Category Archives: Church

Is It Time to Jettison the Bible?

 

bible

I ask that question with great fear and trembling.  I grew up with the Bible.  To paraphrase the Apostle Paul“If anyone has reason to be confident I have more.  A member of the Cradle Roll before my birth; raised in Sunbeams, and RA’s; state winner in Memory Verses and Sword Drill; soloist in our Youth Choir and Preacher for Youth Sunday; BSU member and Weekend Retreat Leader; Summer Youth Worker; BA in Religion from Wake Forest and a Master of Divinity from Southern Baptist Theological seminary (when it was a seminary) and a Doctor of Ministry in Ethics from Candler School of Theology; ordained minister; Minister of Youth; Pastor; Mission Trip leader and participant.”   I am about as Baptist as they come!

Yet I find myself asking this difficult question. Is it time to jettison the Bible? 

It has served as the “lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path” throughout my life.  It continues to be the story that I return to again and again, seeing my life reflected in the stories of faith that I find within its pages.  I am a minister who stands in a pulpit week after week reading words of scripture from the Biblical text and proclaiming “This is the Word of God!” 

But this week I wonder if it is time to let it go?

This isn’t a personal crisis of faith, but a reflection about the way in which the Bible, the very foundation of my life has been misused this week.

US Attorney General Jeff Sessions in a speech entitled “Attorney General Sessions Addresses Recent Criticisms of Zero Tolerance By Church Leaders” chastised those protesting against the treatment of those seeking refuge in the US.  He said “I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13, to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained them for the purpose of order.”

Using his hermeneutic (a theological word meaning how we interpret scripture.  I told you I went to seminary!), anything the government says should be obeyed. 

Let that sink in.

He is using the Bible to say that we have to obey the government because God says so.  That is the same scripture cited when churches were urged to obey the Third Reich in Nazi Germany, the same scripture that was used to defend slavery. 

Is that what you believe?

The same week the Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Protestant group in the world, meeting in Dallas, TX used scripture to continue a decades-long subjugation of women. Even in the face of leaders losing jobs over sexual harassment and impropriety; when the #MeToo Movement came to church, they chose to again quote scripture reminding over half the world’s population that they are commanded by God to take lower roles, especially in matters of faith. 

The same week, in the same town, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship also met.  This is the group that has been my denominational home.  Formed after “losing a battle for the Bible,” they met hoping to move beyond the topic of same sex relationship—a topic raised perhaps 7 times in all of scripture.  Every denomination it seems is struggling to avoid a break-up over the topic. Every time the issue is discussed groups on both sides begin using scripture like a cudgel to bash their opponents.

And it isn’t just this week.  Every week I find myself feeling the need to apologize for some preacher who is using scripture to milk congregants for funds to buy a jet, another house, a larger tabernacle.  In recent weeks we have seen the Bible used in foreign policy to justify the location of an embassy.  We choose our international friends with a selective reading of who God says land is given to.  It is easy for a official to pull a verse from the Bible that commands obedience to the government, but when was the last time you heard doctrine against interest?  We use the parts we like, the parts that correspond to our lifestyle and our own prejudice. 

And we all do it!  I will be honest. I am not going to preach a sermon based on I Timothy 6:1.  While I used I Corinthians 13 as a text last Sunday, I am not going to preach a sermon on I Corinthians 14:34, ever!  (“Women should be silent in the churches.  For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate.”) Has anyone ever done a sermon on Deuteronomy 23:1

We all jettison parts of the Bible.

We always have.  We rarely hear about the history of the Bible.  We see it on the coffee table or on the pulpit, all together in the black leather cover, and we think that is how it was written.  Even if we understand that it was written at different times, we think of it like the Complete Works of William Shakespeare.  The sense is that it came down from heaven complete—with references and footnotes.  (That is how Islam sees the Quran.)  All of it has equal value.

