Not my time, not my wine

Jesus seems to be disrespecting his mother at the wedding in Cana (John 2:4). She asks him to do a miracle in front of everyone. “Jesus this is your cue,” Mary says. “The wine has run out and our family is responsible.” His response is, “Not my wine, not my time.” Later in John 7, he will tell his disciples that everyone expects him to do miracles on cue, but it really isn’t his time, yet. There is a messianic kingdom coming. We won’t always be scrambling to keep our kids fed.

Epiphany 2
Sunday, January 17, 2016

Getting to Peace

“In the way we regard our children, our spouses, neighbors, colleagues, and strangers, we choose to see others either as people like ourselves or as objects.They either count like we do or they don't. In the former case we regard them as we regard ourselves, we say our hearts are at peace toward them. In the latter case, since we systematically view them as inferior, we say our hearts are at war.” 

Fire and Rain

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you. Through the flame, you will go. But it will not consume you.

The passage from Isaiah about God promising to be with us through hell and high water is almost as famous as James Taylor’s song: 

I've seen fire and I've seen rain. I've seen sunny days that I thought would never end.
I've seen lonely times when I could not find a friend, but I always thought that I'd see you again.

Epiphany 1
Sunday, January 10, 2016

Passively Entering the New Year

To write well, I avoid the passive voice. Or to put it the wrong way, my writing is becoming less passive. Yet, when Paul greets the church at Ephesus with the rich and sonorous, ‘blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ…’ everything he says for the rest of the page is passive. It has to be this way. God already is fully blessed by His nature and totally the gift-giver in our relationship with Him.

Christmas 2
New Years
Sunday, January 3, 2016

Holiday Pilgrimage

We only have one childhood story about Jesus, that of his amazing the elders in the temple. I’m not really sure what this story tells us about Jesus, or his Home-Alone-ish family, but its context deserves some reflection. A couple times a year, people would pilgrimage to the temple. Diaspora Jews would make these trips less frequently, perhaps, once or twice in a life-time. We have little in today’s world that is equivalent to this. As someone who cares about mental health, family systems, and healthy transitions, I think this is our loss.

Christmas 1
Sunday, December 27, 2015

Choose Life!

Wednesday, I drove my wife to the emergency room with what had been, only an hour before, a minor condition. Within a short time after arriving, a doctor said to me, “It is a good thing that you brought her in when you did.” Why did I bring her in when I did? Because we had health insurance. If we were uninsured, as we had been back in the 1980s, I would have held off. It’s just a bug, it will pass. My dithering may have been fatal.

 

Want a King?

The problem with Trump is that he doesn’t live in a world where he can see a woman in a hijab, shepherding her children onto the school bus and think to himself, “hey that family shares my hopes and dreams.” The problem with our country, is that 30% of the people want to live in Trump’s world. It’s a world where language is used to hurt, not heal, where might makes right, and where public service has been forgotten. It is the land of a people who desire a king (1 Samuel Chapter 8) and a man who says, “I’m smart enough for the job.”

In with the Vipers

John the Baptist doesn’t make any friends by calling everyone brood of Vipers. Now note that Jesus doesn’t contradict John. To understand their shared message, we need to focus on what is healthy and not, relating to pride and shame. What would John, or Jesus, make of the boast, “I am proud to be an American” or the current rush in France to buy tricolor flags since the Paris attack?

 

Reaping What You Sow

Ask yourself, “Why am I in ministry?” Most of us are here, not because of a single mind-blowing worship experience, but because our hearts were quietly, over time, nurtured by the Holy Spirit. There is a Way of the spirit which we simply desire more of. There is a Way that is more compelling than riches, or the fleeting entertainments of this world. How many of in our church or place of service might be compelled by the same motivation? If the number is as low as a dozen, from out of the hundreds that we break bread with, are these people too few to be considered?

Does the Voice in the Wilderness Matter?

Every four years our country makes a show of sending the presidential candidates through the rural villages of Iowa and New Hampshire. For a few fleeting moments, common people seem to matter. They have a voice in Ottumwa.  Individuals in Concord can ask the next president if he or she knows the price of a gallon of milk. Yet the Bible speaks about the voice in the wilderness as being something more than just symbolic. We are all made to travel through wilderness from time to time. Life is enriched by trauma and displacement. There the soft voice of God has a chance to rise above the static.

Avent 2
Sunday, December 6, 2015

Defining Church

Church should be defined by its imitation of Jesus, who spoke a blessing upon everyone he met. Jesus spent his days walking among the fallen and touching those who needed his healing. His few sharp words, were directed towards those who spoke nonsense and shame towards the weak. And, even though Jesus had been educated in the highest place, he continually prepared for his peripatetic teaching work by going off alone in prayer. He only spoke about God from his own personal experience. He was in this Way, the word made flesh (John 1:14).

On the Way

This is the season when we get in the car and journey to see family and friends. When the kids complain because it’s three hours in the car to Grandma’s, we remind them how Joseph and Mary saddled up the old Yugo and drove a hundred miles, the limit of that car’s extended warranty, in order to get tax forms from Quirinius’ office in Bethlehem, because Nazareth was too small a town to have wi-fi. The thing we mustn’t miss in our attempt to explain the oddness of Palestinian life, is that faith is a journey. Jesus invited people to follow him.

Advent 1
Communion
Sunday, November 29, 2015

Do Statistics Matter?

Lao-tzu, as he begins the Tao Te Ching, says that the Way (Tao) that can be accounted for, or explained, is not the real Way. Remember how Jesus used parables, and only parables, to express the deepest concepts behind the Christian life? As I practice my craft of photography, I am surrounded by numbers. F-stop, shutter speed, and length of lens are recorded in the file of each image. I often review these statistics to see if I am handling my camera the way that I should. This work of the thing, is not the same process as the pursuing of light. If any of the numbers are off, I may fail to capture this or that image.

