Thursday, June 29, 2017

Acting Up and Out ~~ The Church Today

When he (Saul/Paul) had come to Jerusalem, he attempted to join the disciples; and they were all afraid of him, for they did not believe that he was a disciple. But Barnabas took him, brought him to the apostles, and described for them how on the road he had seen the Lord, who had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had spoken boldly in the name of Jesus. So he went in and out among them in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord. Acts 9

After Paul's conversion, he tries to join the disciples...and it is awkward to say the least.  Let's be honest, when someone who has bullied us or fanned the flames of fear suddenly says s/he has had a come to Jesus moment...I can be as skeptical and cynical as anyone.  Sure...I want to say...that is great that you want to make up, but I am kinda busy right now.  I'll get back to you.  (In three years...I say under my breath).

But then Barnabas comes and vouches for the guy.  Which makes me wonder...who am I vouching for today?  Who, because of actions or words...their past...has felt shut out, but now wants to be part of the community...that I am actually trying to stand beside?  Because that path feels like it is paved with thorns and thistles.  That path feels like pushing a stone up the hill threatening to roll over me at any moment.

Just as I think we all have some Simon in us...so too...we need to have some Barnabas as well as Paul.  Paul is willing to change, go in the exact opposite direction.  Barnabas is willing to go with him.  That is a bold, audacious, hairy goal for the church.  Can we be Barnabas for each other?  Supporting and strengthening one another?  Can we be honest as Paul?

I hear Paul saying, "Yeah, I was totally wrong on this.  I messed up.  Can you forgive me?"

Those four words...can you forgive me? are some of the most powerful and profound and possibility difficult to utter...really mean.  I would rather deny...

"I wasn't my fault."

Deflect...
"Well, I wouldn't have done it, if it wasn't for him."

Distract...
"Well, if you think that is bad, just wait til you here what she did."

I have lots of tools in my box to make sure I don't own my own stuff.  I am a ninja when it comes to trying to get out of difficult situations.  But Paul owns it.  And when you do that, when others do that, we are called to let our inner Barnabas break through.  Rather than keep re-hashing or remembering all that stuff from the past.  Which is another tool in my box when I mess up."

"Oh, well I know I forgot our anniversary...but do you remember when you forgot my birthday?"

Where are S/Paul's sandals in your closet...going through a transformation?
Where are Simon's sandals in your closet...thinking we can buy our way out of the situation and into power?
Where are Barnabas' sandals in your closet...moments you risk and form relationship with someone with whom you have a complicated past, but are willing to try to live a new way?

I pray those questions awaken more than a trace of grace for you in these days.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Acting Up and Out ~~ The Church Today

Now a certain man named Simon had previously practiced magic in the city and amazed the people of Samaria, saying that he was someone great. All of them, from the least to the greatest, listened to him eagerly, saying, “This man is the power of God that is called Great.” And they listened eagerly to him because for a long time he had amazed them with his magic. But when they believed Philip, who was proclaiming the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. Even Simon himself believed. After being baptized, he stayed constantly with Philip and was amazed when he saw the signs and great miracles that took place.  Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. The two went down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit. Then Peter and John laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit. Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, saying, “Give me also this power so that anyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” But Peter said to him, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain God’s gift with money!   Acts 8

One of my favorite acts on America's Got Talent is usually the magicians or mentalists or anything that is beyond my ability to explain/has some mystery.  I love to be amazed and filled with wonder.  How in the world did they get that seven of clubs over there?  Or how did they know the judge was going to say that word?  I realize that it is about a slight of hand when I am distracted by something else.  But I got to tell you, magic is one of the ways I still feel wonder today.

So along comes Simon...not a simple pie man...rather someone who years ago was the David Copperfield or Penn/Teller of his day.  We are not told, but maybe he could make things disappear or maybe he could predict things.  But some how, he was able to amaze the people.  Until a new act came to town.  And Simon, doesn't get jealous or try to discredit Philip, rather Simon becomes captivated and converted by Philip.

