Year C — The Third Sunday After Pentecost (Proper 5)

Commentary for June 9, 2013
by the Rev. Dr. John Fairless

Click here for today’s readings
Click HERE for the Lectionary Lab Live podcast

1 Kings 17:8-16, (17-24)
Elijah is moved by “the word of the LORD.” Interesting.

Is such a movement limited only to biblical prophets and patriarchs? Or, does God’s word still speak to “the people in the pews?”

There are multiple purposes on display through this narrative. Elijah needs a place to chill for a while and will need to eat and drink. It doesn’t seem that a poor widow’s house would be the best choice for this abode, but that’s where God sends him.

The widow’s faith is tested, as it is plain to see she doesn’t have enough food for herself and her son, much less for the man of God. Is God crazy? Why not send Elijah to the home of a rich person? Of course, God’s goodness and ability to provide in even the most difficult of circumstances is demonstrated. Good story…let’s move on.

But wait…there’s more! (I feel a bit like a Ronco commercial here. 🙂

The “rest of the story” is about a miraculous resurrection (or, resuscitation, at least.) Has God perhaps intended this from the very beginning? Was Elijah sent here for such a time as this?

There is, of course, a significant tie to the gospel account for today, as Jesus will also raise a widow’s son from death. Jesus is very much like Elijah — a prophet of Israel. But, he’s also very different from the testy Tishbite, who tends to see things according to the way they will affect him.

Good thing God can use even whiners and complainers to deliver God’s message!

Psalm 146
The psalm stands alone as brilliant praise for God; it also coordinates with today’s readings, as v.4 touches the issue of what happens when our “breath departs.” We also have v.7 in which we are assured that God watches over “the orphan and the widow” — and God does lots of other cool stuff in this psalm, as well.

Psalm 30
Psalm 30 also has ties to the other lessons; it is ultimately God who redeems us all, bringing our souls up from Sheol. 

Verse 5 is often quoted (and rightly so): “God’s anger is but for a moment, but his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes in the morning.” This verse speaks of the longer working of God — a deeper part of wisdom comes from realizing that the events of any particular day must be seen against the backdrop of a lifetime. 

Both joy and sorrow will come — as surely as day follows night. God is present in both (or, in all.)

Galatians 1:11-24
What does it mean for us to consider that, like Paul, we were “set apart” by God before we were born? How has God’s grace been evident as we look back over our lifetimes? What do these things mean for our futures?

Luke 7:11-17
Jesus was bold enough to interrupt a funeral. Nobody asked him to display his power. He just did it. 

Why?

Evidently, the compassion he felt at the moment was an irresistible force — he couldn’t stop himself. There was no logic by which he could justify not acting. Sometimes, you just gotta’ do what you can to help a sister (or a brother — or both) out!

Of course, as Luke is building his story about Jesus in the gospel, this account serves to tie him to the prophetic ministry of Elijah (see commentary above — and, if you don’t mind me saying so, give the Lectionary Lab Live podcast a listen for some extended conversation about how these two lessons are connected.)

Sermon
by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

Two of today’s Scripture lessons deal with miraculous returns from the dead, with unbelievable, incredible stories of corpses being brought back to life through the power of God. Each story has a widow, an only son, and an act of compassion by a man of God.

It is difficult to know what to make of such stories. While the Elijah text is a bit open-ended, never really saying the young man was dead, only that “the breath had gone out of him,” Luke is very clear and straight-forward: the man was dead. So dead, in fact, that the people were on their way out of the city to bury him. Coming out of the gates of the town, the body is preceded by a group of professional mourners, playing on cymbals and wailing like Banshees.

Jesus and his followers would have been expected to step aside, to clear the way, one last act of respect for the dead and for those who mourn them. But they didn’t. They didn’t because something happened to Jesus, something Luke tells us about in a few spare words – “He was his mother’s only son, and she was a widow; . . when the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, ‘Do not weep.’ ”

A sonless widow in that time and that place was facing a life of poverty. With no man to provide for her and no social security or life insurance or inheritance or employability, she was dependent upon the kindness of strangers. Her future looked desperate, perhaps hopeless.

Jesus reached out and touched the funeral bier, the platform on which the dead man was being carried. By doing so he broke religious and cultural rules; seriously shocking, scandalizing and confusing all those around. Not stopping there, he broke the rules of science and common sense by commanding the young man to get up, to come to life, to return from the dead; and miracle of miracles, he did. 

