Prayfaithfully: The Resurrection and the Outcasts – Part 7

But the history of the church is also one of an ever-expanding tent that will not stop until it covers every people, every group, every outcast.

“Prayfaithfully” is the prayer ministry website of the Northern Great Lakes Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. I wrote the Daily Devotions for this week.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Text: Acts 15:12-19

“The whole assembly kept silence, and listened to Barnabas and Paul as they told of all the signs and wonders that God had done through them among the Gentiles. After they finished speaking, James replied, ‘My brothers, listen to me. Simeon has related how God first looked favorably on the Gentiles, to take from among them a people for his name. This agrees with the words of the prophets, as it is written,

“After this I will return,
and I will rebuild the dwelling of David, which has fallen;
from its ruins I will rebuild it,
and I will set it up,
so that all other peoples may seek the Lord—
even all the Gentiles over whom my name has been called.
Thus says the Lord, who has been making these things known from long ago.”

Therefore I have reached the decision that we should not trouble those Gentiles who are turning to God.’”

Paul caused a lot of trouble when he went out to preach to the Gentiles. Even after Peter’s experience with Cornelius, he and the other apostles in Jerusalem still believed that the Judean people were the only ones worthy of receiving the good news of the risen Christ. Paul’s missionary journeys to the Gentiles were so scandalous that a council had to be called in Jerusalem. Ultimately James, the leader of the church, decided that yes, the Gentiles should be included in the church, and that the Judeans should no longer trouble them over it. Not that it would have made much of a difference to Paul—with or without Jerusalem’s permission, he was going to continue his mission to those left out by the Jerusalem church.

The church has always struggled with reaching out to those on the margins, the outcasts, those left out and forgotten. Whether it was Gentiles, Romans, women, eunuchs and sexual minorities, former “enemies”, people of other ethnicities and nationalities, the poor, or anyone else typically left out by society, the church has had to overcome its own prejudices to truly see and understand the radical nature of God’s welcome and availability of God’s grace.

It’s a never-ending process of self-discernment, self-reflection, self-criticism, and yes, self-forgiveness. We’ll never get it perfect. We’re human beings; human beings striving for something better, something greater, but human beings nonetheless. Despite our best efforts, we’ll fall short. It’s important that we recognize it, work at, and forgive ourselves when we don’t live up to God’s expectations for us.

But the history of the church is also one of an ever-expanding tent that will not stop until it covers every people, every group, every outcast. God has worked tirelessly and impatiently to keep sewing additions to the tent so that none will be left out in the sun. And God has always used people like us—like Mary, Saul, Simeon, Peter—to do it. Through us, God rescues the outcast, the forgotten, those on the margins; and through them, God rescues us. Thanks be to God!

Let us pray: God of all people, in your eyes, none are forgotten, none are outside, none are left out. Take your vision of the church from concept to reality, from unfinished to finished project; and may your grace know no bounds, no limits, no prejudices. In the name of your Son we pray. Amen.

Featured Image: “Ceske Pivo” by Chris Waits is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Prayfaithfully: The Resurrection and the Outcasts – Part 6

It takes Peter and the other apostles a while to truly understand the breadth and scope of God’s saving grace.

“Prayfaithfully” is the prayer ministry website of the Northern Great Lakes Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. I wrote the Daily Devotions for this week.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Text: Acts 10: 34-48

“Then Peter began to speak to them: ‘I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ—he is Lord of all. That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”’

“While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles, for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter said, ‘Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?’ So he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they invited him to stay for several days.”

Again we return to Peter, that lovable/hate-able, bumbling fool who experiences the power of the Holy Spirit and becomes one of the most influential leaders of the church.

Here, he has been sent to the family of a man named Cornelius, a Roman centurion, who is said to be “a devout man who feared God with all his household; he gave alms generously to the people and prayed constantly to God.” Cornelius, being a Roman, is obviously not a Judean. He’s a Gentile, specifically not of God’s chosen people. After receiving a vision from God, he sends for Peter to come and visit him.

