Answer!

Format Image

In October, my facebook feed and our news stories were filled with two little words:
#metoo
Sisters from all sorts of walks of life started telling their stories, speaking their truths, naming names.
It was like the flood gates had broken loose.
Some could only type out those two words (#metoo) and others wrote chapters that had never before seen the light of day.
Women found the authority and the confidence to share some of the most mundane and monstrous things they experienced. The momentum of one voice, added to another, and to another, was a powerful thing to behold.
Just this past week, we witnessed the sentencing hearing of Dr. Larry Nassar whose abuse only came into the public eye in the midst of this past fall. 156 women and girls gave their testimonies as Judge Aquilina opened the courtroom to all who needed to speak their truth. In the end, he was sentenced to up to 175 years in prison for the things the had done and taken from them.
As six-time Olympic medalist, Aly Raisman, said: “Let this sentence strike fear in anyone who thinks it is O.K. to hurt another person. Abusers, your time is up. The survivors are here, standing tall, and we are not going anywhere.” (https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2018/01/24/sports/larry-nassar-victims.html)

Your time is up.

When Jesus entered the synagogue and began to speak the truth, to lift up the word, to tell stories of how God was moving in the world around them, he was telling all that opposes the Kingdom of God that it’s time was up.
But evil doesn’t want to go down without a fight.
Right there in the synagogue, a spirit began to cry out:
“What have you do to with us? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are.”

We don’t necessarily experience demonic possession and evil spirits in the same way today that they did in Jesus time. We have different understandings of bodies and mental health and to be honest, we filter out the spiritual and mystical and rationalize it away.
But I fully believe that evil is present in our world.
I believe that people can be ensnared by addiction and hatred and violence.
And I believe that when we, like Jesus, confront the sin and injustice and evil of this world and demand it to come out into the light of day then there can be the possibility of release and restoration and healing.
When the evil spirit began to speak out and interrupt the teaching of Jesus, he commanded it to be silent. To come out. And that spirit shook and screamed and then it finally released the person it had possessed.
It’s time was up.

What troubles me, both about this passage of scripture and with the countless stories of the #metoo movement, is the question of why it took so long?
How many times before had that evil spirit cried out in the midst of God’s people?
How long had the demon been hushed or covered up or ignored?
How many people had refused to stand up to it, to name names and call it what it was?
How many were frightened and simply stayed away?

William Cummings reported for USA Today about the woman who began the “me too” movement over ten years ago: Tarana Burke. In 2006, she founded an organization called Just Be Inc which helped young women of color reclaim their sense of well-being after they had been abused or exploited. But nearly ten years before that, Burke was a camp director and a little girl came to speak with her.
“The girl began to tell a story about her mother’s boyfriend ‘ who was doing all sorts of monstrous things to her developing body.’ Burke was horrified and as she listened it began to stir up all sorts of her own memories and emotions. She realized that she could not help in that moment and cut off the little girl in the middle of sharing this painful experience and directed her to another counselor.
Burke shared later, “I could not find the strength to say out loud the words that were ringing in my head over and over again… I watched her walk away from me as she tried to recapture her secrets and tuck them back into their hiding place. I watched her put her mask back on and go back into the world like she was all along and I couldn’t even bring myself to whisper… me too.” (https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2017/10/18/me-too-movement-origins/776963001/)

Sometimes it is not our personal experience that keeps us from calling out and naming the evil before us, but our unwillingness to see it.

The complicity of systems that are focused on a singular goal, like that of Michigan State University and U.S.A. Gymnastics and the Olympic Committee, blind them to the allegations and words of little girls when they try to speak their truths.

As Amanda Thomashow, one of those who testified at Nassar’s hearing said, “the school I loved and trusted, had the audacity to tell me that I did not understand the difference between sexual assault and a medical procedure.” Another talked about how she was attacked on social media and called a liar for sharing her truth. Another, talked about how her parents “will forever have to live with the fact that they continually brought their daughter to a sexual predator, and were in the room as he assaulted me.” (https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2018/01/24/sports/larry-nassar-victims.html)

Sometimes, we simply normalize these types of experiences and can no longer see them as out of the ordinary. Last October, I remember that I almost didn’t post my own “me too”, because my stories seemed so inconsequential compared to the hurt and pain I knew of others.

But then I started thinking about all of the stories and they kept adding up and some of them were crazier than I want to publicly admit. From cat calls to the phone call at my church office in Marengo that necessitated a call to the police and my district superintendent… The fact that I would write it off as just a normal part of ministry was not okay.

We, like the people of that synagogue in Capernaum, too often have been bystanders. We sit back and watch unwilling to do anything. We sweep the words of those in pain under the rug where we don’t have to listen.

In his poem, “Partnering with God,” John van de Laar names the reality we experience:

The struggles of our world feel overwhelming, Jesus;
Beyond our ability to understand, let alone solve.
We do not have the capacity
To silence the justifications,
To heal the addictions,
To restore the brokenness,
To repair the destruction,
Or to reverse the trajectories
Of our self-centered, short-sighted weakness,
Our heartless, dehumanising aggression.

 

But we do not have these struggles alone, Jesus;
You have aligned yourself with us,
In taking on flesh,
In going through the waters,
In laying down your life;
And you have invited us to partner with you,
In proclaiming Good News,
In freeing the imprisoned,
In restoring the broken,
In uniting the divided;
And you have given us the capacity,
The divine Spirit,
To be co-workers with God.

 

For this, we are eternally grateful. Amen.

God has given us the capacity, the authority, the power, to name and call out the presence of evil in our world. Even if it feels overwhelming. Even if it feels insurmountable. Even if it is too personal to face.
Because God’s authority comes with the presence of the one who has already experienced the worst of human suffering. And Christ walks alongside us as we silence and call out those forces that would harm the lives of others.

But you are also not alone, because you are part of a community. This body of Christ has promised in our baptismal vows to
“renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of our sin.”
And “to accept the freedom and power God gives us to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves.”

So that means two things.
First, I promise, as a pastor and faith leader, that I will listen to you. I promise not to cover up or deny. If you have a story that you need to tell, I am here to help you bring that story out of the darkness and into the light.
But second, it also means that if you are scared or hesitant or afraid you do not have to do this by yourself. Millions of women found the courage to say, “me too” this fall because they looked around and saw that they were not the only one.

Look around this room right now. You are not alone. All of those who are in this room who have taken their baptismal vows have already promised to help one another stand up to evil and injustice. We have committed to partnering with Jesus to proclaim the good news and to free the imprisoned and to restore the broken and unite the divided.
And by God’s authority, we can bring injustice into the light of day so that it can be healed and transformed and set free by God’s power.

