4.30.2008

The Ascension

Acts 1:1-11

Psalm 47 or Psalm 93

Ephesians 1:15-23

Luke 24:44-53

Can you imagine the wide variety of thoughts, feelings, and emotions that were running through the hearts, minds, and souls of those standing in a field outside of Bethany with Jesus? Can you imagine the excitement and the disappointment and the joy and the sorrow and the understanding and the confusion that those men and women were filled with as Jesus simply disappears before their eyes?

Just when the followers of Jesus thought things could not get more mind-boggling…just when they were beginning to settle in again after this whole “resurrection” thing happened…just when it seemed they might eventually understand what was going on, Jesus Ascends in to the sky!

Sometimes it is really hard to be present in the present and appreciate what is happening right now. It is easy to project and imagine all of the other things that those folks might have been thinking about as Jesus left their presence.

“Where did he go?”

“Was it something we said?”

“Did someone steal him?”

“We are not ready for this to be over!”

“What was he talking about with ‘the Holy Spirit’ and the ‘Power from on High’?”

“Is now when the strong armies show up and Restore Israel?”

“When will the fighting begin?”

“Was Jesus really ever with us?”

“Was he lying to us?
“Why would he leave us alone?”

There is so much that could have been going on for them and probably was going on in their heads……but an important question is what did they really need to be doing right then?

As the scene leads up to these final moments we see the disciples wanting more answers and Jesus offering them some reassurance of what would happen next.

But what did they really need right then?

This week, the reading from Acts and from Luke are accounts of Christ’s ascension. He has been crucified, buried and resurrected. He has appeared amidst the living where he was touched by them, shared meals with them and continued to walk and talk and teach at their sides. And now, in both accounts, he reminds them of his connection to Israel’s covenant tradition through Moses and then through the prophet Isaiah and through John’s baptism of repentance. He even leaves them with some idea of what is to come – a Spirit to be the presence of God among them. He doesn’t really tell them how or why or when – in fact he sort of scolds them for seeking that security and knowledge. They will know what they need to know in God’s time.

Surely those who actually witnessed this came away with a sense of wonder and awe….or maybe just confusion…or maybe a sense of expectation…or maybe disappointment.

But what about those who didn’t see this amazing event? What about those who never physically encountered the risen Christ? Paul wasn’t with the Apostles who sat beside Jesus as his ministry expanded. He wasn’t among those who saw the stone rolled back to reveal an empty tomb. He wasn’t among those who shared a meal with the risen Christ. But he had a profound understanding – a profound passion for the teachings and the sacrifice and the covenant fulfilled in Jesus. In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, Paul shares his hope that God will give this community a “spirit of wisdom and revelation” as they come to know God. Surely this gives us a hint about how Paul cultivated his own relationship with a risen Jesus that he never really touched.

[A sidebar about the Psalms: The psalms are a collection of traditional songs and prayers used by the Hebrews in their worship in ancient times and today. These traditional verses were recorded at a time when the Hebrews were scattered by yet another shift in their political circumstances. Scattered through many lands in the middle east, recording their worship songs and prayers was a way to establish and maintain a connection to their worship traditions. There are thanksgivings psalms, praise psalms and lament psalms. They are included in the lectionary readings so that they can be read responsively or sung or prayed in connection to the overarching themes for worship in any given week. This week, the psalms celebrate the Hebrews’ historic relationship with Yahweh in shouts of praise.]

We’re faced this week with the faith and hope and vision of people touched by the risen Jesus. The eyewitnesses had a different story – a different account of what they had seen and felt and heard. And Paul was connected to his own experience of revelation and wisdom, wishing upon the community of Ephesus.

What sort of interaction did the eyewitnesses need to be having with Jesus in their last moments with him? Did they need more theology? Did they need more details? Or did they need to simply be present with their friend and teacher as he shared these last experiences with them?

And what about those of us who were not there? What about those of us (like Paul maybe) who have experienced a revelation of God in a different way? Did he (do we) feel short-changed by the different kind of revelation and understanding – is our faith any less because we have (or maybe have not had) a different kind of encounter with God and Jesus?

What has been your eyewitness account of Jesus in the world?

What have you gained from such encounters?

