Saturday, August 20, 2011

Relating To The Rock MT 16:13-20

I have some experience with rocks. . In high school my nickname was "Rock." It’s true that the friends who gifted me with the name were not all that familiar with Peter the apostle, they were thinking more about my tendency to balance things on my hips than the strength of my faith. Since I share the same nick-name with Peter, I wonder if the name Jesus gave him Is a compliment?

What was Jesus thinking when he told Simon son of Jonah, he was Stone? 

We know the gospels are written from the perspective of people who already knew Peter as a great leader. By the time Matthew' gospel was written (in 80-90 CE), Peter had served as the first bishop of the church and been martyred for his faith & following of Jesus.

Altho we can't know exactly Jesus was thinking at the moment he called Peter "rock" we do know a little bit about Peter from the gospel's own account. Matthew portrays Peter as a leader with two sources of authority. (see following footnote)
         1- he was with Jesus from the very beginning of J’s ministry; ‘seniority has its privilege’
         2- Peter is the recipient of special revelation over the course of Matthew’s story. 
We remember that,
         - Peter sees Jesus transfigured
         - He was there when Jesus raises Jairus’ daughter from the dead; certainly a revelatory moment.
         - Peter is even the one who walks on water- for a little bit, anyway.
         - He is one of those designated to watch and pray for Jesus.
   Peter seems to be a leader who bridges the world of flesh and spirit.[i] He has the human gifts of a leader and is also given divine opportunity to reach for more.

But Peter isn’t a superhero, He doesn’t always get it right.
In just a few more verses Jesus will respond to Peter’s concern that Jesus not allow himself to suffer & die at the hands of government officials. Jesus says to Peter,  "Get behind me Satan! You are a stumbling block to me. . " it seems a rock can also be tripped over if one isn't careful.

You remember that Peter is also famous for his triple denial following Jesus arrest.
And yet Jesus entrusted him with what  church-folks call the’ keys to the Kingdom’. –  authority to decide what rules of Torah still apply literally and which ones can be obeyed more loosely - as Jesus did.

What convinced Jesus to trust Peter with leadership?
What did he see in this simple or not-so-simple fisherman?

Do you think that Peter showed the qualities of a leader, even as he cleaned his fishing nets?
You know ‘they’ say, some people are born leaders.
Maybe Peter was one of those boys who always led the pack. Whether fishing or sailing, or selling, he was always the best; the one everyone looked up to for answers. Perhaps his very nature made him the perfect choice as the first leader of the early church.
. . .
I'm riding a book about church leadership today.
The author, Jimmy Long[ii], address the lack of leadership in all businesses. He remembers when he was growing up, you could ask his classmates what they wanted to be, and they would answer with leadership jobs
President, Astronaut, Head of their own company, even pastor of a church. .
But today the answers are different.  not many want to be leaders. He says there is a growing, pervasive belief that the world is facing a shortage of leaders who are capable of leading organizations into the future.
         97% of organizations report significant shortages of leadership
         close to 75% report this leadership gap is having a modest to significant negative impact on the company’s productivity.[iii]

The problem is not a lack of people, the problem is one of style.
         Long believes that the leadership we need now is shared leadership yet we are stuck with the style of the larger-than –life charismatic leader.

You know what this looks like. Whether in business, politics or the church, there are those leaders to whom people flock. They develop a following, they grow the organization. Everything is done ‘their way’’ and life is good, …until they leave.
The vacuum left when the executive leader retires never seems to get filled.

Long’s thesis is important for the church.
The way churches have operated in the past will not take us into the future. Centralized power resting in a few officers and the pastor worked for the 19th and 20th centuries. But times have changed and new challenges required new methods. We need collaborative leadership that brings everyone’s gifts to the table.
         We need people who are gifted leaders AND people who are gifted with the spirit, like Peter. Today’s church needs a rock, MANY ROCKS on which to build.

Jesus gathered a whole group of disciples around him so that each would learn the “Jesus Way” and be able to lead others. he discovered a truth about Peter’s gifts for leadership in the passage we read today. v.17 "for flesh & blood not revealed it to you but God did."

Whether Peter was born a leader or not, God gives him something extraordinary; a vision that he takes a life-time growing into.

·      Peter will be challenged by Jesus’ crucifixion and challenged by his resurrection.
·      He will be challenged along with other leaders to include believers who are not Jews by birth.
·      He will be challenged by Paul to let go of  “to loose” the regulation of Torah around circumcision and diet as more and more Gentiles flood into the church

Can today’s world-wide church trust that even now, God is finding and calling the leaders the church needs just as God called the unlikely Peter?

And for Arlington Church of the Brethren, what kind of leadership do we need to carry us into 2012 and 2022 and 2050s? (our 100th anniversary?)
         This is the reason I began an unusual conversation, asking you to comment by email, or journal, or phone. Today’s topic is #2.

(Conversation 2) It’s purpose is to get us thinking beyond today. If we can discern what God is up to in this time & place, we can respond with courage. We can learn to be leaders that heal our world and reach out to heal and serve each other.

