Monthly Archives: March 2007

May 13

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Easter 6 / mother’s day

John 5:1-9

After this there was a festival of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in Hebrew Beth-zatha, which has five porticoes. In these lay many invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be made well?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.” Jesus said to him, “Stand up, take your mat and walk.” At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk. Now that day was a sabbath.

Imagine this scene: the “many invalids”, all gathered around the pool, all waiting for that one moment when the water is “stirred up.” (The legend was that an angel of the Lord came to the water and stirred it up every once in a while, and the first person in the water after it had been stirred up would be healed.) So the water is stirred up, and there is a mad dash to try to get into the pool—only the first one gets healed. Can you imagine failing at this, year after year? The man in this story can only make it into the pool first if somebody helps him, but nobody will help him because they want to get into the pool first! It’s survival-of-the-fittest, dog-eat-dog, me-first. The only way this man is going to find healing is if someone is willing to give up their healing for his sake. Human nature being what it is, that has not happened in 38 years. You could make the case, however, that this is what Jesus does. He heals the man, and then immediately gets in trouble with the religious leaders for healing on the Sabbath. John tells us that the religious leaders began to plot against Jesus at this point. So his healing of the man puts him on a collision course with the powers-that-be. But he’s willing to do that for the sake of compassion. (It being Mother’s Day and all, we might also muse on the fact that, while we may not be Jesus, mothers in particular tend to sacrifice their own well-being for the well-being of their children. Perhaps the world would be a truer reflection of God’s kingdom if we were all a bit more motherly to each other!)

May 6

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May 6 is the day we will focus on Christians in the Middle East, as we kick off the Week of Prayer and Witness with Christians in the Middle East.

Acts 11.1-18

Now the apostles and the believers who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also accepted the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him, saying, ‘Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?’ Then Peter began to explain it to them, step by step, saying, ‘I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision. There was something like a large sheet coming down from heaven, being lowered by its four corners; and it came close to me. As I looked at it closely I saw four-footed animals, beasts of prey, reptiles, and birds of the air. I also heard a voice saying to me, “Get up, Peter; kill and eat.” But I replied, “By no means, Lord; for nothing profane or unclean has ever entered my mouth.” But a second time the voice answered from heaven, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” This happened three times; then everything was pulled up again to heaven. At that very moment three men, sent to me from Caesarea, arrived at the house where we were. The Spirit told me to go with them and not to make a distinction between them and us. These six brothers also accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house. He told us how he had seen the angel standing in his house and saying, “Send to Joppa and bring Simon, who is called Peter; he will give you a message by which you and your entire household will be saved.” And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as it had upon us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said, “John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?’ When they heard this, they were silenced. And they praised God, saying, ‘Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.’

In the LSG we talked quite a bit about two aspects of this passage: it’s strangeness to us and the power dynamic.
This is not a common story, and its topic is rather foreign to us. Peter’s vision about clean and unclean animals, the idea that a good Jew could suddenly begin to disobey the dietary laws—these are radical ideas. Similarly, the admission of uncircumcised Gentiles into the fellowship was a radical thing. It’s as though something you have grown up knowing to be true is suddenly changed, with no warning, and your whole life and the whole life of your community is shaken to the core. As Richard put it, this is “THE crisis” of the early church. There’s not much in our contemporary culture that mirrors this change, so it can be hard to understand the depth of the issue here. No wonder the church in Jerusalem questioned Peter (and maybe even his sanity!).

Beyond the strangeness, we talked about power. The church in Jerusalem, the Jewish Christians, are the ones who think they have the power here, and they are using it when they talk to Peter. But then Peter tells this story about God’s power, and the “insiders” are suddenly silenced, then moved to praise. God’s power is stronger than our boundaries, stronger than our visions of “right and wrong,” stronger than our insider power, strong enough to move us from defensiveness to silence to praise.

April 29: 4th Sunday of Easter

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4th Sunday of Easter / children’s musical?

Psalm 23 (NRSV)

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me;
your rod and your staff— they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long.

Can there be a more familiar part of the Bible than Psalm 23? In our lectionary study group, we discovered that we could pretty much recite the whole thing from memory. Sometimes children’s Bibles will put Psalm 23 on a special page, maybe with a picture of Jesus (the Good Shepherd) carrying a sheep. We want our children to hear these comforting words, that God is always with us, always caring for us. We also hear Psalm 23 at funerals. The promise of God being with us “in the valley of the shadow of death” (in the older translation) is especially comforting at times of death. All of this is good stuff—and we need to hear all of it: that we are loved, cared for, granted rest, led in right paths, comforted, and so on—all by God. But one little piece strikes me as particularly interesting: “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.” We spent a lot of time talking about that one. Does it mean that I can sit down and eat and be safe, even though I’m surrounded by enemies, because God will protect me? Does it mean that I get to eat and my enemies DO NOT—they starve and I get to dance on their graves? Or does it mean that God sets a table and invites us all to sit down together—me AND my enemies—to make them no longer enemies but friends? I think this last one is closer to the truth, and that means Psalm 23, in addition to being one of the most comforting texts in all of scripture, is also one of the most challenging because we’re invited to make peace with our enemies!

April 22: Earth Sunday

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On Earth Day we are going off-lectionary. Here is the scripture text and the notes/theme. If you have ideas, comments, or suggestions to share, please click the link at the bottom of this entry that says “click here to comment” and leave your comment there. Thanks!
The LSG (the Bible Study where we talk about these texts) meets every Tuesday at noon in the lounge. You are welcome to join us!

Romans 8:18-25

Paul wrote: I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

Richard’s Notes:
We agreed that there’s a lot going on in Paul, and it’s not always easy to figure out what he’s talking about. This Sunday being Earth Day and all, our conversation focused on the idea that the redemption of creation and the redemption of humanity are tied together. “Creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God…” In other words, creation is waiting for us to get our act together. As long as we continue to live fearful and selfish lives, we will continue to hold creation in “bondage” and creation will continue to “groan with eager longing.” But if we begin living as children of God, if we can move beyond our fear and selfishness to hope and compassion, then there’s real hope for the redemption of our world. So: recycle, yes. And vote, yes. But also: live as a child of God, with hope and compassion, and invite others to live that way, too.