Connections 09.17.2017: The View from Below

God is with us. Christ is present in us. These are, the Bible assures us, facts. But such talk can go to our heads. After all, if God is with us, shouldn’t we be able to look down on other people? And if Christ is present in us, shouldn’t we be able to pass judgment on folks?

Connections 09.03.2017: Participation Trophies

Sometimes kids get participation trophies. You know—if you’re on the team, you get a trophy. If you come in last, you still get a trophy. Why? Because you participated. The practice is controversial among some adults who argue that we shouldn’t teach our children that they’ll be rewarded for “only” participating.

Connections 08.20.2017: Trajectory

The name “Jesus” is the Greek version of the Hebrew name “Joshua,” which means “The Lord saves.” The most famous biblical Joshua led the Hebrews to occupy the promised land, which wasn’t easy since people lived there. So it’s more accurate to say that Joshua led the Hebrews to conquer the land.

Connections 08.06.2017: Knee-Jerk Compassion

This Sunday’s lesson focuses on the fact that we sometimes have inadequate resources to meet the great need before us. It asks us to honestly face and confess our inadequacy so we can be open to God’s provision. It calls us to trust that God will use our meager resources to help meet people’s needs.

Connections 07.23.2017: This Place

I saw the sign in a restaurant in a small Kentucky town: “There’s no place near this place like this place, so this must be the place.” If you wanted a decent meal in that area, it was indeed the place. Most of the time when I was in that town (and in that restaurant), I really didn’t want to be there.

Connections 07.09.2017: The Rube Goldberg Matchmaking Machine

Rube Goldberg, a University of California at Berkley-educated engineer, laid out sewer lines and water mains in San Francisco in the early years of the twentieth century. He was also a cartoonist whose work became nationally syndicated. He specialized in drawing machines that went through many convoluted steps to accomplish a simple task.

Connections 06.25.2017: Birth Stories

An angel flew up to me and asked, “What circumstances would you like to be born into?” I said, “I’ve been watching those folks Champ and Sara Ruffin down there in Barnesville, Georgia. They’ve wanted a child for years. They’re hard-working folks. They’re good Baptists. I’d like to be born to them.”

Connections 06.11.17: Creation Celebration

The Genesis reading in our lesson text, which is excerpted from the lectionary first reading (Gen 1:1-2:4a), does not mention the three persons of the Trinity. Even if we stretch our interpretive imaginations so that “God” refers to the Father and “a wind from God” (1:1) to the Holy Spirit, the text nowhere mentions the Son.

Connections 05.28.2017: Worrying about Worrying

I have two dogs. Or maybe they have me. One is named Rainey, the other Stevie. They’re both mixed breeds. They’re also both rescue dogs; we adopted them from animal shelters. Each is about six years old. They differ from each other in lots of ways. Rainey is black while Stevie is brown. Rainey loves people while Stevie is leery of them.

Connections 05.14.2017: Stones

The symbolism and wordplay in this text fascinate me. In verse 4’s simile, Jesus is “a living stone,” and in verse 5’s metaphor, Christians are “like living stones.” Now, you know and I know that stones can’t live. We also know that we’re in the realm of symbols here, and in a symbolic world, stones can live if that helps the writer make the desired point.

Black Holes

In a few months, we may see the first image of a black hole. This is exciting! Scientists trained the radio telescopes of eight observatories ranging from Antarctica to Hawaii to Spain on two black holes, one located at the center of our home galaxy, the Milky Way, and another in a galaxy known as M87.

Connections 04.30.2017: A Tense Situation

This week’s Scripture passage doesn’t call us to travel in time, but it does summon us to look into the past and toward the future as we live in the present. It calls us to look back to when Christ was revealed, to look forward to when Christ will be revealed, and to live fully in the present as Christ is revealed.

Connections 04.16.2017: The Gardener

When the ordinary meets the extraordinary, chances are pretty good that the ordinary will try to cut the extraordinary down to size. It’s understandable. After all, we’re limited by our experience, and our experience is mighty limited.

