Posted by: Rev Andy Little | July 14, 2009

The Anatomy of Conflict

This is a repost.

Any group of people, whether it is a club, company, church, synagogue, association or other entity, is a body or system. While very few of the people involved may relish conflict, it is a critical component of a healthy system. Absent opposing pressures, the system will cease to function. The body serves as the best example, as almost all muscles are formed in pairs. Movement of any kind, even as simple as changing the gaze from a near point to a far point, is accomplished by the opposing mechanical processes of muscles. A healthy system recognizes the inherent value of conflict, mitigates the normal human responses of “fight or flight”, and uses the opposing pressures to create healthy and viable action. That being said, most human systems or organizations have little to no capacity for utilizing conflict constructively. Read More…

Posted by: Rev Andy Little | March 8, 2009

Taking up your Cross

In Mark 8:34, Jesus invites the crowd to become disciples: “If any want to follow after me, let them renounce themselves and take up their cross and follow me”. If read out of context and with our own modern western understandings, the invitation could be understood as a glorification of suffering and an acceptance of being a victim; deny oneself, sacrifice oneself, leading to wiping out any sense of self, and to embrace the cross, that is, suffering in general. On the basis of this verse, discipleship could be portrayed as “suffer now,” presumably for reward later in the age to come.

This is a fundamental misreading of the Gospel. Read More…

Posted by: Rev Andy Little | February 26, 2009

The Bread of Life II

The text for this section is John 6: 22-36. If you have not read the section on John 6:1-21, click here.

After Jesus fed the five thousand, the people misunderstood who Jesus was – or, maybe more correctly, misunderstood his purpose. Read verses 14 and 15 from John chapter 6:

When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, “This is indeed the prophet returning to the world.” When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.

Jesus had previously explained that actually doing God’s will was the bread of life – the nourishment that strengthened Jesus and the same food that he offered to his followers. Jesus offered discipleship – active engagement in bringing God’s love to the world as the source of spiritual sustenance. The crowd had misunderstood Jesus’ message and the miracle. While they had shared in a common meal, they believed Jesus had been the source of the bread that satisfied their physical hunger.

This, then, led them to believe that Jesus was the messiah. Actually, they were okay to that point. Their problem was that they believed Jesus was the prophet of old returning to be their king. Read More…

Posted by: Rev Andy Little | February 26, 2009

The Bread of Life I

This is the first of a multi-part post on the “Bread of Life” discourse in John, chapter 6. In the lectionary, and in the minds of many, this chaper is dealt with by breaking it into five parts and trying to understand each part as stand-alone text. This is one discourse, however, that is offered in sequence for a reason – each section builds on what came before and cannot be fully appreciated as snippets of scripture. To understand, as best we can, Jesus’ meaning behind “the bread of life”, we need to unpack the whole. This is just such an attempt.

Text for this section of the series – John 6:1-21. Read More…

Posted by: Rev Andy Little | February 21, 2009

What “Sins” Cripple Us? – a reflection on Mark 2:1-12

That was one weird night. I don’t think I’ll ever forget it.

Jesus was here that night, ministering, and the room was filled. Not being able to fit inside, many stood outside, squeezing in as close as they could get.  We were captivated – listening to every word.

Just then, I felt something hit me on the head!  Brushing a rain of dirt from our robes, we looked up to see hands tearing a hole in the roof! When they had opened a hole large enough for a stretcher, we watched as someone lowered a man down through the roof and onto the floor, right there in front of Jesus! Read More…

Posted by: Rev Andy Little | February 17, 2009

Update on the Gift of Music

Colin Brumby’s music has given us joy in service each of the last two weeks. Kathy has played some for each of the preludes and postludes, so the congregation can hear and appreciate the music. Some are very conducive to congregational hymns, and we will be adding some as hymns during the next few weeks. We are also thinking about some other way to highlight the choral pieces that would do justice to their beauty.

This gift is going to keep on giving. Blessings to you, Colin. Thank you so very much.

Posted by: Rev Andy Little | February 8, 2009

Have you not heard? – Sermon on Mark 1:29-39

“The time is fulfilled, and the reign of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news!” 

Verse 14 points to the message that Jesus is proclaiming in Capernaum, and that the gospel of Mark has at its core. The Good News is that the time of waiting is over and that the Reign of God has begun to take shape among them.  That is the message, and Mark – whoever she or he really was –  gave us in last week’s and this week’s text the effect the message has.

Without keeping that in mind, Chapter one appears to read like a choppy series of unrelated incidents.  While it is true that the gospel showed us last week Jesus’ power as an exorcist, and this week as a healer, it isn’t trying to tell us, “Hey, this guy Jesus is a great preacher … and exorcist … and healer!”  The gospel is telling us about the Good News in this opening summary – the gospel of the Reign of God – and starting to flesh out what it looks like from a purely Markan perspective.  Jesus is not only the bearer and herald of the Good News of the Reign of God; Jesus is the Good News of the Kingdom. Where Jesus is, the kingdom has drawn near.

