Monday, April 29, 2013

Disturbing Visions or Pigs In A Blanket

Based on Acts 11:1-18

Have you ever been ‘called on the carpet’?
    (care to tell us about it?)
Me: I was once stopped in the hall in HS. Back in the day when we GIRLS - were 1st allowed to wear pants to school. The VP stopped me, “Nancy, are those JEANS you are wearing?”
    (Jeans were NOT allowed) this was a pair of denim slacks, “Technically” NOT Jeans... So I defended myself by pointing out the facts, “Look, no outside double seams! See, these are NOT jeans, Sir.” . .
Defense - Peter had to think fast. He defended his actions by a detailed personal account of what had happened.

Peter has a vision; remember Peter is a Jew, one of the head leaders of the Jesus’ movement among Jerusalem’s Jews. He and James follow the feet of Jesus himself.
His vision is about eating. But includes non-Kosher animals.   Animals that no devout religious person would ever consider eating are lowed to him in a blanket. He is told to, “GET UP, Peter, KILL & EAT”
Domenico Fetti.

Even in his dream he declines. But the message is repeated. THREE times he hears, VOICE: “What god has made clean, you must not call profane.”    Making the Subtitle: “Pigs in a blanket”1

Then Cornelius (the devout but GENTILE follower of God) sends messengers who arrive AT THE GATE, & ask for Peter.
(Important for Gentiles to stay at the gate, if they enter a Jewish home, the house and everyone in it becomes unclean.!!!!!)
God’s Spirit moves Peter, he realizes, “These men came for him and he is to go with them without hesitation. SENT BY GOD.
He goes and spends time in the HOME of GENTILES and has another incredible experience.
It is while he is with the Gentiles, preaching that the Holy Spirit FALLS on them and Peter realizes they have already been included by he’d better get with the plan and gets them baptized with water. (The reverse of the normal order.)

We call this kind of experience a ‘conversion’.
    Whose conversion usually get’s the most publicity in Acts?
    (What do you remember about it?)

(Right!) or Note, previous in Acts, you will find the story of Paul’s conversion from persecuting Jews who follow ‘The Way’ to believing in Jesus as the Jewish Messiah and following the Way, himself.

Then Paul is Sent, by God with the (somewhat reluctant) approval of the church, to the Gentiles. But the Jerusalem church is not completely on-board. (Sending Paul solved one problem and ended up causing them another one.)  When Peter comes to Jerusalem, they do not even ask about the Gentiles. They question Peter’s actions: “So you ate a meal together with Gentiles, hmmm?” The indictment is clear. They were concerned with making sure that Peter was acting as a proper Jew, maintaining his identity as one of God’s holy people.2

So the ‘Jesus Jews’ are a bit reluctant to welcome EVERYONE and there is an underlying assumption that ‘those people’ have to become like us; Jewish, before they can be included.
It was possible to become a Jew..proselyte. “Becoming a proselyte meant circumcision and placing oneself under the Law of Moses. Gentiles were only accepted and acceptable to Jews as Jews, but never as Gentiles.”3
Paul believes this is not necessary and NOT what God demands for acceptance.
Now it’s Peter’s turn to be  fully ‘ENLIGHTENED’. 1st by a vision, then by the reality of his visit.

But the ‘church’ back home doesn’t have either of these mens experiences. They are good devout Jews and are OUTRAGED at Peter’s behavior.
Bob Deffinbaugh writes, “The apostles seem to be angry that Peter acted independently from them and their approval, and that he did what they would not have allowed, if consulted.
Peter was an apostle, and thus his actions set a precedent, one which the “circumcised saints” did not like. Peter committed them to a course of action they thought was wrong.”4

(so) Peter is confronted.
Are you surprised at the Jerusalem followers reaction?(why/not)

When Peter is confronted, he processes out loud. Recalling all of God’s faithfulness like he did while he was with Cornelius and was ‘confronted’ by the action of the Holy Spirit.
Can you image this kind of confrontation happening today?

Name times when ACoB has been ahead of the curve, out in front on issues where there was some disagreement by others?
    How did people react?
. . .