Amen and Amen.

Listen!

Format Image

About nine years ago, we were in the midst of one of those bitterly cold Januarys… not unlike the one we have experienced here!
The snow was falling and the temperature was below zero, but I bundled up that afternoon and went to the local nursing home where I held a monthly worship service.
I really enjoyed this time of worship there. While I rotated with other community pastors for this afternoon time of singing and preaching, I was one of the only pastors who also celebrated communion with these folks. Other denominations were more exclusive about who is welcome at the table. So it was always a joy to walk around the room and share the bread of life and cup of salvation with those dear folk.
On this particular cold day, we shared the same text that we are focusing on this morning. As we heard about how Jesus entered those waters of the Jordan, we remembered our own baptisms.
I carried around the circle a basin of water and invited each one to dip their fingers in and remember that God has loved them and called them each by name.
As I came to one woman, she had fallen asleep, as often happens with that group, and she was gently nudged awake by her neighbor.
Hopefully, you won’t have to nudge your neighbor awake this morning!
I kept working my way around the room and came to another woman who proclaimed with joy, “I was baptized in the Iowa River!”

There was another woman whose name was Grace and all throughout the service, she would interrupt to ask who was going to take her home.
At the end of worship, I had the chance to sit with her and chat and with the bitter cold outside, she kept asking who was going to come and get her and take her home.
She openly began to weep because she had been forgotten and no one was coming to take her home.
I reminded her gently that this was her home now…
this was where she belonged…
But more importantly… I reminded her that she was not alone.
In fact, she was loved.
She was a child of God, blessed by the Lord, and touching those waters a voice from heaven was pouring out upon her, reminding her that she was beloved.

As I listened to Grace’s insistence that she go home, I knew that dementia was speaking loud and clear… but there was something of all of us in her words, too.
Don’t we all want to go home?
Don’t we all want to experience the kind of belonging where we are called beloved?

I said earlier that I really enjoyed worshipping there at Rose Haven in Marengo… but there is another part of me that found those times and moments extraordinarily sad.
Some of the residents were vibrant and full of life, but others were barely functional in mind, body or spirit.
Many had been forgotten by their families.
This was not the highest quality facility in the county… and there were many things that made me pause when I thought about the care that I would desire for my own loved ones.

In that moment of worship, I had a chance to name each and every single one of those residents as beloved…
but I also found wondering how my own community of faith was living out our baptisms…
How did the call of God that poured out in our baptisms invite us to be present in the lives of these people in a different way?

You see, on the one hand, our baptism is an echo of the one Jesus experienced… so we proclaim that each and every single one of us is also called beloved by our God.
You are beloved.
You are beloved.
You are beloved.

But so often, we hear those words falling upon our own heads in our baptism and then we stop listening.
I am a beloved child of God, we hear in our hearts. Period. End of story.

But that is not how Mark tells this story.
No, his version of this tale is urgent and messy.
He starts with John the Baptist at the Jordan River, inviting people to come and be baptized as a sign that they were changing their lives.
Rev. Mindi Welton-Mitchell reminds us that, “the Jordan river was where people went to wash their dishes and their laundry. It’s where they went to bathe. In other words, the river flowed with [the] filth and muck of human life… this wasn’t water that washed clean, but rather water that acknowledges the muckiness of our communal lives.”
John knew that his baptisms were not the end of the story, but that someone was coming to baptize with the Holy Spirit.
And then Jesus shows up.
This guy from the dump of a town, Nazareth…
A nobody from nowhere…
And yet, the very presence of God in the world.
And as God-with-us, Immanuel, Jesus Christ, waded into those filthy waters of the Jordan River, the very heavens split open.
And in that moment, the ministry of Jesus begins.
The Spirit flows upon him like a dove, names him beloved, and then forces him into the wilderness.

“What are our baptisms for?” Ted Smith asks in his lectionary reflection (Feasting on the Word).
Baptism is not simply something that makes us feel warm and fuzzy inside.
It is also the reminder that God’s power, God’s spirit, God’s life has poured out upon us… the very heavens were torn open and now YOU are sent out, like Jesus, into the wilderness of this life.
Because not only are you beloved… but so is every other child of creation.
No matter where they have come from or what their life has been, they, too, are beloved by God.
Whether they are from a place that is beloved or a place that has been condemned by others, they, too, are beloved by God.
Whether they are surrounded by love or whether they are forgotten and alone, they, too, are beloved by God.
And in our baptisms, the power of heaven itself pours out on us and calls us into the world to act on the behalf of our brothers and sisters.
To create opportunities.
To open doors.
To work for justice.
To call one another to reconciliation and repentance.
To make God’s love real in this world through our worship, through our work, through our play.
It is the call that drove Martin Luther King, Jr. to proclaim the dream that one day the children of slaves and slave holders would be able to sit down and share a meal together.
The dream that children would not be judged by color of their skin or where they were born, but by the content of their character.
That little children of different races and abilities and backgrounds would be able to join hands with one another.
That we can work together, pray together, struggle together, stand up for freedom together.

Our baptism is the foundation of every single thing we do as a church. Because this is not my place of ministry, but ours.
You are a beloved child of God.
The heavens were tore open as you were baptized and the Holy Spirit sends you out into the world to share the life you have found here with others.
On this day, let us shout with joy for the presence of God is in this place, leading us, calling us, shoving us out into world and reminding us with gentle words that every person we meet is a beloved child of God.
Amen.

Altars Everywhere!

Defiant Praise – John van de Laar
There are many doorways to cynicism, Jesus,
Many reasons for despair,
May causes for fear;
But there is no excuse for giving them ultimate power;
Not if we really believe what we claim to believe.

Resurrection is real, Jesus;
We have touched it, and seen it;
Our own lives bear witness to it,
And it constantly reveals itself in our world.
And so, in spite of the fear that nags at us,
In the face of the despair and cynicism that taunts us,
In denial of all that would seek to steal life away,
We offer you our love,
Our devotion,
Our lives,
As an offering of resurrection faith
And defiant praise.
Amen.

Over these past few weeks, we have been talking about what it is like to live in Scare City.
Our fear of not having enough or being enough made us want to build tall towers and make a name for ourselves.
Our fear of the unknown and what lurks around every corner kept us from stepping out in faith.
Our fear of those who are different – who live on the other side of the tracks – caused us to miss opportunities to share our gifts with them or to receive blessings from them.

Fear, scarcity, cynicism… these are all things that limit our ability to fully experience the life God has given us.
In our attempts to cling to what we have, we don’t allow ourselves to take hold of what is truly life.

