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Lens: A Sermon on the Book of Hebrews and the Tent of Meeting

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The late Marcus Borg had pretty much the same experience every semester when he taught the entry level course in biblical studies at Oregon State. He would begin by explaining that he was not teaching a class in religion, but rather, was teaching a class in an academic disciple. He assured the students that they were not expected to change what they believed, but that for the purposes of the course, they would be expected to operate from within the discipline. And every semester, without fail, one or two selective literalists would publicly challenge Borg during the first couple of weeks of the class. Continue reading →

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On the Order of Melchizedek

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Some words are easy. Take, for example, ice cream. Unless you happen to be lactose intolerant or lost a loved one in the London Ice Cream turf wars, then ice cream probably just means for you a frozen dessert, and while there are ice cream agnostics and even a few haters, most of us love a bowl of that oh-so-bad but oh-so-good dairy wonder.

Then there are words that are hard, that are stained in blood, that seem at times to be too heavy to use. Words we think we might want to cast off.

For many today, secular and religious, priest is one such stained word. Systemic child abuse and cover-up in the Roman Church has sullied the word, but in truth it represents an institution that has a very long and very troubled history. Protestants tried to shake it off five centuries ago, the result of corruption and abuse in the Roman priesthood, though with limited success, and besides, we’ve had plenty of corruption and abuse of our own without the title. Continue reading →

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Real Worship

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Six weeks ago we began our journey with the psalms by asking one question. Why worship? The question was grounded in that first reading, a psalm of praise. We considered the psalms in their original context, in a theology where God played favorites and stuck divine fingers into the pie of daily life. We thought about how psalms have been used in the Hebrew and Christian trajectories, their place in prayer, from Christ’s cry of despair and confidence on the cross to the daily recitation of psalms by thousands of Christians each day. Finally, we focused on the meaning of praise and worship for the contemporary Christian, for those willing to let God be God rather than an idolatrous projection of our own desires. I suggested that as God is a powerful force of creativity, compassion and love in the universe, that we praise or worship is an attempt to align ourselves with that powerful force, for it is our source and our telos, our end. Continue reading →

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An Open Letter to a Friend on Massacre and Forgiveness

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Dear Scott,

You asked how the African-American Christian families of those slaughtered by a White Christian Terrorist could, just a couple of days after the attack, state that they forgive the attacker, suspecting that they offer forgiveness in court, then scream and curse when they get home. You’re probably right, though this is not an either/or, and given the deep faith of this community, I am sure the cursing looks less like profanity and more like lament. But the bigger question is, what is forgiveness to these people. Continue reading →

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Why Worship?

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At the beginning of this week I asked myself one simple question. “Why worship?” Given that one of the most important roles I play in community is to lead worship, you would think I’d already answered this question for myself, but you’d be wrong. I have a heart for worship, every bit of my being longs to worship, like prayer I feel that I am right with God when I worship, I even have some notion of a desired outcome of worship, but I had, before this week, never sat down and constructed a theology of the specific act of communal worship. I’m not sure I have even now, for the answer I have reached this week feels more like a waypoint on a journey than a final destination, provisional, so I offer you a tour, not an answer, a trip through my heart and my head.

It all began with this week’s psalm, classified as a psalm of praise. In fact, praise psalms provide the text for this second Sunday, as well as the sixth and final Sunday, of this series. The first line of the psalm is a directive, Praise the Lord! We more often hear it in its Hebrew form, or some derivative of that form, where it is simply this: Hallelujah! Hebrew spelling, Latin version, doesn’t matter, it is always an instruction. Praise the Lord! Continue reading →

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Free-range Hope: A Palm Sunday Sermon

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The dramatic fall of Brian Williams, the television journalist for NBC News, was not the result of the Chinook helicopter in which he was riding being hit by a rocket-propelled grenade, for alas it wasn’t. It was all about the act of remembering. We are often under the illusion that our memories are books or photo albums on which the past is safely stored, when, in fact, the past is constantly rewritten through the lens of the present. Memory is unstable, alive. Williams violated a basic rule of reporting when he became part of the story, though if we have learned anything in the post-modern age, the age of the quantum and the cat that is at once both alive and dead, it is that the mere act of observation changes the reality. Continue reading →

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Pitching Yeast: Sermon for February 1, 2015

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I love me some geeks. In fact, I have a few geek merit badges myself. Back in the day there was Dungeons and Dragons. I’m an interfaith nerd, as I like both Star Wars and Star Trek, though I must admit to being an expert in neither. I like the guy in the little blue box who makes time go a little wibbly-wobbly. And my comic book collection is fairly large, at about 5000 issues, about half of its size at its peak.

So trust me when I say that there is not fight like a geek fight. The heated discussions at a Comic-con seem suspiciously like something one might have heard in the Inquisition, blistering and accusatory, and mostly about a bunch of made up nothing. Just ask a geek who would win in a fight, Wolverine or Superman. Continue reading →

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Sermon for the Temptation in the Wilderness

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In today’s world, Satan seems superfluous. Who needs an eternal being, divine but corrupted, to be the source of evil, when we are so capable of evil on our own. Sand Creek, Nanking, Auschwitz, Memphis, 9/11, Paris… We do not need Satan, and indeed, many progressive Christians no longer believe, even if Jesus saw himself as in conflict with this dark power. Then again, Jesus was in conflict with someone, and usually multiple someones’ throughout his ministry. He cast out demons, chastised Pharisees, challenged Roman authority, and even called Peter “Satan” at one point. Still, there is this story, the formative story. So what are we to do with this passage, this threshold that marks the beginning of Jesus’ active ministry? Continue reading →

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Alien

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Of the many ancient Christian texts that did not make it into the scriptural canon, the Gospel of Thomas is the most famous, for we had the name but not the actual text for centuries before it was rediscovered after the Second World War. Sharing the name of the apostle, but otherwise completely unrelated, is the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, a document that has more in common with the Gospel traditionally attributed to Matthew in that it is written after the split between the early Christians and proto-Rabbinic Judaism, so casts Jesus as antagonistic to Jews, never mind that he was one. Like the birth narrative of Matthew, the Infancy Gospel is a fiction and an argument, trying to position Jesus in the Hebrew religious trajectory while also projecting developing understandings of Jesus back onto his boyhood. So you get this: Continue reading →

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A Christmas Message: A City on a Hill

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While it is true that many strands of Protestant Christianity came together to create the rainbow tapestry that is today’s United Church of Christ, the first of these strands, and the one that gives shape to our own church history, is the Congregational tradition of New England. Those brave souls were seeking religious freedom, but they also had a very specific idea of who and what they wanted to be. Their goal? To be a City on a Hill. This formulation comes from the 5th Chapter of the Gospel traditionally attributed to Matthew, and is part of a string that calls those who would follow Jesus the “salt of the earth” and the “light of the world.” Continue reading →

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