On one level this passage is about the unfolding wonder in the Book of Acts, even people who knew how to do magic tricks found the disciples to be pretty interesting.  On another level, this passage too is about money.   Simon wants to buy the power of the Holy Spirit, which isn't for sale.  In some ways this is a reminder that when the church and consumerism share the same address, the results are not always great.  It is easy to let societies definitions of success start to seep into the sanctuary.  What's your membership...can start to sound like, "How many customers do you have?"  What's your budget... can start to sound like, if it isn't going the right ways, you are going to close.

Moreover, I think most people of faith won't mind some magic to turn their church around.  This is why books on church growth or how a pastor took a small church and grew it...continue to sell well.  There might be some Simon in all of us.  We want the power and possibility of making a difference.  We, like Jack, keep trading the goose for some magic beans...only to find that the beanstalk wasn't all we thought it was going to be.

On one level, we can look at this through magic and the ability to be mystified, wrapped in wonder.
On another level, we can shine a light on how we, like Simon, might get caught up in wanting to buy your way to success.
On a final level, it is interesting to step back and listen to Peter and James, unwilling to get caught up in the narrative of the world.  I find that to be challenging.  Can we, as people of faith, look openly and honestly at what we want...and why?  What are our deepest desires...what is the real reasons why?  Not that we should feel guilt or shame, but when we trust God with what is in our heart, we might find a real magic...but I like to call that Spirit, "Grace".

May there be more than a trace of grace for you in these days ~~

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Acting Up and Out ~~ The Church Today


Saturday morning prayer...

The sturdy stump sat solidly
as I slowly chipped away at it.
Saw dust stirred and settled in the grass.
Bits flew suddenly off.
And there were moments I wondered if I would ever finish
Or was just the task an exercise in futility.

Piece by piece.
Step by step.
Painstakingly slow.
Wondering if I was really make progress.
Just like life itself.

Rarely does a day bring leaps and bounds of success.
It takes time.
One step forward...two back...two forward in a divine dance.
One of the ways prayer works on you is a place and pace to reflect.
Review your life.
Renew your spirit not by doing but by being.
Prayer invites us to breathe in grace
And exhale anxiety.
Breathe in love
And exhale our less-than-gracious understandings of self and other.
Breathe in hope
And exhale all that stale, stifling sense that things have never been this bad.
Breathe
Exhale.


Breathe.
Exhale.

And be drenched in more than just a trace of God's abundant grace.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Acting Up and Out ~~ The Church Today

When they heard these things, they became enraged and ground their teeth at Stephen. But filled with the Holy Spirit, he gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. “Look,” he said, “I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him. Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he died.  Acts 7

If you have a chance to read all of Acts 7...it is a cliff notes version of the Hebrew Scriptures.  Stephen is giving his sermon in response to the false charges.  He talks about how Abraham, Joseph, Moses, and the prophets were all agents of social change.  They each faced opposition (who said life was supposed to be easy?).  They all stumbled and bumbled around a bit...yep, I can relate to that.  And yet, God worked through their humanness.  The great message of the Hebrew Scriptures is that God is not distant or disinterested, God is not discussed by our brokenness, God is able to let a light shine through the cracks of our lives.  Are you with me?  Yes, there is violence in the Hebrew Scriptures (and in the above passage.  When people say, the God of the Old Testament is so mean.  I want to say, "Don't forget about Stephen being stoned!"  Not exactly how I want to spend my Tuesday.)  The truth is we still live in a time of violence.  For the last fifteen years our country has been involved in the Middle East.  The state of Syria continues to unravel.  And we could go on and on.  Do we really think we are going to be judged as more enlightened or as more of the same?  That question tends to sit heavy on my soul.

  As I said in the last post, when you try to change or challenge the status quo...people tend to react and respond in less than positive ways.  They will discredit, dissuade, divide you for friends, and defend the current system.  Even though we are in constant change, our natural/normal mode of operation is to see change drenched in a negative light.  So rather than facing changing, the powers that be simply do away with Stephen.  Just as we did with Dr. King; just as we did with Malcolm X; just as someone tried to do this last week with Republic representatives.  When I read Genesis 3, I don't hear that as proof of original sin...I hear that as proof of brokenness begets brokenness begets brokenness.  When I (like Eve and Adam) listen to those voices that tell me a false narrative, I make decisions that are born out of brokenness, which causes brokenness in my family.  Or sometimes I try to hide from my responsibility (like Eve and Adam).  And I often defend my position or even pass along blame (like Eve and Adam).  The events in the garden didn't have to literally happen for them to actually be true in life.

