Sermons

Sermon: Sunday, May 18, 2014: Fifth Sunday of Easter

Texts: Acts 7:55-60  +  Ps. 31:1-5,15-16  +  1 Peter 2:2-10  +  John 14:1-14

This past week turned out nothing like I’d thought it would.

I was supposed to be out-of-town through Thursday, but when a death in the family made it impossible for the keynote presenter to be present at the retreat I’ve been planning for the last 18 months, we had to postpone the event and I ended up coming home from Minnesota almost a week early. Looking on the bright side, I relished the idea of a few days in the office with no meetings or appointments on my calendar so that I could get caught up on projects that have been on hold since before Holy Week.

Lathrop Homes, Hoyne Ave. south of Diversey Ave.

Lathrop Homes, Hoyne Ave. south of Diversey Ave.

Instead, I returned to a set of requests for assistance with housing concerns here in the neighborhood. I spent most of Wednesday with residents from Lathrop Homes and staff from the Logan Square Neighborhood Association at a Chicago Housing Authority committee meeting. After years of conversations and negotiations between community leaders and CHA planners struggling to find a common vision for affordable public housing in our community, we were surprised to see that the agenda for this meeting included preliminary approval of a 3.4 million dollar project that would replace two existing buildings at Lathrop Homes with new construction, and quality affordable housing with full-price, market rate units. This work was being called “Phase One” of the Lathrop Plan, which was particularly difficult for Lathrop residents and neighborhood activists to understand, since they have been working for years to come to agreement on a Master Plan for Lathrop Homes that still does not exist.  How the city could move forward with Phase One of a plan that had yet to be approved defied any sense of good faith negotiation or fair process that we could imagine.

By the time our caravan of cars arrived at the CHA office downtown and we’d signed in with the Board secretary to speak at the meeting, there were about twenty of us representing the neighborhood in the room. We sat together on the right, looking like the kind of crowd you might find at the grocery store — dressed for comfort (except for me in my black clerical with stiff white tab collar), chatting throughout the proceedings and translating for those whose Spanish was stronger than their English. Across the aisle sat a regiment of impassive men, silent in their suits and ties and briefcases. It was not hard to guess whose interests were being represented across the room’s geography.

At the appointed moment during the CHA’s real estate development committee meeting, we were offered a chance to comment on the proposal. As person after person rose to address the commissioners, some with quiet confidence, others with trembling hands or voices, testimony was offered about the need for quality, affordable housing in our quickly gentrifying neighborhood. I remember thinking, as I waited for my turn, that this is why it is important that we practice giving our testimony in church, at home, among friends — so that when it is called for in public, in moments filled with tension and crisis, we have words to lean on.

Icon of St. Stephen

Icon of St. Stephan

Our neighbors and their words were still ringing in my ears as I opened the scriptures to prepare for this morning’s worship. There, beginning in Acts, we join a story already in progress about the church’s first martyr, Stephen, a deacon who’d been called to step into the early church’s ethnic politics to make sure all were being treated equally and shown the kind of service that marked Christ’s ministry among them.

If you’re trying to remember who Stephen was, don’t be too hard on yourself.  He wasn’t one of the twelve apostles, he was one of the seven deacons ordained and appointed by the apostles to care for the poor and the widows in the early church.  He makes his first appearance in the sixth chapter of Acts, and in the seventh he is killed. But in between his arrival and his exit, we get the portrait of a saint who understood the cost of discipleship and who stood up for the weak and the foreigners, and against the bigoted passions of the crowds.

The first clue that Stephen was caught up in conflicts about diversity come from the very reason for his call.  The early church was having difficulty managing the diversity inside itself.  The Hellenists, or the members who came from outside Jerusalem in the predominantly Greek-speaking surrounding countries, were complaining that the Hebrew widows in the congregation were getting preferential treatment.  The apostles didn’t want to concern themselves with this. You might remember their response, “it is not right that we should neglect the word of God in order to wait on tables…” (Acts 6:2b), so they appoint seven deacons.  Stephen is introduced at this point as “a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit,” and the scriptures say that “full of grace and power” he “did great wonders and signs among the people” (Acts 6:8).