After Jesus’ Baptism, the Spirit drove him into the wilderness to be tempted by the Devil. One of his struggles was to resist the temptation to use his powers to fix the world’s physical problems; represented by turning stone into bread to feed the world.

There in the wilderness, Jesus realized that fixing every human hurt was not to be his mission; indeed that miracle working and signs and wonders would be a diversion from his primary calling; which was to proclaim the Kingdom of God. So, he purposely held in his power, restrained himself. 

Throughout his ministry opportunities for healings came to Jesus, but he didn’t go looking for them. Every time he worked a miracle it happened because of those three little words:
“he had compassion.”

Time after time in the Gospels, Jesus’ compassion and love spills over and he breaks his own rules and does a miracle for someone in need. Have you ever noticed how often he says “All right, now, don’t tell anybody I did that.”
Scholars try really hard to create an explanation for what they call “the Messianic secret,” this tendency of Jesus work a healing miracle and then tell the healed ones to keep quiet about it. Yeah right.
Well, here’s my theory. Jesus did not want people joining the Kingdom of God movement for what they could get out of it, for the supposed material benefits of being “Jesus people,”
Instead, Jesus really wanted people to get excited about giving their life to God, about a movement dedicated to peace and love and justice. And he was afraid that miracle-working and faith-healing would get in the way of people’s realizing their spiritual need for repentance and renewal.
But, his loving, grace-filled, compassionate nature kept getting in the way; and he would spontaneously heal someone right in front of him. He broke his own rules in the name of love.
It is strange to me that so many people don’t believe that God is love, that God is forgiving and kind and merciful. Too many people in the world believe that God is eager and willing to send us all to hell.
In the story about Elijah, the woman turns on the prophet with the assumption that God has come to her house with judgment and punishment: Verse 18: “What have you against me, O man of God? You have come to me to bring my sin to remembrance and to cause the death of my son!”

In the Gospel lesson, when Jesus worked his miracle, the immediate response of the crowd is anxious fear. The text says “Fear seized all of them . . .”

We live in a world full of fear. People are afraid of rising gas prices, we are afraid of failing health care systems, we are afraid of immigration and disease and forest fires and drought and drugs and tornadoes and hurricanes and terrorists, and, and, and . . .

And in the midst of this, there are many people who are afraid of God. Or who believe that God is indifferent to the human plight. Or believe there is no God to help us.

In this bog of sadness, sorrow and unbelief; we are called to be like Jesus and break the world’s rules and sometimes our own rules in order to shatter this cycle of fear and violence with words and deeds of compassion and healing.

AMEN AND AMEN.

Year C — The Second Sunday after Pentecost

Commentary for June 2, 2013
by the Rev. Dr. John Fairless

Click here for today’s readings
Click HERE for the Lectionary Lab Live podcast with the Rev. Dr. Lisa Bandel

1 Kings 18:20-21, (22-29), 30-39
There are very few occasions in life in which “limp” is a positive descriptor. In fact, it is most often considered to be downright embarrassing, n’est ce pas?

The NRSV translates Elijah’s challenge to the people and their faith in God as, “limping between two different opinions.” Ouch!


This is not the only vivid language in this marvelous story, called by one of my preacher friends, “The God Contest.” At one point, Elijah wonders — quite loudly — if Baal might not be “indisposed” and unable to answer the prayers of the 450 priests who are calling on his name.


There is a good deal of violence one must deal with here; after all, this is an ancient text and such passages do not always translate neatly into our cultures or their sensitivities. But, there is no doubt when the episode is over that, “The Lord indeed is God.”


You can sure say that again! (which they did…)


1 Kings 8:22-23, 41-43
The alternate reading for today has Solomon praising God for God’s steadfast love for Israel — and, quite interestingly, praying for the “foreigner” who will one day come to pray at the Temple of the Lord. Solomon asks God to be sure and hear these prayers, so that “all the peoples of the earth may know” God’s name.

Now, the prayer may have been just a bit touched with pride on Solomon’s part. He was, after all, dedicating a magnificent work and wanted it to be seen in the best possible light. But, still…it’s a good prayer. 


Where are the “foreigners” among us today? How are we praying for them?


Psalm 96

The psalm’s language allows us to invoke praise to God for God’s great work of salvation — which is for all. All of the people and all of creation.

Galatians 1:1-12

This will begin a series of readings from Galatians for the next several weeks, so there is a chance for those who might like to do some serial preaching, examining the themes in the epistle. 

