Archive for February, 2009

Friday, February 27th

February 27, 2009

“And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”  Matthew 6:16-18


One last time this week we listen to Jesus warning us against the hypocrisy of the “public piety practitioners.”  This time he addresses the spiritual discipline of fasting – going without food and/or drink, or giving up some other beloved practice, as a means of lifting our consciousness toward God.  And once again, the question is, “What are you trying to accomplish?”


I’m writing from Houston, Texas, #6 on Men’s Health’s list of America’s fattest cities.  I also write knowing that I have stepped up to the plate (pun intended) to do my part toward that lofty designation.  We know fast food but not much about fasting.


Our problem isn’t too much public spirituality, but too much private idolatry.  Insatiable chasing after the gods who are not gods, filling ourselves up with too much that not only doesn’t satisfy but actually harms, our sin is gluttony rather than merely hypocrisy.


I’m not a big faster.  I don’t eat anything on Sunday mornings except Holy Communion but I don’t make a big deal out of it.  I hardly think it worth any spiritual points given that eating is the last thing on my mind with all that goes into a pastor’s Sunday morning.  I dread those quarterly blood tests for cholesterol when I can’t get a morning appointment – the caffeine headache, oy veh!


The truth is, fasting is a good thing.  There are very good reasons for fasting just as there are very good reasons for prayer, for worship, for reading, for all that we do to be more mindful, more conscious, of God’s presence in our lives.  Not to score brownie points with the Almighty or to wow our friends at church.  But simply to center down a bit, be less scattered, be more connected.


For most of my ministry I have encouraged people to add things to their lives for Lent rather than giving something up – more intentional prayer, serving others in new ways, attending worship, trying on a new discipline.  My assumption in that is that we might benefit more from that than from giving up Diet Coke or chocolate or watching American Idol.  But more and more I realize that, whatever we do or don’t do, the question remains, “What are we trying to accomplish?”


If the goal is to be more mindful of God’s presence, to drink more deeply from the well of living water, to be more fit to be useful in the Kingdom, then the reward is in the doing.


Let us pray:  Dear Lord, guide us through this Lenten season, drawing all our hearts to Thee.  Make us ever fit to serve those whom you loved on Calvary.  We are wasteful of your bounty, gifts of life and gifts of love.  Center now our hearts upon thee, while you lead us from above.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.


Thursday, February 26th

February 26, 2009

“When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words.  Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Pray then in this way: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.  Your kingdom come.  Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.  Give us this day our daily bread.  And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.  And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one.’  For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”  Matthew 6:7-15


This prayer is a vivid illustration of the depth and breadth of God’s love for us.  Jesus teaches us to pray for exactly what we need, precisely what makes life worth living and specifically what sustains us.


We’re invited to address God as our “Father.”  Our God wants to be known, not simply as a “deity” but as a “Daddy.”  As one who loves, protects, disciplines and provides for His children.


The Kingdom of God, the reign of God, is a relationship that provides the best for us and seeks the best from us.  Safe neighborhoods, good government, honest business practices, just behaviors among people, deep concern for the least and the vulnerable, a good life because it is a godly life – these are the benefits of life under the rule of a loving King.


How does this Kingdom come?  When, by the power of the Holy Spirit and the surrender of our renegade wills, God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven.  The good and gracious will of God, enacted in real life among real people, brings to us the benefits of the Kingdom.


Daily bread, wrote Martin Luther, means “everything our bodies need such as food, drink, clothing, shoes, house, homes, fields, livestock, money, property, an upright spouse, upright children, upright workers, upright and faithful rulers, good government, good weather, peace, health, decency, honor, good friends, faithful neighbors and the like.”  Luther understood that it takes more than bread to sustain our lives.  “Daily” means we live our lives one day at a time in God’s Kingdom.


Forgiveness.  In an imperfect world, comprised on imperfect people, perfection will not perfect us.  We will disappoint ourselves and one another.  Relationships will teeter and tear.  Only forgiveness, given in response to what God has first given us, can be the glue to the fabric of life.  Not forgiveness in theory but in reality.  Sin with skin on it, so that our forgiveness of one another echoes the forgiving love of God.


