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  • Jesus Radicals

    Join Christians all over the United States September 25th to October 2nd for a week of taking action and encouraging the Church to bring an end to police violence. These 7 days will be filled with Jesus followers encouraging the Church to speak out against the racial injustice that the black and brown community is enduring at the hands of police. As seen in the Gospel narrative, Jesus calls the Church to practice a radical form of love that is fueled by justice and mercy, particularly centered around defending the poor, marginalized, and oppressed. However, the North American Church today has largely been silent about systemic violence affecting black and brown communities, particularly widespread police violence. This overwhelming silence and passivity as Christians not only deeply fails our neighbor, but fails our call to bring justice to a hurting world. On the night of September 16th, an unarmed black man named Terence Crutcher was shot by police after someone...

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  • Available Light

    I am in Hamilton, meeting with the bishops of the church. We are housed in a travel hotel right beside the airport. There's a conference centre, and a travel hotel type of restaurant, and standard travel hotel types of rooms. And very good company.****I woke early with one of those thoughts that I should have noticed years ago. Jesus Christ. His first name identifies him as a particular man, a first Century Jewish man with a pretty ordinary first Century Jewish name, Joshua. His second name is a kind of honorific, denoting one who has been anointed. He is (in Greek), the one who has received chrism, oil. The Hebrew equivalent is Messiah, which, again, means "the anointed one." Anointing in the First Century was a common courtesy for honoured guests, but more significantly it was ( and is) the ritual pouring of oil as a kind of ordination, performed on someone set aside for a great task. Kings are anointed, and priests. The person doing the anointing is always someone authoritative: a...

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  • My first year of undergrad was spent at the University of Pittsburgh.  Pitt is located in an urban neighborhood called Oakland, and, like many densely populated areas where people travel by foot, was home to several panhandlers.  By the time Christmas rolled around, I had already figured out how to be like the rich man in Sunday’s Gospel lesson and not see the beggars who sat at the proverbial gate of campus.  They were passive annoyances, easy to pass right on by as if they never existed. There were a few who were more engaged in their craft. One guy stood at the door in front of the Rite Aid store in such a manner that only he could open it.  Whether you were coming or going, you were at this man’s leisure to let you in or out.  He had a white Styrofoam cup in hand.  It would jingle with a few coins as he reached to open the door.  it was clear that he expected to be paid for the service he rendered, whether you asked for it or not.  He wasn’t as easy to ignore.  ...

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  • Rev. Jeff Hood

      *I wrote the following letter to the editor for the people of De Leon, Texas after a recent visit.   Beauty reaches out and grabs you. I experience it every time. I see it. I feel it. I hear it. The land speaks. The fields sway. The sky never stops. I could go on and on. Make no mistake…De Leon is a beautiful place.   Unfortunately, everything turned ugly on our last visit. We were driving through town when we started seeing the Confederate flag everywhere. We saw the flag on houses. We saw the flag on businesses. We saw the flag on trucks. The stars and bars are unmistakable. The sting of the hate that accompanies the flag is too. “Daddy…Why are they flying the hate flag?” Though we come from Confederate heritage, we’re not interested in continuing or promoting the racism of the past. We teach our kids what the Confederate flag means. How could we not teach them to choose love over hate?   How does a town with so many churches have so...

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  • Luke 16:19-31It appears there is a great chasm between the table of the rich and the poor at the gate that is as fixed as the one between Hades and Abraham’s bosom and the only thing the rich man can count on is that his brothers will be joining him sometime in the future. The lesson to be learned seems to be a Christian version of Karma which means we would do well to make a down payment on a mansion in glory by moving into a homeless shelter in the here and now. But that’s the problem with paying too much attention to the details of a parable which are only there to set up the punch line. According to Luke the crowds to whom Jesus first told the joke included money loving Pharisees but I doubt many of them laughed when they heard it. While they claimed to listen to Moses and the prophets their love of money and neglect of the poor at the gate violated the very teachings they claimed to follow. The irony is that the raising of the real life Lazarus led them to believe Jesus had to...

