Worried Scared

This whole idea of our need to defend the faith or more precisely defending our preferred doctrinal orthodoxy strikes me as a lack of trust in God….

Last Sunday, on Facebook, a Boston Terrier informed me that for dogs all the noise associated with fourth of July fireworks is particularly scary. As the video went on the pup made suggestions for keeping one’s pooches safe and secure. The ASPCA sent out a reminder that more dogs are lost on the Fourth of July than at any other time.

Some of you are acquainted with our Australian Shepherd, Kuma. He is a very affectionate dog but skittish isn’t a big enough word to cover the extent of his anxiety. We put his harness on him and wrapped him in an Ace bandage to provide a bit of security. He was beside himself with the illegal actions of a few scufflaw neighbors despite our trying to comfort him. The hard part for me was to have to tell him that what was ahead would be much much worse. Excessive worry can actually make matters worse.

Two people who Facebook tells me are ‘friends’ of mine recently posted lists of all the horrible things things that they feel are guaranteed to happen should the Presidential candidate which they fear the most gets elected. Pollsters tell me that the negative emotions for the presumptive candidates of both large parties are higher than 50 percent. The Washington Times recently reported that experts are predicting the 2016 presidential race won’t be a contest of which candidate Americans vote for in November but which candidate they vote against — the fear of an unwanted occupant in the White House will drive record numbers to the polls, as voters respond to the ingrained impulse for self-preservation. Jon A. Krosnick, a professor of political science, communication and psychology at Stanford University is quoted as saying: “In general, we as humans are more motivated by threats than we are by opportunities.”

My own analysis is that the battle for the White House simply highlights the anxiety level throughout our society. This element of belligerence and the willingness to go to the mat was evident in an email a member of the Yearly Meeting Elders recently posted to yearly Meeting pastors. It was a devotional article based on 1st Timothy 6:12 “Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, to which you were also called and have confessed the good confession in the presence of many witnesses”. The article read: “No idea is more politically incorrect among today’s new-style evangelicals than the old fundamentalist notion that the truth is worth fighting for including the essential proposition of Christian doctrine. … where God’s Word speaks clearly, we have a duty to obey, defend, and proclaim the truth He has given us, and we should do that with an authority that reflects our conviction that God has spoken with clarity and finality. This is particularly crucial in contexts where cardinal doctrines of biblical Christianity are under attack.”

There were several replies to the email most of which supported the idea of ‘defending’ the faith. One built a long treatise on how Nehemiah encouraged the people of his day. “So what do I see as a lesson on how we should respond? Again from Nehemiah, “Do not be afraid of them; remember the Lord who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives and your houses.” Neh. 4:14b And further, “Those who were rebuilding the wall and those who carried burdens took their load with one hand doing the work and the other holding a weapon.” Neh. 4:17

One faithful friend brought an end to the discussion with his comment “In my experience,  as people defend what they’re sure is the truth, what goes missing early on is love and, with it, humility. That often does great damage to the community of faith.”

This whole idea of our need to defend the faith or more precisely defending our preferred doctrinal orthodoxy strikes me as a lack of trust in God. In Acts 5 we read about how the orthodox Temple police were ordered to arrest the Apostles and bring them before the counsel. It was Gamaliel whose wisdom won out. After pointing out other similar evangelistic efforts he concluded that “… in the present case, I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone; because if this plan or this undertaking is of human origin, it will fail; 39but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them—in that case you may even be found fighting against God!”

It seems difficult for us to let God be God in any number of ways.

I read a blog that told of how this person’s friend told him that he had received a chilling email from the new manager of the medical facility where he balanced a practice between direct care and research. It went something like this: “Budgetary concerns. Productivity being reevaluated. We need to talk. I’ll set up meeting.” It was to be three weeks after the original email before the meeting was to be held. As you can imagine his friend was “catastrophizing” his situation. We’ve all gotten these sorts of messages and know they can be a real source of distraction. Each and every day between the email and the meeting he was assuming the worst, imagining all kinds of negative scenarios. Would the funding for his research lab be jeopardized? What would happen to the people who worked for him? Would he be expected to see more patients under increasingly difficult circumstances?

The day after the meeting was to be held his friend called to report on what had happened. The meeting was scheduled for 4:00 p.m. By 4:20 p.m., the manager had not appeared. Then at 4:30 p.m., his friend received a call from the delinquent manager who said that the meeting was canceled, explaining that the issue was not that important after all. There were no concerns with productivity or budget. His friend was relieved but also angry and dismayed that he had wasted so much emotional energy over a situation that was absolutely insignificant. Worrying obsessively about things you can’t change has a huge cost, it drains your energy and takes a toll on your emotional and physical health. The blogger thought that the lesson was clear: Try to live in the present moment. Be anchored in the present.

Jesus had quite a different answer. He ends the sixth chapter of Matthew this way:

25“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? 28And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, 29yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 30But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ 32For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34“So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.

Jesus doesn’t propose that we compartmentalize the various aspects of our lives to isolate those items that may be problematic. He doesn’t suggest that we simply live in the present moment or any other approaches to staving off anxiety. The central line of Jesus’ statement about worry is this: your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

How hard it is to hear Jesus say, “Do not worry about your life.” Don’t worry? You’ve got to be kidding. Open the paper. Watch the news. Commercials invite us to worry about our health or our body odor or whether our teeth are adequately white or those horrid wrinkles that tell our age. Houses display security signs. At some airports you’re are liable to see a 19 year old with an assault weapon slung over his shoulder. It’s not just me. I think we live in an incredibly anxious culture. How in the world, then, can Jesus possibly ask us — really, command us! — not to worry?

The text doesn’t start with the injunction about worry. No, it begins with an assertion that we cannot serve two masters, both God and money. If we try, Jesus says, we’ll end up loving one and hating the other. So what’s the connection? Well, notice that Jesus doesn’t say money is evil, just that it makes a poor master.

The alternative Jesus invites us to consider is entering into relationship with God, the God who is infinite and whose love for us and all creation is infinite as well. Love operates from a different “economy” than physical security. When you live in this kind of relationship of love and trust, you’ve entered into the realm of abundance, a world of possibility, a world of contentment. Suddenly, in this world — Jesus calls it the “kingdom of God” — not worrying actually becomes an option.

I know, I know, it’s hard to believe in this world of abundance that Jesus proclaims, this world that invites us to trust God’s faithfulness: like a flower does spring or to sail upon the currents of God’s love like a bird does the air. This is why, in the end, Jesus dies — not to somehow pay for our sins (there we go tracking and counting again), but because those in power were so invested in the world of insecurity that abundance was down right frightening, even threatening. Scarcity, after all, creates fear, and fear creates devotion to those who will protect you. Abundance, on the other hand, generates freedom.

This is the world Jesus invites us into: a world of abundance, generosity, and new life. But it is also a world of fragility, trust, and vulnerability. Lilies and birds, after all, can’t defend themselves but must trust God’s providence and love.

Again, I know this is hard. We are, after all, surrounded by countless images of scarcity and fear that seek to cause us to worry. But maybe this is exactly where we start. If we are surrounded by images of scarcity, worry, and fear, then perhaps our task this week and in the weeks to come is to capture thousands of pictures of their opposites: abundance, courage, and trust that help us to relax, breathe, count our blessings, and trust in God’s providence.


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A Template Prayer

The last phrase of the Lord’s prayer, as most of us repeat it, doesn’t exist– at least in the earliest manuscripts of Matthew.  It’s a doxology that has been added and similar to the way we traditionally use debts or trespasses we tend to include it. It reminds me that some insignificant scribe at a desk in a medevil library got carried away with his devotion to God when he added that line. It’s a shout out of God’s greatness.  Maybe we need to take a page from the copyist and proclaim for our selves For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen” 

9“Pray then in this way: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. 10Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. 11Give us this day our daily bread. 12And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. 13And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one. 14

16“And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 17But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

I launched this short series with the July Newsletter. It’s a discussion about the first 8 verses of this 6th Chapter of Matthew.  This next section that I’ve worked on for today is much better known. Our Catholic friends call it the Our Father, most Protestants refer to it as The Lord’s Prayer.  I see it as a template prayer provided by Jesus for his followers. After expressing a preference for praying privately and the value of brevity in the first verses of the chapter Jesus reminds his followers of a truly wonderful notion — that “your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” You might conclude from that that praying really isn’t necessary. But were that the case Jesus wouldn’t have shared this template for prayer. “Pray…this way:” is what he said.