This text is one that must be handled with a great deal of care — IMO — so as not to come off as sounding arrogant. Paul is earnest, he is passionate, he is completely committed to his message. All of these qualities may have had him coming off as a bit pretentious in his time (and in our ears.)


But the privilege of preaching the gospel — and working to serve Christ and please God — must never be a source for superiority. May we stand for gospel truth, and do so in such a way that God is given “glory for ever and ever. Amen.”


Luke 7:1-10

There is so much that is unexpected in this story.

We do not expect a Roman centurion to be kind to his slave; we certainly do not expect the generosity that he shows to his Jewish charges, nor do we expect the kind things they have to say about their oppressor.

Jesus does not expect to find such faith in a Gentile — well, maybe he does, but he certainly uses the expectation of the crowd to good advantage.

And, perhaps most surprising of all, we most likely do not expect Jesus to heal the slave in the way that he does.

God is so very often the God of the unexpected — especially when it comes to grace!

Sermon
by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

Two of our lessons are about the inclusion of strangers in the household of faith, the acceptance of aliens and outsiders into the community of Christ.
The lesson from I Kings is a portion of Solomon’s prayer dedicating his temple. “Likewise when a foreigner, who is not of your people Israel, comes from a distant land because of your name . . . then hear in heaven your dwelling place.” Solomon wants his temple to be a house of prayer for all people regardless of races or genders or ethnic background.
WIn Luke we find Jesus responding to the needs of two strangers; two foreigners and aliens in Israel. The first is the centurion; the second is the centurion’s slave. While both were outsiders; they could not have been more different in status.
One is a powerful man, a leader amongst the people who had conquered and now ruled Israel. He is rich and powerful; it also appears that he is a good and generous man who has given much to the Jewish community. Verse 5 says, . . . for he loves our people and it is he who built our synagogue for us.” He is also humble; he does not consider himself worthy to ask anything of Jesus himself – first he sends the Jewish leaders, then he sends his friends.
The second person is a complete nobody in the Roman world. He is a slave, human chattel, a commodity to be bought and sold, used or abused or disposed of at will.
The amazing thing in this story is that the centurion cared about the slave, and the Jews admired and cared about the centurion and Jesus ended up admiring the centurion and healing the slave and all this happened in a world and among a people for whom none of this was even slightly normal behavior. It all happened because these people understood that the God of Israel is a loving and including God.
The Biblical story is primarily one of grace and inclusivity. Though there is much in the Hebrew Scriptures about being separate from those around us; there is much more about how all people, all nations, all genders and races and stations of people are welcome in God’s temple, God’s house, God’s community, God’s church.
At least fifteen years ago I was on staff for a week at a summer church camp. One day the bishop came to speak to the kids. He came out on stage wearing a Lutheran World Relief T-shirt and told us an amazing story.
There was at that time an LWR project in India to develop better agricultural methods and sanitation practices. (Before you assume this to be a western program, be aware that there are 1.5 million Lutherans in India and they were in charge.) The director of the project knew that the best way to begin in a new village was with a local person who was trained and then put in charge.
In one village there was a couple who had only one child. They had had six pregnancies and six years. All six babies had died in their first year of life. The parents believed that the devil had come and snatched their children away. When the seventh child was born, her parents named her “Garbage,” in the belief that if the devil heard the family calling her garbage he would not want her and she would live.
Imagine growing up being called Garbage by everyone, including your parents. She was an outcast in a village of outcasts; a nobody in a community of nobodies.
Until the Lutherans came to town. Garbage was the person picked to head up the program. Following Indian tradition she was given a title. And so it was that lowly Garbage became instead The Esteemed and Venerable Garbage. And with the change of name came a change of status. The one who was out was now in, the one who was low was made high, the one who was nobody became somebody.
That’s how God is with us and with all people. We label others as less than us or other than us; and God takes our labels and turns them into titles; God takes our fearful alienation and turns it into faithful reconciliation.
One of the things I always loved about church camp was how you could take kids out of their normal competitive and status seeking environment and put them together for a week in a place where they were all equal and the norms of behavior had to do with love, and respect, and acceptance and by the end of the week the star athlete would choke up as he gave a good-bye hug to the nerd with the taped together glasses and the beauty queen cheerleader would weep openly as she exchanged contact info with the girl with tattoos, nose rings and purple hair. The lines of separation had been erased in the name of Christ and by the power of the Holy Spirit.
That is who we in the ordinary, everyday non-camp church. We are a community of aliens and strangers whose names have been changed from nobody to somebody by the love of God. We are called of God to open our hearts and our lives so that, “. . . when a foreigner, a stranger, someone not of our people . . .” comes in our doors; they will not only be welcomed, they will be transformed.
Amen and amen.