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  • Once upon a time, Vacation Bible School lasted a week, took place in the morning, and featured a highly structured opening assembly. During the assembly, the pianist would play a “stand up chord” and a “sit down chord” to signal us when we were to—well, to stand up or sit down. Early in the ceremony, the pianist would play the stand up chord and we’d rise for the pledges. We said three. We’d

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  • Dear pastors: I’m writing to you from my heart. I was a pastor for 15 years, and I’ve been helping pastors with their ministries for another 15. Yes, that means I’ve had 30 years seeing churches from multiple sides: as a pastor, as a member, as a consultant, and as an outsider looking in. I realized there are some major lessons I wish I’d known back in the 80s. I want to share those with you, so you don’t have to three decades to learn them. First, I wish I’d deeply believed that it was truly NOT all up to me. I knew this in theory when I started, but now I really know it at another level. When you are serving a church that is 50 or 100 years old, there’s a cloud of past witnesses surrounding you. The past is formative and essential, and you can’t change it. You are also surrounded by a crowd of people who can make the ministry happen (or not). Pastors place enormous pressure on themselves. Leadership is important and so is truly being part of a community. God is present with us, no...

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  • E Thoughts

    The family joke goes like this: My children ask me what I want for my birthday. I tell them that I want them to write me a poem. Sometimes it has even worked, this birthday request of poetry. Yesterday I received a gift. Aware that my heart is sore from the pain of my little sister’s beloved son in intensive care and knowing that my heart is sore from the bruising of this election and life, my eldest daughter sent me a poem. I share it with you because it was balm for my soul and perhaps it will be so for yours. And, would you loft a prayer for my nephew Miles? He is a paramedic who flies through the air on a helicopter to provide healing for others. His medical helicopter crashed early Saturday morning. He is in critical condition. We are not meant to fall from the sky and live but live he does and so we give thanks for good bones and the ways in which beautiful is made. Good Bones Maggie Smith Life is short, though I keep this from my children. Life is short, and I’ve...

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  • I apologize for the language in this Facebook post, but it seemed worth sharing. I could see the Skittles problem replacing the trolley problem as the go-to ethics thought experiment in coming years…

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  • This post also appears as the cover article in The View, the parish newsletter for St. John's in Decatur, Alabama. To read the rest of the newsletter and learn more about St. John's, please click here.Right now in the Daily Office, the Old Testament lesson is from the Book of Esther. Although we read more or less a chapter each day, I feel a great temptation to read ahead and finish the story before the lectionary gets to the end. The story of Esther is a compelling tale of jealousy, irony, and justice. Each chapter ends with a major plot point hanging in the balance, and, like a child to whom a parent reads at bedtime, the reader wants to peek ahead and see what will come next. It does not matter that I have read the book before and know what is coming. I still cannot wait to see what will happen on the next page.I suppose that my impatience should not surprise me. In the Jewish tradition, the entire Book of Esther is read aloud each year on the day of Purim, a spring festival that...

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  • During the long season after Pentecost, the New Testament lesson, which typically follows an independent progression through the Christian canonical letters, is not chosen to coordinate with the other lessons. Every once in a while, a connection can be seen--perhaps forced by the preacher. This week, though, it is as if the authors of the lectionary had a tremendous collision in mind from the very beginning. In Luke 16, we have Jesus depicting the rich man's torment in Hades while the once-poor Lazarus snuggles into Abraham's bosom, but, in 1 Timothy 6, we have Paul taking a far more moderated approach: "As for those who in the present age are rich, command them not to be haughty..." To this preacher, it sounds like the difference between a pastor and a prophet.Jesus tells us to sell everything that we have. Jesus tells us that we cannot worship God and wealth. Jesus tells us that it is easier for a camel to fit through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich person to enter heaven...

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  • By nature and conviction, I swear I'm not paranoid, and certainly not subject to insane conspiracy theories. I tend to believe in experts and expert opinion, but on this one nobody freaking knows. Go ahead--do the research. Look for yourself. Right now the real terrorists in the neighborhood aren't religious or fanatic. They're a mite-sized bug so small you don't have a clue they're on you until you feel a needle of pain. Then you look and see nothing. The pain gets worse, and then there's another on your ankle, and you're wondering what kind of Twilight Zone you've stepped into. You stop what you're doing and look close, and then--and only then--do you see this itsy-bitsy beast, and only when you look really, really close. They're awful, and they're everywhere. They slip into the house as if a screen is a joke. They're on this page, for pity sake.Two days ago, after two weeks away, I was looking forward to working outside, ripping out twisted tomato plants that still haven't...