Before we wade into the meat of the prayer there are a couple of things that could become distractions that we need to deal with first. There are words at the conclusion of the prayer which we don’t include when we recite the prayer as a group. For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; 15but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. It’s a note of clarification about the reason for forgiving others where they have violated our boundaries. It’s fair warning that forgiveness of others is a big thing. And then you might wonder what happened to the part of the prayer that we often recite that goes: “For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory, Amen.”  Well there’s an argument about whether those words are part of the original text or was added by a highly motivated and enthusiastic copyists. We’ll touch on it again.

Jesus begins by telling us that we should address our prayer: “Our Father”. Jesus includes us as siblings in his own family of origin. When you pray “Our Father” you might want to realize just how all inclusive is that phrase. Jesus includes  you and you, by saying “Our” not only include yourself but every other human soul who joins in such a prayer. A literal translation of the Greek text reads “You, Father of us…” I know I often begin a public prayer addressing God as “Loving God”. Seeing the words of Matthew 6 in this way might cause me to change my ways. And, by the way, the translation of the text is usually translated in a why that places God in a very remote other place, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.” That clearer comes from a flat earth perspective which since John Glenn even the most literal minded has had to admit no longer works. I prefer a simpler, more literal, translation that instead of some special place ‘up there’ sees heaven as all that the sky covers. So “Let your name be hallowed in all creation.”

Former Anglican Archbishop Rowan Williams says that when people grasp God’s name as holy, as something that inspires awe and reverence, they no longer trivialize it by making God a tool for their purposes, to “put other people down, or as a sort of magic to make themselves feel safe”. He says: “Understand what you’re talking about when you’re talking about God, this is serious, this is the most wonderful and frightening reality that we could imagine, more wonderful and frightening than we can imagine.”

Then we are to petition God that “Thy kingdom come.” This petition has its parallel in the Jewish prayer, ‘May he establish his Kingdom during your life and during your days.’ The request for God’s kingdom to come is commonly interpreted at the most literal level as a reference to the belief that a Messiah figure would bring about a kingdom of God. Jesus spoke frequently of God’s kingdom evidently assuming that this was a concept so familiar that it didn’t require definition. This petition looks to the perfect establishment of God’s rule in the world, an act of God resulting in the restoration of creation as God intended. When we pray such a petition the issue at hand isn’t simply waiting on the striking of midnight when all our carriages become pumkins and our horses become rats in an end of time scenario nor is it waiting on God to act.  It is an expression of our willingness to be used of God, asking God to act through us.

And the next line gets to it directly “Thy will be done, in earth as it is in heaven.” John Ortberg says of this phrase: “Many people think our job is to get my afterlife destination taken care of, then tread water till we all get ejected and God comes back and torches this place. But Jesus never told anybody—neither his disciples nor us—to pray, ‘Get me out of here so I can go up there.’ The request that “thy will be done on earth” is an invitation for us to join God the work of restoring creation.

God,  “Give us this day our daily bread.” As you might expect this isn’t as straight forward as it sounds. The Greek word ἐπι-ούσιος which has been commonly translated as ‘daily’ only occurs in Luke and Matthew’s versions of the Lord’s Prayer, and nowhere else in any other extant Greek texts in all of ancient Greek literature.  A literal interpretation of this unique word is ‘super-essential’. We are praying for what we can’t live without. It signifies what is necessary for life, and  every good thing sufficient for subsistence. We sing “break thou the Bread of Life, Lord unto me. In John 6:48 ff Jesus tells those gathered around him “I am the bread of life. 49Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. 51I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

And Jesus made certain that the connection back to the manna in the wilderness not be missed. Recall that in the Exodus story it was all about the children of Israel learning to trust God. They were instructed not to store manna, except before the Sabbath. That every day God would provide just enough for that day. It runs so counter to our way of wanting to store thing away for the proverbial rainy day. But to do so is to question God’s promise, God’s provision. So the daily bread is what we need to survive and it comes daily – when we ask.

John Wycliffe, in 1395, produced the first English translation of the Bible. He translated the Greek word oph-ei-letais as dettis. As a result those of the Reformed Tradition; Presbyterians, Congregationalist, tend to say “debts” when they say the Lord’s prayer.  William Tyndale in his 1526 translation chose the word treaspases. Roman Catholics, Episcopalians, Methodists and Quakers, for that matter, tend follow Tyndale and employ use the word “trespasses” when they repeat from memory the phrase which in print goes: And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. It’s interesting when people gather for a graveside service and the Lord’s Prayer is used. I guess it could be seen as a form of speaking in tongues. The text speaks of being owed and owers – which sounds more like debts. However trespasses has a much broader application. So on the heels of asking for what we need to survive Matthew’s version of Jesus’ prayer continues with a petition for debts to be forgiven in the same way as people have forgiven those who have debts against them. You recall that Luke’s version speaks of sins rather than debts. Asking for forgiveness from God was a staple of Jewish prayers. Whether debts or sins, the reference is to failures to use opportunities for doing good. You might remember that in the parable of the sheep and the goats the grounds for condemnation are not wrongdoing in the ordinary sense but failure to do right, missing opportunities for showing love to others. But again we can easily miss the main thrust of this petition. The verses immediately following the Lord’s Prayer show Jesus teaching his followers that the forgiveness of our sin/debt (by God) is contingent on how we forgive others.

In James chapter 1 we read “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God’, for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.” So, what’s going on here when we are told to pray: “And lead us not into temptation.” One plausible way to see this petition is noting that it follows the request for daily bread. The Temptation is to get caught up in the pursuit of things material.

But deliver us from evil” There is a lot of controversy over what this means. Some speak of evil in general or referring to the evil one, a personal devil. In no known Aramaic source is the devil referred to as “The evil one.” A literal view of the Greek text suggests a phrase closer to “rescue us from the wicked.” Instead of generalizing or personalizing evil, simply acknowledging that wickedness exists makes a great deal of sense. The recent suicide bombings at Ataturk Airport and the mass murder in Orlando or Afganistan are stark reminders that it is from the actions of the wicked that we pray for rescue.

There is a well known Quaker story of a young man who picks up a rock and throws it at a bird and actually kills the bird. He discovers that it was a mother bird with a nest of baby birds. He wrestles with what to do and ultimately kills the hatchlings, sparing them from starving to death. Later he quotes Proverbs 12:10 making the pronouncement that the tender mercies of the wicked are cruel. It brings the words of the template prayer into rather clear relief.

The last phrase of the Lord’s prayer, as most of us repeat it, doesn’t exist– at least in the earliest manuscripts of Matthew.  It’s a doxology that has been added and similar to the way we traditionally use debts or trespasses we tend to include it. It reminds me that some insignificant scribe at a desk in a medevil library got carried away with his devotion to God when he added that line. It’s a shout out of God’s greatness.  Maybe we need to take a page from the copyist and proclaim for our selves For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen”




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Looking Once Again at Job

It was a great question Satan asked “Does Job fear God for nothing?” It’s a good question for all of us. We who are blessed, like Job. Is our love for God founded on our belief that God is a loving and compassionate God?

I needed to take another look at the Book of Job…

Job isn’t intended to be history. Like the Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and the Song of Solomon that follow it in the Bible, it is devotional in nature. Some say it is the oldest of the stories in the Bible and it predates Judaism. When you go all the way out Indian Trails and visit the petroglyphs you’re told that they pre-date any indigenous peoples now known. Job is like that. It has this wonderful “once upon a time” quality, with the setting being in the land of Uz. There is no place called Uz. And Job has it all. Listen to this: There was once a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job. That man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil. 2There were born to him seven sons and three daughters. 3He had seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen, five hundred donkeys, and very many servants; so that this man was the greatest of all the people of the east.

The book has been interpreted a variety of ways. Most scholarship has focused on two aspects of God’s speech from the whirlwind near the end of the book. It’s there when God tells Job to Brace yourself and stand up and take it as a man. That blows me away. Is that the voice of God? I’m trying to make sense out of Job’s experience.

Job 1: 1There was once a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job. That man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil. 2There were born to him seven sons and three daughters. 3He had seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen, five hundred donkeys, and very many servants; so that this man was the greatest of all the people of the east.

4His sons used to go and hold feasts in one another’s houses in turn; and they would send and invite their three sisters to eat and drink with them. 5And when the feast days had run their course, Job would send and sanctify them, and he would rise early in the morning and offer burnt offerings according to the number of them all; for Job said, “It may be that my children have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts.” This is what Job always did.

6One day the heavenly beings came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them. (I want to make sure you understand that Satan, in this story isn’t like what we’ve been led to think about Satan. He was a loyal, trusted, prosecutor or auditor like the Government Accounting Office, or Inspectors General. We get to eves drop on this conversation. It is not out of malice that Satan does what he does.)

