Monthly Archives: April, 2013

Finding Common Ground

Julius Shnorr, St. Peter's Vision

Acts 11:1-18

New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

Peter’s Report to the Church at Jerusalem

11 Now the apostles and the believerswho were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also accepted the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believerscriticized him, saying, “Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?” Then Peter began to explain it to them, step by step, saying, “I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision. There was something like a large sheet coming down from heaven, being lowered by its four corners; and it came close to me. As I looked at it closely I saw four-footed animals, beasts of prey, reptiles, and birds of the air. I also heard a voice saying to me, ‘Get up, Peter; kill and eat.’ But I replied, ‘By no means, Lord; for nothing profane or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ But a second time the voice answered from heaven, ‘What God has made clean, you must not call profane.’ 10 This happened three times; then everything was pulled up again to heaven. 11 At that very moment three men, sent to me from Caesarea, arrived at the house where we were. 12 The Spirit told me to go with them and not to make a distinction between them and us. These six brothers also accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house. 13 He told us how he had seen the angel standing in his house and saying, ‘Send to Joppa and bring Simon, who is called Peter; 14 he will give you a message by which you and your entire household will be saved.’ 15 And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as it had upon us at the beginning. 16 And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ 17 If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?” 18 When they heard this, they were silenced. And they praised God, saying, “Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.”

This is a great story.  As a parent of a teenager, it is so interesting to hear her discuss the hierarchy of cliques in school.  There are the popular kids, the band geeks, the druggies, the loners, the wannabes, the do-gooders, the quiet ones, the athletes/jocks and those who don’t fit in anywhere.  From her perspective, the “popular” kids have life so much easier than anyone else.  They are smart, funny, attractive, date frequently and bad stuff doesn’t happen to them.  And I am sure that those popular kids have some of the same insecurities that all teenagers feel, but they have the disadvantage of believing their own press – that they are better than everyone else simply because of their status.

This reading has Peter back in Jerusalem with the “circumcised believers” who just can’t believe that Peter has spent time with those “uncircumcised men,” even eating with them!  Peter tells of a great vision from God, helping him understand that God cares nothing about the group you belong to and everything about believing in the Lord and Savior.

I love a good vision…the subtlety of looking for signs and discerning God’s will is hard for me.  When God speaks to me in a vision, it seems stronger than a nudge and more like a push or a shove!  Jesus spent his travels and teachings with the poor and meek; the religious hierarchy was not where he wanted to spend his time.  The Bible has stories filled with Jesus healing the sick – not the rich and sick, but the poorest of the poor.  Those who needed it the most and had nothing to lose by trusting in Jesus and his love for them were the leading characters in many of the miracles in Jesus’ life.  Yet still, the “circumcised” (read: the most righteous folks in the land or the “popular kids”) couldn’t believe that Peter spent time and energy on them.  What would it take? Why, a vision of course!!!!  And Peter was still worried about eating “unclean animals” himself. The vision made things pretty clear – Jews and Gentiles alike were all called to follow God and were not to be separated by the things that humans use to divide ourselves from each other.

In today’s world, we spend a lot of time seeing the differences between ourselves and those near and far.  We see the things that separate us as barriers to forming our community of believers.  This vision of Peter’s that he tells to the men of Caesarea makes clear that we are called to reach across the differences between us to love one another and lead people to Christ.  No one is to be excluded and all are welcome at the table.  Now, do we live out this declaration from God or are we standing in the way?

God of all, we reach out to you in love and praise your name for all to see.  We ask you to lead us to serve you among all people and love our neighbors as ourselves, even when the differences between us seem insurmountable.  Help us to see our common ground and build up your community of faith.  In Jesus’ name we pray.  AMEN.

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Following the WRONG Shepherd

sheep-with-shepherd

John 10:22-30

New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

Jesus Is Rejected by the Jews

22 At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, 23 and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon. 24 So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” 25 Jesus answered, “I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me; 26 but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep. 27 My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand. 30 The Father and I are one.”

Sheep may not be the best candidates for the “Most Independent Thinker” award, but they know how to keep safe. Although we don’t come in contact with too many shepherds and their flock in today’s world, we know a few things about the relationship between the caretaker and the sheep. Like many animals, they grow accustomed to distinguishing human voice – they can recognize the nuance between their shepherd and the voice of a stranger. They stick together for the most part and will follow their shepherd where ever he or she may lead them. They don’t tend to rely on instincts outside of those that reflect the “herd” mentality – stay close to your leader and keep your friends and family close as well. Maybe they are pretty smart after all, since they tend not to wander off on their own to rely on their own survival instincts.

The Bible is full of sheep and shepherd stories and Jesus uses this role of leading people who follow him to teach throughout his many lessons. Now, I don’t know about you, but I really like the fact that I have free will to do with as I please. In fact, I am quite adept at doing exactly what I please, when I want to do it and how I want to do it! Luckily for me (and through an abundance of grace and mercy), things have worked out nicely for me most of the time. But when they don’t work out well, and I find myself away from the flock and feeling alone and lost, you can be sure that the reasons I find myself there can be traced directly back to my own wanderings. No one led me there and my reliance on my Lord is often nowhere to be found.