[Special thanks to for helping with this starting point] Read More…

Posted by: Rev Andy Little | February 7, 2009

Wrestling with God Talk

Excerpts from full article:

Over the last few years, one of my favorite preaching topics has been the abandonment of self-interest, selfish ambition and conceit that is extolled in Philippians chapter 2. The call to humility contained within that passage culminates with “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,” (2:12) which, I remind the congregation I am addressing, is difficult to do with someone else’s theology tucked under your arm. To be free of your own conceit requires being free of theological tenets that establish authoritarian norms of belief. It is to acknowledge that certainty is the opposite of faith, not doubt 


Our hope is in an improvable future, just as is God’s but to a far greater degree. Human beings attempt to reason through events as God does. Our hope then lies in God’s promise to love, interact with and forgive us into the future.

Posted by: Rev Andy Little | February 5, 2009

Privilege – Bias with Power

Privilege is one of those very strange things. Those who lack it generally recognize it as either something to envy or something to despise. Those who know they have it and are inclined to have more, manipulate it to their own advantage. Then there is the great, largely clueless majority who, if asked, will tell you they don’t have privilege – they are just as downtrodden as women, people of color, GLBT or whatever other group they may name. Sometimes I think that the invisible unflective privilege is the most heinous and insidious.

To fully understand privilege, we have to first unpack its two close relatives – bias and prejudice. While we tend to use these words interchangeably, they are quite different. Bias is an ingrained preference for or against particular things, and it ranges from the mundane to the notorious. Preferring strawberries over apples is a bias, as is having a preference for white people or against people of color. One is relatively harmless and mild, while the other may be hurtful to both persons involved. Prejudice is pre-judgment based on some criteria or bias. It is one thing to be biased towards whites, but another to prejudge the characteristic of white as better than all other possibilities. Prejudice elevates bias to an action or belief system that is illogical and not just hurtful, but potentially truly harmful. Read More…

Posted by: Rev Andy Little | February 4, 2009

The Gift that Will Keep on Giving …

… and giving, and giving, and …

On Tuesday morning I checked my emails as usual, only to find the most unusual message:


(Courtesy of the Pastor) Dear Kathy, Please accept, as a donation towards the work of the choirs there, the attached PDF files of some of my unpublished choral music. Feel free to download and make copies of any items that you’d like to perform…with my compliments. 
With best wishes, Colin Brumby, DMus

Read More…

Posted by: Rev Andy Little | February 1, 2009

Parable of Two Ministers

The Kingdom of Heaven will look something like this.

The bishop of a large denomination called in two new probationer ministers to make appointments to two churches based, of course, on the gifts and graces he perceived in each candidate. After interviewing the two probationers, the bishop appointed the first to a suburban church with over five hundred members and a brand new, spectacular building. The second was appointed to an inner city mission church with less than a hundred members and a somewhat dilapidated building located in a blighted neighborhood. The bishop, of course, disappeared from view until it was time for the next round of appointments.

Read More…

Posted by: Rev Andy Little | January 31, 2009

It’s God’s Economy

I had been a church administrator for ten years before becoming a minister. I, therefore, am very interested in issues having to do with church “business” and economic theology – the intersection of economics and what we understand of God’s will. Having done so many times before, I recently accepted the challenge to discuss economic theology with a Presbyterian session of a large metropolitan church. While waiting to start I overheard in conversation the “ideal” minister being described as a “CEO” type. So, when I began my presentation, I began with a simple exercise – one I had presented several times before to different audiences. The exercise takes advantage of the preponderance of business language and processes being used by sessions and boards of religious institutions – language, I believe, that leads to the incorporation of less than Christian ethics into the ways churches operate. This was the exercise (you’ll have to forgive the approach as it seems the best way to start with a group of mostly businessmen.)

Read More…

Posted by: Rev Andy Little | January 31, 2009

The Parable of the Sower – Matt 13:1-23


“Listen!”  That’s a word meant to prick up the ears of the hearer; a word meant to get people to pay attention. And where do we hear, “Listen!”, but in Jesus’ first parable in the Gospel of Matthew. (You can read the passage here.)

The parables, for me, represent in blazing color the fact that scripture is not to be taken simply at face value. It is meant to be worked through, to be wrestled with, to be mined for meaning and relevance. The parables not only defy an easy understanding, but they are designed to be thought about and reflected upon. How do we know that? From the word itself. The Greek is paraboley, and means to compare – literally “to put things beside each other”.

With this parable, we have a little easier time than with many. While the parables, in general, use concepts that would have been very meaningful to people of that time, but not so clear to us today, this one makes use of symbols that are just about universal. We hear about seed, paths, rocky soil, fertile ground – in short, we hear about agriculture. That should make it easy to understand – right? Unfortunately, it’s not that easy.

The full text of this message has been moved. Please click here to access the rest of the text.

Posted by: Rev Andy Little | January 30, 2009

Soiled Goods – a Reflection on Acts 8:26-39

Reading: Acts 8:26-39

Then an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Get up and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (This is a wilderness road.) So he got up and went.

