Go and Do Likewise

Today’s Sermon

Proper 10 C

Amos 7:7-17
Psalm 82
Colossians 1:1-14
Luke 10:25-37

Luke 10:25-37

Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”

But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, `Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

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Be joyful in the Lord, all you…

Psalm 100 Jubilate Deo

1 Be joyful in the Lord, all you lands; *
serve the Lord with gladness
and come before his presence with a song.

2 Know this: The Lord himself is God; *
he himself has made us, and we are his;
we are his people and the sheep of his pasture.

3 Enter his gates with thanksgiving;
go into his courts with praise; *
give thanks to him and call upon his Name.

4 For the Lord is good;
his mercy is everlasting; *
and his faithfulness endures from age to age.

This morning’s psalm is a familiar one to those who pray the Daily Office liturgy, Morning Prayer. It is one of the ‘options’ presented in the Book of Common Prayer to pray at the start of the service.

I learned the psalm as a young person praying it out loud and in worship, memorizing as I heard it being prayed by the gathered body.  I sometimes would hold the Book of Common Prayer in front of me – like the big folks – but I wasn’t reading, then – just imitating the words and actions of the congregation in ways that made me feel so much a part.  This psalm and all the prayers of the BCP liturgies I learned by heart and in my heart.

When I arrived at seminary and began attending Morning Prayer occasionally before a first class, I was pleased to be able to recite the entire service, including this psalm, without having to read from the BCP.

Imagine my surprise – delight in a joke’s on you sort of way – when I began studying the BCP, liturgy and its origins and found that I had memorized this beloved petition – well, mistakenly is the best way to put it.  I had misheard from day one as a child one little word.  It was a word that had always brought a smile to my heart – an unusual one I had thought – for a psalm. But it made sense at the same time – it was poetic and light and ‘worked’ with the praise and joy the psalmist invites us into.

Be joyful in the Lord, all you

wait for it…

LADS!

Be joyful in the Lord, all you lads!

As in happy lil’ tykes like Snoopy and Charlie Brown, here – happy, happy Lads to be praising God together.

No, instead it reads, Be joyful in the Lord, all you lands as in the whole world – all the nations, all the Gentiles.

But how sweet of me, I think,  to have thought as I learned the psalm as a child, that the psalmist was directing this joy to us little  ‘lads’  there in the pews alongside the big folks.

To this day I cannot stop myself from smiling when praying this psalm either at Morning Prayer or when appointed for the day’s readings.

I’m grateful to have been raised in a church tradition that invited me into to praise God in worship – to participate with the entire congregation – lads and all. To have stood beside the adults praying collects that were written centuries before, reciting creeds that had been crafted by 4th century theologians, boldly saying the Lord’s Prayer as Jesus had taught with the entire congregation, singing with angels and archangels the Sanctus, standing and kneeling before the Lord with old and young, alike.

I’m grateful to have been raised in a tradition that embodies worship – that calls upon the entire body of Christ to participate – all the lands and the lads, alike.

Praise God from whom all blessings and heart smiles, flow.

Daily Office Readings: AM Psalm 97, 99, [100]; PM Psalm 94, [95]
1 Samuel 6:1-16Acts 5:27-42Luke 21:37-22:13

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O Lord, my God, my Savior, by day and night I cry to you.

Psalm 88: 1 O Lord, my God, my Savior, *
by day and night I cry to you.

2 Let my prayer enter into your presence; *
incline your ear to my lamentation.

3 For I am full of trouble; *
my life is at the brink of the grave.

4 I am counted among those who go down to the Pit; *
I have become like one who has no strength;

5 Lost among the dead, *
like the slain who lie in the grave,

6 Whom you remember no more, *
for they are cut off from your hand.

7 You have laid me in the depths of the Pit, *
in dark places, and in the abyss.

8 Your anger weighs upon me heavily, *
and all your great waves overwhelm me.

9 You have put my friends far from me;
you have made me to be abhorred by them; *
I am in prison and cannot get free.

10 My sight has failed me because of trouble; *
Lord, I have called upon you daily;
I have stretched out my hands to you.

