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Sermon from July 2012

Below are pictures that are not entirely unrelated to the audio of sermons I gave at Chalice Christian Church last month.

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Watch as Dan Barr & Jim Barton (me) try to out do each other with short, outrageous sound bites.

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From the mouths of . . .

not quite babes anymore.

Super proud of JamesIII on this one.


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Random

Two demons worked in concert to derail my Great Book reading schedule. Reblais and Solitare for my iPod. I have decided to give up on Reblais and move on to his countryman Montaigne. I am now woefully behind on this year’s schedule, but not so much so as to give up. And, Montaigne actually dabbles close to work relevance.

* * *

I am also writing a 3-5 page essay arguing that the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) should welcome non-straight people into full participation in the church, and without asking them to mask or change their sexual identity. The paper is intended to argue that this is natural extension of what it means to be an Disciple, as in an adherent to this particularly branch of the Campbellite movement.

* * *

I am also working on five little keynote addresses I will be giving to church campers the last week in June. The topics are provided to me. I know the short excercises and the stories I intend to tell. Now it is just a matter of how much detail work to do ahead of time on fleshing out the stories and how much room to leave for the spirit to move. (That’s Jesus-speak for wininging it.)

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2011 Mother’s Day Message

Here is a video of the Mother’s Day message I delivered at Chalice Christian Church yesterday. As with all things, comments and critique are welcome.

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Problems with Mothers’ Day Preaching

One problem that we run into as an enlightened community addressing celebrations like Mothers’ Day is that not everyone has a mother in anything other than a biological sense. And, perhaps worse, some have been abused by their mothers.

This leads me to the question of whether this day is celebrating our individual mothers, or the notion of motherhood. Surely as the holiday stands today, we are doing both. I think for purposes of my sermon, I will want to focus on the latter.

Josh notes in his comment to the last post that the phrase “ideal mother” is cringe-worthy. I can’t argue with that, particularly in as much as the phrase suggests to a ranking. What I was trying to get to was the idea that there is an ideal of motherhood, as something that Plato or Aristotle would acknowledge.

Which brings me to the second big problem. I believe that fathers are nurturing and kind and strong enough to make tough decisions. So, can we celebrate motherhood without dismissing fatherhood? I hope so.

The final problem is that the Bible does not always shine a bright light on mothers. Think about Sarah sending Hagar away. Think about Rebekkah as so strongly favoring Jacob over Esau.

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Next Speaking Engagement

I will be preaching at Chalice Christian Church on Mother’s Day. I would like to use this in the service:

Arise, then, women of this day! Arise all women who have hearts,
whether our baptism be that of water or of fears!

Say firmly: “We will not have great questions decided by
irrelevant agencies. Our husbands shall not come to us, reeking
with carnage, for caresses and applause. Our sons shall not be
taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach
them of charity, mercy and patience.

We women of one country will be too tender of those of another
country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs. From
the bosom of the devastated earth a voice goes up with our own.
It says “Disarm, Disarm! The sword of murder is not the balance
of justice.”

Blood does not wipe our dishonor nor violence indicate possession.
As men have often forsaken the plow and the anvil at the summons
of war, let women now leave all that may be left of home for a
great and earnest day of counsel. Let them meet first, as women,
to bewail and commemorate the dead.

Let them then solemnly take counsel with each other as to the
means whereby the great human family can live in peace, each
bearing after their own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar,
but of God.

In the name of womanhood and of humanity, I earnestly ask that a
general congress of women without limit of nationality may be
appointed and held at some place deemed most convenient and at
the earliest period consistent with its objects, to promote the
alliance of the different nationalities, the amicable settlement
of international questions, the great and general interests of
peace.

Mothers’ Day Proclamation: Julia Ward Howe, Boston, 1870. I am also interested in using the story of Hagar and Ishmael found here. The theme of the sermon will be that strength, particularly in the face of tragedy, is a characteristic of the ideal mother.

Any thoughts?

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Is it a Homily?

I will be speaking at my brother’s wedding. He has asked me to do the talk, which is maybe a homily, for 3-4 minutes. The service will be very minimalist–I don’t believe there will be any other readings or spoken portion other than the vows. It is also a secular service with the officiant chosen by the wedding planner who is employed by the facility where the wedding will be held.

