Sunday, July 30, 2017
Light shines through casting a kaleidoscope of colors on the carpet.
The hues blending together like the altos and basses of the choir ~
Each distinct and yet moments of indistinguishable blurring.
Light enlivens the window now that morning has broken,
But I have seen the stained glass at night.
It is muted, drowsy, yet nevertheless still breathing deeply.
It's rich, radiant blues turn dark gray and black.
The bright yellows quietly turn an olive green.
And slowly, softly the moonlight still illuminates the window in a new way.
Our lives are like that stained glass window.
Sometimes vibrant and talking so quickly because all the words, stories want to escape at once.
Sometimes falling more thoughtful, reflective, muted by the world.
Sometimes the sunlight streams through us.
Sometimes we need space for the moon to do its work too.
A stained glass window
Or a prayer?
Or perhaps there is no reason to make a distinction.
Grace, peace, and love everyone ~
The series on Acts opened us to the movement of the Spirit within us and around us.
Invited us to wonder.
Called us to keep drawing the circle wide.
Bringing all that to a close and conclusion...I have you a reflection on Acts 17, Paul's sermon at Mars Hill...as inspired by one of my heroes....Dr Seuss
Paul wasn’t there to preach;
He hadn’t been asked or invited to teach;
He wasn’t even there on some missional outreach.
He was just wandering around…waiting,
For what reason we don’t know, because the passage isn’t stating.
Like us stuck in delay at the airport sighing,
Paul starts to walk around the streets spying.
Now Paul was in Athens, which was once a great, grand, an amazing city;
Boasting Socrates, study, trade, but all that was gone, what a pity.
Athens was a shadow of its former self, trying to recapture the glory days.
But they were stuck in a daze and haze trying just to win Rome’s praise.
Some might suggest that Athens then is like the church in our time.
Trying to recapture, reclaim, or climb to our 1950s prime.
When there were a hundred kids in the Sunday School,
To be honest that numbers make me drool
Or sends me searching for an easy church growth tool
And occasionally wondering if I am just being a fool.
But bringing Scripture that close causes us all uncomfortably to shift,
We don’t like the light so bright on us today, we resist.
So we proclaim, focus on Paul and make it swift.
Paul was walking down the streets gawking and gazing
Endless temples to gods he was appraising
Which caused his temper to stir, anger raising.
His heart started to ache,
While his soul did break,
Causing his head and whole-body to shake.
So many temples scattered here and there, how could it be, he wondered.
It all seemed to him to be a miserable mistake and misleading blunder.
But, it’s not like Star bellied Sneetches we can gloat,
For there are temples today to which we devote.
Open our eyes so that we might see my friends,
When you drive down Fruitville Rd our world is hard to defend.
There are temples dedicated to Golden Arches;
And a store which sells everything we call Targets;
And countless places to buy food known as Markets;
The sound of spending, swiping credit cards is the drum to which we all march,
Even though we know stuffing our life with stuff just leaves our souls parch.
Like Paul seeing temples dedicated to idols we know,
And seeing how it is true still today is quite a blow.
So Paul deeply troubled in his gut//refuses to stay in a silent rut//knows what to do is clear cut.
Being a preacher, he does what he does and starts to speak out,
He shares what is deep in his heart, he doesn’t need to shout.
Whether you wanted to listen or not he rambles
So much so that some call his sermon a shamble,
I’ve been there and I’ve preached that drabble,
Some might say today's sermon is a bit of a scramble.
Epicureans were there that day in the congregation and crowd,
Enjoying material things to avoid pain was their solemn vow,
Dismissed religion because some god you’re always trying to wow.
Also standing there listening to Paul that day were some Stoics
They taught careful reason, harmony, solidarity were the heroics.
In fact, one of my favorite parts of this passage might come from us seeing
That it was Stoics who first said, in God we move and have our very being.
From a moment of idleness Paul preaches on idols,
It all right there if you look and open your Bibles.
But some that day after hearing Paul talk were in denial,
Others wanted to hear more, offered him another revival.
So what to make of and do with this odd story
Because it just doesn’t fit neatly in the usual category.
It calls us to open our eyes and truly see
Temples around us where we go with glee.
Or how in the church our success is not a guarantee,
But that doesn’t mean from the future we flee.
