Happy Birthday!

Written by Mark C. Pederson, Pastor, Trinity Lutheran Church

Theme Background

At one point or another Trinity Lutheran Church and McMinnville United Methodist Church have dreamed about being out of the downtown area. The Methodist still have land at the very edge of the Urban Growth Boundary. The Lutherans looked at many, many properties, but couldn’t find one that would work. When I came here I was suppose to built a facility with green grass and plenty of parking at the edge of town. My brother Dave, a much better and more successful pastor than I, has done just that at Trinity Lutheran Church in Dallas, Oregon. Of course now they are dealing with a 3 million dollar mortgage.

Visions of where the church might go, and what it might do are powerful. The vision to start the Cooperative Ministries did not come from the pastors. I was against it from the start. But the Methodist cheated. They put Roba Rathkey on the Joint Ministry Task Force! Roba’s kind, loving, calm leadership was irresistible.

It seems to have been the Holy Spirit that led this movement of cooperation. The original euphoria of the union has worn off a bit. (Perhaps we are in the midst of the traditional seven-year itch?) Today, Pentecost Sunday is the day we celebrate the birth of the Cooperative Ministries, and the birth of the Christian Church. It is the day the disciples were driven out of their hiding places and into the community. They head out and are filled with the Holy Spirit. Everyone, no matter what their mother tongue, understands what they are saying. The community moves in together, they share everything in common and the Church thrives. But even that paradise of community had difficult times. Infighting is well documented, as well as the hard feelings on the part of some participants against others. Why can’t we all just get along?

Why, because it is harder than the dickens to cohabitate with anybody. Tearing things apart is as easy. Choosing to bend our will towards another takes practice and patience. Our mission statement says that we have been “Inspired by Christ”. It is the Spirit of Christ driving and directing us. That means we may have to put away our own personal agendas at times. But we feel it is worth it to do so. Our personal agendas are limited. But together we believe we can accomplish so much more. We believe God wants all people and all creation to come together and experience God’s loving embrace.   That’s a tall order, but together (and with the help of the Holy Spirit) we believe we can take on this impossible task.

Quotes for the Week

“Competition has been shown to be useful up to a certain point and no further, but cooperation, which is the thing we must strive for today, begins where competition leaves off.”       Franklin D Roosevelt

“The only thing that will redeem humankind is cooperation.”               Bertrand Russell

One cannot be pessimistic about the West. This is the native home of hope. When it fully learns that cooperation, not rugged individualism, is the quality that most characterizes and preserves it, then it will have achieved itself and outlived its origins. Then it has a chance to create a society to match its scenery.”    Wallace Stegner

“All of us–bright atheists and committed religionists–need to wake now and hear the earth call . . . . We need to give and receive as love shows us how, join with each pilgrim who quests for the true, give heed to the voices of the suffering, awaken our consciences with justice as our guide, and work toward a planet transformed by our care.”                   Scotty McLennan

Let us stand together with renewed confidence in our cause — united in our heritage of the past and our hopes for the future — and determined that this land we love shall lead all mankind into new frontiers of peace and abundance.”  John F. Kennedy

“A choir is made up of many voices, including yours and mine. If one by one all go silent then all that will be left are the soloists.

Don’t let a loud few determine the nature of the sound. It makes for poor harmony and diminishes the song.”    Vera Nazarian

“I would like to see anyone, prophet, king or God, convince a thousand cats to do the same thing at the same time.”    Neil Gaiman

Lesson Acts 1:1-8 (NRSV)

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language?

Questions for the Week

How do we help people feel God’s loving embrace in their lives?

Where do you think the Holy Spirit is leading this church?

What do you think we are doing well? Where do we need to grow?

