Wednesday, March 31, 2010

the parable of the vineyard

Good morning friends,
The religious leaders aren't the only ones who become more aggressive in once Jesus enters the city. In our reading for today Jesus tells a parable warning of terrible judgment against the religious leaders and getting close to proclaiming openly who he is. The prophet Isaiah also has a parable about a vineyard, and several other times in the Old Testament a vineyard is used as a symbol for Israel. In this case God puts his vineyard in the care of some tenants to oversee it. Since the vineyard was a well known way of talking about Israel, the religious leaders figure out pretty quickly that they are the tenants who ought to have cared for God's vineyard and ought to have gladly given God the first fruits of the harvest.

That's not what these tenants do. Instead when the landlord sends servants (prophets) to collect his share the tenants beat them and send them away empty handed. So the landlord sends his only son (Jesus) thinking he will be respected. Instead, the tenants kill him, bringing judgment on themselves. Of course this story isn't just about the religious leaders of Jesus' time; it speaks to leaders in every time who are entrusted with the care of God's vineyard. All of us who lead are responsible to make sure that the vineyard bears good fruit and that we give the first fruits to God, remembering whose vineyard it is. The story also reminds us that God takes the stone rejected by the builders and makes it the foundation for a wonderful building. In this week that takes us through Christ's rejection we also look for ways we might be rejecting something God wants us to value highly.

May God bless you richly with reflection and transformation in this Holy Week,

Luke 20:9-19

9He began to tell the people this parable: “A man planted a vineyard, and leased it to tenants, and went to another country for a long time. 10When the season came, he sent a slave to the tenants in order that they might give him his share of the produce of the vineyard; but the tenants beat him and sent him away empty-handed. 11Next he sent another slave; that one also they beat and insulted and sent away empty-handed. 12And he sent still a third; this one also they wounded and threw out.

13Then the owner of the vineyard said, ‘What shall I do? I will send my beloved son; perhaps they will respect him.’ 14But when the tenants saw him, they discussed it among themselves and said, ‘This is the heir; let us kill him so that the inheritance may be ours.’ 15So they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them? 16He will come and destroy those tenants and give the vineyard to others.”

When they heard this, they said, “Heaven forbid!” 17But he looked at them and said, “What then does this text mean: ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone’? 18Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.” 19When the scribes and chief priests realized that he had told this parable against them, they wanted to lay hands on him at that very hour, but they feared the people.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

a tearful warning

Good morning friends,
Our ecumenical tenebrae service at St. Ambrose last night was a lovely service and a great opportunity to worship with our neighbors. Thursday we're looking forward to a potluck supper and worship service beginning at 6 pm for Maundy Thursday. Everyone is welcome, even if you aren't able to bring anything. This is a week full of worship opportunities at Laurelton. Check out the website for more information, and I hope to see you during the week.

This morning's reading shows us Jesus weeping over Jerusalem and its hard heart. Scholars believe that Luke's Gospel (along with Matthew and Mark) were written in the aftermath of the Roman destruction of Jerusalem after defeating a Jewish revolution. They point to Luke's vivid retelling of Jesus' prediction here as one example of why they think that. Jesus looks ahead to the destruction of Jerusalem and sees it as a consequence of refusing to hear God's call to repent. We also see the building violence of the religious leaders along with their fear of angering a crowd enraptured with Jesus. We'll see that violence grow during the week as we head towards Good Friday and the cross.

We can hear that call today as a warning to seek the truth and love that leads to deep peace and to turn from the ways we tune out God's call to justice. We don't usually think of it as violence, but our patterns of power and consumption play a role in the worldwide inequalities that keep many trapped in hunger and poverty. God calls us to seek the "things that make for peace" today as well as we walk with Jesus this week.

Luke 19:41-48

41As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it, 42saying, “If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. 43Indeed, the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up ramparts around you and surround you, and hem you in on every side. 44They will crush you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave within you one stone upon another; because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God.”

45Then he entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling things there; 46and he said, “It is written, ‘My house shall be a house of prayer’; but you have made it a den of robbers.” 47Every day he was teaching in the temple. The chief priests, the scribes, and the leaders of the people kept looking for a way to kill him; 48but they did not find anything they could do, for all the people were spellbound by what they heard.

Monday, March 29, 2010

extravagant love

Good morning church,
Yesterday we began Holy Week with Palm Sunday and Jesus's triumphant entry into Jerusalem. During Holy week there's a lot going on at church (check the website for the schedule of events; everyone is welcome and encouraged to join in all of our worship opportunities). In our daily readings during Holy Week we'll be taking a break from Acts to follow Jesus during this intense period. As you'll notice, we'll have a couple of different Gospels represented, so the order of events won't necessarily fit together, but spending time with Jesus in his last week will bring us deeper into the story.

In this morning's reading Jesus goes to eat with Mary, Martha and Lazarus, whom he has recently raised from the dead (Chapter 11). We see that this miracle brings many people to Jesus and also brings the wrath of the religious leaders on Lazarus as well as Jesus. In a show of remarkable love Mary anoints Jesus's feet with perfume and dries them with her hair. While Judas is scandalized, Jesus sees the love behind the action and praises her. Sometimes in the church we are afraid of physical things, but God gives us bodies as well as spirits to worship him and to love others. We begin Holy Week with Mary, worshiping at Christ's feet.

God bless,

John 12:1-11

1Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 2There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. 3Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus' feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.

4But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, 5"Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?" 6(He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) 7Jesus said, "Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. 8You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me."

9When the great crowd of the Jews learned that he was there, they came not only because of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 10So the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death as well, 11since it was on account of him that many of the Jews were deserting and were believing in Jesus.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

sacrifice and stoning

Good morning brothers and sisters,
On this Palm Sunday morning we welcome our Lord Jesus into the city of Jerusalem as king and redeemer of Israel. Our telling of this story from Luke (our second reading, especially for those who can't join in worship today) features loud crowds of disciples singing praise to God. The donkey Jesus rides in on is a royal symbol, thanks to a prophesy from Zechariah (9:9) that foretold the King of Israel riding in on a donkey. Neither Jesus nor the disciples nor the Pharisees missed what Jesus was saying by allowing (in fact organizing) a parade like this. Jesus is king and Lord; our job is to follow him with faith and joy.

Our first reading from Acts this morning continues the story of Paul and Barnabas in Lystra. If you remember from yesterday the crowd was starting to sacrifice animals to Paul and Barnabas because they thought they were gods after seeing Paul heal a man. Paul and Barnabas are horrified at the thought of being worshiped in place of the God they serve and they manage to stop the crowd and proclaim the truth.

This striking influence doesn't mean the opposition to their word is over; on the contrary a crowd opposed to them stones Paul and leaves him for dead outside the city. Fortunately, Paul isn't dead and he and Barnabas continue their journey eventually returning to Antioch where this journey had begun. They share their joyful journey, especially the new faith of the gentiles with the church in Antioch. Praise God for the ministry of faithful servants across history who have brought us to the opportunities in ministry we have today.

Palm Sunday blessings,

Acts 14:14-28

14When the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of it, they tore their clothes and rushed out into the crowd, shouting, 15“Friends, why are you doing this? We are mortals just like you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them. 16In past generations he allowed all the nations to follow their own ways; 17yet he has not left himself without a witness in doing good—giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, and filling you with food and your hearts with joy.” 18Even with these words, they scarcely restrained the crowds from offering sacrifice to them.
19But Jews came there from Antioch and Iconium and won over the crowds. Then they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead. 20But when the disciples surrounded him, he got up and went into the city. The next day he went on with Barnabas to Derbe. 21After they had proclaimed the good news to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra, then on to Iconium and Antioch. 22There they strengthened the souls of the disciples and encouraged them to continue in the faith, saying, “It is through many persecutions that we must enter the kingdom of God.” 23And after they had appointed elders for them in each church, with prayer and fasting they entrusted them to the Lord in whom they had come to believe.

