Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Spiritual Gifts

Here is my sermon from Sunday.  The text was 1 Corinthians 12:1-11:

This week, my youngest daughter asked what I was preaching on this week, and then asked how it was that I came up with something different to say each week. I was a little surprised by the question because normally she is spending all her time at the back of the church in the Kid’s Korner, and certainly acting as if she is not paying any attention to what I have to say each week, although occasionally she will make some comment about the sermon, or ask me a question about it, so I know she’s at least occasionally paying attention. But I certainly never expected her to ask how I decided what to preach on, and it’s a question that few people have asked me over the years.  I told her there were lots of things that went into it, and one of the most important was what I thought that we needed to hear, and as a corollary of that what I was feeling called to preach on. 
Now they say that a normal preacher has only one sermon that they deliver every week, just in different ways.  Good preachers have two sermons they give over and over in different ways.  And great preachers have three sermons that they give in different ways.  Now whether I am a great preacher or not, I like to think that I have at least three different sermons that I preach, and yet for the past few months, it feels like I keep coming back to the same messages again and again.  Perhaps I’m like the new preacher who gave exactly the same sermon on loving our neighbor as ourselves for the first three weeks he was at the church.  When the leadership told him perhaps it would be a good idea for him to preach on something else, he said “Once you’ve got a hang of loving all, then we’ll move onto something else.”  Or, perhaps, I’ve simply become a little unoriginal in my messages.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Why Do Fundamentalists Publish Books On The Bible?

"The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it."  That statement is one common amongst fundamentalists in America.  They feel they can say that because they also believe that the language of the Bible is plain and easily understood, and thus doesn't need to be interpreted by anyone.  If scripture is not easily understood then it runs into the problem of needing to be interpreted for people, which brings in personal bias, rather than hearing God's "unadulterated" word. (Well temporarily ignore the fact that reading brings in its own bias.)  Thus they can try and make the claim that the Bible clearly says it and they don't have to think about it and therefore it is settled.

One of the lectionary readings for this week is from Nehemiah, which says "They read aloud from the scroll, the Instruction from God, explaining and interpreting it so the people could understand what they heard." (8:8 NRSV)  Now it could be that some of the people did not speak Hebrew and thus that is the reason it needed to be explained and interpreted.  But I think a better reading is that scripture is often hard to understand and needs to be explained and interpreted for people, which is what Ezra and others were doing.

Indeed, what I spend a large amount of my time doing as a pastor is interpreting and explaining scripture to people. Scripture is not usually explicit in what it means, and often there are different meanings and interpretations.  This is especially true when reading it in a language other than it's original language, where interpretation has already been done.  I often tell people that as soon as they think they have a passage figured out they should go back and read it again because they have probably missed something.

Which leads me back to the fundamentalist perspective, and something that occurred to me as I contemplated that passage, is that if scripture is plain and easily understood, then why do fundamentalists have preachers to tell them what they could clearly get for themselves if they simply read scripture.  And more importantly why do they ever publish any books on scripture which certainly not only seek to interpret scripture but also make sure that people interpret it in the correct way. If it's so clear shouldn't we be able to figure it out on our own?

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Preach the Good News

Here is my sermon from Sunday.  The text was Luke 4:14-21:

In a speech I saw by Bishop Will Willimon, he recalled the first time he went to visit a prisoner on death row.  He said he was a little nervous going in knowing that the person he was going to be meeting with had committed some atrocious crime.  After arriving at the prison he was searched and then given a long set of instructions about what he could and could not do and could and could not say, and when he entered the room he had no idea what was going to happen.  After the prisoner he was meeting with sat down, Bishop Willimon asked him what he wanted to talk about; he said “Do you think the United Methodist Church is doing enough to reach out to a new generation offering them Christ?”  That was not really the question he expected to start the conversation out with.  As they continued to talk, Bishop Willimon found out that the man had become a Christian while on death row.  When asked how he came to Christ, the man said “well I heard a lot about Jesus and he thought he and I had a lot in common.”  To which Bishop Willimon said, “are you Jewish too?”  “No,” the man said, “Jesus was on death row and was executed by the state, and I’m on death row waiting to be executed by the state, so I think we’ve faced the similar things.”
That comment came back to me this week as I was thinking about he radical claim that Jesus is making in this passage and what it actually means for us, and what it means for others as well.  We often sentimentalize Christianity, and it’s message, removing some of the teeth and the call, removing the fact that we worship a man who was arrested, tried and executed, not because he was a nice guy, the state tends not to kill nice guys, but because his message, his good news, was seen as a threat not just to the religious leaders of his day, but more importantly because he was seen as a threat to the Roman empire itself.  There are significant costs to being a prophet.  Tavist Smilley said, “You can have people like what you say, or you can offer a prophetic message, but you cannot do both.”

