Follow! Don’t Look Back!

Meditation on 1 Kings 19:15-16, 19-21

June 30, 2019

The Presbyterian Church of Coshocton

     Then the LORD said to him, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus; when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael as king over Aram. Also you shall anoint Jehu son of Nimshi as king over Israel; and you shall anoint Elisha son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah as prophet in your place. So he set out from there, and found Elisha son of Shaphat, who was plowing. There were twelve yoke of oxen ahead of him, and he was with the twelfth. Elijah passed by him and threw his mantle over him. He left the oxen, ran after Elijah, and said, “Let me kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow you.” Then Elijah said to him, “Go back again; for what have I done to you?” He returned from following him, took the yoke of oxen, and slaughtered them; using the equipment from the oxen, he boiled their flesh, and gave it to the people, and they ate. Then he set out and followed Elijah, and became his servant.

***

Welcome to summer in Ohio. It’s hot! It seems like we are always talking about the weather. Last Sunday, we complained about the rain and flooding, and thanked God for the sunshine! On Monday, I was hiding in the downstairs bathroom with the dog, taking shelter after a tornado warning.

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Did anyone else hunker down in the bathroom or the basement? Did any of you take your dog with you? Mabel our Pomeranian was comforting, though she was confused. She heard the wind, thunder, and crashing of breaking branches, and cocked her head as she looked at the closed bathroom door. I texted Jim at the library to make sure he was safe. He was with the staff in the basement, too. I worried about Melvyn, our cat, asleep upstairs in our bedroom. He wasn’t worried about the storm, but he eventually wandered downstairs, looking for a snack. When I opened the bathroom door, the expression on his face seemed to say, “Where did y’all go? Woke up and you were gone.”

I hesitated before leaving my shelter after the all-clear signal. Was it really over? Were we really safe? The thunder boomed and the rain poured down. I waited, wondering what my next adventure in Ohio might be.

 

***

 

Inside my basement shelter, I remembered the story of Elijah, hunkered down in a cave. He wasn’t afraid of a storm; he is running from the idolatrous Queen Jezebel, Ahab’s wife. She wants to kill him after Elijah kills 450 false prophets of Baal. Now he is running for his life, but also running from his call.

The prophet’s mantle had begun to weigh heavily on the one whose name in Hebrew, Eliyahu, means, “My God is the Lord.” Before hiding in the cave, he runs a day’s journey and stops to rest under a broom tree. He cries out to God, “It is enough, now, O Lord! Take away my life. For I am no better than my ancestors.”

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Like some other Old Testament prophets, Elijah suffers from depression and self-doubt. Moses, who led the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt, struggled with his call, too. He prays to God in Numbers 11:15, “If this is the way you are going to treat me, put me to death at once—if I have found favor in your sight—and do not let me see my misery.”

And then there’s Jonah. He tries to run away from God by boarding a ship headed in the opposite direction that God commands him to go. A violent storm comes up and threatens to break the ship apart. Jonah tells the frightened sailors, “Pick me up and throw me into the sea; then the sea will quiet down for you; for I know it is because of me that this great storm has come upon you.” Later, after a whale rescues him and Jonah preaches to wicked Ninevah as God commands, the city repents, and the Lord forgives them for their sins. Jonah cries out, “O Lord! Is not this what I said while I was still in my own country? That is why I fled to Tarshish at the beginning; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing. And now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.”

The Lord uses Elijah, Moses, and Jonah, in spite of their weaknesses, to accomplish God’s purposes.

God sends an angel to feed Elijah and the food miraculously strengthens and nourishes him for a journey of 40 days and 40 nights—what does that remind you of?—to Horeb, also known as Sinai, the Mountain of God. He will meet God there and hear God’s voice, but not in the great wind, earthquake, or fire. God is in the silence. Elijah wraps his face in his prophet’s mantle, made of fur or hair, in the presence of the Lord. The mantle is a reminder that he has been claimed by God, set apart for holiness as a child of God, for a person in ancient times would throw his mantle on a child to adopt him.

God asks his prophet, calling him by name, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” God already knows why. The Lord wants Elijah to trust Him with his doubts and fears, pain and disappointment. Being obedient to God doesn’t mean we will be free of stress and pain and be popular and happy all the time. Following the Spirit often means trials and troubles, as it requires us to take a different path, the narrow road. Choosing the Lord’s way may bring sorrow and loneliness as it may mean leaving friends and family behind.