All of this is as fragile as our brokenness.  All of this is to be, if it is to be at all, in the face of the constant hostile opposition posed by our own selfishness and sin and the forces of anti-life we call “evil”.  The forces as large as the ideas that THIS time violence will triumph, or as small as THIS time eating sugar will be better for me than eating my vegetables.  The constant temptation to seek gods who are not God, security from sand, peace from power, magic rather than honest daily work.  Thus we pray for God’s protection, most often given by illuminating a path less often traveled.


For all of this, Jesus would have us pray.  As Jesus says, “Your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”


Let us pray:  Gracious Lord, our Father, our God, our Creator and Redeemer and Sustainer, may we never stray from our reliance on you and may we make the most of every day you give us in our time on earth.  Be our guide and our God, that we might surrender to your will and seek your path in our lives.  Thank you for your love toward us.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Wednesday, February 25th

February 25, 2009

“And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”  Matthew 6:5-6


I was talking to a young man yesterday who told me he didn’t much care for the way that some Christians pray in church.  He said, “I don’t like it when they read the prayers, it just seems so impersonal, like they’re not even praying, they are just using someone else’s words.” 


I pushed him on that one a bit…asked if he had any problems with praying the Lord’s Prayer (having been given the words by someone else) or whether or not he had ever noticed the built-in liturgy to the “Jeezzuz weejjuz…Father God” prayer form of which he was more accustomed.  We both smiled and then sought some common ground.


But I’m reminded of that conversation as we look at these verses on Ash Wednesday morning.  It reminds me of the bizarre switch we carry inside of us that hits the (if I’m the one praying) PERFORM button or (if someone else is praying) the CRITICAL JUDGE button.  This knee jerk response of harshly judging someone else’s prayers might be behind the mortal fear many Christians feel at the thought of praying to God out loud.  I don’t know about Jesus’ day but you would have to travel pretty far from Covenant Lutheran Church before you could find someone impressing a crowd by standing and praying out loud on a street corner…at least someone sober.


The big question for us today on the first day of Lent isn’t about ostentatious displays of prayers in public but whether or not we pray at all.


Prayer is what we do when we are consciously in the presence of God.  Whether spoken or silent, whether with words or quiet meditation, alone or with others, sitting, walking, bending or lying down, prayer is being with God.  It is speaking but it is also listening – it is communicating, being in communion with.  Whatever form it takes, there is a mindfulness to prayer.  And that is where we often fail.


When it comes to prayer our sin is seldom one of commission (refusing to go there) but omission (forgetting it is even an option.)  Which ends up cutting off communication, cutting off the conscious awareness of the presence of God in our lives and in all things.  We do life on our own.


That is precisely what Jesus wants to protect us from – from wandering off and doing our lives on our own.  For in such wandering the odds are stacked that we’ll get lost.  So he asks for some mindful time from us.  Some free from distraction time.  Some time to be together.  And thus we discover that it is the being together that is the reward.


Let us pray:  Gracious Lord, as we move now into our Lenten journey with you and your people, we pray that you keep us mindful of your presence.  Inspire us to add a few quiet minutes a day to set aside the distractions and be with you.  Forgive us for harshly judging our own prayers or those of others.  It is good to be with you and to know that you are with us.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Tuesday, February 24th

February 24, 2009

“So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”  Matthew 6:2-4


“Alms” means giving financial gifts to alleviate the suffering of the poor.  Every religion encourages such giving.  Certainly the recipient would appreciate the gift.  Jesus obviously encourages such generosity.  At the same time, there is something in such giving that Jesus clearly discourages.


I think it safe to say that we have all given alms.  We have donated to worthy institutions that seek to provide direct support to the poor – food for the hungry, shelter for the homeless, services to those who suffer.  We have (albeit with mixed feelings) handed money to people on the street or out of our car windows at intersections.  We have probably helped out relatives in difficult times.  We have given generously to our congregations and beyond our congregations.  We have given to camps and colleges and hospitals and schools.  A portion of our taxes goes to care for the poor where we live and around the world.