Monday, January 11, 2016

Splish Splash

Here is my sermon from Sunday.  The scripture was Luke 3:15-17, 21-22:

I know that most of you are too young to remember the game show To Tell the Truth, so let me give you a quick summary.  Each week, there would be three people all pretending to be the same person, although one of them was the actual person, and then the panel of four celebrities would ask each of the contestants a series of questions to try and determine who was the real person and who were pretenders, at the end of the show, the host would say “would the real Joe Schmoe please stand up.”  At the beginning of today’s passage we have a short version of To Tell the Truth taking place.  John the Baptist is out at the Jordan River making a unique, or somewhat unique, proclamation about God and calling for people to come and repent and be baptized, hence his name.  Some of the people are beginning to wonder if John might be the Messiah, or the Christ in Greek, when Jesus shows up on the scene, and suddenly people are saying will the real Messiah please stand up, except that rather than the host making that call, it is John himself, at least in Luke’s gospel, that makes the call.
The Baptism of Jesus, which we remember today, and always the first Sunday after Epiphany, represents the beginning of Jesus’ ministry in many ways, but is also unique amongst the gospel stories.  It is unique because it is one of the few stories that is actually found in all four gospels.  That puts it right up there with the passion story.  We like to think that all the gospels tell the same story, or stories, but they don’t.  They have their own unique perspective and their own unique stories that only occur in their gospels, or perhaps in another.  So for example, only two gospels give us birth stories, and they are nowhere close in telling us the same story, other than the rough outline that Mary and Joseph had  a baby named Jesus and it happened in Bethlehem.

Monday, January 4, 2016

By A Different Road

Here is my sermon from Sunday.  The text was Matthew 2:1-12:

Most of us have particular roads on which we like to travel.  For the most part, we always go to and from work the same way, we go to the grocery store the same way, we go to church the same way.  We do this so much that there are times when we totally disengage while driving and we end up, usually at home, and we don’t remember doing the drive at all.  We know the route so well that we don’t even really have to be involved in doing it any more.  Now this does not mean that this route is necessarily the best route to take, the easiest or the quickest, although we would probably argue that it is, but it is the route that we are most used to and so it’s what we do.  And we stay on that route unless something pushes us off of it, construction, and accident or perhaps a major snow storm.  Normally, there are multiple ways to do something, multiple routes to take, but we don’t take them because it’s not how we normally go and we don’t really want to change anything.  We like our particular road just fine, thank you very much.  Even if it’s not really working for us anymore, we’re going to stick to it, because gosh darn it we’re not quitters.  Finding a different road isn’t really all that hard, most of the time, but it’s making the decision to go home by a different road that’s the tough part.
Of course the church is not necessarily the best place to be talking about trying new things, not just because new things tend to be resisted by many people, although I haven’t yet heard any complaints about the new seating arrangements, but even more because the church itself likes to keep things the same.  It’s part of that whole tradition thing, and we could sing right along with Tevye, and the fact that we celebrate the same things every year, and so we find ourselves today, just like this time last year, celebrating Epiphany which is the arrival of the wise men who come to see and worship Jesus.  The actual celebration of Epiphany is January 6, as today is only the tenth day of Christmas, and I hope to find my ten lords a leaping wrapped in my office after worship, but we celebrate epiphany today since I don’t figure most of you would be here for worship on the 6th, plus the fact that the 6th is the anniversary of Linda and my first date and so she wouldn’t be really happy with me if I was to be here.

Friday, January 1, 2016

2015 Books

This is a list of the books I read in 2015.  (This is more for my memory than for everyone else to know).

