Saturday, March 30, 2013

Reconciling empirical Science & Jesus' Resurrection

             We live in a physical world informed and transformed by empirical science.  Science has dramatically improved and benefitted our lives; for example, in the medicines and medical procedures that are available to help us when we are injured or ill.  We have become accustomed to viewing the world through the lens of empirical science.  There is a special word in German that describes the point which I’m trying to make.  It is Weltanschauung, meaning “a comprehensive view of the world and our human relationship to it.”  Today, empirical science has become the predominant Weltanschauung for most of us living in Twenty-first century America.
            Yet, even though the physical world is the primary dimension in which we live out our lives, it is not the only dimension—and it may not even be the most important dimension.  Most humans also recognize and experience a spiritual dimension to their existence; we are both physical and spiritual creatures.  These two dimensions—physical and spiritual—are interwoven and integrated in our experiences and our very lives.  In my own life, for instance, some of my most frequent spiritual experiences have occurred when I was out walking in the woods.  For me, there is something about a forest which helps me feel God’s Presence in an incredibly profound way.  In those moments, the physical and the spiritual are integrated together.
            For Christians, the core of our faith is the Resurrection and the promise of Life Eternal.  As the Apostle Paul writes:  “…if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain.  …If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.” (I Corinthians 15: 14, 19)  Yet, even though the claim of Christ’s Resurrection is at the core of Christian faith, it does not appear to be consistent with empirical science.  There does not seem to be any way to explain how a dead person can be resurrected and have eternal life from the perspective of modern science.  In addition to the lack of a plausible scientific explanation, the only empirical proof of the resurrection is the recorded accounts of a small group of eyewitnesses.  And, unfortunately, eyewitness accounts are notoriously unreliable, in Biblical times as well as present day. 
Thus, for contemporary Christians, who see the world through the Weltanschauung of science, it becomes imperative for our faith to reconcile empirical science and Jesus’ Resurrection.  Christ’s Resurrection is the key to the promise of Life Eternal for each of us. 
In my sermon on Easter Sunday, I will explore how Christians can reconcile empirical science and Jesus’ Resurrection.  I will trace out three possible interpretations of the resurrection stories in the Bible:
1.      Despite the claims of his followers, Jesus was not resurrected.  From this point of view, the Apostles and other followers of Jesus were under such grief and stress after his Crucifixion that they had these profound visions that they saw the resurrected Christ.  These visions were so powerful that over the years they became convinced that Jesus was actually resurrected.  However, there is no empirical proof for the resurrection, so the best explanation for Jesus resurrection appearance is that his followers were in such grief and stress that they had psychological, group hallucinations—or, they just conspired to make up the resurrection stories.
             2.      Jesus was resurrected and appeared to his followers in a Spiritual Form.  In this position, the Apostles and other followers of Jesus saw more than just powerful visions following the Crucifixion.  Jesus was actually resurrected and did actually appear to them in the stories from the Bible.  However, Jesus was just a spiritual being, perhaps best understood as a spiritual essence, which appeared to his followers and talked to them.

            3.      Jesus was physically resurrected and appeared to his followers in a Physical Form.  From this perspective, the Apostles and other followers of Jesus did actually see and experience him as a resurrected, physical person.

           The New Testament book of Hebrews defines faith as “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (11:1).  It is important to recognize that each of these three different options requires a faith commitment.  Even the first position, which essentially denies the Resurrection of Jesus because there is no empirical proof, requires a type of faith.  This faith involves the conviction that the only way in which we can learn about reality is through empirical science because the physical dimension is all that there is.  In this faith perspective anything, such as the Resurrection, which cannot be explained by science must not be real.  This is a plausible and honest perspective, but, again, it involves a faith commitment that we can only know through empirical science.  There are good reasons for adopting this position, but again there are good reasons for rejecting this position.  Either way, it is important to recognize that it too involves a kind of faith conviction.

                I respect all three of these different points of view as plausible and honest, and my own position may ultimately prove to be wrong.  However, in the sermon, I will claim the third option as the one which I believe to be true.  I believe that it is wrong to view the Resurrection on Easter Sunday as an isolated event.  Instead, I believe that it must be viewed within the overarching Christian narrative concerning the universe and humans’ place within it.  This narrative includes the conviction that God created the universe and deemed it very good; that humans have a very special role to play on Earth as God’s stewards of this planet; that God has continued to work in the universe to redeem it and bring it to full completion; and that God’s full vision for humans and all of Creation will not be realized until the end time.  In my sermon series, which begins with Easter and continues through May 5th, I will develop my understanding of this basic context of the Christian faith.

Feel free to post your comments on this blog.  If you live in the Meriden-area and do not have a regular church home, please consider attending Meriden United Methodist Church this Sunday.  Meriden UMC is located at the corner of Dawson and Main.  This Sunday, our Easter worship services will being at 8:30 and 10 am.  Everyone is welcome and accepted because God loves us all.  Also, feel free to check out my webpage at

Friday, March 15, 2013

Looking Ahead to this Sunday, March 17th and Beyond

            For the next two Sundays I have a brief hiatus from preaching at Meriden United Methodist Church. 