So how do we balance our God given ability to make our decisions with our need as Christians to follow our shepherd Jesus Christ? I think I would be the richest woman in the world if I discovered the formula for this that was 100% foolproof. Instead, we all have our good days and bad days (or good years and bad decades) of the results of this imbalance of power. It’s not like we don’t want to follow God’s will for us; not too many believers in Christ wake up and make the decision to deliberately ignore anything God might be saying to us! Instead, we have to make the time to follow Christ AND to use our free will in combination with one another. You’ve heard that story/joke about the man trapped on the roof of his flooded home and he passes on several opportunities to be rescued with a heartfelt, “No thanks, God will save me,” only to drown and hear God’s response to his question about why he wasn’t saved with: “I sent you a boat, a helicopter and several other opportunities and you passed up on them all!” God puts opportunities in our path and may even send us a slight (or strong even) nudge and it’s our job to follow the path.

The gift of everlasting life seems like an enormously generous offering in light of our smallish effort of just “following” him. Trusting in God and his will for us takes courage and guts, because many of the paths in front of us seem much easier than the surrender of following God. He promises us that the enemy will not snatch us from him when we put ourselves in his care. He has told us this again and again, yet we do not believe, just as the Jews in this story who want Jesus to tell them plainly that he is the Messiah (as if all the teaching and miracles have just not been enough yet). But our job is simple: Love God with all our heart, love the people of the world and follow his path to do his work on the earth. Simple, but not easy when we want to be our own shepherds.

Dear Lord, the great shepherd of your people, help us to trust in you with all our heart, all our mind and all our soul. We ask you to lead us in your ways and show us mercy when we stray from the flock. We want to follow you, love you and serve you. We ask this in the name of your son Jesus Christ. AMEN.

Love Letters

Psalm 30 Page 621, BCP

Exaltabo te, Domine

1
I will exalt you, O LORD,
because you have lifted me up *
and have not let my enemies triumph over me.
2
O LORD my God, I cried out to you, *
and you restored me to health.
3
You brought me up, O LORD, from the dead; *
you restored my life as I was going down to the grave.
4
Sing to the LORD, you servants of his; *
give thanks for the remembrance of his holiness.
5
For his wrath endures but the twinkling of an eye, *
his favor for a lifetime.
6
Weeping may spend the night, *
but joy comes in the morning.
7
While I felt secure, I said,
“I shall never be disturbed. *
You, LORD, with your favor, made me as strong as the mountains.”
8
Then you hid your face, *
and I was filled with fear.
9
I cried to you, O LORD; *
I pleaded with the Lord, saying,
10
“What profit is there in my blood, if I go down to the Pit? *
will the dust praise you or declare your faithfulness?
11
Hear, O LORD, and have mercy upon me; *
O LORD, be my helper.”
12
You have turned my wailing into dancing; *
you have put off my sack-cloth and clothed me with joy.
13
Therefore my heart sings to you without ceasing; *
O LORD my God, I will give you thanks for ever.
You know those love letters that folks find in the attic, all bundled together, telling a tale of love across the miles and filled with longing and appreciation for memories created tied to the hope of being together again?  I’m a sucker for reading those.  I am really a bit jealous when someone shares their stash of letters written by a grandfather at war to a betrothed young woman that will be his wife when he returns from saving the world in some faraway land.  We don’t save those things in our family, probably because there isn’t anything to save – not big on letter writing among our relatives.  And now that we are moving away from snail mail all together, these relics become even more cherished and they describe the feelings that two people have for each other in times of separation, hanging on to the hope of the future and the gratefulness for the foundation of that love.
King David wrote Psalm 30 in dedication of the Temple, speaking directly to God in this form of a love letter.  Each line is filled with thankfulness to God: for being saved from enemies, healing, grace and mercy, strength and joy.  David’s life was full of ups and downs, or promise and heartbreak and as a sinful person like the rest of us, he sought to live a life in God’s call while having some pretty obvious errors in judgement (anyone remember Bathsheba??).  But the temple of God was a legacy he intended to leave for the generations to worship the Lord and through all of his trials he returned his focus back to God.  The last line of the psalm says, “Therefore my heart sings to you without ceasing; O Lord my God, I will give you thanks for ever.”  In my opinion, one of the greatest ends to a love letter I’ve every read.
Being in a relationship requires work, especially if you are not physically present to do the little love things that each of you need.  With God, even though He is with us every step of the way, we humans can feel distant from him when we don’t put in the effort to talk with him and listen to him in our quiet times.  In thinking about David’s psalm of thanksgiving, I think about all that I am grateful for in my life that God has had a hand in providing for me.  I’m not one of those people who thinks God gives gifts and takes them away or worse still, causes pain and loss in our lives.  But rather that these things happen in our lives when we follow him and he is with us, even and especially when we need him the most. Being a Christian guarantees no protection from heartache and sorry, but those things become unmanageable without his love and care for us.
My prayer for today and the days to come is that I remember to give thanksgiving to God first and foremost before I head down the path of just putting in my requests.  In my marriage, I have to show love and appreciation to my husband in at least equal measure to the amount of hurt and pain I can surely cause to the ones I love the most.  It’s like making deposits in the emotional bank account of our marriage.  Fortunately for us, God’s grace and mercy don’t require us to be thankful in equal measure to “earn” any of it all – it is a free gift that God gives us.  I say the least we can do is tell God “THANK YOU!”
Dear Lord, we aren’t worthy to receive the many blessings and gifts that you have bestowed upon us.  Your will for us is greater than our wildest dreams and we fall short of giving you the love and appreciation deserving of your greatness.  Thank you for standing firm in grace and mercy, showing us love and compassion at every success and challenge we reach.  We love you, we worship you and we praise your holy name.  AMEN.

