Teachings of the Apostles

Scriptures: Acts 17:22-31, 1 Peter 3:13-22, John 14:15-21

Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable to you, O Lord our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.

Last week I touched on prayer as one of the four points of vital ministry as outlined in Acts by the earliest example of the Followers of the Way: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” (Acts 2:42).

Today’s readings recall some of those teachings. First we have Paul, a second generation Apostle, if you will. The first major Apostle we learn about that didn’t actually know Jesus in the flesh. He become a Follower of the Way after a dramatic conversion experience following his attempt to stamp out all the Jesus followers he could. In Paul’s conversion experience, Jesus, in the Spirit, meets him on the road to Damascus.

In the spirit, Jesus strikes Paul, then named Saul, blind and then directed him to a disciple in Damascus, in fact probably one of the ones Saul had set out to arrest. This disciple would restore Saul’s sight. Saul, a Pharisee son of a Pharisee, became a devoted follower of Jesus the Christ and eventually the premiere Apostle to the Gentiles. Along the way he or his biographers dropped the name Saul in favor of Paul, a very symbolic way of putting to death the old self and putting on his new self in Christ.

Richard Rohr has this to say about such a journey:

“When you go to the full depths and death, sometimes even the depths of your sin, you can always come out the other side—and the word for that is resurrection. If we are honest, we acknowledge that we are dying throughout our life, and this is what we learn if we are attentive: grace is found at the depths and in the death of everything.”[1]

In the Acts passage we find Paul teaching in Athens, capitol city of Greece: What is he teaching? He proclaims our Creator God to be the One God above all and in all, through whom all is made and all people live and move and have their being. He teaches that God does not dwell in an idol made of artisan’s hands but in fact is not far from each of us. He teaches that God “has fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” (Acts 17:31) Meaning, of course, the resurrected Jesus. Right from the start we have witness to the resurrection; a stumbling block to many but life-blood to the believer.

In speaking to the Athenians, Paul is also living out another teaching, one from the Apostle Peter which we also read for today: “Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; 16yet do it with gentleness and reverence.” (1 Peter 3:15-16)

Have you ever had someone ask you, “Why are you so happy all the time?” Or, “How can you remain so calm after all you’ve been through?” Questions like those are all the opening you need to share “with gentleness and reverence” the hope that has been born in you, the Good News of Jesus Christ.

Contemporary liberation theologian Miguel De La Torre writes,

“…for the recipients of 1 Peter to obey Christ [was] to live apart from the empire of their time. Likewise, for us today, to obey and follow Christ is to live apart from the empire of our present era… a theology of identity forces those who claim Christianity as their faith to examine their lives to see if they have more in common with the empire the author of 1 Peter writes about, or with the victims of empire”[2]

If we are honest with ourselves, we might recognize that Jesus was a victim of empire; and if our lives are to reflect that of our Lord, we have a difficult journey ahead. I suspect there is a call for us here – perhaps we are especially called to reflect the light of truth, transparency, honesty, integrity and morality in these present times.

Fear not!  The Good News of Jesus Christ is redemption from all that is sin and death, deceit and dishonesty and lack of integrity and morality.  Peter’s teaching on baptism in verse 21 reminds us of this all-important fact: First, God loved us.

“Baptism is really about perception. … To begin to perceive ourselves as first and foremost loved by God, whether we think we have earned that distinction or not, is to begin to widen our spiritual, emotional, and intellectual horizons, to see beyond that which oppresses in the here and now. Rather than being consumed by the suffering, we are rejuvenated by the recognition of a larger purpose, a connection to a power greater than that which oppresses.”[3]

What is that greater power? Listen: Jesus our Teacher speaks:

“lf you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.”

“l will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. ln a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.” (John 14:15-21)

Love. That is the greatest power of all. Love is at the root of truth, honesty, integrity, mercy and compassion.  In loving others, we live into the river of love that is God: flowing deep and wide; to all, in all, and through all.  If we can sense our small tributary in the one great river of life and live it out – doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with our God, then indeed we might be called blessed.  So let us be about this good work in the name of our Lord Jesus.

May all glory be to the One who lived, died, and rose again for us, even Him who is the Christ. Amen? May it be so.

Questions for Reflection

According to First Peter, we are told Christ was put to death in the body but made a live in the spirit. What does it mean to be made alive in the spirit? Jesus says he will send the Advocate to be with us once he is gone. Can you identify a time the Holy Spirit was with you? When? What was it like? Do we have in us this same Spirit, and can we show others what life in the Spirit is like? What is it like for you?

