Friday, February 19, 2016

An On-Line Bible Study for Lent Week Two: Luke 13:31-35

An On-Line Bible Study for Lent
Week Two

Scripture: Luke 13:31-35 Contemporary English Bible

31 At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” 32 He said to them, “Go and tell that fox for me,[a] ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. 33 Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.’ 34 Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! 35 See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when[b] you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’”

Questions for Reflection:
1.       In this passage, Jesus journeys towards Jerusalem, the place where he will be killed.  He knows what awaits him but goes anyway.  Have there been moments in your life when you knew something was going to be unpleasant or painful, but because it was the right thing to do you chose to face it?  What gave you the strength and courage to make that choice?
2.      Jesus laments over Jerusalem and says, “How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings. . . “  Feminist writers have noted Jesus’ use of a maternal image to describe his feelings.  What do you make of it?
3.      Jesus indicts Jerusalem for refusing to heed the prophets and choosing to persecute or even kill them instead.  Part of the reason we turn to this story during Lent is to see in this indictment our own culture, world, city and selves.  In what ways does our culture or do we refuse to hear the messengers of God today?  How do you tell the difference between a prophet speaking for God and just another crackpot with an agenda?
4.      What ways is God calling you to be prophetic?  What ways is God calling our church to be prophetic?  What stops us from answering that call?

Further Reflection:
How do we tell the false prophet from the true prophet? The true prophet seldom predicts the future. The true prophet warns us of our present hardness of heart, our prideful presuming to know God's mind. And the final test of the true prophet is love. God came to us as Jesus because of love....
We must be careful in our right and proper protests...that we are protesting truly, that we are not being false prophets fearing only for our own selves, our own families, our own country. Our concern must be for everybody, for our entire fragile planet, and everybody on it.... Indeed, we must protest with loving concern for the entire universe. A mark of the true prophet in any age is humility, self-emptying so there is room for God's Word.
Madeleine L'Engle
A Stone for a Pillow

Many people mistakenly believe that a prophet's job is to predict the future. This is wrong.

Prophets of God don't tell us what is going to happen; they tell us what should happen, and, more importantly, they tell us the way things really are, and what needs to change. Often prophets tell us things about ourselves and our society that make us uncomfortable, or even angry. They do this by speaking truth to power.

I'll say that again, prophets speak truth to power. That's their job. Prophets are usually outsiders who have the courage to stand up and tell the people in power what the real issue is....

Prophets aren't popular with those in power because they stand as a threat. They're often mistreated, imprisoned, exiled, mocked, ridiculed or killed.

How do we tell the difference between a real prophet and a nutcake with a megaphone? That, my friend, is the perpetual problem.
"Truth to Power"
—Rev. Peter B. Panagore
The word "prophet" is a translation of the Hebrew, Navi; a word the meaning of which we are still not sure.

Navi may mean "one who is called," "one who proclaims," or "one who shouts."

The English connotation of "prophet," derived from the Greek, suggests that the prophet is a teller of fortunes or a foreteller of the future.

This is part of the prophetic personality, but more than being a fore-teller or seer, the authentic prophet is a forth-teller, that is, a commentator on what is happening.

The prophets themselves had criteria for true and false prophecy, and the fortune-telling aspect was of relatively minor concern in determining who was "true" and who was "false."

What was crucial in this determination was not whether the prophet foretold the future correctly or not, but rather whether he abdicated his moral obligation or not.
You are a Christian only so long as you constantly pose critical questions to the society you live in ... so long as you stay unsatisfied with the status quo and keep saying that a new world is yet to come.
- Henri Nouwen

Friday, February 12, 2016

Week One: An On-Line Bible Study for Lent

This Lenten season I'm trying something different with my church.  We're trying an on-line Bible Study where I'm sending out via e-mail and posting on our church's private Facebook group a scripture passage, questions for reflection and some other things to consider.  Here's week one.

An On-Line Bible Study for Lent
Week One
Scripture: Luke 4:1-13 Contemporary English Bible

Jesus returned from the Jordan River full of the Holy Spirit, and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness. There he was tempted for forty days by the devil. He ate nothing during those days and afterward Jesus was starving. The devil said to him, “Since you are God’s Son, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.”
Jesus replied, “It’s written, People won’t live only by bread.”
Next the devil led him to a high place and showed him in a single instant all the kingdoms of the world. The devil said, “I will give you this whole domain and the glory of all these kingdoms. It’s been entrusted to me and I can give it to anyone I want. Therefore, if you will worship me, it will all be yours.”
Jesus answered, “It’s written, You will worship the Lord your God and serve only him.”
The devil brought him into Jerusalem and stood him at the highest point of the temple. He said to him, “Since you are God’s Son, throw yourself down from here; 10 for it’s written: He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you 11 and they will take you up in their hands so that you won’t hit your foot on a stone.
12 Jesus answered, “It’s been said, Don’t test the Lord your God.” 13 After finishing every temptation, the devil departed from him until the next opportunity.

