The state of Christian sermons (be they Evangelical sermons or Progressive Christian sermons) has remained pretty constant for centuries now. What state is this? Well, in the words of singer and songwriter Joe Jones (circa 1960):
You talk too much, you worry me to death,
You talk too much, you even worry my pet,
You just talk, talk too much.
You talk about people that you don’t know,
You talk about people wherever you go,
You just talk, talk too much.
It is not so much that long-winded sermons cause us to worry (or nod off in the pews). Or that Christianity’s preachers talk too much about people they don’t know, even though they often do, even progressive clergy (who can forget Rev. Michael Pfleger’s comments about Hillary Clinton).
The problem is that excess sermonizing steals the revelation from us. Revelations born from the lips of preachers are will-o’-the-wisps that flicker in our minds briefly but rarely are internalized. For revelations to be transformative we must come to them on our own. That is why Socrates taught with questions, and Jesus taught with parables.
Questions and parables do not steal the “aha” experience from us. They encourage it. Now is the time for Progressive Christian ministers to begin rethinking their approaches to the Sunday sermon–those wordy monologues which all too often are but platforms to show off our erudition. The progressive pulpit should not be confused with the university lectern. Parishioners are not college students.
Let us dial back on the scholarship, the analysis, and the scripture, and increase the storytelling, the laughter, and the wonder. Let us be the river guide who lets the fishers make their own catch.
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Some folks have wondered why we still choose to identify ourselves as “Christians”; while others question our focus on Jesus Christ. A few progressive readers have taken exception with the “authority” we take on The Lord’s Prayer. After all, no one knows for sure whether Jesus of Nazareth even existed, so who are we to say what Jesus “wanted” us to believe?
Good questions all. And we could write long scholarly replies to each one, but as you have come to notice, that is not our style. We expect that Living Hour visitors know that what they read here is simply our educated opinions–ones which we have arrived at after many years of serious reflection and joyful living. If we were to use phrases such as “I think” or “It seems to me” that would be unnecessary, not to mention an insult to our old English professors who wisely counseled, “Don’t tell me it’s your opinion. I already know it’s your opinion! Just say it.”
And say it we have. But why in such a way? Well, suffice to say we keep Jesus as our centrifugal point because we are Americans/Westerners, ones who have been raised within a Christian culture and are the products of a Christian history. To cut ourselves off from that would be like cutting off an appendage. It is ill advised. Rather than abandon Christianity, it is our duty to lift it up and reclaim the spirituality of Jesus from the gatekeepers of religion–in other words, the organized Protestant and Catholic Churches who refuse to evolve and meet the intellectual, emotional, and spiritual needs of their 21st century congregations.
The term “Progressive Christian” though does not necessarily identify someone who shares these evolutionary spiritual beliefs. So in the spirit of camaraderie, and building a community of like-minded individuals that share a common vision (and helping these people find each other), we offer the term SBNR Christian or SBNR Progressive Christian–which can serve as a descriptive for new blogs and websites.
We can expect great diversity in SBNRand among SBNR (Spiritual But Not Religious) Christians, but the core beliefs might be defined as follows:
1) A belief that Jesus was a prophet, and that his divinity is one in which we all share, as Sons and Daughters of God.
2) A belief that we should not abandon Christian traditions and iconography, but reinterpret, refashion, and reinvent them.
3) A belief that reason and faith walk hand in hand.
If you launch an SBNR Christianity website and would like us to link to you, please drop us an email at living (at) livinghour.org.
Lastly, for those who might say that being an SBNR Christian is a contradiction in terms, we point them towards the post: Praising Contradictions.
Sign up to receive The Living Hour’s SBNR Daily Motivationals. This free series combines history, literature, philosophy, psychology, and religion to help bring about new perspectives for Progressive Christians and anyone who seeks a better understanding of “God” and life’s purpose.
The Progressive Christian Alliance: The PCA hopes to provide a venue for those individuals who feel somewhat out-of-step with their home congregations to raise their own voices in a more progressive message; for progressive congregations to join their voices with other progressives across denominational lines without sacrificing their own denominational identity; and for independent churches to form a stronger denominational bond with other like-minded congregations without compromising their identity.
The Center for Progressive Christianity: From its inception, the focus of TCPC has been primarily about rethinking and re-conceptualizing the theological and Christological foundations of the Christian faith. The leadership of the organization was and has remained convinced that our supporters and readers are expressing a deep desire to find resources and constructive ways to understand and teach what the newest science, biblical, sociological and historical scholarship has to say about the Christian religion and ways to integrate that information into one’s faith and to create healthy, dynamic Christian communities.
Crossleft: A grassroots organization created to address questions like: What if our faith and our politics could clearly come together? What if we were no longer made to feel like we had to choose? What if we, as progressive Christians, could help to reframe the ongoing conversation about faith?
Progressive Christian Network of Victoria: This progressive Christian network provides opportunities for sharing experience, knowledge and resources among members and other interested persons; organizes seminars, colloquiums and discussions. Coordinates and promote speaking tours by eminent international and Australian thinkers and teachers; and interacts with kindred bodies at the national and international level to pursue common aims.
