ECCLESIOLOGICAL ETCHINGS July 8, 2020 Scripture: Acts 16:14-15 A certain woman named Lydia, a worshiper of God, was listening to us; she was from the city of Thyatira and a dealer in purple cloth. The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul. When she and her household were baptized, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home.” And she prevailed upon us.
Thought for the Day: Lydia’s chapel was one of the highlights of my trip to Greece last summer, a beautiful sanctuary with floor to ceiling mosaics of the first baptisms officiated by Paul in Greece. Just a hundred yards away from the chapel is the river in which Lydia and her family were baptized. I invite you to watch this video (CLICK HERE), one that I recorded while standing in the river (very chilly waters). As you watch and listen, reflect on what it must have been like to hear Paul speak and to have your heart opened in such a way that a response had to be given.
Recently I heard someone say that we, as a society, have deceived ourselves into believing that a well worded social media post is a significant and risky act of faith. It might sound good, but we are living in a world that needs something a bit more dramatic and tangible – we need more folks like Lydia who not only chose to be baptized, but embodied her new found faith with an act of hospitality for a couple of sojourners who would soon be arrested for an act of faith. It is a bit more challenging right now to demonstrate that kind of outward compassion and kindness, but we must continue to seek tangible ways of responding to the Good News of God’s relentless and reconciling love.
Prayer: Merciful God, as your Good News continues to meet us as it did Lydia, may its power spark a response within us that resembles the depth and beauty of your love. We make this request as those who desire to be a bit more like the first followers of Jesus. Amen.
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ECCLESIOLOGICAL ETCHINGS July 7, 2020 Scripture: Acts 16:9-10 During the night Paul had a vision: there stood a man of Macedonia pleading with him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” When he had seen the vision, we immediately tried to cross over to Macedonia, being convinced that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them.
Thought for the Day: It was about this time last year that I was returning from Greece, one of the most faith stirring experiences of my life. We started our trip in the northern part of Greece where Paul first arrived in Macedonia (Europe). You may remember how excited I was upon my return to tell about Philippi, one of those cities in the north. For the next four Sundays, I plan to preach from Paul’s Letter to the Church at Philippi (Philippians), specifically focusing on the notion of Joy. For Paul to speak of joy when referencing Philippi seems a bit strange as shortly after arriving he was arrested along with Silas and given a “severe flogging” (Acts 16:23). This is one of the important theological ideas within Paul’s writings, but also throughout scripture. Joy is something so much more than what is found in Webster’s definition. It is not easily swayed by the daily happenings of life. If anything, joy becomes an alternative force that is attempting to sway the happenings of daily life. Paul felt called to go to Macedonia to proclaim the Good News, but he also clearly embody joy for others to see. We’ll continue this conversation in the weeks ahead.
Prayer: May the joy given through your Living Word, O Lord, be for us a source of persuasive power against the strong winds of discontent, suffering and injustice. Your joy never ignores our pain. It is your amazing gift that refuses to allow anything but your love to have the final word on our lives. Amen.
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ECCLESIOLOGICAL ETCHINGS July 6, 2020 Prayer for the Week: News reports, statistics, graphs and charts — they can so easily be dismissed as nothing more than a bunch of irrelevant numbers. Forgive us, God of All Creation, when we choose to live with a narrow vision of how sisters and brothers are being impacted this day. Though we may not know the stories behind every number, let us respect every number and statistical move on the chart as they represent a wealth of stories, stories of hope and joy and beauty – stories of loss and grief and fear. How often has your church played the numbers game, losing sight of the human beings those numbers represent? Let our hearts be softened as we turn to Jesus who ministered, not to numbers, but people. In your love, we have never been dropped into a pie chart or a statistical study. Your Spirit shatters every attempt to dismiss our humanity, as you desire for us to know life in its full abundance. Thank you for your splendid and transformative love, and may it provide us with a clearer vision of the magnificent stories contained within every human life. In the name of Jesus we pray. Amen.
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ECCLESIOLOGICAL ETCHINGS July 5, 2020 Scripture: Galatians 6:1 My friends, if anyone is detected in a transgression, you who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness. Take care that you yourselves are not tempted.
