Category Archives: Christianity

There Is Love: The Hope of the Resurrection (1 Cor. 15:19-28)

https://youtu.be/J8H7LpmRyes What are the implications of St. Paul’s teaching (and that of the entire biblical witness) on the resurrection? That is what this audaciously hopeful sermon explores. I invite you to join for the premier at 11:00 this morning or … Continue reading

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First Stone in an Avalanche

In the four Gospel accounts of the life and death of Jesus – this surprised me when I first realized it and it surprises me still – no one ever uses the word “resurrection” to describe Jesus’s return from death, neither the Gospel writers nor the people whose conversations they reported. They talk about how Jesus rose from the dead, but they never use the one word you would expect them to use: “resurrection.” It’s almost as if they were avoiding it.

That ought to raise a question in our minds: Why didn’t they use the word “resurrection?” The answer, I think, comes in two parts, the first of which is very straightforward: The Gospel writers did not use the word “resurrection” because the men and women whose story they were telling didn’t use the word. The fact that the writers refrained from using what is arguably the most important word in the vocabulary of the early church speaks volumes about their intention to faithfully recount what had happened. Continue reading

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Oddest Things Jesus Ever Said: The Top Four

I’ve been thinking about the oddest things Jesus ever said, the ones his first hearers thought crazy. One could make a case for quite a few of them: “If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away” or “Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back.” There are many others but let me give you my top four.

Number four on the list: “My flesh is real food, my blood is real drink.” That not only sounds crazy, it seems perverse. Jesus’s first hearers found it repulsive. It shocked his own disciples and many of them left because he said it.

Number three on my list is this: “Before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58). Jesus lived approximately two millennia after Abraham yet claimed that Abraham had seen his day – whatever that means – and rejoiced. When his hearers objected to this, he said: “Before Abraham was, I am.” Those disputing with him had already accused him of being out of his mind. Now, they were sure of it.

Number two on my list of (seemingly) crazy sayings comes from the night Jesus was betrayed. His disciples were confused by something he had just said and Philip, who always appears confused when he shows up in the Gospels, said to Jesus: “Show us the Father, and we’ll be satisfied,” (That tops the list of craziest things the disciples ever said.) Jesus replied, “Philip, don’t you know that anyone who has seen me has seen the Father?” That was like saying, “You want to see God, Philip? You’re looking at him.” Continue reading

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Where is Heaven? (Clue: It’s Closer Than You Think)

In 1869, The Scientific American ran a short (and sardonic) piece on Dr. D. Mortimer, a medical doctor who believed he had found the location of heaven. His suggestion, if I understand it correctly, was a fascinating one. According to Dr. Mortimer, heaven lay within the sun as a vast globe, “at least 500,000 miles in diameter.”
Apparently, Dr. Mortimer believed that the blessed occupants of heaven were either shielded from its heat or transformed physiologically (an idea based on the Apostle Paul’s writings) so they might flourish there. This location also offers the added convenience of close proximity to a large “lake of fire” for those who are not blessed. Continue reading

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Why Religious Conversion Is More Than Joining a Church

A Muslim man once confidently told me that everyone born in the United States is a Christian, unless his family is Muslim or Jewish. I did not ask him what that means for people from Buddhist, Hindu, Taoist, Sikh, or Baha’i families, nor did I ask what it meant for people who intentionally convert to one of these religions later in life.

A convert is, simply, a person who has been converted – that is, a person who has chosen to be altered or transformed. In religious conversion, a person who believed certain things about God and existence comes to believe other things and adjusts his or her life accordingly.

I know little about the way other religions view conversion or the expectations they consider appropriate for converts. If they are anything like those placed on Christian converts, they vary widely from group to group. Among the many groups that claim allegiance to Jesus, some require only a verbal profession of faith. Others expect regular church attendance, participation in instructional classes, and personal accountability in an ongoing relationship with a spiritual mentor.

Whether a simple confession or many months of intensive training, most Christian groups see the process of conversion culminating in the admission of the prospective convert into the church family, usually at baptism. This, I think, is a mistake, which does not serve the convert or the church, and does not align well with the biblical data on the nature of transformation. Continue reading

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Why Your Christmas Celebration Should Be More Exuberant

The Church has historically celebrated twelve days of Christmas, beginning with the Feast of the Nativity on December 25, and lasting until January 5. The very next day is the Feast of the Epiphany. In the Roman Church, the feast days include the Feast of St. Stephen, of St. John the Apostle, of the Holy Innocents and more.

