May 6, 2012, Encountering God in Others

Written by Pastor Mark

Theme Background

I felt as though I was reading an autobiography as I looked at this chapter in Barbara Brown Taylor’s book.  Here is an excerpt: 

I was at least thirty years old before I learned that I am an introvert . . . I thought that I was at least shy and possibly antisocial.  At other people’s parties, I stayed in the kitchen with the help.  At my own parties, I was the help.  When the story of Martha and Mary came up in church, no one had to tell me why Martha stayed in the kitchen while her sister Mary sat at Jesus’ feet.  Martha was an introvert.  She found chopping potatoes far less exhausting that talking to people.

On Maundy Thursday we celebrated the 20th anniversary of my ordination.  I’ll give you three guesses where I spent most of the evening.  Brown Taylor has some wonderful insights about the Desert Fathers.  They started off as a protest movement.  “ . . . just as Christianity was becoming the official religion of theRoman Empire these pilgrims bailed out of the cities in which they lived.  They had no confidence in the volatile mix of religion and politics, being pretty sure which one would rise to the top.”

The hardest wisdom according to the Desert Fathers, was to love one’s neighbor as the self, to: “encounter another human being not as someone you can use, change, fix, help, save, enroll, convince or control, but simply as someone who can spring you from the prison of yourself, if you will allow it.”  Brown Taylor suggests that you start with someone easy, someone you might normally “sneak right past you because they are performing some mundane service such as taking your order or handing you your change.”    All that is required is to look the grocery clerk at WINCO in the eye when they hand you your receipt and say thank you–to realize this person is a unique human being with desires and aspirations in life, not a machine set there for your convenience. 

But, who has the time, right?  Shopping is a rushed activity, and the family, or spouse, or cat is at home, and they are hungry.  We/I am far too busy to take the time to actually notice them as people.  And if we do notice, we may be filled with fear, or revulsion.  Brown Taylor quotes Jonathan Sacks, chief rabbi ofGreat Britain: “the Hebrew Bible in one verse commands, ‘you shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ but in no fewer than 36 places commands us to ‘love the stranger.’”

Truly encountering another human being may be about as close as we are ever going to get to actually encountering God.  Phillip had to be taught this lesson in today’s reading from Acts.  He was taught by a black man fromEthiopia.  Phillip’s teacher would not be allowed in theTempleinJerusalembecause he was not reproductively intact.  Yet here he is reading scripture and seeking baptism.  All Phillip had to do was stop and notice him.  God had done all of the prep work.  So, go out into the world and actually notice the people in it (even if  you’re an introvert!)

Quotes for the Week
Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear.                                                                                                                                                            Ambrose Redmoon

I am entirely persuaded that the American public is more reasonable, restrained and mature than most of the broadcast industry’s planners believe. Their fear of controversy is not warranted by the evidence.

Edward R. Murrow

In everyone’s life, at some time, our inner fire goes out.  It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being.  We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit.

                                                                                                                                                Albert Schweitzer

I have found that the more we care for the happiness of others, the greater is our own sense of well being.  Cultivating a close, warmhearted felling for others automatically puts the mind at ease.  It helps remove whatever fears or insecurities we may have and gives us the strength to cope with any obstacles we encounter.         The Dalai Lama


This nation (Italy) is so friendly that the leading cause of injury is getting passionately embraced by strangers.                                                                                          Dave Barry


1st Lesson: Acts 8:26-40 (NRSV)

Then an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Get up and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalemto Gaza.” (This is a wilderness road.) 27 So he got up and went. Now there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of the Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of her entire treasury. He had come to Jerusalem to worship 28 and was returning home; seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah. 29 Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over to this chariot and join it.” 30 So Philip ran up to it and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah. He asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” 31 He replied, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to get in and sit beside him.

32 Now the passage of the scripture that he was reading was this: “Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter, and like a lamb silent before its shearer, so he does not open his mouth. 33 In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth.” 34 The eunuch asked Philip, “About whom, may I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” 35 Then Philip began to speak, and starting with this scripture, he proclaimed to him the good news


1st Lesson: Acts 8:26-40 con’t.

about Jesus. 36 As they were going along the road, they came to some water; and the eunuch said, “Look,

here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?” 37  38 He commanded the chariot to stop, and both of them, Philip and the eunuch, went down into the water, and Philip baptized him. 39 When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing. 40 But Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he was passing through the region, he proclaimed the good news to all the towns until he came toCaesarea.


Gospel Lesson: John 15:1-8 (NRSV)

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. 2 He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. 3 You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. 6 Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.



Questions for the Week

What is the name of the person who rings up your groceries?  Name one detail about their life.

What kinds of people do you think you often ignore?

How do you think the church might better practice hospitality?

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