Sunday, April 26, 2015
Acts 16:11-15 and verse 40
So here’s the story before the story.
In the weeks just after Christmas, until Easter we were camping out in the book of Luke to learn who this Jesus was who was born and lived and died and came back to life again. For the past few weeks we have been meandering through the book of Acts and we are getting a picture of the very early Christian Church, a few years after Jesus died. Today we’re going to be skipping over several chapters and several years, and we’re going to be going with Paul and his companions as they meet a woman named Lydia in the city of Philippi in what’s now Greece.
Paul and Silas had started out in Jerusalem, and they traveled by ship up the coast to Antioch and then overland to several places in what’s now Turkey. They walked, or if they were very lucky, they rode horses for about a thousand miles all over Turkey. A young man named Timothy joined them Lystra.
In our story for today, Paul is going to be coming by ship from Troas (which we talked about last week) to Philippi in Greece. A doctor named Luke joined them in Troas, and the words that we are about to read are probably from Luke’s diary of the trip and their experiences together. Now you remember that Luke is the same person who wrote the Gospel of Luke that we have been reading for several weeks and he also wrote the book of Acts which is the sequel to the book of Luke. Paul and the other three with him are leaving what we would call the Middle East, or Asia, and coming into Europe for the first time. The gospel is spreading into a whole new continent!
You know by now that when I read the scripture I always have to know what things looked like. I have to be able to see it all in my mind.
So here’s what it looked like in Philippi. We’re pretty sure that Paul and Silas and Timothy and Luke were in Philippi in about 51 A.D. - or about twenty years after Jesus had died. It was probably summer time because they couldn’t have made the trip on the seas in the winter. They arrived early in the week, and by Saturday they had scoped out the city fairly well. The city of Philippi was a hodgepodge of people from other places, and all of them had brought their own worship practices with them. They worshipped various Greek and Roman and Egyptian gods and goddesses: Athena, and Mars and Jupiter and Isis, among others.
Now it was the normal pattern for Paul and Silas when they came to a new place, to find the synagogue where the other Jews in that city were worshiping and meet with them there for worship. But in this case, they had discovered that there was not a synagogue in the city, but they had heard that there were a group of people who worshipped God outside the city, on the banks of the Gangetes River. The four went there, and found a group of women worshipping God there – no men, apparently, with Lydia as their leader. She was from the city of Thyatira, back in Turkey, and she was a successful business woman. She dyed and sold exquisite, very expensive purple cloth and she was very wealthy indeed. Somehow - I can’t begin to guess how - Lydia had heard about the Jewish God, and she and the women with her worshipped our God – in a city where all kinds of people were worshipping all kinds of gods. But they had not yet heard about Jesus. They hadn’t heard about his life and his death and his resurrection – living there as they did all the way in Greece. So Paul sat with them as he had a way of doing, and told them about Jesus, his life and his deeds and his death and his resurrection, and Lydia believed it all, and she was baptized and so was everybody in her household. Now we’re not told who was in her household, but she may have had a husband, who is not mentioned, and children. And it is very likely that some of Lydia’s employees in her business lived with her as well, because that was very common in those days. And certainly whatever household servants or slaves she had. And all of them were baptized.
And in her enthusiasm for her new-found faith and in gratitude to Paul and the others for introducing her to Jesus, she invited them all to stay at her home with her. Paul and Silas and Luke and Timothy. Four extra people. It surely must have been a large home.
And the next thing we know, a few days later (and I’m skipping over a lot here) Paul and Silas were in prison and being tortured in prison for helping a young girl escape from her slave masters. The next morning they were released from prison, (and I’m skipping a lot here, too.) But it was clearly too dangerous for Paul and his companions to stay in Philippi. So they said a quick goodbye to Lydia and her household, and they were on their way again – another twenty-five miles down the road to the next city. All told, I suppose, they were in Philippi about ten days or maybe a couple of weeks. But they had started something. They had started a wealthy woman named Lydia and all of her family and all of her employees and all of her slaves. And maybe Lydia’s women friends had also come to believe in Jesus. We aren’t told about that. Paul and Silas and Timothy and Luke had started a church there in Philippi.