As Paul says to the Galatians in 1:10, “Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of the Lord.”

Elijah, huddling in the cave, says to his God, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of Hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left”—can you hear the loneliness and discouragement in his voice?—“and they are seeking my life, to take it away.”

God answers with confirmation of his prophetic call, in spite of his difficulties. This is where today’s reading begins. The Lord tells Elijah there’s more work to do. Elijah must go to the wilderness of Damascus and anoint Hazael king over Aram, which is Syria today, and anoint Jehu, son of Nimshi, King of Israel. And the Lord, knowing Elijah’s loneliness and weariness, sends him to anoint a helper, a kind of apprentice prophet or disciple. This is extraordinary, for a prophet doesn’t usually anoint another prophet. A community anoints a priest, prophet or king, as one who has been given authority by God.

Elijah never actually anoints Elisha. He finds him plowing a field with 12 yoked oxen in front of him. Elijah passes by the younger man, an unmarried farmer living with his parents, and throws his mantle over him. The simplicity of Elisha’s calling and his response makes me think of Christ walking on the beach, calling to a couple of rough fishermen, “Come. Follow me. And I will make you fish for people.” Elisha immediately leaves his oxen, just as the disciples drop their nets. Elisha, though, has a request. “Let me kiss my father and my mother,” he says, “and then I will follow you.”

Elijah instantly feels regret at the younger man’s loss. “Go back again,” he says. “For what have I done to you?”

Elisha does more than kiss his parents. He slaughters the oxen, starts a fire with the wood of their yoke, cooks the meat, and gives it to “the people to eat,” which sounds like he is leaving behind a community or at least a large household, and not just his parents. He is giving up his former life—his family’s farm that he would inherit and his occupation–for his vocation.

He accepts the call to follow and serve the prophet of the Lord. He doesn’t look back.

 

***

Friends, Elisha’s story speaks to me especially this summer, as I prepare to finally go and visit my parents in Florida a few weeks from now. As you know, it was very hard to leave them last December. But now, I can look forward to a visit, a time when I can tell my parents in person that I love them and kiss them both goodbye, once again. And assure them that God is with them.

I have peace in the call that I accepted years ago when I heard the Lord’s voice in the silence. I was 20 years old. I didn’t know what answering the call would mean, just as Elisha surely did not know what adventures he would experience serving Elijah, the prophet of the Lord. I didn’t plan on being a pastor back then. I am sure the thought didn’t cross my mind. But then, life is seldom what we think it will be. My life is better than I expected, and I give thanks to the Lord for His grace. I am sure God has a sense of humor!

The Lord used Elijah, Moses and Jonah, in spite of their weaknesses. And the Lord can and will use us, too, with all our weaknesses. The way to peace is when we can forgive and put the past behind us. Yesterday’s failures belong to yesterday.

We can rest in the knowledge that we don’t have to be perfect for God to love us. All of the prophets were flawed human beings that the Lord was pleased to use to bring about God’s good purposes. The Heavenly Father has thrown His mantle on all of us. We are our Creator’s children, chosen, adopted, saved, and set apart for a life of worship, love and service. The Lord has given us each other so that we may be servants of one another, like Elisha serves Elijah when he is depressed and discouraged, until one day, when Elijah rides a chariot of fire into the sky and Elisha will wear his prophet’s mantle for good.

We can do mighty things with our gracious and merciful God, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love. We serve a God of second chances. Today, we have another opportunity to respond with joy and faith to God’s call—to follow! And don’t look back!

Let us pray. Holy One, thank you for placing your mantle upon us and calling us your children. But we are afraid, sometimes, of our vocations, just as Moses, Elijah and Jonah were afraid. We don’t always want to take risks. We lack confidence in ourselves. Yes, sometimes we lack faith, just as your first disciples did. Forgive us, Lord, and send your Spirit to strengthen and renew us. We thank you that our weaknesses won’t keep you from loving us, growing us, shaping and reforming us, and using us for your good plans and your glory. Help us to seek your face and hear your voice in the silence and then reach out to share your love. In your Son’s name we pray. Amen.

Can These Dry Bones Live?

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Meditation on Ezekiel 37:1-14

June 23, 2019

The Presbyterian Church of Coshocton

The hand of the LORD came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the LORD and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. He said to me, “Mortal, can these bones live?” I answered, “O Lord GOD, you know.” Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD. Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the LORD.” So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them. Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord GOD: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.”

