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Wednesday, May 30, 2007
As we enter this Season after Pentecost, we encounter again the God who creates and delights in us, loves us, frees us, and calls us into discipleship. On Trinity Sunday, the texts invite us to explore images of God: Creator, Wisdom, Saviour, Spirit who guides into all truth. As we explore who God is, we rejoice in God’s world and work with God to care for creation. Psalm 8 When the psalmist looks at the created world, there is amazement. How majestic God is! God’s glory is seen in all that God has made. We human beings, even the youngest, respond to such wonders with praise for God’s goodness and loving care. God is our strong support. The middle section of the psalm celebrates humankind. The psalmist is amazed that God is mindful of us. Though insignificant in size compared to the majesty of the skies, we are just a little lower than God and "crowned with glory and honour" – an attribute usually given to God. We are made in God’s image, and this psalm celebrates our special place in the world God has made What does it mean to be "crowned with honour"? Verses 6 to 8 spell this out. We are given dominion over the created world. Does "dominion" mean having control over the earth to abuse it at will? We do need the harvest of land and sea in order to live. Yet often we abuse our position and act in ways harmful to the environment and to others with whom we share this planet. "Dominion" is not domination. God trusts us to look after the world and calls us to be partners in caring for creation. How can we be mindful of creation as God is mindful of us? Another story of creation is told in Proverbs 8:1–4, 22–31. It describes Wisdom, a female figure – the first to be created by God and God’s partner when all things were made. Some readings of the text describe Wisdom as "like a master worker," helping God with the work of creation. Some say "like a little child," delighting in the human race, the crown of God’s creation. Wisdom claps her hands with joy, a wonderful image of the playfulness present in creating such a varied and amazing world. Also sounding the theme of God’s amazing love for us, in Romans 5:1–15 Paul reminds us that we are justified by faith. Through Jesus Christ, obedient to God even to death, we have access to God’s grace and peace with God. Christians in Rome faced severe persecution. Paul encourages them to hang on to their belief in God’s loving care. Some have misused this passage to suggest that suffering is necessary in order to produce hope. Rather, Paul is lifting up the assurance of God’s own presence with us in the midst of the world’s tribulations. We celebrate the faith and hope that God’s love pours into our hearts by the Holy Spirit. Jesus is glorified by God’s Spirit, and that glory comes to us as God’s children. In John 16:12–15, Jesus promises the gift of the Spirit to guide us into truth. The Spirit helps us understand who Jesus is. The Spirit is our mentor, teaching us to take up our role as disciples. Sunday's lessons are a series of snapshots revealing something of who God is. The theme of glory recurs through these images – God’s glory, the glory and honour that crown humankind, and the glory of God that we share in Christ. God delights in us and in the created world; yet, we are limited by our humanity and cannot know God fully. Where do we catch glimpses of God’s greatness? How do we become partners with God in care for creation? In care for others? How is the Spirit guiding us as we learn what it means to be a disciple?
Tuesday, May 22, 2007
Spirited Voices Throughout the Easter season, the readings have led us in an exploration of the acts of the Spirit in the early church. These faith ancestors responded to God’s powerful presence in lives committed to mutual ministry. Pentecost Sunday is a day to celebrate the breath and fire of the Spirit that lives and moves and acts among God’s people. Acts 2:1–21 The events of the day of Pentecost are both surprising and expected. Expected by the reader because throughout the gospel of Luke – the first volume of the two-volume work that includes Acts – the Holy Spirit intervenes supernaturally on major occasions (Luke 1:35, 3:22). Expected, also, because the reader and the disciples know that the coming of the Spirit is promised, even from the very beginning of the gospel (Luke 3:16). Yet, the coming of the Spirit in this time and place also is surprising. Gathered in Jerusalem to celebrate the Jewish festival of Pentecost, bystanders are amazed to hear a multitude of languages being spoken by Galileans, who are notorious for being monolingual. If the disciples need convincing (see 1:6) that their mission is to have a scope beyond their group and nation, this surely provides it. The book of Acts tells us that Peter stands and speaks, referring to authorities that the crowd of Jews and Jewish converts know and trust. By referring to Abraham, Moses, and the prophets, Peter lets the crowd know that this giving of the Spirit is the action of God, not a freakish event. Peter relates not only to the traditions of his hearers but also to their recent experiences. Jesus, of whom they had experience, was empowered by this same God (see verses 22–24). With this speech or sermon the disciples begin a public ministry that will continue to be energized by the Spirit’s indwelling and fuelled by the Spirit’s power. It is this public ministry and this Spirit that are still the heart and soul of our church today. As Peter does in his sermon, the psalmist in Psalm 104:24–34, 35b identifies and praises God as the creator and sustainer of all that is. Nothing happens that is not known to God or is outside of God’s power. All things, even the sea, which seems so chaotic, are within God’s realm. Perhaps those who heard the disciples speak in a multitude of languages on Pentecost might have recalled the story of Babel in Genesis 11:1–9, the account of an ambitious people who attempted to overcome boundaries set in place by God. Divine judgment in response to their effort to “make a name for ourselves” included a confusion of human languages. As a leader in the early church community that was sparked by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, Paul describes the ongoing presence of the Spirit in Romans 8:14–17. By the Spirit each one becomes part of God’s family and is sustained by the Spirit in all situations, including suffering. In John 14:8–17, (25–27), a portion of Jesus’ farewell discourse to his disciples prior to his death, Jesus describes the role of the Holy Spirit as “his presence in his absence.” Just as the Spirit gave Jesus’ followers gathered at Pentecost the power to speak in many languages, so the Spirit – described here as “advocate” and “spirit of truth” – will give the disciples the means to bear witness to Jesus. Pentecost Sunday celebrates the animating and sustaining presence of God’s Spirit within the church. Perhaps it is for this reason that Pentecost is often celebrated as the “birthday of the Christian church.” The Spirit gives the church its mission and the power to undertake it. As you look into the future, what mission is the Spirit giving to you and your church?
