Archive for October 2018

Mark 12:28-34
Deuteronomy 6:1-9
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.

Pittsburghers are prone to think that Jesus borrowed the words, "Love your neighbor as yourself," from Mr. Rogers. There is evidence, though, that Jesus actually heard this grouping of God's two greatest commandments from the respected rabbis of his time. It should also be noted that "Love your neighbor" can be found in every one of the world's great religions. The Buddha taught compassion, and Mohammed affirmed that his revelation rested upon the Jewish prophets and God's call to Abraham to follow the one God with all of his heart, soul, mind, and strength.

  I have been wrestling this week with how loving the Lord with all my mind helps me to respond appropriately to tragedy, and the divisions that spawn hatred and violence in our society. There certainly seems to be a link between stupidity and the "isms" that afflict us; antisemitism, racism, sexism, etc. But God does not call us to be smart, he calls us to be compassionate. I am beginning to see, that my heart and soul cannot love God or my neighbor without my commitment to three things that help my mind: lifelong learning, a daily time of reflection or meditation, and the constant cultivation of my emotional intelligence so that I see the world with empathy. In the end, we will not be judged for our intellectual prowess, but for the way the strength of our lives followed the best of our understandings. 

Mr Rogers always spoke for acceptance of diversity
Pentecost 24
All Saints Sunday
Mark 10:46-52
Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside

We know his name. Bartimaeus, son of Timaeus. His story is short and specific. Jesus is going up to Jerusalem. The next chapter is Palm Sunday (I don't know why the lectionary puts this story in the fall). Just before the story of Bartimaeus, son of Timaeus, Jesus has had to rebuke his disciples because they are getting ahead of things and assigning seats around the banquet table and trying to get Jesus to tell them who is going to be top dog in the Kingdom of God. James and John have asked for thrones beside Jesus in the coming glory. They don't realize that God will put two thieves beside the Lord when he goes to the cross. Then the little story of blind Bartimaeus and his desire to be healed interrupts. Jesus stops there. Ancient Jericho, with its winter palace and date laden palm trees is to his back. Jerusalem with its beautiful temple lies a hard, full-day's climb ahead. And we get to meet Bartimaeus, son of Timaeus.

  Jesus does what he always does. He stops. He could have just waved, heal Bartimaeus and the other beggars at a distance, and not wasted time in the cool morning that would be better spent tackling the mountain ahead (18 miles and a 3,325 foot rise). But Jesus calls Bartimaeus, son of Timaeus to himself.  He asks the man what he wants. Bartimaeus says that he wants to see again. On a recent trip to the ophthalmologist I found myself worrying. What would I do if I lost my eyesight? Bartimaeus tells Jesus that he once was able to see, but now he can't. The darkness has stolen Bartimaeus' independence, his livelihood, his appreciation of life's beauty. Jesus wanted to do more than just pity the man. He wanted to meet the man.

  Important people often suffer from a disease. The important ends that they are engaged in, steals the meaningfulness of the moments along the way. They write a check to a charity. They don't stop to meet the blind man. They fund political candidates on the right or on the left, or even run for office themselves. And they don't learn how to fold their own laundry, or the price of a gallon of milk, or the dilemma a single mom faces when she leaves her sick kid in daycare so that she can keep the job that she has to take a bus to get to. Jesus would have stopped to learn her name, felt the forehead of the kid, brought some form of healing or peace into that moment, even though it interrupted his journey.

  When we think ourselves important we suffer from the same disease. We say, "I've got these goals to accomplish," or "no one else can fill my shoes." I think one of the reasons Jesus died on the cross was so that he could give his job of being the one who stops and listens and brings healing to the Bartimaeus's of this world to us. We all have a hill in front of us. We all have something we think is important to do. That makes us important people. People with a disease. 

At least Bartimaeus, son of Timaeus, knew that he was blind.

What if our thought creates our world?
Pentecost 23

"I Believe" a full-length Lenten play, suitable for church use by Bill Kemp

Play opens with darkness, a single light, and a weeping woman. This is the small village of Bethany, adjacent to the holy city of Jerusalem. Jesus has just been betrayed and arrested. Two of his disciples now creep towards this house, seeking refuge and bringing the bad news to Lazarus, Martha, and Mary. The next thirteen scenes gradually move the viewer from darkness to light, from fear to inspiration.

There are about 70 minutes of spoken dialogue in the play. A dozen musical pieces are suggested to bridge the scenes and provide time for set changes. An offering and short intermission is provided 2/3rds of the way through the play. This play has been performed in various settings with great results. The included staging notes show how it can be done in a church sanctuary, without a curtain, or on a traditional stage. It has a cast of 24 to 30 (some actors can play two parts).

     Get a sample at:


"Judas Returns to the Upper Room" a 10 Minute Lenten Drama by Bill Kemp

This is a chancel drama requiring two actors based upon the full-length play, "I Believe." It is appropriate for Lent, particularly those worship occasions that involve communion, baptism, or the joining of new members. When used as a Holy Thursday message, the play should follow the congregation's participation in the Lord's Supper. It also can be creatively staged as a dinner theater.