    I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude. Then he said to me, “Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.’ Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord GOD: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel.
And you shall know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the LORD, have spoken and will act,” says the LORD.

 

***

     I’ll say it again! It’s good to be home! After two weeks of intensive study and a time of listening for God’s voice in Pittsburgh, I’m glad to be back. By Friday afternoon, my colleagues in ministry and I were exhausted and a wee bit homesick. And it had rained almost every day—like it rained here.

We had engaged in conversations about our particular callings and congregations, and the struggles of the Church, in general. We prayed for all three. Elaine Heath writes, “A dark night of the soul is descending on the church in the United States. The signs are everywhere: a steady decline in church membership, especially among mainline denominations, a striking increase in the percentage of Americans who do not attend church, dropping numbers of young adults preparing for ordained ministry, and the loss of moral authority and credibility among clergy and churches due to widespread sex scandals and financial misconduct.” [1] Some Christians are alarmed, she says, and churches are putting forth “enormous effort to launch church growth programs to shore up membership, increase giving and keep denominational ships afloat.” But Heath reminds us that the Lord is in control. This is all part of God’s plan.

“On the margins of society,” she says, is where “the church will once again find its God-given voice to speak to the dominant culture in subversive ways, resisting the powers and principalities, standing against the seduction of the status quo.”  What is dark is not evil, she says; it is simply the unknown.

Other scholars, such as Walter Brueggemann, say that the Western church is “in exile, much like the Jewish people in Babylon long ago.” But remember, in exile, God is still with us. It is we are may be tempted to move away and have trouble finding our way back. In exile, we have the opportunity to grow in faith and learn to rely on the Lord.

Heath speaks words of hope for the future. “The church will once again become a prophetic, evangelistic, alternative community, offering to the world a model of life that is radically ‘other’—life-giving, loving, healing, liberating.”[2]

Jesus’s way does seem radically different than the American church ideals of bigger is better. That’s what Americans think, right? Bigger churches are healthier than smaller churches. Churches with more money are better than churches with fewer financial resources. Some people think that, right? But that’s not the way of Jesus. He sends out his 70 missionaries in pairs–2 by 2– in Luke 10 to proclaim the kingdom drawing near, to speak peace to the homes, towns and villages, heal people of their diseases, and cast out demons. He says to them, “‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore, ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road.’” Don’t get distracted from what I am sending you to do!

Our conversation about the Church stirred one of my colleagues to ask, “Can these dry bones live?”  And we all got goosebumps. I’m getting them now!

***

Ray was quoting from Ezekiel 37 and the prophet’s vision in a valley of dry bones. The young priest, Ezekiel, is among a group taken into exile in 597 BC to Babylonia. He hears God’s call to be a prophet five years later. And he prophesies “doom for the city of Jerusalem and hope for the Israelites.”

The Israelites have sinned, proclaiming their allegiance to other gods and nations. But our Gracious and Merciful God, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, welcomes them back and promises renewal and cleansing from their idols and other sins. “A new heart I will give you,” the Lord says in Ezekiel 36:26, “and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.”

Hope awakens in us when the Lord asks Ezekiel in 37, standing in a valley surrounded by death, “Mortal” or “Son of Man, can these bones live?” I like it that the prophet doesn’t say no or yes. He avoids getting it wrong when he says, “Lord God, you know.” And God says, “Prophecy to the bones.” And the Lord gives Ezekiel the words to say. “‘Say to them: ‘O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD. Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live.’”

Breath is ruach—Hebrew for breath, spirit or wind. This is the word in Genesis, in the beginning, when a wind (ruach) sweeps over the face of the waters and God creates the heavens and the earth with His powerful Word. He fashions human beings from dust and breathes his breath or wind (ruach) into them. And they come alive.

This is the promise of new beginnings for God’s people in Ezekiel 37.

From death to resurrection. Raised to new life.

***

I took a break from my Sunday preparations yesterday to take our dog, Mabel, for a walk. It was good to finally be out in the sun, if only for a little while. On the way in, I was surprised and delighted to see what I had not seen the night before when we returned from Pittsburgh—three beautiful, pink roses in bloom behind our forsythia bushes by the garage. I didn’t even know we had any roses planted in our yard! The funny thing is, I almost cut the bush down before I left for Pittsburgh because there wasn’t a leaf on it – just dry sticks coming from the ground. And I thought it was dead.

