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

Afraid of Amos - Part 1

There are many reasons to avoid the prophet Amos, and I have used them all. Being a lazy person, as I began to write this morning's blog, I noticed that the gospel lesson of the lectionary deals with the good Samaritan, a subject I can pontificate about in my sleep. In fact, I’ve blogged about it seven times in four years (see http://billkemp.info/search/node/samaritan).

Pentecost 8
Sunday, July 10, 2016

Simplicity Overlooked

I feel like I hear my mother’s voice in the Prophet Elisha. Together they say, “If I had asked you to do something difficult, you’d do it -- then, why can’t you take out the trash?” The situation in 2 Kings 5 is that General Naaman, commander of the Pagan Kingdom of Aram’s army, has incurable leprosy.  His undocumented alien servant girl tells him of the healing power of her faith and Elisha’s particular capacity for doing miracles for the hopeless. Naaman sends a message through diplomatic channels asking that Elisha come to Aram and do his magic. This is Elisha’s golden opportunity to play the palace and give a really great evangelistic sermon. 

Pentecost 9
Sunday, July 3, 2016

Vocation-Advocation-Hobby?

What is religion to you? Is it your vocation, an advocation, or merely a hobby? The question runs through all the lectionary scriptures for the Sunday that begins our summer vacations. Jesus turns back an overly enthusiastic follower (Luke 9:51-62), presumably because he foresaw the man not being up to the transient and dangerous life that lay ahead for Christ’s designated disciples. With similar language, Elijah tries to send home an applicant who wants to be the chief prophet job when Elijah retires (II Kings 6:1-14).

Pentecost 8
Sunday, June 26, 2016

Where is God?

If we were with Elijah on Mount Sinai, we would look for God to stand between us and the earthquake, wind, and fire. When natural disasters strike, we expect God to stop the hurricane, or at least divert it so that it only hits islands without tourists. We expect the wind not to blow off the roof of the church. We expect wildfires to stay away from our city’s suburban sprawl. In general, we expect God to disrespect nature, like we do. When the Old Testament borrows from the destructive power of nature to describe our God, we find it quaint.

Pentecost 5
Sunday, June 19, 2016

Life Lessons

Bible stories often contrast people who are spiritually attuned with those who are as lost as a goose.  In the story of Naboth’s Vineyard (I Kings 21), the King of Israel is shown to be a spoiled, middle-aged, child. King Ahab is easily persuaded to commit murder. All Queen Jezebel has to do is appeal to the man’s unbridled pride in being the king (think Mel Brooks, “It’s good to be the King”). When we are spiritually immature, our pride makes us vulnerable.

Pentecost 6
Sunday, June 12, 2016

When Children Weren't Optional

This Sunday is about midway between Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. It also is the Sunday we often use to recognize those who are graduating. Jesus (Luke 7:11-17) and Elijah (I Kings 17) both raise from death the only child of a widow. Jesus, we are told, has compassion. He has compassion on all of us, but one assumes that why it was mentioned in this circumstance is because the widow’s economic survival and status in the community is dependent upon her son.

Pentecost 3
Sunday, June 5, 2016

What makes a hero?

Elijah was a very rare individual, but he wasn’t unique. His type of faith is repeated several times in the bible — most clearly in John the Baptist. While most people waver between opinions, Elijah represents the voice in any real world situation that is willing to have their position tested. In the workplace there are those who hope that the boss doesn’t take a sample of their work, and there are those who invite criticism because they know that they have made the right choice.

Pentecost 4
Memorial Day
Sunday, May 29, 2016

“I thought we were going to do something with this thing.” This is my response to the 2016 General Conference of the United Methodist Church. I am glad I did not go (normally I work with the United Methodist Rural Advocacy group trying to inform delegates about rural, small church, and local pastor issues).  Unfortunately, General Conference did not move any further towards honoring (ordaining) the non-seminary trained clergy that work tirelessly in many rural settings.

Make up your mind!

Hope that does not disappoint

Recent psychological studies seem to reveal a disadvantage to being hopeful. In one, students were asked how well they thought they did on a test. Often, those who performed the worst thought that they did well, outshining their peers. They were hopeful. Whereas the best students tended to rate their work as average, assuming that half the class did as well as they did. This is known as the Dunning-Kruger effect. Incompetent people tend to be over-hopeful. One has to know something in order to have doubts. Dunning-Kruger is everywhere.

