Lectionary Reflection: Acts 9: 36-43 Listen to God

            Peter was still kind of new at all of this.  Ministry itself was a whole new idea.  There were Jewish Rabbis and Elders in the synagogues.  There were no doubt programs of one sort or another, even if informal, for the community that was linked to and associated with the synagogue.  But ministry, in particular in the sense of evangelism, was something new.  The Jews were a people of blood.  They were not trying to convert the heathen.  And while some outsiders became converts to the monotheistic way of life, it was not something the Jewish community strived for.

            Peter, by contrast, was sent out to bring people to the Lord.  He was to evangelize – to tell the good news.  His job, in a sense, was to make disciples  This was different, but as his words and works went out ahead of him, I have no doubt he achieved a certain notoriety – good in some circles and not so good in others.

            Some people strive for fame.  Peter does not strike me as one of those kind of people.  When the disciples in Joppa came to Lydda and asked Peter to come with them, after the surprise of strangers knowing his name, I would guess Peter asked himself, “I don’t know what they think I can do.”   Nevertheless he went with them as a sign of good faith in the growing Christian community.

            What did he think when he was on the road?  Yes, I walked with Jesus, and saw him raised from the dead, but there are hundreds who can testify to the resurrection.  Sure, I know stories I can tell about Jesus’ words and good works, but I am not the only one.  Of course, I have received the gift of the Holy Spirit, but so have all the disciples who have been baptized and received the laying on of hands.  None of that makes me special in any way.  It is Jesus who is special.  It is Jesus whom the people must love and trust.

            I imagine he never thought about this as an opportunity to evangelize – that being such a new concept – and especially since they must have told him plainly, the woman is dead.

            When Peter arrived, he heard the wailing, and probably thought nothing of it.  The country at that time was full of professional mourners who for a coin would stay up all night wailing and weeping for the dead, whether they knew the person or not.  Now, in this case, there were widows who did know Dorcas, and they were quick to show what good things Dorcas did for them.  Frankly, there are many ministers in our day who might jump to a conclusion.  “You see what a good example Dorcas set for you?  Now it is your turn to go out and do good for others in the same way (the same spirit)” … and that would be the end of it.

            That isn’t what Peter did.   He went up to the room, asked everyone to leave, and prayed.

            Now again, there are many ministers in our day who would not ask peope to leave and make a show of prayer.  Not necessarily because they are thinking what makes them look good, or even what their duty might be, but (hopefully) with the notion that their words might offer some level of comfort to the bereaved.  The minister might asked for a miracle, some would certainly, but then they might end the prayer with “Thy will be done.”  That is tantamount to saying that this woman’s death is (obviously) God’s will, so deal with it.

            I know a whole stream of Christian thinkers who hate the phrase, “Thy will be done” at the close of prayer.  They will tell you that the phrase is like a chink in the armor of faith.  They say if you ask for a miracle and expect a miracle, you need to have solid faith and give God no opportunity to do anything different.  Of course, this isn’t faith.  It is more like a magic formula where one wrong word or thought will somehow break the spell.

            But in any case, this is not what Peter did.  Peter sent everyone from the room and prayed  And I wonder what he might have prayed, what I might have prayed in those circumstances. 

            Do you imagine he prayed, “God, give me the strength to deal with this terrible tragedy?”  How about if he added the phrase, “and turn it to your glory.”  No.  Fortitude is a good thing to have, but that is more the kind of prayer a minister might pray on Sunday morning before the sermon … to deal with that terrible tragedy, if you know what I mean.

            Do you think he prayed, “God, give me the words to bring comfort to your people and let them really understand that you are with us, always?”  I don’t think so.  Peter was no intellectual wordsmith, but in the face of the death of a loved one, and it is something we all face at one time or another, there really are not any good words.  Our best words of sympathy and compassion run dry very quickly and often sound hollow even in willing ears.

            Might he have prayed, “Lord, tell me what I can do here.  What can I possibly do in these circumstances?”  I believe that is closer to the right answer, but it is still missing the mark.  You see, all of these prayers have one thing in common.  The focus is on me.  Strengthen me, give me words, tell me what to do. 

