June newsletter article

 Progressive Christianity

A little over a week ago, posters, fliers, and banners like the one above began showing up at a number of churches around Fountain Hills, Arizona, a city roughly the size of Hastings and located about 25 miles northeast of Phoenix. An article, various OpEd pieces, and a half-page ad also showed up in the local newspaper. Starting May 17, eight of the local churches began a round-robin preaching circuit with the self-stated goal of pointing out “the vast differences between true, Biblical Christianity and so-called ‘progressive’ Christianity”[1] and only slightly more abstractly at the pastor of the local “progressive” United Methodist church, Rev. David Felten, is the author of a book entitled Living the Questions: The Wisdom of Progressive Christianity.[2]

Not surprisingly, in this excessively digital age in which we live, this story has exploded across the country through any number of blogs, online news sites, etc.

Now, you may be wondering why I’m talking about a sermon series in a town more than 1700 miles away. I have to admit that when I sat down to write this June 2015 newsletter article, I had at least 3-4 ideas that I started before settling on what’s coming out of my fingers right now. (Don’t worry … you’ll see those 3-4 ideas later. J) However, when I was searching for background information for those other articles, I stumbled across yet another posting concerning this story. It was probably the 9th or 10th posting I’d seen in the last week alone, and I decided I just couldn’t ignore it anymore.

For some reason, this country has found itself in a deep, ugly, and uncomfortable rut. We’re becoming more and more partisan, and we’re becoming more and more argumentative. Instead of extending a hand of peace and cooperation and compromise, our default has become a pointing finger or even a fist. This happens in politics, and, even more disappointing, this happens in our churches. The rhetoric flying back and forth between the Christian left and the Christian right has become more vitriolic, more accusatory, more hateful.

Hateful. Hateful.

When did we, as brothers and sisters in Christ, become so bent on seeing what’s wrong in “the other”? When did we become so intent on proving our version of faith as the “right” version, the “only” version? 1 John 4:19-21 says, “We, though, are going to love – love and be loved. First we were loved, now we love. He loved us first. If anyone boasts, ‘I love God,’ and goes right on hating his brother or sister, thinking nothing of it, he is a liar. If he won’t love the person he can see, how can he love the God he can’t see? The command we have from Christ is blunt: Loving God includes loving people. You’ve got to love both.

You’ve got to love both.

Both those who understand you and those who don’t … Both those who agree with you and those who don’t … Both those who believe you and those who don’t … Both those who love you and those who don’t.

And as those who choose to bear the name of Christ – the name of the One who came to seek and save the lost – we sometimes needs to be reminded that we’ve all been lost at one time or another. We’ve all been misunderstood. We’ve all been excluded. We’ve all been wrong. We’ve all been hurt. In the face of all that, it’s our calling to see the good and the friendly and the valuable above anything else, even when we don’t necessarily see eye-to-eye. We need to be the light in the world for the sake of the light itself, not for the sake of throwing shadows on everyone else.

Pastor Lisa sign

[1] Referenced in article posted at http://www.thefountainsumc.org/2015/05/16/campaign-against-progressive-christianity/.

[2] David M. Felten and Jeff Procter-Murphy. Living the Questions: The Wisdom of Progressive Christianity. (New York, NY: HarperOne), 2012.

