Saturday, March 19, 2011

“Unlikely Praise” - Luke 11:11-19 - March 20, 2011

A pickup truck arrived at the Young canopy loaded with vegetables. They called Cathy up to meet with the man and the story surprised and pleased her. It seems that he was a dental patient at the Good Shepherd clinic and while he could not pay – and did not have to pay – for his dental care he wanted to do something to show his appreciation. He told Cathy that he did not have much money, but did grow vegetables. He wanted to bless others like he had blessed by the dental clinic. His attitude of gratitude touched everyone there that morning. His expression of appreciation caught everyone of guard.

My phone rang and as soon as the receptionist told me the caller’s name I knew exactly who he was. I do not think I will ever forget him. You see the night before Elizabeth had come into the church and told me that she was frightened by a man who approached her in our parking lot. I was a little surprised because she regularly engages the homeless and struggling folks that sometime find their way here. It was obvious that something was different about that man. It did not take me long to figure it out. About that time a large man – no, a very large man – a man so big he made me feel child-sized came around the corner. I am not a small man and am not easily intimidated, but I was clear in a second that if this man became agitated I had a problem. I asked him to sit down, partly to ease him, partly to help me be a little less consumed by his size, and we began to talk. He had made some bad choices but had put his life back on the right track. There was a church in Edmond who had promised to help him take the next step in his life journey, but it was Sunday night and there was no bus service and he did not know what to do. He did not want anything from us really, just some help to get where he needed to go. I grabbed him and me a soft drink and I sat there and listened as he told some of his life story. He desperately wanted to do the right things. He has paid dear price for his bad decisions. He kept apologizing for being so big and scary looking. He wanted me to know that he was actually a nice and gentle man. After a little while I worked with Jerry to help get him to Edmond. When he called the next morning I have to admit I was waiting for the hook. Did the church in Edmond not come through? Did he decide he needed our help after all? I wondered what he wanted. Then his words stopped me in my tracks. He was calling just to say “thank you.” He wanted me to know how much he appreciated the time we had shared when he told me his story. He thanked me for treating him like a man rather than a problem. He told me, “you know because of my size most people just want to get rid of me, you sat and had a Coke with me, like people do.” His attitude of gratitude blew me away. What had been just another encounter with someone from the street had turned into a moment of thanksgiving to God.

Jesus and his disciples were on the road somewhere between Galilee and Samaria. These two places were not close, so it seems that what Luke is trying to tell us that Jesus and his disciples were on the road in the middle of nowhere. There on the roadside at the out of the way village Jesus encounters ten men with leprosy who were standing off at a distance calling out for mercy. Some scholars contend that the village may have been a small leper colony, and there seems to be some merit to this idea since it would have been unusual to see so many lepers in one place. The remote location would have also made sense because the community wanted lepers as far away as possible from them. Leprosy was and is high contagious and it was a symbol of being unclean in both body and soul. The ten cry out, probably like they had done hundreds to times before. They could do nothing to change their lives. They need people to respond to them in mercy.

Then something happens that changes everything. Our scripture says that Jesus “saw” them. The word he does not imply that he glanced their way or even looked at them. It says he saw them and responded to them. There are many in our society that feel like they are invisible. They feel helpless to change their life or their way of life. Part of why I am so thankful for Good Shepherd, for KidsHope, for S3, for the AARP tax help partnership, and for many of our mission and ministry expressions is that it makes us in the “seeing” business; encountering people, seeing their faces, hearing their stories, investing in their lives. Jesus saw the ten and moved into action. The passage tells us; “he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priest.” And as they went they were cleansed. Jesus sent them to the priests because they were the only ones that could pronounce them “clean.” They were the only ones who the community would hear and allow them back into the community again. Part of what I love about this passage is the picture of how Jesus healed them. He did not lay hands on them. He did not call heaven down on them. He did not say any magic words. He spoke and “as they went they were cleansed.”

You would have thought that the healing of the lepers would be a powerful enough story in its own right. But, something happens next that stops everyone in their tracks. Then one of them, when he saw he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice, and fell on his face at Jesus’ feet and giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus answered, “We not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?”