7The Lord said to Satan, “Where have you come from?” Satan answered the Lord, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.” 8The Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man who fears God and turns away from evil.” So, God isn’t above doing a bit of bragging on his creatures. And in response, the Inspector General proceeds with his challenge.

9Then Satan answered the Lord, “Does Job fear God for nothing? 10Have you not put a fence around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. 11But stretch out your hand now, and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.” 12The Lord said to Satan, “Very well, all that he has is in your power; only do not stretch out your hand against him!” So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord.

So the scene is set. Satan has been given license to test the quality of Job’s trust in God. It’s a great question Satan asks “Does Job fear God for nothing?” It’s a good question for us. We who are blessed, like Job. Is our love for God contingent on the fence privilege has place around us? Is our love for God founded on our belief that God is a loving and compassionate God? This God isn’t the God of the Psalms or Exodus. Though the Satan can’t touch Job in his body this is what he does.

13One day when his sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in the eldest brother’s house, 14a messenger came to Job and said, “The oxen were plowing and the donkeys were feeding beside them, 15and the Sabeans fell on them and carried them off, and killed the servants with the edge of the sword; I alone have escaped to tell you.” 16While he was still speaking, another came and said, “The fire of God fell from heaven and burned up the sheep and the servants, and consumed them; I alone have escaped to tell you.” 17While he was still speaking, another came and said, “The Chaldeans formed three columns, made a raid on the camels and carried them off, and killed the servants with the edge of the sword; I alone have escaped to tell you.” 18While he was still speaking, another came and said, “Your sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in their eldest brother’s house, 19and suddenly a great wind came across the desert, struck the four corners of the house, and it fell on the young people, and they are dead; I alone have escaped to tell you.”

In turn four witnesses who escaped capture and death tell Job, the greatest of all the people of the east, that everything, everything that gave him power and prestige and progeny, that guaranteed the future of his lineage had been taken from him. Waring neighbors took their toll but so did the natural forces of wind and lightning. One fell swoop and all was gone. And this may be the most unbelievable part of the whole story:

20Then Job arose, tore his robe, shaved his head, and fell on the ground and worshiped. 21He said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there; the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” 22In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong-doing.

Of course we recall the rest of the forty chapters. In the second chapter we read that again the heavenly beings were in council before the Lord, the Satan among them. The Lord said to Satan, “Where have you come from?” Satan answered the Lord, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.” 3The Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man who fears God and turns away from evil. He still persists in his integrity, although you incited me against him, to destroy him for no reason.” 4Then Satan answered the Lord, “Skin for skin! All that people have they will give to save their lives. 5But stretch out your hand now and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse you to your face.” 6The Lord said to Satan, “Very well, he is in your power; only spare his life.”

7So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord, and inflicted loathsome sores on Job from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head. 8Job took a potsherd with which to scrape himself, and sat among the ashes. 9Then his wife said to him, “Do you still persist in your integrity? Curse God, and die.” 10But he said to her, “You speak as any foolish woman would speak. Shall we receive the good at the hand of God, and not receive the bad?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips.

We recall how Job’s friends try to explain to him what happened, that somehow Job must have sinned – because such suffering and lose could only be understood as punishment. Against all that Job maintained that he was innocent and held tight to his integrity. But the story insists that the universe is deliberately at variance with the view held by Job and his friends. In the friends’ insistence that Job’s suffering meant he had sinned, and in Job’s demanding a specific reason why he, in his innocence, should suffer, both sides presume the existence of a system of reward and punishment in the cosmos. A righteous person cannot know why he or she suffers and the wicked prosper, because our wisdom is not God’s. And the bottom line is that we human beings can’t wrap our small minds around what God is about.

What the story points to is that there is no such law of retribution and that nature is neutral to man’s moral action. The sun rises on the righteous and sinner alike (28:13, 15). Rain falls on the desert, whereas it could have been directed only to the cultivated land where it is needed by men (38:26 27). Wild animals do not observe the tenets of human morality (38:15 16). Material prosperity and misfortune do not constitute divine recompense or chastisement. It is the concept of a cosmic order that does not operate according to a built in principle of moral retribution which makes possible the selfless piety that is the first issue posed by the book of Job.

Nature is amoral. It doesn’t operate reasonably. Wildfires, hurricanes, tornadoes are simply nature being itself. Alligators or gorillas dragging toddlers into harms way aren’t moral matters. However, it would be a grave error to interpret the book of Job’s denial of divine retribution as constituting a legitimate excuse for us to abandon our obligation to seek to establish justice on earth. Even though justice is not woven into the stuff of the universe nor is God occupied with its administration, it is an ideal to be realized by society. The principle of automatic reward and punishment is, in its self, a form of coercion, and leaves no special realm in which humanity can exercise our moral freedom by doing the good from purely disinterested motives. The author of Job may be denying one fundamental assumption of the narrative and prophetic books of the Bible, but his denial is consistent with another, even more fundamental assumption: that it is up to humankind to carry out God’s commandments and that this primary task must be done in society and actualized in the course of history.

It was a great question Satan asked “Does Job fear God for nothing?” It’s a good question for all of us. We who are blessed, like Job. Is our love for God founded on our belief that God is a loving and compassionate God? This God isn’t the God of the Psalms or Exodus. Is our love for God contingent on the fence privilege has place around us? Most agree that the ultimate theme of the book of Job is the nature of a righteous man’s faith in God. It turns on the question of the nature of religion: Can we serve God for naught?…When Job says, ‘Though he slay me, yet will I trust in Him’ in the thirteenth chapter the second half of the verse may also be translated, “yet will I argue with him.” The book reaffirms Job’s trust in God -and God’s trust in Job. In teaching that piety must be unselfish and that the righteous sufferer is assured not of tangible reward but of fellowship with God, biblical thought about justice, retribution, and providence reaches a climax -and a limit.

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“Enough! “It’s time to forgive and console…”

“Now,” Paul says, “it’s time to forgive and console” this person who had made life so ‘painful’ for Paul so that he won’t be overwhelmed by guilt, shame, sorrow. “Reaffirm your love for him” Paul tells the Corinthians.


Because the first word of the second chapter of II Corinthians is “So” we have to start with the last words of the first chapter. Paul writes: “I do not mean to imply that we lord it over your faith; rather, we are workers with you for your joy, because you stand firm in the faith. Paul gets to “So” by telling the church in Corinth that he and they are co-workers for their joy and that they stand firm in the faith.

“So” Paul writes “I made up my mind not to make you another painful visit. Another “painful visit”? That implies that there was a previous visit that turned out to be painful. What we will soon learn is that instead of a return engagement Paul wrote a ‘painful letter’. It was out of distress and anguish of heart and with tears that it was written. That suggests that what had made the previous visit painful was no little consequence. It’s generally accepted that he had left Ephesus for Thessaloniki or Philippi as many as three years after his visit to Corinth. Paul had travelled from Corinth into Asia, carrying the Gospel and carried the offense done to him in his heart, almost like a treasure. And it was only after some time on the road he writes a letter, a severe letter, unloading on these people in Corinth. Talking about holding a grudge.

II Corinthians gets overlooked because it doesn’t fit our idea of a contiguous correspondence. There is an undeniable incongruity between the first part which is conciliatory and gratifying and which makes direct reference to a painful, regretted letter and the last, beginning with the 10th chapter, were we are reading about personal misunderstandings and bitterness. The possibility suggests itself that what we actually have in chapters 10-13 is Paul’s painful letter.

Another interesting thing about II Corinthians is that more than any other writing of the Apostle Paul, this letter reveals his human weaknesses, his holding onto wounded feelings, his sternness, irony, rebuke, impassioned self-vindication, but also his spiritual strength, the deepest tenderness of affection, humility, a justified self-respect, zeal for the welfare of the weak and suffering, as well as for the progress of the Christ’s church and for the spiritual advancement of its members.

Here he comes off a bit self serving when he says he wrote the letter in the sincere hope that what had happened before wouldn’t be repeated when he made a subsequent visit. “I wrote it as I did, so that when I came, I might not suffer pain from those who should have made me rejoice.” It is something of an apology for if I cause you pain, who is there to make me glad but the one whom I have pained? That’s a story in itself. In a way it’s freeing to know that Paul popped off, said a little more than he intended and hurt some people that he really didn’t want to hurt at all. It was a Mills Brother’s number one hit that comes to mind.

