Author Archives: Sandy Bach

Hide & Seek

26 He also said, “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, 27 and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. 28 The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. 29 But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.”

30 He also said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? 31 It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; 32 yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”

33 With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; 34 he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.

I have a very nice garden.  It’s not of my doing.  The former owner of my home did a wonderful job of planting trees and shrubs in my front and back yards.  Gazing on them brings joy to my heart.

Until I see those weeds.  I think it’s called ground ivy.  It grows quickly.  Once a week I go through the gardens, pulling out ivy.  It grows out of the ground and wraps itself around the branches of the Rose of Sharon and the Crepe Myrtles.  The following week they return, larger than ever.  This time peeking up through the middle of the azalea bushes.  Just when I think I’ve gotten it all, I turn a corner and discover them growing up the chain link fence.

They haunt my dreams.  Their leaves wave in the wind as if to taunt me.  I’ve spray them with a homemade, non-toxic weed killer.  They grow back bigger and stronger.  I gave up and used a popular toxic weed killer.  They grow back bigger and stronger.

They are truly amazing plants, not just because of the speed of their growth.  They wrap themselves around branches and it’s hard to tell where the ivy ends and the branch begins.  They’re equally amazing in how they sneak up on me.  I think I’ve gotten everything pulled, only to discover a big one I totally missed.

At first, I compared them to Jesus’ mention in John, “I am the vine, you are the branches.”  Theologically, it fits.  In our best moments, it’s hard to see where we end and Jesus begins.

But, really, isn’t this a kingdom metaphor?

A farmer throws some seed in the ground.  A bit of water, a dose of sun and up they come.  The farmer sleeps and awakens to growth.  He has no idea about the chemical process of growth.  He doesn’t know about photosynthesis.  He only knows that if he throws the seeds in the ground, the seeds will grow.  Eventually, the crop will be ready for the harvest and he’ll take a sickle to it.

Then we have the mustard seed.  I’m told that the mustard is a bush, not a tree.  It grows to be huge, it’s branches all over the place.  But, animals find homes in its branches.

I’m not all that familiar with mustard and I’m not a farmer.  But, I know about ground ivy and here’s what I’ve observed.  It grows so quickly I barely notice it.  It grows so quickly I can’t keep up with it.  It’s fragile and strong.  It won’t be stopped.  Nothing gets in its way; it simply wraps itself around the obstacle and continues growing.

Its leaves are small to begin with, but the more it grows the bigger they get.  This hearty ivy grows well after a good rain, but drought won’t stop it.  It gets in the way of my other trees and bushes’ growth.  It makes everything look different and messy.

Meanwhile, the birds of the air set up their nests and the squirrels love to play in the branches which are surrounded completely by ivy.

For all the fighting I do with it, I admire it.  Nothing stops it.  I’m absolutely convinced that if we suffer a nuclear holocaust, the cockroach will survive side by side with the ground ivy.

And maybe that’s what the kingdom of God is about.  It grows while we’re busy doing “important” work.  It grows whether we like or not, whether we care or not.  When evil attempts to uproot it, it starts over, growing intrepidly.  Nothing can stop it completely.  When it runs into obstacles, it wraps itself around it and moves on.

The kingdom isn’t the least intimidated by the powers of modern day Caesars.  It’s seen power come and go for thousands of years.  God’s kingdom is in the business of taking over the Caesars of history.

The kingdom is hidden, grows like a ground ivy or mustard bush.

The kingdom hosts the nations of the world in its boughs.  They find shelter in the kingdom.  It grows automatically.  God does the work, despite humanity’s best efforts to kill it.

Most of all, the kingdom is close by.  It’s a certain thing in our lives of uncertainty.  The kingdom continues to grow, and will come to fruition some day.  In the meantime, we spend our days seeing it and not seeing it all at the same time.

The kingdom is a certain thing in our lives.  And we wait, with our hands on the plowshares, workers for God.

I will continue my battle with ground ivy and with little success.  But, I will give thanks that as I pull and yank at it, I can also be grateful for what it represents:  patience, hope, care, effort, preparedness of the kingdom.  It is both comforting and discomfiting.  It’s growth may be imperceptible, but the results are right there in front of us, if we have eyes to see.

Most of all, that intrepid ivy represents grace.

Unconditional, undeserved, misunderstood.

Grace.

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.

