Lectionary Reflection for the Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost

This excerpt comes from Matthew (BTCB) by Stanley Hauerwas, commenting on Matthew 16:21-28:

Jesus tells his disciples that if they are to follow him they must take up their cross. If they seek to save their lives using the means the world offers to insure their existence, then their lives will be lost. Rather, they must be willing to lose their lives “for my sake” if they are to find life. Jesus is not telling his disciples that if they learn to live unselfishly they will live more satisfying lives. Rather, he says that any sacrifices they make must be done for his sake. The crosses they bear must be ones determined by his cross.

What Jesus asks of his disciples makes no sense if Jesus is not who he says he is. You do not ask those who follow you to follow you to a cross unless you are the Son of God. You do not ask your brothers and sisters to contemplate the death of those they love if you are not the Messiah. You do not make Peter the rock on whom the church is built if you are not the one who has inaugurated the new age. But Jesus is all this and more, requiring his disciples to live lives not determined by death.

Yet what Jesus asks of his disciples is not new. From the time he calls them to follow him they were beginning to lose their lives. At this dramatic moment at Caesarea Philippi, however, Jesus makes clear to them what has been the case from the beginning. He has led them through the cities and villages of Israel, but now he will turn toward Jerusalem to face those who conspire to kill him. He clearly indicates the journey on which they are about to embark. He does not coerce them to follow him. They follow him willingly but they will abandon him at the end.

Jesus concludes this extraordinary exchange with his disciples with a clear statement of the apocalyptic character of the time in which they stand. The Son of Man, the just judge who alone has the right to judge, has come. Jesus will face and endure death, but his death is judgment on the world constituted by the fear of death. This is no delayed kingdom, but rather the kingdom has come. This is the recreation of time that requires a reinterpretation of all time.

That some standing before Jesus will not taste death before they see the Son of Man come is the confirmation of Matthew’s claim at the beginning of the gospel that this is the “beginning” of the new age. We, therefore, rightly claim, “Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again.”

©2006 by Stanley Hauerwas. Published by Brazos Press. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Advice for Gay Christians on How to Find a Church (an Excerpt from Generous Spaciousness by Wendy VanderWal-Gritter)

The following is an adapted excerpt from “A Word to Gay Christians,” chapter 14 from Generous Spaciousness: Responding to Gay Christians in the Church by Wendy VanderWal-Gritter.

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When considering what church to connect to as a gay Christian, you need to have a clear sense of where you are in your own journey. Has faith become a vibrant part of your life that you own for yourself? How does faith shape your identity? How does your faith impact how you work through (or have worked through) questions about your sexuality?

When you consider faithful discipleship as a gay person, where do you find yourself: Are you committed to refraining from a consummated same-sex relationship? Are you confident about pursuing a same-sex relationship? Are you still wrestling with God and Scripture to know whether the future may include a same-sex relationship? Are you in a committed same-sex relationship?

When I meet with young, single gay Christians, it is common to encounter some degree of uncertainty about being in a same-sex relationship. This is an important part of one’s spiritual journey, and many will say that their struggle brought them closer to God and taught them to rely on God and trust him more. So if this is where you are, it may be helpful to see this not as a question to resolve, but as part of the journey in coming to know God and yourself as you experience intimate relationship with him.

As you reflect on where you are in your faith journey and in the process of integrating your faith with your sexuality, you can then begin to consider questions about a potential church. For better or worse, the tone and ethos of a church may be significantly impacted by the leadership. When you meet with a pastor of a potential church, it is not particularly helpful to immediately ask for his or her position on same-sex relationships.

One conversation starter is to ask about the ways diversity is embraced in the congregation. Ask about the kinds of people who gather in fellowship. Ask about how they navigate differences between people. Ask about whether the community is open to learning from other people’s backgrounds and experiences in their corporate worship. Ask the pastor what some of the challenging conversations have been of late in the congregation and how the group worked to come to consensus or resolution. The responses to these kinds of questions, and the opportunity to hear archived sermons, will give you a better sense of the pastor’s heart and the tone of conversations within the church community.

