“I can see clearly now the rain has gone/ I can see all obstacles in my way/ Gone are the dark clouds that blinded me/It’s gonna be a bright, bright sunshiny day!” (from the song “I Can See Clearly Now” by Jonny Nash).
This is the song that comes to mind when I think of the Saul story of conversion in Acts 9. In a flash of light, he is struck blind and encounters the voice of the Lord crying, “Saul, Saul! Why do you persecute me?” Then, days later, Ananias, one of the ordained leaders of “The Way”, receives the message to go and pray for Saul’s healing. The story has a tidy ending when Ananias faces his fears, heads to Straight Street and prays over the blind-struck Saul.
Oh if only all conversions and stories of faith were that nice and tidy. Saul changes from a persecutor of followers of “The Way” and becomes one of the greatest teachers of Jesus’ lessons, interpreting what it means to be righteous without “working” for it — righteous by the grace of God alone. Quite a turn-around for a Pharisee who had found his righteousness in rituals and following The Levitical Codes for cleanliness.
But for most of us, our faith journey neither begins or ends in a single moment. Rather it is a life-long journey that begins in our homes, perhaps — through the prayers and lessons of our parents or grandparents. And it continues throughout our lives.
We find moments where things become crystal clear to us — like the Jonny Nash song — “Look all around/there’s nothing but blue sky/ Look straight ahead/ nothing but blue sky!” These are moments when we touch the Divine — “Liminal” moments, where the space between the Holy and the worldly is very thin. But most of the time we trudge through, hoping for that clarity.
This Co-Vid time for me has been full of “the rainbows I’ve been praying for” as well as the “dark clouds that blinded me.” Sunday, I’ll ask you to look for those Divine moments of transformation. The kind that led Saul to begin confessing Jesus as the Son of God, and the kind that filled Ananias with courage when he wanted to do anything in the world except seek out the Saul who had murderous intentions for those who followed Jesus.
Tomorrow, we’ll begin with Fellowship & Prayer time on Zoom. You can join us at 9:15 am with this information:
Paula Steinbacher is inviting you to a scheduled Zoom meeting.
Topic: Sunday Prayer and Fellowship
Time: Jun 21, 2020 09:00 AM Mountain Time (US and Canada)
Every week on Sun, until Aug 2, 2020, 7 occurrence(s)
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Meeting ID: 891 8005 5165
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Meeting ID: 891 8005 5165
Session met on Wednesday, June 18 and assembled a “Re-entry Team” to pray and discern when the best time to open back up for Public Worship will be. In the meantime, perhaps these zoom prayer and fellowship times will help us feel more connected.
Peace in Christ,
Presbyterian Church of the Eternal Hills
10 AM Virtual Worship premiere
June 14, 2020
follow the worship links at the top of our homepage to view worship and bulletin!
Amazing Acts of the Apostles: The Gift of Courage
Theme Verse: Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. Acts 2:43
Today’s Theme: In chapters six and seven of Acts of the Apostles, we hear about an extraordinary young apostle named Stephen. His faith leads him to preach and teach courageously to the court and he is sentenced to death by stoning. Even with his last breath he prays, “Forgive them, Lord.” Can we let our faith lead us to live courageously and forgive radically?
We have been looking at the extraordinary gifts bestowed upon the first followers of “The Way.” Last week we heard Peter step up to the plate and speak with such authority, that all the gathered listeners returned home to share the good news with their families — and the gospel on one day left Jerusalem in the hearts of 3,000 families!
This week our message is difficult to hear. Stephen, considered the first Christian Martyr, preached a sermon that summed up the entire history of the Israelites and presented the penultimate conclusion?
Here is it — I wish I could write conclusions like this:
‘You stiff-necked people,
uncircumcised in heart and ears,
you are for ever opposing the Holy Spirit,
just as your ancestors used to do.
Which of the prophets did your ancestors not persecute?
