Texts: John 1:35-39; 1:43-46; 4:27-30; 11:32-36

Come and see.

About ten years ago I was able to attend a gathering in Barcelona, Spain called Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions.  As far as I could tell, all the major and minor religions of the world were well represented and the week was filled with seminars, panel discussions, and cultural activities.  For someone just beginning seminary studies, it was both exhilarating and overwhelming.  One of my dearest memories from that week is the lunch times.  A contingent from the Sikh religion had set up a large tent a short walk from the main buildings and every day prepared, served, and cleaned up a simple but abundant meal that was open for everyone, and free.  I went every day.  For the Sikhs it was a practice of what they call Langar, a sacred meal, meant to inspire humility in the Sikhs who serve, and those receiving, as we were asked to sit in rows on the ground together, and hold out our bowls when we wanted more.  They were always quickly filled.  Some of my best conversations during the week happened with whoever I ended up eating next...

Text: Matthew 5:13-20

Today, November 2, is All Souls Day.  Yesterday was All Saints Day, the day before that was Halloween, and the day before that was trick or treating in the city of Columbus.  My relationship with this cluster of days has undergone significant shifts over the years.

During my growing up years, our family didn’t celebrate Halloween – meaning we didn’t dress up or go trick or treating, and we were taken out of school early on the day of the Halloween costume parade.  My parents weren’t comfortable with the way Halloween seemed to glorify death and fear.  I don’t remember feeling left out or upset that we didn’t get to do what everyone else was doing.  This was probably aided by the fact that we lived a few miles out of town so didn’t have to peer longingly out the window at all the action we were missing.  We just skipped it, not a big deal.

When Abbie and I had Eve and Lily and lived in a neighborhood in Cincinnati with lots of foot traffic, including for trick or treating, we joined the festivities.  Along with the fun they had, and our enjoyment of...

Text: 1 Samuel 15

Speaker: Jim Fredal

When I first decided on this text, and this theme, as a topic for a sermon on violence in the Bible, I asked some friends about it.  We read the passage and talked about it one evening for several hours and I have to say the conversation was heated, intense, and quite diverse. Some thought passages like this should be eliminated from the Bible, others found new ways to think about it, like the effect of trauma (the Amalekites harassing the Israelites immediately after their exodus) on victims and their inclination toward violence against perpetrators.  Others cited passages like this as good reason not to pay much attention to Christianity or Judaism.  I found all of their arguments compelling if not ultimately convincing, and have gone through a range of responses myself.
So how does one respond to a text like this?  We cannot in good conscience accept it and yet we hold it to be scripture, and as scripture it makes claims on us.  What do we do with a text that we don’t really understand and can’t agree with?  I have experienced and chosen a variety of responses in my...

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Text: Numbers 25:1-18

Today’s reading contains just about all the elements one could fit into a “difficult passage.”  There’s forbidden sex.  There’s idolatry and sacrifices to the wrong god.  There’s a treatment of foreigners, and specifically foreign women, as inherently dangerous.   There’s Divine wrath which demands public executions.  There’s a respected leader, Moses, ordering his people to kill their fellow Israelites.  There’s a plague that wipes out 24,000 people, many of them no doubt innocent.  There’s violent vigilante justice by a zealous individual, Phinehas, which apparently brings resolution to all the above problems.  Phinehas is rewarded by the Lord with “a covenant of peace,” for him and his descendants.  To top it all off, there is a final command from the Lord for Moses and the Israelites to keep harassing these foreign neighbors.  Forgive me if I’ve failed to name another feature of the story you find particularly troubling.

Welcome to worship.  Today’s lesson has been rated R.

This is indeed a difficult passage.

But, as we are committed to doing during this series, rather than cut this page out of the Bible or pretend like it’s not there, we’ll confront the story head on, wrestle around...

First, let me thank you for the fact that during these first two weeks of the “Difficult Passages” series you have allowed two white men to tell you all about the subordination of women.  As ironic as it is, we need to be reminded that this issue belongs to all of us and that men have their own work to do in making sure that gender equality and justice are available for all people.  So thank you for allowing me to do some of my own important work.

When Joel and I were first talking about this difficult passages series, he told me that there were a large number of scripture passages named by the congregation that were either directly about or have been used by some to subjugate women.  He said that he would be very narrowly focusing his sermon on Ephesians 5:22-24, the one passage that was named the most, so he said it might be nice for me to cast a wide net and preach about a number of the other difficult passages.  I think that in the world of ministry teams, this is what they refer to as hazing. 

As someone who has had to spend...