Do you feel like you are still waiting for such an encounter? If so, what helps you understand God?

Everliving God,

your eternal Christ once dwelt on earth,

confined by time and space.

Give us faith to discern in every time and place

the presence among us

of him who is head over all things and fills all,

even Jesus Christ our ascended Lord. Amen.

“The Ascension,” Laurence Hull Stookey, The United Methodist Hymnal


Fourth Sunday in Lent

1 Samuel 16: 1 - 3
Psalm 23
Ephesians 5: 8 - 14
John 9: 1 - 41

How many times do we feel a nudge in a direction that seems impossible? Our response is usually something like, "Surely, God, you cannot mean that I should do that???" or "I've never done anything like that." Or our personal favorite, "What would the (neighbors, boss, family, fill in the blank) say / think?" Sometimes it is a dramatic - job change, a geographic change, or a lifestyle change. Sometimes it is more mundane - saying no to the kids, stopping to talk to a stranger, taking a different route home from work.

The texts this week point to the experience of being nudged (sometimes pushed) in dramatic directions, of heeding call even when it seems unbelievable, of accepting the unexpected, and allowing that God leads people into amazing places.

Samuel is called to anoint a king, and has to rely on God to point to the right one. Now Samuel had already done this once, and it is easy to imagine he hoped he was done with that task, especially since anointing a new King would mean Dethroning Saul, the first King. Picture the scene, Samuel sort of hesitating as each of Jesse's sons pass before him, waiting for a poke or a prod or a whisper in his ear, "This is the One." And imagine how his expectations are uprooted as each son passes and God says, "Nope." But Samuel hangs in there, and he keeps listening to God even though the message is counterintuitive. It's interesting to remember Samuel's humble beginning: he was born in answer to Hannah's deeply faithful prayers. Hannah promised that if she can only have a son, he will be set aside and raised is strict observance of the law, consecrated. Samuel is a part of a line of people that learned in different ways what it meant to follow the Movement of God. This is God - Yaweh - a tangible voice to be heeded.

The psalmist comforts the reader with words that many of us know by heart. God is leading me in right places and when I know that and accept that and lean into that, I am OK. These are such beautiful and comforting images. Imagine for a moment what it feels like to have your Soul comforted while laying in Green Pastures by Still Waters.imagine what it feels like to know you are under the complete protection of Someone who is watching over you. This is a different view on the same idea of trusting God. Whereas Samuel is trusting God from a place of uncertainty, the Psalmist is describing what it might mean to trust someone from a place of complete and overt Protection. This is certainly a world-view and a theology of God as Superhero and Great Protector..however you might feel about that personally.

In the gospel this week, so much is unexpected. So much is God-given. (This is a great passage to discuss with children, because it is ripe for their imaginations.from mixing mud with spit to Arguing with Authority...WOW.) We are introduced to a man, who, for some reason or another, has no vision. In his culture and tradition, such a condition would have been a reflection on previous generation's sins. His community might have passed Judgments on what he or his parents had done wrong to "deserve" such an affliction. Along comes Jesus, who with some spit and some mud wipes away this man's blindness. And on the Sabbath, of all days. Essentially, Jesus wipes away the burden of this man's life. And in their society, his doing so is a sin because of the day of the week. The Pharisees are stunned. Here is a man born blind whose sight is restored (a sinner whose sins are "wiped away?") by a man who is saying outrageous, counter cultural things...and doing it on the holiest of days. At the end of the story we see the man saying, "I don't know what happened or how it happened.I just know that before I could not see and now I can." He did not expect it, work for it, and maybe he didn't deserve it..however, before he could not see, and now he could.

The letter to the church in Ephesus takes the concept of following God in to unexpected places and turns it in to a bit of a coaching session. Rather than giving an example of what it looks like to take chances and follow God, in this instance scripture offers us some direct encouragement and commentary of why it is a good idea. The fruit of light is found in all that is "good and right and true." Now, we just learned in the Hebrew text and in the gospel that what is good and right and true might NOT be apparent to us in our context. Hmm.if we are attuned to God, the light exposes the Truth with a capital "T."