11 Do you work wonders for the dead? *
will those who have died stand up and give you thanks?

12 Will your loving-kindness be declared in the grave? *
your faithfulness in the land of destruction?

13 Will your wonders be known in the dark? *
or your righteousness in the country where all is forgotten?

14 But as for me, O Lord, I cry to you for help; *
in the morning my prayer comes before you.

15 Lord, why have you rejected me? *
why have you hidden your face from me?

16 Ever since my youth, I have been wretched and at the point of death; *
I have borne your terrors with a troubled mind.

17 Your blazing anger has swept over me; *
your terrors have destroyed me;

18 They surround me all day long like a flood; *
they encompass me on every side.

19 My friend and my neighbor you have put away from me, *
and darkness is my only companion.

I have two loved ones who have each awakened this day with at least the feeling of lament and despair this psalm expresses.  They are each overwhelmed, shut off and out, put away, not seen, and not feeling or knowing the presence of the Lord in their suffering. For different reasons and circumstances, each of them begins this day that the Lord has made not with hope and light but with despair and darkness.

One cries out to God, as the psalmist – ‘hear my prayer, listen to me, don’t forget me!’  The other simply cries, alone.

And I sit here crying with each of them – sort of frozen – knowing that in this moment – right here and now, the Holy Spirit has put this lament before me so that I not give up on the either of them.  At least with respect to doing something, saying something that helps them move from despair to hope, from darkness to the way of love.

Only yesterday was I saying to a dear friend how I had run out of ideas – how my words, prayers, and gestures had been rejected by the one who cries alone.  I recounted to her that nothing I was saying or doing was helping him not shut down, not despair.  My friend wondered with me whether I might just pull back for a season – not give up so much as to lay low, leave him alone.  That didn’t feel quite right, but I went to bed wondering if maybe that was the right next step.  Just leave him alone.  Crying out, “Lord, what would you have me say?  Do?  Here I am, Lord.

Then.  This morning and this psalm.

I am simply stunned at the whispers the Holy Spirit is sending.  I sit at my kitchen table with the day’s readings before me after having spent a moment gazing at a sunrise photo I was sent in my early morning email – one to mark today’s Summer Solstice.  

I have a fond affection for the sun, the moon, stars, and clouds – they are my daily reminders of the depth and breadth of God’s creation. My#cloudsofwitnesses.  My previous night’s prayer and cry out, Let my prayer enter into your presence; incline your ear to my lamentation acknowledged in the receipt of the photo from a friend who knows me, knows my delight at all things sunrise, sunset, clouds, stars, moon. My heart smiled. I had been blessed and seen – my prayer entered into God’s presence.

It was a good moment to turn from the morning emails and business to my quiet time with God’s Word.

But first a soundtrack. I needed one this morning to help me break the anxious silence I experience when I am tuned to self, only.  Instrumental music playing as I read scripture helps me connect with the great #cloudofwitnesses voices that have gone before advising and teaching. And so, I clicked on the instrumental station of Pandora.  A familiar Stanton Lanier piece played. I turned to the readings and read the first psalm.  And then this. This piece played. I knew it by sound, but not the artist nor the title. I looked it up.

The title alone brought me to tears. From the album, A Fresh Beyond, the track, A Mother to Him by Jim Chappell. It was a whisper. I felt blessed and heard.

You see I am in many ways a mother to both of these loved ones. And both are stuck – or believe they are – frozen in a present moment that points to no future, let alone a fresh one.

The album and track title and the melody have me in tears.  I’m a mess of tears and despair myself as I consider their ‘stuckness’ and ‘aloneness’.

One cries out to God, as the psalmist. The other simply cries, alone.

I have prayed with the one who cries out to God. I have been at her side in many such moments throughout the years. The Holy Spirit has had me anoint her, laugh with her. Tease out her rigidly held convictions about sin and judgment and Jesus and misguided theology about personal salvation and heaven as a destination, to get to the heart of the gospel – the kingdom come ‘on earth’. The way of love.

And though today, this day, she is just not feeling it, today though she laments and charges those caring for her with mistreating her, though today she is hasn’t had relief as she believed would come her way because of God’s mercy, she cries out – to our loving abba Father, to God. Like the psalmist. Like Job. Like all who suffer and can’t reconcile the injustice of the world with the loving God they know and trust. Despite – in spite – of her despairing dark no-future without pain moment, she cries out to God.