I think it is also safe to say that such giving feels good.  Even if we wonder what that guy is going to do with the $5 we just gave him…it still felt good to give.  When we wrote checks and sent them off to help the survivors of disasters it helped us the next time we heard a news story about how bad people were hurting.  It feels good to be helpful, to be generous, to share out of what we have been given.  The reason it feels good is because God created us that way.  Generosity is a gift of the Spirit built into us.  When we give, we make a difference.  It feels good.  That is the Father’s reward.


It is one thing to give to the poor, it is quite another to use the poor.  It is one thing to be generous, it is quite another to use our giving as a stepping stone to personal honor and glory or as blood money to cover up our guilt over how we obtained the money in the first place.  At some point the need for charity needs to give way to the pursuit of justice.


We know there is a fine line in there.  Jesus does too and he calls us on it.  His concern is for our hearts, our souls, just as much as for the needs of the poor.


The invitation he offers here is to give for the sake of giving, not for the sake of what we hope to receive in return.  There isn’t anything wrong with your name on a donor’s list or a plaque on the wall or your name in the paper…unless the pursuit of such recognition robs you of the reward of doing the right thing.


Let us pray:  Gracious Lord, our world is filled with need and our world is filled with the resources to meet those needs.  You have graciously provided all that is needed.  Help us discern how to give help that is truly helpful and fill us with selfless generosity, especially toward the poor and the suffering.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Monday, February 23rd

February 23, 2009

“Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.”  Matthew 6:1


Lent begins this week.


Long ago, at least it appears to us as we peer into what remains of the records of long ago, Lent was seen as a season to prepare adult candidates for baptism.  There was a time when the unbaptized were allowed to participate in Christian worship through the prayers and the message but then were expected to leave before Holy Communion was celebrated.  I’ve read about that.  I guess it was, for a moment in history anyway, how things were.


And I can understand how, given such practices, adult preparation for baptism would be a pretty big deal.  There are still Christians who make a very big deal out of such preparation – often called the “catechumenate” – the process can take up to a couple of years.  As we walk now into Lent, I’m not going to throw any stones at anything we cook up that helps people grow in their faith…but I’ll admit that I’m suspicious.


At the end of the day, after all of the preparation, do people emerge from the water any less saint/sinner than they were before being dunked?  Are they less prone to dishonesty, more immune to lust, less interested in gluttony or more free from pride?  Do their families recognize them when they go home?  Are they suddenly less fearful of the dark?  Is their heart now turned more toward the broken communities out of which they have come or toward their new community of faith?


It all makes me ask a pretty good question for Lent – what is the Christian faith?


Is it a club that we join through invitation, preparation, orientation and activation?  Is it a club with rules of behavior and expectations of decorum?  Doesn’t it, at least sometimes, look like a club?  We have clubhouses, constitutions, uniforms, mottos, membership lists, minimum expectations, leadership structures, codes of group behaviors.  Are we a club?


A long arduous preparation for baptism would make sense if we were a club.  But then I keep thinking about the Ethiopian eunuch who was baptized in the desert by Philip after a brief conversation in the Ethiopian’s chariot about a passage from Isaiah.  Something other than growing the membership roster is going on there if God can make those kind of connections happen.


Jesus warns us against “practicing our piety before others in order to be seen by them.”  Clearly, that sounds like club-like behavior.  And that warning tells us that Jesus is interested in something far deeper, far more real, far more powerful, than outward displays of religiosity.  Are we?


Let us pray:  Dear Lord, guide us on our path into Lent.  May this next season of our lives be one of true discernment.  Free us to look closely at ourselves through your eyes, to look at our place in our broken world, to look at the brokenness which resides within and around us.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Friday, February 20th

February 20, 2009

But Jews came there from Antioch and Iconium and won over the crowds. Then they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead. But when the disciples surrounded him, he got up and went into the city. The next day he went on with Barnabas to Derbe.  After they had proclaimed the good news to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra, then on to Iconium and Antioch. There they strengthened the souls of the disciples and encouraged them to continue in the faith, saying, “It is through many persecutions that we must enter the kingdom of God.” And after they had appointed elders for them in each church, with prayer and fasting they entrusted them to the Lord in whom they had come to believe.  Acts 14:19-23


If you are really intent on following Jesus, the odds are pretty good that things will get tough.  But don’t despair.  God can use those times, all of those times, toward God’s larger purposes.  The final way that people come to faith in the book of Acts is through the disciples’ continued willingness to carry the message in the face of opposition, trial and hardship.