24Then they passed through Pisidia and came to Pamphylia. 25When they had spoken the word in Perga, they went down to Attalia. 26From there they sailed back to Antioch, where they had been commended to the grace of God for the work that they had completed. 27When they arrived, they called the church together and related all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith for the Gentiles. 28And they stayed there with the disciples for some time.

*Palm Sunday Luke 19:28-40
28After he had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.
29When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, 30saying, "Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 31If anyone asks you, 'Why are you untying it?' just say this, 'The Lord needs it'" 32So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. 33As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, "Why are you untying the colt?" 34They said, "The Lord needs it." 35Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. 36As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. 37As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, 38saying,
"Blessed is the king
who comes in the name of the Lord!
Peace in heaven,
And glory in the highest heaven!"

39Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, "Teacher, order your disciples to stop." 40He answered, "I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out."

Saturday, March 27, 2010

opposed and worshiped

Good morning all,
Tomorrow we welcome Jesus into Jerusalem with palms waving, and we begin the intense conclusion of Lent we call Holy Week. The week is full of great opportunities to worship and to live into the story of Christ's last days. We'll be joining neighboring churches in an ecumenical tenebrae service at St. Ambrose at 7 pm on Monday for a beautiful and thoughtful worship service to begin Holy Week. Thursday brings us a potluck supper at Laurelton at 6 pm leading into communion as we remember Christ's last supper with the disciples and his tortured prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. On Good Friday we join other churches in a walk of the neighborhood beginning at Covenant United Methodist at 9 am to remember Christ's walk with the cross and to bear witness to the violence that threatens our community and the hope we have that God's peace will conquer hatred. At noon we'll gather in the sanctuary to hear the story of Christ's passion. Finally on Easter we'll gather at 10 am to celebrate the good news that Christ is risen in triumph. Join in for as many of these opportunities as you can and let the depth of Christ's love sink into your soul during this week; everyone is welcome for all of these events.

Today's reading continues the theme of challenges in evangelism. Paul and Barnabas continue their travels and proclaim the good news with power. God's presence is obvious to others and so many come to faith. At the same time many of the Jewish religious leaders and pagans oppose them. It shouldn't surprise us that the gospel faces opposition either then or now. God's amazing love in Christ defies the rigid structure organized religion sometimes becomes, and the inclusive community of the church challenges the divisions society often holds onto.

On the other hand, the powerful miracles God did through Paul and Barnabas sometimes attract people in the wrong way, as they did in Lystra. In that case the power everyone could see led people to worship Paul and Barnabas instead of the God they serve. The church always wants to be convincing, powerful and attractive when we proclaim God's good news and reach out to others with love. But we are the messengers, not the message; the point is God, not us.


Acts 14:1-13

The same thing occurred in Iconium, where Paul and Barnabas went into the Jewish synagogue and spoke in such a way that a great number of both Jews and Greeks became believers. 2But the unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers. 3So they remained for a long time, speaking boldly for the Lord, who testified to the word of his grace by granting signs and wonders to be done through them. 4But the residents of the city were divided; some sided with the Jews, and some with the apostles. 5And when an attempt was made by both Gentiles and Jews, with their rulers, to mistreat them and to stone them, 6the apostles learned of it and fled to Lystra and Derbe, cities of Lycaonia, and to the surrounding country; 7and there they continued proclaiming the good news.

8In Lystra there was a man sitting who could not use his feet and had never walked, for he had been crippled from birth. 9He listened to Paul as he was speaking. And Paul, looking at him intently and seeing that he had faith to be healed, 10said in a loud voice, “Stand upright on your feet.” And the man sprang up and began to walk. 11When the crowds saw what Paul had done, they shouted in the Lycaonian language, “The gods have come down to us in human form!” 12Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul they called Hermes, because he was the chief speaker. 13The priest of Zeus, whose temple was just outside the city, brought oxen and garlands to the gates; he and the crowds wanted to offer sacrifice.

Friday, March 26, 2010

surprising ears

Good morning all,
When Paul was first converted we overhear God telling Ananias that Paul will be a missionary to the gentiles. Here we see that ministry start to take shape. Paul's practice seems to have been going first to synagogues when he arrived in a new place. Here he does that with some success but also with some focused opposition. Because of the opposition from Jewish leaders Paul decides to go to the gentiles instead. As we'll see, this mission to the gentiles will be the main focus of Paul's ministry from here until the end of Acts.

For us today this story should make us grateful that God has brought us all into the covenant regardless of our background. It also reminds us that sometimes the people we expect to respond to God's love do not and we are called to share the good news with others who we might not expect to listen. Sometimes the most receptive ears are in the most surprising places.


Acts 13:42-52
42As Paul and Barnabas were going out, the people urged them to speak about these things again the next sabbath. 43When the meeting of the synagogue broke up, many Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who spoke to them and urged them to continue in the grace of God.

44The next sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. 45But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy; and blaspheming, they contradicted what was spoken by Paul. 46Then both Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly, saying, “It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken first to you. Since you reject it and judge yourselves to be unworthy of eternal life, we are now turning to the Gentiles. 47For so the Lord has commanded us, saying, ‘I have set you to be a light for the Gentiles, so that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’”

48When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and praised the word of the Lord; and as many as had been destined for eternal life became believers. 49Thus the word of the Lord spread throughout the region. 50But the Jews incited the devout women of high standing and the leading men of the city, and stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and drove them out of their region. 51So they shook the dust off their feet in protest against them, and went to Iconium. 52And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

grace and promise

Good morning friends,
This morning's reading continues Paul's sermon in the synagogue. Yesterday Paul recalled the promises God made to Israel and moved from there to John's testimony about Jesus. Today Paul continues by explaining Christ's death and resurrection as the fulfillment of those promises. Christ fulfills the promise because God promised to raise up a descendent of David as the chosen one to bring forgiveness. This is what we see in Christ.

Paul proclaims that in Christ there is freedom from sin that we can't find in the law. There's something about us that feels we have to earn our standing with God. The truth is that God forgives us as a gift. We can't earn God's love and we don't have to. Truly we are saved by grace, by pure love. Paul concludes with a warning not to let the opportunity of God's mercy in Jesus pass but to trust in Christ. I pray we would take the opportunity of Lent and especially of Holy week to trust God more in our lives.

God bless,

Acts 13:27-41
27Because the residents of Jerusalem and their leaders did not recognize him or understand the words of the prophets that are read every sabbath, they fulfilled those words by condemning him. 28Even though they found no cause for a sentence of death, they asked Pilate to have him killed. 29When they had carried out everything that was written about him, they took him down from the tree and laid him in a tomb.

30But God raised him from the dead; 31and for many days he appeared to those who came up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem, and they are now his witnesses to the people. 32And we bring you the good news that what God promised to our ancestors 33he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising Jesus; as also it is written in the second psalm, ‘You are my Son; today I have begotten you.’

34As to his raising him from the dead, no more to return to corruption, he has spoken in this way, ‘I will give you the holy promises made to David.’ 35Therefore he has also said in another psalm, ‘You will not let your Holy One experience corruption.’ 36For David, after he had served the purpose of God in his own generation, died, was laid beside his ancestors, and experienced corruption; 37but he whom God raised up experienced no corruption.

38Let it be known to you therefore, my brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you; 39by this Jesus everyone who believes is set free from all those sins from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses. 40Beware, therefore, that what the prophets said does not happen to you: 41‘Look, you scoffers! Be amazed and perish, for in your days I am doing a work, a work that you will never believe, even if someone tells you.’”

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

preaching the promise

Good morning friends,
Yesterday Susan noticed that a map would be especially helpful in reading some of the passages we've been reading together. That's certainly true, but I know I don't always open my Bible to look at a map, so let's make it a little easier. I linked a map to the blog (right hand side) to help put Paul's travels together. Paul and others certainly did put some miles on their sandals to spread the good news, and travel then was much harder than it is now.