Those nudges can make us uneasy. It may help to know how man go before us, nudged and prodded in directions they never imagined. And when we open ourselves up to the experiences into which we are nudged, we grow and stretch and become. We participate in ongoing creation if we have faith or if we dare.

+It is easy to find folks willing to offer advice like "Let Go and LetGod" or "It is All in God's Hands"; however, how do we prepareourselves to really live in to this lifestyle of following God where we feel God is calling us?
+How does that make our lives look different?
+Does it free up emotional space for us or does it create more anxiety?

I give myself completely to you, God.
Assign me a place in your creation.
Let me suffer for you.

Give me the work you would have me do.
Give me many tasks,
Or have me step aside while you call others.

Put me forward or humble me.
Give me riches or let me live in poverty.
I freely give all that I am and all that I have to you.

And now, holy God - Father, Son and Holy Sprit -
You are mine and I am yours. So be it.

(A Covenant Prayer in the Wesleyan Tradition
Adapted from The United Methodist Hymnal, #607 )

4.21.2008

Sixth Sunday of Easter

Acts 17:22-31
1 Peter 3: 13-22
John 14: 15-21
Psalm 66: 8 – 20

Do you remember those 3-D posters that were so popular several years ago? You know, the posters that usually looked like nothing more than a field of static like you might find on an old television with no antenna? The instructions that came with the poster said if you “stared intently” at the field of dots long (or intently) enough, you would see some other sort of image—maybe an airplane or a cow or a tree.

The idea was if you look at something long enough, your brain would put the dots together and you would see something else.

This week’s readings put us in mind of this a bit this week. Three of the four readings each offer a different perspective toward what later comes to be known as the Trinity (or Trinitarian Theology).

See, there is really no explicit biblical explanation of the Trinity. However, there are several different scriptures that through the years folks have picked up and put together…scriptures and phrases and ideas that folks have held together in their minds, stared at intently, and the concept of the Trinity is what emerged.

The concept of the Trinity developed out of a certain necessity. People had to find ways to say what it is they believed. While our Muslim friends sum up their belief with “There is no God but Allah, and Muhammed is His Prophet”, we Christians have no such concise formula. There were great and deep questions that arose when Christians started attempting to understand the connection of the Hebrew God to Jesus the Messiah to this Advocate / Spirit Jesus talked about sending.

Lots of arguments happened and more than a little blood was shed by folks that took very seriously the discussion of how to reconcile these ideas (and all they knew about each of the three from the scriptures) with one another. In fact, the doctrine of the Trinity did not fully get codified until the Nicene Creed was agreed on at the council of Nicea in 325 CE (200-300 years after the New Testament was written). (There is a great “Speaking of Faith” show talking with Jaroslav Pelikan…..it is a wonderful way to spend an hour!)

Now these scriptures are not the most overt things pointing toward a Trinitarian Theology, but they do provide some of the early support…..so let’s look and see what sort of evidence / support for the Trinity might be found.

In Acts we get one of Paul’s first sermons as a follower of Jesus. He is following what today is one of the most basic “styles” of evangelism....he has spent time with these new people in their city, living their lives, and understanding what it is they worship. He takes what he sees there and then ties it to the God he came to know as a Jewish leader...and then he even goes a step further and ties it to his understanding of God as he sees in Jesus. He tells them that they are all created in the image of God and that we (they) are all connected to God. Now in just a few sentences, Paul takes these Athenians from a place where they worship “an unknown god” [do we know how they worshiped this god?] to naming that this unknown God is actually God the Father / Yahweh of the Hebrews, and then goes even further to connect God the Father / Yahweh to Jesus as the one God the Father has appointed to judge their righteousness. He’s really making the point that there is One God to a community that has been accustomed to acknowledging many gods.

In the letter of Peter we continue to see a pretty directive / advice giving / instructional situation. The writer is encouraging certainly, but he is also attempting to lay down orthodox thinking so that this community will have the same understandings / practices / theology as Christians in other communities. We do not know what was the depth of practice of this community or what they knew or how / if they shared their faith. We do know though that this letter is encouraging them to be faithful in what they believe and how they practice. This community is being encouraged to do the right thing and to recognize that this choice to do the right thing might result in suffering… he is connecting the suffering they might experience with the suffering Jesus experienced.....and then he connects them back to Noah and then he connects their suffering, the salvation of the Ark, and the resurrection of Jesus all to baptism. Even today, if you are new to the faith, this is confusing and difficult to understand....so imagine what it might have been like to have to understand this when the primary means of communicating this faith was word of mouth and letters being passed around. Here, the author is using Jesus’ humanity to connect these people to God through Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection.

