Exploring the Word | Spreaker

Saturday, May 18, 2013

telling the truth, 5.12.13

Colossians 3:12-17
12As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. 13Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.

15And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. 16Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. 17And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
Before we dig into our second reading let’s review King David’s story. Starting from the beginning, what are some important events in King David’s life?

-Rise to power
-conflict with Saul
-becomes king
-Amnon and Tamar
-Absalom and Amnon
-Absalom’s exile and return

The text never tells us why, but soon after his return to Jerusalem Absalom started thinking a lot about his own power. It started small, but certainly not harmlessly. Absalom recruited an entourage to show he was important. Then he started spending time at the city gate, which is where the elders of the city and other people went to talk about important things. In many ways that was the court in those days. People went to the gate to settle contracts and to seek justice when they were having trouble.

Absalom didn’t go to the city gates to help his father or to find out how things were going. Instead, when someone came to Jerusalem with a problem Absalom would tell them that their complaint was right, but that there wasn’t anyone in David’s administration who would listen to it. Then he would go on to say how much he wanted to help people get justice. Little by little, Absalom built up a following, all the while keeping the problems from ever making their way to David’s ears.

Finally, when he felt he had enough people following him, he went to Hebron, where David had first been crowned, and had himself declared king. Surprisingly, David panicked and abandoned Jerusalem with his leaders. Many others followed him as well.

Absalom took over the city of Jerusalem and plotted his next move. Meanwhile, David and his followers mourned and worried. Then they got ready for the battle. David was not going to give up the throne, so they needed to fight. David split his forces into three groups, each led by trusted leaders. Joab, David’s chief general led one group. David’s commanders convinced David not to go into battle himself and he sent them out begging them to be kind to Absalom.

Of course, battle is a hard place to be kind. I’m not a parent, but the biggest flaw David has shown so far in his parenting is not stepping in when his kids are doing the wrong thing. He didn’t do anything when Amnon raped Tamar, so Absalom felt like he had to be the one to execute justice. Then, as Absalom was building his power base, David ignored that problem too. At this point in the story, I think it’s too late to be kind.

Joab thinks so too. Joab is a favorite character of mine in the story of King David. He is fiercely loyal to King David. He is a brilliant strategist and ruthless realist. He is also ruthless about looking after his own interests. At two other points in the story David tries to appoint another commander in chief of the army and both times Joab kills them. I’m not going to hold Joab up as a moral example in any way, but he is loyal to David.

In this case, even though he has heard the King’s command to be gentle with Absalom, Joab does what he think needs to be done. One of his men discovers Absalom hanging from a tree by his hair. Joab and his closest followers kill him and bury him in a pile of rocks. Then Joab blows the trumpet to signal that the battle is over and sends a runner to bring the good news to King David.

The runner announces to David that the battle is won, but all David wants to know is whether Absalom is safe. The messenger says, “May the Lord grant that all the enemies of my lord the king be like that young man.” David leaves the command post to go to his room weeping for the life of his son. That’s where our story for today picks up:

1 Kings 19:1-8
It was told Joab, “The king is weeping and mourning for Absalom.” 2So the victory that day was turned into mourning for all the troops; for the troops heard that day, “The king is grieving for his son.” 3The troops stole into the city that day as soldiers steal in who are ashamed when they flee in battle. 4The king covered his face, and the king cried with a loud voice, “O my son Absalom, O Absalom, my son, my son!”

5Then Joab came into the house to the king, and said, “Today you have covered with shame the faces of all your officers who have saved your life today, and the lives of your sons and your daughters, and the lives of your wives and your concubines, 6for love of those who hate you and for hatred of those who love you. You have made it clear today that commanders and officers are nothing to you; for I perceive that if Absalom were alive and all of us were dead today, then you would be pleased.

7So go out at once and speak kindly to your servants; for I swear by the Lord, if you do not go, not a man will stay with you this night; and this will be worse for you than any disaster that has come upon you from your youth until now.” 8Then the king got up and took his seat in the gate. The troops were all told, “See, the king is sitting in the gate”; and all the troops came before the king. Meanwhile, all the Israelites had fled to their homes.
            I think we can identify with David’s grief. Too many parents know the pain of a child’s death. It’s hard to imagine what it would be like if that child died in battle against the parent. David has lost his son. In the terrible tension of waiting for the battle to be over he must have thought about the possibilities. He must have tortured himself with the should haves and would haves, with reexamining his actions and imagining what he could have done differently to avoid the horrible situation he’s in now.