There are so many problems with that!  First, that isn’t how the Bible came to be. It was written over centuries by individuals telling their story of their experience with God. It was written by humans with all their histories, prejudices, cultures, and contextual understanding of science and the world.  All of those are reflected in their writing.

The Bible we have is not the only “scripture.” There are other books that didn’t make the Bible. The Jewish rabbis put what we know as the Old Testament together during a meeting in Jamnia around 90 AD.  There were books that were hotly debated. Song of Solomon and Ecclesiastes barely made it in.  And did you know that God is never mentioned in Esther? 

The New Testament was not made “official” until the Third Council of Carthage in 397 AD.  There were many books that didn’t make the cut.  Some are found in what we know as the Apocrypha (ever heard a reading from Bel and the Dragon?)  Others were not considered.  (Read the Infancy Gospel of Thomas for a different vision of Jesus!)

(For more on this topic, see T.C. Smith’s wonderful and very readable book How We Got Our Bible.)

There were many criteria used to decide what was “In” and what was rejected, but one of the main criteria was what was used in the life of the church.  What were congregations using in worship?

Which brings me back to my question. Is it time to jettison the Bible? 

My answer is No! 

But we must change our understanding. We can take the Bible seriously but not literally. We can admit that there are parts of the Bible that must be examined in light of their cultural context. To take the Bible seriously, we must study it with the full understanding of how it was put together and alongside the history of those ancient writers and storytellers.

This will not be easy. 

It will mean that congregations and individuals will have to be honest enough to say that this passage does not resonate with their own experience of God.  

It will mean that there will be times when we have have to say that there are parts of the Bible that really aren’t “Bible,” that don’t reflect the God we worship.

It will mean we will have to do the hard work of reflecting on our experience of the holy. 

It will mean being honest about what we believe God calls us to do and be, and what is just cultural and outdated. 

It will mean grieving the loss of an idol we have built and worshiped.

It will mean being prepared for the cries of heresy, the rejection of those who still hold on to the old ways.

It will mean declaring to the world that we hear a different story than the one the world, and too often the church, has been selling.

It will mean having the courage to declare, “This I believe, God help me.  I can do no other!”

But it is past time to be honest about it, and about our faith.   It may be the only way to save the Bible.

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Post Pentecost Preaching Ponderings

One of the best things that can happen to a preacher is to have someone come up on a Tuesday and say, “I’ve been thinking about your sermon Sunday.”

But does the preacher ever think about it?  I know that rarely happens to me.  I have had the experience of someone asking me on Monday about my sermon and responding, “What did I preach about?”  As soon as Sunday is over I am starting to look seven days ahead—to the next sermon.

Which made this morning interesting.

For some reason a couple lines from my sermon came to mind.  It was Pentecost Sunday and I was talking about how the people gathered in Jerusalem heard the disciples in their own language.  I raised the question:

“Now the question is, were these Galileans suddenly gifted with the ability to speak multiple languages, speaking in tongues so to speak?  Or were those listening suddenly hearing the Galilean spoken in a language they understood?  On one level it really doesn’t matter—everyone understood what was being said—but on another matter it has incredible implications.   Is it the speaker or the hearer that needs to be touched by the spirit?  Who needs the spirit—the preacher?  Or the listener?”

What sparked this sermon was review was the memory of another conversation.  Port Williams United Baptist Church recently celebrated the one year anniversary of the arrival of a family from Syria.  This little congregation sponsored this family, helping them move from the ravages of war to a peaceful Canadian community.

(Just a note.  Last year the US resettled 11 Syrians.  This church resettled 5.  For what it’s worth.)

I would love to say that it was the spirit-filled preaching that I had done.  But I wasn’t here!  I asked a couple of people who were instrumental in bringing this family here a rather simple question, “Why?”  Why did they do this?

Their response: “Why not?”
BYLINE ADDITION-TURKEY-GREECE-EUROPE-MIGRANTS

One told me that she saw that now horribly iconic picture of the little boy lying on the beach.  She said when she saw it she just knew that something had to be done.  She raised the question to a group at church and discovered that others felt the same way. 

