Tag Archives: Gentiles

My ways are not your ways. Gosh!

Seek the Lord while he wills to be found; *
call upon him when he draws near.
Let the wicked forsake their ways *
and the evil ones their thoughts;
And let them turn to the Lord, and he will have compassion, *
and to our God, for he will richly pardon.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, *
nor your ways my ways, says the Lord. (BCP 86)

Today, we see in the lessons, canticles, and collects of Morning Prayer three examples of the upside down ways of God.

It was only a question … gosh!

In the OT reading we have the beginning of the story of David and Goliath, which we may remember from childhood as the victory of the small over the great. David with his slingshot (and his faith) triumphs over the strength and weapons of the giant Philistine.

David, the youngest brother, is only supposed to be bringing food to his older brothers, but he hears around the camp that the king will reward whoever kills Goliath.

His eldest brother Eliab heard him talking to the men; and Eliab’s anger was kindled against David. He said, “Why have you come down? With whom have you left those few sheep in the wilderness? I know your presumption and the evil of your heart; for you have come down just to see the battle.” David said, “What have I done now? It was only a question.” (1 Samuel 17:28-29)

But there’s also a subversive political strain to the story, since the shepherd boy David is being groomed by God to supplant the king of Israel. The anointing of God is being taken away from Saul and giving to David instead.

God shows no partiality

We see that same subversive streak in the lesson from the Acts of the Apostles.

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. … 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?” (Acts 10:34-36; 44-47)

The anointing of the Holy Spirit, which the disciples had assumed was an additional gift to the Chosen People — the Jews who believed in Jesus as Lord — is now falling on anyone who hears the good news.

Even Gentiles are receiving God’s spirit. What next?

You stretched out your arms of love

What’s next for the disciples is the conviction that in Jesus, God was acting to save all people.

Paul’s letters crisscross the Mediterranean world, reminding new Christians that grace, not law, is their guide and salvation …

The Gospel writers begin to compile their chronicles of Jesus’ life and teaching, four accounts that together draw out just how upside down his message was, for those with ears to hear.

John, writing later than the others, even recounts Jesus saying “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them in also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd” (John 10:16).

The religious rules and the political order both turn upside down in the face of God’s grace and truth, seen most clearly in Jesus’ last gift of love.

A Prayer for Mission

Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within the reach of your saving embrace: So clothe us in your Spirit that we, reaching forth our hands in love, may bring those who do not know you to the knowledge and love of you; for the honor of your Name. Amen. (BCP 101)

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Beloved

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The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. (Mark 1:1)

I received an email a couple weeks ago from a young woman asking to be baptized at St. Thomas, the parish I serve in the Diocese of Fond du Lac.

She did not grow up in a religious household, but she has pursued deeper and deeper spiritual engagement and is now led to make a mature commitment to Christianity.

In the Daily Office readings this morning, I couldn’t help reflecting on her request as I read about Peter’s vision regarding the Gentiles. When he arrived at Cornelius’ house, he saw that the Holy Spirit had come into their lives, too. He asks, “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing from those who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” (Acts 10:47).

This young woman knows that the Spirit is in her life, and that Spirit is moving her to make a public act of faith.

Jesus himself makes the same public act in this evening’s reading from “the beginning of the good news” according to Mark.

The Spirit is surely already present in the life of the Son of God, just as the Spirit “proceeds from the Father” — Jesus does not need baptism in order to receive the Spirit, but the Spirit moves him to reveal his identity in a public way.

And what is that identity? “You are my Son, the Beloved,” says the voice from heaven; “with you I am well pleased” (Mark 1:11).

All of us who are baptized into the Body of Christ share in his identity as Beloved.

I look forward to the day — soon, I expect — when we will welcome another Beloved daughter into the fellowship of Christ’s Body.

Where is your charity directed?

Now in Joppa there was a disciple whose name was Tabitha, which in Greek is Dorcas. She was devoted to good works and acts of charity. At that time she became ill and died. When they had washed her, they laid her in a room upstairs. Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples, who heard that Peter was there, sent two men to him with the request, “Please come to us without delay.” So Peter got up and went with them; and when he arrived, they took him to the room upstairs. All the widows stood beside him, weeping and showing tunics and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was with them. Peter put all of them outside, and then he knelt down and prayed. He turned to the body and said, “Tabitha, get up.” Then she opened her eyes, and seeing Peter, she sat up. He gave her his hand and helped her up. Then calling the saints and widows, he showed her to be alive. (Acts 9:36-41)

About a year after graduating from college (almost 25 years ago now), I got a job at Cathedral Shelter of Chicago, one of the Episcopal Charities of the Diocese of Chicago.

I didn’t know it, but I had walked into the middle of an ongoing dispute between the executive director (I was his assistant) and the board of directors over the future direction of the agency.

The dispute boiled down to whether Cathedral Shelter should emphasize programs like its Christmas Basket distribution, very popular with suburban parishes, or seek state funding to expand its residential halfway house for recovering addicts. In the fallout of the disagreement, my boss was let go (and I went with him, three months after I had been hired).

As you can see from the Cathedral Shelter website, their inpatient addiction treatment program was recognized as “Best of Chicago” from 2008-2011. They continue to offer the popular Christmas Basket program, but it’s listed third among their programs and services.

Peter doesn’t know it, but he’s about to turn the same corner. He will meet Cornelius in tomorrow morning’s reading, and his experience will raise a question of emphasis.

Should the Jewish believers in the Way continue to focus only on themselves and on helping through acts of charity like those exemplified by Dorcas?

Or will the new church have to also embrace the much harder road of reconciling Jew and Gentile, proclaiming more broadly the saving love of Jesus Christ and incorporating people who will stretch and test their capabilities?

It’s not an all-or-nothing choice, but a new emphasis that will take the church in many new directions and shape its mission profoundly.

At the heart of that decision, however, is Peter — the faithful disciple who not only “gave her his hand and helped her up” (Acts 9:41), but also proclaimed “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” (Acts 10:34).