Year C — Trinity Sunday

Commentary for May 26, 2013
by the Rev. Dr. John Fairless

Click here for today’s readings
Click HERE for the Lectionary Lab Live podcast with the Rev. Robert Mitchell

Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31
We are reminded that Wisdom is among the earliest of God’s creations, a fact which coincides nicely with the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. 

(see the Gospel commentary below)

Psalm 8
The praise of God extends from the highest (“your glory is above the heavens”) to the lowest (“out of the mouths of babes and infants….”)

In a universe filled with absolutely mind-boggling diversity and creativity, God notices and thinks about us. 

Here’s an excellent exercise in gaining perspective — the film “The Known Universe” from the American Museum of Natural History. It is about 6 minutes long — I highly recommend it!

Romans 5:1-5
What a great “laundry list” of the benefits of knowing God and being justified by faith!

  • Peace with God
  • Grace in which to stand
  • Hope for life’s journey
  • Sharing the glory of God
  • Suffering
Okay, so we’re not so sure about that last one; but we all know that suffering comes with the gig we know as human existence. So, it’s nice to know that the Holy Spirit is on duty, pouring God’s love into our hearts and helping us to survive — and even thrive.


John 16:12-15
There’s just no way for us to learn or remember everything Jesus tried to teach us. One of the main functions of God’s Holy Spirit, then, is to guide us into truth and to remind us of what Jesus had to say.

We have access to the “wisdom of God” (see Proverbs text, above) by the Spirit; the Spirit takes what is said in heaven and declares the mind of God to us. I am certain that it requires a bit of patient listening on our part — but the inner voice of God’s Spirit is always there for us. 

Sermon
by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

A young American woman was an exchange student in Paris. One day she stopped by a small bookshop to buy a map of France. The shopkeeper was a small, elderly man. He went to the back of the store and came back carrying an armful of maps. With great ceremony the man announced, “Here is a map of Paris. And here is a map of Lyons. And here is a map of Marseille. Here . . . “ 
At this point the young woman interrupted him and said, “But sir, I just want a map of France, just one. The little man drew himself up to his full stature and exclaimed, “But Mademoiselle, France is much too big to be on just one map!”
This is Holy Trinity Sunday and I must say that, like France, the doctrine of the Trinity is much too big for just one sermon. It is big and sprawling and complex and nuanced. Truth is, you can’t explain the Trinity, not really. One of my teachers in seminary put it this way, “Any attempt at a logically consistent explanation of how God can be three and one at the same time is, from the beginning, more wrong than right; more untrue than true. There is no way to explain it that actually does it justice.”
We cannot explain it; but we can explore it. Instead of pulling it apart in an attempt to see how it works, we can leave it intact and think about what the trinity has to say about our personal faith and our life together as the people of God. The Trinity helps us to retain a healthy balance in our view of God. Most of us, most of the time, are what I call “closet Unitarians.” That is to say that while we may affirm the orthodox idea of three-in-one; for all practical purpose we gravitate to one of the three persons of the Trinity as our favored understanding of God-ness.
Some of us tend to see God as high, mighty and powerful; are as “the big guy upstairs,” as a bit of an “unmoved mover,” of the universe; as the creator and sustainer of all that was, is or ever will be. We envision God as a loving yet stern parental figure, making rules and dispensing judgment.
Others of us center our faith more directly on Jesus the Christ. This includes everything from “Have you accepted Jesus as your personal Savior?” evangelicals, through “What would Jesus do?” activists, on to many traditional Lutherans who talk and think a great deal about “Christ and Him crucified.”
And thirdly, there are those of us for whom “feeling the touch of the Spirit” means everything. This includes everybody from tongues-speaking, faith healing Pentecostals through Charismatic Catholics and all those in between; including people who say they are “more spiritual than religious,” and wait for feelings and circumstances to guide them in their daily lives.
Now, all of us are a little bit of each of these, and almost none of us is completely one of them; but all of us favor one more than the other two. And the point is, each is an authentic way to experience God, and none of them is complete in itself; not for a healthy Christian spiritual life.
For this, balance is needed; and the doctrine of the Trinity keeps us balanced, helps us to remember the other parts of God that we must pay due attention to; individually and as a community of faith.
The Holy Trinity reminds us that the God who created the universe is also the God who lived among us in the person of Jesus of Nazareth and is also the same God whose spirit moves us in our moments of spiritual clarity.
As a community of faith, it is not necessary that we be identical in our understanding of God. Rather it is important and vital to our communal health that we share our understandings with one another openly so that we can learn and benefit from each other. In biblical terms; “so that we may build up the body of Christ.”
As a church, we all need each other; we need those with a deep reverence for the Creator God, for “Our Father who art in heaven;” we need those who are head over heels in love with Jesus; and we need those whose souls are in tune with the wispy wind of the Spirit. We need each other in order to live fully as God’s people in this place at this time.
My late father-in-law used to love to tell the story of a man, “a city feller from up in Raleigh,” who got his rented fishing boat stuck on a sandbar along the Outer Banks of North Carolina.
When the Coast Guard rescued him, he kept saying he couldn’t understand how it happened. He was experienced, he knew how to navigate; there must be something wrong with his map.
He was right. There was something wrong with his map. It was a place mat from “Captain Tony’s Sanitary Fish Market” restaurant in Morehead City.
In order to find our way through life, we need a good map. Sometimes we need very elaborate maps, like the Frenchman’s many charts of France. But most of the time a map like that is too much, it confuses us Sometimes we need a very simple map, something to give us the lay of the land, or the water as the case may be. 
A place mat sketch is enough for that. But if you’re trying to go somewhere, get from here to there, a straightforward readable map is exactly what you need.
The Holy Trinity is just such a map. It reminds us that we are all the children of God and that we were created with purpose and promise. It reminds us of what God has done for us in Jesus the Christ and what we are called to do for others in Jesus’ name. And it promises us that as we go forth we will never, ever be alone. 
AMEN AND AMEN.

