July 10, 2016

Pentecost 8   July 10, 2016   Acts 11:1-18; 19-26; 27-30, 13:1-3 ***************************************** As we pick up again in the book of Acts today we’re visiting a new church-start… in pretty strange territory for our parent church back in Jerusalem. Syria was a powerful enemy empire in days of old, one of the many empires that conquered Israel… Now Syrian Antioch’s the third largest city in the Roman Empire, the contemporary evil empire…Yet ironically this church has been planted by Jesus-followers who’ve found refuge in Syria… from persecution in Jerusalem. We’re revisiting our faith family history. Friday night we had calling hours for one of the saints (of this church/of the Cataumet church), and there were family pictures on display everywhere, poster boards with hundreds of pictures of Jean Parker, her family and church… Reading the book of Acts is a bit like this… Here we are, looking through old family pictures. Remembering the infant church, barely beginning to walk – but looking already like a chip-off-the-block of of Jesus. Who, remember, picked twelve apostles from across the spectrum of political persuasions – choosing St Simon the zealot, part of the radical opposition to the empire – and also St Matthew, a tax collector, who worked for the empire. Now here’s First United Church of Antioch, the next generation,with even greater diversity… All five prophets and teachers mentioned in our last reading are from outside Israel. At least four are probably also from somewhere other than Antioch. (Barnabas, we’ve been told, is a native of Cyprus. Simeon, called Niger, which means Black, is likely from Africa. Lucius of Cyrene, is from a city in what’s now Libya in North Africa. And Saul is from Tarsus.) Here, as with the twelve called by Jesus, we also have real cultural diversity. Manaen being part of the court of one of the several Herods in the bible, all of whom are hostile to the Christian movement. Yet Manaen, probably at serious risk to his professional future, has become a leader among disciples of Jesus. And here again is Saul, whom we met a few weeks ago, soon to be re-named Paul – till recently, the foremost persecutor of the church. Yet now since meeting Jesus, risking his life for the church… Here in Antioch, where disciples are first called Christians, the young church is diverse and growing… Taking risks and making sacrifices for the gospel. As, responding to what they’ve heard from the Spirit, believers lay on hands, pray, and send forth Barnabas and Saul to serve as missionaries…Giving up two of their most gifted leaders… to help others get to know Jesus… A little bit like we’ve just done a few weeks ago (here/in Bourne), with Isaac (Ryong Jae) Jung, his wife Irene (Eunsook), and their daughter Eveline Yewon –  sending them off to serve a United Methodist Church in Pittsburgh, Kansas. Laying on hands – praying – sending them forth to serve… As we’ve also just done for Rebecca Hewett – sending her to serve as pastor in South Middleboro. Again, laying on hands – praying – and sending forth to serve… It hurts to see them go… Yet we feel deep satisfaction in having done our small parts to help them prepare for ministry. Helping them share their gifts and graces...

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July 19, 2015 – Sweeter than honey

