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

You want me to be nice?

Jeremiah hears God telling people to settle down, contribute their own sweat equity towards establishing of a healthy community, and be nice to the Babylonians. His actual words are, “Seek the welfare of the city.” God is speaking to his people. The same people who have just lost their home, seen their house of worship burned to the ground and their beautiful city invaded by the Babylonians. They have been rounded up like cattle and marched across the desert to Babylon. They are weary and resentful. They want to escape. They want to lash out and sabotage the plans of their captors.

Pentecost 23
Sunday, October 9, 2016

Every nonprofit organization or church has one or more stakeholders. These stakeholders may be wealthy individuals, major funding sources, or the charitable group’s home office. They are often the ones who contributed the lion’s share of the group’s start-up capital. They may be the distant foundations who provide grants or an ever-present Daddy Warbucks who shows up unannounced and demands things be run his way. Often the vision of these stakeholders is in conflict with either the cultural heart of the members, or the organization’s current reality, or both.

Who is the Daddy Warbucks of your organization?

The 5 Stages of Psalm 137

Anger is one of Elizabeth Kugler-Ross’ 5 Stages of Grief , and as Scott Peck reminds us, grief is a part of every transition. Say, we lose our job. While adrift, we stew. “I gave the best years of my life…” In time, we move on to another career, or discover that God had a reason for it. We accept it as a blessing. Still, anger was a real stage in our transition. When someone we love dies, anger often lashes out at an innocent bystander. It is human nature to shoot the messenger. We may be excited about moving to a new neighborhood, but soon reality sets in.

World Communion Sunday
Sunday, October 2, 2016

In Jesus’ day, Pharisees were well respected social leaders, involved in the political process. They had a specific agenda for making Israel great again. The fact that Jesus opposed them at every turn has caused the Pharisee movement to be vilified in western history. Jesus’ theology wasn’t that different from theirs — his opposition wasn’t a matter of their personal beliefs — it was their political agenda and lack of compassion towards the poor that made him lash out with some of his most pointed language.

Love of Money

Paul warns Timothy that loving money is deadly to the soul. He says, “If we have food and clothing we should be content with that” (I Timothy 6:8).  Is the ‘should’ to be read as an imperative? “Be happy with the bare necessities!” Or is Paul making a more universal statement about our human nature? “We should be happy with minimal comforts, but we are not.” I suspect it is a little of both.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

With all of the “secret” Trump supporters lately, I have begun to fear that he might win the popular vote in November, but lose the presidency in the Electoral College. This has happened four times in the history of the United States. In Bush verses Gore in 2000, over a half million more people cast their ballots for Senator Gore, than for George W. Bush. When the loss of Florida’s electoral votes tipped the balance towards Bush, Al Gore graciously conceded. This is not something I expect Donald Trump to do.

It is important that we agree before hand on how to get from here to there

Things we take for granted

“Is there no balm in Gilead?” This is the moment after the iceberg has struck the Titanic when the fact that the boat will sink becomes common knowledge. Suddenly, the lifeboat that you dismissed when the “In the unlikely event of an iceberg hitting us…” lecture was given, becomes foremost in your mind. Is there really a life preserver under my cot? Or that moment after you accept the fact that your cancer diagnosis is terminal; is there no balm in Gilead?

Pentecost 20
Sunday, September 18, 2016

Skilled in doing Evil

The people of Jeremiah’s day were used to the late summer breezes blowing hard. They separated the chaff from their grain by tossing it up into this September wind. They weren’t used to storms coming in fall and bringing devastation. They were used to petty wars and raiding parties worrying their borders, they weren’t expecting the well disciplined armies of Nebuchadnezzar and the loss of their nation. In a similar way, people today are used to an occasional bout of bad weather, but we are slow to accept the global consequences of climate change.

