Monday Matt 6:9 Our Father....
Sometimes it can feel as if our lives have turned upside down, not knowing in what direction up down or forward lie. It could be that these experiences come upon us due to the events of the world such as the tornadoes in Oklahoma or the terrorist attack in London this past week. Even if we haven’t directly experienced these kinds of traumas, they can have their effect. Then again, that feeling of emotional vertigo can come upon us very personally and directly. Our own personal struggles and challenges can leave us feeling without solid ground.
Jesus tells the disciples how to pray in the face of such experiences. First we should take note that Jesus‘ lesson on how to respond to disruption is not to act, to react, but to be still and pray. That alone is worthy of our consideration in a culture that expects action, response, reaction, activity...Jesus encourages disciples not to respond first with frenetic activity, but with silence and stillness in prayer.
We should pause also to consider the fact that Jesus encourages prayer as the first response to disruption NOT as he is talking about the challenges or the troubles that happen to us. Jesus is in the midst of the Sermon on the Mount. He has just taught those who will listen, to forgive, to give generously, to turn the other cheek, to love and pray for enemies and those who hurt us, to value relationships and humans above all else. He has invited the disciples to choose a way of life that is purposefully a disruption in the ways of the world which choose anger, vengeance, fear, strength, and selfishness as the safe and effective ways of living in the world. Jesus is asking the disciples to live in such a way as to be a disruption in the ways of the world. And in order to maintain that disruptive way of life, they will need to pray.
What he teaches them, to start the prayer is important. Our. First Jesus reminds the disciples that they do not pray in private, but as a community. We disrupt the brokenness of the world together. Every time we pray this prayer we are reminded of the gift of church as a community, that we are not alone. Jesus also teaches us that God is not a concept, an idea. God is Father, which is to say that God offers to us intimate relationship. Every time we pray, we are reminded that the creator of all things, values us as his beloved children.
but I went away at once into Arabia
Why does Paul go to Arabia? Where is Arabia? What does this mean? Elijah, after his battle with the prophets of Baal, and the threat to his life by Queen Jezebel, goes to Mount Horeb to hide. He feels alone, abandoned, hopeless. The call of God is too great. Even successes are failures. Mount Horeb is in Arabia. Arabia is the place of the alone, the abandoned, the hopeless, the least.
Luke tells us that Paul is confronted by the risen Christ on the way to Damascus. Let’s think about who confronted Paul. Jesus, the one who left the city gates to go among the lepers, and to touch them. The one who ventured into the enemy land of the Samaritans, the dangerous others. The one who protected prostitutes, healed the blind, walked with the sick and diseased. The one who told stories about seeking the one lost sheep, the one lost coin, about welcoming the lost brother. Jesus went to the alone, the abandoned, the hopeless, the least.
But Jesus did not just go to them, Jesus became one of them. At his arrest and trial, Jesus become the ultimate outsider. The Judeans who had followed and hoped in him, abandoned him and called for his death, His disciples betrayed and abandoned him, the Roman’s wouldn’t protect him, they assassinated him. He becomes the forsaken one.
Paul’s experience, regardless of how or where it happened, was an experience in which he is confronted by one of the forsaken, the ultimately forsaken one. Luke tells us that Jesus’ words are ‘why do you persecute me?‘ The risen Christ gives voice to the voiceless. He confronts Paul with the reality of his behavior, which is not guarding a tradition or fulfilling God’s will, but persecuting the forsaken.
But not only is Paul confronted by the forsaken, he is called to join the forsaken. Look at how will describe his life, later, after this call; far more imprisonments, with countless floggings, and often near death. 24Five times I have received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I received a stoning. 26on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from bandits, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers and sisters;* 27in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, hungry and thirsty, often without food, cold and naked.
Paul goes to Arabia. It is the place where the lost, the abandoned go. It is also the place where those called to join them go to listen for the voice of God. Which is a radical shift in how we think about faith. It is a journey to the forsaken, to serve and give voice on their behalf, because this is where Christ is. Church is our Mt. Horeb... a launching platform to a journey among the forsaken
But after they came, [Peter] drew back and kept himself separate for fear of the circumcision faction.
Why was circumcision such a big deal? It certainly seems really foreign to us to have such a debate.
Circumcision was the traditional mark of the covenant. It was how Israel honored and remembered that they were a people created and called by God to be the ‘holy others.‘ They were called out of the world so as to be witnesses of Gods grace, love, mercy and justice in the world. At least, this is how I understand circumcision.
But there was a great deal of pressure, in Roman Palestine, for Jewish men to hide this very distinctive marker of their identity. I know that sounds odd too. But Roman’s installed public baths. This was where one went to establish one’s place in the community, to make business connections, to be in society so as to gain status and success. But in the public baths, everyone could see, well, everything. If you were Jewish, that Jewishness was obvious. Some Jewish men even underwent ‘medical’ procedures to hide their circumcision.
