Lydia

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Job 40:1,41:1-11Acts 16:6-15John 12:9-19

Turn to Acts, and discover the story of Lydia today.

The conversion of Lydia is another powerful story about the women of the church.  Paul, Silas, and Timothy are making the rounds, stop in Philippi, and encounter Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth.  “The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul.  When she and her household were baptized, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home.”

This is a quick turn.  All we know about her worship life is that she is a “worshiper of God” which is a nice way of saying she is a Gentile who worshiped Israel’s God, somewhat of a stray by Jewish standards.

On the other hand, this is a Roman colony.  We are told of the “household of Lydia” which indicates she is unmarried.  She is also of relatively high social and economic status, being a merchant and mistress of a household, a combination that wouldn’t normally be possible in that day and time.  The district in Lydia, where she is from, Thyatira, is a center of production of purple dye, so it is possible she is the representative of all that is purple in this region, one of the top merchants in the area.  She seems to be quite a maverick.

I had the privilege of sitting in Philippi, down by the river, probably in a similar place to where Paul and Lydia met.  I am excited to go back in just a few weeks.  The Journeys of Paul Mediterranean Cruise.

What I remember most in Philippi was the most delightful open-air Greek restaurant, right on the sea.  The group that year included my mother and my friend Rose, both of whom are pretty adventurous eaters much like me.  We ordered a few things ala carte and dove into our food.  There was a strange ground up fish dish that tasted like heaven.  What was this glorious concoction?  Since the menu was in Greek, and I didn’t know a lot of the menu items, we had told our waiter to bring a few authentic dishes, his choice.  Turns out this great dish was octopus!  After my first encounter with eating octopus in Japan (which was a cold, raw trainwreck), I was amazed I could find any joy in this animal.  The Greeks made octopus tasty and delicious for me.

As I reflect back on my time in the city of Philippi, and Paul’s travels here – his ups and downs – I draw inspiration from people like Lydia.  She blazed a trail for the Gospel to spread, an outsider who found a place.  I remember feeling out of place in this beautiful country, probably like Lydia did at times, but enjoying the bounty of this area, ready to go back and tell the story of this beautiful land and the stories it held.

It was just a few verses ago we were told that Paul and Silas went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia “having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia.”  Lydia, you see, was from Asia.  She has made her way to Philippi for commerce.

But lying underneath all this is a theme:  There are places where the Holy Spirit is ripe, and places it is not.  Since the word of God was not ripe for Asia, perhaps because of language or culture, Lydia becomes a lynchpin.  Rather than Asia opening to Paul and Silas, Asia has come to Paul and Silas.  Lydia, who ironically bares the same name of the region in Asia where Thyatira is, is a person who can “walk the walk and talk the talk” so to speak.  She can now be an ambassador to that region.

This too is a story of the unleashed good news.  God’s power is out on the loose.  And, once again, it is entrusted to a woman.  Those who want to believe that Paul and the New Testament are anti-women need a refresher course on Acts and Paul’s letters!  As Luke writes his two books, there is a movement: from Jewish men to Gentile women.  God’s word spreads more than just geographically.

For me that is such good news I can hardly contain myself!

-Matt

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Hildegard of Bingen

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Hildegard of Bingen

Today is also the Feast Day of Hildegard of Bingen — if you are into that sort of thing.

I mean our Catholic and Episcopal brothers and sisters celebrate these feast days, and if you are feeling particularly ecumenical today, or if you are looking for a powerful example of women in the church, Hildegard may be the one for you!

She was certainly one of the most important women of her time, living in the 1100s.  I encourage you to click the link above and read about this powerful figure in church history.

It fits into our exploration of the Christian Mystics in our Thur Noon Bible Study too, in our ongoing quest to seek out female voices in our Church life.

Join me in prayer:

O God, by whose grace your servant Hildegard, kindled with the fire of your love, became a burning and shining light in your Church: Grant that we also may be aflame with the spirit of love and discipline, and walk before you as children of light; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. 

Extravagant Living

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Job 40:1-24Acts 15:36-16:5John 11:55-12:8

Very rarely do we see extravagance lifted up as a virtue in scripture.  Usually moderation is lifted up.  Today’s Gospel reading calls for extravagance – well a certain kind – God’s kind.

Mary is anointing Jesus’ feet with expensive perfume, wiping them with her hair.  Judas Iscariot asks a good question, “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?”  Jesus responds with: “Leave her alone.  She bought it so that she might kept it for the day of my burial.  You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”

Judas Iscariot would be right any other day of the week, but today was different.  Today’s choice is extravagance over moderation.

I am reminded of one of our new hymns in our relatively new hymnal, the purple one.  There is a wonderful hymn called “Woman In the Night” that walks through all the different women in the gospels who impacted Jesus’ ministry.  One verse ends with “loved him with your hair” an obvious reference to Mary who anoints Jesus’ feet with perfume.

Time and time again scripture calls us to live in opposite how the world wants us to live.  So often, especially in the midst of our economic woes, the temptation is to look inward, worry only about oneself, and bury one’s treasure.  Jesus says no.