Questions for Reflection:
1.       1.  The story of the temptation of Jesus is only in the so-called “Synoptic” (literally “see together” or “similar”) Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke.  John doesn’t include this story.  How would your understanding of Jesus be different if this story had not been included by any of the Gospel writers?  How does this story shape how you understand Jesus?

2.     2.  Mark's Gospel tells of Jesus’ temptation in only a couple of sentences.  Matthew and Luke include the three questions of the devil and Jesus’ responses but in different orders.  Both Gospels begin with the temptation to turn stones into bread, but Matthew puts the temptation to rule all the kingdoms of the world last while Luke puts the temptation to jump off the temple last.  Why do you think Luke and Matthew put them in different orders?  Does the order make a difference in how you understand them?

3.       3.  In the temptation story, Jesus uses scripture to resist the devil’s temptations.  The devil, however, also quotes scripture when he tempts Jesus to jump off of the temple and be caught by angels.  What does it mean that both Jesus and the devil quote scripture?

4.       4.  Do you believe in a literal devil or Satan?  If so or if not, how does your understanding of Satan affect what this story means to you?

5.       5.  Luke surrounds his temptation story with different material than Matthew.  Luke puts Jesus’ genealogy immediately before the temptation—a genealogy different than Matthew’s and one that goes all the way back to Adam.  Luke calls Adam “son of God” in 3:38.  What point is Luke trying to make putting his genealogy before the temptation?  Also different from Matthew, immediately after the temptation, Luke includes an account of Jesus preaching in his hometown of Nazareth.  In that story, Jesus preaches from the prophet Isaiah and says he has come to fulfill the prophet’s words:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, 
    because the Lord has anointed me.
He has sent me to preach good news to the poor, 
    to proclaim release to the prisoners 
    and recovery of sight to the blind, 
    to liberate the oppressed, 
and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor

What do these words of the prophet Isaiah which Jesus says he has come to fulfill have to do with the temptation story?
      6.  The temptations Jesus faces have to do with control—stones into bread means control over immediate gratification, ruling the kingdoms of the world means controlling through governments and politics, jumping off the temple to be rescued by angels means controlling others through awe or even entertainment as well as controlling God.  What are your temptations of control that you face?

Further Reflection:

"Wildernesses come in so many shapes and sizes that the only way you can really tell you are in one is to look around for what you normally count on to save your life and come up empty. No food. No earthly power. No special protection ...

Needless to say, this is not a situation many of us seek. Most of us, in fact, spend a lot of time and money trying to stay out of it; but I don't know anyone who succeeds at that entirely or forever. Sooner or later, every one of us will get to take our own wilderness exam, our own trip to the desert to discover who we really are and what our lives are really about.

I guess that could sound like bad news, but I don't think it is. I think it is good news — because even if no one ever wants to go there, and even if those of us who end up there want out again as soon as possible, the wilderness is still one of the most reality-based, spirit-filled, life-changing places a person can be."
— The Rev. Barbara Brown Taylor

There are a lot of bad Jesus movies out there, but a depiction of Jesus on film I have always appreciated was a 2000 TV miniseries simply titled “Jesus.”  This retelling of Jesus’ temptation is done in a creative way that is different from both Matthew’s and Luke’s accounts but I would argue it is nonetheless faithful to them.  Watch it on YouTube and see what you think.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The Truth is Out There

The following blog post was written for the United Church of Christ blog New Sacred where it appeared about ten days ago.  Check out New Sacred.  It's got good stuff on it.

