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

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

I didn't vote for him either

The story of Jesus falls into two halves; the part before Palm Sunday and the week after it. Before Palm Sunday, Jesus very rarely says or does anything overtly political. He doesn’t seem to have any ambition other than to teach and heal people. Then suddenly he comes to Holy Week and everything he does is political. Before Palm Sunday, Jesus deals with us on the level playing field of interpersonal relationships and the fair exchange of ideas. He teaches in open fields where people can interrupt him and ask him questions.

Palm Sunday
Lent 7
Newspaper in one hand and gospel in the other
Mark 11:1-11
John 12:12-16

Hair of the Dog

Back before we had a treatment for rabies, you had to catch the dog that bit you and put a bit of its hair into a potion. The thinking was that having a little hair of what caused you pain could magically cure you, kind of like a day-after flu vaccine. Magical thinking prevails in the advice that a shot of alcohol in the morning will cure a hangover (Carrie Fisher’s alcohol soaked memoir is titled, “Magical Drinking”). Hence we say, “hair of the dog” when we repeat an action in miniature that got us in trouble the night before.

Lent 4
Snake Doctor -- asclepius
Numbers 21:4-9
John 3:14-21

A Good Beginning

A good beginning is needed to carry you to the end. This is true of competitive things, stock car races and swimming. It is true of education, especially in mathematics and science. It is true of marriage and all intimate relationships. It is also true of ethics and our struggle to live as godly people. Ten commandments make a good start.

Lent 3
Our honoring of God as Holy leads to compassion in all areas
Exodus 20:1-17

About that Cross Ahead

Jesus once called Peter, Satan — as in, “Get behind me, Satan.” I’ve come to think of Peter as a mother hen. He wants to protect Jesus. Keep him from any harm. I tell the people I love to be careful when they go out into icy weather. I have not yet resorted to hiding my wife’s keys when she plans to drive in the snow. That would be silly. Jesus is telling Peter that he is more than being silly. Peter’s urge to protect Jesus borders on being traitorous. He is, in this moment, Satan. For Jesus’ mission involves going to the cross. He plans on being harmed. Jesus plans on dying.

Lent 2
Your cross is where your gifts intersect with the world's pain
Mark 8:31-38

The thrill of victory and the agony of the wilderness

We recently watched the movie, Molly’s Game. Not to spoil it, but Molly’s story runs on two levels; there is her rise and fall in the competitive world of Olympic ski competition. Then there is her rise and fall — fall, as in criminal indictment — as the runner of a high stakes poker game. In both stories, Molly has the rush of victory and the agony of defeat. While going for a medal at the winter Olympics, she has a fall that nearly kills her. She spent many months in the wilderness of a hospital. Jesus is baptized, sees heaven open up.

Lent 1
Isolation is also a part of wilderness
Mark 1:9-12

A Double Shot of Spirit

A man walks into a bar and says, “Make mine a double.” What he means is take a shot of whatever spirits and put it in a glass, then double it by adding another shot. It’s a very literal thing. Instead of one ounce of booze, you have two. I think we should be more literal when talking about the Holy Spirit. Sometimes we have one ounce of spirit. Sometimes we have more. When Elisha asks for a double share of Elijah’s spirit, he is imagining a real commodity. I always tell people that spiritual passion is measurable. Our soul is real, as is our God. Religion doesn’t deal with intangibles.

Epiphany 6
Transfiguration Sunday
Just as fuel is quantifiable, so is Spiritual Passion
2 Kings 2:1-15

What Jesus did every day

Mark is the Tom Clancy of the New Testament. He is an action adventure writer. His gospel moves fast. His favorite word is “immediately.” He hates the passive voice. Jesus is always doing something. As a writer, myself, I recognize the writing problem that Mark gets himself into at the end of his first chapter. Mark wants to keep the story moving, but he also wants to give us details about how Jesus spent his days. The Bible’s other authors would have written a few paragraphs about what Jesus often did, or the nature of his habits.

Epiphany 5
It takes motionless meditation to be as good at action as Jesus was
Mark 1:29-39

The way to be an Authority

When Jesus went into the local synagog people were amazed because he taught with authority. They were used to hearing long discussions about what constituted work on the sabbath and who was allowed to marry whom. A meeting began with the phrase, “Rabbi so and so says X, and Rabbi such and such says Y…” and continued until all parties were exhausted. Normal people went home, fed the kids, planted the fields, and watched the sunset. Jesus began differently. “You have heard in the past… I tell you, ‘love your neighbor.’”

Epiphany 4
What is written is not that hard: be compassionate
Mark 1:21-28
Matthew 5:21-32

Will you follow?

Jesus calls people to follow him. I am always amazed that the first people he called “left everything.” I put myself in their sandals and say, “I wouldn’t follow Jesus today, because it snowed three inches overnight and I have to shovel us out first.” Peter and James may not have had snow, but they had fish to be taken to market, nets to be mended, elderly parents, households to take care of, etc. Looking closely at the story (Mark 1:14-20), I see that John the Baptist had already prepared these people.

Epiphany 3
They are ready to follow Jesus
Mark 1:14-20

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