The “Why?”s that lead to prayer”

1 Samuel 8:4-22

Last week we began looking at how God leads us through the transitions of life, and how even when those transitions come in the midst of the cracks in our lives, when we choose to listen for God’s voice, to embrace and help others embrace the transitions, the light of Christ’s love for us and for others shines so brightly others are drawn to figure out why we are not crushed when hard pressed on every side, how we avoid despair when perplexed, how we are always in community even when persecuted, how we keep from being destroyed when struck down.

In essence, we looked at the “What” to which we are called.  This week we look at ways we can work with the “Why?” questions which often follow our recognition of “What” transition through which we are moving.

We all have “Why?” questions.  Anyone with a young child in the house knows that there is an endless stream of them.  Each answer shared bringing another “why?” until we suggest they go ask someone else because we ran out of answers or stamina.   “Why are zebras black and white? Why does soda fizz so much?  Why does Winnie the Pooh like honey so much?  Why do people get sunburned?  Why?

This morning we heard the people of Israel ask “Why?”  “Why can’t we have a king like other nations?

Samuel was getting to a point he could no longer meet the demands of leading the people.  The elders, sensing a transition needed to take place, didn’t wait for a word from God, which was how Samuel came to be God’s prophet.  They determined for themselves change was necessary and they wanted a king like their neighbors had.  During the time of the judges, of which Samuel is part, Israel had been a theocracy, ruled by God.  The elders point out that Samuel’s sons aren’t fit for the task because they are more interested in leading in such a what that they benefit personally from their decisions.

On the surface that may be a reasonable reason to ask for a king.  But it doesn’t take into consideration that God had handled that same kind of situation when he called Samuel, instead of allowing Eli’s sons to be God’s voice to the people.  Samuel had remained faithful to God and to those he served.  There was no reason to doubt God could take care of this situation as well.  Only a desire to have what other nations had, an attitude of their knowing better than God what was the best for them.

Focused on having their own way, they reject God’s way.  They pattern their plans after the world rather than living into God’s kingdom.

Samuel’s not as ready as Eli is to embrace the transition.  He may think he can get his sons to do the right thing, or maybe he understands the change to a King is not faithful to God’s plan.  God’s reassurance that the people are rejecting God, not Samuel, and God’s encouragement to Samuel to outline exactly what the consequences will be, indicate it is more about following God’s plan than about not accepting that his sons have messed up, although it may be a little of both.

Samuel is likely full of “Why?”s  Why did my sons decide to serve themselves rather than God?  Why are the elders picking now to push for a transition?  Why, when I’ve done everything God asked of me, are we facing this request?  Why, do the people want a King? Why don’t they listen?

Many of the children among us and perhaps a few adults, love Kings and Queens, Princes and Princesses.  The stories of  magnificent palaces, grand balls, wonderful things to eat and beautiful clothes to wear, important position and power, all draw us into the fairy tale.

The Israelites didn’t have Disney princesses or Meghan and Harry, but the kings they saw in the neighboring communities drew them to consider it preferable to a prophet-led government.  Their neighbors had armies and weapons.  Thinking they could protect themselves armed with nothing but a prayer probably didn’t make much sense to them.

Their world was changing, nomadic life was giving away to more centralized power, they were under siege and having a difficult time finding hope in their reality.  Although God’s faithfulness and power was part of their experience, they decided it wasn’t enough and they wanted what they wanted when they wanted it.  They tackled their “Why?”s by what seemed to work for their neighbors.

We often face “Why?”s   Why do we struggle financially and the person down the street lives in a big house and drives a fancy car?  Why aren’t there more people joining us in church on Sunday morning?  Why does it seem there is always one more health problem to contend with?  Why did another friend or family member just die way too early? Why?

We can choose to address those “Why” times by looking for answers according to the wisdom of the world in which we live.

We can choose to do what Samuel does.  We can pray, working through what we are experiencing with God.  We can hear God’s word for us in the face of our “Why?”  We can hear God reminding us of our role, and God’s, in the midst of our situations.  Maybe we can sense God reminding us that God still has good work for us to do, even it it’s not what we’ve been doing and even if the outcome of our work won’t be what we had hoped for.  Maybe we can sense God nudging us, just a bit, to get over ourselves enough to let the healing of our hurt begin, and to let a new chapter begin to unfold.[1]

Asking “Why?” helps us work through those overwhelming times of transition, when we work through those “Why?”s with God and the resources God sends our way, particularly others who make it a practice of seeking God’s will in their lives.