Because Paul is right the Good News is God is not distant or uncaring,
God is as close as our next breath, the very being who offers us our bearings.
But let’s dig deeper and do so with haste,
Before all this rhyming makes you a basket case.
You see, it isn’t just that the church is right while society is all wrong,
We don’t need to see the world as either/or as we’ve done for too long,
Rather can we accept the call to sing to our world a very different song?
One where everything and everyone can actually belong!
What we are offering people isn’t information or application,
It is an opportunity to be part of an amazing transformation.
A change like a seed deep within, slowly growing within our very soul,
But that doesn’t stop with us, it needs be shared with others in whole.
Good news of God’s presence, nearness, and strength;
Good news of peace, love, grace you don’t hold at arms-length.
This is about Spirit stirring, swirling, and soaring,
Why on earth do we sometimes make church sound boring?
The promise that individually and collectively we can take part
In something wonderful and life-giving and changing our heart.
How will you share with others and tend your one precious life?
Will we only see the problems, warts, brokenness and strife?
Or can live out of struggle to be par-takers with God and conspirers,
Can we hold no cherished outcomes, and name that makes us perspire?
Or can our realities today hear the truth from this Paul’s sermon of old,
Help inspire us to life up our voice, name and claim our story to be told.
A story that it’s not about the money we spend,
Or about the number of balls, banquets we attend,
Or the balance of our bank account at the end.
What matters is this moment, broken, blessed and new.
What matters is offering the world a different view.
Of wonder, of Spirit, and of a wide circle God drew.
So enough with the rhyming and this weird sermon given.
For much more sitting and your back might stiffen.
And wonder if my vacation is passed due or I’m sickened.
The invitation is not for me to tell you what to do.
It is to offer a few words, images, on which you can chew.
I pray there is something you’ve heard that will continue to stew.
So prayerfully ponder the call of the church today we need to be seeing;
Hold that in conversation many diverse voices for your own hearing;
Be open to the movement of the One who feeds and fuels our dreaming
For it truly is God’s grace in which we always move and find our deepest being.
Thanks be to God …this sermon so odd …is a endin’. Amen.
Thursday, July 27, 2017
I am a big fan of schedules and rhythm and routine. I tend to get up at the same time, have the same cereal for breakfast, get to work by the same time, and end my day with reading. Some might call these mundane moments, "Boring". There is a point to that. But I also think that having some touchstones of normalcy in an ever changing world and a rapid transitioning time can be a God send. Because I don't know what kind of news will break my heart today; because I don't know what kind of tragedy might come knocking through a phone call/hospital visit/or meeting; because I don't know where the twists and turns might suddenly appear in the journey of this day...these normal (albeit boring) moments hold a deep sense of God's grace for me. There is a Spirit that stirs when I wake up and start with exercise, feeling my muscles engage and body move. There is a Spirit that swirls as I slowly eat my granola. There is a Spirit as I breathe in and out slowly at the traffic light on my way to work. There is a Spirit that has sustained and strengthened me every hour when I lay my head down on the pillow. There can also be a wonder in the ordinariness of life. The wonder when I finish a run or taste the sweetness of the blueberries on my cereal or writing a sermon or being with my family as night has fallen.
The wonder of a thousand forget-able Thursdays, a poet once said. So much of life can be lived backwards...regrets about the past or unable to let go of what someone said or what I did or not processing the pain. How many times do people numb the pain of the past through addictions today? We don't coup well or cooperate well with our lives. But there is also the fear of the future. I've noticed this the past few weeks when I wake up already feeling behind. Feeling like there is more on my to-list than I can get done. Feeling like the demands are sitting on my shoulders screaming, "Not going to get everything finished, are you?" On top of that, as a wise author pointed out, is the fear of missing out. That while I am tending to a meeting or a visit, I am missing out on my kid's summer which is fading quickly or their childhood or time with my beautiful wife. When I say, "Yes" to one thing, I say, "No" to a thousand other possibilities. Hard to plan the day...I can get caught in analysis paralysis pretty quickly.