Household Prayer: Morning

I give thanks for the gift of life and breath that is mine today in Christ. Make me eager to do good and to resist evil, and grant me the wisdom to recognize the difference. Fill me with your assurance in all I say and do that I may share the hope that is within me in gentleness and reverence of Christ. Amen.

Household Prayer: Evening

O God, in whom I live and move and have my being, you hear me when I cry and listen to my prayer; you set my feet on steady ground, you never leave me alone. As I rest in you tonight, sanctify my heart in Christ, and fill me with your strength, that I may rise to love and serve you and greet another day. Amen.

[1] Rohr, Fr. Richard; Daily Reflection from Center for Action and Contemplation website https://cac.org/grace-is-key-2017-05-08/

[2] De La Torre, Miguel A. Feasting on the Word—Year A David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, General Editors. Copyright © 2010 Westminster John Knox Press; Louisville, Kentucky; All rights reserved. Used by permission. Accordance edition hyper-texted and formatted by OakTree Software, Inc. Version 2.0

[3] McClellen, Gordon. Feasting on the Word…

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Unpacking

Scriptures: Acts 2:42, Psalm 31, John 14:1-14

Please join me again in this prayer of Ted Loder’s:

“Lord, I believe my life is touched by you; that you want something for me and of me. Please give me ears to hear you, eyes to see the tracing of your finger, and a heart quickened by the motions of your Spirit.”[1]

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable to you, O Lord our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.

Recall from last week the four points of vital ministry as outlined in Acts by the earliest example of the Followers of the Way: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” (Acts 2:42). Today’s lessons unpack some of the depths and kinds of prayers to which a vital community devotes themselves. I suspect if we were to examine these different kinds of prayers more closely, they would stem from something in common: a deep yearning for connection to God – longing for deliverance, comfort, awe, encouragement, wisdom, thanksgiving, presence, assurance, love, belonging, or some other missing piece within us sensed but not understood.

Contemporary author Anne Lamott whittled down her own searching experience with prayer into three categories and published a little book by the same title: “Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers.”

The prayer from Psalm 31 in today’s reading is a kind of prayer for help; specifically deliverance, beseeching God for salvation from enemies and persecutors. However, it also includes the Psalm text quoted in Luke’s gospel by Jesus from the cross; which was another kind of deliverance, “into your hands I commit my spirit.” (Luke 23:46)

Today’s text from 1 Peter calls for followers of Christ to long for “pure spiritual milk;” I think of this as a prayer for wisdom: sustenance for a thirsty soul. Ruth Haley Barton takes prayer for wisdom a step farther. She writes,

“It is crucial that those of us who want to become more discerning learn to … recognize places of un-freedom where we are inordinately attached to a particular outcome rather than being indifferent to anything but the will of God.”[2]

The theme of prayer is continued as one of the main revelations of Jesus in today’s portion of John’s “Farewell Discourse,” chapter 14.

“The brevity of the words belies the depth and breadth of Jesus’ teaching. Those who believe in him are promised that they will do greater works [than his] because (1) Jesus will be with God, a place of advocacy and intercession, and (2) these works will bring glory to God through the Son. Works that glorify God issue from prayer that is in accordance with Jesus’ own mission. The disciples are instructed to “ask in [his] name” (v. 13), and he assures them he will grant what is asked.

A superficial interpretation of the privilege of praying “in Jesus’ name” is that if the formula is used, this is tantamount to effectual prayer. To pray “in the name of Jesus” is to align one’s spiritual longing with that of one’s Lord. When one believes in Jesus, one begins to believe in God with the same depth of trust and hope, out of which mature prayer flows.”[3]

So where does that lead and why so much emphasis on prayer? Turning to wisdom from the Celtic tradition, John Philip Newell writes,

“We and all things have come from the One. Deep within us are holy, natural longings for oneness, primal sacred drives for union. We may live in tragic exile from these longings, or we may have spent a whole lifetime not knowing how to truly satisfy them, but they are there at the heart of our being, waiting to be born afresh.”[4]

In prayer, in all forms of prayer, we move more intentionally inward toward that oneness. To briefly dwell on the prayer Jesus taught his disciples and which we pray every Sunday, it should be noted that when we utter the Lord’s Prayer, we are once again renewing and pledging ourselves to surrender who we are and what we want; offering instead the space to allow the will of God to speak into and through our lives. “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name; thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven…”

In the next three Sundays, as the lectionary leads us to Pentecost and receiving the Holy Spirit, I hope to dig a little deeper into the other three hallmarks of a vital church. I urge you to take notes, for the Spirit is at work moving and re-shaping the body of Christ for a new awakening; perhaps even as different as is a butterfly from the caterpillar from which it came. Be attentive, be alert; for the Spirit is coming and is now here, and Christ is calling for all who hear his voice to follow.