Almost immediately, Stephen gets into a conflict with “some of those who belonged to the synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called).”  The Freedmen, which is a translation of the Greek “Libertinos,” were former slaves who’d become Roman citizens and had some power and influence in the public sphere in relation to the Jewish faith.  Digging a little deeper, it appears that there were different neighborhoods in Jerusalem for people who spoke different languages – one neighborhood for the Jews who spoke Aramaic, another for the Hellenistic Jews, or the ones who spoke Greek.  The Libertinos, the Freedmen, had some influence among the Greek-speaking Jews.  They’d set up a local chapter of their own religious movement, and weren’t so happy that the early followers of Jesus were finding some success sharing their good news in the same neighborhood.  It’s a religious conflict.

The Freedmen challenge Stephen in public, trying to debate him into silence, but Stephen – called not as an apostle to preach, but as a deacon to serve – delivers such a powerful sermon that his opponents are silenced.  Pride wounded, they begin a slander campaign against Stephen, saying that he has blasphemed against Moses and God, that he has been defaming “this holy place” (referring we suppose to Jerusalem) and the law (meaning the religious law of Israel), and that he has made public claims that Jesus will destroy the community and change the customs of Moses.

The smear tactics work.  Stephan is taken to the Sanhedrin and put on trial.  After delivering a powerful testimony to the saving power of God at work throughout history, and now in Christ, we arrive at the verses read this morning.  Stephen sees that the bullies are coming for him, but having spoken the truth, Stephen has a vision of “the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”  This seems to be an allusion to the heavenly court, where Stephen’s testimony has been received by God with favor, in contrast to the earthly court, which has sentenced him to death.

From there, Stephen is taken outside the city and stoned to death, which was the legal practice for those found guilty of the crimes he’d been charged with.  Present for this execution is one Saul, who will later have a vision of his own in which Christ appears and asks, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”  But where Stephen’s earthly sentence is death by stoning, Saul’s heavenly judgment is mercy and forgiveness – because that is the God we serve, one of love and healing, justice and forgiveness.

Which is why it’s so ironic then, that the experience many people have when they first encounter Christians is one of fear and anxiety.  Passages like the one in our gospel reading for this morning, in which Jesus tells his disciples “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” have been stripped of their context and turned into stones, hurled at non-Christians, or even at Christians who believe differently from one another.  Words that were offered among friends as signs of reassurance, that God is always going before us to prepare a place for us, whatever lies ahead, have been twisted into threats and used not only to worry people about the state of their own faith, but to attack others for theirs.

In fact, before Jesus declares that he is “the way, the truth, and the life” he begins by saying,

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.” (John 14:1-3)

The Milshire Hotel

The Milshire Hotel

I’ve always read this passage spiritually, as reassurance offered by Jesus to his disciples as he prepares them for his departure. This week however, I couldn’t help but hear them with the ears of the people living at the Milshire Hotel, an SRO just blocks away from here on Milwaukee Ave. where the residents are in the final three days of their 30-day eviction notice, since the hotel is in the process of being bought and redeveloped, like so many other apartment buildings in our neighborhood these days.  As of Friday morning, when I went with a tenant and an advocate hoping to speak with the building owner, there are still dozens of residents who have no idea where they’ll live next. Many who live at the Milshire live with chronic health conditions, active addictions, persistent mental health concerns or developmental disabilities. What does it mean to tell them, “Do not let your hearts be troubled … In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places.”

What does it mean to say that there are many dwelling places in God’s house? Where is this house, in heaven? Where is heaven? Does it exist only as a hoped for reality following death?  And, if so, then why does Jesus follow his comments about preparing a place in God’s house with these words,

“Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.” (John 14:12-14)

So, what are we asking for? What great work is being asked of us?

As we tidied up in the kitchen during yesterday’s spring cleaning, I was sharing some of these stories with Noel. Despite the dire urgency of the unexpected requests that kept coming in this week, the thing I couldn’t help but notice was that people in our neighborhood who need help are turning to us. I hope you understand how significant that is. It means that after decades of service, service not so different from that offered by Stephen the deacon who was called to make sure that everyone in the community had enough to eat, people in this neighborhood — the ones who come in the mornings for groceries, or in the evening for meals, or in the night for support as they heal from their addictions, or on Saturdays to connect with each other with a broom in one hand and a sandwich in the other, or on Sunday mornings to draw strength and encouragement for the week ahead — people in this neighborhood have seen your work, have taken it to heart, have decided that you really mean it. That is why they trust you enough to turn to you now and ask for your testimony.