And the next thing we hear about Philippi is that Paul is in prison, again, maybe in Rome, though we don’t know that for sure. It’s about ten years later, maybe in the year 61 or a little earlier, and Paul is writing a beautiful, affectionate letter to an entire church in Philippi. A lot has happened since Paul was in Philippi the first time. It’s no longer a few women worshipping God beside the river. Now there’s a thriving congregation of people who know and love Jesus. There are deacons and even Bishops. And over the years they have been sending generous gifts to Paul. So Paul writes them a letter, as he is sitting there in some prison. And among other things, he thanks them for the very generous financial gifts that church has sent to him over the years.
So think with me about this. What if there had not been a woman named Lydia in Philippi? What if she had not been worshipping at the river? What if she had not believed what Paul told her about Jesus, and what if she had not been baptized? Along with all those who lived with her. What if Lydia had not welcomed Paul and Silas and Luke and Timothy into her home? What if an entire church, with bishops no less, had not developed from Lydia’s small group beside the river? And specifically for all of us: What if the news of Jesus had never come to Europe? My ancestors are all from Europe and I would guess that most of yours are too. So what if the news of Jesus had never come to Europe?
And I am thinking of our first story for the day. What if a Hebrew slave woman named Jochebed had not devised a plan to save her son Moses from being discovered and killed? And what if Moses’ sister Miriam - that little slave girl - had been too shy to speak up to the Princess when the time came? And what if Moses had never grown up to be the companion of God? And freed God’s people from slavery in Egypt? And helped them cross through the Red Sea? And brought them the Ten Commandments and led them through the dessert back to the land that God had given them?
It was maybe a day or so in the life of Jochebed. She made a water proof basket and lined it with a warm, soft blanket. Maybe it was an hour or two in the life of Miriam. She stood in the cattails and watched her brother floating in that basket by the Nile River. And maybe it was ten days or so in the life of Lydia. She offered a bed and some meals to some visiting preachers. And yet these women changed the course of our faith. I think it’s not too strong to say that because of these women we know God, and have the a rich, blessed lives with God. And I am very grateful to know their names and celebrate their bravery and their hospitality today.
And this morning I am looking at a sanctuary full of faithful, courageous women and men. You go about offering hospitality, and making a place for others in your lives. You offer meals and support. And a safe haven against what the rest of the world may dump on them. You offer the equivalent of a warm, dry, safe basket and a watching eye in the cattails. In this church you encourage young children in faith and tell them about Jesus. You men and women whom I’m looking at this morning offer a place where faith can be born, and be nurtured.
I suppose you think it’s a small thing. You might think that a meal offered and a sympathetic ear and a card of encouragement sent are pretty insignificant, in the total scheme of things. You might think that a few moments with some children on a Sunday morning really couldn’t amount to much. Or some grandparent here might think that it’s not that all that important to bring a child to worship. Or some church member here might think that it can’t matter so very much to welcome a child to worship, and speak a few kind words to her.
And who can possibly know the final effect of what we say and do at work – or in our families or among our neighbors – things that seem perfectly simple to us, or quite routine, that have stunning consequences that we may never know about.
So here’s your assignment. (I haven’t given you an assignment recently.) This afternoon, or this evening, or in the coming week, thank God for the women and men in your life. Their small, almost insignificant actions have brought you faith. Or have enlarged your faith. And showed you God. And if you still can, find a way to thank those people whose simple, gentle actions, sometimes bold actions have enriched your life with God.
And here’s your second assignment: imagine to yourself how you can be a person like Lydia, or Jochebed or Miriam. How can you, simply, in your own home, or at your work, or in this community, how can you graciously, kindly, easily – bravely - open doors to faith for others? I don’t imagine that any of us will be talking with princesses this week. But how can your words and your actions change the course of a person’s life? Pray and ponder about for a few days, please.
