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

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.

Pentecost 15
I'd rather be uncertain & afloat than grounded & no longer afloat
1 Kings 3:5-14

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.

Pentecost 12
Many people find early morning the best time for regular devotions
Psalm 130
Matthew 16:26

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.

Pentecost 13
Monarchs are called to migrate great distances over high walls
Ephesians 4:1-16

David and Bathsheba

I'm old, I admit it. The last time I preached about David and Bathsheba was during the Bill Clinton-Monica Lewinsky scandal. I remember my trepidation. At the 11 o’clock worship service where there would be families with young children. I had been asked to take on the famous Old Testament story by parishioner that knew I was the lone democrat in a congregation of republican wolves.

Pentecost 12
Gifted people do stupid things when they cease to be humble
2 Samuel 11
Philippians 2:6-7

Where Jesus Fails

In the sixth chapter of Mark, Jesus does an impressive number of miracles. He feeds five thousand people with five bagels and two fish, he walks on water, and he heals a multitude afflicted with diseases — just by having them line the road and touch the edge of his cloak. But, I am more impressed by what Jesus fails to do in this chapter.

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

An Attack of Conscience

Even the worst of people can have an unexpected attack of conscience. Call it the ghost of his dead mother, but King Herod starts to wonder if he’s gone too far, been too immoral, done one deed too foul for the universe to accept. He begins to wonder if there is such a thing as bad karma. In Mark 6:14-29 (see Remembering John the Baptist, last week’s take on the same passage) we read how Herod is haunted by the thought that his beheading of an innocent man, John the Baptist, might have been a mistake.

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

Rules don't always Rule

Our society is getting obsessed by rules. I grew up in 1960s, we broke the rules. Go to Barnes &Noble and just note how many books have the word rules in the title. You’ll find 10 rules for dieting, dating, and getting your dog to behave. One of the best sellers on Amazon this year was  “Robert’s Rules of Order.” Why now?

Pentecost 3
Watch out when white dudes in suits limit the free speech of people of color
Mark 2:23-28, 3:1-6

Spiritual Rebirth

I’m willing to bet that you weren’t born alone. When you came into this world, there was at least one other person in the room. None of us gets born alone. Your birth was work for your mother, that’s why we call it labor. You merely allowed yourself to be pushed. All of this doubly applies to our spiritual birth. God labors to bring us to new life. This may be why Jesus speaks about being born again, instead of using an eastern turn of phrase like, coming to enlightenment.

Pentecost 2
Trinity Sunday
If you could listen to the whole talk, would it make more sense?
John 3:1-17

Why Pentecost Matters

In every parish that I served, I encouraged people to think of Pentecost as one of the three great holidays of the church. There is Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost. They are of equal importance and should be celebrated with the same degree of serious preparation. Christmas allows us to speak of the Trinity and the uniqueness of Jesus among men. Our systematic theology goes into high gear as we try to speak about God’s mission to save all of humanity.

Pentecost Sunday
Note the large crowd and presence of women
Acts 2

Jesus prays for your Small Group

I have been thinking a lot about small groups lately. Jesus begins with a small group — twelve disciples. At the end of the Last Supper, before he leads his disciples out to the garden where he will be betrayed and taken to his passion, Jesus dedicates this small group to God. The way John remembers that prayer (John 17:1-26), it was filled with references to the importance of this small group. Jesus prays that the spiritual truths that has imparted in the course of his work with this little fellowship might be established.

Easter 7
Jesus is calling these folk to be in a small group with him
John 17

Defined by Love

Scholars may argue about whether the same man wrote the Gospel of John and the Letters of John, but John 15 and 1 John 5 sound like two peas in a pod. John is trying to simplify the relationship with have with each other and with Jesus into two words. The words Abide and Love. I want to go one step further and simplify the whole church experience into this concept of Abiding Love.

Easter 6
Church isn't defined by building, clergy, or theology
John 15:1-8
1 John 5:1-6

Perfectly Loving

I always get a chuckle when someone asks me for my home email and I say bill at not-perfect-yet dot com" and they respond “perfect.” They don’t even hear themselves doing it. “Perfect” has entered into our modern vocabulary to replace “okay.”  This is truly ironic. Now putting aside this odd ambiguity, what does the Bible mean when it says, “No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us (1 John 4:12). We live in a world that is desperate for real love.

Easter 5
Machines can perfect anything but Love.
1 John 4:7-21

Abide

John asks a tough question: “how can the love of God abide in us, if we have in our hands the things someone else needs to survive, and we don’t offer what we have to help them” (I John 3:17). The context of John’s question is a call for Christians to help other Christians. This verse follows his command, “we ought to lay down our lives for one another” (v16). Obviously, he is writing to people adjacent to people experiencing persecution.

Easter 4
Songs and scriptures call us to abiding in love, by our love
1John 3:16-24

Why Believing is Important

Jesus has to do some pretty silly stuff to get people to believe that he’s alive. In John 20, he lets Thomas poke him in the side. In Luke 24:36-48 he eats a bit of fish. Don’t think of a nice salmon broiled with butter. No. The disciples are poor folk in Jerusalem during the height of the tourist season. The city is three days away from the sea. The fish is likely to be boney. Think a pounded piece of perch from Galilee, dried on the dock, packed in salt — the bottom of the barrel. Jesus has a resurrected body. He’s not hungry. He does it so that they will believe.

Easter 3
Patient Jesus gets examined by a man who is not a doctor
Luke 24:36-48

Looking for Unity

Where were you on April 4, 1968? Those of you who were not born yet may be wondering why I ask the question. I was 14 and growing into social, political, and spiritual awareness —the three are woven together — in an all-white suburb of Pittsburgh. Shortly after Dr.Martin Luther King was assassinated, the Hill District erupted in a week-long riot. The clash of police and protestors was the lead story on every news channel across the country. It was my introduction to the racial divide that still plagues our country.

Easter 2
Martin Luther King Assassination 50th
Peaceful protest April 7, 1968
Psalm 133

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