Sunday, April 22, 2018

Kids These Days

This was the common path to both my school
and my house while growing up.
The final piece in the series, "Living a Resurrection Faith in a Post-Christian World" has to do with the decadence we see in society today.  The question becomes, "Are morals in American culture going down the drain?"  As we look at death and resurrection during the Easter season, we answer this with the death of judgment and the resurrection of accountability.  While these two things seem to be similar, the Christian approach should favor the latter over the former.

Human beings have railed on the youth of the times in every generation.  They have always been lazy, self-serving leeches on society who are going to lead us into the abyss.  Their morals are continuously suspect.

In 1816, the Times of London expressed how the waltz was a dance that would corrupt the morals of polite society.  You never changed partners!  Here's a quote from the article:

We know not how it has happened (probably by the recommendation of some worthless and ignorant French dancing-master) that so indecent a dance now has for the first time been exhibited at the English court; but the novelty is one deserving of severe reprobation, and we trust it will never again be tolerated in any moral English society.


It seems that we fear that our morals are constantly being overturned by newer behaviors.  We worry that video games are keeping the youth of today from playing outside.  In 1859, Scientific American published an article on the evils of chess of all things.  They mention:
chess is a mere amusement of a very inferior character, which robs the mind of valuable time that might be devoted to nobler acquirements, while at the same time it affords no benefit whatever to the body.
Read more: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/19th-century-concern-trollingchess-mere-amusement-very-inferior-character-180953281/#kXek6w33zOPIwbOK.99
Give the gift of Smithsonian magazine for only $12! http://bit.ly/1cGUiGv
Follow us: @SmithsonianMag on Twitter

chess is a mere amusement of a very inferior character, which robs the mind of valuable time that might be devoted to nobler acquirements, while at the same time it affords no benefit whatever to the body.
Read more: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/19th-century-concern-trollingchess-mere-amusement-very-inferior-character-180953281/#kXek6w33zOPIwbOK.99
Give the gift of Smithsonian magazine for only $12! http://bit.ly/1cGUiGv
Follow us: @SmithsonianMag on Twitter
Chess is a mere amusement of a very inferior character, which robs the mind of valuable time that might be devoted to nobler acquirements, while it affords no benefit whatever to the body.
If you substituted "X-Box" or "PlayStation" for "Chess" in the above sentence, you could easily place it in a modern essay on how kids are awful because...

This week's lectionary reading is Acts 8:26-40.  As we look at the varieties of gender today, we see that the church already had an answer for those of difference in its infancy: baptize them.  This definitely went against the grain.  The grace we express in Christ Jesus also puts us in relationship with one another where we allow ourselves to be held accountable.  It is only through being held accountable that we allow ourselves to grow past our own particular blind spots.

But how can we do this without judgment?  To hold someone accountable implies judgment, doesn't it?  We'll look at the difference between these two important concepts on Sunday.  That is, assuming I'm not having to spend all my time correcting my wayward teenagers.

In Christ,

Sam


Photo by Mitch Barrie via Flickr.com.  Used under the Creative Commons license.


Monday, April 16, 2018

Does the Church Have Less Influence Today?

This is not a trick question.  When I grew up, it was very normative to be a Christian.  In fact, it was weird if you weren't.

I had a couple of Jewish friends and when I found out they went to worship on Saturday, I felt sorry for them because that's when all the good cartoons were on television.  If they tried to watch TV on Sunday, all they could see were worship services.  And by worship services, I mean Christian worship services.

There were plenty of things that were closed on Sundays and there was nary a school activity on Wednesday night.  It was easy to be a Christian because our culture didn't allow for much choice in the matter.  Or at least, it made it easy to attend due to lack of competition.

In the Church today, its members are facing a very different reality.  There are loads of options during Sunday morning worship.  In fact, most of the congregation brings the options with them into worship today:

Sometimes we forget the
target audience of the Church.
Cell phones.

These little wonders contain all the distractions one could ask for:

videos

books

games

articles

music

even voyeurism - err, I mean social media.

So people in today's United States must actively choose to turn off the phone and engage in their faith.  And before you text me that your Bible app, prayer app, worship app, faithful living app, church app helps you in your faith, I meant turning off the phone in a metaphorical sense.

This is the sense that we must turn away from the world and try to hear what God may have for us.  I don't mean turn our back on the needs of the world, I mean that we must turn away from the message of the world that constantly cries out, "It's all about you!"

This Sunday, we will continue in the series, "Living a Resurrection Faith in a Post-Christian World" and I will try to address the question in today's blog title.  We'll look at Acts 4:5-12 and see how Peter's word for the elders of the day is still Peter's word for us.

