Archive for September, 2009

“Tough Texts Part 3”: Ephesians 5:21-33

September 30, 2009

vinebranchlogoOur “Tough Texts” sermon series continues this Sunday with nobody’s favorite scripture, Ephesians 5:21-33. This passage includes Paul’s exhortation, “Wives, submit to your husbands,” and other difficult words. What does Paul mean? Why does he say it? Does it have any possible relevance for today? I have some thoughts on the subject, but I’m interested to hear what you think. Feel free to comment below.

More on religious pluralism and John 14:6

September 30, 2009

I’m pulling out this excerpt from my response to a comment. Does this make sense to you?

“As I said in my sermon, we are not surprised or threatened that there are many common points of agreement between the world’s religions. By all means! We should understand and celebrate what we have in common. We have much to learn from one another, I’m sure. Thomas Merton, Trappist monk and renowned 20th-century Christian thinker, went east to study with Buddhist monks and found it valuable. There is only one truth, and inasmuch as other religions reveal it, I say a hearty, “Amen!” We believe that there is one Spirit, after all, revealing truth.

What I argued in my sermon (and in my “Questions” Sunday school classes) is that Jesus is the definitive revelation of God: everything we need to know about God and God’s relationship with us is revealed in Jesus. Notice that I don’t say that God is not revealed to some degree elsewhere, but where there are competing truth claims between our faith and others, we side with Christ and the Church he instituted.

What’s the alternative? To pretend that these differences don’t matter? They certainly do matter to the people who hold their faith’s truth claims dear. In a well-intentioned effort to respect someone else’s path to God (or ultimate reality), we end up disrespecting it by saying that their path and our path are really just the same. That insults practitioners of other religions, many of whom would say that if they wanted to be Christian, they would be, thank you very much. Does that make sense?

I might say more about different strands of universalism later, but I reject the kind of broad-minded universalism that rejects the uniqueness and, yes, exclusiveness of the revelation of God in Christ. I affirm that Jesus is “the way,” not one of many ways, to the Father. As I said in my sermon, however, the question of Jesus’ being “the way” is separate from the question of hell (and who goes there). I think I’ll say more about that later in this sermon series.

See all the stuff you have to look forward to?”

If “many paths lead to God”…

September 29, 2009

Someone suggested I post this link in follow-up to Sunday’s sermon on religious pluralism and John 14:6. This very funny video, even with a dated Cold War reference, is still on the mark. It features a very young Rowan Atkinson. Enjoy!

Question from “Tough Texts Part 2″…

September 28, 2009

graphic from 09-27-09

I used this graphic in yesterday’s sermon to illustrate the point of view represented by the video clip from Saving Grace: “Jesus is only one of many ways to God; there are many paths to God.” One of you texted this question: “I thought Buddhism did not believe in God.” I’m not terribly familiar with Buddhism (can someone out there help?), but I believe different traditions within Buddhism differ over the extent to which they are theistic. Certainly, many Buddhists are non-theistic.

But my point is the same: Just substitute “Ultimate Reality” for “God.” All these religions, including Buddhism, point toward some ultimate or transcendent reality beyond this empirical world of time, space, and matter, which we can access only through faith. Make sense?

Another question from last week…

September 25, 2009

Don Martin told me that if he were in Vinebranch last week, he would have asked what Paul would say to someone like Muhammed Ali, who in the ’60s refused to serve in Vietnam for religious reasons. Leaving aside difficult questions associated with Vietnam and Ali’s Muslim faith, Don’s question is to the point: Paul would say that our ultimate allegiance is to God.

As Don says every Patriotic Sunday, “We salute the flag but kneel at the cross.” Likewise, St. Paul would want us to appreciate the difference between a conditional and an absolute loyalty. When they are in competition, our choice is clear—even when it means accepting difficult consequences. Regardless of the merits of Ali’s action, no one can say he failed to accept the consequences: he believed in his cause so much that he was tried and convicted to five years in prison (although the conviction was overturned on appeal to the Supreme Court) and had his boxing license suspended.