There are no quick fixes to the “Why?” seasons of our lives.  But when we are led by the Spirit in prayer, God answers in God’s time and Jesus holds us safe no matter how long it takes.  When all “Why?”s lead to prayer, we will find God’s way through.  Not easy, but always a better choice than the world’s way.

 

[1] Third Sunday after Pentecost 2018 – Preaching Notes – Discipleship Ministries

Out of brokeness

Samuel 3:1-20

2 Corinthians 4:5-12

We face transitions in many areas of our lives.  This time of the year, maybe even a little bit more than usual.

Graduations from pre-school, high school and college.

Weddings, new homes, new jobs, and more.

The Clothing Depot we support is transitioning from one location to another.  Some of the United Methodist clergy with whom you have established relationships, Ray Noel and Sara Merle are transitioning into retirement, Tony Hipes who has served at Medina and Beth Malone at Lyndonville are transitioning to new appointments and we will welcome new neighbors.

We have a number of high school seniors who we will recognize as they transition into new directions and focus in their lives.  Our Annual Conference ordained three new Elders and a Deacon on Saturday and they will transition into a new role in the life of the church.

Jackie, who has worshiped with us since Lent, is transitioning to a new home and community.

These are only a few.  Transitions touch us all on a regular basis.

For the next few weeks we will consider how God leads us through transitions.

We heard for the second time this year the story of God calling Samuel to service.   I find it interesting that the lectionary brings this particular passage up again so soon.  Yet God calls Samuel three times before he and Eli figure out it is God’s voice Samuel hears.  It may be we need to go back to the scripture more than once to realize it speaks a word to us.

We find Samuel and Eli at a point of transition.  Samuel’s task since coming to live at the temple has been to serve Eli and to learn about serving God.  Eli’s call was to serve God and to lead his sons into the vocation of the priesthood.

As God calls to Samuel, a transition begins for him from student to leader,  At the same time a transition for Eli from leader to mentor/support system begins.

Eli, recognizing that God’s word, rare in that time, is coming to Samuel, has a decision to make.  He can take steps to keep Samuel from recognizing God’s voice in an effort to keep his own position.  Or he can use all of his gifts, experience, and knowledge to help guide Samuel in a way that will help him discern God’s voice and direction.

Eli can try to do things the way they have always been done or he can support and care for the one who can lead into something new.

Discerning God’s will, Eli chooses to not only accept the change, to embrace the transition, but to take an active part in helping to make it happen.

Samuel, looks to his teacher for direction, and in following the advice of one who has a lifetime of service to God, he hears the voice and direction of God for himself.

This transition takes place in the midst of brokenness, as Eli’s sons should have developed this deep, prophetic relationship with God, but instead turn their backs on their calling to serve God and their faith community.  We get a glimpse into a disfunctional family, in which choices made, create cracks in relationships with God and others.

Out of that brokenness, God brings new leadership, provides a lens of accountability for the current leadership which opens up the opportunity for the old and the new to learn from and support each other, both connecting in new ways to the Lord they serve.

Choices Eli makes, as God calls him to transition through the brokenness, could be used as examples of transitions out of brokenness which we hear in the Apostle Paul’s message.

Eli focuses on God’s voice, God’s call on the life of Samuel and on the people he was called to lead.  Paul reminds his listeners that it is Jesus Christ as Lord that is the message, that we are called into service for Jesus sake.

The beauty of this is we are not called because we are super heroes, but we are called while clay jars, fragile, with cracks of different shapes and sizes, called to let the love of God the light of God’s glory, shine through us so others see the face of Christ in all we say or do.

For us that means that in all the cracks of our lives, the choices we make to listen for God’s voice, to embrace and help others embrace the transitions that come, can let the light of Christ’s love for us and for others shine so brightly others are drawn to figure out why we are not crushed when hard pressed on every side, how we avoid despair when perplexed, how we are always in community even when persecuted, how we keep from being destroyed when struck down.

We have the hope of life even in the face of death because of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  We see God’s grace and glory pouring out of the cracks which would otherwise send us to the junk heap.

Regardless of whether we face transitions which are joyful, painful, chosen or forced upon us, even when we are faced with the brokenness of our jars of clay

if our first priority is to say to God,  Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening,

 if our choices are based on the voice of God and the teachers he gives us to help us discern that voice

our transitions will take us closer and closer to our Creator, and allow more and more of God’s light to shine on others

And reflecting back on the children’s message,  more and more water to nourish the flowers along our path.

Life in the Trinity

Isaiah 6:1-8

Romans 8:12-17

As we come together this morning, our thoughts may be swirling with many things.  It is Memorial Day weekend, so we are likely thinking about those who protected our country with their service in the military, especially those who gave their lives on the battlefields and those who made it home with bodies or minds so damaged by their sacrifice they too ultimately lost their lives. We lift prayers that the number of service men and women called to that level of sacrifice will drop to zero sooner rather than later.