I have prayed for the one who simply cries, alone. I don’t know that he hasn’t cried out to God. I don’t know where his laments are directed. But as he has closed off voices from those who love him, I suspect he goes deeper and deeper into himself and his shame, unable to see that friend and neighbor haven’t abandoned him.

19 My friend and my neighbor you have put away from me, *
and darkness is my only companion.

This psalm before me this morning with this track playing ushered to my heart and mind’s eye these two children of God. Their circumstances and place in life have no connection or commonality but that I am connected to each of them as a ‘mother’.

The Spirit is speaking to me this morning – trying to help me know how I am to help.  I have felt so helpless when it comes to speaking and being the way of love for the one who has put away from himself his friends and neighbors.

I cry out, “What would you have me do? Say? How would you have me be with him?”

Praise you Lord, God who made all things – who began my day with a glimpse of your mighty works in the solstice sunrise and a sense of being seen.  Praise you Lord, God, who brought to my ears the track A Mother to Him as I prayed your word, giving me a sense of being heard.  Praise you Lord God, who put into my care these two suffering children of God.

Praise you Lord God who sent me this psalm to feel my loved one’s existential pain and despair.  I feel it, Lord.  I know how alone they each feel.  I hear them calling in the night.

One cries out to you.  The other simply cries out.

And I cry, too.

1 O Lord, my God, my Savior, *
by day and night I cry to you.

I hear him calling in the night.  Here I am, Lord.  Here I am, loved one.  You are not alone.  Though you cry out not to the Lord, God,   I do! 

Praise God from whom all blessings flow.

Daily Office Readings:  AM Psalm 88; PM Psalm 91, 92
1 Samuel 3:1-21Acts 2:37-47Luke 21:5-19

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The Ascension of Jesus is Day 1 of Thy Kingdom Come

Today is the feast of The Ascension – the occasion on which the risen Christ is taken into heaven after appearing to his followers for forty days (Acts 1:1-11, Mk 16:19). The Ascension marks the conclusion of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances. It is the final elevation of his human nature to divine glory and the near presence of God.[1]

I marked the Ascension Day last year by enjoining the parish where I was serving at the time to the global prayer movement, Thy Kingdom Come – a movement that invites Christians around the world to pray for more people to come to know Jesus.  Here’s the story of its origins:

As stated on the homepage of Thy Kingdom Come:

After the very first Ascension Day the disciples gathered with Mary, constantly devoting themselves to prayer while they waited for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Like them, our reliance on the gift of the Holy Spirit is total – on our own we can do nothing.

Through the centuries Christians have gathered at that time to pray for the coming of the Holy Spirit. ‘Thy Kingdom Come’ picks up this tradition. Over the past three years more and more worshipping communities have dedicated the days between Ascension and Pentecost to pray ‘Come Holy Spirit’.

We are praying that the Spirit would inspire and equip us to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with our friends and families, our communities and networks. It has been amazing how many varied ways there have been in which people from every tradition have taken up this challenge. The effects have been remarkable.

It is our prayer that those who have not yet heard the Good News of Jesus Christ and his love for the world will hear it for themselves, and respond and follow Him. Specifically, we again invite each and every Christian across the country to pray that God’s Spirit might work in the lives of 5 friends who have not responded with their ‘Yes’ to God’s call.

Whether you have joined in ‘Thy Kingdom Come’ before or not, we invite you to take part this year – along with churches from over 65 different denominations in 114 countries around the world.

Acts 1, 2 “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses …to the ends of the earth. When he had said this…he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight…Then they returned to Jerusalem … and were constantly devoting themselves to prayer… When the day of Pentecost had come they were all together in one place… All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit… and that day about three thousand persons were added.”

In praying ‘Thy Kingdom Come’ we all commit to playing our part in the renewal of the nations and the transformation of communities.

During the 11 days of Thy Kingdom Come, the people of my parish and I participated by creating a knotted prayer bracelet to touch and hold while we prayed for five people, with the aim that we individually and corporately as God’s church in Sonoma, we would

  • Deepen our relationships with Jesus Christ
  • Pray for God’s spirit to work in the lives of those we know
  • Come to realize that every aspect of our life is the stuff of prayer

I’ve pulled out the bracelet I made and wore last year and have begun, today, anew my prayers that the Holy Spirit continues to animate my life in ways that make known to my five loved ones especially, the good news of the kingdom come.

