Weekly Word Blog - Bill's comments on the coming weekend's scriptures posted each Tuesday

[James and John] said to him, "Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory."

When Ambition becomes Sinful

We expect Jesus’ business to be organized the same as our businesses here on earth. Our organizations are structured to be pyramids, you have one person at the top (call them king, or president, or Jesus), then you have the two below them (call them princes, Ivanka and Jared, or James and John). The pyramid then spreads out and so how high an ambitious person goes depends upon how willing they are to shove the rest of us down a few levels. So, when the other disciples complain about James and John, we know just how they feel.

Pentecost 22
What causes a person to follow Jesus, may change & mature later
Mark 10:43-44
Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations.

A Psalm for the Fall

Psalm 90 is both good and bad news. The good news is that God is in this human redemption business for the long haul. All of human existence is but a moment to him. Like Martin Luther King, God knows where the arc of moral history is going. It is not a long arc to him. God knows that it bends toward justice. But it will take forever in human terms. And yes, the bad news is that God knows that your life, and mine, on this planet will be over in a blink. We won't live to see what we hope for become a reality.

Pentecost 21
Fall Season
Change your perspective
Psalm 90
[People asked Jesus] "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?"

What makes a marriage?

Many people are troubled by the passage where Jesus speaks about marriage and divorce. It is important to note, however that Jesus’s words are directly followed by verses that demonstrate Jesus’s concern for the needs of children. I would argue that Jesus is not laying down a law prohibiting divorce, but rather expressing, as he does in all of his teachings, the demands that living a compassionate life places on each of us. As we go through life, we form relationships that involve promises. In marriage, we promise mutual aide, "in sickness and in health."

Pentecost 20
if its not about sex, why do some people limit marriage to mixed gender?
Mark 10:2-16
the law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul, and making wise the simple

Bending Toward Justice

The only way that the law of the LORD can be perfect, reviving the soul, and making wise the simple, is if that law is dynamic and constantly developing. There is a heresy afoot in the church today that closes the door on God’s ongoing revelation, that is, denies that God is speaking through modern figures such as Martin Luther King, while dismissing the moaning of the God’s creation as it speaks about climate change. Some of the these heretics have diminished the diversity of God’s word down to some dusty fundamentals and a few ancient rules.

Pentecost 19
There is optimism in everything King said, because he believed in the moral arc bending to Justice
Psalm 19
Matthew 5:17-48
“A capable wife, who can find?”

Me Too and Proverbs 31

The thing I find most difficult about Proverbs 31:10-31 is its emphasis upon what the woman in question does. We are not human doings. We are human beings. It’s not our accomplishments that need praised, it’s our growth as compassionate people. The whole of Proverbs, as well as, much of the Bible’s wisdom literature, makes this point clear. How do we come to fear the Lord? We each permit ourselves to go on a spiritual quest for wisdom.

Pentecost 18
Relationships matter
Proverbs 31:10-32
The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.

God Speaks in Triplicate

Back in the old days of typewriters and carbon paper, the most dreaded words heard by secretaries was, “I want that in triplicate.” Whatever the form or memo, it had to be important if it needed three copies. The process involved carefully aligning three sheets of 24 lb bond paper and two finicky carbon backed tissue in your Remington and striking each letter as hard as you could and spelling the every word perfectly, because corrections were impossible. Psalm 19 says that the creator God, speaks to us in triplicate.

Pentecost 17
The order of God is written into every silken orb
Psalm 19
Romans 10:16-20
Do you believe that the poor actually have been chosen by God to be rich in faith?

A Long Ways from Jesus

When I read James, I find myself reconsidering the radical statement that some Liberation Theologians make, that being poor is a prerequisite for understanding Jesus. Throughout the Bible we hear an oft repeated warning, friendship with wealth never ends well. Those who have been born with it, need to flee into the wilderness — do a Saint Francis of Assisi style run — to be purged of its effect. Those who have earned it, must cauterize all thoughts that they are somehow better people because they played life’s game to achieve this sordid end.

