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Pentecost, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, and Cyclone Nargis (sermon for May 11, 2008)

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Day of Pentecost
May 11, 2008

Acts 2:1-21; Psalm 104:24-34, 35b; 1 Corinthians 12:3b-13; John 20:19-23

Meet With Me; You Are the One; Light the Fire; Meet Us

Acts 2 [sermon follows]

A Sound Like a Strong Wind

1-4 When the Feast of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Without warning there was a sound like a strong wind, gale force-no one could tell where it came from. It filled the whole building. Then, like a wildfire, the Holy Spirit spread through their ranks, and they started speaking in a number of different languages as the Spirit prompted them.

5-11There were many Jews staying in Jerusalem just then, devout pilgrims from all over the world. When they heard the sound, they came on the run. Then when they heard, one after another, their own mother tongues being spoken, they were thunderstruck. They couldn’t for the life of them figure out what was going on, and kept saying, “Aren’t these all Galileans? How come we’re hearing them talk in our various mother tongues?

Parthians, Medes, and Elamites; Visitors from Mesopotamia, Judea, and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene; Immigrants from Rome, both Jews and proselytes; Even Cretans and Arabs! “They’re speaking our languages, describing God’s mighty works!”

12Their heads were spinning; they couldn’t make head or tail of any of it. They talked back and forth, confused: “What’s going on here?” 13Others joked, “They’re drunk on cheap wine.”

Peter Speaks Up

14-21That’s when Peter stood up and, backed by the other eleven, spoke out with bold urgency: “Fellow Jews, all of you who are visiting Jerusalem, listen carefully and get this story straight. These people aren’t drunk as some of you suspect. They haven’t had time to get drunk-it’s only nine o’clock in the morning. This is what the prophet Joel announced would happen:

“In the Last Days,” God says, “I will pour out my Spirit on every kind of people: Your sons will prophesy, also your daughters; Your young men will see visions, your old men dream dreams. When the time comes, I’ll pour out my Spirit On those who serve me, men and women both, and they’ll prophesy. I’ll set wonders in the sky above and signs on the earth below, Blood and fire and billowing smoke, the sun turning black and the moon blood-red, Before the Day of the Lord arrives, the Day tremendous and marvelous; And whoever calls out for help to me, God, will be saved.”

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

What’s on my mind is how much God cares for the whole world, and how much I want my own heart to be that way. His story is always so “go-ey.” Here, the guests in the city understand – in their own language. See? God causes people to go communicate with other people.

This kept coming up this week. Human culture isn’t often that way.

A friend blogged about a Muslim boy who fell under the spell of some extremists, was going to be a suicide bomber, got caught, probably went to prison. My much-valued friend is an agnostic, and she saw the fault of religion in it—especially given the fact the the books of our faiths (my own included) seem to advocate violence sometimes. She ends:

Reality-based morality is the only way humanity is going to make it to a peaceful future. To see the oneness of our species shows the violence for what it is: brother killing brother, an abomination.

[At that sentence I saw a glimmer of familiarity in the eyes of my friends in church. They liked it!]

I found that moving. So I wrote back: Read the rest of this entry »

A better look at Rev. Jeremiah Wright and Trinity Church

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So OK: let’s really look at Barack Obama’s pastor and church

Here are excerpts from people in a position to offer an informed view. The emphases are mine.

First, Prof. Martin E. Marty of the University of Chicago, one of America’s most distinguished professors of religion, quoted at the urban legends debunker Snopes.com:

Martin E. MartyTrinity is the largest congregation in the whole United Church of Christ, the ex-Congregational (think Jonathan Edwards) and Reformed (think Reinhold Niebuhr) mainline church body. Trinity’s rubric is “Unashamedly Black and Unapologetically Christian.” So far as I can tell Trinity shapes a kind of ellipse around these two “centers,” neither of which makes sense without the other.

This you would never know from the slanders of its enemies or the incomprehension and naiveté of some reporters who lack background in the civil rights and African-American movements of several decades ago, a background out of which Trinity’s stirrings first rose and on which it transformatively trades. So Trinity is “Africentric,” and deals internationally and ecumenically with the heritage of “black is beautiful.”

Despite what one sometimes hears, Wright and his parishioners, an 8,000-member mingling of everyone from the disadvantaged to the middle class, and not a few shakers and movers in Chicago, are “keepin’ the faith.” To those in range of Chicago TV I’d recommend a watching of Trinity’s Sunday services, and challenge you to find anything “cultic” or “sectarian” about them.