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Hope of Resurrection

 Written by Courtney McHill, United Methodist Pastor

Bible Background       I just started reading the book, “A Path Appears,” by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. The entire premise of the book is to highlight stories of people caring about other people and creating paths of opportunity. They write in the first pages of the book, “We decided that our focus should be on expanding opportunity worldwide, because talent is universal, but opportunity is not.”   At the point that I write this, I have only gotten a few chapters in but I was so moved by the first pages I had to put it down to marinate in what people are doing all over the world.  They have already highlighted at least six people that started small in giving to others in the world and have completely transformed lives. These are everyday people like you and me who have said yes to creating new life in places where it seems like it wouldn’t make a difference.  One little girl raises money for water for her ninth birthday.  One woman sends $250 dollars to Zimbabwe to make sure a little girl gets corrective measures for clubfoot. And that is just two stories!

I then put down my book and looked at Facebook. This was a mistake.  All over Facebook, there seemed to be such turmoil. Prayers for Nepal and the death count up.  Prayers for Baltimore. Prayers for the continued struggle to recognize racism and inequality. Prayers for the supreme court who get to make decisions about who can get married. Etc.  What my new perspective from the book helped me to do, however, was to look for where opportunities are rising to be part of new life.  Beyond the death in Nepal, there are direct ways to contribute to our brothers and sisters, financially and otherwise.  Beyond the riots in Baltimore, hundreds of clergy stepped forward to protest and link arms.  Beyond the courts, people tell their love stories.

It is too easy to get sucked into death if we aren’t remembering that death doesn’t win. That is what our scripture is about today.  As human beings, we sin (however you define the word). I think of sin as isolation from God and turned in the wrong direction.  I have heard interesting definitions of sin lately.  I have heard a colleague say that sin is choosing what is death rather than what produces life.  Paul might have agreed with that definition. Either way, sin is away from God rather than turning back towards God (the root of repentance to literally “turn back”).  We often preach this text as a baptism text and for good reason. But if we do that, we miss that Paul is calling us to choose life rather than death.  Paul is calling us to walk with God in creating paths of opportunity for people and to live fully into who we are as children of God. If we are choosing life, we don’t have time for the fear that accompanies us in this world.  If we are choosing to live fully, we have to be in community and relationship with God and each other.  If we are choosing life, we don’t have time to obsess about minor day to day things but to live everyday as if we are more fully human, connecting to other humans.

The bottom line is pretty clear. Christ did not just die but became more fully alive.  Christ is our model.  Death will not win because God is bigger than death.  We are a people of life, alive to God.                                                                                                                                    

Quotes of the week                                                                                                                            “How terribly sad it was that people are made in such a way that they get used to something as extraordinary as living.” – Jostein GaarderThe Solitaire Mystery

“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” ― Annie Dillard

“The art of living… is neither careless drifting on the one hand nor fearful clinging to the past on the other. It consists in being sensitive to each moment, in regarding it as utterly new and unique, in having the mind open and wholly receptive.” ― Alan W. Watts

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” ― Mary Oliver

The art of living is more like wrestling than dancing.” –Marcus Aurelius

Romans 6:1-14 (Message) 1-3 So what do we do? Keep on sinning so God can keep on forgiving? I should hope not! If we’ve left the country where sin is sovereign, how can we still live in our old house there? Or didn’t you realize we packed up and left there for good? That is what happened in baptism. When we went under the water, we left the old country of sin behind; when we came up out of the water, we entered into the new country of grace—a new life in a new land!

3-5 That’s what baptism into the life of Jesus means. When we are lowered into the water, it is like the burial of Jesus; when we are raised up out of the water, it is like the resurrection of Jesus. Each of us is raised into a light-filled world by our Father so that we can see where we’re going in our new grace-sovereign country.

6-11 Could it be any clearer? Our old way of life was nailed to the cross with Christ, a decisive end to that sin-miserable life—no longer at sin’s every beck and call! What we believe is this: If we get included in Christ’s sin-conquering death, we also get included in his life-saving resurrection. We know that when Jesus was raised from the dead it was a signal of the end of death-as-the-end. Never again will death have the last word. When Jesus died, he took sin down with him, but alive he brings God down to us. From now on, think of it this way: Sin speaks a dead language that means nothing to you; God speaks your mother tongue, and you hang on every word. You are dead to sin and alive to God. That’s what Jesus did.