  1. 1066 by Jennifer Paxton
  2. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne
  3. A Disease Called Childhood: WHY ADHD Became an American Epidemic by Marilyn Wedge
  4. A Season of Saturdays: A History of College Football in 14 Games by Michael Weinreb
  5. A Spirituality of Fundraising by Henri Nouwen
  6. After the Wrath of God: AIDS, Sexuality and American Religion by Anthony M. Petro
  7. Against the Tide: Rickover's Leadership Principles and the Rise of the Nuclear Navy by Rear Admiral Dave Oliver
  8. All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque, trans. by A.W. Wheen
  9. Allegiance by Timothy Zahn
  10. American Mirror: The Life and Art of Norman Rockwell by Deborah Solomon
  11. Bellow Stairs by Margaret Powell
  12. Beyond: Our Future in Space by Chris Impey
  13. Blue: The LAPD and the Battle to Redeem American Policing by Joe Domanick
  14. Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
  15. Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth by Richard Foster
  16. Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture by Ellen Ruppel Shell
  17. Citizen Coke: The Making of Coca-Cola Capitalism by Bartow J. Elmore
  18. City of Dreams by William Martin
  19. Consider the Fork: A History of How We Cook and Eat by Bee Wilson
  20. Coronado by Dennis Lehane
  21. Dark Lord: The Rise of Darth Vader by James Luceno
  22. Darwin: Portrait of a Genius by Paul Johnson
  23. Death Star by Michael Reeves and Steve Perry
  24. Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
  25. E. Aster Bunnymund and the Warrior Eggs at the Earth's Core by William Joyce
  26. Entreleadership: 20 Years of Practical Business Wisdom from the Trenches by Dave Ramsey
  27. Finding Zero: A Mathematician's Odyssey to Uncover the Origins of Numbers by Amir D. Aczel
  28. Five Marks of a Methodist: The Fruit of a Living Faith by Steve Harper
  29. Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt by Michael Lewis
  30. Free: Why Science hasn't Disproved Freewill by Albert R. Mele
  31. From Yao to Mao: 5000 Years of Chinese History by Kenneth Hammond
  32. Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee
  33. God's Chosen Fast: A Spiritual and Practical Guide to Fasting by Arthur Wallis
  34. Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap... and Other's Don't by James C. Collins
  35. Grave Robber: How Jesus can make Your Impossible Possible by Mark Batterson
  36. Gregor and the Curse of the Warmblood by Suzanne Collins
  37. Gregor and the Marks of Secret by Suzanne Collins
  38. Gregor and the Prophecy of the Bane by Suzanne Collins
  39. Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins
  40. Hammer Head: The Making of a Carpenter by Nina MacLaughlin
  41. Hershey: Milton S. Hershey's Extraordinary Life of Wealth, Empire and Utopian Dreams by Michael D'Antonio
  42. Holy Sh*t: A Brief History of Swearing by Melissa Mohr
  43. How Star Wars Conquered the Universe: The Past, Present and Future of a Multibillion Dollar Franchise by Chris Taylor
  44. How the Mighty Fall by Jim Collins
  45. How to Read the Bible and Still be a Christian: Struggling with Divine Violence from Genesis through Revelation by John Dominic Crossan
  46. Humor Code: A Global Search for what Makes Things Funny by Peter McGraw and Joel Warner
  47. In Praise of Doubt: How to Have Convictions Without Becoming a Fanatic by Peter Berger and Anton Zijderveld
  48. Innovate the Pixar Way: Business Lessons from the World's Most Creative Corporate Playground by Bill Capodagli and Lynn Jackson
  49. Intangiball: The Subtle Things that Win Baseball Games by Lonnie Wheeler
  50. Inventing Hell: Dante, the Bible and Eternal Torment by Jon M. Sweeney
  51. Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne
  52. Kenobi by John Jackson Miller
  53. Knuckleball: The History of the Unhittable Pitch by Lew Freedman
  54. Last Night in Twisted River by John Irving
  55. Leadership and Self-Deception: Getting Out of the Box by The Arbinger Institute
  56. Leading Change by John Kotter
  57. Lords of the Sith by Paul S. Kemp