Our scripture this morning comes from a letter written by Paul to a young minister named Timothy.
Timothy was having a tough time in his work. In many ways, he was living in Scare City, perhaps facing fears that he wasn’t good enough, he was too young and unexperienced; maybe he didn’t feel brave enough for what God was calling him to do.
Or maybe, he was a young pastor, sent to a church where everything was hunky dory and he was having a hard time helping the church to grow – both in numbers and in faith.
So Paul sent this letter as a form of encouragement that young man’s ministry and as a reminder of what was really important… and I’m finding it helpful and encouraging as well.
I think its important for all of us to hear this call to move out of our attitudes of scarcity and to move into a sense of God’s abundant grace and love in our lives.

Because, friends, that is our call.

We are called to dismantle all those symbols of fear and scarcity in our lives so that we can embrace God’s abundant, joyful, overflowing life.
In our worship space this morning, we have literally dismantled the scaffolding that symbolized over these past few weeks the towers we build, the corners, and the walls…
Instead, all of these pieces are now altar spaces of their own… filled with signs of God’s hope and love and mercy that pours out into our lives.
They are symbols of OUR resurrection faith and defiant praise of God in the midst of a world that so often seems scary and uncertain.

Paul’s letter to Timothy was filled with reminders of how he could shed those fears.
The instructions were meant to help him fight the good fight of faith and to take hold of the eternal life to which he was called and for which he made his confession.
Confession isn’t a word that we use every day in our faith tradition.
We confess when we have done something wrong or when we are sorry, but the way it is used here also means to confess what we believe to be true.
Jane Anne Ferguson reminds us that this likely referred to the confession that Timothy made in his baptism.
A confession that he was God’s child.
A confession that he would serve God and love his neighbors.

A confession not unlike the one that we make in our baptisms…

I’ve been thinking about those promises that we in fact made during our baptisms and how they connect with the fears and the scarcity that lurk on the edges of our lives.

[slides for baptism]
So often, the feeling that we are not enough and that we have to build towers to make a name for and protect ourselves… that desire to have more and more and more… well, those are the powers of consumerism and nationalism run rampant.
When our desire to earn and spend and save money becomes idolatrous… when our patriotism blinds us to our kinship with brothers and sisters of other nations… then it is time for us to remember our confession.
Will you let the Spirit use you as prophets to the powers that be?
We accept the freedom and power God gives us to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves!
That is resurrection faith. That is defiant praise. That is how we build altars everywhere in this world!

When our world is filled with jealousy, conflict, abuse, and rumors… when there is a constant state of bickering and violence shows up on our news every single day… when the threats of war and destruction loom over us… then it is time for us to remember our confession…
Will you turn away from the powers of sin and death?
We renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of our sin!
That is resurrection faith. That is defiant praise. That is how we build altars everywhere in this world!

Where there is division and anxiety over those who look different or speak different or come from different places. When we look out in judgment upon those who don’t have the things that we have or when we hesitate to see and name and celebrate the gifts of people we think are below ourselves. When we forget that we, like Paul, are completely unworthy of the love of God for us… well, then it is time for us to remember our confession…
Will you proclaim the good news and live as disciples of Jesus Christ, his body on earth?
We confess Jesus Christ as our Savior, put our whole trust in his grace, and promise to serve him as our Lord, in union with the church which Christ has opened to people of all ages, nations, and races!
That is resurrection faith. That is defiant praise. That is how we build altars everywhere in this world!

And we do so by going back to the basics. By remembering the faith of our ancestors. By using their struggles and blessings to guide and shape the way that we live our lives. We turn to those pages of scripture, like this letter to Timothy, to remind us of the calling that is at our roots. And so, we make our confession…
Will you receive and profess the Christian faith as contained in the Scriptures?
We affirm and teach the faith of the whole church as we put our trust in God, the Father Almighty, in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, and in the Holy Spirit, one God now and forever.
That is resurrection faith. That is defiant praise. That is how we build altars everywhere in this world!

Like Timothy, we, too, have been called to a different kind of life.
We are called to “pursue righteousness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness” (1 Tim 6:11) –those fruits of the spirit that we talked about all summer long.
Fight the good fight of faith…
Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and for which you made your confession.
Remember your baptism and be grateful.
Remember your baptism and be grateful.
Remember your baptism and be grateful.

Be grateful.
As 1 Timothy 6:6 reminds us, we are called to a life that combines godliness with contentment,
Gratitude and contentment are key and perhaps the only way we can truly move from a spirit of scarcity to one of abundance.
It is a reminder that we brought nothing into this world and we will take nothing out of it.
Paul urges Timothy to remember that those who desire to be rich and to have more get caught up in a cycle of self-destruction. Their lust brings nothing but trouble.
On the other hand, those who have wealth can become so full of themselves and obsessed with their money that it becomes a stumbling block to their faith.
As the Message translation puts it, “a devout life does bring wealth, but it’s the rich simplicity of being yourself before God…. If we have bread on the table and shoes on our feet, that’s enough.”

Bread on the table and shoes on our feet.
Friends, that is all that we really need.
That is what is important.
These are signs of God’s abundance that will transform this world.

Bread and shoes…

Bread on the table… a sign of the great thanksgiving and a reminder that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.
A reminder of the abundant grace that has been given to us.
And a sign of the Body of Christ and how we are all united in this common mission.
And a loaf which is meant to be broken so that not just we… but others may be fed.
Bread symbolizes the ministries of our church where we praise God in our worship and we connect with one another around tables.

Shoes on our feet… because we have places to go!
Just as the first disciples were sent out into the world to baptize and teach and spread the good news, so we have been called to go from this place out into the world. After we have been fed by God’s word, we are supposed to share it.
We are supposed to carry it with us from this sanctuary so that we can transform this world.
Shoes symbolize the ministries of our church in which we teach and share the faith with young and old and in which we go and serve in places near and far.

Today… we have the opportunity to make our commitments for next year.
As a church, we have been deepening our vision and we believe that our love, service, and prayer in this world is meant to make an impact.
Just like bread is meant to be shared and shoes are meant to go out, when we deepen our engagement in this church and when we partner with others out in the world, things are going to happen!
You and me, right now, today, we are laying the foundation for the future ministry of our church.
And it will take all of us, making the commitment to personally engage in just a slightly deeper way for our church to grow and flourish and thrive.

