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The Way of Jesus – Prayer

Reflection written by Amanda Diekman, co-pastor of Durham Church.

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Be glad in the Lord always! Again I say, be glad! Let your gentleness show in your treatment of all people. The Lord is near. Don’t be anxious about anything; rather, bring up all of your requests to God in your prayers and petitions, along with giving thanks. Then the peace of God that exceeds all understanding will keep your hearts and minds safe in Christ Jesus.

- Philippians 4:4-7

This Thursday, many people will sit around a table full of food and feel an unexplainable desire to pray. Even if they do not feel this urge at any other moment in their week; even if they haven’t intentionally talked to God in 2013, some will pause awkwardly, look around the table, and say, “Should we say grace?” The urge to pray is a mystery.

But maybe even a greater mystery still is that many people who pray every week in church, who talk about prayer and read about prayer and tell people that they will pray for them, are still pretty baffled about prayer. What is prayer? What happens when we pray? Why do we pray? What happens if we don’t pray? The meaning of prayer is a mystery.

But maybe the greatest mystery of all is that awful, churning feeling in the pit of your stomach that comes when all eyes look to you to be the appointer pray-er. Shouldn’t talking to God, our Creator, be the most natural thing we ever do? But the thought of praying out loud strikes fear into many of us. I am well acquainted with that look of terror that comes when I ask someone to pray before a meeting or small group. The fear of prayer is a mystery.

The rhythm and order of this Philippians passage will be our guide as we seek the way of Jesus in our prayer life this week. Our scripture begins with joy and gladness. For the same reason that a table of our favorite foods and favorite faces sends us seeking words of thanks, joy and gladness lead us into prayer.

Then that beautiful line, “The Lord is near.” God’s nearness may be what made joy bubble up in the first place, but it is certainly what calms our anxious worries and gives us courage to bring our needs and praises to God.

God draws near to us, and we pour out our hearts to God, and when the giving and taking subsides, peace and safety reign over all.

“The peace of God that exceeds all understanding will keep your hearts and minds safe in Christ Jesus.”

Prayer was created to be a mystery. Tapping into the very heart of God and receiving God’s peace will exceed our understanding. Prayer is not supposed to be logical or reasonable or understandable.  But prayer is so completely filled with God’s peace that it grabs our hearts and minds and plants them deep in Jesus. Which is a mystery…and a miracle!

The Way of Jesus – Enemy Love

Reflection written by Amanda Diekman, co-pastor of Durham Church.
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‘But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.’

- Luke 6:27-28

Jesus said that we will have no greater love than to lay down our lives for our friends. I like that. Every time I stand at the communion table and look around at so many beautiful faces, I marvel at how Jesus may have felt at his own table, breaking bread and imagining his broken body, filled with love for his friends.

What’s much harder is to lay down our lives for our enemies.

But that’s precisely what Jesus did.

In this passage from Luke, Jesus forces us to face the worst things that we do to one another here on earth. Hate. Curses. Abuse. These are the actions that ruin lives. These fuel wars and spill blood. They destroy reputations and relationships with a single word.

We have enemies for a reason. We can do such great harm to one another.

Which means that what’s most amazing – and most alarming too – about loving our enemies is that no one can remain an enemy when they are embraced with love. But we do not want to embrace enemies. We want to keep them at a great distance so they cannot hurt us.

Dorothy Day, an incredible activist and practitioner of enemy love, said, “Love casts out fear, but we have to get over the fear in order to get close enough to love them.” Enemy love forces us to get close to our enemies. Enemy love destroys any boundaries we might try to place around love. Enemy love is love for all – Jesus love.

Marcia Owen is a Durham hero. She is the founder and director ofthe Religious Coalition for a Nonviolent Durham. The first time we had coffee, the power of her humor and story-telling about enemy love made me laugh out loud one minute and wipe tears from my eyes the next in one raucous 45 minute conversation. She told me that she’d long been an activist against gun violence, but when he had her first child, everything changed. She loved her son so much that she couldn’t contain love anymore. Every child could be her child. Every mother’s pain was her pain.

