Tuesday, April 24, 2012


A quick review:  John and Peter were going up to the temple to pray (a nod to the truth that the earliest Christians saw themselves as fully and faithfully Jewish).  They were about to pass through the Beautiful Gate (which is not so much a gate we can pinpoint with archeological accuracy today, but a foreshadowing of what is about to happen there).  They saw this man who was lame from birth being carried in by his friends (see Mark 2:1-12 to see a story from the life of Jesus that this passage echoes).

After the man was healed, Peter, John, and this man danced into church created quite a commotion because people were amazed that the man who was paralyzed from birth is now not only walking but leaping all around them.

Creating a scene in church...not something we've ever gotten used to.  

So in this passage the religious authorities want to keep things under control...something we are still used to. 

They question Peter and John about why they are trying to change things...something we are still used to.

Then they have a committee meeting (verse15)...something we are still very used to.

What pervades this passage is dialogue.  Dialogue between Peter and the council.  Dialogue between the council members.  More dialogue between Peter and the council.  Talk...talk...talk.

We do a lot of talking today.  We don't do much dialogue.  There is a difference.

The central difference is around receiving or listening.  What passes for most talk or conversation today lacks listening.  Really what we do is try to be quiet for long enough for the other person to say something before we chime back in with some sort of remark or picking up on some small piece of what the other person said or taking the conversation in the way we want to go.

I think one of the gifts of the church is more dialogue.  Notice that Peter and the council did not resolve anything!  They did not take a vote.  They did not propose a motion using Robert's Rules of Order.  They lived with ambiguity and with uncertainty.  That is one of the most powerful messages of Acts is the willingness to live in the present moment without holding onto the past or worrying about the future. 

That is easier to type than to live out...at least for me.

For today, I encourage you to try dialogue.  Listen to what the person is saying.  

This may mean after s/he stops speaking, you don't have something to say right away in response.  Listening may mean that you have to allow space for your mind and words to get on the same dance page.  Listening, I believe, is one of the best gifts the church can give the world right now and we can give each other.  

Because we worship a God who listens...and calls us to do the same.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

I am the church...You are the church

Hands down my favorite comic growing up was Calvin and Hobbs. For those who have never basked in the genius of this comic, it is about an eight year old precocious boy, Calvin, and his stuffed tiger friend, Hobbs. Hobbs comes to life only when Calvin is around by himself. One of the strips that is etched in my memory is our hero Calvin calling out from the kitchen to his mother laying down on the couch in the living room; asking if he can have a snack. His mom says “Sure.” Calvin begins to reach for the cookie jar in the second frame. When his mom calls out from the couch, “There are apples in the refrigerator.” Calvin, now holding a cookie, replies, “It’s amazing that even though we are speaking English, we are not talking the same language.”

Words have that kind of power. I could say the word “car” and for some of you the word would conjure images of the lime green station wagon with the pleather seats that were blazing hot in the summer and colder than ice in the winter that you drove all through high school. Your maybe the image that popped into your mind was your dream car, a red Corvette convertible that you’d take your pastor for rides in to the golf course. Just a suggestion.

I could say, “chocolate” and some of you might think of the health benefits of dark chocolate and some of you think of that chocolate bunny you’ve been nibbling on since Easter that no longer has a tail or ears or any of the head really. Or maybe you wonder why is it that we don’t have a chocolate river here at the church like in Willa Wonka’s chocolate factory. I think it would be a good evangelism tool. The same can be said for the word “church.”

When you hear that word, “church”. Some of you may think of this sanctuary on Sunday morning. Or some of you may think of the mission to Wilson School and Habitat and now the community meal. Or some of you may think about all the joy that happens at committee meetings. Calvin was right, even though we are all speaking English, we are not always on the same page, we don’t talk the same language. You might wonder, does that really matter? Does it really matter if you think of church as a place to do good work? And you think of church as a place to sing with gusto? And you think of church as that place to come and rest? Do we all need to agree?