You will want to hear from the pastor, and experience firsthand by a visit to the congregation, the priority placed on hospitality and the genuineness of the welcome for those who are new. Part of the ethos of hospitality you will want to explore is the comfort level and sense of safety in being honest and transparent. Do people feel free to share what is going on in their lives? If people disagree about choices others are making, is there a safe environment in which to discuss differences and give one another space to wrestle through their discipleship journeys? Would disagreement be threatening to others in the congregation?

It is important to have a sense of your own spiritual gifts and the areas of the church to which you feel most called. You will want to know if your passion and desire to serve are warmly welcomed rather than viewed with some level of hesitation. Some of the gay Christians I’ve talked to have said that once they came out and indicated they were comfortable identifying as gay, they were removed or prevented from serving. These are hurtful decisions that can cause an individual to feel marginalized in the church. It can also negatively affect a person’s spiritual journey. Serving others is one of the ways we grow as we learn to trust God, grow in the fruit of the Spirit, and see God’s hand at work. Being involved in using your gifts, growing in your sense of calling, and serving others is an essential part of belonging in a faith community.

Each gay Christian has their own unique journey. This is evident in the choices individuals make about the church they will attend. Finding a church where you feel you can become fully engaged will be a positive step toward sustaining a deep and committed faith. Whether that choice is an affirming church or a church that is intentional in extending hospitality, make sure that you will have a spacious place to continue to grow in Christ. Encountering a pastor who is willing to listen and dialogue may be an important factor in the decision-making process.

No church is perfect. In fact, it is the imperfections of our churches that can afford us important opportunities to grow. As we persevere in walking a “long obedience in the same direction” within a fellowship, despite the weaknesses and friction points, we can find ourselves enlarged in our own ability to extend hospitality, grace, and forgiveness.

 

©2014 by Wendy VanderWal-Gritter. Published by Brazos Press. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Lectionary Reflection for the Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost

This excerpt comes from Matthew (BTCB) by Stanley Hauerwas, commenting on Matthew 16:13-20:

Beginning in Matt. 11, Matthew has us follow Jesus through the cities and land of Israel, making us witnesses to Jesus’s healings, miracles, teaching, and the controversies that his work produces. We now come to the climax of that part of our journey with Jesus as he enters the district of Caesarea Philippi. Caesarea Philippi, as its name suggests, is a city on the border between Israel and the Gentile world. It is here that Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”

The disciples respond by stating some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets. These responses have the common presumption, a presumption that is not clearly wrong, that Jesus stands in the prophetic tradition. His disciples, therefore, report the opinions of those who are part of the traditions of Israel. It is particularly interesting that some identify him with Jeremiah, for soon he will turn toward Jerusalem, expressing the same sorrow that Jeremiah enacted as the prophet of Jerusalem’s destruction.

Jesus receives the disciples’ reports, but then asks, “But who do you say that I am?” Some worry that when Jesus uses the identification “Son of Man,” as he does when he first asks the disciples who people say that he is, he is referring to the Son of Man in the third person. Yet Jesus’s subsequent question to the disciples leaves no doubt that when he asks about the Son of Man he is asking about himself. Jesus’s question is, moreover, directed at the disciples because they are the ones he has called, they are the ones to whom he has explained the parables, and they are the ones who have seen him still the waves and walk on water. Simon answers, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

The disciples had identified Jesus as the Son of God as he returned to their boat with Simon, but now for the first time a disciple recognizes that Jesus is the Messiah, the one Israel long expected, the one who alone has the power to free Israel from its enemies. Jesus commends Simon, the son of Jonah, who recognizes that he is the Messiah—a king, but one not easily recognized. Jesus declares Simon, like those described in the Beatitudes, “blessed.”