May all glory be to the One who lived, died, and rose again for us, even Him who is the Christ. Amen? May it be so.

Questions for Reflection

Is the “dwelling place” (John 14:1–14) of which Jesus speaks a place for   us after we die, or does it include our life in the present? What does Jesus mean when he says that his disciples “will do greater works”? What does it mean to pray “in Jesus’ name”?

Household Prayer: Morning

Lord Jesus,

as I serve you this day,

let not my heart be troubled.

Help me to believe with conviction

that you are with me,

and I am in you,

and you are in God. Amen.

Household Prayer: Evening

Faithful God,

my rock and my fortress,

into your hands I commit my spirit.

As darkness falls,

let your face shine upon your servant,

and keep me in your steadfast love. Amen.

[1] Ted Loder, Guerillas of Grace (Philadelphia, Innisfree Press,1984) p. 29; quoted from Ruth Haley Barton’s third chapter closing prayer in Pursuing God’s Will Together: A Discernment Practice For Leadership Groups (Downers Grove, InterVarsity Press, 2012) p.73

[2] Barton, Ruther Haley. Pursuing God’s Will Together: A Discernment Practice For Leadership Groups (Downers Grove, InterVarsity Press, 2012) p.64

[3] Marshall, Molly T. Feasting on the Word—Year A David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, General Editors. Copyright © 2010 Westminster John Knox Press; Louisville, Kentucky; All rights reserved. Used by permission. Accordance edition hyper-texted and formatted by OakTree Software, Inc. Version 2.0

[4] Newell, John Philip. The Rebirthing of God: Christianity’s Struggle for New Beginnings; Skylight Paths Publishing, 2014.

 

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Journeyman Tales

Scripture: Acts 2:42-47, Luke 24:13-35

Please join me in this prayer of Ted Loder’s:

“Lord, I believe my life is touched by you; that you want something for me and of me. Please give me ears to hear you, eyes to see the tracing of your finger, and a heart quickened by the motions of your Spirit.”[1]

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable to you, O Lord our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.

What kinds of journeys have you been on recently? Where did they take you and whom or what did you meet along the way? Was it a familiar road or did you go somewhere you haven’t been before?

Pastor Jill Duffield, writer for the Presbyterian Outlook, sees the road to Emmaus passage as a metaphor for an entire life of faith. She writes, “There are doubts, despair, the inability to believe the experience of others no matter how much we wish we could, inklings that something bigger is happening, ignorance, revelation and the shock of divine presence in the midst of the ordinary.” She goes on to write, “At any given time we are in any one of those places.”[2]

“The setting of this story in the context of a journey is … typical of Luke, who places Jesus’ entire mission in the context of a journey that moves from Galilee to Jerusalem (e.g. 9:51–53) and ultimately, through the ascension, to the right hand of God. Luke casts the unfolding history of the early community as a journey, beginning in Jerusalem and reaching ‘to the ends of the earth’ (Acts 1:8). The community itself would be named, [as one commentator put it] the ‘people of the journey’ (Acts 9:2; 22:4; 24:14, 22). For Luke the journey of Jesus and of the church itself expresses the unfolding history of salvation that finds its origin in Israel and through the Spirit extends salvation to the ‘ends of the earth.’”[3]

In light of this kind of journey, I would like to go back and examine the movement that is recorded. Overall, the journey moves to Emmaus and back to Jerusalem, but at two particular moments movement stops. Something important happens each time. What? The first time, Jesus the stranger intercepts them along the road and asks them what they were discussing. Luke says, in verse 17, “They stood still.”