Flash forward a year—the  Al Maziads are here!
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It was not the speaker who was touched by the spirit, but those who saw the images, and heard a call for help.  They responded to the  leading of the spirit with lots of work and prayers and money and compassion.

In a day in which we hear about so many churches struggling, where pastor are feeling the pressure to “do something” perhaps we need to focus just as much on what members are hearing and seeing—not on Sunday morning. 

What does the world need that we can do?

Why shouldn’t we do something?

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Been to the Mountain Top

This Sunday our text is the final scene of Moses life.  Moses and God are atop Pigah where God allows Moses to look into the promised land, the land he has been traveling towards for 40 years.  This is the land he has been leading his people to.  But in one of the most unfair statements in the Bible God tells Moses “I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not cross over there!”

Been to the Mountaintop!  Those words echo in our minds because they were part of the final sermon delivered by Martin Luther King, Jr, the night before he was killed.  I have been reading that sermon, and am going to use some of it, the part we know on Sunday.  (I hope you will come and hear it! Shameless plug!)

But I was stuck with a part I have never read before.  These are words that speak to us today just as poignantly as they did in April, 1968.

It’s all right to talk about “long white robes over yonder,” in all of its symbolism. But ultimately people want some suits and dresses and shoes to wear down here! It’s all right to talk about “streets flowing with milk and honey,” but God has commanded us to be concerned about the slums down here, and his children who can’t eat three square meals a day. It’s all right to talk about the new Jerusalem, but one day, God’s preacher must talk about the new New York, the new Atlanta, the new Philadelphia, the new Los Angeles, the new Memphis, Tennessee. This is what we have to do.

I wonder when the church will show as much concern for the street where we live as the street flowing with milk and honey.

Just wondering.

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Dots and Other Questions

It is one of those annoyingly addictive games that I have downloaded on my iPad. 

Dots

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Simple enough.  All you have to do is connect the dots of the same color together and make them go away.  Connect a group in a square and all the dots of that color go away.

Easy enough!   Even for me!  Maybe that is why I find myself sitting at night while watching TV trying to get a higher score.

See that is the goal—to get a higher score.  It isn’t to make sure they all line up, that the yellow dots are all gone.  The goal is to get the highest score possible. 

It is important to remember that. 

But it raises an important question.  What is the goal of what you are doing?

The other morning I listened to Scott Simon on Weekend Edition.  He was talking with Joe Nocera about an incident that happened recently at American Airlines.  It seemed that the pilots and flight attendants were given a small raise, because after all, the airline is making a profit.  But Wall Street rebelled!  The price of the stock fell because the goal is to “maximize shareholder value.”  And you thought it was to get you from point A to point B safely and efficiently! 

The conversation was enlightening.  All of us who have a particular stock, or even a mutual fund that has invested in the company, want to stock to rise.  I do want to retire someday!  But is that the ultimate goal?  What about the workers?  What about the passengers?  (I think about this every time I try and wedge myself into the shrinking seats and get my small cup of coke to go with my peanuts.)  What about the communities that once relied on contributions from the company to support the symphony, the hospital, the Boy Scouts?

What is the bottom line?  What is the goal?

What is the goal for church?

I thought about that because I was heading to church listening to the show.  We were going out in the community for a day of service.  The next morning we would have worship.  We would pass the offering plates.  We would hope that people left with a deeper spirituality, a closer relationship with God.  We hoped someone would join.

But what is the goal? 

How do our “shareholders” want, expect? 

More people in the seats?

More offering in the plates?

More people doing good stuff?

More people “dedicating their lives to full-time Christian service?

More people walking the aisles?

What is the goal?  For the congregation?  For the minister?

It is a hard question to answer, but perhaps one with which we all need to wrestle.  It really is more than a night-time diversion.  It may be the most important thing we do!