Acts 2:43-47 describes the earliest Christian community. In those days after Pentecost, after the power, the upheaval of the Holy Spirit stirred and swirled and sloshed around like it did in Genesis, but this time the Spirit created and crafted a church. A community. And the truth is you need unity to spell community. There needs to be some parts of our life that we hold in common. Acts tells us that it was through teaching and sharing meals and praying together that the earliest core of the Christian church found that commonality.

It is through such moments of connection that unity can be discovered. And it is important to say that we are not striving to be like the Borg from Star Trek to assimilate everyone into exactly the same theological, political and social mirror images of each other. Our denomination has always stood for the Spirit moving through diverse voices. Yet, at some point, we do need to be on the same page, singing the same hymn, even as we encourage you to sing it in harmony.

I pray we will find ways to engage each other in beautiful ways around breaking bread, laughing, talking about important matters and being a resurrection community.

Speaking in Tongues

One of the most well-known stories in the book of Acts is from the second chapter on Pentecost. Usually, in the church we celebrate Pentecost fifty days after Easter and we say that it is the 'birthday of the church.' We read from the book of Acts 2 about how the Holy Spirit stirred and swirled around the disciples in a room, they all spoke in tongues, but could understand each other.

This is usually the ONLY time we talk about the Holy Spirit.

We might make references to how Acts 2 is like Genesis 1, where God's spirit surfed over creation or Genesis 11 how Pentecost is a reversal of the Tower of Babel.

But, we really don't know what to do with this narrative. In the mainline church, we don't do much talking in tongues. It is appropriate to say that while some Pentecostal church see this as talking in a language unintelligible to most; what actually happens in Acts 2 is that the disciples and others are talking in known languages.

Moreover, Pentecost isn't our original Christian church idea. We borrowed it (permanently) from our Jewish brothers and sisters. They celebrate Pentecost 50 days after Passover (sound familiar??) as the day their ancestors went to Jerusalem to offer the first fruits of the harvest.

Given that context, the disciples (who remember are staying in Jerusalem) were surrounded on the first Christian Pentecost by lots of people from out of town...lots of people who spoke different languages...lots of people who were traveling away from home.

I have heard people talk about when traveling out of our country, to a place where communication is difficult because of the language barrier, and the relief when they find someone who speaks English.

The point I take away from Acts 2 is a challenge to talk the language that people outside the church can understand without watering down the good news of Gospel. The point I take away from Acts 2 is how can I tell the story of Jesus' endless love in a way that people can hear? I don't think that is about gimmicks or a flashy power point presentation. How can I be authentic in sharing what is in my heart and then listening to see where my heart is connecting with another.

That's sacred.
That's the Holy Spirit at work.
That's Acts 2

God's blessings and peace!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Resurrection Community

On Easter Sunday, I offered the image of the church being a "Resurrection Community." I long for the church to be a place where the words, "Christ is risen" means something to us today and makes a difference today. "Christ is Risen" is spoken in the present tense.

We don't say "Christ was raised" in the past tense.

Or "Two thousand years ago, something happened and some people might have seen something, but to be perfectly honest, we really are not sure." While I appreciate that might be closer to the truth of how some people in our churches feel, the reality is that loooooong sentence really doesn't roll off the tongue. That looooooong sentence doesn't give me goosebumps as when I shout out, "Christ is risen!"

In some ways, I don't think Easter is a propositional theory for us to understand. Easter, like the cross, is meant to be experienced, not explained. And we offer people a profound experience on Easter. The sight of a larger crowd and the smell of the Easter garden and the sound of the brass. There is a reason why people come at Christmas Eve and Easter, it really is the church offering our energy and best efforts.

But that is tough for pastors and musicians and the People of God to maintain. We get caught up in life and stress and other stuff. While we know every Sunday is Easter Sunday, the truth is we really don't live that way. Sometimes we get caught up in the size of the stone and don't see that it is rolled away. Sometimes we get caught up in grumbling about the darkness of the tomb and don't see God's presence. Sometimes we get distracted by the way our voice echoes...echoes... echoes off the empty tomb that we really don't hear the promise of God.