“This suggests that when God enters a conversation we think we are having with one another—when our horizontal perspective on the human condition is assumed from above and crossed by the vertical perspective of God’s word—we cannot but find our lost selves standing still. We have surely come to a crossroad. At issue are not the miles before us but the moment at hand and the eternity that has just invaded time.”[4]

The second time movement ceases is at Emmaus. Jesus acts as if he is going on, but the disciples invite and urge him to be their guest; he comes in and sits at table with them. There, at the table, movement ceases for a moment. There they sit, and at that moment the tables are turned. Instead of the disciples offering the ritual table blessing as the hosts, Jesus, their unbeknownst guest, takes the bread, blesses and breaks it. “When he was at table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight.” (vv. 30–31) I can only imagine they sat there, stunned for a moment in stillness and reflection of what had just happened before exclaiming, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” (v.32)

“The story reaches its climax with a meal…. Meals are a hallmark of Luke’s narrative, and he concludes this account in the same way. These meals evoke the longed-for gathering of Israel (Isa. 25:6–9) and express the inclusive spirit of Jesus’ own mission (Luke 14:7–14, 15–24; 15:25–32; 16:19–31; 19:1–10). Full revelation of who Jesus is and what his death and resurrection mean comes at the meal (vv. 31, 35). Jesus’ words and gestures are the same as at the feeding of the multitudes (9:16) and reminiscent of the final Passover meal (22:19). Without doubt Luke also intends the reader to make a connection with the celebrations of the “breaking of the bread” described in Acts (2:42, 46; 20:7, 11; 27:35).”[5]

Moving into Acts 2:42, we get a glimpse of what the earliest form of church did.

“Verse 42 suggests that a particular set of practices, four habits or priorities, nurtured their lives as Christians and as church: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” … This is the earliest listing of what came to be called “marks” or “notes” of the church – characteristics beyond [one’s] confession of Jesus as Lord – that identified the church as the church.”[6]

Looking at those four points more closely, we find that marks of authenticity and health in a church include:

  1. “What it does with the writings of those early Christian leaders. We are called to explore the texts that come down to us in their names.”
  2. “Quality of peoples’ relationships and their efforts to include others in those relationships. Devotion to fellowship means nurturing the habits of hospitality—and it takes work: It takes courage to notice a newcomer, to invite someone to lunch or a cup of coffee after worship, [or] to start a regular gathering where a small group can begin to know and care for each other.”
  3. “In the way they eat together, but this is more than fellowship. This “breaking of bread” seems to allude to the Lord’s Supper, faith and community fed by the sacrament.”
  4. “Their involvement in prayer. More than a part of worship, prayer is for each of us the opportunity for communion with God. It is clear by the plural that the earliest Christians were learning some kind of set prayers—the Lord’s Prayer, the Psalms, or other forms. There are now many ways to pray, but to be “devoted” to it, individuals and communities must pursue prayer intentionally and with energy.”[7]

“[These four] elements … still have contemporary relevance: apostles’ teaching, fellowship, breaking bread, and prayers. The “teaching” and “fellowship” may take on new expressions, but the centrality of Jesus Christ in each of these components should remain.”[8]

If you look, you will find these four are present in vibrant churches all through contemporary history right into the doors of churches today. Let it be our prayer we continue to be witnesses in these ways. May all glory be unto the One who lived, died, and rose again for us, even Him who is the Christ. Amen? May it be so.

[1] Ted Loder, Guerillas of Grace (Philadelphia, Innisfree Press,1984) p. 29; quoted from Ruth Haley Barton’s third chapter closing prayer in Pursuing God’s Will Together: A Discernment Practice For Leadership Groups (Downers Grove, InterVarsity Press, 2012) p.73

[2] Duffield, Jill. Presbyterian Outlook “Looking into the Lectionary” weekly digital reflection; April 30 – Luke 24:13-35.

[3] Senior, Donald. Feasting on the Word—Year A David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, General Editors. Copyright © 2010 Westminster John Knox Press; Louisville, Kentucky; All rights reserved. Used by permission. Accordance edition hyper-texted and formatted by OakTree Software, Inc. Version 2.0

[4] Jarvis, Cynthia A. Feasting on the Word…

[5] Senior, Donald. Feasting on the Word…

[6] Hansen, Gary Neal. Feasting on the Word…

[7] Ibid.

[8] Powery, Emerson B. Feasting on the Word…

Question for Reflection

Acts 2:42–47 describes what life was like in the early church. How do these words guide today’s church?

Household Prayer: Morning

Generous God, thank you for the gift of this new day. Help me to watch for your signs and wonders in the world today, and fill my heart with gladness and generosity, that I may generate good will wherever I go. Amen.