If we are honest with ourselves… the foundation that we are laying today is not for us.
It is for the church of our children and grandchildren.
Some of us won’t be here in 10-20 years as our dreams for this place are being realized.
But for the sake of our children, for the sake of our grandchildren, for the sake of the neighbors all around us who are hungry and yearning for hope… we are called to this work.
We are called to fight the good fight.
We are called to do good.
We are called to carry this worship and word out of this place and bring light and hope and grace and mercy to all we meet.
We are called to be generous and to share.
And when we do so, we will take hold of what is truly life.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

The Spirit of Community

Format Image

This summer at Immanuel, we have been exploring how the Holy Spirit shows up in the lives of characters throughout the scriptures.

Today, we find two men who have very different attitudes towards the work of God: the sorcerer and the eunuch.

Philip is a deacon, a servant of the church, and he encounters lots of people who hear and believe the good news about Jesus Christ. So, what is it about the sorcerer and the eunuch that make their stories so special?

It is how they respond to the work of the Holy Spirit.

One is arrogant and brash, the other humble and full of questions.

For one, the power of the Holy Spirit is a commodity to be bought and sold, possessed and tamed.

For the other, that power is precious, mysterious, and a gift to be treated delicately.

First – there is a difference in how they each are introduced to the Holy Spirit.

The sorcerer was familiar with magic and illusion and he saw the Holy Spirit working from a far. When he heard the good news of God he joined the fellowship of believers. So, in many ways, he is a changed man, but he still desires to be the center of attention. He still wants to draw a crowd. And so when he sees the apostles laying hands on people so that they could receive the Holy Spirit, he suddenly wants their job.

So he runs over to them and throws down a bag of coins… “I want to do that, too!” he begs. “Give me that authority.”

The sorcerer believes the Holy Spirit is something to be possessed. The sorcerer wants a new bag of tricks for his show.

On the other hand, the Holy Spirit was working behind the scenes to bring Philip and the eunuch into a relationship. She leads Philip to take a certain road. She tells him to walk alongside the cart. And, She has been present in the life of this eunuch – they are reading the scriptures, hoping to understand them. And so, when they hear the good news, and an oasis of water suddenly appears alongside their desert road, they ask – what would stop me from being baptized too?

It is not a demand, it is a humble question of faith.

In our journeys of faith, sometimes we get jealous of what other people have – faith that seems so strong, a prayer life that seems so powerful. We often struggle with what we don’t have.
Maybe you have uttered the phrase, “I wish I could pray like so and so” or “if only we had a choir or a praise band” or “I wish I could read the scriptures like that person.”

There is nothing wrong with wanting to grow in our faith. There is nothing wrong with seeing what other people are doing and seeking God’s guidance about the ways we can live out our faith.
But in the stories of the sorcerer and the eunuch, we are invited to see that it is not what we don’t have that matters…. what matters is what the Holy Spirit has already brought into our lives.

We can be so busy looking at what others have and what we desire that we can’t see the gifts right in front of us. We each have a voice that we can use, we each have a part to play in our time of worship. Just because we don’t have robes and lights and big voices does not mean that there isn’t a song to be sung.

Secondly, there is a difference between these two characters and what they hope to gain through the Holy Spirit.

While the sorcerer had once been the center of attention, he finds that notoriety fading as a new player, the deacon Philip, comes on the scene. Suddenly, it is someone else doing the healing… someone else drawing the crowds… and the sorcerer himself is astonished by the power that the followers of Christ possess.

But as soon as he perceives the source of this power, he wants it for himself. He wants to again be someone that others flock around. He wants to have the magical ability so that he can carry it to some far off place and again be on the stage with people at his feet.

Our sorcerer is a performer and faith is a tool, a prop, to get him what he wants.

Maybe I’m being cynical and faith IS a part of his life, but he hasn’t quite given up his old ways and he is trying to get the faith to fit into his life rather than allowing it to transform him.

Notice, nowhere did I talk about a community, or a group… faith for the sorcerer was all about himself and what he could use it for.

On the other hand, the eunuch wants to be included. They want to belong. They want to be a part of a community that understood.

Our text tells us that this African man was coming from Jerusalem. He had probably spent some time worshipping in the temple. Yet, as a eunuch, the fullness of worship would have been closed off to him. He would only have been allowed into the Court of the Gentiles.

Gary DeLashmutt writes that because of his social standing as a “sexually altered black man from a pagan country” doors were automatically closed for him. Time and time again, he had probably been turned away from opportunities.

In spite of his standing in the court of the queen of Ethiopia… in spite of his wealth… in spite of all the power he could and did possess, the eunuch knew that he could not buy a place in the family of God. He knew that there were countless barriers in his way, but all he wanted to do was to belong.

In spite of the threat of further rejection, the eunuch persists and when he and Philip come to that small oasis of water by the side of the road, he asks a heartbreaking question: “What would prevent me from being baptized?”

He wants to belong.

He wants to join in the fellowship.

And he found in Philip a person who, according to DeLashmutt, “understood that his standing with God was based not on his ethnic identity, moral record, religious heritage, etc.—but through Jesus’ death alone… He understood that Jesus loved this eunuch and was able to give him new life just as he did Philip.”

So Philip leads him down to the water and the eunuch is baptized.

Although our story says that he went on his way rejoicing, we do not know the end of his story. We don’t know where he goes or how his life and his faith continue in the story of God.
All we know is that he wanted to belong… and my experience is that when someone finds true welcome, they can’t help but pass it on.

In the stories of the sorcerer and the eunuch, we find a performer desiring a stage and a person seeking a home.

In their contrast, we are reminded that faith through the Holy Spirit is not about me or you, but about us.

Diedrich Bonhoeffer once wrote: “It is not you that sings, it is the church that is singing, and you, as a member… may share in its song. Thus all singing together that is right must serve to widen our spiritual horizon, make us see our little company as a member of the great Christian church on earth, and help us willingly and gladly to join our singing, be it feeble or good, to the song of the church”

That is what we do when we gather to worship. We join our singing to the song of the church. We join our lives to the body of Christ. We become part of something far bigger than ourselves.

Many of you are here because you have already found a spiritual home in this community of faith. But at some point in your life, perhaps you, like the eunuch, were searching for a place to belong and a song to sing…

Others gathered here this morning might still be looking for that sense of community.

One of our hopes in gathering out here on the front lawn this morning was to simply be present with our neighbors and to remind one another that we are not alone.

The Spirit of God is moving through our midst, uniting us, binding us together, and helping us to create a place where all might know God’s love.

It is not about you.

It is not about me.

It is about us.

So, let us not be sorcerers who want to control and possess the power of God, singing by ourselves – or even worse, letting someone else sing for us while we sit back and watch…
Instead, like the eunuch, let us humbly join our faith and our voices with those of others.

