More to the Story

I think folks like to tell stories of the past that put the best ‘face’ on situations. This week’s reading from Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16 wraps things up in a pretty tidy package, but I think we do ourselves a disservice by avoiding the verses ‘in the middle’ as well as exploring the whole context of Abraham and Sarah’s story.

We’re missing the circumcision verses:

And by ignoring them in this week’s reading, I think we miss out on a discussion about circumcision among other people in the area when Abraham lived and when his story was written. It seems we want to remove it from our thoughts because we think the discussion will be too distracting.

We’re missing the story of Abraham’s other children and how they link today’s Christians with our Muslim and Jewish brothers and sisters:

I think the overall narrative of the Bible – God creates, we mess up, God restores and reconciles, we mess up . . . shows God's care and love for all of creation. Telling the story of Ishmael, Isaac, and all of Abraham’s other children helps, I think, Christian folk realize that we are part of a heritage that ties folks together and also one that continues in different God-serving religions.

What are your thoughts?



Last night's Ash Wednesday sermon at St. Paul's UCC in Downers Grove, IL.  It's a little muffled -- using a back up recorder placed in an imperfect spot.  And welcome to Lent!
"Timing" podcast


A Voice

This week's Bible reflection (Collar) started a little fun with laundry and dazzling clothes as part of today's Transfiguration Sunday sermon at St. Paul's UCC in Downers Grove.
"A Voice" podcast



I looked at one of my white dress shirts a few days back. It seemed a little worse for wear. It had all its buttons and it even fit well, but the collar, something that used to be as bright white as the shirt, was no longer, uh, dazzling.
I’ve tried special “ring around the collar” laundry detergents.  I’ve tried bleach. I’ve asked the cleaners to pay special attention to the discolored collar.  I’ve even tried some of the “miracle white” type “amazing” detergents.

The collar was, and still is, no longer dazzling.

I bought a new shirt. It looks nice.  And I’ve gotta say that the collar is . . . dazzling.

In this week’s Bible reading from Mark 9:2-9, Jesus went up on the mountain with Peter, James, and John.  While they were up there, Jesus didn’t get a new shirt.  Instead, his clothes became dazzling white – like no detergent, bleach, laundry specialist, “miracle white” detergent, or even a new shirt could become.

What did it mean? Peter had no idea. I think he saw the dazzling Jesus and said the first thing that he could think of that didn’t sound completely off.

“This is good – let me help everyone feel at home.”

I love that Peter’s first thought was about hospitality in a situation that was unnerving, surprising, and terrifying.

I wonder if he asked if he could get a new shirt, too- or at least a way to make his clothes look like that.

Deserted Place

Last week's Bible reflection (Sucking the Life Out of You) provided some of the backbone for yesterday's sermon at St. Paul's UCC in Downers Grove, IL
"Deserted Place" podcast


Sucking the life out of you

In this week’s Bible reading from Mark 1:29-39, Jesus was tired. He’d been talking and healing. People were following him everywhere. I can imagine that the pace and the crowds were sucking the life out of him. Instead of being energized by the crowd and all the hoopla, Jesus needed to recharge – get away from it all.

So he disappeared. He went away from it all – to a deserted place. He probably breathed deep and took in the blessed solitude as he prayed.

And the disciples didn’t get it. They hunted for him. They had a schedule to keep. They had people to please. When they found him they even scolded him. "Everyone is searching for you."  I can imagine the  words were spoken not with care and concern, but rather with “I’m tearing my hair out and you’re not helping anything!” emotions.

I think others in Jesus’ situation might have said, “So?! Let everyone wait! I need a break! Just leave me alone for a little while -- I’ll find you when I’m ready for everyone.” I think Jesus probably wanted to say something like that – or perhaps something a little stronger.

Instead, I imagine he took a deep breath when he then said – “Let’s go. Let’s go to some of the smaller places. I think those folks need to see and hear all this, too.”

I do think that Jesus found time to rejuvenate by traveling to the smaller places where folks hadn’t yet heard as much of him.

Good for him.
  • Are there times, places, and life situations where your energy is being sucked dry?
  • Do you need to get away from it all, take a deep breath, and experience the rejuvenating solitude?
  • What is sucking the life out of you?



Jesus cast out an unclean spirit from a man who interrupted him.

The ‘unclean spirit’  or 'demon' places in the Bible make me more than uncomfortable. In the time of Jesus, folks with brain disorders/mental illnesses were thought to be possessed by unclean spirits - demons.. That idea has carried through in religious circles long after medicine has identified brain disorders/mental illness and has found ways, in many instances, to treat it. The “pray away the demon” theology is harmful to folks who suffer from brain disorders/mental illness. But ignoring medicine in favor or a "prayer only" solution to a medical problem ignores the healing ability of medicine as well as prayer.

What doesn’t make me uncomfortable about this instance of Jesus casting out an unclean spirit is that he did it without any fancy rituals – as the healers of the day would have done – and that when the man was healed the folks “got” that Jesus was something way outside what they’d ever experienced – he was the real thing while others were just pretenders.
  • Jesus' way is one of restoration – not disdain. Have you ever treated someone with a brain disorder/mental illness, or any disability, as an outcast who just needed to “snap out of it?” 
  • Jesus' way of restoration is also one that has everything to do with justice for those who are outcast.
What are you doing individually – How are you involved in community to bring restoration and justice to those who are outcast or forgotten?


Holding back

I can think of a few ways to understand the phrase, “Holding  back.”

  • Describing someone who isn’t ready for what's next– needing more time to prepare.
  • Describing a competitor keeping some energy in reserve for a late burst of speed.
  • Describing a person who seems to be restrained from achieving a goal.

In this week’s Bible reading from Mark 1:14-20, describing briefly Jesus’ call of the first disciples, there are a couple of instances of holding back.

Jesus was holding back.
Jesus waited until John was arrested before starting his public ministry. Either he wasn’t quite ready to begin, or he held back on starting until John (who could have become a competitor rather than a herald) was out of the picture.

The first disciples were holding  back.
Simon, Andrew, James and John had taken up the family business. But when Jesus called them they immediately left and followed him. They were holding back from leaving the family business and following a rabbi because they'd never been invited by a rabbi  before. 

In our lives, what is holding up back? 
  • Is there something we’re  just not ready for, but will be soon?
  • Are we saving something for the right opportunity to come along?
  • Do we feel restrained because of fear or because of something else? 
What’s holding us back?


You Get Me

The sermon podcast for MLK Sunday at St. Paul's UCC in Downers Grove, IL.
"You Get Me" podcast



This week's Bible reflection (Bugs) was a fun way to begin today's sermon at St. Paul's UCC in Downers Grove, IL.
"Baptized" podcast