Sunday’s sermon: Still Moving


Texts used: 1 Kings 19:4-13 and Acts 2:1-13

  • I want you to close your eyes and think about what the river looks like this morning.
    • Imagine what you would see if you were standing on the bridge and looking over the edge.
      • Water rushing and swirling in some spots, barely moving in others
      • How it pools in sheltered areas
      • Ripples where insects, leaves, or fish have broken the surface of the water
    • Imagine what you would hear if everything was quiet and you could just sit and listen to the river.
      • Gush of fast-moving water
      • Splash of the river on the rocks and against the bridge
      • Soft splatter of rain as it hits the surface of the water
    • Even when the surface of the river looks smooth and undisturbed, that water is never truly still. It’s always moving, and in that moving, it’s always changing.
      • Heraclitus (ancient Gr. philosopher): No man ever steps into the same river twice, for it’s not the same river.
    • It’s always moving … just like the God that we have come to worship this morning. You see, our God is a God of movement – a God who doesn’t sit still but instead stirs up and interrupts and touches our lives day in and day out.
      • Sometimes God’s movements in our lives are overt
      • Sometimes God’s movements in our lives are more subtle
      • But no matter what it looks like, God is always moving in our lives. The Scripture stories that we just read give us two examples of God moving in the lives of his people.
  • Pentecost experience = example of God moving overtly
    • Without warning there was a sound like a strong wind, gale force – no one could tell where it came from. It filled the whole building. Then, like a wildfire, the Holy Spirit spread through their ranks, and they started speaking in a number of different languages as the Spirit prompted them.[1]Talk about overt movement! This is God literally reaching down into the lives of these people and infusing them with the Holy Spirit.
      • I love picturing this scene in my head. I mean, can you imagine how excitingly chaotic this was?! When you think about it, Pentecost has all the makings of a great Hollywood action scene:
        • Large and lively crowd of people
        • Public arena
        • Awesome special effects – rush of wind and tongues of fire
        • Can’t you just hear the orchestra crescendo in the background? [play “Chariots of Fire[2]]
      • There is nothing subtle about this encounter. This is God moving in the lives of people – moving in the fire of Holy Spirit!
        • Pentecost was a big, loud, all-encompassing event → I think it should be a big, loud, all-encompassing, celebratory day in the life of the church because sometimes, God still moves overtly in our lives.
          • Scholar: While a special moment in salvation’s history, this Pentecostal outpouring of the purifying, empowering Spirit upon God’s people is not a unique event from a long time ago. Luke’s narrative of this wondrous action symbolizes the powerful and effective nature of God’s ongoing presence among those who follow after God’s Messiah.[3] → This God is a God of movement – a God who refuses to sit still and instead moves in our lives in ways that can sometimes be as visible as the eddies and rapids that we see in a rushing river.
            • Kay & Michelle: “The Divine Disturber”
            • Mom calls this God being “showy”
            • Moments when all we can do is sit back and marvel at how things have worked out
              • Our address = silly but very real e.g. → Dubuque (UDTS)
              • Story of finding Amy for daycare
  • But there are other times in our lives when we don’t see God moving – times when we can only feel the whispers of that movement as it stirs within us. This is closer to Elijah’s encounter with God in the story from 1 Kings. – text: A hurricane wind ripped through the mountains and shattered the rocks before God, but God wasn’t to be found in the wind; after the wind and earthquake, but God wasn’t in the earthquake; and after the earthquake fire, but God wasn’t in the fire; and after the fire a gentle and quiet whisper. When Elijah heard the quiet voice, he muffled his face with his great cloak, went to the mouth of the cave, and stood there.[4]