She’s written a breathtaking book with former Duke Chapel dean Sam Wells called Living Without Enemies. They cite Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s observation that getting to know our enemies will break our hearts with compassion. Marcia and Sam then ask:

“What makes a person lash out and make someone an enemy? It comes from a feeling of profound powerlessness and fear that says, ‘I’m not big enough for this.’ Living without enemies is radical acceptance…You lead with your soul by taking a moment to say, ‘I accept all that is, all the suffering I’ve caused, all the suffering I’ve endured. I just accept it. There are no enemies.’ Then you can begin to see the glorious nature of each one of us.”

In our “Way of Jesus” sermon series at Durham Church, we move from focusing on suffering one week to focusing on enemy love the next week, and it turns out, the two are intimately intertwined. We fear facing suffering, and so we hold onto enemies. Compassion — being willing to suffer alongside another person — leads us down a path toward freedom. Freedom from fear. Freedom to love our enemies.I’ll let wiser teachers have the last word. Again from Marcia and Sam: “Living beyond fear … means hearing God say, ‘Love, just love. Find your way to love that person, find your way to love that forest, find your way to love all things, especially the things you find so unlovable and so frightening.’”

The Way of Jesus – Suffering

Reflection written by Durham Church member Carynne McIver, who loves to spend time in nature, read about the world, and eat good food. Carynne works as the Development Officer at the Center for International Understanding.

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My brothers and sisters, think of the various tests you encounter as occasions for joy. After all, you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. Let this endurance complete its work so that you may be fully mature, complete, and lacking in nothing.
- James 1:3-4

On my morning commute, I’ve been noticing the most beautiful skies. Oranges and purples blending together in the quiet gray of early morning make me catch my breath and inspire me to pray. In the midst of rush hour traffic, homeless people at the corners, my own stress for the work day ahead beginning to mount…. what can this lovely sky be but a quick message from God? “Hang in there! I love you!” I hear in my head.

So I start to talk back–about the sky, the day ahead, all the sad and scary things I’ve heard about lately and don’t know how to fix. Often my prayers turn into a long list ofnames: “Please be with this family… with him… with her cousin…. with their parents… with every other person on this planet whose suffering I don’t even know about.”

James tells us that the best way to deal with suffering is to “count it all joy.”

This is a lovely phrase but what I really think when I hear that is “Are you kidding me??” It’s true that sometimes when I look back on difficult times in my life, I can recognize the growth or unexpected gifts they brought and be grateful in retrospect. But that is a far cry from being able to name suffering as joy in the moment. It seems impossibly overwhelming and frankly something I don’t even want to try.

Then one day while gazing at the morning sky, I suddenly hear myself asking God to help me love it more. To give the joy that I find in the beauty of creation at least as much weight as the suffering that I so easily dwell on.

I don’t truly believe that the world has more suffering than joy, even though my thoughts and prayers have a small joy-to-suffering ratio. So even if I can’t take suffering and turn it into joy, I wonder if I can begin to approach “counting it all joy” by seeing more joy in the midst of suffering? It is easy to pass over the beauty of a morning sunrise or a happy conversation with a friend, and to only see problems around me. What would happen if I let myself rest in these joy-filled spaces and let joy flow into the suffering that feels so heavy? 

Suffering is real and hard – and I really have no idea how James thinks we are supposed to count it as joy. The world is a broken place, and I don’t think Jesus expects us to pretend it isn’t. But being broken doesn’t mean it can’t also be beautiful.

The Way of Jesus – Sabbath

Reflection written by Amanda Diekman, co-pastor of Durham Church.

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Then Jesus said, “The Sabbath was created for humans; humans weren’t created for the Sabbath. This is why the Human One is Lord even over the Sabbath.

-       Mark 2:27-28

 

My last act before I turn off my light at bedtime is to check the clock, which means my last thought is constantly, “Ugh, late again. There’s no way to get enough sleep.” Then when my son’s cry from the next room wakes me in the morning, my eyes pop open to see the time, and I think, “Not enough, not enough.”