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Choose Life

23 One sabbath he was going through the grainfields; and as they made their way his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. 24 The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the sabbath?” 25 And he said to them, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need of food? 26 He entered the house of God, when Abiathar was high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and he gave some to his companions.” 27 Then he said to them, “The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath; 28 so the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath.”

Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand. They watched him to see whether he would cure him on the sabbath, so that they might accuse him. And he said to the man who had the withered hand, “Come forward.” Then he said to them, “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. He looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him. (Mark 2:23-3:6 NRSV)

Jesus has just begun his ministry and he’s in trouble already.  I suppose that’s what Savior’s are for, aren’t they?  He understands the journey he’s taken on and time is of the essence in Mark’s Gospel.  Jesus wastes no time: there’s ministry to be done and a message to spread.  It’s going to upset the status quo.  So be it.

There’s a lot in these few verses: politics and culture vs. sabbath rest.

Someone came to see me in my office a few years ago.  It seems that she was considering entering seminary but she was concerned about something: church politics.  Politics exists no matter where you are.  It’s what makes the world go ’round.  You can use your political expertise for good or for evil.

Jesus is making his way through a grainfield.  He’s having to work at it: that’s unlawful on the Sabbath.  His disciples pick a few grains to munch on as they move through it: that’s unlawful on the Sabbath.  There are men of God watching Jesus’ every move.  Don’t you wonder what they’ve left behind in the office or the mission field?  It seems that the most important thing they have to do is follow Jesus and trap him.

They’ve taken the law from a gift from God to a legalism used to trap and punish the offenders.  Torah is a living document, much like our U.S. Constitution.  It’s meant to be read within the context of the culture so that humanity can follow God and live well.  These particular religious leaders are hanging on to the status quo for dear life.  That is their idol.  Any change from what is being done must be stopped at all costs.

When have you been a legalistic Pharisee?  Not all of them were that way.  In fact, some were friends of Jesus.  Legalistic keepers of the law often need compassion.  They’re hanging on to the past unable to adapt to change.  Change can be scary and it moves far more quickly today than it did 200 years ago.  Or even 50 years ago.

Traditions get lost in change.  Routines that were once life-giving and life-enhancing often become life-taking.  Churches suffer over this.  “We’ve always done it this way” are the deadly words of the church.  Leaders must ask often, “why are we doing it this way?  Is it life-giving or soul-sucking?”

As we age, we watch our friends and colleagues pass away.  That is the ultimate change, because we’ll never see them again in this life.  We grieve their presence and missed opportunities.  Young people come along taking what we call change as normal and making it work.  It annoys us because, “these young people don’t know the traditions.”

Legalistic Pharisees hang on to the status quo for another reason: holding on to their own privileged status.  It’s pretty cool being at the top of the mountain.  And when climbers get too close, we push them down and keep them down because we refuse to imagine a life sharing the top with others.

Jesus loved the law.  He made it clear that he didn’t come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it.  He understood Torah (Law) to be a gift of God for the people of God.  It was meant to enhance life and to set apart the worshipers of God as an example of how to live right.

His indictment of legalism was direct and straight-forward.  In this text, he was criticized for traveling and gleaning and healing on the Sabbath.  He points to David, who used the holy bread set aside for the priests to feed himself and his companions.  No, his disciples weren’t starving.  But, they would have been if they hadn’t taken some of the grain to eat.

What really upsets Jesus, though, is the scene in the synagogue.  A man with a withered hand can’t work or take care of his family, if he has one.  He’s a drain on society rather than a contributor to it.  Yes, he could have waited a few hours until sunset to heal the man.  But, his question rings true today: “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath?”

Healing that man in the synagogue in the presence of God was a sacred moment.  A time to respect humanity, to affirm life through healing, to hold life before God.

But, when we’re upset and can’t see compassion for what it is, we get angry and we want to hurt.  Jesus has barely begun his ministry and already the legalists are plotting with their political enemies, the Herodians, to destroy him.  It’s a shame.

What these law-abiding Pharisees need is a day off.  A complete and total sabbath rest.

What does Sabbath rest mean to you?  Perhaps a nap, or enjoying a hobby.  Lunch with friends and family.  A day to relax: read, listen to music, take a long walk.  Good start!  (Especially the nap!)

It occurred to me this week that Adam and Eve were created and immediately had a Sabbath rest.  Hm.  That’s significant.  But, that’s only the beginning. We read in two different places in the Old Testament about God’s insistence on us taking Sabbath rest.