And spoiler alert, the answer to the question, as always, is up to you.

In Christ,

Sam


Photo by harrypope via Flickr.com.  Used under the Creative Commons license.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

How Do I Relate to People of Another Faith?

As our church continues the series, "Living a Resurrection Faith in a Post-Christian Society" we are examining what it means to be the church today.  Where to be American once brought the likelihood of Christian faith, that is not the case now.  This week's topic is "How Do I Relate to People of Another Faith?"

In looking at the lectionary passage, Acts 3:12-19, we witness an encounter between Peter and the Jewish onlookers following a miraculous healing in Jerusalem.  Since this account was written over fifty years after the fact, it has the appearance of a Christian-Jewish dialogue.  In actuality, it would have been an intra-Jewish conversation since Christianity had not yet emerged as separate from Judaism at that time.  The shame Peter throws toward those in Jerusalem would have been as one Jew to another rather than as a Christian toward a Jew.  It also would have been from a minority population to the majority rather than as equals or from a position of power.

This makes a difference in power dynamics because someone in a minority position doesn't wield the same kind of power as someone in the majority.

Later, after Christians became the dominant population, Jews became a minority group that were blamed for the death of Jesus.  During the Crusades, the Muslims were seen as the religious occupiers of the Holy Land that needed to be driven out.  Due to the distance between the countries in Western Europe and the Middle East, it was not easy or cheap to travel with armies that far.  Some felt that the Jewish populations were a good substitute because they were within reach.  In 1096, the Rhineland massacres took place in Germany which some historians look at as a precursor to the Holocaust.

Sometimes economics bridge
a gap where other methods fail.
The atrocities of the Crusades didn't stop with Jewish populations.  In 1209, Pope Innocent III decided to crackdown on the Cathars who were Christians that didn't submit to the authority of the Pope.  While they resided in the town of Beziers, France, they lived in harmony with the Catholics there.  The Crusaders recruited to eliminate the Cathars ended up slaughtering around 20,000 people in the town including women and children and then burned the town to the ground.  It was the French monk Arnaud Amalric who was later reported as being asked how they would tell the difference between the Catholics and Cathars in Beziers and replied, "Kill them all.  God will recognize his own."  This has been paraphrased in later military endeavors as "Kill 'em all - let God sort 'em out."

Even though the Europeans did not recapture the Holy Land during the Crusades, Muslim populations still have difficulty with the term "Crusades" and what it meant for the treatment of their populations (including women and children) during that time by the West.

As we look at our own history, if we are to have a conversation with someone of another faith, it helps if we recognize our previous shortcomings.  In the past, we have practiced dominance rather than dialogue.  It is time for us to see the death of the Crusade mentality in Christianity and allow the love of neighbor to be resurrected.  In this love, we practice respect for others - even those we would consider opposed to our faith.  This approach is Christ-like as we remember that Jesus tells us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.

This may also mean that we need to repent of when we have been the persecutors - just as we rightly decry terrorism today, there are periods in our history that have not dignified our Christian witness.



Photo by Merrimack Collage via Flickr.com.  Used under the Creative Commons license.


Monday, April 2, 2018

Living a Resurrection Faith in a post-Christian Society


Sometimes this is what it feels like to 
be the church in today's society.
The Easter season will continue for about seven more weeks.  During this time, the lectionary features various texts on resurrection appearances or on the theme of new life in general.  The church is certainly in need of resurrection.  My own denomination, The United Methodist Church, is facing a crossroads over human sexuality at a special called General Conference in February and I’ll be attending as a delegate.  Regardless of where the church lands on this issue, it appears that a split is not so likely as an exodus.

We also hear about the church in general within the United States begin in a state of decline.  It seems that people are not attending worship as much as they did in the past.  Our culture is moving toward a post-Christendom vibe as being a “none” or someone who has no religious preference or activity is becoming the new normal rather than someone who is an active disciple involved in a local church.

Many times, we hear the longing for the good-ol’ days when our Christian faith seemed to have more influence.  For some this means the church of their childhood.  Others realize that church in that age wasn’t perfect either and they harken back to the early church when it was still led by people that walked with Jesus when he led his earthly ministry in the flesh.

The lectionary features the book of Acts which highlights the early church.  Acts is a wonderful book of faith that shows us the vision of what the church could be.  But it was written in hindsight and may not expose all of the warts it could have.  If you want those, you have to read the hands-on account of the apostle Paul in his letters to the early church.  So Paul’s letters really remind us that the church has always had some of the same issues in every age: it is composed of people.  While this is a great joy as we are made in God’s image, it is also a hazard because, well, we don’t always live up to our potential!