In addition to Paul's travel, here we see a piece of his preaching in a synagogue. One thing I appreciate about how the apostles preach in Acts is that it's always simple and related to where they are. Today Paul is in a synagogue so he carefully relates the message about Jesus to the promises God gave Israel through David. He talks about Jesus as David's son and the fulfillment of God's promise to send a savior for Israel. In a synagogue this approach makes the most sense. We'll see a little later that Paul can use other ways to talk about Jesus when the situation calls for it.

Paul (and we) can do this because the good news about Jesus has something to say to every person and to every part of our life. One of the most important things we can do to strengthen our faith is to look for connections between scripture and our daily life. When we see life and faith tied together God does amazing things with our abilities.

God bless,

Acts 13:14-26

14but they went on from Perga and came to Antioch in Pisidia. And on the sabbath day they went into the synagogue and sat down. 15After the reading of the law and the prophets, the officials of the synagogue sent them a message, saying, “Brothers, if you have any word of exhortation for the people, give it.” 16So Paul stood up and with a gesture began to speak: “You Israelites, and others who fear God, listen. 17The God of this people Israel chose our ancestors and made the people great during their stay in the land of Egypt, and with uplifted arm he led them out of it. 18For about forty years he put up with them in the wilderness.

19After he had destroyed seven nations in the land of Canaan, he gave them their land as an inheritance 20for about four hundred fifty years. After that he gave them judges until the time of the prophet Samuel. 21Then they asked for a king; and God gave them Saul son of Kish, a man of the tribe of Benjamin, who reigned for forty years. 22When he had removed him, he made David their king. In his testimony about him he said, ‘I have found David, son of Jesse, to be a man after my heart, who will carry out all my wishes.’

23Of this man’s posterity God has brought to Israel a Savior, Jesus, as he promised; 24before his coming John had already proclaimed a baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel. 25And as John was finishing his work, he said, ‘What do you suppose that I am? I am not he. No, but one is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of the sandals on his feet.”26“My brothers, you descendants of Abraham’s family, and others who fear God, to us the message of this salvation has been sent.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

sent and opposed

Good morning brothers and sisters,
This is a strange little passage that gives us an interesting glimpse into the church. A few days ago we read that Saul and Barnabas were sent from Antioch to Jerusalem; in our reading today they are back in Antioch in worship. The Spirit calls the community to set them apart for a mission and they are promptly prayed for and sent. The image of the church as a network of believers with teachers moving from place to place to spread the message is a striking and compelling one.

In their ministry Saul and Barnabas meet someone who wants to learn more about God and a friend of his who wants to prevent that. We see Saul fix his gaze on the opponent and send temporary blindness on him. Of course, Saul knows about being blinded by God's power and we can hope that Bar-Jesus too will find God's light on the other end of that blindness. Certainly the man who initially wanted to hear God's word is strengthened in his faith by this display of power. Then Saul and Barnabas are back on their way, following the Spirit in new directions. May we hear where the Spirit is leading us today.

Acts 13:1-13

Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a member of the court of Herod the ruler, and Saul. 2While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” 3Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.
4So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia; and from there they sailed to Cyprus. 5When they arrived at Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews. And they had John also to assist them. 6When they had gone through the whole island as far as Paphos, they met a certain magician, a Jewish false prophet, named Bar-Jesus. 7He was with the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, an intelligent man, who summoned Barnabas and Saul and wanted to hear the word of God.

8But the magician Elymas (for that is the translation of his name) opposed them and tried to turn the proconsul away from the faith. 9But Saul, also known as Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked intently at him 10and said, “You son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, full of all deceit and villainy, will you not stop making crooked the straight paths of the Lord? 11And now listen—the hand of the Lord is against you, and you will be blind for a while, unable to see the sun.” Immediately mist and darkness came over him, and he went about groping for someone to lead him by the hand.

12When the proconsul saw what had happened, he believed, for he was astonished at the teaching about the Lord. 13Then Paul and his companions set sail from Paphos and came to Perga in Pamphylia. John, however, left them and returned to Jerusalem;

Monday, March 22, 2010

political fallout

Good morning all,
Today's reading is an odd one because it doesn't seem very related to the church. Herod discovers that Peter isn't in prison and has the guards executed. We grieve for the guards and their families since their failure to keep Peter in prison wasn't their fault. Then we hear about a political rift and reconciliation between Herod and the people of Tyre and Sidon. When Herod accepts praise almost as a deity God strikes him down for his arrogance. Right after this, we're told that the word of God continued to advance.

It seems like a random thought because Herod's death wasn't connected to the church's preaching. At the same time this passage takes a look at how the world's power compares with God's power. Even though God uses regular people in ministry, God's power lasts while even the strongest human ruler eventually falls to the ground. Herod can't stand against the church or against God. No matter what difficulties the church has, in the end God's mission will succeed and the world will be redeemed by God's love.

Blessings on the new week,

Acts 12:18-25

18When morning came, there was no small commotion among the soldiers over what had become of Peter. 19When Herod had searched for him and could not find him, he examined the guards and ordered them to be put to death. Then Peter went down from Judea to Caesarea and stayed there.

20Now Herod was angry with the people of Tyre and Sidon. So they came to him in a body; and after winning over Blastus, the king’s chamberlain, they asked for a reconciliation, because their country depended on the king’s country for food. 21On an appointed day Herod put on his royal robes, took his seat on the platform, and delivered a public address to them. 22The people kept shouting, “The voice of a god, and not of a mortal!” 23And immediately, because he had not given the glory to God, an angel of the Lord struck him down, and he was eaten by worms and died. 24But the word of God continued to advance and gain adherents. 25Then after completing their mission Barnabas and Saul returned to Jerusalem and brought with them John, whose other name was Mark.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

another escape

Good morning all,
Yesterday's reading reminded us of the persecution the church faced when Stephen was killed, a persecution led by the Jewish religious leaders. Today's reading shows us another persecution with the death of another leader of the church. This persecution was led by King Herod instead. Herod was a Jewish king, but he ruled by Rome's authority. The involvement of the government in battling the church is a new and troubling development for the Christian movement, but as church history shows, even Rome's power can't stop God's work in the church. The ancient church leader Tertullian even said, "The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church."

Our second reading is from today's Sunday lectionary, and it fits really well with what we've been reading in Acts. Paul is addressing people both inside and outside the church who put their confidence in following the Law of Moses. Paul talks about his own history and his flawless Jewish credentials including his persecution of the church. He then goes on to make the case that what matters in the end isn't our heritage or our upbringing or even our religious observance. What matters is the righteousness of Jesus Christ which takes us in and makes us righteous. Because of Christ's grace our merits and faults don't matter; we are free and called to move forward in love and service. We are called to strain towards Christ's calling to be like him and to be part of his body in the world. May Christ continue and finish the work he has already begun in each of us.

God bless,

Acts 12:1-17

About that time King Herod laid violent hands upon some who belonged to the church. 2He had James, the brother of John, killed with the sword. 3After he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also. (This was during the festival of Unleavened Bread.) 4When he had seized him, he put him in prison and handed him over to four squads of soldiers to guard him, intending to bring him out to the people after the Passover.

5While Peter was kept in prison, the church prayed fervently to God for him. 6The very night before Herod was going to bring him out, Peter, bound with two chains, was sleeping between two soldiers, while guards in front of the door were keeping watch over the prison. 7Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared and a light shone in the cell. He tapped Peter on the side and woke him, saying, “Get up quickly.” And the chains fell off his wrists. 8The angel said to him, “Fasten your belt and put on your sandals.” He did so. Then he said to him, “Wrap your cloak around you and follow me.”

9Peter went out and followed him; he did not realize that what was happening with the angel’s help was real; he thought he was seeing a vision. 10After they had passed the first and the second guard, they came before the iron gate leading into the city. It opened for them of its own accord, and they went outside and walked along a lane, when suddenly the angel left him. 11Then Peter came to himself and said, “Now I am sure that the Lord has sent his angel and rescued me from the hands of Herod and from all that the Jewish people were expecting.”

