Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Peter Goes from Student to Teacher

I'm sitting in as we prepare for Abby's visit this Sunday. The lectionary texts for this week are Acts 11:1-18, Revelation 21:1-6, and John 13:31-35.

I have been thinking about the unlikely transformation of Peter. Sure, we know our history and have read ahead, so maybe we shouldn't be too shocked that Peter becomes a notable figure. But based on what we have been reading in John the last few weeks, it's hard to believe that it is the same person. Peter eventually takes on the role of teacher, leader, "convincer"of others in the new Church after the death of Jesus, but this isn't the Peter we see in John.

There is a lot of space in the Gospel of John devoted to Peter. John 13: 5-10 shows a Peter strongly refusing Jesus' foot washing and then eagerly wanting his head and hands washed as well once Jesus tells him the purpose. John 13: 36-38 tells of Peter insisting he will follow Jesus, pestering him even, until he is told that he will deny Jesus soon. In John 18, we indeed see Peter denying his relationship to Jesus. Finally, the Peter of John 21 dives into the water, swimming to shore to meet the Lord on the beach and receives instructions from Jesus to "feed my sheep." Throughout these passages, Peter appears impulsive, tone-deaf, and a bit of a kiss-up. Hmm, not such great leadership material. But Jesus has told him care for those Jesus has left behind. Is he up to the task?

Jump to the Acts reading for this week and see how Peter is doing now. He is leading the new church towards accepting non-Jews, helping the church in Jerusalem to embrace diversity. (We know the old Peter is still in there somewhere because he has to be told 3 times in his dream!) But he is doing all he can. Listening to God, welcoming those God has chosen, telling others to recognize those God has blessed, and saying that we have no reason to stand in the way of God's plan. True, sometimes it is hard to know what God wants of us. Even those lucky enough to have God-inspired dreams, like Peter, have to be told multiple times. But all of us can go on the journey of Peter. We can all try to move along the path from student to teacher. Listen to the words of Jesus in John 13:34-35. "I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." So that's your first lesson. Try to learn it a little and teach it a little everyday.

With love and hope,

Thursday, April 22, 2010

From Shame to Service

This week's scriptures are Revelation 7:9-17 and John 21:1-19.

The passage from John for this week is a peculiar one. It appears to have been tacked on to the end of John's gospel and there are some biblical scholars who believe that it was written by a different writer that the rest of the gospel.

All of this makes for some interesting discussion. However, what I'd like to focus on in this blog is the fact that this passage contains within it a sort of "mini-gospel" which speaks to our journey in relationship to Christ. Let's take a look.

The passage begins as Peter, weary and beaten down by all that has happened: his own betrayal of Jesus, Jesus' torture and death by crucifixion, the reports of resurrection.....he's overwhelmed. And so he goes back to what he knows, to 'business as usual,' and goes fishing. At least in the physical labor of the commercial fisherman of his day, Peter could lose himself for a few hours.

It must have been hot out on the water that night. Peter had stripped down against the heat and the frustration of not having caught anything. As dawn rose someone called to them from the shore to ask if they'd caught anything and to suggest that they throw their nets from the other side of the boat. When they begin catching a huge amount of fish by following this advice John, remembering an earlier experience with Jesus (see Luke 5:4-7), yells, "it's the Lord!"

Peter graps his clothes and dives into the water. His friend, his Lord is on the shore. But when he gets there, he is strangely shy. The memory of his betrayal returns to him. Would Jesus even want to see him, much less speak to him. You can see him hanging back on the fringe as Jesus feeds them breakfast with fish that he apparently already had. Then Jesus asks Peter the famed three times, "do you love me?" Each time Peter answers, "yes Lord" he is told, "feed my sheep."

Now is a good time to take a brief detour and talk about the fish that the disciples caught that morning. They caught, we're told, 153 fish. Now this seems strange to note until we realize that this is the supposed number of types or species of fish in Sea of Tiberius. They'd been told before that they would become "fishers of men." This catch becomes symbolic of that. Not just some persons, but all persons. The 'sheep' Peter was being directed to feed weren't just Jewish males. They were 'male and female, slave and free, Jew and Gentile.' Every kind of 'fish.'

Then Jesus says one more thing to Peter. He tells him what the cost of this is going to be. Peter is going to die. Peter is going to be tortured to death like Jesus was. The phrase in verse 18 is described by some commentators as a technical term regarding crucifixion. And, tradition has it, that Peter was, indeed, crucified for his faith.

How much this is like our own stories. Few of us have managed to live our lives-even after our conversion-with out betrayals and sin and the shame that goes with them. How often have we wondered if Jesus really wanted to have anything to do with us. The answer lies in the meal on the shore. Even before we come back, Jesus is preparing to feed us.

Jesus also has a task for us. The passage from Revelation speaks to a time when "the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd." A time when Christ will wipe away every tear from "the great multitude from every nation."
I believe that time will come. But until it does, Christ's words to us as they were to Peter are "feed my sheep." It is our task. Not just to care for those far away-though this is important. But to care for those close to home. For the uninsured in our neighborhood. The battered wife down the street. The unemployed up the block. The prisoner in our local jail; and the patient in our local hospital.