In addition to the Memorial Day observances, there are many gatherings already on our calendar and mind as we celebrate the arrival of the summer season, which a difficult spring leads us to appreciate with increased enthusiasm.  There are job responsibilities, weddings, graduations, vacations, and celebrations already filling those few weeks of warm weather we hold dear in WNY.

For some, that short window to plant and cultivate, as well as those flowers that need tending and grass that needs mowing, push us to move full speed ahead from sunrise to sunset, almost every day of the week.

Into that comes that nudge that brought you here today.  A gentle tug on your heart that joining the faith community in worship is important.  That your week won’t be quite the same if you don’t respond to that nudge to come.

We talked extensively about the movement of the Holy Spirit in our lives last week and Paul reminds us today that all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.  That nudge that brought you into community today, likely the urgings of God’s Spirit, God’s wind pushing you toward opportunity to be in deeper relationship with the Triune God and with each other.

In the Christian Calendar today is Trinity Sunday.  We are drawn to the mystery of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, which we affirm in our creeds, acknowledge in our baptismal vows, proclaim when we share in Holy Communion, yet how three can be one messes with our logical thinking process.  I don’t think we should be concerned with that reality.  It took the early church about 400 years to settle on this doctrine.  How it can be is something we must leave to faith.  How it impacts our lives, something we experience.

The Spirit led Isaiah to the temple to worship God.  The vision he received was not his expectation when he showed up.   He lived in a time of great political turmoil and may have come expecting to find some comfort and hope to calm his soul.  Yet he finds himself in the presence of the living God, God is real, present and challenging him to action.  Open to the Spirit at work, Isaiah experiences not only the power of God but God’s great grace.

I find the image of the train of God’s robe filling the temple striking.  I see folds of heavenly woven fabric unlike anything we can imagine filling the space, with warmth, protection, comfort, and connection while at the same time intimidating in the intensity, majesty, and mystery of the Holy One who wears it.  God’s presence filling every part of creation.

Surrounded by this powerful, holy presence, Isaiah recognizes his personal weaknesses and mistakes, receives forgiveness, and responds to a call to serve.

Most of the time we don’t come to worship expecting visions or mystical experiences, yet the Spirit invites us to come expecting the unexpected; To connect with God in new ways, to discover new insights; find new direction.  God is always present moving in our lives, sometimes so quietly we hardly notice, at times dramatically, abruptly reminding us of the awesome God who loves us so much that God the Son came to walk with us to share in our human experience and to draw us into His divine experience, and God the Holy Spirit fills us with God’s presence.  That reality allows us to see, as Isaiah recognized, that those thoughts, decisions, and actions we take which come from our humanity, do not define us.  We are defined by the forgiveness we receive and the action we take to respond to the Lord, “here I am send me.”

As Paul reminds us, led by the Spirit we are children of God, co-heirs with Christ.  We are drawn into this mystery, called to share in the glory, to see God as our parent, through the love of God and the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus the Son, living in the Triune God through the Spirit who testifies with our spirit.  Actively responding with a life lived reflecting how Jesus teaches us to live.

Last week we talked about how we are “Fired Up” through the Spirit.  Speaking to this week’s scripture, Theologian Leonard Sweet said, “Once Isaiah was touched by the transcending power of God’s Spirit, his response was to be “on fire” for God. Spirit-filled disciples are not snoring their way from justification through sanctification to glorification. They are ‘on fire.’ There is an element of passion, of enthusiasm, of boundless faith that is an inescapable accompaniment to Pentecost disciples. You get one, you get the other. In a world of blind ambition, Jesus’ followers are the ones with blind faith,”

We are in the presence of the power of God.  We witnessed it in the baptism of Evaline, whose life has already testified to the Spirit moving where it will, as we hear in her father’s announcement of her birth:

“So, funny story. Julia Goheen had a c section scheduled for this morning (11/17) at 7:30 am. Well baby had other ideas. After a quick trip on the Medina Ambulance to Strong, baby Evaline June was delivered via emergency c section at 7:49 pm 11/16. She weighed 7 lbs 5.5 ozs. and was 20.5 inches long. Both momma and baby are doing awesome and we couldn’t be any happier. Thank you to our friends and family who have sent thoughts and prayers.”

We all answered the Spirit’s nudge to show up today.  We see it in all of creation as new life unfolds each moment.  We should be “on fire” aware of the Spirit’s movement in our lives, passionate about sharing and serving with others, ready to answer “Here I am, send me,” regardless of what that might demand of us.