12As soon as he realized this, he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John whose other name was Mark, where many had gathered and were praying. 13When he knocked at the outer gate, a maid named Rhoda came to answer. 14On recognizing Peter’s voice, she was so overjoyed that, instead of opening the gate, she ran in and announced that Peter was standing at the gate. 15They said to her, “You are out of your mind!” But she insisted that it was so. They said, “It is his angel.” 16Meanwhile Peter continued knocking; and when they opened the gate, they saw him and were amazed. 17He motioned to them with his hand to be silent, and described for them how the Lord had brought him out of the prison. And he added, “Tell this to James and to the believers.” Then he left and went to another place.

*Sunday Philippians 3:4b-14

4bIf anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: 5circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; 6as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.

7Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. 8More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. 10I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, 11if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

12Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

training new believers

Good morning all,
Our reading for today reflects on what had happened in the church since Stephen's death. That death had been the beginning of a persecution that scattered many of the believers. When they scattered, the disciples took the good news of Jesus with them and the faith spread. Here we learn that in Antioch some of the believers started preaching to Hellenists as well as to Jews. The term "Hellenist" is a difficult one to pin down. Often it was used to mean a Jew who was shaped by Greek language and views. Here, since it is used in distinction to Jews it seems to also mean gentile. In any case new people were coming to the Lord.

Barnabas was sent to investigate this new thing and was excited, so he brought his new friend Saul to help in the education of these new Christians. Luke notes that Antioch was where the term "Christian" first came into use. Antioch also becomes one of the most important cities for theological training as the church matures. In this passage we also hear that Christians decided to take up collections for the church in Judea, a subject we hear about often in Paul's letters. God takes advantage of all kinds of different situations to offer good news and hope to new people. Where is God leading you this coming week?

God bless,

Acts 11:19-30

19Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that took place over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, and they spoke the word to no one except Jews. 20But among them were some men of Cyprus and Cyrene who, on coming to Antioch, spoke to the Hellenists also, proclaiming the Lord Jesus. 21The hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number became believers and turned to the Lord.

22News of this came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. 23When he came and saw the grace of God, he rejoiced, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast devotion; 24for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were brought to the Lord. 25Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, 26and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. So it was that for an entire year they met with the church and taught a great many people, and it was in Antioch that the disciples were first called “Christians.”

27At that time prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. 28One of them named Agabus stood up and predicted by the Spirit that there would be a severe famine over all the world; and this took place during the reign of Claudius. 29The disciples determined that according to their ability, each would send relief to the believers living in Judea; 30this they did, sending it to the elders by Barnabas and Saul.

Friday, March 19, 2010

conversion and controversy

Good morning brothers and sisters,
They say that the path of true love never did run smooth, and that's just as true with God's love for us as for any star-crossed lovers Shakespeare invented. For Peter, the decision to baptize Cornelius and his friends and family was easy because God was obviously leading the way. To the leadership who weren't there, on the other hand, this is a scandal. By law Peter shouldn't have even gone to Cornelius's house, much less stayed overnight and eaten with them.

But Peter knows what God was doing and he remembers what Jesus said about receiving a baptism of the Holy Spirit. It all fits together for him, so he explains it to the others. Once they have heard the whole story they rejoice as well because God's mercy extends further than they imagined. God is good beyond measure and gives all of us the gift of repentance and new life.
Thanks be to God.

God bless,

Acts 11:1-18

Now 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 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.”

Thursday, March 18, 2010

clean and unclean, part 3

Good morning everyone,
This morning's reading shows how Peter explained the good news to Cornelius and his friends and family. His presentation is very simple beginning with John's baptism and including Jesus' healing, death and resurrection. He also says, "All the prophets testify about him, that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness in his name." What stood out most for me in Peter's words is the focus on witness: disciples are called to witness to what Jesus did and to his resurrection.

In the early church when believers were baptized they received the Holy Spirit. Here, God leads the way again by giving the new gentile believers the Holy Spirit before they were baptized. God wants it to be very clear that gentiles as well as Jews are welcomed into the new thing God is doing through Jesus. God leads us to reach out to everyone because God truly shows no partiality.


Acts 10:34-48

34Then Peter began to speak to them: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, 35but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. 36You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ—he is Lord of all. 37That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: 38how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. 39We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem.
They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; 40but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, 41not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. 43All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”
44While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. 45The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles, 46for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter said, 47“Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” 48So he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they invited him to stay for several days.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

clean and unclean, part 2

Happy St. Patty's day all,
This morning's reading continues our story of Peter and Cornelius. After Peter's vision of a large sheet full of ritually unclean animals that God showed him along with the words, "Whatever God has made clean you must not call unclean" Cornelius's messengers arrive at the door. Notice when Peter gets to Cornelius's house he has made the connection God wanted him to make. The vision was only partly about food, the more important point is that God made people clean so we shouldn't consider anyone unclean. God calls everyone to discipleship and God calls us to welcome everyone.

One of the things I think is funny about this passage is that God is directing every part of this and the human actors are figuring it out as they go. Peter tells Cornelius, "God showed me this so when your men came I went. Do you mind telling me why you sent for me?" Cornelius replies, "God told me to send for you, I'm waiting to hear what God wants you to say." Neither person knows what is going to happen, but they have heard God's call and obeyed. They trust that since God is behind this something good will come out of the situation. I pray that I would have that same spirit and courage in my life, and I pray that you would to.
God bless,

Acts 10:19-33

19While Peter was still thinking about the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Look, three men are searching for you. 20Now get up, go down, and go with them without hesitation; for I have sent them.” 21So Peter went down to the men and said, “I am the one you are looking for; what is the reason for your coming?” 22They answered, “Cornelius, a centurion, an upright and God-fearing man, who is well spoken of by the whole Jewish nation, was directed by a holy angel to send for you to come to his house and to hear what you have to say.” 23So Peter invited them in and gave them lodging. The next day he got up and went with them, and some of the believers from Joppa accompanied him.

24The following day they came to Caesarea. Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his relatives and close friends. 25On Peter’s arrival Cornelius met him, and falling at his feet, worshiped him. 26But Peter made him get up, saying, “Stand up; I am only a mortal.” 27And as he talked with him, he went in and found that many had assembled; 28and he said to them, “You yourselves know that it is unlawful for a Jew to associate with or to visit a Gentile; but God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean. 29So when I was sent for, I came without objection. Now may I ask why you sent for me?”

30Cornelius replied, “Four days ago at this very hour, at three o”clock, I was praying in my house when suddenly a man in dazzling clothes stood before me. 31He said, ‘Cornelius, your prayer has been heard and your alms have been remembered before God. 32Send therefore to Joppa and ask for Simon, who is called Peter; he is staying in the home of Simon, a tanner, by the sea.’ 33Therefore I sent for you immediately, and you have been kind enough to come. So now all of us are here in the presence of God to listen to all that the Lord has commanded you to say.”

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

clean and unclean, part 1

Good morning sisters and brothers,
If you are an advocate for equality in the church and society this is a chapter you can't do without. In those days the Jewish community kept itself separate from their gentile neighbors. Separation helped to strengthen ties within the community and protected the community from blending in with pagan society. Kosher law forbid Jews to eat food outside the law or share a table with people outside their faith. This outlook naturally became a part of the early church's perspective because it was a Jewish movement. None of the leaders of the church intended to start a new religion; instead they were bringing a new word from God to the faith of their ancestors like the prophets before them.

But God didn't just want to speak to Israel; God wants to bring the whole world into the family. Remember, the mission Jesus gives the apostles was to witness in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth. God knows that Peter and the church are going to have a hard time accepting gentiles into the fellowship. So the Spirit sets up carefully before revealing God's inclusive plan to the church. Cornelius is a gentile who worships Israel's God and clearly takes that seriously. God sets things in motion with a vision for Cornelius and a vision for Peter before bringing these two men together. We'll continue this amazing story tomorrow.