I’ve joined Thy Kingdom Come as an individual this year and am praying that you, too, might sign up to Pledge2Pray that the Holy Spirit might work in the lives of five people on your heart,

…to encounter Jesus in all His grace, challenge, and love, that they might say with St Paul, ‘For me to live is Christ’.

Praise God from whom all blessings flow.

Daily Office Readings: Ascension Day: AM Psalm 847; PM Psalm 2496
Ezek. 1:1-14,24-28bHeb. 2:5-18Matt. 28:16-20

[1] The Ascension is affirmed by the Nicene and Apostles’ Creeds. The Ascension is celebrated on Ascension Day, the Thursday that is the fortieth day of the Easter season. It is a principal feast of the church year in the Episcopal Church. https://www.episcopalchurch.org/library/glossary/ascension-christ-or-ascension-day

 

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Wondering and Wandering: Finding my way back to this space

Before getting to today’s readings I spent the morning responding to emails, composing cover letters to congregations where my name has been submitted for consideration, made some follow-up phone calls to my insurance company, then selected from my online newspapers and periodicals the articles I want to read today about the economy, politics, and trends in the culture. Bottom line, I gave this day over from the start to the way of the world. I did so intentionally.

For the past weeks I had recommitted myself to the spiritual discipline of beginning every day in God’s Word, in prayer and reflection and the Daily Office readings with the hope and intention of sharing my thoughts and questions about what the Spirit might be saying to God’s people on such and such a day here in this blog. This practice allows me to get my hands on God’s compass to navigate the chaos and busyness to come on any given day. Every morning begun here in God’s space increases the chances that whatever challenges are ahead I’ll pause long enough to think through theologically and act accordingly.

My recommitment to this practice came about once I found myself a vocational wanderer – loosed and untethered from a congregation a few months ago, though not entirely adrift. I’ve been privileged to lead worship in a variety of congregations, to preach, to preside at funerals, to participate in conferences as a floating clergy person, to travel to many different ports and to complete continuing ed courses on Evangelism, Mediation and The Way of Love.

But I haven’t been able to write a thing. I have started many posts with the whispers I have heard – the wondering questions I am inclined to follow down bunny trails. But each draft has remained unfinished – hijacked by something within – a still small voice from the junior me, the sense of unworthiness and of being on my own. Who am I to be suggesting this way or that of understanding a passage over against others more qualified, better educated, more spiritual, or dynamic than I? Who am I?

The unworthiness lie has reared its most ugly head often in this season of required self-promotion wherein I have to put myself ‘out there’, throw my hat in the ring, describe my gifts to search committees and bishops. I am wont to talk about me and my suitability to partner with this or that community much more. Who am I to wonder what the Spirit is saying to God’s people? Though I had recommitted to the practice of sharing my thoughts here, I haven’t been able to.  Some might call it a writer’s block. I’m experiencing it more like a thwart – keeping my wonderings to myself, feeling too vulnerable to share.

I have posted on Instagram a few photos that have reminded me of God’s presence no matter where I am. That mini-practice has helped keep me on track and has connected me with the online community of God’s church in new ways. But it doesn’t help me attend to the sense of unworthiness, coupled with a sense of failure that I am experiencing with regard to adding my voice to a meaningful conversation about God, God’s church, God’s kingdom come.

Of all times that I have the time to reflect deeply on God’s world and God’s word, it should be in this season of wandering. Wondering and wandering are totally compatible it seems to me.  I have the time. I have acquired new language for communicating, new insights regarding the gospel’s attachment to the kingdom, tools for extending the reach of this blog. But I have failed at optimizing this wandering time – failed to step up and into the meaningful work of theological reflection.

I went to bed last night with the intention of up-ending the start of my day. Rather than with the Daily Office and the expectant hope that I would finally have something to say in this space, I’d attend to all the things of my world of which I’ve been remiss.  I’d “be still” before my emails, attend to some unresolved family issues, knock out some cover letters, unpack suitcases, clean out the closets, make good on a promise to talk through a relational issue with a friend. A day dictated by a to-do list with no theological lens.

 

And that’s how it did start.  But, as I was making my way through my emails, I was paused to read and reply to one that sort of laughed at me and my intentions.  (to make God laugh, just tell him your plans).

