Encourage, Nurture and Communicate

Luke 18:15-17 (18:16), Mark 10:13-16 – August 6, 2017

Luke 18-16 Jesus, children, stained glass

“Compassion: Encourage, Nurture and Communicate”

Encourage, nurture and communicate. These are three strong action words! Why on earth do I have these three verbs, or action words, as the title of my sermon today? Especially in the middle of a summer sermon series on compassion?

Our gospel reading is from the Gospel of Luke, chapter 18. This is a situation where the disciples are being really thick-headed. By forbidding young children and babies to get close to “their” Rabbi Jesus, the disciples are definitely not being compassionate. In fact, this is an unkind and unfeeling act. Sadly, we know this kind of unkind, unfeeling behavior is typical of the disciples on much more than one occasion. It might even be typical of followers of Jesus today—this behavior may be even typical of people we know in our own neighborhoods.

Encourage, nurture and communicate. Those are action words that sound like Jesus. What’s more, I suspect the disciples might chase us away from Jesus if we act in that way, too. Encouraging others; nurturing and communicating to others, in love and friendship, showing others the love of Jesus. Are the disciples really so thick-headed and dense that Jesus has to rebuke them? I am afraid so.

We are going to go back two months, to the middle of June. In the Wednesday midweek bible study, we took the opportunity to begin crafting a revised mission statement for St. Luke’s Church. Using the excellent book The Path by Laurie Beth Jones, the bible study members and I went through a series of exercises and steps to winnow through the different types of words and phrases which might often be listed in mission statements.

Our first puzzle piece in the revised mission statement was to find some action words, or strong verbs, that describe what we as a church have been doing among ourselves in the past, and what we wish to do in the present for those inside and outside the church, for outreach.

In other words, we focused on our church’s unique gifts and background, on our passion. What are we passionate about, as a church? If our mission holds no passion, we won’t go much of anywhere. The word “enthusiasm” comes from the Greek words “en” and “theos,” which mean “in God.” What are we enthusiastic or “in God” about? [1]

Let us take another look at our Gospel reading for today. What were the people in our Gospel text for today excited about? Reading from Luke 18: “15 People were also bringing babies to Jesus for Him to place His hands on them.” The parallel passage in Mark also mentions people bringing “young children” to Jesus.

Do you hear? Parents and even grandparents were excited to have the Rabbi Jesus place His hands on their children. They wanted Jesus to bless their children! That’s what they were passionate about! That’s what they were enthusiastic about!

How can we—as a family of faith—take what most excites us and use it to change things in our neighborhood—in the nation—in the world?

Every mission requires action. Action words are verbs. The bible study looked at a long list of action verbs. We kept our church and what we are good at in mind, and, what we wanted to see our church do in this neighborhood, too. We figured out the three most meaningful, purposeful and exciting verbs out of over 200 action words that referred specially to our particular church and what we are good at. That is puzzle piece number one.

And, yes. That is where encourage, nurture and communicate fit in. These action words are the words we chose as meaningful, purposeful and exciting words for St. Luke’s mission.

Turning back to our Gospel reading for today, we need to examine the thick-headed disciples and their hasty halt to the babies and children who wanted to come to Jesus. What were the mistakes the disciples made? How can we do better, today?

Let’s take our three action words. I would like to ask you: can we as a congregation encourage people to come to Jesus? Can we encourage children, young people, adults and seniors to come to Jesus? Our second action word is nurture. Can we nurture each other in the love of God within this church building? How about nurturing others who are not in this family of faith? And third, we can all communicate God’s love, every day. Not only within the church, but outside. On the street. In our homes. To everyone we meet.

To continue with the story of how we built the mission statement piece by piece, the bible study examined what we stand for, as a congregation—as a family of faith. What principle, cause, value or purpose would we be willing to defend…devote our lives to? For example, some people’s key phrase or value might be “joy” or “service” or “justice” or “family” or “creativity” or “freedom” or “equality” or “faith” or “excellence.” What is St. Luke’s Church’s CORE? What is the most fundamental value/purpose for St. Luke’s Church?

Again, we went through a whole list of meaningful and worthwhile phrases and values. The bible study talked about a few of the ones we found most important, and came up with three finalists: integrity, faith and welcome. This is puzzle piece number two in our mission statement.

