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…

Elizabeth Stuart Phelps, Motherhood, and the Gospel
2010-05-04 by David von Schlichten

Ninteenth-century American author Elizabeth Stuart Phelps often warned in her writings that being a mother meant that a woman would not be able to pursue a passion such as a career. She was not opposed to motherhood. She just recognized that the patriarchal society in which she lived demanded that women sacrifice their career aspirations in the name of motherhood.

For instance, in her novel The Story of Avis, Phelps tells of a young woman who studies to be a painter but ends up permanently deferring that dream when she gets married and has children. Phelps herself did not marry until she was forty-four and never had children. She knew the price. 

Today, of course, there are more opportunities for women, thanks be to God. Even so, our society expects more from women than it does from men. If a man who is a father neglects his children, it is a shame. If a woman does the same, it is an abomination, or so we tend to think.

As we contemplate how to preach on Mother's Day, it would be wise for us to consider these dynamics. Perhaps Lydia provides a helpful example of a career woman (dealer in purple cloth) who cares for her family (she and her household were baptized) as well as ministers to people in need ("come and stay at my home"), while also being someone who RECEIVES care (from Paul and God).

How do we celebrate mother figures of all sorts, including by helping them to realize, not just family goals, but careers goals, while also tending to their needs, just as they have tended to ours?

Yours in Christ,

David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator

Marathon, Cowbell, and the Proclamation
2010-05-03 by David von Schlichten

Yesterday I ran the Pittsburgh Marathon. Quite a few people had cowbells that they rang to show their support. Early on I was glad to hear the cowbells, but by mile 19 or so, I was sick of them. I would have rather had silence. 

The experience reminded me that proclamation must be tailored to the circumstance. A message that works well in one situation may not be as effective in another. Indeed, occasionally the most effective sermon is silence.

Sometimes runners don't want to hear a cowbell. I appreciated the thought, but I would have been happier with silence.

Oh well. The community isn't perfect. Overall, I was grateful for the support.

Needing a nap, I am 

Yours in Christ,

David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator

Mercy While Running the Pittsburgh Marathon
2010-05-01 by David von Schlichten

Thank you to Stephen Schuette for his thoughts about how we humans are to be open to God's inclusivity.

Tomorrow I won't be leading worship because I will be running the Pittsburgh Marathon, starting at 7:30 AM. All throughout the route will be people who don't know me cheering me (and the other racers) on, and every mile or so strangers will hand us drinks. In other words, this body of people, most of whom are strangers, will support us. A common goal will unite us. 

Sounds like the Church.

Yours in Christ,

David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator

2010-04-30 by Stephen Schuette

“Who was I that I could hinder God?” asks Peter. Who indeed!  But we do it, don’t we?  We put walls around God, thinking we’re protecting God.  We begin to think that God needs our help and maybe even our guidance when it is we who need God.

This word “hinder” or at least the idea connects with several other stories.  The most familiar may be when the disciples seek to send the children away from the busy Jesus engaged in adult conversation.  “Let them come to me.  Do not stop them…” (Mat 19:14)  It was “hinder” rather than “stop” in the RSV even though the Greek word behind them is the same verb as here in Acts 11:17:  Koluo.  The disciples could be a hindrance.

Peter, especially, could be hindering, for Jesus seems to direct his most confrontive words to Peter:  “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me…” (Mat 16:23)  

So maybe this story in Acts suggests Peter is making some progress in getting out of the way!

In Acts itself it’s reminiscent of the story of the baptism of the Ethiopian Eunuch when  after Philip interprets the scriptures the Eunuch says, “"Look, here is water! What is to prevent (koluo) me from being baptized?" (Acts 8:36)  No hindrance.

But the point is that most often we are a hindrance when we are seeking to protect God, like the disciples seek to protect Jesus from the children or as Peter would have sought to protect Jesus from the future.  We are fearful and lack confidence.  We want God to stay within familiar and traditional boundaries.  So we constrain God, thinking small while God is thinking big.  And the Book of Acts seems to push this idea open, that God is at work and God’s Spirit can break through anywhere and anytime with anyone.  Just stay out of the way!

To get us out of our rut there is a radical statement of confidence that Jesus offers:  “Whoever is not against us is for us.”  (Mark 9:40)  Maybe it’s enough to just not be in the way.  God can do the rest.

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