"So here's what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering." (Romans 12:1, MSG)

Monday, June 30, 2014

#LukeActs2014 - Acts chapter 2

At the conclusion of the dramatic telling of the story of Pentecost in verses 1-41, we read:
"God brought about three thousand people into the community on that day." (Acts 2:41b, CEB, emphasis mine)
What follows this conclusion is a brief description of what this fledgling, Spirit-filled community looked like:
"The believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the community, to their shared meals, and to their prayers. A sense of awe came over everyone. God performed many wonders and signs through the apostles. All the believers were united and shared everything. They would sell pieces of property and possessions and distribute the proceeds to everyone who needed them. Every day, they met together in the temple and ate in their homes. They shared food with gladness and simplicity. They praised God and demonstrated God’s goodness to everyone. The Lord added daily to the community those who were being saved." (Acts 2:42-47, CEB, again emphasis mine)
I've always loved this passage. In fact, I refer to it often (the reasons for which I will get to in a moment). Usually when I turn to this passage, I go straight to verse 42 and skip the Pentecost story. Today, I realized there is a mistake in doing that because skipping the story of Pentecost disembodies verses 42 through 47 from their context. Yes, we have something important to learn from these five verses about the apostles and their "life together" after they received the fullness of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. But, therein lies the very importance of the Pentecost story to this passage.

This "community" was not something that the apostles themselves fabricated. Their new "life together," by and through the gift of the Spirit, was exclusively God's doing.

The Greek word translated here as "community" is koinonia, and this word is the reason I have always loved this passage. This is because I once heard something in a seminary lecture about koinonia that has always stuck with me:
If the Greek word ecclesia can be associated with the church and its  infrastructure or buildings, than the Greek word koinonia should be associated with the church's soul.
With this in mind, I often ponder the question: "If a body without a soul is an empty shell, what is ecclesia without koinonia?"

With all the discord in the church today, with so much attention being given to what divides the church rather than what unites us, I invite you to ponder this question, too. The church is in need of some serious soul-tending. 

Still, unity is not something we can manufacture, or will into existence. It is a work of God's Spirit, and as such, I agree with what Bishop Carter said in his clergy address at Annual Conference. Unity in the church is a byproduct of fruitfulness in the church. I am praying for faithful obedience to where the Holy Spirit wants to lead the church and believing that the result will be a harvest of great fruitfulness, that will include a fresh unity and renewal of our soul...our koinonia. So, I continue praying this prayer:
O God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, our only Savior, the Prince of Peace: Give us grace seriously to lay to heart the great dangers we are in by our unhappy divisions; take away all hatred and prejudice, and whatever else may hinder us from godly union and concord; that, as there is but one Body and one Spirit, one hope of our calling, one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of us all, so we may be all of one heart and of one soul, united in one holy bond of truth and peace, of faith and charity, and may with one mind and one mouth glorify thee; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (Book of Common Prayer, p. 818)

Friday, June 27, 2014

Foto Friday

I went on a Sabbath photo walk this morning on the La Chua Trail, on the north end of Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park. As you approach the entrance, there is a sign that reads:
"Entering Wilderness Area. USE EXTREME CAUTION. Remember: This is NOT a zoo or theme park."
Of course, I had already figured that out when I passed by a rattlesnake in the parking area.

The La Chua Trail is known for its wildlife, especially alligators. In fact, I ran into a couple on the trail from Washington state who had taken an 800-mile detour on their trip just to come to this trail to see an alligator in the wild. They excitedly told me that they got to witness an alligator eat its breakfast off the trail not too far from where we were...complete with a lot of thrashing and a barrel roll even! At that point, all I had seen was the back end of a very large alligator on a bank on the other side of the water. It wasn't worth a photograph. 

So, I pressed on and came to an area that was a bit overgrown because the part of the trail I was on has been closed until very recently due to all the rain. Admittedly, I was a bit nervous. I continually scanned what I could see of the path in front of me and the banks on both sides, looking for the alligators I could hear croaking all around me. 

Not an alligator to be seen. 

Then, I heard a whole lot of thrashing and splashing in the water immediately to my left, but could not see what was going on due to the wall of reeds and brush hindering my view. Whatever it was, the amount of noise it was making told me it was quite big. Let's just say that my heart, and my pace, quickened.