What exciting possibilities are open to us, as a congregation?  Someone asked Laurie Beth “What if I come up with the wrong mission statement?” When she asked him what his current mission statement was, he didn’t have one. She told him, “Well, whatever you come up with will be 100 % more accurate than the one you have right now.” A good mission statement will be inspiring, exciting, clear, and engaging. It will be specific to our congregation and our particular enthusiasms, gifts, and talents. [2]

Let’s go back to the thick-headed disciples, who just did not get what Jesus was trying to get across to them. As Luke mentions, “15 People were also bringing babies to Jesus for him to place his hands on them. When the disciples saw this, they rebuked them.” Can you imagine a follower of Jesus kicking someone out of the youth group? Or telling someone they are not welcome in a bible study or a men’s breakfast? Or, at service on Sunday morning? Can you imagine someone at our church doing something like that?

This is one big reason why integrity, faith and welcome were so important to our mission statement. We considered integrity, faith and welcome to be St. Luke’s Church’s CORE, or the most fundamental value or purpose for St. Luke’s Church.

Which brings us to puzzle piece number three. Who is important to us, as a family of faith? Which group or cause excites us? Who do we want to come alongside? We in the bible study chose three groups that we most want to reach, or feel the most empathy for. We can impact these in a positive, meaningful way: children, families and individuals.

What was our Lord Jesus’s response to the disciples? “Jesus called the children to him and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” Jesus valued children and young people. Society as a whole did not think very much of children at all. Certainly not in His time, and not so much in ours, either. Worldwide, the position of children and young people is not high—especially of pre-teen and teenage girls, and women, too.

It is imperative that St. Luke’s Church reaches out with the Love of God to children, families and women, too.

How can we reach out in love, to those inside the church, and out?  Reach out with God’s Love, that overarching, undergirding base, the end-all and be-all to everything? We can reach out through loving words and actions, good works, food pantries and other service projects.

Jesus had a compassionate, one-sentence mission statement, which He states in Luke 19:10. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” That is what He gave His entire life to. St. Luke’s Church’s compassionate mission statement is: to ENCOURAGE, NURTURE and COMMUNICATE in INTEGRITY, FAITH and WELCOME to children, families and individuals through loving words/actions, good works, food pantries and other service projects.

Are we serious about our mission? God willing, we shall be. Now, go and do likewise. Encourage, nurture and communicate God’s love in integrity, faith and welcome. To everyone we meet.

 

[1] The Path, Laurie Beth Jones, (New York, NY: Hachette Books), 49.

[2] The Path, Laurie Beth Jones, (New York, NY: Hachette Books), 64.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2017: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)

Advertisements

Compassion through Hospitality

Genesis 18:4-5 – June 11, 2017

Exod 18 Abraham bends down before Holy Trinity - angelic visitors at Mamre - mosaic in Monreale Cathedral

“Compassion through Hospitality”

Almost everyone enjoys visiting with friends. This can involve meeting for a cup of coffee or tea, going out for a meal, or having friends over at your house. What do you do to make friends or relatives welcome at your table? How do you like to be welcomed, when you go over to someone’s house or apartment?

These are great things to think about. We begin our first sermon of the summer, our Compassion sermon series. Let’s take a look at Genesis and at Abraham, the friend of God. He and his wife Sarah were on a nomadic journey—a very long caravan camping trip that lasted for years and years. While they were traveling, they camped for a time in the land of Canaan near what is now the town of Hebron.

God appeared to him. Here’s how it happened: “The Lord appeared to Abraham near the great trees of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day.” Right off the bat, this bible reading lets us know an important fact. It’s sort of the summary statement at the beginning of this reading, and then the passage explains what it’s all about.

This first verse tells us a lot. Abraham had his tent set up by some big trees. There wasn’t any air conditioning in those days, so he looked for some big trees to provide natural cooling. Abraham sat at the entrance to his tent—a cool place, to catch any little breath of wind drifting by. We also know it was the middle of the day—a really hot time in that semi-desert terrain!

Now that we’ve explained more about it, in your mind’s eye, can’t you just see Abraham sitting there, catching the breeze in the cool shade, at the door of his tent?

What happens next? “Abraham looked up and saw three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he hurried from the entrance of his tent to meet them and bowed low to the ground.”