We are challenged as Christians to live in opposition to the prevailing winds.  When others horde wealth, we are called to give it to the poor.  When others want to kill Jesus, we are called to honor him with extravagant gifts.  When the temptation is to worry about physical surroundings, we are called to invest our money in spiritual things, build relationships, and focus on people instead of buildings.

This is all very strange.  I know.  Trust me; I know.  I live in the conundrum of right living every day.  As someone who has given my life to the church, I find myself pondering these questions every day.

How does God want me to use my money?  How should I be using my time?  Should I give some money from the pastoral fund to the vagrant sleeping in the bushes, or should I wait and give it to a member who is buried in medical bills?

What I know of scripture is that we are called to live extravagantly, pouring out the life and soul of our lives for the one who poured out his.  It is not a question of either/or, but one of both/and.  We must live outwardly.  Always.

-Matt

Transition, Change, Hope

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Job 29:1-20Acts 14:1-18John 10:31-42

Many of you have heard the news:  I have been asked to become the next General Presbyter for Maumee Valley Presbytery.  And I have said yes.  Maumee Valley Presbytery is in NW Ohio and SE Michigan so it means a big change for me, for INP, and for FPC-Duncan.  I begin in Ohio on November 1.

Change is all around us.  In the gospel story today we see how something has changed in the lives of the disciples and that with Jesus, the incarnate God, something is rising from the ashes of extinguished hope to lift the people to a new kind of hope.

This is the great joy of the Christian journey!  While change may swirl all around us, the reality is that our hope rests in the same God who brought us into this life.  Through election cycles, new school routines, daily stresses of our jobs, God remains our Rock.

We must never forget that we are a resurrection people, called to new life, and new possibilities.   Lately I have sensed that some of us seem to have lost that fire and that spirit that we once had.  We must never forget that our lives are like that of the phoenix and that we have risen from the ashes to a new life.

Today is a new day.  Today is an exciting new beginning.  Our chance is now!  The world is at our doorstep hungry for change – hungry for a new breath of fresh air in this world of stale hope.  It is also the anniversary of the September 11th attacks.  Today is not just about looking back and remembering, but looking forward and grabbing on to the same courage and working toward a brighter future.

We are a resurrection people.  We are called to bring that message of hope and light to a struggling world.

We don’t just read scripture, and then say “That’s nice” and put it down and never do anything with it.  Through it we can see beyond the grave – knowing that God is on our side and that the world has yet to see the greatest chapter.

With God on our side, the possibilities are endless.

-Matt

Let the Party Start

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Job 32:1-10,19-33:1,19-28Acts 13:44-52John 10:19-30

Themes are important.  They frame our time and help us grasp the big picture.  This weekend President Obama chimed in on what he thought the theme of these dark times is: INDIFFERENCE.  I have certainly seen the toll that apathy and indifference has taken in our country, leading to today.

If I had to pick just a one-word theme for the Bible it would be: GRACE.  Time and time again we see grace overflowing borders.  God is constantly challenging us to see grace spilling over into yet larger places and times.  Today’s New Testament readings are no exception.

In John, despite Jesus being rejected by the key leaders of the day, we clearly see him as a divine shepherd who knows his sheep and they know his voice.  We seem to have a blueprint before us to get to know his voice, and it is a passage of comfort and reassurance.

In Acts, (which if you hadn’t discovered is one of my favorite books) Paul and Barnabas have really ticked off the Jews.  It is the Sabbath and they are preaching to the Gentiles.  Sabbath preaching is certainly allowed, so what irritates the Jews is that they have drawn such a crowd that they were filled with jealousy and led to blaspheme on the Sabbath.  So in a way they are mad at themselves.

Paul and Barnabas use this against them.  They declare the Jewish rejection of the gospel as knit together with a gentile mission.  We see God’s word spilling over boundaries, over barriers that few thought possible.

Circumcision was seen as so key, there was no discussion for the Jews.  The Torah, as well, was seen as so central that it wasn’t even up for debate.  And here were people talking about those barriers coming down?  Who do they think they are?

This is the joy of the good news.  Time and time again we see God breaking the rules of humanity.  People say “No” and God says “Yes”.  People put up rules, and God knocks them down.

We see this so clearly even in our churches today.  Many churches have become obsessed with purity.  They seek rules in favor of God’s radical love.  They spend a lot of energy deciding who’s in and who’s out, failing to realize that from the beginning they were all “out” and God declared them “in”.

It is almost like the theme is the opposite of indifference, because God cares very much for this all-inclusive word of GRACE getting out.  God wants the party to begin and wants you to know you are invited.

My prayer is that we all wake up to the good news in our midst.  None of us deserve God’s “Yes”.  But God has made room for us at this grand banquet.  All we must do is realize a seat has been pulled up to this joyful feast for us.

Take a seat!  God’s party is just beginning!

-Matt

Renewal

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Job 16:16-22,17:1,13-16Acts 13:1-12John 9:1-17

One of the things we are talking about in our Thursday Noon Bible study is RENEWAL.  Prayer can be an aid toward spiritual refreshment.  Scripture too can provide a much needed renewal to the grind of daily life.

John’s gospel provided it for me today.