Sound familiar?

Our days are ruled by “not enough.” Not enough is usually a close companion to “go, go, go,” which is our usual marching order as we race through not-enough days.

Since we are all busy trying to fit in all the good and mundane and wonderful and abysmal acts that make up our days, is Sabbath just one more thing we have to schedule and do? Is Sabbath a rule that we are subjected to keep?

In this scripture, Jesus says no. Sabbath was created for us. Sabbath was made to be pure gift.

Abraham Heschel is one of the most famous Jewish theologians and philosophers ofthe 20th century, and has written a breathtaking book called The Sabbath. He describes the Sabbath as a gift. By keeping Sabbath, Jews learn to be “attached to holiness in time, to be attached to sacred events, to learn how to consecrate sanctuaries that emerge from the magnificent stream of a year. The Sabbaths are our great cathedrals.”

If Jews learn to be attached to holiness in time, Christians learn how to be attached to the value in time. Time is money. Time is for productivity. Time is for giving back.

But if all we see is productivity, we are probably missing holiness. We are too busy to name and “consecrate” those precious moments that emerge in the course of our days.

Have you ever been too busy to properly celebrate an important moment?

Sabbath will teach us to see the sacredness in our days. Keeping Sabbath, which is really about receiving the gift of abundance, presence, intimacy, and rest, will teach us to live the rest of our days differently.

Where do you need Sabbath as a gift?

Sabbaths are cathedrals in time, cathedrals of holiness in our present moment. And Jesus is the Lord of that cathedral. Indeed, Jesus is Lord over all of our time, all of our days, and all sacredness in this world. Ask Jesus, the Lord of Sabbath, to speak to you about how you spend your time. Ask Jesus to begin to teach you what it means to receive rest as a gift.

The Way of Jesus – Eating

Reflection written by Amanda Diekman, Durham Church co-pastor.

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“Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. My flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in them.”
-       John 6: 54-56
When I was newly engaged, glowing with excitement to plan my perfect day, I made a list of all of my favorite things that I wanted to include. Under the “food” category, I only had one word: Potluck.

I didn’t imagine that all my guests to come bearing a cobbler or casserole. But I could not deny that my favorite foods were all potluck foods: baked mac and cheese, green bean casserole, scalloped potatoes, butter biscuits, and that incredible salad with dry ramen noodles. As I imagined a table laden with my ideal meal, my imagination would always tilt toward the end of the table, that glorious land populated by pies, pudding cakes, cookies and brownies. Only at a potluck can you walk away with a plate half-full of desserts and not get any surprised looks.

But the potluck holds a treasured place in my memory for more reasons than the abundance of dessert. As a professor who writes about food describes the blessing of a potluck, he says, “Walking down that long row of white-papered tables still represents for me what church is all about: an invitation to fill our hunger, both spiritual and physical, with a community that is grateful for God’s good gifts.”

How does Jesus show us how to hunger and how to eat? How does Jesus give us the gift of eating? How do we eat together in ways that reveal Jesus to the world?

Jesus was a real man who got hungry and who ate many, many meals that were important enough to his life and calling to show up in our scriptures. He sees all our human hungers and works to feed us, body, soul, mind, and strength. He uses food to connect people who never wanted to have anything to do with one another. He often uses food as a metaphor to take us deeper into his Father’s Kingdom reality. And he gives us himself to feed us more deeply than we can even understand.

We are hungry for a new relationship with hunger and with eating, and while there are tons of options to choose from, they all feel weak and empty without a clear connection to Jesus.

Do I buy food that is local or organic or non-GMO? Do I share meals with neighbors and friends? Do I start a compost pile? Do I try being vegetarian or vegan or lactose-free or gluten-free or paleo? Do I work to eliminate food deserts and increase access to healthy food among people who are poor in our community? Do I work to eat healthy and keep a steady weight? Do I buy what we can actually afford or do I buy food that is good for our bodies and for the earth?