Thought for the Day: Paul placed a lot of responsibility on the community. There is a tendency to suggest it isn’t our place or it’s not polite to involve ourselves in other people’s business. Of course, there are plenty of people who enjoy getting the good gossip by involving themselves where they should not. But in those cases, there is an unhealthy temptation to spread rumors and create scandal. Paul wanted his community to deal with unhealthiness in a way that was healthy, truly believing that individuals could be restored. Society only seeks to punish as a response to transgression, and Christianity has fallen into that trap often in its own history. Paul, on the other hand, invited his readers to be gentle which would assume a commitment to a lengthy process. Punishment might curb a specific behavior for a while, but it doesn’t change the person in any sort of real and abiding way. I’ve always believed it was and is the church’s calling to walk alongside people, not simply telling them how wrong they are, but gently moving them toward restoration. In my own life, I am thankful for all those who, with a gentleness based in love, were willing to give me the needed time and support that moved me toward confession, repentance and healing…a work that is still happening.
Prayer: I do not seek quick changes, but true transformation. Holy God, help us to be community as there is work that can only happen in community. Let the commitment we have to you be the commitment we have to one another – a true willingness to do the necessary and challenging work. Amen.
ECCLESIOLOGICAL ETCHINGS July 4, 2020 Scripture: Galatians 5:25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.
Thought for the Day: As we read this verse, let us place the emphasis on the most important word in the passage. It is not the word SPIRIT, but the word IF. If we live by the Spirit, we should also be guided by the Spirit. But is it possible that many who claim a life guided by the Spirit never allowed themselves to first live by the Spirit? And if that’s the case, what exactly is guiding their lives? A few verses earlier, Paul listed the Fruit of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. A life that is first lived by the Spirit, and then guided by the Spirit, will manifest itself in the Fruit of the Spirit. It’s sort of a test. If the Fruit my life is producing resembles bitterness, resentment, anger, bigotry, hostility, greed, negativity or violence, then any claim my life is guided by the Spirit is probably bogus because clearly there is no life being lived by the Spirit.
Prayer: Holy God, as one who desires to be guided by your Spirit, I know I must come to know your Spirit and to allow myself to live by that Spirit. My life must be rooted in this Gift if I am ever to produce the Fruit so desperately needed in our world today. Amen.
ECCLESIOLOGICAL ETCHINGS July 3, 2020 Scripture: Galatians 5:14 For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Thought for the Day: If you were to sit in and listen to Board Meetings from a dozen different churches, how do you think you’d summarize what you heard? Would it be entirely focused on love? Or would the energy and passions give the appearance that round tables are better than rectangle shaped tables; that organ music should be played a bit more softly; that fingerprints all around the light switches are to be blamed on the Boy Scouts? All three of these points come from my own experience, listening to impassioned speeches on the topics. At times, it felt like people were throwing down the theological gauntlet as if these issues were front and center in the ministry of Jesus. Going beyond Board Meetings, how would people summarize your faith based upon your Facebook posts, the spending of your money or how you choose a candidate for political office? I’m not raising these questions because I find them easy. When we understand the command to love our neighbor – when neighbor includes those who don’t like or agree with us – it sure challenges many aspects of our lives. There are plenty of folks who would like to keep Jesus confined to an hour or two each week, but that’s just not the way Jesus works.
Prayer: I ask for both strength and wisdom as I strive to love my neighbor as I have been taught through the life of Jesus. O God, keep me just a bit uncomfortable in regard to where I am in allowing love to flourish in every aspect of my life. Amen.
ECCLESIOLOGICAL ETCHINGS July 2, 2020 Scripture: Galatians 5:6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything; the only thing that counts is faith working through love.