            David was a great battle commander himself, so the logical part of his mind knows that this can really only end two ways. His troops can lose the battle and Absalom will be king or his troops can win and Absalom will probably die. He knows that, but in his heart he still holds out hope that everything can miraculously turn out right. Maybe somehow he can win without Absalom dying. Maybe somehow he and his son can be reconciled and their mistakes won’t have to be the end of their story together.

            Kings are human, and they feel grief like anyone else. But kings and other leaders often have to put their feelings aside. One of the hardest thing about power is that when it is used right it is much more obligation than privilege. David’s first duty here is to his soldiers and followers, to those who have stayed loyal to him in the hardship of rebellion and flight. David is usually a natural leader with an instinct for doing the right thing. In this case, his grief and guilt make him forget his duty. All he can think about is his dead son.

            So now David’s soldiers who have stood by him feel abandoned. Instead of celebrating and giving thanks for a hard victory, they sneak back home ashamed. They have done everything right; they’ve stood by their king when it would have been easier to stay home, but when they see their king’s grief all they can do is feel bad about what they have done.

            There aren’t many men who would dare to approach David in his grief. It’s easier to give him the space he so obviously wants. But Joab is a loyal commander and friend. He sees the danger in David’s situation and he goes to save him. Joab knows that the rebellion, the flight and the battle have been hard for the army as well as for David. He knows that they need praise and encouragement, that the men need to be reassured that their courage and sacrifice and suffering has not been for nothing. They need their king’s gratitude and support. The king has to put the duties of command, the duties of royalty ahead of his personal grief.

            So Joab goes and he tells David the truth. He knows David doesn’t want to hear it. He knows David wants to be alone to wallow in his grief, but Joab knows what he needs to do. David needs to know the truth so he can live up to his calling even when he doesn’t want to. That’s what true friends do; they tell us the truth even when they don’t want to and even when they know we don’t want to hear it. They tell us the truth and they keep loving us.

            Deep, faithful, challenging relationships are at the heart of what it means to be a church. Faith in Christ starts with knowing that we are sinners and we need to change our lives. It starts with knowing we can’t do it on our own, that we need Jesus to save us from our selfish ways.

            Once we start the path of discipleship we still need help. We need a community to support us and build us up when we’re having a hard time. We also need the honest, loving accountability of people who care about us too much to watch us take the wrong path. To be the best disciples we can be, we need a community with the kind of hard, loving honesty that Joab gives David.

            That’s what Paul means when he writes: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish each other in all wisdom…” Admonish each other. That means tell your brother when he’s doing the wrong thing. Warn your sister when she’s heading down the wrong path. Don’t just pray for your friend from a distance, let them know that you’re worried about the choices they are making.

            Our culture is weak on relationships. Most of our relationships are very surface level and we have all but lost the art of constructive criticism. We’re great at blasting people from a distance. We excel at sarcastic digs behind people’s backs. We’re skilled at saying we’re fine or telling a coworker their work is good while silently steaming because we will have to redo it.

Ministers of the gospel, 5.5.13

Proverbs 2:1-11
My child, if you accept my words and treasure up my commandments within you,
2making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding;
3if you indeed cry out for insight, and raise your voice for understanding;
4if you seek it like silver, and search for it as for hidden treasures—
5then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God.

6For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding;
7he stores up sound wisdom for the upright; he is a shield to those who walk blamelessly,
8guarding the paths of justice and preserving the way of his faithful ones.
9Then you will understand righteousness and justice and equity, every good path;
10for wisdom will come into your heart, and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul;
11prudence will watch over you; and understanding will guard you.

Ephesians 4:1-7, 11-16
I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, 5one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.

7But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift… 11The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, 12to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.