The Progressive Christian (formerly Zion’s Herald): One of the oldest truly progressive religious publications in the United States, created in 1823. It’s had a largely Methodist and New England identity but today is a national bi-monthly with an ecumenical/interfaith editorial outlook. Since reviving in 2000 in its current magazine format, it has earned national/international recognition, and is reaching a growing readership across the U.S.
The Unitarian Universalist Christian Fellowship: Serves Christian Unitarians and Universalists according to their expressed religious needs; upholds and promotes the Christian witness within the Unitarian Universalist Association; and upholds and promotes the historic Unitarian and Universalist witness and conscience within the church universal.
Westar Institute: An independent research and education organization that promotes religious literacy by promoting and disseminating contemporary biblical and religion scholarship to a wider audience. Through its well known Jesus Seminar project, Westar has made a significant contribution to the rediscovery of Jesus’ distinctive vision of life under the divine domain.
Radical Faith: Thinking about Christianity inevitably involves a degree of technical detail which many find off-putting. Radical Faith attempts to step back from the technical trees to take in the wider forest of faith. In short, it tries to narrow the gap between theology and the ordinary Christian.
The Effective Living Centre (ELC): The Centre grew out of a vision that people appreciate space for reflection, learning, new beginnings, vitality and joy. The vision is based on these core values: there is growth and learning throughout life; the integrity and value of each individual and community grouping must be respected; there is richness and diversity among citizens and within families; the sacred and creative dimensions of life are an integral part of living. All ELC programs are pro-active and respect clients’ belief systems.
Common Sense Christianity: An online resource for books, articles, reviews and other materials that explore ways to “hold Jesus central in our faith-lives, without calling him God or adopting doctrines developed for the Roman Empire — and without abandoning modern science, ignoring suffering in the world, or pretending that we have all the answers.”
Faith Voices for the Common Good: Faith Voices seeks to educate the wider public about the shared values, issues, and ethical concerns of religious people and their organizations. It enhances community interconnections among its diverse member organizations to coordinate efforts to educate others about major social issues. We make use of a powerful new technology, Synanim, an internet system that educates through dialogue and collaborative creation of ideas.
Then they all rose as a body and led Jesus before Pilate. 2 And they began to accuse him: “This is a man whom we found misleading our people, preventing them from paying taxes to Caesar, and claiming that he himself is Christ a King.’” 3 “Are you the King of the Jews?” Pilate asked him. “That is what you say,” replied Jesus.
4 Then Pilate, turning to the chief priests and the people, said: “I do not see anything to find fault with in this man.” 5 But they insisted: “He is stirring up the people by his teaching all through Judea; he began with Galilee and has now come here.”
6 Hearing this, Pilate asked if the man was a Galilean; 7 And, having satisfied himself that Jesus came under Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent him to Herod, who also was at Jerusalem at the time. 8 When Herod saw Jesus, he was exceedingly pleased, for he had been wanting to see him for a long time, having heard a great deal about him; and he was hoping to see some sign given by him. 9 So he questioned him at some length, but Jesus made no reply.
10 Meanwhile the chief priests and the teachers of the law stood by and vehemently accused him. 11 And Herod, with his soldiers, treated Jesus with scorn; he mocked him by throwing a gorgeous robe round him, and then sent him back to Pilate. 12 And Herod and Pilate became friends that very day, for before that there had been ill-will between them.
13 So Pilate summoned the chief priests, and the leading men, and the people, 14 And said to them: “You brought this man before me charged with misleading the people; and yet, for my part, though I examined him before you, I did not find this man to blame for any of the things of which you accuse him; 15 Nor did Herod either; for he has sent him back to us. And, as a fact, he has not done anything deserving death; 16 So I shall chastise him, and then release him.” 27 For of necessity he needed to release one to them at the feast.
18 But they began to shout as one person: “Kill this fellow, but release Barabbas for us.” 19 Barabbas was a man who had been put in prison for a riot that had broken out in the city and for murder. 20 Pilate, however, wanting to release Jesus, called to them again; 21 But they kept calling out: “Crucify, crucify him!”
22 “Why, what harm has this man done?” Pilate said to them for the third time. “I have found nothing in him for which he could be condemned to death. So I will chastise him, and then let him go.”
23 But they persisted in loudly demanding his crucifixion; and their clamor gained the day. 24 Pilate decided that their demand should be granted. 25 He released the man who had been put in prison for riot and murder, as they demanded, and gave Jesus up to be dealt with as they pleased.
26 And, as they were leading Jesus away, they laid hold of Simon from Cyrene, who was on his way in from the country, and they put the cross on his shoulders for him to carry behind Jesus. 27 There was a great crowd of people following him, many being women who were beating their breasts and wailing for him.
28 So Jesus turned and said to them: “Women of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. 29 A time, I tell you, is coming, when it will be said: ‘Happy are the women who are barren, and those who have never borne children or nursed them!’ 30 At that time people will begin to say to the mountains ‘Fall on us,’ and to the hills ‘Cover us.’ 31 If what you see is done while the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?”