Let us celebrate the welcome and the community we have found and like Philip, and like the eunuch, let us not be afraid to share it with others.

Amen.

We Have Found the Messiah

Format Image

“I am not the Messiah”

That’s probably pretty obvious to all of you.  Of course, I’m not the Messiah.

But I wasn’t talking about me.

These were the words of John the Baptist as he started his ministry.

He was out there, talking to people about the coming Kingdom of God, preaching, inviting people to repent… well, actually, doing things that I typically do as a pastor.  

And people started to wonder about him.

Who are you?

Are you Elijah?

Are you a prophet?

Are you the Christ?

“I am not the Messiah” he answered.

“I’m just a voice, crying out in the wilderness, making the Lord’s path straight.”

 

I’ve been thinking a lot about what it might mean to make the Lord’s path straight and I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s really about making it easier for people to connect with God.

If you go back to the origins of the phrase from Isaiah, the Hebrew word used in this passage actually means to clear the land… to remove the rocks and roots and everything that gets in the way so that something new can be planted, so that something new can be done.

John was someone who was called to help clear out the obstacles that prevent people from experiencing God.  To clear the way for God’s salvation.

 

And so in our passage today, we hear about what happens when the Messiah does show up.  John is out there, doing his job and Jesus comes to be baptized… by him!    He has this amazing experience and vision and realizes that THIS is the Messiah.  THIS is the one they had been waiting for. 

But John’s job isn’t finished. 

 

No, John’s role is to keep pointing to Jesus, to keep making it easy for people to come and discover the Messiah for themselves.  

And so the next day, John is hanging out with two of his own disciples.  And when he sees Jesus walking by, he cries out:  “Look!  It’s the Lamb of God!  That’s him!  That’s the one I was telling you about!”    

And so these two start to follow Jesus.  And then they reach out and invite others to come and see.  “We have found the Messiah!” they tell their friends and neighbors and siblings.  “Come and see!”

 

In many ways, the beginnings of the church was a pyramid scheme.

You find one person, and that person finds two people, and then those two people each find two people, and then those two people… and before you know it, there are 2.2 billion followers of Jesus Christ in the world.   

 

The question I want to explore this morning is how you and I are called to keep this church going.  In many ways, our job is simple.  We have found the Messiah!  We don’t have to BE the Messiah.  We don’t have to save this world all by ourselves.  We don’t have to single handedly run this thing or be perfect or fulfill every obligation.  

We have found the Messiah.  We already have someone who can do that.

 

No, I think you and I have two jobs.  

 

First,  it is state loudly and clearly to all the world that “I am not the Messiah.”

Will you repeat that with me?  “I am not the Messiah”

Let’s say it like we really mean it: “ I AM NOT THE MESSIAH.”

That might seem like a strange exercise, but the truth is, we aren’t perfect.  We are totally unworthy of this calling.  We will make mistakes all the time.

In fact, we are only 15 days into this year and I have already made a bunch of small mistakes and a couple of big ones.  But I learn from them.  I keep going.  I try to grow and do better the next  time.  That is all that we can do. 

One of my own failings is that sometimes I set the bar too high.  And I’ve heard from some of you, who are overwhelmed that you don’t feel like you are good enough or can do enough for the church.  And I’ve heard from some of you that you are burnt out and tired and trying to do all that you can, but you simply can’t do any more.  

You know what?  None of us are the Messiah.

None of us are good enough to be here.  And we all have some kind of brokenness in our lives – be it a broken relationship or our bodies are broken and letting us down or we’ve broken promises to ourselves or others.  

We aren’t perfect.  And we aren’t supposed to be. We are not the Messiah.

 

But we ARE here today, because we think we have found the Messiah.  

I am part of the church, not because it’s a community of perfect people who never make mistakes or let one another down, but because I believe that this is a place where broken people find healing.  

I am part of the church because this is where I hear the stories of Jesus Christ and in the midst of the brokenness, I meet Jesus all the time.

Rachel Held Evans is a Christian writer and blogger and recent talked about why people come to church. And she said:

You can get a cup of coffee with your friends anywhere, but church is the only place you can get ashes smudged on your forehead as a reminder of your mortality. You can be dazzled by a light show at a concert on any given weekend, but church is the only place that fills a sanctuary with candlelight and hymns on Christmas Eve. You can snag all sorts of free swag for brand loyalty online, but church is the only place where you are named a beloved child of God with a cold plunge into the water. You can share food with the hungry at any homeless shelter, but only the church teaches that a shared meal brings us into the very presence of God.

What finally brought me back, after years of running away, wasn’t lattes or skinny jeans; it was the sacraments. Baptism, confession, Communion, preaching the Word, anointing the sick — you know, those strange rituals and traditions Christians have been practicing for the past 2,000 years. The sacraments are what make the church relevant, no matter the culture or era. They don’t need to be repackaged or rebranded; they just need to be practiced, offered and explained in the context of a loving, authentic and inclusive community.  (https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/jesus-doesnt-tweet/2015/04/30/fb07ef1a-ed01-11e4-8666-a1d756d0218e_story.html?utm_term=.14f389a46dd4)

And so our second job is to make it easier for people to come and meet the Messiah. To clear the way.  To invite our friends and neighbors and siblings to join us on this journey.  To ask them to come and see what it is that we have found here:  life in the midst of death, healing in the midst of struggle, hope in our despair, forgiveness in our mistakes.

 

Our Administrative Council has been wrestling over the last few months with what we want to set as goals for this church in 2017.  And part of what we have been doing is looking forward as well to what God is calling us to as a church.

We’ve had a vision for the last four or five years to “Live a life, in Christ, of love, service, and prayer”   and part of what I have been pushing them, and us, to think about is so what?  

What is going to be different in this world because we have done so?  

 

You know, the meaning of “salvation” is “to heal.”  It is God’s deliverance of those in a situation of need, resulting in their restoration to wholeness.  

Taking what is broken and making it whole.  

That’s the business God is in.

What if that is the business we were called to be in?

We are not the Messiah, but we are here, because we have experienced God’s love, grace, and healing power.  

So what if we lived in such a way, if we loved in such a way, if we served in such a way, if we prayed in such a way that we could clear a path for others to come and find Jesus here, too.

 

In a few minutes, we are going to take a moment to remember our baptism.  We are going to remember that we have been saved and healed and are being made whole by the Lord Jesus Christ.    

And part of this rememberance is being honest about just how fall we have fallen short.  We have ALL fallen short.  None of us are perfect.  We are not the Messiah.

But we will also be invited to make anew some promises to God.  

Because, we might not be the Messiah, but we, the church, believe that God can use us and use our gifts to help make it easier for others to come and find Jesus, too.  