Schedule might just help me have some sense of control in the uncontrollable world unfolding around us. It might be my clinging or it could be a trace of God's grace making a regularly scheduled appearance. Because the point isn't whether the schedule is good or bad, the point is how am I receiving that present moment? Am I really open to the beauty of this day God has made? Am I really open to giving thanks to farmers and cereal makers who sponsor my breakfast? Am I really open to the blessing of my car getting me from Point A to B? The thousands of beautiful, wonderful, Spirit swirling moments we miss because we get frustrated that we missed the light or forgot something. Where we focus determines so much of our lives and so much of our lives, we haven't learned the best ways to focus!
Meditation, contemplation, breathing, calming our monkey minds, singing, just being...we need that kind of Sabbath every day. I see Sunday morning worship not just as a practice for one day, but for every day. What if each morning you started your day by singing? What if you began by praying for the brokenness and blessedness? What if you listened for God because prayer doesn't change God, prayer changes us? What if you closed that time by saying, let this worship lead me every hour this day?
So may the traces of God's grace be found in both the ordinary/mundane moments as well as the challenging/unexpectedness of this day. After all...it is Friday eve.
Tuesday, July 25, 2017
As this series of posts winds down and wraps up, it is good to look back to notice the threads connecting one post to the next, one week to the next. There are three truths that leave a lingering impression upon me as we leave Acts.
1. An openness to the Spirit. We tend to think of this specifically when the Spirit stirred on Pentecost and the disciples were able to speak a variety of languages. Yet, I would also suggest that Philip had an openness to the Spirit when he had the courage to engage in conversation with the Ethiopian Eunuch. The same for Ananais when he went to go see Saul, Mr. Persecuting the Early Church. The same for Peter who let go of his cherished understandings to embrace a Roman military official. One of the struggles of our contemporary world is that we do cling too tightly to our ways or it is the highway. We cling tightly to who is in and who should be out. We cling tightly to our truth and easily dismiss others with an agree to disagree line. To be sure, engaging others who passionately see the world differently is difficult. If it was easy to draw the circle wide, everyone would do it! This is why the openness to the Spirit matters and can make a difference today...in our lives. But it may call us to talk to the stranger, sojourner, and even someone who adamantly disagrees with us.
2. When we do this, Acts tells story after story of being wrapped in wonder. This sense of awe is in short supply today. One reason is our heady, analytical ways can strip the world of seeing its beauty. A second reason is we can think that the bad news cycles in the paper, TV, and internet are the only news. They are not! But God's still speaking voice doesn't seem to get much airplay, or at least not in a way that comes across very lovingly. Too often the voice boxes for God today are judgment and intolerant. I am not sure many folks have really read Acts inclusion and extravagant love. Or if they have, many seem glad that such truths are ancient history. But they are not for me. And I don't believe they can be for the church. Wonder comes when we open ourselves to another, expecting the worst, and find more than a trace of God's grace. Wonder comes in small, sometimes insignificant moments that really make all the difference. A few examples, our family recently went to see several of the Smithsonian museums in Washington D.C. Priceless artifact after priceless artifact. Tactile and tangible items that tell a story. I touched a moon rock...a moon rock! Saw dresses that 1st Ladies centuries ago wore to balls. I saw painful photos of lynchings that reminds me our history is not all beauty; but I did find myself in a state of wonder at the beauty of putting a picture of racism next to a photo of the courage in the face of violence. I could go on and on. And it isn't only vacations. The wonder today of an afternoon off. The wonder today of my kids coming back from camp and telling me what they learned about prayer. Now that is wonder-filled!
3. Draw the Circle Wide is a theme throughout Acts. It was mentioned above with the ways the earliest followers kept reaching out to the other and outcast. But to draw the circle wide has an expectation and implication today. To keep engaging others to the best of my ability. It doesn't mean I get it right all the time. It doesn't mean that people won't come by and seemingly erase all the effort and energy I put into including someone else. But I keep going, because that is the song God is still singing to my heart.
To be open to the Spirit...
To sense and share the Wonder...
To draw the circle wide to include others, especially those who are different from me.
What if that is what the church stood for and set out to be about in the world today? I believe there would be more than a trace of grace in that kind of telling and teaching in such a time as this.
Grace, peace, and blessings ~~
Sunday, July 23, 2017
Insistent and persistent God,
break through my own complacency.
When I get stuck on the sidelines;
When I turn every problem into right and wrong;
When life becomes a mathematical equation rather than a mystery.