It might seem strange that opposition and hardship would serve, rather than stifle, the faith until you remember who we are following.  Jesus drew crowds when he healed people and served free lunch, but at the end of the day he proved a massive danger and disappointment.  He was a danger to the religious and political powers and he was a disappointment to the crowds who expected more from him than he delivered.


In our lives today we seldom face the kind of harsh opposition that met those earliest disciples.  Many would probably say that is because we live in a Christian culture so the Kingdom of God no longer appears as such a threat to the established order.  Others would say “you can’t baptize a culture so we don’t live in a Christian culture” and that the Kingdom of God will always appear as a threat…we have just tempered and tamed and domesticated the message to take the sting out of it.


The Kingdom of God is where God rules and we are ruled…the rule is love and to be in the Kingdom is to be loved.  The Kingdom of God is where God’s will is done and we do God’s will gladly and willingly.


The good news of the Kingdom means a community embracing radical diversity.  It means that justice reaches above and beyond laws, that generosity meets selfishness, that humble service for the sake of others becomes the hallmark of all service.  It means that love swallows apathy and hate, that forgiveness is the goal rather than perfection and that the path is one of radical surrender rather than material acquisition.


So it is that Paul could share his story before the crowds soon to beat him and God would use that story to turn the hearts and minds of some.  That Peter could preach while locked behind prison walls and God could use that story for the salvation of a jailor’s family.


External opposition will never and can never silence the good news of the Kingdom of God. 


Let us pray:  Dear Lord, may we always be willing to tell our story, to invite others to come and see, to do our part in Christian community, to trust you in the face of doubt, discouragement and opposition.  Hold us when we can’t hold on anymore and use us to help others see your love for them.  May your Kingdom come and your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Thursday, February 19th

February 19, 2009

Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” He asked, “Who are you, Lord?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” The men who were traveling with him stood speechless because they heard the voice but saw no one. Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; so they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. For three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.  Acts 9:3-9


Paul didn’t know what hit him.  A flash in the sky, a fall to the ground, and a voice pointing out the ungodliness of what Paul had thought was his highest godly service.  It was, for Paul, anything but another day at the office.


The third way that God creates faith in people in the book of Acts is by healing people’s brokenness.  Such healing can be opening up a new perspective on life, teaching a new appreciation for the reach of God’s love, or physically healing for someone suffering.  God gives people a story to tell, they tell it, and their faith plants seeds that grow the faithful.


In the 3rd chapter, Peter and John were leaving the temple when they came across a lame man asking for a hand-out.  Peter instead gave him a holy hand-up and the man, who had never walked before, entered the temple “walking and leaping and praising God.”  In his healing, God gave him a story to tell.  In the telling, others came to faith.


For Paul, it was his misguided understanding of the Christian movement.  For Peter it was a vision in which God declared all foods clean – opening the door for Peter to understand that the Christian movement truly was intended for all people rather than a particular tribe.  In each case, God gave them stories to tell.  In the telling, others came to faith.


God is the source of all life.  God not only gives life but God restores life.  There is clearly a deep mystery here – why does one person receive physical healing while so many others don’t?  Why does one person come to a new understanding and appreciation of God’s movements in the world while others remain clueless?  Who knows?  God alone knows.


My sense is that such events are both intensely personal and completely communal.  That is, God healed Paul because God had a bigger purpose in mind for Paul.  It was through Paul but it wasn’t about Paul.  In the same way, when I look back at my own story and remember the day and the night and the week in which my life was turned around, the point seems only to be to give me a story to tell and the desire to tell it.  It wasn’t about me trying to recreate that story in the lives of others. 


What this means is that we all have stories to tell.  Because we all have been and continue to be recipients of God’s gracious favor – and as people of faith, the Spirit is opening our eyes to see what others perhaps cannot see.  We all have stories of times that God awakened us to new consciousness, when God helped us see things differently, when God brought various forms of healing into our lives.  That is God’s work and we are no more responsible for it than Paul was in bringing a flashing light out of the heavens.  Our part is to tell our stories.  And in the telling, others might come to faith.