But consider what has happened in modern times. The celebration of Christmas has been turned upside down and backwards. In the past, Christmas Day began a twelve-day period of feasting, celebration, and worship. Now, Christmas day is the final and, perhaps, only day of celebration. By December 26th, the wrapping paper is discarded, the unwanted presents returned, and people are back to haunting online and brick and mortar stores for bargains. In other words, they’re back to life as usual.

The Christmas celebration ends too soon, but it also begins to soon – just after Halloween. Christmas’s center of gravity has moved from worship to spending, with the result that people worry more and celebrate less. The big questions revolving around Christmas no longer have to do with God but with economic forecasts for the shopping season. Analysts do not know whether the Savior’s birth will save us from sin – they may not even care – but they are hopeful it will save us from an economic downturn. Continue reading

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Religion Is Not a Shortcut

When religion is transformed from a response of faith in the God of heaven into an instrument for getting things done on earth, it is disfigured. It may retain the accoutrements of true religion – ritual, liturgy, personal prayer, offerings – but its essential nature has been altered. It preserves “the form of godliness,” as the Apostle Paul put it, while “denying its power.”
For as long as people have been religious – which is to say, for as along as there have been people – this has been a problem. When God ceases to be “the Beginning and the End” and becomes the means to an end, religion becomes a merely human tool.
There are illustrations of this phenomenon in the Bible itself. One particularly revealing instance happened early in the history of the nation of Israel. The Hebrews first identified as a distinct people group during the centuries they spent in Egypt. After their escape from Egyptian oppression and their migration to a suitable homeland, Israel operated under divinely given laws, summarized in what we know as the Ten Commandments.
The Ten Commandments themselves were engraved on two stone tablets and kept in a specially made and ornately decorated box known as the Ark of the Covenant. (Think Raiders of the Lost Ark.) The ark, which was considered sacred, was only to be moved by religious professionals and was never to be directly touched.
As sometimes happens with items of treasured status, people began to think of the ark superstitiously, as if the box itself possessed inherent power. So, when Israel’s war against the Philistine kingdoms began to go poorly, someone floated the idea that the ark could be used to rally the troops, bring God’s favor, and win the war.
The immediate effect of bringing the ark into battle was everything Israel’s leaders had hoped for. Their soldiers were inspired and their enemies were intimidated. But it is dangerous to try to use God as a means to an end, no matter how important the end. The Philistine armies crushed Israel’s troops, forced them to retreat, and captured the ark.
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Do you have a religious preference?

“Do you have a religious preference?” That is what the nurse asked after leading me to the exam room where I was to meet the doctor. There were other questions I wasn’t expecting, questions health care professionals ask nowadays, like: “Do you feel safe in your own home?” But it was the question about religious preference that struck me.
It sounded so odd. “Do you have a religious preference?” as if religion was sold at Baskin-Robbins and comes in thirty-one flavors. Maybe I should have asked her to put down the religious flavor of the month.
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Is Christianity a List of Dos and Don’ts?

A few of Jesus’s many commands can be kept, even without faith.
For example, no one has ever sued me for my tunic, so Jesus’s command to give such a person my cloak as well has never been a problem for me. However, the
command to stop worrying has been a problem. So has the command to love my
neighbor as myself, to guard against hypocrisy, to get rid of all bitterness, and to do everything without complaining or arguing.

As it stands, it is simply impossible to check off these and
the other New Testament commands in the way one checks off items from a to-do
list. To consistently do these things and, more to the point, to be shaped in heart and mind in such a way that doing these things becomes natural, a person must have faith. This kind of faith is not mental assent to a doctrine, even a
doctrine about God, nor is it a belief that God exists and that everything will work out in the end. It is not that these things are wrong; it is that they are not what Jesus and his early followers meant when they spoke of faith. Continue reading

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Religion Is Not an End in Itself

That is analogous to telling someone in Iowa that to get to the intersection of Forest Drive and Hicks Avenue in Annapolis, Maryland they must go east. It’s not that it isn’t true; it just isn’t very helpful. Continue reading

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