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Being Community in a Divisive World

This past weekend I had the privilege of being with the good people at Park Road Baptist Church in Charlotte, where my dear friends Russ and Amy Dean are co-pastors.  Being on sabbatical, and not preaching for 2 months, this was a good reminder of what it is like to preach.  Here is the manuscript I took into the pulpit.  Hopefully it is close to what I said!

 

Being Community in a Divisive World
I Corinthians 3:1-9

Dr. Don Flowers, Jr.
Park Road Baptist Church, Charlotte, NC
February 12, 2017

It is an honor for me to be with you this morning.  Park Road is a congregation that has long been an example to many of us of what a church can, and should be like.  Your willingness to be church today, to experiment, to do things differently, to try and sometime fail, says a lot about who you are and the God you serve.  It is faithfulness not necessarily success that we are called to.  Thank you for being you!

And it is always wonderful being with your pastors.  Russ and Amy have been friends for longer than any of us care to remember.  From days as youth ministers when Amy came to the aid of our youth group after one of our girls was run over by a police car coming to assist another girl who had broken her arm…to last week watching Russ work diligently as most of our Preacher Camp group gathered in the frigid cold of Maryland!  There is a reason God loved me enough to let me live in the South.  Your pastors are friends, examples, mentors, pastors to me.  Sharing the pulpit where they speak week after week is a privilege and a bit intimidating!

Thank you.  And know that if you are ever in Charleston, Conde Nast top city in America to visit, (that’s our Chamber of Commerce ad that we are required to give anytime we leave the city limits) I do hope that along with the beaches and the plantations and the market and the incredible restaurants, you will come and visit us at Providence.  We would be honored to have you worship with us.

During these days of Epiphany you have been exploring the theme, (Re)Defining Community.  We return again to a congregation that was in the midst of that for the first time, in the first century, the church at Corinth.  Our text this morning is from chapter 3.

Will you hear these words of our Lord.

And so, brothers and sisters, I could not speak to you as spiritual people, but rather as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for solid food. Even now you are still not ready, for you are still of the flesh. For as long as there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not of the flesh, and behaving according to human inclinations? For when one says, “I belong to Paul,” and another, “I belong to Apollos,” are you not merely human?

What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you came to believe, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. The one who plants and the one who waters have a common purpose, and each will receive wages according to the labor of each. For we are God’s servants, working together; you are God’s field, God’s building.

On a sunny spring day go to a graduation ceremony at any seminary or divinity school in the country.  Go up to any graduate and in between the pictures and the hugs and the well wishes, ask them what they expect to discover in the church they are heading to.  Their answers would be not unlike the answers you would get from the people in your congregation on any given Sunday morning if they were asked to describe the church of their dreams.

“A church where everyone loves each other.”
“A church where everyone is welcomed.”
“A church where the needs of individuals are met.”
“A church where people come to know the depth of life.”
“A church where worship is moving and the preaching is great.”
“A church where people meet Jesus.”
“A church where the bills are paid!”  (There is always one realist in the mix!)

But soon after arriving most of these young ministers will be hit in the face with the reality of church.  It is not all sweetness and harmony.  There are conflicts in paradise.  And the causes…

“The preschool has used our glue again!”
“Who thought it would be a good idea to rent a bus to take the kids to camp?”
“I think we need to cut the education budget so we can give more to missions” (or visa versa)
“We have been in this Sunday School classroom for 50 years!  I don’t see why we have to move now!”
“What does the pastor do on her day off anyway?”
“Are we having communion again?”  Followed closely by “It’ about time we had communion!”

Does that sound familiar?  (Not in your church, of course, but the one you heard about across town?)

The reality is that churches large and small deal with conflict.  It come around budget time, with personnel, with theology and worship style and the décor of the sanctuary and classrooms.  It is not just the local church but THE Church that is conflicted.

