Sunday, June 30, 2013

Lectionary Notes for Seventh Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 9, Ordinary 14, Year C)

Readings for 7th Sunday after Pentecost, 7/6/13:
2 Kings 5:1-14, Psalm 30, Galatians 6:(1-6), 7-16, Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

2 Kings 5:1-14:
  • Naaman wants the benefits of a connection with God - he wants God's healing, and wants it from Elisha now. But he doesn't want to do what is required to get what he wants. Are we like that? Do we connect what we want from our relationship with God with what we give to our relationship with God? Of course, God blesses us in spite of ourselves, as God heals Naaman, but what could we do to make it easier?
  • Also, Naaman wants to see magic done, not healing, in his life. He wants a quick fix - to be better. He doesn't want to go through the healing/wholeness process - it's timely, it takes effort. I feel that we are the same with our own health sometimes - we want to be thin and perfect - just don't ask us to change our lifestyles to see the results! On a deeper note, we want to end hunger - we'll give a can at Thanksgiving time. Don't ask us to change consumer patterns to have sustainable living! 
  • Continuing on that theme, one of my former District Superintendents talked about pastors and parishioner wanting pastors to have magic wands to fix things in ministry. Would you rather have magic, or healing and wholeness? What's the difference? 
  • Process vs. Product - which is more important? Naaman says product. God says process!
  • "Wash and be clean." Why is grace, repentance, forgiveness, so hard for us? Why do we make it so difficult for ourselves? Why is it hard to admit our wrongs and try again?

Psalm 30:
  • This psalm was just used on in the Easter season of Year C - not sure why it makes it in the lectionary twice in one year, since it's not, in my mind, particularly moving/deep, in comparison with some others...
  • Eesh - in fact, not a favorite psalm at all. All these images of God are terrible - pleading with God to care and act, trying to convince God to act by appealing to God's desire to have more people to worship God (v. 9). Not a very flattering picture of God. But I think all the psalms are more about where the psalmist comes from than about who God really is. I try not to confuse the two. 
  • "Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning." The youth of my CCYM love the praise song "Trading My Sorrows", which takes this verse as a line of the song. These words comfort and give hope - but how do we speak to those who feel like this morning of joy never really comes? I guess the emphasis is really on the fact that sorrow is never permanent, even though it seems so in the midst of it. 
  • "You hid your face." To think of God turning God's face from us = Devastating - like an eclipse?

Galatians 6:(1-6), 7-16:
  • "if anyone is detected in a transgression, you who have received the Spirit should restore..." We don't like to be accountable to others. We don't mind them being accountable to us. But for us to let them let us know when we're out of line? Harder, much harder! I think this is especially true in American culture, where privacy is so highly valued. 
  • "bear one another's burdens." We're also not very good at that! We often feel we've got enough on our own plates, too much to deal with to take up other's burdens as well. Remember Jesus' words in Matthew - Jesus is willing to give us easy burdens to bear, to help us manage all we've got, to relieve our weariness and tiredness. Those words are so comforting - imagine providing that relief to others, by helping them bear their burdens.
  • "For neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything; but a new creation is everything!" Yes, yes, yes!

Luke 10:1-11, 16-20:
  • For many United Methodist Clergy, this text comes on the first Sunday in a new appointment, the first Sunday serving a new congregation. I think this text reads very differently, poignantly, when you read it on your first Sunday in a new pulpit. 
  • Do we take Jesus at his word when he tells us what to carry when we journey out in his name? Unencumbered we are to go in ministry and mission. God equips us for our journey. What encumbers your life, your ability to go whenever and wherever God calls? What's your baggage? What can you/will you/should you let go of?
  • Either way the towns respond, the kingdom of God has come near. Either way we respond, the kingdom of God has come near. It is here, at hand, around us. How do you respond?
  • When the 70 are exciting about their demon-out-casting skills, Jesus says something like: "Don't rejoice in your power, rejoice in our faith." I like that - we have power, when we are working in God's name - but that is not our pride - our pride, if it can be called pride, is in being named God's precious children.
  • I'm glad verses 12-15 about specific doomed cities are left out of our text for today. I think that just caters to our desire to declare that it is 'others' who would not receive Christ, instead of seeing ourselves in his words. 

