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Sunday, April 22, 2007
Holy work takes shape in ministry with those in our communities and outside our circles. Holy work is shown by words and actions that wipe away tears, restore life, and testify to God’s love. Holy work unfolds when we open our lives to the Spirit and follow God’s leading. Holy work is done by those who see need and respond in Jesus’ example. Acts 9:36–43 The author of Acts, who probably also wrote Luke, identifies Tabitha with a title given to no other person in the New Testament: mathetria, the feminine form of the Greek word for “disciple.” Tabitha is one of many women in Luke-Acts who play significant roles, including leadership: Elizabeth and Mary; the women who minister to Jesus; the women who keep vigil at the cross; now Tabitha; later Lydia and Priscilla. Tabitha’s ministry among the widows of her community is evident in this text. Acts does not tell us whether Tabitha was herself a widow. The emphasis is on her work among them. And it is holy work. Hebrew and Christian scriptures alike declare God’s desire for widows to be treated with kindness and justice. The frequency of these urgings suggests that such mandates were not always heeded. Widows remained vulnerable. What does Tabitha do? She clothes them. In the example of Jesus, her compassion is hands-on. The narrator blends words and memories from Jesus’ ministry into this story. The raising of Tabitha strongly resembles Jesus’ raising of a little girl in Mark 5:35–41. The parallel is striking between the words of Peter (“Tabitha, get up”) and Jesus (“talitha cum,” Aramaic for “little girl, get up”). Also, Peter’s “showing” Tabitha to be alive uses the same word as in Acts 1:3: “[Jesus] presented himself alive.” Peter, too, engages in holy work, following the example of Jesus. Tabitha’s story illustrates the unfolding theme in Acts of pushing boundaries wider and wider. Persecution dispersed the church beyond Jerusalem and its vicinity (Acts 8:1). The baptisms of the Ethiopian official (8:38) and Saul (9:18) nudged the church’s practice of inclusion another step. Tabitha’s town, Joppa, had been the setting for Jonah’s call to minister to the hated Assyrians. In Acts, Peter makes a similar leap of faith in ministry among Gentiles (10:1ff). And Tabitha? Tabitha ministers with women routinely overlooked. In so doing, she weaves a community who grieves her death, celebrates her gifts, and witnesses her restoration to life. As Tabitha clothed and cared for her community, the psalmist in Psalm 23 speaks of God’s shepherding that restores human life. The verbs reveal the nature of God’s work: makes to lie down, leads, comforts, prepares, anoints. Revelation 7:9–17 offers the witness of those whose praise of God grows directly out of God’s saving action. In John 10:22–30, Jesus reveals that his works testify to his identity. As Tabitha’s character is revealed in her ministry with the widows, so Jesus’ actions reveal him. Some traditions observe this day as Good Shepherd Sunday. Psalm 23 has direct thematic connections with that observance. John 10:22–30 is set in an entire chapter that explores Jesus as the Good Shepherd. Consider Tabitha’s story. In what ways might her ministry provide another perspective into this observance and our own ministries of “shepherding”? Holy work gets done when a need is seen and then met. Tabitha and Peter emulate Jesus not only in words, but in actions as well. What might Tabitha teach us about ministry that is at once both ordinary and boundary-breaking? What might others “show” as evidence of your ministry in their midst?