12-14 That means you must not give sin a vote in the way you conduct your lives. Don’t give it the time of day. Don’t even run little errands that are connected with that old way of life. Throw yourselves wholeheartedly and full-time—remember, you’ve been raised from the dead!—into God’s way of doing things. Sin can’t tell you how to live. After all, you’re not living under that old tyranny any longer. You’re living in the freedom of God.

Questions for the Week             

How would you define sin?

What drains life from you? What gives you life?

How can we more fully live into a life with God?

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God’s Sacrificial Love

Written by Mark C. Pederson, Pastor, Trinity Lutheran Church

Theme Background

“Hemmed in with troubles . . .” We know the feeling. I’ve always been captivated by Paul’s list of what “troubles” can bring:

  • Passionate patience
  • Virtue
  • Alert for whatever God will do next

But isn’t that just theological talk? Paul can write that he is filled with joy while being beaten and thrown in jail, but can we? I read confirmation of this in a source I didn’t expect. I’ve been reading the book, Half the Sky. It’s taken me, something like, six months to finish it, because it’s so depressing. What can happen to women and young girls in this world is profane and horrible. Yet, at the end of the book Kristof and WuDunn write this about US:

Social psychologist have learned a great deal about happiness in recent years, and one of the surprises is that the things we believe will make us happy won’t. People who win the lottery, for example, enjoy and initial spike of happiness but then adjust and a year later are not significantly happier than those who haven’t won. . . People in end-stage dialysis, for example, turn out to be no different in their moods through the day than a comparison group of healthy people. And while those who suffer a crippling disability are initially deeply unhappy they adjust quickly. One study found that a month after becoming paraplegics, accident victims were in fairly good moods a majority of the time.

Half the Sky pg. 250

So what is the answer? How do we maintain a happy outlook no matter what the circumstances? The answer is service to a cause greater than ourselves. Perhaps this is why Paul is so filled with joy. He’s found a cause (or rather a cause found him!)–the saving grace of Jesus Christ for all people. He makes it clear that we cannot in any way save ourselves. Left to our own devices we tend to only imagine a God of wrath and judgment. It took Jesus’ selfless life, death and resurrection to break into our troubled world and demonstrate God’s incredible love for every person.

Perhaps that is why being a mother (or a father) is such a rewarding experience. It is not, contrary to what some children imagine, how wonderful our children turn out to be. The best kid is incredibly hard to raise, and requires almost constant sacrifice. But mothers do it all the time. Why? Perhaps it is because nurturing a young person; feeding them; clothing them; kissing their hurts and sending them off into the world is a very high calling. Martin Luther referred to parents as “bishops to their children”.

I struggle with why Jesus had to die on an instrument of torture. I also don’t especially like “bloody Jesus” hymns. But Good Friday made a lot more sense to me after witnessing the birth of our children. A great act of sacrificial, pain-filled love with plenty of blood and water that created something wonderful. When I think of Jesus’ death in that way–creating a brand new world of love and grace–it is much easier. We are facing some transitions in our church. Many of us won’t like them a whole lot. But we hold on to the promises of Paul in today’s lesson that eventually we won’t be able to round up enough containers to hold all of the good things the Holy Spirit is going to shower down upon us. Not that loosing a limb is a lot of fun, mind you. But God will bring good out of it, somehow, someway.

Quotes for the Week

“A man who was completely innocent, offered himself as a sacrifice for the good of others, including his enemies, and became the ransom of the world. It was a perfect act.”   Mahatma Gandhi

“Courage, sacrifice, determination, commitment, toughness, heart, talent, guts. That’s what little girls are made of.”   Bethany Hamilton

“We face up to awful things because we can’t go around them, or forget them. The sooner you say ‘Yes, it happened, and there’s nothing I can do about it,’ the sooner you can get on with your own life. You’ve got children to bring up. So you’ve got to get over it. What we have to get over, somehow we do. Even the worst things.”    Annie Proulx
“Somewhere it is written that parents who are critical of other people’s children and publicly admit they can do better are asking for it.”                  Erma Bombeck

Lesson: Romans 5:1-11 (The Message)

1-2 By entering through faith into what God has always wanted to do for us—set us right with him, make us fit for him—we have it all together with God because of our Master Jesus. And that’s not all: We throw open our doors to God and discover at the same moment that he has already thrown open his door to us. We find ourselves standing where we always hoped we might stand—out in the wide open spaces of God’s grace and glory, standing tall and shouting our praise.