Sermon, "How to Pack for Summer Vacation: On the Road," Mark 10:17-31

Sermon 6/30/13
Mark 10:17-31

How to Pack for Summer Vacation: On the Road

            Last Sunday, we went with Jesus to the beach, as he called disciples to follow him. We talked about the immediate nature of Jesus’ call, and how we listen, and respond, and hear his voice. Today, we’re on the road with Jesus, and we encounter another of Jesus’ more challenging teachings: “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for some­one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” Of course, this verse comes in the context of a whole story, but this one sentence is so dramatic that it is hard for us to focus on anything else. “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for some­one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” Some months ago I talked to you about that fancy biblical term “hermeneutics,” which means the lens through which we look at and interpret scripture. I told you that it was ok to have different lenses from each other, as long as we were consistent with our own lens – we don’t interpret passages differently suddenly when we don’t like what they say. “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for some­one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” This if one of those passages that seems to test our hermeneutical lens. As I shared with our Mark Bible Study a couple weeks ago, this is a passage that has produced 1000 interpretations where you can make the passage not say what it says.
A man came to see Jesus just as Jesus was about to set out on a journey. He knelt before Jesus, the action of a slave before a master, and called Jesus, “Good Rabbi,” a description – goodness – reserved for God alone. His actions express his commitment to getting some answers from Jesus. He’s serious. He really wants some guidance, really wants to do what God wants. “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus responds by listing several of what we call the Ten Commandments – specifically, all the ones relating to how we treat one another. “These I’ve kept since childhood,” the man responds.
Jesus looks at him and loves him. Loves him enough to say some hard things: “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” The man is shocked, and leaves, grieving, because he had many possessions. The man was great at keeping all the commandments that had to do with how we treat neighbors. But those ones about our relationship with God: About there being just one God, and about putting nothing else before God – it seems Jesus got to the heart of the matter and pinpointed the very thing that would come between this man and God, between this man’s desire to follow Jesus, and his commitment to actually doing it.
We’re not told what the man did when he left Jesus, only that he was shocked, and left grieving. He would be grieving either way. He could decide that discipleship had too high a price, and grieve because he couldn’t do what Jesus asked. But he could also grieve because he was about to give up what he so carefully had accumulated for himself. His possessions. His stuff. The work of his hands. Jesus tells the disciples that it is harder for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God than it is for a camel to make it through the eye of a needle. But when the disciples wonder if there is any hope, Jesus, we read, “looks at them,” a phrase I think add Jesus’ emphasis to his words, and says, “For mortals, it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.” We end in that hopeful place. But we have to get through that eye of the needle verse first.
As soon as Jesus says it, we try to unsay it for him. Here are some of the interpretations I’ve heard. One pastor aptly writes, “Nearly irresistible is the urge to soften this passage’s demands.” [2] Another [3] writes that he had come across two ways to interpret the metaphor of the camel and the eye of the needle that might make Jesus’ metaphor more bearable. First, he shares, “some interpreters of the Bible suggest that apart from the large gates into Jerusalem, there may have also been one small gate. This narrow gate, [easier to use than opening the big city gates, and] just high enough for human entry, was called the “Needle’s Eye.” Maybe a camel might be able to squeeze through if the beast hobbled in on its knees. As you can see,” he explains, “this tames the words of Jesus a little, and would suggest that a rich [person] humbly on [his or her] knees might be able to enter the kingdom of God.” However, there’s simply no evidence for the existence of such a gate. It’s totally speculation.
So he shares a second possible interpretation: “A second interpretation hangs on the undisputed fact that in the Greek of the New Testament the words for camel and thick rope cable are similar. Camel is “camelos” and rope cable is “camilos”. Maybe the later copiers of the New Testament got the words mixed up. This is a plausible theory. But it does once more blunt the words of Jesus.” Of course, a thick rope cable might be easier to fit through a needle eye than a camel – but I guarantee that that thick rope cable isn’t going to actually make it through either.
Even if we take Jesus’ words at face value, some of us still don’t feel worried by this text, because we figure Jesus isn’t talking to us. He’s talking to someone else – someone who is tied to their possessions. Someone rich. We’re not rich are we? I’ve served four very different congregations now, and I have yet to run into anyone who actually considers themselves rich. The way I figure, as long as we know of someone who has more than we do, we figure that they may be rich, but we sure aren’t. It’s understandable. It’s hard to think of ourselves as rich if we occasionally – or often – struggle to make ends meet. But consider this – in my family, between me, my three brothers, my mother, my sister-in-law, and my nephew – that’s 7 people – we have 6 televisions, 5 computers, 6 telephones, 6 cars, three houses with 9 bedrooms total, a swimming pool, probably 1000 DVDs and 3000 CDs, thousands of dollars’ worth of musical instruments including guitars, a piano, violins, and drums, some gaming systems, 2 well-fed and pampered pets, at least a hundred stuffed animals, and at least 25 bins of “storage.” This comes from a family of workers that would consider themselves thoroughly middle class. But if we’re not rich, what’s rich? What’s the standard?
A good rule to follow when reading the scriptures is this: If Jesus is talking, he’s talking to us – to you, and to me. He’s not talking to someone else, about someone else. He’s talking about us. Jesus was really emphatic about tending to your own struggles rather than pointing out the sins of others. So if he’s talking, he’s talking to us. Somehow, in the end, we have to come to terms with that – Jesus is talking to us. We don’t have to like it. We don’t have to follow him, to listen to him. But if we do decide to follow, then Jesus is talking to us.
So what is Jesus telling us? Are we all supposed to leave here and sell all our stuff and give it to the poor and become nomadic disciples, preaching on the street corners? Well, maybe. I won’t rule it out. But as I watch the man who approaches Jesus, I go back to this: I think God, who created us and loves, also can look into our hearts and pinpoint the very thing that is getting in between us and God, between our desire to follow after God, and our commitment to actually doing it. Maybe for you, it is indeed your comfortable lifestyle. I think we all need to take a hard look at that before we dismiss that possibility. But maybe it is your need to be in control rather than letting God be in control. Maybe it is holding a certain position of prestige or status or your own ambition to succeed. Maybe it is worrying about what other people think of you. But whatever is between us and God is an idol. Something that we’ve made, in essence, more important than God. And any idol, no matter how shiny and bright, or no matter how seemingly benign and innocuous – any idol is something that puts distance in between God and us. What is the thing in your life that Jesus would pinpoint, would tell you to give up, let go of, the thing that would cause you to walk away grieving, trying to decide if you could give it up or not? Be honest with yourself, with God. What is getting in your way of following Jesus with everything you’ve got?
            Jesus says it is harder for a rich man to enter the kingdom than for a camel to get through the eye of a needle. It is harder for you to enter the kingdom when you won’t move things out of the way of your path to God than it is for a camel to go through the eye of a needle. No wonder the disciples ask, distress in their voice, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus knows, friends, that a camel can never make it through the eye of a needle. Not by human efforts. And by our own efforts, by our own hard work, by our own devices, we’ll never make it either. Jesus reminds us, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.” Alone, we’re in trouble. With God, we have grace, unconditional love, unlimited second chances. We spend too much time hoping God will lower the expectations placed on us. In doing so, we diminish the perfection of what God offers us. Instead of lowering the standards so we can meet them, God offers grace and forgiveness, and the help to do what we never dreamed we could. So let’s admit to whatever Jesus is really asking of us, whatever obstacles in our path he’s pointing out. And despite the difficult road ahead, we can give thanks: With God, it’s possible to change our lives, change the world, and to fit a camel through the eye of the needle. Thanks be to God! Amen.

[2] Skinner, Matthew.

