Them, too? Thoughts on what we are to think about those whom God chooses.

Acts 11: 1-18

11Now the apostles and the believers* who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also accepted the word of God. 2So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers* criticized him, 3saying, ‘Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?’ 4Then Peter began to explain it to them, step by step, saying, 5‘I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision. There was something like a large sheet coming down from heaven, being lowered by its four corners; and it came close to me. 6As I looked at it closely I saw four-footed animals, beasts of prey, reptiles, and birds of the air. 7I also heard a voice saying to me, “Get up, Peter; kill and eat.” 8But I replied, “By no means, Lord; for nothing profane or unclean has ever entered my mouth.” 9But a second time the voice answered from heaven, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” 10This happened three times; then everything was pulled up again to heaven. 11At that very moment three men, sent to me [by Cornelius] from Caesarea, arrived at the house where we were. 12The Spirit told me to go with them and not to make a distinction between them and us.* These six brothers also accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house. 13He told us how he had seen the angel standing in his house and saying, “Send to Joppa and bring Simon, who is called Peter; 14he will give you a message by which you and your entire household will be saved.” 15And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as it had upon us at the beginning. 16And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said, “John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” 17If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?’ 18When they heard this, they were silenced. And they praised God, saying, ‘Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.’

Last Saturday evening, Karen and I went to see a play at the CLO Cabaret called “First Date”.

It was a musical farce about two people on a blind date.

As Aaron and Casey try to get to know each other it comes out that Casey, unlike Aaron, is not Jewish.

The scene freezes.

Aaron’s mind wanders in a production number where he is musically instructed by Jewish relatives and friends that “This girl is not for you!”

It was pretty funny.

But it is also poignant.

Humanity is incredibly tribal.

Racial.

Ethnic.

Religious.

Cultural.

Each has unique traditions and expectations of its members.

To be in the tribe, you must follow these traditions and meet these expectations.

If you don’t you aren’t welcome.

Maybe even looked down upon.

Or worse.

Israel was no different.

In the Old Testament, the Israelites were instructed to keep themselves pure.

No living or intermarrying with non-Jews.

Lots of rules to live by in order to be different from those outside the tribe.

No Caseys allowed!

That was the way it was when Jesus came.

But then gave his followers the Great Commission.

Go and make disciples of all nations.

All nations.

So what exactly did that mean?

We find out in Acts.

And today we get the big lesson.

The longest story in Acts.

Peter’s baptism of Cornelius.

You see, before Peter met Cornelius, there was a dispute among the leaders.

The dispute asked this simple question:

Must someone be a Jew first to be a follower of Jesus?

Peter’s position on the matter before encountering Cornelius had been clear.

Yes!

Only Jews were invited.

Non-Jews were not.

You see, Peter had not been impartial when it came to the Gentiles.

He knew their practices were profane and unclean.

He had been taught that from his youth and it was a part of who he was.

Yet Peter is told, by God, to do that which ran counter to everything he believed.

Values that he firmly held to be true—divinely established, absolute and eternal.

Can you imagine what Peter felt like when he was told to go to Cornelius?

In today’s jargon we might say he was “creeped out”.

And then he baptizes Cornelius.

And Cornelius is not just any gentile.

He is a Roman Soldier from Italy.

He is a foreign enemy conqueror.

Yet Peter goes is to him by the Holy Spirit, preaches the Gospel, and then baptizes Cornelius and every one in his household.

Gentiles, all of them.

Unclean, every one of them.

It would be hard to overstate the impact of Peter’s baptism of Cornelius on the proclamation of the Gospel.

It resulted in the transformation of a small Jewish Jerusalem sect into the Christian faith community we see today.

Peter followed the leading of the Holy Spirit and did something profoundly against everything he had been taught as a Jew.

He baptized a gentile.

And when Peter baptizes them, the Holy Spirit lights up their heads with fire.

Just like the Apostles at Pentecost.

Peter didn’t see that coming!

But then Peter remembers something Jesus said.

16And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said, “John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” 17If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?’

And he finally gets it.

God wants all humanity to come to Him, not just the Jews.

And Peter is changed!

At his baptism Cornelius had been touched by the Holy Spirit.

The meaning was clear.

God shows no partiality.

There were no longer any differences between people who wanted to be disciples of Jesus.

Everyone is welcome at the table of the Lord.

And now Peter is back in Jerusalem.

And the leaders of the faith have some questions for him.

Peter is scolded by the Jerusalem leaders.

You did what?

You ate with the unclean?

You baptized the unclean?

What were you thinking?

Then Peter told the story.

The power of the story silenced Peter’s critics.

They stopped scolding Peter and praised God.

They praised God because God turned out to be more merciful than they could ever have imagined.

Even gentiles were welcome.

Them, too!

Jesus was not just for the Jews.

To become a follower of Jesus, no one is required to become something they aren’t first.

They just have to follow Jesus.

Into the immeasurable and limitless love of God.

And we do that by proclaiming God’s limitless and immeasurable love to all comers.

And we will be changed.

It was Peter’s willingness to tell Cornelius about Jesus that changed not only Cornelius, but … Peter!

In giving the blessing of the Gospel, Peter was blessed.

I have seen this work.