I shot nearly 70 photos along the way (it's 3 miles roundtrip) but didn't come back with many that were any good. Here are a few.

Surprisingly, this is the only alligator I saw in plain view. Not a very interesting photograph (I took this before I changed to my zoom lens), but it is the only visual evidence I have that there are alligators on the La Chua Trail. Hopefully my next trip will bring better results.

Red-winged Blackbird.
This is the best wildlife photograph I shot today. It is the last in a series of 14 that I took of this Great Blue Heron with breakfast of its own in its beak...a snake I am unable to identify.

Monday, June 23, 2014

#LukeActs2014 - Acts chapter 1

Note - Beginning this week and running throughout the rest of the year, we will be reading a chapter per week from the Acts of the Apostles. I will continue to read primarily from the Common English Bible (CEB) translation and The MESSAGE (MSG) paraphrase. I will also continue to refer to the Interpretation commentary, about which I am excited because the volume on Acts was written by Methodism's own, Will Willimon.

Chapter 1

Before ascending to heaven, Jesus' parting words for the eleven disciples (for they had not yet replaced Judas) were:
"And when the Holy Spirit comes on you, you will be able to be my witnesses in Jerusalem, all over Judea and Samaria, even to the ends of the world." (Acts 1:8, MSG)
With these words, we are given a segue from the gospel story of Jesus to the continuation of the story of Jesus and God's saving work through his apostles. After all, as Petersen rightly stated in his introduction to Acts in The MESSAGE, "The story of Jesus doesn't end with Jesus. It continues in the lives of those who believe in him."

I believe that our task for reading Acts should be to understand how the story of Jesus continues in our lives, as believing, faithful communities whose mission is to make and grow disciples of Jesus Christ committed to making a difference in the world. The entire world, that is, since part of Acts' function is to show that God's promises for Israel were extended to all nations..."all over Judea and Samaria, even to the ends of the world." God's saving grace is available to all peoples.

That is, indeed, why John Wesley looked upon all the world as his parish. That is why our ministry must always extend beyond the walls of our churches, because all the world is our parish, too. Acts tells the story of everyday, ordinary people who Jesus called and equipped to be his witnesses. They model for us what faithful obedience to God's calling and participation in God's work in all the world, what love in action, looks like. We, too, are everyday, ordinary people Jesus wants to use for the very same, continued purpose. May it be so.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Foto Friday

Here are some shots from my recent Sabbath photography outings. I've been excited about my photography lately because I have finally been able to demystify shooting in Manual mode. It has been a lot of fun learning how to properly expose shots without having to rely on the Auto settings.

These were taken at Sea World Orlando...

These were taken at the Samuel P. Harn Museum of Art...

These were taken at Devil's Millhopper Geological State Park...

Thursday, June 19, 2014

#LukeActs2014 - The conclusion of Luke's Gospel (chapters 23 & 24)

Note - If you've been following Bishop Carter's Luke/Acts reading plan with me this year, this week brings us to the conclusion of Luke's Gospel. Even though I'm a bit late with this blog post on the final two chapters (I've been away for some Sabbath time with Lenora and our family, in addition to attending the Florida Annual Conference last week), I wanted to bring some closure to our journey through Luke before beginning our journey through the Acts of the Apostles next week.

Reading Luke's account of Jesus' appearance before Pilate in chapter 23, I was struck by how Pilate said to the chief priests and the crowds not once but three times that he found no legal basis for the death penalty in his case (vv. 4, 14, 22). And, not once but three times the crowd protested, ultimately demanding Jesus' crucifixion (vv. 5, 18, 23a). Then, in verse 23b we read, "Their voices won out."

This reminded me of Eugene Peterson's introduction to the Gospel of Luke and its description of Luke as "a most vigorous champion of the outsider." Throughout this Gospel, Luke "shows how Jesus includes those who typically were treated as outsiders by the religious establishment of the day: women, common laborers (sheepherders), the racially different (Samaritans), the poor." (The MESSAGE, Navpress 2005, p. 1404) 

Brennan Manning may have said it best, "...Jesus hung out with ragamuffins."