 

Today we promised that with God’s help we will proclaim the good news and live according to the example of Christ.

That we will surround Evaline with a community of love and forgiveness, that she may grow in her service to others.

That we will pray for her, that she may be a true disciple who walks in the way that leads to life.

It is a promise we have made to others, a promise many made on our behalf.

 

It is a promise we cannot keep without passionately following the Triune God, open to the leading of visions, forgiveness, and calls to action we receive as heirs with Christ, and the Spirit which keeps us connected with God and each other.

 

 

Fired Up

Acts 2:1-21

Romans 8:22-27

Since the early 1800’s, the phrase “Fired Up” has referred to someone who is drunk, since 1850, it applied to being angry, and in the 1970s it came to reflect someone full of enthusiasm, energy, and resolve.

Those who play sports know that the locker room pep talks and conversations on the sidelines are often designed to get the team “Fired Up”  to go out on the field or court, ready to do what they are trained to do, to apply the skills and knowledge of the game acquired during practices, and to push forward toward a goal of winning.

As the closest followers of Jesus are gathered, waiting as instructed, they really have no idea about what will happen.  The gospel of John tells us that before he ascended, Jesus told them about the Spirit that will come to them:

The Holy Spirit is an Advocate one who takes your side

Truth-teller, whose words you can always count on

Testifier, who speaks up for you

Prover/Judge, who can see what is right and make it plainly known

Guide who knows the way and is willing to show it to you

Speaker of the words of God

Glorifier of Christ.[1]

But the wind, flames, and speaking so people from all nations can hear in their own languages, probably not what they were expecting.  The “fire” that will “fire them up” so they are compelled to testify of what they know of their risen Lord, is outside of their experience until that moment that the Spirit arrives.  In that arrival, all the skill development, illustrations, examples, practice those closest followers had received walking with Jesus, were called into action by a pep talk more focused and powerful than any coach could ever imagine.

This moment of wind and flames is unique to the birth of the church.  We don’t hear of it happening again as more and more come to believe into Christ.  We do hear of those coming to recognize Jesus as the Son of God, being filled with the Spirit, of having the power to understand what His life, death, and resurrection means in their lives, of feeling the Spirit’s presence in real, physical identifiable ways, of being able to share their faith with others in ways and places they didn’t believe possible.

As we have talked about the Power of the Holy Spirit over the last couple of weeks I suggested that if we fully believed, or understood, the potential of that power available to us we would come to church with protective gear in place.  As the fire descended on the followers’ heads that day, they may have been ducking for cover, but any apprehension quickly fades as they are equipped and overwhelmed with enthusiasm to share their story of faith with all nations.

It is an event which we might file away as an interesting story about the start of Christ’s church.  It may feel like a Disney animated movie which we can discuss and then dismiss as fairy tale with a moral we can apply.

Removed by centuries from those flames, we may find it difficult to get “fired up” about following Jesus.  If we are passionate about our faith, if we have felt the presence of the Spirit at points in our lives, even if we feel it daily, we may struggle with getting “fired up” to share it with others.  We may find it unimaginable that the Holy Spirit fills us and allows us to speak in other tongues, as the Spirit enables us.

When our daughter was doing cancer research, she would talk to us about her day, often enthusiastically sharing some scientific process which made little or no sense to us.  One afternoon we were at an event with her mentor, I was lamenting that I often didn’t understand what she was telling us.   He  told me to tell her that if she couldn’t explain it in language that made sense to me, she didn’t understand it herself.  She now explains it to high school students, and me, in languages we can understand, no matter how many different ways she needs to frame the message.

Today, just as on the day of Pentecost, the Spirit comes to us, bringing us the power to speak in the language of who needs to hear our unique message of Jesus at work in our lives, coming to “fire us up” so we meet those opportunities with enthusiasm.

It may be the language of a hug when someone is lonely, the language of yard work for someone overwhelmed with the tasks at hand, the language of a hot meal and a warm smile to someone who is hungry, the language of a firm handshake with someone who others ignore, the language of not arguing over the small stuff, of offering hospitality to those who we don’t know, the language of technology to those surrounded by electronics, the language of encouragement to those who receive none.

On the day of the Pentecost recorded in Acts, it was about the languages those in Jerusalem used to communicate.  To hear the message in their native tongue “fired them up” and filled them with enthusiasm and understanding of what they heard, so they could share it with others.

On this day of Pentecost, it can be about speaking in the native languages of those who we meet around town, but I believe it is more about feeling the Spirit moving us to meet people where they are, to find areas where we can find a common language in our stories, to listen to the Spirit moving within us to share how faith moves us, how faith makes a difference in us, reflects God’s love for us.