Pentecost 8   July 19, 2015   (Mark 6:30-34, Ephesians 2:13-22) Psalm 19 Sweeter than honey ************************************************ In days of old when someone said: The heavens are telling the glory of God… Those who heard would be likely to say in reply: and the firmament proclaims his handiwork…. Now we live in another era, a time of much knowledge. We’ve unlocked the mysteries of the atom; mapped distant reaches of the starry cosmos…This week we’ve seen close-up pictures from chilly planet Pluto…Just around the corner, relatively speaking, in our own small solar system. With the most powerful telescopes we can see far beyond the bounds of the Milky Way, and detect the presence of planets in far-off universes… Now we communicate at warp speed. Now we know so very much… And…. Now it’s no longer just us and the Russians, England and France… No longer just India, Pakistan, China… Israel… Now any country with a little plutonium can have it’s own weapons of mass destruction… Anyone can look up the recipes on-line. So much knowledge and such unfettered power has been gained and claimed… And… So much real understanding has been lost along the way. We have such vast knowledge… With, it seems, so little wisdom… People of old didn’t know nearly as many things as we know now… But they knew the heavens are telling the glory of God… They knew God knows all the stars in the heavens by name (as Isaiah 40 and Psalm 147 alike tell us). They knew God gave the rainbow sign after the flood in the first book of the bible… and the rainbow sign again in scripture’s last book… They knew the heavens are telling the glory of God… Just as assuredly our ancestors also knew… that God who made the heavens and the earth, the seas and all that fills them; God who made us in the image of God… Just as certainly made the Law of God… The Torah, the teaching of God – for revival of souls and giving of wisdom – for rejoicing of hearts and clarifying of vision. God gave his Sacred Teachings, full of the pure fear-awe-and-wonder of God. All God’s holy ordinances, true and righteous, more to be desired than gold, even much fine gold… Sweeter also than honey, and drippings of the honeycomb. CS Lewis calls Psalm 19 “the greatest poem in the psalter and one of the greatest lyrics in the world.” In his book Reflections on the Psalms, Lewis says (perhaps just a bit optimistically): “Most readers will remember it’s structure; six verses about Nature, five about the Law, and four of personal prayer.” Then he puzzles at some length – wondering – how can the law be sweeter than honey? ‘I can understand,’ he says (I’m paraphrasing), ‘how we can say the law is good and true and holy… But – sweeter than honey? Is Leviticus really that lovely? Can Deuteronomy revive our souls?’ Lewis was of an older-generation of scholars – not in a great hurry to make every point faster than a speeding freight train. He understood the power of building his case slowly, deliberatively, peppered with many small but useful observations. But in due time he does answer his question, saying now of the psalmist (quote): “First he thinks...

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August 3, 2014 – Wrestling for the blessing

Hosea 12:2-6 The Lord has an indictment against Judah, and will punish Jacob according to his ways, and repay him according to his deeds. In the womb he tried to supplant his brother, and in his manhood he strove with God. He strove with the angel and prevailed, he wept and sought his favor; he met him at Bethel, and there he spoke with him. The Lord the God of hosts, the Lord is his name! But as for you, return to your God, hold fast to love and justice, and wait continually for your God. Romans 11:25-27 So that you may not claim to be wiser than you are, brothers and sisters, I want you to understand this mystery: a hardening has come upon part of Israel, until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved; as it is written, “Out of Zion will come the Deliverer; he will banish ungodliness from Jacob.” “And this is my covenant with them, when I take away their sins.” Genesis 32:22-31 The same night he got up and took his two wives, his two maids, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. He took them and sent them across the stream, and likewise everything that he had.  Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, “Let me go, for the day is breaking.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.” So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” Then the man said, “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel (God-Wrestler), for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.” Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him. So Jacob called the place Peniel (God’s Face), saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.” The sun rose upon him as he passed Peniel, limping because of his hip. *** Pentecost 8   August 3, 2014   Hosea 12:2-6, Romans 11:25-27, Genesis 32:22-31 Wrestling for the blessing **** Even as a babe-in-the-womb – Jacob is wrestling – struggling from before birth with his twin brother Esau. Literally born wrestling, coming into the world holding-on-tight to the heel of his older-by-a-few-seconds brother. A preview of life to come… Back when I was a babe-in-the-woods I used to watch professional wrestling on television with friends. I remember especially a wrestler called Haystack Calhoun… (whom we nick-named Straw-stack Balloon – he really was that big – I checked it on the web – 600 pounds) – and another wrestler named Killer Kowalski… And even as ten year-olds we knew tv wrestling was fake. Unreal. An art form probably, since these guys really could wrestle. They could throw all the throws, hammer the other guy with hammer-locks – cause hurt and be hurt. But what we saw on television was an act… A carefully-scripted-orchestrated dramatic presentation… Performance-art that we...

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