[3] Prewer, Bruce.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Lectionary Notes for Sixth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 8, Ordinary 13, Year C)

Readings for 6th Sunday After Pentecost, 6/30/13:
2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14, Psalm 77:1-2, 11-20, Galatians 5:1, 13-25, Luke 9:51-62

2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14:
  • Aside from the tongue-twisting of an Elisha/Elijah-packed reading, I like this selection - it is a transitioning of leadership - one who is leaving literally passing on the mantle to one who is stepping up afterward. In part, this was the theme of Rev. Safiya Fosua of the General Board of Discipleship as she preached at the ordination service at Annual Conference for the former North Central New York AC in 2007. She talked about how we need to step up in support when we have those in our midst who are called, even though they need to own their own calls as well. Who can you support who is being called? Especially look out for young people who are hearing God's voice, who may not have many avenues of affirmation coming their way. I had several folks in ministry who could have discouraged me greatly from following my call - but instead they encouraged at every turn. 
  • "Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit." When asked what he wants from Elijah, this is how Elisha responds. Sometimes we're afraid to ask for what we really want and need and could put to use. Elisha just goes straight for what will make him a leader as Elijah was. "You have asked a hard thing," Elijah says. Hard, but wise, and possible indeed! What would you ask for if you didn't put restrictions on your asking? If so equipped, what could you do for God?
  • Elisha picks up the mantle - literally and symbolically - that Elijah has left behind. And then he immediately acts, and calls on God. I'm so struck by his confidence. I feel like I would have been floundering, trying to figure out what to do, after losing Elijah. 
Psalm 77:1-2, 11-20:
  • This psalm basically answers the psalmist's own question: "What god is so great as our God?" Answer: No god is as great as our God for all the reasons that follow.
  • "You are the God who works wonders. The God of might. The God who redeems. God of creation. God of our ancestors, God who led Moses and Aaron."
  • It's too bad the middle verses aren't included in the reading for this Sunday - essentially, we find a psalmist who is despairing, feeling alone and perhaps abandoned by God, wondering where God is. It is almost as if the last part, verses 11-20, are the psalmist's own self-pep talk, a reminder of the ways the psalmist has experienced God, a God who has not abandoned and forsaken. How do you find faith when you are feeling alone and like God is far from you?
  • What deeds of God would you call to mind if you were making a list like the psalmist's? What are the moments/experiences that for you bring comfort to your soul? 
Galatians 5:1, 13-25:
  • This is a fun passage, the passage describing fruits of the spirit. I have less, I'm afraid , to say about the works of the flesh: Paul and I might disagree on what fits in that category and what doesn't. But we'll come back to that. There's a connection/explanation between the gifts of the spirit and the fruits of the spirit - the gifts are what God has given us to work with, and the fruits are what God would like to see at work in our lives as a result.
  • I clearly remember that during General Conference 2000 when we participated in a service of repentence for racism in the UMC. The Bishops from the historically African-American Methodist denominations had a chance to respond. "Bishop Clarence Carr of the AMEZ church gave a most poignant remark as he reminded the delegates that a tree is known by its fruit. “I’m not going to be a judge, he said, “but I want you to know we will be fruit inspectors.” (see source)
  • A sermon or sermon series on fruits of the spirit could go fruit-by-fruit. What's the hardest for you? I always thought self-control was the most difficult, because if you can have self-control, you can exhibit the other fruits more easily!
  • This passage is coming near the end of Galatians. Paul has been working hard to show that faith is freeing while the law (as master) is a disciplinarian that can't set us straight with God, can't justify us. We'll always fall short if measured by the law instead of God's grace. Still, Paul makes clear in this passage that our freedom in Christ doesn't give us freedom to self-indulge. Ironically, our freedom in Christ leads us free "through love to become slaves to one another." (vs. 14)
  • Actually, Paul argues, though it might not seem like it, giving in to the desires of the flesh, when you are living by the Spirit, results in "prevent[ing] you from doing what you want. Crucified with Christ, we've crucified the passions of the flesh, and have the bounty of the fruits of the Spirit. 
Luke 9:51-62:
  • Samaritans - we should always perk up when we hear Samaritans mentioned in the gospels. Usually issues of who are neighbors, what is hospitality, are somewhere in the mix of the story. 
  • Amy Jill Levine, lecturing, in part, on the Parable of the Good Samaritan at the Festival of Homiletics a few years ago, says that we shouldn't think of the Samaritans in the Bible as the oppressed/downtrodden folks, but as those who were the Other, the enemy. That's how Jews and Samaritans viewed one another. 
  • "His face was set toward Jerusalem." A unique phrase scattered here and there, hard to translate any other way than this. Basically, Jesus' mind is set, already, on where he is ultimately headed. He knows, even as he is teaching and traveling, his physical and spiritual destination. On what is your face set, and how does it influence how you live your life each day? 
  • In a Children's Sermon, to illustrate the "face was set" idea, I had a young girl who was a dancer come and do pirouettes for us. To pirouette without getting dizzy, like non-dancers do when spinning, you have to "spot" - fix your gaze each time you turn, otherwise you become disoriented. 
  • James and John, acting as wacky as Peter usually does, offer to command fire down to consume the hesitating-to-welcome Samaritans. A little comic relief - Jesus rebukes them and moves on.
  • Three examples of those who ask to follow Jesus, and three times Jesus puts them off, checking to see that they know what they are getting into by their desire to follow. He has no 'home', he has no desire to wait and put unimportant tasks in order, he has no desire to wait and tie up loose ends. He is about the work of proclaiming NOW the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God is about life, and is here right now, at hand. To follow Jesus in sharing that news requires our immediate and complete attention! Are you struck by the "reasonableness" of their requests? Are you ready to follow Jesus right now