    • I know that some of us are used to the text describing that silence as a “still, small voice” as in the King James Version. In this Message translation, Eugene Peterson calls it a “gentle and quiet whisper.” But interestingly enough, no Hebrew word for “voice” or “whisper” or any such utterance is actually found in this text. Instead, according to the Hebrew, what Elijah experiences after the fire is the sound … of silence. But this is so much more than ordinary silence.
      • phrase = “humming silence” → This is a vibrating silence, a palpable silence, a silence charged with the presence of the Most High God.
    • I think that this palpable silence resonates with the more subtle ways that God moves in our lives. Instead of seeing this movement on the surface, we just know that something is stirring within.
      • A humming deep in our hearts
      • A vibration down in our souls
      • A charge in the back of our minds
      • A movement so quiet and subtle that we could miss it if we aren’t paying attention – if we aren’t connecting with God through prayer and Scripture reading and worship
      • Scholar: Here [in Elijah’s story], the point is made quite deliberately that God is not locked into any one mode of appearing. Sometimes God is not made known to us through flashy [divine appearances]. Sometimes God is … present in unspectacular events and ordinary people.[5]
        • Contrast is especially clear in Pentecost story → At Pentecost, God came down in wind and in fire … but for Elijah, God wasn’t in the wind or in the fire but in the following silence. It’s the exact opposite of the Pentecost experience.
        • Sometimes, it’s not the eddies and rapids on the surface that carry the river’s power. Instead, you find a strong current that runs deep beneath the surface of the water.
          • Runs undetectable beneath the surface – subtle, quiet, hidden
          • Powerful enough to pull boulders along the river bottom, carve out the Grand Canyon, transport a speck of dirt from northern Minnesota all the way down to the Gulf of Mexico
  • But God’s movement doesn’t stop with our lives alone. When a river runs through the countryside, it carries things along with it – leaves and branches, fish and water bugs, even people. Our God is a God of movement – a God who refuses to sit idly by in the face of injustice, pain, and suffering. If we are truly created in the image of this God, then God’s movement should get us moving, too. It should inspire us to move in the lives of others, and it should inspire us to encourage others to move as well.
    • Both Elijah & Peter moved in the lives of others
      • After God visited Elijah on the mountain → Elijah took Elisha as a disciple who did even greater things for the glory of God and for the benefit of God’s people
      • After the Holy Spirit came down at Pentecost → Peter was instrumental in building the Church – a community of believers that grew exponentially both in number and understanding so that Christ’s message reached the corners of the earth
      • Scholar: We learn that ministry may include the passing on of the mantle of leadership. Faithfulness to God’s calling may entail the preparation of others for their own ministry.[6]
    • Friends, we cannot sit still when the God that we worship and serve and praise and adore is a God of such profound, stirring, dynamic movement! → like trying to sit still in midst of a song that just makes you want to dance! [play “Happy[7]]
      • Rivers don’t stop flowing. They may run faster or slower. They may be high or low. They may even change course sometimes. But they. Don’t. Stop. Throughout history, since the dawn of creation, God has not stopped moving. And neither should we. Amen.

