Tuesday, May 31, 2016

a soldier's faith. a servant's life.



The story.   Gospel of Luke 7:1-11
1After Jesus had finished all his sayings in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum. 2A centurion there had a slave whom he valued highly, and who was ill and close to death. 3When he heard about Jesus, he sent some Jewish elders to him, asking him to come and heal his slave. 4When they came to Jesus, they appealed to him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy of having you do this for him, 5for he loves our people, and it is he who built our synagogue for us.” 6And Jesus went with them, but when he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to say to him, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; 7therefore I did not presume to come to you. But only speak the word, and let my servant be healed. 8For I also am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and the slave does it.” 9When Jesus heard this he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, he said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” 10When those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the slave in good health.

 What's it mean? 
This weekend many of us pause to remember those men and women soldiers and sailors who gave their lives on the battlefield’s of American history.   With bravery, most of these sacrifices were made in foreign countries; Europe, Africa, the Middle East, Southeast Asia…President Obama has made pilgrimage to Hiroshima and Vietnam in recent weeks---mainly to suggest that former enemies can become allies, partners, friends over time with diplomacy and leadership.  Germany and Japan have become important U.S. allies and points of stability in the world.  The moral arc of the universe bends toward Justice.  As we remember and honor the soldiers who gave the last full measure of valor, storming beaches, invading jungles, crossing deserts, we hear a story about Jesus and a Roman soldier---the enemy occupier of Israel. 
The Roman centurion is a commanding officer responsible for 100 Roman soldiers.  He is there as part of the occupying forces on the ground in Israel.  He is stationed in the north away from the city of Jerusalem.  He’s thankful for that.  Jerusalem is far more dangerous.  Apart from a few rabble rousers, his time in Galillee has been relatively easy time.  He has learned that military occupation of foreign territory requires some finesse.  He appreciates the stress civilians experience with soldiers patrolling their streets.  And some soldiers do not act with valor or respect toward others.  He does.  He has come to like these Jews.  When their synagogue burned down last year, he and his men joined the work crew and helped them rebuild it.  By doing so, he has built relationships with local leaders.  He can acquire intelligence from them and Capernaum remains a safe place for everyone. 
There is a Rabbi who heals sick people.  They say he made a blind person see and a paralyzed man walk. When the centurion’s servant boy becomes deathly ill, he remembers the rabbi called Jesus.  He speaks with a couple of the Jewish elders, asking them if they thought Jesus might help him. But why would a Jewish Rabbi help the enemy?  Why should he care what happens to Roman soldiers or their households?  The man knows he is not a Jew, knows he is the enemy of Israel.  But the Jewish elders insist that they go and ask Jesus on his behalf.  When they return to say that Jesus is on his way, the solider is shocked.  But the boy, his slave has gotten sicker.  He will die without help.  He sends friends to meet Jesus on the way and to tell him that he understands authority and power.  He knows that when he gives an order, even from a distance, if it isn’t carried out people could die.  He knows that authority and command are given from a higher seat of power.  He draws a parallel between his life and the life of the healer.  And he knows that if Jesus says the Word, his servant boy will be healed.  Jesus is astonished and announces that his faith exceeds that of all of Israel.  And the boy is healed.  A soldier, enemy occupier of Israel, has faith? 
What does Jesus mean by faith?  Faith is not personal assent to religious belief and practice.  Faith is not rooted in ethnicity.  It is not tied to one’s piety.  Those who go to synagogue, or church, who read their bible and pray daily are not the only ones with faith.  We do not know what this man knew of holy scripture, of prayer, of God.  He was a Gentile Roman soldier, enemy of Israel and he had great faith.  Perhaps it was his character---the Jews say he is worthy to have this done, but he himself says he is not worthy to receive Jesus into his home.  Humble and generous.  So is that why Jesus calls him faithful?  I think it is simply for this reason:  Because he called on Jesus and believed that Jesus could heal.  He did so on behalf of a very sick child.  Faith may be a single act, in which a community of people act together on behalf of someone in need.  Those people may be enemies who come together for a common cause.  What does it mean for us to respect the faith of our "enemies"? When we face matters of life and death, faith shows us the power of God.     
I noticed how many people are involved in the care of this sick slave boy.  Jewish elders, friends of a soldier, a Roman Centurion.  A community of people, both Jews and Gentiles, seek out Jesus for his sake, for a slave boy.  Everyone is worthy to be healed in the kingdom of God.  No one is insignificant.  GOD favors the poor, the slave, the servant---those in the bottom of the economic and social pyramid.  God sees them and powerfully helps themAnd those who cannot speak or act for themselves can be borne up to God.  Something about this story is like intercessory prayer.  When we pray for others, Jesus hears us.  And something about this story is an answer to the prayer of Solomon, who prayed that God would even hear and answer the prayers of the foreigner.  Solomon, King of Israel, prayed that God would listen to his enemies!  And now God listens to Israel’s enemies, who come to Jesus for healing! Foreign enemies are included in the Kingdom of God, a borderless kingdom.    
Something like this story is happening in our midst.  Today a child has been borne up to us.  She has been brought here to this community, brought for healing and cleansing from sin and death.  Today, we baptize Tegan Lynn and welcome her into the kingdom of God.  Tegan comes here because of the faith of her parents, grandparents, and great grandparents.  This is the place where they met Jesus.  Those people helped to build this place. They are worthy to have this done for them. Though we do not perform baptism today because of that or them.  It is not their character or their religious devotion that gives them access to Jesus, to the mercy and love of God.  It is only this.  They asked on her behalf.  Those who are far off and those who are near; those who have been enemies and those who are friends, those who are ethnically and culturally other and those who are citizens, foreigners and strangers and dearest loved ones---all are received and welcomed into the household and  kingdom of God. No one is insignificant here.  Rejoice today, the Lord brings rebirth, healing, and new life here and now. And a child is blessed and we are blessed to be part of it.  Amen.                   

