Author Archives: Sandy Bach

Fighting Words

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval. By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible.

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he stayed for a time in the land he had been promised, as in a foreign land, living in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. 11 By faith he received power of procreation, even though he was too old—and Sarah herself was barren—because he considered him faithful who had promised. 12 Therefore from one person, and this one as good as dead, descendants were born, “as many as the stars of heaven and as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.”

13 All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, 14 for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15 If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them.  (Hebrews 11:1-3;8-16 NRSV)

We memorized it in Sunday school.  Some of us carry it in our wallets and billfolds.  As we read it, the words come quickly to our tongues.  “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”  (verse 1)

So, what does it mean? 

“The assurance of things hoped for.”  “The conviction of things not seen.”

The New Living Translation reads, “Faith shows the reality of what we hope for; it is the evidence of things we cannot see.

We believe because of what we have seen. 

The author of Hebrews points immediately to Creation.  God spoke creation into being.  Let there be light.  Let there be fishes and animals.  Let us create humanity in our image.  God spoke and it happened. 

Think about it.  I couldn’t get my teenage son to mow the lawn, but God speaks and things happen.  The preacher in Hebrews is just beginning with this example.  He continues by reminding us of those who have gone before us.  This morning we look at Abraham.

Abraham heard God call him out of his homeland.  He and Sarah were to leave family, friends and all that was familiar to them for a land of promise.  They answered the call and wandered in that land all their lives.  They lived in tents.  Sarah gave birth to Isaac.  Isaac married in that land and gave birth to Jacob and Esau.  They lived in the land understanding the promise from God.

But, here’s the thing.  Neither Abraham, nor Isaac, nor Jacob ever owned the land.  Abraham purchased a small cave so that Sarah and he could be buried, but they never owned the land.  Hundreds of years later the land would belong to the great nation founded on Abraham. 

They understood themselves to be aliens.  They could have returned to their homeland, but they chose to follow the promise and the vision.  They ultimate promise of the future kingdom.

Abraham made lots of mistakes in judgements.  Yet, he never gave up on the vision.  He kept his faith by looking to the future as promised by God.  Abraham saw beyond today to tomorrow — even a tomorrow that he would never see. 

He lived in tents, a mere earthly existence.  He looked forward to the permanent security of being with God. 

Faith is what we hang onto because we’ve seen over and over and over again how good and wise and strong God is.  Faith is what we cling to when life today is fraught with fighting: fighting words that lead to disharmony and acrimony; fighting words that lead to shootings and death of humanity; fighting words that deepen chasms of opinion; fighting words that get us nowhere.

Red vs. Blue.  Democrats vs Republicans. The loudest voice gets heard.  The most offensive are looked upon with admiration.

Bigotry. Racism. White supremacy. Ku Klux Klan. White Nationalism. White privilege.

We’re scared to death.  The white majority will sink below 50% by 2045.  Change is occurring at the speed of light.  We can’t keep up with the information age, the twenty-four/seven news cycle.  We barely have time for friends and family.  

We’re scared to death.  It’s no different than it’s been in the past.  Every age has its own fears.  Today we have terrorism.  I grew up with Communism.  Some of you fought a war against Fascism on three fronts. 

Hebrews was written to a group of Jewish Christians who were being martyred, abused.  They even dealt with “plundering of their possessions.”  Now, they’re tired.  They’re lagging.  Some have quit attending worship.  They’re losing their faith.

We aren’t being killed for our faith today, but there are some who seek to kill our faith.  We aren’t being martyred, but we feel so much alone, wondering if anyone else out there believes as we do?  Many have given up going to church and reading scripture.  They feel as if they’ve been let down and that nobody cares.  They’re tired of speaking peace in a world that strikes terror and seeks out war.

No human being, no matter how powerful, has spoken this world into being.  No human being is powerful enough to wipe out your faith.  Unless  you allow them.   

Faith is what we have today because of what we’ve witnessed in the past.  Faith is what we have today because of those who have gone before us.  Faith is what we have when all hell is breaking out around us.  Faith is an inner sight, a vision.  God has made the promise and we can count on it.  We live in that promise as a response to God.

God can be trusted.  God is reliable.  Look for moments of grace in your own life.  Look back on those you have admired and see how their faith held them in the tough times.  Look at scripture.  The preacher in Hebrews turned to the books of Genesis, Exodus, Judges and I & II Samuel.

