Archive for July 2016

Luke 12:13-21
Hosea 11:2-7

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. This trait is the one we are most likely to inherit from our parents, and the one we will make damn sure to pass on to our kids. We hate this persistent obstinance in others, but think it is an indispensable feature of our own character. God hates it equally in everybody.

 

There is only one cure for stubbornness. It is painful medicine. We must let go. Often a stubborn person will put something down, once they have been shown that they are wrong, only to pick it up again. If we want to cease being stubborn, we must learn to put things down and leave them be, even if we haven’t been proved wrong. I like the phrase, “Do you want to be happy, or do you want to be right?” Only those who let go are happy in this world, and blessed in the one beyond. We hold on to our stubbornness at great peril. 

 

Notice how lovingly God tries to woo his people away from their stubbornness:

The more I called them, the more they went from me… I took them up in my arms; but they did not know that I healed them. I led them with cords of human kindness, with bands of love. I was to them like those who lift infants to their cheeks. I bent down to them and fed them…

…because of their schemes. My people are bent on turning away from me. (Hosea 11:2-7)

 

Yet when you read it in the context of the rest of Hosea, or even in the rest of the Bible, you realize that God has no interest in allowing his people to remain stubborn. I don’t know if Hell has been designed as a terrible place because God plans to put all the stubborn people there, or if we will find hell to be awful because everyone there will be as stubborn as we are.

 

Let it go. What do we need to let go of? Let me mention something you may not be thinking of. Many of us are stubborn about money. We will examine a receipt to make sure the waitress didn’t cheat us on our meal. If we let it go, our digestion would be better. There are those who have disrupted their family and ruined their relationship with their sibling over an inheritance. Do you want to be a few dollars richer, or do you want to be happy and keep your good memories of the deceased?  Jesus encounters this situation in Luke 12:13-21. Jesus responds with a story about a farmer who tells his soul to be happy in the knowledge that he has done the prudent thing in building bigger barns for his surplus crops rather than giving it away to the poor. That night the farmer’s soul was not happy. That night the farmer died and went to be judged by the Lord-God who will judge all the world’s stubborn people. Even those who think they are right. 

Pentecost 13
Sunday, July 31, 2016
How long have you been here? Would you rather be content or right?
Luke 11:1-13

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. I say to her, “Let me help.” She refuses to ask for what she needs.

 

Jesus teaches us to pray:

To our father-God who is hallowed — We refuse to ask for help in developing a spiritual center. We don’t ask father-God to enter into our worldview so that we see everything flowing out of God’s holiness. All that is, is because of this one on whom we call. This one prayer can put our lives into a proper alignment and order. Yet, we do not have because we do not ask.

 

For God’s heavenly authority to be mirrored in my life and my world. Our faith in God's kingdom is the only thing that provides us with hope. The world seems to be going to hell in a hand-basket, but it is not. Our lives seem to lack divine leadership, but this is only because we are myopic. We do not have hope, because we do not pray.

 

For stuff. We need stuff. We also need to see how much stuff we don’t really need. We should ask God to show us how to share our money and things in ways that help others. We are afraid to let God correct our ideas about stuff. We are afraid to ask for a chance to live life day to day, with God giving us our bread just when we need it. This would be so much simpler. We have such painful complications because we do not ask for daily bread.

 

For forgiveness. We are always demanding an apology. We fail to give apologies, or when we do, we are not repentant enough to change our future behavior. (Ask the person who is nearest to you if this is true.) We want people to change in ways that will please us. We are miles away from humbly asking for God to change us in a way that will please others. We have not peace, because we do not ask to be taught how to forgive.

 

So Jesus teaches us to pray. He opens the treasure box of heaven. We have not, because we refuse to ask.

Pentecost 12
Sunday, July 24, 2016
The way to peace is to ask for it
Amos 8:1-12

“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. As mentioned last week (see Amos 1), many pastors are afraid to preach from Amos because he has mostly bad news.