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Replacements

Scripture:  Acts 1
In those days Peter stood up among the believers (together the crowd numbered about one hundred and twenty people) and said, ‘Friends, the scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit through David foretold concerning Judas, who became a guide for those who arrested Jesus— for he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry.’ (Now this man acquired a field with the reward of his wickedness; and falling headlong, he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out. This became known to all the residents of Jerusalem, so that the field was called in their language Hakeldama, that is, Field of Blood.) ‘For it is written in the book of Psalms,
“Let his homestead become desolate,
   and let there be no one to live in it”;
and
“Let another take his position of overseer.”
So one of the men who have accompanied us throughout the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these must become a witness with us to his resurrection.’ So they proposed two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also known as Justus, and Matthias. Then they prayed and said, ‘Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which one of these two you have chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.’ And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias; and he was added to the eleven apostles.

Observation 

After Jesus departs, the community gets organized.  Peter steps into public leadership.  They address the "elephant in the room"---Judas' betrayal of Jesus and his death by suicide.  Notice Peter suggests that Judas played a role, albeit a tragic one, in the mission of Jesus.  And that he was indeed one of them, "allotted a share in this ministry".  He does not demonize him or reject him as an apostle.  He was, in fact, also chosen!  So they set out to replace him, because every person has a place, a calling, a role to play.  They establish criteria for election; they propose two possible candidates; they pray a simple prayer; they roll dice; and Matthias is chosen.  The eleven didn't elect him. It is the Spirit that chooses through prayer and chance. 

Application
Little is known about Matthias.  But he is selected into apostolic leadership.  He will help to organize and direct the community of disciples.  Why didn't the apostles just operate without a 12th man? I mean, Jesus chose those 12 people to accompany him and be his disciples.  Because, if Peter didn't do this, the movement would die with the remaining 11. And Jesus expected them to go and make more disciples, learning to do what he did, to love like he loved.  Peter begins a process of leadership regeneration and multiplication.  (Notice 12 represents one tenth of the total population.)  Each of them becomes responsible overseers of 10 people. 
We're all replacements.  Someone came before us, preparing a way for us to be part of Jesus' love revolution.  You have been called, chosen, to play a role in the emerging faith community here. What is it?  How does your participation organize and multiply the community's mission and impact?  What is your experience of Jesus and the gospel?  What is it about him---his teaching, his work, his life--- that draws you in, inspires you, challenges you?

Prayer  
Lord, you know everyone's heart. Show each of us why and to what you are calling us as leaders of this emerging expression of church in this place.  Amen. 

Thursday, May 05, 2016

UP and OUT

Scripture:  Acts 1
In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over the course of forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. ‘This’, he said, ‘is what you have heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.’  So when they had come together, they asked him, ‘Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?’ He replied, ‘It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. 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.’ When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up towards heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up towards heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.’

Observation:
 Luke's gospel closes with this story and the book of Acts opens with it.  Like brackets--this event marked the end of one chapter and the beginning of another chapter in the story of God, Jesus, and the the new community of disciples.  It is a kind of coronation event.  Jesus is revealed as the true Lord of earth and heaven (not Caesar), as he rises above to the heavenly realm of God. And a graduation, too.   For the disciples must begin a new life without Jesus' physical presence and leadership, living out the radical way of love he taught them.  What will happen to this fledgling body of believers in resurrection miracles and divine justice/mercy?
There are also two promises made:  1.  He will return.  2.  The Holy Spirit is coming.

Application:
Where did he go?  No other gospel answers this question well.  After death and the grave, Jesus continues to live on.  But where?  Real history, myth, speculation---how do we receive this ascension story?  Did he literally float off to "heaven"?  And where is that?  Beyond space and time?  This is an unsolved mystery that is filled with significance and meaning for church.
Absent its founder and teacher, how will this "school of faith-active-in-love" continue? I think this is the key question.  Jesus is viewed quite early on by the faith community as a person of great authority and power.  As Lord, King, Savior, Messiah, in some deeper union with God.  This ascendency is tied to his resurrection from the dead, a miracle that vindicates and affirms his identity as the restored Son of God.  But, he does not remain present to them after some time.  He departs.  His departure marks a turn in history.  For it is after this that the church will emerge, called out of their former lives to a new way of life--the Jesus way.  They will become responsible for the perpetuation of the love revolution.
What do we take away?  Jesus handed over power to his followers. Great leaders know when to get out of the way to let others take over.  Jesus created a culture with reproducible habits and practices given away to his followers to imitate.  Then he left.  They will do what he did. The revolution will spread like wildfire out of control.  Because the message and the ministry are exactly what the world needed.  And still needs.  Mercy.  Forgiveness. Economic justice.  Shared abundance.  Servant love.  So now, its our turn.  With spiritual guidance and courage beyond ourselves, we are called out.                 
Prayer
 Lord, here we are.  Send us.  We'll do what we can.  Our neighbors need us to do so.  You command us to love like you love us.  And you love us to death, to life, from beginning to end.  More than we can imagine.  Help us to follow you UP and OUT.  Amen. 