Tuesday, April 17, 2007
We encounter Christ in dramatic turnings and quiet unfoldings that change us. The texts for this week tell stories of restoration that emerge from brokenness. They also speak the ancient confession of Jesus as kurios (“Lord”). The Risen Christ stands over and above all rival claims to our allegiance. The Spirit commissions us to this witness. Acts 9:1–6, (7–20) Earlier in Acts, those who gathered to witness the stoning of Stephen “laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul” (Acts 7:58). Saul approves of the killing, and then takes a leading role in “ravaging” the church (8:1–3). This persecution scatters the community. The focus scripture opens with Saul seeking out the dispersed followers of “The Way.” “The Way” is an expression for the Christian community in Acts. In Hebrew Scriptures, the “way” was an expression for living in conformity with the Torah. Acts’ adoption of this title suggests that its audience continued to regard itself as a part of the Jewish community. This first of three narratives of Saul’s encounter with Christ on the Damascus road (22:3–16; 26:4–23) contains three core details. This encounter begins with a flash of light that puts Saul on the ground. There is a voice that calls Saul by name and directs him what to do next. And there is the ensuing loss of Saul’s sight. Sometimes overlooked in the drama of Saul’s experience of call is the story of the call of Ananias. It, too, is a story of transformation. Like the rest of the dispersed Christian community, Ananias had good cause to mistrust Saul. Saul had done “much evil” to the church. Yet, on the Damascus road, Saul had been “turned.” So now Ananias is challenged to a turning of his own. Ananias is to go to Saul and bring healing to this former enemy. This is an encounter with Christ, whose call to reconciliation remains as timely for the church today as it was for Ananias. The Spirit brings restoration to Saul through both the word (“Brother Saul”) and touch of Ananias. The narrative ends with Saul’s proclamation of Jesus. Both Saul and Ananias have had encounters with Christ that transform them and their communities. As noted by Rob Wall in The New Interpreter’s Bible (vol. X, p. 150): “The primary purpose of visionary episodes in Acts is not to convert non-believers…but to commission prophets to missionary tasks.” God calls us into new life, whose freshness flows from restoration and toward mission. Psalm 30 celebrates the God who turns mourning into dancing, weeping into joy. In Revelation 5:11–14, the community worships the Lamb, once slaughtered, but now standing beside the throne of God. Peter, in John 21:1–19, reverses his threefold denial of Jesus (John 18:15–27) by threefold affirmation of love for Jesus. Peter’s restoration comes through encounter with Christ. Sunday’s texts depict encounter with God in many ways. Saul’s story comes in a dramatic turning, while Ananias’ story is in quiet persuasion. The psalmist speaks out of a near-death experience that results in healing and praise. In John, encounter comes in recognition on the lake, and then in a conversation after a meal. The faithful in Revelation encounter God in worship. Encountering Christ calls, restores, and commissions Christian community. The forms those encounters take vary widely, but they all lead to renewal. For they remind us in whose presence we live and in whose name we serve. In what ways, and through what persons, have you encountered Jesus? What trust is required for you to risk changing, especially in your places of brokenness, so that God’s Spirit may work renewal and restoration?
We encounter Christ in dramatic turnings and quiet unfoldings that change us. The texts for this week tell stories of restoration that emerge from brokenness. They also speak the ancient confession of Jesus as kurios (“Lord”). The Risen Christ stands over and above all rival claims to our allegiance. The Spirit commissions us to this witness. Acts 9:1–6, (7–20) Earlier in Acts, those who gathered to witness the stoning of Stephen “laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul” (Acts 7:58). Saul approves of the killing, and then takes a leading role in “ravaging” the church (8:1–3). This persecution scatters the community. The focus scripture opens with Saul seeking out the dispersed followers of “The Way.” “The Way” is an expression for the Christian community in Acts. In Hebrew Scriptures, the “way” was an expression for living in conformity with the Torah. Acts’ adoption of this title suggests that its audience continued to regard itself as a part of the Jewish community. This first of three narratives of Saul’s encounter with Christ on the Damascus road (22:3–16; 26:4–23) contains three core details. This encounter begins with a flash of light that puts Saul on the ground. There is a voice that calls Saul by name and directs him what to do next. And there is the ensuing loss of Saul’s sight. Sometimes overlooked in the drama of Saul’s experience of call is the story of the call of Ananias. It, too, is a story of transformation. Like the rest of the dispersed Christian community, Ananias had good cause to mistrust Saul. Saul had done “much evil” to the church. Yet, on the Damascus road, Saul had been “turned.” So now Ananias is challenged to a turning of his own. Ananias is to go to Saul and bring healing to this former enemy. This is an encounter with Christ, whose call to reconciliation