Monday, June 30, 2014


1After these things God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 2He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you.” 3So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac; he cut the wood for the burnt offering, and set out and went to the place in the distance that God had shown him. 4On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place far away. 5Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; the boy and I will go over there; we will worship, and then we will come back to you.” 6Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. So the two of them walked on together.7Isaac said to his father Abraham, “Father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” He said, “The fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” 8Abraham said, “God himself will provide the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So the two of them walked on together.
9When they came to the place that God had shown him, Abraham built an altar there and laid the wood in order. He bound his son Isaac, and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to kill his son. 11But the angel of the LORD called to him from heaven, and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 12He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” 13And Abraham looked up and saw a ram, caught in a thicket by its horns. Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14So Abraham called that place “The LORD will provide”; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the LORD it shall be provided.”

Answer:  It means exposure to or imminence of death, loss, or injury : danger

What is jeopardy?

Last week we talked about the family feud between Hagar and Sarah regarding the sons the both bore to Abraham. This week the promises that God made to Abraham seem to be in jeopardy as God calls Abraham to offer Isaac as a sacrifice.

Usually, because of things like sacrifice, patriarchal family structure and polygamous marriages we think of the Old Testament world as very different and far away. But as I was naming this week’s sermon, it occurred to me that I could probably use a game show title to illustrate many of the stories in the book of Genesis—Family Feud for Sarah and Hagar, Jeopardy for the Binding of Isaac, Let’s Make a Deal for Jacob and Esau, The Newlywed Game for Jacob, Leah and Rachel. Games shows tell us something about our human nature. So does the Old Testament. 

The way of life of the people in Genesis may have been very different, but the human components of the story are still part of us today. We still fight with our families. We still seek after God. We still worry about marriage and children. We still long to be loved, included and participate something bigger than ourselves.

AND we are still competitive, self-centered and wanting to get rich. Yes, the Old Testament and today’s game shows have a lot in common.  

Our story today is a tough one. God calls Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. To stab him and then burn him up on an alter--another word for that kind of sacrifice is holocaust--an offering that goes up in smoke (read more about this). There is no question that his is a horrific request. There is something about this story that doesn’t seem to quite fit with our vision of God. It really doesn’t fit with what the Bible tells us about Abraham either.

Many of us have read or heard this story so many times we don’t even see the violence and horror in it. We know how it ends so it doesn’t keep us at the edge of our seats wondering what will happen? What will Abraham do? What kind of God would demand it?

On the one hand, this story is awful. We live in a world where children have been abused by religious authorities and we have been appalled and outraged. When we read in the news about how children are raped or killed we shake our heads in disgust. Rightly so.

On the other hand, we see killing all the time in our movies and video games. We read about murder in mystery novels. Intentional killings are deeply embedded in our story culture. They make us sit up and pay attention. Nothing ups the drama like death. It gives the plot line a jolt that keeps us on the edge of our seats and it gives the characters a depth that makes them worth reading about.
It our stories today, the lines are usually clearly drawn. Good guys do good things and bad guys to bad things. In the story of God, Abraham and Isaac though, it seems like the good guys might be doing something bad and that makes us uncomfortable. 

The good guys are using their power and authority to traumatize a child. We know that it is a test and that everything turns out OK. But Abraham doesn’t know it’s a test and Isaac must have been freaking out when his father tied him up, put him on the wood, and took out a knife. 

Something like this should provoke us to think long and hard about who we are, who God is and what God wants from us.

This Bible story is told in a matter of fact way, it is free of emotion on the page. It’s almost like the characters are robots. They do things but they aren’t feeling things as far as we can tell. The narrator doesn't clue us in as to what is on Abraham's mind. 

Abraham, who is crafty, outspoken and willing to contradict God on other issues, is silently obedient. The lack of emotional language on the page allows our own emotions to shine through. It’s like a mirror for the things we feel. And the kind of God we long for.

