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

Redemption

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.

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.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Nahum: Vengeance Is Mine

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

In his book When Bad Things Happen to Good People, Rabbi Harold Kushner recounts an event early in his career when he was called on to help a couple whose only child, their 19-year-old daughter had died suddenly and unexpectedly of a burst blood vessel in her brain. He said that when he went over to their home he expected anger, grief, shock, but he didn’t expect the first words they said to him which was “You know, Rabbi, we didn’t fast last Yom Kippur.” Yom Kippur is the Jewish day of atonement, the most important of the high holies in Judaism, a day in which people, even many non-observant Jews, will refrain from work and will fast and seek forgiveness for the sins they have committed in the past year, and committing not to do those sins again. When this couple was struck by tragedy, they reverted back to a basic belief that God punishes people for their sin, and thus the death of their daughter had to have been caused by their failure to participate in Yom Kippur six months earlier. If only they had done that, they thought, then their daughter would be alive.

When my brother was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 20, my father had the same thought. He believed that God was punishing him for the sin of pride, by striking out at my brother. My brother’s cancer was a lesson that God was trying to teach my father and to punish him for a perceived slight to God. These are not unique stories, because they happen all the time with people seeking to give some meaning, some reason, some purpose for something that has happened in their life, and often it comes to a belief that God has caused this to happen, which often comes with a statement like “everything happens for a reason” or more specifically “This is part of God’s plan even if we don’t understand what that plan is.”

Monday, February 20, 2017

Micah: What Does The Lord Require Of You?

Here is my sermon from Sunday. The text was Micah 6:1-8:

This week I did a google search to find out what the most famous passages from the Bible were. The results I found were not necessarily the most famous, but they were the passages that were most looked up. At the top of the list were some passages you might expect like John 3:16 “for God so love the world that he gave us his only son,” and there was the 23rd Psalm “the Lord is my shepherd” and 1 Corinthians 13, Paul’s famous statement about love, “Love is patient and kind, love is not boastful or envious.” And there were some that I was totally surprised by, like a passage from Zephaniah, who we will discuss in 3 weeks, saying “Lord, your God, is in your midst, a warrior who gives victory; he will rejoice over you with gladness, he will renew you in his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.”  A nice passage, probably taken totally out of context, but not one I have ever found myself quoting. But the reason I wanted to look up what the most famous passage were was to see if any were included from the prophet Micah, because he has at least two with which most of us are familiar, and another we know although we don’t know that we know it.

The one we don’t probably know is that it is from Micah that we get a prophecy that the messiah will come from the town of Bethlehem. In the 5th chapter we hear “O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days.” (Micah 5:2) A more famous one is from the 4th chapter, where we hear “They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.” Now that’s a phrase most of us are more familiar hearing from the prophet Isaiah, who was a contemporary of Micah, but it appears word for word in both books. But by far the more common passage, and one of my favorite scripture passages, is Micah 6:8, which we heard this morning, which the New Revised Standard Version translates as “God has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

Monday, February 13, 2017

Jonah: God Loves Us Anyways

Here is my sermon from Sunday. The text was Jonah 3:1-10:

Last week in our series on the 12 Minor Prophets, we heard from Obadiah, probably the least known, and definitely the least read of the minor prophets, and a reminder that the term minor here does not have anything to do with importance, but instead with the lengths of the books as compared to the Minor prophets. This week we move on to probably the best known of the minor prophets, Jonah. Even if we don’t have any idea what Jonah actually says, or what the book is about, at the very least we remember the story of Jonah and the whale, except that it’s not actually a whale. The book of Jonah is unique in many ways. The first is that he is the only minor prophet mentioned by Jesus. But more importantly, he is the only one of the minor prophets in which we are not really given any prophetic statements or oracles from God, but instead the book consists of a series of stories about Jonah.

At the beginning of the book, we are told that Jonah is the son of Amittai, which doesn’t tell us much now, nor is there any king listed to give us the time Jonah was living. But, in 2 Kings 14:25, we are told of a prophet by the name of Jonah, the son of Amatti, who was from the town of Gath-Hepher, which is a small town in Galilee, about 3 miles from Nazareth, and was prophesying under king Jeroboam of Israel. There are some problems with that dating, however, because Nineveh was not yet a “great city” as it is described in the book of Jonah, so there are arguments that take place amongst scholars about dating, but it’s not probably ultimately important, because the story can be told and interpreted without knowing fully what was going on at the time, or at least the minute details, because the overarching point is that is that Jonah is told to get up and go to Nineveh, which is the capital city of the Assyrian Empire, the most important and powerful city in the ancient-near east at the height of Assyrian power, and he is to cry out against the city because, God says, “their wickedness has come before me.” What exactly this wickedness that God has taken notice of is never mentioned, but we can make some guesses because we do know that the Assyrians were hated by nearly everyone.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Obadiah: Turning Back Those In Need