You always hurt the one you love
The one you shouldn’t hurt at all
You always take the sweetest rose
And crush it till the petals fall

You always break the kindest heart
With a hasty word you can’t recall
So, if I broke your heart last night
It’s because I love you most of all


It finally occurs to Paul that his painful letter was a little too rough on the Meeting in Corinth. In retrospect he tells the Corinthians that he wrote it, as he says: not to cause you pain, but to let you know the abundant love that I have for you. But one thing was clear, it had caused a great deal of pain. I imagine that the awareness of the damage done came from others who had visited Corinth and reported the situation to Paul. I can even imagine that at first he dismissed it. Was it an important enough to distract him from the important work of ministry? But finally it did sink in. And he writes this letter to them.

But if anyone has caused pain, he has caused it not to me, but to some extent—not to exaggerate it—to all of you. And everyone there knew who Paul was talking about. On learning that a member of the Meeting had badly offended Paul the community took measures against the person. The letter continues:

6This punishment by the majority is enough for such a person; 7so now instead you should forgive and console him, so that he may not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. 8So I urge you to reaffirm your love for him. 9I wrote for this reason: to test you and to know whether you are obedient in everything. 10Anyone whom you forgive, I also forgive. What I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, has been for your sake in the presence of Christ. 11And we do this so that we may not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs.

Paul says that the person who caused him ‘pain’ actually caused pain to the whole congregation and in response the congregation brought punishment on the perpetrator – and Paul says the punishment was enough. Now, Paul says, it’s time to forgive and console this person so that he won’t be overwhelmed by guilt, shame, sorrow. “Reaffirm your love for him” Paul says.

The word translated as “forgive” in 2 Cor 2:7 is charizomai (“to give freely”), which is the same word Paul will use when he calls on them to “give freely” to the collection for the poor in Jerusalem (in 2 Cor 8-9). The reason Paul so stresses the importance of forgiving — and the mutuality involved in his forgiving anyone they forgive — is that both he and the Corinthians all stand together before the “face” (prosopon) of Christ, the source of their life together. Indeed, he warns, we forgive so as not to be taken advantage of by Satan, whose intentions are to destroy any community we might have with one another through Christ.

This passage, as a whole, testifies to how damaging it can be to individuals and the Meeting should one person fails with regard to hospitality. But imagine how much greater that would be should that person believed in the very depth of their heart that Paul needed to be corrected. That can certainly be us, so certain of our understanding of right and wrong, of how things ought to be and keenly aware when things don’t go as we believe they should. I’m guessing that the lesson here has to do with a lack of humility and the need to judge another. Whatever, it certainly offended Paul. And Paul decided that despite telling the Corinthians he would made a return visit he changed his mind – going back would be too painful.

And it follows how damaging it can be if someone persists in holding a grudge and then gives voices to it which draws everyone’s attention to the failure of one among the many. It certainly weakened Paul’s message, sapped his energy and created a distraction. Paul awakened to the need to be reconciled to his brothers and sisters in Christ.

And then when the whole congregation brings sanctions upon the offender. Some groups practice shunning, is that what went on here? We aren’t sure. Other groups practice excommunication – denying the offender table grace. How do we do that? Drawing lines between those on the inside and everyone else is done any number of ways. The way it’s done isn’t important. What we know is that when Paul learned of it he says “enough!”. He says, as much to himself as to the Corinthians, that it’s necessary to forgive and console. The church just isn’t the church without forgiveness. After all, we Christians understand ourselves first of all as people who need to be—and have been—forgiven by God. But then what does forgiveness mean? Does it mean, for instance, that once an apology has been offered and accepted, everything goes back to how it was before? Is forgiveness a reset button? Do victims have a say in setting future boundaries? Are there conditions that need to be met in order for forgiveness to take place? If we insist that victims extend unconditional forgiveness, isn’t that grace for the offender, and law for the victim?

Far too often we act as if forgiveness has to be earned, that there has to be evidence of repentance. God in Christ forgave us without any evidence of repentance on our part, without our doing anything at all to earn his forgiveness; and I think he expects us to follow his example in relation to others.  We are to make others whole as we have been made whole ourselves. The disciples were told to forgive an uncomfortable number of times. When asked who our neighbor is, Jesus replied with the Parable of the Good Samaritan to show how we ourselves must be neighbors to others. We are to concentrate on what we can do, not on what we think someone else should do, but we have a tendency to waste time and effort on their sins and shortcomings which are much more visible to us than our own. We want to do the right thing but, like the Apostle Paul, we have the sinking feeling that all to often we fail. We forget that Christ came among us to deal with failure and restore us to fullness of life. It would be nice if all this came naturally, but in reality we are being asked stretch in ways we never thought possible. Jesus asked, Christ’s Spirit asks, Paul asks us to experience more deeply than ever before God’s unfailing love for us, and to share that love with others. We are being asked, not in any power of our own, but in the power of the Christ who abides within us, to become an aqueduct, a channel for the life-giving fountain which is Christ. That is no mean task for us all.




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Called to Compassion

As the comforter comforts us, abides with us, accompanies us, comes beside us in our times of peril so we are called to accompany and comfort others. This is the result of what God has done for us.

II Corinthians 1:1-12

The Scholarly dissection of II Corinthians has resulted in it being seen as a compilation of more than one letter of Paul to the church at Corinth. The beginning section has been described as a ‘letter of reconciliation’ written after the successfully resuming good relations with the church following his having written what Paul referred to as his ‘painful’ letter. Paul tells that in Asia he was pushed to the limits, beyond his ability to endure and expecting to die yet, by the grace of God was delivered and he chalks some of it up to the prayers offered on his behalf by the faith community in Corinth.

The pressure he experienced on his missionary journeys in Asia caused him to despair. He all but gave up. Reflecting on his experience he praises God who cares about that which unsettles our lives. His pain was emotional pain and the comfort he received from God is of a different character than mere sympathy. It gave him help and hope.

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, To the church of God in Corinth, together with all his holy people throughout Achaia: 2 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. 5 For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. 6 If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. 7 And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.8 We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. 9 Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. 10 He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, 11 as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many.

12 Now this is our boast: Our conscience testifies that we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially in our relations with you, with integrity and godly sincerity. We have done so, relying not on worldly wisdom but on God’s grace.

Embedded several places in the Greek text is a compound word along with several of its linguistic cousins that is anglicized as Paraclete. Usually when we hear the word we hear it as an appellation or name for the Holy Spirit. A straight forward translation is “the one called to our side” – para meaning ‘along side’, like parallel and kale-o is ‘to be called’. It also shows up in the Gospel of John (14:16-17) where Jesus is quoted to say “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. 17This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you. Here the same Greek word that we found in II Corinthians as Paraclete is translated as Advocate. Other translations use words like helper, counselor or comforter. But the image caught up in the Greek is one who is the one who is called to come along beside you.

In the New Revised Standard Version we read this translation of II Corinthians 1:4-5. Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.

This is my attempt: “Blessed by God; the Father of the anointed master of us, Jesus; the Father of mercies and the God who has been called to stand beside us and comfort us. The one who is with us to comfort us in every difficulty enables us to be the one called to stand beside others in their difficulties through the same one who has been called to stand beside us”.

Para kaleo – the one called to come along side us is the comforter, the counselor, the advocate. And, at the request of Jesus, God has sent the Spirit to accompany us and be with us in the difficult times of our lives.

Easily to be missed in verse four of the New Revised Standard Version’s translation of the first chapter of II Corinthians is the tiny word ‘so’. Actually it’s part of the phrase “so that”. It is a connective conjunction. Of course the common day Greek used by the Apostle Paul didn’t have conjunctions, the meaning is caught up in the linguistics. It says that by the same God who provides one to be our comforter, who comes along side us we are called and empowered to be the Paraclete to others, called to stand beside them to provide consolation to others in their time of affliction by the one who has been called to come beside us.

As the comforter comforts us, abides with us, accompanies us, comes beside us in our times of peril so we are called to accompany and comfort others. This is the result of what God has done for us. For us then to share the pains of Christ means we stand with the other in the perils they face as we follow the path Christ lays out for us. Paul’s pain helped him to give comfort to others. As Paul received comfort and passed it on to others, it falls to us, as it did to the Corinthians to pass it on to other people.

So you ask “So what?”

The gender of three tenths of one percent of children is ambiguous at birth. It’s only as these people mature that who they are sexually becomes known. However, birth certificates embrace a simplistic binary mythology of gender – that is, through physical examination a child is determined to be either male or female and in many situations surgery is done on the infant to remove all doubt. As a child matures the truth of the matter becomes self evident. These children, certifiably of one gender and maturing emotionally and physically live with the confusing ambiguity of their own sexuality, are all too often the targets of bullying and abuse, and, statistics reveal are at a much higher risk of suicide. Recently politicians have added to the emotional abuse by politicizing what has been a matter of reality since time before time. Gender identity is how a person sees themselves. Gender certification is how they appeared at birth.