Let us pray:  Gracious Lord, we thank you for the many ways that you bring healing into our lives – healing of our bodies, healing of our broken hearts, healing of our blindness to the brokenness and value of others.  Open our lips that we might tell the stories of our faith to others, that in the telling, our stories might join theirs and your Spirit might birth faith where there was only doubt, loneliness and pain.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Wednesday, February 18th

February 18, 2009

“Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.” Acts 2:46-47


Yesterday we looked at the first way that God seems to bring people to faith – people respond to a message in the midst of a large gathering of people.  We help that along by inviting people to come and see.  This is the “Billy Graham rally” way of reaching people and it does have some effect.  But it doesn’t have much stayability.  Studies have shown that, of those who come to the faith in a large gathering like that, 4% remain connected to a Christian community a year later.


The verses above give us a glimpse of the second way that people come to the faith in Acts – they see the church being the church, functioning like a Christian community, they are intrigued, they want some of what they see, and they come to faith.  Of the four different scenarios (we’ll talk about the others on Thursday and Friday), this one is the most frequently mentioned in Acts.  And it is, by far, the most “Lutheran friendly.”


As the song goes, “They will know we are Christians by our love, by our love…”


I still remember the “faith jumping off point” in my life.  Agnostic that I was, burned by the church as my family had been, I saw a crowd of people filling a college gymnasium, laughing, singing, joyous….and I wanted what they had.  What I saw in them I wanted in me.  So later that night, I gave up the chase and surrendered to the possibility that God was real and that God wanted me on the team.


Seeing the church in action, taking the love of God on the road.  This isn’t about justifying the existence of the church by opening a soup kitchen…although hungry people without money certainly appreciate soup.  It isn’t about gathering up slightly used business outfits to give to women preparing for job interview…although they would love to get the clothes that they could never afford.  This is about Christian people acting in response to the love of God – about giving, serving, sharing, singing, smiling, supporting, encouraging one another and the world around them.


In good times or bad times, there is something irresistible about a counter-cultural movement where everyone is welcome to be there, where outward distinctions don’t matter, where rich people rub elbows and share stories with poor people, where every old person is Grandma and Grandpa to every young person – there is something irresistible about the church truly and honest BEING the church.


Why irresistible?  Because we truly are all children of God with a God-sized hole in our being that will never be filled by anything other than whole-hearted participation in the Kingdom of God.


How do we help this happen?  Absolutely everything we do in our personal lives, our daily lives and our life together in congregations that demonstrates the love, compassion and strength of our faith is a means of planting seeds of that faith in the lives of those who aren’t yet on the team.  Everything we do to help our congregational life be vibrant and full of life makes a difference.  Conversely, our petty little squabbles over nothing that matters, the secret little resentments we feel toward others, all of that blocks the sunlight of God’s love from shining through us.


Let us pray:  Dear Lord, this might sound really simple but those of us with children remember how nice it was when they played well together.  We remember times at playgrounds when other children joined in the fun.  Oh that we could play as well as your people gathered together in our communities of faith!  Use us, in our life together and in our lives in the world, as seeds of your love, that, as we live out the faith in our lives, those seeds might be planted in others and some might land in fertile ground.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.


Tuesday, February 17th

February 17, 2009

Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?” Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.”  Acts 2:37-39


When you read through the book of Acts, looking for the ways that God brings people to faith, you discover four different scenarios.  These verses come at the end of a sermon Peter preached to a large gathering of people on the day of Pentecost.  The first way that God brings people to faith is through hearing a message proclaimed in the midst of a large gathering of people.


This scene points out some misconceptions that people often carry both about this story and about evangelism in general.  Regarding the Pentecost story, most people remember Peter standing to preach when suddenly tongues of fire appear on the heads of those gathered in the large upper room.  Suddenly everyone is speaking a foreign language but, at the same time, everyone understands what everyone else is saying.  Clearly God is the one in charge here, the Holy Spirit the one doing the talking.  But that isn’t the place where Peter’s sermon will reach the masses.