Acts 10:1-18

In Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion of the Italian Cohort, as it was called. 2He was a devout man who feared God with all his household; he gave alms generously to the people and prayed constantly to God. 3One afternoon at about three o’clock he had a vision in which he clearly saw an angel of God coming in and saying to him, “Cornelius.” 4He stared at him in terror and said, “What is it, Lord?” He answered, “Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God. 5Now send men to Joppa for a certain Simon who is called Peter; 6he is lodging with Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the seaside.” 7When the angel who spoke to him had left, he called two of his slaves and a devout soldier from the ranks of those who served him, 8and after telling them everything, he sent them to Joppa.

9About noon the next day, as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. 10He became hungry and wanted something to eat; and while it was being prepared, he fell into a trance. 11He saw the heaven opened and something like a large sheet coming down, being lowered to the ground by its four corners. 12In it were all kinds of four-footed creatures and reptiles and birds of the air. 13Then he heard a voice saying, “Get up, Peter; kill and eat.” 14But Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is profane or unclean.” 15The voice said to him again, a second time, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” 16This happened three times, and the thing was suddenly taken up to heaven. 17Now while Peter was greatly puzzled about what to make of the vision that he had seen, suddenly the men sent by Cornelius appeared. They were asking for Simon’s house and were standing by the gate. 18They called out to ask whether Simon, who was called Peter, was staying there.

Monday, March 15, 2010

simple healing

Good morning friends,
This morning brings us two amazing healing stories from the early church. Peter cures a paralyzed man and raises a woman from the dead through prayer. I love the simplicity of both of these miracles: Peter says to Aeneas: "Jesus Christ heals you; get up and make your bed!" and "Tabitha, get up." I love the faith and boldness in such a straightforward miracle. While this is certainly surprising in itself, we may remember that Jesus told the disciples (in John's Gospel) that when the Holy Spirit came they would do even greater works than Jesus had done.

God still has exciting plans for us through the Holy Spirit. Most of the healing we will do is healing relationships and hopelessness. Miraculous physical healing is pretty rare these days, but the healing that does happen in communities of faith is important and in its own way miraculous too. So keep praying and keep loving because God is with us.


Acts 9:32-43

32Now as Peter went here and there among all the believers, he came down also to the saints living in Lydda. 33There he found a man named Aeneas, who had been bedridden for eight years, for he was paralyzed. 34Peter said to him, “Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you; get up and make your bed!” And immediately he got up. 35And all the residents of Lydda and Sharon saw him and turned to the Lord.

36Now in Joppa there was a disciple whose name was Tabitha, which in Greek is Dorcas. She was devoted to good works and acts of charity. 37At that time she became ill and died. When they had washed her, they laid her in a room upstairs. 38Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples, who heard that Peter was there, sent two men to him with the request, “Please come to us without delay.” 39So Peter got up and went with them; and when he arrived, they took him to the room upstairs. All the widows stood beside him, weeping and showing tunics and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was with them.

40Peter put all of them outside, and then he knelt down and prayed. He turned to the body and said, “Tabitha, get up.” Then she opened her eyes, and seeing Peter, she sat up. 41He gave her his hand and helped her up. Then calling the saints and widows, he showed her to be alive. 42This became known throughout Joppa, and many believed in the Lord. 43Meanwhile he stayed in Joppa for some time with a certain Simon, a tanner.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

danger and welcome

Good morning and happy Lord's day to you,
This morning's passage from Acts shows the beginning of Saul's hardships. God told Ananias that he would show Saul, "How much he must suffer for the sake of the name [of Christ]." Today we start to see what that might look like. Saul must be a particularly troubling voice for the opponents of the church since he used to see things their way. He also has a ton of biblical and traditional knowledge that he immediately puts to use in proclaiming Jesus to the world. No wonder they want to kill him.

It must have been really hard for Paul to go from his narrow escape to almost being rejected by the church leadership in Jerusalem. I'm sure there were many times in his ministry that he felt like he had left much behind and that he truly had no home. There's no shortage of criticism of Paul's ideas, particularly about women, and rightly so. But there's also a lot to admire about his faith and courage and much to learn from him as well.

As far as our second passage goes, the parable of the prodigal son is familiar to many of us, and everyone in worship today will hear me preach on it. What I would encourage you to do is to take a moment and put yourself in each of the different character's position and imagine what you would be feeling as the story unfolds. Truly God wants to welcome each of us home with the rich and reckless love of the father in the story. Come home to God's loving embrace.

God bless,

Acts 9:23-31

23After some time had passed, the Jews plotted to kill him, 24but their plot became known to Saul. They were watching the gates day and night so that they might kill him; 25but his disciples took him by night and let him down through an opening in the wall, lowering him in a basket. 26When he had come to Jerusalem, he attempted to join the disciples; and they were all afraid of him, for they did not believe that he was a disciple. 27But Barnabas took him, brought him to the apostles, and described for them how on the road he had seen the Lord, who had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had spoken boldly in the name of Jesus. 28So he went in and out among them in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord. 29He spoke and argued with the Hellenists; but they were attempting to kill him. 30When the believers learned of it, they brought him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus. 31Meanwhile the church throughout Judea, Galilee, and Samaria had peace and was built up. Living in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it increased in numbers.

*Sunday Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32
1Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. 2And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, "This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them."
3So he told them this parable:
11b"There was a man who had two sons. 12The younger of them said to his father, 'Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.' So he divided his property between them. 13A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. 14When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. 15So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. 16He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. 17But when he came to himself he said, 'How many of my father's hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! 18I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; 19I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands."' 20So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. 21Then the son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.' 22But the father said to his slaves, 'Quickly, bring out a robe-the best one-and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; 24for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!' And they began to celebrate.
25"Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. 26He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. 27He replied, 'Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.' 28Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. 29But he answered his father, 'Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. 30But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!' 31Then the father said to him, 'Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.'"

Saturday, March 13, 2010

eyes opened once more

Good morning and happy Saturday,
Yesterday we read about Saul's vision of Christ on the road to Damascus and how he stayed in that city blinded (by the light, as it were) for three days. Today God sends a Christian named Ananias to heal Saul and welcome him into the church. Not surprisingly, Ananias has some misgivings about this plan given Saul's history, but he trusts God's leading and jumps right in.

Saul's transformation from persecutor to powerful voice for Christ is immediate. With Ananias's touch he receives his sight and the Holy Spirit and gets right to work "proving that Jesus is the Messiah." God's words to Ananias hold an ominous word about Saul's future as well, but that promise of suffering doesn't seem to deter Saul in his later ministry. What does the Spirit need to transform in you to make you a more effective instrument of God's grace?


Acts 9:10-22

10Now 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.” 21All who heard him were amazed and said, “Is not this the man who made havoc in Jerusalem among those who invoked this name? And has he not come here for the purpose of bringing them bound before the chief priests?” 22Saul became increasingly more powerful and confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Messiah.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Road to Damascus

Good morning all,
This is one of the more familiar passages in Acts for most of us. We've heard a little bit about this young man names Saul who has persecuted the church so vigorously. Today we see him have a radical conversion experience that changes everything. People often use Paul's experience as the classic conversion and speak of a "road to Damascus" experience. Paul himself retells the experience several times both in Acts and in his letters. It is a defining moment in the church's life because Saul will become one of the most important of the apostles. Truly the Spirit can do amazing things.
God bless,

Acts 9:1-9
Meanwhile 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 traveling 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.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Philip (and the Spirit) strikes again

Good morning brothers and sisters,
This morning's reading takes us back to Philip and to the founding of the Ethiopian church. It's sort of funny, here in the US we trace our faith back to Scotland and John Knox in the 1600s; in Ethiopia the Ethiopian Orthodox church traces its history to this passage in, say, 33 AD.