14We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. 15But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.
            People often ask me what they should call me, what my title is. Those who grew up in the Catholic church sometimes call me Father. Others aren’t sure what to say, so they ask. I say they should call me Sam, but sometimes that’s not enough.

            The answer depends on what we’re talking about. The title the Presbyterian Church gives me is reverend, so that’s the “correct” way to address me formally. The new Book of Order, which is the second part of the Presbyterian constitution, refers to me as a teaching elder. That emphasizes my role teaching in the church and also reminds us that, like the elders you will elect in June, I am an elder. We vote with the same weight, and we’re eligible for the same offices in the church.

            When we talk about what my job is, what my role is in this church, the correct word is pastor. In Spanish “pastor” is the word for pastor and for shepherd. My job in some ways is to guide the church and care for it, like a shepherd, which is where the word comes from. Another advantage of this term is that people outside our church understand it, whereas if I tell someone I’m a teaching elder they won’t have any idea what I’m talking about .

            Often people will say I am the minister of a church. That’s correct because that’s a term we have used in much of the church’s history. It also makes sense for people outside the church, because, like pastor, minister is a word people recognize. But the truth is that we are all ministers, so sometimes if people say I am the minister we forget that you are also ministers.

            Minister originally meant a servant. It means someone who serves others. Ministry means service, and the ministry of the church is everyone’s job together. That ministry is proclaiming the good news, serving the poor, encouraging people to live righteous lives, providing for fellowship, education and worship, and making our life as a church reflect God’s kingdom, so people can see what God wants our life to be like. That is not my job, it’s our job together. We are all ministers at Laurelton.

            Along with ministry, we talk about calling. God calls people to ministry in different ways. Some are painfully obvious and others are difficult to figure out. But there is a calling for everyone. God calls you to ministry. That starts with the calling to follow Jesus. Like Jesus invited the first disciples, Jesus invites each of us to follow him now. That’s a calling all Christians share. We don’t just happen to show up at church or Bible study. God calls us here.

Our calling shapes every part of our life, because following Jesus means turning away from certain other things, things like hatred, selfishness, judgment and sin. That’s why Paul urges the church, urges each Christian, to lead a life worthy of the calling to which we were called. Our call to discipleship and ministry is a high calling from God, and it takes work for our lives to be worthy of that calling.

putting others first, 4.28.13

Acts 4:32-37
32Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. 33With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all.

34There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. 35They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. 36There was a Levite, a native of Cyprus, Joseph, to whom the apostles gave the name Barnabas (which means “son of encouragement”). 37He sold a field that belonged to him, then brought the money, and laid it at the apostles’ feet.
Generally, I leave it up to personal preference whether you read along or not in the Bible. For today’s reading I’d recommend that you open the Bible and follow along. We’re reading from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, chapter 8 and you’ll find it on page 171 of the New Testament in the pew Bible. What I want to point out in this passage is that this letter is really a letter. It is part of an active correspondence between Paul and members of the church in Corinth, a community Paul founded and lived in for a year and a half. As you look at the passage you’ll notice that there are several places where there are quotations; the first instance is in the first line: “Now concerning food sacrificed to idols, we know that ‘all of us possess knowledge.’”

            Scholars believe that these quotes were from a letter Paul received from Christians in Corinth. They either made statements or asked questions that Paul is directly responding to. We do this a lot when we’re writing emails to each other. We’ll often copy and paste quotes from the person we’re replying to, and Paul does the same thing here.
1 Corinthians 8:1-13
Now concerning food sacrificed to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. 2Anyone who claims to know something does not yet have the necessary knowledge; 3but anyone who loves God is known by him.
4Hence, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “no idol in the world really exists,” and that “there is no God but one.” 5Indeed, even though there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as in fact there are many gods and many lords— 6yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.

7It is not everyone, however, who has this knowledge. Since some have become so accustomed to idols until now, they still think of the food they eat as food offered to an idol; and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. 8“Food will not bring us close to God.” We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do.