32 There were two others also, criminals, led out to be executed with Jesus. 33 When they had reached the place called Calvary, there they crucified Jesus and the criminals, one on the right, and one on the left. 34 Then Jesus said: “Father, forgive them; they do not know what they are doing.” His clothes they then divided among themselves by casting lots.
35 Meanwhile the people stood looking on. Even the leading men said with a sneer: “He saved others, let him save himself, if he is God’s Christ, his Chosen One.” 36 The soldiers, too, came up in mockery, bringing him common wine, 37 And saying as they did so: “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself.” 38 Above him were the words: ‘THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.’
39 One of the criminals who was hanging beside Jesus railed at him. “Are not you the Christ? Save yourself and us,” he said. 40 But the other rebuked him. “Have not you,” he said, “any fear of God, now that you are under the same sentence? 41 And we justly so, for we are only reaping our deserts, but this man has not done anything wrong.”
42 Jesus,” he went on, “do not forget me when you have come to your kingdom.” 43 And Jesus answered: “I tell you, this very day you shall be with me in paradise.” 44 It was nearly mid-day, when a darkness came over the whole country, lasting until three in the afternoon, 45 The sun being eclipsed; and the temple curtain was torn down the middle. 46 Then Jesus, with a loud cry, said: “Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit.” And with these words he expired.
47 The Roman captain, on seeing what had happened, praised God, exclaiming: “Certainly this was a righteous man!” 48 All the people who had gathered to see the sight, watched what occurred, and then went home beating their breasts. 49 All the friends of Jesus had been standing at a distance, with the women who accompanied him from Galilee, watching everything.
50 Now there was a man of the name of Joseph, who was a counselor, and who was a good man and just. 51 This man had not assented to the decision and action of the council. He was from Arithamaea, a city of the Jews, and lived in expectation of the kingdom of God. 52 He now went to see Pilate, and asked for the body of Jesus; 53 And, when he had taken it down, he wrapped it in a linen sheet, and laid him in a tomb cut out of stone, in which no one had yet been buried.
54 It was the preparation day, just before the start of the Sabbath. 55 The women who had accompanied Jesus from Galilee followed, and saw the tomb and how the body of Jesus was laid, 56 And then went home, and prepared spices and perfumes. During the Sabbath they rested, as directed by the commandment.
To read the next chapter of the Book of Luke, please go to The Gospel of Luke – 24.
This Online New Testament Gospel of Luke is excerpted from the book The Living Hour: The Lord’s Prayer for Daily Life (with New Century Gospels). Including over 200 bookmarked citations from the canonical Gospels, this Progressive Christian book appeals to the Unitarian spirit at the heart of all faiths.
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Gospel of Mark 15
As soon as it was daylight, the chief priests, after holding a consultation with the councilors and teachers of the law—that is to say, the whole high council—put Jesus in chains and took him away, and gave him up to Pilate.
2 “Are you the King of the Jews?” asked Pilate. “That is what you say,” replied Jesus. 3 Then the chief priests brought a number of charges against him; 4 Upon which Pilate questioned Jesus again. “Have you no reply to make?” he asked. “Listen, how many charges they are bringing against you.” 5 But Jesus still made no reply whatsoever; at which Pilate was astonished.
6 Now, at the feast, Pilate used to grant the people the release of any one prisoner whom they might ask for. 7 A man called Barabbas was in prison with rioters who had committed murder during a riot. 8 So, when the crowd went up and began to ask Pilate to follow his usual custom, 9 He asked: “Do you want me to release the ‘King of the Jews‘ for you?”10 For he was aware that it was out of jealousy that the chief priests had given Jesus up to him.
11 But the chief priests incited the crowd to get Barabbas released instead. 12 Pilate, however, spoke to them again: “What shall I do then with the man whom you call the ‘King of the Jews‘?” 13 Again they shouted: “Crucify him!” 14 “Why, what harm has he done?” Pilate kept saying to them. But they shouted furiously: “Crucify him!” 15 And Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released Barabbas to them, and after scourging Jesus, gave him up to be crucified.
16 The soldiers then took Jesus away into the court-yard—that is the government house—and they called the whole garrison together. 17 They dressed him in a purple robe and, having twisted a crown of thorns, put it on him, 18 And then began to salute him. “Long life to you, King of the Jews!” they said. 19 And they kept striking him on the head with a rod, spitting at him, and bowing to the ground before him, going down on their knees; 20 And, when they had left off mocking him, they took off the purple robe, and put his own clothes on him.
21 And they led Jesus out to crucify him; and they compelled a passer-by, Simon from Cyrene, who was on his way in from the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to go with them to carry his cross. 22 They brought Jesus to the place which was known as Golgotha—a name which means ‘Place of a Skull.’ 23 There they offered him drugged wine; but Jesus refused it. 24 Then they crucified him, and divided his clothes among them, casting lots for them to settle what each should take.
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To continue reading Chapter 15 of the Gospel of Mark, please click on page 2 below.