Second Lesson: Acts 6:1-8
Sunday, April 19, 2013
So let me back track a bit, and remind you of story of Pentecost. The story happened fifty days after Easter and after Jesus had gone back into heaven. One hundred twenty of his followers were sitting in one room, grieving and trying to sort out the last three years of their lives with him. They were reading scripture together and praying together and remembering Jesus together. They were trying to adjust to the shock of his death, and trying to understand what his life had been about. They were remembering what he had said and done and trying to make sense of it all. Peter preached a very eloquent sermon that day. He talked about the events of Jesus’ life and especially about his shocking death and his amazing resurrection and ascension into heaven. He made the point very clearly that the Jewish religious leaders had handed Jesus over to be executed. But God had raised Jesus to life again, because God is stronger than death. AND Peter made the point that all of these shocking events were God’s plan in the first place, which they hadn’t really realized until they carefully read the Scriptures. And on that Pentecost Day, the church grew from 120 sad and grieving people to a church of 3000 energized, vibrant followers of Jesus. That’s what’s happened so far in the very brand new Christian Church.
And the next thing that we hear of Peter and his companion John is that they have healed a lame man who was sitting at the gate of the Temple in Jerusalem. That’s the story that I told the children last week. Everybody standing around the temple that day was surprised and shocked at that, so Peter stood up and gave another eloquent sermon. This one time fisherman is suddenly becoming quite a preacher. He insisted again that the Jewish religious leaders had killed Jesus and he went on to add that he and John had healed this lame man in Jesus’ name and in the power that he gave them.
Well, those were dangerous words indeed. Those religious leaders had thought they were done with Jesus. They thought he was dead and gone and buried and out of their hair, and they had refused to believe any nonsense about his ever being seen again. And here these disciples of this Jesus are claiming he came back to life again in the power of God, and they are stirring up trouble right there on the steps of the temple. And performing miracles and healing people just as Jesus had done.
So they took Peter and John into custody and had a trial. In front of the very same judge who had tried Jesus, by the way. I do not envy Pastor Peter. Having to defend himself in front of the same judge who had convicted Jesus. It could have gone very badly indeed for Peter and John. Just as it had for Jesus. Once again, Peter defended himself in a defense that was really more like a sermon. He said, “Now let me get this straight here. Are we being accused of helping a man who was helpless? Is that really the charge?” In the end, the religious leaders threatened them not to talk any more about Jesus and let them go. But Peter and John went back to the others, and prayed for courage to do more healings in Jesus’ name and speak out even more boldly. Which they did.
And it was starting to be the same story all over again, as it had been with Jesus. People were coming from all over the country. They brought sick and disabled people and those with mental illnesses and put them out into the streets on cots and mats so that Peter and the other apostles could heal them in the name of Jesus. Which made the Jewish religious leaders furious. They arrested Peter and the others and put them in prison - again. But they escaped from prison, and kept on preaching – right in the temple. I do not envy Pastor Peter. I am not at all sure I would be so brave.
And in the meantime, the number of believers in the church is growing by the thousands so that now there are 5,000 of them, and they are all sharing everything they had, as we read about last Sunday. They are eating together and sharing food together and praying together and reading scripture together and some of them are even selling whatever property they had, and handing the money over to Pastor Peter and John, to support the others.
Except that there was this incident with Ananias and his wife Sapphira that we read about just now. They also sold some property and gave money to Pastor Peter, but they lied to him about how much they were sharing. And for their lie, they both dropped down dead on the spot. I do not envy that Pastor Peter. Two of his parishioners falling down dead in front of him because they lied.
So that’s what’s been happening to Pastor Peter since we saw him last.
And now here come some members of the congregation and they are complaining bitterly. They happen to be people from all these countries all over the Mediterranean region that that you saw on the map - from Greece and Turkey and North Africa. They are Jews, and they are brand new converts to knowing Jesus and believing in Jesus, and they are complaining. They say that somehow as Pastor Peter and the others are distributing food throughout the congregation the widows in their group are not being given as much food as the widows who have always lived in Jerusalem. There’s some racial tension going on here, and there are some financial management issues, and some bickering and a whole group of people in the church are not happy. I do not envy Pastor Peter. He’s dealing with a lot of conflict among the people he loves.
