Prayer as a Subversive Act
2010-05-11 by Stephen Schuette

Darn.  I don’t preach this week.  Ever been all dressed up with a sermon and have no place to go?

Even the opening line of the Acts passage is rich.  “…as we were going to the place of prayer…”  It’s like, “…as Rosa Parks was on the way to work she sat down on a bus…” or “On the way to church Desmond Tutu happened to run into apartheid.”  Could be the title of a play, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Place of Prayer.  That’s all they set out to do.  But the world interfaces with it and will not let prayer be done in ivory towers.  Circumstances pull us to live our faith.

So simply on the way to prayer Paul and Silas run into a whole web of relationships:  economic, legal, cultural, religious.  There’s interests connected with exploitation.  Maybe Paul and Silas were already aware of this.  But I think the point is they didn’t set out to pick a fight.  They were merely on the way to the place of prayer.  It’s those enmeshed in these systems themselves that were threatened by Paul and Silas, and continue to be threatened by them as the story unfolds.

And there’s the irony in the shouts of the fortune-teller who identifies the men as “slaves.”  Indeed, she a slave herself seems to identify with them and the complete freedom from the powers of this world they display as slaves to God.  One thing she has right, they are not “masters” as she has known “masters” in her world.  You might also connect this entire story with a significant Lukan theme back at the very beginning of the Gospel (Luke 4:18). Or connect it forward to Paul's beautiful letter to Philippi and the theme of servanthood.

An illustration for which I’m indebted to a colleague at our local lectionary study…  After staying in a motel the email survey came about the stay.  It was noticed that every question put the screws to the lowest level of responsibility:  the maids, the clerks, the laundry.  The higher levels of administration could not be implicated so that their higher level of compensation would not be held to a higher level of responsibility.  The responsibility was pushed downward.  The web of relationships in Philippi is fear-driven from the top down to the lowest levels, both the fortune-teller and the jailer displaying their obvious enslavement and fear.

But I hold to my first point:  before Paul and Silas were involved in this system and were identified as troublesome to it they were merely on the way to prayer.  Their purpose wasn’t to turn the world upside down.  It just came about that they were involved in this because they were FOR God and God’s order, not because they were first AGAINST oppression.

But at the same time, once they encounter oppression they do not pull back.  They just continue to do what they set out to do, only now they do it in chains, after having been flogged, at midnight, in jail.  They’re not reactive.  But neither are they passive.  When they are detoured they embrace their situation.  Perhaps they know that the darkest point of deepest night is God’s moment of opportunity.  Perhaps they even give thanks for it, so deep is their faith and trust.  So it’s not exactly they who are turning the world upside down, they are simply living in this “right side up world” that God has already revealed to them.  And time and again God proves faithful and trustworthy…now giving true “keys” to a jailer who found his old set of keys a worthless antique from a world that was already fading before his eyes.

Hymn suggestion:  How Can I Keep from Singing or often listed by the first line, My Life Flows On.

Confirmation Conundrum
2010-05-10 by David von Schlichten

We have confirmation this Sunday, May 16. What do you think I should proclaim on that day?

Yours in Christ,

David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator

Embrace the chaos of the feminine
2010-05-08 by Leah D. Schade

There is still entrenched resistance in our congregations to explore the feminine face of faith and of the Divine.  I wonder if there might be a visceral explanation for this resistance to the feminine.  Think of what traits are typically attributed to the feminine side -- emotions, creativity, compassion and . . . chaos.  Consider the chaos of pregnancy, labor and delivery.  Not to mention what women and those around them experience about 5 days out of every month.  Chaos. 

When you’re in the midst of chaos, there seems to be only two ways of dealing with it.  One option is to avoid it.  Leave, tune her out, find some way to escape the overwhelming chaos that threatens to overtake you like a tidal wave.

The other option is to beat the chaos into submission.  Take away her power by ridiculing her, bullying her, dominating her, threatening her, striking her, raping her, killing her. 