At his baptism the voice from heaven identified Jesus as “my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased” (Matt. 3:17). At this time, the voice of the Son declares that Peter is blessed because flesh and blood could not reveal to him that Jesus is the Messiah, but only his Father in heaven. Simon knows what he does only because it has been revealed to him. It is important, however, that Peter’s knowledge that Jesus is the Messiah not be used to develop a general theory of revelation. Simon does not learn that Jesus is the Messiah by some intuitive or mystical mode of knowing. Rather, Simon learns that Jesus is the Messiah because he obeyed Jesus’s command to be his disciple.

©2006 by Stanley Hauerwas. Published by Brazos Press. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Immigrants and the Image of the God (an Excerpt from Christians at the Border by M. Daniel Carroll R.)

The following is an excerpt from chapter 2 of Christians at the Border, Second Edition: Immigration, the Church, and the Bible by M. Daniel Carroll R.

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Value as persons. The creation of all persons in the image of God must be the most basic conviction for Christians as they approach the challenges of immigration today. Immigration should not be argued in the abstract, because it is fundamentally about immigrants. Immigrants are humans, and as such they are made in God’s image. Each and every one of those who have come to the United States is God’s creation and is worthy of respect. Because immigrants are made in the divine image, they have an essential value and possess immense potential to contribute to society and to the common good through their presence, work, and ideas.

Human rights and the image of God. If one takes what the Bible says in Genesis 1 seriously, as revelation from God, then what it communicates about humans becomes a divine claim on Christian attitudes and actions toward those who have arrived in this country—irrespective of whether they are here with or without the documents the government might mandate. To turn away or to treat badly one made in the image of God ultimately is a violation against God. As a consequence, the topic of immigration at some level needs to be considered from a human rights perspective and not be defined solely in terms of national security, cultural identity, or economic impact. From the standpoint of national security, for example, the primary concern is to control the border. Those trying to enter the country in any manner not permitted by law are categorized logically, then, as intruders and must be kept out. In contrast, a human rights perspective has as its special focus the needs and fate of the immigrants themselves. . . .

Expectations of the image. . . . For many reasons, immigrants can feel inferior and of less worth. They may have less schooling, come from a more deprived economic background, have a hard time learning English or speak what they do know with an accent, and be of a different skin color or of one that is different than those in their host neighborhoods. They may not know the laws or handle cultural cues well; many live in perpetual fear of the authorities. The fact that they are made in God’s image should generate a more edifying perspective about themselves—about who they are and what they can become, about what they can add to their new context and to the wellbeing of their communities. Whatever their previous or present condition, they are valuable before God and, therefore, to the United States.

Not surprisingly, this theme of the image of God and Hispanic identity and worth is a major topic in Hispanic theological writing. What these authors try to convey is that Hispanics have significance not only as humans in a general sense but also, just as important, as Hispanic persons. It is at this point that the theme of mestizaje . . . comes into play theologically and pastorally. Ethnicity is no longer something to be ashamed of. Mestizaje can be embraced as a gift from God and is inseparable from being a valued human being—a unique person, one from a special people with a matchless history and culture. Immigrants have an intrinsic dignity as humans and as Hispanics.

The image of God makes a claim on Hispanics as well. The fact that immigrants are made in God’s image should cause them to reflect on what his expectations of them might be. Their divine endowment has profound implications for the way they develop their capabilities in education and at the workplace; it should impact how immigrants carry out their responsibilities as potential citizens, raise their families, work at their jobs, handle their money, and generally engage the world in which they now live. In addition, immigrants should value the people of this country as those made in God’s image. To be easily critical of things Anglo or African American as a defensive reaction to prejudice or in order to extol the mores of Latin American cultures at the expense of others is to contradict what Hispanics themselves seek: appreciation for their backgrounds and abilities. For the Hispanic, as for the majority culture, being God’s representative is both a privilege and a responsibility.