Household Prayer: Evening

Thank you, God, for shepherding me through this day. As I lie down to sleep this night help me to imagine green pastures and still waters, and to remember all the ways you have set a table before me and filled my cup to overflowing. Amen.

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Heart of Christianity

Scripture: Acts 2:36-41, John 10:1-10

Let us pray:

O God, we have heard the call of scriptural witnesses, and have responded in faith to your love. Guide our lives that we may in turn be witnesses to your changeless grace in a swiftly changing world. May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable to you, O Lord our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.

Recall the words of Jesus from last week’s reading:

“As the Father has sent me, so I send you” (John 20:21). Recall also that I mentioned no matter how we re-frame the heart of Christianity in a swiftly changing world, the heart of Christianity remains the same. The heart is most important, and it is this: God is love. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life” (John 3:16). We proclaim Jesus of Nazareth: Emmanuel, God’s Son and Messiah. Born a Jew, Jesus taught as a Rabbi, healed like a miracle-worker doctor, spoke like a prophet, and loved all: the sinner, the outcast, his rivals, and even his murderers – forgiving them, as he so eloquently put it from the cross: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” Purposefully he laid his life down as a sin offering for the sake of redeeming the world and all who dwell therein. He died, was buried, and rose again for us that all of life might rise with him anew. That is an amazing love!

This week we delve a little more deeply into our calling as witnesses to this message. Our calling begins with our Baptism, whether as adults or infants. In today’s text from the Acts of the Apostles, Peter proclaims Christ crucified, dead, buried, and risen again. He preaches to the crowd in Jerusalem and 3000 are touched deeply in their hearts, asking Peter and the other disciples present, “Brothers, what should we do?” Peter responds, “Repent and be baptized” (v. 38).

Reflecting on this text, one commentator wrote,

“To belong to Christ through repentance and baptism is to receive a call. We are to participate in Christ’s mission, taking the promise of forgiveness in Jesus and new life through the Spirit to our neighbors and communities, our nations and the world.”[1]

Are we doing that? More specifically, is this congregation doing that? You personally? What does it look like for you to participate in Christ’s mission? Of course, there may be something keeping us from this all-important calling on our lives to participate in and with Christ….

Are there misunderstandings recent or ancient, spoken or unspoken among your family that need to be addressed? Do you have a dear friend or friends with whom you have had a falling out over something either internal or external to your relationship? How might it look for you and for this congregation to take a deeper step into the community, holding out the hand of friendship, fellowship, and service to others, even if they are of different ideologies, ethnicity or religious practices? How might you, with your very being, enact and extend God’s grace to those around you, regardless of what they may profess? Believe me, this is not easy task and I ask myself the same question.

These piercing questions may be challenging or at the least uncomfortable to consider. You may be thinking, “Scott, why bother? I am the way I am; s/he is the way s/he is and cannot change and neither can I.” It may be helpful for you to know I find myself in the same boat sometimes.

However, for me, and perhaps for you as well, today’s scriptures invite me to challenge that assumption and push myself outside my comfort zone just a bit. Peter tells us about a promise that seems to be a key indicator of whether the Christian message of love has sunk into the heart of who we are, guiding our decisions, our thoughts, our words, and our actions.

Both Jesus, before he ascended, and now Peter (here in verse 38) said, “you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

“Neither call nor promise is merely personal. When [Peter] says, “The promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away” (v. 39), he [is also calling] them [and by extension us] to bring that promise to others.”[2]

Let me suggest transformation is inevitable when and if relationship with God is being pursued; when we can ask ourselves, “What is the most loving, Godly response I can make in this situation?” When we can ask and answer that on a regular basis, Love has indeed come near and the Holy Spirit is with us. But that is not all.

There is much more to the heart of Christianity than this. Turning now to the Gospel of John, we return to the time of Jesus’ teaching during his corporeal life on earth.