Abel knew suffering, being murdered by his own brother.  He gave God the sacrifice that he deserved and even today, his blood cries out for justice for all human suffering.

Enoch walked with God, trusting in his word.  His inner vision gave him confidence that God really exists.  

Noah trusted God when everyone else said he was being ridiculous.  It made no sense to build that ark, but he did it anyway.  He made the right choice and lived to tell the story.

Abraham and Sarah needed the trust demonstrated by Noah to travel into the unknown.  They didn’t know where they were going, but their destination was clear.

While all hell breaks loose in the world who will listen to?  There are many intriguing choices.  But, before you listen to the world view, on whom do you place your trust?  In whom do you live and breathe and have your being?  

With faith, the inner vision, and trust in what we haven’t seen, enter the world as a resident alien and look around you.  Where are the words of Jesus being spoken?  

Jesus himself gave us his mission statement in the Gospel of Luke:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    because he has anointed me
        to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
    and recovery of sight to the blind,
        to let the oppressed go free,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”  (Luke 4:18-19 NRSV Italics mine.))

To bring good news to the poor.  What would be good news to the poor?  Food.  A sense of purpose in all aspects of their lives.  Where do you see this good news in the world?  How do you embody that purpose in your life?

To proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind.  Who is being held back from what gives life?  Where are the blind stumbling around in the darkness?  Where do you see release and recovery of sight?  How do you embody that purpose in your life?

To let the oppressed go free.  To proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.  Who are the oppressed?  How can they be set free?  Where do you see God’s favor in the world?  How do you embody that purpose in your life?

Wherever you see good news and release and recovery of sight and freedom in the world, you see God at work.  You see people of faith with that inner vision that allows them to see beyond this life into a new reality when God will ultimately fulfill God’s purposes.

It’s a tall order.  Keeping the faith in a broken world is hard in any era.  Truth be known we have a choice.  We can endure the suffering by keeping faith and holding God’s vision in our sights.

Or we can become overwhelmed by the pain we’re experiencing or witnessing in others.  When it’s simply too much, we can avoid the risk and lose hope.  We can give up.  And what will that accomplish?

We can trust God and we can trust ourselves.  We can listen carefully to the worldview through the lens of Jesus’ words.  We can speak out courageously on the wrongs in this world, keeping Jesus’ words in mind.    Yes, we live in difficult times.  Look to God and then to the saints who have gone before us. 

A quotation from the books, “The Little Prince” by Antoine de Saint Exupéry, comes to mind:  “Here is my secret. It is very simple: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”  (https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/The_Little_Prince)

What they lived for was the vision given them in faith by God and they lived for the future, living out God’s purposes in the now.  Faith is the very being of God’s promise. Faith, not in the powers of this world, but in God’s kingdom in the yet and not yet.

On that we live and breathe and have our being.

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.


It All Depends

13 Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” 14 But he said to him, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?” 15 And he said to them, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” 16 Then he told them a parable: “The land of a rich man produced abundantly. 17 And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ 18 Then he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19 And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ 20 But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ 21 So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”  ( Luke 12:13-21 NRSV)

What’s in your wallet?

No, really.   Take a look inside your wallet and see what’s in it.  Probably credit cards, cash, medical id’s, driver’s license.  What else?

Recently, I turned out a closet of “stuff” I was storing.  In one box I found my deceased father-in-law’s wallet.  Yes, most of the above were in it: his Medicare Card, driver’s license, credit cards.  In another pocket I found what were probably far more important to him: pictures of his family; the printer make and model for the next time he needed ink cartridges; even his Army Pocket Orders (he fought in World War II.)

This was the pocket that moved me the most.  It reminded me of his injury at the Battle of the Bulge, of the many pictures he printed out of family and friends, of the great love he held for my husband and me, our son and our grandsons.  In that wallet were representations of what mattered to him.

What’s in your wallet?  I’m afraid mine is not the least bit interesting.  Only what I need.  No pictures, nothing to remind me of the past, nothing that indicates what’s important to me.  Hm.

Today’s scripture passage speaks to a decision: to whom am I rich, God or myself?