I met someone like Peter in Malaysia.

In Kota Kinabalu there is a missionary school for stateless children.

These are kids who were born in Malaysia to foreign workers.

They are Iban or Philippine mostly.

They are not considered Malaysian because their parents are not Malaysian.

They are not welcome back to their parent’s county because they have no “papers”.

They are not permitted to go to Malaysian government schools because they are not Malaysian and usually end up on the streets, begging or doing unspeakable things.

But the Basel Christian Church of Malaysia has opened a school just for them.

Many of the teachers are Christians from China.

One is Tanley.

Tanley is a really big guy with a really deep voice.

He reminded me of Andre the Giant in the movie “The Princess Bride”.

Tanley told us his story.

He came to Kota Kinabalu at the invitation of a child hood friend named Tracy who was teaching these children there.

He confessed that the Chinese are quite prejudiced.

They believe they are special.

They inhabit what they call the middle kingdom.

Not quite heaven, but above the rest of us.

He knows it’s wrong, but he has been carefully taught this, and despite that he is a follower of Jesus, he sometimes can’t help feeling that way.

And he encountered his prejudice immediately at the Basel school.

Tanley went to teach his first class.

He hated it.

The children were black.

He was white.

He did not like the way they looked.

He did not like the way the smelled.

He did not like the way they talked.

He did not like the way they acted.

He was ready to quit at the end of his first day.

But Tracy convinced him to stay another day.

The next day, the kids were so glad to see Tanley again that they all ran to him and hugged him.

He liked the hugs.

He went back another day.

That day, in teaching a Bible verse to the kids, he did a little dance.

Andre the Giant dancing.

The kids went wild.

They loved it and danced with him.

Climbed all over him

And loved him.

And he found out something that to him was extraordinary.

Tanley loved them back.

Tanley thought he came to teach the children about Jesus.

But the children taught him.

The children he was supposed to teach about love taught him to love.

He told us that he now believes God sent him there to learn how to love from these children.

Just like Peter.

Peter went to teach Cornelius about Jesus, but then learned what Jesus had tried to teach.

God loves every single one of us enough die so that we might live.

And we are to do that, too.

And when we do, we will be enlightened!

For Peter, that meant non-Jews were included.

For us it includes the Caseys that we think are not for us.

And for Jesus, we were all Caseys.

Folks not for the kingdom, until he opened the doors and let us in.

If there is to be a distinction made, that distinction is for God to make, not us.

And God, according to Peter, makes no distinction.

And Paul in Romans 10:9-13 confirms Peter’s conclusion:

If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For man believes with his heart and so is justified, and he confesses with his lips and so is saved. The scripture says, “No one who believes in him will be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and bestows his riches upon all who call upon him. For, “every one who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.”

That is the Jesus Way!

God is impartial.

And that’s a good thing, because otherwise, there would be precious few disciples of Jesus.

So when you look over those that disagree with you, that do not live as you live, that conduct themselves in ways you find hard to accept, remember that they are as welcome here as you are!

They are loved no more or less by God than you are.

And even if it is not the way we would like it to be:

“Who are we that we question God?”

The Kingdom is open.

Even to Roman soldiers.

Even to us.

Because who God has made clean, through the blood of Jesus Christ, let no one call profane.



Them Too? Rev. Jeff Tindall



Make it Right Amos 9:11-15 Matt Fricker

Sermon on Amos 9:11-15

“Jesus makes it right”

I don’t know about you but I love home improvement shows.  I watch them more than I would like to admit and I watch a lot of the different varieties of these shows.  My absolute favorite of all of these shows is “Holmes on Homes”.  The show features Mike Holmes who is a general contractor.  The show focuses on home owners who have hired contractors who have done a really bad job.  They have not done what they said they would and often what they have done is actually harmful to the house.  Electrical wires hang loose with the possibility of causing a fire.  There are often holes in the roof and rain and snow come freely into the house (the show takes place in Canada).

Mike and his team fix what is wrong with the house and then add a lot of other things that the original home owners didn’t even ask for like insulated windows, new floors, and even decks!  He does it all under his signature statement “make it right”.  He sees house in terrible shape because someone did not do what they were supposed to do and he wants to make it right.  I find myself way too invested in the show.  I am angry at the contractor for deceiving and destroying, I feel bad for the home owners who are suffering because of the first contractor, and I am cheering for the new carpenter who is going to “make it right” and restore the house and make it way better!

Restoration is a common theme throughout the Bible and it certainly affects us today as much as every other part of history.  Restoration is something that we have needed since Adam and Eve took a bite of an apple.  What was once a perfect house had become something in desperate need fixing.  Of course Adam and Eve where not the only ones to destroy what God had given us.  Through time we have all contributed to the destruction of God’s creation.

The prophet Amos spoke directly to the people in Israel about restoration.  At the time of Amos Israel had split into 2 kingdoms the north and the south.  The northern kingdom had left God and taken on Idol worship.  Some scholars believe that they took on idol worship to keep citizens from going to the temple in Jerusalem which was in the southern kingdom.  By separating themselves from God they had complete autonomy for both their sinful acts and the southern kingdom.