Some commentators, especially Lewis Mudge, said the folks back home were more repulsed by what they thought Peter was eating than by the people he was staying with.
There was some kind of ‘gut’ reaction that doesn’t respond to theological argument.”5

Care to name some modern problems that cause this revulsion within the church?
. . .

***Can you recognize what helped Peter gain acceptance, where other movements did not?***

Peter’s defense was based, in the final analysis, on what God had done and on the way God perceived the Gentiles.201
‘God’s salvation was to come both to the Jews and through the Jews.
Deffenbaugh again says, “In assuming ownership of God’s blessings, rather than stewardship of them, Israelites (even Jesus’ Jews) tended to think that salvation was for Jews alone, rather than “to the Jews first.” Bob Deffinbaugh points out. “What a difference, he says, “between God’s way and Israel’s way in this matter of salvation.’”6
I hear an echo of this possessiveness when some Christians talk about whom will be saved.
. . .
The perceived authorities [in the church], end up playing catch-up with God’s work.7
Where is this happening today?(where do you see God accepting and Christians reluctant to come along)

A different feeling or reaction results depending on WHERE the change begins. (the acceptance) 
“Had the recent conversion originated within the Gentile mission field, [inclusion] would likely have been long if ever, accepted by the Jerusalem Church.8 Lewis Mudge makes the point.
But the ‘conversion’ happened to Peter, not someone out among the Gentiles, but to Peter, a leader of the INSIDERS. . . and so people listened. They believed him when he said, ‘the Holy Spirit came on these people.’ And ‘God’s showed me.’
It makes a difference, doesn’t it?
    ? Why does it make such a difference that it was Peter?

A unique combination of authenticity, respect, and experience occur to help a congregation or church accept someone else’s conversion and begin to open themselves to God’s power - that enlightens us to new ways.

What is Arlington’s Experience that tells us that changes are often from God?What in our history has happened to help us SEE differently?
        Co-Pastors, one a woman, when no that common
        Immigrant Family assistance, live-in, when not so accepted
        Last spring/summer welcome of homeless man

Whom (what voices) do we respect enough to listen to their ideas?
    Where do we go to listen for God?   
 What are the stories of God’s faithfulness HERE, that we recall to reassure ourselves that we ARE listening to God?

When Peter was confronted FIRST by God, [he] “concluded that he had to change his own point of view TO God’s point of view, and to bring his own actions into alignment with God’s actions.
He was compelled to see that God thought and acted differently than he, and it was he who must change, so as to bring himself into alignment with God.9

Let us keep asking God to remind us of those stories of God’s faithfulness right HERE, so we will keep listening for God’s latest revelation that we may be in alignment with God.

. . And then find ways to share it authentically with others.

1 Kit on RevGalBlogPals
2 Kyle Fever Working April 28, 2013 1st Reading
3 Bob Deffinbaugh, Also
5 Lewis Mudge, Feasting on the Word - theological (Louisville:WJK,2009)452 6
7 Kyle Fever Working April 28, 2013 1st Reading
8 Lewis Mudge, Feasting on the Word - theological (Louisville:WJK,2009)450
9 Bob Deffinbaugh (Also ref same as below)

Monday, April 22, 2013

What's Our Promise?

We make promises all the time.
    (Congregation responds with promises.)

When Jesus was asked 'what is the most important commandment', he answered with a promise.
It was a promise he made every morning, along with all faithful Jewish boys & men (officially, and the women too, I’m sure before their own early morning chores) It’s call the ‘Shema’.

Hear O Israel, the Lord Our God is One, You shall love the LORD, your God with all your heart, all your soul and all your strength. (In Mark’s story, Jesus adds ‘mind’ to the list, which helps those of us who grew up influenced by Greek thought and philosophy about the seat of our thinking.)

But there was another one of the 613 commandments in the Hebrew Bible (our OT) that Jesus quoted. It was one that the prominent Rabbi Hillel taught as extremely important.
Jesus says it is second only to loving God. We find it in Lev 19:18 (b) “ shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Brethren like this part.)