First Peter names Jesus, the one who rolled the stone away from the grave so that all who lived in fear of death might find new hope and new life the “cornerstone” of a new home.

“Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 2:4-5)

That’s how people outside this building apparently perceive us – as living stones, stacked one upon another to build safe places, not as dying stones hurled at our neighbors and crushing the life out of one another. Thanks be to God for that! The same God who looks out at this neighborhood, filled with lifelong residents and recent arrivals, the poor and the well-off, English-speaking and Spanish-speaking, defined by our differences, by the lines that separate us, and declares,

“Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people;

once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” (1 Pet. 2:10)

That is the kind of church I want to belong to, and the kind of world I want to live in.  One in which each of us sees ourselves as living stones, creating safe spaces for all God’s children to live and learn, work and play.  Houses of worship and banquet halls of plenty, where all are welcome and there is always enough.  Houses of mercy.

Please God, let it be so.  Amen.

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Sermons

Sermon: Sunday, May 19, 2013: Day of Pentecost

Texts: Acts 2:1-21  +  Psalm 104:24-34,35b  +  Romans 8:14-17  +  John 14:8-17,25-27

My god-daughter, Katie Russell, gives her testimony at Vanderbilt Divinity School's baccalaureate service.

My god-daughter, Katie Russell, gives her testimony at Vanderbilt Divinity School’s baccalaureate service.

A little over a week ago, Kerry and I were in Nashville, Tennessee to see my eldest god-daughter, Katie Russell, graduate from seminary at Vanderbilt Divinity School.  You can imagine that for a preacher and pastor like myself, there’s a special pride in watching your godchild graduate from seminary.

The night before the actual graduation, at the baccalaureate service, I got the added pleasure of hearing Katie give her testimony before her colleagues and her faculty.  She was one of a handful of students invited to do so at this closing worship service for a cohort of newly minted pastors who were preparing to be sent out into the world.

As she opened her remarks she used a phrase that was repeated over and over during the weekend.  Referring to her soon-to-be alma mater she said, “here at the School of the Prophets we learned…” School of the Prophets, I soon learned, wasn’t just a compliment being paid by a student to her teachers, or a preacherly turn of phrase, it is part of that school’s self-concept.  Just as so many schools have Latin mottos (the University of Chicago’s is Crescat scientia; vita excolatur or “Let knowledge grow from more to more; and so be human life enriched;”  Harvard’s is more simply veritas, or “truth”), the Divinity School of Vanderbilt University names itself in its foundational documents dating back to the 1870s a Schola Prophetarum, a school of prophets.

It’s a name the school takes seriously.  Its mission statement names as one of the school’s primary goals that they will “prepare leaders who will be agents of social justice” who will be “forceful representatives of the faith and effective agents in working for a more just and human society that will help to alleviate the ills besetting individuals and groups.”  The graduation program had a full-page description of the Divinity School’s commitments that explicitly state its opposition to racism, sexism, homophobia, anti-Semitism, poverty, militarism and the destruction of the environment.

Still, there was something jarring about hearing a group of people refer to themselves so boldly as the “School of the Prophets.”  Maybe its my midwestern upbringing, but it just felt like bragging.  How could they be so bold?  Who died and named them prophets?

Well, as it turns out, Jesus did.

Growing up I thought a prophet was like a fortune-teller, a kind of biblical palm reader who could see the future.  It probably wasn’t until seminary that I myself was asked to really thoroughly read the prophetic books of the Hebrew scriptures, what we sometimes call the “Old” Testament.  The prophets of the bible sometimes spoke of future things, but just as often spoke to the present moment.  What made them prophets wasn’t that they told the future, but that they told the truth.  God’s truth.