Tuesday, May 15, 2007
Opportunities for unexpected ministry arise when faith confronts powers that oppress. When can we not walk away from situations of pressing need? Where does God call us to bring freedom and compassion? To live in Christ challenges us to engage in mission. To dwell in the Spirit renews us with waters of life. We trust God’s power to deliver. Acts 16:16–34. The practice of holding property and sharing goods in common marked the early church’s identity, as reported in the early chapters of Acts. This “community of goods” was exercised for the common good of all (Acts 4:32–34). In today’s focus passage, the “owners” of a young woman misuse her for the sake of personal gain. A confrontation unfolds between powers that exploit human life and those that bring deliverance. In an occurrence similar to the exorcisms by Jesus, the “spirit” in the girl speaks the truth about those through whom God works. Enacting the gospel’s liberation can be costly. The owners of this girl do not bring Paul and Silas to court out of theological disagreement. Their source of income has been cut off. In reprisal, they charge the pair on two counts. They are Jews (true). They advocate anti-Roman customs (false). Flogging and imprisonment result. The details of “innermost cell” and feet fastened in stocks paint a scene where escape seems impossible. Yet even before the earthquake physically looses their bonds, Paul and Silas act in freedom. They sing. They pray. The mission the magistrates intended to stop keeps its focus and adapts to its new locale. Prisoners listen. The gospel is proclaimed. Release comes to the captives and to the captor. For what shakes as much as, or more than, the ground is the certainty of the jailer. His question of “what must I do” calls to mind the same question that crowds asked of John the Baptizer (Luke 3:10) and then Peter on Pentecost (2:37). Compassion takes form when Paul and Silas respond to the jailer, rather than flee from his custody. The text ends with a marvellous picture of mutual ministry. The jailer takes Paul and Silas into his home and washes their wounds. Paul and Silas baptize the jailer and his household. They welcome former adversaries into the community. The night ends with a meal. Table fellowship is a key mark of Christian community in Acts. Peter’s vision (Acts 10:9–16) had broken the boundaries of such fellowship. Paul, Silas, and the jailer enact its grace. The themes of life in Christ and reconciliation with God connect several of our passages. John 17:20–26 relates the prayer of Jesus for disciples of all time. What binds us together across time and place is the gift of unity with God in Christ. Revelation 22:12–14, 16–17, 20–21 asserts that life is a gift as dependable as the One who guarantees it. We are all invited to receive this gift. God’s power to deliver provides the assurance that we may trust in God’s promises. Psalm 97 joins the promise of “rescue” with the assurance of justice. We are delivered to newness of life, not more of the same. Revelation affirms that God will come to “repay” according to one’s works. Reversals like those experienced by the slave girl, as well as by Paul and Silas and the jailer, narrate how God’s “repayment” includes rescue and justice. Abuses and violations of human worth still occur and may catch us off guard. Opportunities to witness and serve still arise unscheduled. The Spirit beckons our ministry in all situations.