Many of us feel more comfortable speaking in our own language.  We were checking out of Walmart one night this week and the cashier expressed relief that we spoke English.  We asked if she knew enough Spanish to help her understand the customers who speak that language.  She replied that she doesn’t want to learn Spanish because she doesn’t want to know what Spanish speaking customers are saying about her.  I asked why she thinks they are saying “things” about her, and she didn’t have a reason, she is just sure they are.

When we don’t respond to the Spirit moving us to find a language through which we can get to know each others’ stories, we fail to experience the full power of Pentecost, we fail to follow Christ’s call for us to testify.

On Saturday morning, people throughout the world watched as Prince Harry and Meghan Markle exchanged their vows.   US Episcopal Bishop Michael Curry, who was asked to bring the message, had an opportunity much like Peter had on the day of Pentecost.  He had an audience that extended far beyond those gathered together in the chapel.

Curry chose the common language of Love, which was the reason he noted that everyone showed up Saturday morning.   He brought a message of Love that is unselfish, sacrificial, redemptive.  He noted that when love, as Jesus called us to love, is the way, no child goes to bed hungry in this world ever again, justice rolls down like a mighty stream and righteousness like an ever flowing brook, poverty becomes history, and we all lay down our swords and shields down by the riverside to study war no more.  “When love is the way there’s plenty good room, plenty good room for all of God’s children,” he preached.

He noted that scientist theologian, “de Chardin said that fire was one of the greatest discoveries in all of human history and that if humanity ever harnesses the energy of fire again, if humanity ever captures the energy of love, it will be the second time in history that we have discovered fire.”

I think that fire of love is among us.  The Holy Spirit so visible on the day of Pentecost, still bringing us the power to share love in languages others can understand.  Blowing through our souls, calling us to be “Fired Up” to testify to the love of God that we experience in a relationship with Christ, in the language of those who need to hear.

We need to harness that energy of fire so the world hears of Christ’s love in their own language.     amen

[1] The Lectionary Lab Day of Pentecost for Year B (May 24, 2015)

Faithful Followers

Acts 1:1-14

This morning’s scripture lesson marks the end of the forty days of Easter.  The forty days during which the risen Christ continued to teach his disciples and help them begin to understand the grace his life, death, and resurrection brought for all.  As the Christian calendar goes, the Ascension of Christ to rejoin God the Father, was celebrated this past Thursday.

Coming together today to worship, we join the disciples in that time of waiting between Christ lifted into the clouds and the Holy Spirit filling His followers on Pentecost.  As they gathered in consistent prayer during that time of waiting, “Mother’s Day” was not part of their experience.

Yet, in the midst of this scripture, we catch a glimpse of the role mothers have in the faith journeys of their children, even when recognizing the truth of the skit* we just heard, that each of us has a unique relationship with our own mother, and those who have mothered us.  Regardless of whether it is complicated or simple, beautiful or troubled, close or distant, that relationship impacts our relationship with God and others.

Women of Faith, Faithful followers of God the Father and Jesus the Son, are woven throughout story of  what led to this moment of waiting in anticipation of the Spirit who reveals God’s Truth to all generations.

Mary the mother of Jesus has been there from the beginning.  There as she welcomed God’s plan even aware of all the challenges a young expectant mom, not yet wed, faced. There as Jesus took his first breath, as he took his last, there throughout the journey, then as he ascended to the Father, and now there ready to continue telling his story.

Luke tells us that Mary “treasured” all the sights, sounds, and words surrounding the events of her son’s birth and pondered them in her heart.  Mary must have treasured all of the wonders she witnessed as Jesus healed the sick, feed the poor, shared the news of the Kingdom of God, died on the cross, and walked with her as the risen Christ.  All the time finding much about which to ponder and to pray.

In many ways she shows us how to love the children in our care completely, protecting and caring for them, giving them the foundation from which they can soar into being all God has called them to be.   She shows us how to recognize the unique gifts, talents, and calling of those for whom we are entrusted with their foundational years.  Always with a bit of pondering and consistent prayer.

For Mary and for all women who are mothers to children in some way, it can be the most joy-filled and most painful calling they ever receive.  It includes some pushy times – remember the wine at the wedding before its time; some mistakes – we don’t have Mary’s recorded, although maybe that time when she didn’t know he stayed back in the temple, but all moms make them; many tears and hopefully lots of laughter.

Mary and all of the women closest to Jesus show us the importance to waiting on the presence of the Holy Spirit before being Christ’s witnesses in the world.