Year C — Day of Pentecost

Commentary for May 19, 2013
by the Rev. Dr. John Fairless

Click here for today’s readings
Click HERE for the Lectionary Lab Live podcast with the Rev. Katie Treadway

Acts 2:1-21
This is, of course, the classic and leading text for the celebration of Pentecost. If you preach from this text each year, you have a number of choices as to how best to approach it, realizing that you don’t have to say everything in any one sermon — you’ll get another shot next year!

(If Pentecost is not an annual observance for your congregation, you also have lots to choose from here — and will most likely have to pick ONE main emphasis and carry that throughout the sermon.)

Options:

  • The “togetherness” of the disciples as they waited for the coming of the Spirit (v.1)
  • The “suddenness” of God’s work in our midst (it’s not really “sudden” at all, is it? — v.2)
  • The Spirit always brings the abilities that we need for the tasks that God gives (v.4)
  • The Spirit works in astonishing and amazing ways (v.7)
  • The universality of the gospel message (vv. 8-11)
  • “We’re Not Drunk, We Promise!” (v. 13ff)

By the way, the beautiful new song, “Holy Spirit, Living Breath of God” by Keith and Kristyn Getty referenced on the Lectionary Lab Live podcast is available here — highly recommended.

Genesis 11:1-9
I sometimes think of this as the Counter-Pentecost account here in Genesis 11.

For God’s own purposes, the languages of the world are differentiated and scattered. It is next to impossible for each to understand the other after this day.

The coming of the Spirit reverses this act; each person now hears and understands the other, with particular regard to the message of the gospel.

Psalm 104:24-34, 35b
Psalm 104 reminds us that the Spirit of God has been at work since before the beginning — the Genesis creation account is reflected here in the phrase, “when you take away their breath, they die and return to the dust.” It is, of course, the breath/spirit (ruach) of God that gives life.

The psalms evokes something of God’s joy in creation, as well; this is a joy we do well to emulate and celebrate on this day.

Romans 8:14-17
Especially notable is the Spirit’s connection of God with God’s children. It could be a fruitful exercise to consider all of the ways that God is Heavenly Parent to us. What does it mean to be made a child of God by the working of the Spirit?

John 14:8-17, (25-27)
The disciples always wanted a little bit more from Jesus, didn’t they? Hmmm…I guess that makes them a lot like us (or vice versa!)