He must have been exhausted. He’s been healing people and preaching sermons and baptizing thousands of people. He’s been arrested for speaking out about Jesus and he’s been on trial and in prison. He’s watched people he loves drop dead in front of him. And now he’s asked to manage the finances and wait on tables and settle petty arguments among people who can’t get along.
So Peter and the other apostles searched for help. They realized that their primary job should be praying and preaching and teaching and baptizing and that others were well qualified to do some of the other work of the church. They chose seven men of good standing, wise men, full of the Holy Spirit, to serve beside them in the church. They placed their hands on them, and prayed over them and commissioned them to serve the church.
Later on this morning, in a few moments we’ll be electing Laura Weld to serve as a deacon in this church. She will serve beside all the other deacons and all the other elders as a leader in this congregation. It is the work of the Nominating Committee to pray and ponder and sit in front of God and discern elders and deacons for the church. These elders and deacons are to be wise, well thought of people with rich spiritual lives. They are to be trusted and trustworthy. And willing to be led by the Holy Spirit. At various times you have laid your hands on each of them and ordained them and prayed for each of them. They serve God with energy, intelligence, imagination and love. They are responsible for overseeing the church’s finances and making financial decisions. They oversee the Christian Education program, and coordinate the Mission programs of the church, and encourage the congregation to give generously and they plan worship along with the pastor, and hire new staff and take care of the buildings and grounds of the church. They care for those who are ill or in need of some kind of special care. They pray and ponder in front of God and they are being led by the Holy Spirit as they lead the congregation.
In the Presbyterian Church we follow the early church closely. We understand that the primary role of pastors is to preach and teach and lead the congregation in worship and in the sacraments. The current elders in this church are Cindy Delmont, Bonnie Tovey, Jev Venman, Mike Nelson, Hal Ringler, Mike Frampton, Sally Luidens and Sue Rabick. We understand that the primary role of the elders is to make wise decisions about the programs of the church and to lead the church as God leads them. The current Deacons in this church are: Kathleen Bell, Wendy Bennett, Lee Ann Frampton, Bob Delmont, Pat Dettmer, Stella Brown and Karen Ringler.
We understand that the role of the deacons is to serve the people of God. With kindness and compassion and care in times of illness or special need. The deacons in this church do a fine job of that, and today we are adding Laura to the list of gentle, humble servants of God who serve this church.
And your job, as members of the church is to encourage them in their work which is sometimes very difficult, and to support them in their decisions, and to pray for them often. And for your pastor and your next pastor. And in all of it, the Holy Spirit hovers over us in love and power. And we move into the future that God has for you.
Second Lesson: Luke 24:13-35
Easter Sunday, April 5, 2015
Here’s the story before the story. Some very good scholars have looked carefully at all the Biblical evidence about this story and done a whole lot of research, trying to figure out who Cleopas was, and who his companion on the road was. And we can’t be positive of any of this. But it turns out that the most likely scenario is that Cleopas’s wife was his companion on the road to Emmaus, and that her name was Mary. And that on the day Jesus died Mary stood watch at Jesus’ cross with his mother and his aunt and other women. We understand that both Cleopas and Mary were both faithful followers of Jesus. So now here is their story.
Two members of the congregation, as Mary and Cleopas come down the middle aisle and stand in the front of the sanctuary.
My name is Mary. This is my husband Cleopas and we are part of a large circle of people who have known a man named Jesus. We have just had a remarkable experience that I want to tell you about.