So, Israelites felt an on their heritage, ethnicity and religious identity, and it was an attack. Rome placed a public bath near the Temple. They were trying to assimilate Israelites to be ‘more Roman.’ This was an attack on their call, their role, to be witnesses to the nations. But some, such as Paul, responded to this attack by advocating for isolationism. Avoiding the other altogether. Even attacking the other. Paul probably saw the early church as a group of Israelites who were giving in to Roman culture. They were a threat!
Do you see what is going on here? The Romans are saying that Israelites are welcome in society as long as they become more like Romans. Paul, before his call and commission did not welcome anyone who was not Israelite, viewed all as a threat! The early church would welcome Gentiles as long as they become more like Israelites, by being circumcised.
This is a complex and important issue to consider. How do we deal with people who are unlike us? Should we jettison all roles, labels, allegiances and histories? Well, we can’t, and we would be left with little to guide us into who are, what are called to be, how we are to act in the world. Should we just pretend these differences don’t exist, ‘I don’t see color,’ kind of answer? No. Differences exist. Pretending they don’t exist denies the humanity of this other.
We will discover how Paul deals with this in the days ahead. For now, lets consider who the ‘others’ around us are. Instead of pretending they aren’t other, lets prayerfully acknowledge and give thanks for the beautiful diversity of the humanity God has created, even when it is challenging or hard to understand.
I advanced in Judaism beyond many among my people of the same age, for I was far more zealous for the traditions of my ancestors.
Who am I? When I am first getting to know someone, how do I explain myself? Father, Husband, pastor, Christian, Baptist, Liberal, Evangelical (neither of those last two fit exactly, despite what some think, so I struggle). Some of these labels apply to roles that I play. And that is fine with me to a certain extent. Father, Husband, Pastor, Christian, all have certain behaviors, certain expectations and even skills assumed in them. Which gives me purpose and guidance. There are certain things I must do well in order to be a good Father, Husband, Pastor, Christian. There are behaviors I must avoid if I am to represent these roles well.
Labels can refer to roles that help us maintain a way of being in the world that is purposeful, responsible and good for ourselves and others.
Labels can also be weapons. For instance Native American’s were once labeled ‘savages’ which was a convenient way of dehumanizing them, and therefore not having to treat them with dignity and respect. No one label (except one) can fully describe any person. Reducing a person to one label dehumanizes them and reduces their dignity, the image of God that they were created to realize and to be in the world.
I mention this because identity is the struggle in this past sunday’s epistle reading. Paul, who writes what we read, identified himself as a Pharisee, a Zealous Jew. This was his role, his label, his identity. It gave him a sense of meaning, of purpose. It connected him to a tradition and so rooted him. There is nothing wrong with that. But as Paul would also write ‘I was violently persecuting the church of God.’ While a clear identity, roles, even labels have benefits, they also have a shadow-side and Paul illustrates this. All those who do not identify themselves as we do, as I do, can be perceived as ‘wrong’ or as a threat. Identity and labeling become weapons.
I recall once working in a kitchen in a church basement (not Berean) serving meals to the homeless and impoverished in Providence. One of the church members referred to the people being served as ‘those people’ in a very derogatory manner, as if ‘they’ were less human than the rest of us.
Listen carefully for identity and label speech around you this week. does it describe and celebrate a difference or suggest a lower status, a being less-than?
we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.’
Lots of things have been said about grace. Better minds than mind have explained it. Today I’m going to share my take on grace. It may not be as intellectually erudite as others, but I think it will make sense.
The challenge in today’s story is God’s love. The apostles are surprised by the effect of the story of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. It has drawn people to them that they did not expect. It has drawn people to them that they perhaps had never considered as worthy of God’s love. But the Spirit has empowered and transformed them. The results are undeniable. God’s love is not just for Israel, but for Greek and Roman and Egyptian as well. And now they have to learn to love these people, from various places in the world, from diverse cultural heritages, as God has apparently loved them. This is challenging and difficult for many. Paul and Peter advocate for this kind of love which transforms not only the loved, but the lover as well.
Perhaps they are especially prepared for this. After all, Peter denied knowing who Jesus was upon his arrest. His fear and self-preservation got the best of him and he pretended not to know Jesus. Yet Jesus first words upon his resurrection, according to Mark, were a special invitation for Peter to come to him. Despite Peter’s failure, betrayal, denial, Jesus loved him. And that love changed Peter. That love that saw and believed the best in him, called him to be more than he had been able to be before, a passionate and bold witness to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
Paul too knew the love of Jesus. Paul, had been a terrorist, leading violence action against the early church. Until Jesus appeared to him and called him. Despite his terrorizing, violent, murderous ways, Jesus loved him and called him. And that love changed him. It redirected his passion from violence to peace, from ethnic and national exclusivism to proclaiming one people all through Christ.