Denominations are breaking apart over disagreements about missions and women and sexuality and budgets.  Throw in the larger world with issues of politics and race and immigration and poverty and education and and and…..

At times we just want to throw our hands up and scream, “Can’t we just get along?”  Given the level of discord we can understand why the fastest growing religious group in our country are the “Nones,” those who claim no religious affiliation!

We dream of a time when the church was like our dreams, the way that Jesus wanted it to be!  But it was never that way!  Did you hear it in that great hymn we sing this morning, “The Church’s One Foundation.”  We nod our heads through the first verse, “The church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ our Lord; we are his new creation by water and the Word; from heaven he came and sought us to be his holy bride; with his own blood he bought us, and for our life he died.”

One foundation!  We are all united, one in the spirit, one in the Lord!  (Ooops, different song!)  But if we continue singing, we get to a verse that starts off, “Though with a scornful wonder the world sees us oppressed, by schisms rent asunder, by heresies distressed…”

Wait!  In the church with one foundation we are rent asunder and distressed by heresies?

It is so!  And in fact, it always has been!  There never was a conflict free church!  At least not after the second member joined!  Divisions happens!  It happened in Corinth, for many of the same reasons we face today.  It would have been, it would be easier if the dissension was organized, but it was legion.  There were multiple issue then, just like today!

And the conflicts seem to catch Paul off guard.  It seems that he had intended to write a letter filled with love and kisses!  As soon as he has finished the “Dear Corinthian Church” (which follows the ancient custom and is a lot more flowery and ornate) he sings their praises.

I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind— just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you— so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ.

I give thanks to my God always…  What a strong and encouraging statement.  It sets the tone for what Paul wants to write!

But it seems he never got a chance!  Perhaps he had just penned those words (remember there was not a backspace/delete button.  Papyrus doesn’t just grow on trees!  Well, it sorta does!) when Chloe’s people arrive with some questions from a an earlier letter he had sent.  Even more, Chloe’s people are able to fill in the blanks, to really give Paul the scoop as to what was happening in Corinth!  And when he hears, well suddenly the tone of the letter changes.  He can’t write love and kisses!  There are conflicts that must be addressed.

Paul had founded the church in Corinth and nurtured the fledgling congregation, but the time came when he needed to go to other mission fields.  Though he loved the church, there were other congregations to start, other ministries to birth.

The church in Corinth was not left alone, however.  Other ministers came to be among them.  There were evangelists and missionaries who were just passing through, sharing their wisdom and theology, gifts, ideas.  Just like today, some had more appeal than others.

That was what was happening in Corinth!  Since Paul’s departure there had been a series of other preachers who had come, namely Apollos.  According to Acts, Apollos was a learned Jew from Alexandria “who taught accurately the things concerning Jesus.”  He was an eloquent and passionate speaker, and “he greatly helped those who through grace had become believers.” He had an audience who admired him and the way he presented the gospel.

There was still another group, however.  These were the “back to basics” folks who wanted to go all the way back to the original apostles.  There was a Cephas following in the church at Corinth.  There is no evidence that Peter had ever been to Corinth, but perhaps someone had been to Jerusalem and heard him speak, or had heard of him from another source who had been impressed.

Even that was not enough for some in the church!  These were the back to Jesus folk!  They weren’t interested in this new religion!  If it had been good enough for Jesus, it was good enough for them!  You almost have to wonder if this was a real faction within the Corinth church or an example of Paul’s sarcasm.  And all of these people, all of these groups, all of these parties knew they were right!

It would be easy to see the situation in Corinth as the original church fight, but that would miss the deeper theological issues being played out.  Remember Paul was writing to a congregation that lived in a particular context, with a history of philosophy and culture that weren’t “Christian.”  One of the leading philosophical influences was that of wisdom.  In this world wisdom did not mean getting straight A’s, but rather a preference for Sophia, the Greek worship of wisdom.  This showed a continuing fascination with the Greek values inherent in that system.

