As a pastor, it is not unusual for me to hear people speak of their blessings. They may comment to me that they have been blessed, usually referring to what they appreciate in their lives, such as possessions, wealth, position, children, etc. In prayers people sometimes refer to their many blessings, often with similar meaning. What I've never heard is someone including the items that Jesus lists in the Beatitudes.
My wife and I have a joke. We tell it when we are out in public, at an airport or a restaurant or concert, and I need to use the bathroom. When I stand up to find a restroom I say to her, “Okay, honey, if I’m not out in five minutes, come look for me.” We always laugh but, actually, it’s not that funny.
John’s Gospel message can be summed up in several different ways. For many, the heart of the Johannine message is John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that any who believe in him may not perish, but have everlasting life.” That’s a good one, and so is the very next one, “God did not send his son to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved.” There are also the seven “I am” statements in which Jesus not-so-subtly declares himself by the unspeakable name of God.
One of the most striking features of our degraded public dialogue is our tendency to "double down." When confronted with a failing, or challenged because our assertions seem to have no connection with reality, we don't pause to consider whether we might need to modify our position. That would be a sign of weakness, or so we're told.
Over the last few months, I’ve often traveled north on I-26/US 23 into the broken heart of eastern Kentucky’s coal country. The land looks weary.
Less than three years ago I was very excited to move out to the country. But less than a year ago we moved back into town. Honestly, it's a little embarrassing. Moving back to town was a good decision on many levels—the right decision for many reasons. Yet this time of year I do miss my three acres. I’ve been thinking lately about what I could call our “failed experiment” but instead choose to name our “country living adventure.”
What exactly is a golden calf? You know the story. Moses was up on the mountain for a long time working with God on plans for a place of worship and the rituals to go along with it. Meanwhile, the people down below figured he had abandoned them and asked Aaron to do the same according to their own plans, which he did by constructing a golden calf and declaring a festival to YHWH. He didn’t declare a festival to some other god, he declared it to the LORD, and that was just fine with the people. I don’t think this story is about a statue of a calf made of gold, nor do I think it’s about worshiping idols.
One line I read a few weeks ago about congregational life together has stuck with me in a big way. I’ve brought it up, in one way or another, several times already. In a Christian Century article, “More People, Looser Ties” David Eagle drops the sentence, “Think of it this way: a congregation with 100 married couples today has 1,000 fewer hours of potential volunteer labor to tap than it did in 1970.”
I had a wedding earlier this month. It was my first wedding here, in my new-ish call. The couple at whose wedding I officiated are fairly new members of the congregation. She came and visited not long after I started. A little later, he visited as well. I have some affection for the first few people who showed up the same hot summer that I did.