This coming Sunday, March 17th, is “United Methodist Women’s Sunday” at Meriden UMC.  In planning their service the United Methodist Women group wanted to invite Rev. Eduardo Bousson, who is Campus Minister at Washburn University in Topeka.  Rev. Bousson was born and grew up in Puerto Rico.  He originally came to the Kansas City area in 1996 to attend Saint Paul School of Theology, where he completed his M.Div. degree.  After serving local churches of various sizes, he was appointed as Campus Minister at Washburn in 2009.  I am pleased to welcome Rev. Bousson to our pulpit this Sunday.  He is a colleague and good friend.  And, I look forward to hearing his proclamation, which is entitled:  “The Fragrance of a New Life,” based on John 12: 1-9.

The following Sunday, March 24th, is “Palm/Passion Sunday.”  I am really looking forward to the worship service that day, which will feature our Adult Choir’s Easter Cantata, which is entitled “Hallelujah!  Praise the Lamb”!

            The next Sunday, March 31st is Easter, and I will return to the pulpit with the beginning of a new sermon series.  The line-up of topics for the new series will be:

What Happens to Me When I Die?
The Resurrection, Life Eternal, and the End Times

Easter Sunday, March 31  -- Reconciling Empirical Science & Jesus’ Resurrection

April 7  -- What and Where Is the ‘Human Soul’?

April 14  --  ‘Freeze or Fry,’ The End of the Universe and the End Times

April 21 -- What We Can Already Know About Heaven and Life Eternal

April 28  --  God’s Earth versus a ‘Human Waiting Room’

May 5 – Will I See My Pet Animals in Heaven?

            Check this blog next week, when I will have a post, describing the context and providing more detail for this series on “What Happens to Me When I Die?”  The following week—the week of March 25th, which is Holy Week—I will provide a post that previews the first sermon on Easter Sunday.  Also, check out my website at .

            Always feel free to post your comments on this blog.  If you live in the Meriden-area and do not have a regular church home, please consider attending Meriden United Methodist Church this Sunday.  Meriden UMC is located at the corner of Dawson and Main.  Our worship service starts on Sundays at 10 am.  Everyone is welcome and accepted because God loves us all.










Saturday, March 9, 2013

"Do Your Best"

            This Sunday, March 10th, our Worship Service will have two foci.  First, we will be celebrating a baptism and, secondly, we are celebrating “Cub Scout Sunday.”  The theme for our service this week is “Do Your Best,” which is the Cub Scout motto.  My sermon focuses on how God calls upon us to do our best. 

Our scripture reading will be Matthew 25: 14-26, which is Jesus’ “parable of the talents.”  In the parable, two of the servants are praised because they did their best with the money, which was entrusted to them.  The first servant invested the five talents given to him and earned a 100% return on his investment—an additional five talents.  The second servant invested the two talents entrusted to him and earned a 100% return on his investment—two additional talents.  Both servants did their best.  Unfortunately, the third servant did not try to invest the talent given to him.  Instead, he dug a hole and buried it in the ground.  In other words, the third servant did not do his best and was condemned as a result.

Like the Cub Scout motto, God calls upon all of Christ’s disciples to do their best.  This is what happens when we celebrate baptism.  Tomorrow, the one who is baptized promises to do her best to serve God as a faithful disciple.  Similarly, everyone in the congregation will promise to do our best to strengthen her as a disciple.  We will do our best to surround her “with a community of love and forgiveness, that she may grow in her service to others. We will pray for her, that she may be a true disciple, who walks in the way that leads to life eternal.”

God calls upon each of us to do our best in life, especially as disciples of Christ.  We do our best through what Wesley called “works of piety,” such as prayer, meditation, scripture study, worship, and receiving the sacraments.  “Works of piety” help us to grow spiritually closer to God.  We also do our best through what Wesley called “works of mercy,” such as feeding the hungry, providing a warm coat for someone who needs it, helping provide shelter for the homeless, caring for those who need healing, helping our neighbors, and visiting those in prison.  “Works of mercy” also help us to grow spiritually, closer to God.  Finally, we do our best through “works of justice,” such as working to change social and political structures which oppress and exploit persons, thereby making them needy.  “Works of justice” also help us to grow spiritually, closer to God.

Feel free to post your comments on this blog.  If you live in the Meriden-area and do not have a regular church home, please consider attending Meriden United Methodist Church this Sunday.  Meriden UMC is located at the corner of Dawson and Main.  Our worship service starts on Sundays at 10 am.  Everyone is welcome and accepted because God loves us all.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

"Can I Be A Christian and Gay?"