Instead, a large crowd gathers outside of the room.  They’ve been drawn by the babbling noises they have been hearing on the inside.  Only then does Peter leave the room and speak to the crowd.  It is Peter’s voice, the Spirit speaking plainly through Peter, that results in thousands coming to faith.


The evangelism misconception that this story reveals is two fold.  First, the word “evangelism” literally means “to carry a good message.” Evangelism is a good message that is carried OUTSIDE the church.  Too often we have “evangelism committees” in our congregations and we think it is their job to “do evangelism.”  That isn’t God’s plan.  At best, an evangelism committee can see that hospitality happens and visitors to the church leave with a willingness and interest in coming back again but the work of “carrying the message” is shared by all.


Second, it is common to think of evangelism as “making disciples.”  But those are two different things.  Making disciples BEGINS with baptism or the affirmation of baptism as someone new joins a congregation but then it continues through a lifelong process of learning and worshipping and serving and giving.  Everyone in a congregation, from the pastor on up, remains a “disciple in the making.”  Evangelism is that initial contact, that repeated invitation, as one person bears witness to another about the life changing power of God’s love.


This first way that God brings people to faith happens when people hear a message proclaimed in a large gathering of people.  How do we help that happen?  First, we provide opportunities for large gatherings of people to hear the good news, including Sunday morning worship.  Pastor Mike Aus of Living Word Lutheran Church, a highly respected and fast growing congregation in our synod, calls it “creating a buzz.”  Doing things that people will be naturally inclined to invite others to.


And then second, we invite others to come and see.  We become the ones who have heard the buzz in the room and then rush out into the city calling others to come and see, drawing the crowd within earshot of the gospel.


Let us pray:  Dear Lord, we are often tempted to stay so quiet about our faith.  We forget the role we play in inviting others into following you.  Our world gets too small and we get too caught up in the demands of life.  Maybe there isn’t much going on and we’re just going through the motions.  So we pray that the power of the Spirit be unleashed in us, that our tongues might be loosened and that you give us opportunity to invite others to come and see.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.


Monday, February 16th

February 16, 2009

So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.  Acts 1:6-9


Kelley and I took a couple of rides on the motorcycle this weekend.  Wind in our faces, backcountry roads rolling away beneath us, and my right hand twisting the throttle as we twisted around the curves.  It was an absolute pleasure.  We were experiencing what a motorcycle ride was created to be.  But we were just along for the ride.


The bike designers created the machine.  They built the frame that carried us and the V-Twin that powered us but God created a world in which oxygen and fuel exploded with a tiny spark of electricity.  Our desire was the experience, my hand controlled the throttle, but we were just along for the ride.


I read these verses at the beginning of Acts, the beginning of the spread of the Christian movement, and I’m struck by the words, “you will receive power.”  “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you” says Jesus to the baffled disciples.  They hear their job description – you will be my witnesses – and they hear the general direction in which they will move – in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth – but they don’t know what it all means.


And then he is gone.


The faith is in their hands.  But they aren’t alone.  Matthew’s gospel ends with the promise, “I will be with you always, to the end of the age” and Acts starts with another promise, “You will receive power.”


Do you realize we are still living that story?  Do you realize that we are characters in this drama just as much as those first disciples?  Do you realize that we are as central to the continuing forward movement of Christianity as Peter, Paul, Lydia and the rest of those first century heroes of the faith?  We are!


God has gifted us with the faith, with God’s promises and God’s purposes.  We are the ones now called to carry this message to our generation, in language and in actions that clearly communicate God’s claims on the lives of those whom God loves.


We’ll spend the rest of the week listening and watching as the drama unfolds in the book of Acts, the drama of how God brings people to faith, grows the Christian community both in breadth and in depth.  As we do, we’ll remember that this is a story about us, not about them, and what ties us together is this promised power of the Holy Spirit.  At best, our hands are on the throttle and we have a shared desire to enjoy the ride, but it is the Spirit that makes it happen.


Let us pray:  Gracious Lord, in every age you have lifted up faithful followers who have carried your story beyond themselves.  We have been gifted by those who have shared the story with us and now we are those responsible for carrying it to others.  Fill our hearts with the desire to grow your family as we offer ourselves and your love in service to a broken world.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.