And when we cause pain...when we throw stone to hurt and harm others...when we want to make ourselves feel better by pushing another person who is different than us down...all of that is what this story is shining a light upon.  The prayer of confession has fallen out of favor in our church today.  We come to church to feel good, we rationalize...so don't make us think about all that bad stuff.  Besides...we reason even more...I am really nice to my African-American co-worker and I just had drinks with my gay friend...so I am cool.  But...that doesn't stop the fact that racism and sexism and homophobia are still baked into our collective societal pie.   That doesn't stop the fact that if we don't process our pain and our responsibility, we pass it along to others.  Confession isn't about raining guilt, it about getting the moldy parts of our lives out into the light so they don't keep festering and fueling our lives in destructive ways.  Just as in AA you need to make a complete inventory of those you've harmed...not because you are a lousy person...but because you are a person.  We all have done things that we need to seek forgiveness and reconciliation.  And while I am pretty sure I have never thrown a stone...I have lobbed quite a few verbal words meant to do internal damage and I have judged people and I am so good at seeing the speck in your eye while missing the log in my own.  Darn that Jesus for calling us to another way, path and image for life!

Finally...notice the name Saul...that is actually the guy we are about to meet who will become Paul.  Yes that Paul (no not McCartney...although I am a fan).  Paul is in the one who writes over half of the New Testament with his letters.  Paul who goes from being passionate persecutor to professing that Jesus is the way.  We will get to him in a bit...but for now, just notice he was there.  And that perhaps this moment left a mark on his life.  After all brokenness often begets brokenness.

May the trace of God's grace interrupt and disrupt us from those vicious cycles that form well worn ruts.

Blessings ~~  

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Acting Up and Out ~ The Church Today



Now during those days, when the disciples were increasing in number, the Hellenists complained against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution of food. And the twelve called together the whole community of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should neglect the word of God in order to wait on tables. Therefore, friends, select from among yourselves seven men of good standing, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint to this task, while we, for our part, will devote ourselves to prayer and to serving the word.” What they said pleased the whole community, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, 
Stephen, full of grace and power, did great wonders and signs among the people. Then some of those who belonged to the synagogue, stood up and argued with Stephen. But they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he spoke. Then they secretly instigated some men to say, “We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God.” They stirred up the people as well as the elders and the scribes; then they suddenly confronted him, seized him, and brought him before the council. They set up false witnesses who said, “This man never stops saying things against this holy place and the law; for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and will change the customs that Moses handed on to us.” And all who sat in the council looked intently at him, and they saw that his face was like the face of an angel.  Acts 6

One of the hallmark characteristics of the early church was caring about and for people.  One of my professors used to say, "People will care what you know...when they know that you care."  So often today, care is understood almost exclusively as doing.  We serve meals or deliver them to someone's door.  We buy food or box it up for someone.  We build homes, sign petitions, and our understanding of mission involves perpetual motion.  But when do we sit and listen?  When do we see maintaining a relationship with someone who is struggling to be just as vital and vibrant?  In a world that loves the concrete and tangible, so do we when it comes to serving others.  We want to point to the pot of stew or the paint on the wall as a tactile expression of love.  And it is!  But just because someone's stomach is full doesn't necessarily mean she has fully encountered or experienced God's love.

One of the new words being bantered about is rather than mission to be missional.  To be missional is to be relational.  It asks us to take seriously that the person who is hungry also has a story about how and why that came to be.  It is in hearing and honoring each person's story, that we take a deeper step to be in right relationship with a child of God.  The person is more than a need to be filled.  But wait...that takes time!! Yup.  But wait...we won't be able to serve as many people!!  Yup.  But wait... getting my life twisted and tangled with someone else is messy.  Yup.  It is vulnerable.  It might expose our own weakness and we might have to dig deeper into our own privilege and hard to answer questions of why do I have a home and the person before me has none.  Missional will ask more of us.

