There he was, out in the wilderness that surrounds the Jordan River, bellowing about repentance. He was a bit of an oddball – John the Baptist. He wore garments of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist. He was doing all he could to look like Elijah or one of the early prophets of Israel (and you can see 2 Kings 1:8 if you don’t believe me). John ate locusts and wild honey. And yet, Luke takes immense pains to make the appearance of this oddball an event worth coordinating with no less than seven rulers of the… Continue reading
Jean Vanier could be described as a humanitarian, philosopher, or theologian, but those who know him best would describe him as a man with a heart, a man of compassion. He was born the son of a Canadian diplomat. He joined the Royal Navy and had opportunity for a career as a commissioned officer but he was drawn to study and to seek a deeper spirituality. So he resigned his commission and studied both philosophy and theology. He was on his way to a life of academics. Either of those careers would have been honorable and worthwhile, but he felt… Continue reading
“Staying the Course,” is an idiom that means sticking with a task until it’s done. The most commonly suggested derivation of the idiom is from sailing a ship in the same general direction it was charted to go by its captain in spite of exigencies. This explanation recognizes the need for modifications in the course and for steadiness toward the goal and for keeping at it until the goal is reached. First Baptist has been sailing now for over 163 years. We’re the oldest church in La Crosse, and one of the smallest. We haven’t always been as small as… Continue reading
The Ashley family Thanksgiving at our house has gotten me in the mood for the Thanksgiving season. (I, for one, refuse to go to Christmas this early, despite every effort of merchants to get me there!) There’s an old German hymn that isn’t in our current hymnal, but which most of us know:
We plow the fields and scatter the good seed on the land,
But it is fed and watered God’s almighty hand.
God sends the snow in winter, the warmth to swell the grain,
The breezes and the sunshine, and soft refreshing rain.
And the refrain is:
All… Continue reading
“For All the Saints, Who From Their Labours Rest…” today we may think about the Apostles and other like Barnabas, Priscilla and Aquila in the New Testament, the many great names like Polycarp, Irenaeus, Augustine, Francis, Benedict, Hildegard, and so on, up through the Reformation names of Luther, Calvin, Cranmer, Bucer, Tyndale, Hubmaier, and others such as the Wesleys, the Judsons, William Carey – the big names, whose stories can be inspirational and moving to us all. Well, since the New Testament calls all of Jesus’ disciples “saints,” on All Saints Day, when many of my most devout colleagues are… Continue reading
Seeing and not seeing, blindness and vision, are fairly common metaphors in the Bible, not only for physical changes (as in the Gospel story of a blind man who is made to see), but for spiritual changes that happen, as when Saul of Tarsus, who persecuted the early church, became Paul the Apostle, its greatest early missionary. The whole story of his blindness and recovery of sight is a metaphor for a complete transformation.
Often, on the day of our quarterly congregational meeting I turn to thoughts of planning, mission, and vision. These are times for “seeing” both where we’ve… Continue reading
I think I’ve told you of the small pieces of note paper that my father had on his office desk. It was one of the first things I remember learning to read. At the top was the legend “From the desk of Pastor John Herschel Ashley,” and, at the bottom was a part of our Gospel lesson: “…Not to be served, but to serve…” Even as a boy, I knew that my dad thought this saying was about him as a minister, and I thought that somebody ought to serve him at least once in a while. “…Not to be… Continue reading
Today’s Lectionary passages make it pretty tough on “rich people.” They seem to say that God takes the side of the poor and is even against those who are rich. I have said to you before that, in the times of Amos and Jesus the overwhelming majority of people were poor, so that when they heard these words, they heard something different than we do. They heard that God was on the side of the 99% of people who were being downtrodden, exploited, and misused by the approximately 1% who assumed that the 99% existed for their comfort.
Our text… Continue reading
As you know, this is the first Sunday of our World Mission Offering, in support of the work of American Baptist Missions Internationally. Today is also, fittingly, World Communion Sunday. The community of Christ is wider than we sometimes remember. Christian folks of many labels, styles, colours, and nations have already gathered or will gather around the Lord’s Table today. As well, it is no longer possible to live in our world today as if we Christians were the only people of faith. More and more we have co-workers and neighbours who are of a different faith tradition than Christian,… Continue reading
Communities are funny places. Many people today misunderstand, I think, what communities are. They are not places where everyone is in the same place as regards looks, thinking, believing, and acting. Indeed, today, as we live in a digital world, people in communities may be in different physical places altogether, being face-to-face as we say, while other community members are hundreds, thousands of miles distant and connected electronically. This last part of community is one with which I’m just learning to cope. We will see more of these hybrid kinds of communities as we go forward, I suspect. True communities… Continue reading