remains as timely for the church today as it was for Ananias. The Spirit brings restoration to Saul through both the word (“Brother Saul”) and touch of Ananias. The narrative ends with Saul’s proclamation of Jesus. Both Saul and Ananias have had encounters with Christ that transform them and their communities. As noted by Rob Wall in The New Interpreter’s Bible (vol. X, p. 150): “The primary purpose of visionary episodes in Acts is not to convert non-believers…but to commission prophets to missionary tasks.” God calls us into new life, whose freshness flows from restoration and toward mission. Psalm 30 celebrates the God who turns mourning into dancing, weeping into joy. In Revelation 5:11–14, the community worships the Lamb, once slaughtered, but now standing beside the throne of God. Peter, in John 21:1–19, reverses his threefold denial of Jesus (John 18:15–27) by threefold affirmation of love for Jesus. Peter’s restoration comes through encounter with Christ. Sunday’s texts depict encounter with God in many ways. Saul’s story comes in a dramatic turning, while Ananias’ story is in quiet persuasion. The psalmist speaks out of a near-death experience that results in healing and praise. In John, encounter comes in recognition on the lake, and then in a conversation after a meal. The faithful in Revelation encounter God in worship. Encountering Christ calls, restores, and commissions Christian community. The forms those encounters take vary widely, but they all lead to renewal. For they remind us in whose presence we live and in whose name we serve. In what ways, and through what persons, have you encountered Jesus? What trust is required for you to risk changing, especially in your places of brokenness, so that God’s Spirit may work renewal and restoration?
Tuesday, April 10, 2007
The story of God at work in the world continues to unfold. The Spirit works through persons and communities whose words and deeds bear witness to the God who raised Jesus to life. Through that witness, God calls us to accountability and forgiveness. God still speaks, inviting all to receive the Spirit and follow God’s way. Acts 5:27–32 The book of Acts “bridges” the gospels and the New Testament letters, or epistles. Acts moves from stories of Jesus to the stories of Jesus’ community. Acts and Luke share special connections. Tradition attributes the author of Luke as the author of Acts also. But it is more than that. A gospel that began with an edict from Rome (Luke 2:1) comes full circle with the concluding testimony to Paul’s arrival in Rome (Acts 28:14ff). This unfolding story does not come without conflict. The confrontation in the focus scripture began in an earlier edict banning witness to Jesus (Acts 4:18). However, the book of Acts is as much about the acts of the Spirit as about the acts of the apostles, and edicts will not stifle the Spirit. This text too often has been made into an anti-Semitic rant, with tragic results. The problem here is not Judaism. Peter bears witness to Jesus’ raising by the “God of our ancestors.” The church affirms its Jewish roots. The problem is inflexible religious institutions and leaders who will not allow themselves or others to move with the freedom of God’s Spirit. This text calls such institutions and leadership to accountability, in Peter’s time and in our own. Peter’s answer to the Council echoes words and phrases of his Pentecost sermon (Acts 2:14–36). Peter defends the apostles’ witness on the basis of “obeying” God. The word translated as obey is peitharecho. It literally means “to follow or do first.” Obedience does not blind itself to reason. Obedience is a matter of priority. Faithful obedience puts first things first. “We are witnesses” reveals a central truth to the whole of Acts. Witness involves community. Witness takes shape in the community’s words, as it does here. Witness also takes shape in the totality of the community’s life together. Earlier passages in Acts tell of community in the sharing of goods, table fellowship, prayer, and attending to teaching. All that the Christian community does – then and now – forms our witness to what and Whom we “put first.” Today’s other readings share in affirming that “God will be God.” Psalm 118:14–29 speaks of God using a stone rejected by builders. God will be God in how and through whom God chooses to work. Using the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, Revelation 1:4–8 declares God to be Alpha and Omega, encompassing all. The litany of Psalm 150 renders praise to God that is universal both in setting and instrument. God will be God wherever life is found. In John 20:19–31 as well as Revelation 1:4–8, God is revealed through brokenness. The faith of Thomas and the wounds of Jesus run close together. The “piercing” of Jesus in Revelation addresses a community who knows suffering first-hand. The fracture in Acts between apostles and temple leaders is another intersection of brokenness and witness. These texts witness that God will be God in the midst in such experiences. We continue to encounter the God who will be God in our lives and our world. In the midst of our own unfolding experiences of God, the church remains a community called by the Spirit to witness. When is it a challenge to “put first things first” in terms of your faith and convictions? What might people in your community learn of the “God who will be God” from the witness of your life and the life of your church?