We are not sure how much Abraham knew about these three men, but he goes out of his way to greet these three strangers. In many places in the world, people give you a warm welcome when you come to their home. It’s certainly true of many people and places throughout the Middle East.

“As a nomad, Abraham and his family lived in tents, as they traveled with their grazing herds in the desert. The few who lived in the harsh deserts of Judea depended upon each other for survival. Visitors were treated very well, for they brought companionship and help for the host. The practice of hospitality was highly prized in Abraham’s time.[1]

“Abraham and Sarah offer hospitality to strangers that come to their camp, upon seeing the strangers coming in the heat of the day, it’s suddenly high gear hospitality.  Hospitality would be the duty of any desert dweller of the time.” [2] I mean, really greet you! They give any stranger an extravagant welcome.

Let’s turn to a modern-day example. When our children, or grandchildren, or nieces and nephews go over to a friend’s house, what are some things that might make these young people feel welcome? Yes, their friend might offer them a drink or a snack. That is great. But, let’s go further. What if their friend goes the extra step? What if their friend lets our children play with their toys? What if their friend lets them pick what show they would like to watch on cable or DVD? How about inviting them to stay for dinner, or even inviting them to sleep over? All these ways of helping them feel welcome in their home are ways of showing “hospitality.”

Just as Abraham and Sarah welcomed these unexpected strangers, can’t we do the same thing? Maybe make a special effort to welcome each person into our house—or church, regardless of whether we know them or not? We can help them feel noticed, cared for and safe in joining our group of friends. How did Abraham show these three people they were welcome?

“Abraham said, “If I have found favor in your eyes, my lord, do not pass your servant by. Let a little water be brought, and then you may all wash your feet and rest under this tree.”

Let’s play a little game with this bible reading, a topsy turvy game.

What if Abraham did not feel like showing hospitality to the three strangers? What would that have looked like? What might have happened, then? As the three persons came near the tent, Abraham might hide inside and shut the tent flaps tight. When they knocked at the tent door, Abraham could tell them to go away, in an angry voice. If the three persons insisted that they were thirsty or hungry, Abraham might yell that they should go some other place, and freeload off of someone else.

If all that had been true, bible history might have happened very differently!

But, no! Abraham and Sarah were fine hosts. Let’s read more of the bible passage: “Let me get you something to eat, so you can be refreshed and then go on your way—now that you have come to your servant.” “Very well,” they answered, “do as you say.”

As a fellow pastor commented, “There was no Holiday Inn, or highway rest area, there is only Abraham and Sarah’s camp and their herds and their well. So, when strangers appear in the heat of the day, needing a wash and a rest, you tend to their needs. Some kind of host switch has been flipped.  Abraham runs, he hastens, he quickly prepares.  His hospitality seems to go above and beyond – the best of the herd, the best flour and in abundance for the meal.” [3]

Modern times have not changed hospitality. How do good hosts show us their hospitality today? They offer food and drink and try to make us as comfortable as they can.

I remember my dear prayer partner Zhou Hui. She was born in mainland China, grew up in a poor neighborhood in a medium-sized town, did really well in school, and was able to get awarded a scholarship to university. She came here to the United States as a graduate student, and became a naturalized citizen. She lives near here, and her children attend New Trier High School. She is a devout Christian, and a real pray-er. I thank God I was able to be her prayer partner for years.

I bring up Zhou Hui because she always bends over backwards to be a wonderful hostess. She has the spiritual gift of hospitality, and she always offers wonderful food and drink to her guests. I can remember many, many enjoyable meals my young children and I had at her house. That is just what Abraham did here. He and Sarah hurried up and offered their unexpected visitors wonderful food and drink.

Abraham and Sarah not only showed these strangers genuine hospitality, they showed compassion—Godly compassion.

Hospitality is the way we help others feel welcomed and cared for, and that we can do this anywhere we are: for friends at our homes, new students in our classrooms or new neighbors on our block.

This narrative is a beautiful reminder that when we show compassion and kindness to other people, we are showing compassion and kindness to God.

When we read about Abraham, we might think, “How nice! What a good job, showing kindness and hospitality.” I have news for you: Jesus shows us hospitality! Jesus shows each of us kindness and compassion! Does this change the way we see other people in our lives, especially those we don’t know very well? Or, those we don’t even know at all?