Jesus teaches them (and us) that the more we need will come in the form of the Advocate — the “one who stands beside and speaks.” The Spirit of God is teacher, reminder, and giver of peace. With the Spirit present, we do not have to be afraid.

That’s worth a lot!

Sermon
by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

One of my college friends is an industrial scientist. One day, quite a few years ago, his then six year old son was sitting in the back seat eating an apple. Suddenly, he poked his father in the shoulder and said, “Dad, why does my apple turn brown.”

His father absent-mindedly replied. “When the skin is removed from the apple, air reaches the flesh of the apple and causes oxidation. This changes the apple’s molecular structure and results in a brownish color.”

The boy thought about this for a few minutes and then said, “Dad; are you talking to me?”

Often times, the meaning of the universe seems shrouded in mystery. And all too often, those of us who are reputed to know something of the the truth speak in the unknown tongues of impenetrable scientific complexity or, conversely, serenely spiritual bull.

Among the many things we can celebrate and learn on Pentecost is the fact that it was God’s apparent desire that all people should have the opportunity to understand the truth about Jesus Christ, that all should hear the truth in their own language; that all truth should be revealed to all people, in as plain and simple a language as possible.


 6And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.7Amazed and astonished, they asked, ‘Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.’12All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’ 

I have been reading Henry Chadwick’s “History of the Early Church”. It is a good antidote for two modern forms of “spiritual exclusivity.” As the saying goes, there’s nothing new under the Sun.


Those who claim that the world will end with an apocalyptic bang and say they are able to decipher the predictions of these things in Revelation and other like scriptures (think Left Behind and some TV preachers) are basically Montanists (early Second Century) The Montanists were devoted to the “Holy Spirit inspired” prophecies of three Charismatic leaderss, one of whom was named Montanus. Besides believing they had a direct line to God, they decided Jesus was coming to Phyrgia and it was going to be bloody and it was going to be next week. They were wrong.

At the other end of the spectrum, “Gnostics” (first through Fourth Century) is a loose label for all sorts of folks who could, with many moderns, say they were “more spiritual than religious.” The central defining characteristic of the Gnostics was the idea that “secret knowledge” existed that only the elite and the initiated could have access to. The various groups did not agree on what that “secret knowledge” was, just that it existed and that their group was, of course, those elite folks who knew so many things the great mass of the ignorant and the unwashed did not.

The early church countered these notions by pointing out some important “Pentecostal” facts; God’s Spirit came to send the church out into the world to preach the gospel to everyone. Rather than falling on a select few, it was made manifest to everyone. And instead of being hidden, the Christian story was shouted from the mountaintops for all to hear, in a language they could understand. The first Pentecost was designed to make sure nothing was hidden from anyone, that everyone got a chance to hear the good news of God’s love for God’s people.


It is said that John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, lived in a boarding house for many years and that after writing a sermon he would get the teen-age maid to sit on the hall steps while he read it to her. He would rewrite anything she didn’t understand. (I’ve read quite a few of Wesley’s sermons. That was one smart teen-ager!) In the same manner, Martin Luther is often cited as saying something like, “Though there are many professors and other learned men in the front of the church, I preach to the milk maids in the back. If they understand me, everyone understands.”

The church is called to talk to anyone who is seeking to know and understand God’s love. That call is to all of us, not just to those of us who stand in the pulpit and proclaim. We pray that the Spirit will come upon us and help us make plain to the world the wonderful Good News that God is love and God loves all.

Amen and amen.  

Year C — The Seventh Sunday of Easter

Commentary for May 12, 2013
by the Rev. Dr. John Fairless

Click here for today’s readings
Click HERE for the Lectionary Lab Live podcast with the Rev. Herb Wounded Head

Acts 16:16-34
Are there no bounds to the interesting situations that Paul and his companions can find themselves in?

It’s actually pretty telling as to the leadership of the Spirit to examine just how much control the early church had as they were “driven” — in the best sense of the word — to share the gospel to and beyond ever-burgeoning boundaries.

We last saw Paul meeting serenely by the river with Lydia and the girls; a lovely soirée and baptism were the result. Now, we have a fortune-telling slave girl possessed by a spirit, who just won’t leave the fellows alone. 

Paul — perhaps more moved by his own spirit of annoyance than by the Spirit who had thus far directed him in his travels — casts the spirit out of the girl. And, to say the least, all hell breaks loose.

Of course, that’s where Christ often does his best work, and the end result (after a beating and some jail time) is a hymn-sing by Paul and Silas, an earthquake that “sets the captives free,” and a life-saving conversion for the Philippian jailer.