But...and this is an important but...we will have to go beyond our own resourcefulness.  We will have to full of grace in order that we might have the grace to not just serve, but perhaps be served.  Missional relationships are less about I have something for someone else, and much more egalitarian.  The other has something you need as well.   I encourage you to ponder this prayerfully.  This is not the way the system is set up right now.  I can give anonymously...and I say that is for the other person's dignity...but perhaps it is for me to protect my own vulnerability.  I often give money... rather than really confronting an economy that is unjust and where I am on the positive side.  I volunteer cooking rather than sitting with the same person day after day, thinking I am being a servant...but it also is a way to shield myself.  This is the harder path Christ walked and invited us to travel as well.

Finally, when we start to say things like this, people are going to get upset.  That was true of Stephen and it is still true today.  Many people think about how great Rev. Dr. King was...and he still is!  But what we often gloss over is that near the end of his life he preached out against the Vietnam War.  People kept saying, "Martin, just still to civil rights."  But he felt compelled and convicted to shine a light on all that was unjust, not only racism.  Stephen is stepping on toes...he is confronting and trying to change a system.  When you do that...people tend to react rather negatively.  We don't like change.  We'd rather volunteer on our time table...rather than get too tangled in a relationship without an exit strategy.

My life is no beacon of this.  I have a looooooong way to go.  I have much to learn.  But I am convinced that in this new century, we need a new way of relating to those who have needs for shelter, clothing and food beyond our current structure.  I pray as this story of Stephen settles in your heart and sings to your life, there will be more than a trace of God's grace surrounding you.

Grace and peace ~~

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Acting Up and Out ~ The church today


Saturday prayer....

Rather than make a list today,
I might find a place to lay.
I might find the space to pray.
I might search for the room to sit and stay.

Rather than accomplishment I boast,
Perhaps it is tending a relationship with family or friends,
Perhaps it is creating a meal to enjoy,
Perhaps it is just being and breathing.

Of all the business and busyness of our churches today,
We still don't help people understand the importance of rest.
To realize that God's love doesn't depend on what we do,
But on who we are.
To realize that grace is not earned like a merit badge,
But offered freely everyday.

To rest in that promise,
To wrap ourselves in that truth.
That is what I am going to do today.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Acting Up and Out ~ The Church Today

Now a man named Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, also sold a piece of property. With his wife’s full knowledge he kept back part of the money for himself, but brought the rest and put it at the apostles’ feet. Then Peter said, “Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied just to human beings but to God.” When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died  Acts 5

Come on, now, is this not one of the most mysterious, odd, wonderful, frustrating, and amazingly outlandish stories in all of Scripture?  I love it.  What I don't love is what the church has sometimes down with this.  Let's confess that we have taken this as permission to rain guilt on you about giving to the church.  We have, sly smile on the preacher's face...tongue in cheek...made a few jokes about what might happen to you if you don't give more to God.  When preaching on this passage, pastors (who depend on your gifts for our livelihood) who are willing to explain away how the sun stood still or how it doesn't have to be the Bible verses science, suddenly become literalists.  We confine and define "stewardship" so narrowly in our society to money.

That is because we live in a material world...we live in a world where cathedrals are build to capitalism....where we are what we spend and with the swipe of a credit card I can create a whole new identity.  Suddenly, with my skinny jeans and hipster glasses, I can try to be the cool pastor rather than just another schmuck who spent a lot of money on clothes.  So our natural and normal default is to read this passage through the lens of money.  Our natural and normal default is to read this passage as straight-forward equation that we cram into our lives.  You sell something, win something, get something, give some of it way.

But that isn't what the passage actually says.

First, we know that the early church held all things in common.  All things.  The earliest converts to the Way all pooled their resources: financial, time, and talents.  There was a common treasury that provided for all the needs of the community.  The closest we might have are the Monastic orders of St. Benedict or St. Francis or the New Monastics (click to read more).  But the vast majority of our churches really don't function in this way.  We really don't want to deal with four hundred utility bills, mortgages, groceries bills of our families.  So, there is already a difference and distinction we need to hold onto.

