Showing posts from December, 2017

Born a Refugee - Matthew 2:1-15

We generally think of immigrants and refugees as people not like ourselves. To some degree that is correct, as we do not live the same conditions that make them refugees or immigrants. On the other hand, there is not as much to cast them as “other” as we are wont to imagine. Perhaps the real issue is that we find it easier not to relate to those who live different lives, such that our own lives do not become inconvenienced by struggles we don't quite understand. Because we deem them different, we can write them off without much more thought.
What is clear in the gospels, however, is that Jesus continually placed himself in the position of identifying with the refugee, outcast, immigrants, stranger, and marginalized to ensure a clear message of God's care and concern for those we would write off. More than once in the birth narratives, we find Jesus identified with outsiders. In Matthew's text, we find Jesus becoming a refugee.
Matthew tells a different birth story for Jesus …

Grace Incarnate

A birth wrapped up in clouds of shame, The gossips shared uncaring blame For one who bore a word of grace Wrapped in a womb and love's embrace. Beyond the comfort of a home This Word incarnate would be born, Announced to shepherds, not to kings, "Good news for all!" the hills would ring. A feeding trough there for his bed, A paltry wrap from feet to head For one whose life God's presence beamed Into the midst of those we deemed Unworthy of a second thought. This babe forgotten, magi sought To pay the homage due his birth, With gifts of great material worth. 'Twas not the great for whom he came, But for the poor, the blind, the lame, The crowds abandoned to despair Without a hope or yet a care. The shame which wrapped such humble birth Is ours not his, for o'er the earth Despair claims those we should embrace,
Extending Christmas' fullest grace.
—©Copyright 2017, Christopher B. Harbin
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Wonder to Ponder - Luke 2:1-18

Good news can come in unexpected ways. Sometimes it is shocking and requires us to pause and take stock of the message we have received. Good news can force us to re-evaluate our prejudices and expectations, forcing us to reconsider our priorities and plans. It may even change our perspective on reality. We don't normally pause long enough for all that to happen, but good news can be a major interruption in our patterns of living. What is unexpected can cause discomfort even while it is to our benefit. The unexpected happens in the birth story Luke paints for us. In the midst of a mundane tale of traveling to pay taxes to the Roman Empire, Jesus was born in Bethlehem. God sent an angel to announce this birth to a band of shepherds keeping watch over sheep in the hills outside of town. This should have been a run of the mill birth, yet God sent angels to announce it. The angels heralded Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah, but this announcement was to shepherds on the hillsides beyond…

Creating Flesh - John 1:1-14

There is more than one way to tell a story. We tell stories in different ways to stress one or another point. Matthew told us of Jesus' genealogy with its moments of shame. Luke gave us a picture of the importance of Jesus' birth couched in reflections on the upheaval of social structures Jesus would encourage. Mark skips Jesus' birth story entirely to get on with his narrative of a message he demands be repeated over and over. There is nothing wrong with different perspectives. The emphases are different and designed to steer us to varied ways of considering particular issues at hand. The Gospel of John tells a different kind of Christmas story than the ones we are more accustomed to. John says nothing about sheep, shepherds, angelic choirs, stables, donkeys, pregnancy or marriage. John's story is much more straightforwardly theological verse. He starts off with a reference to the Genesis 1 account of creation, and then he moves to speak of God coming to earth in human…

A Ten Commandments Problem

I'm not opposed to the ten commandments. They served a purpose in limiting violence in revenge. They provided a society in formation a basis for moving forward in a more healthy direction. While Jesus and other rabbis of his day found other commandments in the Torah that superseded what we call the ten commandments, these are still basic building blocks for a just society.
No, my problem is not with the ten commandments. They are a pretty decent list of commands we should embrace. The problem is when we make them out to be more than they are.
We want to believe that somehow the ten commandments are the fullness of God's will for the nation of Israel and by extension our own. We want to enshrine the ten commandments and turn them into monuments that somehow become a stand-in for God's presence in our public lives and in our system of government.
The Decalogue was never designed to become a monument or a symbol of a theocracy. There is a reason that Jesus summarized the gre…