How might we show hospitality to others? I know we pride ourselves on our kind, compassionate welcome to anyone who comes into our church. We can show our community that St. Luke’s Church witnesses to the love of Christ, not only with words, but doing what we do best: serving food and showing people a warm welcome.

Hospitality is a wonderful way to show everyone the love of God and show kindness and compassion—the same way God has already shown love, kindness, compassion and welcome to each of us. Let us go out, and do likewise.

Alleluia, amen.

[1] http://www.word-sunday.com/Files/c/16-c/FR-16-c.html “Abraham Welcomes the Lord,” Larry Broding’s Word-Sunday.Com: A Lectionary Resource for Catholics.

[2] https://seattlemennonite.org/2014/07/27/the-last-laugh/

[3] https://seattlemennonite.org/2014/07/27/the-last-laugh/

(A heartfelt thank you to An Illustrated Compassion: Learning to Love Like God. Many sermon ideas and thoughts came directly from this series.  I appreciate this intergenerational curriculum, which is the basis for my summer sermon series on compassion. This curriculum comes from Illustrated Children’s Ministry. Thanks so much for such great ideas!)

The Light of the Lord

“The Light of the Lord”

isa-2-5-teach-me-to-walk-in-the-light

Isaiah 2:1-5 (2:5) – November 27, 2016

At this holiday and homecoming time of the year, some people’s thoughts turn to those who are traveling. Those who will be coming to a gathering, a party, a meal. Have you been waiting for someone to arrive at a gathering? A meal, perhaps? At this time of year, the sun sets early. People often put the porch light on to welcome the traveler, in hope and expectation. That is the situation we have here, in our scripture passage from the prophet Isaiah.

And, what a grand porch light it is! Let’s read from Isaiah 2, verse 2: “In days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it.”
But, what of Isaiah’s audience? What about them? Times in the nation of Judah were uncertain, to say the least. Spirits were low. The Israelites were in fear for their lives. The Assyrian armies were closing in. The nation of Assyria was a major world power in that time, conquering nations, kings, and vast areas of land right and left. (This was several centuries before Jesus Christ was even born in Bethlehem.) What about today? We can look at our times, too. A great deal of uncertainty, everywhere we look. Uncertain times here, locally, in the immediate community. On a nation-wide scale, as well. What about internationally? However—Isaiah brings a word of hope to people of his day, and hope to people of ours, too.

The prophet gives a prophetic announcement in these verses. It isn’t a hymn of praise, but instead words to let people know that God is not absent or unable to help, but instead a very present help. A hope, in times of uncertainty and need. The very promise of salvation, to not only the people of Israel, but to anyone who hears these words. We can see that from the mention of “all nations” streaming to the mountain of the Lord.

Many people in Isaiah’s time frankly doubted God’s power and faithfulness, with the Assyrians breathing down their necks. These were uncertain times, indeed. Can you imagine, a huge army right on our border, and not very much in between? Imagine the fear, anxiety, and conflict for those people of Judah! Even though, today, we here in the United States are not in such dire straits as little, puny Israel, we face uncertainty and times of conflict, too.

What does the prophet have to say about that fear, that anxiety? He brings words of hope and expectation to his listeners. Listen to verse 3: “Many peoples shall come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that God may teach us His ways and that we may walk in God’s paths.” So, God will begin a time of learning, a time of pilgrimage! “A purposeful journey to a holy place.” [1]

Again, we see that the prophet tells us many, many people will come to God’s house! Remember, this proclamation refers to all nations, all peoples, and addresses all who have open ears to hear.

All this will occur “in days to come.” Sure, the prophet is not specific; this is an indefinite time, but there also will be a radical transformation! Listen to verse 4: “[God] shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”

Can anyone read these verses and not long for peace? And not have keen hope and expectation for this coming time of peace and concord? The Lord God will sit as a judge or arbiter for many, many people. And—this is fascinating—the nations, themselves, shall willingly lay down their weapons. Many nations shall cause their weapons—their swords—to be turned into something radically different. To rephrase, “God promises that there will be a time when everyone gets along.  It will be so peaceful that people won’t need swords and other weapons anymore.  So, they will turn them into garden tools.” [2]

It does not take a brilliant student of current events to tell us that this prophecy is not here, yet. We regularly hear about wars and rumors of war today. We see for ourselves that nations are at each others’ throats, bickering, sometimes fighting, and even committing acts of mass destruction and death. What is to be done?