Forgiveness Within Reach

John 20:19-31

New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

Jesus Appears to the Disciples

19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

Jesus and Thomas

24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

The Purpose of This Book

30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31 But these are written so that you may come to believethat Jesus is the Messiah,the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

Maybe it’s just me, but forgiveness is a tough one.  I have to work really hard on forgiving those who I perceive have wronged me.  Now, I’m not talking about forgiving someone for taking my parking place at the mall or for drinking the last diet coke…I’m really thinking about those biggies.  One of the ways to really “get” to me is to misrepresent me.  When someone says, “I heard you said blah blah blah,” or “I heard you did blah blah blah,” and those things not only didn’t happen but are contrary to what I WOULD have said or done, it doesn’t bring out the best in me.

But Jesus is pretty clear about the concept of forgiveness.  He appears to his disciples following his resurrection, breathing on them the Holy Spirit (wondering about the awesomeness of that!!!!) and explained about forgiveness.  He said, If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”  Talk about empowerment!  Jesus uses the Holy Spirit to gift the disciples with the ultimate power of forgiveness, while chiding them at the same time about what happens if they don’t fully utilize this incredible gift.  Through the building of the wider body of Christ, we all have the same responsibility as Christians.  Forgive others.  Jesus didn’t put any qualifiers on this method of forgiveness.  He gives them the power and through the gift of love we all have the same power.  And when we don’t forgive others?  That’s pretty clear too…the sins are still there. 

That’s pretty discouraging if you think about it terms of just humans.  But the best news of all is that we are forgiven in totality when we ask God.  He will NEVER “retain our sins,” and gives us forgiveness no matter the grievance.  And I can assure you I have some pretty egregious sins, I tell you!  I ask…he forgives.  So why can’t I do that too?

I want to forgive, I really do.  I often have to forgive over and over again until it is gone, because one time forgiveness can still leave me with retention of the hurt and pain that came with the wrong.  That’s why this one is such a tough issue – our humanity stands in the way of forgiveness at times.  But holding on to resentment, pain and the feeling of being wronged gets right between us and God, which no one really wants, especially God!

This joyous Easter season of new life brings new opportunities to grow in our faith.  Let’s commit to work on forgiveness…of ourselves and others, without exception.  It’s the purest form of love – Agape love.

Lord, we ask you to guide our hearts and minds to forgive.  Help us to know and love you and show that love to our brothers and sisters.  When we struggle with this, show us the way to reach out and heal our wounds and those of others.  We ask this in Jesus’ name.  AMEN.

 

Called by Her Name

John 20:11-18

New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

Jesus Appears to Mary Magdalene

11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 12 and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. 13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14 When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” 18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

I am a school principal. When I am out and about in my community, I run into our current and former students at the grocery store, at church, at the movies and just about anywhere I go! I am always a little surprised by the reaction I get, especially from my current students. They may see me and be shocked that I ever leave the school (you don’t live at school???) or stunned into silence. Kids who give me a hug and tell me all about their weekend when I see them in school, stare at me as if I am a stranger when they see me in a new environment.

But the children only know me in a small way…Mary Magdalene knew her beloved teacher, Jesus very well. We don’t know whether his appearance was so drastically different or if it was just too hard for the brain to process seeing someone look as alive as before death so unexpectedly. Whatever the case, Mary Magdalene thought Jesus must be a gardener rather than the Messiah! But all it took for her to recognize him was that he spoke her name.

When we were kids playing in the neighborhood, we only came inside when our parents would call our names. And it didn’t matter how far away we were or how many of us were playing kickball, we recognized our parents’ voices as they called our name. Mary Magdalene may not have recognized Jesus’ physical presence but she most surely recognized his voice as he called her name.

Will I recognize Jesus’ voice when he calls my name? I hope so. I pray for the intimacy of a relationship with Christ that is unique enough that I know when he is speaking to me. Missing out on that would be such a loss. I am intentionally listening for him to call my name.

Dear Heavenly Father, I am listening for you to call my name. Help me be open to hearing your call and make a way for me to get up and follow you. In Christ’s name I pray. AMEN.