Unity
2009-05-19 by Stephen Schuette

    As a collection of texts the selections of this week have to be some of the most challenging of all the lections to address as a group.  The tension between the rupture of community in the actions of Judas and the need for unity certainly presented a challenge to the early church.  One answer given in Acts is to draft a replacement for Judas to preserve the wholeness of the witness.  There was another answer from the Coptic community in the Gospel of Judas suggesting that Judas was about genuinely “fulfilling the scriptures” in a way that was in harmony with rather than in opposition to Jesus and God’s plan.

     While not entirely resolving these tensions – which is perhaps the genius of scripture – it’s impossible to engage these texts without being keenly aware of the present context.  Looking at it from another perspective, perhaps it was important for the story to suggest that the real challenge to the Church lies not outside the community but within.  Isn’t that true today?  And wasn’t it true from the very beginning in the Letters of Paul?  Even when there were “outsiders” trying to confuse the followers (in Galatia), Paul’s interest is in re-establishing the unity of the Church from within and drawing them together.  He didn’t suggest using a sword to rid the world of the “circumcizers.”  Paul’s earlier life was about persecuting others.  But now he is about building strength from within.

     Read the book UnChristian by David Kinnaman and you understand the skepticism about the Church that exists.  Every pastor knows there are always, at any moment, a thousand things that can cause people to go spinning off in all kinds of directions.  Sometimes we even participate in the “spinning.”  But there is only One Thing that can hold us together.  That this One Thing is stronger than the thousand is an act of faith and witness that is sorely needed if Jesus’ prayer is to be fulfilled among us.





Blogging in Atlanta!
2009-05-19 by David von Schlichten

It is exhilarating being at the Festival of Homiletics. Even my twelve-hour drive from Pennsylvania was kind-of exhilarating (kind-of). In any case, I will be blogging about the Festival all week, and I encourage others to post about the festival, as well.

Of course, if folks want to blog about this Sunday's lessons, that would be great, too. Bring on the blogging!

I am thinking that I might preach on Ascension Day this Sunday. Tonight Desmond Tutu said that, because Christ is ascended and at the Father's right hand, we are, as well.

I've never heard that point, and it strikes me as important to proclaim to parishioners. After all, many of us feel powerless, but if we are, in a sense, at the right hand (the place of power), then we are powerful indeed. The divine-dynamos makes us so.

Part of that divine-dynamos is found in prayer, which is not powerful because of us but because of God (how often we forget this point). Tonight Desmond Tutu lifted up prayer, which he says contributed to the fall of Apartheid. Alleluia!

What would you like to share? Please plunge into the hot tub. The water's fantastic!

Yours in Christ (in Atlanta),

David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator





Thanks and God's Grandeur
2009-05-15 by David von Schlichten

Thank you to Jule and Dee Dee for their postings. Jule provides evocative reflections about loving and abiding, while Dee Dee points us to the poetic and mystical power of God. Please scroll down to read the postings.

I am not preaching this Sunday, but I would probably focus on 1 John's promise that we Christians, because of Christ, can defeat the world. Many of us feel powerless, but this passage teaches that we are powerful, more than we realize, more than we imagine.

How do we Christians defeat the world while also loving the world as God does?

Yours in Christ,

David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator





Reflections on John 15:9-17
2009-05-13 by Jule

            Recently I attended a conference with nearly fifty other pastors.  We were an interesting bunch:  men and women, newbies to the pulpit and veterans, those transitioning willingly and others forced out.  Collectively we must have constituted well over four hundred years of pastoring the church.  As our week together unfolded, one thing became apparent:  many of us knew much pain from our experiences of serving the church.  Perhaps such gatherings are prone to that kind of unpacking of the baggage many pastors carry as we minister among congregations.  One of our leaders blessed the pain but insistently pointed us back to the joy.  The joy of serving in God’s name.  The blessing of being faithful to our calls.  The celebration of embodying the one who instituted the joyful feast for a perpetual remembrance of a life lived in abundance.  Pain might linger, but joy ought to persist. 

            “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love,” Jesus commands (John 15:9).  Here in this text, Jesus is reminding those with ears to hear that obedience to his way means bearing fruit.  Whether it be within the community of faith, or outside the four walls of the sanctuary; we remain in Jesus’ love as he remains in the Father’s when we do as he has done.  And just in case we didn’t catch the commandment the first go round, Jesus makes it plain:  “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12). 

            The question comes:  in what ways has Jesus loved his listeners?  According to the gospel of John, Jesus has invited the curious along a path of new adventures (John 1:35-51), and taken on his mother’s ministry of hospitality at a wedding feast (John 2:1-11), and engaged one wondering in clarifying conversation (John 3:1-21), and shared himself with those considered unrighteous enemies (John 4:7-42).  Jesus healed those who suffered long in body, mind, and spirit (John 5:1-18) and even found himself in trouble for breaking the rules now and again – especially those that had become restrictive of God and God’s beloved sons and daughters (John 5:9-47).  He fed the hungry (John 6:1-14) and came alongside the frightened to calm any fears (John 6:16-21).  Indeed his willingness to lay down his life on the cross for his friends was a blessed gift.  But each day he lived in a way that brought Life; each day he laid down his own desires for the benefit of whoever crossed his path.  He knew his purpose because he remained in God’s love.  This is not to say that Jesus was a door mat.  Instead, his will was so tightly woven with God’s will for Life here-and-now that he found joy in carrying out acts of love every morning when he set out. 