Scouts have many sayings and have to learn some promises and priorities.
ASK: What are they? (You’ve already said one...)
Jesus is making a point about priorities that goes beyond numbering. He says these two commandments or RULES, are actually equal. These are the ‘law’ for all Hebrews and all followers of Jesus. He says you can’t have one w/o the other.
Then it’s not commandment 1 then commandment 2, Jesus says it’s 1 AND 2 TOGETHER.

Scholar Won Hur wrote; "To love one's neighbor without loving God would be mere humanism, losing profound connection to God."1

You might ask, but what is MORE important, my own connection to God OR DOING and ACTING lovingly to my neighbor(s)?
Great consideration of Humanism v Christian

There is no better week to ask this question than the one we just lived thru.

After evertything that went on this week, the bombing and man-hunt, the explosion and deaths in Texas, it has been a week of compassion between neighbors. It has also been a week of fear and mis-trust of other neighbors.
I was touched by something else Won Hur wrote and went back to read it again. "In loving God, one gains a deep awareness of God bringing hope and strength in times of despair."
You can see why that jumped out at me this week. All people need hope and strength in times of despair, especially when we are afraid.

It has been a week filled with fear. I follow Josh DuBois on Twitter and he wrote, "Fear is at our national doorstep. [Our primary question] is how will we respond?2

ASK: What were some of the responses you saw or heard this past week?
(Congregation responds)
I believe the greatest commandment holds the key to our response for followers of the Jesus’ Way.

In his article about fear, Josh wrote about how the Israeli and Pasestinian communities responded to the 4 years of terror, bombing, public conflicts called the Second Intifada, that ranged from rock throwing to shooting into crowds. It was a 'war' of sorts that claimed many many lives. (and the terror continues in many places.)

He noted that during those four years, the two communites ‘leaned In’. Each community clung together within themselves, leaning on the other members of their group and using the repeated traditions of their faith to remember other difficult times in their individual histories.

I thought he chose a difficult example, considering the shared Abramhamic traditions and continuing struggle in the middle east, but perhaps that's the point.
It is in extreme difficulty that we most notice our need for someone or something that lifts us to live beyond fear.

Have you seen responses to fear where people struck out instead of leaning in?
OR wondered HOW forgiving ‘the enemy’ fits the picture?

We can look back at our own history and find an example of one who lived beyond the fear that plagued his life.
Martin Luther King Jr. delivered the eulogy for the four little girls killed in 1963 at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, AL.  Dr. King said,
"Life is hard, at times as hard as crucible steel. It has its bleak and difficult moments. Like the ever-flowing waters of the river, life has its moments of drought and its moments of flood. Like the ever-changing cycle of the seasons, life has the soothing warmth of its summers and the piercing chill of its winters.
And if one will hold on, we will discover that God walks with us, and that God is able to lift us from the fatigue of despair to the buoyancy of hope, and transform dark and desolate valleys into sunlit paths of inner peace. And so today, you do not walk alone.”3 . . .

Jesus never walked alone. Thru all he suffered, from daily rejection to accepting death at the hands of the powers that be.
Even when HIS community of disciples DIDN’T lean together but disserted him, he never walked alone. And HIS assurance gave him the strength to forgive, even as he hung dying from their assault.  .  .

In JESUS people saw the reign of God draw near to them, not because he died, but because he died forgiving those who killed him.

We see the reign of God in his life because Jesus LIVED to a higher LAW, ‘LEANING IN’/ON to - a power greater than his earthly life. He never let fear of death stop him from doing what was right all BECAUSE he loved God, before all else. . ... .then acted in love to his neighbors.

When God affirmed JESUS' way of self-giving love by raising him to new, resurrected life, JESUS then promised his followers that WE would never walk alone and sent His very own spirit to accompany us.

Weeks like this one show how much we need the presence of the Divine in our lives because these experiences require us to love and it is NOT a pleasant emotion, but more a difficult skill that takes practice.
Greg Jones and Celestin Musekura wrote a book called, “Forgiving as we’ve been forgiven” They describe forgiveness as dance steps to learn. Difficult contortions for some of us (like me, who are not graceful). Sometimes the lessons seem unconnected and the instructor, a harsh task master.
Then the music of the waltz is played and the instructor takes a student and twirls around the floor in graceful circles showing the beauty of the end product.
But learning the dance of forgiveness is not easy,

 (They write) Our hearts, souls, minds and bodies are deeply formed by the habits of sin and evil. Despite our destiny for communion (with each other), we human beings do not typically give and receive freely with one another, and certainly not with any trusting expectation. 7
Instead, we often attempt to secure our lives at the expense of others. In short, we are well practiced in the steps that lead to mutual destruction and death while we know precious little of the steps that make up the divine dance of forgiveness.