Amos is sent by God from the southern kingdom to pronounce destruction for the sins of the people.  One of the biggest sins being how the rich treated the poor.  The people in power found they could take advantage of the poor.  Justice and position could be bought by those who had money.  Jeroboam II the ruler of the north had expanded the borders in battle and they had a time of peace and prosperity.  The rich people in the northern kingdom were greedy and abused the poor to become richer.  They worshipped idols or made arbitrary sacrifices to make up for their wicked behavior.

The reality is when the blessings flow instead of responding with a thankful heart often times it becomes our expectation, and we take things for granted.  We see this throughout the Bible, we see it in Amos, and we see it in our own lives.  Things start going really well and we stop seeing the need for God, God becomes like a cousin that lives out of state.  We see him sometimes on holidays and its always really nice to catch up with him, but he is certainly not the focus of our lives.  We lose our closeness with God, an intimacy that has us speak to God daily and transforms our lives.

As you can imagine Amos’s proclamation of destruction was not received well by the wealthy in the northern kingdom.  I wonder what kept the people from the northern kingdom from repenting.  What kept them from responding like the people of Nineveh in the face of destruction?  Why didn’t they see what they were doing wrong and call out to God begging for mercy?  I might have to wait till heaven until I get the answer to that question, but perhaps the better question is how we respond when God sends someone into our life to convict us.

We have all been there before, we have a part of our life that is sinful but we just ignore it because we like it.  It might be gossiping, drinking too much, something sexual, or any other number of sins.  Well a close Christian friend sees how we are acting and lovingly lets us know that we need to repent from our actions and of course we are immediately grateful, say thank you and stop all sinning.  Maybe… but then again we may respond differently.  We might deny, call out their sins immediately, or even quote scripture to protect ourselves (Matthew 7:5).  First take the plank out of your own eye, and then you can see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.  Obviously my friend shouldn’t be pointing at one my sins unless they are sinless right?

What we need to realize is that all of our sinfulness causes damage.  It affects us and it affects others.  It destroys us from what God created us to be.  Unfortunately, we get complacent in our sinfulness.  Complacency can be defined as a feeling of contentment or self-satisfaction, especially when coupled with an unawareness of danger, trouble, or controversyWe don’t always see it as destructive, rather we just accept it as who we are.  The truth is sin in your life is not part of your identity.  I truly believe that complacency leads to luke warm Christianity and I believe that is the biggest threat to us as Christians, much more so than another religion or atheism.  Luke warm Christianity allows us to focus on ourselves and still have a little God on the side.  It allows us to separate our views on politics, war, poverty, racism, and everything else from our Christian views.  Mostly luke warm Christianity leads to idol worship.  It leads to us putting things in place of God and loving ourselves.

In many ways we are very similar to the northern kingdom in Amos.  Often times our worship becomes mechanical and not authentic.  Our prayer life becomes stagnant and stale, even worse nonexistent.  We live in a world where 3.1 million children die every year because poor nutrition.  When Amos talks about the richest taking advantage of the poor we often shake our head in disapproval.  However, we live in a world where 80% of the world lives on less than 10 dollars a day.   Ten dollars is what they spend each day to live.  When we spend only 10 dollars on something we often consider it cheap or junkie whether it be a jacket, McDonalds “value” meal, or a matinee movie ticket.

Certainly our world is a place with pain and suffering.  Millions upon millions of people die from starvation and the lack of proper health care.  We were given something that was perfect and we broke it.  Praise God for the amazing restoration God has for us!  One definition for restoration in the dictionary is “the act of returning something that was taken or stolen”.  This is what we have done to creation, this is what we have done to ourselves.  God made this incredible world with beautiful people and we stole it and beat it up.  We sin so much that we make excuses for our sins or just completely accept them as if it is okay.  We have stolen what was God’s and damaged it completely.  The truth is we are not capable of giving it back, we are not capable of restoration.

As God promised restoration for the Israelites this promise still rings true for us.  This is our hope; it is our future.  We see the same passage in Amos 12 used in the book of Acts.  “And with this the words of the prophets agree, just as it is written, “‘After this I will return, and I will rebuild the tent of David that has fallen; I will rebuild its ruins, and I will restore it, that the remnant of mankind may seek the Lord, and all the Gentiles who are called by my name, says the Lord, who makes these things” (Acts 15:15-17).  This passage is only slightly different from the passage in Amos, actually 1 word is different.  This time it says the remnant of mankind will be restored, not the remnant of Edom.

This is incredible news!  We are included in the plans to transform creation.  We get the same promises as God’s people got thousands of years ago, and we are just as unworthy of this promise as they were.  However, God fixes all the damage we have done as a people.  All of our sins and the damage they cause cannot withstand the awesome power of Jesus Christ and the amazing love Christ has for creation.

Restoration has always been the plan and we are part of the plan.  The restoration was not just for the Jewish people at the time of Amos, but for all of us.  However, we cannot do the restoration ourselves we are not capable.  We stand helpless in a house we helped destroy.  The good news is the promise God has given us.  This promise is made possible through Jesus Christ.  Jesus will return and restore creation.  He will take what is broken and destroyed and return it to its original glory.  His blessings will overwhelm us in ways we cannot comprehend.  Jesus will make it right!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



Mid-Week Meditations: The language of God.