When I cling to my privilege, power, and prestige.
When I prefer the lure of respectability rather than risk the hostile glare and word.
When I struggle to find words soaked in love instead quickly speak words of division.
Call me back.
Call me back to the place grounded in grace, solid ground of You.
Call me back to what I know to be true deep down within me.
Call me back to the seed of You taking root in my soul.
Call me out.
Out of complacency.
Out of control.
Out of clinging.
Call me back to the ancient prayer of our Celtic brothers and sisters,
"Let me hold tightly no cherished outcomes."
I still have prayers and plans...maps and dreams.
But I don't hold them so tightly that they never see the light of day.
But I don't hold them so tightly I cut them off from the air of Your ruach/spirit/stirring.
But I don't hold them so tightly that I refuse to let You get a word in edgewise.
So help me listen this morning with more than my ears...but with my heart, soul, and whole life.
May it be so.
Thursday, July 20, 2017
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. 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. 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
This post is in honor of women who have left their fingerprints on our hearts; shaped our lives; and helped our hearts sing. The women who said to me, "You should consider being a minister." The women who said, "This is good...keep going deeper and further." The women who have prayed for me and with me. The first woman I visited in the nursing home who shared stories of sipping sodas on Main Street; living through the Depression; breaking through glass ceilings; and gave me butterscotch hard candy. Women, like my wife, who patiently listens and persistently loves me back to my full self. Women like my daughter, whose passion and enthusiasm for life I admire so much. Like Paul, I have been supported and sustained by women. Like Paul, I know what it is like to receive care and compassion from God's image in female form.
For churches that deny and diminish the role of women thinking it is Scriptural, I offer you Acts 16. For churches that want to control women, I ask you to read seriously Acts 16.
For a world that is quick to objectify women and turns a blind eye at our overtly sexual ways society views women, I want to shout Acts 16.
Lydia is our shero!!
We should all wear purple every Sunday in her honor.
We should all shout and speak out that after two thousand years, it has been long enough of treating women as second class citizens.
We should all join Paul in blazing another path.
Lydia was independent business woman. She owned her own home; dealt in purple fabric (where she would rub elbows with the rich and famous) and she was faithful to go down to the river to pray as well as open enough to God's still speaking voice.
Lydia is our shero!!
She shows us that the earliest followers of the way were open to God in all the forms God comes to us in the flesh and breath and bone.
Lydia is our shero!!
May this story sing to your heart, challenge your understandings, and cause you to live differently this day and especially in such a time as this. God's grace and peace which is found in Lydia and so many sheroes in our lives today. Thanks be to God!!
Tuesday, July 18, 2017
Then certain individuals came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” And after Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to discuss this question with the apostles and the elders.....
After some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Come, let us return and visit the believers in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.” Barnabas wanted to take with them John called Mark. But Paul decided not to take with them one who had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not accompanied them in the work. The disagreement became so sharp that they parted company Acts 15
From the beginning of the book of Acts, you can begin to believe that everything in the early church was just peachy...rosy...amazingly awesomely the absolutely best community ever. What went wrong? Actually, we need to take seriously and sincerely chapter 15. It starts off with an argument. The issue of circumcision was as contentious as any today. People who had been taught and told their whole life that this ritual was a defining and distinguishing part of faith. Sometimes we can tend to think that rituals are ancient and can quickly become empty. And yet, rituals can provide structure, rhythm, and routine. A ritual is a vessel and as humans we can stay open to exploring the meaning contained therein. For example, the Lord's Prayer when said quickly or on autopilot or in a monotone boring voice can be empty. But when the words sit on the tips of our tongues and slow work their way down to our soul, there is more meaning than we can ever say. Likewise with circumcision, it was a way to say the past shines light on the present, connects us deep to the roots of our faith. It can take commitment and courage and conviction. Like people who are willing to stand in the rain to protest unjust laws. Yet, like those who protest, there are often two sides to every story. So, when circumcision became a door/gate way of defining or distinguishing who was inside and who was outside, Paul puts his foot down.
This topic had no small dissension and debate...
Sound like your last family reunion?
Sound like how you feel after reading the paper today?
Sound like that internal dialogue that happens within us?
Yup...yup...yup and yup.
It isn't that the early church was more awesome than the church today. In fact, two thousand years later chapter fifteen feels like fifteen minutes ago...sounds like our last church meeting.