And so our covenant prayer simply places our lives in God’s hands.  It invites us to remember that we are not the Savior, but that we are willing to let God work in our lives this year.  

 

I am not the Messiah.

You are not the Messiah.

But we have found the Messiah.  

Thanks be to God.

 

Livin’ on the Edge

This morning, we are hanging out in liminal space…

That’s a funny word isn’t it… liminal….

Say it with me… liminal.

 

It comes from Latin and means “threshold.”  It is the space in between.  It is transitional.

Our country is in that liminal space between an election and the swearing in of a new president.

The United Methodist Church is in a liminal space – knowing that we can’t be what we were and aren’t yet sure what we might become.

Many of us are in personal liminal spaces… a time of discomfort, of waiting, of transformation.  We are experiencing transitions in relationship statuses, or maturing from childhood to adulthood.  We are waiting for test results that might forever change our world or experiencing losses that already have.

The theologian Richard Rohr describes liminality this way:

It is when you have left the tried and true, but have not yet been able to replace it with anything else.  It is when you are between your old comfort zone and any possible new answer.

Or, if you’d prefer the theologians Aerosmith:

There’s something wrong with the world today

I don’t know what it is Something’s wrong with our eyes

We’re seeing things in a different way

And god knows it ain’t his

It sure ain’t no surprise

Livin’ on the edge

Every single one of us is dealing with something in our personal lives that looms large on the edges.  Job insecurity.  Financial woes.  Racism.  Personal loss.  Illness.  Depression.  Sexism. Addiction.  Work or School stress.  Bullying.

Whatever it might be for you… It’s there on the edges.

We don’t talk about it… but it’s there.

 

And it was there for Edmund, Peter, Lucy, and Susan in the Chronicles of Narnia.

As we enter this Advent and then Christmas season and beyond, we are going to be following these four children in this magical land and hear what  the author C.S. Lewis has to teach us about what it means to be people of faith in tough times.

And the story starts with this magical threshold… this doorway between two worlds that the littlest girl Lucy discovers.

 

We focus on the magic of that doorway… but what we sometimes overlook is the difficulty that brought all of the characters to this place in this time.

These children are in a liminal space.

The story is set during the middle of the London Blitz of World War II.  Their home in the city was no longer safe.  Like children in Aleppo, in Syria, today, every day they lived in terror that a bomb would drop on top of their home or school or the hospitals.

Yet these children were able to make it out of the city.  They were sent away to the countryside, sent away from their parents, into a big lonely house.

Everything they knew was in turmoil… and they didn’t yet know what might happen on the other side of the war.

 

This summer, as we preached through the prophets, we heard the passage we shared this morning from Isaiah.  About the people who lived in the land of deep darkness.

Those who lived in the lands of Zebulun and Naphtali knew what it meant to live through wars and conflict.  Their tribal home had been ravaged for so long that they didn’t know what hope was anymore.

There’s something wrong with the world today

The lightbulb’s gettin’ dimmed

There’s meltdown in the sky

If you can judge a wise man

By the color of his skin

Then mister, you’re a better man than I

Livin’ on the edge

Right there… on the edge… where hope had ceased and the shadows seemed longer and longer, light was promised.

Those who lived in a land of deep darkness – on them light has shined.

 

And so in the midst of this liminal season of her life, Lucy hides in a closet and discovers a magical doorway between worlds.

She finds herself in a forest, surrounded by snow, and she sees a light shining in the distance.

It is a lamppost.

A light shining on the edge.

“It is a beacon in the face of the dark, cold spell that lies on the land,” writes the author of our devotion Advent in Narnia.

Both lands.  All lands.

London and Narnia. Syria and Israel.  The United States. The World.

The lamppost, which stands there at the boundary between Narnia and the “wild woods of the west” remains shining in the darkness.  The power of the white witch who has taken over Narnia… the darkness of despair, sin, and death which threatens to overtake our lives… it cannot put that light out.  It shines.  Always has… always will.

 

As we will hear read on Christmas Eve, the gospel of John reminds us that the light shines in the darkness and the darkness could not overcome it.

And we hear… that the people loved the darkness more than the light.

As the Message puts it… the light entered the world “and yet the world didn’t even notice.  He came to his own people and they didn’t want him.”

In the midst of our story of light, we are reminded that that we are human.

It is so often our sin that is the cause of the world’s darkness.

Hatred and greed.  Nationalism and pride.  Consumer impulses that fail to recognize the cost to others and this planet.

That is why we are reminded in the gospel of Luke that the door is narrow and few will enter it.

Mr. Tumnus is the perfect example of this reality.  He is working for the witch, even though he knows it is wrong because he is too afraid to do otherwise.

We are too struck by the darkness.

We are too consumed with ourselves.

Something right with the world today

And everybody knows it’s wrong

But we can tell ’em no

Or we could let it go

But I would rather be a hanging on

Livin’ on the edge

My colleague Dan Dick has some challenging words for people of faith right now.  He writes as Advent begins:

Do we need a Savior?  Do we need a Messiah?  Yes, oh yes, but we really don’t want one – not if he/she is going to expect us to live up to our confession of faith.  If we have to honor the promises made for us at baptism and the promises we have made ourselves since then, well…,  we will take a pass on the Messiah, thank you very much… we really can’t afford/tolerate the Son of God coming to mess things up. (https://doroteos2.com/2016/11/26/wanted-savior-some-experience-required/)

We have a chance to say goodbye to the darkness and let go of our own sin and anger, disappointment and loss, frustration and hatred and focus on the light, the hope, the love, the promises of God.

There is light and right and good in this world… if only we would open our eyes to see it, open our hearts to experience it… open our hands to live it.

There is something so right in this world today and we are too scared, fearful, consumed to believe it!

But as Jesus instructs the people in chapter 13 of Luke’s gospel – unless you change your hearts and lives… unless you repent… unless you turn away from the darkness you will never enter that narrow door.

 

Mr. Tumnus was out there in the liminal space… hanging out by the lamppost.

We don’t know what brought him to that moment, but what we do know is that in the story, he finds a child.

A child that offers him hope and light, love and forgiveness.

A child that gives him the courage to turn away from the shadows.

 

This Advent season, we have a chance to enter that narrow door.

We have a chance to enter that liminal space of transformation.

Friends, all I ask is that you open yourself to the possibility.

I ask that you step outside of your comfort zone.

I pray that you will enter and journey in Narnia with me this season.

Come live on the edge.  Come experience the light. Come and wait for the coming of our savior.

It just might change your life.