As I continue to listen to Ted Talks and the Ted Radio Hour on NPR, I continue to think theologically. Recently there was a Ted Radio Hour on the topic of mathematics. It was called “Solve for X”. Somewhere in the episode (I cannot exactly find it now) the comment was made that Galileo said:

“Mathematics is the language with which God has written the universe.”

Of course that caught my attention. I was a biology major at Allegheny College back in the 70s. I was a science geek who actually co-authored a paper that discussed what dragon fly larvae eat and whether you could predict where they might live in a fresh water stream. OK, kind of geeky. What might be geekier is that I like calculus! But what I thought was really cool (and still do) is quantum physics.

But then I read a book by Stephen Hawking called “A Brief History of Time”. I had two reactions. First was wonder. This was math on steroids. Math bigger and more complex than my simple mind could ever really understand. Cool. But then there was this annoying repeated practice of these mathematicians. They would do these equations and make predictions on how things would work. Most times they were right. But sometimes … well … not. This seemed, to my mind, to be where the hubris reared its ugly head. Rather than say that the math was wrong, or that the math could not explain what reality was, it seemed that these math folks would simply make something up that made the math work! Kind of like saying (an obviously oversimplification) that 1 + 1 = 2. But because we are starting to see that it sometimes doesn’t, we will say that there is an alternative universe – another dimension – (of which there are now 11) where 1 + 1 = 3. That makes it right and predictable. That troubled me.

But I digress.

Still, whenever I read about or hear folks talk about math, I tend to tune in. So I tuned in to the Ted show based on the Galileo quote. Then, during the program, I listened to Guy Raz (the host) interview a mathematician named Terry Moore. And here is part of the interview:

RAZ: Do you like algebra?

MOORE: Yes, I love algebra.

RAZ: Why?

MOORE: Because it’s beautiful.

RAZ: How, how? I keep hearing that. I hear mathematicians say it’s beautiful. And then, you, like, see these movies about these crazy geniuses and they’re scrawling on the chalkboards. It is kind of nice, actually. But I still don’t get it.

MOORE: I think that’s a matter of temperament. There’re some people to whom a mathematical proof appears as a thing of beauty. It speaks of a higher truth. It speaks of a harmony to knowledge. The fact that it works at all – let alone that we can understand it – speaks to a larger category of existence and knowledge.

That last line I love. “The fact that it works at all – let alone that we can understand it – speaks to a larger category of existence and knowledge.”

Then I heard Roz interview Kevin Slavin, another mathematician. They were discussing algorithms and how math can shape our lives. But Slavin isn’t sure we can ever really predict everything with math. There are limits. Then this:

 RAZ: So there’s a limit to all this?

SLAVIN: Yeah, and it may be – so there is a limit, but I think it’s also – it’s not just that there’s a humility in being reminded that there’s a limit, there’s also a value in realizing that there’s a limit. I think that it’s a reasonable dream to have that we can take a fundamentally mathematic model to everything in the world and then just solve all the problems in it, but it’s also fundamentally impossible. And I think that there’s a great value in recognizing the idea of striving toward something impossible but also the impossibility of the task.

And I thought of the Galileo quote. If Math is the language of God, of course we will never understand it all. Which is why we can’t fix everything. Because the math does not always work the way we think it does. We mistranslate the language of God! But if we could understand it completely, we would be able to see the ultimate solution to creation’s ills. God! The Apostle Paul knew this. He said it in the first chapter of his letter to the Colossians:

15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; 16for in* him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. 17He himself is before all things, and in* him all things hold together. 18He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. 19For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.

Math is good.

 

 



Why Church? What’s the point? Plenty actually!

There is a public radio show called On Being that explores what it means to be human and how we as humans want to live. There is also a podcast, which, of course makes it easy to follow. I fear I am addicted to podcasts generally, but this one is particularly spiritual and well done. Some time back Krista Tippett, the creator of the show, interviewed Nadia Bolz-Weber, a Lutheran pastor from Denver who has a wide following. I listened to the interview and happily found a transcript on the On Being website. I have already used part of the transcript in a recent sermon, but this part of the interview came to mind at a new members’ class we had at JMPC. It speaks to why we should be part of a church. Here is what Bolz-Weber said.

Ms. Tippett: So a sermon of yours I wish I could have heard is “Loving Our Enemies Even If We Don’t Mean It.”

[laughter]

Ms. Bolz-Weber: Yeah, I think meaning it is overrated. I mean, I think …

Ms. Tippett: I think this is profound. I really do.

Ms. Bolz-Weber: No, I’m serious. Like, my gosh, if God’s going to wait till I mean it, that’s going to be a while, right? So I think that the key is praying for them, not like feeling warm feelings towards people who’ve hurt you or towards your enemy. I don’t think it’s about feelings. I think it’s about an action. And I think that action is commending them to the one who perfected the love of the enemy. That’s prayer, right?