            I am convinced Peter never thought that way or was capable of thinking that there was anything he could do, say, or be that would make any difference.  He was a poor, uneducated fisherman, and while not ashamed of that, I feel he carried that to his grave.  What could he possibly be, say or do that would matter here? 

            But there was one thing Peter did know.  He had traveled with Jesus indeed, and watched him work.  He knew there was nothing that appeared certain in this life that God could not overcome.  The blind received sight, the possessed and oppressed were set free, the deaf could hear, thousands were filled with only a few loaves and fishes, and even the dead were raised.  Nothing was impossible for God.  Peter had his own evidence for that when he gave the name of Jesus to the cripple in the gate and the cripple got up and walked.  But precisely because of that, there really was only one thing Peter could ask in prayer.  “God, what is your will?”

            Peter had to turn the “Thy will be done” right on the head of the faith people.  He did not end his prayer with that.  Thy will be done is, I believe, is where Peter started.  “Lord, what is your will here and now, in this situation?  What is your will?”  And I believe Peter stayed there and continued in prayer until he received an answer.

            God might have answered that his will was to let Tabitha sleep (be dead) until the time of the resurrection.  I know in our day, ministers have used that kind of testimony in a kind of evangelism.  But here, God had something else in mind, and Peter listened.  People, if there is one thing to know about prayer it is this: that prayer is not just our talking, it involves, and always involves some intense listening.  And then, when we become and say and do what we hear, miracles happen.  In this case, word was spread all around the town and many people came to believe in the Lord.  Evangel, (good news).

            I believe God answered Peter something like this:  “It is my will that Tabitha be raised.  You tell her to rise, and then bring her to her friends.”  And Peter, at is eloquent best, said, “Tabitha.  Get up.”

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Lectionary Reflection: Acts 9: 1-20 Wait on God

          I have new glasses.  In truth, I never had glasses before.  I did not need them to drive.  I still don’t technically need them to drive, but I have one eye that is weaker on distance vision and the other eye is weaker on near vision, and at my age it was putting an unnecessary strain on my eyes.  So I got glasses, and not only glasses, I got bifocals to adjust for both the near and far.  It is an adjustment, to say the least.

          What the nice woman at the eyeglasses place said was instructive.  She said you just have to wear them for a while.  She said, the brain is used to seeing a certain way, and compensating for the weak eyes.  Now it needs to be rewired.  She said, wear them for a while and at a certain point, the brain will go click! and you will see both near and far better and with less strain on the eyes than you did before.  So I did that, and while I knew better than to expect an actual, audible click n the brain, that would have been fun.

          As often as not, faith in Jesus can be much like getting new glasses.  Our brains have been wired over a lifetime to see life, the universe and everything in a certain way.  We all have settled into comfort zones, no two exactly alike, but it is where we live and pass our days.  When we discover Christ, or more honestly when Christ calls to us and we are brought into the universe of Jesus’ life and ministry, his death and resurrection, his ascension to the right hand of God, we really should expect that everything will be fuzzy for a while.

          Everything in the distance that was clear enough to where we could drive our car will appear fuzzy for a time.  And the things close up that we were certain about will suddenly be equally fuzzy.  We will have to go out into the world and we will feel uncomfortable for a while.  Oh, some of it may seem perfectly clear, like the idea that Jesus died for my sins … but does any newborn Christian really understand what that means?  Maybe a few – a very few.  Mostly, our brains need to be rewired.

          Look at Saul.

          He was on the road to Damascus, living and breathing hatred for all things Christian.  He was a brilliant student of the Jewish laws and scriptures.  He no doubt had huge sections of what we call the Old Testament memorized.  That was back in the days when people actually used their brains rather than looking things up on phones that are smarter than they are.  But then Paul got blinded by the light.  (Yes, I hate clichés, except in the place where they started).  He got blinded by the light and needed super glasses. 

