Sunday, February 28, 2010


Our Old Testament reading this morning is especially for those who aren't able to make it to worship today. This passage recalls the covenant between God and Abram, so it takes us back to the foundation of the relationship of God and Israel. As Christians we share that covenant between Abram and Israel. This passage is very important in several New Testament letters and in Protestant theology, so I wanted us to hear the original passage.

James and Paul had something of a debate in their letters about faith versus works, a debate that continues throughout Christian history with a high point during the Reformation. Paul (along with Luther and Calvin) points to this discussion between God and Abram and lifts up “Abram believed God and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.” Their point is that it was Abram’s faith that made him righteous with God, not the Law signaled by his circumcision, which came later.

*Sunday Genesis 15:1-18

After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, “Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.”
2But Abram said, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” 3And Abram said, “You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir.” 4But the word of the Lord came to him, “This man shall not be your heir; no one but your very own issue shall be your heir.” 5He brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” 6And he believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.

7Then he said to him, “I am the Lord who brought you from Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to possess.” 8But he said, “O Lord God, how am I to know that I shall possess it?” 9He said to him, “Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” 10He brought him all these and cut them in two, laying each half over against the other; but he did not cut the birds in two. 11And when birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away.

12As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram, and a deep and terrifying darkness descended upon him. 13Then the Lord said to Abram, “Know this for certain, that your offspring shall be aliens in a land that is not theirs, and shall be slaves there, and they shall be oppressed for four hundred years; 14but I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions. 15As for yourself, you shall go to your ancestors in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age. 16And they shall come back here in the fourth generation; for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.”

17When the sun had gone down and it was dark, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. 18On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates, 19the land of the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites, 20the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, 21the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites, and the Jebusites.”

praying for boldness

Good morning all,
Our reading from Acts shows us two important things: the first is the relationship with God and the second is the relationship within the community of faith. Peter and John have just gotten out of prison for preaching the good news boldly under threat of punishment, so what do they do, they pray for boldness. Obviously God has already given them that gift, but they pray for boldness so they would keep preaching fearlessly and honestly. They know that all their gifts come from God, so they ask for more strength to do God's will.

They don't just pray alone; as soon as they are free they naturally seek out their community so they might all encourage each other. That community wasn't just people who went to church together and talked over coffee. The church was a community that shared everything. People sold their possessions and shared the proceeds with those in need to the point that there wasn't any need in the community. That depth of community is a real challenge to me because giving up my possessions is scary. Perhaps equally scary is the idea of giving up my independence, the idea of being so bound in community that I look first to the community and then afterwards to my needs and desires. Whenever I read this passage I feel challenged to recommit to the community and a bit guilty because my commitment doesn't come close to what I see in this passage. I also feel a longing for that kind of life.

Acts 4:23-37

23After they were released, they went to their friends and reported what the chief priests and the elders had said to them. 24When they heard it, they raised their voices together to God and said, “Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth, the sea, and everything in them, 25it is you who said by the Holy Spirit through our ancestor David, your servant: ‘Why did the Gentiles rage, and the peoples imagine vain things? 26The kings of the earth took their stand, and the rulers have gathered together against the Lord and against his Messiah.’ 27For in this city, in fact, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, 28to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. 29And now, Lord, look at their threats, and grant to your servants to speak your word with all boldness, 30while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” 31When they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God with boldness.

32Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. 33With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. 34There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. 35They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. 36There was a Levite, a native of Cyprus, Joseph, to whom the apostles gave the name Barnabas (which means “son of encouragement”). 37He sold a field that belonged to him, then brought the money, and laid it at the apostles’ feet.

Saturday, February 27, 2010


Good morning and happy weekend,
Today we see how Peter and John's hearing with the counsel turns out. I love that in addition to the amazing healing itself the counsel is amazed because Peter and John are "uneducated and ordinary men." How great is it that God can not only use our gifts in amazing ways, but even turn the fact that our gifts are ordinary into something special. Truly we should never be discouraged because of our limitations since God can turn even those limitations to his purposes. In the same way it's interesting that the people are amazed at the healing not just because of the healing but because the man was more than 40 years old when he was healed. It's never too late for a new start.

Finally, I am always inspired by Peter and John's response to the counsel letting them go. I think I would be so relieved to be let out of jail that I would just say "yes sir" and get out as fast as I could. Instead Peter and John forthrightly declare, "Whether it is right for us in God's sight to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge; for we cannot keep from speaking about what we have seen and heard." By the Spirit's power these ordinary people show powerful gifts and amazing courage.
May God help us to do likewise,

Acts 4:13-22

13Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John and realized that they were uneducated and ordinary men, they were amazed and recognized them as companions of Jesus. 14When they saw the man who had been cured standing beside them, they had nothing to say in opposition.
15So they ordered them to leave the council while they discussed the matter with one another. 16They said, “What will we do with them? For it is obvious to all who live in Jerusalem that a notable sign has been done through them; we cannot deny it. 17But to keep it from spreading further among the people, let us warn them to speak no more to anyone in this name.” 18So they called them and ordered them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus.

19But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in God’s sight to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge; 20for we cannot keep from speaking about what we have seen and heard.” 21After threatening them again, they let them go, finding no way to punish them because of the people, for all of them praised God for what had happened. 22For the man on whom this sign of healing had been performed was more than forty years old.

