Not Limp, Tame, Cautious or Safe

Mark 1: 21-28 – The 4th Sunday after Epiphany – for January 29, 2012

“They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, ‘What is this…’” (Mark 1:27)

I entered the post office. Waiting in line, I grasped a shopping bag holding twenty-one copies of my book, A Companion for the Journey. Identical in size, weight and packaging, they were ready to mail.

For practical and humble reasons, I planned to send them to clergy friends. Companion is my book and I’m proud of the accomplishment.

Practically speaking, I’d like to sell enough to cover printing costs. With books heavy in hand, I also think ministers are a good audience to generate word-of-mouth. Buzz. You know: they’ll tell other clergy pals to spring for a copy; they’ll tell a layperson or ten that Companion (by that swell fellow Larry) is worth a read. However, I’ll readily admit self-published also means selfishly-published. It’s not only about selling enough to keep a bottom line in black ink. Please read it and like it (as we declare in the gospel according to Facebook). Ah, ego.

Now, about humble as my other reason . . .

“Sir, can I help you?”

Oops! It’s my turn at the post office window. I stepped forward, hoisted the bag of nouns and verbs onto the counter space papered with official USPS notes to customers. I stacked the ready-to-mail packages of vanity in front of the clerk.

“Same size, same weight,” I said. Since I’d used my handy-dandy Martha Stewart kitchen scale at home, I added, “They’re each about seven point seven ounces.” Didn’t I sound like an expert? (Or a babbling fool?)

“You’re right,” she replied after weighing a book. The clerk consulted a list taped to the counter and then gazed at me. “Are they all domestic?”

I paused. I didn’t hear domestic. Instead, had she wondered if they were . . . domesticated? Maybe it’s because I’m anxious about sending books to friends. Maybe it’s because my mind continuously plays weird word games. Regardless, I asked, “What do you mean by domes–” Continue reading →

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As Is

Mark 1:14-20 – for the 3rd Sunday after Epiphany – January 22, 2012

“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near…” (Mark 1:15)

It's what's on the inside, ever so briefly, that matters most...

It could be said—only jokingly, of course—that if the New Testament is the Internet, then Mark’s Gospel is Twitter.

The second Gospel (and first written) starts with a gallop and races toward its conclusion. No frills, lots of thrills. Jesus’ comments come with the urgency of someone screaming “Duck!” because an errant ball hurled by Tim Lincecum is headed your way.

  • The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of heaven has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.
  • Follow me and I will make you fish for people. 
  • Be silent and come out of him!
  • Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.
  • I do choose. Be made clean.

Those are the first five comments—couldn’t they easily be tweeted?—by the Nazarene in Mark. Brevity? You bet! These sayings, if you count all the tweet-ready words, punctuation and spaces are, in order: 101, 46, 30, 120 and 27. Tweet on, Jesus!

Some scholars suggest Jesus’ first words in Mark represent his ministry’s essence. Those 101 words—in English, able to be tweeted without substituting “&” for “and” or deleting commas or periods—are as abrupt as they are clear. This scholarly claim could be frustrating if a New Testament expert desires to write an insightful bestseller for the masses. After all, who could make money on a book that doesn’t have to be much longer than a few paragraphs? God is near. Transform your lives. Believe in the good news. That’s all, folks!

Brevity has also underscored the best of my private life and public ministry . . . Continue reading →

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Wit With Ness Or Less

Matthew 22:15-22 – The 18th Sunday of Ordinary Time – for October 16, 2011

“Tell us then, what do you think, is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor…” (Matthew 22:17)

My wife and I were on our morning walk, the dog trotting near us, when I asked, “What housecleaning should we do today?”

You know the drill. Friends were expected for a visit. It’s the bad news/good news about guests: drats we have to tidy up, but it’s an incentive to tackle neglected chores.

By asking the question, by putting the obvious on the table first, I thought myself clever. Why? Like all right-thinking and intelligent human beings, I can’t stand cleaning. Nonetheless, some work must be done and I figured—‘cuz I’m also sneaky—asking her to list possible chores “first” allowed me a chance to nab the least-worst items on our impending list of tasks. In other words, my lovely wife would suggest priorities and I’d claim the easiest ones.

I asked my question. We strolled along the sidewalk. The dog sniffed a tree as if a dogsled running the Iditarod took a break around its trunk.

“Well,” she answered, “what do you think are the most important ones?”

Gotcha. A question with a question. My wife does that. A lot. She’s a teacher—and I think a darn good one, though I’m biased—and her teaching style includes questions for her students. She wants them to think, wonder and grow. She avoids lecturing and encourages discussion. And she brings her work home!

Some religious leaders in Jesus’ day famously approached him, infamously scheming to trick him into a dangerous mistake, and wondered if it’s “…lawful to pay taxes to the emperor or not?” Continue reading →

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