They killed those who foretold the coming of the Righteous One,
and now you have become his betrayers and murderers.
You are the ones that received the law as ordained by angels,
and yet you have not kept it.’
Acts, end of Chap 7, emphasis added
Of course, it did make the religious leaders so angry they stoned him then and there. If it was anything, it was the line about being uncircumcised in heart and ears. Stephen was addressing the most righteous of God’s people — the leaders of the Temple! How dare he call them “uncircumcised?” This language hearkens back to the prophets calling God’s children back into Covenant with sincere worship. Stephen was a remarkable leader, who was raised as a Hellenist Jew (of Greek descent, but Jewish as he was born from a convert mother and circumcised on the eighth day; this was a minority of Jews, but from his sermon we hear a proper education in the Torah). Earlier in Acts we read that he called the Temple leaders out for not caring for the widows and orphans as the Law demanded. The Apostles created the ministry of διάκονος, or what we call Deacons. Stephen was ordained as one of the first! They were called to the task of being servants — we say “the hands and feet of Christ.” It was the passion of the first deacons to care for those who fall through the cracks of the big Temple politics.
Stephen was speaking at a time that was a pivoting point of all history. We use the birth and death of Jesus Christ to divide our known time. This portion of history was known as “Anno Domine” or Year of Our Lord, which definitely shows how everything changed with the Christ event. Now children are taught about the “Common Era,” which doesn’t make it Christo-centric at all (BC, which I learned was history Before Christ, has now become “BCE” or “Before Common Era”).
The change in the way we annotate the era in which we live should be a wake up call that the days of Christendom are over. No longer does the Church (note the capital C on Church, which indicates the Church Universal — the entire Body of Christ) hold the reverence and esteem it once held in communities across the globe. No longer do we depend on people to immediately seek a church for membership when they move from area to area.
But we continue to operate things as if we are living in Christendom. What can we learn from the courage that Stephen showed as he stepped up and shared a stunning sermon? He wanted the leaders to hear that Jesus was the Righteous One who had been promised by the prophets — and they couldn’t hear it. Their hearts were not ready for it.
What message is difficult for us to hear? We too live in a pivotal time in history. Never in our life times has there been a global crisis like Co-Vid, and during this time of isolation and grief (so many things to grieve) we are crying out to “Just go back to the way it used to be.”
I’m sorry to let you know that we will never return to the “Way it used to be.” Nor should we. The Church had gone so far astray from what Christ has demanded of us that we too need a wake up call. Together I believe we can discern and seek out Christ’s Way forward. We may have some teeth-gnashing and our stiff necks may get whiplash, but together, I truly do believe we can find that way forward, when we can honestly pray, “THY kingdom come; THY will be done — on earth as it is in heaven.”
May it be so!
The presence of the Holy Spirit (Paraclete, Advocate, Comforter, Friend) reminds me of the classic song “Stand by Me.” The zeitgeist has me really feeling that song lately:
When the night has come
And the land is dark
And the moon is the only light we’ll see
No I won’t be afraid
Oh, I won’t be afraid
Just as long as you stand, stand by me (Ben King, Stand By Me).
As a member of the clergy here in Grand County I know many people are looking for me to offer comfort or reassurance and hope for these dark times. As if the Co-Vid crisis, isolation, and physical distancing wasn’t enough, many of us felt our heart pierced by the dying cries of George Floyd and then faced further anxiety over the ensuing riots and violence that the media has on replay.
The scripture I chose for this week in our series, “Amazing Acts of the Apostles” offered an astonishing parallel to my situation. I often keep my voice and opinions quiet and gentle while preaching in response to division (except to constantly beg us to listen to someone with a different opinion or viewpoint. . .to listen in love and compassion and restrain judgement to continue holding our minds and hearts open to each other or what God may be calling us to speak out to as a congregation).