And that is what we — I think that’s what the sort of love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you means. I will actually ask other people to do it for me sometimes, like it doesn’t always have to be us. And so it’s like this thing like I don’t think faith is given in sufficient quantity to individuals necessarily. I think it’s given in sufficient quantity to communities. The same with that whole thing like God will not give you more than you can bear. I don’t think God will give you more than a community can bear. And we’ve individualized this thing of faith so much …

[applause]

Ms. Bolz-Weber: In a way that makes it inaccessible to people because they’re like, well, I don’t know if I believe this. Like the Apostles’ Creed. I can’t say the Creed because I don’t know if I believe every line in the Creed. I’m like, oh, my God. Nobody believes every line of the Creed. But in a room of people for each line of the Creed, somebody believes it. So we’re covered, right?

[laughter]

Ms. Bolz-Weber: So this is Western individualism run amok in religion. It’s not your creed. It’s the church’s creed and I think we’ve really lost track of that in this like personal me and Jesus, how I feel, what my piety is, my personal prayer life, all of that stuff, and we’ve lost the beauty of — this thing is really about community. It always has been the body of Christ.

Tippitt is right. This is profound. What Bolz-Weber is saying, in my view, is that the church covers the individuals in it for each of our failures and inabilities to do and believe what Jesus calls us to do and believe. She uses the Apostles’ Creed as an example. It does not matter that we have trouble believing some of it, because every part of it is believed by someone in the church, so we are covered. Bolz-Weber also uses Jesus’ admonition that we forgive those who harm us and love our enemies. She says this is often impossible for an individual, but we can recruit allies in our church who can pray for our enemies and persecutors which is better than any hypocritical statement that you forgive someone you don’t yet.

And I would add another illustration of why the church covers us as well. In Matthew 25:31-45 Jesus teaches us that we are to take care of each other and gives us a list of examples of how we can do it. If we do, we are welcomed into the Kingdom. But who can do all those things? There are people in need everywhere in the world and while I want to help, I feel overwhelmed and ineffectual. But in the church community there is a greater opportunity to help more people. While we can’t do much ourselves, as a body we can do much more. And as part of a denomination, we can do even more. And as part of the global Christian community, we can do more that we can imagine. And so we as a community cover our individual failures and insufficiencies and so answer Jesus’ call.

That is why we become members of a church. It is a place where we do important things for God and for the world.



Mid-Week Meditations: Random thoughts on Friedman’s “A Failure of Nerve”.

Mid-Week Meditations: Random thoughts  on Friedman’s “A Failure of Nerve”.

I am reading a book by Edwin Friedman who was an ordained Jewish Rabbi, family therapist, and leadership consultant. The book is called “A Failure of Nerve; Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix”. It is a book on leadership skills that incorporates family systems theory. Now I know that this description of the book is one that makes many cringe and wonder why anyone would read it. I am reading it because it was recommended to me at a recent seminar I attended on church stewardship, which has a good bit to do with church leadership. What surprised me when I got the book and started to read it is that I really like it. I find myself reading great chunks of it at a time (when I have time). But what is really surprising is that it excites me. It is frankly uplifting. One of the reasons I find it uplifting is that it challenges leaders to be adventurous! They need to be adventurous so that the community each leads can get out of gridlock and move forward.

Friedman describes the imaginatively gridlocked community as having three characteristics.

It believes that it can move forward simply by trying harder. He calls this life on the treadmill. Running faster, but going nowhere. Friedman says get off the treadmill and adventure out into new territory.

It believes that research will disclose new answers to the same old questions. Friedman points out that frequently we are asking all the wrong questions. We want to fix a problem, but don’t know what caused the problem. He suggests that we ask different questions.

It believes that there is always a right and wrong approach. All or nothing. Black/white. He proposes that there are no such things. We live in the grey area. We need to look at all possibilities and reject none.

Friedman then points out that the best leaders should have these characteristics:

They are unconcerned about making mistakes because they understand that mistakes rarely if ever have lasting or irreparable consequences.

They value chance and serendipity and accept that often the unforeseen can lead to a good result.

They overcome the mythology that says something can’t be done because they understand the idea that sometimes we need to think outside our box.

Friedman uses the Renaissance explorers as examples of this kind of leadership. While I think I might have chosen different and perhaps more likable examples, Friedman points out that each one of these great explorers because they were willing to be mistaken, they welcomed chance and refused to be bound by those that said “it can’t be done”.

Perhaps a better illustration might be Jesus.

So what does all this have to do with Jesus?

At the time Jesus arrived on the scene, humanity had the view that in order to be reconciled to God, we all had to try harder, seek new answers to the same old questions, and set up black and white rules. The whole world was in an imaginative gridlock as to its relationship with God.

Jesus was the kind of leader who sought to change that. He was unconcerned about making mistakes because he could fix them at will. He was willing to take events and people as they came his way and used them in teaching his followers. He overcame the mythology that only by following the rules dictated by the religious authorities could one be reconciled to God.

In Friedman’s vernacular, Jesus was well differentiated. But Friedman would also say that the crucifixion of this well differentiated leader was predictable. Leaders who follow Jesus’ (and Friedman’s), and do it well, are often subject to sabotage from within the group. These, according to Friedman, are the anxious ones who prefer the status quo to any sort of risk. They like the devil they know. They will, and do, seek to keep things just as they are.

Jesus knew all this and so needed little planning to carry out his mission. But on the way to the cross, Jesus did lead. And he did teach us how to live in the Kingdom of God.

So what do we do with this?

