On the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit arrived in dramatic fashion. This week’s Bible reading from Acts 2:1-21 describes a violent wind, divided tongues as of fire, spontaneous language, amazement and questions.

This artwork from Jesus Mafa expresses a wide range of emtions. I see joy, concern, amazement, surprise, fear, awe, confusion, curiousity, glee and even indifference.

What emotions do you see? What emotions do you experience?


This past week's Bible reflection (Clubhouses) opened the door to yesterday's sermon at St. Paul's UCC in Downers Grove.
"Guided" podcast



There’s something cozy, comforting, and safe about having a place. Treehouses, forts, and the like exist, I think, because they offer the ones who use them a feeling of "Ahhh! This is cool!"  Or "Now I can finally relax."

In congregational life, different rooms in the church building become that way – for some it is likely the sanctuary. For some it may be a place like the youth room. Maybe even the kitchen. The places become sacred to the groups that meet in those places. In those places people find community. They find goodness. They find safety. And all of that is wonderful.

Until the place becomes one that serves to keep others out.

Clubhouses too often are less safe and comfortable places and more exclusive places where the unwanted are never permitted. They become "do not trespass" territories where no one without the proper credentials or password or power may enter. Treehouses, forts, sanctuaries, youth rooms, and even kitchens become that all too often.

Clubhouses shouldn’t be the places where all one wants to do is keep the unwanted out.

In this week’s Bible reading from John 17:6-21, Jesus prayed for his disciples. He prayed for all of his disciples. And his prayer was not that they would all have their separate places and reasons to make others unwanted.

Nope. Not at all.



Last week's Bible reflection (Stick) formed the beginning section of last Sunday's Confirmation Day Sermon at St. Paul's UCC in Downers Grove, IL.
"Abiding" podcast



I’ve been a minister for more than 25 years. Several years ago I was part of a youth group talking about this week’s Bible reading from John 15:1-8 – the one with the vine and the branches. I was pointing out how branches do what they do – they bear fruit. They do it because it is . . . just what they do.

We talked further about the part that says “Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me.” I asked, “What’s a branch when it’s not part of the vine?”

“It’s a stick.”

Of course, it’s easy to go from there to focus on the words:

“He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit . . . such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.” And then say, “I know that I’m not one of those “gathered and burned” things – but I sure know who is! How dare they be so much like a stick. God’s clear on what’s gonna happen to them!"

When we do stuff like that we miss what I think is one of the most important pieces of this week's reading.

“I am the vine – you are the branches.”

Not, “I am the vine, and will be branches if you do it right” or “I am the vine and you are in real danger of not being branches,” but YOU ARE THE BRANCHES.

I know that there continues to be a tension between the presence of God’s unconditional and unending love and this stick burning or branch cutting stuff.

I’ll just let that tension stay.  We don’t have to figure it all out. l haven’t. I’ll just leave it at this:

“Don’t be a stick.  Because you’re not.”



This week's Bible reflection (Sheep) provides the beginning for today's sermon at St. Paul's UCC in Downers Grove, IL
"Enfolded" podcast



I've seen several versions of that video of a sheep running into a wall.   It's usually used as evidence that all sheep are stupid.

Does that mean that one person tripping and falling is evidence that all humans are clumsy?

Here are some ‘sheepish’ facts:
  • Sheep tend to stay close with other sheep. If they get separated they become quite agitated and uncomfortable. They know that when they are together as a flock they are more protected from predators.
  • Sheep recognize sheep faces -- and human faces to some extent. They recognized sounds and can even recognize the voice of the shepherd who tends to the flock they are part of.
  • Sheep know how to choose the kind of food that will give them the best nourishment based on the season and their dietary needs.
  • Sheep are simply pretty intelligent mammals.
Shepherds -- on the other hand, can be good for, or not so good for, their flock. If they care for the sheep and seek to protect them from trouble, they do what is good for the sheep. If they try to lead them astray and run at the first sign of danger -- they don't.

Maybe it's all too simple in this one. In this week’s  Bible reading from John 10:11-18, the words of Jesus say, "I am the good shepherd." A shepherd that cares deeply for the flock and does not desert them when there is trouble. The good shepherd has a connection with the sheep that someone who doesn't care about the sheep can never have.

So in a very simple way of looking at things, we're the sheep -- intelligent and in need of a shepherd -- and Jesus is the good shepherd.


Free Your Mind

Have you ever had a big argument with someone? How about a really nasty, even caustic conversation – with a person you normally get along very well with?

Here’s something I’ve learned over the years. When a conversation that would normally not be one filled with conflict, nastiness, and even caustic behavior, turns into one that has those and other unpleasant things, it is possible that the people having the conversation haven’t had something to eat recently.

It’s not an “every time” piece of advice, but I think that it’s really wise to avoid arguing hungry. Having a snack before continuing a difficult conversation tends to Free up  the mind.

Jesus isn’t known for caustic conversations, and in this week’s Bible reading from Luke 24:36b-48, there isn't a hint of nastiness. But there is astonishment and fear. And Jesus doesn’t give the disciples a lesson in how awful fear and doubt are. Instead he gives them a way to free their minds from all the unpleasantness. They ate some fish.

And then Jesus freed their minds.

Some fish, eh?


Not Written

For today's sermon at St. Paul's UCC in Downers Grove, I pretty much took the questions from this week's Bible reflection (They Were Still Afraid) and tossed them out the window.  I moved to some other questions -- about tornados, murder, religious freedom, and a few other 'can of worms' topics.
"Not Written" podcast


They were still afraid

Last week’s Bible reading from Mark 16:1-8 left things hanging. In this week’s reading from John 20:19-31 . . . things are still unresolved.

Before we jump to the “Mark and John are written at different times and from different traditions” discussion, let’s ask some questions about the fearful disciples and their experience in this week’s reading.
  1. Why were the disciples hiding? Was someone searching for them? What kind of trouble were they in?
  2. How did Jesus get into a locked room? Did he ‘appear?’ Did the disciples open the door after hearing a ‘secret word?’
  3. What did Jesus’ breath smell like when he breathed on the disciples?
  4. What’s with the forgiving sins and retaining sins stuff here?
  5. Jesus said “Peace be with you” thrice in this week’s reading. That’s got to be important, right?
  6. Why does Thomas get singled out for not believing? Didn’t the other disciples see first?
  7. Did Thomas reach and touch Jesus hands and side? Was it ‘gooey?’
  8. Why weren’t the other signs verse 31 talks about written in this book? Are they written somewhere else?
What else is unresolved? What other questions do you have this week?