May 26, 2013

Happy Memorial Day

We remember all those who died preserving the freedoms we often take for granted. I hope that in the midst of gatherings and BBQs and an extra day off, you will take just a moment to say a prayer for those still serving in the military around the world and at home. Perhaps one of these from the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer will inspire you:


 
Almighty God, we commend to your gracious care and keeping all the men and women of our armed forces at home and abroad. Defend them day by day with your heavenly grace; strengthen them in their trials and temptations; give them courage to face the perils which beset them; and grant them a sense of your abiding presence wherever they may be; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Lord God Almighty, you have made all the peoples of the earth for your glory, to serve you in freedom and in peace: Give to the people of our country a zeal for justice and the strength of forbearance, that we may use our liberty in accordance with your gracious will; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen

Eternal God, in whose perfect kingdom no sword is drawn but the sword of righteousness, no strength known but the strength of love: So mightily spread abroad your Spirit, that all peoples may be gathered under the banner of the Prince of Peace, as children of one Father; to whom be dominion and glory, now and for ever. Amen.
Almighty God our heavenly Father, guide the nations of the world into the way of justice and truth, and establish among them that peace which is the fruit of righteousness, that they may become the kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

O God, the Father of all, whose Son commanded us to love our enemies: Lead them and us from prejudice to truth: deliver them and us from hatred, cruelty, and revenge; and in your good time enable us all to stand reconciled before you, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

May 19, 2013

New Wine of Pentecost

Since Easter, this blogger has been contemplating the journey of the 2 disciples on the Road to Emmaus and how the Lord of the Dance walked with them and changed their lives. Today is Pentecost, the day when the Lord of the Dance transformed the lives of fearful men and women into evangelists! (Evangelist: messenger of good news)

The second chapter of the Book of Acts tells what happened on the Jewish feast of Pentecost (50 days after Passover). “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? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.’ All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’ But others sneered and said, ‘They are filled with new wine.’
But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them: ‘Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: “In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist. The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day. Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” (Acts 2:1-21)

We often focus on the rushing wind and flames of fire, or even the ‘speaking in different languages’ as the signs of Pentecost. I think the Spirit of the Living God is seen just as actively in the transformation of frightened, hidden disciples of the Crucified and Risen One into courageous men who rushed into the street with such excitement that people thought they were drunk with ‘new wine’.
‘New wine’ is the result of the first fermenting of the grape juice and can be especially high in alcohol content. It is still actively changing from grape juice, sugar, and yeast into wine. Jesus cautions against putting new wine in old wineskins, precisely because the active fermentation will split the skins (Luke 5:37-39).
The apostles rushed out into the streets of Jerusalem shouting the Good News of salvation in such a frenzy that the crowd understandably thought they were drunk or perhaps crazy. Then Peter takes charge. This man who denied his Master becomes an outspoken evangelist quoting the prophet Joel to a crowd of strangers. His words amaze and convert those who hear him.

It’s strange, isn’t it, that we are willing and even eager to share the latest diet craze with our friends or repost a joke or picture on Facebook, but become reticent when it comes to telling others about what God has done for us? (Guilty as charged, I fear.) I must remind myself that we, too, have the ‘new wine’ flowing in our veins. We might think that those around us know about the Gospel, but do they really? Each one of us is just as empowered as the apostles were to tell what God has done in our life. Tell how the Lord of the Dance has walked beside you in joy or sorrow or pain or fear.
On this Pentecost, 2000 years later, what ‘new wine’ is God giving you and me to share with those nearby? When Cleopas and his friend returned to Jerusalem with their amazing story of Jesus walking and talking with them, they were met with the news “The Lord is risen indeed and has appeared to Peter!” Each of the disciples had a story of the Lord of the Dance. Each of us does too.

It starts with “God is Love…and I know this because…” What is the story of your own Pentecost-of God coming into your life-can you share?
In June a new series will start, exploring the image of the Holy Bridegroom-choosing, betrothing, rescuing, loving the Bride-and that’s not just the Church, that’s you and me!