Sermon, "How to Pack for Summer Vacation: At the Beach," Mark 1:14-20, 2:13-14

Sermon 6/23/13
Mark 1:41-20, 2:13-14

How to Pack for Summer Vacation: At the Beach

            This spring several of us have been reading the Gospel of Mark together in our Saturday morning Bible Study. One of the things we’ve talked a lot about is Mark’s sense of urgency. His gospel is the shortest – 16 chapters – and he never seems to spend more verses or words on something when he can say it more succinctly. He seems to want to get straight to the point and communicate only the facts that seem absolutely necessary. In line with this, Mark uses the word immediately with great frequency in his gospel – almost 30 times, and more than all of the other gospels combined. When things happen in Mark’s account, they happen immediately.
            Today’s scripture lesson is a perfect example. We get some seaside stories, where Jesus, seeming to just be out for a stroll on the beach, encounters first some fishermen, and then a tax collector, all of whom he calls to follow him. We read in Mark that Jesus comes to Galilee after John the Baptist has been arrested. He comes announcing good news of God, which Mark describes as this: “The time is fulfilled, the kingdom of God is near. Repent, and believe in the good news.” Over the years, people have come to use the phrase good news – which is what “gospel” means, actually – to mean, “Jesus Christ died for our sins so that we might have eternal life.” But both Mark, in his narration, and Jesus, in his preaching and teaching say that the good news is that God’s kingdom is near, at hand, arrived. Instead of waiting for some distant time and place to experience being part of God’s kingdom, instead of something you experience just in life eternal, Jesus’ good news is that God’s kingdom is for us to live into right now, when we repent, believe, and follow him. As he is sharing this message, travelling along the sea, he passes by Simon and Andrew, who are fishing. He says to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” We read, “And immediately, they left their nets and followed him.” Then he encounters James and John, sons of Zebedee. And “immediately,” says the text, he calls them. And they lay down their nets, leave the work in care of their father and the hired men, and follow. A crowds gathers around Jesus as he teaches and travels by the sea, and next he happens on Levi, son of Alphaeus, a tax collector. Jesus tells him, “Follow me.” And Levi gets up, and follows.
            There’s not much content to these stories, and yet what happens in them is so significant. Disciples are called. Lives are changed. People who become the leaders of what we call church are selected from hard-labor jobs like fishing, and unsavory jobs like tax collecting. Yet, what struck us in our Bible Study was how little conversation we see. Does Mark leave things out? Are we missing the Question and Answer session between Jesus and the soon-to-be disciples where they ask him what he means by catching people, how long they’ll be gone for, where he’s going, what they can bring, when they’ll be back, so on? Or do they really just go immediately? It is so hard for us to imagine. We could barely even agree to go on an overnight trip immediately, much less change the course of our lives in a snap.
[[Recently I’ve been reading – or rereading, I guess, since I read these books many years ago when I was a child – Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie series. (Let me mention that they are a particular favorite of our own Rachel Bouwens.) One of the things I’m finding particularly fascinating is the descriptions of how each item in their household is made – things we take for granted in finished-product form only. You read as the family makes cheese, makes their beds, makes a rocking chair, digs a well, builds a house, sews clothing. All of these tasks take such time and effort and care. There’s nothing immediate about them. And reading these books in our world of unrelenting speed, I can’t help but find the pace of life awfully appealing. They worked very hard. But their lives also seem to exude a deep restfulness that I long for.
Have you ever found yourself wishing that the microwave wasn’t taking so long? Don’t those two or three minutes seem to last forever sometimes? Have you found yourself frustrated that your smartphone isn’t loading pages quickly enough, or your computer isn’t downloading something fast enough for you? Have you been exasperated by the amount of time it takes to travel to someplace on the opposite side of the country? How long it takes for a piece of mail to be delivered to someplace thousands of miles away? Part of us longs for restfulness, to be able to take our time, and enjoy every second as it passes. But I’m also frequently amused by the “time-saving” products that flood our markets. You can buy cheese “crumbles”, so you don’t have to do the laborious task of crumbling your own cheese. First, cookie dough started appearing in tubes, so you could have the joy of fresh-baked cookies without the time of preparing the cookies to bake, and then, the dough started appearing in pre-cut shapes. You just break apart the dough, pop it on a tray, put it in the oven. Lest you think I’m criticizing you, I’ve certainly purchased products like this myself. My point is: we certainly have the capability, and the ability, apparently, to sometimes take immediate action, to want things to happen quickly, immediately. So when do and don’t we choose to respond immediately? Why? What’s right?]] What’s all the hurry about? Why does Mark have us in such a rush?
            Over our year together, Pastor Aaron and I have shared with you a bit about our calls into ministry. For both of us, there were points of deciding, choosing direction throughout our journeys into ministry. But mostly, discerning and following God’s call has been just that – a journey, rather than an immediate choice. Listening for God’s voice, trying to figure out what God is saying, testing and refining and settling into what I believe God is calling me to do. And then, starting all over again as God leads me into new places. I’ve rarely experienced God’s call in my life to feel immediate. And indeed, even when we are clear about our call, our ordination process makes sure we take our time confirming that call. It took me nine years, start to finish, to become a fully ordained pastor, and I did things pretty quickly. The process encourages some time for reflection, for waiting, for being sure before taking action.              
            And yet, sometimes the cry for immediate action, our immediate response, is so compelling. One of my favorite writings from Martin Luther King, Jr. is his Letter from Birmingham Jail. In it, King particularly expresses his frustration with white leaders, especially white church leaders, who kept trying to convince him that he was rushing with his calls for desegregation and racial justice, that his timing wasn’t right and he needed to wait. King wrote, “We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct action campaign that was "well timed" in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word "Wait!"… This "Wait" has almost always meant "Never." We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that "justice too long delayed is justice denied."” King understood that the message that all were equal in the sight of God was not a message meant for waiting. It was meant to be shared – and put into action – immediately.
We seem to live in this paradoxical place between “hurry up” and “wait.” Waiting, slowing down, taking time, not rushing – sometimes this is just the right thing. Every year, we celebrate the season of Advent as a season of waiting, on purpose, intentionally, for the coming of the Christ child. We try hard to be better at waiting when the world wants to skip ahead straight to Christmas. The scriptures talk about the holy practice of waiting: “Those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength,” we read.
            And yet, Mark is clear about his desired tempo: Immediate. Immediately Jesus calls. Immediately new disciples follow. Mark’s whole gospel seems to be in a rush. He seems so intent on sharing the good news that he can barely stay at his desk long enough to write the detailed gospel account we long for. He wants to get the word out as quickly as he can, with only the facts you really need to know. And maybe he uses the word “immediately” the most, but he’s not alone. The Bible is as full of immediate action as it is of long times of waiting. Over and over we read of God showing up and people immediately changing the course of their lives to follow God. So which is right? Wait on God? Or drop your nets and get going? How do we know, if we are always between, as people of faith, the hurry up and the wait? When do we wait on the Lord, and when do we drop our nets right now so we can follow? I don’t have any simple answers to this question, but here’s what I’m figuring out.
            First, I think the message of Jesus is always immediate. When we find ourselves in a situation that is begging for the good news that God’s kingdom is already here, we should never wait on that, never withhold that. When I listen to the frustration in Martin Luther King’s writings about being told to “wait” in the face of injustice, that’s what I get: someone who knows the message of Jesus is immediate. The good news is that we are already one in Christ Jesus, and so systems of racism, of oppression, are in stark contrast to that good news and they have to stop – right now. That kind of stuff shouldn’t wait. Immediate.
            And of course, I also think we shouldn’t wait when it is clear to us that Jesus is calling us to do something. Sometimes we’re trying to figure out God’s call, but when we get it, when we understand what God wants, it is time to follow. With the disciples at the beach, it was pretty clear, wasn’t it? Jesus said “follow me.” They could have asked Jesus to come back later, when they were ready. But there was no mistaking what Jesus wanted, and so Peter, Andrew, James, John, Levi, and more after them – they responded, immediately.
            Then, finally, what do we do when we are trying to figure out what God is asking us to do and to be? What then? When the message isn’t so clear? I think that while we don’t know everything, and while we need to wait on God for answers about some things, things that we come to God in prayer about, things that we’re struggling with, things that God has yet to reveal to us, while we’re waiting, we should be acting on what we do know. Maybe we don’t know everything, but we almost always know something about what God wants us to do, or how God wants us to live. And that is the stuff that we should be doing immediately, while we wait on the other stuff. Not sure what God is calling you to do next year? Be in prayer about it. Listen for God’s voice. Enlist the aid of your trusted friends and mentors to help you figure it out. But in the meantime, right now, do what you know: work on feeding the hungry, loving your neighbor, advocating for justice, practicing peace, being a servant to all, sharing the good news that God is here. Follow after the heart of Jesus in these things, and I believe, truly, that the waiting will be very fruitful.
            Immediately he called them, and immediately, they left their nets, and followed him. In our life with Jesus, it’s just a day at the beach. Amen.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Lectionary Notes for Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, Year C