    Download a free copy of the script at:


If you have any questions, email 

Plays will be offered for the spring 2019 season at cost. Contact us about obtaining a play kit with sufficient scripts for your production.

Play takes place in and near Jerusalem during Holy Week
Mark 10:43-44
[James and John] said to him, "Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory."

We all know people like Jesus’ disciples James and John. We find them at our workplace, when everyone is trying to be a team, someone goes and brown-noses with the boss, saying, “I’ve got some ideas for increasing productivity. You should put me in charge.” Or, in whatever social club or volunteer group you belong to, no matter what the bylaws say, there’s always someone who is campaigning to be lead dog. In the local church, there are always two or three people who want to be in charge, and about every 18 months, they get into a battle with each other over some trivial issue. When pastors get together for their holy conferences, there are always several who are actively campaigning to be made bishop. So, Jesus wasn't surprised when James and John come to him and ask to be given the thrones next to his in the Kingdom of God. 

We expect Jesus’ business has to be organized the same way as we do our things 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.

Is the Kingdom of God a pyramid? When Jesus begins his ministry by saying, "Blessed are the meek," it doesn't seem so (Matthew 5:1-12). When he ends his ministry on a cross, our ambition to get higher is thoroughly mocked. Here, Jesus says to his disciples, "whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all" (Mark 10:43-44).

This might be the first time it occurs to James and John that they weren't chosen to be disciples because of their leadership abilities. In my Bethany's Peoplehistorical fiction novels, I picture James being the older brother and taking over the family business from his father, Zebedee. But James is too ambitious to stick with the barely profitable fishing boat. He sees in Jesus a way to be a part of something bigger. When Jesus leads a crowd into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, James is excited by the opportunity to be seated next to the soon to be king or Messiah. This provides the context for this passage where he and John ask for adjacent thrones. But, Jesus is quick to talk about suffering and in the days ahead he shows how great leadership involves great sacrifice. I picture James falling, as ambitious people often do, when this new reality sets in. In my book, he becomes a glutton. Sins of the flesh often befall the ambitious. Only after Easter, does James accept the non-pyramidal nature of God's Kingdom. Those who want to be greater, or more spiritual, must go lower and become humble, just as Jesus did. In the end, James followed Jesus and became one of the first Christians to be martyred (Acts 12:2). 

What causes a person to follow Jesus, may change & mature later
Pentecost 22
Psalm 90
Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations.

I am lucky to live in Pennsylvania, home to some of the finest fall color displays in the world. This week the weather has been unseasonably warm and the changing of the leaves has been put on hold, but it will come -- I hope. In all of life, hope is not related to your reasoned examination of the facts, but your gut-level perception of your place. Does your relationship with your coworkers and superiors inspire you to be a hopeful employee? Does your place within the loving (we hope) circle of your family and friends allow your heart to feel at home? More importantly, does your faith place you securely in God's hand, so that you have hope in all seasons? I love my Pennsylvania home, but my real residence is in God. Psalm 90 begins:

 Lord, you have been our dwelling place
    throughout all generations.

Before the mountains were born
    or you brought forth the whole world,
    from everlasting to everlasting you are God.


The psalm goes on to be a good news, bad news affair. 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. The nations; their political leaders and parties, their vast cities and congested highways, their noble football teams and kneeling players, all this is but dust on the scale to God (Isaiah 40:12-15). 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.


They say that what separates us from the animals is our awareness of our mortality. Some days I may be more human than others. I used to say that I was one yard shy of being six feet under. I may be closer to half that now. Psalm 90 reminds us that praying and struggling with our own mortality can give us wisdom. We dare not shy away from it. Palm 90 invites you to take both a higher perspective on life and a longer view on history. We find hope, not in listening only to the good news, but also in planting our feet firmly in the reality of God's providence.

Change your perspective
Pentecost 21
Fall Season
The Rock, the River, and the Tree, are great symbols of transition

"On the Pulse of Morning" was written for the first inauguration of Bill Clinton in 1993. It cautioned the new leader to think first about the long view of history. Neither his moral failings nor those of our current president diminish the fact that we only borrow for a moment our positions of power. This is a good poem to reflect upon as we transition our (UMC) church into whatever future lies beyond February 2019.

On the Pulse of Morning  by Maya Angelou

A Rock, A River, A Tree

Hosts to species long since departed, 

Marked the mastodon,

The dinosaur, who left dried tokens

Of their sojourn here

On our planet floor,

Any broad alarm of their hastening doom

Is lost in the gloom of dust and ages.


But today, the Rock cries out to us, clearly, forcefully, 

Come, you may stand upon my

Back and face your distant destiny,

But seek no haven in my shadow.

I will give you no hiding place down here.


You, created only a little lower than

The angels, have crouched too long in 

The bruising darkness

Have lain too long

Face down in ignorance.

Your mouths spilling words


Armed for slaughter.

The Rock cries out to us today, you may stand upon me, 

But do not hide your face.


Across the wall of the world,

A River sings a beautiful song. It says, 

Come, rest here by my side.


Each of you, a bordered country,

Delicate and strangely made proud,

Yet thrusting perpetually under siege.