“Throughout this Gospel, John accumulates Old Testament metaphors for God and ascribes them to the Incarnate One through the “I am” declarations. In John 10, Jesus fulfills the hopes of Israel for a good shepherd. Deep in the tradition, [very deep – one might even say at the heart of it,] is this iconic understanding that God will intimately shepherd the people. Whether through the shepherd king, David, or the promised Messiah, [a descendant of David] who would “gather the lambs in his arm,” and “gently lead those that are with young” (Isa. 40:11 KJV), God would provide protection and identity for God’s own.”[3]

“Jesus assures his followers, “Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture” (10:9). Unlike those who steal, kill, and destroy, this trustworthy shepherd offers abundant life. A contemporary theological understanding of abundant life might include a purposeful vocation that serves the common good, participation in a generative ecclesial community, delight in sustaining relationships, and a sense of security in Christ no matter what comes.”[4]

No matter what comes. These are just some examples of responses the faithful may take. And why? Because they are all based in one thing…the Love of God out poured through us. We, who have been loved, now extend love to others. May all glory be unto the One who lived, died, and rose again for us, even Him who is the Christ. Amen? May it be so.

[1] Hansen, Gary Neal. Feasting on the Word—Year A David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, General Editors. Copyright © 2010 Westminster John Knox Press; Louisville, Kentucky; All rights reserved. Used by permission. Accordance edition hyper-texted and formatted by OakTree Software, Inc. Version 2.0

[2] Ibid.

[3] Marshall, Molly T., Feasting on the Word…

[4] Ibid.

Question for Reflection

Acts 2:36-41 is a short but tough speech that never-the-less answers the heart-call of three thousand people yearning for a closer community of faith. What might you say to a group of your neighbors who do not participate in your faith community that would encourage them and invite them into deeper relationship with God?

Household Prayer: Morning

Lord Jesus, your rising from tomb heralds the dawning of life eternal as the dawning of this day holds the possibilities of life anew.

Open my eyes to the signs of your resurrection and confirm in my heart the power of your amazing love, that I may with confidence sing “Alleluia.” Amen.

Household Prayer: Evening

Loving God, you have upheld me with your love even when I have not been aware of your presence. As I rest from my labors let me sleep without fear of darkness or death and rise refreshed to begin a new day in humble service, through Jesus Christ. Amen.

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When Belief is Not Enough

Scripture: John 20:19-31
Let us pray:
Touch us and heal our wounds, O God, that we may believe. May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable to you, O Lord our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.

Last week I asked, “Do we recognize Jesus – the Resurrected One – among us?” There is a deeper implication in that question. The deeper implication presupposes a belief in Jesus, resurrected. Thomas had a little difficulty with that at first. He needed the proof of Christ’s wounds in a living, breathing Jesus solidly before him before he could believe. I trust most if not all of us here today believe, even though we have not seen, and for that Jesus calls us blessed. But I own that there is still the temptation to think, “Really? Died, buried, came back to life? Isn’t that kind of impossible?”
Then, there is this business of entering a fully closed up room; isn’t that a little far out, too – unless you are a ghost, of course, able to pass through that which is sold. But then how could a ghost’s wounds be physically there to touch?
Again, we in this later time have nothing but belief and a story handed down for over 2000 years to go on. However, what if we did internalize it deeply as an ongoing, ever-living, ever-moving, ever-changing faith, as I suggested last week? Wouldn’t a transformation be inevitable? No matter how we reframed the heart of Christianity, it is still the same heart. Jesus, Son of Man and Son of God, came among us as God Incarnate for a time to teach us, to bring us all to God, to lead us into a Life everlasting. He was crucified, died, and was buried. He rose again on the third day, turning his life, death and resurrection into a sin-offering for the whole world. Now we, with Christ, emerge to gain a new life in service to one another and the world, empowered by the Holy Spirit to do good works and to proclaim that God is with us still.
Not only that, but twice in today’s passage Jesus says “Peace be with you.” Do you suppose there is something to that? I wonder if it is more than just a calming of their fears at this very real Jesus returning to them from the dead. Recalling the passage from John 14, perhaps Jesus is emphasizing a message from the Last Supper: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” Only now, the meaning has changed.
This peace is from a risen Christ, who has himself undergone all the hatred and discord/non-peace the world has to throw around and yet stands among the disciples – alive again. That peace means something! It means no matter what happens to us or around us that may seem chaotic or repressive in our world, we have been given the courage to stand and live with Christ among us, filling ourselves with the peace that passes all understanding and extending that same peace in grace to those around us that need it. And that also captures the essence of today’s lesson. Jesus gives them his peace, then immediately sends them on into the world: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you” (v. 21). And what do they bring: The Good News of faith.

Song: “I Believe In You, Lord” text:

I believe in you, Lord.  I believe you are the Son of God.

I believe you died and rose again, I believe you paid for us all.

And I believe that you are here, now; standing in our midst!