I do not want you to hear that Jesus is not responsive to the one who returned to give thanks. In fact, the response of the one creates an opportunity for Jesus to teach us something significant. You see the one that returned to give praise would have been seen as the wrong one. He was an outsider in the truest sense. As a Samaritan he would have been considered unworthy and unacceptable to the Jewish community even before he got leprosy. This moment of praise is another one of those moments when the disciples’ attitude on race and culture would have been confronted in a way beyond their expectation or imagination. The nine like them were cleansed but never came back to Jesus. They received their healing and went back to their families and previous lives. They had an encounter with God and missed it. That day only one was truly made whole. Only one understood what had happened to him. Only one understood that he had been touched by the hand of God – healed by the love of God. Only one claimed an attitude of gratitude that carried him to the feet of Jesus. Only one! He alone was the one to hear Jesus say to him, “Rise and go your way, your faith has made you well. “ This Samaritan, this source of unlikely praise, was the one to be healed both in body and soul.

Luke never tells us what happens to the other nine. I have to wonder if they were so glad to have their bodies cleansed, to be acceptable to others again, that they never even thought about the need for more. I have to wonder if they were so wrapped up in the security they found in their own cultural set up that they could not have conceived of humbling themselves in gratitude to Jesus. I have to wonder if they thought their place in the religious culture was sufficient for their connection with God. I have to wonder if they thought of Jesus as a travelling “healer” and never gave a second thought about the prospect that they had just seen the face of God.

Where do you find yourself in this story? Are you one of the disciples on the road with Jesus, spectators to a moment of healing? They are the ones Jesus was trying to teach. They were the ones who needed to understand that the Kingdom of God was an upside down kingdom where praise comes from the least likely places. They are the ones that Jesus wanted to confront their own prejudices and biases and to see God move beyond their expectations. They are the ones that Jesus wanted to understand that the only right response to the love and grace of God was a humble thankfulness that carries them – and us – to our face at the feet of God.

Maybe you see yourself as one of the ten calling out for mercy, feeling isolated and cast out, needing for God to step into your life and change everything.

Maybe you see yourself as one of the nine. You know that God is at work in your life, but it is hard to let go of your confidence in your own capacities long enough to humble yourself – ourselves –before God. You know that God is at work in your life, but it is hard to admit that you have to have God at the center of your life. It is easier to live in the comfortable routines of life and to claim the joys of economic and cultural blessing based on who you are, rather than claiming a way of life where all that you are is who you are at God’s feet.

Maybe you see yourself as the one who has been so moved by the healing touch of God that you want nothing more than to heal the voice of God pronouncing you whole. You have lived a fractured life long enough. You are ready to be healed – to be made truly whole – by God.

Look, I see Jesus and his disciples coming up the road now. I hear people crying out for mercy. I look at the gaze of Jesus and see the intensity of how he is looking at those who need healing – he seems to not only to be looking at them, but looking into the hearts and lives. I wonder whose life he will change today? I wonder if it might be mine? Amen.

(I would like to credit the artist for the painting used in today's blog but I cannot find a name tied to the painting. All references indicate that the artist is unknown. If you know who painted this painting please let me know so I can give the artist the mention they deserve.)

Saturday, March 12, 2011

“Released” - Acts 13:1-3 - March 13, 2011

Have you ever had a conversation with someone when something is said that help you begin to put your arms around something you are thinking or feeling? They say something that makes you stop and say quietly to yourself, “yes, that’s it.” A couple of months ago I had a conversation like that with Mitch Randall, pastor at NorthHaven Church in Norman. In a conversation with a number of area pastors he said that he had recently preached a sermon about what it meant to “release” people for ministry. To be honest, I do not remember much more about the conversation, that word just kept rolling over and over in mind. I could not help but think about how that term, that image, described what I saw happening in our midst as a church family. It is clear to me that God is moving in some new and exciting ways. This movement of God transcends age, gender, ethnic tradition or ministry venue. I have never seen anything quite like it before. It is the story of God calling and people responding. It is the story of a people being released for ministry for God.
Join me in a journey to watch, to listen, and to respond. Join me as we look at a well known story recast for this moment in the life of our church. Join me as we wander into a worship service in the church in Antioch where God acts and changes the story of that church and the Church forever.

Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a member of the court of Herod the ruler, and Saul. Sometimes when we read a list of names like this we tend to become so focused on pronouncing their names right so we do not embarrass ourselves that we forget to see why they are listed. In the case, we learn a lot about the church in Antioch by looking at its prophets, preachers, and teachers.

Many of you probably remember that Barnabas was sent to Antioch by the church in Jerusalem to see what was going on up there. What he found was gentiles and Jews and people from across the globe acting like family because of their relationship with Christ. Barnabas, a trusted leader in the Jerusalem church was so moved by what he experienced in Antioch that he joined them. Simeon called Niger, would have been dark skinned, most probably from Libya. He was clearly different from the Jews and the some of the fair skinned gentiles that would have called that area home. Lucius of Cyrene would have come to the church from North Africa. And Manaen, would have emerged from the halls of government and influence. Finally Saul, a Jew with a well documented pedigree, but a Roman citizen, persecutor turned preacher. These five men could not have been more different. You would see it in their complexion; you would notice it in their speech; you would even see a difference in how the carried themselves. They represented a cultural diversity that would have been shocking to many. But they looked like the emerging church – the Kingdom of God on earth. Their diversity allows them to speak across their community – and later the world.

I imagine that gathering looked a lot like we do on the first Sunday of the month when we worship across language and culture and country and focus on the faith that makes us the children of God. I believe that one of the reasons that God is moving among us in new and special ways is that we have begun to look like and sound like the faithful church in Antioch, a church that changed the world.

The passage continues; “While they were worshipping the Lord and fasting…”I stop mid sentence because I want to focus for a moment on the fact that this defining moment is born in worship. It is born at the feet of God. It is a worship service where being different was normal, where the only common thread was their relationship with God. This was a worship service founded in expectation. They had been praying and fasting before they got together. They had been seeking the voice of God and giving them self over to God before they walked in the room. They came and expectation and God responded.

Ok, back to the passage; “While they were worshipping the Lord and fasting the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’” The temptation is to think that is the church that sets people apart for ministry. This is not our task. In fact, too many times it is the Church and good church folk who get in the way of people responding to God’s call. We want our children close and our grandchildren closer. Our desire to hold on gets in the way of them hearing and responding to God’s call. We fear the unknown. Our desire for certainty and comfort gets in the way of people and churches responding boldly to God. We like the predictable. We quietly know that when God moves our predictable world can get shattered and God can sweep us new directions. But, the good news is that it is not our boundaries. It is not about us making the choices about who is called and who is worthy. It is the Holy Spirit that sets people apart for ministry. It is God who calls out. It is God who empowers. It means when we go out, we go out with the confidence that God will provide the resources and that we serve out of God’s power.

The passage finishes; “Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off. “ One of the earliest English Bible translations is the Wycliffe translation. It served as the foundation text of the later King James Version and was set aside because in its attempt to be literal, it was often sounded clumsy and awkward. However I think this 1382 handwritten translation powerful caught the intended heart of verse 3. It reads; “Then they fasted, and prayed, and laid hands on them, and let them go.” All of my life I heard the sermons that focused on the church sending Paul and Barnabas out for missions. I heard it this passage used in the commissioning of mission teams and the blessing of missionaries. The focus over and over again was the church as a central part of the “sending” of these first missionaries. Hear that it was God who called them out – and it was the task of the church not to send them, but to let them go, to release them for mission and ministry.

Take a look at this door with me. The perception is that the church is on this side of the door (inside) eagerly waiting to send out their best from their midst into the world. Can you imagine what the leaders in that worship service must have felt like when they understood that God wanted their very best, their pastor and their teacher to take the word of God to the world? Do you think that anyone of them thought of their own self interest and wanted Barnabas and Paul to stay? Do you think that anyone of them wished God would send someone else instead? When the Spirit called and moved, the church responded immediately. God did not call out their weak links, odd ducks or spiritually challenged. God called out the very best that the church had and the church released them out without reservation.