9But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. 10For if others see you, who possess knowledge, eating in the temple of an idol, might they not, since their conscience is weak, be encouraged to the point of eating food sacrificed to idols? 11So by your knowledge those weak believers for whom Christ died are destroyed. 12But when you thus sin against members of your family, and wound their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. 13Therefore, if food is a cause of their falling, I will never eat meat, so that I may not cause one of them to fall.
            It’s easy to feel like the stories in the Bible are so old, that things were so different then that the message doesn’t apply now. We feel like they were closer to Jesus because they lived a long time ago. Something about the distance in time makes it seem like they achieved feats of spiritual power we can’t even dream of today.

In reality, though, people of that time were a lot like us. They worked hard to support their families. They worried about their kids and their finances. They thought about how to succeed in their business or how to impress their supervisor. They sometimes argued with their neighbors or disagreed with their spouse. Like now, being a Christian was part of a person’s story; they also had other roles in life that sometimes supported and other times challenged their identity as a Christian.

Paul is getting at that conflict in the passage we just read from his letter to the Corinthians. In the first century, the culture overall was pagan. Judaism was a well recognized, minority faith, but most people, including many who weren’t especially religious, were pagan. Christians made a choice to be different.

The culture as a whole was religious, and religious in a way Christians rejected, so it was a challenge to be a Christian and a member of society at the same time. The particular issue Paul is talking about in this passage is meat sacrificed to idols. This passage is part of a longer section about meat and idolatry that takes up the next three chapters. We only have time for this part t today, but Paul’s argument will make more sense if you read from the beginning of chapter 8 through the first verse in chapter 11 when you get home.

This is a challenging concept for us now since pagan worship isn’t an issue anymore. Then, however, most people were pagan and much of the social life of the city was built around pagan festivals and pagan temples. Even more than now, life was social, and a person’s opportunities had a lot to do with whom he or she knew and how they cultivated those relationships. For members of the church, especially those in business, pagan celebrations would have been tempting networking and social opportunities, even though they didn’t worship those gods anymore.

The folks writing to Paul argue that since they know that the pagan gods aren’t really gods, they can go to their temples without betraying their faith. In chapter 10, Paul goes on to argue that this isn’t really true because God demands our full allegiance, so any kind of worship of other gods is off limits. Here his argument is about how going to the temple might hurt the faith of others in the community, so we’ll keep our attention on that part.

The Corinthian church was a mixed congregation. While most Christians in Corinth and elsewhere were poor, a few were wealthy and some were middle and working class. Some of the divisions about religious questions had a lot to do with economic situation or education level. Those with more education seemed to think of themselves as above pagan superstition and looked down on others who didn’t know as much. For philosophically minded Corinthians, knowledge meant freedom from superstition and from being enslaved to the physical world.

Paul certainly valued education too, but knowledge wasn’t the most important thing for him. As he puts it at the beginning of the passage, “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.” We aren’t saved by what we know, but by God’s love in Jesus Christ. And we don’t grow in faith by showing off our knowledge to others, but by loving other people.

Faith isn’t about getting the right answer to a theological or academic question. When we’re making a decision about how to act, the most important question is what is most loving and most beneficial to the community.

The question at stake here isn’t just whether or not it will compromise my faith to go to a pagan temple, the more important question is whether it could lead someone else in the community down the wrong path. For us pagan temples aren’t a temptation, but the principle is still important. I see this at work everywhere. In fact, this section of First Corinthians is a huge part of how I think about being a Christian. So let’s think about some modern examples.

Our culture is so much about our rights, but Paul calls us to look instead at how we can help others. We think that we have a right to speak our mind, and that’s true. But we also need to think about how what we want to say might impact others. That’s worth thinking about in terms of avoiding hurting someone else’s feelings as well as hurting someone else’s faith.

It’s important to bring faith outside the walls of the church, including places like the Boulevard. At the same time, people are watching. While I don’t have a problem with alcohol, many people do, so it’s important for me to watch my behavior if I’m leading a church discussion at the Boulevard so I don’t trip someone else up.

It’s the same thing with going to church. Believe it or not, your friends and coworkers are looking at you to see what it means to be a Christian. Maybe you are spiritually strong enough that you don’t need to be in church regularly. But if your friends see you putting other things ahead of church on your priorities list, that’s going to make them think church isn’t important and that they don’t need to make time for it.