We are all searching for the Jesus way of eating. The important truth is that many of us struggle with real difficulties around disordered eating. For some, these are true issues of life and death. As a church with weekly communion, we know that eating is central to our life of prayer, and so we continue to pray for our community — that we can experience healing in our relationships with food.

What are you truly hungry for?

The Way of Jesus – Peacemaking

Reflection written by Amanda Diekman, co-pastor of Durham Church.

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Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”
- Matthew 5:9
In a moving sermon from our joint worship service, pastor Julio Ramirez Eve, pastor of our sister church Iglesia Emanuel, challenged us to listen to suffering voices crying out to Jesus for healing. Then, pastor Julio challenged us to raise our own voices to cry out against injustice, oppression, and discrimination in all its forms. Yet, it is easy to feel weary as we walk on the path of listening and responding to injustice, which might be why Jesus promised that this is a path showered with blessing and belonging. Peacemakers are called “children of God.”

In the Message translation of this passage, when we walk in the way of peacemaking “that’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.”

How do we walk in the way of peacemaking in our world today?

Wars and violent deadly conflicts are ongoing in Columbia, Afghanistan, Somalia, Yemen, Pakistan, Mexico, Sudan, Syria, Iraq and Eqypt. Can we even keep track of the news about violence in our world, much less listen, grieve, and cry out for peace?

At the same time as we pay attention to the cries from around the world, we also have to listen to the cries of our city and our neighbors. About 30 people die to violence every year in Durham, that’s a death every other week. While many organizations are working to address root causes of violence and work with offenders in the criminal justice system, only one is paying attention to the need for listening, grieving, and crying out for peace. The Religious Coalition for a Nonviolent Durham holds vigils at the site of murder in Durham to grieve those whose lives have been lost.

The Religious Coalition writes about the impact of violence on families in our community: “The family and friends of victims frequently report a sense of shame about their beloved’s violent death, regardless of the facts of the incident. Survivors are surprised and disheartened by the silence from the community-at-large to the sudden, tragic death of a loved one.”

Naming grief and mourning violence is an essential step on the way of peacemaking.

My experience at vigils has shown me that mourning is filled with blessing. Standing with people I’ve never met and lamenting the loss of a precious child of God has helped me discover who I really am, and my place in God’s family.

How will you take a step into the way of peacemaking? 

The Way of Jesus – Obedience

Reflection written by Amanda Diekman, co-pastor of Durham Church.

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A man had two sons. Now he came to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in thevineyard today.’ “‘No, I don’t want to,’ he replied. But later he changed his mind and went. “The father said the same thing to the other son, who replied, ‘Yes, sir.’ But he didn’t go. “Which one of these two did his father’s will?” They said, “The first one.”

- Matthew 21:28-31
It’s amazing how intrinsically satisfying it is to play with a baby. The activities are not remarkable (as I type this, I am watching my husband clap his hands and listening to my one-year-old son James laugh hysterically). It’s not the games or the rhyming books. It is James’ abundant response. His response is an incredible reward, far beyond the simple offering of a silly face, a tickle, a clap. His response is so amazing that I often describe my daily work as trying to make James laugh.

Obedience is a word that puts ice in our veins. We get a little short of breath. We all feel like bad children who are hovering in that terrible moment when we know we’ve messed up; we know anger, disappointment and punishment are coming; and there is absolutely nothing we can do about it. Themere mention of the word “obedience” immediately makes us feel disobedient.

Shame. Fear. Disappointment. Inadequacy.

Obedience is a rough word.

And then I hear another peal of laughter from the living room. I remember the amazing scripture from Matthew 7: “If you who are evil know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good things to those who ask him.”

I love clapping and singing and rhyming books and silly faces because they are a good gift to James. And he responds in the best way he possibly can, which is to delight in the gifts. When I clap, he claps too. When I dance, he dances too.

Alas, I am evil. So, how much more does our heavenly Father delight in taking part in our daily lives? Does our heavenly Father desire anything more than our response ofjoy?