The women in the room with the eleven disciples are waiting for the gift of the Spirit God promised.  “The women” had followed Jesus; they had sought out healing, instruction, and relationship; they were the ones who anointed him with oil, served his meals, and supported him with their finances.  They followed him to the foot of the cross and stayed as close as they were allowed; they were the first to come to the tomb, the first entrusted to share the story of the resurrection.  They were his most faithful followers.  Other than Mary the mother of Jesus, we aren’t told if they had children of their own.

What we do know is that they prayerfully waited on the Holy Spirit to come, and that they all became mothers of the message that has continued to be shared throughout the generations, the message that shapes our lives and which we hope shapes the lives of the children for whom we model a life filled with faith and the transformational love of knowing Jesus Christ.

They were able to walk and talk with Jesus, and through their stories, we are able to share what they experienced.  Each had a unique experience as they followed, each a unique calling on their life.  That remains true for all of us.  We are uniquely formed and uniquely loved by God.  Sometimes it is difficult to see, particularly in the midst of the overwhelming chaos that can be our lives.

During announcements, Guin talked about Mothers of PreSchoolers – the programs and relationships that help Moms be Faithful Followers of Jesus and find their unique calling as women.  She shared a video with me that she hopes will encourage moms of pre-schoolers to participate and others in the congregation to support, which seemed to vividly show the ways we are still waiting for the Spirit to fill us so we can be witnesses for Christ in our own families and beyond.  I asked her permission to use it as part of the message, rather than part of her announcement, and she graciously said yes:

Find your Fire

We all have the opportunity to be there with God’s children, no matter what their age; to share our faith stories; to support their journeys with our example, our love, and our prayers; but we need to continuously be renewed through the Spirit, to find the fire, in order to fully share the story.

My prayer this Mother’s Day is that we all find the fire that comes through the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives and will experience a year of transformation.

Gracious God, we thank you for all the faithful followers in our lives that help us find the fire you place within our hearts through the Holy Spirit.  We thank you for the moms and those who have been moms to us.  Help us to wait on your Spirit and to be your witnesses where ever we go and whatever we do.  Amen

 

(“Questions Without Answers” a Reading for Mother’s Day by Paul R. Neil)

What would you do for Love?

John 15:9-17

Acts 10:1-48

Jesus commands his disciples to Love each other.  It is not a suggestion, not a wouldn’t it be nice if we did, not an option offered.  It is a command to those who say they follow God and acknowledge Jesus as the Son, by which to evaluate others, to care for others, and sacrifice for others the way God and Christ evaluate, care for, and sacrifice for us.

A command, because loving one another comes much easier when there is something in it that meets a need within ourselves.  Loving one another when the “other” is annoying, disagrees with us, likes different things, has a different understanding of how things work, has an appearance unfamiliar to us, comes from a group unknown or frightening to us, requires us to give some of our power and control, is difficult.

Loving one another as God loves us something of us we are not always willing to give. I think that is why this is a command.

Most of us have a set of “house rules” that include a number of things our children, and maybe we, don’t like to do:  Take out the garbage, clean the bathroom, do the dishes, put the dirty clothes in the hamper and the clean clothes in your dresser, eat your vegetables, be nice to each other, don’t fight, share ….  Yet we know that those things help keep everyone in the household safe, healthy, and functioning in a more productive and life affirming way.

Jesus calls those who follow him friends.  He calls us friends, reminding us everything that he learned from his Father he made known to us.  We have the “house rules” in the scriptures, which the Holy Spirit reveals to us anew over and over, as we navigate our lives.

We have examples of how it looks to love each other, to respond to Jesus choosing us to bear fruit.  Last week we explored how Philip jumps in that chariot with someone his upbringing and religion tells him is unclean, unworthy, because the Spirit pushes him to respond to another person as a person, not a set of criteria that determines if he is worthy of receiving God’s love, but as one created by God, one walking this journey of faith just as he is, one who is ready to receive and share God’s love.  One who needs someone to walk with him to discern what the Spirit is saying to him in that moment.

This week we are joining Peter as the Holy Spirit connects him with Cornelius.  Cornelius is a Gentile who loves God, prays regularly, and gives to the poor.  An angel visits Cornelius instructs him to send for Peter giving him all the information he needs to find him.  A hungry Peter has a dream in which animals considered “unclean” or “inappropriate” to eat are lowered before him in a sheet, and he hears a voice tell him not to call anything impure that God has made clean.”