Cabarrus Clergy Coalition: A Call to Unity, Justice, and Peace

A Call to Unity, Justice, and Peace
As faith leaders:
We affirm the equal value of all peoples and our holy responsibility to love one another as we have been loved. The greatest biblical commandments are to love God and to love our neighbors as ourselves and to do so mindfully, as children of God and sisters and brothers to all (Leviticus 19:18; Deuteronomy 6:5; Matthew 22:35-40).
We believe that God loves and respects the people of all nations setting none above any other (Amos 9:7).
We believe that we must name evil publicly and confront it actively. Scripture reminds us to hate falsehood and to love what is good (Psalm 97:10; Psalm 119:163). We are told to do justice, love compassion, and walk humbly with our Creator (Micah 6:8).
We stand in resolute agreement in condemning and rejecting racist, anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim, and neo-Nazi ideology as a sin against God that divides the human family created in God’s image (Genesis 1:26).
We ask that all people of faith join us in our commitme…

God Respects All Nations Equally: Cabarrus Clergy Coalition Comments

There are over a hundred Biblical passages describing God's blessings as belonging to all nations equally. We often lose sight of that reality. We skip over God's love for all peoples, perhaps because we get too caught up with our own nationalist identity and the desire to come out at the top of the heap.
We can call it inattention or we can call it something darker. It is simply hard for us to view other nations, other cultures, other ethnicities as claiming the very same importance to God we like to claim for ourselves.
We want to be special, different, or somehow more important. What God calls us to, however, is a recognition that God's love is equally available even to those nations we would consider our enemies. Like Jonah, we don't relish God loving them the same way God loves us.
Rather than tying our worth to denigrating others, however, God calls us to celebrate the diversity of life in all cultures, languages, and ethnicities. From God's promise to make Abra…

Creative History - Luke 1:39-56

I grew up watching reruns of Dragnet, hearing Sergeant Friday tell people he was only interested in getting the facts. Those comments came out of an understanding that facts could be distilled and transmitted with no shadow of interpretation. The Enlightenment brought with it the concept that history could be told without interpretation. We could supply and report facts and know exactly what happened with no fear of spin, propaganda, or twisting a narrative for any particular purpose. The academic community recognized the pitfalls in that understanding early on, but a generation or more never caught on. History writing is teeming with interpretation, as it ever has been. We select those stories we deem important to pass down. We select portions of dialogue to preserve. We determine what elements to skip over and which ones to emphasize. We report only those factors in a movement we find to be relevant, leaving out so much else. On one hand, we might criticize the writers of history for …

The Gospel of Culture Wars

Evangelical Christianity in the US has been embroiled in concerns of culture wars. We have struggled internally over forms of music and styles of worship. We have focused externally on the ills of homosexuality, single mothers, abortion, addictions, and the end of a period in which Christianity had a dominant voice in the public sphere. We decry the end of programmed prayer in public schools, blue laws that kept certain businesses from opening on Sundays or Sunday mornings, and a sense of lost entitlement to various government structures aiding in the propagation of the gospel. We cling to public structures and slogans of faith like “In God We Trust” or the inclusion of “under God” in the national Pledge of Allegiance. Along the way, however, we seem to have substituted these issues for what Jesus actually preached.
If anything, Jesus spoke against a religious structure that held a degree of political power within Judaism. He spoke against their prohibitions around the keeping of the S…

Peggy Perninah Bost Strube: Memorial Service - John 11:21-37

We gather here to today for several reasons. We gather to bid farewell to a loved one who has passed from this life to the next. We gather to support family and friends of Peggy Bost Strube in this beginning phase of their grief in her passing. We gather to gain encouragement for ourselves in light of our own sense of mortality in the face of death. We gather to join our hearts with one another and seek to understand the imponderables of life with all its uncertainty. Grief hits each of us differently. We have each lost someone different in Peggy's passing. For some, she was mother. To others, she was grandmother, sister, aunt, great-aunt, mother-in-law, friend, club member, traveling partner, church member, neighbor, and beautician. We will miss different aspects of who Peggy was in accord with our individual relationships with her, the memories, and the stories of our varied experiences with her. Death has always been for us to process. From time immemorial, we have struggled to m…

Passing On Shame

Shame has often played a large part of our society and especially our religious circles. We have chosen to shame those who do not measure up to our standards or those standards we understand to be God's. We have done such to make sure people have an impetus to repent of their ways. Along the process, however, we find that shame just does not work that way. Instead of helping those who err to change their ways, it tends to send them in the direction of covering up their shame, ignoring what they have done, or breaking off communication with those who would shame them. If the purpose of shaming someone is to change their behavior, we need to switch gears. Nowhere does shame reside more strongly in our religious culture than in issues of sexuality. Long ago Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote his book, The Scarlet Letter, as a depiction of shaming as a not so successful strategy, as well as falling short of responding to the realities of life and hypocrisy that so often go along with it. When w…