Tuesday, May 08, 2007
Currents of God’s Spirit carry us in directions we may not have chosen and to margins where we may not have gone. Lydia welcomes the gospel’s message and its messenger by a river. Her baptism christens mutuality of ministry. Waters of life wash through all the readings today: inviting love, making persons whole, and imparting holy presence. Acts 16:9–15. In the verses preceding the focus scripture, the Spirit twice changed Paul’s planned itinerary. His intent to head east now encounters this vision to head west. This text provides another turning point in Acts. It is the first of several passages where the narrative shifts in voice from “they” to “we.” The author becomes an unnamed travel companion of Paul. Paul sails from Troas, a port city in Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey) to Neapolis of Macedonia (modern-day Greece). The boundary of Europe has been crossed. Other boundaries soon fall as well. Paul and his entourage go outside the gate of Philippi on the Sabbath to a place where women gather for prayer by the river. Paul sits and speaks with them. In that era, such an act constituted a breach of religious tradition. Men did not speak with women who were strangers. The affront parallels Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman (John 4). Among the women is one named Lydia, most likely a Gentile. The passage indicates she is from Thyatira and a dealer in purple cloth, a luxury item for the wealthy. This detail hints she is a woman of means who moves in privileged circles in her business. The omission of any reference to a man and to “her household” further suggests her independence. By giving her name, the author of Acts indicates Lydia played a major role in the Philippian mission. Acts weaves its story with the theme of openness to and opening by God’s Spirit. The Spirit opened Paul to a new geographical direction. Now, the Spirit opens Lydia’s heart to the gospel’s proclamation. Lydia and her household are welcomed into the Christian community through baptism. Lydia extends hospitality in return. She urges Paul and his companions to be guests at her home. The final verse of this chapter reveals that Lydia’s hospitality and leadership extends to hosting the new Christian church in Philippi. The movement of Lydia’s story, not to mention some of its language, is suggestive of the Emmaus Road episode (Luke 24:13–35), where the extending of hospitality prepares for discerning the risen Christ. Waters serve as a common backdrop in our readings. Lydia experiences and extends welcome by a river. Revelation 21:10, 22—22:5 speaks of the river of life that flows in the midst of Jerusalem. Those waters bring new life and fruitfulness. John 5:1–9 relates Jesus’ healing of an invalid by a pool. His cry for help, like that of the man in Paul’s vision, finds life-changing response. Inclusion and hospitality are also key themes in these passages. Psalm 67 celebrates God’s saving power “among all nations.” God’s praise is invited from “all peoples.” In John 14:23–29, Jesus promises that God is “making a home” among those who love. It is part of a passage that opened with the promise of a house with many dwelling places. The enduring nature of God’s welcome finds testimony in Revelation, where the gates of the city will never be shut. By the river, Paul welcomes Lydia into the church. Lydia then welcomes the church into her home. The ministry of Jesus Christ is mutual. When have you experienced God’s Spirit leading you into community with people who are different from you? What did you learn in that? In what ways does the example of Lydia encourage your own practice of hospitality – to those around you and to God’s Spirit?
Thursday, May 03, 2007
The Spirit breaks open the community of Christ to move in new ways. How and where we set boundaries in Christian community is always subject to the gracious nature of God’s love. The texts this week witness to a new vision for God’s people and of all creation. Where the Spirit leads, the church is called to follow in love. Acts 11:1–18 The story of Acts has steadily moved in the direction of the church becoming more inclusive. The crowds gathered on Pentecost have been a prelude to the welcome of Samaritan believers, the Ethiopian official, and now the “God-fearing,” gentile Cornelius and his household. Peter reports to the Jerusalem elders that this is the work of the Spirit. Criticism of Peter gives way to praise of God. The dietary codes set out in Leviticus 14 had defined what could and could not be eaten by followers of Judaism. In verse 6, Peter describes the animals he saw in his vision, coupled with the command to “kill and eat.” The animals listed by Peter are not all “unclean.” The point of the vision is that there is no distinction made between those that are “clean” and those that are not. Peter’s naming of these animals parallels lists in Genesis 1:24 and 1:26. Those summaries of God’s creatures are followed closely by the declaration of God’s assessing all that had been made as “very good.” That goodness of all creation is also a key element of this passage in Acts. “Profane” is the centrepiece of Peter’s initial objection to the vision. It is a word of various meanings. Peter uses it in the sense of something that is not holy. The more general meaning of the Greek word used here, koinos, is “common.” This same word is the root for koinonia. Koinonia, as it is used in Acts and the epistles, serves as a synonym for Christian community. Koinonia refers to the “common life,” shared by those who follow the way of Jesus. Peter thought there was something wrong with things that are “common,” yet our life within the Body of Christ is “common.” Peter here appears before the Jerusalem believers, some of whom have taken exception to the mission to the Gentiles. It is not the first time, nor will it be the last, that witnesses to Jesus find themselves questioned. Earlier, it had been by the Sanhedrin. Here and in Acts 15, it is by a council of Christian leaders. Later, it will be by local magistrates and Roman officials. Whatever the context, one central issue remains the same. How will those in authority balance commitment to tradition with openness to hearing a new word? Psalm 148 and Revelation 21:1–6 share the theme of new ways of seeing and praising God. In the psalm, all creation has a part in God’s praise. Even unclean things, as in Peter’s vision, are given voice and place. The author of Revelation celebrates God’s working of a new creation. New heaven and new earth invite fresh perspective and bring hope. Love as the touchstone of God’s nature and activity stands at the core of John 13:31–35. God has embraced us in such love through Christ. As a result, we find ourselves commanded to love others. Revelation 21:4 gives witness to such love. In tenderness, God’s love wipes away our tears. In power, God’s love destroys death. Such love returns us to Acts, where all find a place in community by the grace of God’s love. God has done, and still does, new things in our midst. God seeks individuals and communities willing to risk new ways of seeing and receiving. How can we open ourselves to welcome the still emerging and unfolding story of God’s gracious actions in our time? In what new ways might Jesus’ command to love take shape for us at Kairos?

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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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