Second, the real issue isn't the money...it is the lying about money.  That is where this passage gets interesting in my opinion.  I recently finished the book, The Soul of Money, which talks about how much of our self-worth is wrapped up in our net-worth.  How we constantly feel like we don't have enough and are not enough.  We are ruled by scarcity rather than abundance.  We lie about this all the time.  We don't question how much money plays a role in our individual, family, community (taxes!) decisions, country and worldwide decisions.  We are now part of a global economic system that cannot turn back the clock to the good ole days...which we don't really want to give up our Smartphones any way!  Because we buy so much on credit, it is even easier to lie to ourselves and justify that we deserve this item or seek happiness from things.  While I am no literalist, I do know lots of folks like Ananias and Sapphira who are still breathing but dead inside.  I know lots of folks like Ananias and Sapphria who keep on spending their way, trying to buy happiness.  I know lots of folks who want a bigger house, a newer car, the latest and greatest technology...because.  Well, they can't quite tell you, "Why?"  Because the why is...that is what you are supposed to do.  Which we all know our mother would say, "If they jumped off the bridge, would you do that too?"

We keep on...keeping on.  We prop up an economic system, spending our way through the day.  To dive deeper...to ask the harder questions:

What do I really need?  What?  Why?

Those are exactly what the corporations are now trying to answer in thirty second soundbites of ads.  You need this Iphone.  Why?  Because it's cool...so you are cool.  It has a better camera than that old one in your pocket.  It has a new feature we won't let you use on that old phone.  In fact, we are just going to stop updating that old one...so you have to buy this new shiny one.

So...do we drop out and off the grid?  All move to the swamp of central Florida?  Or the plains of Montana?  No.
But we can be more honest about what we really need and why we want it.  I was just looking (okay drooling a bit) over the new wireless speakers...comparing the one from Amazon and Google...reading about which is which.  Why do I want one?  I would be nice to listen to music, but I can do that now.  It would be nice to turn on the lights when I am not home.  But really it is just a toy.  And that makes it a great gift idea for Christmas or my birthday.  I don't need it today.  That helps me dive deeper and realize that in the world we swim, there is a deeper soul to money that we all need to engage a bit more.

And may we do that with more than a trace of God's grace.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Acting Up and Out ~ The Church Today

The priests and the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees came up to Peter and John while they were speaking to the people. They were greatly disturbed because the apostles were teaching the people, proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead. They seized Peter and John and, because it was evening, they put them in jail until the next day. But many who heard the message believed; so the number of men who believed grew to about five thousand. The next day the rulers, the elders and the teachers of the law met in Jerusalem. Annas the high priest was there, and so were Caiaphas, John, Alexander and others of the high priest’s family. They had Peter and John brought before them and began to question them: “By what power or what name did you do this?” Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: “Rulers and elders of the people!  If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a man who was lame and are being asked how he was healed, then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. Jesus is “‘the stone you builders rejected, which has become the cornerstone." Acts 4

The C.S. Lewis quote is one that hovers and hangs around my heart daily...not saying much...but it's presence is constantly there.  "If you were brought into a court; accused of being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?"

It is easy to lapse into listing all the things I do to live the hymn lyric, "They will know we are Christians by our love."  I volunteer time in a social justice ministry.  I visit the sick.  I try to preach meaningful sermons and blogposts.  I love my family.  I recycle.  I give money.  Part of the problem with these lists we form, these outward actions we offer a hurting world, is that they are so often centered in what we do rather than what God is doing through us.

This is a thin line.  Might seem like spitting syntax in frustrating ways.  But the call of the church to act up and out has always been immersed and infused by the Holy Spirit.  What sustains us is something deeper than a "good feeling" or moral high...it is a Spirit that compels and challenges us that how we live every moment is how we live our life.  A Spirit that cannot be contained or confined or even comprehended.  A meddlesome, meandering Spirit that stirs in serendipitous ways.   A kind of Spirit that sees a man laying by a gate, rather than tossing or throwing a coin, stops and says, "Look at me."  A Spirit that knows the truest sense of compassion is companionship.  That the two fit together.

Perhaps we as a church have offered too easy a path to compassion, offered it at a reduced price so that you don't have to stop your other activities.  Write a check.  Just one hour.  Keep on praying.  But we know that the cost of sharing God's love means more than quickly dropping off a hot meal with a quick, "Hello".  It means looking the one in her eyes and realizing one day it might be you on the other side.  It means learning her name.  It means asking how her foot is feeling.  Yes, there are other meals in the car and others waiting who need more than the warmth of mashed potatoes, but the warmth of human love and interaction that truly feeds the soul.  The warmth of more than a meal to a homeless person but the warmth of hearing why he is there.  The warmth of more than a blanket wrapped around in the cold night, the warmth of hearing how cold our world still is to those on the fringes.  It takes more than a check or signing a quick petition.  It takes our life.