The prophet brings these words of hope and expectation to a fearful and anxious people, at an uncertain time centuries ago. Is the situation much different, today? Our time is filled with conflict. Fearful, anxious, and uncertain, too.

The prophet’s message holds out hope and expectation, true. But hope would be empty if we did not have a situation where we needed God’s help. We have to see our desperate need first, in order for us to realize that we are sunk without God. This whole mindset of conflict, fighting and resistance to any kind of peace certainly registers as a time of great need. The prophet was calling to the nation of Israelites just as much as he is calling to us.

“God is taking us somewhere we cannot go on our own, not because of our righteousness, but because of God’s goodness. The coming peace is God’s, but it is promised to us. And thus, like Israel, Isaiah calls us to act in the meantime as though the promise is ours.” [3]

Today is the first Sunday in Advent. We have the reminder of our hope set before us, in this Advent wreath. Today, Carl and Irene lit our first candle, the candle of hope. Yes, both scripture readings this morning spoke of expectation in the Lord’s working, in different ways. Yet, how does this work show itself?

Practically everyone here is familiar with the need for light. If we have a dark closet or a dark basement corner, bright light is so useful and needful to shine in and reveal our needs.  What about dark news? Dark times need light, too. The prophet talks about hope and expectation of nations turning tools of destruction and war into tools that will help us to grow food, and to provide nurture and healthfulness. Isn’t this a promise of light? And wonderful things to come?

Can we “compare lighting the Advent candles to putting a candle in the window?  [This is a way] of saying we are ready, you are welcome, come in. Often we turn these lights on while we are setting the table, sweeping the floor, and cooking dinner.” [4] Isn’t this a way to use common, everyday things to work with God to bring God’s light into the world?

In Christ’s kingdom, we have the opportunity to tend with everyday garden tools to cultivate and grow the peaceful, loving ways of God rather than using swords and spears—and bombs, tanks and guns—to cultivate wayward humanity’s own ways of conflict, fighting and war. Truly, may we all be faithful, anticipate God’s light and expect it in God’s peaceful ways, and not our own. Come, Lord Jesus!

 

[Thanks for several ideas to Gene M. Tucker and the The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary (Vol. 6, The Book of Isaiah, Chapters 1-39), (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2000)]

[1] Gene M. Tucker and the The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary (Vol. 6, The Book of Isaiah, Chapters 1-39), (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2000).

[2] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2013/08/year-first-sunday-of-advent-also-sunday.html ; Carolyn C. Brown, Year A – First Sunday of Advent, Also the Sunday after Thanksgiving in the USA.

[3]  http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=7

[4] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2013/08/year-first-sunday-of-advent-also-sunday.html ; Carolyn C. Brown, Year A – First Sunday of Advent, Also the Sunday after Thanksgiving in the USA.

 

Yes, And … (Not ‘No, But’)

“Yes, And … (Not ‘No, But’)”

holy trinity stained glass

John 16:12-15 – May 22, 2016

Just about everyone has been involved with play-acting at one time or another. Either as a child in a school play, in church at a Christmas pageant, or in a high school musical or other production. Or, if you weren’t in the play, one of your best friends was. Remember? Acting. Playing a part. Pretending you are someone else.

What about Jesus? He does not act fake or play a part or put on a false face (or voice). He is genuine, real. Jesus meant what He said when He was talking about the Holy Spirit, and about God His heavenly Father. His interaction with the other two Persons of the Trinity is completely natural, real, and genuine. Just as it was from before the foundation of the earth. The interaction between the Three Persons of the Trinity? Completely natural and perfectly genuine.

Let’s look at this passage of Scripture. From the Gospel of John, where our Lord Jesus spoke to His friends on that last night of His earthly existence. I suspect He had so much on His heart, so much that He wanted to say. Concerning His passion, death, resurrection, and all of the ramifications and consequences that would unfold. Jesus wanted to share all these things, but He tells us specifically that we cannot bear them now.