We’re the wealthiest nation in the world, financially.  We’re the poorest in the world, spiritually.  Church membership is down so low, that churches are closing.  There’s a rise in the “spiritual but not religious” population.  Perhaps this has been brought on by our polarized religious beliefs.

What’s wrong with the farmer’s decision?  He’s obviously a good farmer (and a lucky one.)  He knows how to save and he’s astute.  What’s wrong with that?  If he gives it all away, he’ll be out on the streets begging with the rest of them.

It reminds me of Joseph.  Jacob had 12 sons and a daughter.  Joseph was born to his beloved wife Rachel and was his favorite.  All the elder brothers knew it and were jealous.  Joseph was well aware of it and, in the way that teenagers can rub the truth in, he made sure that he was the special one at every turn.  Finally, his brothers could take no more and through a series of foibles, he was sold into slavery and taken to Egypt.

After several years in the local prison, it came to Pharaoh’s attention that this Hebrew man was an interpreter of dreams.  Joseph was brought into his presence and heard the dream.  Joseph explained that Egypt would enjoy the next seven years of plenty.  The crops would be bumper crops and everyone would eat well.  But, following that would be an additional seven years of famine.

Then he proposed a plan.  Assign someone the job of building barns (ring a bell?) and storing the grain during the first seven years.  When the famine arrived there would be plenty of grain for everyone.  Pharaoh jumped on the idea and assigned Joseph the task.

What’s the problem with the man in Jesus’ parable?  His problem is that he forgot to give thanks to the One who grows the seed.  He didn’t say thank you to God for the bumper crop.  He neglected look around and see his neighbors — all of them: the poor, the alien, the children.  And he failed to find balance between looking out for his future, giving thanks and caring for the neighbor in need.

How then should we live?  Save more?  Spend less?  Give more?  That’s not really very helpful, is it?  How much more should we save?  How much less should we spend?  How much more should we give?  We need boundaries on our decisions and we need to understand our values, our ethics and our love for God and God’s people.

How then should we live?  It all depends.

First, what are your priorities?  Is it to save everything in fear of a coming need?  Or is it to turn to God and care for the neighbor?

Next, look at your faith and trust in God.  Is life only good if others see your abundance?  Do you spend more because you want others to see your wealth?  Or do you make your money work for you instead of allowing it to use and control you?

The Good News is that God has already set our old self aside.  When we turn to God and away from fear of insecurity, we become people with new life in Christ.  We resist this good news because it’s hard to believe that God loves us warts and all.  We resist because this new self who looks upward and outward feels vulnerable and afraid.  What if I give too much?  What if I don’t save enough?  Will God love me is I say no?

Yet, Christ stands there looking on as we look up and outward.  Holy Spirit stands willing to guide our decisions and create appropriate boundaries of spending and giving and saving.

We can’t turn on the news, pick up a newspaper or our smart phones without seeing the poor, the alien, the disenfranchised struggling for food and health and education.  The task is insurmountable.

Feeling guilty will do little.  Prayer and conversation and identifying what bugs you the most is the first step to take action.  What is needed?  Your money, your time and talents?

We can be rich towards God because we set our minds on God by looking upward and outward.  The farmer in the parable could only look inward.  It was all about himself and his own security.  If God is seeing the person in you that has been moved and transformed by Christ, then how can we not live as if that is the best and truest part of you?

After all, it is.

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.


Teach Us to Pray

11 He was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” He said to them, “When you pray, say:

Father,[a] hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.[b]
Give us each day our daily bread.[c]
And forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.
And do not bring us to the time of trial.”[d]

And he said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.’ And he answers from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.

“So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. 10 For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. 11 Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for[e] a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? 12 Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? 13 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit[f] to those who ask him!”  ( Luke 11:1-13 NRSV)

I’m not sure what Jesus did the most: eat or pray.  He certainly understood sustenance gained from a good meal with good friends.  And he spent much time in sustaining prayer.

When he taught his disciples to pray, he kept it simple.  He told them not to fear intimacy with God while remembering that God is holy.  Seek basic needs.  That while God releases us from our sins, we pay it forward and show our gratitude to God when we forgive others.  Most of all, we pray for God to keep us near when we feel ourselves entering trials that have the potential to damage our faith rather than build it.