Transferred into the Kingdom

Over the last two weeks in worship, we have talked extensively about how we should give thanks for one another…  

Because of our differences, we give thanks.

We gave thanks as we broke bread together.

We gave thanks around the waters of baptism.

We should give thanks always and everywhere for the people of this world who help us claim our inheritance, who help us overcome division, and who teach us how to practice what is true and holy, just and pure.  

 

Today, we explore one more of Paul’s letters.

Today, we are reminded to give thanks to God who is the reason we all share in the Kingdom.  

 

Let us pray:

 

This past week, the annual Bucksbaum Lecture at Drake University was given by Krista Tippet.  

Many of my Sunday mornings, as I drive in to church, I listen to her broadcast, “On Being,” and I listen as she asks people from all sorts of traditions and backgrounds what it means to be human.  

Recently, I picked up a copy of her book, “Becoming Wise,” and like she starts so many of her interviews, she starts by exploring her own background and faith tradition.  

 

One of the interesting things about Tippet’s story is that she served as an aide to the American ambassador in Germany while it was divided.  

She writes:

More riveting to me in the end than the politics of Berlin was the vast social experiment its division had become.  One people, one language and history and culture, were split into two radically opposing worldviews and realities, decades entrenched by the time I arrived.  I loved people on both sides of the Wall that wound through the heart of the city.

I keep thinking about the division of Berlin… the division of Germany after WWII… and the division of our own nation in this moment.

Especially in regards to our letter from Paul this morning.

 

As Paul writes to the Colossians, Gentiles who lived in what is now modern-day Turkey, he writes to encourage them in their faith… to help them grow into this new relationship they have found with Jesus.

And as Paul talks about the transition, the shift they have experienced in their life by accepting Jesus, he uses this really interesting phrase.  

God has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son.  (1:13)

Transferred us into the Kingdom.

As Neta Pringle describes this word – transferred, she writes that:

His image conjures up pictures of refugees, rounded up after battle and taken to the victor’s land, of Israelites marched far from home to live in Babylon – a kingdom so different, so far from home in both geography and style.  Here the rules are different, the ruler is different.  All assumptions about the way in which life goes on – indeed about its very meaning- are different. (Feasting on the Word)

Transferred into the Kingdom… much like those who found themselves on the eastern side of the wall in Berlin suddenly found themselves living in a different country, under different rules.  

Transferred into the Kingdom… much like after an election a nation wakes up to a world where different people are in charge and different priorities come to the front.  

You don’t always have to physically shift your location to feel like the world has changed all around you.  For better or for worse. 

 

Except, Paul is not writing here about a temporary shift in power that comes and goes with various political leaders and world events.

Paul is writing about a cosmic shift…

God has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son.  

And not just the people of Paul’s day and time.  Not just the Colossians, or the Ephesians, the Philippians, or the Romans.  

All of us.

We have been rescued from the powers of evil, sin, and death.   

We all have been transferred into the kingdom of forgiveness, redemption, and life.  

Thanks be to God.

 

Today in worship, we celebrate that Christ is King.  That he is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  The Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise. 

We celebrate that through his death on the cross, the blood of Jesus rescued humanity from its captivity to the powers of this world.

In the cross, in the resurrection, Jesus declared victory over the powers over evil, injustice, and oppression.

And friends, in that great and glorious act, we have been transferred into God’s kingdom.  

We have been transferred into the Rule and the Reign of God.

We are no longer merely citizens of this place, of Iowa, of the United States… Jesus is Lord.

Thanks be to God!

 

To emphasize this new reality, Paul continues his letter by breaking out into song.  

While we don’t know the melody, while it isn’t a familiar tune to our ears, these lyrics in Paul’s letter would have been as familiar to the Colossians as Amazing Grace is to us. 

They might have even started singing along.

 

And this song reminds the people in familiar words that when we look at Jesus, we see God.

They remind the people that in Christ all things in heaven and on earth were made.

They remind these new citizens of God’s kingdom that everything… every nation, every King or President, every Prime Minister or Governor, every Mayor and every Councilperson… everything is from God and finds purpose in God.  

From the clouds in the sky to the microorganisms in the dirt beneath our feet, God in Christ holds everything together.  

And Jesus is in charge of it all.  

From beginning to end, Alpha and Omega, this kingdom will never end.  

Thanks be to God!

 

And like any change in leadership… whether temporal or heavenly… the rules under which we live change a bit.

So this letter to the Colossians is a reminder that them and us that we are called to grow in love and faith.

Paul encourages us to bear fruit in every good work and grow in the knowledge of God.

And we are reminded that just because Christ has already won, does not mean that evil death and sin are forever gone.  Paul’s letter, in fact, is full of the reminder that we will be made strong in Christ and is meant to help us endure with patience the trials and tribulations that will come.  

That is why when we gather around the baptismal font and we welcome new ones into our midst we make these familiar pledges:

We pledge to renounce the spiritual forced of wickedness and evil powers of this world.

We repent of our sin.

We accept the freedom and power God gives us to resist evil, injustice and oppression, in whatever forms they present themselves.

And we must hold one another accountable to the rules of God’s kingdom.  

All because we confess Jesus Christ as our Savior.

All because we promise to serve him as our Lord.

 

When Krista Tippett talks about life in Berlin, she also talks about the day the wall came down.  It was her twenty-ninth birthday.  

She writes that “no one imagined that it could fall or the Iron Curtain crumble…. The wall finally collapsed with a whimper, not a bang, as fear lifted all at once from an entire nation.  I had walked through Checkpoint Charlie hundreds of times, respecting its absurdity as authority.  On the night the Wall fell… the entire city walked joyfully through it.  The border guards joined them. It was truly nearly that simple.”  

 

While we live under the rule and the reign of Jesus Christ, we work and pray for the day when all people will joyfully walk through the walls of division and hatred.  

We work and pray for the day when fear is lifted for all people.  

We work and pray for the moment when the powers of this world that keep us apart let go of their last grasp upon our hearts and we are finally free to simply be in Christ.  

And until then… we live as people who see all things and all people in their true light… as the ones who already belong to Jesus.  

Thanks be to God. 

God Changes Minds

I change my mind all the time.

I like variety. I learn. I grow. I experience new things. I’m in a different mood.

And my understanding and beliefs change as a result.

All. The. Time.

Most recently, we have been doing some work on our backyard.

Early this spring, we removed a few trees. And the morning the workers came to take the trees down, I thought I wanted the pile in one place.

Today, I want it somewhere else.

I changed my mind.

My initial decision was one that had to be made in the moment.

And at the time, I thought I knew exactly what I wanted.

I also thought I understood how much wood there would be.