Friday, February 26, 2010

bold proclamation

Good morning everyone,

In yesterday's reading Peter and John used the opportunity created by healing a man to tell the story of Jesus. Today we see that their action not only created positive interest and curiosity, but also hostile attention from the authorities. Peter's defense strategy is interesting: the authorities are upset because Peter and John were teaching about new life in Jesus, but Peter turns the conversation to the healing of the man. It's easy and, at least within religious institutions, it seems to come naturally to us to argue about teachings and doctrines. By turning the conversation to the healing Peter is showing that the new teaching about Jesus isn't just about words but about God's power to act in the world. If the authorities want to question Peter and John about their teaching they must deal with the fact that that teaching is clearly associated with a miraculous healing.

I admire Peter for his boldness here as well. There is no effort to soften what has happened; instead Peter speaks the truth clearly and boldly. He also uses scripture by calling Jesus the stone the builders rejected but that God makes the cornerstone. This is part of Psalm 118 which was a psalm for the coronation of Israel's king. The "Hosanna, blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord" that is so familiar for us from Palm Sunday is from the same Psalm because that was a coronation parade for the Messiah. May God give each of us boldness and honesty in our speech and actions.

God bless,

Acts 4:1-12

While Peter and John were speaking to the people, the priests, the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees came to them, 2much annoyed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming that in Jesus there is the resurrection of the dead. 3So they arrested them and put them in custody until the next day, for it was already evening. 4But many of those who heard the word believed; and they numbered about five thousand.

5The next day their rulers, elders, and scribes assembled in Jerusalem, 6with Annas the high priest, Caiaphas, John, and Alexander, and all who were of the high-priestly family. 7When they had made the prisoners stand in their midst, they inquired, “By what power or by what name did you do this?”

8Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders, 9if we are questioned today because of a good deed done to someone who was sick and are asked how this man has been healed, 10let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel, that this man is standing before you in good health by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead. 11This Jesus is ‘the stone that was rejected by you, the builders; it has become the cornerstone.’ 12There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.”

Thursday, February 25, 2010

not by our power or piety

Good morning friends,
In yesterday's reading Peter and John healed a man who had been unable to walk since birth by calling on the name of Jesus. Today we see what happens next. Not surprisingly, the people watching this and the people who see the man not only walking but leaping for joy are amazed at what they see. I love Peter's response to the attention: "Why do you wonder, or why do you stare at us as though by our own power or piety we had made him walk?" It was clear to the apostles and the early church that they weren't the main actors in the incredible things the church was doing; God was working through them.

So Peter takes the opportunity of having a crowd to tell them about Jesus and to call them to repentance. He also connects Christ's return from heaven with the completion of God's plan for the world. In other words, when Jesus returns it will be impossible to miss because the world as we know it will transformed into the Kingdom of God. I like Peter's term: universal restoration; that's what we expect for God's conclusion of history.

May God give you a taste of restoration and refreshment today by the Holy Spirit,

Acts 3:11-26

11While he clung to Peter and John, all the people ran together to them in the portico called Solomon’s Portico, utterly astonished. 12When Peter saw it, he addressed the people, “You Israelites, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we had made him walk? 13The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our ancestors has glorified his servant Jesus, whom you handed over and rejected in the presence of Pilate, though he had decided to release him. 14But you rejected the Holy and Righteous One and asked to have a murderer given to you, 15and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses.

16And by faith in his name, his name itself has made this man strong, whom you see and know; and the faith that is through Jesus has given him this perfect health in the presence of all of you. 17“And now, friends, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. 18In this way God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, that his Messiah would suffer. 19Repent therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out, 20so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Messiah appointed for you, that is, Jesus, 21who must remain in heaven until the time of universal restoration that God announced long ago through his holy prophets.

22Moses said, ‘The Lord your God will raise up for you from your own people a prophet like me. You must listen to whatever he tells you. 23And it will be that everyone who does not listen to that prophet will be utterly rooted out of the people.’ 24And all the prophets, as many as have spoken, from Samuel and those after him, also predicted these days. 25You are the descendants of the prophets and of the covenant that God gave to your ancestors, saying to Abraham, ‘And in your descendants all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’ 26When God raised up his servant, he sent him first to you, to bless you by turning each of you from your wicked ways.”

Wednesday, February 24, 2010


Good morning all,

We've known that the Holy Spirit is working through the apostles, today we see that power in action in a healing miracle. Jesus often healed people and we see that the apostles keep up that ministry. The somewhat odd phrase, "looked intently" at him is used often in Acts along with a miracle. Maybe it's to signal a deep spiritual discernment that enables healing; maybe it's a careful sizing up of the situation to figure out how to respond. The story is told in broad strokes, efficiently, and yet there are words to spare for the joyful action of a man who has never walked before suddenly healed. He doesn't just walk he leaps and praises God. As we read we get a clear picture in our mind's eye of this man skipping for joy because of what God has done for him. Hold on for a wild ride; this miracle is just the beginning.

May you not only walk, but leap and dance for joy,

Acts 3:1-10

One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, at three o”clock in the afternoon. 2And a man lame from birth was being carried in. People would lay him daily at the gate of the temple called the Beautiful Gate so that he could ask for alms from those entering the temple. 3When he saw Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked them for alms. 4Peter looked intently at him, as did John, and said, “Look at us.” 5And he fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive something from them.