Can we learn to delight in responding abundantly to God’s good gifts? When God asks for something, will obedience be our response of joy?

The Way of Jesus – Friendship

This scripture reflection and the ones that follow are part of our ongoing sermon series on “The Way of Jesus.” This reflection written by Durham Church co-pastor Amanda Diekman.

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“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends  if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.”
-John 15:12-15

Think about all the ways people have tried to evaluate your relationship with Jesus: Is Jesus your Lord and Savior? Do you know where you will spend eternity? Are you saved?

But I have never been asked on a street corner or even by a spiritual advisor – are you a friend of Jesus?

Jesus’ words in John 15 are shocking. He’s looking at people who have been distracted and petty, who will deny him and abandon him and who will even sacrifice him for money.  These are his closest companions, but over and over, they are blind to the man in their midst. And then, he steadies his gaze, looks at each in the eye, and says, “You are my friends.”

For Jesus, friendship involves passionate, all-consuming love. Friendship involves personal sacrifice. Friendship has no room for subordination. Friendship means sharing knowledge and sharing life.

But friendship also makes demands on our lives. Friendship isn’t “no strings attached.” Instead, friendship is radical conversion. If we are friends of Jesus, we have to be friends to others. We have to be faithful to Jesus’ command to love others as Jesus has loved us. Friendship overflows its banks.

This Sunday, our new sermon series begins on the Way of Jesus. We will be exploring the way that Jesus lived, the way he teaches us to live, and the way that we live together as a community following Christ.

In the early days after Jesus’ death and resurrection, his disciples searched  for words to describe this new life of following him.  The best they could come up with was “the way.” They were on “the way.” Being on the way says that it is okay to stumble and search and take shortcuts and longcuts. There is room on the way for people to join in all the time.

But there are also particular ways of being on the way. At Durham Church, we desire a church patterned after Jesus, and so together in preaching and study and honest conversation, we are digging into the practices that govern life on the way.

Three Things You Need to Know About Us

AR5A8768Adapted from Amanda Diekman’s sermon on September 8, 2013 for New Member Sunday at Durham Church on Colossians 3:1-17.

Dearest new members,

Welcome to Durham Church! Maybe we should have told you this before you made all of those lovely promises, but there are some things you need to know about us.

First – and I know that this will come as something of a shock – we are not perfect. We hurt each other’s feelings. We say the wrong thing at the wrong time. We don’t show up when we should. We exclude other people when we are not even trying.

You are joining a family of broken folks. But there are a couple of upsides to the fact that we are not perfect:

  • This is a place where you can trust others with your imperfections.
  • This is a place where your mistakes don’t have to be shocking and shameful.
  • But by far the best upside is that we are walking with Jesus, who teaches us how to live with one another, even when we are broken.

We don’t have to get cleaned up and perfect to belong to Jesus, but Jesus wants so much better for us than where we are right now. And slowly but surely, we start to want better for ourselves too.

We talk about sin and brokenness here at Durham Church because we are so desperate to see healing. Colossians 3:5 says, “put to death the parts of your life that belong to the earth,” which feels scary until I remember that Jesus’ whole message is about life after death. So all we can say is, “It is not I who live but Christ who lives in me.” We confess sin honestly and expectantly — looking all the time for signs of the resurrection.

Members of Durham Church, we are sin-filled people, but because of Jesus, we are on the road to healing.

The second thing is that you need to know about joining Durham Church is that we take this community life seriously because belonging to Jesus means belonging to other people. Not belonging to the people we choose, but belonging to the people Jesus chooses. And have you noticed that Jesus always seems to choose people who are hard to love?

When I was pregnant with James, I had a hard time relaxing and getting ready for sleep at night, and so I learned guided meditation. A soft comforting woman’s voice told me to imagine I was walking down a long hallway toward my “peace sanctuary.” In my mind, the hallway was long and bright, full of windows and fresh air, and then shining down at the end of this lovely path was my peace sanctuary!