In John we see Jesus assuring the disciples that they know what they need to know and that they are going to still be supported and still be cared for and still be loved...even when he is not there any more. This falls right in with human development theory....the first stages of life are spent building trust between the child and its caregivers...it takes a while for a child to trust that when a parent is not around that the parent still exists and still loves them and still cares for them. Jesus is assuring the disciples (in their early stages of development) that they will be okay even when he is not there with them. This is one of the examples where we get an explicit explanation from Jesus that ties the “Holy Spirit” or the “Advocate” to himself.

In the Psalm we see someone who deeply knows / understands God’s activity in his life. He can name the ups and can name the downs....he knows where God has supported and where God has tested....and with all of this he cannot contain himself....he wants to tell others to come and see and hear about his God. It is interesting to note all through the Hebrew scriptures that there is a certain sense that God / Yahweh is both God the Father and God the Spirit…..and it is in the New Testament scriptures that we see those “tasks” separated.

One God, many natures. It is a concept with which the early church struggled mightily. Deep down, we think the only way to understand it on Any Level is in relationship with God. We can look to the scriptures for evidence, but in many ways, the Trinity is beyond rational explanation. God is bigger than our rationality, anyway – Right?

* How do you understand the nature of God?
* Is your relationship with God singular or multi-faceted? Do you relate differently to God at different times, in different circumstances, with different practices?
* Is everything in your faith explained by the scriptures? What do you do with those things for which you cannot find an explanation?
* Do you ascribe to a specific creed? Have you written a statement of your own beliefs and understanding of God? How do you share your understanding of God with others?

I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.

Who, for us men and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; He suffered and was buried; and the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures; and ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of the Father; and He shall come again, with glory, to judge the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.

And I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of Life; who proceeds from the Father and the Son; who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified; who spoke by the prophets.

And I believe one holy catholic and apostolic Church. I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins; and I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.

The Nicene Creed, First Council of Constantinople, 381 CE

4.15.2008

Fifth Sunday of Easter

Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16
1 Peter 2:2-10
John 14:1-14
Acts 7:55-60

What Do You Really Believe?

You have heard the stories of people who were asked at gunpoint whether they believe in God or Jesus or maybe you have heard the stories of emergent medical decisions that put a person’s faith to the test. In different places at different times the question is raised: With your life hanging in the balance, what Do you really Believe?

Today, our evidence for Christianity is based on a combination of scripture and personal experience. The scriptures have been handed down to us through generations of folks that edited the stories, decided which ones were important to share, used the language they understood to convey the ideas they named as key, and shared the thoughts and ideas in forms that were meaningful to them at the time. The scriptures are a form of personal experience that have been passed down to us from our fellow Yaweh / Jesus followers through thousands of years. Today, we pass The Faith to our children and to new adult believers and to one another through our own personal experience with God.

This is hardly scientific method.

What do You really Believe?

This week’s scriptures offer us some examples of invitations to belief and examples of people who put their complete belief in God even in dire circumstances.

If we read all of Psalm 31 rather than just the 7 verses selected in the lectionary, we see the writer of this psalm putting his / her trust in God based on what seems to be personal experience. He has experienced in the past that God has “redeemed me, seen my affliction, not delivered me into the hand of my enemy, set my feet in a broad place, shown his steadfast love to me, and heard my supplications”…. Of course, he also refers several times to being aware of the presence / care of God because his enemies, those who were against him, etc suffered afflictions and received punishment at the hand / behest of God. Was this Psalmist motivated to belief because of the benefits of being in relationship with God? Is faith or belief really faith or belief if it is based on fear or revenge?