Jesus encouraged persistence.  In persistent prayer we can gain understanding about our situation.  We can ask questions over and over again: “Why are you silent?” “Why are you saying no?” “I don’t understand what’s happening.”  Jesus prayed like this from the cross when he cried out the words from Psalm 22: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Persistence in prayer isn’t nagging God until God relents.  Persistence in prayer offers you opportunity to understand your particular situation.  It’s a place where you can go to dig deeper and see the bigger picture.

Perhaps you’ve experienced prayer and almost missed God’s comforting presence.  Perhaps you’ve realized the help you’ve received from others.  Even, grace in the darkness.

Keep asking.  Keep seeking.  Keep pounding on the door.  The light of wisdom will eventually shine.

What’s on your mind right now?  What keeps you awake at night?  What wonderful things occur in your life?  What questions do you have?  Take them all to God.

Don’t worry if you think you’re being too intimate with God or not intimate enough.  Go ahead and express your anger, wrestle, listen, wrestle some more.  As you repeat your petitions listen for wisdom to slip in and enlighten you.  Your prayer will change or become more focused.

This prayer that Jesus taught his disciples is loaded.  It reminds us of the transcendence of God, the holy otherness of God; that God is sovereign;  that we are human in need of this God over all other gods in our lives.

It points us to our human needs: give us, forgive us, lead us, deliver us.  We are wonderful creations of God.  We’re in need of of God’s sustenance and we fall short all too often.  We get lost at times and our vulnerability leads us to places we don’t want to go.

We pray for what we need and get what we really need.  We pray for sustenance and find it unusual places.  We pray and God says, “no.”  We pray and get what we prayed for.  The deeper we go in prayer, the more we realize how hard it is to be human.  The deeper we go in prayer, the closer we are to God.  The more we pray, the more time we spend in prayer.

God takes you seriously.  God can be depended upon.  God takes care of you.  But, let’s be very clear: God isn’t Santa Claus or the tooth fairy.  Perhaps the reason God appears to be silent is that you need time in prayer to understand that need.  We don’t simply bang on the door until God gives us what we ask for.  We ask and seek for wisdom and understanding.  We knock on the door because we know that what’s behind the door is more valuable than anything else in this world.

It’s okay to be presumptuous in prayer.  It’s okay to be yourself in prayer.  Pray that God’s ultimate reign will come.  Know that God is eager to be in relationship with you.  Yes, even you!  Pray for what breaks your heart.  Give thanks for what brings you joy.  Seek forgiveness for falling into the enticements of evil.

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.


Can We Have It Both Ways?

Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. 39 She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. 40 But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” 41 But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; 42 there is need of only one thing.[a] Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”  (Luke 10:38-42 NRSV)

On the third Sunday of each month our congregation hosts a Community Dinner.  All are welcome to enjoy a free meal, most of it fresh from the farm.  We host those who can well afford a meal but enjoy the fellowship and we host those who are getting the first decent meal since last month.

About 3:30 on the afternoon of this event, the cooks trickle in and begin to prepare the meal.  Bread must be sliced and heated; butter cut into cubes, the tables set, the desserts cut into portions, vegetables cut and arranged on platters, the beverages and ice table set.

They work side by side, each one knowing what needs to be done next.  I remain in my office for awhile longer because, quite frankly, I haven’t any sense when it comes to the kitchen.  About all I’m good for is washing dishes and even then, I’ve been known to wash the wrong ones.

They prepare the food, talking quietly.  The conversation is sprinkled with laughter.  They love each other and what they’re doing.  They’re excited to see who will show up this evening.  It’s a scene I hope never to forget: peace filled, loving, companionable.  Men and women have taken time out of their Sunday evening for the “stranger in our midst.”

Would we call these folks, “Martha”?  After all, they’re working to get ready for our guests.  Some have been preparing for this all week.  Should we tell them that only one thing is needful and working in the kitchen isn’t it?

What about all those times that Jesus tells us to “go and do.”  Just a few verses before this, a man encounters Jesus and asks him about salvation.  Jesus advises that loving neighbor is important.  He even delivers a lengthy parable about who our neighbor is before telling the man to “go and do.”  That is, to care for our neighbor.

Today’s scripture has Jesus saying, “only one thing is needful.”  In other words, “sit and listen.”

So which is it?  Go and do or sit and listen?  Prepare for a feast or sit at Jesus’ feet?