And, to add to it, the grave peril faced by these people has been exacerbated by the voices of the church community. Are we not called to come along side persons experiencing peril and offer safety, comfort and protection? I’m struggling with what has happened to the church in this country.

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One does not exercise spiritual authority in the Religious Society of Friends. One is exercised by spiritual authority, if one is humble enough to follow the Guide closely.

Acts 1; I Corinthians 12:

Luke, in the first paragraphs of his second book, the Book of Acts, relates the last conversation Jesus had with his followers before he ascended. “This,” he (Jesus) said, “is what you have heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”

Not unlike us, Jesus’ disciples didn’t get it – as Luke illustrates in continuing to tell the story: So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority.

That’s pretty clear – it was none of his disciples business when Caesar’s soldiers would be sent packing back to Rome just like it’s none of our business, all this discussion about end times. That’s not what we are supposed to be about. What is important is grasping that upon which is the church’s foundation.

8But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

There is a lot Jesus doesn’t say and in the vacuum we’ve been tempted over the centuries to fill in the blanks. One thing that Jesus does say is that you will or shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you. It’s fascinating to me the hurdles that some groups want to put on this promise. You can find all kinds of theories of what you have to do to get the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. What Jesus said, according to Luke, is that when the Holy Spirit has come upon you. How about that, it’s not something we control, not something we can acquire.

The next thing Jesus says, also with the same kind of determination: you will be my witnesses. Not may be, or could be but that those upon whom the Holy Spirit has come upon are witnesses – literally to the ends of the earth.

In the next chapter Luke describes what Jesus promised would happen “not many days hence”. Pentecost isn’t a first century Christian thing. According to the Jewish calendar the day God gave the Ten Commandments to Moses occurred 49 days after the Exodus, the day after the Passover – thus the holy day of Shavuot occurs 49 days after the first day of Passover. Jews of the Greek culture named it the fiftieth day or Pentecost.

Luke sets the scene by writing in Acts 2: that: “When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

I saw a great Pentecost cartoon this week. It portrayed a group of people in the back ground with flames above their heads and in the foreground was a man telling a smiling youngster with a marshmallow on a stick “Don’t even think about it.”

When we read Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth we learn that the experience of the Holy Spirit coming upon persons wasn’t restricted to those who had gathered in Jerusalem with the Apostles on Pentecost. The experience of that Pentecost continues and it falls to Paul to help the church know how to understand this phenomena. In the twelfth chapter he read this to clarify the source of it:

Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed. 2You know that when you were pagans, you were enticed and led astray to idols that could not speak. 3Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says “Let Jesus be cursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit.

When the Holy Spirit invades a life what the life emits is consistent with the words “Jesus is Lord”. He develops that further when he writes:

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.

First Paul helps us to understand that from the Spirit of Christ different people receive different gifts, different people receive different callings to service and different people are motivated to take different courses of action. This is for certain not a one size fits all kind of faith tradition. All these gifts, ministries and activities – every manifestation of the Spirit is for the common good. Acknowledging that is something of struggle for some – and I guess that has always been the case or Paul wouldn’t have found it necessary to address it. It can be hard to make room for something different from our own experience. The commentator on this passage in the old Interpreter’s Bible says that Paul is eager to say that spirituality is not one uniform experience which is separate from all other areas of life. The spiritual is not in contrast to the material and the intellectual. Manifestations of the Spirit are to be found in wide varieties of conduct, because spirituality exists wherever the living, acting God works through capacities of any type. Spirituality is not a separate compartment of life, but a divine relationship which may ennoble all aspects of experience.

To all this diversity that seems to befuddle us there is actually an intrinsic unity.  It’s more than just “God’s plan for your life” or your personal purpose. This idea that every manifestation of the Spirit is for the common good calls us into that kind of communal life.

What might these gifts, calling to ministry or action look like? Paul says the gift of utterance of wisdom or knowledge may come to one, another may be gifted with a healing touch or some other miracle. Some may be prophets and other the gift of discernment another speaking in other languages and when that’s the case another will be gifted in interpretation – that list isn’t all inclusive – and what is most important is the all these gifts, calls to ministries and actions come from the same Spirit who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.

The foundation of the church is not found in carefully articulated statements of faith to which everyone subscribes. It’s not grounded in scripture, which requires reinterpretation generation after generation. It’s grounded in the work of the Holy Spirit, a Spirit that is the Spirit of Jesus that has come upon us to teach us, lead us, call us to ministry and motivates us to action. Putting limits on the work of the Spirit isn’t ours to do. The quest to articulate one’s spiritual gifts (or to find one’s purpose, or to learn God’s plan for your life, etc.) often results in a spiritual navel gazing that, undoubtedly, leads to despair – for when we gaze into ourselves, how can we not despair?

What seems appropriate for us to do is to make ourselves available to one another as we seek to make sense of the call of the Holy Spirit on our lives. As we listen to this very present yet mystical presence in our lives we might find ourselves finding it necessary to council another that listen more intently when the call they sense doesn’t seem to fit. In other situations we may find it important to challenge another to risk taking the action or engaging in a ministry to which they have a sense of call.

The Religious Society of Friends is at heart a corporate spiritual journey. As Lloyd Lee Wilson said, it’s not a place where each individual gets to have their own self-designed spiritual growth charter. It is only in our joint practice, in our joint experience, and our joint testimonies that we have communities of believers who can do the work that God has set us out to do. God’s project, as understood by Friends, is not so much the sanctification of myriads of individuals, as it is the transformation of all creation.

What we do as we worship and live and do our business together, is we learn those skills and abilities jointly that enable us to model the Kingdom of God to the rest of the world. This is our testimony as a gathered people. And we do so by taking the seeds of that learning out beyond the confines of our monthly meetings and begin to transform the world outside the Religious Society of Friends.

And the measure of our faithfulness is not how many hearts we have won to Jesus to God or to the Divine power or the Inner Light. It is how real we have made the Kingdom of God.

This is the Lamb’s War. It is no walk in the park. It takes all of our effort, jointly together, and we’ve got to be lifting one another, encouraging one another, and occasionally saying ‘look out, there’s a hole there.’

Spiritual authority among Friends rests in the Gospel, the Good News. If it is not Good News for everyone, it is not the Gospel. And if it is not the Gospel, it doesn’t have authority over us.

The baptizing power of the spirit of Truth is the true evidence. It is not true because I said it, or because it is eloquent or because it is four-syllable words. It is true because you can taste the Gospel. It baptizes you.

One does not exercise spiritual authority in the Religious Society of Friends. One is exercised by spiritual authority, if one is humble enough to follow the Guide closely.

The Holy Spirit is being invitational, not coercive. If you don’t want to participate in the life, you don’t have to. But if you decide that that is what you really want, then God will use you, and God will use you in words or deeds or symbolic actions or whatever, but it will, in fact, be authoritative to those who have ears to hear


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The Bride of Christ – The Marriage of the Lamb

A plaque hangs over the changing table in the nursery of a church that quotes I Corinthians 15:51 We shall not all sleep but we shall all be changed. How true, one more than one level. That is what it’s all about, isn’t it, change, spiritual change. And though we can learn a lot from them, spiritual experiences are not reserved for some spiritual elite, such as St. Teresa of Avila and St. John’s of the Cross. The promise is to all of us. The challenge is making it a reality.

Forty years ago, or so, when a church fitted out a nursery one of the requirements was a screen that could provide privacy for a mother who breast fed her child – because a father was just as likely to be there caring for his child. The function of a nursery changed. There are an unlimited number of things a father can do in caring for an infant but, biologically, there are some things that are just outside his network.

John Wimberly, in a recent post, wrote that he kept hearing complaints from people in leadership in the church that people weren’t responding to their planned programs. His response was that the church shouldn’t try to compete with secular offerings. He says that there is still a need for programming by the local church, but it needs to be focused on deepening our members’ spiritual lives, creating small, intimate communities, and offering hands-on mission opportunities. He concludes that secular competition to our programs forces us to do what religious congregations can do best—focus on spirituality and mission. Seen in those terms the changes in our world liberates us to focus on deepening the spiritual lives of the members of our community of faith, sharing the truths on which our theological tradition is built. No secular group can do a better job.

In the 19th Chapter of Revelation we read these words.

When I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out, “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God  the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself  with fine linen, bright and pure”— for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints. And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These are the true words of God.

The love of God for humanity and in particular God’s ‘chosen’ people, whether the Children of Israel in the Old Testament or the nascent church in the New Testament is presented in the form of relationship between husband and wife, bride and bridegroom. The image is allegorical, and its a real struggle for us to wrap our minds around it, especially those of us of the male persuasion.

