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Tuesday, May 04, 2010
Lectionary Scriptures: Acts 16:9-15, Psalm 67:1-7, Revelation 21:10 & 22-22;5, John 14:23-29 or John 5:1-9

This week’s reading from Acts, chapter 16, contains the seeds for a variety of reflections.

1. The verses just before Paul’s vision tell of plans which have been frustrated. Here are verses 6-8: “They went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. When they had come opposite Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them; so, passing by Mysia, they went down to Troas.” Then comes the vision of a call from Macedonia. “Come over . . . and help us.” (vs. 9) Perhaps it calls us to think about how doors open and close. When one closes often another unexpected one opens. When we are intent just on our own plans we may miss the need that is crying out from another place or direction.

2. Their response to the call takes them to Philippi, a Roman colony, a military outpost built by Rome, (vs. 12) reminding us of the encounter of early Christianity with the power of the Roman empire. What happens when a few wandering people of faith come into the presence of the mighty powers of this world is always something to which we want to pay attention.

3. Paul and his party would usually have gone to the synagogue to teach and pray. There is none in this Roman stronghold. They go outside the city to the river where Jews might gather to pray. (vs. 13) Most commentators think it was indeed a Jewish place of prayer they found, although almost certainly not a building. I wonder if it might even have been a place of prayer of some other sort. Lydia, who is there with other women, is described as “a worshiper of God,” a phrase sometimes used to describe a Gentile convert to Judaism. (vs. 14) It may, however, been used in a broader sense.

God is often found outside the usual boundaries. Sometimes going to the place where God is at work moves us out into new frontiers. In this case, Paul and his party find themselves with a group of women (not the usual prayer companions in those days) who are perhaps not even praying the old familiar prayers or following the old familiar liturgy.

Psalms of praise are often hard to distinguish from one another. We can always reflect on what it means to praise God. Who does it? How is it done? In reading Psalm 67, we might want to think about what it means to ask God to bless us, or to wish God’s blessing upon someone. It begins and ends with a prayer for God’s continued blessing. (vss. 1 & 7)

The Hebrew word tanslated as “bless” comes from the word “to kneel.” To bless God is to kneel in adoration, sort of another way of saying, “Praise.” But what does it mean for God to bless us? Normally the word is taken to refer to some kind of benefit received. Is it possible that it suggests God is kneeling before us? Psalm 18:16 speaks of God reaching down. The Gospel message is about God dwelling among us. We are told, in Revelation 21:3, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them . . .” Kind of turns things upside down, doesn’t it.

This week we have, from Revelation, another vision of perfection. It reminds us that all things, even the most essential things of life like light and water, pale in importance when the Spirit of God is all-encompassing. God becomes the source of light and water, as God has always been even when we have failed to recognize it. (See especially Rev. 21:23 & 22:1-5.)

In this vision of perfection, there is no temple. It’s not needed. God’s presence is sufficient. I’m not ready to give up on the importance of the gathered community, whether it’s in homes or a temple, but this vision is a reminder that the temple is not what defines our life together. It is not the building, Kairos-Milwaukie United Church of Christ on Logus Road, that defines who we are. It is the Spirit of God at work in our relationships and ministries. When we talk about “church” and try to be “church,” what image of “church” guides us?

In John, chapter 14, we find Jesus talking with his disciples about his leaving them. He links his love with that of his “Father.” (vss. 23-24) A third party appears, or is promised, “the Holy Spirit.” (vs. 26) It is one of the few places in the New Testament where all three parties of what we have come to call “The Trinity” are mentioned together. The Holy Spirit will be sent by the Father “in my name,” Jesus says. A spiritual presence rather than a physical presence will become available to guide us.

Jesus departing message is one of peace, stated in those words so familiar to many of us: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” The feeling of being abandoned can be scary, very scary indeed, but Jesus says, “I’ll still be with you—just in a different form. Don’t be afraid.” What are we afraid of? Can we find comfort and strength in the promise and presence of a Spirit of Peace—inner peace even in the midst of turmoil?

I once heard a sermon, based on the reading from John, chapter five, that lifted up the question in verse six as the key to this story of healing. “Do you want to be made well?” Sometimes the things that ail us become convenient crutches. We may not even be aware of the ways in which we use them as excuses or manipulations.

Many people have real ills that defy almost all medical efforts. This question is not for them. Nevertheless, the starting point of any change, whether it is a matter of health or a matter of social injustices, is a deep inner desire to see that change come about. It is always important to pay attention to our deep inner longings to see what growth and possibility they might arouse in us.

Also note that this man has been in this condition for thirty-eight years, just inches from healing waters, and no one has stepped up to help him. In fact, they have trampled over him to be the first into the water. Are there some parallels to be drawn as we look at health care issues today? Is it every man or women for himself or herself, or are we trying to build a climate in which we all work together to see that everyone gets into the pool? Is it only those with the most resources who get the treatment that is needed, while the rest wait in line for thirty-eight years or longer?

As usual, when we read scripture, questions and possibilities are put before us. I’m pleased to be part of a community where we ask difficult, life-changing, questions and work together to find and live our answers. It may not be as grand as the vision in Revelation, but being part of such a community represents, for me, a little bit of heaven on earth, or at least provides a glimpse of what it can be and is becoming.

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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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