December 6, 2023
Yesterday, I attended a fabulous, though deeply troubling, lecture on Christian Nationalism, sometimes referred to as White Christian Nationalism. The speaker was Amanda Tyler, the Executive Director of the Baptist Joint Committee For Religious Liberty. It was sponsored by Interfaith Ministries of Greater Houston and was hosted by Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church.
My friend Rev. Chad Mattingly and I sat between a Jewish Rabbi and a Muslim Imam. It sounds like the beginning of a joke, but this was no joke. Christian Nationalism uses the word Christian and commandeers Christian symbols for things that in no way represent the life of Jesus. Christian Nationalism has more to do with power and greed, seeking to prey upon the vulnerable and those who want to blame someone for their problems.
The working definition of Christian Nationalism is a political ideology and cultural framework that seeks to merge American and Christian identities. It attempts to use nostalgia, seeking to replicate an ideal time that actually never existed. Christian nationalism tends to be racist, misogynistic, xenophobic, antisemitic, and promotes hate toward many groups including the LGBTQ+ community. The last thing Christian Nationalism wants you to do is actually talk about Jesus and his radical love that stepped across every boundary and barrier religion and politics attempted to fabricate. The story of the Good Samaritan challenges Christian Nationalism on so many levels. The parable normalizes the absurd—Jesus’ depiction of a “feared outsider” (the other) being the one who embodied God’s hope for the world.
I had many takeaways from the lecture, but maybe the most important was Impact vs. Responsibility. Christian Nationalism most negatively impacts vulnerable and marginalized communities, yet the responsibility to confront Christian Nationalism falls upon Christians. We must speak passionately and prophetically about Jesus and how Christian Nationalism is the antithesis of anyone seeking to follow in the ways of Jesus.
Help me, Gracious God, to know the ways of Jesus more fully, and to be able to both speak and act in a way that makes clear his unconditional love for all people. In this work, help me to be both humble and bold, for hate dressed in the garments of religiosity is still hate. And this world does not need another so-called religion promoting what is not of Jesus. Amen.
December 5, 2023
John’s Gospel does not have any of the fun Christmas stories. Instead, it is a more philosophical and heady approach to understanding who Jesus was and is. John begins with the words:
In the beginning was the one
who is called the Word.
The Word was with God
and was truly God.
From the very beginning
the Word was with God.
Later, in chapter 1, we learn how this eternal Word, which is God, took on flesh and lived among us. I sort of prefer the manger and the shepherds, but John offers something that is both profound and absurd. It’s not like we have multiple examples of similar events that we can compare. It’s almost as if the Gospel writer wanted to set the absurdity bar high, as the life of Jesus, his death, and his resurrection would continue to have people scratching their heads and wondering what kind of nonsense this is. Yet it appears as if God is suggesting that the world is going in the wrong direction, and for the world to turn away from what it knows and move in an entirely new direction, it is going to feel absurd… until it doesn’t. That’s the movement of faith.
Your story, O God of Creation, is unsettling to a world that is rather comfortable with things as they are. May the Jesus story unsettle us wherever our comfort is dismissive of your dream for us. Amen.
December 4, 2023
Prayer for the Week:
One Advent candle has brought new light into the world, and that gift is from you, O God of Hope. Let it shine into those unseen places within us where despair, anguish, or grief silently reside. Speak to us through the stories, music, and symbols, reminding us how you are not yet done with us or this world in which we live. Allow the Good News of the Christ Child’s coming to be for us a message by which hope dwells more deeply within us, nudging out all that is not of you or your dream for our lives. We speak these words to you, O God, in the belief that you know our greatest needs and deepest hurts. Amen.
December 3, 2023
In today’s sermon, I will quote Dr. Emilie M. Townes, a Professor in Womanist Ethics at Vanderbilt Divinity School. In an article entitled Lament and Hope: Defying this Hot Mess (great title), she writes:
With our all-too-human unpredictability, lament can serve as an anchor to help us find our bearings on how to live as people of faith. We learn from biblical laments that it is imperative to name what is wrong with as much precision and honesty as possible, even if it hurts or causes us to wince. From the Psalms to Joel to the cross, laments tell the truth of the suffering that is smothering our worthiness, our dreams, our ability to work toward a better tomorrow.
As the title of the article suggests, lament and hope are inescapably tied together. Hope is never theoretical, but deeply rooted in reality. And if we do not name the reality and feel the lament, then there is no real possibility of hope. Hope exists honestly in one moment of time, while believing that the circumstances of that moment are not God’s final wish.
In the Season of Advent, specifically this first Sunday of Advent, we focus on hope, but not some abstract notion of wishful thinking. We claim a conviction that God, even when we find ourselves under the weight of despair’s shadow, is not finished. To some, it might sound like nonsense, but some of the greatest moments in history were birthed out of hope.