We follow Jesus’ example and lead in the way he did. Don’t worry about mistakes. They are inevitable. Don’t fear the unexpected. Use it to reach the goals. Don’t believe the myths that limit us. Imagine a new way.

When we do that we will be living the Jesus way.

Let the adventure begin.

Pastor Jeff

 



This Guy?: Thoughts on worthiness and acceptance.

We are in the season we call Eastertide.

The season where we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus.

We are told of many resurrection appearances of Jesus to many different people.

But the last one was Paul.

And it is his experience of meeting the risen Lord that we read today.

We call it “Paul’s Damascus Road Experience”.

But it is also about a fellow by the name of Ananias.

A disciple of Jesus living in Damascus.

And an unlikely association that changed the world.

But let’s first take a look at a bit of history leading up to the Damascus Road.

We meet Paul at the stoning of Stephen.

Stephen was among the first deacons and was stoned because he was preaching the Gospel in Jerusalem.

Paul, whose name was then Saul, watched.

He guarded the coats of those who carried out Stephen’s death sentence.

He approved.

Paul was apparently impressed and began a pogrom against the disciples of Jesus and drove most of them out of Jerusalem.

Those that remained were at risk of being dragged out of their homes and imprisoned.

Those that fled went north to Samaria.

And to Damascus.

And while it seems this was a sufficient solution for the Jerusalem hierarchy, it was not enough for Paul/Saul.

He wanted to go after them and haul as many as he could back to Jerusalem for trial and punishment under the law.

He was on a personal mission to stamp out this blasphemous Jewish sect.

And so here he was on the Road to Damascus.

Where he meets the risen Jesus.

And then Ananias.

Let’s hear the story.

Acts 9: 1-20

9Meanwhile Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest 2and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. 3Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’ 5He asked, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ The reply came, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. 6But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.’ 7The men who were travelling with him stood speechless because they heard the voice but saw no one. 8Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; so they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. 9For three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.

10 Now there was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, ‘Ananias.’ He answered, ‘Here I am, Lord.’ 11The Lord said to him, ‘Get up and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul. At this moment he is praying, 12and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.’ 13But Ananias answered, ‘Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints in Jerusalem; 14and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who invoke your name.’ 15But the Lord said to him, ‘Go, for he is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel; 16I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.’ 17So Ananias went and entered the house. He laid his hands on Saul and said, ‘Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.’ 18And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and his sight was restored. Then he got up and was baptized, 19and after taking some food, he regained his strength.

For several days he was with the disciples in Damascus, 20and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, ‘He is the Son of God.’

People refer to this as the story of Paul’s conversion.

Well if we recognize that conversion is transformation, it sure was.

Paul was a Pharisee.

Until a moment ago, he thought the “Way” was blasphemy.

Followers were worthy of death.

Then he had an experience with the risen Jesus.

Now what?

Paul became convinced that Jesus was alive, resurrected, and that Jesus claims were true.

He gets one order.

Go to Damascus and wait for further orders.

And, he’s blind.

He is led into Damascus and then stuck in this house waiting for … what?

He does not know.

I am pretty sure he a bit nervous.

I think he might have felt like the tables had been turned.

He was there to bind the disciples.

And now he is now bound by then.

He doesn’t even eat or drink.

Now the scene changes.

We meet Ananias.

A disciple of Jesus.

You know, one of the ones Paul was out to get.

Jesus comes to him in a vision and says go and lay hands on Paul so he can see again.

Then welcome him into the community.

Ananias responds like all of us would.

“This guy?”

“Lord, I have heard of this guy. We want no part of him.”

Jesus reply?

“Get going! I have picked Paul to be my representative to the gentiles.”

“Go to him, heal him and welcome him.”

So, with significant reservations, Ananias does.

He lays his hands on “Brother Saul”.

Kind of like getting received into the church.

Paul’s blindness is cured.

Whether Ananias likes it or not, Paul is now a follower of the Way.

Then Paul starts telling everyone in Damascus that Jesus is God’s son.

What has happened here?

The kind of thing that has been happening in churches for 2000 years.

Someone not particularly appealing begrudgingly comes to faith and now the church and the convert have to come to terms with it.

Ananias has to come to terms with Paul’s call.

Jesus calls Paul to a particular ministry.

The proclamation of the Gospel to the gentiles.

A call to the only mission Paul can carry out.

A mission that would take Paul out of Judea and Syria.

Where he was trusted by neither the Jews who thought him a traitor, not the Christians who he had persecuted.

So if Paul was going to preach the Gospel, he had only one place to go.

Out there.

To the folks who were out there.

Neither Ananias nor Paul are particularly thrilled.

But it worked.

Which I think is part of the message here.

We have to trust that God knows what God is doing.

If people are becoming disciples, God is in it.

And so what does that have to do with us?

Well, there are two things.

First, we need to be careful about our reservations on the worthiness of folks who are called by God to be part of his community.

Remember they might have reservations about us!

Ananias looked at someone who was not like him and thought him unworthy of discipleship.

And then there is Paul’s side.

Paul wanted nothing to do with the “Way”.

Paul wanted nothing to do with the gentiles.

He was a good Jew.

Now he was called to become a blasphemer sent to blaspheme to the unclean!

