Sunday, October 18, 2015

Do Everything in Love; I Corinthians 16:1-14

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Sunday, October 11, 2015

When the World Turns Violent Against Us; Psalm 79, I Peter 4:12-19

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Friday, October 9, 2015

Bread of Peace; Acts 27:1-38

Our Scripture passage is appropriate on this Worldwide Communion/ Peacemaking Sunday with a hurricane that just passed by. Paul shares a fellowship meal with his shipmates in the middle of a storm. This meal is a peacemaking meal. Paul is finally on his way to Rome. The ship makes it to the port of Fair Havens, which wasn’t really fair in the winter time, but Paul advises the crew to winter there as he is now an experienced traveler and has already been shipwrecked a time of two as we read in II Cor. 11:25. But the crew, wanting to make their money, wants to press on. Not long out, they run into a severe nor’easter, and the crew does their best to save the ship. This ship battles the storm for 2 weeks. In that time, no one has had a normal meal. It’s been catch as catch can as even Luke and perhaps others of Paul’s traveling companions and the other prisoners are pulled in to help with the ship. Paul gives a little “I told you so” speech, but then he tells them to have courage because he has been reassured that no lives will be lost. He has heard from an angel who reassures Paul that he will get to Rome, not only that, but all who are sailing with him will be saved, though the ship will not. Still things looked so bleak that some of the crew thinks of abandoning ship, but Paul warns the centurion Julius, who orders the dinghy to be cut away so no one can escape. Just before daybreak on this 14th night, Paul encourages everyone to stop and eat because they will need all their strength to get through what comes next. The crew knows that they must try to run the ship aground safely. They all take time to eat their fill before dumping the rest of the food overboard. It’s not just the angel given message that conveys peace to the crew, but there is something transcendent in the meal itself. Taking time to eat says that it’s okay to slow down. Things are going to be okay. It is a moment to ignore the storms around and focus on what is before you, the food and the fellowship. God’s presence is offered in the meal, not in the same way as in the Eucharist, as explained in the children’s message, but it is still there because God is always present. And in the hospitality of sharing a meal, God’s presence is emphasized. This meal wasn’t the Lord’s Supper, and no one was converted by it, but this was a time of calm in the midst of the storm and gave the people strength to do what they needed. Though Communion is only for the family of faith, the bread of peace can be offered to anyone. It is a means by which we exhibit the kingdom of heaven to the world. People may not immediately if ever turn to Jesus because of our peacemaking efforts and hospitality, but this does not diminish the importance of these efforts. In peacemaking, which includes hospitality and fellowship we are not only being obedient to Christ, but we are blessed along with the recipients, as the presence of Christ is made known to us all. And we in turn learn to see Christ through those we serve. Jim and I have just finished listening to this audio book, Rosaria Champagne Butterfield’s “Openness Unhindered: Further Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert on Sexual Identity and Union with Christ.” Dr. Butterfield is a home-school mom and Presbyterian pastor’s wife. They are members of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of America, a denomination that does not ordain women and only sings a capella psalms in worship. Before coming to know Christ, Dr. Butterfield was a professor of English and LGBT studies at Syracuse University. She lived in a series of lesbian relationships for 10 years. It was a Reformed Presbyterian Pastor and his wife that led her to Christ by showing gracious hospitality, listening, asking probing questions, and modeling Christ likeness. This pastor and wife invited Rosaria to their home, and in turn she reciprocated. They shared peace making meals, and eventually, Rosaria came to know the Prince of Peace. In this book, Rosaria shares how she and her husband have continued this tradition of peacemaking hospitality in their home by opening their home weekly for prayer and peacemaking meals. Sure, they invite believing neighbors over, but they make lots of room for any neighbor, even initiating conversations and opportunities for community and shared fellowship. I don’t know that Paul would have gone out of his way to preach to a bunch of sailors. I don’t know that the sailors would have ever cared about Paul or Paul’s God. But this storm gave them opportunity to interact, and it gave Paul and opportunity to show kindness and concern while pointing pagan sailors and Roman guards to the God who is more powerful than any storm and yet is loving and merciful. It wasn’t even Paul’s bread. It was the food on the ship, food that was available, but it was offered with the peace of Christ. I do not believe we can ever go wrong by being compassionate and hospitable, for this is the Jesus way. Again, I think of our brothers and sisters in Iraq and Syria. In contrast to ISIS, who says convert or die, the Christians welcome anyone, and many Muslims are turning to Christ because believers are responding with love, as opposed to hate or indifference. For truth to be received, one must have “ears to hear.” We never stop speaking truth, but peacemaking and hospitality are tools that allow people to hear truth. Simple acts of kindness demonstrate the gospel, and pave the way for the gospel to be heard. Take time to listen to see what needs you might be able to meet. Paul had been observing everything before he offered this bread of peace. He knew the men hadn’t taken a break in 14 days. He knew they were exhausted, hungry and frightened. Sometimes it is the real storms, like we are having, that gives us opportunities to interact with our neighbors, like cleaning up debris, lending help with a chainsaw, providing help when things are damaged or destroyed, just like Paul and his companions pitched in with helping to keep the ship from breaking apart. In working together, Paul got to know the crew a little better. In working with our neighbors, we get to know them a little more as well. But there are other storms that touch us—some are not as obvious as others, but if we take time to listen and watch, we can see the needs in those around us. Pray for eyes to see the needs around you. Paul was able to offer peace because he had peace himself. He had stayed close to the Lord and had heard a word from the Lord through an angel. Paul could encourage others because he knew the plan of God. Even though God will not give us all the details, God can and does reveal God’s purposes to us when we are seeking God and God’s will. We cannot give what we do not have. If we do not have peace, we cannot give peace. If we do not have joy, we cannot give joy. We need to be constantly filled with Holy Spirit so that we can bear the fruit of the Spirit. We need to empty ourselves so that we can be filled with God and let God’s love overflow in us. The Communion Table is a place where we come to be filled. It is here we find strength and power to be the voice, hands, eyes, ears, feet, and heart of Jesus to the world. We receive peace, through the forgiveness of our sins, and we can offer peace to others. What might you do to offer the bread of peace? How can you be more hospitable in your words and actions? To whom do you need to be more compassionate? How might you find opportunities to show grace to your neighbor?