    But, the message that God has given Amos is very relevant to today’s world. In Amos 8, two seemingly unrelated sins are linked. Judgement is now upon God’s people for their failure to deal with these two wrong-doings. What are they? Are they on Hilary or Trump's radar? No. They are:  First, the willingness of society to trample on the poor on their race to be rich. Greedy capitalists say, “Let’s make the box of cereal small and the price great” and “Let’s falsely label our products and practice deceit in our testing results” (Amos 8:5b). Remember Volkswagen’s rigging of their emission results? It is hard to find an industry or workplace where similar deception isn’t being practice.

    The second great sin in Amos’ prophesy is… drum roll please: the failure to observe the sabbath. In particular, Amos is calling the boss who emails you while you are on vacation an evil person. The workplace that regularly expects its employees to work 50 hour plus weeks is to be condemned (and this includes the church). Those who want holiday time to be cut short, sleep to be broken, and the work to be done on our day off, are speaking the same words that we find in Amos 8:5a: "When will the new moon be over so that we may sell grain; and the sabbath, so that we may offer wheat for sale?”

    Amos speaks about a judgement that is coming upon everyone. The reason our employers, merchants, and corporations are so bad, is because we permit these two sins to take root in our own lives: 1) We deny ourselves a full vacation with our family, we skip weekly sabbath worship, we short our daily sleep, and we seldom pause throughout our days for moments of reflection and prayer. How many of us practice disconnect time: putting our phones to charge in another room, turning them off at the table, and not answering work email on our day off? We pay a price in our relationships and our in physical body for this choice. Add it up. Is it worth it? (If you are an employer you might want to read Arianna Huffington’s book: Thrive) 2) As individuals we short change the poor and deny them real generosity because we don’t consider these people to be members of our “inner circle.”  Similarly, our politicians and merchants don’t pay attention to the needs of the poor because they don’t consider them to be their supporters. 

  Now pause and reflect on how these two sins are linked in our present day society. How are they causing a perfect storm in your own family? What specifically should you do?

Pentecost 11
Sunday, July 17, 2016
A. Huffington also has a book out about our need for sleep
Amos 7:7-17

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). There’s also the fact that Amos is a bit political, and during an election year, polite pastors don’t touch that electrified rail. This is ironic, because in Amos 7 the king says, “I find it so disgusting, Amos. That you criticize my faith. Why don’t you go back to Rome? Don’t you know that America is the king’s place to do and worship as he pleases?” (My loose paraphrase of Amos 7:12-13) Further, most church leaders follow Marcion’s heresy (see Old Testament) and abandon all prophets, especially minor ones. This is to declaw the lion, and make scripture irrelevant to today’s world.

 

Yes, Amos is irretrievably political. Even though Amos presents himself as a mere fig farmer, his message concerns the great political and economic forces of his day. He presents himself as an example of how God can use insignificant people to speak a word to the rich and powerful. He would be appalled at the way church today avoids discussing hot topics: LGBT rights, Black Lives Matter, universal healthcare, criminal justice reform, gun control, climate change, refugee resettlement, immigration, etc. Strip away social justice concerns from Amos, and you are left with a couple good one liners that carry none of the fire that inspired a simple dresser of vines to step out into the public arena. Strip away from the Bible the urgent call to work to transform our community for good, to do justice, to stand with the poor, and to be a bulwark against oppression, and you are left with the fuzzy impression that shepherds are nice people, and in America, all good boys do fine.

 

In Amos 7, God shows his prophet two apocalyptic disasters — locusts eating the crops and fires consuming our homes (how is this not relevant?) — but, God decides to spare us this time. Others suffer, but we are safe. Instead, God shows a plumb line to Amos. We will be spared irrational natural disasters. Instead, God will bring judgement to his people based upon what they have actually done, or failed to do. Now before you get all, but I am saved by grace on me, remember Jesus said:

 

 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:17-18)

 

Do the church a favor, study the Old Testament.

Pentecost 8
Sunday, July 10, 2016
Will modern martyrs become the seed of a new church?