The scripture is the very moment when Peter crosses all ethnic and racial lines to speak out about the wonders of Jesus’s teachings, death, and resurrection. It follows last week’s fiery gift of the Holy Spirit by visible tongues of fire that enabled all ethnic and language barriers to disappear and “everyone understood.” And Peter found his voice!
Peter declares: “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.” When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?” Peter replied, “Repent . . . Save yourselves from this corrupt generation!” (selections from Acts 2:34 ff)
If only we could find that in today’s culture – the part about ethnic and other barriers being lifted and “everyone hearing and understanding.” Instead, we feel more isolated and more divided than ever. I admit that I don’t have answers, but I am seeking for the Truth that always rises over the chaos. Truth . . . is different from facts. Everyone wants facts and data and details. But we only find Truth when we listen deeply to all of Jesus’ teachings and when we heed the powerful words of the prophets throughout our scriptures. When we find that Truth, sometimes we know that we may also be “cut to the heart.”
The apostles were able to do brave and courageous things after they stared fear down in that room for weeks upon weeks. When the Holy Spirit rained down on the day of Pentecost, the timing was perfect for a miracle of understanding and transformation. We learn from this that sometimes understanding and transformation only come after fiery, terrifying revolution. Think about the voice Martin Luther found when he nailed those 95 Theses to the door of the Wittenberg castle church! He didn’t expect the fiery Reformation to sweep across Europe in the way it did, yet it changed everything: theology, politics, church, and personal identity.
Nearly 500 years later, Martin Luther King, Jr found his voice through peaceful protest and eloquent speaking crying out for the day “. . .That my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” The fiery revolts and riots following his assassination seemed to effect little change in our nation when we consider how many Americans find it hard to breathe because they have too quickly been judged — and not on the content of their character.
Yes, I am disheartened. Yes, I am discouraged. But you know what? I’m not afraid. Like Peter, the time has come for all of us to raise our voices and speak out the Truth. As Presbyterians we truly believe that the Truth also comes to us through the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit, through deeply listening for the Truth that bubbles up out of chaos through our work together. I’m not afraid because Jesus promised us we would not be left alone — that he was sending along the Advocate to guide us and teach us Truth. We must work together, listening deeply to hurts and our own stories, learning from scripture together, trusting that we are not separated from God in any way because the Holy Spirit is standing with us just waiting for our awareness. To do this we need to find our voice together and be courageous enough to speak out as a congregation.
Nelson Mandela, who was imprisoned for raising his voice against the violently oppressive Apartheid, eventually rose to become a voice of reconciliation and forgiveness as President of post-Apartheid South Africa. He reminds us, “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”
Which is why our Confirmation Students are reacting with courage to the anxiety and fear so prevalent all around us and offering a Parking Lot Peace Day. We will worship at home, sharing Communion with the elements we find in our own homes, and then try a fellowship experiment this Sunday, June 7. Please drop by between 1-6 to see the imaginative ways our treasured Confirmation students offer our community to lament together, speak out for and pray for peace, and include a virtual “audience” of those who wish to fellowship with us but are still isolating or quarantining themselves.
CEH has always been seen as a rational voice during times of division, and I pray we will do so through this Peace Day as well. Because no matter what our political or ideological philosophies are, we recognize that we worship the Prince of Peace who challenged us to live into the Kin-dom of God (“Kin” like family; a better word for our understanding, because Jesus did not use power or political reign to spread his love; we call him King but we have elevated him to that position — he never did). Each week we pray “THY Kin-dom Come. . . THY will be done.” Let’s make it so, and come Stand by Me.
With Passionate Love for you, the Beloved Community,
PS: I call it an experiment in fellowship, because we will have to abide by safety guidelines that require physical distancing and wearing masks. It will be similar to what we may experience at worship when we can return to worshiping together either outside in the parking lot or seated as family units with 6 feet of space between us. It means we will have to resist the hugs and embraces that so many of us long for, and have to settle on a wave instead. It means we will not see the smiles except in the eyes of our church family and community.