Now, I’m the first to admit, I was completely and utterly mistaken.

 

woodpileWhat we were left with when the tree company left was an enormous wood pile.

I didn’t have all the information.

I didn’t understand the scope and breadth and depth of what this pile would be. Or how it would block the view of my barberries and take up the entire first level of our retaining wall.

I hadn’t thought about the best way to store said wood in order to help it cure.

I couldn’t see in that moment the bigger picture.

And now, I’m going to build some muscles moving all of those logs… because now, with more information and some experience, my mind was changed.

 

In our reading from Acts today, Peter changed his mind, too.

Or rather God changed Peter’s mind.

Like me, Peter couldn’t see the big picture.

 

He was living his life as a faithful Jewish man and thought he knew exactly what God was about and what God wants from the people. He presumed to understood the rules of faith.

But his knowledge was limited.

He didn’t see the scope and the breadth and the depth of God’s love for all people.

In the prelude to our scripture reading from Acts this morning, Peter has been sent on a missionary journey to the home of Cornelius… a gentile.

A Gentile is anyone who is not Jewish, someone who was not a part of the family of Israel, someone who was an outsider as far as the faith was concerned.

While the scripture describes Cornelius as a God-worshipper, Gentiles had limits on their participation in the Jewish temple.

Second Temple Model, JerusalemThe temple had many different courts, and the requirements to move further and further into the temple, towards the holy of holies, left many out. The big open area you see in the photo is called the Court of the Gentiles. That was the only part of the temple Gentiles could enter.

They were excluded from the rest because they were unclean.  They were different.  They were not welcome.

But many faithful god-fearing folks like Cornelius continued to show up. They continued worshipping God from those outer courts. In spite of the exclusion, they wanted a relationship with God.

 

And God wanted a relationship with them. So God prepares Peter’s heart for a transformation in thinking. Before God sends Peter to Caesarea and the home of Cornelius, he gives him a vision of the clean and unclean joining together.  Peter receives a vision of a new sort of body of Christ.

Then he is summoned to the home of Cornelius, and although he was not allowed by Jewish custom to enter, he did. He went in and ate with the family and he shared with them the good news of Jesus Christ. And as he preached to Cornelius and his family, the Holy Spirit descends upon them and they receive the gift of faith.

 

Peter’s world has just been turned upside down.  Those he thought were outside of God’s love and power have just had it poured upon them.  And exclaims: “These people have received the Holy Spirit just as we have. Surely no one can stop them from being baptized with water, can they?”

No one could deny their gifts. Water was brought and Cornelius and his whole family were baptized on the spot… they were part of the family of God.

 

When my husband and I decided to take down some trees at our house, we thought we understood the parameters of the proposal. They take down the trees. We keep the mulch and the wood. End of story.

But what exactly are we going to do with all of that wood?

How are we going to store it?

What do we do with the plants that were once in a shady area that now need to be moved?

And what happens to the family of bunnies that has now made their home in the wood pile in its current location?

As soon as a new, unexpected element enters the equation, it is natural that there is some anxiety, some wheel spinning, and chaos.

 

And that is precisely what happened in the aftermath of Peter and Cornelius.

You can take down a tree or two. You can baptize a Gentile family.

But there are going to be repercussions.

Things just won’t be the same.

 

Peter is summoned back to Jerusalem. He is called back to the apostles who heard about what happened and who aren’t so sure they like what has happened.

They start with criticism. They launch into accusations. They read off the rules. I can imagine their frustration growing as they start to wrestle with the implications of what has just happened.

 

The leaders of the early church, like Peter, believed that faith meant one thing, and God was trying to show them it meant something else. But we cling to our traditions, to our rules, to what we know and understand.

I think the number one way God changes our hearts and minds is by helping us experience the world in a different way.

That’s what happened with Peter. God moved him to the right time and place and put Cornelius in his life to give him an undeniable experience of grace and power and Holy Spirit led transformation.

 

But the number two way God changes hearts and minds is by calling those who have had these life-altering experiences to tell their story.

 

The apostles were furious and demanded an explanation.

And Peter gave them one.

 

He told them about his vision.

He told them about how God led him to the house of Cornelius.

He connected what he had experienced of Jesus Christ and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit with what he witnessed first-hand in Caesarea.

In chapter 11, verse 16-17 he testifies: “I remembered the Lord’s words: ‘John will baptize with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ If God gave them the same give he gave us who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, then who am I? Could I stand in God’s way?”.

 

Seventy five years ago, I probably would not have been welcomed in this pulpit.  As a woman, ordination was out of the question.  A combination of tradition and a patriarchal society and a way of reading the scriptures precluded the church from welcoming women as preachers and pastors.

But here I stand… robed, ordained, my calling from the Holy Spirit confirmed by the church.

At various points throughout our history, faithful folk stood up and exclaimed about women:  These people have received the Holy Spirit… just like we did – How can we stop them from being baptized?  How can we deny them a place at the table?  How can we stop them from being ordained when God has so clearly spoken in their lives?

John Wesley, the founder of Methodism was against women preaching in principle… until he witnessed the Holy Spirit working through the lives of women like Sarah Crosby, Grace Murry, and Hannah Ball.  He relented and licensed them for preaching in the circuits across England.

God changed his mind.

God changed the mind of our church.

God helped us to see a different vision of what the church and our community could be, just as God had done for Peter.

As a young woman, I have always lived in a church that ordained women.  I have always been a part of a church that valued the contributions women made in ministry, in leadership, and in the world.  It has been a given.

But I often wonder where God is going to change our minds next.

 

“I really am learning that God doesn’t show partiality to one group of people over another,” Peter says.

 

When I was in Washington, D.C. last week for a leadership fellows training, the church we spent our days at had welcome signs plastered throughout the building.

 

“We love single people, divorced people, widowed and married people,” it says.

“We love people who have not been to church in ages and those who never miss a Sunday.”

“We love people who are in recovery and those who are still addicted.”

 

The list went on and on, but it reminded me that God shows no partiality to one group of people or another.

God wants to be in relationship with all of us.

With the whole of creation.

With you and me.

With black and white and brown.

With young and old, and gay and straight,

with those struggling with mental health and those who love them.

With life-long Americans and with people who have just arrived in our country.

 

When you start to make a list, all of a sudden the people we are supposed to love and share the good news with starts to overwhelm us.

Like the woodpile in my yard, it truly seems incredible and awesome.

The question that’s before us is: what are we going to do about it?

How will this knowledge change our practice?

And if we are going to let God change our hearts and minds and church, where do we need to start moving around the woodpile to make room for everyone to thrive and find a place here?