My brother and his bride-to-be do not attend church, although they have worked together to feed the homeless at Paz de Cristo. My brother is fiercely anti-religion. I believe his fiance is much less so.

So, everyone, but especially my clergy friends, what do you think of this as an outline.

Open: Joke about how Jeff only wants me to speak for 3-4 minutes so I don’t have time for [quick comments about their past together]; nor do I have time for [quick notes about their future together]; I can only talk about today.

Body: What I can say about today is that this is a sacred event. And of course, sacred is a religious word suggesting that something is blessed by the presence of God. But religion doesn’t make this, or any other wedding, sacred. That word just points to what we can all clearly see.

First, that this union is blessed. That means it is more that a good thing . . . [Talk about how great the bride and groom are, and how great their union is]

Second, that blessing is recognized by the presence of others . . . [talk about the role the family and friends play in making a marriage work]

Finally, present in this union is something more than the sum of its parts. [talk about the profound transforming effect of Love and Marriage] As they say, “To love another person is to see the face of God.” Jeff and Susan are plainly privy to that today.

Thoughts? Suggested reading? Pitfalls to avoid? What do you think?

Also, any tips for speaking to non-church folks on such topics?

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Be Strong, Wise and Gracious

The following is roughly the sermon I gave at Chalice Christian Church on December 27, 2008.

Good morning, everyone. I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas. We certainly did here at Chalice. For those of you who were here for the Christmas Eve service you got to finally enjoy the Christmas carols that Linda wont let us sing during Advent. And of course, last Sunday we enjoyed the Chalice tradition of Improv at the Stable. How great was it to see so many of our young people participating even if some of them were pressed into service? Well, following up the pageant, I thought we would have a little quiz. So, here we go, in what order did these events occur. If you know the answer just call it out.

The quiz is basically what is contained in this old post. The punch line that today’s scripture doesn’t fit into the classic pageant.

Examination of the Scripture

Okay, so why do this exercise? Well, first off, if you recall when James preached on youth Sunday that he occasionally spars with his eighth grade classmates over matter religious; you will be shocked to learn that I have found myself in similar discussions with coworkers. So, I want to make sure you all are also equipped for such confrontations. The more serious, more important reason is that this examination demonstrates these stories cannot be read as a newspaper story or a biography. Once you realize that these were not written as factual recounts, you have to ask yourself why did the authors write what they did. And, that is the question we need to go after today.

Lord, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to you, our strength and our redeemer.

First, there are hints in this story of what is to come. Jesus the social and spiritual revolutionary is foreshadowed in this story. For example, the sacrifice they bring is that of two pigeons, which according to the Old Testament is an exception for the poor from the requirement to bring a lamb and a pigeon.

Next, as with the rest of Luke, there are several examples of parody between men and women. The story says that they were purified, when the law only required Mary to be purified after giving birth. Jesus’ greatness is declared not just by a man, Simeon, but also by the woman, Anna. Mary and Joseph are doing everything together. You may start to have visions of the woman at the well or Mary & Martha.

Finally, while we have all this discussion of the temple and the law, we have Simeon say, “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel,” this might bring you to the clearing of the temple and hearing him tell Mary, “a sword will pierce your own soul” may bring you all the way Gethsemane.

So floating around in the mix are these images but we can’t let the subtext overwhelm us. Remember, that while Matthew follows the birth in Bethlehem with Herod behaving like Pharaoh, and Jesus first going then coming out of Egypt, Luke has the holy family doing pretty ordinary stuff, as the author writes, “everything required by the Law of the Lord”.

Role of Customs & Rituals

This group assembled has in a real way inherited a tradition of rejecting tradition. As Christians, at some point after the fall of Jerusalem, we rejected Judaism. As Protestants, we rejected Catholicism. As Disciples we have rejected even Protestant doctrine, with Barton W. Stone declaring that he professed the Westminster Confession of Faith “As far as it is consistent with the word of God.” (Which I’ve always thought was a kind of non answer.) We like to say that we have “No Creed but Christ.” It seems clear from today’s scripture that Luke didn’t share such a stark few of tradition.