Last week’s sermon: “Tough Texts Part 1: God and Government”

September 25, 2009

Sermon Text: Romans 13:1-7

Think about how some of the most passionate, angry, and divisive arguments we get into in our culture relate to politics. Whether it’s a congressman calling the president a liar in the middle of a speech, provocative hosts on talk radio and cable news getting people riled up for big ratings, or my many Facebook friends of all political stripes posting their passionate opinions every day. It’s all a part of democracy, whether I like it or not, and maybe that’s a good thing. But if you really want to stir the pot and make a combustible mix, throw in a healthy dose of religion to go with your politics!

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Tough Texts, Week 2…

September 22, 2009

vinebranchlogoWe’re continuing our Tough Texts series this Sunday, September 27, with John 14:1-14. We’ll focus on Jesus’ words in John 14:6: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Religious pluralism is one of the biggest challenges facing the Church today. Is Jesus really the only way to God? Don’t all the major religions point to the same ultimate reality? What do we say to our Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, or Hindu friends about what we believe? Is it arrogant on the part of Christians to be exclusive? What do you think? Feel free to comment below.

For Hitchens, Dawkins, Dennett, et al.

September 22, 2009

Prof. John Cleese explains it all: “And this ‘God gene’ is just here—between the gene which we scientists now know makes us eat coconut ice cream after fish dinner—and this gene here—which causes people with weak egos to grasp around desperately for simple explanations.”

Speaking of tough texts… Homosexuality and the Bible?

September 21, 2009

One of you asked about a couple of tough texts: 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 and Romans 1:25-27. These are two proof-texts often used to condemn homosexual conduct. I thought about preaching on one of these texts for this sermon series, but doing so probably wouldn’t be “family-friendly” enough for a Sunday morning sermon. But that’s exactly what this blog is for! What follows is my response to the question. For the record, the United Methodist Church’s position on homosexuality probably makes people on both sides of the issue unhappy. Gays and lesbians are people of “sacred worth,” fully welcome and eligible to participate in every aspect of church life as laypeople. Homosexual practice, however, is “incompatible with Christian teaching.” Nevertheless, homosexuals who are celibate may be eligible for ordination. We Methodist clergy may not preside over a homosexual wedding or union ceremony.

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Sermon: “Who Do You Say that I Am?”

September 19, 2009

Sermon Text: Mark 8:27-9:1

[Preached 09/13/09]

Do you know who this is?


Painted by American artist Warner Sallman in 1941, it quickly became the iconic image of Jesus. Soldiers in World War II carried it around in their pockets. Missionaries brought it to indigenous people in countries all over the world. We’ve seen it hanging in Sunday school classes. Perhaps it hung on the wall in one of our grandparents’ houses. We’ve seen it on calendars and greeting cards. We’ve seen it tucked inside dusty family Bibles. I even saw it in a men’s room at this church, hanging above the sink. Someone—and it wasn’t me, I promise—taped a word balloon coming out of Jesus’ mouth, saying, “Remember to wash your hands!” Some of you are like, “That’s not funny. You can’t do that! That’s Jesus!” It’s become kitschy, but for many it’s a very soothing, very comforting image of Christ. Many Christians see this image and say, “That’s Jesus!” But do you know who this is?

The Angry ChristWhoa! Who’s that? That’s Jesus, too? It can’t be! That’s not my Jesus! Well, it is Jesus to Filipino artist Lino Pontebon.

In today’s scripture, Jesus asks the disciples, in so many words, “Do you know who I am?” Peter replies, “You are the Messiah.” And that’s the right answer! But what does it mean that Jesus is the Messiah? I think it’s no accident that Jesus had this conversation at Caesarea Philippi—a Gentile city in the northern part of what used to be Ancient Israel, which was named in honor of Caesar Augustus. Alongside various pagan temples stood a new temple, recently erected, for the worship of Caesar Augustus himself. When Peter said that Jesus was the Messiah and Jesus affirmed that identity, Read the rest of this entry »