How do you feel about this story?  What would you think if you read in the newspaper that someone went to the top of the mountain at Seven Springs and built an alter on which to sacrifice a child? Issues involving children provoke strong emotional reactions in us.

When I think about the image of Isaac being bound for sacrifice, it reminds me of times when my own children have been "bound" and how horrible it was. 

In one instance, I was rushing around getting ready to go celebrate Abby's first birthday at my aunt's house. I plopped Abby on the bed so that I could pick up some toys. Next thing I know she's on the floor howling with a bloody chin. The cut was deep. So I called Matt and we met at the emergency room for stitches. As a toddler, she had no idea what was going on. She squirmed and screamed and couldn’t keep her hands away from the doctor who was trying to put in the stitches. Finally the nurse decided it was time that she be immobilized, in a strait jacket thing. This made her even more hysterical. 

Thank God Matt was there to stay in the room with her, because I couldn’t be there.  I couldn’t stand to see my child like that. It hurt me too much. I wonder what Abby thought when I walked away from her at that moment. I will admit that I could never, ever inflict pain on my child. If that were me on the mountain, I wouldn’t even have gotten Isaac tied up, let alone lift a knife. But I still want to follow God.

Then there was that time we were having Thanksgiving dinner at my in-laws. Two-year-old Sarah kept kicking the table from underneath and it was driving my mother-in-law nuts. So she went and got a dishtowel and tied Sarah’s feet together and then to the chair. She got another dishtowel and tied them to the chair. We all know that parenting styles change, to a generation that used safety pins to attach a child’s pajamas to the sheets to keep them in the bed, tying feet together seemed totally reasonable solution to an annoying problem. To me and other parents of my generation something like that seems like abuse. I was appalled and angry.

These modern day bindings bring up all these different emotions in me—helplessness, inadequacy and anger. 

When I try to imagine Abraham in this story, I keep coming back to the question: What was he thinking? How could he do this? Why would God demand such a thing? What would I do?

I do not believe that God would ask any one of us to traumatize and kill a child. Ever. I actually don’t believe God will call upon us to traumatize and kill anyone, even an enemy. Jesus is pretty clear on how we should treat other people whether we like them or not.

I read this story of Abraham and Isaac as a teaching story, not a historical one—more like a historical novel with a moral than a newspaper article that reports the blow-by-blow. It’s a story that uses characters that we know, drama, hyperbole and complexity to illustrate its point. To learn from it we need to be able to get beyond the horror of the situation and ask, what does this say about God? What does the story say about me? For some of us, this means thinking of it in symbolic rather than literal terms--maybe in the same way we think of the creation story. 

Isaac is Abraham’s most prized possession. He is the embodiment of Abraham’s future not just in terms of heirs, but safety and security as well. Isaac is obligated to care for Abraham in his old age. By sacrificing Isaac, Abraham is giving up the future that God promised him and jeopardizing his own well-being.

Is God calling us to give up the security of our future? What if God calls you to sacrifice your well being by giving your retirement savings, your pension and your social security to the poor? What if God calls you to leave your home and your family—even in your old age? What if God calls you to skip college and go to Asia or Africa or Appalachia to do mission work? Is that a sacrifice you can make in order to follow God? 

Following God means we are blessed in many ways, but discipleship is also a process of giving up some control and putting more and more trust in God. When God’s requirements contradict God’s promises the only thing we can do is shrug our shoulders and trust. God promised Abraham many decedents through Isaac and then tells him to kill him. Sometimes God just makes no sense. 

Something about this story must be important because when we compare it to last week’s story of Hagar and Ishmael, we see the same thing.

Hagar has a promise from God that her son will Ishmael will be have many sons and build a nation. Hagar watches helplessly as her son, her future, is dying of thirst under a bush and her own death is likely immanent. But, unlike Abraham and Isaac who go about the work mechanically, Hagar and Ishmael are wailing and crying out. The promised future is in jeopardy. God hears. God responds. God provides.