3-5 There’s more to come: We continue to shout our praise even when we’re hemmed in with troubles, because we know how troubles can develop passionate patience in us, and how that patience in turn forges the tempered steel of virtue, keeping us alert for whatever God will do next. In alert expectancy such as this, we’re never left feeling shortchanged. Quite the contrary—we can’t round up enough containers to hold everything God generously pours into our lives through the Holy Spirit!

6-8 Christ arrives right on time to make this happen. He didn’t, and doesn’t, wait for us to get ready. He presented himself for this sacrificial death when we were far too weak and rebellious to do anything to get ourselves ready. And even if we hadn’t been so weak, we wouldn’t have known what to do anyway. We can understand someone dying for a person worth dying for, and we can understand how someone good and noble could inspire us to selfless sacrifice. But God put his love on the line for us by offering his Son in sacrificial death while we were of no use whatever to him.

9-11 Now that we are set right with God by means of this sacrificial death, the consummate blood sacrifice, there is no longer a question of being at odds with God in any way. If, when we were at our worst, we were put on friendly terms with God by the sacrificial death of his Son, now that we’re at our best, just think of how our lives will expand and deepen by means of his resurrection life! Now that we have actually received this amazing friendship with God, we are no longer content to simply say it in plodding prose. We sing and shout our praises to God through Jesus, the Messiah!

Questions for the Week

What is one difficult thing you have been through in your life? How did you get through it?

Are you using your gifts and passions to serve others? Why, or why not?

How might we as a church help you to find that place of service?

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Devotional for May 3, 2015 – Gospel as Salvation       

 Written by Courtney McHill, United Methodist Pastor

Bible Background  This week we move into the book of Romans while we look at the early church after Jesus.  Paul is writing this letter to his church in Rome probably from Corinth in the early 50s (55ish). At this time, Paul is travelling talking about the life of Jesus in Jerusalem and Greece.  He could have sent his letter en route if he passed it off to one of his crew. Paul had a bit of a crew with him at all times in his work. This is one of the letters that we know was written by Paul and not a disciple of Paul.  The style fits his other letters and the first paragraph tells us all about it. The letter starts off with a lot of information to this group of people but it also raises quite a few questions.  What is the Gospel for Paul?  What is the power of God? How does the Gospel offer us salvation?  And who gets that salvation from the Gospel as Paul writes it?

One of the first things we discover in the opening lines of the letter is that the gospel Paul proclaims places us in the middle of a much larger story. The Gospel (or Good News as translated) is an act of God. The gospel is about God keeping faith with us.  We also see that Paul is thinking of Jesus as a human being appointed to his story. Jesus’ resurrection then is a fulfillment of a Davidic Messiah, a fulfillment of prophecy.  The gospel is not a response to the Christ event, it is the event itself.  The gospel is the Jesus’ story and Resurrection. The power of God then is resurrection, a saving kind of power of new life. Paul expects that we live out as resurrected expecting Christians.  We are saved, for Paul, from death because God has that kind of power. AND on top of that, Paul outlines that this is available to everyone.  Paul is specific that it comes to the Jewish folks first and then to everyone else but it is available to everyone.  The Resurrection wins over death for everyone. Overall, the gospel is about what God is doing and what God has done.