Our reality is that too often we find the church – we find ourselves – on this side of the door (outside) keeping people in; wanting to be the one to decide who gets sent out; wanting to be the ones to make sure they follow our plans and our strategies, fulfilling our wishes, meeting our demands. This passage provides a very different picture, of a church that releases people for mission and ministry – that opens the door and gets out of their way – out of God’s way. This can be scary for a grand structured institution like the church. We are used to being in control. We are used to deciding who goes where and who does what in the name of the church. If we see our task as releasing people for ministry – freeing them to hear and respond to God’s call then it means that we are out of control and God is setting the pace and direction. This is a model of a church that is less structured; and much, much more organic. We are becoming that kind of church.

This morning Kimberly Anno led us through our responsive reading. She and Sarah Kroutil are working on a summer medical mission trip to Haiti. They are moved by compassion by what they have seen and heard related to the ongoing tragedy in the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. They have heard God call and have responded. They do not ask our permission to God. They ask for us to release them and to bless their Kingdom endeavors. Paul and Barbara Calmes seemed to always going somewhere –and taking others along with them. India, Guatemala, Ghana, Kenya, China, and who knows where’s next. They are gifted leaders that we are tempted to claim just for ourselves. They have heard God call and have responded. They do not ask our permission to God. They ask for us to release them and to bless their Kingdom endeavors. Cathy Manuel prayed that God would fill the shelves of the food pantry and through a Walmart Grocery store God has provided so much that we are now expanding the number of zip codes we are serving. Kim and Bruce believed God was calling our church to stage the musical It’s a Wonderful Life. God called and together we released those in our midst who heard God’s call and God blessed beyond our wildest imagination. The Yorks have released a facility to launch a new furniture ministry into our care and just in time for college students from FBC Waco join us and prepare the building for ministry. We need about $6000 for carpet, but I am confident that God will provide it because this is the very kind of thing we are seeing God do. A number of our youth and 20somethings are heading to Canada summer because they have heard God’s call. Our task is to release them and bless them. These stories are becoming more and more common among our church family. We need to make sure we are on the right side of the door, releasing one another in ministry to our community and our world. God is doing something new among us. How will we respond?

I believe that we are beginning a new era of ministry where the driving questions will not be; “how have we done this in the past?” or even, “what is the most strategic thing our church can do?” Instead we will be driven by asking “who is God calling next?” and “how do we release each other and bless each other in fulfilling our Kingdom endeavors?” This era will shape us and change us and hopefully help us change our community and change our world as well. I can hardly wait to see where God will take us! Come and go with me.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Ash Wednesday - The Journey Begins - John 16:17-22

With one remaining session in our study of First and Second Corinthians, tonight I set our study series aside to focus on what this day means to many across the Christian faith and what it can mean for us. You may have noticed co-workers and friends with a small cross of ash in the center of their forehead. The Catholic Church and many of the mainstream Protestant Church traditions practice the observance of Ash Wednesday. While this observance is not commanded or directed in the New Testament, the symbol of the being marked with ash finds long history in the Old Testament. It was a symbol of grief and morning. The early church claimed this symbol and began the tradition of Ash Wednesday as the marker of the beginning of Lent, the 40 day season of preparation for Easter. This past Sunday we talked about the how the use of the reference to 40 days and 40 nights throughout Scripture was more than a calendar countdown, but was rather seen as a long season when time seemed to stand still and people waited to see the movement of God- to hear the voice of God. This is the heart behind the Lenten season. It is a time for us to be still, to be focused, to be quiet, to set all other distractions aside, so that we might see and hear the Easter story fresh and new. As Baptist we have been slower to embrace larger church traditions like Lent and Ash Wednesday. While it is not a Biblical command, there is power in the tradition. It invites to into a time of spiritual focus and discipline that can empower our walk with God. So, tonight we pause and claim Ash Wednesday and begin our journey to the cross and the empty tomb together. We walk this journey as a whole family because our youth stay with us tonight to participate in this special service.

The focal passage for the evening is John 16:17-22. It reads: 17Some of his disciples said to one another, "What does he mean by saying, 'In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me,' and 'Because I am going to the Father'?" 18They kept asking, "What does he mean by 'a little while'? We don't understand what he is saying."

19Jesus saw that they wanted to ask him about this, so he said to them, "Are you asking one another what I meant when I said, 'In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me'? 20I tell you the truth, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy. 21A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. 22So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.