The email got me at hello – the subject line:  Just Wondering. Hmm.  Wondering and Wandering. I read:

Subject: Just Wondering

How you are?  Back from Denver and all conferenced-out?  Renewal of spirit or flagging thereof?  Caught in the daily routine or drawn to something more?

Simple, knowing questions. Words that speak to my heart – my love language. How I needed someone to ask!

I replied:

Not great. Yes, back from Denver, no, not conferenced out. Renewed, depleted, renewed again.

I then went on in more detail, unpacking some of the reasons my heart has been distanced somewhat and in so doing I began to see why its been hard to allow the spirit to speak into and breathe life into daily life  – why I have struggled to locate or hear what the Spirit is saying to this person.  In responding to my friend’s query I was making known my vulnerability – the deep sense of failure I’ve been experiencing as God’s person to proclaim the good news in my little corner of God’s world.

And so after sending my reply and thanking him for speaking into my life with encouragement, I abandoned my to-do list plan and turned (repenting) to today’s readings and the morning psalm, Psalm 37: 

3 Put your trust in the Lord and do good; *
dwell in the land and feed on its riches.

4 Take delight in the Lord, *
and he shall give you your heart’s desire.

5 Commit your way to the Lord and put your trust in him, *
and he will bring it to pass.

6 He will make your righteousness as clear as the light *
and your just dealing as the noonday.

7 Be still before the Lord *
and wait patiently for him.

Are you kidding me?  How God works! First my friend’s query, Just Wondering, which then prompts me to recount all the reasons I had chosen to NOT begin my day trusting in the Lord, which then nudges me off my duff to get to today’s readings, and bam – God’s Word just waiting for me to inwardly digest.  Just the word I needed to remain steadfast in the practice of starting every day here no matter what.  To be still before the Lord at the start of every day with no expectation of some insight to share, some nugget to post but to dwell in his Word and in his world that I might navigate whatever lies ahead with his compass in hand and not my to-do list.

Praise God from whom all wonderings and wanderings bid us to repent – to turn from self back to God.

Daily Office Readings: AM Psalm 37:1-18; PM Psalm 37:19-42 Dan. 5:13-301 John 5:13-20(21)Luke 5:1-11

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Getting to know Paul

Several months ago I participated in step one of the wider diocesan process of electing a new bishop in what is called ‘Walkabouts’.  The purpose of Walkabouts is for clergy, delegates and members of the Episcopal Church in one region (Diocese) to meet and hear from the candidates face to face.  It is the candidate’s first and only opportunity to answer questions and tell the people about themselves before the diocesan-wide election. It is a ‘getting to know you’ occasion.

A ‘getting to know you’ occasion as I understand – one as depicted in the 1956 musical,  The King and I, when the teacher addresses her students with these opening lines of the song, Getting to Know You:

It’s a very ancient saying
But a true and honest thought
That if you become a teacher
By your pupils you’ll be taught

The candidates for bishop were with us for the Walkabouts that we might get to know them.  But I was most curious if any, all or some might allow that they were curious to know us or, perhaps appropriately, were we incidental to their ambition to become a bishop in The Episcopal Church?  Any number of searches are underway in the national church for bishops.  I knew all five candidates to be worthy and qualified.  What did each of them know of us?

Our diocese is geographically large so five different walkabouts were scheduled over five days.  At each, clergy met with the candidates over dinner before the public forum was held.  This gave clergy, who will take a vow of obedience to the new Bishop, some one on one time with each of them, followed by a randomly selected table seating for dinner with just one. I knew none personally and only one with whom I had a loose 6-degree-of-separation connection.

After the Walkabout and before the electing convention I attended a gathering of the clergy in my region to share notes.  Of the five candidates, three emerged as most favored (Candidates X, Y, and Z).

The person with whom I had sat at the Walkabout dinner, Candidate Y, was one of the three, though as the discussion went on, I was struck by how differently I had perceived  Y than my colleagues.  None of them had sat with Y at dinner and some had sat with one of the other favored candidates X and Z.