What does this mean for us?  When I read the word, “salvation,” I tend to shy away.  Too often people have used this word in order to make us afraid of other things.  But what are we being saved from?  It is not the hellfire that many would like us to believe. For Paul, we are being saved from the notion that death is the end.  We are being moved into new life and an inclusive community. We are being saved from isolation.  I can get behind this kind of salvation. The only way that I am a better person is if I believe the good news that I am not alone and death does not win.  God continues to move and God continues to bring new life despite death.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Quotes of the Week  “You have one business on earth – to save souls.” ― John Wesley     

“None of us can ever save himself; we are the instruments of one another’s salvation, and only by the hope that we give to others do we lift ourselves out of the darkness into light.” ― Dean Koontz 

“Let us be today’s Christians. Let us not take fright at the boldness of today’s church. With Christ’s light let us illuminate even the most hideous caverns of the human person: torture, jail, plunder, want, chronic illness. The oppressed must be saved, not with a revolutionary salvation, in mere human fashion, but with the holy revolution of the Son of Man, who dies on the cross to cleanse God’s image, which is soiled in today’s humanity, a humanity so enslaved, so selfish, so sinful.”  ― Oscar A. RomeroThe Violence of Love    

The older I get, the more I meet people, the more convinced I am that we must only work on ourselves, to grow in grace. The only thing we can do about people is to love them.”  ― Dorothy DayAll the Way to Heaven: The Selected Letters of Dorothy Day       

 “Lighthouses don’t go running all over an island looking for boats to save; they just stand there shining.” ― Anne Lamott                     

Romans 1:1-17 (Message) I, Paul, am a devoted slave of Jesus Christ on assignment, authorized as an apostle to proclaim God’s words and acts. I write this letter to all the believers in Rome, God’s friends. The sacred writings contain preliminary reports by the prophets on God’s Son. His descent from David roots him in history; his unique identity as Son of God was shown by the Spirit when Jesus was raised from the dead, setting him apart as the Messiah, our Master. Through him we received both the generous gift of his life and the urgent task of passing it on to others who receive it by entering into obedient trust in Jesus. You are who you are through this gift and call of Jesus Christ! And I greet you now with all the generosity of God our Father and our Master Jesus, the Messiah.

I thank God through Jesus for every one of you. That’s first. People everywhere keep telling me about your lives of faith, and every time I hear them, I thank him. And God, whom I so love to worship and serve by spreading the good news of his Son—the Message!—knows that every time I think of you in my prayers, which is practically all the time, I ask him to clear the way for me to come and see you. The longer this waiting goes on, the deeper the ache. I so want to be there to deliver God’s gift in person and watch you grow stronger right before my eyes! But don’t think I’m not expecting to get something out of this, too! You have as much to give me as I do to you.

Please don’t misinterpret my failure to visit you, friends. You have no idea how many times I’ve made plans for Rome. I’ve been determined to get some personal enjoyment out of God’s work among you, as I have in so many other non-Jewish towns and communities. But something has always come up and prevented it. Everyone I meet—it matters little whether they’re mannered or rude, smart or simple—deepens my sense of interdependence and obligation. And that’s why I can’t wait to get to you in Rome, preaching this wonderful good news of God.  It’s news I’m most proud to proclaim, this extraordinary Message of God’s powerful plan to rescue everyone who trusts him, starting with Jews and then right on to everyone else! God’s way of putting people right shows up in the acts of faith, confirming what Scripture has said all along: “The person in right standing before God by trusting him really lives.”

Questions for the Week                                                                                                                What are we being saved from? What does salvation look like?

For Paul, the Gospel is good news for all people, how do we tell the world about it?

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Paul’s Travelogue

Written by Mark C. Pederson, Pastor, Trinity Lutheran Church

Theme Background

If it were not for the book of Acts, there would be no reason for the New Testament Bible Atlas in the back of your Study Bible. The book of Acts is a sort of Travelogue, and the Rick Steves host for this travel adventure is the Apostle Paul.

Think of some of your travel adventures. You make plans, perhaps you contact a person you want to visit, you consult a map, you check on transportation, save up some money (or get a new credit card) and then you pack up and head for your destination. I’ve always been kind of blown away at the lack of preparations for Paul’s journeys. Some prophets and teachers in the Church in Antioch prepare for Paul and Barnabas’ journey by praying and fasting. Those are not typically on my list of preparations before I head out on a trip. The word from God leads them to set apart Paul and Barnabas, so the leaders lay hands on them. According to the commentary on Working Preacher, this is our human way of participating in the movement of the Holy Spirit. We lay hands of blessing on people as they begin their work.