6But Peter said, “I have no silver or gold, but what I have I give you; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up and walk.” 7And he took him by the right hand and raised him up; and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong. 8Jumping up, he stood and began to walk, and he entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God. 9All the people saw him walking and praising God, 10and they recognized him as the one who used to sit and ask for alms at the Beautiful Gate of the temple; and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

cut to the heart

Hi all,
Yesterday we saw a sample of Peter's preaching in the Spirit's power. He explained what God had done in Jesus Christ, who Jesus was. Today we see the result of Peter's preaching: people heard the message and came to God. It seems the crowd felt deep in their souls that what he was saying was right; that's the Spirit working inside each of them. Peter calls everyone to repent and be baptized, saying, "the promise is for you for your children, and for all who are far away..." The call goes out far and wide.

This picture of the early church is an appealing one. These Christians have a rich life together full of worship, fellowship, prayer and faith. Luke tells it quickly, but imagine a community where everyone willingly shares everything they have with others. Think what a radical vision of community that is. With the Spirit's power and joy that must have been obvious and contagious, the message about Jesus spread quickly. I pray that the church will come to know that contagious, loving joy again.

God bless,

Acts 2:37-47

37Now 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. 43Awe 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.

Monday, February 22, 2010

David's son

Good morning friends,
In today's reading Peter continues his Pentecost sermon to the waiting crowd. Notice, Peter is consciously addressing Israelites here; Christianity is still very much a movement within Judaism at this point. So Peter tells the story of Jesus for a Jewish audience. In this sermon the main reference point is David, because most of Israel's hope for a Messiah was based on David's descendants. Peter argues that David spoke prophetically of his future son as the Messiah and that son is Jesus.

Peter bases his argument on the miracles Jesus did during his life as signs of God's power in him. More than that God showed that Jesus is the Messiah by raising him from the dead, "because it was impossible for him to be held in its power." Peter also puts the responsibility for Jesus death squarely on the crowd's shoulders, after all the crowd clamored for Jesus' death. One of the things that I like about Acts is that here and several other places we see early leaders of the church preach the basic message of good news. We get to watch how these Jewish men and women studied scripture to figure out what Jesus' life and ministry meant and how to explain the good news to others.

Blessings on your reading and the new week,

Acts 2:22-36

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.

25For David says concerning him, ‘I saw the Lord always before me, for he is at my right hand so that I will not be shaken; 26therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced; moreover my flesh will live in hope. 27For you will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your Holy One experience corruption. 28You have made known to me the ways of life; you will make me full of gladness with your presence.’ 29“Fellow Israelites, I may say to you confidently of our ancestor David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. 30Since he was a prophet, he knew that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would put one of his descendants on his throne.

31Foreseeing this, David spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, saying, ‘He was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh experience corruption.’ 32This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses. 33Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you both see and hear. 34For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, 35until I make your enemies your footstool.”’ 36Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.”

Sunday, February 21, 2010

new wine or the coming of the kingdom?

Good morning everyone,
Our reading this morning begins Peter's sermon to the crowd as the Spirit moves the early Christians not only to speak other languages, but to proclaim the good news to others. Peter puts this amazing occurrence in the context of earlier prophesy. The prophet Joel said that when the end comes God would pour out the Spirit not just on a few prophets but on everyone. He argues that this is the very thing the people are seeing in front of them; God's Spirit at work in ordinary men and women. He also says that God's powerful action is an opportunity for everyone to turn to the Lord and seek God's healing. The invitation is always open and the Spirit calls us closer.

Our reading from Luke for this morning, especially for those who won't be able to join in worship this morning, shows Jesus fasting in the desert and facing temptation from Satan. Satan is crafty and he can quote scripture, but Jesus resists the devil through faithfulness, through trusting his connection to God and staying true to that. As James promises the early church, if we resist the devil he will flee from us. Sure enough, Satan is defeated by Jesus' firm stand. If we build a strong foundation in worship and faith we too can stand against the devil when he comes to tempt us, whatever form he wears when he comes.

Blessings on your morning; see you in church,

Sunday 2/21 Acts 2:14-21

14But 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. 15Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o”clock in the morning. 16No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: 17‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. 18Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. 19And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist. 20The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day. 21Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’

*Sunday Luke 4:1-13

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, 2where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. 3The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” 4Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’” 5Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. 6And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. 7If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” 8Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’” 9Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, 10for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’ 11and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’” 12Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” 13When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.

Friday, February 19, 2010


Good afternoon all,
I'm sending out tomorrow's reading early because many of us will be on retreat tomorrow. This is a familiar story to most of us; probably the most familiar story in the whole Book of Acts. In our opening reading Jesus told the disciples to wait in Jerusalem because they would be baptized with the Holy Spirit before long. Today we see that promise come true. We often say Pentecost is the birthday of the church, since it is by the Spirit's power that the group of 120 people who threw lots to chose a twelfth apostle in this morning's reading became a world wide movement changing lives and reshaping the world.

Throughout Acts we see a similar pattern. People believe the good news about Jesus, they accept the faith and seek baptism and then the Holy Spirit is poured out on them. We aren't used to seeing the Spirit in such dramatic ways today, but God's powerful Spirit is still working in the church and in individual believers around the world. Often the challenge for us is to seek the Spirit's guidance and to allow space in our lives and plans for the Spirit to show us new directions. God isn't done with us so let us listen and trust.