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The roses seemed to me to be a gift of grace and beauty—like so many other gifts of grace and beauty that we encounter, but don’t always notice or think anything of, every day. The roses in bloom—bursting forth from ordinary, unenriched soil in the shade behind an overgrown bush—were signs of life and hope from Our Creator and Sustainer, the One whom Mary Magdalene mistook for the Gardener when she encountered her Risen Lord. And I thought, how many times have I missed what is lovely, beautiful, and good by choosing to look, instead, into the darkness—the strange and frightening unknown?

Sisters and brothers! Mortals! Listen to the Word of the Lord, spoken by Ezekiel. We no longer have hearts of stone; we have hearts of flesh. We have been cleansed and are being changed by a gracious and merciful God who, despite our sin and faithlessness, welcomes us home, back to the Lord where we belong.

When we dedicate our time capsule today, we won’t be seeking to memorialize our history or lift up our accomplishments. We will gather to pray for the people who will follow us, the Church of Jesus Christ that will continue on in this community for generations to come. This is an act of faith! We are saying the Church will continue on! In our prayer, we will say, “We come as a people of hope because of Jesus Christ, bringing these items to share with those who come after us not to celebrate what we have done, but in gratitude, humility and praise to you for what you have done in, with and for us, your beloved Church. We know not what the future will bring or who will be here to open this time capsule. We know not what our community and world will be like, this world that you created and still so love. Whatever challenges and opportunities the future will present for the people of God, we pray that those who open this time capsule will be people of commitment and compassion, full of faith and love.”

Come with me now. Let us draw closer to the Lord together. Open yourself to God’s ruach—the Lord’s Spirit, breath, or wind. Let’s join with the work of the Spirit among us and in our community. Because the Spirit is already at work in our community. We just have to join in! Let us follow Jesus’ example, seeking to serve and not be served, at the risk of losing our own life. For it is only in dying that we will rise. These dry bones will live a new life!

Let us pray…

Holy One, thank you for your word that continues to speak to your people through the ancient prophet, Ezekiel. We pray for the Church, Lord, in America, that seems to be in decline, walking in darkness, longing for your light. But we know you are working in, among and through us. Breathe in us, Lord, once again, with the same breath you breathed at Creation, the breath that empowered us at Pentecost, the breath, ruach, that will help us to live as Christians in this time of confusion and uncertainty, but also a time of beauty and delight. Strengthen and stir us to labor for you, to preach the good news of your present and coming Kingdom, heal the sick, cast out demons, and speak peace to homes, towns and villages. For we know the harvest is plentiful and the laborers are few. And when you return, as we yearn for your return, may you find us to be people of commitment and compassion, full of faith and love. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

 

[1] Elaine A. Heath, The Mystic Way of Evangelism, chapter 1, “Into the Night,” p. 25-27.

[2] Ibid., 26.

God’s Love Is in You!

 

Meditation on Romans 5:1-5

The Presbyterian Church of Coshocton

June 16, 2018

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Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we[ have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

 

***

 

Friends, I have missed you and my adopted hometown of Coshocton this week! I have been away at Pittsburgh Seminary beginning a new educational program for pastors. When I told one of the children that I would be away at school for 2 weeks, she said, “Grownups don’t go to school!”

Then, on the first day of school, when nothing seemed to be going right, I began to think that she had been prophetic! This grownup shouldn’t be going to school! The amount of prep work for these classes is substantial. We were assigned about a dozen books and another dozen articles to read and two papers to write before the first class meeting—a vocational memoir, sharing our stories, and a contextual analysis of our ministry, describing our particular church in our particular place.

On my first day of school last Monday, we learned that most of us had not finished the readings for the week. I had at least 4 more books to read. Some didn’t realize the papers were due before the class, so they hadn’t done them, yet. One didn’t know the books had to be read before the classes began, so he was in a panic. We were all in a state of high anxiety, feeling unprepared for the work ahead and worried about what would be required of us. Making things more difficult, we were tired from travel and the busy work of ministry the week before. Things are always harder when we are tired and anxious, aren’t they? It’s harder to have grace for ourselves, and we didn’t have a lot of grace for ourselves that first day of school.