Today’s story is very unique among Paul’s travails. Usually he heads off to the synagogue and preaches there until the leaders are ready to tar and feather him and throw him in jail. Here he starts off with a healing instead. (Maybe he should have tried this a bit more often!) The local people can’t believe their eyes. They think Paul and Barnabas are gods come down to earth. There is a sort of slapstick quality to this part of the reading. Paul can’t understand what they are saying, he an Barnabas a being swept away in a parade to a place where the people are preparing a parade and sacrifice to honor them as a gods.

Paul is able to stop them just in time. He has to think on his feet. He calls the people to worship the living God who made heaven and earth and to leave these silly gods in the dust. A major theme of the book of Acts is that of witness. It picks up from the Great Commission at the end of the Gospel of Luke. Here Paul does a new thing. Nature, it turns out, has been witnessing to the goodness of God all along. God has been feeding them and caring for them.

Paul might have been thinking of Psalm 104 (one of my favorites.)

You cause the grass to grow for the cattle,
and plants for people to use,
to bring forth food from the earth,
     and wine to gladden the human heart,
oil to make the face shine,
and bread to strengthen the human heart.

This witness is all around us, and yet it is easy to miss. Even with this great speech Paul is barely able to keep the crowd from offering sacrifices to him as a god. I guess the other lesson from this text, is that there is a God, who made heaven and earth, and Paul is not it.

Quotes for the Week

“There’s beauty everywhere. There are amazing things happening everywhere, you just have to be able to open your eyes and witness it. Some days, that’s harder than others.” Sarah McLachlan

“Let us all remember this: one cannot proclaim the Gospel of Jesus without the tangible witness of one’s life.” Pope Francis

“The whole point of the kingdom of God is Jesus has come to bear witness to the true truth, which is nonviolent. When God wants to take charge of the world, he doesn’t send in tanks. He sends in the poor and the meek.”   N. T. Wright

Life isn’t something you possess. It’s something you take part in, and you witness.”   Louis C. K.

Lesson Acts 13:1-3 & 14:8-18 (NRSV)

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. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.

In Lystra there was a man sitting who could not use his feet and had never walked, for he had been crippled from birth.He listened to Paul as he was speaking. And Paul, looking at him intently and seeing that he had faith to be healed,10 said in a loud voice, “Stand upright on your feet.” And the man sprang up and began to walk. 11 When the crowds saw what Paul had done, they shouted in the Lycaonian language, “The gods have come down to us in human form!”12 Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul they called Hermes, because he was the chief speaker. 13 The priest of Zeus, whose temple was just outside the city, brought oxen and garlands to the gates; he and the crowds wanted to offer sacrifice. 14 When the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of it, they tore their clothes and rushed out into the crowd, shouting, 15 “Friends, why are you doing this? We are mortals just like you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them.16 In past generations he allowed all the nations to follow their own ways; 17 yet he has not left himself without a witness in doing good—giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, and filling you with food and your hearts with joy.” 18 Even with these words, they scarcely restrained the crowds from offering sacrifice to them.

Questions for the Week

What is one of the best travel experiences you have had? What made it so memorable?

Where do you see God active and working in the world?

In what way have you been sent by God to be a witness?

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Devotional for April 19, 2015 –   Peter’s Vision      

Written by Courtney McHill, United Methodist Pastor                                              Bible Background

When I first looked over this Sunday’s scripture lesson, I was a little put out that the vegetarian got the Sunday that includes a blanket full of meat.  This scripture also is often called, “Cornelius’ conversion.”  As United Methodist and ELCA, we are pretty horrible about talking about converting others to what we believe.  Meat and conversion. What is a preacher to do with that?

Upon further reflection and study, I came to realize that this isn’t actually about striving to convert Cornelius.  At the end of the day, the person who is actually transformed is Peter and the community becomes stronger and more transformed as well. Cornelius doesn’t have to find God because God is already present.  I also have come to realize that the vision Peter has is not just about hunger or even eating what he isn’t supposed to.  This scripture has many ways to say the same thing; God does not favor one type of person. God does not have boundaries on love and community.  Relationship matters over law that separates people.  I can preach that because I fully believe that.  God is bigger than our divisions.