[1] Acts 2:2-4 (emphasis added).

[2] “Chariots of Fire” by Vangelis, released March 1981.

[3] Wall, 57 (emphasis added).

[4] 1 Kgs 19:11b-13a.

[5] Choon-Leong Seow. “The First & Second Book of Kings: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections” in New Interpreter’ Bible commentary series (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1999), 144-145.

[6] Seow, 145.

[7] “Happy” by Pharrell Williams, from the G I R L album, released 2014.

Sunday’s sermon: Mountain-Goat Faith

mountain goat

Texts used – Psalm 18:1-5, 16-24 and Romans 5:1-5

  • It’s time for a little show and tell this morning, all. This is a mountain goat, Latin name: oreamnus americanus.
    • Stats[1]:
      • Found only in North America – Rocky Mountains and Cascade Ranges, all the way up Canadian Rockies into Alaska
      • Largest mammal found at altitudes in which it lives – 13,000 ft.+
      • Not related to domesticated farm goats
      • Herbivores
      • Live 12-15 yrs. in the wild, up to 20 yrs. in captivity
      • Stand more than 3 ft. tall
      • Can weigh up to 300 lbs.
    • Up to 300 lbs … that’s huge! But if you’ve ever watched a mountain goat – in the wild, in a zoo, or even just on the National Geographic channel or YouTube – they’re nimble and light-footed and spry. When they’re jumping from rock to rock or climbing steep cliff faces, they look like they weigh nothing at all. Imagine! Creatures so big, so bulky (especially when they have their big, shaggy winter coats), and yet they have the grace and agility to survive and even thrive in places that most humans won’t even dare to venture.
  • Great! … So why the heck are we talking about mountain goats this morning?? → plenty of times in our lives when we feel all the weight and uphill battle of the mountain goats without any of the agility and grace
    • Weighed down and overburdened by struggles and challenges in life
      • Worries that weigh on our minds – worries about family/loved ones, worry about job, worry about health, worry about future
      • Fears that plague our thoughts by day and our dreams by night
      • Doubts and uncertainties about ourselves, our relationships, our careers, our life paths
      • Frustrations that run rampant through our days, draining our energy and creativity and patience
    • Uphill battles that we wage day in and day out
      • Battles against diseases, be they chronic (fibromyalgia) or acute (cancer)
      • Battles against our own demons (faults, addictions, prejudices)
      • Battles against the injustice in the world – poverty, discrimination, hunger, human trafficking
    • I know we don’t like to think about it. We don’t like to talk about it. But we also can’t ignore it. Sometimes our lives are challenging. Sometimes our lives include struggles. Sometimes things are scary or painful or overwhelming or just plain hard.
  • Scripture itself mentions these rocky places again and again and again.
    • Scattered e.g.s
      • Psalms of lament – e.g.: By the rivers of Babylon— there we sat down and there we wept when we remembered Zion. On the willows there we hung up our harps. For there our captors asked us for songs, and our tormentors asked for mirth, saying, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!” How could we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?[2]
      • Imprecatory psalms (affectionately known as “ticked off psalms” that invoke judgment and calamities and curses) – e.g.: Send the Evil One to accuse my accusing judge; dispatch Satan to prosecute him. … May there be no one around to help him out, no one willing to give his orphans a break. Chop down his family tree so that nobody even remembers his name.[3]
      • Challenges voiced by all the prophets in the OT – e.g.: Woe to you who are rushing headlong to disaster! Catastrophe is just around the corner! Woe to those who live in luxury and expect everyone else to serve them! Woe to those who live only for today, indifferent to the fate of others![4]
      • Nearly every letter that Paul wrote mentions struggle in some way!
    • Reality of struggles recognized in Scriptures we read this morning , too
      • OT speaks of “[running] for dear life, hiding behind the boulders … The hangman’s noose was right at my throat; devil waters rushed over me. Hell’s ropes cinched me tight; death traps barred every exit. … They hit me when I was down.”[5]
      • NT text (which, by the way, is one of Paul’s letters) mentions being “hemmed in with troubles”[6]  And, friends, it doesn’t say “if we’re hemmed in by troubles.” It doesn’t say, “Hey, maybe we’ll hit a tiny little bump in the road now and then.” Paul doesn’t hedge, and he doesn’t waffle. No sorta, kinda, perhaps, almost, or possibly about it. Paul says “when we’re hemmed in with troubles.” Ya’ll, troubles are a reality for every person on this earth. There is nothing special or magical about race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, education level, socioeconomic status, faith system or anything else that exempts us from facing challenges in our lives.
