Dec 29, 2009

New Year Greetings

“Happy New Year—and Let’s Make the Best of IT!!!”

A New Year affords us something that we all crave and probably need, the ability to start over. We receive a great blessing when we start over. Starting again means that all those mistakes from which we were supposed to learn something now allow us to put our learning to the test. So here we are at the beginning of 2010. We stare down a new year and hope for the best.

We are ready this Sunday to bring in a new year and a new sermon/worship Epiphany series that is entitled “What if . . . ?” Our text from the New Testament will be Ephesians 3:1-12.

A New Year image I like best is a picture of two calendars side by side: the old and the new. One is tattered and torn. Covered by coffee spills, smudgy finger-prints, and ink smeared writing. An old calendar can only be deciphered by perhaps a graphologist-type pharmacist. The old calendar represents commitments made and kept. It is a symbol of the things that we have deemed important and notes the priorities of our past year. It is like a doll whose head is worn threadbare by its loving owner.

On the other side—and set beside the old calendar—is the new calendar. Clean and crisp, with no embarrassing markings to tattle out our organizational skills or lack thereof. The new calendar represents the opportunities that await us and the chance to use our time more wisely in the pursuit of life as we want to live it—and perhaps more importantly—as God calls us to live it.

Although many of us now use electronic datebooks for daily or weekly schedules, the old images of paper calendars remains compelling. May we begin 2010 with a new slate and forget our last year’s melancholy. 2010 must be an improvement and is a year of hope for us all—thanks to God and God’s providence.

Our lessons for Epiphany of the Lord are:

Hebrew Scripture text: Isaiah 60:1-6
Reading from the Psalter: Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14
Epistle (or Letter) lesson: Ephesians 3:1-12
The Gospel: Matthew 2:1-12


Dec 28, 2009

About Pettiness

I believe in the democratic process and know that at times it can be rough and tumble. Like philosophic arguments the process gets testy at times. Yet there needs to be a more objective and prophetic voice that defends those who cannot defend themselves; those locked out of the places of power. I am always warmed by the thought that one year two major presidential candidates who could not have been further apart politically were both Methodists in excellent standing with their local churches—George Wallace and George McGovern. What a pair!!! Yet they remind us that our Semi-United Methodist Church is large enough to embrace all people and all points of view—whether or not we agree with them.

I am writing about pettiness because from time to time individuals suggest to me things like, “You need to preach against the policies of the Republican/Democratic party with regard to ______________.” My pastoral inclination tries to take into account the teachings of Jesus who reminds those who aspire to be disciples that: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.” Jesus also says that “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God” (Luke 6:20). When Jesus talks about blessed people he does not talk about party affiliation, but rather functional goodness as when he blesses those who are “the peacemakers” and “the pure in heart” (Matthew 5:8-9).

The church is not a gathering of political viewpoints that happen to meet on the Sabbath. Rather, we profess that we are trying to be disciples of Jesus Christ, despite our political, social, or economic perspectives and differences. About twenty-five years ago I read something in The Wittenburg Door(December 1984/January 1985) that spoke to me. I share part of the article with you without further comment:

Mike Yaconelli, one of the founders of Youth Specialties and the humor magazine The Wittenburg Door, was recently killed in an auto accident. Mike was one of those people I never met and wish I had. In one of his occasional serious moments, Mike urged the church to deal with people who would divert us into petty issues:

“Petty people are ugly people. They are people who have lost their vision. They are people who have turned their eyes away from what matters and focused, instead, on what doesn’t matter. The result is that the rest of us are immobilized by their obsession with the insignificant.

“It is time to rid the church of pettiness. It is time the church refused to be victimized by petty people. It is time the church stopped ignoring pettiness. It is time the church quit pretending that pettiness doesn’t matter. Pettiness has become a serious disease in the Church of Jesus Christ—a disease which continues to result in terminal cases of discord, disruption, and destruction. Petty people are dangerous people because they appear to be only a nuisance instead of what they really are—a health hazard”

(The Wittenburg Door, December 1984/January 1985)

Dec 19, 2009

Being and Time

My brother, now a philosophy professor at the University of Dayton, recounted one of the problems philosophy students have when going on a date. He was once on a date with a young coed and she asked him why he had been in the university library all afternoon on a beautiful spring Saturday, instead of out enjoying the day. He told her he was trying to read Martin Heidegger’s Being and Time for a test he had in class on the following Monday morning. Then she said, “Well, I don’t see what the big deal is. Everyone knows that people should be on time. It is simply the polite thing to do.” My brother said that was their first and last date.

It seems as if everyone has a concept of time. A friend of mine who is a Navaho pastor tried explaining to me her people’s concept of time as it differed from mainstream America. When I lived in Africa, my friends there shared with me notions about how they measured time. Their concept of time was much different from the chronological understanding of time that I entertained. Even those who are sporting fans have opinions about time. I know a man who says he can’t stand baseball because, contrary to football and basketball, “baseball does not employ a clock” and therefore, is not exciting enough. Strange logic indeed. In fact, if one is a football or basketball enthusiast, then you know that time is more important in the fourth quarter than in the first. Talk about strange logic.

Whatever all this means about time at least I know this much: the quotation about time by Edward Verrall Lucas is very funny. He wrote, "People who are late are often so much jollier than the people who have to wait for them."

Dec 3, 2009

Is the Bible too Liberal?

I was amused today, as I walked on my treadmill, when I saw a news story on television. The question raised by the news blurb was: Is the Bible too liberal? That was pretty hilarious to me as my friends have hammered me with their “factoid world” that reminds people like me that the Bible is not only too conservative, but out of touch with the world of Western Enlightened thought and highly sophisticated people like us.

The Baltimore Sun (3 December 2009) carried the story about amateur translators working on Conservative Bible Project to collaborate Wiki-style on the Internet to produce their version of sacred texts. The project’s creators argue that modern scholars have inserted liberal views and a-historical passages into the Bible (much like similar complaints about the Jesus Seminar people), turning Jesus into little more than a well-meaning social worker with a store of watered-down platitudes—like “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you”—now there is a well worn platitude.

Andy Schlafly, founder of, the project’s online home is the brains behind the project and if his name is familiar it is because his mother, Phyllis, is a longtime conservative activist known for her opposition to the Equal Rights Amendment.

As you might guess many biblical scholars who have devoted their careers to unraveling the ancient texts of the Scriptures, many in long-extinct languages, are predictably skeptical about a project by amateur translators. Timothy Paul Jones, a professor at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville calls himself a theological conservative. He told the Baltimore Sun newspaper: “This is not making scripture understandable to people today, its reworking scripture to support a particular political or social agenda.” Jones also said this—a telling line—“You’ve got people who are doing this [project] who have probably never looked at an actual ancient manuscript.”

I have read Frank Matera for three decades and he is a first-rate scholar. What Matera writes always carries a lot of weight with me:

“The Bible’s roots in a dizzying variety of ancient manuscripts require a lifetime of dedication to master,” said the Rev. Frank Matera, a professor at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., and a former president of the Catholic Biblical Association of America. There’s a little Italian proverb, “Every translator is a traitor,” Matera said. “Most Bible translations are usually done by a group of scholars, precisely so they can balance out each other. It’s not something that everybody can do.”

Timothy Paul Jones, who as a Southern Baptist can hardly be labeled a liberal, reminds us that “the project is a misguided effort to read contemporary politics back into the text.”

Stay tuned.

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