God in Proof, God in Prayer: A Sermon for Proper 12, Year A

Proper 12, Year A

July 27, 2014

“The Spirit intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words.”

Right now I’m reading a book by Nathan Schneider called God in Proof. I first encountered Schneider’s writing some years ago through the website he began with some other young writers called “Killing the Buddha.” It’s hard to describe in a few words what they’re trying to do with the site, but at its core is the quest of young people, millennials, to explore questions of faith and spirituality in our modern world. Continue reading

Groaning in despair and hope: A Sermon for Proper 9, Year A

I’m not sure that there’s been a week in recent years where the news from across the world has put me in as deep despair about humanity as this one. The apparent shooting down of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 over the Ukraine; the senseless, never-ending violence in Israel and Gaza with photos of the deaths of Palestinian children and Israelis sitting in lawn chairs cheering the airstrikes; from Iraq, scenes of the destruction of the Christian heritage in Mosul and an announcement that Christians there must convert, pay a tax, or be killed; on our own border with Mexico, the ongoing human tragedy of thousands of refugees suffering while opponents of immigration spout hate-filled slogans. Everywhere one looks, divisions seem to be widening, problems becoming more intractable. We seem to be on an endless spiral downward with little hope for a better future. The dystopian visions of Hunger Games and other fantasy fiction become more plausible with every passing day. Continue reading

Buried with Christ in Baptism–A Sermon for Proper 7, Year A

There’s an interesting discussion on one of the Christianity websites I regularly visit about the role of scripture in Progressive Christianity. Now, to be honest, I’m not comfortable with the term. Too often, those who identify themselves as “progressive” Christians have more to say about national and international politics than about the good news of Jesus Christ. In addition, I find progressives defining themselves over against what they oppose than offering a positive vision and message of what it might mean to be disciples of Jesus Christ in community. Still, if I’m honest with myself, for the most part the theological positions staked out by most in the progressive camp are closer to my own positions than those of the conservative evangelical camp. Continue reading

Introduction to Romans

The Letter to the Romans is a dense, difficult, breathtaking work. It is unique among Paul’s authentic letters in that it is the only one written to a community with which he has no direct connection. He didn’t found it; he’s never visited it. He writes in advance of a trip he hopes to make. In 15:23-24, Paul says:

I desire, as I have for many years, to come to you 24when I go to Spain. For I do hope to see you on my journey and to be sent on by you, once I have enjoyed your company for a little while.

He does have personal relationships with a number of the Christians in Rome and sends greetings to many of them. It’s somewhat misleading to use “church” or even “Christian” when referring to the communities to whom Paul was writing. Chapter 16 makes clear that he knows of a number of communities that gather in individual homes and may not have close connections with each other.

Unlike most of Paul’s other letters, Romans is not written in response to conflict he is aware of, or in response to questions or issues that have developed. Instead, Paul is addressing the issues that he thinks are most important; above all, the relationship between these Gentiles who believe Jesus is the Messiah and Jews, some of whom also believe Jesus to be the Messiah, and many others who have rejected that idea. It’s likely that there are some Jews among the Christians in Rome, but it’s also likely that part of the issue for Paul is making a case for the continued inclusion of Jewish believers in these communities.

Dale Allison (Yale University) on the social context of the letter to the Romans. Allison suggests that Paul writes about law and justification in such a way because he’s worried about his upcoming visit to Jerusalem and he’s hoping to get the Roman Christians on his side. Allison: “There’s no Christians or Christianity in Paul’s letters.”

It’s also important to note that the traditional Protestant interpretation of Romans that focused on matters of individual justification and salvation and viewed Paul’s argument as a rejection of Jewish law, however compelling that may be, is probably not what Paul originally intended.

Who was the first person to “teach” Paul’s letter to the Romans? According to Michael Byrd, Phoebe.

Lectionary Reflections: The Season after Pentecost, Year A

This week’s readings are here.

I’m surprised this year by the abrupt changes in the lectionary in this season after Pentecost. As we move into Ordinary Time, there are almost no sign posts or markers to help us orient ourselves to the Sunday readings. The Gospel plops us back into the middle of Matthew, which apart from its appearance on Trinity Sunday (28:16-20), we’ve not encountered since Holy Week and Easter. And even that was something of an intrusion into our long sojourn with the Gospel of John (from the Second Sunday of Lent through all of the Sundays of Easter). The gospel reading includes sayings about discipleship that are quite challenging but consistent with Matthew’ overall depiction of Jesus.

Almost as disorienting is the reading from Genesis (we’ll be following Track I or the “semi-continuous” readings from Hebrew scripture). But again, we’re plopped into the middle of a much longer narrative arc. We hear the difficult and distressing story of Abraham casting Hagar and Ishmael out into the wilderness. This comes long after God’s call of Abraham in Genesis 12; long after the promise that Abraham and Sarah would give birth to a mighty nation; after Abraham’s two attempts to take matters into his own hand (first by naming Eliezer as his heir, then by impregnating his slave Hagar). The story of Abraham is a story of call and response, of the covenant God made with Abraham, a story of Abraham’s faith and God’s faithfulness, and a story of promises deferred. Abraham’s story ends with the only land he possesses the burial plot he purchased for Sarah, and his only offspring a son Isaac.

Even the lesson from Romans comes as a surprise with no back story. I’ll be writing about that separately in the next couple of days as part of my summer’s exploration of Paul’s letter to the Romans