We live in Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and we had been in the Jerusalem for Passover. You probably know that all good, able bodied Jews do their very best to be in Jerusalem for Passover, and that has always been our custom as well. Jews come from all over the country, walking, mostly, to the city. Thousands and thousands of extra pilgrims come into the city to remember that night in Egypt when our ancestors escaped from slavery. They come for days ahead of time, and all the possible hotels and rooms in the city are filled with guests and the streets are clogged with people. Vendors in the streets sell all kinds of food that people need for Passover but they couldn’t have brought with them on their trip. Live sheep are bawling in the markets and people are selling wine and the spices in little booths all over the city. You can imagine the commotion. We came to Jerusalem, too, my husband and I. We rented a room where we could celebrate Passover and we did that, with a group of our family and friends. Jesus was there, in Jerusalem, too, with his twelve disciples. Several of us had warned him about coming, and told him it was dangerous to come to Jerusalem at Passover time. We knew that the tension between him and our religious leaders and between him and the Romans was coming to a dangerous point, but he was determined. As it turned out, we were right – and three days ago, on Friday of this past week, our religious leaders handed him over to the Romans. They accused him of being the King of the Jews and trying to overthrow the Roman government and they executed him – crucified him.
I was one of the women who stood beside his cross and watched and waited all that day as he died. The men had all left and gone into hiding because it was too dangerous for them to be seen anywhere near Jesus, but there were several of us women who stayed. I stood there with his mother Mary and his aunt, and Mary Magdalene and another Mary and Salome. We stood right in his line of vision, right where he could see us for the hours that it took him to die. I was there as he struggled to breathe and struggled to speak in those last hours and I heard his last loving words to his mother before he died. It was the last loving thing we could do for him, and it was all I could do for his dear mother.
You might be aware that people who were accused of plotting against the government were not allowed to be buried. Their bodies were left on display as a warning for others. Awful things happened to those bodies when the animals came out at night.
But our friend Nicodemus and some of our other friends got special permission to bury Jesus and they took him down off his cross after his death. We gave him a royal death. We wrapped his body in linen cloths and surrounded him with expensive, sweet smelling spices and buried him in the grave of another friend named Joseph.
Early on Sunday morning Mary and Mary Magdalene and Salome went to his grave with more spices. They found that he was not there and they reported that they had seen a vision of angels, and that the angels had told them that he was alive. Of course that was hard to believe, if not impossible. So others of our friends went to check for themselves, and they found that what the women had said was true.
On Sunday afternoon Cleopas and I went back home to Emmaus. All the others who had also come to Jerusalem for Passover where also leaving, some going north, others going south and others going east and west of the city. The road was clogged with people, walking together and talking about the amazing events of the past days – mostly about the death of Jesus, whom we had all loved. And as we were talking about all these things among ourselves on the road back home to Emmaus, a man joined us on the way – a man we did not recognize. He seemed not to have heard any of these events of the last week and asked a great many questions about it all. So we told him everything – all that had happened from one Sunday to the next and how we were grieving. And then another amazing thing happened, in a week of astonishing events. This man whom we had never seen before started telling us all about Jesus, and about how he had to die, and quoting scripture to us all about our Messiah. We soaked in every word he had to say, amazed at it all. As we came into the outskirts of Emmaus I invited this man into our home for a simple supper and to finish the conversation, and he came. He bowed his head over the food, and took a loaf of bread, and broke it into pieces and blessed it. And in that moment, we recognized him. We had seen those hands break bread before. We had seen that head bowed over food before and we had heard that voice bless it. And we knew that it was Jesus, come back to life again, in our very home, sitting at our very table, speaking to us and explaining to us the incredible events of the week we had witnessed. And as we lifted our heads from prayer and opened our eyes, he was gone.
We got right up from the table, Cleopas and I, and we raced back to Jerusalem seven miles in the pitch dark and told the others what we had seen and heard and how Jesus had spoken to us on the road. And while we were still trying to catch our breath and as we were trying to convince the others of our incredible story, there was Jesus in the room with us, suddenly. He talked with us and ate in front of us, and showed us the holes in his hands and feet where the nails had been and he walked around in front of us. And as incredible as it was, we knew that he was Jesus, come back to life again.
The two members leave the sanctuary.
That is the eyewitness report of a woman named Mary and her husband Cleopas.