But as the days passed, we began to get to know each other and our teacher through our worship and prayer, reading and writing, eating and conversation. We started to laugh and enjoy being together. The 15 of us have come from different ministry contexts—small congregations and larger, small towns and big cities, hills and valleys, on the beach and in the country. We are different ages—from early 30s to late 50s. Solo, associate and youth pastors, heads of staff, chaplains, church planters, spiritual directors, and ministry consultants. Baptists, Methodists, UCC’s, and Presbyterians. About as many women as men. We who have come together to study and discern God’s will want the same thing—to help our congregations face present and future challenges and be strengthened and transformed for the work of ministry to all the generations.

The Spirit exposes our gifts, our growing edges, and vulnerabilities; it comforts and heals us, unites us and builds our confidence. The Spirit fills our hearts with love.

***

If we are looking for an example of a servant leader in the New Testament, we need look no further than the Apostle Paul. Notice that he freely admits his own failings and weaknesses—even boasts of them, as he says in 2 Corinthians 12:9—so that the power of God at work in his life and person may be seen and others may come to know the Lord. Paul is confident in the man God has called and equipped him to be. Once a persecutor of Christians and a destroyer of the Church, he is no longer an enemy of God; in Christ, we are a new creation. “The old has gone,” he says in 2 Cor. 5:17, “The new is here.” He is led by the Spirit, which keeps him from preaching the Word in some places, we learn in Acts, but opens the way to share the gospel and plant churches in others. In Romans 1:16, he says, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” Some estimate that Paul, with his fellow laborers for the gospel, may have planted 20 or more churches, and he didn’t stop there; he continued to pray for them and build them up through letters and visits, when possible.

In the first chapter of Romans, Paul assures the church how much he prays for them and thanks God for their faith and their “proclaiming it throughout the world.” It’s not clear if Paul, a citizen of the Roman Empire, planted the church in Rome. In any case, he tells them that he wants to visit them, build them up, and be built up in his faith. “For I am longing to see you,” he says in 1:11-12, “so that I may share with you some spiritual gift to strengthen you—or rather so that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine.”

Today’s reading in Romans 5 follows Paul’s discussion of God’s promise realized through Abraham’s faith. “Hoping against hope,” Paul says in 5:18, “he believed that he would become the father of many nations…(now verse 21) being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.” But revisiting Abraham’s story in Genesis, we are reminded that Abraham is not always faithful and obedient. He isn’t always “fully convinced” or if he is, he isn’t always patient enough to wait for God’s promises to come to pass. He fathers a child with his wife’s slave, Hagar, at his wife, Sarah’s request. Later, he abandons Hagar and their son, Ishmael, when Sarah is jealous and demands that Hagar and Ishmael leave. Abraham’s story, more than revealing his steadfast faith, reveals God’s steadfast grace and faithfulness.

In chapter 5, Paul connects all that he has said at the beginning of the book about what God has done through Christ to this conclusion, reaffirming his call to share the gospel and his hope of being resurrected and glorified with Christ in the world to come. Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God.” The Greek word translated justification—dikaíōsis—means “divine approval.” We have God’s approval because of Christ’s suffering work on the cross! We are made right with God when we are justified through Christ. In Him, we are redeemed; we are no longer guilty for our sins! We have peace with God—and this peace isn’t just a warm, fuzzy feeling or absence of hostility. This peace is shalom­, reconciliation between God and human beings and human beings with one another. For if we are right with God, we are also right with each other. The Lord commands us in the Old and New testaments to love God AND neighbor. Jesus says in Mark 12:30-31, “There is no greater commandment than these.”

But we struggle to love, as God loves. The good news is that what is impossible for human beings is possible with the Lord’s help. This is true for Paul’s claim that suffering in our lives—not just physical or emotional pain, but trials and troubles—opens us to God’s transforming work and leads to the spiritual fruits of endurance, godly character, and hope. Especially hope! For suffering draws us closer to the Lord, to rely more fully on our Creator and Healer.

“And the Spirit (that lives within us) helps us in our weakness;” Paul says in Romans 8:26-27, “for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”

***

On Friday, one of the 15 pastors in the program with me at Pittsburgh Seminary was suddenly in tears as she shared her heart with us. But it wasn’t sadness. The week that started out to be overwhelming and frustrating had become an unexpectedly sweet blessing. She was grateful to God—and so was I—that we had the opportunity to gather for prayer, study, worship and important conversations about ministry.