The X-Files” is back.  If you missed it the first time around, the TV show aired from 1993-2002 and spawned two movies.   It told the stories of  FBI agents Mulder (David Duchovny) and Scully (Gilian Anderson) who investigate paranormal events and expose a vast government conspiracy to cover up an extra-terrestrial invasion.  I’m a fan of the original series, so for me it’s a nostalgia trip to watch the show again, but I’m not so sure the show’s mood fits the world we live in today. 
A lot has changed since the show went off the air in 2002.  As Anna North wrote in The New York TimesTo watch “The X-Files” in 2016 is a strange thing. The original television show was so much a child of the peaceful ’90s . . . and took place in a version of the United States where the government apparently had so few terrestrial problems to deal with that its highest priority was keeping its citizens in the dark about aliens.  That America was never real, of course, but it feels especially far-off now. The post-“X-Files” era has brought with it not just the invasion of Iraq and the war on terror, but the rise of “truthers” and the politically inflected paranoia they spread. Conspiracy theorists now traffic in the idea that 9/11 was an inside job and that gun massacres like Sandy Hook are “false flags” cooked up so the government can confiscate guns.”
In today’s world when leading presidential candidates refuse to believe climate change is real but do believe White people are the real victims of “reverse racism,” watching “The X-Files” feels a bit too much like watching the nightly political news.  The absurd reality of politics today has surpassed the speculative fiction of the 1990’s. 
 Don’t get me wrong, I still tuned in to watch Mulder and Scully investigate the cover up of the UFO crash in Roswell, NM, but when I watched “The X-Files” this week I couldn’t help but think that the real conspiracies we should be worrying about are the ones we are all complicit in.  Damage to the environment that will take generations to correct, income inequality that crushes lives around the world, systemic racism that perpetuates violence against people of color and so many more systemic problems ensnare all of us.  Where are the agents of change showing us how to escape the grip of these kinds of conspiracies?
The new version of “The X-Files” kept the same cheesy low budget opening credits of the original series which end with the words “The Truth is Out There” arrayed across the screen.  The irony of the series, however is that every truth its characters discover only leads to less clarity and more questions.  Today, we need help to cut through the spin and “dark money” to reveal truth to us.  Jesus said, “The truth will set you free,” and we need to be free of the lies we tell to absolve ourselves of responsibility for our systemic problems.  We need people who believe that the Truth may be “out there” but it is dwells “in us.”  If we are willing to hear that voice of Truth which speaks from the depths of our being, then perhaps we can unravel the real conspiracies that threaten our world today.

Recommended Reading and Listening 1-24-16 edition

Recommended Reading and Listening
CCCUCC Folks in the News
United Church of Christ

Responding to Anti-Muslim Rhetoric and Actions
Social Justice
God and American Culture
  • Bill Tammeus has a great column about the recent comments by Supreme Court Justice Scalia that God has uniquely blessed America
Gun Violence
  • The NYTimes did an investigation of gun violence in Missouri and discovered as restrictions to gun ownership dropped gun violence increased.
LGBTQ Equality
  • "Are Parents Rushing to Turn Their Boys Into Girls?" A great article using actual science rather than opinion to talk about the wide spectrum of children not conforming to traditional gender roles. There is no outbreak of parents "making" their children transgender, but there is a tragic epidemic of transgender children struggling with depression and suicide because of parents who try to "fix" them. Despite what the Wall Street Journal editorial page says, there is a huge difference between a "tomboy" or a boy playing with Barbies and a transgender child.
  • Two weeks ago, we sent a video message declaring our love for Rev. Cynthia Meyer, United Methodist pastor in Edgerton, KS, who came out to her church and denomination as a lesbian person.  Sadly, she will be put on trial by her denomination for being the person God made her to be.
  • Plans are underway for KC's first transgender chorus!
  • Meet Allyson Robinson, the first openly transgender Baptist minister.
Misc. Stuff I think is Cool

My Sunday Sermons are On-line

Sunday Sermons are On-line
You can click here to listen to my sermon from Sunday, December 20: "Faith Equals Action"

If you missed it, here's what it's about:

Mary's song of praise, which tradition titles The Magnificat, is not just a prayer praising God. In addition to its praise, it offers a worldview where God's justice reigns, a worldview which calls all humanity to act and become an instrument of God. Often when tragedies or acts of violence occur, people offer "thoughts and prayers" to those impacted by such troubling events, but prayers are meant to more than warm wishes. Prayers are meant to motivate the one praying to create a better world.

You can click here to listen to my sermon from Sunday,December 27:
"The World Inside You"

If you missed it, here's what it's about:  

Each one of us has a world that lives inside of us, according to Frederick Buechner, a world of experience, memories, thoughts, worldviews given to us by our families. Some of that world is unhealthy-for some of us the world inside of us was shaped by abuse, and some of it is healthy. Whatever blessings or cursings one's family gifts one with, much of our life's journey is determined by how and to what extent we differentiate ourselves from our family. We can best appreciate the gifts of our families and set aside the things from our families we need to let go of in order to be healthy, by finding our identity as a child of our heavenly parent.

You can  click here to listen to my sermon from Sunday,January 3: "The Dark Side"

If you missed it, here's what it's about:  

Epiphany Sunday celebrates the arrival of the Magi to the child Jesus in Bethlehem. Yet, this story has a dark side, because of the Magi's stop to ask directions of King Herod the Great, all the children of Bethlehem are massacred. Today, we may not be as bad as Herod, but each of us has a dark side. Even when we do our best, we are complicit with the systematic sins of racism, inequality of wealth, and violence. These corporate and systemic sins kill children just as did Herod's soldiers. Epiphany offers us the opportunity to expose the dark sides inside of us.