First, because God rested after six days of creation.  God rested from work to enjoy what God had created.  Sabbath rest is a holy time that we take to remember God’s creative activity and to enjoy it.  That walk you take is a reminder of that creative activity and an opportunity to enjoy it and honor it and preserve it.

Second, it was to be a reminder that we were slaves in Egypt where we worked seven days a week with no rest.  Sabbath rest is meant for everyone: slave and free, man and woman, children and even work animals.  When we take Sabbath rest, we are reminded of our own liberation from captivity and slavery.

Slavery to jobs or the almighty dollar.  Slavery to idols that get between us and God.  Slavery to the false prophets who announce what is wrong with the world and how they’re going to fix it.

In this text, Jesus is reminding everyone who is listening, including you and I, that the Sabbath is meant for liberation and restoration.  Watching how others treat the Sabbath is just as unlawful as not honoring the Sabbath at all.

What do you need?  A nap? Rest? How about time alone with Jesus?  Time with scripture.  Prayer time.

What do you need?  How do you care for yourself on your Sabbath rest day?  How can you return thanks to God for all God has done for you?

First step: take a nap!  Rest.  Enjoy the fact that you’re alive.  Revel in doing nothing or doing something that you don’t do the rest of the week.

Second step: give the legalists some compassion.  They’re all tied up.  Invite them for a rest from everything.  Invite them to relax.

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.

 


Encountering God

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. And one called to another and said:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory.”

The pivots[a] on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”

Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. The seraph[b] touched my mouth with it and said: “Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.” Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I; send me!”  (Isaiah 6:1-8 NRSV)

The king had died.  The people could hardly remember a time before King Uzziah’s reign.  Suddenly they were in turmoil.  Would King Jotham fare well as their new king?  Would he lead well as his father had?  Or would the nation of Israel be attacked?

Meanwhile, Isaiah was dreaming.  He saw God’s glory fill the temple.  He was almost drowning in the hem of God’s robe.  Winged creatures were stationed around him singing God’s praises.  They veiled their faces and genitals.  It was noisy and loud and, oh, so very joyful!

And then, Isaiah saw earthly power through God’s eyes: political power, priestly religious power and sexual dominance.  All were being misused and abused.  As Isaiah gazed about him, he saw his own sin and that of Judah.

He had no business being in the Temple.  He felt himself undeserving of seeing God.  The knowledge of his own sinful condition overpowered him.  Not only his sin, but the sinfulness of Judah.  He realized in that moment that Judah was in denial.  They believed the lies of the politicians; they were content to get wealthy on the backs of the poor; they lived greedily and showed up at worship with absolutely no display of repentance.

I imagine Isaiah must have fallen to his knees with the knowledge and the burden of what he saw.  “Woe is me.  I’ve bought into the lies and the greed and hubris.  I am unworthy.”

God rarely hesitates.  God forgives and God purifies and God transforms.  That’s what happened to Isaiah: his lips were purified and his ministry cleansed.

It will be a difficult call.  He will speak prophetically for the rest of his life.  He will predict bad things and Judah won’t listen.  He will try to warn the powers that be — they’ll close their ears.  Yet, called he is.  And when things can’t get any worse, Isaiah will speak words of comfort.

How do we worship?  With an expectation of getting something out of it?  With a closed mind?  Are we distracted? Angry?

I believe we all enter worship looking for something:  peace; insight; to be right; to sense God’s Spirit; to be made right with God and others.

If you enter worship looking to get something out of it, you’ll get exactly what you put into it.  But, if you enter knowing that God meets us where are, something happens.  When we enter broken and questioning; joyful and happy; hoping against hope; persevering; or at peace, God meets us and walks alongside us.  God knows and God cares.

In worship we call ourselves into the present moment.  We are reminded of our brokenness, so we confess our sins, knowing that we’re already forgiven.  Then, and only then, are we ready to hear God’s word to us.  Through scripture, the Word revealed, prayer and, yes, even when we drop our money into the offering plate as a response to God’s love for us.  Then we go out into the world carrying God’s message with us.

God meets us and when we’re open to meeting God, things happen.  God is revealed in prayer, in song, in word, in action.  God speaks.  We listen.

Isaiah lived in a difficult time.  We know all about difficult times, don’t we?  And, when he came face-to-face with God, he fell to his knees in guilt and sadness.  God purified him and forgave him.  God prepared him and then sent him out.

