“The Seven Last Words of the Church”

seven-last-words“Jesus said to them, “Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines.’ You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.” – Mark 7:6-8

Some of the scribes and Pharisees questioned Jesus as to why his disciples had not washed their hands before eating, as was “the custom of the elders.” He chastised them for their slavish devotion to custom, while neglecting their relationship with God.

Our customs and traditions are important for institutional continuity and for doing things in the church “decently and in order.” But customs followed for their own sake can stifle needed change and quench the flame of the Spirit. Continue reading

“Looking for Light in the Shadow of Death” A Sermon on Matthew 4:12-23

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“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light, and those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.”

The “Shadow of Death.” That doesn’t sound very good, does it?

I asked Rabbi Josh Breindel of Temple Anshe Amunim in Pittsfield about the phrase and he said it is quite literally “shadow of death” in Hebrew. He said it is a colloquial saying and means something like “mortal peril.” We are all acquainted with that image from the 23rd Psalm: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil, for Thou art with me.”

Two of the traditional themes for the Epiphany season are “light shining in the darkness” and the “calling to Christian discipleship,” and I hope to combine them today. Continue reading

“Displaced Persons” A Sermon on Jeremiah 29: 1-14

jeremiah“Home Sweet Home.” “Home is where the heart is.” “There’s no place like home.” But what if you must leave your home? What if you find yourself far from home?  I want to explore the theme of “home and exile.”

 We will look at an important letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent from Jerusalem to the exiles in Babylon. It is a letter of hope and comfort to people who have lost their homes, whose lives have been turned upside down. They are dislocated, displaced persons. I think the letter has things to say to us in our time. Continue reading

“From Generation to Generation”

14947950_10153991262146787_2996963739551176385_n“One generation shall laud your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts.” —Psalm 145:4

I treasure my faith in God, but faith hasn’t always been easy for me and I don’t take it for granted. It never stops being something of a mystery to me.

But one thing I do know about faith is that you don’t come to it alone. And by faith I don’t mean just belief in a set of doctrines, but deep trust that God is real and good and loving. Continue reading

“Wolves and Lambs” Devotionals for Advent 2016

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The United Church of Christ 2016 Advent Devotional, “Wolves and Lambs,” from The Stillspeaking Writers’ Group is now available. I have two devotionals in it.

Why “Wolves and Lambs”? Here’s a snippet by Quinn G. Caldwell from the Introduction:

We’re calling this year’s Advent Devotional “Wolves and Lambs” because we think that the image of a wolf and a lamb lying down together should be comforting, yes, even sweet.

But it should also be deeply unnerving.

As the first Christmas was. As this one will be, if Isaiah and God—and we—have anything to say about it.

You can order it here. You can see a sample preview here. Order soon. They only print so many and some years they have run out.

“Respecting the Mystery of God” A Devotional on Ezekiel 1:28

Gloaming“This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord.” —Ezekiel 1:28b

Bill Holladay, my former Old Testament professor, liked to remind his students of the modesty of the descriptions of God in the Bible. For example, the passage above never comes right out and pictures God. Rather Ezekiel describes “something about” God that is several steps removed. Notice that it is not “the appearance“ of God, nor “the likeness” of God, not even “the glory” of God. Instead the prophet says, “This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory” of God. Continue reading

“Known knowns, known unknowns,” and the New Testament

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The good folks over at the Babylon Bee, a Christian satirical site, posted a gem of a fake article today called “Historical-Critical Scholar Doubts Authorship Of Paper He Wrote,” which comically captures some of the dubious certainties that sometimes come out of the New Testament studies combine.

The article quotes the fictitious Dr. Gunther Burg of Yale questioning the authenticity of an article he himself had written. Continue reading