Finally, we need to understand that doing this is going to be costly. What will it cost us to take stands about the environment, about medical care, about jobs, about state budgets, about the sex offender registry, about victim's rights, about homelessness, about any place in our society where there are wounded hurting people.....what will it cost us to follow Jesus' lead?

Peter came to Jesus from a place of shame in his life. Jesus restored him....and then put him to work....warning him of the cost. Can we expect any less?

Hope to see you Sunday.

Monday, April 12, 2010

A Decision Making Model for God's People

This week's scripture is Acts 1:13-26.

First of all, let me note that my title for this blog is "A Decision-making Model" not "The Decision-making Model." As arrogant as I know myself to be sometimes, I would not attempt to say that what I am going to talk about is the only way that God's people can make a decision....but I do believe that it represents a way that the church can approach its times of choice and decision.

The biblical context for this passage is that Judas is dead (his death is rather graphically described) and there is a need voiced to replace him. This need is heightend by the fact that the disciples have just come from Mount Olivet where Jesus has given them the task of bearing witness to Him; and two men (angels perhaps) had basically said to them, "what are you standing around for? Get on with it." There was a felt need that for this work to go forward, someone needed to be appointed to replace Judas.

The current context for chosing this passage is Broadneck's visit in two weeks from Rev. Abby Thornton who will be presented as the candidate recommended by the Pastoral Search Team to become Broadneck's new pastor.

Now, if we were members of a denomination that had a Bishop, there would be no issue. The Bishop would send and it would be done (more or less). But we're Baptists. Baptists and other "Free Church Tradition" folks call their own pastors. It's a fairly ardous task. And usually by the time the Search Team has made a recommendation everybody is ready to breath a sigh of relief, bless the recommendation, and go on about their business.

But Broadneck's Search Team, in what I think is an incredible piece of wisdom, has essentially said, 'not so fast....we've done our job; it's time for you to do yours.' So, they've set up a number of things over the weekend that Abby will be here: times for meetings with various ministry teams; times for meetings with the entire congregation; and time for Abby to lead in worship; and time, following all this for Abby to meet again with the Search Team. Then, following all this, the congregation as a whole will meet, pray, discuss, discern....and only then...decide.

Let's go back to our scripture for a bit. You'll see some of this same pattern. After Peter outlines the qualifications that the individual taking Judas' placed should have, they begin the process of deciding who that will be. In verse 23 we're told, "they proposed two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also know as Justus, and Matthias." I don't know who "they" was...my guess is that the discussion among them narrowed things down to these two; but in any event, a proposal was made. Then, (verse 24) "they prayed and said, 'Lord you know everyone's heart. Show us which of these two you have chosen...'[emphasis mine]. They went seeking God's involvement and God's will not just in the proposal stage, but the discernment/decision stage. They were acutely aware of the job ahead (even if they didn't know how difficult it was going to really be), and they believed that God was intimately involved.

Then they did something you and I would find strange. They cast lots. Basically they rolled the dice. Now I don't know anyone in our day who would come candidate for us if we said, "now, after you've preached for us on Sunday, we're going to pray and then we're going to have the sacred 'rolling of the dice'...7 or 11 we'll call you...anything else, thanks for preaching." But the point of casting lots was that they wanted to be sure that God was the one making the decision.

As Baptists....as a denomination that believes in the Priesthood of All Believers and invests decision making power in the local congregation....we have a slightly different way of getting to the same thing. We vote. Listen carefully....please....that means that we believe that God's will is going to be known through the prayerful, discerning, decision made by each member of the congregation together. This is a awesome responsibility.

Many of us have gotten major jobs with less interviewing than is represented in the meetings set up for Abby; and folks have the responsibility to use that time to get to know her in a way that will aid their discernment. But before that ever happens, before meetings are held or congregational discussions are had, this congregation needs to be in prayer.

In another display of openness and desire to listen to what God might be doing, the agenda for the Sunday evening meeting reads: "Decisions-options-call Abby, not call Abby, or postpone decision for further discernment, others." No dice will be thrown that night in an effort to determine where God is leading. Instead, we as Baptist believe that God's will is going to be made know through the voice of the men and women of the Broadneck congregation who have listened, and prayed, and strained to hear God speaking to them about this decision.

Now, as the Interim Pastor who is also a member of this congregation, I've had to make some decisions about what is appropriate for me in this process. I will be at the Church Brunch on Saturday morning to meet and dialogue with Abby. I will not be there when she preaches on Sunday morning, nor at the meeting on Sunday night. What I will be doing, throughout all this time, beginning now, is praying.

I would ask that each of you join me in that commitment. To use this time between now and May 2 to listen to Abby's sermon that's available on line; to read the material that's been made available; to attend the meetings over that weekend; to listen with a prayerful, discerning, open spirit to Abby, to each other, and to God.

The disciples in Jerusalem got a proposal, they prayed, thay ensured as best they were able that God was part of that final decision....and they chose Matthias.

May God move in each of us during this time, that God's will and presense will be evident with Abby and with us as we move too toward decision.

See you Sunday.