Thinking about Mother’s Day – I started wondering about what the role of the Bride of Christ in terms of that of Mother would mean, especially for those of us the male persuasion within the Church. We might think that the process of gestation, delivery and nursing another to the point of self hood for a male was out of the question, but that is to trip over our limitations as humans rather than seeing this as a spiritual opportunity. In our day and time we have difficulty getting over several hurdles before the beauty of this imagery can be embraced. The first challenge is to free the concept of marriage from gender – can we allow for a relationship that is rich, rewarding and fulfilling that is non-sexual? We find ourselves repeating the line that “God has no personal plumbing.”

Jesus must have something of this in mind when he challenged his closest followers to become fishers of men. I think the metaphor of bringing to spiritual birth is a much richer image than spreading nets and then drawing them to shore.

Don Lamb would stand in the pulpit on Mother’s Day and with tears in his eyes and his voice quivering sing M is for the many things she gave me, O means only that she’s growing Old. T is for the tears she shed to save me, H is for her Heart of purest gold. E is for her eyes with love light shining, R means right and right she’ll always be. Put them all together, they spell Mother. A word that means the world to me. I know, it’s too saccharine for most of us today but it causes us to consider the many motherly functions of one who might be identified as a part of the Bride of Christ.

This notion of being “the Bride of Christ” has application on several levels. There is The Church – the world wide body of followers of Jesus; there are the congregations, Friends Meetings if you please – and also, just as important, is the spiritual life of each individual.

In Matthew 25:1-13 we have this story:

Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise replied, ‘No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.’ And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut.

At the risk of being misunderstood and accused of supporting polygamy or polyandry on the physical level – in the context of this New Testament story polygamy was acceptable among the Jews and the bridegroom, in making his late night arrival, came to take his bride, not the bride’s servants, to his home. In the first verse the Greek word is that for virgins, marriageable daughters. Our social sensibilities caused the translators to avoid an uncomfortable but straight forward translation into a more politically correct ‘brides maids’. There are no bridesmaids, as we understand them, in this story, only brides. So half of the marriageable daughters, waiting to taken to the home of the groom were ready – half were not and, excuse the expression, were left behind. This story, when read from a spiritual perspective, suggests that there is one groom, Jesus, and innumerable brides of Christ.

In the sixteenth century writings of St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross such a relationship is characterized as “mystical marriage”. It is a mystical union with God which is the most exalted condition attainable by a human soul in this life. Others describe these kinds of spiritual relationships as “transforming unions”, “consummate unions” and even “deification”. St. Teresa in her classic of Christian Spirituality The Interior Castle elevates it to what she calls “the seventh resting-place”. The refrain is from Revelation 19:  Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready;…

We are talking about being a prepared bride for the groom. The first element of such a Spiritual marriage has been described by some as an almost continual sense of the presence of God, even in the midst of external occupations. Such a sense of God’s presence doesn’t separate us from our senses, matter of fact enhances them. That’s clearly analogous to human marriage.

One writer describes their experience as being fully conscious during what felt to be supernatural acts of intellect and will as they sensed themselves being participants in the Divine life. One way to wrap our minds around this is to recall that it is thought that in the next life we are not only to enjoy the vision of God but to feel our participation in God’s nature. That’s analogous to human marriage where in the ideal there is a fusion of two lives.

Another authors hold that in the transforming union there is produced a union with the Divine Word, Christ’s Spirit, that is spoken of in the very beginnings of Acts. Luke writes of this: But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.

This is very important to a Quaker understanding of living in relationship with an ever present Christ, the very Word of God. Both here in Acts and in the beginning of the Gospel of John we are introduced to Christ the Word – both with God as a participant in creation and in Jesus, the Word made flesh and now, the ever present promised comforter, the Holy Spirit, the divine groom who comes upon us as marriageable daughters and consummating a divine union.

How does that impact our lives? What’s analogous from the human relationship we know as marriage that is instructive to us in our spiritual quest? Discussions of the Apostle Paul’s view of marriage continues to produce more heat than light but when looked at through the lens of mystical marriage it is truly informative. It’s a concept that Paul thinks would be good to engender in human marriages of is day. We may choose to disagree with the extent of its applicability.

Most of us don’t like it, but here is what he wrote to the Ephesians: Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her  that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. … This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.  

Paul admits that the mystery is profound and refers to Christ and the Church. When we mine his understanding of this mystery from the perspective of a spiritual experience we can learn a great deal about mystical marriage. The Groom desires his bride to be clean, washed in the water and the word because that’s the way he wants to see her, holy, pure, without spot or wrinkle – that is humanly impossible – however, it is the way couples deeply in love idealize their mates. The bride is loved – as much as the groom loves himself. That we ‘brides’ are loved is important to know. We brides are called to be pure – unadulterated – which sets a standard for how we live.

It’s an analogy that describes our relationship with an ever present Christ, how we live in that relationship of trust and love. It isn’t static, it is, like a human marriage full of surprises because it is alive. We are called to make ourselves ready – what do we put in our hope chest, our trousseau? We scrub ourselves clean from any impurity, we dispense with all other relationships and we put a wee bit of oil in our lamp to illumine our hopeful continence declaring our desire to be joined in marriage with Christ.

Back to the nursery’s changing table and the plaque that quotes I Corinthians 15:51 We shall not all sleep but we shall all be changed. That is what it’s all about, isn’t it, Change, spiritual change. And the change isn’t what we lose but what we gain in our relationship with a spiritual spouse who comes for us and brings us to our new home to always live in our Grooms presence. So we pray “Come Lord Jesus.”

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It’s my story and I’m sticking to it…Amber Joplin

Gifts of the Living Presence – Written in preparation for the June Pacific Northwest Quaker Women’s Theology Conference

Reflection Paper by Amber Joplin “This is my story and I am sticking by it!”

Note: I am attempting to use gender neutral terms for God in this reflection as God is neither male nor female, however referring to God as “he” diminishes the image of god that women carry as well as men. Where I need to use a pronoun, I alternate between using he and she.

For some time after my husband died, I wondered where God was, and where he had been through those devastating loss filled days. At that time I was a self-identified Evangelical Christian attending a Pentecostal – type independent church. The God that was taught there was a daddy who wanted to give his children gifts. “Just ask!” the preacher said. But the preacher wouldn’t ask to raise my husband from the dead, and my impassioned pleas were denied. All I was capable of doing for weeks was to lay in the hammock on my front porch and watch the changing patterns of leaves against the sky.

After I exhausted thinking about where I had gone wrong, and the events I had not been able to forestall. I thought about God and why He didn’t help me this time. He had seemed to help so many times before. Why hadn’t God intervened? Warned me? God knew what loss felt like, after all it must have been awful standing back and letting Jesus get killed. None of this fit with the loving daddy version of God. And I thought about prophesies that Jesus would be a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief. Then one day in my grief, I had an insight. I comprehended that God was in fact right there with me in my grief, sharing it as only someone who understands can.

This was a huge comfort to me as I badly needed to know that I was not being punished for a mistake or being abandoned by a capricious deity. However, it was much more than a comfort because it began to redirect my understanding of how God was interacting with me. God and I were not locked into merely a father/ child relationship of discipline and dependence. We were actually in a relationship of togetherness. I could see at that point that the loss of my husband was not the result of my failures – or of God’s failures. Rather David’s death was a life shattering event that God understood and share with me.

I don’t know how it was that in the preceding fifty plus years I had not experienced the Presence. I had certainly heard of the concept – and read entire books of the Bible that celebrated it! Perhaps I was too busy working hard to do and be good. Perhaps I had given up on being good. Perhaps I was satisfied with deep human friendships. Perhaps I just didn’t think to ask for more. But after having the experience of the Presence, I continued to sense this Presence and began to look for a spiritual home that was safer for my shattered self. I could not relax again in a place that saw suffering as failure and lack of faith.

What I like about the Presence is that I feel safely attached to Spirit. I don’t have to worry about making a mistake or sinning and losing my way. I cannot lose my salvation. I cannot miss God’s Plan for my life. God is with me. Sure, I had to give up the Sugar Daddy in the Sky, but that god had broken too many big promises. The God of Presence was a totally different sort of character.

Presence is with me. Presence enfolds me. Presence waits for me, not running ahead. Presence doesn’t take over when I try something new. Presence goes to bed and keeps me company when I can’t sleep. Is waiting calmly when I wake up. Presence doesn’t judge what I eat or drink – or wear. Presence is willing to stay home or go out. Presence sticks by me when I fall apart and doesn’t point out how silly my reaction was. Presence will hang around if I chose to just lay on the couch for a few hours. Presence comes along when I go out to have fun and isn’t jealous if I enjoy the company of others. Actually, Presence gives me some of her patience and kindness to share with others.

