Monthly Archives: June 2019

Touch the Earth Lightly

O Lord, our Sovereign,
    how majestic is your name in all the earth!

You have set your glory above the heavens.
Out of the mouths of babes and infants
you have founded a bulwark because of your foes,
to silence the enemy and the avenger.

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars that you have established;
what are human beings that you are mindful of them,
mortals[a] that you care for them?

Yet you have made them a little lower than God,[b]
and crowned them with glory and honor.
You have given them dominion over the works of your hands;
you have put all things under their feet,
all sheep and oxen,
and also the beasts of the field,
the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea,
whatever passes along the paths of the seas.

O Lord, our Sovereign,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!

(Psalm 8 NRSV)

David slept under the heavens and the work of the Creator’s fingers for years.  He gazed on the moon and the stars that God created and must have felt insignificant among that grandeur.

And so do we.  We feel so small among all those stars and the vast sky.  We can hardly take our eyes off this view and the further away from an earthly light source we get, the more astounding the scene and the emotions it evokes.  We can’t find the words to describe what we’re feeling.

David wrote this Psalm to try and put into words what he was feeling.  Sovereign and majestic are just the beginning.  Even babes in arms sing God’s praise.  God uses even the weakest of us to defeat the chaotic forces that threaten this creation.

We may feel insignificant gazing on the night sky.  Then we remember what we’ve learned: God remembers us; God cares for us; God pays attention to us.

There’s more.  God has made us kings and queens.  God has given has dominion over creation.

All we can say is, “Wow.”

We could turn to guilt trips at this point: about fossil fuels, and mining practices, and… well, you know what I mean.  But if you’ve been reading this blog for awhile, you know I don’t like to do that.  Especially on this topic.  Because it’s so complicated.

Do we stop developing nations from cutting down their forests?  They need the wood for cooking and heating.  Workers need the income to support their families.  So, we bring in alternatives to save the forests and perhaps end up with worse problems.

Do we use paper or plastic?  What happens to the batteries on a hybrid car?  If we don’t buy books, we use an E-reader and where do they go to die?

It seems as if every action has a rippling effect.  Every action has an equal and opposite reaction.  We’re damned if we do; damned if we don’t.

Perhaps we don’t have to worry about it, some will say.  The world is going to end soon.  So, eat, drink and be merry.  It doesn’t matter how we use up the earth.

Others are living simply, gardening, re-purposing, recycling… They compost the kitchen scraps for next year’s planting.  They can food for the winter.  A few of them drive us crazy with their preaching.

Still others fight back with name calling, like “tree huggers.”  They point out that the cost of products is high because of what they believe are excessive regulations.  People lose their jobs over these same regulations.

Are we having strange weather or is climate change real due to global warming?

Where and how do we find the balance?

I have recently returned to composting.  I used to compost grass and leaves.  This time I added kitchen scraps.  I knew that eventually the compost would heat up and cool down.  The result would be good soil for my gardens.  And, I felt less guilty about the food that went bad in my refrigerator!

A few weeks ago I turned the compost to speed up the process.  I found insects and worms.  I understood the worms and valued them.  But I didn’t expect the tiny ants and other little microbes that were happily moving through my garbage.

What I learned was, that these little critters were eating the compost and leaving behind castings (poop.)  That’s what turns to dirt, apparently.  The circle of life begins with some dirt and a seed.  The seed grows into a cucumber or a zucchini or a strawberry.  What doesn’t get eaten, goes into the composter and becomes soil for the next crop.

God’s creation is amazing.  The beauty of the multiple floral and fauna, and also the way these cycles work to sustain the creation.

And that’s where we return to the starry night sky.  While we feel our insignificance, we remember that God cares for us.  God hasn’t abandoned us.  That God is always re-creating and redeeming creation.

We recognize our significance to God.  We’ve been crowned and given an important occupation: dominion of creation.  Not domination, but caring for it like good kings and queens care for their people.

The problem comes when the sun rises.  Life slips into what it believes is it’s entitled place at the head of the line.  Creation will have to wait while we take care of the worries and the problems of the day.  We forget.  We didn’t mean to forget.  There’s so much going on and so many demands on our time and attention.