How we live every moment is how we live our life.

Not to say, we don't need rest...renewal...recreation.

The book of Acts will not let us off the hook as easily as we might like.  To act up is to act out in the world.  To act up means we will go out and show the world what the wisdom, "Love your enemies" looks like embodied today.  What the wisdom, "So as you did this to the least of these, so you did to me," might sound like today.  What the wisdom, "Look at me," might feel like today.

So may that truth rummage and roam around your mind, heart, soul, and whole life this day.  And may more than a trace of God's grace guide us all in such a time as this.

Amen.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Acting Up and Out ~ The Church Today


One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the time of prayer—at three in the afternoon. 2 Now a man who was lame from birth was being carried to the temple gate called Beautiful, where he was put every day to beg from those going into the temple courts. 3 When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he asked them for money. 4 Peter looked straight at him, as did John. Then Peter said, “Look at us!”  Acts 3

A beautiful gate.
One that separated who would be let in and who was to keep out.
How could that be beautiful?
One that King Herod ordered artists to fill with images that delighted the eye and stirred the soul.
But still, it was a gate.
Yes, it distinguished and defined...and maybe today opens our eyes to the gates around us.
Gates that years ago proclaimed, "No Irish Need Apply" or "Whites only"
Gates that still today have realtors subtly try to steer certain people away from certain neighbors.
Gates that still today have men and women doing the same job, but cashing checks of differing amounts.
Gates of laws and legislative prejudice about whether LGBT can adopt or if businesses can refuse service.

Gates are not new.
Gates still let some people pass through with barely a second glance.
While others are stopped and frisked and asked, "What are you doing here??"
Gates that swing wide open for some and slam shut in the face of others.

Peter stood at the gate and asked the man there to look at him.
Might that be the call for the church today?
To go to the gates.
To see those who are shut out as beloved children of God.
To see those who struggle and are often invisible.
To see God's fingerprints upon those at the gates.

To do that might not be the Mona Lisa...
But it is beautiful.

May the traces of God's grace be with you in beautiful ways as you go to the gates that still exist in our world today.

Amen~~

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Acting Up and Out ~ The Church Today

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place.Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues[a] as the Spirit enabled them. Acts 2

So the disciples were waiting patiently and persistently...probably prayerfully too if they are actually going to go preach some of the places we talked about in the last post.  When Pentecost came...

Stop here.

Pentecost was a Jewish festival, 50 days after Passover.  50 days after talking about God's liberating love; 50 days after asking where do I/we need liberation still this day and where do I/we need God to enter in to break down the chains that still keep us confined?  Passover is a major celebration that is supposed to make a difference.  You don't just theoretically and theologically wax poetic about how we are chained to consumerism and cynicism and that our treatment of God's creation falls woefully short of God's call to be good stewards on the night of Passover to wake up the next day to go shopping in your Hummer!  You name the need for Passover in your life so that God might lead you somewhere, even if it is a wilderness, once you name your stuff.
Same goes for us in the Christian Church.  50 days after proclaiming that, "Christ is risen," it isn't just that we set that truth aside or tuck it away for another year.  That truth needs to work on us.  50 days after Easter, we have borrowed/taken the idea of Pentecost...the giving of the Spirit.

In the time of Acts, people from all different directions would have come back to Jerusalem (just as they did for Passover) to celebrate Pentecost.  They would read the 10 Commandments.  These are often seen in our world today as rules.  But the 10 Commandments are really about relationship.  How can we relate to God?  We can put God in the center and be careful, cautious about other things that want our allegiance.  We can rest.  We can make sure we treat others with grace and love (numbers 5 through 10).  After naming and claiming where liberation was needed, it was time to name and claim how we can live a life where relationships are tended.  Yes, I know they still sound like rules, but they can also help show us ways to life with God, others, and ourselves.