But you and I are living in Michigan, in 2015 and we do not see Jesus. We have not walked and talked with him up and down the countryside and not been eyewitnesses to his resurrection. We have not eaten a meal with him. We do not hear God speaking in our ears, in English. In complete sentences. And yet. I say this humbly but I do say it. And yet, we know God. We experience the risen Jesus.
It is my habit to sit at 5 o’clock in the morning in my dining room, in my lovely condo in Grand Rapids – long before it’s light at this time of the year. I sit in the silence and darkness and I wait for God. I breathe in and out in front of God. I clear my mind of all my lists of things to do and all the traffic running through it and I gently flick away stray ideas that come to me. I sit there quietly in that mode until I feel God with me in the utter silence. I read scripture. I let the beauty of it soak into my soul. I pray the day ahead. And I revel in the presence of God with me. As sure as if I could see God with my very eyes.
As long as I live, I will probably not be able to describe the power of Holy Communion. But I know with all my heart that Jesus comes to us in a little hunk of bread broken and given and eaten. And a little sip of juice shared with others who love him. We can read scripture over and over and we do. We can talk for hours on end, and we do, about just what it means that Jesus died for us, and how was it possible that he rose from death again. We do all that. We talk and talk about that.
But when I taste that little piece of broken off bread, and when I sip that ordinary juice, I know in my heart that God loves me unimaginably. I feel in my bones the grace and goodness of Jesus whom I serve with every breath in my body. And I feel the deep companionship of the Holy Spirit who walks through every second of my life with me.
It’s not that I see with my eyes and am convinced. It’s not that I read something and understand with my head. It’s that I know, deep in some very sacred place in me – I know the love of God for me in Jesus Christ.
Sunday, April 12, 2015
The last time we saw John he was standing at the foot of Jesus’ cross on the day he died. All the other men had gone into hiding because it would have been very dangerous for them to be seen anywhere near Jesus. But John stood there. Faithfully, with Jesus’ mother and his aunt and Mary the wife of Cleopas whom we met last Sunday. One of the last things that Jesus did as he hung there dying was to give his mother into John’s care. That was the last we saw of John.
The last time we saw Peter he was sitting in a room with his friends on Easter Sunday evening, trying to get his mind around the fact that Jesus had died. And trying to understand that this ghost like person he saw in front of him with nail holes in his hands and feet was truly Jesus – come back to life again. That was the last we saw of Peter.
But a great deal has happened to Peter and John since we saw them last. They had seen Jesus a few times after his resurrection and had some important conversations with him. They had been with Jesus one day when he said his goodbyes to them and they watched him disappear into the sky. He simply rose up into the sky from where he was standing with them. They craned their necks and they watched his feet grow smaller and smaller until a cloud came between them and he was gone. Peter and John were there on Pentecost Day with a hundred and twenty of Jesus’ closest friends when the Holy Spirit was given to them. When they looked around and saw little flames of fire on everybody’s head and heard each other speaking in languages none of them had ever known before, and when Peter preached a very eloquent sermon. They watched in amazement as their little group grew from one hundred twenty people who had followed Jesus and loved him – to three thousand people who believed in him. And now these three thousand people are worshipping together and remembering Jesus together all over the city of Jerusalem and Peter and John are performing miracles all over wherever they go.
Like the story that I told the children just a moment ago.
You probably already know this: People in the days of the early church thought that Jesus would came back again very soon – maybe in a matter of months, or couple of years, and certainly in their lifetimes. And they had good reason to think that. Luke tells us of Jesus’ promise that he would come back again before the present generation had died out. So they made the decision to do the most important things in the time they had together – reading the scripture together, praying together, eating together, worshipping together and remembering Jesus together. And caring for each other financially. If Jesus was coming back soon, there was no reason to save their money, and some of them, at least, thought there was no reason to work at their jobs when they had such a beautiful community of people to spend their days with. Nobody thought of their own possessions as their own. If somebody had something that somebody else needed, they shared it. They shared food. They shared their homes. I suppose they shared sandals and clothing and household items and kitchen utensils. And if Jesus was coming back again soon, there was no need to have a large savings account or a lot of property or a fancy home, and some of them who had those things sold them, and gave the money to Pastor Peter and the others for the use of anybody who might need it. There was not a needy person among them. The scripture we have just read says they were all of one heart and soul together. The pastors were preaching eloquently about the resurrection of Jesus and healing people as Jesus had done and great grace was upon them all. It’s a beautiful picture of their life together. In that early church.