        • Not so different from mountain goats in the terrain in which they live – can’t avoid the sharp boulders, the uneven ground, the slippery pathways, the sheer cliff faces, the unstable escarpments
  • But here’s the thing: Mountain goats are specially equipped for making their way through those rocky paths and risky landscapes.
    • Mountain goats’ “special equipment”
      • Pads on their hooves help them to climb the crazy cliffs and ice crags for which they are so well-known
      • Special hoof … toe … claw … thing – “dewclaw”: It’s basically as close to an opposable thumb as a goat is ever going to get. It’s a long, two-pronged hoof-lookin’-thing on the back of their foot (sort of where their heels would be if goats had heels) that helps them to grip the rocks and the ice as they climb.
        • So effective that they can leap up to 12 ft. in that uneven terraine![7]
    • And in our Scriptures this morning, we find a reassurance that like those mountain goats, we have also been specially equipped, not to avoid the rocky and slippery parts of our lives, but to navigate them with grace, with joy, with courage, and even with daring.
      • Scripture speaks to greatness of God’s strength  all strengths mentioned in Rom passage tied to God
        • “We have it all together with God[8]
        • Speaks of “God’s grace and glory”[9]
        • Important little word hiding in last verse – “everything God generously pours into our lives”
          • Hidden Gr. = agape  This is that powerful, do-anything kind of love. It’s a giving kind of love, a self-sacrificing kind of love. It’s the kind of love that is all-encompassing and all-emboldening. This is the “everything” kind of love that God generously pours into our lives through the Holy Spirit.
            • Love that gives strength
            • Love that gives confidence
            • Love that gives courage
            • Love that gives hope
      • Meant what I said a minute ago: There is nothing special or magical about race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, education level, socioeconomic status, faith system or anything else that exempts us from facing challenges in our lives … And that is because this agape love from God – this building-up, sure-footing kind of love – is for everyone. God’s love doesn’t just make do with everyone. God’s love celebrates God’s love celebrates all genders. God’s love celebrates all races. God’s love celebrates all people no matter what because God’s love truly is all-encompassing.
        • Scholar: Our hope is built on nothing less than the conviction that pervades Psalm 18: God will ultimately fulfill God’s steadfastly loving purposes for the world and for all its people.[10]
  • And it’s God’s steadfastly loving purposes – this strength-giving agape love – that is so highly praised in our psalm this morning.
    • E.g.s
      • I love you, God – you make me strong.[11]  There it is … there’s my sermon in eight simple words!
      • [God] stood me up on a wide-open field; I stood there saved – surprised to be loved! God made my life complete when I placed all the pieces before [God].[12]
      • God rewrote the text of my life when I opened the book of my heart to [God’s] eyes.[13]
    • Also the point main point that Paul makes in Rom passage – e.g.s
      • We throw open our doors to God and discover at the same moment that [God] has already thrown open [God’s] doors to us.[14]
      • 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.[15]
        • Scholar: The more we cooperate with the reality of God in our lives, especially during times of trouble, the stronger our hope and faith become. Then a marvelous thing happens: we have the ability to hold our heads high, no matter what comes our way.[16]
    • One of my favorite verses = 1 Jn 4:19: We love because God first loved us. (etched inside wedding rings)  Yes, we love because God first loved us, but it doesn’t stop there because there’s all sorts of goodness tied up in God’s love. We hope because God first gave us hope. We forgive because God first forgave us. We are strong because God was first strong for us.
  • Friends, the rough patches in our lives come and go. But with God’s goodness and grace within us, we can take heart knowing that we do not, will not, cannot traverse those rocky patches alone. God has strengthened us through an incredible love and grace that cannot ever be taken away. Think about the mountain goats again for a minute. When you see footage of them in the wild, they’re not slowly and cautiously picking their way around the rocks and along the cliffs. They’re not sitting safely in one place just waiting for things to happen around them. They’re running! They’re prancing! They’re leaping! Are there times that their steps falter? Sure. But they go about their lives with confidence in their footing because why shouldn’t they? So where is your mountain-goat faith this morning? With the knowledge that the unmistakable strength of God’s love and grace go with you, where do you need to run confidently or leap boldly? Amen.