Peter, meanwhile, has his own vision, a vision of ritually unclean animals he’s commanded to eat. Peter, acting as a proper Judean for maybe the only time in the Bible, politely refuses. The Law says hes’ not allowed to eat those, so he won’t. In response, a voice from heaven commands, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” After visiting with Cornelius, hearing about him and his family and their visions, Peter launches into this speech, when he finally realizes that the good news of the risen Christ is indeed also for the Gentiles, the “unclean”, the outsiders. And just like with Philip in the Ethiopian eunuch, he finds nothing preventing them from being baptized and receiving the full grace of God. In fact, God seems so in a rush to get Peter to welcome these outsiders, they receive the gift of the Holy Spirit before they’re baptized! God is impatient when it comes to dolling out grace…

It takes Peter and the other apostles a while to truly understand the breadth and scope of God’s saving grace. Poor Peter has to be lit on fire, give speeches, and have visions before he gets it. Accepting those on the outside doesn’t come easily when one spends their entire life reinforcing the separation between the in-group and the out-group. But the way I see it, if even Peter can come to this realization, then with God, nothing is impossible!

Let us pray: Impatient God, you delighted in revealing to Peter your intentions for all people, Judean and Gentile, in-crowd and out-crowd. Delight in us as well, revealing to us the breaking down of the barriers that separate us. Come quickly Lord Jesus! In the name of your Son we pray. Amen.

Featured Image: “Evelyn’s Baptism” by Robert Bejil is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Prayfaithfully: The Resurrection and the Outcasts – Part 5

Giving up privilege is a difficult process. It’s a humbling process.

“Prayfaithfully” is the prayer ministry website of the Northern Great Lakes Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. I wrote the Daily Devotions for this week.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Text: Acts 9:26-30

“When [Saul] had come to Jerusalem, he attempted to join the disciples; and they were all afraid of him, for they did not believe that he was a disciple. But Barnabas took him, brought him to the apostles, and described for them how on the road he had seen the Lord, who had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had spoken boldly in the name of Jesus. So he went in and out among them in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord. He spoke and argued with the Hellenists; but they were attempting to kill him. When the believers learned of it, they brought him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus.”

It might seem strange to include Saul in a set of devotions dedicated to stories of outcasts and those on the margins experiencing the power of the risen Christ. Saul is the poster-child for the not-outcasts. By his own words in his letter to the Philippians, “If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.” He’s the cream of the crop, so it were! And as a Roman citizen, he’s granted an extra layer of enormous privilege, which he’s not afraid to leverage.

After his experience on the road to Damascus, Saul is in a different position though. Trying to leave his former life behind, he goes to meet the disciples in Jerusalem, and is met by fear. And rightfully so! He was a zealous persecutor of the church, and they have no reason to trust him. All of a sudden, Saul finds himself on the outside looking in.

Giving up privilege is a difficult process. It’s a humbling process. How wonderful if would have been for Saul if, when he went to Jerusalem, the disciples had said, “Saul, you’ve changed! Welcome to the club!” But that’s not how it works. Saul is treated with contempt, mistrust, and suspicion, and has to earn their trust. Threats are made on his life by multiple groups and people because of his preaching. Only then, leaving the privilege of his old life behind, is he able to fully know what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ.

We Christians enjoy an enormous amount of privilege in our country. This is especially true for those who are white, male, heterosexual, and cisgender. That privilege can be a powerful tool—Saul used his privilege whenever he could to advance the good news of the risen Christ—but it is also a barrier that separates the privileged from the outcast.

We don’t have to have a Damascus Road experience to recognize our privilege. But will we use it to further God’s mission and the spread of the good news of Jesus Christ, taking us into uncomfortable places? Or will we use it to shield ourselves from the difficulties of life experienced by those God loves?

Let us pray: God of reversals, you took Saul, a persecutor, and flipped him into one of the most important and compelling missionaries in the history of Christianity. Give us the courage to lay down our privilege and experience life “in the trenches” alongside those who need your grace the most. In the name of your Son we pray. Amen.

Featured Image: “Privilege” by Stephen Dann is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.