O God, whose blessed Son made himself known to his disciples in the breaking of bread: Open the eyes of our faith, that we may behold him in all his redeeming work; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Are you better off saying, "The wind is surely shaking that tree" or "Apollo is playing his lyre"?
Most of us don't want to hang around people who say of their various actions, "God made me do it" or "Jesus said that I should talk with you about...." We build clinics to help such people.
One of the toughest challenges when one pursues postulancy toward ordination is to persuade those on the Commission on Ministry that God has called you and at the same time not to suggest to them that you have loony conversations with God. Much of the language you and the COM will use is coded. For example, you'll probably not raise gratuitous hackles if you say "I have discerned that God might want me...." instead of "God told me...."
As Christians, we pray. As Christians we expect answers, at least some of the time...., but few expect God to answer back in human language.
As a member of a COM it will be part of your job to cut through the vocabulary, using it critically, to discern [that word again!] whether the candidate will be a good priest or deacon.
Today's collect reminds us that God is doing redeeming work among us whether or not we notice. Through this collect, instead of asking God to be present, we ask God to "open the eyes of our faith."
Perception is extraordinarily important, and we who have perceived God among us may have lost contact with the wonder of it!
Would any of us be able to stand it very long if we were to become aware of how much God loves each of us? Would any of us be able to stand it very long if we were to become aware of how much God loves each of our enemies and adversaries? God wants us to love them as much as God does. She told me so!
Eucharist is not just play acting. That's not just a wafer or bread bit. That's not just wine. That's the body and blood of the Son of God.
May we become one with the one we receive.
We don't think of the first century as an era of the mega church. Christianity was hardly a blip on the map of world religions until about the third century, at least two hundred years after it has moved from a Jewish cult. Yet Luke, in his account of Peter's evangelism, credits Peter with 3,000 converts at one altar call. That would warm the hearts of Billy Graham, Alden Hathaway, John Guest, and John Stott.
American slaves took notice too:
If you can’t preach like Peter,
If you can’t pray like Paul,
Just tell the love of Jesus,
And say He died for all.
I personally would prefer a much closer analysis than Luke gives us about these conversions. As he tells it, Peter scares them telling them that they have killed Jesus, whom "God has made ...both Lord and Messiah."
Were all 3,000 guilty as charged?
And even if they were, they seem quite unusual in immediately agreeing and asking: "What should we do?"
While studying for the Baptist ministry at Baylor (1954-58) at least once a month I joined others in the student Ministerial Alliance to visit those incarcerated at the McLennan County jail. We preached and then we talked to the men individually. I made a point to ask each one what his crime was, and on the way out of the jail, I asked the staff why each one had been arrested. Week after we the results were the same: what the men told me and what the staff told me did not match. The men always admitted to something lesser, and in the one exception, when someone admitted to something more grievous, I was convinced that his motive was to hook my interest, not to regale me with a confession.
Were the people in jail in Waco 60 years ago all that different from the murderers whom Peter converted?
Jesus was murdered in part because his murderers were angry at audacious claims that he was the Messiah, and yet this crowd unquestioningly believes Peter when he tells them Jesus is indeed the Messiah.
What more did Paul preach that did not make it into Luke's synopsis? How did Paul open their eyes to their complicity even among those who might not actually have been there?
I have seen others change their minds in great numbers, though they don't always do so in an instant.
I remember in 1961 trying to do something about my racism. I applied for a job in Ghana. The Africa-America Institute, which was doing the hiring, asked those of us who survived the initial screening to go to Atlanta University for an interview. So much had segregation affected my view of the world, I had never even heard of Atlanta University. Nor was I prepared to be the only white person in a room of 100 or more black applicants, and I was one of the only persons there without a Ph.D.
I went to Atlanta University audaciously prepared to bring sweetness and light. Sweetness and bright light turned right on me. If those who educated me had been so glaringly wrong in this matter, how much other ignorance did I have yet to discover in myself?
Peter's congregation experienced his sermon as an epiphany, an awakening to the consequences of actions they had taken trying to protect God from evil heresy. Until Peter spoke to them, they had not seen God in Jesus.
Note what Peter says to Christian converts in his epistle:
1 Peter 1:17-23
Now that you have purified your souls by your obedience to the truth so that you have genuine mutual love, love one another deeply from the heart. You have been born anew, not of perishable but of imperishable seed, through the living and enduring word of God.
Psalm 116:1-3, 10-17
The selections from Psalm 116 celebrate God's saving act. The speaker talks about the way life used to be:
The cords of death entangled me;
the grip of the grave took hold of me; *
I came to grief and sorrow.
Then I called upon the Name of the LORD: *
"O LORD, I pray you, save my life."
The lectionary skips 6 verses. Our reading picks up at a time after the speaker has been rescued and asks, "How shall I repay the LORD?"
The audience of Peter's letter are in a similar state. Peter's preaching, as Luke records, called them to repent their complicity in the murder of Jesus. In his epistle, Peter lovingly counsels them, and us, to "love one another deeply from the heart."
Jesus is still into vanishing acts like those Luke describes. Now we see Jesus; now we don't.
It's tempting to expect the second coming to be grand, "on clouds descending," with angels and archangels, and the whole company of heaven.
We're smack dab where the Israelites were at the first coming, fearing heresy if we see God in someone who is a friend of sinners, drunkards and other low life.
Spend some time with those who live on the street, not to bring Jesus to them but to meet Jesus in them. Jesus is already there. He prefers incarnation as those whom we deem to be the least among us.