Have you ever noticed that Jesus’ parables talked often about agriculture?  Sheep and goats, mustard seeds, sowing and reaping.  I’m not sure he ever used a hoe, but he certainly knew a lot about growing things.  I wonder if we might return to those parables and learn the lessons: that we can’t control the seeds growing, we can only sow and water and weed around it; that God cares for God’s creation so much that he’ll leave 99 sheep to find the one lost lamb; that the tiniest seed can grow into a huge tree five times taller than you and me.

As we gaze at the starry sky and before the sun rises, it’s a good time to say, “Thank you.”  Remember how we teach our children to say “thank you”?  It teaches them manners.  And it also helps them internalize the gift or the compliment.

Let’s do that.  Let’s say thank you to God for the gifts of creation and redemption and re-creation.  Let’s say thank you for the cycles of life that keep this planet running along.  Let’s confess what we know we do to hurt the creation.

Then, let’s listen.  Affirm what you are already doing for the earth: canning fruit from your trees, composting, working in your garden, recycling, re-purposing.  Listen to the Holy Spirit share with us one thing we can do to touch the earth more gently.

And before we leave that beautiful, magnificent night sky, feel the majesty and the glory of the creator.  Even if you can’t express it, feel it.  That’s what matters.

David slept under those stars and felt that same insignificance and the same inability to properly express his feelings.  We can’t put into words what our hearts are exploding to say.

Simply take it in.  Live for a few moments in the experience.  Carry it with you into the light of day.  Allow the Holy Spirit to lead you into a place where you can touch the earth a little more gently, learning as you go.

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.

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Holy Spirit Upheaval

 When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” 12 All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13 But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”

14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. 15 Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16 No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:

17 ‘In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams.
18 Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
and they shall prophesy.
19 And I will show portents in the heaven above
and signs on the earth below,
blood, and fire, and smoky mist.
20 The sun shall be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood,
before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.
21 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’  (Acts 2:1-21 NRSV)

Maybe Babel is to blame.

Perhaps you remember the Tower of Babel from your childhood.  (Genesis 11:1-9)   Everyone on earth was gathered in one place.  There biggest fear was being “scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.” (Gen 11:4)  They wanted a name; an identity.  They enjoyed their uniformity.  So they built a tower.

God arrived on the scene and gave His prognosis.  It was time to scatter; they needed to diversify.

God loves diversity.  God created mountains and valleys and flowers and trees and animals of all kinds.  God created the kangaroo, the sloth, the horse and the giraffe.  God created hundreds and thousands of species that we’ve still discovering today.  God rejoices in diversity.  God’s creation rejoices in diversity.

Homogeneity is what we cling to, though.  We cling to uniformity at Babel because we fear being dispersed.  Babel is afraid of change.  Babel is afraid of the new and different.  Babel is afraid of difference and the “otherness” in people.

So, God looked around and proclaimed, “You’re ready.”  God mixed up their language and they entered into a new scary era.  What they feared most is what came to pass.

God didn’t punish the people.  God bestowed a variety of gifts in different ways to create a variety of peoples.

And we’ve been bucking it since then.

Pentecost is a Jewish holiday.  It follows Passover by 50 days and celebrates the first fruits of the harvest.  According to Luke, Jesus instructed his followers to remain in Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit arrived.  They did as they were told, staying together in prayer.  About 120 people consisting of the Apostles, relations of Jesus and disciples.

The sound of  wind; what appeared to be tongues of flame; the sight and sound of them speaking in languages known to all who witnessed the event.  The kingdom comes in with power and might and those chosen to help deliver are uneducated Galileans.

Those who witnessed it were, in large part, amazed.  They heard their native language and it was music to their ears.  Perhaps you’ve enjoyed traveling to another country and hearing the native language spoken.  As time moved on you became tired of hearing it; a wall developed between you and the speaker because you couldn’t understand what was being said.  When someone finally spoke English, you were so relieved!

That was probably how they received the message that day.  Whether they had been living in Jerusalem or were pilgrims for the Jewish Pentecost, they rejoiced to hear someone speaking the language of their childhood.

They spoke of the might deeds of God.  They spoke to Jews and Greek, rich and poor, slave and free.  They spoke in the language of every known nation on earth.

Maybe Babel is to blame.  We want to look and act alike.  What have trouble embracing the “otherness” in others.  Pentecost, for Christians, is the day we set aside our fear of diversity and our love of uniformity and moved into the dimension of unity.