Here with the power to heal now, and the grace to forgive.

 

Question for Reflection
According to the gospel, Christ’s wounds were not erased by the resurrection. In fact, he invites Thomas and the other disciples to touch his wounds to bring the disciples back to faith. How might we in the church use our wounds to help others come to faith?
Household Prayer: Morning
Holy One, you have made known to me the ways of life and have promised to fill me with the gladness of your presence. Keep me mindful of your guidance and your promise as I travel through this day, that my heart may be glad. Amen.
Household Prayer: Evening
Thank you, God, for giving me your counsel today. Tonight, as I sleep, may the dreams of my heart also serve to instruct me in your ways. In you I have a good heritage, and my heart, my soul, and my body rest in you. Amen.

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Is It True?!?

Scripture: John 20:1-18, Matthew 28:1-10

Let us pray:

Breathe on us, Breath of God, that we may live; may the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.

Martin Copenhaver wrote, “It can seem quite odd that people would flock to worship on Easter, of all days, a day on which we proclaim the very things that may be hardest to believe. However, it is clear from those who knew Jesus, from the apostles of the early church and from the authors of the Scriptures, that Easter is not the dramatic conclusion to the story for those who are able to follow it that far. Rather, Easter is the beginning.”[1]

Easter is the beginning. Not the beginning in a stable with angels singing to shepherds in the night sky, which is a beginning of sorts, but more, a beginning for those entering into what is a cosmic, eternal song of Life in and with Jesus, the World Maker, who was in the beginning with God, who was God, who came into the world and the world knew him not. Easter is the beginning of faith.  Thus, on this Easter morning, it is appropriate to ask:

Do you know him? Can any of us really know him? Do we recognize Jesus – the Resurrected One – God among us?

Make no mistake: on one hand throughout history Easter has been the occasion of the greatest doubt. Yet it has also been a source of the most profound faith. On one hand, it is true that realities about which we have no doubts and that are easily comprehensible are easier for us to grasp and accept. On the other hand, such realities may not be big enough to reveal God to us. So where does that leave us?

With a faith in something we cannot fully know and understand; a place along a journey of faith where we are almost provoked into doubting the truth of it all because of the audacity of claiming that someone could rise from the dead. But that is exactly what the women were asked to tell. Jesus told Mary, or the Marys depending on your source, to, “…go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord.’”

Is it true? What these first sermon-speakers said? Peter and the disciple whom Jesus loved ran to find out; we can only guess at the other disciples’ reactions. Would they have been the same as ours, whatever that may be? Reflect upon yourself for a moment:

Would you run in disbelief to see for yourself?  Would you be utterly shocked and stay put, stunned into immobility, waiting for others to report back to you whether it was true? Or would you  take the women at their word and begin rejoicing right away, grasping immediately the truth of the message of the Resurrected One – that he IS the Way, the Truth and the Life?

I would like to think two thousand years later we would still be struck with the same awesome reactions – whatever they may be – and the import of this reality, this Resurrected One, might hit us with the same immediacy as it hit the women and the other disciples. But I am suspicious that might be a bit too difficult for us. We’ve had years of hearing the same story over and over each springtime – springtime when it isn’t too hard to believe that life’s cycle does indeed go on after a long winter of sleep, of seeds resting in the earth, of reflective times with friends and family, and enough of a winter wonderland to last at least a little while.

How do we take this story we’ve heard before and turn it into a life-changing message of Love come to earth, Love so deep and self-sacrificing that it chose to die for the sake of all, rising again to bring us all up out of our own dying moments into new life? How do we appropriate such an audacious claim?

Perhaps one way might be to first deeply internalize the message behind the purpose of John’s presentation of the cosmic Christ; the meanings behind his actions as recorded by early pioneers of the Christian faith. Second, by re-examining the heart of Christianity and its journey up to this point in history and perhaps begin to re-frame it as an ever-living, ever-moving, ever-changing faith. Third, contextualizing God’s grace extended to us in this time and place, this moment in the history of our common life together – where, I might add, we find ourselves at a major crossroads of the spiritual journey of several faiths simultaneously along side changes that are happening to global civilization as a whole.

Many paths are converging – even as we speak of what we know from our stream of faithful witness we are joining many other tributaries that make up a great river of Spirit-infused life flowing across this land and every land upon the earth. The time is now to reach deeply – even drink deeply of the Well of the Water of Life, so that within you, within me, within anyone we meet on this journey, we might gaze deeply into the face of Christ, know him, and offer him the earthly divine hospitality of our lives and our very beings – and receive him into our hearts and souls.