The Spirit tells Philip to take a particular road which leads him to an Ethiopian palace official returning home after worshiping in Jerusalem. The man is struggling with a piece of scripture and Philip asks if he wants some help. That offer leads to an opportunity to explain the good news about Jesus, which leads to the man's baptism and eventually to the faith of a nation. I love that scripture is so important to this passage because when we start with reading and seeking to understand scripture together amazing things can happen by the Spirit's power. Frankly, I think the Spirit is going to do exciting things at Laurelton through our deeper engagement with the Bible too.

The other thing I love about this passage is how open both Philip and the eunuch are to the Spirit's leading. The Spirit tells Philip to take a particular road and he goes; she tells him to go talk to a stranger and he goes; she picks him up and puts him down in a completely different town and he gets right back to proclaiming the good news where he is. The eunuch asks a stranger for help and after hearing the gospel sees water and immediately thinks baptism. I pray we would have the grace to seek and follow the Spirit's leading today.

God bless,

Acts 8:26-40

26Then an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Get up and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (This is a wilderness road.) 27So he got up and went. Now there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of the Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of her entire treasury. He had come to Jerusalem to worship 28and was returning home; seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah.

29Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over to this chariot and join it.” 30So Philip ran up to it and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah. He asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” 31He replied, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to get in and sit beside him. 32Now the passage of the scripture that he was reading was this: “Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter, and like a lamb silent before its shearer, so he does not open his mouth. 33In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth.” 34The eunuch asked Philip, “About whom, may I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” 35Then Philip began to speak, and starting with this scripture, he proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus.

36As they were going along the road, they came to some water; and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?” 38He commanded the chariot to stop, and both of them, Philip and the eunuch, went down into the water, and Philip baptized him. 39When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing. 40But Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he was passing through the region, he proclaimed the good news to all the towns until he came to Caesarea.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

magic and power

Good morning everyone,
So after Philip preached the good news in Samaria and many people came to the Lord, Peter and John come to check things out. When they find out the Holy Spirit hasn't filled these new believers they lay hands on them and the Spirit comes. It's interesting because before this usually when people were baptized in Jesus' name the Spirit came right away, but the Spirit does whatever she wants.

We met Simon that magician yesterday and were told that he had been a crowd pleaser because of his magic. In yesterday's passage he came to faith, though that seems to have been at least in part because of the wonders Philip was doing. Today he asks the apostles to sell him the power of giving the Holy Spirit. Peter rebukes him and Simon repents; one can't buy God's favor or the Spirit's power. It's interesting that even though the wonders of God's power attract him, Peter's simple rebuke sets him on the right track.

Acts 8:14-25

14Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. 15The two went down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit 16(for as yet the Spirit had not come upon any of them; they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus). 17Then Peter and John laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.

18Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, 19saying, “Give me also this power so that anyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” 20But Peter said to him, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain God’s gift with money! 21You have no part or share in this, for your heart is not right before God. 22Repent therefore of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you. 23For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and the chains of wickedness.” 24Simon answered, “Pray for me to the Lord, that nothing of what you have said may happen to me.” 25Now after Peter and John had testified and spoken the word of the Lord, they returned to Jerusalem, proclaiming the good news to many villages of the Samaritans.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

scattered, but still witnessing

Good morning all,
This morning we see the aftermath of Stephen's death: a severe persecution of the church. Saul approved of the killing of Stephen and now goes around dragging people out of their houses and putting them in prison. The church is scattered all over the area including not only Judea but Samaria as well. Samaria was thought of by most Jews as an unclean area. The Samarians had been brought in by the Babylonians during the exile to repopulate Israel and now they worshiped Israel's God, but most Jews still resented them as interlopers with bad theology. That's why Jesus's story of the good Samaritan is controversial.

Here too, the church makes an opportunity out of persecution. They scatter by necessity but turn that situation into mission. Philip is another of the deacons elected earlier who starts proclaiming the good news about Jesus and making new disciples. This expansion of the good news isn't just random either. Jesus gives the pattern for the church's mission in the beginning of Acts saying: "But 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.” We see this pattern unfolding as the church is scattered from Jerusalem to Judea and Samaria. The rest of the book will show the church taking the message to the ends of the earth, a movement that continues with us today.

God bless,

Acts 8:1-13

And Saul approved of their killing him. That day a severe persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout the countryside of Judea and Samaria. 2Devout men buried Stephen and made loud lamentation over him. 3But Saul was ravaging the church by entering house after house; dragging off both men and women, he committed them to prison.
4Now those who were scattered went from place to place, proclaiming the word. 5Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah to them. 6The crowds with one accord listened eagerly to what was said by Philip, hearing and seeing the signs that he did, 7for unclean spirits, crying with loud shrieks, came out of many who were possessed; and many others who were paralyzed or lame were cured. 8So there was great joy in that city.

9Now a certain man named Simon had previously practiced magic in the city and amazed the people of Samaria, saying that he was someone great. 10All of them, from the least to the greatest, listened to him eagerly, saying, “This man is the power of God that is called Great.” 11And they listened eagerly to him because for a long time he had amazed them with his magic. 12But when they believed Philip, who was proclaiming the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. 13Even Simon himself believed. After being baptized, he stayed constantly with Philip and was amazed when he saw the signs and great miracles that took place.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Stephen's death

Good morning sisters and brothers,
Today we come to the end of Stephen's defense. As we've seen, the case he is building isn't to show that he is innocent but rather to show that Jesus is the Messiah. He's taken us through the history of Israel from Abraham to Moses. In yesterday's reading we saw that he started to highlight Israel's resistance to God's leadership through Moses. Today he mentions the tent of meeting in the desert and Solomon's temple, arguing that God doesn't live in the temple because all creation is God's. Of course Stephen in right when it comes to what the Bible says about the temple. Even Solomon says that God doesn't live in temples. But Stephen is on shaky ground because the accusation against him is that he said Jesus would destroy the temple and change the traditions handed down to Israel.

Then Stephen moves right into calling the leaders a stiff-necked people and repeating the accusation that for generations the leadership has persecuted and killed the prophets God sent to them. Not surprisingly, this gets the leaders upset; but the icing on the cake is when Stephen tells them he sees God's glory with Jesus standing beside the throne. So they drag him out and stone him to death. Notice the parallel to Christ's death in his prayer that God not hold this sin against the people. Also notice that the witnesses lay their cloaks at the feet of a young man named Saul; we'll hear much more about him later as you know. Stephen is the first martyr of the church and the story of his faith and courage still inspires us today.

Blessings on your week,

Acts 7:44-60
44“Our ancestors had the tent of testimony in the wilderness, as God directed when he spoke to Moses, ordering him to make it according to the pattern he had seen. 45Our ancestors in turn brought it in with Joshua when they dispossessed the nations that God drove out before our ancestors. And it was there until the time of David, 46who found favor with God and asked that he might find a dwelling place for the house of Jacob. 47But it was Solomon who built a house for him. 48Yet the Most High does not dwell in houses made with human hands; as the prophet says, 49‘Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. What kind of house will you build for me, says the Lord, or what is the place of my rest? 50Did not my hand make all these things?’

51”You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you are forever opposing the Holy Spirit, just as your ancestors used to do. 52Which of the prophets did your ancestors not persecute? They killed those who foretold the coming of the Righteous One, and now you have become his betrayers and murderers. 53You are the ones that received the law as ordained by angels, and yet you have not kept it.”

54When they heard these things, they became enraged and ground their teeth at Stephen. 55But filled with the Holy Spirit, he gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56“Look,” he said, “I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” 57But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him. 58Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he died.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Stephen's trial, part 3

Good morning all,
Happy Lord's Day to you; I pray it finds you well. Our reading this morning from Acts takes Stephen's story on a turn for the worse because now he's moving from God's calling to our resistance. He relates how Israel resisted Moses and worshiped the golden calf and how idolatry eventually led God to send Israel into exile. Notice that Stephen also sets the stage for Jesus by remembering that Moses told the people that God would raise up a prophet like him in the future.