I recalled how when I heard Y’s presentation to the wider body in the Open Forum, I was linked right back to our table talk wherein I had heard some of Y’s backstory. In that introductory moment to the larger gathering, Y’s words were more than words, Y’s story more dimensional than the others I was hearing – it went deeper, taking me past what Y does/did to who Y was/is.  With the others, I had no backstory and so their introductions laid there on the surface, intimating an authenticness, but not one I yet, could access.

My colleagues who had sat with Candidate X or Z had similar experiences.  Feeling a connection with the one with whom they had had a conversation, had heard some backstory.

No news here, but simply an observation – a recognition – of how significantly our perceptions of all things in life are informed and persuaded by personal experience and how blind and deaf we are to the deep waters that run below the surface.

It is really hard to perceive or know something or someone just by the resume, the story presented, the introduction made or the questions answered.  When there’s no backstory it is personally harder to connect with the bigger story.

Backstory is a ‘thing’ in story development and nothing that comes out of Hollywood these days comes without one.

My daughter is a professional screenwriter for movies and TV.  Every new feature or series she writes includes a script and a backstory.  A character’s backstory is the stuff behind the script that tells the actor what happened from birth to how they became the character on the page.  Included in each character’s backstory is a secret.

The audience may never know the secret exists, but the actor does. It’s the key to giving that character a full and real life. We all have things in our lives that remain a secret for as long as we can bear to hold it silent. But it’s there. It affects your life, even though you’ve buried it beneath layers of life experiences.[1]

Knowing the backstory to the character helps ensure that the integrity of the larger story is maintained through each episode and every potential season.

This is why I think I heard Candidate Y more deeply than I heard the others.  I had been given access to Y’s backstory in our short conversation over dinner.  No deep dark secrets were revealed – only some of Y’s vulnerabilities which were a meaningful part of Y’s story,  but not necessarily part of Y’s resume.  This allowed me to relate to Y differently than to the others.

All this came to mind this morning when the Holy Spirit paused me at Paul’s letter to the Philippians.   For the first time in long time, I just feel Paul here – feel his heart for the church in Philippi.  So dear, he is.  He is responding to a petition we don’t have access to  – a letter they have written him that must have included something to the effect, “Sorry to bother you Paul – we know you’re in prison and have a long ‘to-do’ list, but in your spare time might you clarify something for us?”  Our brother Paul, begins a final paragraph in this letter so sweetly, going on to explain – again – how we gain life when we die to self.  Here’s how he starts that letter:

Finally, my brothers and sisters,* rejoice* in the Lord.

To write the same things to you is not troublesome to me, and for you it is a safeguard.

I have wrestled with this passage that follows  – the one that recounts his fantabulous resume virtues – and so many of Paul’s teachings over the years for Paul’s own presence in the writings.  I’ve argued that Paul just needs to get out of the way for us, the reader, to get to the heart of the matter.

This particular passage often read to me like some of the holier-than-thou preachers out there on the airwaves – I was all that, now I’m all this – preachers that talk at you from a stage where their personality turns a sermon into a solo act.  For the longest time, every time I’d read Paul it was as if his ink well of personality had been spilled over all his letters, smothering what is truly some of the most compelling, imaginative, historical, mystical, dot-connecting, metaphor-making, holy spirit-inspired writing found in scripture.

And through all those years of struggling to get to the theological significance of one letter or another, to get to the practical application of losing self to gain Christ, to hear what the Spirit was saying through Paul, it never occurred to me to get to know him, really get to know his story.  To sit with Paul at a dinner table and hear his backstory – to know some of his vulnerabilities and what was and is behind his super-qualifying resume to be the apostle to the Gentiles, and with Peter, the apostolic father of the Christian church as we know it today.

Perception or lack therefore of

It’s as if like the woman in this Bizarro panel from Dan Piraro, I sat across from Paul for years with an eye patch on, unable to perceive his depth, so sure I was that his all-about-me-persona I had come to love, was who he was – there was no there, there. No depth.

Though I have earnestly peeled the patch off with every encounter to find application in his writings, I have to remind myself to do so – it just hasn’t come naturally.

I knew his biography. I studied his ministry routes and learned on some level enough to think of him as the zealot he was before Damascus and the zeal for which he went after Christ, after. Heck, in seminary I took an entire semester class on Paul and with the Lutherans, no less! where I learned much about his ministry.