I can feel Paul’s revulsion.

But then those perspectives changed.

Luke tells us about it.

Ananias sees truly good fruit coming from Paul.

I wonder if Ananias, when Luke talked to him, might have puffed out his chest and said:

“You know I am the one who laid hands on him. God picked me to do that.”

Paul might have told Luke about his confusion and revulsion and fear.

When Paul was later talking to Luke, he might have said:

And then Ananias comes in, lay’s his hands on me, calls me brother, and opens my eyes.

And then I learned what it means to be saved by grace.

There is plenty of conversion going on here.

Transformation on both sides.

When I got to this point this week, I started to see something that underlies this story.

It is about acceptance.

Acceptance of people called into the Kingdom of God.

That is what Ananias does.

That is what Paul does.

And it is what we are called to do.

We are called to trust God and accept that there are lots of disciples out there who aren’t all that appealing to us.

And I thought of a woman named Nadia Bolz-Weber.

She is a Lutheran Pastor in Denver at a church she planted called the House of All Sinners and Saints.

Check her out on line when you have a chance.

Got a smart phone?

Check her out right now.

She is 6 feet 1 inch tall.

She has spiky hair.

She is covered with tattoos.

She was raised in a very conservative Lutheran church.

But she became an addict.

Bolz-Weber was a decidedly non-Christian a stand-up comic.

Then she was called by God to preach to the people she calls the “underside”.

Addicts.

Prostitutes.

Homeless street people.

Felons.

Those on the fringe of society.

The people she had been living with for 10 years “out there”.

Sound familiar?

That is what Jesus did.

Folks who would never feel welcome in most Christian communities.

Like her, they were way too different.

Not particularly appealing.

I suspect that Rev. Bolz-Weber would have had a hard time finding a main stream congregation to pastor.

And I suspect she wanted no part of that anyway.

Maybe she felt a bit like Paul trying to fit into the church of Ananias.

We really don’t belong together.

Uncomfortable and awkward.

Best to keep our distance.

But I heard her tell an interesting story.

He congregation was about 44 people when she was asked to preach at an annual Easter sunrise service in Denver attended by about 10,000 people.

She was a hit for what she says were all the wrong reasons.

Mainly her appearance.

But also for her rough language.

But she got a lot of press and at the next Sunday service, they had 88 people.

Double.

She described her “problem”.

And we were excited because we were really struggling to grow, but what happened was it was like the wrong kind of people. I mean, it was the wrong kind of different for us, right? Like some churches might freak out if the drag queens show up, but these were like bankers wearing Dockers, right?

… I just thought you’re ruining our thing …; you are like messing it up.  …

And I turned to this woman …  and I was like, “We got to get the [heck] out of this neighborhood because it’s attracting the wrong element.”

… I called one of my friends who has a similar type of church … and I was like, “Dude, have you ever had normal people take over your church?”

… [H]e goes, “Yeah, you guys are really good at welcoming the stranger when its a young transgender kid, but sometimes the stranger looks like your mom and dad.”

That is pretty interesting.

It never occurred to her that she was acting like the folks who wanted nothing to do with her folks.

Until they all got together and talked about it.

Now good things continue at the House of All Sinners and Saints.

Because they recognize that all sinners and saints don’t necessarily appeal to each other.

And this reminds me of our story today applies to all of us.

Us when we look askance at those unappealing folks who claim to be disciples.

And them when they look at us the same way.

This story teaches us that we must accept that God uses folks we might not appreciate.

Perhaps even distrust or dislike.

The “unclean” seeker.

The underside.

The upscale.

Those we like.

Those we don’t.

Because God says so.

God has a plan we are not privy to.

Just like Ananias and Paul who could not have predicted the impact their meeting was going to have on the world.

And this is not about accepting such folks into particular churches, though we should, because that is not what was happening in Damascus.

Paul did not join a church.

He joined a movement.

Ananias did not welcome a new member.

He encouraged one called by Jesus.

And then, together, as new people, they proclaimed that Jesus is God’s son and preached the Gospel to a world full of all kinds of people.

It worked then.

It will work now.



A Community of Faith: Thoughts on the why , how and what of discipleship

A Community of Faith

Acts 2: 14; 22-24; 37-47

14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them: ‘Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say.

22 ‘You that are Israelites, listen to what I have to say: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know— 23this man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law. 24But God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power.

37 Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what should we do?’ 38Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.’ 40And he testified with many other arguments and exhorted them, saying, ‘Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.’ 41So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added. 42They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

43 Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. 44All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, 47praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.

During the course of our lives, we are inclined to become members of certain groups.

Organizations.

Communities.

Causes.

Each has responsibilities, expectations and purposes.

And there are degrees of commitment with such groups.

My Dad made a serious commitment to a particular group in his teens.

He became a United States Marine.

Until the day he died at age 86, my Dad was a Marine.

Once a Marine always a Marine.

It all started when he heard the really bad news.

We were at war.

He was 16 and still in high school and had to wait until he was 17 to enlist.

His Dad had to sign the papers.

And he was off to Paris Island.

To become part of the Greatest Generation.

The few.

The proud.

But just wanting to be a Marine does not make you one.

You have to train.

