Poignantly Paul

From the prison cell, where he is cut off from the lifeblood of Christian fellowship, Paul speaks with clarity about how church is meant to be. Ephesians 4:1-16 should be read by those nominated to church office, should be responsively chanted at church council meetings, and should be prayerfully kept in mind as we enter our fall reorganizational and vision casting gatherings.

 

Pentecost 13
Sunday, August 2, 2015

First let me say that this cartoon gets it wrong. True: bagpipes are hideous when badly played and serve such a narrow range of music that they are the butt of many jokes. Yet when I try to imagine the music that will be played in hell, my closest reference point is to ask, what kind of music was played by the Nazi party during their conquest of the German people? It is unlikely that Satan has the same musical tastes as Hitler, but I think their utilization of music will be similar.

 

What music is being played in Hell?

PG Rated Bathsheba Story

I once preached about David and Bathsheba on a dare. It was during the Bill Clinton-Monica Lewinsky scandal. The dare was that I had to preach about the President’s problem at the 11 o’clock worship service where there would be families with young children. The parishioner that challenged me knew that I was the lone democrat in a congregation of republican wolves. I chose the Bathsheba story then, and I think it is worth considering again.

 

Pentecost 12
Tuesday, July 21, 2015

What Changes and What does Not

One way to say something different about the familiar Psalm 23, is to list the things that are constant about our relationship with God and give personal examples for each. Then point out that the psalm deals with the scary changeableness of life and its great transitions. This contrast, lulling people into a security with the familiar aspects of their favorite psalm, then hitting them with the harsh realities that demand faith, can be effective, if you don’t show your hand ahead of the big reveal.

Pentecost 11
Sunday, July 19, 2015

Mistaken for a Dead Man

Guilt is a funny thing. Like humor, it depends upon ambiguity. Everyday we do things that are wrong, but we tend to only feel guilty about the ones that have some confusion to them. Remember the story that Jesus tells about the rich man and Lazarus; the dude with a Rolex on his wrist and a Porsche in the drive, walks by the beggar at his door, never feels guilty, and doesn’t realize that he has contributed to Lazarus’ early death by his neglect. The rich man lives, we assume, a very purpose-driven life, with clear goals and no time for soft-headed things like charity.

Pentecost 10
Sunday, July 12, 2015

As we enter into patriotic reflections this weekend, it is good to remember that there are three things that we cannot change; the past, the truth, and other people. The church and her people need to be involved with social change. This involves honoring the past, speaking truth, allowing change to begin within our own walls, and then reaching out to be change agents. The AME Zion church has walked this path. President Obama’s eulogy for Clementa Pinckney, one of the Charleston martyrs, contains some lines that are helpful and inspiring:

Clem led both in the church and in the political process

Dependence not Codependence

Long ago I read a sci-fi story about a world where appreciation was the currency, not money. Gold was plentiful, so people tried hard to be liked. I can’t remember much more about the story except that it ended badly. It’s not healthy for us to devote too much of our  lives to the pursuit of popularity. At the time, I thought the sci-fi story was far fetched. How could you monetize appreciation? Guess what? I’m on Facebook and I need to be Liked, I have a blog and I track how my hits, and when I preach, I listen hoping to hear people say, “Good sermon, Bill.”

Pentecost 9
Sunday, July 5, 2015

Some churches have confederate flags in disguise. U-umc had a memorial chime set in its belfry that played four times a day at two notches above what the neighbors could tolerate. Trustees explained this inconsiderate behavior by saying, “But it’s our tradition. We have members in the nursing home two miles away who helped pay for those chimes.” Sacrifice by past generations doesn’t give you a right to be insensitive.

 

"It's my tradition," the trustee chair says.

Holy Interruptions

Prayer should interrupt our lives. This is something you learn when you travel in other lands. In the middle-east, the call to prayer wails from a minaret and suddenly people stop what they are doing and pray. In Asia, the crowds part and you see orange robbed young men with their begging bowls. Life can be interrupted by the search for enlightenment.  These men have taken a hiatus from their career path to pray. There is something universal about Psalm 130’s, “Out of the depths I cry to You… be attentive to my supplications.” Unfortunately, we have segregated our prayer to an hour on Sunday and a building.

Pentecost 8
Sunday, June 28, 2015

This isn't Me

Little David goes up to the front line, lunch pail in hand. Everyone around him is dressed like a soldier. They have khaki pants with big pockets to put their grenades and candy bars in. They have helmets with Go-pro cameras and night vision goggles. They have riffles that shoot around corners. And when David volunteers to face Goliath, the soldiers offer to trade clothes and let him wear their cool stuff.

 

Pentecost 7
Sunday, June 21, 2015

One of my favorite books tells the story of Grover, the blue Sesame Street character. He’s on a farm and doesn’t know what his role should be. Should he cluck and peck the ground like the chickens? Should he roll in the mud like the pigs? Each animal tells him that they have their role in the joint covered. On the final page of this plot boiler, Grover discovers that he is supposed to be a farmer. 

 

What should he do?

The Holy Process

Jesus talks farming in Mark chapter 4. This gives rural people and gardeners an advantage, but means that you’ll have to till the ground a bit more carefully to explain it to people who aren’t normally aware of organic processes. Jesus says that the growth of holiness in our lives and in the world is an organic process, like the gradual transition of seed to plant to fruit to the easing of hunger. One could also speak of the process of acorn to oak to wood to house to home.