  58. Malestrom: Manhood Swept into the Currents of a Changing World by Carolyn Custis James
  59. Manage Your Day-to-Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus, and Sharpen Your Creative Mind, edited by Jocelyn K. Glei
  60. Mary Poppins, She Wrote: The Life of P.L. Travers by Valerie Lawson
  61. Mayflower: A Story of Community, Courage and War by Nathaniel Philbrick
  62. Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town by John Krakauer
  63. Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
  64. Multiplication is for White People: Raising the Standards for Other People's Children by Lisa Delpit
  65. My Father's Wives by Mike Greenberg
  66. Nicholas St. North and the Battle of the Nightmare King by William Joyce
  67. Notes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson
  68. Our Great American God: A Short History of Our Ever-Growing Deity by Matthew Paul Turner
  69. Renovate or Die: 10 Ways to Focus Your Church on Mission by Bob Farr and Kay Kotan
  70. Seize the Daylight: The Curious and Contentious Story of Daylight Saving Time by David Prerau
  71. Shakespeare: The World as Stage by Bill Bryson
  72. Shift: Helping Congregations Back into the Game of Effective Ministry by Phil Maynard
  73. Simple Church: Returning to God's Process for Making Disciples by Thom Rainer and Eric Geiger
  74. Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut
  75. Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife by Mary Roach
  76. Surprise!: Embrace the Unpredictable, Engineer the Unexpected by Tania Luna and LeeAnn Renninger
  77. Sycamore Row by John Grisham
  78. Taking People with You: The Only Way to Make Big Things Happen by David Novak
  79. The 13th Gift: A True Story of a Christmas Miracle by Joanne Huist Smith
  80. The Art of the Con: The Most Notorious Fakes, Frauds and Forgeries in the Art World by Anthony M. Amore
  81. The Big Moo: Stop Trying to be Perfect and Start Being Remarkable by The Group of 33
  82. The Bookman's Tale by Charlie Lovett
  83. The Bookwoman's Last Fling by John Dunning
  84. The Bounty: The True Story of the Mutiny on the Bounty by Caroline Alexander
  85. The Complete Stories of Truman Capote by Truman Capote
  86. The Dark Box: A Secret History of Confession by John Cornwell
  87. The Death of Ivan Ilych by Leo Tolstoy
  88. The Edge of Eternity by Ken Follett
  89. The Great Evangelical Recession: 6 Factors that will Crash the American Church and How to Prepare by John S. Dickerson
  90. The Last Kind Words Saloon by Larry McMurtry
  91. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo
  92. The Man Who Ate His Boots: The Tragic History of the Search for the Northwest Passage by Anthony Brandt
  93. The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History by Robert Edsel
  94. The Pixar Touch: The Making of a Company by David A. Price
  95. The Power of Small: Why Little Things Make all the Difference by Linda Kaplan Thaler and Robin Koval
  96. The Real Life of Mary Poppins: The Life and Times of P.L. Travers by Paul Brody
  97. The Sacred Art of Fasting: Preparing to Practice by Rev. Thomas Ryan, CSP
  98. The Scandalous Message of James: Faith Without Works is Dead by Elsa Tamez
  99. The Thin Green Line: The Money Secrets of the Super Wealthy by Paul Sullivan
  100. The Titled Americans: Three American Sisters and the British Aristocratic World into which They Married by Elizabeth Kehoe
  101. The Woman Who Can't Forget: The Extraordinary Story of Living with the Most Remarkable Memory Known to Science by Jill Price
  102. The Wright Brothers by David McCullough
  103. Think Like a Freak by Steven D. Levitt and Stephan D. Dubner
  104. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  105. Toothiana: Queen of the Tooth Fairy Armies by William Joyce
  106. Transparency: How Leaders Create a Culture of Candor by Warren Bennis, et all
  107. When the Astors Owned New York: Blue Bloods and Grand Hotels in a Gilded Age by Justin Kaplan
  108. Why Suffering?: Finding Meaning and Comfort When Life Doesn't Make Sense by Ravi Zacharias and Vince Vitale
  109. Winter Street by Elin Hilderbrand
  110. World Gone By by Dennis Lehane