Fight or flight.  Those have seemed to be our only ways of dealing with the chaos that is womanhood.

But there is a third way.  It is the more challenging way.  But in the long run, it offers a way through to new possibilities.  The third way is to step into the chaos.  Engage yourself in the process.  Pay attention, listen to this woman who is fearfully and wonderfully made.  Be curious as to what creativeness may come out of the confusion.  Join with her and open yourself to the chaos that may be giving birth to something new in you or in the world around you.

You can do that through reading the stories of women in the bible.  Step into the chaos of Miriam whipping the women into a frenzy of song on the banks of the Red Sea.  The chaos of Hannah, an emotional wreck because of not conceiving a child.  The chaos of Deborah on the battlefield.  The chaos of Abigail, stepping between two hot-headed men ready to duke it out.  The chaos of Ruth dealing with the death of her husband and distraught mother-in-law.  The chaos of Esther facing a king ready to massacre her people.  The chaotic life of Lydia, balancing home and career.

Why do we do this?  Why do we intentionally lift up the faith and witness of women?  We do it because Jesus did it. 

Over and over again, Jesus stepped into the chaos of women’s life.  The list is long - the woman with non-stop menstruation for twelve years.  The woman at the well.  Then woman with the spine affliction at the temple.  The woman accused of adultery.  At the home of Mary and Martha.  The widow putting her offering into the plate.  Mary Magdalene afflicted with seven demons. 

Jesus showed us that by embracing women and the feminine aspect of God, we do not immasculate the Divine.  We affirm the humanity of women.  And we expand our understanding of God.

Ascended Christ Our Mother
2010-05-07 by David von Schlichten

Scroll down to read Stephen Schuette's post, which begins with a reference to Saturday Night Live. Stephen is always astute.

The ascended Christ is a mother-figure in that she is in a position of power and authority but, at the same time, is close and intimate. Ascended Christ our Mother gives us the freedom to make mistakes but is also there to pick us up when we fall onto the pavement. Christ the Mother also feeds and washes us. as well as teaches us. Christ the Mother sends Sister Spirit to help us along.

Something like that. What do you think?

Yours in Christ,

David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator 

No Plans
2010-05-04 by Stephen Schuette

You may recall the Saturday Night Live skit where the motivational speaker hired by the parents warns the children about a future of living in a trailer down by the river.

They’re not in a trailer, but the Christian movement seems to find itself in similar straits, outside the city gate, down by the river.  Inside the gates are the Roman forum and the impressive buildings of Philippi connected to the wealth from nearby gold mines.  But the Christians are outside the gate down by the River.

They get there in the same manner that other things seem to happen in the Book of Acts.  They “suppose” that there’s a place of prayer (and baptism?) there.  In other words they bumble along and, surprisingly, wherever they go they find the Spirit of God already at work opening hearts and opening doors.  Lucky thing, because they don’t seem to have a strategic plan about this.  They didn’t even have a travel account for accommodations.  They are dependent on local hospitality.  In other words they not only lack a strategic plan, they basically have no plan.

How different from the Roman Empire!  They have a plan.  They know how to conquer a region, subdue the people and collect taxes, manage revolts and other threats, construct roads (which Christians use!), establish colonies, transport wealth back to the homeland, and even utilize a PR department to sell the whole project as the Pax Romana.  Meanwhile, right under their noses, outside the city gate, down by the river, something’s happening with some folk who don’t even know where they’re going to stay the night.

Rather than operating by a plan these Christians seem to operate out of the trust that God will lead them.  And in that trust they know a different kind of peace than Rome can offer, a trust that allows them to be free and live incredibly openly with hearts untroubled and unafraid.  And it could be that what appears to be their outward bumbling is exactly what makes them so completely open to the leading of God’s Spirit and makes of them the living fulfillment of Jesus’ own desire for them as expressed in John.

It’s all so simple, isn’t it, this matter of trust?  And yet I have so far to go…

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