[1] “Mountain goats.” Accessed from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mountain_goat on 16 May 2015.

[2] Ps 137:1-4 (NRSV).

[3] Ps 109:6, 12-13.

[4] Amos 6:3-5a.

[5] Ps 18:2, 4-5, 18.

[6] Rom 5:3.

[7] “Mountain Goat: Oreamnos americanus.” Accessed from http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals/mountain-goat/ on 17 May 2015.

[8] Rom 5:1 (emphasis added).

[9] Rom 5:2.

[10] J. Clinton McCann, Jr. “The Book of Psalms: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections” in The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary series, vol. 4. (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1996), 749-750 (emphasis added).

[11] Ps 18:1.

[12] Ps 18:19-20a.

[13] Ps 18:24.

[14] Rom 5:2a.

[15] Rom 5:3-4.

[16] Linda E. Thomas. “Trinity Sunday – Romans 5:1-5” in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Year C, vol. 3. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Press, 2003), 42.

Sunday’s sermon: All You’ve Revealed

Texts for this sermon: Psalm 119:97-112 and Acts 8:26-40

Inkheart cover artwork by Carol Lawson

  • “Rain fell that night, a fine, whispering rain. Many years later, Meggie had only to close her eyes and she could still hear it, like tiny fingers tapping on the windowpane. A dog barked somewhere in the darkness, and however often she tossed and turned Meggie couldn’t get to sleep. The book she had been reading was under her pillow, pressing its cover against her ear as if to lure her back into its printed pages. ‘I’m sure it must be very comfortable sleeping with a hard, rectangular thing like that under your head,’ her father had teased the first time he found the book under her pillow. ‘Go on, admit it, the book whispers its story to you at night.’”[1] → So begins Inkheart, a fantastical and heart-warming tale by German author Cornelia Funke.
    • Basics of the story
      • Main characters Mo and his daughter, Meggie = blessed with powerful and incredible gift – ability to bring stories to life with their voices → When Mo and Meggie read aloud, the sound of their voices literally pulls characters, creatures, treasures, and anything else from the pages of whatever book they’re reading, breathing life into them, and setting them free in the world.
        • Leads to all kinds of trouble
        • Leads to all kinds of adventure
        • Leads to all kinds of weird and wondrous happenings in their lives
    • Now, as someone who has loved to read my entire life, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wished a gift like this were real – wished I could read Anne of Green Gables, Bilbo Baggins, Jo March, the BFG, and so many others straight off the page because if their lives are that wonderful within their own stories, how cool would it be to have them here, too?
      • Hear voices
      • See faces
      • Interact with personalities … that up to now have only existed within my own mind, my own imagination.
    • As Christians, we call the Bible the “inspired Word of God.” We believe Scripture to be God’s Word spoken through people in particular times and circumstances that continues to speak to us today.
      • To challenge us
      • To comfort us
      • To inspire us
      • To engage us
      • But too often, we fall into the routine of reading Scripture because we think we should – because we feel obligated or guilted into doing so. We pull out our Bibles and flip through to a few of our favorite verses and call it good. But the question I have for you this morning is an important and dangerous and deceptively simple yet complicated one: What if?
        • What if every time we opened Scripture we looked for more than just words on a page?
        • What if we approached the Bible as more than just the book we turn to when we need a momentary pick-me-up?
        • What if we approached our own readings of Scripture expecting an Inkheart experience, one in which God’s Word and story and brilliance jump right off the page and grab a hold of our very hearts and lives?
  • That’s the sort of experience that we find at the heart of both of our texts this morning.
    • Philip’s story = powerful story of God and Scripture reaching down into people’s lives and stirring things up in a big way
      • Context for Philip[2] = one of the 12 disciples who had been with Jesus → scattered from Jerusalem because of the persecution that followed Jesus’ death → coming off huge success in Samaritan city (story of Simon “the Great Wizard” and the people’s conversion)
      • Today’s story: God calls him to this crazy desolate road in the middle of nowhere → gets there (somehow?) and finds a eunuch from Ethiopia (culturally/historically: anywhere south of Egypt at that time) reading aloud from Scripture (Isaiah) → inspired to “unpack” passage for him – explain who, what, where, when, how, and why of Isaiah pointing to Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection → eunuch is so moved that he asks Philip to baptize him in this stream they’ve come across → Philip fulfills his request → Philip is whisked off by God to the next stop on his evangelism tour through Judea and Samaria
      • Ya’ll, it doesn’t get much more stirred up than that! This story almost sounds like it could’ve come straight out of an early 20th century revival meeting complete with an altar call and an impromptu baptism! There isn’t anyone that we encounter in this story who isn’t stirred up … who isn’t inspired!
        • Philip = inspired to follow God’s call to this odd stretch of road and to share the Word of God
        • Eunuch = inspired to read Scripture in the first place, also inspired by Philip’s testimony to be baptized
        • Even God seems to be so inspired by Philip’s resounding success that God picks Philip up and transports him to the next stop along the line: Azotus (near Mediterranean Sea).
    • Ps = ode to the inspirational quality of Scripture:
      • I watch my step, avoiding the ditches and ruts of evil so I can spend all my time keeping your Word.[3]
      • I’ve committed myself and I’ll never turn back from living by your righteous order.[4]
      • I concentrate on doing exactly what you say – I always have and always will.[5]