Over the next four weeks, we’ll be exploring this theme of what the church could be today in light of the changes going on all around us.

This Sunday, will be the first in this series as I highlight Acts 4:32-35 and attempt to answer the question, “Is the Church in decline?”  In order to keep in line with the Easter season, I will contrast the death of the institution with the resurrection of mission.  If you are in the Edmond area, we hope you’ll join us for worship.  If you aren’t or are already active in another church, you can still join us online at your convenience for the full service on our Facebook page or for the sermon as a podcast or on our YouTube page.  Keep those hits coming whether in person or virtually and we’ll show the world that faith is still alive and well within the body of Christ!

In Christ,

Sam


Photo by Fueling Creative Fire via Flickr.com.  Used under the Creative Commons license.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Daily Devotion for Lent 2018 - Easter Sunday

Scripture Reading: Genesis 50 (NRSV)

Lent has finished but it always seems that ending these Lenten devotions on Easter is fitting.

Jacob is embalmed in the Egyptian style - maybe to better preserve the body for the journey to Canaan in a non-air conditioned climate.

Even a crown of thorns can flower
with new life!
Then we see Joseph's brothers begin to worry.  Now that their father is dead, maybe Joseph will decide to take vengeance after all!

But just as we see signs of death in this chapter with Jacob and Joseph, we also see signs of resurrection.

It is pretty funny that they get together and tell Joseph, "Dad's dying wish was for you to forgive us for selling you into slavery!"  We see Jacob's final words in the previous chapter and they didn't seem to have anything to do with his sons reconciling after his death.

So in good family tradition, the other brothers get into the act of using trickery as a means to an end.

If Joseph sees their ruse, he doesn't let on.  He does, indeed, take the gracious response.  He not only forgives them but pledges to care for them.  Their ironic statement, "We are here as your slaves" will come to pass in the next book of the Bible, Exodus.

On Easter, we celebrate the resurrection and new life we have in Jesus Christ.  We seek to end old grudges.  We seek to crucify our bitterness and let graciousness rise in its place.  We do this because we are in Christ together.

Even on the cross, Jesus practices this graciousness in Luke 23:34 declaring, "Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing."

We see parallels to this chapter and the Easter story as Jacob is carried north for burial and his children begin a new chapter in their lives.

For the disciples, they too will head north from Jerusalem to Galilee as the messenger in Mark 16:6-7 declares:

Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.”
They too will begin a new life but it is not death that has changed them, it is resurrection!  May you reflect upon death and life and new life as it comes to you and may you embrace resurrection!


Christ is risen:
   The world below lies desolate.
Christ is risen:
   The spirits of evil are fallen.
Christ is risen:
   The angels of God are rejoicing.
Christ is risen:
   The tombs of the dead are empty.
Christ is risen indeed from the dead,
   The first of the sleepers.
Glory and power and his forever and ever.
Amen.


Prayer by Hippolytus of Rome, early 3rd Century

Photo by Pandiyan V via Flickr.com.  Used under the Creative Commons license.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Daily Devotion for Lent 2018 - Day 40, Holy Saturday

Scripture Reading: Genesis 49 (NRSV)

Jacob dies in the way many people would like to go.  He is surrounded by his family and is able to speak to each of them before passing.  He is long-lived and successful.  He retains his mental faculties to the end.  He dies peacefully in his bed.  I wouldn't mind this as an ending to my life!


Death may allow us to contemplate 
who we are in this world and what impact
we will leave.
But there are also parts of this story that I would omit for my final breath.  Jacob has a different word for each of his sons.  These blessings are like a prophesy and some (Judah and Joseph) are better than others (Reuben and Issachar).  In fact, Simeon and Levi are actually cursed by their father.  Many scholars believe that this text came to its final form from redactors or editors within the southern kingdom of Judah.  This would make one wonder if these final words from Jacob were touched up in light of history rather than projected into the future.  Certainly, it is interesting that Judah shines pretty brightly!  I do find it fascinating that Levi comes across so poorly since he represented the priestly line.  Priests and the Temple in Jerusalem would likely have been active during this final draft.

The Gospels don't contain any report about Jesus having any friendly relations among the priests.  Even though modern ears may think more quickly of the enemies of Jesus as the Pharisees, Jesus actually did have some friends among them such as Nicodemus.  We hear of what Jesus thought of the priests in the parable of the Good Samaritan.  It was the priest that is more concerned about his ritual purity than he is about helping someone in their hour of need.

