A Fair Witness

In the classic Sci-Fi book, Stranger in a Strange Land, Robert Heinlein imagines a world where people train to become “fair witnesses.”  A fair witness is prohibited from speculating or repeating what they haven't seen for themselves. They only speak about what they know from direct experience. For example, when asked to describe the color of a house seen in the distance, the fair witness responds, “It’s white on this side.” 

Lent 4
Sunday, March 26, 2017

Mission First, People Always

Martin Buber said, “The world is not an obstacle on the way to God, it is the way.” I am a person who hates interruptions. Telephone solicitors are the worst. Then a friend of mine was out of work. After a year, the only job he could find was in a call center. I encouraged him to take it. “It’s a stepping stone to something better. You need to get back in the process of working everyday.” Sure the job wasn’t his goal. But, it was the next step on the flow of life for this person.

Lent 3
Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Water and Spirit

Jesus says in John 3:5 that we come into the Kingdom of God by water and spirit. This makes me think of baptism, both the water kind that is common in worship, and the baptism of Pentecost that is less common these days. Water and spirit, here might also be related to the birth process. Water surrounds a baby for nine months. It gives way at birth to the spirit — in greek the same word also means breath and wind. When a child takes that first breath, they are inspired.

Lent 2
Sunday, March 12, 2017

Failure to Fast

There are fifty-nine national parks in our country, but most Americans suffer from a lack of wilderness. Most of us have the ability to skip a meal anytime we want, yet Christianity today is suffering from a great neglect of spiritual disciplines, including fasting. Jesus went into the wilderness, as the song says, to fast and pray for us. We each have people that we should be fasting and praying for. Our spiritual disciplines this lent, should be brave enough to do what ever it takes to gain the moral high ground in our lives.

Enough God for the Journey?

Last week I was in Albuquerque, New Mexico with my cousin, Ron. The Unitarian Church there always has something interesting on its marquee. Last week the sign had only three words, it read, “Spirituality without God.”  My cousin Ron asks me what that sign meant. I said, “I think they’re just trying to being honest.” The UU church advertises itself as place where people can find spirituality without God. People who enter that church will probably find a warm and loving fellowship.

Epiphany 8
Sunday, February 26, 2017

Translating Jesus to Today

In today’s world, it’s rare for someone to ask you to walk two miles. Nobody has asked for my coat lately, and I can’t remember the last time I was slapped on the cheek. When pastors deal with Matthew 5:38-48, they tend to wax historical and provide details like the Roman laws governing how far you had to carry a pack and how much the ancient people hated to use their left hand. This misses the point. Jesus always draws his examples from the daily lives of the people he was talking to.

Epiphany 7
Sunday, February 19, 2017

Jesus' Higher Standard

Jesus sometimes sets the bar so high that it seems out of our reach. He tells us to turn the other cheek when we are struck, to constantly assume the humbler position (wash each other’s feet), and here in Matthew 5:21-37, to take the ten commandments so seriously that we might maim ourselves to find holiness. It seems prudent and scholarly to downplay Jesus’ words. To say that just like the bit about camels going through the eye of a needle, Jesus is using hyperbole. But, not so quick.

Epiphany 6
Sunday, February 12, 2017

New meets Old

It is a New Year. A new broom is sweeping. The fox is in the hen house. We  have this image as we face the New Year of an old man being pushed off of life’s stage by an infant. Meanwhile, in the Bible, we find the baby, Jesus, being brought by his parents to the temple on the first Sunday after Christmas and there are these two old geezers blocking the way to the altar. Simeon and Anna are both older than eight track tapes. Yet, they don’t speak about the past, they tell of the future.

Presentation of the Lord
Sunday, February 5, 2017

An Insanely Great Vision

In my workshops, I often show a slide of Steve Jobs introducing us to the first iPad. Then I ask the question, “How should we design our life together, as a congregation, so that we become what Christ has in mind?” The analogy is simple. The success of Apple Computer stems from the vision that Steve Jobs had for insanely great products. Jobs was a tyrant, constantly berating people who were content to make “pretty good” computers and cell phones.

Epiphany 4
Sunday, January 29, 2017

A Psalm for the Oppressed

This past week was Martin Luther King Day. I think it is important that we remember him, not just as a leader of a minority group in our society, but as an example of how to respond to oppression. Sometimes oppression is systemic, like the racism is that still infects America.

Epiphany 3
Sunday, January 22, 2017

The Latent Christ

Back in the days of film, I was very aware of what it meant to say that something was latent. I would take a series of twenty-four pictures in my camera, then carefully wind the film back into its cassette. Perhaps that night, or a week later, I’d go down to the dark room and process the film. In total darkness, I would carefully wind the film onto a spool in the developing tank. Setting the timer, I’d pour in the chemicals. Each little grain of silver-chloride that had been struck by three photons of light in my camera, fixed itself in place and formed a dark image.

Epiphany 2
Sunday, January 15, 2017

A Light for the Nations

Christopher Columbus noted in his private journals, how the words of Isaiah 42, especially the line “I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations,” kept him going, through the dark times of his life. When no one was willing to back him on his westward quest, the fact that God had given him this vision drove him on, hat in hand, visiting the various courts in Europe looking for a sponsor. When everyone turned against him, Columbus held tighter onto this personal interpretation of Isaiah.

Epiphany 1
Sunday, January 8, 2017

Why do the innocents suffer?