The Greek wisdom philosophy put a great emphasis on rhetoric, being able to argue a position in a way that was convincing to others.  Apparently, Appollos’ preaching style fit in this mold and thus fed the fascination some had with that philosophy.

Others were arguing over baptism.  The old joke (which really isn’t that much of a joke) is of ministers getting together and the first question being asked was how many baptisms they had the previous year.  It was almost a badge of honor.

The same thing was true in the early church.  Appollos had baptized many, and so many were discounting the work of Paul.  It is easy to read Paul’s response as being defensive, and in some ways it is!  But is also points out an important theological issue.  What is the meaning of baptism?  Is it a gateway into membership? Is it a hoop that one has to jump through to be a Christian?  Is it an initiation rite?  Is one method better, more Christian than another?  I know individuals who have refused to join a church because they were told that they had to be baptized again, as if their first baptism was illegitimate.  What is the meaning of baptism?

It is always easier to focus on the “presenting problem” rather than on the deeper issue.  It is easier to fight about the way we baptize rather than struggle with the meaning behind it.  It is easier to fight about how we do communion rather than ponder what the table means.

Meaning questions force us to delve into areas of theology, meaning, what is really going on in us.  Those are much tougher to wrestle with because they can’t be resolved in a 20 minute sermon or a 30 minute Bible Study.  The disconcerting truth is that in our world, with our philosophical system, we do prefer “sound bite/bumper sticker theology.”  It works better for our elevator speech, around the water cooler.  It is easier for a Twitter world.

Dealing with meaning will reveal our differences.  So it is easier just to ignore them, especially in light of Paul’s admonition in I Corinithians 1:10 in which he calls on the members to be in agreement, to have no division, to be united.  We normally read that as being all cut from the same pattern with no difference at all.

But the word used here is the same one Mark used when he talks about the disciples mending their nets when Jesus called them to follow.  Mending the nets did not mean the were all the same!  Mending did not make the hole disappear!   The mending was to assure that the nets held together.

That is the question Paul is raising for the people of Corinth and the people of your congregation.  What holds us together?  Is it the pastor?  The way we do worship?  Our Wednesday night pot-luck suppers?  Our missions in _____________?

It is an important question for a congregation to ask.  What is it that hold us?  But it is just as important to ask what holes are acceptable.  Does everyone have to be the same, do the same, believe the same?  Where are holes acceptable?  Are holes, differences, acceptable?

It was a Wednesday evening many years ago, when our daughters were young.  Anita was at choir practice so it was my job to get the girls home and in bed.  I was putting Savannah, our youngest to bed and it came time to say prayers.

At that time she was in Mission Friends, being taught by Cyndy, one of our friends, who I will say has an amazing prayer life.  Whenever she offers a prayer in church I am just amazed.  Our girls often will call and ask that I get Cyndy to pray for something.  Not me, the pastor!  Cyndy!  As they say, God pays more attention to her!  And it is true!

That night, as Savannah began her prayers, what struck me was that she was praying like Cyndy.  I can’t do that!  I couldn’t teach her that!  I needed some help.

But several months later we were coming home from University.  I was driving the van and Cyndy’s daughter was sitting in the front seat—to help keep me awake, but also to talk.  In the middle of the trip, in the middle of the conversation, I realized that I was having a conversation with her that she couldn’t have with her mother.  Cyndy needed me too!

We need each other.  We need each other to mend the nets, to make sure the holes stay together.  We need each other to keep us from idolatry, from the heresy that we have God captured, all figured out.  We need people with a different perspective, different views, different gifts.

But that only happens when we are willing to be servants to each other.  Paul and Apollos were both servants.  The word used here is diakonos, deacon.  That is what we are called to be.  You who are being ordained today; Russ and Amy, me, you!  It isn’t about privilege and power, but about being a servant.  Listening and learning from each other; looking to ways that we might work together to build God’s kingdom.