Here is my sermon from Sunday. The text was Obadiah 1:1-4, 10-17:

There is a Depeche Mode song from the 80’s that says “I don’t want to start any blasphemous rumors, but I think that God’s got a sick sense of humor and when I die I expect to find him laughing.” That’s how I feel sometimes about God when it comes to Sunday’s messages. I began planning this series on the 12 minor prophets last summer, long before we knew the results of the election and certainly long before I knew what that president would or would not be doing when we got to each of the individual prophets, but sometimes the scriptures just seem to match up with world events, especially when it comes to controversial events. Just once I would like the scripture to match up positively with something that’s happened in the world, but that doesn’t seem to happen nearly as much, if ever, as scripture calling us out as individuals and as a nation for some action we have undertaken, which, I think, is where we find ourselves today.

Now just by a show of hands, who here had ever heard of Obadiah either before today, or before you saw that Obadiah would be covered today? That’s about what I thought. The first time I heard about Obadiah, or at least could remember it was while I was in seminary, but it was not in class, instead it was through my wife Linda who came home and told me right at the beginning of the school year that she had a student named Obadiah, a girl by the way, and I was like “okay.” And so, she had to tell me why she thought this was important information for me to know because she was named after one of the prophets, and so then I had to go look it up. Obadiah is one of the few books that is not covered at all in the lectionary, and according to what Biblegateway.com, based on what verses and books people look up and read on their site, Obadiah is the least read book in the bible, and six of the top 10 least read books are all minor prophets. So, if you have never heard of Obadiah you’re in good company.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Amos: Economic Inequalities

Here is my sermon from Sunday. The text was Amos 1:1, 5:6-7, 10-24:

Most of us are familiar with the words and images of the prophet Amos, even if we didn’t know that they were his words, or more appropriately God’s words conveyed by Amos. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, routinely used the words that close the passage we heard from this morning “Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” If you look up that quote, sometimes you will even find it attributed to MLK, rather than to Amos. The book of Amos is rich with imagery, and with language, that made it appropriate to be used in civil rights and other social justice movements of the last two hundred years, and these modern-day prophets, plumbed the depths of Amos for a word of God to be used in support of their cries for justice. In that, our exposure to Amos is unusual, because the book has largely been ignored by both Jewish and Christians except at the time it was written, and in our times, and the reason is because there is little word of hope to be found in Amos, as there is in other prophets, but more importantly because of the message that Amos proclaims about justice, especially economic justice, and a call to God’s righteousness.

We know a little more about the prophet Amos then we do about Hosea and Joel, the first two minor prophets we have covered. Our introduction to Amos is also different than the others, in that for Hosea and Joel, we are told that the word of the Lord came to them, but here we are told that it is the words of Amos which he saw concerning Israel. That is that Amos is not only conveying the words of God, but he is conveying visions that God shows him. While this is common among some prophets, Amos is the first prophet we have giving us visions. We are also told that Amos is from the town of Tekoa, which is about 9 miles south of Jerusalem. What that means is that Amos is from the kingdom of Judah, but is being sent and is making prophecies about the Kingdom of Israel. That is and of itself makes him an unpopular figure. Just think of how we would deal with someone from another country coming and telling us how we were doing everything wrong and God is going to punish us for it. We don’t deal well with our own people saying that let alone someone else, and so we even have the high priest of Bethel telling Amos “O seer, go and flee away to the land of Judah, earn your bread there, and prophesy there, but never again prophesy at Bethel.” (7:12) Of course that is one of the things that Amos says, is that “they hate the one who reproves in the gate, and they abhor the one who speaks the truth.” (5:10) So if you don’t like today’s message it’s okay, because Amos has already said you won’t like it because it’s hard to hear things that hit too close to home.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Joel: Inward or Outward

Here is my sermon from Sunday. The text was Joel 1:1, 2:1-18:

When we were living in Melrose, NM, which is a small farming community in the eastern part of the state, they were dealing with a significant drought. Most of them were dryland farmers, which meant they depended upon rain to water the crops. In our two years there, the only people who brought in a harvest, in two years, were those who had irrigation, which were all people who grew corn. All the wheat farmers simply watched their crops wither and die every season. And because there were no crops to hold down the top soil, it began to blow away. There was nothing you could do to keep the sand and dust out of the house. As soon as you vacuumed it up, there would be a new coating over everything within a few days.  In our last spring there, we had a massive windstorm come through that just blackened and sky and had the old timers talking about it being just like the dust bowl, especially the storm that hit on Palm Sunday 1935 that is now known as Black Sunday.  The dirt and sand covered and coated everything and was beginning to bury fence lines, and in some cases starting to cover abandoned and collapses houses. Where do you find hope in a situation like that, when everything you need to survive depends on the crop coming in, and you haven’t had one what do you do? That is the image, and the experience, that came to my mind as I thought about the prophet Joel and the imagery he uses of destruction in a plague of locusts which eat and destroy everything, and then are followed by a drought that destroys everything that might have remained. Where is hope in that moment? Where is God in that moment? What are we called to do in that moment? Are we responsible for the drought? Has it been brought on by God because of our sin?

Like with Hosea last week, and really most of the minor prophets, we know very little about the prophet Joel. We are told in the first line that he is the son of Pethuel, which means nothing to us because we don’t know who he is. Obviously to those who first recorded this, his name had to have had some significance. Joel’s name, is really ya-el, which means “The Lord is God”, ya being an abbreviation for Yahweh and el meaning God. What is striking, especially when compared against the other prophets, is that there is not a list of names of kings at the beginning of his prophetic career, nor is there a single name of a king mentioned anywhere in Joel’s prophetic writings.  That makes dating the book very difficult, and so possible dates range from the 9th century to the 4th century BCE. Most scholars date it from the end of the 6th century to the beginning of the 5th, that’s still like a 150 year period. None of the reasons for this dating are incontrovertible, but they include the fact that no kings are named, which since there are no kings after the destruction of Jerusalem in 587 and the beginning of the exile, this would make sense. In addition, there is an emphasis on priests and elders and the centrality of the Temple, which could mean Joel is just ignoring the kings, or again that it takes place after the return from exile, and the rebuilding of the temple, along with the wall around Jerusalem, which is also presupposed in this writing. But probably the best argument for this dating is Joel’s use of other prophets, most importantly Obadiah, whose prophetic career takes place in the 5th century. But, ultimately, the dating of Joel doesn’t have any impact on its interpretation, because unlike the other prophets, while there is a call to repentance for where the people have gone astray, there is no specific sin or transgression that is ever addressed.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Hosea

Here is my sermon from Sunday. The text was Hosea 1:1, 2:14-23:

This past Monday, on January 9, happens to be the day on which more people commit marital infidelity than any other day of the year. I don’t know how they figured that out, but it was what I heard this past week, and I thought it was rather appropriate for today because what Hosea, the first of the 12 Minor Prophets that we encounter, deals with is infidelity, the breaking of relationship, and in particular the breaking of covenantal relationships. Of course, when we think of breaking of vows, it is the breaking of marriage vows that tends to come first.  But there are lots of other vows, sometimes merely implied, that we can also break, which can lead us to break relationship. Several years ago, I showed a video of from the Jimmy Kimmel show where he asked parents to give their kids terrible Christmas presents, but this week I came across a similar video in which he asked parents to tell their children that they had eaten all of their children’s Halloween candy. Take a look…  I am pretty sure that Jimmy Kimmel is going to hell for that, and perhaps I am for showing it, and you for laughing. But that breaking of relationship between these parents and their children, and the responses the children have, I believe are appropriate for the message we see in the prophet Hosea.

We know very little about Hosea. We are told in that opening passage of the book that he is the son of Beeri, a typical introduction in prophetic writings, about whom we know nothing, and then the kings who were ruling in Israel and in Judah.  His prophetic career lasts from the year 750 to 724 BCE, which is a fairly tumultuous time for Israel, or the northern Kingdom. And as a reminder, after the death of King Solomon, the united monarchy, as it is called, is divided into two kingdoms. The northern kingdom, known as Israel, and the southern kingdom, known as Judah. The northern kingdom is larger and contains 10 of the tribes of Israel, while Judah is smaller and contains 2 tribes but also contains Jerusalem. While there are several prophets who make prophecies about and for the northern kingdom, Hosea is the only prophet that we know of who is from the northern kingdom, not from Judah. Outside of the book of Job, Hosea is the hardest book for Biblical translators. Not only is the text obscure and difficult in the Hebrew, the Greek version of the Old Testament, known as the Septuagint, is also difficult. Since it is then believed that the difficulty of the text comes not from mistakes in transmission through the millennia, they believe that what we have in the book of Hosea is evidence of a different dialect in ancient Hebrew. I think that’s totally cool  because that means there were much larger divides between Israel and Judah than we might otherwise not be aware of besides for a political boundary. I think that’s totally cool. It’s like George Bernard Shaw’s quote that Britain and America are a people “divided by a common language.”