Readings for Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, 6/23/13: 
1 Kings 19:1-15a, Psalm 42, Galatians 3:23-29, Luke 8:26-39

1 Kings 19:1-15a:
  • Elijah sitting under the tree - How many people in the scriptures end up sitting forlornly under trees? Thankfully, God always find them there! 
  • "Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you." There's multiple layers to this sentence, no? 
  • "What are you doing here?" Another multi-layered question, and I wonder how often God wants to demand that same answer from us. What are we doing here? 
  • This time, God is in the sheer silence. But God is in the fire and the earthquake too sometimes. Where do you look for God? Where do you find God? Where has God found you? 
  • I think Elijah's repetition of his situation is interesting. Why does he have to repeat himself? In a different setting, he and God are now able to have a real conversation. Elijah, so intent on his woes, can now listen to God. 
Psalm 42:
  • "As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God." No wonder these beautiful words have been set to music and are so enduring. We long for God like we long for a drink of water. But just like we try to quench our thirst with soda and coffee and a multitude of things that aren't water, so we do with God, with equal success. 
  • This psalm is a pep talk from the psalmist to the psalmist's own soul. Pattern: Soul - I feel alone and abandoned. Self to soul - why so upset? Don't be down, but hope and trust in God. A testimony of faith, but also a prayer to God to be what the prayer hopes for. 
Galatians 3:23-29:
  • We are no longer subject to a disciplinarian. I can't help but think of schoolchildren as I read this passage, and the joy they would feel of hearing that they no longer have to report to the principal's office, or similar. Good news, this new way of being with God in Christ. 
  • "clothed yourselves with Christ." What great imagery! What is it like to be dressed in Jesus? To put on a Jesus-outfit, so that we look and act like him? 
  • No longer Jew or Greek, no longer male or female, no longer slave or free, no longer these arbitrary things we come up with to define and divide. No, we have a new identity, one in Christ. This is the true baptismal liturgy. We put on Christ, we are one in him, and we are new creations, defined by Christ rather than anything else. 
Luke 8:26-39:
  • Compare this to Mark's account of these events. 
  • Notice the isolation of the man with demons. 
  • The demon equates Jesus commanding him to leave the man as Jesus "tormenting" him.  I wonder how often we skew in our minds the good that God is seeking for us, the healing that God tries to work in us, when we cling to the unhealthy, hurtful ways we know. 
  • Pay attention to the relationship between Legion/pigs and the occupying Romans. 
  • "But Jesus sent him away." Why do you think Jesus wouldn't let the man follow him? 
  • How would you have reacted to what Jesus did with the demons and the pigs? 