That is why I think being a resurrection community is so vital today. As people of faith we need to take seriously that Easter makes a difference and makes us different. Starting next Sunday and continuing through the first Sunday in July, I am going to be looking at the Book of Acts as a way of understanding what it means to be a resurrection community. Acts details the early church and in some ways I think we today are like our ancestors 2000 years ago.

The early Christians lived in a Roman world that did not understand them and did not know what to do with them. We live in a world that does not understand why you would want to get out of bed on Sunday morning and go to church when you could sleep in or go shopping.
The early Christians lived in a world where they were trying to sort out who they were and needed to tell their story. We live in a world where we are still trying to figure out what it means to be a follower of Jesus right here and now. And we still have a story to tell. The Book of Acts will offer a chance to look at the practices of being a resurrection community and (I think) has the power to even change us into one!

I pray it does.

God's blessings and peace as we set off on this journey through Acts.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Holy Week part 6

Since today is Holy Friday, I invite you to center yourself in silence. Standing in the shadow of the cross there is very little I can say. Standing in the shadow of the cross reminds me of my brokenness. Standing in the shadow of the cross challenges my complacency. Standing in the shadow of the cross challenges my need for competency and failure avoidance. Standing in the shadow of the cross moves me to prayer, which is where I invite us all to go often today.

Prayer: Holy God on this day that is deeper than words, that can never be fully understood or explained, we open our whole lives to You. We pray that You would grant us courage to experience Holy Friday with all its pain and truth. We pray that You would grant us courage to see the brokenness still within and around us. We pray that You would stay close by when all we can offer are sighs deeper than words. Surround us, sustains us and keep us as gather around a cross that proclaims Your love and Your vulnerability and Your willingness to meet us in our own brokenness, even to death. In the name of Jesus our Christ. Amen.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Holy Week, Part 6

Click here to read Mark 15:38-47

I wanted to back up and retrace a bit of the passage from yesterday. There were two points about the events right after Jesus died for us to consider. The first is that the temple curtain is torn from top to bottom. In Jesus day, there was a Holy City: Jerusalem. And there was a holy site: the temple. And then there was the Holy of Holies, which like in the Wizard of Oz, was hid behind a curtain. Only certain people were allowed into the Holy of Holies.

If you look back at Mark 1:9-11, Jesus’ baptism, you will see a foreshadowing of the temple curtain being torn. As Jesus is coming up out of the water, cradled in John the Baptizer’s arms the heavens are torn open. Back in January when we centered ourselves in church on this passage, we talked about how that was an image that God is on the loose in our lives, so too here. God is on the loose as the temple curtain which separated where God resided from where the People of God resided was now torn in half. No longer was there a Holy of Holies. We are drenched and saturated in the sacredness.

The second point is the comments of the centurion. I direct you to David Lose’s blog, In the Meantime…, to read his thoughts on this which I think are very interesting. Feel free to rummage around his site and read his thoughts.

As we turn specifically to the women watching and Jesus’ burial, it is important to note the profound role women play in the Easter narrative. When all the disciples scattered, the women remained. When all the others had left in fear or confusion, Joseph from Arimathea dared to bury Jesus. Tom Long writes about the Jewish ritual of burial. When a Jewish person died, the body was anointed with spices and wrapped in a linen cloth and laid in a tomb before sundown. Joseph is able to do two out of those three important rituals. However, what we have become so accustom to hearing and what goes against the Jewish ritual is rolling a stone or sealing a tomb. Within the Jewish ritual, the first seven days after death are referred to as shivah, and the first three days of shivah, a tomb was to be unsealed so family members could visit, mourn and ensure that the deceased was actually dead. “Palestinian Jews shared a common Middle Eastern view that the soul of the deceased lingered near the body for three days, but when three days had passed and the inevitable change in facial appearance made it clear that death had indeed occurred, the resigned spirit departed.” (Tom Long, Accompany Them Singing, pg. 62).