Isaiah’s relationship with God would grow stronger over time.  God would continue to meet him in his own context and help him move forward in his ministry.

We can expect no less.  As long as we enter God’s presence as Isaiah did: contrite, open minded and ready to listen, we are open to sensing God’s Spirit speaking to us.  When we enter worship understanding that we aren’t the audience, God is, it changes our perspective.

Bring yourself.  All of you.  Bring all of the joy and sorrow and guilt and shame.  Bring your fears, your worries, your hope.  Bring it all and lay it before God.  Enter in with a prayer: “Lord open my mind and my heart to listen to your Word today.”

Look around.  See the friend and the stranger.  Know that they’re carrying burdens of their own.  Pray for them.

I make no guarantees.  Sometimes you’ll leave worship feeling very little.  It happens.  But, when we return week after week, something happens.  We discover a part of ourselves that we never knew or haven’t met in awhile.  We learn about a God who can’t be completely known and understood.

May your worship complete you this week.

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.


Spirit-ed Communication

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)

What about the Holy Spirit do you need to hear today?

Do you need to know that God’s Spirit is creative?  Do you need to hear about God’s provision through the Spirit?  Perhaps you want to be reminded that when “…we do not know how to pray as we ought, …the Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.” (Romans 8:26b NRSV)

What can I share with you that would make a difference in your life right now, this minute?  What would make a difference for you in your journey of faith?

Peter, the Apostles and followers of Jesus number roughly 120 when our reading begins.  They have followed Jesus’ final instructions to remain in Jerusalem until they receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  While they stayed together they prayed and filled Judas’ empty position with Matthias.  And they waited.

Finally, the Jewish celebration of Pentecost arrives.  Jews from all over the known world have traveled to Jerusalem to celebrate God’s provision of land and food and Torah.  They will read scripture and worship and remember all that God has done for them.  But, today, God is at work doing something new.

As these cosmopolitan Jews from all over the known world pass by, they notice something strange.  The sound of rushing wind; divided tongues as of fire resting on Jesus’ followers.  But the most amazing, scary and astonishing thing of all — these illiterate Galileans are speaking in languages they can understand!

Often someone will greet me after worship with, “Nice sermon, Pastor.”  Once in awhile, they’ll tell me what they heard.  And usually, it’s not what I said!  The Holy Spirit has taken my words and made them understandable to someone who needed to hear an important message.  I may have written a sermon, but Spirit delivers the message!

The followers of Jesus (or was it only the Apostles who spoke in many different tongues?) speak in languages that anyone present could understand.  They heard a message that they needed to hear.

For some it’s amazing; for others it’s ridiculous.  Did I mention uneducated Galileans?  They must be drunk with wine or simply crazy!  This just isn’t done.

Peter, the denier of Jesus, the one who asked the questions that got him into trouble, the one who had moments of understanding only to have them pass; Peter, the leader of the Apostles’ steps forward to speak.  When delivering a sermon, use scripture.  And he does.  He remembers the words of the prophet Joel.  And he preaches it.

In the last days… God will pour out God’s Spirit.  God will pour out that Spirit on everyone.  And Joel lists everyone from young and old, to master and slave, to men and women and children.  Peter only sees in the mirror dimly.  Soon he’ll understand even more as God takes these men and women into new areas to share the gospel.  They’ll meet people who are Jewish outcasts; second-class women will open their purses and their homes; gentiles will even be included!

Those who listened heard what they most needed to hear.  Love, forgiveness, meaningfulness.  They turned their lives away from activities that lacked love; that were unforgiving; that no longer made sense to them.  They would learn to share what they had with each other and with the stranger.

They would never be the same again.

So, what do you need to hear today?

Do you need the reminder that because Jesus lives, we know that there is nothing God can’t do?  That miracles still occur?  That God provides and grace abounds?  Look to the Spirit to show you those places where God is at work.

Do you need to see creativity in action?  Allow Spirit to show you, again, God’s creation that is renewed each spring, that is damaged but isn’t dead.  Allow Spirit to work in you new ways to live creatively.

Perhaps you need to hear about intercession.  Those moments when words fail.  Give it all to Spirit and start breathing again.

That Pentecost day wasn’t a one-off.  It was the birthday of the church, and it’s repeated every day.  You may not hear a different language, but you will hear someone say something in words you can understand like never before.  You may not be proficient in another language, but you’re already speaking to others and using your own words while the Spirit uses them to comfort or convict another.