With Isaac the future God promises is again in jeopardy. Abraham’s son is moments away from death when God sees. God responds. God provides.

Does God only provide for those who are 
robotically obedient like Abraham? 
The Bible is full of stories of God's provision, not as a reward for obedient behavior but as a revelation of God's grace.
  • God provides clothing for Adam and Eve after they sinned.
  • God provides water for wailing Hagar and Ishmael. 
  • God provides manna for the Israelites in the wilderness even though they whined and complained the whole time.
  • God provides himself for our redemption despite our contrary and sinful nature.

The Bible full of drama and trauma--so are our lives. It's also full of God's participation in our lives. When we are in jeopardy, God sees. God hears and God provides. 

God provided for both Hagar and Abraham. God’s provision is for the mothers and the fathers. God’s provision is for those who are crying in pain and heartache and those who are just going through the motions.  God’s provision is for those who walk away from the suffering because they can't bear to witness it and for those who can stay and endure it.

Whether you read these stories literarily or historically, the same themes emerge. God hears. God sees. God provides. Over and over again.  We respond with a thanksgiving and love that infuses everything that we do and is apparent to all the people we encounter. We turn toward God, seeking to live as Jesus taught, loving God and loving our neighbor. 

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Family Feud

8The child grew, and was weaned; and Abraham made a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned.9But Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, playing with her son Isaac.10So she said to Abraham, "Cast out this slave woman with her son; for the son of this slave woman shall not inherit along with my son Isaac."11The matter was very distressing to Abraham on account of his son.12But God said to Abraham, "Do not be distressed because of the boy and because of your slave woman; whatever Sarah says to you, do as she tells you, for it is through Isaac that offspring shall be named for you.13As for the son of the slave woman, I will make a nation of him also, because he is your offspring."14So Abraham rose early in the morning, and took bread and a skin of water, and gave it to Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, along with the child, and sent her away. And she departed, and wandered about in the wilderness of Beer-sheba.
15When the water in the skin was gone, she cast the child under one of the bushes.16Then she went and sat down opposite him a good way off, about the distance of a bowshot; for she said, "Do not let me look on the death of the child." And as she sat opposite him, she lifted up her voice and wept.17And God heard the voice of the boy; and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven, and said to her, "What troubles you, Hagar? Do not be afraid; for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is.18Come, lift up the boy and hold him fast with your hand, for I will make a great nation of him."19Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. She went, and filled the skin with water, and gave the boy a drink.
20God was with the boy, and he grew up; he lived in the wilderness, and became an expert with the bow.21He lived in the wilderness of Paran; and his mother got a wife for him from the land of Egypt.
Have you ever watched the TV show Family Feud? It’s a game show that pits one family against another. It’s a friendly competition to see who can answer the most questions and take home some prizes. The game works because everyone wants to win.

Not too different from our family feud between Sarah and Hagar, the mothers of Abraham's sons. God has promised a wonderful inheritance to Abraham—decedents as numerous as the stars and blessings in abundance that he will share with the world. Trouble is Old Father Abraham now has two sons.  One man. Two mothers. Two sons. Understanding what is happening in the Bible reading today requires that we know the back-story of this family.

God made a promise to Abraham telling him that he would live in a fertile land and be the father of a new nation. The trouble was Abraham didn’t have any kids and he and his wife Sarah were past child-bearing age. I’m not talking late 40s where a woman might be surprised. I’m talking OLD age, the point where it'd comical for a woman to conceive if it weren't so terrifying. At one point when God talks about the promise of children, Abraham falls on his face laughing at God because it seems ridiculous. Sarah chuckles as well.

And, not surprisingly, Sarah does not conceive. She worries. She frets and feels like a failure. So, finally she "gives" her Egyptian slave Hagar to Abraham to take as a wife. This was the common solution for infertility in Sarah’s day. Can’t have a baby? Insist that one of your slaves bear your husband’s seed and keep the child as your own. Hagar ends up pregnant.