Connections 04.02.17: No Foolin’

The day before April 2 is April 1, and that’s April Fools’ Day. I don’t like April Fools’ Day. I don’t like it because it legitimizes lying and cruelty, which I have enough trouble with on the 364 (365 if it’s a leap year) days they’re supposedly considered illegitimate.

Connections 03.19.2017: What Is and What Will Be

There was a time when I wanted everything to make sense. It didn’t want to, so I tried to force it. It didn’t go well. Somewhere along the way, I gave up on that project. Life’s been better since I did. But folks do try to explain things, don’t they? One of the things we hear well-intentioned Christians say is, “Life’s tough; then you die.”

A Spirit Prayer

O God, Thank you for your Spirit that is with us, within us, and among us.
Thank you for the spirit that we are.
Thank you for the spirit of your creation.

Connections 03.05.2017: So Much More

Back when the game show Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? was all the rage, Saturday Night Live presented a parody of it (of course they did). Darrell Hammond portrayed host Regis Philbin, and Will Farrell played a contestant named Rich Preylant.

Connections 02.19.2017: Getting Past the Great Filter

It was 1950, and some scientists at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico were walking to lunch. Along the way, they talked about some recent reports of UFOs and a New Yorker cartoon that attributed the recent disappearances of New York City trash canisters to alien activity.

Connections 02.05.2017: Excessive Righteousness

In my imagination, when Jesus tells his disciples, “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (v. 20), I see them looking at each other with expressions that say, “He’s got to be kidding!” After all, you couldn’t get any more righteous than a scribe or a Pharisee.

Connections 01.22.2017: The Speed of Light

Light travels at 186 thousand miles per second. That means it travels about six trillion miles in a year, so that’s the distance in a light year. The sun is “only” about 0.000016 of a light year (93 million miles) from Earth; its light reaches us in about eight minutes twenty seconds.

Connecting with the Lectionary

This time last year, the Uniform series became Connections. We said at the time that the Scripture selections for Connections would be drawn from the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) beginning in January 2017.

Connections 01.08.2017: Going Under

I was watching a made-for-television film about Jesus. In its depiction of Jesus’ baptism, he joined John in the Jordan River. As they stood in the river, which came up to their waists, John poured water over Jesus’ head.

Connections 12.25.2016: Ridiculousness

The whole thing seems ridiculous to me. God Almighty cares enough about this world and the people in it to come down and spend a few years in it and with them. And when God Almighty comes, it’s as a helpless baby who has to be protected, fed, and burped.

An Advent Prayer

O God,
As you come to us, please come bearing faith, hope, and love.
We need to trust, hope, and love more.

Connections 12.11.2016: The Upside Down

I came—and that I come—to Mary’s song as a person of privilege. My late parents would have scoffed at that statement. They worked in textile mills. They bought very used cars. We lived in a small, two-bedroom, one-bath house. But still—we never missed a meal, we always had decent clothes, and the house was warm and dry.

Connections 11.27.2016: Alphabet Power

If you want to know a language, it’s pretty helpful to learn the alphabet. It really helps things go more smoothly. I don’t remember learning the English alphabet. It’s unlikely that I was born knowing it, although I don’t remember a time when I couldn’t and didn’t read.

Connections 11.13.2016: It’s All About the Presence

On the day before Mother’s Day in 2004, my Good Wife and I purchased a slate sign about the size of an automobile license plate from a vendor at the Charleston (SC) City Market. We had two lines of text inscribed on it.

Connections 10.30.2016: Job, Jesus, and Me

At some point in my young life, I began participating in my parents’ nightly prayer time. Using the denominational devotional guide, one of them would read the suggested Scripture passage and the printed meditation, and then say a short prayer.