Why did Joseph seal the tomb? Maybe it was to keep people out? Maybe it was because Rome said he could have Jesus’ body only if he sealed the tomb? For whatever reason, Jesus’ burial did not exactly follow the ritual rule book…which is why we have the Easter morning narrative!

One final comment: notice that the women saw everything. They saw Jesus death. The witnessed Jesus’ burial. And they will be the ones to see his resurrection. So, today, I invite you to keep your eyes wide open. Easter awakens our senses. Easter invites us to experience profound truths that cannot be captured in words. Easter is about seeing the pain in this world, not shielding our eyes or ignoring the plight. Seeing is what sets the stage for Easter.

Prayer: Gracious God on this Maundy Thursday evening as we gather around the table where Christ breaks bread and pours out a cup of forgiveness/wholeness, help open our eyes to see You in our lives every hour. In the name of the One who invites us to come, for all things are ready, Jesus our Christ. Amen.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Holy Week part 5

Click here to read Mark 15:29-39

Some reading this devotional may have experienced a Holy Friday service that went from noon to 3 pm based on this detail from Mark’s gospel. Often during those services the passages of scripture we’ve been considering for the last several days were slowly read, several choir anthems would be offered and several sermons from various clergy in the community would be preached. It was a time to center ourselves in real and raw emotions of the cross. To hear Jesus exclaim, “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” is still echoed in the shorter question many have asked: “Why me?” Why does my car break down when I am running late to a job interview? Why do my kids act out when everyone else’s kids are perfect angels? Why do I have to work with that person? Why did I get that news from the doctor? “Why?” is one of the most heartfelt, honest questions we can ask. “Why me?” is also one of the most difficult questions to answer.

Partially this is because we don’t just want some logical, linear, rational answer. We don’t want to hear that our car did not start because we have been putting off changing the oil for a thousand miles… at least we don’t want to hear that in the moment. Partially the question, “why me,” is difficult to answer because sometimes there are no logical, linear, rational answers. We cannot explain why a healthy person gets cancer or Alzheimer’s disease. We cannot explain why after years of trying to promote equality, people still hate and discriminate. We cannot explain because we don’t know everything. And sometimes, even if we know something, it does not always mean our words or actions will follow what we know to be true.

Example: I know that at the center of my faith is love and claiming that everyone is a beloved child of God. That is at the core of what I try to live out as a minister. Yet, it is hard to love a church member when I feel unfairly criticized for something. It is hard to love a church member who sees the world differently than I do. So, how do I reconcile that tension and brokenness? Do I still see myself as loving, even when I roll my eyes? Do I see myself as loving when I get frustrated? Sure! But I also recognize that as humans we are complex, three dimensional people, just like Judas and Peter and the centurion today who confesses his faith at the foot of the cross.

The centurion is fascinating because here is a Roman official, like Pilate, but because of what he experiences, I would suggest, his life was never the same.

What experiences, both good and bad, have forever shaped your life? Maybe it was being married or divorced. Maybe it was having a child. Maybe it was a trip overseas. Maybe it was a job. Maybe, and I really hope at least once, it was a worship service or something connect to the faith. Painful and unexplainable experiences shape us. Joyful and indescribable experiences shape us. Life shapes us. That is why we tell stories about what is happening to us. We share a part of ourselves with someone else and in telling that story we are sharing meaning.

So, my active prayer today is to listen to stories. Listen to the stories you share about yourself. Listen to the stories someone else tells you. Listen to heartbreaking stories. Listen to joy-filled stories. Listen, listen, listen and hear the still speaking voice of God in those stories. Amen.

God's Calling - We don't have it all figured out

  A few weeks ago, I offered the analogy of the Slinky as a serendipitous example of the ways calling can go off course and still end up in ...