That is what grace is. The overwhelming, undeserved, yet wild and free and never ending love of God. Grace means that God is always for us despite our failures and that God is always calling us to leave behind this sin, this failure and live in life-changing love.
Cheap grace is accepting that love and then continuing on our own selfish ways. It means ‘being forgiven’ without ‘being transformed.‘ And it also means only being concerned with ourselves, our own satisfaction, security, peace. Grace draws us out of ourselves and into the lives of others as reflectors of God’s all-inclusive, life transforming love.
How can you begin to show other’s that kind of love?
And God, who knows the human heart, testified to them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as he did to us; 9and in cleansing their hearts by faith he has made no distinction between them and us
‘and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’ These are the words God spoke to Abram in Genesis, thousands of years before Jesus and Peter and Paul. God called Abram to go on a mission, to carry a promise. He would be a father to a nation, Israel, and that nation, would be a priestly people, a people on a mission from God. That mission was to gather all people, the wandering, the lost, the outcast and the rebellious, back to just, merciful, and peaceful relationship with God and so with one another.
As quickly as that paragraph can be typed by me and then read by you, it is vitally important. It reminds us that faith in Christ is not just one other is a long list of self-help programs. Jesus did not come, die, rise and give the Holy Spirit so that we could come to church to feel better about ourselves. The church exists to be on a mission and that mission is no less than participate in God rescue of a world that is tearing itself apart through fear, anger, greed and violence. Genesis tells us that humanity kept dividing itself through violence and selfishness and hubris and that God called Abram to go into that same world, with faith in God. Now, according to Acts 15, the promise, of a people in the world, creating a just and peaceful community for the healing of all the nations has come true. This was God’s purpose, God’s plan all along. That Israel would gather all the people to the Kingdom of God, to its justice and peace. According to Paul, the gathering of all ethnicities and peoples is not some shocking and unexpected heresy, it is the fulfillment of God’s ancient plan for the renewal of creation.
Two thousand years later, we are called to the same mission, to gather all people to our blessed community, to teach them the ways of justice and peace manifest in the life of Jesus and so to work with God in renewing all Creation. Two thousand years later, we face the same challenges. We divide ourselves into denominations and groups, we wish to love all and struggle with the implications, we leave some excluded, sometimes intentionally and sometimes without realizing. And two thousand years later it still takes the courage and the bravery of an Abraham and a Paul, to step outside of the well-worn paths of ‘this is how we’ve always done it’ to discover the joy of adventuring in new directions with new people who have never known that God’s love extends to them.
Have you ever thought of faith as a call beyond your own peace of mind? Does that thought challenge or trouble you? Does the thought of exploring new paths and new people excite you? How can you invite others into sharing that excitement?
The apostles and the elders met together to consider this matter.7After there had been much debate,
This verse may seem a slight detail, but I believe it to be a very important and often overlooked point. One of the ways that the early church organized itself, made decisions and dealt with conflict and diversity, was dialogue. There was no king, caesar, bishop, or pope to make a decision from above. The community gathered together to talk it out. This is important for two reasons.
First, it assumes that there are some minds that need to be changed. I know that this is not always a popular opinion. After all, what is most often modeled for us is entrenchment in political ideology and argument from these positions at a loud volume. But there is little listening and little to no admitting that perhaps ‘I’ could be wrong, that my perspective needs to change.
Paul the apostle, would later write in Romans, ‘Do not be conformed to this world,* but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God.’ What Paul is saying is that all of us come to faith in Christ with assumptions, opinions, ethics, and morals that are shaped by powers other than God known to us in Christ. The beliefs that help us make sense of the world could be very different from the beliefs (and actions) expected and required of those who would call themselves Christians.
So part of what is going on in these two short verses is a vitally important, unpopular and overlooked part of our faith. We have been influenced in our thinking by many sources that do not conform to the witness of Christ. And that needs to be corrected.
Second, this story models a way of peace. Differences are honestly admitted, not hidden. They are debated, discussed and everyone given a chance to speak. Decisions are not made by one or a few and then enforced in a coercive or authoritarian way. All are given a chance to speak, all are heard. And although we don’t read the conclusion, the decision of the council was to allow those communities that wanted to practice circumcisions to do so, to allow those communities that didn’t want to, not to and they focused on other practices that they all agreed on, such as caring for the hungry and poor, to unify them. In other words, some diversity in their unity was allowed as long as that diversity conformed to the life of Christ.
This is the way Christians are meant to show the world how to make peace and live in peace. Be honest about differences. Dialogue about this honestly and respectfully. Leave space for differences. Focus on the life of Christ and the unity we find in that.
How could we encourage more honest dialogue so that we all conform to Christ and not to the world?
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.