We come to the journey to the cross in the knowledge of how the story ends. The writer Clarence W. Hall puts it this way; “Easter says you can put truth in a grave, but it won’t stay there.” We get to come to the streets of Jerusalem knowing that the cry of the crowd and the agony of the cross will soon be replaced with the miracle of the empty tomb of Easter morning. Even as we gather here on Ash Wednesday we know where we are heading and that Easter morn is just a weeks away.

But for those standing with Jesus, the streets of Jerusalem became the journey into chaos. From almost the moment he called them, Jesus had been trying to prepare his disciples for this week that would change everything. No matter how he tried to explain it to them it seemed to they simply could not hear it. In the days just ahead of our passage the disciples had seen Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead, seen Jesus anointed in Bethany, and hear the “hosannas” of Jesus’ Triumphal Entry echoing in the streets. They could believe that this was the moment of Jesus’ glory, but they could not hear that grief awaited them.

Our focal passage begins with quiet whispers among the disciples. One looked at another; “what is he talking about leaving us and coming back to us –because he is going to the Father? Do you understand? Did he tell you more? What do you think?” Jesus heard them and tried to help them understand. He told them that they would grieve, but that their grief would turn to joy. He used the image of a woman in child birth. He wanted them to understand that their pain would be intense, but that something amazing, something wonderful, something joyful awaited them. The disciples were ill prepared for the angry crowds, the hostility of the Jewish leadership, the apathy of the Roman leadership, and the brutal walked to the cross that would claim Jesus. In the tenderness of their roadside conversation with Jesus they could not imagine that only a few days in the future they would be huddled in the Upper Room quaking in fear; broken and fearful; shattered and sullen. They were so captured by the “hosannas” that they could not conceive of the tears of grief that would define them by week’s end. Jesus tried to prepare them for their journey into chaos. They simply could not hear.

To be honest, their experience of confusion is echoed by many who worship across our nation. They tend to focus on the victorious Jesus, who triumphs over his enemies and over death. They tend to focus on the Jesus of the praise and celebration they hear echoing in their worship services. They will claim tendency and temptation is to worship on Palms Sunday and hear the “hosannas” and to return a week later and listen to the “hallelujahs” of Easter morning. They will miss the chaos of the journey to the cross shapes the story of Jesus and his disciples; and shapes what it means for us to be followers of Jesus even now. Our faith is born in a crucible of pain.

It seems all too often when people experience pain or grief they cry out, “where is God” or “why is this happening to me?” We have bought the myth that our life through faith us just “hosannas” and “hallelujahs.” Jesus wanted his disciples to understand that pain and grief would be a part of their story. Likewise pain is part of the reality of our experience. The disciples would know the agony of the chaos and the cruelty of others. They would experience the agony of Judas’ betrayal and the bitterness of Peter’s denials. They would be forced to witness to destruction of the future they anticipated. They would know the tears of pain rising from their broken hearts. But, the season of pain would not define them. It does not define us.

Our passage in John draws us close to remind us that the joy is born in pain; the celebration is born in grief. During an Easter message, Pope John Paul II, proclaimed “Do not abandon yourselves to despair. We are the Easter people and hallelujah is our song.” In moments of uncertainty, in seasons of grief and in times of pain these words are worthy of letting resonate with the depths of our souls. But, we cannot forget that the hallelujahs are born in the midst of the grief of Holy Week.

As a church we will offer a wide range of experiences over this Lenten season to help you better understand what happened in the midst of this dramatic week. On Friday evenings in April we will host a special art series that will look at some of the great painting of the faith and how they shaped our understanding of the gospel story. We will host concerts and stage special worship experiences designed to help us hear the witness of those on the journey to the cross at Jesus’ side. I also encourage you to dive into Scripture; to read the Easter week passages; and to pray that God will talk you into the streets and draw you to the empty tomb. So often you will hear people talk about what they are going to “give up for Lent” as a symbol of personal denial and preparation. There is value in that choice because it places the Lenten journey in front of us over and over again every time we make the choice to deny ourselves that treat. But, the greater choice I will ask you to prayerfully consider is to not simply give up chocolate or sweets, but to covenant with God and one another to claim time in prayer and reflection focusing on following Christ every step of the way.