          His mind, as far as matters of faith, Jewish faith went, was cast in stone.  Suddenly, the stone exploded.  Everything he thought was true about life, the universe and everything was suddenly turned upside down.  It was that old English hymn – the one Cornwallis had the English band play at Yorktown when a bunch of grubby American rebels beat the greatest fighting force on the planet in those days.  “The world turned upside-down.”

          Paul needed super glasses – super bifocals.  And he needed to wear them for a while until his brain went click.  Even after his sight was returned, he stayed with the disciples in Damascus for a time, growing in faith, relearning what he knew,  seeing it all through new eyes, rewiring his brain.

          Of course, in our day we don’t have many Pauls.  Most people do not know what the Bible says and would not know the Scriptures if it bit them, but so many think they know all about Christianity.  Like the atheist who mocks Christians for worshiping their “sky god” as if Christians actually believe God lives in the clouds.  So often the ridicule of the faith is so far off base it doesn’t even make sense.

          Like the unbeliever who verbally attacks the faith and all who believe in that horrible, vengeful, demanding god as if the gospel of grace, mercy and love never happened.

          Like the woman who once told me that Christianity and Christians were responsible for all of the wars and violence on the planet, to which I said, let’s see.  We went into Iraq and Afghanistan to convert the heathen to Christianity … No?  Well, then Vietnam and North Korea were atheist-communists and we wanted to hold the line for the people of faith … No?  I know, Adolf Hitler was a great Christian – no – but he hated Christians, right? – No?  But the Japanese either were Christians or hated Christians … No?  How about Kaiser Wilhelm?  No?  I don’t even know what faith he was.  Lutheran, I suppose.  I know.  The anarchist that killed Archduke Ferdinand at the start of World War I was a secret Christian.  No, an atheist again?  Well then, Napoleon? Or maybe the Civil War where Yankee Christians killed Confederate Christians over matters of faith. No?  How about the revolution?  It was fought because England was forcing Americans to become Christians.  No?  What do you mean taxation?

          The truth is, even in those conflicts that involved matters of faith, like the thirty years war and the crusades, the motivation was inevitably for power, money and land.  Islam has gone to war from time to time and sees that as an acceptable way to force conversions, and sometimes people of other faiths have fought back.  But be fair.  The truth is, most religious faiths, including Christianity, have argued in the main against war and violence.

          And trust me, you don’t even want to bring up violence in this country, because if you listen to the media, you might be tempted to believe the killers are all conservative, right-wing, Tea Party Christians, only that is not true.  Almost all of the mass murderers and assassins of this century (over the last fifty or more years) have been liberal-leftists (or Islamists).  They have been progressives, communists, socialists, anarchists, atheists and not believers at all.

          Yet the woman believes that Christianity is a horrible thing because it incites violence and is responsible for all the wars, and no amount of evidence or even common sense is going to convince her otherwise.  This is the world we live in.  People think they know all about Christianity and honestly know nothing.  And like Saul, they are quick to spew hatred at Christ, Christians, and the Christian faith.  It might be too much to expect God to blind them all with his light.  But it is remarkable to me that God reaches so many – breaks through the barriers of unbelief and misinformation.  You can be sure when that happens there needs to be some serious rewiring of the brain. 

          Paul understood this after a long time.  He told people they needed to be renewed in the renewing of their minds.  He said, in truth, that even then the best we can see will be like looking into a mirror in a darkened room; but it is better than seeing nothing at all. 

          Of course, in our day, when people discover grace, mercy and love, and that Jesus and Christianity are the opposite of the way they used to think, so many can’t wait to get out there and start telling people the good news.  I feel most need to learn a lesson from Paul.  He stayed where he was in Damascus for a time before he started out on the road.  He waited until something in his brain went click!

          He waited first on God, until God was ready to send him out.  I understand the enthusiasm, the excitement when the world turns upside down, but I believe the better path is to wait on God to see what God would have us do.  That involves listening to what God has to say; like maybe the ears need to click into place as well as the eyes.  Next week we can talk about listening to God.