Connections 10.16.2016: Suffering. Praying. And…

A parishioner had liver cancer. One day, as we sat talking in his den, he told me that he had recently attended a service conducted by an evangelist who claimed to be able to heal the sick.

10.02.2016: Thank God for Jesus

I think I’d believe in God even if Jesus hadn’t come. I seem to assume that God exists. That assumption appears to be a vital part of who I am, but I can’t tell if it’s the product of nature or nurture.

A Prayer about War

O God,
Of the 162 nations in the world, 152 are currently at war or involved in armed conflict. Only ten nations are completely free of conflict.

Connections 09.18.2016: Getting Personal

Speaking in generalities is one thing. Getting down to specifics is another. Generally speaking, believing that God runs the universe is easy, but trusting God to take care of you is hard.

Connections 09.04.2016: Dystopian Visions and Utopian Prophecies

Two books I read during my high school years (and yes, I read more than two!) that influenced me significantly were Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 and George Orwell’s 1984.

Connections 08.21.2016: Places in our Hearts

Robert Benton’s 1984 film Places in the Heart takes place in 1935 Waxahachie, Texas. Royce and Edna Spalding own a cotton farm. Royce is also the local sheriff.

A Prayer about the Genome

O God, We praise you that we are fearfully and wonderfully made.
We praise you for the human genome.

Connections 08.07.2016: Safe in God’s Love

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor recessions, nor politics, nor presidential elections, nor terrorism, nor racism, nor sexism, nor homophobia, nor the internet, nor arrogance, nor ignorance…

A Prayer for Discourse

O God,
We are in the midst of a presidential election season.
It’s been ugly. We expect it to get uglier.

Connections 07.24.2016: Hope Called and Love Answered

I remember an old Gospel song: “Justice Called and Mercy Answered.” Were I to write a song based on Romans 5:1-11, I’d call it “Hope Called and Love Answered.”

A Prayer about Violence

O God,
Our society is so violent. Why are people so afraid? Why do they assume the worst of others and see them as threats?

Connections 07.10.2016: Privilege

We hear a lot of talk these days about privilege. Since I’m one of the privileged, I try to take such talk to heart. I try to be aware of my privileged status and of the pitfalls and advantages that accompany it.

Connections 06.26.2016: We Know

At one point in his 1971 song “Ain’t No Sunshine,” singer/songwriter Bill Withers says the phrase “I know” twenty-six times in a row. He says he intended to write other lyrics, but the veteran musicians playing on his debut album talked him into leaving it as it was.

Connections 06.12.2016: Them and Us

Judgment is real and necessary, but it’s nothing to be happy about.
God’s not happy about it. We shouldn’t be happy about it.

Connections 05.29.2016: What Zacchaeus Saw

Most people, if given the choice between being physically tall or financially and socially big, would go with the power. So Zacchaeus was big in the ways that most folks regard as important.

Connections 05.15.2016: It’s Hard to Be Humble

My father, the late great Champ Ruffin, would sometimes say, “You know, it’s hard to be humble when you’re as great as I am.” He was kidding. I think. I noticed he never said it when Mama was around.

Connections 05.01.2016: The Least We Can Do

I was serving as Interim Pastor of a small church that was blessed to have a very good pianist. She had to be away one Sunday, and a young church member filled in. After the worship service, I was telling the fill-in how grateful I was for her service. She gave me a funny look and said, “Mike, you don’t need to thank me. It’s my church, too.”

Nicodemusly

So in Zimglish, “nicodemusly” means “to do something secretly, under cover of darkness.” This, of course, got me to thinking about other possibilities. Allow me to share some I came up with.

Connections 04.17.2016: Coming and Going

There’s a lot of coming and going in this story. Jesus comes by boat to the land of the Gerasenes. As soon as he steps ashore, a demon-afflicted man comes to him.

Connections 04.03.2016: Free Indeed

Something about this story bothers me. Now, I know that slavery was an accepted part of first century Roman culture. But I also know that for a human being to own a human being violates the humanity of both.