In this most sacred season, O God, draw us into the hope of the Christ Child, a hope that takes seriously the full range of the human experience while beckoning all creation toward your dream for life. Amen.
December 2, 2023
The day before… When something unexpected happens, we often forget about what occurred the day before. When we are waiting with great anticipation for something, the day before it occurs seems to painfully drag. Today is the day before Advent, and it is already a mix of emotions. I love this season of the year, and I am truly excited for tomorrow, but I am also trying to focus on today. Yes, tomorrow will be wonderful as we light the first candle on the Advent Wreath and begin singing some of the traditional songs of the season. But I don’t want to look ahead without acknowledging that today contains the same number of minutes as tomorrow, and within each of those minutes is an equal amount of possibility—the possibility to do the very things the Christ Child came to invite the world to do. Tomorrow will be awesome, but why should I assume that today, the day before Advent begins, is not fully capable of being equally awesome? Just a thought…
Prepare me, Lord of this Advent Season, for the journey that begins tomorrow. Yet with my mind attuned to what will occur, let me also be mindful of what is already occurring around me in this moment. What opportunities are there to enflesh the love of the incarnate one, Jesus Christ? I’m sure there are more than I could ever imagine, but I pray for the chance to act on at least one of them today. Amen.
December 1, 2023
I get a chuckle each time I see the post on Facebook that says something like, “There are only two pieces left in my chocolate Advent calendar. I guess that means Christmas is only two days away.” Like many of you, as I was growing up, I dreamed of being able to reduce the number of days until Christmas arrived. It would have been a double bonus if such a thing could occur by simply eating more chocolate. Of course, that’s not exactly what this season is about—making things move more quickly with more indulgences may just be the antithesis of Advent. Instead, it might be good for us to sit quietly and patiently with the idea that God’s immeasurable love seeks simplicity and humility as the best and most profound avenue. Take a moment to reflect on why leaning into the notion of waiting might be helpful in this moment of your life; take a moment to reflect on why simplicity and humility might be attributes that could be helpful in some difficult situation you are currently facing; take a moment to reflect on how slowing down with a slightly humbled heart and fewer possessions might make a little more room for God in your life. There are reasons we practice Advent. There are important reasons we stand in the midst of the chaos and consumerism that is December in America and say out loud, “We need to slow down and become less focused on stuff. We need to slow down and appreciate the sacred lives of those close to us.” May it be so!
Center me, Merciful God, in this season made holy by your gift that took on flesh to live among us. Slow me down enough to appreciate and embrace the priceless gifts of love and kindness, forgiveness and generosity. Amen.
November 30, 2023
As you have heard, this Sunday is the first Sunday of Advent. Often, by November 30, we are already into the Season of Advent, but the way the calendar fell this year, it is actually the latest possible start date for Advent. With tomorrow being the first day of December and with every store in full Christmas mode, I feel as if we should already be well into Advent. It sort of feels as if we are in uncharted territory. And since Advent is the time of preparation for Christmas, let’s call these days leading us to the first Sunday of Advent a time to prepare for the time of preparation. Even though I sort of chuckle at the thought, I wonder how many of us need some intentional preparation just so we can enter the time of preparation well prepared. Call it pre-prep. We can laugh, but the Bible is filled with stories about people preparing. Whether it was Israel in the Wilderness, one of the prophets in the desert, or someone visiting the mountaintop, getting ready for the next thing was never an afterthought. So for this almost ready-to-get-ready time, I hope you will ask yourself, “What do I need to be doing to make the next thing (which happens to be Advent and then Christmas) the best expression of my faith that is possible?”
Today is an excellent day to get ready for whatever it is that you might be inviting me to do, Gracious God. I don’t want to feel rushed or unprepared, so help me to put in place whatever is necessary so that my convictions are able to come alongside the greatest need. Amen.
November 29, 2023
Today is the feast day of St. Illuminata, a 4th-century woman who was executed after taking the name of Christ. It is interesting that we know very little about her, though there is a church with her name in Todi, Italy, the presumed site of her burial plot. As I think of all the churches named after someone, I realize how almost all of these individuals were killed because of their faith. I don’t know of an example of some average Joe whose name is now etched on the stone sign out front of a church simply because he had pretty good attendance on Sunday morning (well, unless he had a lot of money and paid for the church building). Is it shallow to hope that I never have a church named after me? With that said, I doubt St. Illuminata set out to have a church named after her. Since we know very little about her, I’m only guessing—but I’d guess she was only loving her God as best she knew how. In the Season of Advent, as we remember God humbling the divine nature and choosing to take on flesh, we realize God wasn’t looking for naming rights. Instead, God was seeking to make the unconditional love of God real in hopes of changing the world.
Continue to undergird my faith, O Lord, so I might find new ways of showing your love through humility and mercy. Amen.
Rev. Bruce Frogge