What exactly is a golden calf? You know the story. Moses was up on the mountain for a long time working with God on plans for a place of worship and the rituals to go along with it. Meanwhile, the people down below figured he had abandoned them and asked Aaron to do the same according to their own plans, which he did by constructing a golden calf and declaring a festival to YHWH. He didn’t declare a festival to some other god, he declared it to the LORD, and that was just fine with the people.
I don’t think this story is about a statue of a calf made of gold, nor do I think it’s about worshiping idols.
Even our small city has its share of violent incidents requiring a forceful response from police. Maybe we’ve been lucky, or maybe being in a small city makes a difference, or maybe our police and sheriff departments are well-trained and well-disciplined. Whatever the reason, we have not had to face questions about whether the police were justified in using deadly force.
Recently an armed man with a history of violence sent a text to another household that he was on the way to kill them.
Max Stackhouse, in his essay on “Public Theology and Ethical Judgment,” asks, “What allows human life to flourish so that the common life can flourish?” If it is a question that is ever asked in the congregational setting, it will drive teaching and preaching toward other questions, and some answers, in the political realm of the life of the community.
My friend Bill died recently. A brilliant scholar, he had suffered a number of strokes, and was being cared for in a facility that catered to patients with dementia and brain injuries. He decided that it was time to let nature take its course. He refused most food and medications, and died in short order, but he died fully confident in the resurrection life that lay ahead.
A few weeks later I was in the ER with a man in his mid-to-late nineties who had also suffered from a number of strokes.
Loving the people I don’t like. That was my Lenten discipline last year, and it is again. I’ve not made much progress in the last 12 months. It started with some prayerful reflection on what it means to love God and neighbor as the most important part of fulfilling the deepest intention of the law. Neighbors are not always easy to love, especially if you don’t like them. The generalized Christian claim that “I love everybody” just doesn’t cut it.
I was in a museum not long ago gazing at a painting of Jesus washing Peter’s feet, a familiar scene to most of us, and wondering why it seemed very wrong. What was wrong was that Jesus was pictured as a mature but young man while Peter was very old and gray. We forget that, if Jesus was in his early thirties, it is likely that his disciples were no older and probably younger by several years.
Page down Facebook until you come to the inevitable shot of a group of young adults in their mid-to-late twenties having a good time, and that’s more like it.
How important is a personal relationship with Jesus? Some of my evangelical friends define Christianity as a personal relationship with Jesus. Everything else is adiaphora, except maybe the worship leading praise band. Even some of my Episcopalian colleagues argue that a personal relationship with Jesus should be the aim of growth in Christian faith. My problem is that I don’t know what a personal relationship with Jesus is.
I was talking with some younger friends recently, and the subject of having enough came up. They have young families, mortgages, some loans to repay, college tuition to look forward to, their own so recently paid off, and a certain middle class lifestyle to which they’ve become accustomed. When, they wondered, would they have enough? Enough to not worry about money.
Not long ago I was talking with friend who has become the pastor of a church in his small home town. He’s been there for a few years, having been away for 20, and has found himself among people he has known all his life. The parish council president, for instance, is an old classmate from nursery school through high school. Some of his elderly parishioners are his old teachers. He knows almost everyone on Main Street, regardless of their denomination or lack thereof.
What’s got to him, he said, is the invisible wall that has been constructed between him and all these old friends.
My family did some major remodeling of our house over the last three or four years. I think we are finally done. A friend asked me if it was a wise investment: would we ever see the market value of the place exceed what we put into it?
No, it's unlikely that the market value of the house will ever surpass what we've spent on it, but, as I said to my friend, we don't really own it anyway, we're just stewards of it for a time.
Recently I helped inter the remains of almost 300 persons who had been lingering, unclaimed, on storage closet shelves in the county coroner’s office. Some of them had been there since the 1940s. Most are men; some are women. Maybe a third bear the name of “Baby Boy/Girl, Unknown.” Our city cemetery made space available for them all in a new public crypt.
Mark has been a constant puzzle to me. I didn’t much care for it for a long time. His sense of urgency and spareness of narrative left me feeling I was reading the Cliff Notes of scripture. That began to change a few years ago when I took a hard look at whether Mark was as immediately this and immediately that as I assumed.
This is an article about worship in traditions other than one’s own, but it begins with CPE. Most clergy have benefitted from, or endured, at least one unit of Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) during their seminary years. It’s a form of onsite practical education, most often in a hospital, in pastoral counseling. I don’t know what the curriculum is like these days.
What are supply
clergy? Are they merely ordained persons who are authorized to use the
costume, magic words and hand motions needed to legitimize an hour of
worship while the life of the congregation goes along without them quite
well, thank you very much?
last Saturday and Sunday I celebrated at the parish from which I
retired three and a half years ago. The rector was away at camp, and
his normal sources of backup were otherwise engaged. I imagine it took
some courage on his part to even ask me. To tell the truth, I was a
little nervous about it too. Things are done differently now. The
conversation in our Tuesday morning lectionary group. It began with the
usual quandary about how best to preach to those who come only once or twice a
year. One of our group enthused about how when they hear that Jesus rose from
the dead it will, or at least can, change their lives forever. He's seen
little rural church I serve, along with two other retired clergy, has
two dozen members, if you carefully count everyone whether there or
not. No one is young. The church growth gang (now called church
transformation) calls it a declining and dying congregation. The thing
is, it's been there for over a hundred years and has never had more than
a couple dozen me
have a friend who washes windows for a living. I don't know what he used
to do. According to him he raised horses, made a lot of money, owned
everything he wanted and drank heavily. He more or less stumbled into
Jesus through an introduction from another friend of mine, an Adventist
pastor. Now he and Jesus are tight, he's been sober for five or six
years, and he
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