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  • Tamed Cynic

    In most Methodist churches the mere uttering of the syllables that come together to form the word ‘money’ gets people’s panties in a bunch to an extent no partisan disputes over sex and politics can. Some may want to “Make America Great Again” and others may want to “Lean Forward” but all agree that our Adjusted Gross Income is our own damn business. Like it or not (usually not unless you’re unembarrassed by your giving) ‘giving’ calls us to the mat of whether we really believe all we have belongs to God. Or not. As the theologian Stanley Hauerwas argues:  If you give Christians the choice to turn to their neighbor in the pew and tell them who they’re screwing or how much they earn in salary…almost everyone will opt for Door #1 to the boudoir. We’re even more reticent to be called out for our recalcitrance regarding Door #2. Recently, my friend and apprentice-turned-colleague Rev. Taylor Mertins wrote a blog post (you should subscribe) on Paul’s admonition in 1 Timothy 6: “The love of...

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  • Allan R. Bevere

    I was involved in an interesting discussion recently on the idea that we human beings forge our own destinies and how that squares with the Bible's affirmation that our lives are in the hands of God. In the course of the discussion we began to talk about forgiveness and how it is easier to forgive than to be forgiven, because to be forgiven means we must let go of our fate and put our destiny in the hands of another. How true it is that we human beings like being in control of our lives. "I am the master of my fate; I am the captain of my soul;" so goes the poem that so many learn in school and recite as if in fact it were true. Falsehoods sound so believable when they are stated poetically.But to live in forgiveness is to live life out of control; to live in forgiveness means that I must be willing to put my future, my fate in the hands of another. That is just what we must do as we approach the throne of God. Without the willingness to be forgiven and to live life on the terms...

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  • Maurice had accompanied his men to the place where the battle was soon to be held. His men were the Theban Legion of the Roman Army. The legion was comprised of almost entirely Christians from Northern Egypt by this point. Over the years, the life and words of the Christian soldiers had an influence on their companions in arms and many conversions were reported as the days and battles wore on. They had now been called to battle to put down a peasant revolt. The peasants had grown tired of being oppressed and abused by the Roman Empire and had begun to resist them. They were known as the bagaudae and they were the reason that the Theban legion (all 6,600 of them) had been called to Gaul.When they arrived, they discovered two things that made them balk: (1) they were being asked to make war on peasants, and (2) they were asked to make a sacrifice to the Roman gods on the night before battle. Maurice and his legion resisted both of these requests....

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  • I have come to dislike certain words during the sixteen months that I’ve been working as an editor. One word that has earned my great disdain is “obviously.” When I come upon it, I delete it, because if something is obvious, you don’t need to point out that it’s obvious, because it’s obvious. Once I’ve deleted the word, I often delete the entire sentence, because if something is obvious,

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  • I have shared a thought experiment here before, one which I was actually introduced to here on this blog by a commenter almost a decade ago. It focuses on the question, “What would it take to make you lose your faith?” It came up here again relatively recently. And it is also one that I use [Read More...]

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  • “I sought my soul, But my soul I could not see. I sought my God, But my God eluded me. I sought my brother, And I found all three.”   William Blake, 18th century English poet, painter, and printmaker

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  • The lessons for Sunday, September 25, 2016:First Reading: Amos 6:1a, 4-7 First Reading (Semi-cont.): Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15 Psalm: Psalm 146 Psalm (Semi-cont.): Psalm 91:1-6, 14-16 Second Reading: 1 Timothy 6:6-19 Gospel: Luke 16:19-31 This Sunday, the Gospel returns to familiar themes with the story of Lazarus and the rich man. Lazarus is so poor that he hopes for crumbs from the rich man's table and has to tolerate the dogs licking his sores (or perhaps this is a form of early medicine). Lazarus has nothing, and the rich man has everything. When Lazarus dies, he goes to be with Abraham, where he is rewarded. When the rich man dies, he is tormented by all the hosts of Hades. He pleads for mercy, or just a drop of water, and he's reminded of all the times that he didn't take care of the poor. He asks for a chance to go back to warn his family, and he's told, "If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced if some one should rise from the dead." Maybe by now...