Our second reading, especially for folks who won't be able to worship with us today is a beautiful passage of promise and hope from Isaiah. God calls everyone to the waters of new life and to the abundant feast of life with God. And Isaiah reminds his readers that God always calls us to repentance and always promises to forgive us abundantly. The call is from futility to fruitfulness, from the dry desert of having it our way to the rich, green fields where God shepherds us.
Come and follow; Lord pour out your grace,

Acts 7:35-43

35“It was this Moses whom they rejected when they said, ‘Who made you a ruler and a judge?’ and whom God now sent as both ruler and liberator through the angel who appeared to him in the bush. 36He led them out, having performed wonders and signs in Egypt, at the Red Sea, and in the wilderness for forty years. 37This is the Moses who said to the Israelites, ‘God will raise up a prophet for you from your own people as he raised me up.’ 38He is the one who was in the congregation in the wilderness with the angel who spoke to him at Mount Sinai, and with our ancestors; and he received living oracles to give to us.

39Our ancestors were unwilling to obey him; instead, they pushed him aside, and in their hearts they turned back to Egypt, 40saying to Aaron, ‘Make gods for us who will lead the way for us; as for this Moses who led us out from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has happened to him.’ 41At that time they made a calf, offered a sacrifice to the idol, and reveled in the works of their hands.

42But God turned away from them and handed them over to worship the host of heaven, as it is written in the book of the prophets: ‘Did you offer to me slain victims and sacrifices forty years in the wilderness, O house of Israel? 43No; you took along the tent of Moloch, and the star of your god Rephan, the images that you made to worship; so I will remove you beyond Babylon.’

*Sunday Isaiah 55:1-9

Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. 2Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. 3Incline your ear, and come to me; listen, so that you may live. I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David. 4See, I made him a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander for the peoples. 5See, you shall call nations that you do not know, and nations that do not know you shall run to you, because of the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, for he has glorified you.

6Seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near; 7let the wicked forsake their way, and the unrighteous their thoughts; let them return to the Lord, that he may have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. 8For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. 9For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Stephen's trial, part 2

Good morning everyone,
This morning Stephen continues recounting the story of Israel to explain what God is doing now in Jesus. Here he tells the story of how Jacob's family went from resident aliens in favor with the King of Egypt to a nation oppressed in slavery. Then he tells about Moses' birth and eventual calling to lead Israel out of slavery.

In this passage it's only mentioned in passing, in tomorrow's passage and even more in Monday's passage Stephen will emphasize how the people of Israel resisted Moses' ministry and God's leading. This is to set the stage to discuss how the leadership rejected the prophets as well and how they turned away from the covenant with God. Stephen wants to show that the crucifixion of Jesus fits into this longstanding pattern of rejecting messengers sent from God. It's not an argument calculated to make the religious leaders happy, but instead to call them to repentance. May we hear God's call to repent from whatever holds us back,

Acts 7:17-34

17“But as the time drew near for the fulfillment of the promise that God had made to Abraham, our people in Egypt increased and multiplied 18until another king who had not known Joseph ruled over Egypt. 19He dealt craftily with our race and forced our ancestors to abandon their infants so that they would die. 20At this time Moses was born, and he was beautiful before God. For three months he was brought up in his father’s house; 21and when he was abandoned, Pharaoh’s daughter adopted him and brought him up as her own son. 22So Moses was instructed in all the wisdom of the Egyptians and was powerful in his words and deeds.

23“When he was forty years old, it came into his heart to visit his relatives, the Israelites. 24When he saw one of them being wronged, he defended the oppressed man and avenged him by striking down the Egyptian. 25He supposed that his kinsfolk would understand that God through him was rescuing them, but they did not understand. 26The next day he came to some of them as they were quarreling and tried to reconcile them, saying, ‘Men, you are brothers; why do you wrong each other?’ 27But the man who was wronging his neighbor pushed Moses aside, saying, ‘Who made you a ruler and a judge over us? 28Do you want to kill me as you killed the Egyptian yesterday?’ 29When he heard this, Moses fled and became a resident alien in the land of Midian. There he became the father of two sons.

30“Now when forty years had passed, an angel appeared to him in the wilderness of Mount Sinai, in the flame of a burning bush. 31When Moses saw it, he was amazed at the sight; and as he approached to look, there came the voice of the Lord: 32‘I am the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.’ Moses began to tremble and did not dare to look. 33Then the Lord said to him, ‘Take off the sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy ground. 34I have surely seen the mistreatment of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their groaning, and I have come down to rescue them. Come now, I will send you to Egypt.’

Friday, March 5, 2010

Stephen's trial, part 1

Good morning brothers and sisters,

Yesterday we read about Stephen, one of the first deacons and his arrest for preaching the good news. He was accused in court of trying to overthrow religious tradition; today Stephen begins his defense. Acts is notable for a lot of things, among them is the number of lengthy speeches by leaders of the early church that give us a sense for what the church taught at that time. Here Stephen is making the case for Jesus as the Messiah to Jewish religious leaders. So, logically, he sets a firm foundation for his proclamation in the scriptural story of Israel and God's promises to them. From there he will show how Jesus fulfills those promises.

This passage begins with the high priest asking Stephen if "these things" are true. "These things" refers to the accusation that Stephen is teaching that Jesus would destroy the temple and change the customs and laws handed down by Moses. Stephen could have honestly said, "No, that's not true," but instead he uses the opportunity to explain what he is teaching. Yesterday's passage ended with the line, "They looked at him intently and they saw that his face was like the face of an angel." That alerts us that Stephen is not alone as he speaks, but is guided by the Holy Spirit.

May the Spirit's courage and love be with you today,

Acts 7:1-16

Then the high priest asked him, “Are these things so?” 2And Stephen replied: “Brothers and fathers, listen to me. The God of glory appeared to our ancestor Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran, 3and said to him, ‘Leave your country and your relatives and go to the land that I will show you.’ 4Then he left the country of the Chaldeans and settled in Haran. After his father died, God had him move from there to this country in which you are now living. 5He did not give him any of it as a heritage, not even a foot’s length, but promised to give it to him as his possession and to his descendants after him, even though he had no child.

6And God spoke in these terms, that his descendants would be resident aliens in a country belonging to others, who would enslave them and mistreat them during four hundred years. 7‘But I will judge the nation that they serve,’ said God, ‘and after that they shall come out and worship me in this place.’ 8Then he gave him the covenant of circumcision. And so Abraham became the father of Isaac and circumcised him on the eighth day; and Isaac became the father of Jacob, and Jacob of the twelve patriarchs.

9“The patriarchs, jealous of Joseph, sold him into Egypt; but God was with him, 10and rescued him from all his afflictions, and enabled him to win favor and to show wisdom when he stood before Pharaoh, king of Egypt, who appointed him ruler over Egypt and over all his household. 11Now there came a famine throughout Egypt and Canaan, and great suffering, and our ancestors could find no food. 12But when Jacob heard that there was grain in Egypt, he sent our ancestors there on their first visit. 13On the second visit Joseph made himself known to his brothers, and Joseph’s family became known to Pharaoh. 14Then Joseph sent and invited his father Jacob and all his relatives to come to him, seventy-five in all; 15so Jacob went down to Egypt. He himself died there as well as our ancestors, 16and their bodies were brought back to Shechem and laid in the tomb that Abraham had bought for a sum of silver from the sons of Hamor in Shechem.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

serving the Word/serving at tables

Good morning folks,
Our passage today relates an early controversy in the church and its solution. There was a dispute over food distribution between Hellenists and Hebrews. Remember at this point everyone in the church is Jewish but it seems that there was some degree of division based on degree of comfort within Greek society. When the passage talks about Hellenists it may mean Jewish Christians who were Jewish by conversion rather than by blood. It also might mean Jewish Christians who spoke Greek and had a largely Greek cultural outlook rather than Jews raised in Palestine apart from Greek culture. In either case the point at issue is Greek culture versus Hebrew culture within Judaism.