 

Pentecost 6
Sunday, June 14, 2015

In light of the troubles at FIFA, and at the Red Cross, and knowing that I will be attending a meeting of the grand poo-paws of the United Methodist Church next week, I present a remembrance of Richard Feynman. He was a clown, prophet, atheist, and one of the sharpest minds of the twentieth century. Famous for picking the locks and leaving ‘got-cha’ notes in top secret file cabinets at Los Alamos, where he worked as a theoretical physicist on the Manhattan project, Feynman was asked to serve on the commission investigating the Challenger explosion.

First, you must not fool yourself & you are the easiest person to fool

Political Problems

It is hard to bite the hand that feeds you. It requires courage and a whole hearted dependency upon God to do it more than once. Thing is, people who keep people, like pets, and feed them everyday in paternalistic ways, are many. Most of us belong to something or someone who is happy to feed us. Three notable exceptions are Groucho Marx, Jesus of Nazareth, and the prophet Samuel.

 

Pentecost 5
Sunday, June 7, 2015

Back in the 1970s, Loren Mead identified “Five Developmental Tasks” for transitional leaders. In the next few weeks, some of you will be moving to a new church and/or your church may be recieving new leadership. These five tasks provide a check list for healthy transition:

 

1) Help the congregation come to terms with its History.

Things get crazy when we move

Speaking of Addiction

Here is a challenge: use these words, “for if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live,” (Romans 8:13) to speak about addiction. I say this cautiously: first, because the passage speaks in a very elegant way about the Holy Spirit and most congregations need to hear that message. Second, because none of us want to repeat the judgmental, temperance, language of our grandparent’s church. Third, because only a few in the church will be ready to hear the message and act upon it.

Pentecost 2
Sunday, May 31, 2015

I rushed to get to the bank and found it open. Good thing, because we chose this bank for its multiple locations and convenient hours. There was a time when people chose a bank because it looked like a bank — big vault, rigid hours, paternalistic attitude, etc. There was a time when people chose their church because it looked like a church. Big vault = high theology, rigid hours = fixed-in-the-marquee service times, paternalistic attitude=paternalistic attitude.

 

People used to choose churches that looked like churches

Preparing for Pentecost

What if we prepared for Pentecost the way we prepare for Christmas or Easter? We spend the month before December 25 buying presents for those we love. What if the fifty days before Pentecost became a time in which we thought about how God has gifted us? We each have received spiritual gifts, natural talents, and places of service, by the grace of God. The post-Easter time should be used preparing ourselves — sharpening the saw, as Steven Covey says — for more effective service and more fruitful lives.

Pentecost
Aldersgate Day
Sunday, May 24, 2015

Lately I’ve been telling people that all authentic long range planning in the church is driven by two outward and upward forces or vectors — a vector is a force with both magnitude and direction: Vector 1) The drive to reach new people, and Vector 2) The organizational charge to nurture our faithful and make them into effective disciples for Christ. Any action plans or goals that we develop for our congregation must move in at least one of these directions. Hopefully our goals serve both vectors, for this is where the energy of the Holy Spirit and our faithfulness to the scriptures lies.

Life's forces have both direction and magnitude

Walk, Stand, Sit

I like Psalm One, especially with the clear progression of verbs found in the RSV walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands… nor sits. One imagines a young person listening first to some bad advice, then finding himself loitering with the wrong crowd, then in time, becoming fully stuck in an addiction, financial folly, or illicit lifestyle. Wickedness is an active, dynamic thing, until it is not. It is easier to steer a life away from tragedy while it is yet unformed. Be careful the rut you choose, you’ll be in it a long, long, time.

Easter 7
Sunday, May 17, 2015

Sometimes I attend a nearby church that is clueless on communication.I don’t think that they are alone in having problems adapting to digital age. Because I am an irregular attender, I find myself asking questions like, “What time is the Ash Wednesday service?” or “What craft items do they need for VBS?” or “Is the church still collecting items for flood relief?” I could always call the church office, but when are they open? This church puts out a weekly bulletin, which is packed with worship parts and cryptic notes. This bulletin is optional for those who attend the contemporary service.

Are you keeping in touch with everyone

God is Love - Part 2

One of the embarrassing things about our faith is that our entire theology can be expressed in three words of less than four letters. This fact, combined with the difficulty many of us have with practicing what we say we know, leads us to want to fancy up Jesus. Maybe my intellect would be happier with Scientology or some contemporary form of Gnosticism. Yet, God is love — and those who know this must also love.

 

Easter 6
Mother's Day
Sunday, May 10, 2015

In long range planing with churches, I have begun to use the word vector instead of goal or objective. The Goals/Objective language is borrowed from the business world which thinks in terms of profit being the underlying greatest good that all things serve. I cringe every time I hear a guru tell church people to adopt SMART goals. We have Christ to serve, and our driving long-range vision is the great commission, that we make disciples in all contexts and among all peoples for the transformation of the world. All of this is done with an attitude of authentic love for those outside the church, never treating them as objects to be manipulated for our own ends.

Vectors have magnitude and direction

Abiding Love

Abiding Love

Easter 5
Sunday, May 3, 2015

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