Suddenly there is a power shift in the house and Sarah begins to feel inadequate. Hagar’s growing belly is more than Sarah can bear. So, she “afflicts” Hagar and treats her harshly. Hagar runs away and God appears to her and tells her to return.  God makes HER a promise similar to the promise made to Abraham. God says:

I will so greatly multiply your offspring that they cannot be counted for multitude.” 11And the angel of the Lord said to her, “Now you have conceived and shall bear a son; you shall call him Ishmael, for the Lord has given heed to your affliction (Genesis 16).

Hagar is slave woman who gets a promise from God. She talks to God. She sees God. God addresses her directly. She names God. And God tells her to go back to that awful woman who keeps mistreating her.

Hagar returns, submits to Sarah and gives birth to Abraham’s first-born named Ishmael, which means God hears. For a number of years it seemed like a good plan, until…surprise…Sarah discovers she is pregnant.

Then Sarah gives birth to Abraham’s child. The second-born child is Isaac, which means he laughs. Given that Sarah was old and times were hard, parents didn’t really celebrate their children until they had a better chance at survival, usually around three years old. Sarah and Abraham host Isaac’s weaning party, a celebration of his survival.

So now we have:
  • Abraham with a direct God promise and a promise through Hagar
  • Hagar with a direct God promise
  • Sarah with a promise through Abraham
  • Ishmael and Isaac with promises through their parents

Our reading today picks up mid-drama. Father Abraham now has two heirs. As you might guess, tensions were high in the household. Abraham knows that both sons have promises from God for fertility and nationhood. Sarah worries that Hagar is giving her the hairy eyeball and is hostile.  Hagar has been too haughty and Sarah thinks that Ishmael is mocking Isaac. And of course, Sarah is feeling all mama bearish about her own son. Imagine the family dinners!

In the family structure, Sarah has all the power. She's the #1 wife. She is the one to whom and through whom God promised the descendants for the covenant we share with Abraham.  Now that she had her own son, she didn’t want or need Hagar and Ishmael. In fact, as Abraham’s firstborn, Ishmael was a threat to Isaac’s inheritance. And so, Sarah decided, he had to go. 

Sarah and Abraham send them out into the desert with some meager rations. They are shunned—banished—left to fend for themselves while Sarah, Isaac and Abraham continue their lives as usual.

And it doesn’t go well for Hagar and Ishmael. They don’t have enough water to make much of a journey and before long they are dying of thirst in the desert. They are weak and light headed. Ishmael gets to the point where he can’t walk anymore so she drags him and places him under a bush so that she doesn’t have to watch her son, her only son, die.

I imagine Hagar sitting there delirious in the hot sun wondering what is happening. What about that promise of decedents that God made to her? How can it happen if Ishmael dies? Hagar is watching her future die before her eyes.

Hagar cries and wails. And, God hears. God says:

As for Ishmael, I have heard you; I will bless him and make him fruitful and exceedingly numerous; he shall be the father of twelve princes, and I will make him a great nation

Hagar’s eyes are opened and she miraculously sees the water they need to survive. And indeed they do, because Hagar gets a wife for Ishmael from her homeland of Egypt and he has many sons. God’s promises are fulfilled.

In the Sarah-Hagar-Abraham drama, we have two very clear and very similar promises of fertility and nationhood. Sarah seems to worry that there may not be enough inheritance to go around. She believes God’s resources are finite. She seems to think that blessings, love and inheritance can go to either Sarah’s child or Hagar’s child but not both.

We worry about that, too, don’t we? How could we possibly love a second, third or fourth child or niece or nephew as much as we love our first? How can our hearts hold enough love for all of them. But, over the course of our lives, we learn that love is expansive. It grows and changes with the people we care about.

Sarah and Hagar feud and fight. They are elbowing for position, drawing lines and creating boundaries. But the way I read this story, the boundaries are selfish--an attempt to keep all of the power and inheritance rather than share it or risk losing it. Sarah isn’t willing to give up her inheritance because it feels like giving up her future.