What do you  need to hear today?  Stop and pray.  Listen for the breath of God to empower you.

Then go out to love and serve the Lord.

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.


Because He Lives…We Can Live & Lead for Jesus’ Sake

15 In those days Peter stood up among the believers[a] (together the crowd numbered about one hundred twenty persons) and said, 16 “Friends,[b] the scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit through David foretold concerning Judas, who became a guide for those who arrested Jesus— 17 for he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry.”

21 So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, 22 beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these must become a witness with us to his resurrection.” 23 So they proposed two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also known as Justus, and Matthias. 24 Then they prayed and said, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which one of these two you have chosen 25 to take the place[d] in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.” 26 And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias; and he was added to the eleven apostles.  (Acts 1:15-17; 21-26 NRSV)

There was an elephant in the room.

A large,  imposing, heart breaking elephant.

Being with the risen savior would have been amazing and absorbing.  The Apostles had much to learn in those weeks before Jesus ascended to heaven.  But, after he ascended, and they returned to Jerusalem, the awful hurt of Judas’ betrayal and death would have fallen over them like a burial shroud.

Judas was the man with whom they had spent time, collected money, and taught and healed.  This was the man they had trusted.  And he turned on Jesus and the disciples at the last minute and everything turned horribly bad.

How do you cope with that kind of betrayal?  How do you express your anger and hurt that mixes with a broken heart because of  broken trust.  They decide to remain in constant prayer.  It becomes apparent to Peter that the broken circle of 11 must begin to heal.

When you’re wondering what to do, the Bible is a good place to look.  Peter used some Psalms to help him explain their situation.  Then he suggested the criteria: it had to be a man, who had been with Jesus since the time of John’s Baptism ministry.  Most important of all, he had to have been a witness to the resurrection.

Nominations were accepted and two names entered onto the slate: Joseph called Barsabbas, aka Justus and Matthias.

Before you vote it’s always good to pray.  This prayer is simple: “Lord, you know everyone’s heart.  Show us which one of these you have chosen…”

They roll the dice and it falls to Matthias.  And we never hear about him or Justus again in the Bible.  How did Matthias feel being the chosen one?  How did Justus feel being the not chosen?

It could be argued that Peter had jumped the gun and worried more about structure than prayer.  After all, some would say, they were told to remain in Jerusalem until they had received the gift of the Holy Spirit.  However, it’s so much easier to organize and plan than to remain in constant prayer.  Filling that empty job left by Judas makes you feel as if you’re doing something.  Sitting in prayer feels like a waste of time.

Church members often feel as if conducting a business meeting is not sacred; as if God isn’t in attendance.  However, if God is omnipresent (present everywhere) than isn’t God present at the board meeting with the Holy Spirit at work?

It could be argued that Peter rushed the process.  It’s a good reminder that prayer and discernment are critically important to planning and action.

We can only begin to imagine the hole left by Judas must have been horribly painful.  I wonder if in prayer Peter sought God’s healing and discerned God saying, “go ahead and fill the emptiness.  I’ll help you choose.”

The nominating process would have been an activity laced with pain and cathartics and relief.  The men chosen were men who filled the criteria, but they also had gifts and talents that the 120 believed made them good candidates for filling the fracture left by Judas’ deceit and betrayal.

I can feel tension dissolving in the room when Matthias is selected.  They can move forward into their largely unknown future with a sense of completeness of “The Twelve.”

Where and how do you find healing when your heart breaks?  Who and what are the heart breakers?  How does prayer help you find the solace you need so that you carry on?

When Jesus was raised from the dead, God displayed that nothing, but nothing, can destroy God’s plan for salvation in the world.  Because Jesus lives, we can live prayerfully and use our own talents and gifts to discern God’s call to heal and lead in our corner of the kingdom.

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.

 

 

 


Because He Lives…We Can Live Inclusively

44 While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. 45 The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles, 46 for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter said, 47 “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” 48 So he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they invited him to stay for several days.  (Acts 10:44-48 NRSV)

If you feel as if you’re missing something, you’re not alone.  This is really the end of the story.  So let’s get caught up.