I don’t know whether anyone here has been in the position of understanding the full ramifications of a difficult situation. I am more familiar with healthcare, since I served as a chaplain for some years. In certain cases, I would be told about a patient’s diagnosis and prognosis, but then be hesitant to share that information fully. Because, the patient just couldn’t bear the full brunt of all the heavy, sometimes catastrophic news at that time.

It was sort of that way with our Lord Jesus, at that Last Supper table. He knew His friends could not bear the full brunt of the awful news Jesus knew so well. As the Amplified version of the Bible renders John 16:12, “I have still many things to say to you, but you are not able to bear them or to take them upon you or to grasp them now.” In other words, in our 21st century understanding, the words and sentences Jesus could have told them would not compute. Would not penetrate into their brains.

The disciples must have been confused—anxious—maybe even downright fearful. And, who wouldn’t be? I’ve mentioned several times before about the tense situation in Jerusalem on that Passion Week, that last week of Jesus’s life. Our Lord Jesus delivered these words of our Scripture lesson today on the night of that Passover dinner, the night in which He was betrayed.

He knew He was going away—out of the disciples’ sight and daily experience. Jesus was preparing His friends for His departure. He wanted to remain with His friends, in fellowship and community. Letting them know He would be sending the Third Person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, to be with them, always. Yet, in this situation—in absolutely every situation—our Lord Jesus was absolutely truthful. Real, and genuine.

A number of years ago, I wanted to use my voice for radio, and for commercials. I was coached by a professional. A professional voice-over artist. She had superb skills in using her voice, and was an excellent coach, besides. Since I was not as fluid and sometimes stumbled in interaction with others, she recommended that I try improv. Comedy improvisation classes. That led to two of the most enjoyable years of my life.

I went to small group improv classes at IO (formerly Improv Olympic) and attended comedy shows on a weekly basis for two years. In this improvisational work, I acted a multitude of parts. I wore different personas. That part of my story is important. Yes! I did play any number of roles. Yes, these roles were play-acting. However, improv brought my acting to a whole new level. Not only were my roles seem more real and genuine, my close-knit relationship with the rest of the improv team was cemented more firmly. For that little while, it was as if I were really embodying whatever role I was playing.

My parts and roles? Seem almost incidental compared to my most foundational learning from that time of doing improv. That lesson? “Yes, and … !” (As opposed to, “No, but … “)

If I say “No, but … “ it stops a scene right in its tracks. Difficult to keep going with that kind of negativity. “No, but … “ shuts people down, and cuts off possibilities. It’s like letting the air out of a balloon, and sometimes forces a scene to a full stop.

However—“Yes, and…!” is just the beginning! It’s a jumping off point. You have a multiplicity of possibilities.

In improv I learned—so well—about collegiality, cooperation, welcome, and helping people out. Being together in community, and fellowship. Yes, I knew about all these things, before, but not in quite the same way. I had learned about all those things in the abstract. More like book-learning, in school. But, how was it all different when I was on an improv team?

Instead, “Yes, and … !” was very much experiential learning. Where people depended on me, and I depended on everyone else. Where people grew very close, very quickly. Where there was mutual interdependence. Friendship. Fellowship And, extravagant welcome.

Sort of like the doctrine of the Trinity, which discusses the relationship and communion of the Three persons. The Trinity affirms “the total equality and complete uniqueness and diversity of the divine persons.” [1] Just so: opening up possibilities for us to see in the Divine Trinity, that Divine community from before the foundation of the earth. Mutual interdependence, friendship, fellowship, and—extravagant welcome.

Remember, Jesus told His disciples, “13 But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.”
This is the Holy Spirit Jesus is talking about! The Third Person of the Trinity who Jesus, God the Son, knew from before the foundation of the earth! Of course Jesus wanted to let His friends know that they would not be alone after His resurrection and ascension. That friendship fellowship and community that Jesus shared with them would continue. And, of course the Holy Spirit would remind believers of the things Jesus had taught them while He was on the earth. Guiding into all the truth—the Spirit of truth.