            This Easter season, might his disciples – ordained and lay – find a helpful lesson in remembering that the command to love is a yoke that is light?  Might we learn anew from the ways Jesus lived and do likewise?  As we – Jesus’ friends – seek to emulate our treasured companion, I hope we all will re-discover his hope for our complete and unbridled joy. 

 

P.S.  If joy is your theme this week, do not neglect Psalm 98.  “Sing to the LORD a new song” (Ps. 98:1).  Here all the earth joins in the celebration! 

By:  The Rev. Dr. Jule M. Nyhuis -- Jule is a Minister of Word and Sacrament in the PCUSA.  She currently serves as a Minister to Children & Their Families.  She is a graduate of Vanderbilt Divinity School and Columbia Theological Seminary. 





A Celtic Spirit and Acts 10:44-48
2009-05-13 by Dee Dee Haines

St. John’s Methodist Chapel in the Isle of Man is located on a busy thoroughfare, a main road that leads from Douglas to Peel.  Sitting in the sanctuary, you face that same road.  It’s viewed through a large clear glass widow that is positioned above the altar table.  Everything is seen through the intricate windings of a Celtic cross that has been lovingly etched into the centre.  The only criticism I have for the worship space comes in the position of the pulpit.  I can’t help thinking that if there was a clear glass window behind, or even beside every preacher, the word for the day might take to flight with a radically different spirit.

 

Much of the life of this rural community can be seen through that piece of glass.  All the comings and goings of daily life are viewed straight through the centre of the Celtic cross: people coming to and from work or worship; hikers caught up in the breath taking scenery; children passing by on their way to school; farmers moving cattle and crops from field to farm; hearses passing from town to the cemetery; lovers walking hand in hand; mothers and fathers pushing babies in prams.  The whole highway of life passes by that window and if we were to sit for an extended time, glimpsing those pieces of life through that community view, we might better understand our own journeys.

 

The text from Acts testifies to the bewilderment of the believers who are astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit has been poured out even on the Gentiles.  It is as if the Spirit awakens within those early Christians a realisation that the same hand who has been at work in their faith experiences, the powerful Creator whose breath calls forth resurrected life, is also present, working and creating in all creatures, all living things.

 

Scholars who study the medieval stained glass windows that still survive today believe the windows- that- tell- stories are a product of the artisans of the medieval period who were trying to communicate the biblical story to those who could not read.  I thank Diana Butler Bass for reminding us that …”medieval people lived in a culture filled with stories told in pictures rather than only in texts.” (Diane Butler Bass, A People’s History of Christianity:  The Other Side of the Story (New York:  HarperCollins, 2009) p,89).  Her observation invites us to consider our own world of pictures, and how we imagine our life together.  Whilst I appreciate the beauty of stained glass windows, I also remember that they come with their own interpretation.  It makes me wonder if we have moved very far from medieval interpretations of faith and spirituality, or if we still feel a pressure from institution and imperial theology that keeps us from contemplating a mysterious God that is always making self known anew.  This God, who shows up with people who astound us, in places that bewilder us, who pours self out even upon Gentiles, might make us wonder about many things.

 

The chapel window of clear glass offers a magical opportunity because the life that passes by is framed in the natural surroundings that are also in continuous view.  At this time of year the budding leaves, the flowering fruit trees and the colours of the changing landscape, coming back to life, remind us that the Spirit of God is dwelling in all this new creation.  It is there for all of us who are hungry.  A feast of tastes, smells and experiences is set before us, connecting us to the Life Breath that is found within it all.  Even when sitting in the shelter of the chapel sanctuary, the practical movement of the world is in view and cannot be forgotten.  Like the experience of Peter and the believers, the Spirit comes upon all who hear the word. 

 

Interestingly, those first Christians were more interested in changed life in this world, than in the next.  Peter, and the other disciples, would have attracted many who were looking for a new way of life now, not later in some other dimension.  Perhaps Peter’s question about withholding the waters of baptism isn’t so much an issue of community commitment but instead a declaration that God was the Water, as Christ was the Word.  Who are we to deny it?

 

Today I will take my bible outside.  Rain or shine, I will read it aloud in the company of the birds, the bees, the ivy clad trees and the mist covered mountains that overlook the plains of heaven.  I will hear it echo in the hollow, and disappear upon the wind.  But I know it will come back to me to be heard again in every living thing that surrounds me.  And I will be glad.

Just some thoughts about the Acts text,

Dee Dee Haines

Isle of Man





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