Cornelius was a Roman centurion, therefore a gentile.  He wasn’t your usual centurion, though.  He and his household loved God.  Cornelius was known for his generosity to others and he prayed constantly to God.  One afternoon, he had a vision.  In the vision, he heard God commending his faithfulness.  Then he was told where to find Simon known as Peter and to bring him back to Joppa.

Meanwhile, Peter was hungry.  While he waited for dinner, he fell into a trance and saw a vision that was horrifying to him.  God was telling him that eating kosher was no longer necessary.  Was this a test?  “No, God.  I’ve never done it this way before.  I’ve always eaten kosher and I can’t profane you!”

God had his work cut out for him.  Peter protested with the ancient words of the dying Church, “We’ve never done it this way before” and “We’ve always done it this way before.”  God reminded Peter that “what God has made clean, you must not call profane.” (Acts 10:15)  This conversation repeated itself two more times.

Peter was a hard sell.  He needed more evidence.  Don’t we all in the midst of change?

So God told him to answer the door: there were some gentiles outside who needed him.  “Go with them, Peter.”

The next day he traveled the 30 miles to Joppa.  With gentiles.  You aren’t supposed to be with gentiles; they’re unclean.  We’ve never done it this way before.  What is God up to?

It had to have been a strange journey and I believe it gave Peter time to think about that equally strange vision.  He had traveled with gentiles.  You don’t travel with those people; they’re not Jews.  It isn’t that Peter is bigoted.  He’s just never done this before.  However, he got to know them on this trip and heard stories about Cornelius, a member of the enemy Roman Legion.

When they arrived in Joppa, Peter did something else he’d never done before: he entered a gentile home.  Did this home look strange without the markings on the lintels or other symbols of his faith in the home?

“You know, I’m not supposed to be here.  Yet, I sensed God telling me that no one is unclean or profane.”  He didn’t get it, yet.  But, God smiled, knowing Peter was gaining insight.

Cornelius shared his vision and Peter shared the Christian Gospel.  That brings us to today and the reading.  Peter is still speaking when the Holy Spirit interrupts and “falls” on his listeners.  This is Pentecost revisited and revised: the Gentile Pentecost.  Peter looks around astounded.

“Next thing you know, we’ll be baptizing them!

“Yes.  Baptism.  That’s what we need to do.  They’ve been baptized by the Spirit, we need to baptize them with water!  We can’t hold back.  They’re as much a part of the Christian community as we are.”

As I said earlier, the seven deadly words of the church are, “We’ve never done it that way before.”  Others say, “We’ve always done it this way before.”  Either way, we get stuck in the rules and traditions.

Some of our sister churches refuse to accept baptism unless it’s done by them.  Other churches bar the communion table.  We have membership classes, pre-baptism lessons; we ordain and commission within our own denominations.

I serve two congregations who are very close to becoming federated.  One Presbyterian and one Methodist congregation will become one federated Presbyterian/Methodist congregation.  Our forms of government is different.  The Methodists have Bishops and District Superintendents who lead from the top down.  The Presbyterians start with the congregation’s ruling body and moves issues up the line where they are considered and then sent back down.  We are learning from each other how the other denomination works.

As we put the final touches on our proposed bylaws, I realize that we have reinvented ourselves using the best of each denomination.  The Holy Spirit has been present to guide us in loving each other.  New ideas are erupting.  We’re finding new ways of doing what we’ve done before; we’re leaving some of the old behind while taking on the new.

Change is awkward, at times.  We can adjust to only so much before we dig in our heels and say, “Whoa! We’ve never done it that way before.”  Our 21st century is changing so quickly, we can hardly keep up.  We’re reinventing on the fly and discovering much that isn’t working.  We gaze into the future and it scares us.  Our nation, our state is on the crux of something new.  Some sigh with relief while others hang on tightly to what we have.

We play the blame game: millennial’s, the rich, the poor, the politicians, the teachers… Anyone who doesn’t agree with us is the enemy.

What if God is calling us into something different?  What if all of this change and upheaval is God’s way of turning us upside down and tumbling us out of the box?  Could we, like Peter, stand in front of that Gentile home and knock on the door for entry into the strange and different?

While we’ve drawn circles around ourselves, some have opened those boundaries up to include others.  Dare we draw the lines further out?  Dare we learn from the other about who they are and what they believe?  Dare we cross those boundaries to learn from those with whom we disagree, sometimes violently?