I invite you to join me in a journey into chaos; to follow Jesus and his disciples through the streets of Jerusalem. Some of the moments will break your heart. But know that on the other side of the grief of this week that joy awaits us. Betrayal will give way to community; hatred will give way to peace; violence will give way to redemption; a brutal cross will give way to Easter hallelujahs. 22So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.

So was we begin our journey of twin journey of sorrow and celebration I invite you to come forward and claim the mark of the cross. Claim it as a public display that you are walking with Jesus toward the cross. Claim it is a personal commitment to prepare yourselves for a fresh encounter with at the cross – with its brutality and suffering – and at the empty tomb – where we will hear the good news, “He is not here! He is Risen! Just as He said.” Let us to take the journey with purpose. Let us take the journey together.

Come now and claim the mark of the cross.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

International Women's Day - The Spirit of God Set Loose

Today is 100th Anniversary of the global celebration of International Women's Day. International Women's Day (8 March) is a global day celebrating the economic, political and social achievements of women past, present and future. In some places like China, Russia, Vietnam and Bulgaria, International Women's Day is a national holiday.It is a good day to remember the moment the Spirit of God was set loose and the old boundaries were blown away. It is time for the conservative evangelical church to remember and to claim the words from Joel 2:23-32 cited by Peter in Acts 2:14-21. This first sermon of the Church calls us to make the way for all to become messangers - proclaimers - preachers of the promise of salvation. The following are excepts from a sermon preached at FBC OKC in October 2010 but its words ring with particular significance today.

It happened in the weeks just before Beth and I were to head out to the mission field. I was closing out my time as church planter/pastor of Westwood Baptist Church in Cary, North Carolina. It was a small but vibrant new church. The service had concluded and almost everyone had cleared the building. Aaron had made his way back into our makeshift sanctuary and had pulled out the small stool I used for children’s sermons and scooted it behind the pulpit. With a smile he stood on it, and began to act like he was preaching. One of remaining folks saw the scene and asked, “Wouldn’t it be great if your son followed you in to ministry.” While I smiled at Aaron playing preacher I could not help think about the infant daughter I held in my arms, and looked back at him and asked, “Do you think people would be as excited if the one who is called turns out to be my daughter rather than my son?” While I believed in the idea of women in ministry before that day, after that moment it became personal. It was important to me that no one put any limits on what God might do in the life of either one of my children – and by extension – anyone else’s either. But you need to know that my beliefs are not just founded in a father’s love for his children, they emerge for the Biblical account of the birth of the church. Take a look at Acts 2, verses 14-21 with me and I believe we will hear that God’s plan is to use all of us – men and women, young and old – lift our voices as witnesses to the world.

We join the Biblical narrative in the moments after the Holy Spirit has been poured out on the disciples gathered in the Upper Room. When we experience something that we have never seen before we struggle to describe with the words and images we know. If you had never seen a porcupine before how might you describe it to some else? If you had never seen a baseball game or played golf before how comical might it be to hear you try to explain these game to others? In the first few verse of Acts 2 we read the description of a violent wind coming from heaven, of tongues of fire floating above each of those gathered in the room. These strange and otherworldly images are Luke’s best attempt to explain what happens when the very presence of the Spirit of God fills the room and empowers God’s people. Should we be surprised that something dramatic happens when the Spirit of God moves? The disciples move from the Upper Room into the streets and begin to speak to the masses gathered from all over the world in Jerusalem for a religious festival. This band of fishermen, tax collectors, and other assorted followers were a part of something incredible. They had spoken Aramaic their whole lives. Now, empowered by the Holy Spirit, they listened as other languages tumbled from their lips. The crowd was bewildered – confused – even shocked – because they saw these simple Galileans speaking to them in their own language. How could these folks know all of these languages? What was happening? Scripture tells us that they were amazed and perplexed and they asked one another, “What does this mean?” Some nickered from the sidelines and speculated these followers of Jesus must be drunk. Peter claimed center stage and tried to explain what is going on. He started with an obvious observation – but one that was directly to the point – folks, he argues, it is only 9 in the morning – it’s simply too early for them to be drunk. But then he takes a moment of mockery and turns it into a pronouncement on what God was up to in their midst. He cites the prophetic pronouncement of Joel. "'In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy. I will show wonders in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord. And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.'”

