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

Hearing and Believing

There are two punchlines in John’s story of the first Easter: 1) John enters the tomb, sees and believes (John 20: 8) and 2) Mary Magdalene, after thinking that Jesus is the gardener, hears him call her name, and she believes (John 20:16).  In each of these, a person who is a faithful friend of Jesus, makes a quantum leap. They believe — but this is not the same thing as being saved! — in a way that moves them to a deeper spiritual state. As we celebrate Easter, those in worship are not all in the same place. Part of the duty of the story is to help move each person one step deeper.

Easter
Sunday, March 27, 2016

Being a Cleveland Cavs fan by marriage, I was intrigued to learn that the Republican convention will be held in their basketball court. Somehow the wood floor that hosts hundreds of hours each year of elbows, shoving, and intentional fouling, will be covered over so that neat rows of chairs and a podium may exist in the midst of the arena. If the Republicans have a contested convention, some are promising that there will be more blood sport happening that week than what even the NBA allows. I pray not. Politics, like religion, should not be a competitive enterprise.

Gladiators, not Politicians, should fight in the arena

Outsiders

It is hard to celebrate Palm Sunday, and read Psalm 118, with today’s newspaper in your hand without reflecting upon the term outsider. The stone which the builders rejected, has become the chief cornerstone. Is this being said about Jesus, Christopher Columbus, or Donald Trump? You form a mental picture of Jesus leading his noisy throng up to the gates of Jerusalem. The religious and political leadership of the nation is standing on a parapet high above, and crying out for someone to bar the door.

Palm Sunday
Tuesday, March 15, 2016

I saw a photo of Rosa Parks in a display for International Woman’s Day and thought of the qualities that made her a great leader. We know now that she developed gradually into her role, attending workshops and reflecting carefully about the problem of segregation and how to effectively demonstrate in opposition to it, long before she refused to give up her bus seat on December 1st, 1955. Though she was always clear that “she was tired of giving in” — not physically tired — her demeanor and method of protest fostered sympathy and a consideration of our shared humanity, even among her opponents.

Rosa Parks for President

Rivers in the Wilderness

There is a wonderful refrain in Isaiah 43, “I will make [for you], a way in the wilderness and streams in the desert.”  This is the promise that God gives to us just before we launch into a new adventure. This is the promise that we hear just before something traumatic upsets the fruit basket of our lives. It’s Lent and the disciples are following Jesus towards Jerusalem. Things are about to get interesting. For the last three years, the Jesus movement has been enjoying the quiet hills of  Galilee and steadily growing as people come out for picnics with the greatest story teller that ever lived.

Lent 4
Sunday, March 13, 2016

Bill Easum recently wrote that the pastors who serve churches that have no hope of growth are wasting their time. This sentiment, often repeated by bishops and leaders who should know better, reminds me of Simon Newman, the college president who urged his staff to "drown them bunnies" when they were dealing with a student who may not make it all the way to their four year degree. The assumption of the college president was that his school existed to profitably collect four years of tuition and maintain an excellent rating with their accreditation agency.

How valued are the people in your pews?

Sin & Punishment

Let’s talk about sin. When the wayward youth in Jesus’ story of the prodigal son takes the money and runs, he sins in three ways: first against the mores of his village and second against his parents, that is, the relationship that he was commanded by God when He spoke through Moses saying, “Honor you father and your mother.” Regarding these first two sins, Jesus would be the first to grant a deferment to the youth if the reason for his trip was to fulfill his inner calling or to come and be a disciple of the Lord. But alas, the kid only wanted to get away to chase fast women and drink sloe gin.

Lent 4
Sunday, March 6, 2016

Pages

Subscribe to billkemp.info RSS