It’s important in church too. Maybe a certain style of music or prayer or sermon isn’t your favorite. While I do want to know about that so I can plan worship that works for everyone over the course of the year, we have to make sure everyone is fed spiritually. And we need to put folks struggling the most first in that respect. Decision making in the church isn’t about earning a bigger vote by working hard; it’s about working together to build up the community

That means church is the opposite of a meritocracy where the people with the most skills and strength dominate. We’re supposed to be an upside down economy where we think most about what other people need, especially the newest or weakest members of the faith, and then later on about what we want. Ann Philbrick, who did our leadership training for New Beginnings put it well. She said, “Mature believers are willing to be inconvenienced for the sake of the gospel.” That means if something we’re doing here is reaching new people for Christ, but it’s not your favorite, we need your support anyway.

That doesn’t mean grinding yourself into the ground with church stuff you don’t enjoy. Joy is a huge part of following God’s calling in our life and God has given you your gifts and interests for a reason. But it does mean thinking about what other people need as well as what we want.

A lot of people think about religion as a bunch of rules they have to follow, and that’s not right either. Paul gives us a better way forward. It’s not about following an old set of rules or doing what other people say we should do, but it’s also not just doing what we want either. Being a Christian means following Jesus Christ and being part of a community that is bound together in love. And that means other people are just as important as we are. So when we think about our choices, the question isn’t so much “What do we have to do?” or, “What do I want to do?” Instead, maybe the best question is, “How can I love my neighbor with this choice?”

That’s not the same as, “What does my neighbor want me to do?” If we think about the example of going to the pagan temple, maybe our neighbor wants us to go to the temple so they can feel alright about doing it too. The point isn’t making everyone happy in the short term. It’s not about the lowest common denominator. It’s about contributing to an atmosphere where everyone can be their best, where everyone can grow in faith, where it’s easier to do the right thing.

That means pushing ourselves not to make the easier choice but the choice that reflects our faith most clearly. Most of all, it means putting our community before ourselves. That’s what we see in the brief snapshot from Acts that Sally read a few minutes ago. Luke tells us that the believers were so committed to their community that they sold their possessions so everyone would have enough.

We know that this wasn’t the case for everyone in the church in the first century. Actually, in the very next chapter of Acts Peter tells members of the community that they have a right to their property, but they have to be honest. The point of sharing this vision from Acts isn’t so make us feel guilty about the fact that we don’t share anything now. It’s not about guilt, after all; it’s all about love.

Instead my point is to hold up a vision of a community where people love each other deeply. What would it be like to belong to a community like that? How wonderful would it be to care about each other enough to stop worrying about ourselves? How amazing would it be to think about what would bless other people most? What kind of community would encourage you to be your best? What would a church look like that invited your deepest commitment and encouraged the same from everyone else?

How can we build a church where we think about other’s needs ahead of our desires, not because we feel guilty, but because we love each other? Picture that dream church of commitment and joy and love. Allow that dream to grow in your heart and let’s start building the dream together.

Thanks be to God.

praying and living boldly, 4.21.13

Psalm 4
1Answer me when I call, O God of my right! You gave me room when I was in distress.
Be gracious to me, and hear my prayer.
2How long, you people, shall my honor suffer shame?
How long will you love vain words, and seek after lies? Selah
3But know that the Lord has set apart the faithful for himself;
the Lord hears when I call to him.

4When you are disturbed, do not sin; ponder it on your beds, and be silent. Selah
5Offer right sacrifices, and put your trust in the Lord.
6There are many who say, “O that we might see some good!
Let the light of your face shine on us, O Lord!”
7You have put gladness in my heart more than when their grain and wine abound.
8I will both lie down and sleep in peace; for you alone, O Lord, make me lie down in safety.

            The sermon series we’re doing right now is about becoming the church. We started that broad topic the week after Easter by reflecting on how the disciples recognized the risen Jesus when he broke bread, and how we still meet Jesus in the sacrament of communion. Last week we looked at Jesus’ time with his disciples after he rose from the dead. He taught them how to understand the scriptures so they would be ready for their mission to share the good news of God’s love with the world.

            This week we’re talking about prayer, both how we connect to God on our own, and how the church as a community connects with God to strengthen it for its mission. First, a little background for our passage.

