There’s a comfort in being sure. Do you remember the 80’s TV commercial? “Raise your hand – raise your hand -- if you’re sure.”

Yes. Being sure you have worn the proper anti-perspirant – so as not to risk moisture under the arms, gives you a secure, confident feeling. A feeling of being sure.

Like the anti-perspirant commercial, I think a whole generation of people believes that being sure is best.

I’m not so sure. I think wonder, imagination, dreaming, questioning, learning, and doubting are what this world needs.

The early Christians were sure that Jesus was returning – very soon. They didn’t know exactly when, but it was definitely before they would all die. They had to be ready because it was going to happen – surely – any day.

And it didn’t.

Maybe “This generation will not pass until all these things have taken place” from this week’s Bible reading from Mark 13:24-37 isn’t about a 40 year generation. Maybe it is about “this generation” of humanity – meaning that all of humankind won’t pass before these things have taken place.

I don’t think so. I think that all who were sure that Jesus was coming back right away got it wrong.

And folks have been trying to figure out a way to be sure ever since.



Sometimes I feel really positive.  Other times, not so much. Lately I’ve really been paying attention to how often I think of things in negative terms, and it was too many. I can’t simplify everything into a “Look, I’m always going to think of things in positive terms and I’m not going to think in negative terms anymore” description, but I am noticing and consciously trying to see more positives. I really don’t want to rant against negatives. They are always present. So why not focus on what I support instead of what I'm against? For instance:

  • I support comprehensive, compassionate and fair immigration reform.
  • I support marriage equality
  • I support LGBT equality
  • I support a woman’s right to chose.
  • I support the paycheck fairness act
  • I support a $15 an hour federal minimum wage with annual cost of living increases
  • I support single payer healthcare reform.

And as I express those things, I recognize that many will have immediate negative thoughts. Some of them will probably be directed at the causes I just said I support. Others likely will be directed at me for supporting those causes. I also recognize that many will have positive thoughts about the causes I listed (and others I support) as well as about me for supporting them.

All those ideas are present here today. And, for right now, I want to focus on the positives. Not the positives relating to the things I just said I support, but rather “the positives” in general. This week’s Bible reading from Matthew 25:31-46 tells the parable of the sheep and the goats. There are negatives and positives. And I want to focus on the positives – and perhaps even enhance them.

  • I was hungry and you had a banquet in my honor.
  • I was a stranger and you introduced me to all of your friends.
  • I was naked and you took me on a shopping spree.
  • I was sick and you brought me soup and you took me to the doctor.
  • I was in prison and you told me I was loved no matter what.
How positive can we get?


Ready to Shine

This week's Bible reflection (Lamps) kept along the same path -- and it became today's sermon at St. Paul's UCC in Downers Grove, IL.  Complete with some pointed words about the religious shaming culture
"Ready to Shine" podcast



So some had extra oil for their lamps and others didn’t.

Some leaders were really bothered by this.  They were bothered not only because anyone had a lamp, but also because they were waiting at all, lamps or not.  So these leaders came in and took all the fuel for the lamps because, they said, the lamps were dangerous.

And in other places, the leaders came and tried to push the lamps out. They tried to remove the lamps because they, all of a sudden, and after rarely, if ever, doing it before, needed to do a thorough cleaning of the places the lamps lit.

They also decided to pass rules to make it difficult for anyone who wanted to own, possess, or light a lamp.   They made rules that no one could keep their lamps trimmed and burning past a particular hour.

In some cases, they violently broke the lamps. 

But for every obstacle meant to dim, snuff out, or destroy the lamps, the lamps burned brighter. And more lamps appeared and burned still brighter

The lamps simply couldn’t be removed or extinguished.

The lamps were, are, and will continue to be trimmed and burning.


Here's a "Blues in Black and White" version of the spiritual, "Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burning" - recorded  a few years ago in a storage garage.




I’m a show-off.

It’s in my wiring.
  • I like to be noticed
  • I love to be in front of a crowd
  • I like to hear myself speak
Sure, I don’t walk around town begging people to notice me, nor do I try to be the one who gets all the honor at community dinners. I don’t care if people use a proper title when talking to or about me, either. But I have to admit – I do like wearing the robe – I look good in it. I like the looks of respect people give when they see it.

And I don’t always listen to the advice I give when I’m wearing it. Or the advice I give any time, for that matter.

I’m a hypocrite who likes to be the center of attention.


Quiz Time

From the Pharisees to Jesus: “What commandment in the law is the greatest?"
Jesus answered the question by giving them what they already knew -- but weren't expecting.
Jesus responded with the perfect answer.
In this week’s Bible reading from Matthew 22:34-46, Jesus responded, to the question by going outside of the expected 10. He recited the scriptures -- first the Great Shema from Deuteronomy 6:4-9 (The what? The affirmation of faith that begins with the "Hear oh Israel" phrases that parents are supposed to repeat and teach their children and put on their doorposts. This one is "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.") Then Jesus gave them other words they were familiar with from Leviticus 19:18 -- "Love your neighbor as yourself."
And no one could respond. Jesus gave it to them in plain talk. Those were the two and everything else hinged (and hinges) on them.
Of course, the question, "Who is my neighbor" comes to mind with that second one. Jesus addressed that another time -- with the answer being just as simple. Everyone is your neighbor.
So those two commandments -- the most important ones -- the ones that inform everything else:
  • Love God
  • Love everyone
End of quiz.



This week's Bible reflection (Not called 'God's ahem . . . backside, but rather "Here's what you missed") provided an eye opening beginning for today's sermon at St. Paul's UCC in Downers Grove.
"Name" podcast


Here’s what you missed

Before this week’s Bible reading from Exodus 33:12-23.

From last week’s reading

  • Moses was up on the mountain doing the “hanging out with God” thing
  • The people wondered if he was ever coming back.
  • They made a golden calf idol
  • God was really angry and was going to bring evil upon them
  • Moses said, ‘Stop! Don’t! Please change your mind!” to God
  • God changed her mind.

Then – in between last week’s and this week’s reading

  • Moses came down from the mountain and saw what had been happening first hand
  • He dropped the tablets with the 10 commandments and broke them.
  • Aaron said, “I don’t know what happened! I just put all the gold in the fire and this calf came out!”
  • Moses was really angry and got 3000 of the people to fight and kill each other
  • God told Moses that the people would be punished
  • God sent a plague on the people.
  • Then God said that he would help the children of the people make it to the promised land, but not them. They were too stubborn and rebellious
  • The people were sorry.

 And that’s what you missed – except for this little verse that occurs just before this week’s reading. 

Exodus 33:11a Thus the LORD used to speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend.

Here’s a synopsis of one of those conversations:

  • God promised Moses that everything would work out.
  • Moses asked God, “Show me your glory”
  • God said that no one could see the face of God and live.
  • God let Moses see his back – or “back parts”

 How could Moses speak to God face to face but be in danger of dying if he saw God’s face?
And what did Moses actually see when God went past and then showed Moses his back?

Michelangelo had an idea - and likely based on Jerome’s Latin translation of Exodus 33:23 – that says God showed Moses his “backs” he painted, in one part of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, a picture of God showing “backs”

And now all you can do is think about that picture.


Last week's questioning Bible reflection (Bible stuff) gave a little bit of context to yesterday's sermon at St. Paul's UCC in Downers Grove, IL.
"Mind" podcast