We need Martha.  We need her list-making, her organization skills, her cooking talent, her love and compassion for the other.  We need lots of Martha’s and their counterpart, Marty to serve in the kingdom.  We don’t need to denigrate them; we need to tell them, “thank you” and “keep up the good work!”

While Martha slaves in the kitchen, Mary sits at Jesus’ feet.  This is the posture of a student with her teacher.  But wait, women aren’t supposed to learn.  They belong in the kitchen serving.  Jesus crosses gender boundaries to teach and discuss scripture with her.  Mary is learning.  She’s a disciple.  That’s almost unheard of outside of Jesus’ circle.

This isn’t a woman sitting at his knee with a dewy-eyed expression on her face.  She isn’t a Jesus “groupie” hanging on his every word.   Rather, Mary is an intelligent, capable woman and Jesus has engaged that mind of hers in serious discussion.

Mary could have gone out to the kitchen and offered to help Martha.  She could have negotiated with her, “I’ll do the clean-up after dinner, Martha, so you can have time to visit with Jesus.”

Martha could have asked Mary to give her a hand.  Better yet, she could have kept the meal simple.  Macaroni salad and potato salad and three-bean salad could have been limited to only one.  Buffet style is always simpler than setting the table.

I don’t believe that this is an either-or situation.  This isn’t about maligning Martha and holding Mary on a pedestal.  I don’t believe Jesus is telling Martha to quit doing what she loves and come listen to him.  If she does, everyone will go hungry!

One word points at the answer.  “Distracted.”  “Martha…you’re worried and distracted by many things.”

In a few days, a close friend of mine will arrive at my home for a visit.  I think it’s a good idea to have a bed ready for her and the house in good order.  What I really want to do is wash the windows, dry clean the curtains, and clean out all my cupboards.  I want my home to look its best for her visit.

But, what good are clean cupboards and windows if I’m too tired to enjoy her visit?  She’s coming to see me, not my house.

Martha is craving to be in the living room with Jesus.  Instead, she’s stuck in the kitchen trying to get a meal on the table that’s suitable for her guest.  She listens to Jesus and Mary talking.  She can’t hear every word, though, and leans closer to the living room in order to pick up more of the conversation.  Every once in a while, one of them chuckles.

She’s hot and tired.  She feels unappreciated.  Where’s Mary to help her?  She needs to get herself out her and peel these potatoes!  Finally, she can take no more.

“Lord, don’t you care?”

He cares very much, Martha.  He cares that you’re so wrapped up in the demands of the kitchen that you can’t take a break to visit with him.

“My sister has left me to do all the work for myself…Tell her to help me!”

Martha, calm down.  We don’t need a ten-course meal.  It doesn’t have to be elegant.  Turn the stove off, get some iced tea and come in and visit.  We’ll help you put dinner on the table in a bit.

Are you Martha?  Getting that lengthy to-do list done before you spend time in meditation?   Do you spend Sunday morning picking up groceries because you ran out of time this week?  Are you wrapped up in cultural rules that demand to be followed, or else?

Our smart phones click and vibrate and ring.  We can watch news 24 hours a day.  We’re drawn away from Sunday morning worship by lists filled with “should” “have to” and “need to.”

Yes, there’s little to compare with coming to the end of the day with a sense of accomplishment.  Especially when the project was a lengthy and complicated one.  My friend likes to scan his to-do list for the one task he simply doesn’t want to do.  Once it’s done, he’s energized to work on more attractive projects.  Yes, completing tasks is exhilarating.

There’s also nothing like time spent in quiet solitude with Jesus.  Reading and/or studying scripture.  Journaling.  Praying.  Sitting quietly and listening to the sounds around you and letting your thoughts take their own path.

Perhaps you can’t begin your day without a time of meditation.  Perhaps it’s at bedtime before you turn out the light and go to sleep.  When you do it matters only to you.

I suspect that each of us tends to be either Mary/Matthew or Martha/Marty.  Each of our personalities tend to be either busy, moving bodies or reflective, and able to sit quietly.

What fills your soul?  The activity of Martha or the quiet solitude of Mary?  There’s no right answer.  We’re wired differently, thanks be to God.

When are you Martha/Marty?  In what way does this give you joy?  When has it sapped your energy and your joy?