This passage recounts the election of the first deacons. Stephen and the others were chosen because of their character, wisdom and faith to make sure everyone in need was being served. It's interesting that the deacons were elected to take care of day to day responsibilities so the apostles could "devote themselves to serving the word," but Stephen immediately starts preaching and arguing in the synagogue. Clearly serving the word and serving at tables isn't mutually exclusive, but knowing that the details are taken care of allowed the apostles to be more effective in their ministry. We don't have deacons anymore at Laurelton, but the ministries of community care and attention to need continue to be important parts of our calling as a church. All kinds of service are rooted in faith; as we see with Stephen, we never know where that faith will lead us.

May God give us strength for the journey,

Acts 6:1-15

Now during those days, when the disciples were increasing in number, the Hellenists complained against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution of food. 2And the twelve called together the whole community of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should neglect the word of God in order to wait on tables. 3Therefore, friends, select from among yourselves seven men of good standing, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint to this task, 4while we, for our part, will devote ourselves to prayer and to serving the word.”

5What they said pleased the whole community, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, together with Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. 6They had these men stand before the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them. 7The word of God continued to spread; the number of the disciples increased greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.

8Stephen, full of grace and power, did great wonders and signs among the people. 9Then some of those who belonged to the synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called), Cyrenians, Alexandrians, and others of those from Cilicia and Asia, stood up and argued with Stephen. 10But they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he spoke. 11Then they secretly instigated some men to say, “We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God.” 12They stirred up the people as well as the elders and the scribes; then they suddenly confronted him, seized him, and brought him before the council. 13They set up false witnesses who said, “This man never stops saying things against this holy place and the law; 14for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and will change the customs that Moses handed on to us.” 15And all who sat in the council looked intently at him, and they saw that his face was like the face of an angel.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

an unexpected ally

Good morning brothers and sisters,
Yesterday we saw the apostles arrested for preaching about Jesus in the temple. An angel freed them from prison and they went right back to teaching in the temple. Not surprisingly, they are arrested again and the religious leaders are angry. The defense the apostles offer is that they must obey God instead of people. That brave and stubborn approach to life is a big part of what makes the early church successful and it is a big part of what keeps the church faithful in any time of persecution. People of faith follow God, no matter who tries to tell us not to.

Basically the trouble between the counsel and the apostles comes down to this: the counsel believes that teaching in Jesus name is blasphemy because it associates Jesus too closely with God. The apostles say that Jesus is the Messiah and God raised him from the dead, showing his favor. Fortunately for the apostles, a Pharisee comes to their aid. Gamaliel's argument cuts through the divide between the counsel and the apostles. He doesn't agree with the apostles but he argues for keeping an open mind and allowing the events to show the truth. If this is just a human movement it will fade away in time, especially after Jesus has been killed. If God is behind the movement the counsel certainly doesn't want to get in the way.

May we be both open-minded and stubbornly faithful,

Acts 5:27-42

27When they had brought them, they had them stand before the council. The high priest questioned them, 28saying, “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and you are determined to bring this man’s blood on us.” 29But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than any human authority. 30The God of our ancestors raised up Jesus, whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. 31God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior that he might give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. 32And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him.”

33When they heard this, they were enraged and wanted to kill them. 34But a Pharisee in the council named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, respected by all the people, stood up and ordered the men to be put outside for a short time. 35Then he said to them, “Fellow Israelites, consider carefully what you propose to do to these men. 36For some time ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a number of men, about four hundred, joined him; but he was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and disappeared. 37After him Judas the Galilean rose up at the time of the census and got people to follow him; he also perished, and all who followed him were scattered. 38So in the present case, I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone; because if this plan or this undertaking is of human origin, it will fail; 39but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them—in that case you may even be found fighting against God!”

They were convinced by him, 40and when they had called in the apostles, they had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. 41As they left the council, they rejoiced that they were considered worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of the name. 42And every day in the temple and at home they did not cease to teach and proclaim Jesus as the Messiah.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

healing and an escape

Good morning all,
This morning's reading shows the apostles' second run in with the religious authorities. The first time they were released with a warning to stop teaching about Jesus. They openly said they would follow God's orders rather than the counsel's. Today they are arrested again for teaching and for making a spectacle by healing. This time it is God who releases them from prison through an angel.

We can understand why the authorities would be upset about all of this because it seems like the apostles are really making a stir. In John's Gospel Jesus tells the disciples that they will do even greater works than he has done because of the Holy Spirit living in them. Here we see that promise coming true. Jesus healed many, even sometimes just by having someone touch the hem of his cloak. Here we see people bringing sick people out to where they know the apostles will be hoping Peter's shadow will pass over them for healing. The church is powerful when we proclaim the good news boldly, trusting in the Spirit's power.
Blessings on the day,

Acts 5:12-26

12Now many signs and wonders were done among the people through the apostles. And they were all together in Solomon’s Portico. 13None of the rest dared to join them, but the people held them in high esteem. 14Yet more than ever believers were added to the Lord, great numbers of both men and women, 15so that they even carried out the sick into the streets, and laid them on cots and mats, in order that Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them as he came by. 16A great number of people would also gather from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing the sick and those tormented by unclean spirits, and they were all cured.

17Then the high priest took action; he and all who were with him (that is, the sect of the Sadducees), being filled with jealousy, 18arrested the apostles and put them in the public prison. 19But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors, brought them out, and said, 20“Go, stand in the temple and tell the people the whole message about this life.” 21When they heard this, they entered the temple at daybreak and went on with their teaching.

When the high priest and those with him arrived, they called together the council and the whole body of the elders of Israel, and sent to the prison to have them brought. 22But when the temple police went there, they did not find them in the prison; so they returned and reported, 23“We found the prison securely locked and the guards standing at the doors, but when we opened them, we found no one inside.”

24Now when the captain of the temple and the chief priests heard these words, they were perplexed about them, wondering what might be going on. 25Then someone arrived and announced, “Look, the men whom you put in prison are standing in the temple and teaching the people!” 26Then the captain went with the temple police and brought them, but without violence, for they were afraid of being stoned by the people.

Monday, March 1, 2010

commitment and integrity

Good morning friends,
This morning's reading shows us that even the amazing community of the early church wasn't perfect. We read yesterday that no one in the church was needy because everyone shared their property completely. In today's reading we see, not surprisingly, that this kind of commitment was hard for some in the community. We don't know much about Ananias and Sapphira, but like others in the community they sold a piece of property and laid the proceeds at the apostles' feet to show they were sharing what they had. But they only brought part of the price of the sale; they held back some of it for themselves.

Peter's rebuke is revealing: he reminds Ananias that the field was his and he was free to do whatever he wanted. In other words, while Acts tells us that everyone shared everything, that sharing was voluntary. Christians shared what they had because they wanted to, but they didn't have to. The sin of Ananias and Sapphira starts with selfishness, but the deadly part of the sin is lying to God, not holding something back. Presumably, if they had come and told the church they were bringing part of the sale price they would have survived.

Commitment begins in love and demands integrity. To deepen our commitment to our faith and our community we need to truly love God and love the community. Then we need to be honest with ourselves and with God about what we're willing to give and what we still hold back.
May God guide us to live this week with integrity,

Acts 5:1-11

But a man named Ananias, with the consent of his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property; 2with his wife’s knowledge, he kept back some of the proceeds, and brought only a part and laid it at the apostles’ feet. 3“Ananias,” Peter asked, “why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back part of the proceeds of the land? 4While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, were not the proceeds at your disposal? How is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You did not lie to us but to God!” 5Now when Ananias heard these words, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard of it. 6The young men came and wrapped up his body, then carried him out and buried him. 7After an interval of about three hours his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. 8Peter said to her, “Tell me whether you and your husband sold the land for such and such a price.” And she said, “Yes, that was the price.” 9Then Peter said to her, “How is it that you have agreed together to put the Spirit of the Lord to the test? Look, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.” 10Immediately she fell down at his feet and died. When the young men came in they found her dead, so they carried her out and buried her beside her husband. 11And great fear seized the whole church and all who heard of these things.