Sisters and brothers, I know you have hurts, some that you haven’t shared with another soul! God knows your struggles and pain, your suffering, trials and troubles! You don’t have to hide them from the Lord or us! Like Paul, we can boast of our sufferings, so that in our weakness, God is strong! And the Lord will be faithful to use our suffering to bring forth spiritual fruit in us. This will be our witness to the world.

May the Spirit draw you ever nearer to your Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer and Source of all life. May you find healing and relief from anxiety, pain and worry as you seek God’s will for you and your family of faith.

I have so much hope for our ministry together. Will you pray with me that we will touch the lives of many people in our community in the years to come, and that they will touch our lives, too? Let us pray that the Lord would strengthen our ministry, especially to children and young families. Because this next generation really needs us and maybe no one else will reach out to them! Let us reveal to God and neighbor that we are not ashamed of the gospel! It is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith. They need to know the hope that doesn’t disappoint, our hope in Christ alone.

May the Lord stir our community to see what I see—what inspires me every time we gather for worship! And makes me want to cry tears of joy!

God’s love is here for us! For God’s love is in you!

 

Let us pray…

 

Holy, Triune God, thank you for our redemption in Jesus Christ, who on the cross did the suffering work of atonement for all our sins—the sins of yesterday, today and tomorrow. Thank you, Holy Spirit, for pouring your love into our hearts so that we would have the hope that would not disappoint and for interceding for us with God the Father, with sighs too deep for words when we don’t know how to pray. Thank you, Heavenly Father, for not waiting for us to come to you and recognizing our need for redemption, but loving us first, while we were yet sinners and sending Your Son to die for us. Thank you, Jesus, for revealing what leadership should be, for being our example of one who came to serve and not be served, one who lived courageously a humble, faithful life, in perfect obedience to God’s Word. In your name we pray. Amen.

 

The Spirit Brings Us Together

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Meditation on Acts 2:1-21

June 9, 2019

The Presbyterian Church of Coshocton

         When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. 5 Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6 And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. 7 Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9 Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” 12 All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13 But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”

14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. 15 Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16 No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: 17 ‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.18 Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. 19 And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist.20 The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day. 21 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’

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It’s good to be back! Jim and I traveled to Boston on Memorial Day to visit children and grandchildren. Our beautiful grand girls and their parents kept us busy and entertained. Jessie is a precocious 5 and a half. And Madeline, who was just a babe in our arms when we saw her last year, is nearly 21 months–walking and running, and learning to express herself with words. My favorite word that she says is, “Yessssssss.” Maddie, do you want to go for a car ride? “Yesssss.” And she’s putting on her shoes, only it’s her big sister’s shoes. Jessie doesn’t like that, of course. Maddie wants to do everything, play with everything, and wear everything that Jessie does. This creates some tension in the household. Jim and I witnessed a few knock down, drag out fights, and I want you to know, in case you are worried, that little Maddie is holding her own. She’s a tough little cutie pie.

On the plane ride to Boston, I worried that Jessie and Maddie wouldn’t remember us. That was true for Maddie, who was at first shy and clung to her parents. But when I pushed her on the swings and sang her favorite songs, she and I became pals. When I helped Jessie embroider a flower at the Boston art museum, I was OK in her book, too. Later, I showed her how to play Bubblewitch on my I-phone. She was impressed that old Grandma who sews the holes in ballet tights, crochets blankets, makes brownies, and paints Jessie’s fingernails could also help free the owls and kill the freezie frogs! I probably should have asked her parents before I got her hooked on video games.

The most important thing to Jessie, I discovered, wasn’t that I could do stuff with her. She wanted someone to listen to her, understand her, and care about her feelings. When I asked if she was making friends at her new school, she said yes, but NONE of them were boys. “They don’t listen!” she said, furrowing her dark brow and tossing her mop of curly hair. On our last night together, while we walked home pushing a stroller with a sleeping Madeline after a very full day of soccer, baseball, a picnic brunch at the playground, and a citywide festival in the evening, Jessie sobbed, “Daddy, you’re not listening!”

And I understood how the little girl felt and her need to be heard and understood by those near and dear to her. The spirit of love brings us together and draws us close, though we live at a distance, we live such different lives, and only see each other a few days out of the year. And although we are so tired when we leave and I can’t wait to be home in my own bed, I always feel, with each visit, that we have come to know and love each other a little bit more.