The book of Acts is an extenuation of the book of Luke.  In Acts, the author leads us through the story of the early church.  From the very beginning we are set up to see that the holy spirit is moving in ways we can’t explain and God’s kingdom is expanding.  Over and over again, we are told that this is a movement beyond just Jewish people. The Gentiles are welcome as well.  We enter today’s story by meeting Cornelius.  He is outside of the Jewish realm and yet he already knows about God. He is a faithful man who is not afraid to cross boundaries. When God tells him that Peter is going to visit, he is open and willing. Peter is not even supposed to be in Cornelius’ house but it will be.

In the meantime, Peter is having a weird vision that expands past what he believes is law and true.  The vision tells him to eat forbidden things. God is laying the groundwork for a powerful interaction between these two leaders.  Timing is everything and even when Peter doesn’t quite get it, we, as the audience, should get it.  God is opening the doors for different communities to connect in order to form a stronger and more bonded community grounded in relationship and faithfulness. Meat doesn’t matter. The law that keeps us apart has to be revised. God will do what we think is impossible.

Traditionally, we say that Cornelius was converted but in reading this again and reading Peter’s last comments, I would argue that Peter is converted to include more into the kingdom. The church is only enriched by breaking down boundaries when we are working toward s the same goal.  If I have learned anything in working in churches the past nine years, it is that we are much better in cooperation and faithfulness to mission together rather than building up our boundaries because of what has been in law.  We are better together and with.  We are better when we listen to where God is moving.

Quotes of the week

“I know there is strength in the differences between us. I know there is comfort, where we overlap.”  ― Ani DiFranco

“Healing is impossible in loneliness; it is the opposite of loneliness. Conviviality is healing. To be healed we must come with all the other creatures to the feast of Creation. ― Wendell BerryThe Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays

 “A Christian community should do as Jesus did: propose and not impose. Its attraction must lie in the radiance cast by the love of brothers.” ― Jean VanierCommunity And Growth

 “To build community requires vigilant awareness of the work we must continually do to undermine all the socialization that leads us to behave in ways that perpetuate domination.” ― Bell Hooks

“The one thing that unites all human beings, regardless of age, gender, religion, economic status, or ethnic background, is that, deep down inside, we all believe that we are above-average drivers.”  ― Dave Barry

Acts 10:1-17, 34-35 (NRSV)  In Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion of the Italian Cohort, as it was called. He was a devout man who feared God with all his household; he gave alms generously to the people and prayed constantly to God. One afternoon at about three o’clock he had a vision in which he clearly saw an angel of God coming in and saying to him, “Cornelius.” He stared at him in terror and said, “What is it, Lord?” He answered, “Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God. Now send men to Joppa for a certain Simon who is called Peter; he is lodging with Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the seaside.” When the angel who spoke to him had left, he called two of his slaves and a devout soldier from the ranks of those who served him,and after telling them everything, he sent them to Joppa.

About noon the next day, as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. 10 He became hungry and wanted something to eat; and while it was being prepared, he fell into a trance. 11 He saw the heaven opened and something like a large sheet coming down, being lowered to the ground by its four corners. 12 In it were all kinds of four-footed creatures and reptiles and birds of the air. 13 Then he heard a voice saying, “Get up, Peter; kill and eat.” 14 But Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is profane or unclean.” 15 The voice said to him again, a second time, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.”16 This happened three times, and the thing was suddenly taken up to heaven.

17 Now while Peter was greatly puzzled about what to make of the vision that he had seen, suddenly the men sent by Cornelius appeared. They were asking for Simon’s house and were standing by the gate.

34 Then Peter began to speak to them: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, 35 but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.

Questions for the Week

Have you ever had visions? What did they signify?

Where is God calling us to cross boundaries for the sake of community and inclusion?

How do we discern what God is calling the church to do?