Saturday 2/20 Acts 2:1-13

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.3Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

5Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. 7Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” 12All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”


Good morning folks,
There's a lovely symmetry to having twelve apostles: there are twelve tribes of Israel, and there are twelve apostles. Jesus chose twelve out of the many people following him for special positions of leadership. The trouble is, one of those twelve betrayed Jesus and is now dead. The other apostles decide that the position should be filled so that the twelve apostles can be restored. This is the story of how that happens. It's a useful insight into how the early church begins acting after Christ's ascension into heaven. They seek God's guidance through prayer and they trust that God will guide them.

A couple of side notes: a Sabbath day's journey reflects the Jewish practice of not walking more than 2000 cubits (about a quarter of a mile) on the Sabbath as part of the obligation to rest. This passage gives one version of the death of Judas; Matthew's Gospel gives a different version. Matthew says Judas went back to the Jewish counsel after Jesus' death to return the money, saying, "I have sinned by betraying innocent blood." The counsel says, "That's your problem," at which point Judas throws down the money and goes to hang himself. Since they can't put blood money in the temple treasury the counsel uses the money to buy a field for the burial of strangers. The stories are pretty different, but the interesting thing is that in each case Judas's death is associated with a field that comes to be called, "Field of blood."

Now that there are again twelve apostles, the church is ready to move forward in ministry. Thanks be to God that the Spirit still leads the church forward when we seek that guidance.
God bless,

Acts 1:12-26

12Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day’s journey away. 13When they had entered the city, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying, Peter, and John, and James, and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. 14All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.

15In those days Peter stood up among the believers (together the crowd numbered about one hundred twenty persons) and said, 16“Friends, the scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit through David foretold concerning Judas, who became a guide for those who arrested Jesus— 17for he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry.” 18(Now this man acquired a field with the reward of his wickedness; and falling headlong, he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out. 19This became known to all the residents of Jerusalem, so that the field was called in their language Hakeldama, that is, Field of Blood.)

20“For it is written in the book of Psalms, ‘Let his homestead become desolate, and let there be no one to live in it’; and ‘Let another take his position of overseer.’ 21So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, 22beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these must become a witness with us to his resurrection.” 23So they proposed two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also known as Justus, and Matthias. 24Then they prayed and said, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which one of these two you have chosen 25to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.” 26And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias; and he was added to the eleven apostles.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Opening Acts

Good morning everyone,

Today we dive into the Acts of the Apostles. The lectionary turns to Acts in the Easter season, so we're getting a head start during Lent. Acts is a wonderful book chock full of insight and encouragement for any church seeking revitalization or renewal. It's also a book many of us have only read short pieces of, so it's a great candidate to read all the way through. Acts is the sequel to Luke's Gospel; the first sentence here introducing the book echoes the opening verses of Luke that lay out the purpose of that book. And while Luke closes with the risen Christ going up into heaven, Acts opens with the same story.

Jesus is the character to watch in Luke and the Holy Spirit fills that role in Acts. The whole book is about how the Spirit works through the church. Our opening passage gives the pattern the story will follow: "You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Theophilus, the person to whom both Luke and Acts is dedicated, is something of a mystery. The name means, "Lover of God," and scholars aren't sure if he was a real person of if Luke uses the name to bring any lover of God into the story. Expect to find Acts exciting and challenging and try to read with the question: What does the Spirit want to say to me and our church."
Blessings on your reading,

Acts 1:1-11

In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning 2until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. 3After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. 4While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. “This,” he said, “is what you have heard from me; 5for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”

6So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. 8But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” 9When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. 11They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

end of the letter

Good morning friends,
This is the very end of 1 Corinthians; tomorrow we start a new adventure with the Acts of the Apostles. I appreciate that Paul closes with encouragement to stand firm and to be courageous as well as loving. We see again how connected the church was, since Paul expects the church in Corinth to be interested that Stephanas and others came to visit Paul. Paul also uses Stephanas's family and their service as an example to others. Aquila and Prisca were a married couple who worked with Paul in Corinth and later accompanied him on part of a further missionary journey.

Paul mentions that he writes the last couple of sentences with his own hand. In general it seems other people did the physical writing of Paul's letters, but Paul often adds a bit in his own hand at the end. In one letter he writes: "See what big letters I make," so maybe he deferred the writing to others because his handwriting was poor. It's hard to know exactly. In addition to love, which has been perhaps the main theme of the letter, Paul also prays in conclusion for the coming of the Lord. It is a fitting word of hope to end such a forceful letter since we Christians are a people who put our hope in Christ's coming.
God bless,

1 Corinthians 16:13-24

13Keep alert, stand firm in your faith, be courageous, be strong. 14Let all that you do be done in love. 15Now, brothers and sisters, you know that members of the household of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia, and they have devoted themselves to the service of the saints; 16I urge you to put yourselves at the service of such people, and of everyone who works and toils with them. 17I rejoice at the coming of Stephanas and Fortunatus and Achaicus, because they have made up for your absence; 18for they refreshed my spirit as well as yours. So give recognition to such persons.

19The churches of Asia send greetings. Aquila and Prisca, together with the church in their house, greet you warmly in the Lord. 20All the brothers and sisters send greetings. Greet one another with a holy kiss. 21I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. 22Let anyone be accursed who has no love for the Lord. Our Lord, come! 23The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you. 24My love be with all of you in Christ Jesus.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

lay up whatever extra you earn

Good morning sisters and brothers,
Yesterday Paul finished the meat of his letter with a powerful and poetic passage on the resurrection of the dead and the transformation we will all undergo on the last day. Today he turns to concluding matters. Paul talks often in his letters about the collection for the saints in Jerusalem. We don't know exactly what this was but the idea seems to have been that Paul raised money among his gentile congregations to support the poor in Jerusalem. Many scholars think this was particularly important to Paul as a way of showing the traditional leadership of the church that, even though his mission was somewhat untraditional, he recognized the Jewish core of the faith and was one body with them. At any rate it was clearly important for Paul that the churches he worked with be generous in their giving as a sign of their love and faith. The line about laying up whatever extra we earn is also on our stewardship envelopes.

