescue operation that eventually leads to Jabba’s death at the hands of Leia. Intelligence, and a trap set by the emperor, then leads the rebels to the forest moon of Endor where the new death star is being built and is protected by a shield being generated on the moon’s surface. While Han, Leia and Chewie make their way to Endor, where they encounter the Ewoks, a race of small teddy bear like creatures who will help them in their battle with the empire, Luke goes for some final training with Yoda, who dies, but not before revealing that Princes Leia is Luke’s twin sister, and thus the daughter of Vader. Luke eventually joins them all on Endor, voluntarily surrendering to the imperial troops so he can meet with Vader, who takes him to the emperor. Vader and Luke again engage in a lightsaber duel, but Luke puts his weapon away because he will not kill his father and he finally realizes Yoda’s lessons about violence and the dark side, and when he refuses to fight, the emperor then seeks to kill Luke himself, but I don’t want to give away the ending just yet, as it works into the understanding of redemption. But two issues to point out.

Monday, July 10, 2017

You Must Choose

Here is my sermon from Sunday. It was based on Genesis 4:1-9 and the movie Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back.

Today we continue in our series on the Gospel in Star Wars by looking at the Empire Strikes Back. Released in 1980, it is widely considered the best of the Star Wars films, although it is not my personal favorite. After the rebel alliance had destroyed the death star at the battle of Yavin at the end of the first film, the empire strikes back, as the title says, and seeks out to find and destroy the rebels who are now hiding from the empire. After their base on the ice planet of Hoth is attacked, they retreat again, with Luke Skywalker going to the Dagobah system to receive instruction from Yoda, the last remaining Jedi Master, and put in a different order, his words are, therefore making him sound super smart. Meanwhile, Han, Chewie and Leia are being pursued by the evil Darth Vader when the hyperdrive on their ship won’t work and so they retreat to the cloud city of Bespin, controlled by an old friend of Han’s, Lando Calrisian. Calrisian betrays them to Vader who uses them as a trap to get Luke to come to their rescue, where he and Vader engage in a lightsaber battle, with Luke losing his hand, and where Vader reveals, and I hope this isn’t a surprise to anyone any longer, that Luke’s father was not killed by Vader as he had been told, but that Vader himself is his father, and along the way Luke learns somethings about the force and himself that turn out to be important as well, and we are going to use this is a way to discuss the issue of predestination versus free will and our relationship with sin and the dark side.

Now the Star Wars movies play both sides of the card when it comes to whether things are predestined or not. In the later prequels, when Qui Gon Jinn meets the young Anakin Skywalker for the first time, Anakin makes a remark about how fortunate that they had to land where they did to get their ship repaired, and Jinn says “Our meeting was not a coincidence. Nothing happens by accident.” And then of course there is both Vader and the Emperor, known by his Sith name as Darth Sidious, who tell Luke that it is his destiny that he join the dark side and rule the galaxy. Of course, that doesn’t happen, putting a question about whether everything is in fact destiny, and then there is what Yoda has to say. Now I think we could do an entire sermon series on the wisdom of Yoda, who really does have some of the best lines, like Size matters not, do or do not, there is no try, and better yet, fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate and hate leads to suffering, but about destinies, Yoda says that the future is impossible to see, or as he says in the Empire Strikes Back, always in motion the future is. That means we can’t predict the future because there are too many variables, too many choices that people can make, to be able to determine the future outcomes. So, which do we believe?

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.