            Perhaps the most controversial issue facing contemporary Christianity is the question, “Can I Be Christian and Gay?”  And, this is the topic which I have chosen as the conclusion to my eight sermon series, “Confronting Our Doubts.”  As with other controversial questions and doubts, thoughtful Christians of good will may disagree on this critical question.  Yet, on this topic there is also a third position held by some people, which is mean-spirited, unfaithful, and …well…unChristian.  It is a position that must surely make Jesus Christ weep, even today, when persons take this position in his name.  Although Christians in the first two groups may be divided over the question of homosexuality, these two groups must be solidly united in our condemnation of this third option.

            There are eight scriptural passages which condemn same-sex activity.  Many Christians believe that homosexuality is immoral and sinful, based upon these scriptural passages.  But, we need to be careful here.  To view homosexuality as sinful does not really set gay persons apart as any different from any of the rest of us because we are all sinful in some way.  So, for Christians who take this position, it is a matter of hating the sinful act, but not the sinner per se.  As Christians, we believe that God loves each of us, despite our particular sins which vary from individual to individual. 

            In their book, unChristian, David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons take a position that homosexuality is sinful, based upon the condemnation of homosexuality in those eight passages from scripture.  Yet, they hasten to draw a distinction between a “sin” which they hate and the “sinner” which they continue to love.  The two authors quote Shayne Wheeler, a pastor, who says, “The Bible is clear:  homosexual practice is inconsistent with Christian discipleship.  But there is not special judgment for homosexuals, and there is not special righteousness for heterosexuals.  For all of us, the only hope for the fracture of our soul is the cross of Christ.”[1]

            For many other Christians, it is not at all clear that homosexuality is “inconsistent with Christian discipleship.”  For Christians in this group, the authority of scripture is just as important as it is for Christians who condemn homosexuality as sinful.  However, this perspective interprets the scripture differently.  In the first place, it is not clear that those 8 scriptural passages are condemning a mutually affirming, loving relationship between two gay men or women.  For instance, two of the passages in Genesis 19: 1-11 and Judges 19: 22-26 are about gang rape as acts of violence towards strangers.  Certainly, Christians would condemn these acts as evil, regardless of whether it was homosexual or heterosexual rape. 

            It is also important to recognize that a strong biblical argument can be made that slavery is perfectly consistent with Christian discipleship.  Yet, all American Christians are in unanimous agreement that slavery is morally wrong and sinful, even though there are far more scriptural passages that can be used to justify slavery than there are passages that condemn homosexuality.  So, a question of consistency in biblical interpretation emerges:  Why would we adamantly reject slavery, even though it can be biblically justified, while condemning homosexuality on the basis of eight isolated biblical passages which are not explicitly addressing a loving, mutually affirming gay relationship?

            The third position on homosexuality holds that gay persons are somehow sub-human and that “God hates fags.”  Of course, this position is epitomized by the antics of Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, which claims that not only does God hate homosexuals but also God hates the world.  While the first two positions may disagree on the question of whether homosexuality is sinful, we can unanimously agree in our condemnation of the message of hatred at the heart of this third position.  This position completely ignores the theme of love that permeates the Bible and it completely excludes passages, such as 1 John 4: 19-20, which reads:  “We love because God first loved us.  Those who say, ‘I love God,’ and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.”  It is imperative that Christians who may disagree on the morality of homosexuality, stand together in condemning this third position of hatred as completely unbiblical and incompatible with Christian discipleship.

            (I should note the Meriden Police Department has informed us that members of Westboro Baptist Church intend to protest at our service on Sunday, as they have threatened to do throughout this sermon series.  If you are attending our service tomorrow, we ask that you refrain from interacting with the Westboro protestors. There will be additional greeters this Sunday, should you need assistance.)

            In exploring this topic, I am not trying to convince everyone that they must resolve their doubts by agreeing with my position.  I think it is important for each person to develop their own answer to these doubts.  And, I believe that Christians of good will can disagree on this question, although I reject the third position of hatred as clearly incompatible with scripture and a heresy. 

At the same time, I believe that as pastor I should share where I am on this issue.  So, in answer to the question, “Can I Be Christian and Gay?” my personal response is, “Yes.”  For me, a decisive argument here is consistency in scriptural interpretation.  I do not understand how a Christian can condemn homosexuality as wrong, without also recognizing the scriptural warrant for slavery and other issues which contemporary Christians reject.  For me, every scriptural interpretation must be judged against the litmus test of Christian love, and the condemnation of homosexuality as sinful fails to meet that standard. 
Whether you agree or disagree with me on this issue, I hope that this sermon will stimulate deeper reflection and understanding.  Feel free to post your comments on this blog.  If you live in the Meriden-area and do not have a regular church home, please consider attending Meriden United Methodist Church this Sunday.  Meriden UMC is located at the corner of Dawson and Main.  Our worship service starts on Sundays at 10 am.  Everyone is welcome and accepted because God loves us all.
(While this sermon concludes my series on “Confronting Our Doubts,” I have decided to continue blogging a preview to my sermon each week.  A new blog-post will usually be available on Friday each week.  I hope that you continue to check back and read my blog and also feel free to post a response.  Also, check out my new website:

[1] David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons, unChristian (Grand Rapids, MI:  Baker Books, 2007), 97.