Monday, June 17, 2013

Sermon, "How to Pack for Summer Vacation: Travelling Abroad," Mark 7:24-37

Sermon 6/16/13
Mark 7:24-37

How to Pack for Summer Vacation: Travelling Abroad

            This Sunday we’re continuing with our theme that Pastor Aaron started us out on last Sunday, our series titled, “How to Pack for Summer Vacation.” I don’t know about you, but I have a list of places that I’d eventually like to get to see. This summer, I’ll be driving through some states I haven’t been to yet. Ireland is on my list of places I’d just love to visit, along with New Zealand and the Holy Land. What’s on your list? Most of us, I suspect, imagine going places where we suspect we’ll have a good time, right? We imagine travelling to places that we will find relaxing or exciting. We might want to accomplish some particular task – hiking up a certain mountain, or sailing a certain body of water, something that is challenging.
            But I wonder, how often do you intentionally visit places where you plan on feeling uncomfortable and out of place? How often do your travels take you out of your comfort zone? I remember when I was serving in East Syracuse – I started out living in Fayetteville, but after a year, I had the opportunity to rent a vacant parsonage that was much bigger than my apartment while also being much cheaper! I couldn’t pass up the good deal. But when I shared with my congregation that I would be living in the city of Syracuse, several folks responded with a degree of alarm. They hated having to go into the city, and they were sure I wouldn’t like living there. East Syracuse might be minutes from Syracuse, but some of the folks never really crossed that line. We started then, as a congregation, volunteering at the Syracuse Rescue Mission. I took a long time, building up from one or two willing companions volunteering in the mailroom to getting a big group to go serve at the soup kitchen. It took a lot, but finally some folks were willing to go out of their comfort zones.
            I’ve shared with you my introverted nature. I’m pretty shy, and I often feel like I’m outside of my comfort zone, anytime I’m visiting a place where I don’t know many people, or I’m a newcomer. These days many seminaries require a cross-cultural immersion experience as part of your degree program, and so I travelled to Ghana, in West Africa, for a few weeks after my first year of seminary. We stayed with host families for one week of our trip, and without the comforting present of my professors and classmates, I felt very much out of my comfort zone, despite the incredible hospitality of my host family. As a white American, I rarely have to experience what many people of color experience every single day – being visibly different than almost everyone around them. It was a new experience to know that every person who saw me was noticing the color of my skin, and making assumptions about me because of what I looked like and where I was from. I learned a lot from my experience, and at the same time felt like I was just hitting the tip of the iceberg, thinking about how people are included and excluded, who’s in and who is out, how we define what is normal and what doesn’t fit. How often do you travel outside your comfort zones? How often do you cross boundaries into places where you no longer get to represent the normal, the typical?
Jesus is on the move in our text today too, crossing boundaries, as usual. We find that Jesus has set out for the region of Tyre. Tyre was a region that was primarily inhabited by Gentiles – by non-Jews. We’re told that he doesn’t want anyone to know he’s there. But, as usual, “he could not escape notice,” and a woman comes to him with a “little” daughter who has an unclean spirit. She comes to him because, we read, she “immediately” heard about him when he came into town. She falls on her knees before Jesus and begs him to heal her child. Jesus’ response? “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs,” he says. Meaning has changed somewhat over time, but calling a woman a dog – even, in this situation, something like a ‘puppy-dog’, wasn’t exactly a compliment either. Jesus seems to be saying that she doesn’t count as one of the children he’s trying to feed, but is like a puppy begging for human food at the table. But the woman has her own snappy comeback for Jesus – “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” This somehow suits what Jesus was looking for apparently, because he says to her, “For saying that, you may go – the demon has left your daughter.” After this healing, Jesus takes an awkward route by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee. Here, a man who is deaf and who has a speech impediment is brought to Jesus. Jesus heals with a command – “Ephphatha – be opened.” Jesus tries to keep the healing quiet, but of course the news spreads quickly. People say of him, “he has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.”
What to make of this text? Why does Jesus speak the way he does to this woman? What does it mean? When I’m confused about the meaning of passages in the Bible, it often helps me to check the immediate context – what happens right before and right after this passage. Knowing where the story falls in the overall scheme of things can help point us to what the story means, instead of trying to take a passage out of context as a stand-alone teaching. In context, we can ask: Why is the story here? Does it illustrate a point made in an earlier scene? Is it setting the stage for what comes next? If we look at the ‘before’ to today’s passage, we find that Jesus was teaching the scribes and Pharisees, the disciples and crowds, about what is clean and unclean. Jesus reminds them that it is what is inside a person that can make them clean or unclean, not what is outside, external, what goes in. It is not the superficial that makes us unclean or clean, but the contents of our hearts. Jesus then reprimands the religious leaders for holding onto human traditions so tightly that they miss the point of the commandments of God to love.
So, it is just after this that we see Jesus interacting with a woman who was, well, a woman, and a foreign woman, a Gentile woman, a woman of a different race, a woman with an unclean, demon-possessed daughter, a woman begging on her knees, strike after strike against her, according to ritual, custom, tradition, practice – where is this story leading us? If Jesus had been teaching about what really defiles a person, and how people weren’t unclean for the superficial reasons the Pharisees insisted on, and then he went from there directly to a region where the majority of people were foreigners, unclean under purity laws, for no apparent reason, what can we suspect about Jesus’ intentions with the woman? Despite appearance to the contrary, it seems Jesus must have gone to Tyre on purpose to interact with non-Jews. He must have at least anticipated a non-Jew coming to him for healing. And though his first words to her are at first confusing or hard to hear, what strongly held belief against healing her could be so easily overthrown after a one sentence exchange? I must believe, given the positioning of these two passages, that Jesus’ trip to Tyre is an illustration, a demonstration of his point about what – who – is clean and unclean, unaccepted and accepted in God’s terms over human terms.
What, then, is the point for us? What do take away? Sure, we can conclude: Jesus has declared everyone to be clean, to belong, to be worth his time. So we aren’t supposed to think of anyone as unclean either. But I think it is more than that. I think Jesus calls us to be intentional about crossing boundaries, breaking out of our own comfort zones, forging relationships that communicate more than our words to about what we believe about who’s in God’s circle. What makes us clean or unclean? Are we Christians missing out if the only people we spend time with are other Christians? If we only spend time with people who share the same believes and practices we do? In safe places? With people who are polite and behaved and proper? With people who look just like us, live in homes like us, work in jobs like us, watch the same TV shows, listen to the same music? Or does keeping to our safe, clean comfort zones result in us missing out on God’s adventure?

Over and over, Jesus raises the hackles of the religious folk of his day because they don’t like where he’s spending his time, who he is spending time with. They’re pretty sure who is clean and who is not. But Jesus seems pretty sure too. And he’s travelling abroad. Crossing the false boundaries we set up all over the place. Stepping out of our comfort zones, and beckoning for us to follow. Where are you going for summer vacation? Jesus’ plans are clear. He’s boundary crossing. He’s telling us: Be opened – let your heart be opened. He has done everything well. So let us go and do likewise. Amen.     

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Lectionary Notes for Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, Year C

Readings for Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, 6/16/13: 
1 Kings 21:1-21a, Psalm 5:1-8, Galatians 2:15-21, Luke 7:36-8:3