***Jesus knew and experienced that the promises we make, the commands we commit to follow are the first lesson in learning the ‘dance of forgiveness’. And eventually they lead us to beauty - the beauty of truly living in harmony with people and the earth.
Love God, Love Neighbor

Love God, Love Neighbor, Journey with Jesus, is the central Christian message. It is what we teach our children, it is how we are to live our lives.
It all begins with loving God. It all comes from following Jesus.

When we are asked WHY?
Why isn't it enough to do good?
Surely you know someone who says, .... “I know someone who is ALWAYS generous with her time and money and never misses an opportunity to serve neighbors. She doesn’t attend church and I don’t ever hear her mention God. Yet isn’t she LIVING the commandment Jesus lifted up?”

I think [it is] a question we all ask from time to time is,    “Why isn't it enough to help my neighbor, what does GOD have to do with it.?”
Yet it if we stop there, obeying the ‘love commandment with right living alone, we are shortchanging ourselves and those we teach.

Dawn Ottoni Wilhelm was one of my professors at Bethany Seminary. She wrote about this passage, and she answers our “why” question by getting to the heart of what LOVE MEANS. 
 "To love God and neighbor means more than believing or even understanding the right thing. IT MEANS offering the WHOLE OF OUR LIVES in service to others, as God in Christ love us.
In this way, we enter the reign of God that has already drawn near to us thru the presence and power of Jesus Christ.”4

We are mistaken when we think we know how to express love without help from God.5  We wrongly define love as an emotion; an unconscious response.
Dawn help me remember that,
    "Jesus makes love a matter of conviction, reflection, and behavior.
To love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength is to love as Christ loves."6

This is the promise we make when we choose to follow Jesus. The bonus is we get to experience life without succumbing to fear.

When we promise to FIRST love God and live it, then we will BE ABLE to love our neighbor as ourselves!

Closing Litany

Christians find in the OT prophet, Micah, the words that justify our desire for DOING, because these are good words,
    “What does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.
yet the words we say last, are the promise we need to make 1st. Loving God is a humbling walk, but it is the true GIFT of life, now and always.

I Invite you to join me in reading this scripture that embodies our promise.
Scripture of Promise                    Micah 6:6-8
All: We promise to ‘do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God.”
I invite you to stand and sing these words as our departing hymn.

1 Won Hur Clergy Journal Vol. LXXXV, No5 May/June 2008 (Nov. 1, 2009 Focus: Mark 12:28-34 The Most Important Commandment) p. 62
2 Joshua DuBOis The Daily Beast Defeating Fear, from Boston to Texas April 20, 2013,
3 ibid quoted in the Daily Beast
4 Dawn Ottoni Wilhelm Preaching Mark (Louisville: WJK, 2008)214
5 ibid 215
6 ibid 215

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

153 cold slimy fish

ASK: Have you ever felt ‘emotional overload’?
    (Congregation answers)
if yes, When? Describe those feelings...

Think about the disciples at the point of today’s scripture. They have been thru some incredible emotions.

Gary Jones described it like this,
    “For the disciples, the general landscape of life over the last week of Jesus’ life had been overwhelming. The tension-filled, emotional high of their entry into Jerusalem was followed by extraordinary events in the temple, a Passover meal unlike any other, an intense experience in the Garden of Gethesmane, an unexpected betrayal, an armed arrest, a series of denials, a mock trial, a jeering mob, and a bloody execution. Surely in the hours following Jesus’ death, the disciples were crushed and numb. The human spirit can take only so much.          Then came the events that brought an emotional overload of another sort altogether--news of the empty tomb and resurrection appearances that had to be seen to be believed.     These events would not only overwhelm and change the lives of the disciples forever; these events would change the entire world forever.”1

After all this, Peter says, “I’m going fishing!” and several guys respond with, “We're with you!”. They attempt a return to ordinary life; the trade they know, to find some normalcy EVEN as they process all the NOT-normal events that have happened. But they find that the ordinary is no longer ordinary because out on the shoreline, is Jesus!