Three in One. One in Three. Father, Son and Holy Spirit (as traditionally identified for us in the Gospels and other places in the New Testament). All three Persons are included here, in this passage today. This holy mystery is about relationship and indwelling. It is about community and the self-communication of God. The Trinity is about the mutuality of God within the God-head, about our invitation into relationship by Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete. “And it is about our mutuality with each other, guiding, speaking, and declaring to one another the glory of God, Father/Creator, Jesus/Son, and Holy Spirit. The Trinity is our way of life made possible by God.” [2]

Father, Son and Holy Spirit—the three Persons of the Trinity—had and continue to have a real, genuine relationship. I have seen something like this among the congregation here at St. Luke’s Church. Our church members are real, genuine, concerned for each other.

I would like to invite us all to think “yes, and!” Yes, we at St. Luke’s Church are loving, genuine and real to others in the congregation. Praise God! That is not all. We can go further. Do more. Be genuine and real to as many people as we can.

Is this sometimes … difficult? Sometimes … a challenge? Yes, to both. However, it is a God-given challenge.

A few years ago, it was a popular thing in churches to ask “What Would Jesus Do?” I am not absolutely sure, but I suspect Jesus would live in community. Be real and genuine in all His interactions. Embody friendship, fellowship, and—extravagant welcome.        Jesus would not say “No, but …” “No, but—that won’t be possible.“ “No, but—that looks too difficult.” “No, but—that is just too much work.” “No, but—that person seems scary. And different.”

Instead, I am sure He would enthusiastically say “Yes, and … !” “Yes, and, I’ll be glad to help!” “Yes, and, we can be welcoming to those newcomers!”   Yes, and—friendship. Yes, and—community. Yes, and—genuineness. Yes, and—countless other exciting opportunities.

We all can practice this foundational learning I absorbed in my comedy improv training. Yes, it prepared me to be a better improv player and a better member of an intimate team. And, it also helps me navigate life, today. Be a friend in community—any community. Be as real and genuine to as many people as possible. Just like the deep, intimate relationship between the Persons of the Trinity.

Are you ready? Can you say “Yes, and … !” Not just here, in this community of believers, but outside in the world? In other places, other communities? I encourage you—I challenge you—I challenge all of us not to shut down conversations and opportunities by saying “No, but … “ Instead, be open. Be encouraging. Be positive. Say “Yes, and … !”

What would Jesus do?

[1] Lacuogna, Catherine Mowry, “God in Communion with Us,” from Freeing Theology: the Essentials of Theology in Feminist Perspective, 92.

[2] Hogan, Lucy Lind,  http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1697

Cleanse Your Hearts!

“Cleanse Your Hearts!”

Acts 15 Jerusalem council stained glass

Acts 15:8-9 – August 23, 2015

Conflict resolution is never an easy thing.

I hate to make sweeping statements, but I definitely think that that is one everyone can agree upon. Conflict resolution is never an easy thing.

We could be talking about the rough and tumble of sibling rivalry: “Mom! He started it!” “Did not!” “Yes, you did, too!” Or, a difficulty between neighbors that might get worse and worse, and escalate out of control until someone puts up a spite fence. Or, what about a problem between two employees in the workplace? You know the sort of thing. A disagreement starts between two people. Words are exchanged. Each side is sure they are right! Next thing you know, the whole office has chosen sides, and is squared off against each other.

We have a situation very much like this, in Acts 15. The whole group of believers—in all of the congregations scattered around the Mediterranean by this point—has escalated to the point that we heard about today, during the New Testament reading.

To recap, back in Acts 2, a number of days after our Lord Jesus ascended in to heaven, the few dozen believers have a Pentecost experience! The Holy Spirit comes upon them all, and Peter preaches his remarkable sermon. Not remarkable in and of itself, but remarkable because of the incredible response he got. Hundreds and hundreds of people came to belief in the risen Lord Jesus, in just one day! These were all Jewish believers. And, they continue spreading the Good News to any Jew they encounter. Many more believe, too.

Then, in Acts 8, Philip preaches in Samaria. The Holy Spirit comes upon these half-Jews, and even more people believe in the Good News! The circle of belief and faith continues to become wider and wider. In Acts 10, Peter preaches the Gospel to a Gentile—Roman centurion named Cornelius, and his whole Gentile household. They all believe, too! And, the Holy Spirit comes upon all of them, as well. Peter and the other apostles have the witness of their own eyes. They see that “God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears God and does what is right is acceptable to Him.” (Acts 10:34b-35)

The Holy Spirit continues to move. The believers continue to preach the Good News to anyone and everyone. It doesn’t matter whether they are Jew or Gentile, slave or free, high class or low born, or any other distinction. All are welcome to come to faith in the risen Lord Jesus.