Pilate's Dilemma

Whatever you speak about this week, take to time to dwell on the Christian’s obligation to be compassionate in all circumstances. All circumstances includes Syrian refugees. The terrorist attacks in Paris have shifted our cultural vision, from pity towards the thousands who are homeless and hungry, to eye-pluckingly-spiteful revenge taking for fear that one or two wolves might be hiding naked among the huddled masses yearning to be free.

Pentecost 28
Sunday, November 22, 2015

Holy Spirit and Effective Ministry

People came to hear Jesus teach and they asked each other, “What’s different about that guy?” The Gospel writers, who are already shifting into an institutional mindset, offer this answer, “He spoke with authority.” Actually, what people sensed was the natural flow of Jesus’ passion for God. Later, the book of Acts tells how the church, as an institution, was formed. The Apostles note that a man named Stephen was really doing a lot of service for others, so they ordained him a deacon (literally, one who serves). Luke wants to us to observe how organizational innovations like this helped the early church to grow.

Outward with the Light

How do we know if our ministry, is on the right track? Jesus says, “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light.” - Matthew 6:22 This is one of many places where he speaks about the binary simplicity of Christian life. Our eyes are either actively attuned to the nuances of the light around us, or we are visually challenged. A local church is either discerning each day its role as a partner of God, or it is lacking in vision. Individual Christians are either prayerfully open to what the spirit is leading them to do today, or they are blind.

Who does that Young Woman Belong To?

There ought to be a law: One can’t tell the story of Ruth without dealing with the social implications. The time of the Judges, when Ruth is set, is often viewed with nostalgia. Back before the disastrous anointing of King Saul, the land of Palestine was a place where every man did what was right in his own eyes. This is the land of Ronald Reagan and Mad Comics. Whenever we time travel, we have to intentionally open our eyes and think critically. Things are not as wonderful as they seem.

Pentecost 24
Sunday, November 8, 2015

My Church thinks I'm too Old

Laity will often say that their church needs a young pastor to attract new people, or win back the lost generation(s).  There are three problems to this:

    •    Chronological age is not a good predictor of a pastor’s ability to minister to young families, nor does it correlate with either church growth or a clergy person’s skill at evangelizing borderline Christians.

Ruth and Naomi Part 1

Some people can summarize their entire life’s story in one line. One thinks of Nixon saying, “I am not a crook,” or the hypochondriac who was buried under the tombstone, “See? I told you I was sick.” For Naomi, in the book of Ruth, the line is, “The Lord has turned his hand against me.” Imagine how hard it was for this woman to live with her own interpretation of events. This is one definition of insanity, when we believe our own internal messages, and those messages aren’t helpful.

Pentecost 26
All Saints Day
Sunday, November 1, 2015

Is Your Church Beautiful?

Simone Weil said, “A beautiful woman looking at her image in the mirror may very well believe the image is herself. An ugly woman knows it is not.” Fortunately, many church leaders know their church’s image is not her reality. Well to do, suburban, congregations often are deluded into believing that their church’s charismatic pastor and modern facilities makes it a great church. Intuitive and theologically aware church leaders know that the congregation’s mission, hope, and strength, lie elsewhere.

Past, Present, and Future

Psalm 126 is easy to outline: It starts in the past, with praising God, then touches on the present which isn't going so well and needs prayer, then sings about the future (prophesy)

Part 1 -- past & praise

There is a good remembering of the past, and a bad one. The church spends most of its time doing bad remembering. Bad remembering includes, but is not limited to the following:

Pentecost 25
Sunday, October 25, 2015

Whom do you Trust?

Recently, I attended a church where the pastor told a story that I suspect he got from a homiletics service. The problem was, he told the story in first person, i.e., “This is what happened to me.” He then proceeded to use the story to reinforce a theological point that I found questionable. I doubt that anyone else was as troubled by this as I was. First, because most people of that denomination are okay with the theology which I found questionable. Second, because the average church goer doesn’t expect their pastor to lie.

A Fundamental Difference

I think we should pay attention whenever Jesus makes a direct comparison between how his people do things and the standard procedure of the rest of the world. In Mark 10:37, Jesus gets asked a simple question, “When you take over, who are you going to have as your right hand man (or woman)?” It’s the kind of question that we’ll be asking the 2016 field of presidential candidates when it gets winnowed down a bit more, “Who’s going to be your running mate, Jesus?” His two-part answer pleases no one.

Pentecost 24
Sunday, October 18, 2015

Pastoral Salary

It’s fall, time to set the pastor’s salary. When I reflect back on my career, my most painful moments revolve around this ritual. In my first two situations, the compensation package was literally at the poverty level. I had to plead to get a few dollars above “minimum.” This was in spite of the fact that the churches were doing better than they had under my predecessor. If it wasn’t for the real needs of my family, I would have kept silent at the committee meetings where my salary was under discussion.

Not Far From the Path

I sometimes tell people that the reason I am a writer today, is because I bought a computer in 1984 that had Spell Check installed. In grade school, I would get the weekly spelling test back with three or four out of the ten words marked wrong. As classes progressed and I was given essays and creative writing assignments, they would always come back with some variant of “nice story” or “interesting points” at the top, and then such a multitude of red marks and grammatical mistakes that the net grade barely passed. I didn’t know that I could write, until a mechanism allowed me to stop focusing upon the rules.

Pentecost 23
Sunday, October 11, 2015

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