Through its instruction on the image of God, the Bible can mold the attitudes and actions of the majority culture and Hispanic Christians. For the former, it can yield fresh appreciation of the immigrants’ value and promise; for the latter, its message is one of encouragement to forge ahead and an exhortation to live well as God’s representatives.

 

©2013 by M. Daniel Carroll R. Published by Brazos Press. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

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For more information about Christians at the Border, click here.

The Weekly Hit List: August 15, 2014

Wendy VanderWal-Gritter, author of Generous Spaciousness, was interviewed by Jonathan Merritt on his Religion News Service blog.  

“RNS: Many have argued of late that there is no middle ground and no third way on the issue of sexuality for Christians. What say you?”

“WV: If middle ground is seen as some sort of wishy-washy compromise, it is rightly judged as neither upholding deeply held convictions nor working towards the undoing of injustice and oppression. However, if a posture like generous spaciousness is recognized as the narrow path of humbly humanizing the other through intentional listening, then it shouldn’t be so easily dismissed. In a perfect world, we would be free to hold our deepest beliefs and no one would experience marginalization. We should recall our interdependence and, as Desmond Tutu says, remember that if I diminish you – then I diminish myself.”

Read the rest of “A third way for Christians on the ‘gay issue’?” here.

 

Jim Wallis, author of The (Un)Common Good, spoke with Relevant Magazine about “8 Ways to Change the World.”

“If you want to make a difference in your own community or neighborhood or world, start by looking at what’s wrong and then figuring out how to make things right.

“In particular, what most breaks your heart or offends your sense of justice? Where do you feel the pain of the world most personally and passionately? Then find the other people who feel the same pain and passion around that reality and work with them to make a difference.

“But it has to take concrete shape in real contexts and situations, not just in our heads and rhetoric. What things have gotten your attention that you think are wrong? That is how every movement for justice starts, and changing the world through justice is as simple as that.”

Read the rest of “8 Ways to Change the World” here.

 

Quick Hits:

Daniel Carroll, author of Christians at the Border, will appear on Connecting Faith with Neil Stavem for a live interview on Tuesday, August 19, at 1:00 p.m. ET.

Jim Wallis, author of The (Un)Common Good, was quoted by The Christian Post.

Generous Spaciousness by Wendy VanderWal-Gritter was reviewed by The Orphan Age.

Can We Still Believe the Bible? by Craig Blomberg was recommended by The Seedbed Blog.

The Student Creed in Learning for the Love of God by Donald Opitz and Derek Melleby was recommended by The Emerging Scholars Blog.

 

Fall 2014 Catalog – Now Available!

Our Fall 2014 catalog is now available.

Click the catalog image below to view it electronically.

Lectionary Reflection for the Tenth Sunday after Pentecost

This excerpt comes from Psalms for All Seasons, commenting on Psalm 67:

Psalm 67 is a communal expression of desire for God’s blessing so that the whole world will come to acknowledge God.

The psalm has a chiastic, or mirror, structure: it begins and ends with an expression of desire for God’s blessing (vv. 1, 7).

This frames an acknowledgement that God is the source of both deliverance and harvest (vv. 2, 6), an expression of desire that all peoples will bless God (vv. 3, 5) with a statement of confession of God’s just and sovereign rule at the center (v. 4).

The psalm echoes the Aaronic benediction (Num. 6:24-26) but also extends its focus by suggesting that this blessing is for the benefit of the nations.

Prayer for reflection:

God of all,
may your lavish grace and saving power by known by all people in all places,
so that the world may resound with your praise
as all nations bow before your loving rule made known in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

©2012 Faith Alive Christian Resources. Published by Brazos Press. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Announcing the Brazos Press Bloggers Program

Do you like to read thoughtful, theologically grounded books on subjects of importance to the church and the world, and do you have a blog where you would be willing to post reviews of Brazos Press books?

Then apply to become a Brazos Press Blogger!

If accepted, you will receive periodic email invitations alerting you to new books available for review.

For more information and to apply for the program, please visit www.brazospress.com/bloggers.