Wednesday, May 04, 2016

that we may be one

Scripture: John 17


 [Jesus prayed:] 20“I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, 21that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, 23I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. 24Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.
25“Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. 26I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”

Observation:

That all may be one.  Unity.  Communion.  A shared life of love. Jesus prays for the people who receive faith by hearing the message his first disciples bring.  Basically, he prays for the next generations of His people, which includes us.  Not for materialistic needs.  But for our inner selves to be connected to God through His love.  I in them and you in me.  God is in us. That does not mean that I am God or you are God.  It means that the goodness and love out of which we are made dwells in our minds, hearts, spirits.  We are spiritual beings. We breathe.  We connect.  We pray.  Jesus intends for his followers to experience divine love---a powerful,redemptive, healing love--the force that binds all things together.  Jesus' anticipated your and my participation in His life.  He prayed for us, because he wants us to know his love and his peace.     

Application 
Connection, authentic loving relationships. This is the heart of Christian spirituality/religion.  If your practice as a Christian person does not involve love, you are missing Jesus' point.  Christianity is not a program. It is not entertainment.  It is not a rock concert.  A lot of what churches do today to attract people has nothing to do with Jesus or a sense of communion with God.   In fact, we may be doing a lot and forgetting ourselves and God in the process.  This is why prayer matters.
Prayer is the inner ear, the inner voice, the moment of silence in which one becomes reconnected.  I have experienced this kind of communion sitting on a mountain above Lake George in the ADK.  Eating with close friends.  Being with my wife and kids on a quiet day. I experienced God this morning.  I was waiting for someone for an appointment we had together.  She didn't show up.  Turns out, we both needed a way out of that appointment so that we could stop, breathe, remember that God is in control, surrender our need to get things done and abide in the Word.  Today, I say yes to God, who speaks.  In the passage above, I hear God say to me:  I am inside, close, near.  You are loved absolutely.  You are being sent to the world I love with good news.  But let it be good news for you too.  Rest in my grace.  Nothing you do or fail to do today will change what matters--life in me. Perfect love.  Joy.  Peace.  Calm. 
So, in my mind I am going to Lake George.  To my mountain.  To warm sun and fresh air and silence and the presence of the God who loves me.  Wanna come with me? 

Pray:
Lord, I want to surrender myself to your presence, your love, your peace.  I want to experience oneness, unity, communion with you and all of life.  Help me to stop and breathe and trust you.  Amen. 
     

Tuesday, May 03, 2016

soil, roots, seed

Scripture:  Matthew 13
‘Hear then the parable of the sower. When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away.* As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.’

Observation:

What is the "word of the Kingdom?" It is the good news that Jesus brought through his powerful teachings.  He healed, fed, and welcomed outcasts.  He confronted evil, racial prejudice, and sinful abuses of power and wealth. He promised merciful justice for all,especially those at the bottom living under the yoke of oppression.  He criticized bad stewardship that damaged lives.  He called people to a higher law, love of God and neighbor (enemy and friend alike).   
What prevents this word from growing and spreading?  1.  A failure of understanding.    2.  Shallow roots + Trouble, hardship, persecution.  3. The cares of the world and the lure of wealth.
What causes growth?  Hearing and understanding.  Deep roots. 

Application

Learning how to love and forgive and serve like Jesus (aka discipleship) is a kind of maturation process.  And the soil matters.  I have seen all of these soil descriptions played out.  Even in my own life!  I have failed to seek understanding.  I have retreated in the face of challenges, trouble, or personal attack.  I have been overcome by busyness and anxiety about money. I have failed to trust in God's abundant love.  I have tried too hard to force growth.   I have seen new hearers of the good news tempted away. I have seen doubts emerge when new faith faces ongoing challenges or troubles.  They say, "Why hasn't life gotten easier since I've found faith in God? Doesn't God care?"
Soil matters.  God is, not only a sower of seeds, but a cultivator of good soil.  God prepares hearts to receive the word.  Timing is everything.  Kairos moments are like the Rototillers of the heart and mind.  And roots are important.  Roots are the faith community digging deeper together.  We need each other to grow.  But there is nothing at all without the seed and the sower.  God is planting love and peace and joy and grace and mercy in people's hearts and minds.  What happens after that?  "Part mystery, part soil science." Theologians call it "faith". 

Prayer
Lord, make my heart be good soil attentive to your word of love and grace.  Amen.