This passage also reminds us how connected the church was and is. Paul shares his work with others and he shares his plans with this congregation that he cares about. We also see that Paul made plans but always knew that they might be changed at any time because he was open to the Spirit's leading. His "if the Lord permits" echoes our Muslim friends' "Inshallah" which is added every time one expresses a plan for the future to recognize that everything is subject to God's will and our plans are never completely within our control.
May God always keep us open to her guidance,

1 Corinthians 16:1-12

Now concerning the collection for the saints: you should follow the directions I gave to the churches of Galatia. 2On the first day of every week, each of you is to put aside and save whatever extra you earn, so that collections need not be taken when I come. 3And when I arrive, I will send any whom you approve with letters to take your gift to Jerusalem. 4If it seems advisable that I should go also, they will accompany me.

5I will visit you after passing through Macedonia—for I intend to pass through Macedonia— 6and perhaps I will stay with you or even spend the winter, so that you may send me on my way, wherever I go. 7I do not want to see you now just in passing, for I hope to spend some time with you, if the Lord permits. 8But I will stay in Ephesus until Pentecost, 9for a wide door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many adversaries.

10If Timothy comes, see that he has nothing to fear among you, for he is doing the work of the Lord just as I am; 11therefore let no one despise him. Send him on his way in peace, so that he may come to me; for I am expecting him with the brothers. 12Now concerning our brother Apollos, I strongly urged him to visit you with the other brothers, but he was not at all willing to come now. He will come when he has the opportunity.

Monday, February 15, 2010

the trumpet shall sound

Good morning all,
It was great to be back with you in church yesterday and it's nice to be home. Yesterday Paul discussed how our physical body is like a seed: when it's planted in death it prepares to one day rise again as a glorious, powerful, spiritual body. Today Paul continues his thought saying that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God. Instead we must be changed into spiritual beings. Paul expected that Christ would return and bring history to conclusion very soon. Jesus had the same expectation ("There are some standing here who will not taste death before the kingdom comes in power.") That's why Paul writes that we won't all die, but we will all be changed when the kingdom of God comes.

There are two main points here about the resurrection of the dead. On the one hand God doesn't just throw away our bodies: eternal life, like this life is life in a body. But on the other hand our bodies will be radically changed when God finishes the work of redemption. Whether we live or die one day God will raise us up and make all things new. In the end eternal live is victorious over death because in Christ God is victorious over sin. In the meantime the death of those we love hurts, but we know that Christ's love for us wins the ultimate victory and so death's power is not forever. Therefore, beloved, be steadfast, immovable because you know that in the Lord our labor is not in vain.

1 Corinthians 15:50-58

50What I am saying, brothers and sisters, is this: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51Listen, I will tell you a mystery! We will not all die, but we will all be changed, 52in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.

53For this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality. 54When this perishable body puts on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” 55“Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” 56The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 58Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

What will we be like when we're raised

Good morning and happy Valentines Day,
Today Paul answers the question: "what will we be like when we are resurrected?" It's a good questions we might all be curious about, even if Paul seems to think we should know better. Notice, Paul's answer isn't really specific, probably because there's a lot we can't know about the resurrection. What he says is that the body we live in is like a seed: it's planted in the earth when we die and only then can it come to life in its full form. It will rise again not simply a physical body as it was planted, but instead it will rise a spiritual body. I don't know exactly what it will be like, but it sounds exciting. It's amazing to think that all the wonders of our body and our life are like a bare seed compared to the glory God has in store for us when Christ returns.

Our second passage, especially meant for those who are unable to make it to worship this week, is the Old Testament lesson from our Sunday service. This is take 2 of Moses bringing the Ten Commandments. Part 1 was the unfortunate Golden Calf incident. So Moses carved new tablets, spent 40 days on the mountain with God to write the commandments on the tablets and then returned to the people with this covenant between Israel and God. The direct contact between God and Moses left Moses' face glowing, which scared the people, but also reminded them that God was with them.

God's blessing on the reading and on our worship today,

1 Corinthians 15:35-49

35But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” 36Fool! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. 37And as for what you sow, you do not sow the body that is to be, but a bare seed, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. 38But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body.

39Not all flesh is alike, but there is one flesh for human beings, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish. 40There are both heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is one thing, and that of the earthly is another. 41There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; indeed, star differs from star in glory.

42So it is with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. 43It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. 44It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual body. 45Thus it is written, “The first man, Adam, became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. 46But it is not the spiritual that is first, but the physical, and then the spiritual. 47The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. 48As was the man of dust, so are those who are of the dust; and as is the man of heaven, so are those who are of heaven. 49Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we will also bear the image of the man of heaven.

*Exodus 34:29-35

29Moses came down from Mount Sinai. As he came down from the mountain with the two tablets of the covenant in his hand, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God. 30When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, the skin of his face was shining, and they were afraid to come near him. 31But Moses called to them; and Aaron and all the leaders of the congregation returned to him, and Moses spoke with them. 32Afterward all the Israelites came near, and he gave them in commandment all that the Lord had spoken with him on Mount Sinai.