The Weekly Hit List: August 8, 2014

Marlena Graves, author of A Beautiful Disaster, was interviewed by Tina Bustamente.

“The main theme throughout A Beautiful Disaster is finding God in the wilderness, coming to know Jesus and His presence in the arid seasons of one’s life, and you do such a tender job talking about all the different kinds of wildernesses we go through. What is one thing you’d like people to walk away with after they read your book? Something you hope for them?”

“My deepest desire is that those who read my book will know that they are deeply loved by God – even in the wilderness. Sometimes it’s hard to believe in and feel God’s love in what for some seems like a hell on earth because God at times can seem so distant. I hope to have in some ways shown how God is very close to us in our sufferings. A bruised reed he will not break, a smoldering wick he will not snuff out (Isa. 42:3).” 

Read the entire interview here.

 

Quick Hits:

Kingdom Conspiracy by Scot McKnight (October 2014) was recommended by Nijay Gupta: “Scot has his finger on the pulse of Christianity in America today and he is a doctor that tells it straight. This incisive and challenging work will be very useful to current and future church leaders.”

Wesley Hill, author of the forthcoming (May 2015) Brazos Press book Spiritual Friendship, was quoted in Religion News Service and The Washington Post: “Gay, Christian and celibate: The changing face of the homosexuality debate”

Wendy VanderWal-Gritter, author of Generous Spaciousness, was mentioned by David Gushee is his column for ABPnews/Herald.

Live to Tell by Brad Kallenberg was recommended by Byron Borger of Hearts & Minds.

A Beautiful Disaster by Marlena Graves was quoted by Panhandling Philosopher.

Be Not Afraid by Samuel Wells was reviewed by Michele Morin.

 

Ebook Specials:

Dissident Discipleship: A Spirituality of Self-Surrender, Love of God, and Love of Neighbor by David Augsburger is only $2.99 (88% off) from participating retailers through August 10.

God Does Not…: Entertain, Play “Matchmaker,” Hurry, Demand Blood, Cure Every Illness by D. Brent Laytham is only $1.99 (90% off) from participating retailers through August 14.

Ebook Special for God Does Not…: Entertain, Play “Matchmaker,” Hurry, Demand Blood, Cure Every Illness by D. Brent Laytham

Now through August 14, the ebook of God Does Not…: Entertain, Play “Matchmaker,” Hurry, Demand Blood, Cure Every Illness by D. Brent Laytham is only $1.99 (90% off) from the following participating retailers:

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

CBD

“Sound theological reflection and nuanced incisive cultural criticism make this book an entertaining and worthwhile read.”
Michael Gulker, TheOtherJournal.com

God Does Not . . . challenges several widespread misconceptions of how God works in the world.

  • Joel Shuman reveals that although God does not wear a white coat and always cure, he always heals.
  • Daniel Bell argues that the logic of blood sacrifice permeates today’s culture and challenges the notion of redemptive violence.
  • Kelly Johnson shows that the frenetic pace of daily life does not mesh with God’s patient peace.
  • Does God write the perfect love story for each of us? Margaret Kim Peterson and Dwight Peterson help us see how our idea of God’s plan for love and marriage is distorted by our desire for Hollywood happy endings.
  • Jason Byassee cautions against revering contemporary cinema too highly and concludes that God’s church is where the action is.
  • And finally, D. Brent Laytham paints a picture of God’s work in the world through the lens of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

A follow-up to the popular God Is Not . . ., this book is both accessible and provocative. In the end, we are left not with a negation of what God does, but an affirmation of a God who does all things well.

D. Brent Laytham (PhD, Duke University Divinity School) is dean of the Ecumenical Institute of Theology at St. Mary’s Seminary & University in Baltimore, Maryland. He previously taught at North Park Theological Seminary. He is an ordained minister in the United Methodist Church and takes special interest in bringing pastors and scholars together to address theological and ecclesiological issues.