Your armed struggles for profit

Have left collars of waste upon

My shore, currents of debris upon my breast. 

Yet today I call you to my riverside,

If you will study war no more. Come,

Clad in peace, and I will sing the songs 

The Creator gave to me when I and the

Tree and the rock were one.

Before cynicism was a bloody sear across your

Brow and when you yet knew you still 

Knew nothing.

The River sang and sings on.


There is a true yearning to respond to

The singing River and the wise Rock.

So say the Asian, the Hispanic, the Jew

The African, the Native American, the Sioux, 

The Catholic, the Muslim, the French, the Greek 

The Irish, the Rabbi, the Priest, the Sheik,

The Gay, the Straight, the Preacher,

The privileged, the homeless, the Teacher. 

They hear. They all hear

The speaking of the Tree.


They hear the first and last of every Tree

Speak to humankind today. Come to me, here beside the River.

Plant yourself beside the River.


Each of you, descendant of some passed 

On traveler, has been paid for.

You, who gave me my first name, you, 

Pawnee, Apache, Seneca, you

Cherokee Nation, who rested with me, then 

Forced on bloody feet,

Left me to the employment of

Other seekers -- desperate for gain, 

Starving for gold.

You, the Turk, the Arab, the Swede, the German, the Eskimo, the Scot, 

You the Ashanti, the Yoruba, the Kru, bought,

Sold, stolen, arriving on the nightmare

Praying for a dream.

Here, root yourselves beside me.

I am that Tree planted by the River,

Which will not be moved.

I, the Rock, I the River, I the Tree

I am yours -- your passages have been paid. 

Lift up your faces, you have a piercing need 

For this bright morning dawning for you. 

History, despite its wrenching pain

Cannot be unlived, but if faced

With courage, need not be lived again.


Lift up your eyes upon 

This day breaking for you.

Give birth again 

To the dream.


Women, children, men,

Take it into the palms of your hands, 

Mold it into the shape of your most 

Private need. 

Sculpt it into

The image of your most public self. 

Lift up your hearts

Each new hour holds new chances 

For a new beginning.

Do not be wedded forever

To fear, yoked eternally

To brutishness.


The horizon leans forward,

Offering you space to place new steps of change. 

Here, on the pulse of this fine day

You may have the courage

To look up and out and upon me, the

Rock, the River, the Tree, your country.

No less to Midas than the mendicant.

No less to you now than the mastodon then.


Here, on the pulse of this new day

You may have the grace to look up and out 

And into your sister's eyes, and into

Your brother's face, your country

And say simply

Very simply

With hope--

Good morning.

Mark 10:2-16
[People asked Jesus] "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?"

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 (Mark10:2-16). 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. Whether we marry or not, we are likely to have someone dependent upon us. They may an elderly parent, a terminally ill neighbor, or the soldiers beside us in a combat unit. At the birth of children and when people enter into the covenant of marriage, we talk about dependency. We say the words, “In sickness and in health.” We promise to neither neglect nor abuse those in our care.

In Jesus’s day, the direction of this dependency was indelibly etched into the culture. Women were always dependent upon men. Wives depended upon their husbands in both financial and legal matters. Children, often in the danger of becoming orphans, could depend upon the whole village to raise them. Today, men and women have equal rights, and when two people marry, one may be earning more than the other, but this situation is unlikely to span their entire marriage. Today people often raise children with little help from their neighbors and at great distances from their extended family. It is what it is. God does not expect us to reject our culture. He expects us to live compassionately within it.

Jesus addresses a common fault in his world. Otherwise good, religious, men in his day often neglected their dependents and cast their wives into prostitution or worse, by divorcing them. Jesus states that these men are guilty for whatever ill befalls their family once they divorce them. Today, the most difficult decision a couple has to face when they end their marriage is, “how shall we care for those (whether they be children, elderly parents, mutual friends, etc.) who depended upon our relationship, either for material or emotional support?” The great sin isn’t divorce, it is blindly following our anger at the expense of others. Divorce either works or doesn’t work, depending upon how well a couple continues to care for their mutual obligations.

In both Jesus’s day and today marriage requires more than two people of appropriate age and acceptable genders filling out the necessary paperwork. Those who shout about marriage only being between a man and a woman should be aware that they are focusing upon a minimum standard (opposite genders) when the real issue for both Jesus’s day and our own modern era, has been the unwillingness of religious people to be any more compassionate towards their life-partners and children than their pagan neighbors.

Jesus never speaks about homosexuality, a fact that few conservative pastors are willing to mention to their congregations. The places in the Bible where it is spoken about, are always in a larger context that is more concerned lawlessness, sexual abuse, and marital infidelity. The Bible recognizes that it takes more than just two people of opposite genders to have a successful marriage. When we abuse others sexually, we sin. Consent is a minimum standard. Age and power dynamics often frame whether a sexual act is appropriate. Christians would do more good in society if they stopped arguing about homosexuality and instead, worked to support healthy relationships. Family values should lead us to advocating policies that make it easier for everyone to care for their dependents, such as universal healthcare and real changes to the tax code.

if its not about sex, why do some people limit marriage to mixed gender?
Pentecost 20