We are united in Christ to people of all cultures and ways of life.   Christians in Palestine and Iraq, Russia and China, India and Sri Lanka, Argentina and Venezuela.  We are united in one truth: the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Our cultural differences teach us new ways of thinking and being; our faith is what holds us together and we live out that faith through our unique culture.

We need Babel.  We need the comfort of a common identity and culture.

We need the spreading out and the cultural differences that enhance our lives and teach us about who we are.

We need Pentecost. It helps us cross the boundaries of uniformity and diversity into an era of great possibilities.

In what ways do you embrace uniformity?  For many it’s Sunday morning: the most segregated day of the week.  We worship with those who aren’t necessarily in agreement with your politics, but who enjoy the music, the message and fellowship.

In whats do you embrace diversity?  Have you the courage to visit with someone from another nation or culture; from a faith tradition different from yours; from an economic level whose values are different from yours.

You probably do it more than you realize it.  I encourage you to notice it in the coming weeks.  I encourage you to pause in your day and consider why that person in the grocery store worries you: is it their manner of dress or the language they speak or something else?

There are many “others” in the world.  They come from a variety of cultures, political views, religions.  At times it overwhelms us.  It can scare us and suspicion creeps in.  In Pentecost, we have a Counselor, Advocate, Holy Spirit, to help us respond to this diversity.

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.


Shackles

16-18 One day, on our way to the place of prayer, a slave girl ran into us. She was a psychic and, with her fortunetelling, made a lot of money for the people who owned her. She started following Paul around, calling everyone’s attention to us by yelling out, “These men are working for the Most High God. They’re laying out the road of salvation for you!” She did this for a number of days until Paul, finally fed up with her, turned and commanded the spirit that possessed her, “Out! In the name of Jesus Christ, get out of her!” And it was gone, just like that.

19-22 When her owners saw that their lucrative little business was suddenly bankrupt, they went after Paul and Silas, roughed them up and dragged them into the market square. Then the police arrested them and pulled them into a court with the accusation, “These men are disturbing the peace—dangerous Jewish agitators subverting our Roman law and order.” By this time the crowd had turned into a restless mob out for blood.

22-24 The judges went along with the mob, had Paul and Silas’s clothes ripped off and ordered a public beating. After beating them black-and-blue, they threw them into jail, telling the jail keeper to put them under heavy guard so there would be no chance of escape. He did just that—threw them into the maximum security cell in the jail and clamped leg irons on them.

25-26 Along about midnight, Paul and Silas were at prayer and singing a robust hymn to God. The other prisoners couldn’t believe their ears. Then, without warning, a huge earthquake! The jailhouse tottered, every door flew open, all the prisoners were loose.

27-28 Startled from sleep, the jailer saw all the doors swinging loose on their hinges. Assuming that all the prisoners had escaped, he pulled out his sword and was about to do himself in, figuring he was as good as dead anyway, when Paul stopped him: “Don’t do that! We’re all still here! Nobody’s run away!”

29-31 The jailer got a torch and ran inside. Badly shaken, he collapsed in front of Paul and Silas. He led them out of the jail and asked, “Sirs, what do I have to do to be saved, to really live?” They said, “Put your entire trust in the Master Jesus. Then you’ll live as you were meant to live—and everyone in your house included!”

32-34 They went on to spell out in detail the story of the Master—the entire family got in on this part. They never did get to bed that night. The jailer made them feel at home, dressed their wounds, and then—he couldn’t wait till morning!—was baptized, he and everyone in his family. There in his home, he had food set out for a festive meal. It was a night to remember: He and his entire family had put their trust in God; everyone in the house was in on the celebration.  (Acts 16:16-34 The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson)

My name is Mantic.  I was the slave girl who had the spirit of divination.  I had believed that I was given this gift by the Roman god Apollo.  I was a pythoness with oracular power.  My owners made a lot of money because of me.  They used me until I was used up; in more ways than fortune telling.

The first time I laid eyes on the Apostle Paul I saw something I had never seen before.  He wasn’t like anyone I had seen; he had a spirit within him.  It was like mine, yet different.  And then I knew.  He was a prophet of the Most High God.  A God I had never met before, but was superior to all other gods, nonetheless.