Almost immediately after his dream men sent by Cornelius come to ask Peter to travel with them to meet with Cornelius.  Everything about this invitation is opposite to Peter’s upbringing, his traditions, his circle of understanding, his routine meal plan, but, moved by the Holy Spirit, he accepts the invitation and as he enters the home of Cornelius, something a good Jew would never do, he experiences “other” in the way God intends.

Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism 35 but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right. 36 You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, announcing the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all.” And Peter shares with them what Jesus taught and what the apostles witnessed.

As Peter is sharing about his friend Jesus, the Holy Spirit fills those listening in a way it is visible to all of those gathered.  I would think everyone who came with Peter would have rejoiced immediately that more individuals had come to recognize God’s love extended to all through Jesus.  That they would have embraced the vision that changed Peter’s long-held opinion based on the traditions of his past, as they saw the Spirit working in tangible ways.

Instead we hear that they were astonished that these Gentiles, these people considered inferior to those of the Jewish faith, received the gift of the Holy Spirit.  It is not recorded here, but there were probably some side comments of disbelief circulating in that moment.  Side comments that likely were silenced as Peter declares, ““Surely no one can stand in the way of their being baptized with water. They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.  So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days.”

The question of the morning is What would you do for Love?

God sent his Son

Jesus healed the sick, ate with sinners, talked with people everyone else avoided, built relationships that didn’t follow the norms of the day, laid down his life that we may have life abundantly now and eternally

the Holy Spirit continues to push us toward seeing God’s work in the lives of all those with whom we cross paths and helping us to love in the way God the Father and God the Son love us.

The Disciples set aside views of their past, to adopt God views, so that more would come to know the grace extended through Christ.  Not empowered and pushed by the Holy Spirit, there is the strong possibility this amazing gift would have remained in a small circle centered in Jerusalem and not shared to the ends of the earth.

What would you do for Love?

Sing a song someone else likes,

eat a meal prepared differently than you prepare it,

go the extra step to care for the needs of a few,

work beside someone you already determined you don’t like in an effort to see him or her as God sees, him or her,

accept an invitation from someone outside your circle of friends?

 

If we truly follow Jesus (and he uses “if” in this passage of John)  If we truly believe in the love and grace extended to us by the Father through the Son and revealed through the Spirit, then –  “What we will do for Love” is everything it takes to be in relationship as modeled for us by Jesus, Philip, Peter and others.

We will follow the command to love – Not selectively, not just when we want to, but at all times and in all places.  We will be quick to build up and we will stop looking for reasons to tear down.  Not easy, but possible through the Spirit.

In Jesus’ Name

Luke 24:36-48

Acts 3:12-19

Acts 4:5-12

Kelly Clarkson sings a song about meeting the challenge of a relationship gone wrong.  Part of the chorus includes these words:

“ What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, stronger
Just me, myself and I
What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger
Stand a little taller
Doesn’t mean I’m lonely when I’m alone”

We sometimes believe, as this chorus relates, that we can meet difficult challenges on our own and, by doing so, that action somehow builds up our ability to meet other difficulties.

The Human reaction to meeting crisis or experiencing something profound, refutes that premise.  In times of trouble we seek out others, and often, if we aren’t already in the process of maturing in our faith, we turn back to it.

We are drawn to sacred places and to people who seem to have divine power.

At the end of World War II, when humans first walked on the moon, when the soaking rains fell at last to end the great drought of the 1930s, when President Kennedy was assassinated, and after the tragic events of 9/11, and other similar situations, people have crowded into places of worship.[1]

By some estimates, on the Sunday following the terror attacks on 9/11 roughly half of the adult population in the United States attended a religious service. But the attendance dropped off starting that November, according to Barna Research, a polling firm that specializes in religious data, religious activity quickly returned to just about what it was before the attacks.[2]

When something gets our attention, we seek faith, but if we don’t have or develop the Faith that makes us Strong, we can miss the peace and healing only Jesus can give, and sometimes go back to thinking we have it handled on our own and are stronger because we do.  We can think we have the Faith that makes us Strong.  We can ask for prayer, listen to a message or song on the radio and it makes us feel better.  But it can be more like having faith that a chair will hold us up.

That faith is really based on what we can understand.  I have faith I can sit in this chair and I won’t fall to the floor, but really I am trusting my understanding of physics, math,  engineering, and experience which teaches me what to look for in a chair that will hold my weight.  It isn’t really faith at all.

The scriptures this morning help us understand what “Faith that makes us Strong, in Jesus Name” looks like.