So, waiting around for the promised Spirit to infuse and immerse them so they can go preach.  Pentecost...remember the 10 Commandments...arrives.  But that isn't all.  A Spirit swirls and sloshes in chaotic ways.  Now this isn't some spirit of gentleness or restlessness like a breeze...this is a hurricane force wind that whips around them.  A flame (remember God led the people with a pillar of fire in the wilderness wandering after escaping Egypt) starts to warm their skin.  But they don't pull out s'mores for a campfire, they start to witness in a cacophony of languages.  This isn't some ho-hum day...this is holy chaos.  And the church says..."Yup, we resemble that still today"!

Holy chaos.  

We need to reclaim that as an image for God's work in our world.  Holy chaos that doesn't conform to Roberts Rules of Order.  Holy chaos that enters into our messy, mundane lives.  Holy chaos that interrupts and disrupts our lives.

What would being part of God's holy chaos look like for you?

For me, it means that all my neat, tidy to-do lists need to be open to God's still swirling presence.  For me, it means that I have to let God speak through me... sometimes that means letting go of my tightly held ideas for what God needs to say in such a time as this.  For me, it means that I don't get to define and determine the time.

Wait patiently and persistently.
Being sent out to places where I am on the edge of my comfort and competence.
Holy Chaos...not some step-by-step GPS...but a movement that embraces me to do things that people might say, "He is full of new wine".

That kind of invitation might open us to something more than just a trace of God's grace.

Amen ~~

Monday, June 5, 2017

Acting Up and Out ~ The Church Today

Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”  He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.  Acts 1

I grew up in a transitional, threshold time in history.  The cogs of institutions were still humming away, but showing signs of needing reform after years of questioning and honest concerns about how racism, sexism, homophobia, and any other way of being outside the narrowly defined understanding of "normal".  I grew up where desks in school were in neat rows and the teaching method was "sit and get".  I grew up in a world where government was still an okay word.  Volunteer organizations and churches thought they were just one membership drive away from a return to their glory days.  In many ways the institutions were like my families Ford Pinto, in need of something entirely new, but so much time and energy had been invest we thought it better to tinker than to totally deconstruct.  Not to mention, that when things were taken apart and put back together, it was like when I tried to do that with my bike and had a few "spare" parts left over and it never did work quite right after that.  So for years now, we have been trying to paint the train of our communal life together while it is still chugging down the tracks.  We keep on painting even as the engine is show signs of being sluggish and coughing.  We keep on painting even when we realize that the track is also showing signs of wear.  Whether we are talking about how to educate our kids; how to organize our communal, collective life (which is really what politics is suppose to be about); the role of the church; or how we as individuals interact with each other, it often seems like we have moved into a new space and place where we are not entirely sure how to act.
That is where the Book of Acts comes into play as ancient words that can be heard in helpful ways today.  I find in particular these opening words to be helpful.  Jesus tells the disciples two amazing truths before being whisked away in a cloud car to the sky.  He tells them to wait.  Not the kind of waiting in the doctor's office flipping through a decade old Reader's Digest kind of waiting.  But a waiting that is active and engaging.  I understand this waiting to need both patience and persistence.  Patience that I am not as in charge or control as I sometimes like to think I am.  Patience says that I don't have to leap into action or send out a tweet every time our twenty-four hour news cycle blares out an "Urgent Update".  Patience says sometimes slowing down, gathering more information, breathing can actually be a good thing.  Persistence says that I can't get stuck in analysis paralysis though.  There is a time to step off the sideline.  To keep patience and persistence in conversation and tension was good for the early church and is still a helpful invitation in such a time as this.
Second, I love the list of ministry settings the disciples are called to:
Jerusalem ~ the place that convicted, condemned, and hung Jesus on a cross.  Go to the place where there is still lingering pain; amid people who you are not sure if they were in the crowd yelling, "Crucify him".  Really?
Judea ~ southern countryside of Israel.  Remember the disciples were from the north.  Just as the division of North and South still lingers, hovers, and hangs in the air today...that is true in Scripture too.  As northerners from Galilee (a podunk place) who were fishermen (who didn't have any official religious training) going to Judea meant facing people who might look down on them.  Really?
Sameria ~ that is where those people lived who married foreigners during the Babylonian exile; didn't support the rebuilding capital campaign after the exile; and thought they had a mountain in that region even more holy than the one in Jerusalem.  So go to to the people you look down on.
Just to get the list of locations right:
1. People who cause fear and uncertainty.
2. People who don't like you.
3. People you don't like.
If ever there was an ancient list that still speaks to our hearts for such a time as this...it is this one!  Can we go to people who we are unclear which side they are on?  People who post things to Facebook we don't agree with?  People who we really struggle to love?  Do we take to heart that Jesus wasn't just trying to have a good soundbite when he said, "Love your enemies."  He really wanted us to do that?
In a world where my kids now sit around tables with a computer in the center; where government has approval ratings that should make the church feel good; and where people see church as just one more option of what to do...in short a world that feels distant and disconnected from the one of my youth, I love that this list still sings out a song I need to hear for today.  In this list, I hear more than a trace of God's grace.  And in this list, I need more than a trace of God's grace to try to embody and embrace this idea and those in my life who might fall into one or more of the above categories. 
So may the grace, love, and peace of God cause us to act up and out; to be the church in these days that might patiently and persistent keep drawing the circle wide to include all people.