The very lengthy story in John of the blind man receiving sight serves many purposes.  As with many of John’s stories, the discourse occurs in a way that twists and turns, is multi-faceted and difficult to follow.  As the story continues, he increasingly recognizes the identity of Jesus.  This is brought to the Pharisees.  He goes back to Jesus.  All along there is a second strand of trying to understand who is a sinner.

And so the point seems to be, not to find a cause or a purpose for the man’s blindness, but to use this as an occasion to showcase God’s healing activity in the world – God’s renewal that is offered.

Many do not believe this is happening.  Speaking of the blind man, one says, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the Sabbath.”  Another, though, said, “It was your eyes he opened.  What do you say about him?”  “He is a prophet.”

There are many in our country who are struggling to see joy.  I have been all over the world, as a missionary and as a traveler, and my take on Americans is that we as a people struggle with joy.  We struggle to see God’s grace.

I know for me personally, the daily convulsions of this White House plus the “news” cycle (which is more of a play-by-play of one person’s tweets bringing little news) wreak havoc on my ability to gain the inner joy I am called to as a Christian, and I by and large have turned off all television, listening to 30 minutes of NPR in the morning, and then going on with my busy day.  The spectacle of craziness is hardly news.  It hardly illuminates God’s grace, or the renewal of our minds that scripture calls us to.

Healing is possible.  But it is not going to be found on MSNBC, or FoxNoise.  It won’t even be found at the ballot box in November.

In John’s passage I find grace all over.  In it, the Light of the World shines grace on even one who has not done anything to deserve this.  And when I say that I mean he has not done a series of good works to draw Jesus’ attention.  He was simply blind.  That was all that caught Jesus’ attention.  The blind man asked for nothing.  He was being used by the synagogue authorities as a teaching example.  Jesus jumped in and healed him.

And so it is with the church.  And with my life.  I wasn’t looking for Jesus to enter my life in dramatic fashion and give me sight – but in many ways that is what happened.  This is my call to ministry.  I was happy as a clam, going along in undergrad – and before I knew it, I was doing an independent study abroad in Israel and understanding that God was calling me to a life-changing vocational course.

I know the same is true for others.  Many of my fellow Christians, some of you who receive this morning reflection, have shared your stories of calling, of healing, and of grace – times when Jesus showered goodness beyond measure, and changed the course of your life.

There are some that will doubt, not believing that eyes have been opened and sight has been given.  There will be some who never believe.  But that doesn’t change the fact that in my life I have seen miraculous things.

So let us look for those things in our daily lives.  For the promise is there for abundant healing and renewal – daily.

-Matt

Not Fitting In

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Job 8:1-10, 20-22Acts 10:17-33John 7:14-36

“I just don’t get you.”

Have you ever heard these words?  Perhaps they were spoken to you in anger.  Perhaps in jest by a good friend.  As a northerner in a southern area, I get this routinely – when I crave brats or drink unsweet tea or say the word “bubbler”.  But on a more serious note, sometimes we hear these words and it cuts more deep – it’s meaning is more along the lines of “You don’t fit in” or “We are just two different people…or too different.”

If you have ever felt out of place or on the outside of God’s grace, you can take solace in our scripture today, for Jesus himself is out of place.

Today we see Jesus as God’s representative, a common theme in John’s gospel.  This goes along with all the I AM statements as well.  His authority comes from above, and we see an almost “other worldly” Jesus.  Jesus is in the temple at the Festival of Booths, and as someone who has “never been taught” the Jewish leaders are wondering where he gets off speaking with such authority.

Jesus not only gives them advice (“Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.”) but also gives them an answer to their questions about authority (“You know me, and you know where I am from.  I have not come on my own.  But the one who sent me is true, and you do not know him.  I know him, because I am from him, and he sent me.”)

Like a good mystery novel, in John the readers are always one step ahead of the crowd.  Some are struggling with Jesus’ identity, confused because some want to kill him and we all know where he comes from, and the Messiah…well, no one will know where he comes from.  But we are one step ahead of the crowd.  We know the Messiah will, in fact, come as someone who is not known, and yet is known.  We know that “the signs” the crowd speak of are actually playing out before our eyes, and the hidden shroud is one that is before our eyes.

This is the craft of the gospel of John.  The whole gospel is built on this idea of logos.  The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.  Figuring out who or what this logos is is the struggle.  So we get series of “I am” statements, and strange musings like “light of the world”.  All the time we are struggling to see that light more clearly.

What I like about John’s words is the mystery and conundrum itself.  To me it is comforting to know that this is all above and beyond comprehension.  God is awesome and his love is unfathomable.  God is not supposed to fit in!  Oh we get glimpses occasionally…if we are lucky.  And it is OK not to get it all right away.  Some spend lifetimes trying to get to know God.

This gospel validates me, where I am in my journey.  I have just scratched the surface of what all this means for my life.  I am a novice.  Maybe we all are.  But you know what?  That’s OK.

After the resurrection, the disciples were confused about what this all meant, and what to do next.  So it’s OK if I don’t “get it all”.  And God will correct me in the places that I am wrong.  And God still loves me all the same.

-Matt