I began Conversation #1 by quoting Anthony Robinson[iv]. He reminds us that we don’t control what life brings to us, but we do have some control over how we respond to what life brings.
Many church-people are mourning the loss of “Christendom” – which is merely the time when Christianity ruled supreme. The leaders of the Christian church were also respected as leaders in the world.
It was a time when everyone understood that you went to church on Sunday. Soccer and little League games weren’t scheduled until Sunday afternoon or maybe not at all - on Sunday.
You know the list of what has changed; many of you watched it happen. Maybe you rejoiced when ‘blue laws went away and maybe you were sorry to have Sunday fill up with obligations.

But many of today’s church members weren’t alive then. You have to be at least my age to remember the days of dressing up for Sunday School in hats and gloves.

Today, Robinson writes, many of our mainline congregations are [trying to adjust to no longer being at the leaders’ table] Instead, congregations focus on sharing the concept of a loving, welcoming, inclusive God. They recognize, like Peter finally did, that God wants more than just people who look and sound like us. This much is good.
Not all brands of Christianity agree who is in and who is out - hence the debates on conference floors and TV shows. But whether God is loving or judging may not be the question.
The question, for most of us, is whether or not God is powerful enough, vital enough, and capable enough of actually changing life, healing the earth, and delivering us from what can seem like hell – right here and now.
In other words, Does God still lead the Christian church?

Yes, certainly yet we admit we can’t always see it.
Does God still call leaders like Peter? Yes, God still calls leaders, but instead of singling out the Moses’ and Aaron’s and Mary’s, and Peter’s, God calls us ALL to be leaders. No longer can we wait for Silver Knights, great orators, and Lone Ranger ministers to come in and fix it all. It’s up to US.
         It’s why the Church of the Brethren dropped the concept of Church Boards and went to Leadership Teams. It doesn’t matter what we do to the constitution, what matters is how we listen to each other, how much we NEED each other.
And how we use each others' gifts. As Long says, “No one leader has all the gifts required, God chooses to give different leaders - different gifts so no one leader can just depend on him or herself but all have to depend on each other and ultimately depend on God.”[v]

Once again, many of you are ahead of the curve. Many of our committee’s act like leadership teams and task teams, reaching out to each member and inviting them to share and LEAD.
Our challenge is to extend our reach.

  1.          How do we invite the gifts of those who aren’t members? (This is an age of non-joining. What does that mean for leadership “REQUIREMENTS”?)
  2. How do we call out people we don’t see in church every week? (The average ‘regular’ attender of church makes it to Sunday worship 1-2x/mo.)
  3. What new ways of operating and communicating do we need?

This “conversation’ that I’ve invited you to join, is one way of expanding, both our thinking and our ability to communicate. Can we ‘talk’ to each other during the week, by email, chat, and phone? And as the fall season of nominating new leaders arrives, can we design ways of inviting everyone’s gifts to the table?
         These are the questions that we bring to the conversation. We won’t find easy answers, but with God’s spirit whispering and empowering, we will find leaders.

It’s ironic that good old Peter is the example we need –he’s what I need to remember on those days when I'm ready to give up on the broader Christian Church and old-style denominations.
- Peter’s slow eye-opening leadership is our inspiration, when we cant think about the church's problems because our own are too big.
- Peter’s dreams that held the revelation of God, will help us when we find ourselves worrying more about bills and building than spirit and service.

When we wonder if God is still paying enough attention to rescue us and save Christ’s church, we can ask God to give us the gift of Peter – the Rock. . .
--Not perfection but the strength to live & lead & give.
(I look forward to continuing the conversation with you…)

[i] Paul J. Achtemeier HarperCollins Bible Dictionary  (San Francisco: Harper, 1985, 96) p. 833
[ii] Jimmy Long The Leadership Jump  (Downers Grove, IL:IVP Books, 2009)
[iii] ibid quoting Ron Carucci in Leadership Divided (San Francisco: Josey Bass, 2006) p. 157
[iv] Anthony Robinson, Nurturing a Third Way for Congregations
[v] Long, ibid p. 56

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Seeking or Sinking

Thanks Diane, RevGalBlogPals
I'm traditional enough to expect to find God in church.
    I’m NOT surprised to have a moving experience in worship or find myself spiritually up-lifted during a sermon or song.

I'm a nature-lover too so I often feel God’s presence in the woods or standing by a sea-shore. Because I now feel physically rested after my vacation, I am currently seeking a place in the out of doors for a spiritual retreat. Our spirits need a type of renewing tailored specifically for the soul as much as our bodies need renewal from sabbath rest. You surely expect your pastor to maintain a level of spiritual nourishment so that she has something to share with you on Sunday and at times when we meet individually to talk.

Because my life has alternated between the sanctuaries of church buildings and the out-of-doors, my struggle is always to remain open to the OTHER places where we meet God; the unexpected and surprising occasions and places where the Spirit of the Holy overwhelms.

I'm not the first or last to have such a struggle.