So, where did we get the notion that church should be all harmony? All holding hands and being nice to each other?
In fact, part of the dynamic comes from the difference. But like dynamite (from which the word dynamic is related), we need to be care. Things can blow up quickly...in our face...hurting and harming others.
And what is even more painful is that Paul and Barnabas who are at first united, by the end of the chapter have gone their separate ways...
Wait...at the beginning a united front and force, only a few short verses later, they are updating their relationship status on Facebook? See scripture isn't some fairy tale...it isn't always "Happily ever after." It is messy and complicated and very human. Just like the church today. To act up and act out means that sometimes folks will go their separate ways. We try to work together and work through issues. But lines can be drawn that are not circles but in the sand of you are either with us or against us.
It is tempting to try to put a neat and tidy bow on this post, try to find some moral lesson that will help make the sun come out tomorrow. The pain is real. Relationships are difficult. We focus on traces of God's grace because sometimes it is not as evident and easy as we like to think.
Are there moments you have felt like Paul or Barnabas? Relationships that at one moment feel like they will last forever only to end in the blink of an eye? And why would Acts tell us this story? Because this story is reflected and can be real in our lives. I believe God goes with both Paul and Barnabas...God doesn't choose sides...but seeks to bless and hold the promise that our all too human disagreements/divisions may one day be set aside. But to get there we have to process the pain and be open to the work of reconciliation rather than scoring points. It is not easy work. It undid two of our earliest ancestors and undoes us today. But that thread of seeking to draw the circle wide and open doors and connect is still the song God sings to us. May we have more than a trace of God's grace to keep joining in that song today.
Grace and peace ~~
Sunday, July 16, 2017
Let Your love, O God, burning brightly like a candle in my life.
Let Your wisdom lead me deeper into the soupy mystery of life
where I don't see as well and need Your light.
Let Your challenge rummage and roam around this hour,
and every hour.
Let Your care be mixed into the messiness, in to the recipe of life.
Let Your playfulness causes smiles that well up from my soul.
Let Your creativity pour forth from my fingers, tips, and presence.
Let Your hopefulness that You are not finished so neither should I be.
Let Your joy spring up...for there are a thousand blessings in a thousand ordinary Tuesdays.
Let Your presence dance and may I have the courage/conviction to join with reckless abandon.
Let You be.
Let me be open.
May these words be fore than fixed in cyberspace, let them find space in my soul to breathe anew and afresh for such a time as this.
Friday, July 14, 2017
The very night before Herod was going to bring him out, Peter, bound with two chains, was sleeping between two soldiers, while guards in front of the door were keeping watch over the prison. Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared and a light shone in the cell. He tapped Peter on the side and woke him, saying, “Get up quickly.” And the chains fell off his wrists. Acts 12
Peter got himself thrown in jail...see there are real life risks for living the way of Jesus. He is shackled and stuck in a prison. Two guards are sleeping next to him...which is a hilarious image. Can you see them curled and cuddled up next to each other? A bit of drool coming out of their mouths, snoring, and slouched upon each other's shoulders! C'mon now, that is a great image. When suddenly, God shows up again to do the work of liberation for the sake of God's love.
I was just at the Smithsonian museums in Washington D.C. and saw image after image of people being arrested standing up for what is right. And here I sit with a squeaky clean record. Or as someone once said, "If we were charged with being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict us?" That is a challenging...convicting...kind of question. What would I be willing to be tossed/thrown in jail for? Are there issues I can no longer stay, stand silently on the sidelines waiting to respond? Racism, homophobia, economic oppression where a state this week reduced the minimum wage, political intolerance and de-humanization of each other...what I am doing about that besides just writing words?
Secondly, spiritually, where am I bound by chains that need God's liberation for the sake of God's love? Am I silent, on the sidelines, because of shackles of fear? Am I silent, on the sidelines, because of cynicism thinking surely my presence isn't going to make a difference? Am I silent, on the sidelines, because my recipe for faith is too rational and not enough risk? I sometimes think my life can be like a recipe that forgot to add the spices!
