The other day I was having a conversation with some other clergy and I remembered something the late Reverend Otis Young used to say: “When God hates all the same things you do, you’re worshipping a false God.” I don’t for a minute doubt this is true, and it doesn’t usually matter what the subject of that hate is: homosexuality, abortion, adultery, or on something of a flip side, intolerance (that’s our hate in the UCC, for all that we’re also intolerant of intolerance, but that’s another sermon).
When it comes down to it, we can’t avoid creating God in our own image because of the inherent weakness of language. We are a people of words. Continue reading →
On top of Mount Carmel in northwestern Israel is a statue of Elijah. He’s standing over another man and is holding an upraised sword. This image comes from a compelling story in the first book of Kings, where we learn that the man on the ground is a priest of the Canaanite god Baal. Worship of Baal was one of the problems Elijah was tasked with countering, and he does this, for the most part, by being a thorn in the side of King Ahab of the northern kingdom of Israel, whose marriage to the Phoenician princess Jezebel came with a full embrace of her religious practices. Continue reading →
When I think about “family” one saying immediately comes to mind, one that I often heard from my mom as we were growing up: “You can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family.” The saying was usually a corollary to another oft-repeated phrase, this one a little more specific: “You don’t have to like your brothers, but you have to love them.” As I have aged, though, I have come to treat that first quote with what we in the business call “a lens of suspicion”. In other words, I’m not so sure I buy it. Continue reading →
If you had to choose ONE Bible passage that expresses our core, religious conviction, what would it be? Would it be 1 John 4:8, “Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love”? Would it be John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life”? Maybe it would be Matthew 25:34-36, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” Or maybe it’s John 13:34, “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” There are many possibilities, making this choice hard for Christians—but not for Jews. Continue reading →
“Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.”
So what? What does our footwear have to do with holy ground? Do our shoes corrupt? Are they somehow unholy? Why didn’t Moses immediately interject, “Why? There are sharp rocks all around here—do you want me to get cut?” How many of us would have done the same if we found ourselves in similar circumstances? But then, how many of us have ever heard the voice of God speaking to us from a bush that was burning without being consumed? Continue reading →
Narrative Lectionary Reading: Genesis 32:22-30 (Jacob wrestles with God at Peniel)
There’s a phrase, popular particularly in Roman Catholicism, that describes what I would call a “crisis of faith”; that phrase is, “the long, dark night of the soul”. The phrase is partly rooted in ideas about God that associate God with light, and that being in touch with the Divine brings light, clarity, and purpose to our lives. You can see something of this notion on display whenever you leave Columbus on Highways 30 or 81 and you see the “Jesus I trust in you!” signs that depict a resplendent Jesus opening his heart to us, and that heart is shining—almost as if he is E.T. the Extra Terrestrial, whose heart-light glows in part when he is spreading love and healing (but then, E.T. totally works as a Jesus story, so that’s no surprise). Continue reading →
Narrative Lectionary Reading: Genesis 18:1-5; 21:1-7 (A son is promised to Sarah and Abraham)
There’s really not much to debate: Sarah usually comes off looking like a foolish character in this story. In the face of a Divine promise, the word of God promising her a child in her old age, she laughs. It probably doesn’t help when she tries to deny that she laughed—thinking, no doubt, that she has offended her guests—and it gives them a chance to contradict her and say, “Oh yes, you did laugh.” Perhaps also folks don’t cut her any slack because of her earlier insistence that Abraham banish her maidservant Hagar, who had given birth to Abraham’s child Ishmael, a conception that was conceived by Sarah, according to the story we have before us. Perhaps all of that is why we tend to think less of her for laughing at God’s promise—but was it actually so bad to do so? I’m going to go out on a limb (even if it may be a pretty thick limb) and say, “No.” Continue reading →
Narrative Lectionary Reading: Genesis 2:4b-25 (the Garden of Eden)
Creation stories tend to be pretty influential upon the belief systems of those who read them. We Christians are no different. For instance, some Christians find that the “seven day creation story” strongly influences our idea of Sabbath, encouraging us to affirm our own need for rest by the example of a Creator who rested on the seventh day. Other Christians believe that the seven-day creation is a matter of literal truth, and they allow it to negatively impact their perception of things like astronomy, geology, and evolution, believing instead that the world really was created in seven days and that the planet Earth is only around 6,000 years old. Continue reading →
This is definitely a bizarre little story nestled into the book of Acts. We join Paul during a week-long stay in the city of Troas, which lay on the upper western coast of what is today the nation of Turkey. It’s apparently the last night of Paul’s stay there, and it sounds a lot like he’s trying to pack everything into his teaching that he hasn’t yet managed to say over the prior six days. That leads him to preach for a very.long.time—until midnight and later, according to the text. A brief reference to the many lamps that lit the room seems innocuous, but may at least be a contributing factor to what is shortly to occur. This is where we meet the young man Eutychus, someone who we presume is there to listen to Paul share his testimony about Jesus the Christ. Continue reading →
While this is not a perfect analogy, the story we have before us today of Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch reminds me a little bit of the Lone Ranger and Tonto. I remember watching that show avidly as a youth and absorbing all of its pop-culture catchphrases: “Heigh-ho, Silver!” “Who was that masked man?” and of course, “Kemosabe”, Tonto’s term of affection for the Lone Ranger. I even had a friend who called me that from time to time, though it made not an ounce of sense. But then, neither did The Lone Ranger, because he was never alone. He might have been the only one of the two who was a Texas Ranger, or whatever his official capacity was, but he was never alone, because Tonto was always there. The Lone Ranger was no lone wolf, to put it another way. He always had his faithful sidekick and backup, who for whatever reason I thought was a lot more compelling.