Even this day.

I look forward to being back at Providence for Ash Wednesday, and then in the pulpit on March 5 as we begin a Lenten series entitled, From Pew to Passion.

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The End of Community?

I ran into a fellow pastor the other day at Starbucks, hard at work.  I figured he was working on his sermon for next week, but instead he was working on his Facebook page.  To be more specific he was working on his list of friends.

blank-facebook-page-layout_699492“I am sorting them into lists, making sure that no one in my congregation sees anything political,” he said.  “Apparently we have some long time members who have decided to leave our church, not because of anything I have said in a sermon, but because of what I have posted on Facebook.  So I am sorting my lists, making sure no one in my church knows who I really am.”

It was a story that I am sure resonates with so many pastors. 

A friend in another city recently told me that she really didn’t want to know what her pastor thought.  “I really don’t want to know how my pastor feels about anything political.  I just want to come to church and hear the gospel.”

This isn’t a new problem.  The lectionary passage this Sunday is from I Corinthians 3, where Paul is bemoaning the fact that the early church had chosen up sides.  Now it just seems that it has gotten worse.  As technology has made it easier for us to form community, it is also dividing us into segments. 

So what does this mean for church, for community? So how is any pastor to preach “with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other?” 

As I walked out, I thought about the irony of my pastor friend.  This one who is called to form community is being forced to shut himself off from community in order to preserve community.  Is it even real? Is that what we want to incarnate in the church?  Is that what we have come to?

I wonder if I need to segregate my “friend list?”

 

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Happy Reformation Day

My guess is that today is not that big a deal in your world.  It is the day after Halloween, the day when we all swear that next year we won’t buy the 20-lb bag of candy because we only have 20 Trick or Treaters and we are left with all that candy to eat. (We can’t let it go to waste!  Just think of all those children who don’t have candy to eat!)

Or maybe you are just counting down the days, hoping to survive the last seven days of this election season that will not end!  (Bad news, I predict that it won’t end on November 9.  Sorry!  But that is for another post.)

Or maybe you are one of those people who know that when the witches and goblins disappear it is time for Santa and his elves to show up; to start listening to Christmas music, to get the tree up and decorated!  (Wal Mart has you beat!) But don’t forget about that Thanksgiving season (too late!)

But today is a BIG DEAL.  At least to us in the church.  At least to those of us in the Protestant church.  At least to those of us who wake up way too early on November 1! 

luther-nailing-theses-560x538It is Reformation Day.  OK, actually it was yesterday, but who can compete with characters from Star Wars?    For you who aren’t Church History Nerds, that is the day that Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses on the door of the Wittenberg Church.  Just a warning, it was 499 years ago, so get ready to hearing a lot about it this time next year!

It was the act that led to the Protestant Reformation.  It fed into a growing nationalism in Europe with which they are still dealing; it led to a rift in the church that continues to grow.  All this because Martin Luther wanted to start a discussion.  A discussion about indulgences, grace, God and faith.

Confession—until this morning I don’t know if I had ever read Luther’s 95 Theses.  (I am sorry Bill Leonard and Glenn Hinson.  I am sure you assigned it, and I may have read it, but it didn’t find a place in the mental rolodex!)  You too can catch up on that unfinished assignment here!  

Now a few random thoughts:

  • Many of these theses are about indulgences—the medieval church’s stewardship campaign.  I have to wonder if this was Luther’s response to receiving another pledge card, or whether he was just paving the way for those who came after.  Could it be that this is why we never read these in church?
  • Luther’s intention was to start a conversation.  How seldom do we do that in church anymore.  We play it so safe.  We will talk about football, but when was the last time you had a conversation/discussion about Hell, purgatory, or heaven.  Do they even exist in our thought anymore?
  • What would happen in our churches if there was a new “Wittenberg Door” a place where people could post ideas around which they would like to have conversation.  Might that be better then our traditional Sunday School?

What would you post?

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