Sunday, April 01, 2007
The Easter story is at the center of Christian faith. Our lives orbit the mystery of Jesus alive and the tomb empty like the earth around the sun. In the Resurrection, the God of new things transforms reality and offers hope and life to all. Luke 24:1–12 or John 20:1–18 “He is not here, but has risen” (Luke 24:6). The Resurrection happens without any eyewitnesses. Stories of Jesus’ re-appearance to his disciples soon follow, but early on that first Easter morning there is only an empty tomb and angelic messengers to report the news. The Resurrection is an incredible event – not just in the popular sense of spectacular, but also in the sense of “not credible” or “not to be believed.” Though firmly asserting that Jesus is risen, Luke shows that the Resurrection can not be fully comprehended by human minds and hearts. The women at the tomb are perplexed and even frightened. They then describe to the apostles what they have experienced. Their report is received as an “idle tale” and not believed. The Greek word translated here as idle does not mean “chit-chat,” but rather “nonsense.” Why? Is it because humans try to make sense of new facts by fitting them into old frames of reference? Some things may require new frames. The empty tomb is God’s new frame and cannot be compared to other experiences. The Easter message is not just about a change in Jesus, but also about a change in all faithful followers. To live as an Easter people is to live with mystery and to allow that mystery to transform us. In the alternate gospel reading for today, John 20:1–18, there are three witnesses to the empty tomb – Mary Magdalene, Peter, and “the one whom Jesus loved” (v. 2). Although the story begins with Mary offering a plausible explanation for what has happened, it ends in mystery. The witnesses cannot explain the empty tomb or the folded burial cloth; they can only experience it and believe in God’s power. A condensed version of the Easter account can be found in Peter’s sermon to Cornelius and his household in Acts 10:34–43. Though Peter and the other apostles were not eyewitnesses to the Resurrection, they experienced the resurrected Christ and were able to share the power of this event with others. In this sense we are all able to be witnesses to the Resurrection as we proclaim the good news. The hope we experience in God’s transforming work is given expression by the prophet in Isaiah 65:17–25. This magnificent vision of a new heaven and a new earth is a glimpse of a world transformed by God. As we wonder at the stone that sealed Jesus’ tomb but did not seal Jesus’ fate, so the psalmist marvels that “the stone the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone” (Psalm 118:22). Psalm 118:1–2, 14–24, according to Jewish liturgical tradition, is one of the psalms sung at the Passover meal. It celebrates victory at the hand of God. That victory had seemed so unlikely! Only God could do this. As we ponder the Resurrection, we sense a similar victory. What else can we do but rejoice? In 1 Corinthians 15:19–26, Paul pushes the meaning of Easter beyond life and death to a vision of God being over all. Paul offers a context for understanding the power of the Resurrection to restore the world to wholeness in God by seeing Jesus as the countermeasure to Adam. Celebrating Easter is about changing our frame of reference from the expected to the incredible. God is present in what seems to be absence. In what ways have you sensed or experienced the joy of Easter?

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Kairos-Milwaukie UCC Blog

Reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary by Rev. Rick Skidmore and Rev. Jim Ogden.

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