May 12, 2013

I'll Lead you All in the Dance

Cleopas and his friend had unknowingly spent the day with Jesus, the Risen Lord of the Dance. (Luke 24:13-35) Last week we looked at how Jesus finally revealed himself to the pair and then ‘vanished from their sight’. (the picture is Caravaggio's interpretation of the men at the meal.) Let’s imagine the scene. I’ve named Cleopas’s friend Amos for this little vignette.

Cleopas and Amos stared at each other, unable to believe what had just happened. The warm bread turned cool in their hands but they did not take a bite. The barley beer sat untouched on the table. A few minutes earlier the men had been hungry from their walk from Jerusalem. Now food was the last thing on their minds.
Cleopas spoke first. “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road?

Amos nodded slowly at first and then with more enthusiasm. “Yes, while he was opening the scriptures to us!”
“How could we have not known?”

“We didn’t recognize Him.”
Cleopas stared at the bread in his hand. “I knew Him when he blessed and broke the bread, just like He did so many times while we travelled with Him!”

“I felt my heart leap when He lifted the bread from the platter, as if it was something more special than just bread.” Amos cupped his bread in his hand, holding it like a precious jewel.
“We must return to Jerusalem!” Cleopas leapt to his feet. “Peter and the others-we have to tell them.”

“Yes!” Amos snatched his cloak up. “We must tell them that the women were right. Jesus is alive!”
The pair rushed out the door, leaving their meal untouched, except for the bread they each clutched, almost unconsciously. The road back to Jerusalem stretched down the hillside. They gave no thought to safety but rushed headlong past startled travelers coming into Emmaus and those also setting out from the town.

Panting a bit, the men paused a couple miles down the road.
“He is alive,” Amos repeated what he said in Emmaus. He whirled in an ecstatic circle.

Cleopas lifted his head and hands to the sky. “Messiah has come! Jesus is Messiah!”
“Amen and Amen!” his companion shouted. The two men had never felt so alive. Both whirled with arms spread wide as if to encompass the entire vista of Jerusalem which could be glimpsed dimly in the distance.

“They are drunk. Stay close to me.” Cleopas heard a man tell his wife. The woman clutched her husband’s arm and the couple edged past.
Amos heard too and laughed. “If only you knew!” he shouted after the pair.

“Come on!” Cleopas started out again.
He set a swift pace, not quite running as when they left Emmaus, but fast enough to pass a small donkey caravan and another pair of men walking toward the capital. They barely paused at the Roman guard post a mile from the gates.

“We have family in the city that we must see,” Cleopas told the bored soldier who barely glanced at them.
Amos glanced back at the setting sun as their shadows stretched toward the walls of the city. “We have to arrive before the gates close.”

“Not my affair.” the Roman shrugged as he let them pass.
Amos started running and Cleopas followed. The Roman’s sneer “Crazy Jews” followed them.

The two men had to slow when they arrived in the crowd of merchants and travelers all pushing toward the gates, eager to enter the city before nightfall.
“We have urgent family business,” Cleopas again explained to a harassed sentry at the gate when they finally reached it.

“You and half this forsaken country,” growled the man, but he waved them through.
Inside the city, Amos turned right. The pair followed winding back streets to the house where Peter and the other disciples were staying. They pounded on the door. Cautiously it was opened. James looked out.

“Cleopas? Amos? We thought you returned to Emmaus.” The man was astonished.
“Let us in. We have much to tell you!” Amos pushed against the door.

It was a dusty, windblown pair that burst into the room. The gathered group stared at them. Peter stood up.
“What happened to you?”

“Jesus is alive!” Amos could not contain the news any longer.
“He was known to us in the breaking of the bread!” Cleopas added, producing the bread from his bag.

The disciples crowded around. A huge smile slowly spread across John’s face. “The Lord is risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!”
Cleopas and Amos looked at John, then at Peter who nodded. “Yes, the Lord did appear to me.”

Everyone was quiet drinking in the awe of the multiple announcements. Before anyone could say another word, Jesus himself was in the room. There were gasps and a couple of frightened murmurs.
“Why are you troubled and why do you question?” The figure held out his hands in a familiar gesture. “See my hands and my feet. It is I. Touch me. A spirit does not have flesh and bones.”

A few bravely reached out to lay a hand on His arm. Jesus looked around with a smile at those who still hung back.
“Do you have anything to eat?”