Which brings us to the beginning of Acts chapter 15. A large number of believers has squared off, one side against the other, over keeping the Jewish laws. Should we, or shouldn’t we? What about Jewish people who never really kept kosher, before they started believing in the risen Jesus? Should they keep 600-plus rules in the Jewish law, now? And what about Gentiles who might have never had any idea about the Jewish laws, before? Should they turn themselves inside out and start keeping kosher, and wearing special clothes, and observing special holidays?

I went to one of the textbooks I had for one of my seminary classes, called Church Administration. (One of the best classes I ever had, in all my years of school!) This book is called Never Call Them Jerks: Healthy Responses to Difficult Behavior by Arthur Boers. Such helpful material on church conflict in this book!

Our situation at the beginning of Acts 15 seems black-and-white. We can see that from verse 5: Then some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, “The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to keep the law of Moses.”’ We have group A (or, Aleph) on this side, yelling ‘You’ve got to keep Jewish Law!” and group B (or, Bet) on the other side yelling back, “No, we don’t!” As they continue to bicker and snarl at each other, the argument gets worse and worse!

This argument is a classic case of polarizing! “Reducing issues to ‘black-and-white’ solutions and giving little time to discovering other options.” [1] What will they do now?

Yes, the controversy has busted wide open. Sometimes, people get stuck. They either don’t or can’t move. There they are, in that big, black-and-white argument, no way out. Or, so they think.

At the church council in Jerusalem, there was some discussion. I don’t know how long the discussion went on. There may have been some name-calling, or possibly even getting into fist fights. (I don’t know for sure—this was before the days of reality television.) Adversarial comments could have happened! “using ‘we/they’ language and ignoring or dismissing what is held in common.“ As the argument escalated, I can imagine threatening ultimatums being issued, back and forth. [2]

Here’s an illustration Boers uses: “One snowy morning I drove the high school car pool. I backed my fully loaded van onto a downwardly sloped street. On the slippery pavement, the van would not budge uphill in a forward gear. I could have pushed the accelerator, spun the wheels harder and faster, and gotten nowhere. Instead, I backed partway down the hill, tried the forward gear again, discovered my wheels had found a purchase, and was able to move forward.” [3]

Similarly, we find the apostle Peter taking a step back. Just like the van in this illustration, he backs up. And, he “seeks the common good over the interests of particular parties.” [4] He tries to find some common ground that all can agree on. Peter says, “God, who knows the heart, showed that He accepted the Gentiles by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as God did to us. He did not discriminate between us and them, for God cleansed their hearts by faith.”

Did you hear? Peter makes the statement, again, that God wants to enter into a relationship with each and every person. That means, each person in his time, in the first century, just as much as today, in the twenty-first century. God does not discriminate! And, neither should we.

What’s more, God cleanses everyone’s heart! Praise God, we don’t need to meticulously follow the Jewish Law code. We don’t have to wear special clothes, or observe special holidays, or have restricted food choices. God has cleansed each of our hearts, through faith! Peter goes on to say, “Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear? 11 No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.”

Praise God! Alleluia! We are not saved by following each and every little rule in the Jewish Law code. We are not saved by following each and every little rule in recent rulebooks, like no dancing, and no card-playing, no movies, and no mixed bathing.

It was a little early in the formation of Christianity for the apostle Paul to formulate his theological statement in the letter to the Ephesians, some years down the road. But I can hear the beginnings of it being hammered out, right here. Paul’s triumphant words from Ephesians 2:8-9. “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God—not the result of works, so that no one may boast.”

Praise God! Not just Jews, not just Greeks, not just people with brown hair, not just people who are right-handed. But everyone. God does not discriminate! What’s more, God cleanses everyone’s heart! We can all say Alleluia! Amen!

@chaplaineliza

Suggestion: visit me at my daily blog for 2015: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind .  Thanks!

[1] Boers, Arthur Paul, Never Call Them Jerks, (United States of America: the Alban Institute, 1999.), 72.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid, 64.

[4] Ibid, 72.