33When Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil on his face; 34but whenever Moses went in before the Lord to speak with him, he would take the veil off, until he came out; and when he came out, and told the Israelites what he had been commanded, 35the Israelites would see the face of Moses, that the skin of his face was shining; and Moses would put the veil on his face again, until he went in to speak with him.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

resurrection faith in action

Good morning friends,
I hope your weekend is starting out well. A few of us had a wonderful discussion last night about some new possibilities in our church life, spurred by a presentation we went to in January by a pastor in Chicago. We'll be opening up that discussion on Sunday after worship for anyone who is interested; please join the conversation.

Today Paul continues his argument that Christ's resurrection means we will be raised, and he argues this point is essential to our life as Christians. Here he mentions the practice of receiving baptism on behalf of the dead, something we don't do in the Presbyterian Church, but which is important to some of our Mormon brothers and sisters. The idea is that a living person receives baptism in the place of someone who has died without being baptized so that the deceased can be raised as a believer. Paul also talks about fighting with wild animals in Ephesus. I'm pretty sure this is the only mention of this episode in the Bible, but we do know that Christians were put in arenas or other closed spaces with wild animals as a spectacle for others to watch and as a way to discourage Christianity. In both cases, Paul's point is the same: our Christian faith gives us hope beyond our human lives because the dead will be raised.

It's important here that Paul puts proper belief along with doing the right thing. We all know people who live a good life without Christian faith, and we know or see others who profess faith in Christ while living in a moral questionable way. Paul calls us to trust in God's love even beyond death and to show that powerful hope in courageous and righteous living.
Blessings in your walk with God today,

1 Corinthians 15:29-34

29Otherwise, what will those people do who receive baptism on behalf of the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized on their behalf? 30And why are we putting ourselves in danger every hour? 31I die every day! That is as certain, brothers and sisters, as my boasting of you—a boast that I make in Christ Jesus our Lord. 32If with merely human hopes I fought with wild animals at Ephesus, what would I have gained by it? If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” 33Do not be deceived: “Bad company ruins good morals.” 34Come to a sober and right mind, and sin no more; for some people have no knowledge of God. I say this to your shame.

Friday, February 12, 2010

If Christ has been raised then we will be raised

Good morning everyone,
In Judaism of Jesus' and Paul's time there was significant controversy over the resurrection of the dead. The Pharisees believed that the dead would rise from the dead at the last judgment while the Sadducees believed that the dead stayed dead. Paul was a Pharisee, so he believed strongly in the resurrection of the dead. When he was persecuted by Jewish leaders he sometimes described the dispute in terms of this ongoing Jewish controversy over the resurrection. It seems that this was also a discussion in the church.

Here Paul makes an important turn in his argument about the resurrection. Yesterday he reminded the congregation that he and others proclaimed that Christ had died for them and been raised from the dead. Having reminded them of this important foundation of their faith he continues by arguing that it doesn't make sense that some of them don't believe that the dead are raised since they believe that Christ was raised from the dead. For Paul Jesus' resurrection is not a one time event just for Christ. Instead Christ's resurrection is the "first fruits" of the general resurrection of all the dead.

Paul describes this happening in three stages: first Christ, then when Christ returns "those who belong to Christ" will rise; finally the end comes and everyone rises for the final judgment. God brings history to completion by defeating every force that opposes God's will. The last enemy to be destroyed is death; for that defeat to be complete all the dead must rise again. It's a challenging doctrine and I'm interested to hear what you think of Paul here.


1 Corinthians 15:12-28

12Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead? 13If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; 14and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain. 15We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified of God that he raised Christ—whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. 16For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised. 17If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18Then those also who have died in Christ have perished. 19If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.

20But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died. 21For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; 22for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ. 23But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. 24Then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father, after he has destroyed every ruler and every authority and power. 25For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26The last enemy to be destroyed is death.

27For “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.” But when it says, “All things are put in subjection,” it is plain that this does not include the one who put all things in subjection under him. 28When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to the one who put all things in subjection under him, so that God may be all in all.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

of first importance

Good morning all,
Today we begin Paul's discussion of the resurrection of the dead. Every week we confess our faith in the resurrection of the dead, but we don't often give it much thought and when we do, it probably makes us a bit uncomfortable. This chapter is the clearest explanation of what the church teaches about the resurrection and it's a powerful chapter. Expect to be challenged and uplifted.

Paul begins his discussion with what he says is "of first importance": that Jesus died for our sins and was raised from the dead appearing to many witnesses. Paul includes himself as a witness to the resurrection, even though his encounter with Christ was well after Christ ascended into heaven. That's a good reminder that we can still experience the risen Christ today. The resurrection of Jesus is the foundation of Paul's ministry and of the church's faith and power, so it continues to be of first importance. I love how Paul uses his own faults as an example of what God can do to change and empower us for ministry.
God bless you in whatever ministry you do today,

1 Corinthians 15:1-11

Now I would remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news that I proclaimed to you, which you in turn received, in which also you stand, 2through which also you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message that I proclaimed to you—unless you have come to believe in vain. 3For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, 4and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, 5and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. 7Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.

8Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. 9For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me has not been in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them—though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. 11Whether then it was I or they, so we proclaim and so you have come to believe.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

decently and in order

Good morning all,

Many thanks to Lea for sending out the readings while I was away. It was great to have some time to relax and enjoy a vacation, and it's good to be back again. Today Paul closes his argument on how to allow enough space in worship for the Spirit's surprises while also maintaining stability in worship. "Decently and in order" is sort of the semi-humorous motto of the Presbyterian Church, so it's nice to see its biblical origin. Sometimes we get so caught up in that aspect of worship that we forget Paul was talking about keeping order in the midst of Spirit-led worship. We also need to keep our eyes open for how God is leading us, not just the structures we've evolved over the years.

Here again we get a troubling limit on women's participation in church. Some scholars believe these verses in parentheses were added later, though there is not a consensus on that. It would be strange for Paul to write this since he talks about women who hold leadership positions in the early church. Whether Paul or a later writer, we can be grateful most churches have come to realize that the Spirit blesses us with all kinds of different leadership and that when God calls us to speak, human commands should never keep us silent. How is the Spirit calling you?


1 Corinthians 14:26-40

26What should be done then, my friends? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up. 27If anyone speaks in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn; and let one interpret. 28But if there is no one to interpret, let them be silent in church and speak to themselves and to God. 29Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. 30If a revelation is made to someone else sitting nearby, let the first person be silent. 31For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged. 32And the spirits of prophets are subject to the prophets, 33for God is a God not of disorder but of peace.

(As in all the churches of the saints, 34women should be silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as the law also says. 35If there is anything they desire to know, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church. 36Or did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only ones it has reached?)

37Anyone who claims to be a prophet, or to have spiritual powers, must acknowledge that what I am writing to you is a command of the Lord. 38Anyone who does not recognize this is not to be recognized. 39So, my friends, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues; 40but all things should be done decently and in order.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Lord's Supper, part 1

Good morning all,
I'm on vacation starting today, so Lea Smith has agreed to send out the readings while I'm away. Thank you Lea. Drop her an email if you're not getting the readings or you can email me (I'll have email access some of the time). This is a fascinating passage because it's beautiful language about communion, but it is also a strong reprimand to the church. Paul is concerned about divisions and argues that when the church is divided communion isn't really the Lord's supper.

The divisions he's talking about here are economic and social divisions. It seems that people brought their dinner to the gatherings for the Lord's supper and that people weren't sharing what they had evenly. Paul says that eating and drinking too much while another doesn't have enough is humiliating to the poor and an insult to God's church. He follows that up with a basic review of what the Lord's supper means, which we still use at the table today.


1 Corinthians 11:17-26

17Now in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. 18For, to begin with, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you; and to some extent I believe it. 19Indeed, there have to be factions among you, for only so will it become clear who among you are genuine. 20When you come together, it is not really to eat the Lord’s supper. 21For when the time comes to eat, each of you goes ahead with your own supper, and one goes hungry and another becomes drunk. 22What! Do you not have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you show contempt for the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What should I say to you? Should I commend you? In this matter I do not commend you!

23For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, 24and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 25In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

The Lord's Supper, part 1

Good morning all,
I'm on vacation starting today, so Lea Smith has agreed to send out the readings while I'm away. Thank you Lea. Drop her an email if you're not getting the readings or you can email me (I'll have email access some of the time). This is a fascinating passage because it's beautiful language about communion, but it is also a strong reprimand to the church. Paul is concerned about divisions and argues that when the church is divided communion isn't really the Lord's supper.

The divisions he's talking about here are economic and social divisions. It seems that people brought their dinner to the gatherings for the Lord's supper and that people weren't sharing what they had evenly. Paul says that eating and drinking too much while another doesn't have enough is humiliating to the poor and an insult to God's church. He follows that up with a basic review of what the Lord's supper means, which we still use at the table today.


1 Corinthians 11:17-26

17Now in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. 18For, to begin with, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you; and to some extent I believe it. 19Indeed, there have to be factions among you, for only so will it become clear who among you are genuine. 20When you come together, it is not really to eat the Lord’s supper. 21For when the time comes to eat, each of you goes ahead with your own supper, and one goes hungry and another becomes drunk. 22What! Do you not have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you show contempt for the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What should I say to you? Should I commend you? In this matter I do not commend you!

23For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, 24and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 25In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

veils and prophesy

Good morning friends,
Amazingly enough, yesterday was my first anniversary at Laurelton. Time really flies, and it's been a blessing to serve with you this last year. Today's reading is a tough one. We see clearly here that Paul was a man of his time and inherited the limits that come along with being a product of his environment, just as we all inherit the limits of our environments. Some scholars have argued that this section might not be original to the text, but was inserted later. I appreciate Paul, so I would like to believe that, but I'm not convinced.

Paul assumes here, as his audience assumed, that women and men are not equal. Some of the language he uses to express this is pretty shocking to us: "the husband is the head of his wife" and "If a woman will not veil herself, then she should cut off her hair," stand out especially. I don't think we can honestly understand the text without admitting that this is Paul's assumption. With that in mind, I'd like to say three things that soften Paul's project before moving on.

First, Paul assumes here that women are going to have public leadership roles in the church. He wouldn't tell them to wear a veil when prophesying if he thought they shouldn't prophesy in church. This idea is also supported by the fact that Paul acknowledged women leaders in the early church. He often mentions Priscilla as a leader and he refers to a woman named Junia as an apostle. Second, it seems one of Paul's concerns with limiting the role of women was how it would be perceived by those outside the church. He may have feared that "too much" equality would make people outside the church ignore the message because of the packaging. Third, Paul has a sense that the radical transformation that comes with being "in the Lord" changes the relationship between the sexes. Here he writes, "In the Lord woman is not independent of man or man independent of woman. For just as woman came from man, so man comes through woman; but all things come from God." More radically in Galatians he writes that in Christ there is no longer male or female.