Monday, January 9, 2017

The Prophets

Here is my sermon from Sunday, and introduction to our sermon series on the 12 Minor Prophets.

Today we begin a new sermon series on the 12 Minor Prophets which will take us through the next 13 weeks, ending the week before Palm Sunday. This will be by far the longest sermon series we have done and by the end of this you and me both might be really ready for it to end, although I hope that’s not the case because I think these books have something important to say to us, and the reason this series is being called “Major Messages in the Minor Prophets.” I’ve wanted to do this series for a long time, but never got there because it is a bit overwhelming in covering an area that I did not know a lot about, and so you get to hear it all now, and if nothing else by the end of it you will have been exposed to all 12 of the minor prophets, and something about what they had to say, and perhaps you might even be able to remember 8 or 9 of their names.

But before we dig into each of the books individually, I thought it was important to give you some background on who the prophets were and what was happening at the time they were writing to give you a better context and understanding of who they are. And we begin with some semantics. First, the term minor prophets has nothing at all to do with their importance or significance of either their messages or their meaning in the tradition or cannon of scripture. They are called the minor prophets because of the length of their writings, which range from a single chapter to 14 chapters, are significantly shorter when compared against what are known as the major prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel. These works are also sometimes called the Book of the Twelve as they were all contained on one scroll in ancient manuscripts, and idea to which we will return. The second semantic issue is that technically there are not any prophets in the Hebrew Scriptures. There are not any prophets because the word prophet comes not out of Hebrew, but out of Greek, so it came into our lexicon first when the Hebrew scriptures were translated into Greek, known as the Septuagint, which also happens to be what most of the people who wrote the New Testament used in creating the New Testament which is written in Greek. One meaning of the word prophet in Greek is “to foresee” which is where we get the idea that prophets are people who give predictions, or prophecies, about the future, which, while true sometimes, is not the primary role of prophets as we understand them. Their job was not to provide horoscopes of Israel. Another meaning of the word is “one who speaks for another.” This is closer to the meaning of what prophets did in the ancient world, which is that they were spokesmen and women for God. Thus, prophetic statements often, but not always begin, “thus says the Lord…” or “Hear the word of the Lord…” or something along those lines.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Which Way Do We Go?

Here is my sermon from Sunday. The text was Matthew 25:31-46:

Well another new year has begun. For some, 2017 may be better than 2016, and for others it may be worse, but what the future holds is totally unknown. As they say, hindsight is 20/20, but we don’t have the same effectiveness in gauging what is to come, otherwise we all would have put money on the Cubs to win the world series.  And yet we try and make guesses about the future all the time. People are claiming who is going to win the super bowl, people saying Trump will be the best president ever and others saying the worst ever, some saying that the Red Sox will never win another world series title, that’s me, although it’s more hope than prediction, some predicting economic collapse, and they have predicted 20 of the last 2 recessions, and some are predicting huge economic growth. And for what applies to the church, some predicting who will go to heaven, and who might go somewhere else. It’s that last prediction that we seek to tackle today based on the passage we just heard from Matthew, known as the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats.

If you’ve been attending here for a while, you have heard me say before that I think the question many Christians use to try and bring others to the faith, which is “if you were to die tonight, do you know where you would go?” is an awful question. It’s awful for several reasons, one them being that it makes an affirmation of faith all about fear, not about trust or love, and that’s not a good place to start in any relationship, let alone a relationship with God. But more importantly it’s a bad question because the proper answer is “No, and neither do you.” Of course, that is not what the people asking the question think, but I believe that is the appropriate answer because of what Jesus tells us in this passage. This is the only scripture passage in which Jesus talks about a final judgment, the only one that says anything about how a decision of which way people might go is made. The only one. That may seem surprising based on how much emphasis that some in the church put onto the issue of the afterlife, but we should remember that Jesus’ message was always much more about life here and now, about God’s kingdom here and now, then it was about some time to come.  That doesn’t mean those things are unimportant, and this parable does deal with that and, for me at least, it is always one of those passages that leaves me not only a little uneasy, because I’m never sure if I am reading it and interpreting it the right way, and if I am I’m always happy and deeply disturbed at the same time with the conclusion.