You have to change the way you live, the way you think, and the way you look at the world.

You learn how from those who have been there and know what is required.

Then he became part of a community that knew it could rely on each person within it.

To be loyal.

To be part of a community with a purpose.

To eat together.

To live together.

To trust each other.

To take care of each other.

To become a family of sorts.

Where no one gets left behind.

And so my Dad became part of something historic and heroic.

Forever.

Semper Fi.

But with all such communities, there are initial questions.

First – why do I want to be in that group?

Second – how do I get in?

Third – what does life in the group look like?

Jim Tindall’s answers were simple:

He wanted to defend his country.

He went to boot camp to learn what it meant to be a Marine.

He then lived a life of devotion to his country, his duty and to his community.

So what does all this have to do with our scripture reading?

This is at the end of Peter’s Pentecost sermon.

The listeners have just been given really bad news.

They killed the one God sent to open the door for them into his presence.

And so here was this group of “disciples” who were offering them the opportunity to join.

And they had those three questions.

Why become a disciple?

What do I have to do?

How will I have to live?

First – why would anyone want to be a disciple of Jesus?

Because they had killed the one who God had sent to them.

They were “cut” to their hearts.

They wanted a second chance.

Was there anything they could do to now?

Peter tells them to become disciples.

Which leads to the second question:

What do they have to do to join?

Peter told them:

Repent!

Now there’s a word that has not aged well.

What do you think of when you hear that word?

I think of Mrs. Monath.

She was my 5th grade teacher.

She had really short hair, arched eyebrows and bright red lips.

And she was humorless.

Particularly with me.

One day she called me to her desk and told me that I needed to change my ways.

Homework was not optional in her classroom, I was told.

I had to repent.

Seriously, she said that.

She pulled out a note I had to take home to my parents.

“Jeff has not been doing his homework.”

I had to bring it back to them the next day, signed by them.

I remember the look in her eyes when she gave it to me.

I still shudder.

But the word repent need not conjure up such terrible images.

It really means:

“Change your mind.”

Take your mind off worldly things and put your mind toward God.

You need to change the way you live, the way you think and the way you look at the world.

Next they get baptized.

But baptism is more than just sprinkling, dousing or dunking someone in water.

Listen to these words from Peter when he describes baptism.

The promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.

It signifies a promise.

The promise of reconciliation with God.

Of a divine relationship.

Of the companionship with the Holy Spirit.

Of eternal life.

Which leads to the third question.

How do we live as a community of disciples?

Luke describes it.

They devoted themselves to the teaching of the Apostles, fellowship, the breaking of bread and to prayers.

They learned about God by listening to the Apostles teach them all Jesus had taught.

They learned form the one’s who knew Jesus, and what he expected of his disciples.

They were also having fellowship.

Not mere social gatherings.

Remember, these folks were outcasts.

They were not welcome in their communities any more.

Ridiculed and rejected.

They needed a place where they would feel welcome.

Safe.

Loved.

Encouraged.

That was the community of disciples.

And they broke bread together.

They shared meals, which always included the celebration of the Lord’s Supper.

And they prayed.

The Lord’s prayer probably.

And perhaps the joys and concerns of the community.

Maybe like what we do here.

And when they did that, they saw signs and wonders.

Signs and wonders of what God was doing in the world that they had been missing until they became part of that community of Jesus’ disciples.

Their minds had indeed changed.

They looked at the world in a different way.

But then there is this:

44All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.

It is easy to come for a sermon or Bible study; a fellowship social gathering; a pot luck dinner or the Lord’s Supper; a prayer vigil or last summer’s 90 days of prayer.

But holding all things in common?

Selling our possessions and giving it to those in need?

That would certainly call for a change of mind!

But what exactly were they doing?

They were taking care of each other.

God had provided all they had, and expected them to share with others who were in need.

They ate their food with glad and generous hearts.

Generous love for God and each other.

They were living the Jesus way.

And they became more than just a community.

More than just a family.

Perhaps the greatest and most significant community ever.

They became part of the body of Christ.

And that is a change.

Here is an example of something like that.

I have officiated at the marriages of couples who, at the time of the wedding, were already living together.

I always ask the question:

“Why are you getting married?”

They are already living the “married life”.

So why do they want to go through this ceremony?

The answer is that the ceremony changes the relationship in some way that is important.

They are somehow going to be joined in a way they previously were not.

There really is a difference.

They change from two individuals into a single entity we call a marriage.

No one can see the difference, but it is real.

That is something similar to what happens when we become part of the body of Christ.

We become part of a community created and ordained by God that allows each of us to step back from a world that is becoming ever more chaotic, inhumane and Godless and know that we are not alone, and are not isolated.

A community where we feel welcome.

Safe.

Loved.

Encouraged.

And when we commit, we are no longer one, but a part of a greater one.

It’s different.

No one can see the difference, but it is real.

We learn how from those who have been there and know.

We become a community that knows it can rely on each person within it.

A community with a purpose.

Teaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Fellowship.

Sharing meals.

Celebrating the sacraments.

Praying.

Helping those in need.

Glad generosity.

Living the Jesus way.

Where no one gets left behind.

Part of something historic and heroic.

Forever.

And my Dad would say:

Semper Fi.