Jesus — the one who lived, and died, and is rising in the world by the power of the Holy Spirit — says to his disciples shortly before his crucifixion,

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you. I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.” (John 14:15-17,25-26)

And, indeed, Jesus is a man of his word.  Throughout these fifty days since Easter morning we have been hearing the stories of the Acts of the Apostles.  We’ve been recalling to ourselves the legacy of a church born in the moment when the Holy Spirit was poured out on those first followers of Jesus, huddled together for safety in the face of a scary world, but filled with power and purpose and sent out for the sake of restoration of God’s good creation.

God’s Holy Spirit fills the church, just as Jesus said it would, and when it does, Peter, their first preacher, remembers the words of another prophet, Joel, who said,

“In those last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy…” (Acts 2:17a-b)

In that moment of the church’s birth, Peter acts as a prophet, telling God’s truth that the last days are here.  The new heaven and the new earth are breaking into the ones we have known for too long.  Salvation is for here and now.  It has already begun, and we who are flesh, we who are sons and daughters and heirs with Christ to the fortunes of God’s love are called to act, like the apostles.

Looking back at the Vanderbilt graduation, I can see that I was mistaken.  Or, I wasn’t hearing that phrase, “school of the prophets,” correctly.  My midwestern aversion to pretense was bristling against the notion that these people were calling themselves prophets, when all they were really claiming to be was a school.  Because, you see, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we have all been made prophets.

By the power of the Holy Spirit, we are all called to speak God’s truth to a world burdened by lies.  By the power of the Holy Spirit, we are all called to dream incredible dreams and given eyes to see a vision of a future reality breaking into the present moment, a vision that makes these “the last days.”

As prophets, all of us, we need schools and churches and so many other places where we can learn about the legacy of which we are inheritors.  We need Sunday School teachers and small group leaders, seminarians and people to lead the adult education hour.  We need parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles and godparents who will teach us and shape us as we grow into our prophetic callings.  We need community organizers and event planners to call us to action and to put us to use.  We need faithful servants who fill grocery bags and glean the leftover food waiting in fields both near and far.

Icon of the prophet Amos.

Icon of the prophet Amos.

This is our school of the prophets, one of many God has built in the world, made of living stones.  We are its faculty and we are its students.  As we move out of the season of Easter and into the long summer of “ordinary time,” we’ll actually be reading the stories of the Hebrew prophetsElijah and Elisha, Amos and Hosea, Isaiah and Jeremiah.  We’ll remember how God’s people have been called to tell God’s truth to every age, as we live into our own prophetic calling to act.

This call, the call to action, is daunting to be sure, but we are kept in the promise that we will be filled with the power and the presence of the one who has made us prophets: Jesus, God’s Beloved, rising in the world by the power of the Holy Spirit.

As we commence upon this journey, some of us joining this congregation today, others saying goodbye, all of us being sent for a greater purpose, I want to offer you these words — often attributed to Oscar Romero, but believe to have been written by the Roman Catholic bishop Kenneth Untener of Detroit:

It helps now and then to step back and take a long view. The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision.

We accomplish in our lifetime only a small fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work. Nothing we do is complete, which is another way of saying that the kingdom always lies beyond us.

No statement says all that could be said. No prayer fully expresses our faith. No confession brings perfection. No pastoral visit brings wholeness. No program accomplishes the Church’s mission. No set of goals and objectives includes everything.

This is what we are about: We plant the seeds that will one day grow. We water seeds already planted, knowing  that they hold future promise. We lay foundations that will need further development. We provide yeast that produces effects  far beyond our capabilities.

We cannot do everything, and there is a sense  of liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something, and to do it well. It may be incomplete but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.

We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker. We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.

We are prophets of a future not our own.

Amen.

 

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Sermons

Sermon: Sunday, May 5, 2013: Sixth Sunday in Easter

Texts: Acts 16:9-15  +  Psalm 67  +  Revelation 21:10,22 — 22:5  +  John 14:23-29

Apostles act, and it’s generally not in the temple, but out in the world.

You know I’m not one of those preachers who begins every sermon with a joke, but I’ve got one for you this morning that some of you have heard me tell before.

Door Knockers

What do you get when you cross a Lutheran with a Jehovah’s Witness?

Someone who goes door to door but doesn’t know what to say.