When I visualized that door opening and my peace sanctuary so lovely, all ready for me, you know who wasn’t in my peace sanctuary? All of y’all. No one else would be in my peace sanctuary with me! This was just for me. My own peace sanctuary.

Maybe it’s because I am an introvert. Maybe you would love to have your peace sanctuary filled other people to talk to all day long. But they would at least be the people you chose to be there.

I am not sure that any of us would create a peace sanctuary filled with other broken people. Especially the ones we don’t choose.

But when we are walking with Jesus, walking toward the Kingdom of God, there are also all these other people, people who you would never, ever, ever, ever invite into your peace sanctuary with Jesus. But belonging to Jesus means belonging to other people. That’s why we take our community life so seriously here at Durham Church.

Colossians 3:11 says, “In Jesus, there is no longer Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.”  I had to look a bit more into the words “barbarian” and “Scythian.” In those days, “barbarian” was a derogatory word, a racial slur for the lowest class people in their ancient society. “Barbarians” didn’t speak the same language as everyone else and were considered unfit for social life. Josephus, a Jewish writer in those days said, “they are little better than wild beasts.” But if barbarians sound bad, Scythians were the lowest class of barbarians.

For Jews, the most shocking person to belong to in Jesus would be an uncircumcised gentile. For gentiles, the most shocking person to belong to in Jesus would be a Barbarian. And for Barbarians, the most shocking person to belong to in Jesus would be a Scythian.

So whoever you are most afraid to be with, that’s who’s waiting for you in your peace sanctuary.

Belonging to Jesus means belonging to other people, especially belonging to people who we would never choose.

Durham Church – we are a community of people who may not choose each other but who’ve chosen Jesus, and chosen to share life with all the people who come with him.

The third thing that you need to know about joining Durham Church is that we firmly believe that God’s Kingdom is breaking its way into the hard places of the earth and creating beauty from all of this mess.

And there really is a lot of mess. In the past year and a half, we’ve gotten involved in social issues like the debate over immigration reform and the decisions of the North Carolina legislature through Moral Mondays. We’ve just started a reconciliation and re-entry team that accompanies a man who is coming out of prison. We’ve had countless conversations about race and discrimination and violence and addiction.  We have a long way to go, but we are learning to walk faithfully in our time, refusing to hide from the realities around us. So what can keep us going when all of these issues are heavy and hard?

When we are standing in the dead places of our world, our main job is to look for resurrection. As new members of Durham Church, you need to know that we are driven by beauty. We are seeking new creation all the time.

Colossians 3:12-14 says, “Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience… And over all this, put on love, which binds it all together in perfect unity.” As we love one another, God’s new creation is breaking into the mess.

We witness new creation in our life together. We witness new creation in quality relationships, the kind built by listening well and putting others first. We witness new creation in our tears – weeping when others weep, and when others are laughing, we laugh until tears roll down our cheeks. We witness new creation in the silent still moments because new creation requires patience, being willing to go slow and to wait so that we can all go together. We witness new creation in acts of forgiveness, when mistakes don’t sever relationships and when grace is stronger than failure.

Dear new members of Durham Church, here is what you need to know about us because this is now about you: We are a broken people, but thanks to Jesus, we are on the road to healing. We walk this journey together because Jesus calls us and commands us to walk together. We are driven by beauty and seek new creation every single day.

 

Waves of the Spirit

AR5A5294Reflection written by Matthew Floding, Director of Ministerial Formation and Field Education at Duke Divinity School. Matt and his wife Marcia have three children and are active members at Durham Church.

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The Holy Spirit spoke: “Take Barnabas and Saul and commission them for the work I have called them to do.” Acts 13:2

This is really the third wave of the Holy Spirit’s movement empowering the church to be witnesses just as Jesus had instructed in Acts 1:8.  “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come to you. You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth.”

 Imagine a pebble dropped into water, rings of waves sent outwards.

 The first wave was Pentecost (Acts 2). The Spirit blew into the lives of the disciples and Peter was a powerful witness. A huge crowd that was celebrating the Pentecost in Jerusalem heard the disciples speaking of God’s saving power in the language of their country.  They were confused and asked, “What does this mean?”