Pentecost 2
Trinity Sunday
Sunday, May 22, 2016

Reversing Babel

It is often pointed out that the Day of Pentecost is the reverse of the Tower of Babel event in the Old Testament. My first pastorate was a church just south of Bangor, Maine. Bangor, like many American communities, has been struggling to make a name for itself. In the 1960s they lost a major military base and airport hub. Truth is, planes stopped needing to fuel there as they flew to Europe. Few people remember that Bangor was the destination for the King of the Road hit song by Roger Miller. Fewer people still, associate Bangor with Paul Bunyan.

Being One

Last night I spoke with a woman who was going alone to South Dakota to attend a family reunion. It was the first time that a representative of her clan was attending the annual gathering organized by her far, distant, cousins, who long ago, had split off and added one letter to their name. She was apprehensive that she wouldn’t have anything in common with these people. We had this conversation fifteen minutes after a fairly homogenous group of board members for a local non-profit had nearly come to blows over a trivial issue.

Come over here and help

I’m running out the door, late, as usual. Across the street my neighbor is sitting alone, on his porch. He doesn’t look up. He doesn’t acknowledge me. Yet, I hear a silent nudge in my heart, saying, Go over and talk to him. 

Easter 6
Sunday, May 1, 2016

Sometime early in the new millennium, I reversed my thinking about social justice and the church. I used to think that the primary work of each congregation, as well as my denomination (United Methodist), was to win people to Christ and form them into fruitful disciples. My priorities as a clergy-person were; witness first, organize second, and address human need a distant third. I am replacing this guideline, though. I believe now that one cannot be evangelical without being concerned about liberation. Jesus healed and taught with equal enthusiasm.

About time!

Pentecost is Coming!

In a few weeks we will celebrate Pentecost (thank God it’s not on Mother’s Day or Memorial Day this year).  I say that we should prepare for it. Just as Lent forces us to journey through our spiritual wilderness, and Advent renews our respect for the prophets of old, so we are now in the midst of fifty days of reflection on the new thing that God is bringing about. Now is the time to prepare for when the Kingdom of God is manifested in power. The weekly scripture lessons of the lectionary help us with this by scanning ahead in the book of Acts to chapters 9, 11, and 16.

Easter 5
Sunday, April 24, 2016

Psalm 23 from a German Shepherd

v1) I have proven myself incapable of distinguishing between what I need and what I want. The Master lays down for me nutritious food and clear water. I beg for table scraps, wolf them down, and barf it all up on the carpet. I root through the garbage, I drink from the toilet. In spite of all this, the Master loves this shepherd.

 

Easter 4
Sunday, April 17, 2016

In the children’s game of Rock, Paper, Scissors: Fear is represented by the stones that cause us to stumble, Reason is the pair of Scissors that cuts away falsehood, and Faith is the insubstantial seeming Paper that wraps up our fears and overcomes them. So, Rock (fear) breaks Reason (scissors), Scissors (Reason) cuts undeveloped Faith, and Faith, as always, defeats Fear. 

 

Fear, Faith, Reason

When God Speaks Directly To Us

In the familiar story of the conversion of Saint Paul (Acts 9:1-6), GOD SPEAKS IN CAPITAL LETTERS. He speaks to Saul, and then to Ananias. In each case what He says is clear, unambiguous, and reverses the strongly held opinions of the hearer. Most Sundays, this is not the case. I had to go way back to my youth to remember a time when God spoke in capital letters to me:

 

Easter 3
Sunday, April 10, 2016

Accepting Mystery

One of my favorite paintings is Caravaggio’s “The Incredulity of Saint Thomas.”  Thomas is shown sticking his finger fully into the risen Christ’s side. You look closely at the painting (if you dare) and the finger is literally under a flap of Jesus’ skin. But, what I have sometimes failed to see because I am intrigued by Jesus willingness to be examined, is that two other disciples are leaning in, watching what Thomas is doing. Perhaps they, too, have incredulity.

Easter 2
Sunday, April 3, 2016

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