When have you been more like Mary/Matthew?  How do you feel when you spend time with the Master?

The kingdom needs our gifts and talents. The kingdom needs our focused attention as we “go and do” the work of serving others.  Our focus comes from “sitting and listening” to the Master, learning and discerning.

Are you  Martha?  Sit and listen for awhile.

Are you Mary? Where is Jesus calling you to serve?

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.


Holding on to the Experiences of Life

1 I will extol you, O Lord, for you have drawn me up,
    and did not let my foes rejoice over me.
O Lord my God, I cried to you for help,
    and you have healed me.
O Lord, you brought up my soul from Sheol,
    restored me to life from among those gone down to the Pit.[a]

Sing praises to the Lord, O you his faithful ones,
    and give thanks to his holy name.
For his anger is but for a moment;
    his favor is for a lifetime.
Weeping may linger for the night,
    but joy comes with the morning.

As for me, I said in my prosperity,
    “I shall never be moved.”
By your favor, O Lord,
    you had established me as a strong mountain;
you hid your face;
    I was dismayed.

To you, O Lord, I cried,
    and to the Lord I made supplication:
“What profit is there in my death,
    if I go down to the Pit?
Will the dust praise you?
    Will it tell of your faithfulness?
10 Hear, O Lord, and be gracious to me!
    O Lord, be my helper!”

11 You have turned my mourning into dancing;
you have taken off my sackcloth
and clothed me with joy,
12 so that my soul[b] may praise you and not be silent.
O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever. 

(Psalm 30 NRSV)

Whew!  That was rough.  I never saw it coming.  One minute I’m happy, fancy-free and having mountain-top experiences.  Before I knew it, I was in a pit unable to get out.

I tried, though.  God knows I tried.  I dug and dug and couldn’t get out.  The more I tried, the worse it became.  On top of that, God was silent.  Looking back I think God had decided to let me have my own control until I was ready to listen.

Was God angry at me?  Perhaps.  Disappointed? Undoubtedly.  I can’t blame God, though.  I was so wrapped up in myself and getting out of that hole, that I hardly noticed.

That’s when I cried out.  Loud.  Noisy.  Gut-wrenching cries.  God held me as I cried out my pain.  Heartsick, disappointed in myself and angry.  Angry with God.  Angry more with myself.  God held me through the night.

It was a long night.  I still had to dig out, but this time I had wisdom from God.  This time, I thought things through and found myself looking for grace in the turmoil.  I began to realize that some of what happened was for my benefit.  In the long run, the digging was a bit easier.

I discovered help was available.  I couldn’t depend only on me, but I needed the help of others.  Friends showed up with shovels and pickaxes.  Others showed up with food and water.  Everywhere I turned, I saw God’s acts of saving and providing.

My situation didn’t turn out like I thought it would.  In the end, it was better.

What I learned this time, was that I’m not in control.  I need God and I need my community of church and friends and even strangers.  I needed the prayers and the actions of those who are in my life.

I also learned that I don’t always get it right.  I may want to be in control, but there are times when I take that control too far and turn my back on God.  As the Psalmist says, “For his anger is but for a moment, his favor is for a lifetime.” (verse 5a.)

I also learned that when I cried out to God, I was beginning to put my trust where it belonged.  Like the man who said to Jesus, “I believe, help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24) I guess when you reach rock bottom it’s easier to trust in God than yourself.

Eventually, the morning arrived with the sun and a freshness I’d forgotten existed.  I could dance again and sing.  I praised God’s name, remembered God’s mighty acts of the the past.  God hadn’t left me.  Not really.  I suppose it was I who had left God.

Sometimes life is overwhelming.  It’s when we feel fragile that we tend to fight back and try to gain control.  That’s probably the best time to turn to God.  It would have saved me a lot of time and effort if I’d done that in the first place!

And so, I invite you to join me in my dance of gratitude.  Celebrate my return to my place with God.  And while we do that, perhaps we can remember those who are struggling:

  • the victims of an unnecessary house fire
  • those battling illness and disease
  • your loved ones who will go home to God soon
  • those who are grieving loss of any kind
  • the food deprived

There are many folks who live in that dark night of the soul.  We can pray that God will hold them through the night, ever so gently.  We can pray that though their weeping may linger for the night, that joy will come with the morning.