When we look at our next piece of the first letter of Peter we see the writer’s continued encouragement that it is only now (“that you are God’s people”) that each person receives God’s mercy. Now that you are “a holy nation, [one of] God’s own people” you are able to share God’s light with the world. He seems to be almost shaming or pressuring people in to believing in God when he says, ”you may grow in to salvation IF you have tasted that the Lord is good.” Certainly, in faith and belief there is an element of choice, but should any of us be pressured (or forced) in to belief?

Then in John 14 we see Jesus, after having spent much time with these folks and having shown them many signs and wonders, being a bit directive with the disciples and encouraging them to believe in him, to know him and to know the Father. And still the disciples (Phillip specifically) ask for more evidence. And Jesus tells him again, directly, to Believe in him because he is in the Father and the Father is in him. Jesus tells Phillip (and, we assume, everyone else in the room) that they need to “Believe” in him because he is a direct connection and representation of the Father. In fact, he tells them “I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask for anything, I will do it.” Wow, that is a big promise. In this instance, Jesus does not put any parameters around what it means to “ask for anything”--he just tells them that if they believe, if they ask, they will receive. Again, is this encouraging belief on the basis of what one can receive from it? Or is that the basis or purpose or even the genesis of faith in general – that we have faith because we believe it will be of benefit to us?

Finally, we see an example of ultimate belief in Acts. The scene is already well under way when we join it in verse 55…Stephen is about to be killed. He believes all the way until the end…he repeats two phrases that Jesus says from the cross….he was completely committed, but it does not seem to be a personally benefiting commitment. An important facet of this verse is seeing Saul (the same Saul that becomes Paul) standing there showing what he believed. He is a witness of this act. He does not intercede and he does not participate. He is “only” a witness.

Flash forward. What will it mean to Saul to witness these acts once he believes that Christ was indeed resurrected? Do our evolving beliefs change the past? Does our past affect our evolving beliefs?

What do you Really Believe?

Sometimes, it is hard to look at these stories of faith and to accept at some rational level that these are “proof texts” for the divinity of Jesus Christ. And yet, what gave rise to these texts? What were people witnessing in the days, weeks and months that followed Christ’s death and resurrection that gave rise to this oral tradition and eventually to these texts?

Everyone believes something. To profess a lack of belief in one thing is to assert belief in another. Our beliefs are a combination of what we experience and what we adopt from those experiences. To value a scientific method over other methods is in itself a form of belief…an assertion of where the highest power lies.

• What do you believe?
• What has shaped your beliefs over time?
• What is your responsibility in sharing your beliefs?

“It came to me ever so slowly that the best way to know the truth was to begin trusting what my inner truth was…and trying to share it – not right away – only after I had worked hard at trying to understand it.”
Reverend Fred Rogers (aka Mister Rogers)

4.09.2008

Fourth Sunday of Easter

Acts 2:42-47

Psalm 23

1 Peter 2:19-25

John 10:1-10

The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

We hear it so often. But really, as a society, we’re pretty conditioned to operate as loners. Sure, we play team sports, we have team meetings at work, we set aside “family time.” But often our focus and motivation is self-preservation. When push comes to shove, we take another task on ourselves rather than asking for help. We store up our treasures for a rainy day. We make the choice to push ourselves and then feel martyred by our sacrifice. And sometimes, our affection for independence makes it difficult to be led.

A properly functioning flock of sheep is a community that is made up of more than sheep. It turns out that sheep are not inherently all that smart. A group of sheep left on its own is certainly still a “flock of sheep”, but if one sheep turns his back on the rest of the flock to go after some tasty grass the rest of the group might leave him and then he is stuck there by himself. Sheep are naturally most comfortable when they are with one another. In fact, sick sheep are often identified because they tend to wander off by themselves. If a flock is left without a guardian they are almost totally open to predators…they have no way to fight back, they cannot stand up well if they fall on their sides…they don’t even have top teeth to give a good bite with! Sheep need a leader. They need a guardian. They need a guide. Sheep are dependent on their shepherd.

As followers of Christ, we choose to belong to a community of fellow believers. Ideally, that community works together toward a common vision and community care. There are benefits to belonging to such a community, and there are also responsibilities. The community also has to be led – perhaps by one, or by some who agree to lead for the good of the community.