James passed a piece of broiled fish to the Master who ate it and grinned at the group standing with mouths gapping open. Then he sat down and began to teach, just as in the weeks before his death. Each man relaxed and found a comfortable spot to listen.
Cleopas and his friend had the amazing experience of walking, talking, and then breaking bread with the Risen Lord. Theirs was indeed a special encounter. To them was given the honor of speaking face to face with the Risen Lord and their response was to race back and report to the others.

Like Cleopas we have the opportunity and honor to walk and talk with our Lord at any time. Christ is present in the prayer times, in the beauty of nature, in worship and in our daily lives. We can meet and walk with the Lord of the Dance when we visit with friends and strangers.  An ancient Celtic prayer attributed to St. Patrick reminds us that Christ is really always with us, “Christ beside me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ within me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me.”
What do we do when we have a special encounter with the Holy One? Do we race out and tell our friends? The chorus of the Lord of the Dance song encourages us to Dance as we are and where we are, because “I’ll lead you all in the Dance, said He!”

Dance then, wherever you may be
I am the Lord of the Dance, said He!
And I'll lead you all, wherever you may be
And I'll lead you all in the Dance, said He!
(...lead you all in the Dance, said He!)
We end this series as we began with the Lord of the Dance video. Next Sunday is Pentecost when the disciples received the Holy Spirit and the church was empowered. After Memorial Day, a new series will explore the image of the Holy Bridegroom throughout scripture. Join me then.

May 5, 2013

I am the Life

Since Easter, we’ve been walking with the disciples on the Road to Emmaus, a city “7 miles (60 stadia) from Jerusalem.” Most likely, according to Biblical archeological scholars, Emmaus can be identified with Nicopolis, on the main road from the coast to Jerusalem. This particular location is actually further than the 7 miles noted in the scripture. However, some early Bible translations list the distance as 160 stadia (closer to 15 or 20 miles), which would be correct for Emmaus/Nicopolis. 

The road would have been uphill from Jerusalem to Emmaus, but for men used to walking to get to their destinations, it probably would have been about a 4 or 5 hour hike. This picture from Biblewalks.com gives you an idea of the terrain the men covered in their walk. You can see that the current highway to Jerusalem curves around the hill, but the older road seems to take a more direct route down the hill. There are some other interesting pictures of the ruins of Emmaus/Nicopolis at the same website.
After their interesting conversation, of several hours, with an unknown Companion about the “things that have happened [in Jerusalem] in these days” and the Stranger’s eye-opening explanations of the scriptures, the men still don’t really understand that it is indeed the Risen Lord walking with them. We might slight them for their blindness, but how often do we not see that God is walking with us in our troubles and trials and in our joys and celebrations?
Cleopas and his companion don’t want the conversation to end. As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, ‘Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.’ So he went in to stay with them.” (Luke 24:28-29)

We aren’t told if the men were stopping at an inn or at their home. Either way they are given food, including the staple of life: bread. “When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight.” (Luke 24:30-31)

The one thing that convinced these men that their strange companion was the same Jesus that they had known before was his ceremonial action in breaking the bread. In that bread, we too can have the Resurrection Life. As the Lord of the Dance song says,
They cut me down and I leapt up high
I am the Life that'll never, never die!
I'll live in you if you'll live in Me -

I am the Lord of the Dance, said He!


Our Risen Lord offered to Cleopas and his companion bread, blessed and broken. Then “their eyes were opened, and they recognized him.” When we receive the Eucharist, we are partakers of that same Bread, blessed and broken. Do you and I recognize the Risen Lord in the Bread? Do we remember that Our Lord promises to “live in you, if you’ll live in Me”? Do we sometimes forget that we have the honor of being at the Heavenly Banquet Table every time we come to Communion?
Once, several years ago, I heard a sermon where the priest reminded her listeners that it is indeed a joy, honor, and privilege to receive the “Body of Christ, the Bread of Heaven”. She suggested that we come to the Communion rail with joyful expressions and open hands because we are coming to a party. Then she added we should say ‘Thank you’ after receiving the Sacrament, just as we do at any dinner.

Next week, we’ll conclude this series with the response of Cleopas and his friend. After Pentecost, a new series will start focusing on being the Bride of Christ as individuals as well as the Church as a whole.