Pentecost 19
Sunday, September 11, 2016

Seeing God's Hands

Prophets, like Jeremiah, are also known as seers. I looked it up, the word seer comes from the compound see and -er. God asks Jeremiah to go to the potter’s shop and see. As a photography nut, this has become important to me. Most people go to somewhere scenic and snap selfies on their cell phones. The camera in my iPhone is in some ways superior to the expensive camera with aspherical lenses that I use when I am seriously seeing. That’s the point, using a cell phone rarely makes one a seer.  Jeremiah is asked to go down to the potter’s shop and see.

Pentecost 18
Sunday, September 4, 2016

Jesus and Class

Next week, my wife and I will be attending a wedding for a distant relative. The reception is in a five star restaurant and I am not allowed to wear my jeans. As is the custom, the bride and her wedding planner are spending long hours planning the seating chart. Determining who sits with who and how far they are from the happy couple is an intricate art, full of inviolate rules and their exceptions.

Pentecost 17
Sunday, August 28, 2016

Remember Where You Stand

The old New English Bible that I used while I was in college falls open to Hebrew 12. The page is ratty, covered with ink underlines hued red, blue, and black; minuscule notations cram the corners, and a box brackets verses 18 to 29. This was the rock that I clung to throughout my transition from free-spirited teen, to married man, to seminary student. It says, simply, “Remember where you stand.” I learned during that quartet of years that surrounded my entry into a second decade, that religion, and life in general, offered a number of places to stand.

Pentecost 16
Sunday, August 21, 2016

People are complaining because they only have two choices, Clinton or Trump. It’s the same number of choices as we always have. Yet even lifelong republicans and democrats are praying for a viable independent, who has legitimate credentials and the skills needed to form a winning coalition. For several decades now, the United States Congress has been descending into a similar state of polarization. Polarized institutions die. They fail to solve current problems. They are too marked by conflict to plan for the future.

Branches are new, roots are old, the moderates keep them together

Making the List

Who makes your list? When we look at Hebrews 11, we are seeing a list of the people this first century Christian preacher thought were the best examples of faith. Today, our ‘the greatest’ list might include someone from the Olympics, like Micheal Phelps, or a past sport legend like Mohammed Ali. I don’t have any sports people on my personal list.

Pentecost 15
Sunday, August 14, 2016

Things Unseen

In providing us with such marvelous brains, the Lord-God established three gifts for seeing the unseen. We have the natural sciences for discovering why inanimate objects behave the way they do. We have the social sciences for explaining human behavior. And, if we want to know why we exist, how we should live, and what lays beyond the seen world for ourselves and the people we love, we have faith. I know this is a simplification, but it may be helpful to speak it publicly from time to time.

Pentecost 14
Sunday, August 7, 2016

Stubborn

I looked up the word stubborn in the dictionary this week and found my picture next to the definition. In Hosea 11, God accuses his people of being wayward. He calls, and like undisciplined teens, they ramble farther away. They stubbornly cling to idols and consult false teachers who tell them only what they want to hear. We too can be stubborn when we double-down on a wrong choice, fail to ask directions when we are lost, and drive the people around us crazy by claiming to be right, even after we have been proven wrong.

Pentecost 13
Sunday, July 31, 2016

You have not, because you ask not

I often get frustrated with my mother. I know, I deserve some grief considering all that I put her through. My mother is loving, kind, fun, in good health, and becoming increasingly independent as she heads towards 90. The problem is, she refuses to ask us for anything. I say, “Mom, let me help you order tickets for your upcoming flight.” She says, “I don’t want to bother you. I’m willing to call United on the phone.”  Then she grabs the yellow pages and her old black rotary phone. She also insists on finding her own way to and from the airport.

Pentecost 12
Sunday, July 24, 2016

Amos 2: Bad bananas

“May all your heads be bald and your wardrobe turned to sackcloth!” This curse has been brought to you by the prophet Amos. It’s mid-summer and everyone is heading out on vacation. There are parties on the beach and gas being guzzled by ATVs. It is also the last day. The end will come soon. Judgement. The vision that God gives to Amos is stark. Our summer fruit is rotten. The festival music will end. The wailing will begin.

Pentecost 11
Sunday, July 17, 2016

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