Peter told them they were participating in the fulfillment of the prophet Joel’s message about the coming of the Holy Spirit. He recounted God’s salvation story and covenant promises to David and the expectation of a savior.

He skillfully narrated them into the story. The Spirit was moving and they owned the story—or maybe it owned them.  They couldn’t help but ask, “What should we do?”

Many became followers of Jesus and were baptized that day.

Being brought into the story is a big deal.  About a month after I came to Duke I was at a dinner with Greg Jones, former dean of the Divinity School.  We were talking about some of the similarities and differences between Duke and the school I had come from. It felt a bit awkward, like I was in between—no longer at the other school, but so new to Duke that it was hard to claim that identity.  I would talk about the way “they” do this or that and the way “you” (referring to Duke) do it.  Greg quietly said, “we.”  The next time he said, with a bit more energy, “the way ‘we’ do it.”  I got the message. I needed to own my new identity.

 The second outward wave of the Spirit was Peter’s opportunity to be a witness to Jesus with Cornelius and his family and friends—Gentiles, the “others.”

This was immediately preceded by the upsetting vision of a large sheet coming down from the sky.  In it are all kinds of four-footed creatures, reptiles, and birds.  The descending sheet is accompanied by a voice that Peter hears, saying: “Get up, Peter; kill and eat.”  Peter, disgusted, says: “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is profane or unclean!” But the voice, a second time announced, “What God has made clean, do not call profane.”

Peter found himself asking the same Pentecostal question, “What does this mean?”

By God’s grace, when Peter arrived at Cornelius’ home he knew “what he should do.”  The vision was about God’s inclusive love—for God so loved the world.  The Spirit came with power and Cornelius and his friends believed and were baptized.

 The third wave is a testimony to the category-busting love of God.

Paul and Barnabas are Spirit sent to what the Jewish Christians must have thought was the ends of the earth.  Roman Empire, Gentile lands. Acts 13 captures the drama of the Spirit delivering on the covenant promise to Abraham and Sarah: “the families of the earth will be blessed through you.”  And the prophecy of Isaiah, “I’m setting you up as a light to the Gentiles (all non-Jewish people!) so that my salvation becomes global.”

This is too much for the leaders of the synagogue where they are preaching. They want to protect their identity as God’s special people, not open the doors to everyone!

In the social sciences there is theory that relates to group identity, “Set theory.”  The synagogue leaders demonstrate “bounded set” identities. Clear boundaries mean you can say who is “in” and who is “out.” Us/them. We/they.  It feels exclusive. It is.

You can probably think of a group that operated with a bounded set outlook.  You probably remember how it felt.

The alternative is a “centered set.”  This means that a group identifies itself by what is central, its core values, and invites others to consider them.  No walls, invitational. Y’all come.

At Durham Church we see this every time we gather to worship–literally. We worship in a loose circle.  At the center are those things which remind us always of what unites us—our core.

  • The Bible—God’s great salvation story of costly love, reconciliation and the renewal of all things under God’s reign.
  • The Bread and the Cup—remembering that through Christ’s life, death and resurrection we are –re-membered to be the body of Christ in the world. Since Christ, who laid down his life for the world is the host at this table, all who would identify with Christ are welcome. We taste and see that the Lord is good!
  • Water, to remind us that we are claimed and marked as Christ’s forever by the Holy Spirit. We are empowered by the same Spirit for deeds of love, mercy, justice and witness.
  • Light, shining brightly even as we are to shine in the world to the glory of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Light to remind us of the unity and diversity within the Trinity—the community of God—so that we will always have as wide an embrace as God who so loves the world.

So, we’re riding the fourth wave here at Durham Church. The circle is expanding, reaching out further, just as God intended. The amazing thing is that no matter how wide concentric circles expand, they share the same center point—God’s redemptive love in Jesus Christ that we know (and are known) by the Spirit.  Thanks be to God!