I don’t remember where I heard that one, but I’m sure I know the reason it stuck.  Kerry, my partner who most of you know, was for many years a Jehovah’s Witness who went door to door.  And he knew what to say.  Generally speaking, he’s not at a loss for words.  But when we started dating and he came here to St. Luke’s it was a bit of culture shock, because we Lutherans often don’t know what to say, or how to say it.  Instead we talk about being proud of our worship, our distinct theological voice, our strong network of charities and advocacy organizations.  Basically, we think that if you can find your way to us, you’ll like what you find.

Not so with the Witnesses.  They do a wonderful job of equipping their community with a vision of this world and the next, and sending them out to share their vision with people they’ve never met.  And while I can’t say that I agree with a lot of how they understand scripture, in particular how they understand passages like the one we read this morning from the book of Revelation with its vision of the new Jerusalem, I have tremendous respect for the faithful discipline its members show in reaching out to connect with those they’ve never met.  It takes courage, it takes practice, it takes commitment.  It requires them to have something to say about their faith and to be willing to say it, and we could use a whole lot more of that in the Lutheran church today.

All that said, I think this morning’s story from Acts — which is the story we’ve been following most closely during these fifty days of Easter — has something to teach us about the unpredictability of ministry outside the walls of the church, and might even give us some clues about what to expect when our ministry follows the acts of the Apostles, who left Jerusalem and spread out to share their story with people far from home.

You can tell that our passage begins in the middle of a longer story.  “During the night Paul had a vision: there stood a man of Macedonia pleading with him and saying, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us.’”  Paul was on the western coast of what we now call Turkey, in Troas.  He’d worked his way north from Jerusalem and met up with his companion Timothy in Lystra, in south central Turkey.  As they went from town to town they would meet with the Jews in those places to share with them the story of what had happened in Jerusalem.  That Jesus, the messiah, had entered human history and that the world was changing; that the end of what had been had begun, and that the whole world was being drawn into the transformation. So the churches throughout that region were strengthened in the faith and increased in numbers daily (Acts 16:5).

And it all seems to be going so well for Paul and Timothy.  They’re being well received outside of Jerusalem.  So they make plans to expand their ministry.  They head north, through Phrygia and Galatia in central Turkey, because the scriptures say they’d “been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia” (Acts 16:6b).  I think that’s a really interesting idea.  It suggests to me that Paul and Timothy actually wanted to head east, toward the parts of the world we now call Armenia and Azerbaijan, but that something turned them north toward the Black Sea instead.

I wonder what kind of strategic planning process these apostles had that made room for the Holy Spirit to let them know that the plans they were making just weren’t going to work out.  Do we suppose they were praying together and just felt strongly that their hopes to head east weren’t God’s hopes?  Do we think that they started heading down that road, but hit one roadblock after another and took that as a sign that they should make a new plan?  We don’t know.  We only know that something in the way Paul and Timothy made their plans allowed for the spirit of God to be a part of their decision-making.

So they turn north and begin heading for what we now call Istanbul (not Constantinople, for you They Might be Giants fans), but again it says that “Spirit of Jesus” wouldn’t allow them to go any farther in the direction they wanted to go.

We don’t focus on this part of the story, opting instead to get right to the sweet story of Paul and Timothy encountering Lydia in Philippi, which is a wonderful story that we’ll get to in just a minute, but I think that story is all the sweeter when we understand the awkward attempts at collaboration with God that Paul and Timothy, not to mention you and I, go through when we set out to follow God’s call to get out of the Temple and into the world.

Our interns, who are ending their time as interns with us this morning, know something about what I’m saying.  Sarah, along with all the other 2nd year students at LSTC, were waiting for months to hear where they’d be placed on internship this coming year.  They filled out forms indicating their preferences.  They interviewed in person and by phone with prospective internship supervisors.  Then, one day not too long ago, they were handed an envelope with the name of a congregation somewhere far away and told to get ready to pack their bags.  They were being sent out.  Sarah is headed to Florida, near Tampa.  Tina, our Administrative Assistant who is also a 2nd year student at the seminary, is headed to St. Louis later this summer.  They’d imagined, perhaps, other futures and other paths, but they are being led by the Spirit of Jesus to these places instead where they will have to find words and actions to share their faith with people who are like them, and not like them, in a variety of ways.