Those gathered in the streets would have heard this prophetic promise in synagogue schools when they gathered around the rabbi for instruction. This prophet Joel described a coming climatic moment in history when the very presence of the Spirit of God would be poured out in their midst. In the time of the prophets and even in the rabbinical teaching of that era they understood that God poured out his Spirit on a select few, prophets and priests who would speak to God for the people and speak for God to the people. The prophet promised a moment when God would no long speak to and through a select few – a mere handful – and would begin to speak through all of the people. The Baptist Old Testament scholar J. Hardee Kennedy describes it this way; “The intimacy with God which hitherto had been confined to exceptional individuals will be shared by all of his people. Not scantily, but in abundant measure, the Lord will pour out his illumination and power.” It was an incredible prophet pronouncement because it meant that the mission of God in the world would then be invested in all of God’s people. In essence of what Peter wanted the crowd to understand is that the incredible – remarkable – almost unexplainable scene that they are witnessing is the promise of the pour out of God’s Spirit upon the people fulfilled. The moment they have been waiting for was here!

It is interesting to me that this incredible pronounce of the fulfillment of one of God’s great promises seems to have been lost in the margins of development of the church. Richard Halverson, former Chaplain to the US made an interesting observation about the development of the church. He states; In the beginning the Church was a fellowship of men and women who centred their lives on the living Christ. They had a personal and vital relationship to the Lord. It transformed them and the world around them. Then the Church moved to Greece, and it became a philosophy. Later it moved to Rome, and it became an institution. Next it moved to Europe and it became a culture. Finally it moved to America, and it became an enterprise. We've got far too many churches and so few fellowships. I believe he is right and with every step the church seemed to find new ways to create boundaries that once again seemed to teach that God poured out his Spirit in a select few, once again separating the people of God – people like you and me – from the fulfillment of the promise of an abundant outpouring of the Spirit on our lives. It once again invested the capacity for God to speak to and through to a handful, when it was intended for all. Hear me clearly that these boundaries are a man-made creation rather than the plan of God.

Our Western European cultural and faith heritage proclaims the male centered worldview. Even after over a century of efforts, in most places men still hold the keys to power and influence. This worldview has overflowed into the life of the church and our cultural norms shaped how we have read scripture and the roles we have assigned to men and women. Globally our view of scripture and the distinctive roles are sometimes consistent, but more often are dissident to the living expression of the growing Church. Across Africa and Asia we often see women serving as Senior Pastors of leading congregations; we hear women teach and women teach, and witness me and women alike bringing people to the feet of God in worship. Joel was clear, in this new era when the Spirit of God is poured out on all people both the sons and the daughters will prophesy. In old fashioned Southern, “your sons and your daughters, they are goin’ to preach!” I recognize that some across the conservative Christian landscape would argue with me and would try to leverage Paul’s instruction to young congregations to justify the boundaries. But Paul was speaking into specific situations where cultural abuses triggered a need for direction and situational correction. But Paul’s instructions cannot undermine the power and significant of this grand declaration that the Spirit of God has come and all the old boundaries are to fade away. If we believe we are living in the last days, as most of my conservative brethren contend, then they must embrace the fulfillment of Joel’s prophetic promise. If we take the Bible at its word then we must cheer when Peter invokes the these prophetic words from Joel and makes clear that a new kind of Kingdom has been born and the Spirit of God has been set loose not on a select few, but in lives of all believers. The boundary of gender is shattered and the expectation is that God will use both men and women to proclaim God’s word. It is time to claim these words from Peter's grand sermon and get out of the way and invite our sons and our daughters to lift their voices and proclaim the promise of God's salvation.

“Face to Face with God” Exodus 24:12-18 March 6, 2011

I do not know what ever happened to it. Probably no one else would have thought it of value. But, as a kid one of the things that most intrigued me the most in my grandfather’s house was a small framed engraved invitation to a Presidential inauguration and to the Inaugural Ball. I vividly remember being wowed by the idea that my grandfather had been invited to be with someone that had been elected by the nation to serve as its leader.