Elijah had a spiritual crisis following an exhausting period at work as God’s prophet.          Just prior to the passage we heard earlier, Elijah had accomplished some impressive conveying of God’s power.
    We don’t spend much time in these OT stories. AND we tend to avoid the cringing feeling when we read about the killing done on God’s account. Perhaps we have domesticated God too much to think that the God of ultimate love never gets offended when people blatantly reject God in favor of false Gods or perhaps there are other ways to look at these stories.
    I think this is one of those famous ones you may remember.
. . .There’s been a great drought and Elijah has been blamed for it by one of Israel’s most wicked kings. (hence the title of these stories, 1st Kings...)
    Elijah claims the fault lies in the King and others who have been following false gods.  (perhaps with a few word changes, we could hear this story happening today..) Elijah sets up a contest with the prophets of the false god, Baal.

    Two bulls are laid out for sacrifice.  The prophets of the false god call on their god, dance, cry out and even cut themselves all trying to call down lightening to burn up the sacrifice and prove their god is real, listening to them and active in their world. After a day of this nothing happens - the bull is still laid out, covered in flies and the vultures are circling.
    Elijah not only has his bull laid out for the sacrifice, but he has water poured all over it, soaking the meat and the wood under the bull. Not just once, but three times.
    Then he prays. Lightning streaks down from the heavens striking the bull and burns up all the sacrifice, the wood and all the water surrounding the altar.
Elijah then commands that the false prophets of the false god be killed.

It was a pretty impressive showing for Elijah.
Of course, it was GOD, not Elijah that proved the prophets of Baal were false. But it is certainly a high-note for Elijah and I suspect he’s a bit burned out himself from these stressful couple of days of prophet-work.

So maybe we shouldn’t be surprised that he seems less than confident when he gets threatened by Queen Jezebel. Maybe it’s understandable that he runs for his life.
He takes off for the wilderness, calling out to God to end his life thinking that all his work is worth nothing if the Queen and King are still in power. - “Nothing has changed” he says and ends up hiding in a cave.
Classic burned out symptoms, wouldn’t you say?

Yet even after giving up, running away and wishing for the end of his life,   he finds God’s presence, ...NOT in the storm and lightening that he had seen before, but in the still, sheer-silence.
    God comes to him.
        ...maybe he had to be broken down from his success to be open to the truly Holy. . .
    Have you ever been there? Bruised and broken and crying out? - and only then you heard God?

Peter, is our other character today.
...and he is a CHARACTER through most of the New Testament.

He is the last person we’d imagine as the church's first bishop, when we find him in this story, stepping out of the boat, even taking a few steps on the water, before he sinks. 
Yet there - in the violent sea, with water up to his neck, Jesus reaches him...

Those disciples didn’t expect to see Jesus in the storm.
Elijah didn’t expect to find God in the silence.

Where do you EXPECT to find God?

Are you like 1. Mother Teresa

    who was asked how she knelt and washed street beggars with oozing sores..and she said, “each one of them is Christ, I wash his arms, his legs, his wounds every day”
   or are you more like Elijah?

finding God in Mother Nature’s power or in the awsome-ness of the universe

  or in Creation's Beauty

or do you find God right here?

These are expected places. We are conditioned to look for God in church, in nature and even in the special exchanges between people.

But where have you found God that you didn’t expect?

Do you remember my story of the
Recent experience of God’s presence during a move. When help arrived again and again - just when we needed it the most?
Or have to sat with a baby on your lap or seen a newborn with its parents and realized how near the Great Creator is to us, each and every day?

I believe the unexpected are the places strike us the most deeply. Perhaps it is the surprise that opens our eyes and ears to the holy.
Yet I also think these are the places easiest to miss.

What does it take to condition us to see differently?
    -- to learn to see and hear God, even when we HEAR nothing at all?

Does it take A mission trip or a week with David Radcliff?
Do we have to travel to another country or encounter a life-threatening experience?
Or can we be granted the ability to see God by asking?

Elijah petitioned God in desperation, NOT asking that he might see God, but that he might die.
Instead God sent nourishment that fed him until he was ready to recognize God in the quiet.

We don’t know what Peter & disciples were asking for, but having been through some storms ourselves we can guess at their prayers for salvation , yet surely they didn’t expect Jesus to physically come to them on the water.

May it is our nature to keep expectations small. We tend to build walls between us and the unimaginable because walls protect us from magical  thinking and from being delusional. Yet these same walls can keep us from experiencing God.

Today we’ve seen pictures of someone else’s experience.
We’ve seen the places where THEY were surprised by the Holy.

Your homework is to remember your own experiences; those times when God breathed on you - and you FELT IT.
Those times when someone stepped in front of you, turned around and you saw God's face.

Write them down. Answer the questions in the space we've provided in the bulletin or here.
Where did/do you see God's presence in an expected place?
Where do you find God's Spirit unexpectedly?
What image of finding God will you hold onto forever?

Then keep this paper with you as a reminder.
    Put it somewhere you will stumble across it regularly, on your frig or in your checkbook, purse, or dashboard.

Let today’s reminder be the lightening bolt that cracks apart your walls & opens you to the very real presence of God - ALWAYS THERE,
Always HERE.
Always comforting, assuring us, guiding us, leading us forward, & CALLING us out of the cave,
          out of the boat
          out into the world where the Holy Presence is REAL.

Monday, August 1, 2011