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This week with our Pentecost readings, I thought of our basic human need to be heard and understood. We show our love for others when we listen with an open heart, without prejudice or suspicion or assumption that we already know what they are going to say. We listen well when we are fully present and listen seeking to understand and feel the same things that they do, though our life experiences, faith backgrounds, cultures, and languages and countries of origin may be different.

Jesus is all about going outside the boundaries of what society deems proper and breaking down barriers between people. Those who benefit from his ministry include lepers and prostitutes, scoundrels and criminals, Samaritans and the demon possessed. The actions of the Spirit, promised by our Lord before he ascends into heaven in Acts chapter 1, shouldn’t surprise us when it overcomes human barriers and includes all people in its benefits, just as the prophet Joel had said.

That Christ’s Spirit comes on the Jewish Festival called Pentecost, Greek for 50th for the fiftieth day from the first Sunday after Passover, is significant. Pentecost for Jewish people marks the giving of God’s Word, the Law, The 10 Commandments on Mount Sinai. The Commandments form, empower and unite a community of believers to live new, holy lives as God’s children, loving and serving God and neighbor. The Spirit’s powerful arrival on Pentecost brings to mind the drama of Exodus 20:18-19, when Moses comes down from the mountain and there’s thunder and lightning, the sound of a trumpet, and smoke on the mountain, and the people tremble with fear. They stay at a distance and say to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.” The Commandments are given with one voice–God speaking through Moses–but the people hear multiple voices. Rabbinic tradition teaches that every person in all the tribes of Israel receive and understand the law in their own language.

The giving of Christ’s Spirit on Pentecost, like the Commandments of the Old Testament, forms a new, diverse community of believers, but those who are united and empowered by the Spirit of the New Covenant will be sent out to live new lives. They will learn, eventually, to overcome human barriers and to work for peace and justice to reveal God’s reign. They will reach out with love not just to Jews, but to Gentiles, too. They will be equipped through God’s Word (Peter’s preaching) and Spirit to offer the message of salvation through belief in the Risen Christ and the promise of being risen with Him.

For the grieving, fearful disciples on Pentecost, just seven weeks after the death and resurrection of Jesus, the Spirit’s coming isn’t just a moment of enlightenment or intellectual exercise; it’s a multi-sensory experience to forever remember. It brings inexplicable joy, so that when they are accused of being drunk on new wine, Peter the common fisherman, the rock on which Christ will build his church, makes a joke. “No, we aren’t drunk, because it’s only 9 in the morning.”

The Spirit reveals the power of God in the noise like the rush of a violent wind, and divided tongues, like fire, resting on them. The sound fills the entire house in which they are sitting and can be heard out on the street. I can only imagine it’s like the freight train sound of a tornado. It draws a large crowd of astonished and amazed neighbors as they hear, each in their own languages, the Galileans “speaking about God’s deeds of power.”

Not all will believe. But many will. And Christ’s Church, gathered, formed, and led by the Spirit, is born. This is the beginning of a new life, a journey that will span the globe and will mean suffering, hardship and persecution, but also miracles of healing, provision, rescue, and joy. I encourage you to read the book of Acts this week and be amazed!

Today, we will pray that the Spirit will claim Elijah Layton in his baptism. We will promise to help his family nurture him in the faith. He will have a new identity–child of God. And a new purpose–loving and serving the Lord with all the gifts God will give him.

If you ever feel anxious about the future of our church, don’t ever forget that we are not a building, made by human hands. We are not a human organization! We are the Church with a capital C, the Body of Christ in every time and place. Think of the sound at Pentecost, the roar of the rushing, violent wind and divided tongues, as of fire. Remember that we are a supernatural creation, being reconciled and re-created when we gather in His name. Every Sunday for Christians is like Pentecost! The God we serve understands us, like no other. Our God listens when we cry out! Hear this promise: all who call on the name of the Lord shall be saved! The Spirit that claims us never lets us go. The Spirit that brings us together is love.

Let us pray.

Holy One, thank you for sending your Spirit on Pentecost to empower the disciples to take the message of salvation in Jesus Christ to the world. Thank you for claiming us in our baptisms and your Spirit that continues to live in us and work in us today. Lord, we ask that your Spirit would pour more love in our hearts so that we have compassion for those who don’t know you. Stir us to take the message of hope, love, forgiveness, and new and abundant life through Christ to those still walking in darkness. Remind us, every day, especially if we feel anxious about the future, that the Church is not a human organization. We are a supernatural creation! And that we are your children; we belong to you! In Christ we pray. Amen.