Faith that makes us strong allows us to raise questions, to challenge our perceptions, until we can discern what understanding the Spirit is opening up to us.  The Risen Lord in in their midst and yet the Disciples can’t grasp how that can be.  They want to believe, yet are amazed by the possibility that what they see is real.  When they can’t believe their eyes,  Jesus gives them more.  He asks for food, and eats it.  Ghosts can’t eat.  And in eating, Jesus gives them what they need within what they can understand, and then reveals all of scripture to them.  In their doubts, was the path to Faith that could claim God’s plan as revealed through Jesus.

Faith that makes us strong calls us to move into the future, even when it moves us out of our comfort zone and challenges us to go places and meet and work with people with whom we are sure we have nothing in common.  Jesus reminds the disciples of the part they have in sharing what they have witnessed with others.  Not just with the people they know, not just with the people just like them, but all nations.

Faith that makes us strong requires us to bear witness of the grace extended to us and to all through Jesus, with everyone with whom we come in contact.

Faith that makes us strong fortifies us to never lose hope, to not box ourselves in with specific, limiting expectations.  The man who now stands strong before those gathered at the Temple was lame from birth.  He was at the temple every day to ask for help from those going in.  He had to find someone to carry him there, he had to be persistent, he had to reach out for help, or he would have become invisible.  Peter and John don’t give him the money he thinks he needs, they give him attention, they give him the healing power of Jesus, they give him more than he could ever have imagined, they give him a new life.

Faith that makes us strong includes our praising God, not just with our walking, but with our jumping with joy in witness of healing in our lives.

Faith that makes us strong requires community.  The Disciples were together as Jesus responded to their doubts and revealed scripture to them.  They shared experience helping them as they began to live out their ministry of witness.

The lame man had community to get him to the temple, to provide him with resources over the years, to witness his hope met with more than he could have ever considered asking for.  He had both Peter and John give him their attention.  Peter and John supported and encouraged one another.

Faith that makes us strong keeps us challenging ourselves to be aware of the areas of our lives where we need to make adjustments to be better aligned with the witness and mission God calls us to.

It allows us to come to understand the power we have through the name of Jesus and the healing we can experience in the midst of any brokenness we may experience.  To see how faithfulness can traverse centuries.

The crowd surrounding Peter and John grew after news spread that they had healed this crippled beggar who the community knew well.  He was a constant presence at the temple’s Beautiful Gate.

His dramatic and unexpected healing likely had the Social Media of the day working overtime.

Some probably came out of curiosity, others seeking healing for themselves, others possibly trying to figure out how to obtain the power to heal for themselves.

I suspect they came to check it out in much the same way as those looking for – the magic lotion that will keep us young, the right formula for prayer that will cure all diseases plaguing humankind, the right set of actions to bring us financial stability, the right leader to fix the world’s problems – do today.

Offered to them that day was not a magic potion or incantation.  What was offered was a message of Faith, guidance on how Faith makes us strong.

Peter is clear it is faith in the name of Jesus, that this man was made strong. It is Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through him that has completely healed him, as was visible to all.

Upfront Peter and John model Faith for those at the temple and for us.

Faith is about God.  The source of healing is God.  Peter and John’s faith in God, in the power Jesus promised them, lead them to know they could offer more to the beggar than a few coins.  They could offer healing. They could speak the name of Jesus, share the news of his life, death and resurrection with confidence.

For the beggar that meant physical healing which restored him to community, saved him from a lifetime of sitting and begging from people, saved him for a life of jumping about and praising God for Life-changing deliverance..  For others in the crowd it meant connecting with God in life-giving ways.

Faith in the name of Jesus is not a magic spell or a password to get into heaven.  Ending our prayers in the name of Jesus does not insure the answers will be what we expect.

Faith in the name of Jesus recognizes and claims the power for the ongoing healing of every sort of human brokenness, here and now.  It is the ultimate power which is greater than anything we face, even physical death.  It is recognizing and claiming that the greater power of God is still at work in the world over which Jesus has been enthroned as Lord.[3]

Just as that power was available to Peter and John, it is available to all who have faith that makes us strong in the name of Jesus.  It is power that comes as we take on the ministry and acts of Jesus.

We have the power to bring healing to each other, to those with whom God gives us an opportunity to connect, and to those for whom we pray.

We have the power to stand strong even when there are those who think they have the power seek to silence the message of love and peace we are called to share.

Brokenness is not the rule for those who follow Jesus.   Healing is the norm in life with God.  We can have faith that makes us strong, can experience it and share it with the power we receive in the name of Jesus.  We just need to claim it and live it.

 

 

[1] Thomas G. Long, Feasting on the Word: Year B, Volume 2: Lent through Eastertide
[2] https://www.barna.com/research/barna-study-explores-faith-in-new-york-since-9-11/
[3] J. R. Daniel Kirk, Commentary on Acts 4:5-12