This passage asks us to kick it up a notch. Get in the game. It also remind us that it won't be easy! There are obstacles. There are major setbacks. Remember Rev. Dr. King spoke out about the Vietnam War and people told him, "Stick with racial equality." "Stop saying those things." "That isn't your battle, Martin." Sounds a lot like what Peter went through.
So, I pray there will be a trace of grace for you to step off the sidelines into the action knowing that it won't be a magical pony ride...and you may not see much progress...and people will stand in your way...and we need humility, lots of humility, because none of us have the full truth. Remember, Peter didn't protest, he simply wanted to engage and get to know the enemy. And while that won't get you thrown in jail today, it will cause restless sleep and moments where you feel like you are in-between a rock and a hard place. Or put another way, between two guards drooling and snoring and trying to keep you in place.
As I've said...so wonderfully challenging. May the traces of God's grace guide us for the living out of our lives in such a time as this.
Grace and peace ~~
Wednesday, July 12, 2017
In the last post, we explored God reaching out to Cornelius, someone who was the embodiment of the enemy. How God went first to Cornelius, then to Peter. How the proverbial light bulb burned brightly for Cornelius faster than when we flick a light switch today...how Peter was a bit dimmer and took long to realize, recognize what God was up to. Eventually, Peter gets it. He forms a friendship with Cornelius. You would think, "All is well that ends well." You would think, "That's a wrap, roll credit." But wait...Acts isn't interested in fairy tale endings, Acts wants to reflect life!
So, when word gets around that Peter...Mr.-I-Will-Build-My-Church-on-this Rock...as Jesus said, is with God in cahoots with Cornelius...how they have become more than friend-a-enemies...his own tribe doesn't like it one bit. I can hear them now...how can you actually like that person? Do you know who they voted for? What's the deal, Peter, are you with us or against us? C'mon on now, you know who really has your back. Just get back in line, Peter, with what you really know to be true.
Any time you try to change, people are going to try to talk/guilt/defend/deflect you back into your old self. As humans we like homeostasis...and when someone rocks the boat, we will do whatever we can to reestablish order as we know it. Or put another way, change is great...you go first and stay away from me. If you really try to live these words people are going to get all-kinds of annoyed with you. They will say some hurtful things, because bottom line...we don't like change.
You, like Peter, have a choice. Renounce this harder way of loving enemies and living the words/wisdom of Jesus or walk step-by-step with the people who were once your friends only now you are not so sure. If you try to talk to someone who is different than you...racially, economically, sexual orientation, politically - especially that last one right now in such a world as this - the people who are part of your tribe are going to wonder if you have lost your mind. They will see it as their personal mission to make sure you cease and desist immediately. Because if you change that is going to challenge them. Because if you, who they like, starts acting up and out, then s/he might have to do the same thing. And our inner-three-year-old will stomp a foot and say, "I don't wanna!!"
Can you let these two short pieces of Scripture sit and simmer in your soul right now? Can you let these words offer more than a trace of grace, but an actually invitation for living today? Can you answer, who is Cornelius for you today? How can you respond, react? Do you realize, that like Peter, others are not going to be thrilled about your sudden change of heart?
May God's peace call out to you, embrace and enfold you, and offer you/us a safe place to ponder prayerfully...then go and do likewise.
Grace and peace ~~
Monday, July 10, 2017
This passage is exactly why I find Acts so wonderfully challenging. Cornelius is part of the Italian Cohort...which sounds like a great name for a band. But make no mistake, Cornelius is part of the industrial military complex of Rome. He was part of the group who were stationed to keep the masses in-line, walk/wonder around to make sure people knew who was really in charge. Remember, it was the Roman Empire that had hung Jesus on the cross. Those facts all add up to saying, Cornelius was the embodiment of the enemy. When he walked past you, you adverted your eyes while muttering and mumbling under your breathe. Many would have seen him and his cronies as the problem. "Everything would be so much better without those people!" See how wonderfully challenging this passage is...because those exact words about getting rid of people as the way to make things better are uttered today.
And what makes this passage even more wonderfully challenging is that he is called a "devout man". Wait...he was part of the complex that killed Jesus, part of the problem, part of everything that is wrong, unjust AND he fears God...gives generously and prayed constantly. Don't you hate it when people won't stay confined and defined by the boxes in which we try to place them? That neighbor of yours who watches MSNBC or Fox or whatever media outlet you think should be taken off the air... suddenly that person is the one who offers to bring your trash cans up and drive you to a medical appointment. Cornelius is also the embodiment of complexity. Cornelius challenges us today to stop trying to sort out which side people are...because the truth is three dimensional not one. Until we stop trying to categorize and compartmentalize, we are always stuck in a rut of prejudice and stereotypes. And we are only two sentences in to this passage!