Now, a quick story. When Mom and Dad were first married, he bought a set of encyclopedias. He did this when, as I understand, they were eating peanut butter for lunch everyday because half of his Air Force salary went to their rent. Evidently they a little fight over this choice. As a result, years later whenever we had a question Dad would send us to the encyclopedia—thus justifying his purchase. Well, Pat & I didn’t fight about it, but I have a set of books called The Great Works of Western Civilization, and I like to get them out whenever I can. So, lets start with Plato.

Plato praised “the particular training in respect of pleasure and pain, which leads you always to hate what you ought to hate, and love what you ought to love from the beginning of life to the end” and just hated novelty. In fact, he praised the Egyptians because their current art was exactly the same as there ancient art.

There is something to this. In some sense, our scripture this morning is a story of preparation. Surely part of Jesus’ growing in strength and wisdom and being full of grace comes from the practice of spiritual disciplines. Spiritual disciplines like studying: he could not have fended off the attacks from church leaders to Satan in the desert if he was not familiar with his scriptures. At age thirty when his ministry began, he could not have simply turned on empathy for all those who he healed—empathy is an acquired skill, it is I think one of the greatest advantages of coming here to pray for others. How could he have recognized the need for the rich to surrender their material belongings, if he had not himself experienced the joy that his charity.

Likewise, we cannot expect to be a force for good in the world, an agent of change if we don’t likewise practice spiritual discipline.

Of course, I suspect some of you cringed at the idea of teaching children what to love and many of you cringed about teaching children what to hate. And the dialogue has some stuff that would make even the strongest champion of back to basics education blush, when it says that the populous cannot be asked to judge what is best. Nor the children or women, nor the young men, but obviously what the old men think is best is what is best. (Which is easy to sell when you’re only speaking to old men.)

On Sunday, I cut out some citations, which are italicized below, in the interest of time.

Recent thinkers are more in line with liberal ideology seeing the often destructive effect of over emphasizing tradition. Freud wrote, “its ordinances, frequently too stringent, exact a great deal from him, much self-restraint, much renunciation of instinctual gratification.” It becomes therefore one of the main aims of psychoanalytic therapy to release the individual from the bondage to custom.
Indeed, the fight over marriage equality is largely about adhering to old traditions without recognizing the reality of love. Much racism, both attacks against African Americans and those against recent immigrants, are justified with references to custom and culture. Likewise, much of the economic injustice we see in the world today is a product of traditional behaviors. It is tempting to throw it all out. Indeed, this is exactly the reason guys like Sam Harris wrote the End of Faith, wherein he blames religion for successfully transferring accountability to allow devastating injustice.

Francis Bacon wrote The first of these is the extreme affecting of two extremities; the one antiquity, the other novelty … one of them seeketh to devour and suppress the other; while antiquity envieth there should be new additions, and novelty cannot be content to add but it must deface: surely the advice of the prophet is the true direction in this matter, “Stand by the ways and see and ask for the ancient paths. Where the good way is, and walk in it; and you will find rest for your souls.” Jeremiah 6:16

Spring board to changing from within

But it is not just for our own well being that we are versed in our culture. It is not just for the sake of gaining the benefits of spiritual disciplines. We must be engaged, I believe, in order to bring about change within the larger Christian Church. This is my fear: that thinking people are falling away from the church. Now, I think this church can be a vehicle to continue to bring such people into the Church. And the Church needs them. Those are the people who can be an agent for change in the church universal.

And that as a result, we are increasingly talking past each other. We see our holy scriptures brutally misinterpreted. Read in a way that is absolutely inconsistent with the words on the page. We see prophesy transformed into fortune telling instead of social commentary; faithfulness turned into a suspension of disbelief instead of fidelity to the teaching of Jesus Christ. We can’t let it happen. There is too much to be lost.

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A Question for the Day

Assuming that Jesus was raised in the traditions of his day practicing spiritual disciplines like studying scripture, praying, and helping the less fortunate, did he become a radical spiritual revolutionary because of, or in spite of, this participation in religious custom?