      • The psalmist makes it clear that throughout his/her life – no matter what’s going on, no matter how s/he feels, no matter the requirement or the cost – the Word of God is, for the psalmist, the beginning and the end.
        • Source of strength, reassurance, guidance
        • Place to turn to in times of trouble
        • Teacher, mentor, protector, friend
      • Continually makes source of this inspiration and revelation clear – text: Oh, how I love all you’ve revealed … My life is as close as my own hands, but I don’t forget what you have revealed.[6] → “Oh, how I love all you’ve ” Notice, it doesn’t say, “Oh, how I love all the things I’ve so brilliantly and cleverly figured out all by myself.” This portion of Psalm 119 speaks of Scripture – of God’s commands, God’s counsel, God’s direction, God’s Word – not as a stagnant and easily knowable thing but as something that requires continued pondering, continued thought and time and interaction.
        • Scholar: Scripture is not a dead letter but a dynamic, living word. It is to be read and heard and proclaimed in openness to the Holy Spirit who leads the church to discern the Word of God for our place and time.[7]
          • [UCC: Never place a period where God has placed a comma. God is still speaking,[8]]
  • But my friends, I would be remiss if I failed to recognize that this is a much easier thing to say than it is to do most of the time.
    • Lot of things that can make it hard for us to interact with Scripture
      • Emotions/state of mind get in the way – stressed, angry, worried → Our emotions color the way we see everything and everyone around us, even Scripture.
      • Busyness of life gets in the way → There’s always one more thing to do, and there’s always going to be one more thing to do: one more person to call, one more email to send, one more appointment to keep, one more dish to wash or load of laundry to start, one more bill to pay.
      • Our own uncertainty → Maybe we feel like the eunuch – like we need someone to help us read and understand. There are a lot of difficult passages found within these pages!
    • And this is why we come together for worship. We read together. We think together. We learn together. We all play the role of Philip as well as the role of the eunuch at one point or another, sometimes needing to see and sometimes helping to see the layers of meaning within the text.
      • Not just about the sermon – goes far beyond tools that I use to prepare for Sunday mornings
        • Greek
        • Hebrew
        • Commentaries and other sources I consult
      • Learn through each other’s life experiences → we cannot interact with Scripture – with the Word of God – without our lives being affected … stirred … changed
        • Scholar: Both the psalmist and Jesus were open to God’s instruction in a variety of forms – Scripture, tradition, and ongoing events and experiences that reveal God’s way and represent God’s claim upon humanity and the world.[9] → When we interact with Scripture – when we read God’s Word and spend time pondering it like the psalmist and working through it like Philip and the eunuch – that Word seeps into our very souls. It works in us and through us. It travels through the world with us as we continue to chew on the meaning of what we’ve read and try to figure out what God might be saying to us.
    • Being changed ≠ the only way we interact with Scripture – Inkheart quote: “Isn’t it odd how much fatter a book gets when you’ve read it several times?” Mo had said…”As if something were left between the pages every time you read it. Feelings, thoughts, sounds, smells…and then, when you look at the book again many years later, you find yourself there, too, a slightly younger self, slightly different, as if the book had preserved you like a pressed flower…both strange and familiar.”[10] → If Scripture truly is the living, breathing text that we say it is, then we leave a little something of ourselves behind when we read Scripture as well. We leave a little piece of ourselves with God within these pages.
      • Leave our hopes and dreams
      • Leave our fears and challenges
      • Leave our heartaches
      • Leave our worries
      • Leave our prayers and our worship
  • You’ve probably heard the cute, Sunday school acronym for what “Bible” stands for: Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth (B-I-B-L-E). I’m challenging that acronym today. This Scripture that we revere – this Word of God in all its beauty and complexity and challenge and inspiration – is far from “basic.” It’s also a far cry from the dry, detached nature of any instruction manual I’ve ever encountered. There is passion in these words. There is pain and love and a call to understand and keep understanding in these pages. This is God’s love letter to us. This is the history of our faith. This is the telling and retelling of stories that have shaped and formed countless millions before us and will continue to shape and form people for generations to come.
    • Call of God and Scripture in our lives – In the words of the beloved Shel Silverstein:
      If you are a dreamer, come in
      If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar,
      A hope-er, a pray-er, a magic bean buyer…
      If you’re a pretender, come sit by the fire
      For we have some flax-golden tales to spin.
      Come in!
      Come in![11]

Invitation - Silverstein
artwork by Shel Silverstein

[1] Cornelia Funke. Inkheart. (New York City, NY: The Chicken House, 2003), 1-2.

[2] Acts 8:1-25.

[3] Ps 119:101.

[4] Ps 119:106.

[5] Ps 119:112.

[6] Ps 119:97, 109

[7] J. Clinton McCann, Jr. “The Book of Psalms: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections” in The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary series, vol. 4. (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1996), 1176.

[8] Gracie Allen, UCC “God Is Still Speaking” campaign, http://www.stillspeaking.com.

[9] McCann, 1175.

[10] Cornelia Funke, Inkheart. Quote found at http://www.goodreads.com/work/quotes/2628323-tintenherz-tintenwelt-1.

[11] Shel Silverstein. “Invitation” in Where the Sidewalk Ends: Poems and Drawings. (New York City, NY: HarperCollins), 1974.