And what makes this passage even more wonderfully challenging is God decides to chit-chat with Cornelius. God goes and decides to be in cahoots with the evil enemy. Reminds me of a great quote from Dostoevsky who wrote, "It is easy to condemn your enemy...it is much harder to understand him or her." It is like a clarion call across the centuries the ways today we are so good at condemning others and struggle so much to try to understand each other. Now part of the issue is that to understand someone takes time...it is a delicate dance where it is one step forward in understanding and two steps backwards when we say something that hurts/harms the other. When we say in my church that God is still speaking, do we think only through the talking heads we agree with? When God always seems to be on my side, doing things my way, perhaps I have built a God in my image rather than the truth God seeks to flow through all people. God goes to Cornelius and Cornelius recognizes and responds faithfully to God. What if that would happen today? What if is and we don't even notice it? Ugh...God is so challenging.
Finally, what makes this passage so wonderfully challenging is God goes to Cornelius, Mr.-You-Can't-Contain-Me-in-a-box, first. It is only after this scene that God goes to Peter, Mr.-Original-Disciples that Peter should minister to/with Cornelius. And if you keep reading chapter 10, while Cornelius gets it right way, Peter misses the point spectacularly! He doesn't get it. He doesn't understand why God would call him to reach out to the enemy...and this guy hung out with Jesus who said, "Love your enemies." When am I like Peter missing the mark of God calling me out of my preciously held believes to draw the circle wide?
Ugh...so challenging and complex...and wonderfully so. There is more than a trace of God's grace in these words, if we are only willing to listen and let our life respond.
Grace and peace~~
Tuesday, July 4, 2017
Against the black curtain of the night sky
The bright, brilliant, bold colors suddenly appear.
Flashes of light.
Sounds that at first make us jump.
And yet, the fear is quickly replaced with wonder.
It is one of the moments, we might realize why the Bible talks about the "Fear of the Lord."
It isn't a fear of someone who will hurt or harm you.
It isn't a fear of someone that can't be trusted.
It isn't a fear of someone smiting you.
Fear is that first response that quickly turns toward wonder.
The "Ooos" and "Ahhs" of encountered God's embrace
Are even more delight-filled than the fireworks tonight.
We need moments of being amazed.
We need moments of serendipitous surprise.
When we don't know what is coming next, but we keep
What if we took that posture and practice to the sacred?
What if we looked upon the world to see where God is moving in ways we might still say, "Ahh"?
What if we stayed open to God, not always wanting to push our own agenda?
What if we sat back, every now and then, and realized God is still telling the glory of heavens around us and through us.
Enjoy the fireworks tonight.
Continue to find ways to be part of making your community more just and loving (embodying the words of the Lord's Prayer, "Thy Kingdom Come")
Continue to let your light be a firework in the lives of others.
For indeed, God is still inspiring and immersing us to bring love, peace, justice, wonder, and surprise into the world today.
Many blessings ~~
Sunday, July 2, 2017
For thousands of years,
Candles have been central to worship.
Maybe we light candles for warmth,
A reminder of God's unconditional love.
Maybe we light candles for the flicker flame,
A reminder of the ways our lives dance
Through moments when we feel bright and strong
As well as times we fade and feel like we might extinguish.
Maybe we light candles out of ritual or routine.
Whatever reason, today thousands of candles will be lit.
Some flames brought forward by children.
Some flames suddenly appearing.
Some flames lit unceremoniously by someone seconds before the announcements.
We light because in the beginning God lit the world with a spirit of love.
God separated light from darkness.
In a world where a flip of a switch can send darkness scattering at any hour,
We need an hour of focusing on a flame.
To draw near.
To watch it silently dance before our eyes.
To maybe smell the sweet scent it can give out.
To feel its warmth.
To listen in the still small silence as wax slowly slides down the side.
A simple candle one could say.
But a tangible, tactile way we sense more than a trace of God's grace, I say.