What Paul says is often helpful, but it is not speech directly from God. One of Paul's arguments for women being subordinate is that God is the head of Christ. That's not the only time Paul makes a statement about Christ's subordination to God in this letter, either. A few centuries after Paul, this question of the Father and Son's relation was a topic of controversy and the Church affirmed that Father, Son and Spirit were co-equal and co-eternal. Of course the church at that time didn't examine the possibility that women and men were equal as well. It's also obvious that Paul is making much of his argument from cultural beliefs. While women still often wear their hair longer than men, we don't think of it as shameful for women to have short hair or for men to have long hair. It's interesting that in most pictures people paint of Jesus and the apostles they all had long hair, even though Paul says that's shameful. Paul didn't know everything, but let's not allow his limits to keep him from hearing his helpful advise on many other questions.


1 Corinthians 11:2-16

2I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions just as I handed them on to you. 3But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the husband is the head of his wife, and God is the head of Christ. 4Any man who prays or prophesies with something on his head disgraces his head, 5but any woman who prays or prophesies with her head unveiled disgraces her head—it is one and the same thing as having her head shaved. 6For if a woman will not veil herself, then she should cut off her hair; but if it is disgraceful for a woman to have her hair cut off or to be shaved, she should wear a veil.

7For a man ought not to have his head veiled, since he is the image and reflection of God; but woman is the reflection of man. 8Indeed, man was not made from woman, but woman from man. 9Neither was man created for the sake of woman, but woman for the sake of man. 10For this reason a woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels.

11Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man or man independent of woman. 12For just as woman came from man, so man comes through woman; but all things come from God. 13Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head unveiled? 14Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears long hair, it is degrading to him, 15but if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For her hair is given to her for a covering. 16But if anyone is disposed to be contentious—we have no such custom, nor do the churches of God.

Monday, February 1, 2010

casting out demons

Good morning Church,
This morning we follow Luke for another lesson before returning to Corinthians. I know it can be hard to follow the story in Luke since we often leave it for a while in between readings. We'll really jump into that story more consistently after Easter. To take a second for the big picture, Luke has presented the announcement stories for the special births of John the Baptist and Jesus, then the two births. After that we get a few stories from Jesus' childhood. Chapter 3 gives us the preaching of John to prepare the way for Jesus, then Jesus arrives, is baptized and anointed by the Holy Spirit. Luke gives us Jesus' genealogy then shows us the Holy Spirit leading Jesus into the desert to face Satan's temptation. After defeating Satan Jesus returns to start preaching; we saw him in Nazareth yesterday and today we see him in Capernaum.

It's interesting that Luke tells the story in this order, since in our passage from yesterday Jesus suggests that the crowd in Nazareth would say to him, "Do here the miracles we heard you did at Capernaum." That implies that this story happened before Jesus went to Nazareth, though he certainly could have gone twice. I'm sure we can think of stylistic reasons Luke might choose to present these two episodes as he does even if they actually happened in opposite order. As it happens, many scholars believe the stories about Jesus might have existed for some time as independent episodes before the Gospel writers shaped them into a unified narrative.

One of the striking things about this story is that the demons Jesus casts out know who he is and Jesus doesn't want them to tell anyone. Scholars have come up with different theories about why Jesus wanted to keep his identity a secret, and I won't review those now. I think we can come up with most of the same possibilities on our own. Luke and the other Gospel writers don't get into the why; they just mention that Jesus didn't want it to get out.

We also notice Peter has a mother in law, which implies he has a wife, though she isn't mentioned. Later Peter will mention to Jesus that the disciples have left everything to follow Jesus and perhaps he's thinking of a long ministry on the road away from his wife. Paul writes in First Corinthians that some apostles, specifically Peter (Cephas) traveled with wives. We don't hear about Peter's wife or mother in law again, but knowing she's there adds some depth to the sacrifice of the disciples' ministry with Jesus.


Luke 4: 31-44

31He went down to Capernaum, a city in Galilee, and was teaching them on the sabbath. 32They were astounded at his teaching, because he spoke with authority. 33In the synagogue there was a man who had the spirit of an unclean demon, and he cried out with a loud voice, 34“Let us alone! What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” 35But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!”

When the demon had thrown him down before them, he came out of him without having done him any harm. 36They were all amazed and kept saying to one another, “What kind of utterance is this? For with authority and power he commands the unclean spirits, and out they come!” 37And a report about him began to reach every place in the region.

38After leaving the synagogue he entered Simon’s house. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was suffering from a high fever, and they asked him about her. 39Then he stood over her and rebuked the fever, and it left her. Immediately she got up and began to serve them. 40As the sun was setting, all those who had any who were sick with various kinds of diseases brought them to him; and he laid his hands on each of them and cured them. 41Demons also came out of many, shouting, “You are the Son of God!” But he rebuked them and would not allow them to speak, because they knew that he was the Messiah.

42At daybreak he departed and went into a deserted place. And the crowds were looking for him; and when they reached him, they wanted to prevent him from leaving them. 43But he said to them, “I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other cities also; for I was sent for this purpose.” 44So he continued proclaiming the message in the synagogues of Judea.