Pentecost 18
Just as Jesus cared for the poor of his day, we must care today
James 2:1-5
 1 Timothy 6:6-10
[Real religion is] to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep neself from being polluted by the world.”

Chasing Unicorns on Labor Day

There was a time, I’m old enough to remember, when religious people had 84 reasons to believe the world was going to end in 1984. Then there was a time, not long after that, when many churches, my own included, stockpiled batteries, bottled water, and baby diapers, because they were convinced that Y2K would make such things valuable. There was a time when almost every Christian woman I knew, wore a little angel on their shoulder (for protection or advice, I never found out).

Pentecost 15
The moral minority
James 1:16-27
Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere

Temple? Not my temple!

I have a problem with Psalm 84. It’s one of those poems that doesn’t make sense once you tear it apart. “My temple is a place where even a swallow finds a place to nest,” makes as much sense as, “My love is like a red, red, rose.” Howling, just feet away from the altar in Solomon’s temple, were lines of sacrificial sheep and boxes of doves, ready to be slaughtered. Temple sacrifice, up until 70 AD, was madness, bleating sheep, and nasty priests. Blood flowed on the rock where Abraham once bond Isaac. Did I mention that child abuse is one of the problems that the church is still dealing with?

Pentecost 21
Architecture does not equal religion
Psalm 84
[God answered Solomon's prayer saying] I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart

Not Being Smart

God must not like our prayers because he keeps giving us the opposite of what we ask for. We ask for patience and we receive more frustrations. We ask for peace in our household and we receive more conflict. We ask for enough wealth to be secure and we find ourselves jobless and dependent upon the kindness of strangers. I get the feeling that God’s intention is to throw us fully into life, like a baby being thrown into the deep end of the pool. We pray, “Lord give us a firm foundation of truth,” by which we mean that He should make us smart enough to always be right. God responds, “Hey it’s time for your swimming lesson. Keep your head up and remember to breathe.”

Pentecost 15
I'd rather be uncertain & afloat than grounded & no longer afloat
1 Kings 3:5-14
My soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning.

Prayer before Dawn

I have a love-hate relationship with mornings. As a self-employed author, I have great flexibility regarding when and where I work. But the Holy Spirit and my own creative whit have their own plans. I have discovered that early morning hours are golden. But rarer than diamonds are the times when the cat, dog, or my bladder wakes me while it is still night, and instead of cursing these intrusions, I grab coffee and write like one possessed. In Psalm 130 we read, “My soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning.” Something has awoken the psalmist to an hour when all he or she can do is pray.

Pentecost 12
Many people find early morning the best time for regular devotions
Psalm 130
Matthew 16:26
We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people's trickery, by their craftiness...

Unity, All the way to Jail

It’s helpful to imagine Paul in a prison cell as he writes the book of Ephesians, particularly chapter 4. To be imprisoned is to be divided off from humanity. So, Paul speaks about unity and provides a vision of what brings us together. He says that God considers us all to be one and that when we accept the Christian faith we all have the same baptism, even though some are sprinkled as infants and others dunked under the cold, muddy, waters of the Penobscot River. We are one, in spite of whatever wind of doctrine fills our sails. We are one, no matter what work fills our days, or what economic fortunes have befallen us.

Pentecost 13
Monarchs are called to migrate great distances over high walls
Ephesians 4:1-16
In the spring, when Kings go off to war…

David and Bathsheba

It is very hard to be a godly politician. One has to respect all people and have a heart for justice. David had this mindset as a youth, but the further he shifted away from the shepherd’s worldview, the more he became corrupted by political expediency. 2nd Samuel 11, is the story of a fallen man. Even if he had never had sex with Bathsheba, he would still be a despicable anti-hero. His sin was to sit in his palace and do what everyone else in his position was doing. For a thousand years after this, whenever a king allowed their personal moral weakness to jeopardize the nation, people would say, "Well what about David?" This has a way of justifying sin. The same "what-about-ism" may soon be the ruin of American Democracy.