And Presence calls me. “Let’s be close,” he says. “Be still and feel me with you.” “Let’s see how close we can be now.” And then a promise that “we will be closer yet.”

Sometimes Presence seems to nudge me to sit quietly for others. Maybe like another sort of presence for them. I get the idea that I should just listen to the little neighbor girl across the street who is telling me how afraid she used to be and how she now has self-confidence. Listen to the needy person at the food bank telling me why they cannot pay their water bill. Listen again to a meaningful story. Listen for the apology cleverly concealed behind banter. Listen and attend, listen for the connection.

When I moved to Spokane I was free to find a new Faith Community. I knew I needed the community for spiritual support and I also wanted to learn more about the God of Presence. I had only been taught about Angry, Jealous God and Sugar Daddy God, although I had briefly been exposed to a Forgiving, Inclusive God, whom I found very confusing. At Spokane Friends, experiencing God was described as experiencing the Inner Light. We sought Light and held one another in the Light.

I was challenged at Spokane Friends by what felt like sleight of hand Bible teaching, where familiar texts were re-analyzed and common interpretations side stepped. Tiny story elements were investigated and intents were re-framed. This questioning was intriguing and somewhat alarming as it raised questions about foundational theological concepts I had been taught. Outside of church I was also being challenged to adopt a more rigorous approach to knowledge. In my graduate program I learned how finite the limits of human knowledge were. I studied, read, and researched a tiny segment of a topic for seven years, and became a leading expert on that fragment of knowledge for possibly as long as one year. And no one knew better than I did how much I still hadn’t learned about the subject.

These limits on what I can know lend credence to a mystical/ experiential approach to Spirit. In the past I had been taught that study and beliefs and obedience were key to relating to God. But life and reason have taught me that I can study endlessly and know very little. I can believe what I am told, but those beliefs can be very disappointing and destructive. And I have to be careful in obedience to not obey my culture or what people tell me to do, because my culture and community often approve hurtful behaviors and limit what God is trying to do.

This week, the Journal of George Fox, literally and without provocation, leapt off the book shelf and hit my boyfriend on the head. Consistent with his habit and nature, he did not put it back on the shelf, so the next day I picked it up to see what I would find on the topic of Presence. Henry Cadbury’s introduction to the book frames the religious context of Fox’s spiritual development identifying four different religious movements that were active in England in the early 1600’s. Cadbury suggests that these sects expressed the human search for meaningful connection with God, writing, “…there is something in a man as real as his intellect, which is not satisfied with this clamping of eternal truth into inflexible propositions. Personal soul-hunger and the necessity which many individuals feel for spiritual quest must always be reckoned with.”

Fox, describing his spiritual searching prior to his experience of Jesus being the one who could speak to his condition, describes many unsatisfying interactions with those he identifies as “professors.” Interestingly these professors are not college teachers, but those who profess a religion. Fox distinguishes between those who profess faith and those who experience and live in relation to Spirit. I find it stunning that back in the 1600’s the earliest Friends set themselves on the path of freedom through the experience of God’s presence, yet here we are in 2016 struggling with those who wish to make us “profess” a certain set of beliefs.

Another duck tail. This week six fuzzy, chirpy, little brown ducklings hatched out from under the broody hen. Boyfriend Bob gathered them into the house, provided heat and water, and then brought them to town into my care. The little chirpers have no idea that Bob collected the eggs from those moms that don’t want to set, and gave them to the broody chicken who really wanted to, or that every day he checked the nest and removed competing eggs, or even how hard he had to look for a few of them when he heard the chirping but couldn’t see the sources. They came to town in a cereal box and went into a tub on a heating pad, with lights for added warmth. Every hour or so when I check their food and water, they run away hiding with their fellows as though I present a great danger. As soon as I leave, they run to the dishes eagerly dipping tiny bills.

After a day or so I see a few of them eyeing me, turning little heads sideways for a clear view as I walk through the room. What is that big thing? Now what is it doing? Is it going to get me? I could. After all this morning I took away the warmest light, the glass cover, and the littlest duckling who was soaking wet from a morning bath in the drinking bowl. All of those items were needed by the newest batch of yellow ducklings who had just arrived from the farm and were quite limp and lethargic. These little yellow ducks needed the extra warmth from the lamp, and also the good example of little wet Brownie in learning how to eat and drink. Interestingly it took only a few quick glances for the yellow bunch to allow Brownie to join the fluffy pile under the heat lamp. Somehow these distant cousins were comfortable with each other in moments.

It is not a flaw or failure that these ducklings do not understand who I am. I am not upset at their instinctual fear, but as their caregiver I find it amusing that they are so fearful of me and so instantly trusting of their fellows. (I wonder how often Spirit has to smile at how silly we are in our understanding.) Learning to relate is a developmental process. Part of growing up for some. Some ducks will value interactions and seek out our company. Most only come running when we are bringing out food (just call me sugar daddy). A few seem to seek to be with us as companions. To share our presence. Why so few? What would it take for more of them to do so? Would it be worth it?

It is also not a flaw or failure that humans struggle with relating to Spirit. Although it is the Spirit who gives life, many of us require developmental processes and life events in order to experience the Presence. Actually it is not surprising that it can take many years or extreme events for some of us to experience Presence. Presence is subtle, a still small voice in a very noisy world. And Presence is so unlike what we are taught to expect by well-meaning parents and Sunday School teachers. It does not manifest itself because I am being nice, fitting in, following the rules, memorizing Bible verses, or having excellent manners. Rather, I suspect some folks who discover Presence early are the people who follow their heart rather than their head or cultural norms. And people who come to the end of their strength.

Before I had my experience of God’s Presence in my life I was just as much God’s beloved, and had just as much of her love and light. I have not moved to a higher plain or to greater knowledge or more benefits. I am not a better person. I do have more comfort and less struggle in my relationship with Spirit and more hope for my future. This informs my approach to others who do not share my views. Spirit is equally giving life to each of these individuals, sharing her love and Presence with them. Offering full acceptance. In as much as I am able to share Presence with others, I can do so, by sharing my experience and calling out the best in those I know are committed to Love. I am also challenged to work for the good of all these others who my best friend, Spirit, loves so intensely.

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risky business

Luke writes that the claim is “These people who have been turning the world upside down have come here…” It is how the early Christians saw themselves at work in the world. That the name of Jesus is invoked by Paul and Silas is sufficient to cause concern among the civil authorities. And, my friends, that hasn’t changed in two thousand years. The church is the church when it is stirring the pot.


Risky Business, Acts 17; 1st Thessalonians

So, here we are at the third Sunday after Easter. As a place to begin I’ve chosen the seventeenth chapter of the Book of the Acts of the Apostles. That requires that we skip over thirteen whole chapters of the activities of the early Church.  Those chapters relate many significant events in the spread of the gospel from Jerusalem, to Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. For our purposes I’m going suggest that when Paul and Silas get to Thessalonica it is the end of the earth. Luke portrays Paul as traveling the Via Egnatia, a major Roman highway connecting the eastern and western parts of the empire. He stops at urban centers along the way, preaching the gospel in the synagogues “as was his custom.”

But this is no back water undeveloped place. First Century Macedonia was a thriving metropolitan area, and Thessalonica was the second largest city in Greece. It had a diverse population that along with the majority of Greeks, or Gentiles, as they are called, included a well established community of Jews

After Paul and Silas had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. 2And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three sabbath days argued with them from the scriptures, 3explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Messiah to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, “This is the Messiah, Jesus whom I am proclaiming to you.” 4Some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women. 5But the Jews became jealous, and with the help of some ruffians in the marketplaces they formed a mob and set the city in an uproar. While they were searching for Paul and Silas to bring them out to the assembly, they attacked Jason’s house. 6When they could not find them, they dragged Jason and some believers before the city authorities, shouting, “These people who have been turning the world upside down have come here also, 7and Jason has entertained them as guests. They are all acting contrary to the decrees of the emperor, saying that there is another king named Jesus.” 8The people and the city officials were disturbed when they heard this, 9and after they had taken bail from Jason and the others, they let them go.

As the story begins Paul, as is usual, making a beeline for the local synagogue where for three successive Sabbaths he “argues” the cause of Jesus Christ. This comment about arguing sounds a bit more contemporary than it was.  Some Christians today have evidently concluded that you can argue people into the Kingdom of God.  The Greek word translated as “Argument” means formal reasoning, lecturing, and even preaching. A better translation is that he is “explaining and proving from the Scriptures common to Judaism and Christianity that it was necessary for the Messiah to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, “This is the Messiah, Jesus whom I am proclaiming to you”.  In other words, Paul’s argumentation starts with that which his hearers in the Synagogues consider to be an accepted authority — the Scriptures — and then applies it to that which is radically new and difficult to accept — Jesus as the Christ.

