A sermon preached on August 30, 2015 at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, Wilton, Connecticut
The Fourteen Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 17 B
James 1:17-27 and Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23
It is from the human heart
that evil intentions come. Mark 7:21
It’s not easy to talk about and acknowledge the evil that is in our world. But we see it manifested in many forms all around us.
This summer I have been reading Nelson Mandela’s autobiography Long Walk to Freedom. And exactly one week ago today, John and I were in Johannesburg retracing many of the steps Mandela took along with others in their struggle for freedom.
Knowing I was going to be preaching right after returning home from South Africa, I read today’s Gospel a few weeks ago to allow me to ruminate on it while away. The juxtaposition of Jesus chastising the Pharisees about their adamancy of following the Law while being immersed in how the laws of a country – in this case South Africa – wouldn’t leave me alone. Until recently, laws in South African centered around a formalized, systematic segregation of blacks, colored, Indians, and whites called apartheid. There were hundreds of laws about where one could live, what kind of education one could receive, who one could marry, where you could travel, what kind of job you could have, and on and on. Racism was an accepted governmental policy.
The history of how these laws came to be and where the roots of racism began started many generations ago. They were based on an interpretation of scripture paired with greed and fear by groups that began with Dutch and English colonialism. Their fear grew out of the belief that one race was superior to another as part of God’s creation. It became their tradition and way of life, and became ingrained in generations to come. Continue reading Evil and the Human Heart
Last week I attended the annual Christian Formation Conference held at Kanuga, a conference center in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina outside Hendersonville (near Asheville). The conference theme was Hope in the Midst of Crisis: From Tragedy to Healing through Forgiveness. Plenary sessions and workshops largely focused on how we address the issues of hope, reconciliation, forgiveness, and healing in a world that is often beset by tragedy on a national as well as personal level. From the events of 9/11 (World Trade Center) to 12/14 (Sandy Hook) to our cities today, stories were shared and processes for healing were shared.
I was invited to give a workshop based on a book that I compiled and edited, Reclaiming the Gospel of Peace: Challenging the Epidemic of Gun Violence (Morehouse, 2015) based on a conference of the same name held in Oklahoma City in April 2014. In preparing my workshop I hoped to broaden the conversation to discuss how many forms of violence (such as gun violence, inter-partner/domestic violence, bullying, and video-game addiction) are issues that need to be addressed and acted upon as imperative to our baptismal promises of “respecting the dignity of all human beings” and “loving our neighbors as ourselves.” As followers of Jesus, we are called to turn the other cheek as well as speak out against injustice in our world.
While I was caught up short the two days before my presentation over lunch with some Christian educators who shared their opinions with me (as gun owners with licenses to carry concealed weapons), I knew I had to tell the truth (from my perspective) and focus the conversation on why and how we should be having such conversations in our churches. It is why I put the book together. And my angst following this lunch conversation showed me how much our church needs to engage in this conversation. It is not about being opposed to hunting, target shooting, and banning of all guns. It is about creating a world in which we can create safe places and promote the gospel of peace. Continue reading Discussing Violence in Church
This is the fourth part of a series of posts stemming from a presentation I did at the 3rd Annual “Spring Training for God’s Mission” Day 2015 for the Episcopal Church in Connecticut, March 21, 2015. Read Part 1: How Did We Get Here? and Part 2: Today’s Context and Part 3: A New Ecosystem
Part Four: Nurturing Networks
In our new ecosystem, we have available numerous tools to connect with one another beyond our church buildings. As we help equip our members (and others in our communities) to learn more about the Gospel, develop spiritual practices, and nurture their children’s faith development at home we can provide numerous entry points of engagement. We are all networked – through our smart phones, computers, and other digital devices. We can research any topic we have an interest in, and many research about God, Jesus, and religion. But are their Google™ results compatible with our faith tradition and practices? There are a variety of ways we can help connect and collaborate in our learning and formation – but we need to find (or create) the content we want to share. Scott Thuma wrote an article on Building Faith in March 2012 entitled, Virtually Religious: Technology and Congregations that gives an insight on why we need to be moving in this direction.
Hybrid networks are one of the ways churches are beginning to experiment and try new models of faith formation. Connect with people where they are at times that are convenient to them – for we know that Sunday morning is not the best time for everyone anymore. Randall Curtis, Ministry Developer for Youth and Young Adults in the Episcopal Church in Arkansas shares how the Center for the Ministry of Teaching at Virginia Seminary is helping congregations do just this: Continue reading Christian Formation in a Changing Church: Part 4
This is the third part of a series of posts stemming from a presentation I did at the 3rd Annual “Spring Training for God’s Mission” Day 2015 for the Episcopal Church in Connecticut, March 21, 2015. Read Part 1: How Did We Get Here? and Part 2: Today’s Context
Part Three: A New Ecosystem
We know things are broken in how we are doing Christian education in our churches today (for the most part). It is often difficult to determine how they got broken, what the cause was (which is usually not just one thing), and how we can make corrections for the better. John Roberto, of Lifelong Faith Associates and Vibrant Faith Ministries suggests we need a new ecosystem for faith formation:
One of the most important tasks for 21st century faith formation is to create a new faith formation ecosystem for the continuing mission of making disciples and forming faith across the whole life span. What is an ecosystem? An ecosystem is a system formed by the interaction of a community of living organisms with each other and their environment. It is any system or network of interconnecting and interacting parts.
For well over 100 years in the US, Christian churches had a highly integrated religious ecosystem. It was comprised of multigenerational family faith practice and religious transmission at home; strong congregational community relationships; church life, especially participation in Sunday workshop; weekly Sunday School for children and youth (and in many cases, adults); and separate church groups for youth, men, and women. All of this was surrounded by an American culture that explicity or implicity supported the Christian value system and Christian practices.
This ecosystem has eroded and changed over the past several decades because of all the changes in the culture and society, the family, technology and communication and more. The environment has changed, and the relationship between congregational faith formation and its environment has changed. We need a new faith formation ecosystem that must be faithful to our mission of making disciples and lifelong faith growth, and at the same time be responsive to the challenges of the 21st century and the religious needs of people today.
Continue reading Christian Formation in a Changing Church: Part 3
This is the second part of a series of posts stemming from a presentation I did at the 3rd Annual “Spring Training for God’s Mission” Day 2015 for the Episcopal Church in Connecticut, March 21, 2015. Read Part 1: How Did We Get Here?
Part Two: Today’s Context
While trying to make Sunday School “fun,” we’ve lost many who did not make the connection from the games and craft projects to becoming a disciple of Jesus 24/7/365. What was once seen a sporadic attendance at worship and education offerings is now considered “regular attendance” (once or twice a month). Christian Smith, in his longitudinal studies explored in Soul Searching and Souls in Transition, describes the theology of today’s young adults (and I would theorize many adults and high schoolers) as Moral Therapeutic Deism.
- God exists, created the world, and watches over the earth.
- God wants people to be good and nice to others.
- The central goal of life is to be happy.
- The only time God needs to be personally involved in one’s life is when one has a problem needing to be resolved.
- Good people go to heaven when they die.
As I explained these attributes, one participant in the workshop commented, pointing to a handmade poster hanging on the classroom wall that pictured a large red heart with the words, “Be kind to each other.” Continue reading Christian Formation in a Changing Church: Part 2