When we do Christmas, it is very tempting to skip the story of King Herod's murdering the children of the Bethlehem region. In a year when the innocent children of Syria, and their parents, have been made to suffer, this ommission is unconsciencable. I remember one adroit fool suggesting that we could skip Matthew 2:13-23 in our Sunday lections because the event discribed doesn't appear in the secular histories of the time and could have been made up by Matthew. The only secular histories we have from this period are pro-Roman (Josephus wants to paint the Herodians in a better light for his Roman audience) the way Putin/Trump is pro-Assad and love FOX news.

Herod verses Jesus

It is the Christmas after an election year and we read Isaiah’s prophesy knowing that Isaiah’s audience heard it as a political statement. The people of the Bible actually were looking for someone to make their nation great again. They heard Isaiah and imagined a ruler with such wisdom that there would be; “endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.” (9:7)

Christmas Day
Sunday, December 25, 2016

Disappointed in Joseph

I’d like to criticize Joseph today. I don’t think that his plan to dismiss Mary quietly is all that virtuous. I know, the alternative was to drag her to the public square and have her be publicly shamed and stoned. But, what would Jesus have Joseph do? I mean Jesus would later teach an ethics that demanded love, even when there is no religious value at stake. If there had been no angelic visitation, with its mysterious explanation for Mary’s pregnancy, there still would be a child coming into this world.  It seems to me, that the concerns of that child, whoever he or she is, should be primary. That child deserves a father.

Advent 4
Sunday, December 18, 2016

Mary and Lou Gerhig

When reading Mary’s Magnificat song, I am reminded of Lou Gerhig’s speech about being the luckiest man on the face of the earth. Just how is Mary lucky? I am of the opinion that the Holy Spirit did a full disclosure — or at least she knew on a deep, intuitive level, the sorrow this pregnancy would bring her.

Advent 3
Sunday, December 11, 2016

Longing for Peace

In the early 1800's there was an American painter named Edward Hicks who became fixated on the eleventh chapter of Isaiah. He painted a child with his arm around a lions neck, his fingers twirling the mane and at his feet a wolf lay with a lamb and a leopard and goat and behind them a big brown bear and all were at peace.  He painted this same image over sixty times, with a variety of backdrops and arrangements of the characters — but always a diverse group of normally competitive creatures were at peace.

Advent 2
Sunday, December 4, 2016

Advent and Uncertainty

The bumper sticker on my neighbor’s truck says that he’ll be a first responder in case of a Zombie Apocalypse. One popular TV show chronicles doomsday preppers while another show gathers survivors of a nuclear holocaust in Jericho, Kansas. The movies, Ender’s Game and Hunger Games, are not about games, but about the loss of childhood innocence in a post-apocalyptic world. One of the unexpected consequences of the shift to a secularized/post-religious worldview, is that the end of days can be spoken about without any reference to the Book of Revelations or Judeo-Christian prophesies.

 

Advent 1
Sunday, November 27, 2016

It’s not good to be the king

I have a friend who is the president of the board of a small non-profit organization. He’s having a difficult time. A while back there was an issue where he acted on his own without consulting the board. “I’m the president and I’m more knowledgable than anyone else on this. I want it done this way,” he said. A conflict arose. It was true that he had expertise in the subject, but he was also disrupting the group process. This is not what a good leader does.

Pentecost 29
Sunday, November 20, 2016

You Never Know, Do You?

I’m posting this blog the night before the election. It reminds me how often preachers make plans for the week’s worship, only to see something unexpected happen after its all gone to press. A lot of newspapers last week missed the opportunity to print the winner of the world series because the Cubs kept us awake past midnight. You never know, do you? The only thing that is certain is that God is in charge of history and his plans are inscrutable. That is what makes Jesus’ comments about the apocalypse so much fun.

Pentecost 28
Sunday, November 13, 2016

Defining Marriage

In Luke 20:27-38 we encounter the rather odd custom of Levirate Marriage. This is where the widow of a man who has died without an heir is given to his brother. Jesus lived during a time of transition. Marriage customs, such as Levirate Marriage and the practice of having young people always marry someone from within the clan, were dying out. Hellenism — that is the more urbane customs of the Greeks and Romans including their acceptance of homosexuality — was reshaping the daily life of first century Palestinians.

Pentecost 27
Sunday, November 6, 2016

How we need our religion to work

Jesus comes into Jericho and sees Zacchaeus up in a tree. As soon as Jesus speaks a kind word to this hardened tax collector, the man is changed. Zacchaeus becomes remarkably generous. His heart, like the Grinch’s, grows three sizes. If we (I say this with the collective royal “we”) as a congregation are Jesus in the world today, then this is how the god-forsaken should respond to us. Repentance is not held up by the stubbornness of the pagan’s heart, it is held up by the paucity of winsome examples of real goodness.

Pentecost 24
Sunday, October 30, 2016

Healthy Contrition

Jesus tells a number of parables of reversal — that is stories where the expected winner, loses. There is the farmer who has a bumper crop and tears down his barns in order to build new ones. Surprise! His name appears in tomorrow’s obituary (Luke 12:16-21). There are seeds that do well when first sown and then fail when the noon day sun burns down on them (Mark 4:3-8). And then there is the story of a good man, a Pharisee, who goes up to pray and the blessings of God skip over this paragon of virtue.

Pentecost 25
Sunday, October 23, 2016

The Inner Voice

Jiminy Cricket acts as a conscience for Pinocchio — does the Holy Spirit do the same for us? Pinocchio was written over a hundred years ago as a morality tale. Children were to be read Pinocchio so that they would know not to rebel, disobey, or lie. Disney toned down the rascally nature of the puppet and added Jiminy Cricket to keep the story from being too sad. Many people today are living the original version of the story, which doesn’t end well for the puppet (in the Italian version he is hung). All of us need an inner voice to guide us.

Proper 24
Sunday, October 16, 2016

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