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  • A LETTER TO MY ANXIOUS CHRISTIAN FRIENDS: From Fear to Faith in Unsettled Times. By David P. Gushee. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2016. 130 pages.                We live in unsettled times, when fear seems to be the driving force in our lives. It is reflected at times in our religious life, and it is especially prevalent in our political life. What is a Christian to do? Perfect love may cast out all fear, but sometimes love is in short supply, even in Christian communities. This leads to anxiety. This current 2016 election cycle is one of the most angst producing seasons I’ve known in my life. The political season is causing Christians to wrestle with uncomfortable questions about our relationship to culture and nation.                 Having written two books on faith and public life, one being a collection of essays and the...

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  • We make our plans, little or big or grandiose, and we act on them, expecting their fulfillment; then oftentimes we learn that life has its surprises. Like a kick in the stomach, the unexpected happens. Even Jesus must have grieved the way he was rejected. But let us in the morning hear your steadfast love and put our trust in you.  We lift up our soul to you.  Teach us the way we should go. Lectionary Readings Ps. 143; 147:12-20; 81; 116 Esth. 7:1-10 Acts 19:11-20 Luke 4:14-30             Selected Verses Ps. 143:8  Let me hear of your steadfast love in the morning,          for in you I put my trust.Teach me the way I should go,          for to you I lift up my soul. Esth. 7:10 So they hanged Haman on the gallows that he had prepared for Mordecai. Acts 19:13, 15 Then some itinerant Jewish exorcists tried to use...

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  • Audio of this sermon can be heard here.If you want to become a priest or a deacon, you have to go through a long process. In our diocese, it starts with a conversation with your rector that lasts for at least six months. Typically, I tell interested people that we will need to speak together for a year before moving ahead with any of the other steps. Eventually, I'll pull in a small committee of parishioners who can join me in discerning whether the individual is called by God to serve the church as an ordained person. If they all agree, then we approach the vestry and then the bishop. Once we meet with the bishop, the process has less to do with the individual and more to do with the church. Does the church also discern that this person is called by God to ordained ministry? There are committee interviews, retreats, internships, medical and psychological evaluations, background checks, peer evaluations, and a whole lot of scrutiny. If the person is approved for seminary training,...

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  • Ever think you are finished with something - a composition, a sermon, a poem - only to discover as the week unfolds that you were only scratching the surface? I spent time putting my worship notes together this Monday - it is Cosmos Sunday in the Season of Creation - and I thought I'd made stunning progress. Thing is, however, that with more reflection on the Psalm - and more listening to Eva Cassidy's take on Joni's "Woodstock" - it became clear that I have more work to do. So, in addition to pastoral care and hospital visits tomorrow, I'll spend a few more hours exploring what it means to know that God made ALL creation out of stardust - we are interconnected - and how we betray Creation's soul through arrogance and fear - the Devil's bargain.  I'll give a little time into practicing "Woodstock" too as we'll be using it in worship. 

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  • A parable that Jesus tells begins this way. "There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate was a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man's table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores." (Luke 16:19-31)This is all we are told about either man prior to their deaths. Lazarus ends up in "Abraham's bosom" while the rich man is tormented in Hades. Nothing is said about what accounts for their different fates other than these words spoken to the rich man. "Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony." There is also a note about how "Moses and the prophets" should be more than enough to prevent the fate suffered by the rich man. Without this note about Moses' Law and the prophets, the rich man's only sin would seem to be his wealth....

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  • There is a natural tendency to place oneself inside a story.  This is perhaps especially true in the parables that Jesus tells.  I suspect it is because they are both generic and hyperbolic, it is easy to read oneself into the story, to stay there for a while, and to feel what is happening.  Of course, who we think ourselves to be in the story will have a large impact on how we interpret it.  In the Parable of the Good Samaritan, the meaning of the story can change drastically if you think of yourself as the injured traveler or the Levite, rather than everybody’s favorite Samaritan. As we read the Parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man this week, I can’t help but think that the gut reaction of most listeners will be to place themselves in the role of Lazarus.  Very few people actually consider themselves to be rich.  It is very easy to push that title at least one tax bracket above our own, and given the erosion of the Middle Class and the ever-widening chasm between the...

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