            The story of Acts starts right where Luke’s Gospel leaves off. Jesus has risen meets his disciples. He gives them a mission to proclaim the good news of God’s love to the whole world. Then he rises into heaven and the disciples return to Jerusalem to wait for the Holy Spirit. Fifty days after the resurrection of Jesus the Holy Spirit appears in the room where they are praying and fills the disciples with power. They minister to those around them, telling the good news in every language. As people hear the story of God’s love in Christ, they join the disciples in following Jesus.

While many believe, not everyone is happy with this new movement of faith. Like with Jesus’ teaching, many of the religious leaders are not comfortable about what the disciples had to say. They thought with Jesus’ death they had finished with his disturbance, but as the disciples keep preaching about Jesus, it’s clearly not done.

            One day Peter and John were walking into the temple when they saw a man who couldn’t walk begging for help. They healed him in Jesus’ name and the man not only started walking, he also ran and jumped with joy. A crowd gathered to hear how this miracle had happened. Peter explained that it wasn’t because they were more holy or wise than anyone else, but because of the power of Jesus Christ.

            As the crowd gathered, the religious leaders noticed what was going on, so they arrested Peter and John. The next day they interrogated them about what had happened. Peter told the story of healing the man through the name of Jesus and went on to proclaim how God’s love was working through Jesus even though the leaders had killed him.

            The leaders weren’t thrilled with that accusation, but they also couldn’t think of a way to punish Peter and John since they had just performed an obvious miracle in public. The situation was difficult because they couldn’t deny what had happened, but they wanted to minimize the impact and keep people from talking about Jesus. So they ordered Peter and John not to talk about Jesus anymore.

            Now, Peter and John were like most people. They preferred not to be beaten and threatened, but they also had a clear calling from Jesus to spread the word, and God’s power was working through them so they knew they were on the right track. So they were honest with the leaders. They told them God had commanded them to keep preaching about Jesus, so even though they heard the leader’s command, they had to follow God’s calling instead. With that, the leaders beat them and sent them on their way. That’s where our story for today picks up.

Acts 4:23-31
23After they were released, they went to their friends and reported what the chief priests and the elders had said to them. 24When they heard it, they raised their voices together to God and said, “Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth, the sea, and everything in them, 25it is you who said by the Holy Spirit through our ancestor David, your servant: ‘Why did the Gentiles rage, and the peoples imagine vain things? 26The kings of the earth took their stand, and the rulers have gathered together against the Lord and against his Messiah.’ 27For in this city, in fact, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, 28to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.

29And now, Lord, look at their threats, and grant to your servants to speak your word with all boldness, 30while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” 31When they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God with boldness.

            There are times I have a hard time relating to the early church. There’s a power in their faith life that I have never experienced. I’ve never prayed and felt the Spirit shake the room. I’ve never healed anyone through prayer, at least not in such an obvious way. It’s easy to feel a great distance between the power of the early church and the lack of drama in my own spiritual life.

            At the same time, what I love about this passage is that the disciples are honest, humble and very clear about their role. They look right at the threats against them. They know that the religious leaders can kill them or beat them or lock them in prison. They don’t ask God to protect them from danger. Instead, they ask for boldness to speak God’s word courageously in the face of danger.

            They don’t ask for eloquence, or persuasiveness, or church growth. They don’t ask for fame or comfort or long life. They know what their mission is: their mission is to share the story of Jesus and the love of God with the world. They don’t know how the story is going to go from there, but they are open and available to God’s plan.

            There are a lot of things we can focus on when we talk about prayer, but today I want to look at prayer as openness to God in word and action. We don’t have to know where we’re going as a congregation or as individuals, but if we want to be faithful to God’s calling, we need to be open to God’s leading along the way. Part of how we do that is with specific moments of prayer. It’s helpful to set aside periods of time to talk to God and to listen to God.

Often in my own life that’s frustratingly quiet. I don’t hear God’s voice or see visions of where I’m being led. But when I make space to quiet myself, sometimes I find that I just know things. Sometimes one path I’ve been thinking about feels right. Sometimes in a conversation I find myself saying the right words, even if I didn’t know they were right before they came out.