Pentecost 12
Gifted people do stupid things when they cease to be humble
2 Samuel 11
Philippians 2:6-7
Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.

Where Jesus Fails

When his disciples needed a rest, Jesus didn’t snap his fingers and heal them of their stress and exhaustion. Instead he tried, unsuccessfully, to find them a place to rest. God will never give us a red bull energy drink when we need to take a day off for our own sanity. There are no cheap fixes for the over-committed life. Even Jesus had to look for a place to hide his disciples so that they could recover their inner calm

Pentecost 11
Jesus did not seek to rest his disciples so they could work more. He rested them because he loved them.
Mark 6:30-34, 53-56
When Herod heard [about Jesus] he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised from the dead!”

An Attack of Conscience

Even good people are in the habit of ignoring their conscience. We get busy in life. We get persuaded that we deserve things — that tax cut made possible by stealing from the next generation, that promotion at work which only requires us to forsake our principles, that secure life lived within a gated community surrounded by only our kind of people. Yes, we deserve to have our sins, our greed, our gluttony, our prejudices, free from any sudden attack of conscience. So we all, keep the inner voice of God on a short leash.

Pentecost 10
Separating mothers from children, but going to church the next Sunday
Mark 6:14-29

Remembering John the Baptist

King Herod had a critic named John. First he put John in jail and then he beheaded him, but that didn’t silence the baptizing prophet for we read his words still. John the Baptist is the patron saint of those who protest against injustice today. John was a journalist before there was newsprint. So on this weekend following the Fourth of July, we remember John’s martyrdom at the hands of Herod Antipas, as well as the slain journalists in Baltimore.

Pentecost 11
John was always confronting those in power
Mark 6:14-29

A Busy Week

According to the Gospel of Mark, Jesus is always busy doing good, but he’s never in a hurry. Obstacles are placed in his way, but he exudes confidence that the kingdom of God will not be delayed. The people he meets, themselves, face incredible challenges. In one week alone; he helps his disciples deal with a storm (crossing Galilee twice in a small boat), confronts a man enslaved to mental illness (a legion of demons), heals a woman with a persistent illness (bleeding), and raises a twelve year old child from the dead.

Pentecost 8
Parent's joy - Jesus heals, reunites, brings about new life
Mark 5:21-43

Non-Anxious Presence

There are miracles that only Jesus can do, and there are miracles where Jesus is providing an example for us to follow. In Mark 4, Jesus is out in the boat with the disciples and a storm comes up. Time for a miracle which only he can do. Jesus calms the sea. But wait, the story begins with Jesus asleep in the bow and when the disciples wake him and say, "Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”,  Jesus rebukes their anxiety by saying, "Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” Note the back and forth of that dialogue.

Pentecost 7
The problem is not the waves, but the readiness of the crew
Mark 4:35-41

Organic Process and God's Grace

Gardening always reconnects me with the grace of God. I have a hard time justifying it during the end of May, when I am busy with so many other things, both in the yard and with church meetings. In spring, time narrows. There a few precious hours to mow, till, plant, and weed, between the rains. And yet now, about a month into it, I find myself pausing and just looking at the vegetable plants. They are vigorous. Each one is a miracle. Jesus uses the pride that farmers have in their crops to talk about the graceful and organic way of the spirit.

Pentecost 6
Note how even the bees are part of the organic process
Mark 4:26-34

This is what a King will do...

There is a common proverb that goes, “You better be careful what you ask for; because you just might get it.” This is true in politics, parenting, and in our prayers. I’ve come to believe that more people are impoverished by their wishes than by their misfortunes. We think we know what we want — we are all a bit like King Midas who wished to have everything he touched turn to gold, until he touched his daughter. We want wealth. (Play the lottery, anyone?) God wants us to have inner peace, the satisfaction of work done well, and relationships that don’t depend upon extravagant gift giving.

Pentecost 3
Midas was a king who got what he asked for, not what he needed
I Samuel 8:4-20

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