We can also celebrate with those who have returned from the dark valley:

  • those coming out of their grief and loss
  • those whose bodies are healing
  • those accomplishing life’s dreams and ambitions
  • those who have turned away from anger and hate to the bright light of love and acceptance

I know you can add to either of these lists and I so hope you will.

We can’t always get it right.  Some days our trust is in God and we live in that vulnerability.  Other days we grab for control until we can’t handle the overwhelming, overpowering pressures.  In our prayer for help, God sees our trust and in a way, that is praise.

Is God angry?  Perhaps.  But, it lasts a moment.  Love and compassion win the day and we are united with our God who saves, provides for us and, most of all, listens to us.

And that’s when our joy returns: unbelievable, exhilarating, almost giddy joy that we haven’t known for awhile.

But, first we have to come down from that mountain built of our own sense of independence.  God will help with that as well.

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.


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.


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.

 


God Makes Straight with a Crooked Line

During the night Paul had a vision: there stood a man of Macedonia pleading with him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” 10 When he had seen the vision, we immediately tried to cross over to Macedonia, being convinced that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them.

11 We set sail from Troas and took a straight course to Samothrace, the following day to Neapolis, 12 and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district[a] of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city for some days. 13 On the sabbath day we went outside the gate by the river, where we supposed there was a place of prayer; and we sat down and spoke to the women who had gathered there. 14 A certain woman named Lydia, a worshiper of God, was listening to us; she was from the city of Thyatira and a dealer in purple cloth. The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul. 15 When she and her household were baptized, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home.” And she prevailed upon us.  (Acts 16:9-15 NRSV)

Imagine Paul and Silas and Timothy, perhaps even Luke, relaxing after a long day’s journey. They discuss the events of the day. One thing leads to another and they begin reminiscing.

“Remember when we attended the Jerusalem Council?”

“Boy, that was some debate, wasn’t it?  Thank God the right decision was made to attend to the Gentiles and not require circumcision.”

“And then we decided to journey through Asia Minor.  We had such a grand plan, didn’t we?”

“If memory serves me, we planned to first visit the new churches in the south and then travel north and plant new churches up there.”

“That’s when we met you, Timothy.  You joined with us for the church planting.  And we kept running into dead ends.”

“I remember it well.  I couldn’t figure out what kept stopping us from entering those towns and attending the synagogues.  You helped me understand that God moves in mysterious ways.”

“And then Paul had that dream.  A man from Macedonia was calling to Paul to come spread the word in Europe.  That was strange!”

“Remember when Paul got us up in the middle of the night?  He hustled us out the door and on to that boat before our first coffee!  We knew this had to be God’s call, though, when we arrived on Samothrace a day later instead of three or four.”

And that’s how the three men arrived in Philippi.  They had tried to spread the word in new parts of Asia Minor, but the Holy Spirit kept saying, “No.  Not there.”  Philippi became the first new church plant in Europe.

They stayed in Phillipi a few days becoming familiar with it.  One of the things they discovered was that there was no synagogue.  No problem, they’ll go outside the city gates by the river.  They’d be sure to find some Jews worshiping there.

This had been a strange journey and it continued in that vein.  They don’t find any men praying by the river as they had anticipated.  Instead, they discover a group of women praying.

Paul and Silas and Timothy joined them.  Then Paul sat down to teach them.

The leader of the group was Lydia.  A businesswoman, she was a dealer in rich purple cloth only available to the wealthy.  She was her own woman in a patriarchal society; strong and astute.  She was a successful businesswoman with a home and servants of her own.

Lydia wasn’t Jewish, but she was a  gentile God worshiper.  Paul’s words fell on a hungry heart and she gave her heart to Christ. She and her whole household were baptized.

Then she insisted that they stay with her.  Did I mention she was a strong woman?  Lydia would continue to support the Philippian church.

When have you looked back and seen the hand of God at work?  Did that journey take many twists and turns?  Did you have false starts and road blocks and closed doors?  Yet, looking back, doesn’t the road appear straight.  God made straight with a crooked line.

Life is like that.  We have a well-thought-out plan.  We’ve gathered the resources we’ll need and we’re out the door, so to speak.  It falls flat and we wonder, “what happened?”