Who would you like to be invited to spend a day – or even an hour with? It is fascinating when you do a bit of web research to see the odd and eclectic names people offer. Some list great names from history- great leaders, military heroes or grand religious figures; others list great authors or entertainers; still others list people whose names are completely foreign to me. I imagine that if we all stopped and wrote a list right now we would probably be surprised at some of the names that might pop up. So, if you received an invitation to spend some time with one of those at the top of your list what would you do? Who would you tell? What would you wear? What would you want to talk about? What questions might you ask?

In our passage for the morning we hear Moses receive an incredible invitation. The LORD said to Moses, “Come up to me on the mountain and stay here, and I will give you the tablets of stone with the law and commandments I have written for their instruction.” Can you imagine getting a personal invitation to send time with God? We know in sequence that God has already given Moses the Ten Commandments. This invitation was for a time of conversation and instruction. This was to be a time when Moses would spend time talking with God and hearing from God. God wanted Moses to understand God’s word. God wanted Moses to understand God’s way. You cannot understand God’s words and way at a distance; it calls for you to get face to face with God.

Moses began to prepare for his encounter with God. This was no small task. It meant that he had to clear his calendar and clear his mind, so his sole focus could be on his time with God. The passage tells us; Then Moses set out with Joshua his aide, and Moses went up on the mountain of God. 14 He said to the elders, “Wait here for us until we come back to you. Aaron and Hur are with you, and anyone involved in a dispute can go to them.” Moses lined up leadership to handle his responsibilities. He did not want anything or anyone to interrupt this sacred time. This was no ordinary meeting, he was about to claim time in the presence of the living and loving God.
What do you think it would look like if we put this kind of thought and preparation into our time with God? How might it change our experience in worship if we understood this time was sacred and nothing and no one should get in the way of our time with God? How might it change our experience in this place if we prepared for this time? What if we made sure that we had done all we needed to ensure that our focus in this place was to talk to God and to heard God voice? We cheat ourselves if we do anything less.
15 When Moses went up on the mountain, the cloud covered it, 16 and the glory of the LORD settled on Mount Sinai. For six days the cloud covered the mountain, and on the seventh day the LORD called to Moses from within the cloud. 17 To the Israelites the glory of the LORD looked like a consuming fire on top of the mountain. 18 Then Moses entered the cloud as he went on up the mountain. And he stayed on the mountain forty days and forty nights. These three verses are filled with imagery that would have had a profound impact on the hearers of this story. They understood that there was something special about the mountains; that God seemed to reside there. They understood that God was bigger than the bounds of a body and that the image of the cloud and the consuming fire on the mountain top was a picture of God’s purity, of God’s power, of God’s holiness, and God’s presence. They understood that when Moses was in the mountain top that Moses was face to face with God.

Moses was in no hurry to leave. The passage tells us that he was on the mountain with God for forty days and forty nights. You probably recognize that term. It is the timeline of the flooding of the earth we hear in the Noah story. It is the term used when we see Moses pleading on his face for the people. It is the time the Philistines challenged the Israelites before David confronted Goliath. It is the term we read when we hear that Jesus went into the desert after his baptism to face the temptation of Satan. It represents more than a month and ten days. It is symbolic of a long season where time seems to stand still. Moses was with God and did not want to be anywhere else.

I cannot offer you an engraved invitation like the one mounted on my grandfather’s wall. But I can offer some pretty powerful words of invitation from Scripture:

The psalmist sings out; (Psalm 95) 6 Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the LORD our Maker; 7 for he is our God and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care.

In Isaiah 55 (vs.2-3) we hear God speak; Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and you will delight in the richest of fare. 3 Give ear and come to me; listen, that you may live.

We hear Jesus say; 28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.

You are invited to claim time with God. Not to go through the religious motions but to make your time in worship at time when you are able to set everything else aside to talk to God and to hear God’s voice. You are invited to a time in the presence and the power of the living and loving God. It is a sacred time. We cannot treat it as less.

Every time we gather for worship we respond to God’s invitation. The problem is that we so often think about what we get out of worship we fail to give serious enough attention to what we bring to worship and to our place in this encounter with the divine. In the process we cheat ourselves from an authentic face to face encounter with God.

Come with a heart of expectation for a fresh encounter the holiness of God. Come, setting everything else aside. Come and worship and while you are here let go of time and linger in the presence of God. Come – God awaits you.