Jesus causes a commotion outside the Temple when he drives out the moneychangers.

The Gospels report that it was the chief priests that conspired to kill him.  They had the resources to have him arrested.  The Pharisees had no authority to do this.

Matthew 26:62-68 reminds us of the priestly role in the death of Jesus:
The high priest stood up and said, “Have you no answer? What is it that they testify against you?”  But Jesus was silent. Then the high priest said to him, “I put you under oath before the living God, tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God.”  Jesus said to him, “You have said so. But I tell you,
From now on you will see the Son of Man
    seated at the right hand of Power
    and coming on the clouds of heaven.”
Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, “He has blasphemed! Why do we still need witnesses? You have now heard his blasphemy. What is your verdict?” They answered, “He deserves death.” Then they spat in his face and struck him; and some slapped him, saying, “Prophesy to us, you Messiah!  Who is it that struck you?”

On this Holy Saturday as we remember his burial, it is helpful for us to recognize that the establishment can easily become the persecutor.  As an ordained pastor, this is a sobering passage to read.  May God forgive us when our sense of righteousness leads us to injure another in order to "protect" God's sense of honor.


Lord God,
in our prayers for our country as we remember especially 
the men and women who powerfully influence the life of society:
   those who fashion our politics,
   those who frame and administer our laws,
   those who mold public opinion through the press, radio and television,
   those who write what many read.
May all such recognize their responsibility to you and to the nation, 
that people may be influenced for what is good, not evil;
for what is true, not false;
for the glory of your name.
Amen.


Prayer by Frank Colquhoun, priest, Church of England, 20th Century

Photo by SLR Jester via Flickr.com.  Used under the Creative Commons license.


Friday, March 30, 2018

Daily Devotion for Lent 2018 - Day 39, Good Friday

Scripture Reading: Genesis 48 (NRSV)

Ephraim and Manasseh as the sons of Joseph are blessed by their grandfather, Jacob.  In fact, Jacob actually adopts the two grandsons as full sons meaning that they would inherit alongside their father and their uncles.


As the twelve sons of Jacob (renamed Israel) represent the twelve tribes of Israel and their territorial holdings, we may remember that Levi becomes the priestly tribe and holds no geographical territory.  Ephraim and Manasseh take the place regionally of their father Joseph and of Levi.  This makes twelve tribal designations for the land.  If you look upon a map of ancient Israel, you will see Ephraim and Manasseh occupying the middle of the country.

Sometimes the younger overtakes
the elder on the road.
Jacob's poor eyesight reminds one of his own father Isaac.  In a fit of irony, we see Jacob bless his grandsons Ephraim and Manasseh opposite to their birth order.  Of course, this is exactly what Isaac did when Jacob tricked him and took Esau's blessing.  Joseph tries to correct his father as if he is simply senile but his crafty father knows exactly what he is doing.

Once again, we see the (now) long tradition of the younger usurping the elder in prominence.

Jesus turns inheritance on its head in dealing with the religious institution of his day.  It was thought that the chief priests and the Pharisees would be spiritually superior to most people of the day.  They would be seen as the oldest son - the heir - the ones to inherit the kingdom of God.

Jesus then tells them this parable in Matthew 21:28-32:

“What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’  He answered, ‘I will not’; but later he changed his mind and went.  The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, ‘I go, sir’; but he did not go.  Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you.  For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him.

What is interesting is that the Bible itself prescribes how inheritance is to operate legally in their system.  Then it seems as if God defies convention in order to achieve the divine plans.  As Christians, we understand in our heads that grace overcomes law.  Yet, we want to stick with the defined rules.  After all, to ignore all rules is to invite chaos to reign.  So maybe the way of the Spirit is to know when is the right time to do what needs to be done.

This is dangerous territory.  To discern this kind of timing requires a lot of prayer from the people.

And then it requires courage.  And lest we take the breaking of law too lightly, this was exactly what the chief priests thought they were doing in conspiring against Jesus.

Arise, O sun of righteousness, upon us,
with healing in your wings;
make us children of the light and of the day.
Show us the way in which we should walk,
for unto you, O Lord,
do we lift up our souls.
Dispel all mists of ignorance which cloud our understandings.
Let no false suggestion either withdraw our hearts 
from the love of your truth,
or form the practice of it in all the actions of our lives;
for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen.

Prayer by Thomas Sherlock, Bishop, Church of England, 18th Century

Photo by born1945 via Flickr.com.  Used under the Creative Commons license.