It’s disorientating.  Isn’t that what God wanted us to do?, we ask.  It was a good plan!  A perfect plan!  Do we need to work harder?  Pray harder?  Plan better?

Probably not.  The plan could have been perfect, and God may put it to use some day.  But not today.  Today God has a vision that needs your attention.  Right now.

But we have no resources to do that!  We have no money.  Not enough people.  The energy will run out.

That’s God’s problem.  Just move forward.

But, we’ve never been there.  It means crossing boundaries.  As much as I want to be a Christ-like presence for people, how can speak to people who aren’t like me?  How can I relate.

Let go and allow God’s words to be your words.  Just move forward.

Yes, you’ll feel as if you’re out on a limb.  That’s where God does his best work.  When we’re not so sure about the outcome or the roadmap is a bit vague, we tend to look up and out.  We listen better to the Holy Spirit’s whispers when we feeling our most vulnerable.

Mahatma Gandhi once said, “It’s the action, not the fruit of the action, that’s important.  You may never know what results come from your action.  But if  you do nothing, there will be no result.”

When have stepped out and made a difference?  Was it that time you paused in the produce section to visit with a stranger and you spoke words that seemed to feed her hungry heart?”

Maybe it was the time when you felt a compunction to shop at a store you hadn’t been to before.  Outside the door of the shop you ran into an old friend you hadn’t seen in years.  Thirty minutes later, you walked to the parking lot together and your friend admitted that he, too, had felt the same compunction to come to this place.  As you drove away you realized that you had received a word of encouragement that only God new you needed.

That delay in traffic that sent you to a new place; that answered prayer that turned out vastly different from your expectations; the risk you took to use scripture to comfort someone.  Each time you acted, you crossed a boundary.

The Holy Spirit lives, moves and has its being, not by our wants and desires, but its own vision.  We try, God says, “No, not there.”  Then we receive a message and the world of ministry opens up to us.  It’s scary.  it’s exhilarating.  It’s exciting.

That’s how God’s kingdom works.

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.


Easter Reverberations

21 I saw Heaven and earth new-created. Gone the first Heaven, gone the first earth, gone the sea.

I saw Holy Jerusalem, new-created, descending resplendent out of Heaven, as ready for God as a bride for her husband.

3-5 I heard a voice thunder from the Throne: “Look! Look! God has moved into the neighborhood, making his home with men and women! They’re his people, he’s their God. He’ll wipe every tear from their eyes. Death is gone for good—tears gone, crying gone, pain gone—all the first order of things gone.” The Enthroned continued, “Look! I’m making everything new. Write it all down—each word dependable and accurate.”

6-8 Then he said, “It’s happened. I’m A to Z. I’m the Beginning, I’m the Conclusion. From Water-of-Life Well I give freely to the thirsty.

(Revelation 21:1-6  The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson)

“I am making all things new.”

How many times do we hear God say those words in scripture.  We saw God in action when he spoke creation into being.  We saw them in the many covenants God made with God’s people.  God freed God’s people people, provided in the wilderness, brought us back from exile.  God continually works to make all things new.

The ultimate, so far in history, is a child born to a poor family, revealed to the most reviled in society (shepherds) while heaven’s messengers announced “tidings of great joy.”  That child grew to bring us the same message, but this time he put feet on those words.

When he died, he was risen again to defeat death.  We would think that we’d have nothing further to worry about.

And God continues to be at work.  So today we read in Revelation these words, one more time:  “I’m making all things new.”  God continues to redeem and provide and liberate.  The promise is that God is at work in God’s creation because in the end, God will bring it to conclusion.

Not with destruction, but with a new heaven and earth.  The old will pass away and the new world order will be ushered in by none other than God.

What have we to fear?  God has a plan and God will continue to work that plan.  Our place in creation is set.  What have we fear?

Well, war, poverty, immigration, food insecurity, illness. To name a few.

Daily we see a backdrop of evil, hurting and injustice.

The hope is this: God really does continue to be at work.  God really does continue to make all things new.  Our world is getting better because people like you refuse to ignore the issues and get involved.  Whether writing a check or hands one.

We help make the difference through prayer and discernment.  We allow God to use our gifts and talents and our passion to move forward.

God will dry every tear.  God is making all things new.  God will break down the chasms and walls that keep us separated.

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.


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