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The Great Commission

Written by Mark C. Pederson, Pastor, Trinity Lutheran Church

Theme Background

This Sunday we have the conclusion of Matthew’s Gospel. The faithful women have gone and shared the Good News and the disciples have listened to them (this is a true Easter miracle!) Now they have gathered at the mountain where Jesus said he would meet them. Now Jesus gives them the great commission . . . “Go into all the world, teaching and baptizing in the name of the Father and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” This is the great missionary text. Get out there and share the Good News.

I’m not sure what to do with this text. Looking for quotes for this week I ran across hundreds that said preaching the Gospel to those who already know it is wrong. Get out into the world. Courtney is taking this piece of advice literally this week. She will be talking to people about God’s love on the sunny beaches of Cuba! (We will pray for her doing this difficult task . . . )

This story begins in sadness. “Meanwhile the eleven Disciples were on the road.” There are only eleven of them now. One of the very people Jesus selected to be his followers abandoned, rejected and betrayed him. It won’t be any different for the rest of his followers. There is difficulty along the way, and we will meet it.

Then, they see Jesus, and they worship. But they are also holding back a bit, not sure about risking everything. We must admit this is also where we are on the journey. Excited to worship Jesus, but holding back a bit. It happened to the Disciples right in front of Jesus, it might happen to us as well.

But Jesus doesn’t give their doubts any heed. He gives them all (timid and bold alike) their marching orders: Go, train, instruct, baptize. These are difficult tasks. To tell everyone we meet about the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. It is daunting, and would be impossible if it were not for the promise that follows. “And I will be with you day after day . . . “ What if we turn this around and look at it from the other direction. We are not going out to meet others and tell them about Jesus, but going out to, well, meet Jesus himself?

When I hear this message I jump right to the missionaries in far off countries who risk life and limb to spread the Gospel. But that misses the point. African churches are now preparing to send their Christian missionaries here! In the news recently it was announced that Oregon was the most un-churched state in the union. The mission field is here, in our back yard, in our families and among our friends. And it is up to us to speak. Ack!!!!!! No, hold on, it’s up to us to: “Train them in the way.” I like that. It’s up to us to help them on their path to God. God is already present with them and leading them, we just have to be of some assistance.

Jesus lays out a mission statement for the disciples this week. In our church’s mission statement we emphasize that we feel it is important to listen. Religious people haven’t been doing that so well lately. If we do listen to those people around us we might discover shocking things. They too, are Jesus, come to meet us on the way! They are all precious children of God, created in the image of God and deserving respect. That respect begins with actually listening to what they have to say, not by arrogantly assuming we have the right way to lead them, but to assume they have a word from God for us, and to love and appreciate them. Go and tell all people the Good News, and if you absolutely have to, use words.

 

Quotes for the Week

“Here is the test to find whether your mission on Earth is finished: if you’re alive, it isn’t.”                  Richard Bach

It is the duty of every Christian to be Christ to his neighbor.” Martin Luther

Great opportunities to help others seldom come, but small ones surround us daily.        Sally Koch

“Don’t be too timid and squeamish about your actions. All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better.”    Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Awakening and owning the dreams that God has placed in our hearts isn’t about getting stuff or attaining something. It’s about embracing who we are and who he has created us to be. Christ is our dream come true, and the one true love of our life. But we can’t love him with our whole hearts when our hearts are asleep. To love Jesus means to risk coming awake, to risk wanting and desiring.”  Stasi Eldredge

Lesson Matthew 28:16-20 (The Message)

16-17 Meanwhile, the eleven disciples were on their way to Galilee, headed for the mountain Jesus had set for their reunion. The moment they saw him they worshiped him. Some, though, held back, not sure about worship, about risking themselves totally.

18-20 Jesus, undeterred, went right ahead and gave his charge: “God authorized and commanded me to commission you: Go out and train everyone you meet, far and near, in this way of life, marking them by baptism in the threefold name: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Then instruct them in the practice of all I have commanded you. I’ll be with you as you do this, day after day after day, right up to the end of the age.”

Questions for the Week

How are you doing as a disciple of Jesus?

What is your personal mission statement? Does in include your faith? Why, or why not?

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