Let us pray: “In the name of the Holy Formless One, In the name of the Son, who took Form, In the name of the Spirit between these Two, All things are made one. God for us, we call you Father, God alongside us, we call You Jesus, God within us, we call You Holy Spirit. But these are only names. You are the Eternal Mystery that enables and holds and enlivens all things – even us and even me. Every name falls short of Your Goodness and Your greatness. We can only see who You are in what is. In the beginning, now, and always. Amen.”[2]

[1] Copenhaver, Martin B. Feasting on the Word—Year A David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, General Editors. Copyright © 2010 Westminster John Knox Press; Louisville, Kentucky; All rights reserved. Used by permission. Accordance edition hyper-texted and formatted by OakTree Software, Inc. Version 2.0

[2] Rohr, Fr. Richard. The Divine Dance; The Trinity and Your Transformation. Whitaker House, 2016.

Questions for Reflection

When Mary Magdalene first saw the resurrected Jesus, she did not recognize him, even though she knew the tomb was empty. Have you ever experienced the presence of the risen Christ, even when you were not expecting him? Are there times you have been in the presence of the risen Christ but have not recognized him? How would you know?

Household Prayer: Morning

Jesus, victorious Lord, I exult in your resurrection. As I sing “alleluia” with my voice, let my life embody “alleluia” as a testimony to your love and a witness to your eternal life. Amen.

Household Prayer: Evening

Lord, the days of sadness are over, for you have risen from the dead.  As you conquered the grave, free your servant from fear of harm or death that I may rest in peace this night and in the morning rise to sing “alleluia.” Amen.

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As the Passion Plays Out

Author’s note: for Holy Week this year, I have taken a little liberty with the revised common lectionary readings.  For your Holy Week study and reflection, please read the Gospel of John chapters 12-19.  Take them at your pace, the reflection questions and prayers that follow are for your use, taken from Feasting on the Word Worship Companion; Liturgies for Year A, Volume 1; Kimberly Bracken Long, editor.  Thank you for reading; may your spiritual journey be renewed.  ~ stc

Questions for Reflection – Palm/Passion Sunday

As this week unfolds, spend some time each day pondering the mind
of Christ. What is the shape of his compassion? Describe the image of
such great love. Finally, what does it feel like, physically, to be so utterly cared for?

Household Prayer: Morning

I rise, O God, awakened by your Word, to live another day.  Lead me in your path.  Show me the steps to take toward greater faith.  Hold me in your care as I move through this Holy Week where the shadows deepen even in the daylight.  Hosanna! Save me now, dear God! Amen.

Household Prayer: Evening

I come to the darkness of night, O God, tired and ready for a sweet respite in your care.  Keep me safe from all harm, and bring me to the morning light with renewed strength.  In Jesus’ holy name, I pray. Amen.

Questions for Reflection – Maundy Thursday

The lectionary readings for Holy Thursday are full of sacramental themes and imagery: (1) the institution of the Passover meal in Exodus 12:1–14, just before the crossing of the sea; (2) the gift of the Lord’s Supper described in 1 Corinthians 11:23–26; and (3) the imagery of bathing and washing in John 13:1–17, 31b–35. Reflect on the understanding and practice of the sacraments in your congregation. How are these biblical themes and images reflected? Think about the relationship between the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper in your congregation. How is that relationship communicated, negotiated, or lived out?

Household Prayer: Morning

O Lord, as I live for you this day, keep me faithful.  Let my living and my dying be precious in your sight, so that I may live for you forever; I ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Household Prayer: Evening

O Lord, as I rest in you this night, keep me faithful.  Let my dying and my living be precious in your sight so that I may rest in you forever; I ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Questions for Reflection – Good Friday

The cross is the central symbol of our faith. Why do you think that is?  Has its meaning changed for you over time? Jesus was willing to die for his cause, but not kill for it. How does that inform you on your Christian journey?

Household Prayer: Morning

God, on this most challenging day, be with me.  Open my eyes to see moments of pain and suffering around me into which I may carry your loving presence. Amen.

Household Prayer: Evening

Holy One, into your hands I commit this day that I have lived.  Salvage what needs saving in me.  Strengthen what is good in me.  And in all things bind me closer to you through Jesus Christ. Amen.

 

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