1 Kings 21:1-21a:
  • Kings. Here's a book that doesn't show up too often on people's favorites list, nor even too often in our lectionary. I have to remind myself not to overlook it when it does turn up!
  • I like this text because it sort of ends with a 'to be continued' sense - the set up is all there, but the conclusion is not in today's reading. You have to come back (to church, to the Bible) to find out what happens.
  • Jezebel: What a bad wrap she gets in the Bible, eh? Here she arranges someone's (Naboth) death in order that her husband, Ahab, may take possession of something (land) that belonged to this person. Compare this to King David arranging someone's (Uriah) death in order that he may take possession of something (Bathsheba) that belonged to this person. Now, how do we remember David, and how do we remember Bathsheba? Granted, we have more positive stories of David to balance out his character, but one has to ask: gender stereotyping/sexism going on here?
Psalm 5:1-8:
  • "Give ear to my words, O Lord, give heed to my sighing. Listen to the sound of my cry . . . " Yes, this is our human plea, isn't it? To be assured that we are heard by God in our distress.
  • "For you are not a God who delights in wickedness." Hm - were there gods worshipped in the psalmist's time who were portrayed as delighting in wrong-doing. What a contrast for a God that seeks good, even from the beginning of creation announcing it all as good.
  • Again, evil/good = me/them duality.
  • "But I, through the abundance of your steadfast love, will enter your house." (emphasis added)
Galatians 2:15-21:
  • "a person is justified not by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ." Classic sola fide, by faith alone, text. Paul uses it well here to show, again, that being Jewish and following Jewish law does not a follower of Jesus and heir of the kingdom make - for Paul, it is faith in Christ alone that brings this 'status'.
  • "I do not nullify the grace of God; for if justification comes through the law, then Christ died for nothing." I don't think I've ever noticed this verse before. Powerfully important, I think. We do not, CANNOT, nullify God's grace, especially by our sinfulness, failures that happen even after we've come to Christ. If that were the case, it would mean there was no importance, no value in Christ's death, reasons Paul. "I do not nullify the grace of God." - a personal motto.
Luke 7:36-8:3:
  • I have to admit, I'm glad to be back to the 'regular' stories about Jesus, if any can be called such. Obviously, his life, death, and other events of his life make up a great part of our faith, but it is mostly in his teachings that I find my meaning and way I want to live my own life.
  • Note the placement of this scene in Luke as compared with the other gospels of the anointing of Jesus, here by an unnamed woman.
  • "A woman, who was a sinner . . ."
  • Can you imagine this scene taking place in front Simon the Pharisee and his household? What a bold woman! Do we make such displays of our love for God?
  • Jesus' parable: two are forgiven debts - one greater than the other. Who is more appreciative? Obviously, the one who owed the greater debt. The lesson for Simon - more than just to know that the woman is quite thankful because of her great sinfulness - in fact, if you look at Jesus' objections to Simon's own behavior - his lack of hospitality for Jesus in his home vs. the woman's welcoming of him and caring for him - you might question who is the one who is sinning, and who needs to be shown forgiveness?
  • "Your faith has saved you." Has your faith ever saved you? How?
  • "bringing the good news" - like a gift Jesus was carrying.
  • Note - the last verse here clearly suggests that the woman who anointed him and Mary Magdalene are two totally different women.

Monday, June 03, 2013

Lectionary Notes for Third Sunday after Pentecost, Year C

Readings for Third Sunday after Pentecost, 6/9/13:
1 Kings 17:8-24, Psalm 146, Galatians 1:11-24, Luke 7:11-17

1 Kings 17:8-24:
  • What were the reasonable expectations of hospitality for the widow towards Elijah? I'm trying to picture my grandmother, a widow, and how she would have to respond to a strange man showing up at her door. The text has God telling Elijah that God has already commanded the widow to feed Elijah. What was this call/command like for the widow? Was she afraid? Confused? Excited to be called on?
  • "She went and did as Elijah said." She shows great faith and trust. Of course, what were her other options? She, too, was on the verge of death from the famine, like everyone else. She had nothing to lose from trusting, or at least trying to trust Elijah's words. Perhaps it is easier to trust and have faith when we have nothing left to lose. But I wish we were better at being faithful when we have everything to lose!
  • v. 18 - Ah, finally. The hesitation, fear, anger, worry about whether or not trusting was a good idea after all.
  • "The Lord listened to the voice of Elijah." Do you think God listens to your voice?
  • "Now I know" the widow says. We seem to be so in need of 'proofs' to 'know' about God's action in the world. What convincing do you need to have?
Psalm 146:
  • "Do not put your trust in princes, in mortals, in whom there is no help." What/who do you put your trust in? How does how you live show who you trust? Does the way you live communicate your trust in God?
  • "When their breath departs, they return to the earth; on that very day their plans perish." This reminds me of the slogan I've seen - "He who dies with the most toys still dies."
  • :6-:9 - These verses mirror Isaiah 61 in the tasks of justice that God has a reputation for: care for the oppressed, food for the hungry, freedom for captives, sight for the blind, presence for the stranger, assistance to widows and orphans. Repeatedly we hear that this is what God is about. What is your reputation of care? How are you helping bring God's tasks of justice to reality?
Galatians 1:11-24:
  • :15 - Paul says that God chose to reveal Christ to Paul, since he was "set . . . apart before [he] was born." In his reasoning, it would logically follow that God doesn't choose to reveal Christ to others. Why would this be? I tend to lean toward believing that God reveals God's self to each one of us, and we choose how to respond. For once, Paul may not be giving himself enough credit - he chose to respond to God. In a dramatic way? Sure. But still a choice is involved.
  • Paul must have had such a hard relationship with the Twelve. He emphasizes in this passage how outside the 'norm' his encounter with Christ is, his receiving of the good news. His relationship with the Twelve is - strained - throughout the New Testament. Why is it so hard to accept people who believe differently than us, practice differently than us, journey in a different way than us, if the core is the same?
  • "And they glorified God because of me." Has your life/testimony/action ever caused someone else to glorify God? If not, why not?
  • This is Paul's faith-life story in abbreviated form. What's your story? How did you get where you are?
Luke 7:11-17:
  • Again, a widow and son - check out the parallels with our text from 1 Kings.
  • "mother's only son" - the woman is a widow, and has only one child. The child, then, is so, so precious.
  • compassion - a favorite word in the gospels. Jesus has compassion. What does that word mean to you? Do you have compassion? What does your compassion cause you to do? What does it fail to cause you to do?
  • This is only of a handful of gospel stories of Jesus raising the dead - we also have Lazarus and the daughter of Jairus. How does this story compare? What is its significance (other than to the mother!)?
  • The crowd responds in fear. That seems like a very reasonable response! We may hate death, but we at least understand that it happens and is permanent. But Jesus turns things upside down. How do you think the son felt? What would you do if you had a second chance like this?
  • What about Jesus raising a man from the dead makes the people call him a prophet? Does that gel with your understanding of what a prophet it?

My Unpreached Sermon(!) for 2nd Sunday after Pentecost, "Pentecost Aftermath: Paul," Acts 9:1-20

Sunday I was sick, sick, sick. Thankfully, my co-pastor was able to lead worship for me. But here's the sermon that was all ready to go...