Now there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of the Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of her entire treasury. He had come to Jerusalem to worship and was returning home; seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah.

 Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over to this chariot and join it.” So Philip ran up to it and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah. He asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” He replied, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to get in and sit beside him.

The full text of this message is available here.

Posted by: Rev Andy Little | January 29, 2009


COVENANT STRESSED – Why Ministers and Laity Leave Church

Much has been written, over the last several years especially, about the level of stress experienced by clergy. Stressors are cited as reasons for clergy infidelity, sexual misconduct, power abuse and the number of professionals leaving ministry. Conflict, usually at the local church level, is the most common type of stressor cited. Quite understandably, much of the work done in this area of study uses the techniques and language of sociology and psychology. Covenant, however, is not a concept strictly, or even commonly, associated with either of these disciplines, while it is a central tenet of the bulk of Christian pastoral effort. Covenant is a mutual relationship. Church members, clergy and officers are equally important in the relationships of the church, and can fall prey to exactly the same kinds of stresses. In my estimation, studying the role of covenants, or rather broken covenants, might yield far more meaningful results for understanding church stress generally, and the reason so many leave the church specifically. Read More…

Posted by: Rev Andy Little | January 26, 2009

The Fullness of Communion

For those who are unfamiliar with the significance of the Lord’s Supper or Communion, I’d like to offer my thoughts. Since Communion is a sacrament observed by the Church, it is a little risky to assume what someone does or doesn’t know about Church, Church Mission and Membership. So, before moving into the discussion of the Lord’s Supper, I’ll spend a little time unpacking the luggage with which it travels.  This is necessary because communion doesn’t exist as a separate ritual, but as an integral part of the life of the Body of Christ. It is also necessary because many ask for a quick explanation of the meaning of communion which, for the life of the church, is like asking for a short answer to the meaning of life. Without communion, church may largely lack meaning. Much of this is sourced directly, or interpreted, from the PC(USA) Book of Order. Read More…

Posted by: Rev Andy Little | January 26, 2009

Westminster UP Church – News 1-26-09

Before I start with the other news, I’ve been wondering about what opportunities there are for making the name more memorable. Tell me what you think of Westminster UP Church (UP standing for United Presbyterian). It’s okay to tell me it’s dumb.

We had our session meeting today, which was, incidentally, very “up”. The energy seemed high, even though we missed our Cara – get well quickly; you’ll be in our prayers. The reaction was very cheerful when the congregation heard that Westminster was held up at the presbytery meeting as a church to talk to if you want to involve yourself in mission more. Very nice, and especially for one of the smallest churches of the 72 in the presbytery.

Session approved me being involved as Treasurer for Home Furnishings Program, and I will be representing Westminster as I do so. I will be announcing the need next Sunday for more board members for HFP.

Several different approaches to reaching out to the neighborhood were discussed and tentatively schedules. These include free meals, connection with other organizations for income tax preparation, on site gatherings to discuss surviving the financial meltdown (especially difficult for those with low incomes) and a host of other plans in the planning stages. Yes, ma’am, these folks know how to love their neighbors.

Plans were made to give some significant financial support to the Union College Protestant Campus Ministry and A Different Way in Reading Center. Education ranks high, as well.

I’ll probably flesh out this post when I get to typing up the minutes, but I felt so good about the meeting, I thought I’d share some highlights. Show me another church with just about 20 members, most of whom are retired, that does this much and – well, I guess I’d be surprised.

Posted by: Rev Andy Little | January 26, 2009

Theology Light

This is not original … and certainly not new… and possibly not funny, to you. I’ve always loved it, though.

How many Christians or other sects does it take to change a light bulb? Read More…

Posted by: Rev Andy Little | January 24, 2009

Albany Presbytery Votes Yes on Amendment

In regard to the positive vote by the Albany Presbytery on Saturday, January 24 2009, it may be necessary to explain what that vote entails.

In some respects, this vote has the potential to have a major effect on the Presbyterian Church (USA), if it approved by 81 more presbyteries. It quite possibly will also be somewhat significant for the local presbytery. But, for the local church, little will change except that leaders will not be able to name a third-party as the reason it chooses not to ordain LGBT elders. The primary impact of this amendment is that it puts responsibility for determining the suitability of candidates for deacon, elder or minister squarely on the church body that approves the ordination – session for church officers and presbytery for ministers. Read More…

Posted by: Rev Andy Little | January 24, 2009

Growing Beyond Numbers – still in progress

I added a set of pages with the main page labelled “Growing Beyond Numbers“. It was a project of a seminar advanced church leadership class in my second year of seminary, which took a hard look at the materials and philosophies surrounding the church growth movement. The findings are valid, although I think incomplete. I would love to have your feedback. The second section has processes suggested for really delving into church and church identity, which I also think are good but not finished.

I will attempt over a period of time to edit and add sections, as well incorporate your comments. Let me repeat, while it is a large volume (small book really), the overall scope is a passion of mine and I would love your input.

Again, it is a page called “Growing Beyond Numbers.”

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