But boy, did I miss his backstory.  One piece that  I’m just learning about is what took place in Paul’s life immediately following his personal encounter with the risen Lord.  I had the timeline wrong, thinking Paul went very soon after to Antioch.  But he didn’t! God gave him reflection time – time to assimilate the reality of the Messiah come and resurrected into what up to that point had been a Judaic world view – one that didn’t include a guy on a donkey, nailed to a wooden cross.

I’ve been learning that after Damascus, Paul bounced to Jerusalem, then back to Tarsus, his home town.  And he’s there maybe up to 10 years – a decade! –  before Barnabas comes to Tarsus to pull him to Antioch, where he, Barnabas, needs a bible-guy to help him with the diverse community in Antioch eager to hear about the risen Lord.

This is the secret I hadn’t thought about in Paul’s backstory.  The secret that in his own home town and for maybe 10 years he had been sifting through the scriptures as he had always understood them and seeing how to figure Jesus Christ – this new reality – into the world he had known.  He was doing some heavy duty theological reflection – rethinking the prophets, Abraham, Moses, the exile, all through the lens of the fulfilled prophecy of the Messiah, Jesus the Risen Lord.  While he’s doing this?  He’s in his hometown where presumably his family and friends are living.  He’s likely sitting with them, trying to bring the good news to them, to persuade them to know Jesus the Risen Lord.

But here’s something I had never thought about – there is no mention of Tarsus in Acts or anywhere else in the canon that indicates a home-church or church of any size was planted by Paul.  And, in addition, on Paul’s first missionary trip that began in Antioch the most likely route on that or any subsequent missionary trip up to Galatia would have naturally included a stopover in Tarsus.

First Missionary Trip

But Paul never did return and seems to have intentionally avoided Tarsus in all his missionary travels.  Which says what?  It says to me that Paul had struggled in those first years of his new life in Christ to convince, persuade, enjoin any of his family or friends.

And that gives me an insight into him that peels away his bravado before my eyes.  My heart aches for him.  Only in humility – and maybe even despair – could he have left his hometown, family and friends to have gone to Antioch with Barnabas who needed basically a bible nerd to help him out.

Sigh.  I’m just beginning to peel back these layers as I get to know Paul, better – getting to know him as I briefly got to know Y for who Y was/is, not what Y does/do.  I’m getting to know who Paul is and was.  I am blessed in so doing.  I hear the Spirit so much more fully than I have in a long time.

I wonder how many of us non-bible nerd Episcopalians know a fraction of the backstory of not just Paul, but, too, all the biblical characters and storylines, hyperlinks and connections of salvation history.

I’m thinking of all the attention paid to the Game of Thrones premiere last night – how the hundreds of thousands who tuned in for the first episode of the last season of the 7-season HBO series had prepared by revisiting previous episodes, the books, blogs, and Social Media sites to be sure they had the backstory straight to ensure full engagement and enjoyment with the new season.

How does that passion compare with how we read a new episode or chapter or even book of the Bible?  What kind of backstory are we inclined to pursue before concluding one way or another what the Spirit is saying?

As the importance of backstory is to the integrity of a Hollywood product, as the importance of backstory is to knowing of a bishop candidate, is the importance of knowing the stories of our ancestors and the human authors inspired by the Holy Spirit of the Bible.

Well, actually.  More.  More important.
How about you dig in?

Praise God from whom all blessings – and backstories – flow.

Daily Office Readings: AM Psalm 51:1-18(19-20); PM Psalm 69:1-23
Jer. 12:1-16Phil. 3:1-14John 12:9-19

[1] https://medium.com/the-mission/the-power-of-your-backstory-in-knowing-who-you-are-and-who-youre-about-to-become-988cbc33ac63

 

 

 

 

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For from him and through him and to him are all things

From today’s readings, Romans 11:

Romans 11:36For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory for ever. Amen.

Wildflower protected California Poppy and “Weed-to-some” dandelion growing side by side.  The natural world bears witness over and over to God’s church where all are one in Christ.

Praise God from whom all blessings – and flowers and beauty – flows.

#cloudsofwitnessesinthegarden #galatians3:28 #dandelionisbothflowerandweed

Daily Office Readings: AM Psalm 137:1-6(7-9), 144; PM Psalm 42, 43
Jer. 31:27-34Rom. 11:25-36John 11:28-44 or 12:37-50

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