So let me tell you how that looked. Pretty much every evening, they got together in each other’s homes to remember Jesus and celebrate his resurrection and look forward to his coming again. They ate a meal together. A potluck meal. They shared what they had. Those who could, brought more, those who couldn’t brought less. Or nothing. But nobody went hungry.
Then, when everybody had eaten what they needed, they cleared away the leftovers and brought out bread – more like crackers - and wine. They sat around the tables and ate and drank, reliving the last supper that some of them had eaten with Jesus before he died. As he had asked them to. When they had eaten the bread and drunk the wine, they offered prayer. “As this piece of bread was scattered over the hills and then was brought together and made one, so let your church be brought together from the ends of the earth into your kingdom. For Thine is the glory and the power through Jesus Christ forever.” And then: “Almighty Master, you have created everything for the sake of your name and have given us food and drink to enjoy that we may thank you. And to us you have given spiritual food and drink and eternal life through Jesus, your child.” The words that we prayed just a moment ago.
Then, again, over time, they added other parts to that evening meal – they would sing a Psalm, as we did this morning, and somebody would explain the scripture, and probably some would speak in tongues.
Now these were probably not people who had known each other for a long time. They didn’t have strong bonds of friendship over many years. Some of them had followed Jesus all over the country for three years but most of them had never known him personally and hadn’t known Peter and John. Some were rich, others were poor, and aside from Jesus, they had very little in common. But it’s no wonder they were all of one mind. It’s no wonder that they shared what they had. It’s no wonder they spent all that time together. It’s no wonder they were taking such very good care of each other. It’s no wonder that grace covered them all. It’s no wonder that they were of one heart and soul together. Because they were also praying together every evening. And reading scripture together – these people who were very different from each other and who hadn’t known each other very long. They were celebrating Jesus’ death together. And in scripture reading and prayer and time together they came to be of one mind.
So. I am thinking about North Kent Presbyterian Church. And I am thinking that North Kent Church is very much like the early church. On Maundy Thursday and on Easter Sunday we ate bread and drank juice in remembrance of Jesus, just as his he has asked to, and just as his followers have done for over two thousand years, in one continual, never–interrupted world-wide celebration.
I am thinking of the meals we have eaten together. I look at the bags of groceries which show up every week – sharing what food we have with those who don’t.
AND I am looking at a group of people who are, remarkably, almost, these days, of one mind and one heart.
Now there have been differences. I would not say that everybody in church agrees about everything. There are some hurts here and some very painful memories.
I have noticed again and again that you are gracious with each other. You bear with each other, and accommodate each other and work together in companionship with each other. There’s a great deal of grace in this church. But not everybody feels that grace. Not everybody feels a part of the warm spirit.
And under all that compassion and accommodation and genuine friendship and all that grace there are hurts here, too. There are years and years of deep hurts and deep divisions here and they don’t disappear easily. There are some who are wounded and some who avoid others and some who prefer to remain on the fringes and some who carry strong memories of very old hurts. There are some who feel like outsiders even though they’ve been here a very long time.
So may I speak to you very clearly now?
If you have been forgetting your Bible reading lately, now’s the time to get back at it, and let the beauty of the scripture soak into your soul. And share it with others. Now is the time to pray for the church you love – fervently and often. Maybe in a group with others. If you do not know the deep pleasure and contentment of sitting in silence with God, now is the time to learn that. Now is the time to pray for the people whom you are odds with – often – and with all your heart. Now is the time to practice forgiveness, as hard as that is.
So that this church can move into the future following Jesus Christ and at one with each other.