We could talk debate what they saw:
    A man on the shoreline
    Heard someone call to them.
 Peter responds rather strangely (it seems to us) by first clothing himself, THEN jumping into the water.
 The beloved disciple again, ‘sees and believes’
 And there’s the 153 cold slimy fish. . .that certainly must have some meaning?
. . .
Yet I think we should look closer at what WE see in this story, not just what the disciples saw. We know this story, because in many ways it echoes the whole story of Jesus’ ministry.
Let’s Investigate a bit: What other stories have ‘fish’ in them?
   (Congregation answers) Calling disciples in Luke,  a large catch of fish in Luke,  Feeding 5,000,
  this story has 153 large, cold slimy fish, and what does Jesus’ cook for breakfast? Fish!

Multi-voice: Questions to probe.
 Knowing what you know about the miracle of feeding, how do you see that miraculous feeding reflected here?
    Why is it important for Jesus to serve breakfast?
        What is important about the menu?
Now, what do you think is the take away for disciples?
    For us?

There’s an ABUNDANCE of fish. #153 may only be there to show volume. . Just as there was an abundance of wine at Jesus’ very first miracle in John.
It seems wherever Jesus is, there is plenty! And we are to project this understanding forward into the early church AND into our lives.

There’s even more reflected in this story that reaches back into John’s gospel and forward into our lives.
Jesus says, ‘cast your nets’ or DRAW your nets. It’s the same word he used when he spoke about ‘drawing’ all people to himself.
The disciples ONLY catch fish AFTER Jesus is present and commands them to ‘draw’ their nets on the other side. It’s his final in-person lesson for them.

    “Without Jesus the disciples can’t catch fish no matter how hard they try, but with his direction, they bring in an enormous, ABUNDANT catch of fish. . .anticipating their future catches..of people.”2
    *** If the disciples needed Jesus in order for them to be able to tell the story that ‘catches’ peoples’ lives, certainly we do too! ***

It took hard work to pull in that net full of fish. And the gospel doesn’t begin to tell us about the work of cleaning 153 large, cold, slimy fish. How do you feel about cleaning fish?   

There are times when ‘fishing for people’ seems to be more than we can do. Whether we feel inadequate, or we are dealing with our own Emotional Overloads that seem to come with life,
    We can find help in this story. (of calling, abundant gifts, and lots of work)

  • When the abundant gift we receive means the hard work of exercising our muscles to pull the nets into the boat.
  • And when the abundant gift we receive gives us a whole lot more messy work (like that of cleaning 153 cold, slimy fish).

We discover what the disciples discovered, that Jesus is HERE, - right here with us, waiting to serve and nourish us with all that we need to go out and invite others to the mission of serving the world.

This story is not just about fish, it’s a story of commissioning for the ministry of making disciples. (Even here Jesus says, 'Follow me'.)  It’s hard work AND it’s the work we are called to.

Through these beloved stories that we tell again and again, we recall that we have the abundant gift we need to accomplish the work we are given. - the very real presence of Jesus, with us!

So even when we are overwhelmed with life,
    when our emotions are on overload,
         when we can’t even THINK past the mess in front of us,
we too can look up to see Jesus on the shore,
         there to feed and nourish us until we are ready to go out and ‘fish’ again.

1 Gary D. Jones Feasting on the Word Pastoral (Louisville:WJK,2009)422
2 paraphrased Craig R. Koester (Symbolism in the Fourth Gospel Minn:Fortress, 1995) 119
3 Gary Jones Feasting on the Word - Pastoral (Louis:WJK,2009)422

Friday, April 5, 2013

Pictures from Holy Week

Unseen Forces
Palm Sunday Waving
Sunday morning transformation
Good Friday's Darkness
Maundy Thursday's Love Feast (Feetwashing)