Like Sarah and Tina, who are leaving the state; like Jessica Palys, who is leaving the country this summer for two months in a Spanish language immersion program in Guatemala; Paul and Timothy set off for distant and unknown places.  They set sail from Troas to Samothrace, a small Greek island in the Mediterranean.  From there they sailed to the southern shores of Greece and made their way inland to Philippi, looking for the man who’d come to Paul in his vision, asking for help.

They’d been in Philippi for a few days before the sabbath, but still had not found the man they were looking for.  So, on the day of worship they left the city proper and gathered at the river (the beautiful, the beautiful river) with a group of women, not the man from Paul’s vision.

There was a certain woman down by the river whose name was Lydia, described as a worshipper of God.  This descriptor, “worshipper of God,” along with her name, indicate that she was not Jewish, but that she was interested in worshipping with the Jews.  She was perhaps a religious seeker, open to wisdom from many sources beyond what she’d been raised to believe.  She might even have been considering membership.  Does she sound familiar to you?  Do you know someone like Lydia?

Furthermore, Lydia is described as a dealer in purple cloth, which required a highly expensive indigo dye.  She appears to be a wealthy woman, unattached to any man, and head of a household full of people, because after she hears Paul and Timothy’s story she invites them back to baptize her entire household.  And that’s the end of the story.

Do you notice what’s missing from this story?

There’s no man.  The vision that led Paul to leave Turkey and cross the sea, the man who called to him in his dream, “come over to Macedonia and help us;” that guy never appears in this story.

Paul left Jerusalem and the temple and the community of those he’d come to know through his conversion to the faith in order to reach people who were strangers, whom he did not know.  He thought he’d head east, but he ended up going west.  He thought he’d find luck with the men gathered in their local synagogues, but instead he finds a home with an unusual woman gathered with other women outside the city by the river.

Friends, this is what happens when we get outside of ourselves and go door to door, meeting our neighbors — those close to home and those far away.  We are changed.  It’s not that we can’t or shouldn’t make plans, it’s just that we have to remain aware that all of our planning, all of our prayer and discernment and training and strategy is really intended to get us to a place where we might finally be brave enough to try something new, to open the door to a new relationship, a new experience, a new direction.  Once we allow for that possibility, we’re allowing for the fact that we will be changed in ways we could never have imagined.

This is where I think Lutherans, and Jehovah’s Witnesses, and basically all of us most often get it wrong.  Whether we stay indoors with our proud traditions, or go door to door with our apocalyptic expectations, our message as people of faith has too often been “come, join us, and be changed.”  If Paul and Timothy have anything to teach us, I think it’s that we have to be ready for God, acting in us through the Holy Spirit, to be changing us.  Changing our understandings of what it means to be a church, a people of God, a community.  What it means to follow by faith.

The story of the book of Acts is the story of the early church’s rapid and massive growth across the ancient near East, a course that eventually brought Christian faith to the ends of the earth as we know it.  Lydia is first convert in what we now call Europe.  She is the first European Christian, and her unusual household is the birthplace of Christian community in Greece and the rest of the west.  She is not what Paul went looking for.  She is so much better than that.

What do you suppose God has in store for us, once we move outside our doors?  I think of our seminarian, Will, who left Iowa to pursue a career in academia, but has heard God calling him to become a preacher and a pastor.  He set out heading in one direction, but discovered God leading him a different way.  I think about Erika, who left for seminary wondering if she might be called to be a teacher at the intersection of faith and science, but has discovered so many other directions her ministry might take.  I think about my own story, how I left the church for  years but couldn’t stop worshipping God along with all the other unusual people of faith outside the city, down by the river.

And I think about us, who have been working so hard for so long to rebuild the walls of this congregation, to restore what had been knocked down.  I wonder how we are making room in our conversations with one another for the Holy Spirit to direct us, to deny us, to steer us toward people and places we’d never considered.  I wonder where the riverside is in our neighborhood, where people filled with faith but not a part of the establishment, are gathered right now.

What would it take for us to find out?  What would it look like to go door knocking, not with answers, but with questions?

Wouldn’t you like to find out?

Amen.

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