The good news that Luke reports is that Paul has some success, and welcomes some synagogue leaders as well as some devout men and women from the community to the faith.

Success comes at a cost. For some in this Roman community the word “messiah” is too provocative. Their accusation is that “They are all acting contrary to the decrees of the emperor, saying that there is another king named Jesus.” The Acts passage relates that other religious leaders are “jealous” of Paul’s success, and make mischief in the city with the help of some hooligans. The fall guy isn’t Paul or Silas, it’s a local named Jason, with whom, evidently, Paul and Silas had taken up residence. Most likely he was a new convert.  Jason gets arrested is dragged by a mob to city authorities.

But here’s the line I want to hold up for us. Luke writes that the claim is “These people who have been turning the world upside down have come here…” It is how the early Christians saw themselves at work in the world. That the name of Jesus is invoked by Paul and Silas is sufficient to cause concern among the civil authorities. And, my friends, that hasn’t changed in two thousand years. The church is the church when it is stirring the pot.  When it is engaged in turning the world upside down. When the faith community has integrity it has been and continues to be political, you can’t get around it.

Confirming what we hear about in Acts 17 Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians makes reference to persecution of the Thessalonian faith community. In his letter Paul greets the church warmly, recalling its members’ faith, hope, and love, and reminding them of their connection with the missionaries: “And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for in spite of persecution you received the word with joy inspired by the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia” (1 Thessalonians 1:6-7).

When people of faith serve a God who is “living and true”, those with a stake in the status quo, those in power, get uncomfortable. Pope Francis not only chastised governments over their failure to take in the masses fleeing the violence of their home lands he just brought a family of refugees home with him. There is a long list of cities where efforts have been made recently to outlaw the distribution of food to the hungry and homeless. The churches that participate in Family Promise, serving homeless families, for some reason has become a target. Spokane has an ordinance that prohibits people from laying down or sitting in a public spaces, primarily where tourists are likely to see that Spokane has a problem with people who are adrift. We aren’t alone in this. North Carolina’s legislature just went ballistic over who can use public restrooms. One pastor placed on Facebook this conversation: Colleague: “My congregation voted not to hang out a banner saying ‘Torture is a moral issue’ because it is too political.” Me: “Why do they think Jesus died? For their sins?”

The founding of the Thessalonian church took place in a political environment which was challenged by the person of Jesus, clearly alive and active, sharper than a two-edged sword, and unnerving enough in the life and ministry of Paul and Silas to cause fights to break out and authorities to round up the usual suspects (who turned out, often, to be church-type people). The disciples Christ gathered around him continued, in turn, to gather others for connecting us with God and each other…” That’s our example. Like them, we are called in our present political environment, in the name of Jesus, to challenge injustice and oppression, to challenge the use of violence where diplomacy is more effective. It’s easy to get confused by Jesus’ call to cross the line from abstract piety to what is euphemistically called “meddling.”  That’s especially true where meddling reflects Paul’s description of the work of the Thessalonians where they became imitators of us and of the Lord, for in spite of persecution you received the word with joy inspired by the Holy Spirit,  so that you became an example to all the believers. 

It can be a risky business.

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Outside In


Outside In

Acts 3:1-ff


3One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, at three o’clock in the afternoon. 2And a man lame from birth was being carried in. People would lay him daily at the gate of the temple called the Beautiful Gate so that he could ask for alms from those entering the temple. 3When he saw Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked them for alms. 4Peter looked intently at him, as did John, and said, “Look at us.” 5And he fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive something from them. 6But Peter said, “I have no silver or gold, but what I have I give you; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up and walk.” 7And he took him by the right hand and raised him up; and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong.

8Jumping up, he stood and began to walk, and he entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God. 9All the people saw him walking and praising God, 10and they recognized him as the one who used to sit and ask for alms at the Beautiful Gate of the temple; and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him. 11While he clung to Peter and John, all the people ran together to them in the portico called Solomon’s Portico, utterly astonished.

12When Peter saw it, he addressed the people, “You Israelites, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we had made him walk? 13The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our ancestors has glorified his servant Jesus, … 16And by faith in his name, his name itself has made this man strong, whom you see and know; and the faith that is through Jesus has given him this perfect health in the presence of all of you.

Luke says the church was formed by the gift of the Holy Spirit and in gathering around the Apostles’ teaching and then Luke moves on to relate stories of the Apostles’ ministry in Jerusalem. The first scene in the Book of Acts after the story of Pentecost is this passage in which Peter and John respond to the request of a lame man for assistance. Their response wasn’t what was expected.  Instead of alms it becomes an opportunity for healing.


Of course the first thing the encounter required was that the Apostles actually saw the invalid. Reminds we of the song that went ‘Slow down, your moving too fast…” We can get so distracted, absorbed or so intent of our agenda that we can miss seeing someone in need.

This healing story follows the typical form of healing stories in the gospels. By following the typical forms for healings Luke demonstrates a continuity between the work of Jesus and that of the Apostles. Ancient healing stories intend to demonstrate the power of the healer. This story certainly does that — the patient presents with a congenital disability of his lower extremities. His condition is such that he had to be carried by others.  But, once the healing has occurred, he can not only walk but is able to leap up and walk. Only a truly significant power could bring about such results. And as Peter makes clear, the power at play was not Peter’s own but the power of the name of Jesus Christ (Acts 3:12, 16).

When we look beneath the surface of this healing story we see that something else is going on as well.  The lame man is already making the best of his situation. Each day, with help, he has himself placed at the Beautiful Gate outside the temple to have the best chance to receive alms from those entering the temple. The Journal of the Scientific Study of Religion reported that people who regularly attend religious services give more to religious and secular charities. The location of the Beautiful Gate at the temple is insignificant but the lame man’s location, on the other hand, is of great interest. He begs outside the temple from those going inside. He is not there as part of the worshiping community but as someone seeking charity from that community. There was another reason for his being outside the Temple, according to the rules of Leviticus 21 because of his deformity he was considered impure.  

After he is healed, not only does the man’s ability change, so does his location. Luke tells us he  “entered the temple with the Apostles, walking and leaping and praising God”. This is important. The healing moves the man from outside the temple to inside of it, from someone not able to participate in the worshiping community to being part of it. In other words, hidden in the details of the healing story is an important message about the church; to be included in the worshiping community is to experience a form of healing.

In this story do you identify with the apostles. Can you see yourself in a place of offering healing to others by including them in our community of faith. The inclusion of outsiders stands in continuity with the ministries of Jesus and of the apostles. Imagine what an impact that has for today. But that raises the necessity of knowing those who sit near our gates, on the edges of the church or of society, those who may find wholeness. It’s noteworthy that Peter did not require of the lame man belief in Christ to offer him healing. It was Peter’s belief in Christ that effected the healing. Similarly, the church need not accept only those who believe and act like us. This passage calls congregations as well as individual Christians to reach out to the stranger, the other. In the name of Christ, we can offer healing to refugees, those of different socio-economic status, immigrants, the disabled, people of different racial and ethnic backgrounds, persons of different sexual orientations, and so forth. Those at the gates and the kind of healing needed by them may look different in different congregational contexts, but as we see in this text, the gift of inclusion is as old as the church itself. 

By the same token is it the one who found healing with whom you most readily identify? I guess I’m asking your experience of being healed and have known the joy of being included. A week or so ago Michael Cabus posted this on Facebook “Happy to write I am now an official Quaker…I was accepted to be a member of Princeton Friends Meeting…I am a person whose perhaps only good quality is the ability to evolve, but I hope to become a good example of Quaker values…thanks for everyone being welcoming to me in this virtual space.” We so often think of ourselves as “joining” the church in the fashion of a consumer choosing a restaurant at which to dine or a store at which to shop. How different it is to recall being lifted up by the right hand and escorted into the worshiping community. What a thing to celebrate.  It’s grace. Not your will power, not the power of those who midwifed your finding wholeness, it is the grace of Christ at work, lifting you up and wrapping you into the love and embrace of those who claim the name of Jesus.

There’s  yet another way the Apostles continued the work of Jesus. According to the ritual purity the person healed was to go to the priest and offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving. The Apostles brought the man in side the Temple with them. Seems such a simple thing. Seems so very natural, yet quite contemporary, risking the rancor of the keepers of the Temple rules.  Dare we? Dare we be inclusive in our place of worship and in our community of faith? 

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