Hmmm… all in a day’s work for those who would serve this untamed and unvanquished Christ.

Psalm 97
We have another evocative psalm text for worship — this one which, perhaps, presages the soon-to-be-upon-us celebration of the coming of the Spirit. There is fire here; there is light. There are mountains melting like wax!

That’ll wake up anybody’s service, I’d dare say!

Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21
It’s hard to imagine a more fitting conclusion to the last word of sacred scripture than we have here at the close of Revelation.

“The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all the saints.”

John’s prayer for God’s people — then and now — summarizes the message Revelation has so apocalyptically proclaimed. Whatever situation we may find ourselves in, Christ has promised never to leave us or forsake us. 

The grace of the Lord is with us, now and always. What else is there to say, but “Amen?”

John 17:20-26
When I read John 17, I am always reminded of just how powerful it is that Jesus prayed for us. For each of us and for all of us. 

We are, sadly, a very long way from fulfilling the desire of his prayer. We are not “one.” But, then that may be why we continue to pray — as faithfully as we can — “thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

Sermon
by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

Rev. 22:17 – “The Spirit and the bride say “Come.” And let everyone who hears say, “Come.” And let everyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift.”
I once heard writer Phillip Yancey tell the story of a woman from his church in Chicago who had a conversation with a prostitute on a bus. As the woman of the street told her sad tale of running away from home, of sex and drug addiction, of being beaten up and pimped out by her man; the church lady listened quietly and then suggested gently that she go to church. The prostitute sputtered, “Good God, why would I want to do that? I already feel bad enough.”
The message of the church is supposed to be “Come,” Anyone, everyone, here is the water of life. Come. Receive it as a gift. Unearned. Undeserved. Free.
But somehow the prostitute on the bus heard a different message. “I already feel bad enough.”
She apparently believes that if she goes to the church who will hear bad news, not good. That she will find rejection, not acceptance. She will receive a sentence of death; not the water of life.
This hurting woman on the bus is not alone in thinking this is what the church is about. She is not the only one who believes the message of the church is bad news, not good news.
In the book “UnChristian,” Barna Group researchers found that most young non-Christians perceive the church as hypocritical, insensitive and judgmental. One respondent put it like this:
“Most people I meet assume that Christian means very conservative, entrenched in their thinking, antigay, antichoice, angry, violent, illogical, empire builders; they want to convert everyone, and they generally cannot live peaceably with anyone who doesn’t believe what they believe.” (Unchristian, p. 26)
Before we get defensive, or start pointing fingers at other “brands” of Christianity as being the culprits here; it will be best if we took a good look in the mirror and asked ourselves a few questions first. Communications is a tricky business. Perhaps we are saying one thing and people are hearing something else. Though we may all be speaking English and in many cases with similar accents; it is entirely possible that we are, nonetheless, speaking different languages.
Church speak is often more difficult to decipher than we on the inside think it is.
For example, in John’s Gospel, we read a part of Jesus’ prayer for one-ness, for unity. To us in the church it seems pretty simple and somewhat redundant on the surface. God and Jesus are one, Jesus and the disciples are one; therefore we are one with each other and one with God; a great celebration of one-ness. Sounds good to us.
But to many others it is just gobbledygook. And also, it can be heard as a pretty serious and scary call for conformity;
a message that one should lose one’s individuality in service of the community. People can hear these words as a condemnation of their ethnicity and their gender and their right to think for themselves.
What are we in the church to do? It seems pretty obvious that we have to find a way to translate our message of hope and love and acceptance into language people unacquainted with church speak will be able to hear with understanding. This is difficult but not impossible.
The key is to stop thinking of God and Jesus and faith as somehow separate and “holy” parts of our lives and to think of them rather as being as natural as breathing and having dinner. If we can do this, we can then begin talking about them with the same simplicity as we talk about the dinner we had last night or the movie we’re going to see tomorrow.
And then we must remember to talk about these things with the people in our lives who aren’t a part of the faith just as we would talk to our friends and neighbors and coworkers and relatives about where to go on vacation and about how our favorite sports teams are doing.
The thing the church lady forgot in her encounter on the bus was that the prostitute did not need to go to church. In that moment, in that conversation, the church had come to the prostitute.
It is not important that we get the world to come to the church. We are the church and our calling is to bring the thirsty and the water of life together.
Amen and amen.