Division, Wisdom, Christ Crucified—A February Sermon

Paul wrote the letter we know as I Corinthians to deal with divisions in that community. There were many sources of division there. One was related to leadership. Some said they followed Paul. Some said they followed Peter. Some said they followed Apollos. And some tried to trump everyone else, by saying “I just follow Jesus.”

Paul responds to them all by saying something like: “Come on. Get it together. Was I crucified for you? Was Apollos? Where you baptized in my name? I’m glad I didn’t baptize any of you, so you can’t get confused about where your loyalties lie.”

Then Paul seems to think for a moment before continuing. “Well, okay, I did baptize Crispus and Gaius. But still, it’s Jesus who is your true leader.” Continue reading “Division, Wisdom, Christ Crucified—A February Sermon”

What Makes an Anabaptist an Anabaptist?

There was a time when various Christian networks or denominations liked to talk about what distinguished them from others. Arguments were had over minutia of doctrine and practice. This still happens in some places, but for many of us it has now become much more important to look at commonalities than differences. In that earlier era, though, Anabaptist writers published a flurry of books and articles trying to sum up an Anabaptist approach to the Christian faith in nice, easy lists. The push was to develop the shortest set of teachable points that somehow could speak to core issues that distinguished this segment of the Christian family from others. You can probably tell that I’m not much taken with these projects anymore. Having said that, I do know we all like lists, so below is an extract from a sermon that is my cut at listing Anabaptist distinctives. Or, put another way, these are gifts Anabaptist Christians bring to the larger family of faith: Continue reading “What Makes an Anabaptist an Anabaptist?”

Is the Prince of Peace Bad for the King of the Jungle?

There’s something still stuck in my head from Advent. I’ve thought about it before, but for some reason the question is sticking with me longer this year (probably because I’m also reading an old book by Holmes Rolston III). The thought is this: What do we do with Isaiah’s peaceful vision? Is the arrival of the Prince of Peace bad news for environmental ethics? It seems an odd question at first. Within the current political alignment, concerns for peace are often allied with concerns for the environment. And in the annual run-up to Christmas churches typically work their way through some of the prophetic passages in Isaiah, the ones that New Testament writers then link to Jesus of Nazareth. Preachers like myself then tie the radical enemy-love of Jesus with Isaiah’s picture of predator and prey living peacefully together. Lion and calf, wolf and lamb, leopard and kid, bear and cow, baby and asp—they are all put together in the nursery of Isaiah 11. And we think this depicts a great future. Continue reading “Is the Prince of Peace Bad for the King of the Jungle?”

Learning about Advent from Bilbo Baggins

A few weeks back, just before the start of Advent, churches around the globe were reading the first chapter of Luke’s Gospel. The story they were tracking was not yet the birth of Jesus, but the birth of another child—this one named John. The story of John’s birth is interesting. The boy’s mother, Elizabeth, had given birth; her neighbors and relatives were just as excited as she was. They assumed that she would name the boy Zechariah after his father. She refused and insisted that the baby would be named John. In her day a mom didn’t just give a child a nice sounding name that she found on the internt. Kids usually received family names or names with some unique meaning, so the name John came as a surprise. Continue reading “Learning about Advent from Bilbo Baggins”

To the Mountain, with Nobodies (190)

In the middle of Luke chapter 9 we hear Jesus giving his followers some harsh news: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” He is telling them, and telling us, that we can’t save our lives by trying to save our lives. If we hold on too tightly, if you try to keep everything under control, we will lose our lives. The liveliness will be gone. We’ll squeeze out the vitality.

Then, a few verses later, Jesus says something really strange. He says that some of the people listening to him will see the “kingdom of God” before they die. Actually he says, they will see it before they “taste death.” They will “see” before they “taste.” It’s an interesting way to put it. Continue reading “To the Mountain, with Nobodies (190)”

What does it mean to trust God?

One of the most persistent pieces of spiritual advice is to “trust in God.” Like so much of the spiritual life, what initially seems simple and direct, becomes more profound and more challenging as the years pass.

What does it mean to trust God when experience tells us that this does not mean our lives will unfold in the way we had hoped? What does it mean to trust God with loved-ones who we know will not escape suffering? Continue reading “What does it mean to trust God?”

Daring Acts of Ethical Imagination (178)

[Ruth 3:1-5; 4:13-17; Mark 12:38-44 – Peace Sunday]

The fourth chapter of Luke tells how Jesus went to the meeting place of his home congregation on the Sabbath. He entered the cool limestone building, and as was his habit, stood up to read the scripture. The scroll of Isaiah was handed to him. He unrolled it, scanning until he found this passage, which he read:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

After reading this Jesus sat down, but all eyes followed him. He was expected to say more, so he said, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Jesus went on, and as he spoke tension began to swirl over the room’s tiered seats. Something sparked it and Jesus was driven out the door and out of the village. Jesus had declared the year of jubilee. He had declared himself a prophet. And he had declared that nobody in his hometown had the imagination to see it.

Cultivating peace requires imagination.   Continue reading “Daring Acts of Ethical Imagination (178)”

Lord, come and see (177)

[Ruth 1:1-18; John 11:32-44]

We’ve just heard two biblical stories. We heard the story of Naomi, from the book of Ruth, and the story of Lazarus, from the gospel according to John. Let’s think, for a moment, about the wider context of these stories. There is one part of this that is easy to overlook. It’s this: if we believe that scripture is in some deep way inspired by God (not mechanically, but in a deeper way) then part of the context of our hearing any scripture is a Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer whose very being is relationship. One of the unique and wonderful things Christians believe is that God doesn’t just have relationships, God is a relationship. Part of what it means to know God is to be brought into this divine relationship.   Continue reading “Lord, come and see (177)”

“I Have Uttered What I Did Not Understand” or Blessed Are Those Open to Reason (176)

[Job 41:1-11; 42:1-6]

In July of 1840 Søren Kierkegaard took a ferry to Jutland. He would have been 27 at the time, decidedly not the influential philosopher he would one day become. I assume that the ferry would have taken him from Copenhagen across the shallow Kattegat strait to that big hunk of mainland Denmark that sticks up into the North Sea. In his journal Kierkegaard says the trip seemed terribly long and boring, even though the regulars said it was abnormally fast. What made the trip worse was that there were four pastors on board. Continue reading ““I Have Uttered What I Did Not Understand” or Blessed Are Those Open to Reason (176)”

Something about Humility (175)

[Job 38:1-7, 34-41; Mark 10:35-45]

Most people today do not have spiritual conversations—at least not very often. We don’t talk much about God. We don’t talk much about prayer. We don’t talk much about theological virtues. Most of us are not comfortable with spiritual language. This is all according to a study outlined recently in the New York Times.[1] Continue reading “Something about Humility (175)”