Thought for the Day: Do you ever want to scream at the top of your lungs, “You’re missing the point!” I have… often. In fact, I have felt those words forming in my mouth a lot lately. For Paul, the folks in Galatia were getting stuck and obsessing over the wrong stuff. It was not about debating circumcision. Instead, it was the frustration felt over the lost time spent in missing the point. Those who seek the status quo are forever thrilled with arguments like this one. While the real topic should be grace, God’s unconditional and unrelenting love made real in Jesus, arguing over a frivolous side issue, yet doing so with passion, has folks believing that the debate is what counts as faithful. At the end of the day, I don’t think God is looking for the best debater, but those who express their faith in tangible acts of love.
Prayer: Help me to keep my eyes on the prize of your love, O Lord. Allow it to guide me and to shape the way I live my life. Amen.
ECCLESIOLOGICAL ETCHINGS July 1, 2020 Scripture: Galatians 5:2 Listen! I, Paul, am telling you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no benefit to you.
Thought for the Day: Paul was always harsh on the whole circumcision thing which seems a bit odd since he was circumcised. Paul appears to be a slippery slope kind of person, fearful that if someone takes that one step in the wrong direction there will be no turning back. For that reason, Paul would often use startling language hoping to halt one’s movement toward what Paul perceived as a pretty steep slope. At the same time, Paul did not say that Christ would abandon or be angry with those who chose circumcision. Instead, he spoke of no benefit. A question comes to mind: How was circumcision being presented to new followers of Jesus? It appears that there were some leaders in the early church who were making circumcision a requirement, a test of sorts before a person could enter into a relationship with Jesus. For Paul, anything that suggested a barrier or obstacle between a person and the love of God in Jesus was missing the point of Jesus. You can’t speak of grace and have a bunch of conditions and stipulations on that grace. It’s like someone saying, “I love you, but I will require…” (and then giving a lengthy list of requirements). Christ will be of no benefit if someone does not understand and accept grace for what it is. In suggesting a bunch of prerequisites to grace would undermine the whole point of grace. If the benefit of Christ is grace, then it seems to make sense that we not get stuck in conditions that others are attempting to impose on grace – because conditional grace is not grace.
Prayer: You offer a free gift, yet it is the tendency of human beings to add a surcharge to that gift. Gracious God, why is it that we seek to limit what you freely give, and give in abundance? Why do we hide and horde your unconditional love made real in Jesus? Free us, O Gracious One, so that we can truly benefit from the life-giving capacity of your gift. Amen.
ECCLESIOLOGICAL ETCHINGS June 30, 2020 Scripture: Galatians 5:1 For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
Thought for the Day: In reading this passage recently, I was struck by the word “again,” a word I had not really noticed before. You can read the passage without the word “again,” and it makes sense. Yet the assumption, or at least my assumption, is that Paul knew many folks in the Galatian community (communities) well enough to know their yokes of slavery. Paul appears concerned that people will find freedom, but only temporarily. What kinds of slavery have you known? Maybe it is addiction, arrogance, selfishness, hatred, narrowness of thinking, etc. I tend to think that all these and others are rooted in fear, low self-worth or guilt. A person, through God’s grace (with counseling and support groups), can often find liberation from these very confining and weighty forces. Yet for most of us, it is not like turning off a light switch. We can too easily submit again to the yoke of slavery. It might come packaged a little differently, but its destructive power remains the same. For me, regular times of self-reflection are absolutely necessary as the yokes of slavery are many, and I feel certain there are still others I have yet to acknowledge and confess.
Prayer: I hope that I will forever see myself as a work in progress. Be for me, O Lord, the gracious guide who continually helps me ask the hard questions about the unacknowledged stuff within me that has kept me from realizing your gift of freedom. Amen.
ECCLESIOLOGICAL ETCHINGS June 29, 2020 Prayer for the Week: Provide me a glimpse of the simple things, O Gracious and Compassionate Spirit. Remind me of what kindness looks like – not some: “what do I get out of it” type of kindness that really is not kindness. Remind me what understanding looks like – not some: “I will seek to understand as long as it does not conflict with my thinking” type of understanding that really is not understanding. Remind me what humility looks like – not some: “proud and public demonstration of humility” that is not humility. Provide me a glimpse of Jesus, and in doing so, remind me what kindness, understanding and humility really look like. Amen.