While we create boundaries, the Holy Spirit crosses them.  While we build walls, the Holy Spirit breaks them down.  If that’s the case, how should we live?  What do we do to feel secure and safe?  If playing by the old rules isn’t working, maybe it’s time to open up to something new that God is doing.

Because He Lives, we can live inclusively.  We begin with baby steps.

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.

 

 


Because He Lives…We Can Live Spiritually

26 Then an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Get up and go toward the south[a] to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (This is a wilderness road.) 27 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 28 and was returning home; seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah. 29 Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over to this chariot and join it.” 30 So Philip ran up to it and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah. He asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” 31 He replied, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to get in and sit beside him. 32 Now the passage of the scripture that he was reading was this:

“Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter,
    and like a lamb silent before its shearer,
        so he does not open his mouth.
33 In his humiliation justice was denied him.
    Who can describe his generation?
        For his life is taken away from the earth.”

34 The eunuch asked Philip, “About whom, may I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” 35 Then Philip began to speak, and starting with this scripture, he proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus. 36 As they were going along the road, they came to some water; and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?”[b] 38 He commanded the chariot to stop, and both of them, Philip and the eunuch, went down into the water, and Philip[c] baptized him. 39 When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing. 40 But Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he was passing through the region, he proclaimed the good news to all the towns until he came to Caesarea.

Acts 8:26-40

The Holy Spirit is on a roll.  First, it descended on the crowds in Jerusalem on Pentecost.  Most of them were Jews from all over the Empire.  Then, Philip found himself in Samaria preaching about the resurrected Jesus and the Holy Spirit descended on these fierce enemies of the Jews.  Today, Philip is visiting with an outcast.  He can’t procreate.  He’s less than a male man.  He’s prohibited from the priesthood and the inner courts of the temple.

The eunuch is one of the “those people.”  Folks look at him with jaundiced eyes.  He has few friends, if any.  Yet, the Holy Spirit is making this new “Way”of Jesus inclusive!  And this is only the beginning.

Who are the outcasts today?  Who are those you wouldn’t want visiting you in your living room or church?  Who are the outcast to whom you want to reach out, regardless of their societal status?

The big question is, how?  How do you reach out to them?  What do you say?  How do you behave? Where are they?

It’s a scary proposition, isn’t it?  Phillip has all kinds of luck in the book of Acts.  We’re not that fortunate.  We develop foot-in-mouth disease; shrink back from trying something new; leave it for someone more experienced.

I’m not sure how experienced Phillip was, but he was good at listening to God.  And that’s the point.  Phillip depended on God for the right actions  and the right words at the right time.  The Holy Spirit did the rest.

Which begs the question: how spiritual are you?  Yes, you are spiritual.  You are a beautiful creation of God and you are spiritual.  It may not be well developed, but it’s in you.  You develop your spiritual nature through understanding of scripture.  You understand people through the lens of scripture.  You understand the world through the lens of the Bible.  The more you read and question and ponder, the deeper your well of spirituality.  The deeper your spirituality, the more authentic you become.

Your faith isn’t something you hide deep down inside you where no one can find it.  Your faith is how you live and breath and have your being.  Your faith sticks out all over because every decision you make is done with an eye to what Jesus would have you do.  When Jesus speaks to his disciples in the Gospel of John, he insists that we abide in him and he abide in us.  That word abide means, “to live” or “staying in place.”  When we live and stay in place with Jesus and Jesus lives in us, our decisions and actions become spiritual decisions that come out of our authentic selves.  What we want is what God wants.

That brings us back to building relationships with strangers.  Allow God to lead you.  Notice those who cross your path each day.  Who do you notice?  Maybe they look perfect and happy.  Wonder to yourself, what’s hurting and breaking them down?  Maybe they look downcast and depressed.  Wonder to yourself, what’s holding them captive?  Don’t do all the talking.  In fact, speak as little as possible.  People are desperate for a listening ear.  Can you relate to what they’re saying?  Can you empathize?  Sympathize?

Did you introduce Jesus to them?  Not directly.  But, for a few minutes, someone cared.  Someone offered a comforting arm or a bit of laughter.  Did you “save” them?  No.  That’s God’s job.  But, perhaps you opened the door.

Because Jesus died and rose from the dead, we live, as well.  Because he lives, we can live spiritually.  We can open ourselves to Christ who sends us out to model Jesus’ teachings.  We can live authentic lives offering peace and well-being and wholeness in Christ’s name.

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.

 

 


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