So how do we hold it all together? How do we reconcile our individual entitlement with the deep cellular need for others and for a leader? How do we hold together the need to be empowered and the need to work with others to maintain order and to create harmony?

Shortly after Christ’s death and resurrection, communities of believers came together for fellowship, civility (frankly), safety, and support (It wasn’t easy or particularly popular to be a follower of Jesus). In the Jewish communities, there was a tradition of the synagogue and covenant community. Groups of Jews who followed the teachings of Jesus grew “churches” out of this tradition. Early converts to Christianity certainly needed the protection of a community against persecution in their society.

The scriptures for this week all reference the boundaries, benefits and responsibilities of these early communities of followers, and in each, it is important to look at where the leader is in the community.

In Acts, the author describes the behaviors that unified perhaps the earliest community of Christians, who were directly connected to the apostles. The description is of a community that lived communally, sharing their resources so that all had what they needed. And their community was growing. The apostles were out teaching and recruiting. The community cared for newcomers, embracing them and helping them understand what it meant to be part of the community. For these early communities, Jesus was not just a story from the past. These communities housed eyewitnesses. They had founders among them – some of their leaders were among the Twelve. They were still working out a lot of kinks…rules, expectations…and they were still uncovering the mystery.

The Psalm is a familiar one, naming the Lord as Shepherd. A key to all of these communities was unification through a caretaker – a shepherd, God, a resurrected Jesus, a spiritual connection with teachings about justice and mercy and grace. In response to the comfort of that care giving, the Psalmist describes the ability to face dark times and to be at peace. In ancient Jewish society, the extended family was a primary community. There was a leader – a patriarch. The Psalmist is praising the ultimate caretaker of the Hebrew race – God, while acknowledging a place within the “flock” – the community.

The letter that we know as 1 Peter was probably written to a community in Rome that did not gather around a common Jewish heritage. The letter girds the community for resisting persecution that they face. In the Greco-Roman culture, Christianity was a maligned foreign religion. Converts were rejected not just by their civic community, but by their families as well. The letter urges converts to imitate Christ in the face of all of this suffering and persecution. The letter itself is a strong encouraging voice.

In John, we read the familiar parable of the Good Shepherd. The Shepherd doesn’t just know his sheep; he knows them by Name. The sheep know the shepherd’s Voice. It is interesting to see the modification of the sheep / shepherd image here because Jesus is not just the Shepherd, he is also the gate through which the flock must pass. Continue reading past 10:10, and you’ll see this is no “hired hand.” This Shepherd will lay down his life. This is a leader that will make sacrifices for the flock. It’s hard to draw much about the shape of the community, except to understand that Jesus tells this story once and his listeners do not understand. He continues to retell and retell. The shepherd is also very patient!

As followers of Christ, we are called into community. A flock, a community, is not a closed group. In our comings and goings (through the “Gate”), we sometimes choose to act in our own best interest and sometimes we choose to act in the interest of a greater group. Sometimes the stray sheep endangers the flock by distracting the Shepherd. We have opportunities and responsibilities to work with one another within our community (within our flock), but if we accept these images given in scripture, we also know that we do all of this within sight of a guiding and protecting Shepherd.

  • Who do we allow to lead and when? What if we are called to lead? Are we equipped?
  • Do you accept the idea of Jesus (or God) being your / our Shepherd?
  • When is it most difficult to be part of a community? Why?
  • What is the minimum required for a community to exist?
  • What is the difference between harmony and dissonance in a community?
  • To what communities do you belong?

“The Church will place its confidence only in the simple servant of the Word of Jesus Christ because it knows that then it will be guided, not according to human wisdom and conceit, but by the Word of the Good Shepherd.”

Life Together – Dietrich Boenhoffer

4.02.2008

Third Sunday of Easter

Acts 2:14a, 36-41
Psalm 116: 1-4, 12-19
1 Peter 1:17-23
Luke 24:13-35

It is interesting how relationships are born. With all of the different people in the world and all of the different variables present from person to person, sometimes it is amazing any of us ever are able to be in relationship with one another at all. There is really no way to predict who will meet up with whom when or how or where.