So, there Jesus stood...cast out by the religious establishment simply for speaking the truth about Himself, about to be put to death while another who actually was guilty of something (murder, no less!) would walk away free. Jesus had officially become an outsider. How ironic. It also brings to mind something else Manning wrote:
"The story goes that a public sinner was excommunicated and forbidden entry to the church. He took his woes to God. 'They won't let me in, Lord, because I am a sinner.' 'What are you complaining about?' said God. 'They won't let Me in either.'" (The Ragamuffin Gospel, p. 30)
Of course, we know what happened next. Jesus took up His cross and carried it to "the place called The Skull."

Skull Hill in Jerusalem...one reputed location of Jesus' crucifixion.
There, Jesus was crucified.

There, Jesus died.

And with Jesus' death, yet another "triplet" is reported in Luke's Gospel...a "triplet" of responses by those who witnessed His death. First, the centurion who praised God, acknowledging the truth that Jesus really was righteous (v. 47). Next, "the crowds who had come together to see this event returned to their homes beating their chests after seeing what happened (v. 48)." The "beating their chests" signifies that they were deeply sorrowful and penitent for what they had done. More irony. And, finally, the Galileans who had been with Jesus "stood at a distance observing these things (v. 49)." Their witness is important to the final chapter of Luke's Gospel because as one commentator wrote, "Witnessing his death is necessary in order that they be qualified witnesses to his resurrection." (Interpretation, p. 275)

Which brings us now to the final chapter, including the empty tomb, the walk to Emmaus, Jesus' appearance to His disciples, and the Ascension of Jesus. Each of these stories are unique but combine to ultimately communicate one thing...the story doesn't end with the cross. We, ragamuffins that we are, are a people of hope. Great hope. Resurrection hope! 

Fred Craddock's final statement in his Interpretation commentary is both a fitting conclusion and perfect segue as we turn our attention to Acts: "God is at work and something marvelous is about to happen!" (p. 295)

Friday, June 6, 2014

Foto Friday - Faces of Israel

Fishermen on the Sea of Galilee.

Shepherd boy in the desert.
Couple floating in the Dead Sea.
Enjoying the mud of the Dead Sea.
Monk outside the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.
Scenes from the streets of Jerusalem:

Bar Mitzvah in Old Jerusalem:

Prayer at the Western Wall:

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

#LukeActs2014 - Luke chapter 22

Note - If you've been following my blog as we've been reading through the gospel of Luke, you might have noticed that I skipped Luke chapter 21. Forgive me. I felt rather strongly about writing last week's blog in its place. And, after having posted seven photo-blogs from my pilgrimage to the Holy Land, I felt enough was enough. So, today I am going to get us back on track, but before I do I want to thank my good friend, Josh Wilson, for filling in for me and doing such an excellent job with Luke chapters 19 and 20.

Luke chapter 22

Only three more chapters left in Luke's gospel and the plot is quickly accelerating. There is quite a lot to absorb from these 71 verses as we see Christ's passion begin to unfold. And, as I read this week's chapter, I found myself doing so with new eyes, having been to Jerusalem and stood in the places where these events occurred. 

When reading about the Passover meal that Jesus shared with the disciples (vv. 14-38), I found myself transported back to the Upper Room on Mount Zion, traditionally held to be the site of the Last Supper.

When reading about Jesus in prayer (vv. 39-46), I remembered walking in the Garden of Gethsemane.

When reading about Jesus' arrest (vv. 47-53), I remembered standing in the "sacred pit" underneath the Church of St. Peter in Gallicantu, where it is believed that Jesus spent the night after his arrest.

The Church of St. Peter in Gallicantu (which means "cock's crow") commemorates Peter's denial of knowing Jesus (vv. 54-62).

The entrance to the church. These are the most amazing doors I saw in the Holy Land...an artist's depiction of Jesus predicting Peter's denial.
When reading about Jesus standing before the Jewish leaders, I remembered standing inside the chapel of the Church of St. Peter in Gallicantu, which includes at its center the rock where it is believed the high priest Caiaphas stood while questioning Jesus during the early morning hours before taking him to Pilate (vv. 66-71).

Aside from remembering these places, and again feeling enormously grateful for having been to the Holy Land, a portion of Luke 22 really stood out to me...when, after supper, the disciples argued over which one of them should be regarded as greatest (vv. 24-30). Here they were, having supper with the Savior of the world, and they were selfishly arguing their own interests. 

More than 2,000 years later, not much has changed. 

Lord, have mercy on your church; and, following your example as the most selfless servant of all, may we humbly serve one another. Amen.