Sermon 6/2/13
Acts 9:1-20

Pentecost Aftermath: Paul

            “I want to do it myself!” Any of you that have experience with young children probably know that small children reach a point in their development where they are experimenting with and pushing the boundaries of their independence. My nephew Sam just turned six – he’s a big boy now. But when he was about three or four, he went through this period when no matter what the task was, Sam would refuse help of any kind. If he was trying to get dressed, he didn’t want your help, even though it took him forever to get his clothing on the right direction the right side out. Particularly frustrating was his desire to get in and out of his car seat in the car on his own – it would take him several minutes, when you, the parent or aunt or grandma knew that you could just pick him up and put him in the seat in five seconds. Sam has grown past this particular stage now, but I can still perfectly hear his voice and tone and picture his expression, “I just want to do it myself!”
            Of course, adults aren’t much better, are they? Many of you know that my mom, who is slowly becoming a bionic woman, has been through many surgeries – rotator-cuff, knee replacement, two ankle fusions. The ankle fusion, a surgery that failed the first time and had to be repeated, was particularly hard, as my mom was in a non-weight bearing cast for months, and with her previous shoulder injury, she also couldn’t use crutches. That meant she worked with a walker and a wheelchair. My mom, a nurse for 30 years, is a horrible patient, as folks who work in the medical field generally are in my experience! She wouldn’t let anyone help her up the stairs when she got home from the hospital, resulting in several of us hovering around her uselessly while she scooted up the stairs, sweating profusely with the effort. She fell in the bathroom the first morning after being home, because she was trying to do a little rearranging in one of the bathroom cupboards while balancing on one foot. And when I took her out to a craft show, and tried to push her through the crowd in a wheelchair, I realized it wasn’t working because she couldn’t stop trying to steer. Two people trying to steer one object works just about as well as it sounds. It doesn’t work. Mom, not unlike Sam, just wanted to do it herself.           
Last week we heard a small mention in the scripture of our main focus for today; as we read about the stoning of Stephen, we heard that those who were putting him to death threw their cloaks at the feet of a man named Saul. Today, we turn our focus to Saul, and our passage opens telling us that Saul has been “breathing threats and murder” against the followers of the way of Jesus. Saul is not content to just strongly disagree with the disciples he encounters. No, he is specifically seeking more authority and ability to have the followers of the way arrested and brought to trial for punishment, like Stephen was. He’s on a journey to Damascus, and he wants to be able to look for Jesus-followers on his journey. Instead, his journey turns out very differently than planned. As he’s travelling, a light flashes around him, he falls to the ground, and he hears a voice: “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” “Who are you?” Paul wonders. “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” the voice responds. Saul follows Jesus’ instructions to head to the city to wait for someone to tell him what to do. He’s been temporarily blinded by his encounter with Jesus.
Once in Damascus, he meets a man named Ananias, who was sent by Jesus to help Saul. I’m always amazed by Ananias. Jesus appeared to Ananias to send him to help Saul. But Ananias is skeptical. We read, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints in Jerusalem; and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who invoke your name.” But Jesus responds, “Go, for he is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel; I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” And the next sentence we read starts, “So Ananias went.” He trusted that Jesus knew better than he did! So Ananias lays hands on Saul and says, Jesus, who appeared to you, has sent me “so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” Saul’s sight is immediately restored, and he gets up and is baptized, and over the next several days, he spends time with the very disciples he was intent on persecuting, and begins preaching: “Jesus is the Son of God.” Eventually, this Saul is known to us as Paul. He’s the only person to whom Jesus speaks in this way in the scriptures, in this ‘appearance’ of sorts after the resurrection. Paul’s conversion from a persecutor of the Way to a follower of the Way is certainly one of the most dramatic stories of conversion in the Bible.
I worry, though, that the dramatic nature of Paul’s conversion keeps us from finding ourselves in his story. Some of us may have stories of God at work in us in this way, but many of us may not see the beginnings of our relationship with God in such a crystalizing moment. For me, though, the key in the story is how our lives bloom when God is in control. And whether we realize that God is in control in a moment or over time, that’s a core part of our journey with Christ either way! I’m always amazed that we seem to love the image of God as potter so much – you are the Potter, God, I am the clay. Mold me and make me. And so on. But have you ever seen what a potter does with a lump of clay? Have you watched how a potter starts and restarts and works and reworks a lump of clay? The end result is so beautiful – but the process – well, to transform a lump of clay into a beautiful vessel means that clay has to go through a lot! But that biblical image of the God as the potter, us as they clay is just right. That’s exactly it. We have to be molded by God. As Pastor Aaron would say, we have to remember that God is God and we are not.
Several folks from our congregation spent the last three days at Annual Conference, the regional decision-making body for our denomination. Liverpool First was well represented – besides Aaron and myself we had lay delegates Kay Phillips and Pat Cupernall, youth delegate Elliott Lawrence, and two more of our own on conference staff – Martha Miller and Pat Toukatly. During one worship service, our Bishop, Mark Webb, shared this powerful video, set to the music that was our theme song for the event. [VIDEO] All around/ Hope is springing up from this old ground/ Out of chaos life is being found in You/ You make beautiful things/ You make beautiful things out of the dust/ You make beautiful things/ You make beautiful things out of us.

            We try to change our messed up lives over and over. Try to change and fail. Try to change and fail. We forget that it is God who transforms us, God who meets us on the road, God who redeems us. We try so hard to save ourselves. We’re like Sam, petulant children. We want to do it ourselves! But although by God we are nurtured and strengthened and can grow more deeply in discipleship, it is always God who redeems us, God who saves us, God who makes us new. Saul – Paul – he learned that in a dramatic way. Ananias, a disciple already, was continuing to learn that as he had to trust that Jesus knew what he was doing in calling Paul. Sometimes it takes us time to hand over control to God. Sometimes God helps us do it all at once. Sometimes we take baby-steps. But friends, with us, sometimes in spite of us, God is making beautiful things out of us, out of the dust of our lives. As it turns out, we can’t do it by ourselves. And so God gives us fellow journeyers on the way. God gives us supporters and mentors to walk beside us. God gives us people like Ananias, who trust God that we can change. And God gives us Jesus, God-in-the-flesh, to find us when we are on the wrong road, to make things right, and make something beautiful out of dusty paths. Thanks be to God. Amen.