Amen.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Slow Savory Pace Part Three



Poem~Prayer:

The long, lanky blade of grass
       waved at me,
While the gray, white cloud-crowded sky
       muted-ly looked on.

Next to me, the man fixed his gaze on his phone
        while he fiddled with his radio.
Next to me, some a car zoomed past
        the sound of acceleration ringing in my ear
              and the blade of grass bent suddenly forward.

All around everyone was
      Racing
          Running
              Hurrying and Scurrying
                   Fleeing like the White Rabbit in Wonderland,
"I'm late...I'm late for a very important date."

What is important?
      Critical or crucial?
            Necessary and needed?
                  How do we discern, decided amid the din/dashing of life?


Late
    Behind
          Breathing heavy
    Frayed
Frazzled

Even bewildered by the complexity, perplexity of life...
But that blade of grass still waving at anyone who would notice.
As if to say and suggestion there is another bewilderment that can bless.

Amen.


Thursday, June 1, 2017

Slow, savory pace Part 2



When we rush, race through life; it becomes a blur.  When we wake up in the morning with a to-do list that is unending, already feeling behind, it takes a toll on our soul.  When we struggle to rest and relax, our life becomes over-filled with many distractions.  I think of Martha, her good-intentions to be the host she truly felt Jesus deserved and her fuming frustration that her sister, Mary, sought another way (sibling rivalry is as ancient as Scripture).  Jesus invites her to another way.  A way that is slow, savory.  A way that says, we don't have everything figured out.  A way that takes seriously a great joke I just heard:

A pastor went to his Spiritual Adviser struggling trying to find meaning and purpose in life.  He told the adviser about all the amazing things he was doing at the church.  He had started new groups; he was preaching more sermons; he was writing a blog.  (There might be some self-revealing in this post).  But, he also felt drained sometimes.  What should he do??

The Spiritual Adviser took a long, slow, deep breath.  Silence filled the room, hanging and hovering in the air.  When the adviser spoke, he simply said.

"I have good news and better news.  The good news is that God has already sent a Savior into the world.  And the better news is that it is not you!"

I need to remember that.  I need to walk that line where I do what I can where I can...but that I cannot be all things to all people ~ another great contradicting cliche to put alongside the post from last time!  In order to realize where I am called to climb and which mountains are not mine, I need prayer.  I need time to listen for God to speak and sing to my very soul.  Martin Luther, the leader of the Reformation in the 1600 once said, "I am very busy today...I must pray more!"  How often do we do the exact opposite?  Essentially say to God, "Try and keep up while I cross off my to-do list!"  A slow, savory pace is one that takes one step...and then the next step...and then the next step.  Less concerned with the destination and more about making sure we are steeped, surrounded, sustained by the Spirit.

This is where I find Thomas Merton's prayer so helpful
 My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always, though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.

My invitation to you...today...is to take this prayer one sentence at a time.

Where are you going?
How far down life's road do you really see?
How well do you know yourself?
Can you trust in God's grace that the desire to love God really does love God?
That when we feel lost, we can acknowledge fear, without it being the ONLY thing that controls us?
To be...
       To breathe....
             To become what God is still fashioning and forming us to be, for God is not finished with us yet,

May that promise stir and swirl within you with more than a trace of God's grace.