More important, for Trinity, being “unashamedly black” does not mean being “anti-white.” My wife and I on occasion attend, and, like all other non-blacks, are enthusiastically welcomed.

Second, Dean Snyder, the current senior minister of the Foundry United Methodist Churchthe church the Clintons attended while living in the White House:

Dean Snyder“The Reverend Jeremiah Wright is an outstanding church leader whom I have heard speak a number of times,” Snyder wrote. “He has served for decades as a profound voice for justice and inclusion in our society. To evaluate his dynamic ministry on the basis of two or three sound bites does a grave injustice to Dr. Wright, the members of his
congregation, and the African-American church which has been the spiritual refuge of a people that has suffered from discrimination, disadvantage, and violence.

Dr. Wright, a member of an integrated denomination, has been an agent of racial reconciliation while proclaiming perceptions and truths uncomfortable for some white people to hear. Those of us who are white Americans would do well to listen carefully to Dr. Wright rather than to use a few of his quotes to polarize.”

A few entertainer/commenter types (not to mention Candidate Clinton) have distorted the record of this church and pastor in an effort to smear Mr. Obama. Their criticism doesn’t stand up under more careful – and less partisan – examination.

Thanks for reading!


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Written by Monte

March 26, 2008 at 7:19 pm

A landmark: Text of the Obama speech on race

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“A More Perfect Union”
Remarks of Senator Barack Obama
Constitution Center
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Tuesday 18 March 2008

“We the people, in order to form a more perfect union.”

Two hundred and twenty one years ago, in a hall that still stands across the street, a group of men gathered and, with these simple words, launched America’s improbable experiment in democracy. Farmers and scholars; statesmen and patriots who had traveled across an ocean to escape tyranny and persecution finally made real their declaration of independence at a Philadelphia convention that lasted through the spring of 1787.

The document they produced was eventually signed but ultimately unfinished. It was stained by this nation’s original sin of slavery, a question that divided the colonies and brought the convention to a stalemate until the founders chose to allow the slave trade to continue for at least twenty more years, and to leave any final resolution to future generations. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Monte

March 18, 2008 at 5:51 pm

Posted in patriotism, Politics, Race

Poverty, government, and the Bible

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[Please note that many helps came via Ron Sider’s excellent but aging book Just Generosity: A new vision for overcoming poverty in America. This page is also saved as a post, under the title A Bible Argument for Government Aid to the Poor. The text is about the same there, but the comments of others—and my responses to them—are different. Thanks for thinking along!]



Madison Free ClinicEvangelicals often struggle with the idea of a government role in addressing poverty. Often, I hear questions like these, from an honest blogger called RenaissanceGuy:

  • I want to hear a reasoned biblical argument for government-run health care.”
  • … if people are coerced, though the income tax code, to support the poor, then are they actually pleasing our Lord?”

Others put it like this:

  • “Is it government’s job to care for the poor, or should the church and their families do it?”

While sectarian government is antithetical to American democracy, people of faith in the USA do have the privilege of holding and sharing political values consistent with what they understand to be good. Those values may not well fit in either conservative or liberal camps, but there will be common ground that can be shared with both.

In order to do that, people of faith have to be deeply aware of their own faith, and not just the arguments of right or left. So here’s an attempt to think aloud on one of those issues.

Especially for evangelicals:

a Bible argument for government aid to the poor:

First, some assumptions on which I think all can agree:

1. Jesus, as described in the gospels, is much more focused on the poor than our evangelical theologies have been. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Monte

January 12, 2008 at 12:24 am

Posted in

Cornel West: the fundamental question of politics

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Cornel West, in an interview about the state of the presidential campaign, offers a breathtaking vista of the purpose of it all:

clipped from www.democracynow.org
CORNEL WEST: I think that we’re beginning to move to some of the serious subject matters, but we’ve still got a long way to go, though, Amy. You know and I know that the fundamental question is always, what is the quality of service to everyday people, what the depth of love and sacrifice to empowering everyday people.

  blog it

For students of the life of Jesus, would not this question be consistent with his day-to-day passion? Yet have we ever heard it said? How far removed is Christianity from its Christ, when people of faith agitate for exclusion or condemnation or national supremacy!

Click on the link for the rest of the interview.


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Written by Monte

June 28, 2007 at 5:18 pm

Posted in Politics, Poverty, Religion