A great example of this is the way we came to be associated with KC. Last spring, coming from a wide variety of background circumstances, we were both looking for a church / faith / worship community. One of us was planning to take a worship class in seminary that had a requirement to visit several different churches to observe different styles of worship. The other of us had been driving around Columbia and had seen this old barn that had a church sign on it. And so, last year, on Pentecost Sunday, we made our first visit to Kittamaqundi Community Church. Certainly, it took us three or four more months to commit to being around KC on a regular basis, but that is how our relationship with KC started--a need for community, a class requirement, and a wrong turn looking for a grocery store.

Every relationship between any two people (or groups of people) is unique to the particular context and the particular people involved.

We think the way we relate to God is not much different. This week's scriptures show at least three (maybe four) fairly distinct ways of being in relationship with God.

In the passage from Acts we see Peter speaking to a group of Jews and explaining what they were to do to be in relationship with God through Jesus. In a sense, Peter is defining for these folks what he understands his connection to God to look like and what he believes their relationship should look like. He explains who he knows Jesus to be and what he believes their response (everyone's response) should be to this news / information. This is Peter, a Jew who had been in fairly close, fairly intimate personal contact with Jesus for a couple of years . This is the same Peter who had to figure out through experience whether or not he could walk on water. And the same Peter who denied Jesus three times. His path wasn't always the straightest. And he is speaking to a group of Jews that are obviously interested in what he has to say...and he's saying things with great conviction and certainty. Sound familiar?

In Psalm 116 we see a writer that "came to know the Lord" in what appears to be a desperate situation. "The snares of death encompassed me; the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me; I suffered distress and anguish...then I called on the name of the Lord." This writer was at the bottom of whatever barrel she was currently in and came to trust God in the midst of a dire circumstance. Sound familiar?

In the first letter of Peter we see the writer (probably an early church leader who was influenced by Peter) writing to followers of Jesus in Rome. The basic purpose of the letter is to encourage those followers in the face of persecution in the big city. These folks had chosen to follow Christ in a situation / context where it was not an easy situation. Having that particular "connection" with God at that point in history was difficult and dangerous, and yet they still chose to know God through Christ. The society that surrounded them was making it difficult to be a Christian. Sound familiar?

And then we see the scene of two young men that meet up with Jesus on the third day after Jesus's death. They spend the whole day walking and talking with him . They told him stories and he told them stories. The text sort of implies the two folks on the road were people who were already followers of Jesus.folks who had already been in some relationship with him in some way. Whether they knew him before or not, we see that these two folks came to know him by being in conversation with him on the road. Sound familiar?

Like the early Christians, we have entered a relationship with God in our own way, a way that is shaped by our context, by the things we have read, by other people in our life, by pressures from the people around us. Some of us wait for others to develop and continue the relationship for us and some of us have probably resisted efforts on the part of others to impose their relationship with God on us.

Maybe that is where the tension around the idea of "evangelism" comes from-because of our own stories, it makes some of us uncomfortable and some of us completely at peace. Sound familiar?

Jesus set many examples of being in relationship with the people he met.sitting at the table.talking beside the well.healing and teaching. He met people where they were. And when he asked Peter to "feed my sheep," he didn't really tell him how.

We are called or drawn or pushed or pulled in to some form or another of a "relationship" or connection with God. Some of us are completely certain our way of connecting to God is completely right, and some of us are not at all sure what it might mean to be "in relationship" with God (if it is possible at all); and the rest of us fill the space in between these two extremes. It seems like the challenge might be discovering how it is we each relate to God and then walking along with others to help them discover their own way.

+How often do we expect everyone to be in relationship with God in "our" (and, thus, the 'correct') way?

+How far does this go? Is the shape and path and depth and geography of everyone's vertical relationship individualized and personal?....from the initial connection to the deepest understanding? If this is true (and it may not be), what impact does this have on worship and education and evangelism?

+What does all of this mean when we think about 100 folks attempting to move toward 100 images of Christian community and Christian growth along 100 different paths?

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love,
Where there is injury, pardon
Where there is doubt, faith,
Where there is despair, hope,
Where there is darkness, light,
Where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much
seek to be consoled as to console,
not so much to be understood as to understand,
not so much to be loved, as to love;
for it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
it is in dying that we awake to eternal life.

- St. Francis of Assisi