I watched for awhile as Paul and Silas walked around Philippi, visiting with people.  Sometimes in earnest, but always with joy, even laughter.  Finally, I couldn’t help myself.  I had a spirit of proclamation.  So I proclaimed.

“These men are working for the Most High God. They’re laying out the road of salvation for you!” 

I listened to them speaking to others.  They spoke about freedom from a life that shackles us.  For me, I was shackled to men who used me and my talent.  I wanted to be free.  I didn’t know what else to do.

So, I followed them relentlessly.  When I wasn’t professing for my masters, I was following these men of God around, making a spectacle of myself and them.  They sure were patient!  It took days to break through.  Finally, Paul turned around and ordered the spirit out of me.

“Out! In the name of Jesus Christ, get out of her!” he said.  That’s all it took.  I was free.  No more spirit of pythona in me.  I could find a life of my own.

I hadn’t thought things out very well.  My owners didn’t need me any more.  They dumped me by the wayside on the way to getting retribution from the men of God. 

Now, you’ll notice that this scripture text never finishes my story.  I’m as invisible in that story as I was to my masters.  I was invisible to Paul and his followers; I’m even invisible to you, aren’t I?  Do you wonder what happened to me?

I continued to follow these men.  My former masters grabbed them and took them to the market place.  Now, I may not be very educated, but I do know the customs and the laws about slaves.  I was property.  My owners had a legal right to take Paul to civil court.  The charge would have been impeding on private property and preventing them from earning a living.

That wasn’t enough for my masters.  They were so angry that they set out for revenge.  They used their Jewishness against them.  Isn’t it amazing how we turn on those who don’t look and act like us?  Then they accused them of not being proper Roman citizens.  Their was nothing to back up these charges, but they sure got the attention of the mob in the market place. 

Then they lied by accusing them of unlawful behavior.  They called them atheists because they only worshiped one God.  They accused them of cannibalism because they ate the body and drank the blood of Jesus. 

Others joined in and soon their was a mob out for blood.  No who’s enslaved, I wondered?  They weren’t interested in the truth.  They refused to listen to their defense. 

What these men didn’t know was that these men of God were Roman Citizens.  What the magistrates permitted was illegal.  Later Paul would demand a public apology, but the beating and jail time took place anyway.

I watched the men during the beating.  I followed them to the jail and slept outside the jail walls.  If I was very quiet, I could hear singing.  Even at midnight!  They were singing!  Some of the other prisoners joined in with them.

Then came the earthquake.  Afterwards, I heard that the jailer had his sword out ready to take his life because he assumed everyone had escaped.  Once again, it was Paul who saved the day. 

I saw the jailer take Paul and his friends to his house next door.  He cleaned the sores.  The men loved the feel of the cool water on their skin.  His wife put out a meal that smelled delicious.  Then Paul did something strange with the water.  It was called baptism and everyone in the household received it.

Since that time, I’ve learned a lot about God and his son Jesus.  I may have lost my pythona, but I learned that I had a Spirit within me that I had always had and it never left.  Eventually I was baptized and joined the house church here in Philippi.  I learned a new trade, but I never forgot my ability to read people and to see their pain.

Since that time I’ve seen many people in shackles.  My former owners were shackled by money and greed.

The crowd wore shackles of hate and bigotry.  They wore chains that attached them to anyone who would tell them what the problem was and that they and only they could fix it.  Mob mentality ruled that particular day.

The magistrates were shackled by politics.  Keep the peace or lose their jobs.  Keep the peace because someone else was in line for their job.  They were shackled by the greed for power.  They were shackled by the fear of losing their power.

Paul and his friends may have been shackled by leg irons, but they were the only ones who were truly free.  They followed Jesus and his teachings.  Worldly power and greed and corruption weren’t important.  Freeing others from their chains was all they wanted to do.

I’ve learned since then that God is in charge.  Lies, innuendo, and false information hold a lot of power.  But, eventually, the lies are replaced with new lies that spin the truth. 

I’ve learned that God will have His way.  It may not be on our time table, but God is ultimately in charge. 

How about you?  Do you need an earthquake?  Does your world need to have their shackles released? 

Perhaps, while you sit in the dark, stinky dungeon, you could begin praying and singing.  I suspect Paul will join you.

And while you wait for the earthquake, remember that change is always occurring.   God is always at work. 

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.

 


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