We often talk about children as the future of our society. Issac and Ishmael are the embodiment of the future. They are symbols of God’s promise for the days ahead. We have one son within the Abraham and Sarah line and one in the Abraham and Hagar line. One on the inside of our covenant and one on the outside. The Bible says that God is with them both.

Isn’t this the way we think of God acting in our world? We think God is inside our lines—inside our community, inside our denomination, inside our church. Do we spend time thinking about how God might be working on the outside. Is God making promises to people that we do not expect?

It's interesting how different things would be if we had Sarah as the matriarch. If we sang about Mother Sarah instead of Father Abraham. 

Mother Sarah had many sons. 
Many sons had Mother Sarah. 

If that were the case we could claim authority on God and the exclusivity of God’s care. But that’s not the story. The song and our heritage are traced to Father Abraham. Father Abraham, the man who sired two sons. Both of whom receive a promise of a multitude of descendants and nationhood.

And that’s the lesson. We may create boundaries. Even God may create boundaries. But God is free to work inside of them and outside of them.

We don’t control God. God does not conform to our rules or expectations. We may call ourselves a chosen people because of our heritage, faith or practice, but God is free to choose whomever God pleases. This foundational Bible story shows us that God’s work and care goes beyond the boundaries that we sometimes expect.

We learn from Sarah that when we think we’ve got it all in control, when we plan and orchestrate to MAKE God’s will happen, God still works in God’s ways. You know what happens when we make plans, right? Isaac--He laughs and does what God wants.

We learn from Hagar that even when things are out of control, when we are shoved aside or pushed outside the boundaries and feeling hopeless, Ishmael—God hears. God responds to our cries with steadfast love.

Our family feuds often occur because we want God to work for US, instead of the other way around. Trying to make exclusive claims about the God who created the earth and all that is in it--including the people--places human limits on God. It can't be done. We can’t imagine that God might have enough love those people outside our boundaries AND for us. We don’t trust that God’s future emerges from God’s own hand and not our own.

Over and over again in the Bible, God goes outside the bounds to care for people. People like Ishmael, you and me. 

God goes into the wilderness to find us-- whether it's a desert, the wilderness of sin or the wilderness of this world in which we live. Remember, God so loved the world that he crossed the boundary of heaven to be here with you and me. Christ showed us that sometimes God walks with ordinary people. God gives promises to people who don’t deserve it.  God has given you a wonderful inheritance. You can claim it, but you can't control it. 

Don’t scheme and feud about how to keep God's promises for yourself. Share them and watch them grow.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Pentecost: What Does It Mean?

1When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
5Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.7Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes 11Cretans and Arabs — in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” 12All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”
14But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. 15Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: 
17  ‘In the last days it will be,God declares, 
     that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, 
          and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, 
     and your young men shall see visions, 
          and your old men shall dream dreams. 
18  Even upon my slaves, both men and women, 
          in those days I will pour out my Spirit; 
               and they shall prophesy. 
19  And I will show portents in the heaven above 
          and signs on the earth below, 
               blood, and fire, and smoky mist. 
20  The sun shall be turned to darkness 
          and the moon to blood, 
               before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day. 
21  Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’”
 NUMBERS 11:24-30
24So Moses went out and told the people the words of the Lord; and he gathered seventy elders of the people, and placed them all around the tent. 25Then the Lord came down in the cloud and spoke to him, and took some of the spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders; and when the spirit rested upon them, they prophesied. But they did not do so again.
26Two men remained in the camp, one named Eldad, and the other named Medad, and the spirit rested on them; they were among those registered, but they had not gone out to the tent, and so they prophesied in the camp. 27And a young man ran and told Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.” 28And Joshua son of Nun, the assistant of Moses, one of his chosen men, said, “My lord Moses, stop them!” 29But Moses said to him, “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit on them!” 30And Moses and the elders of Israel returned to the camp.
Take a deep breath because here comes the Holy Spirit swooshing into our lives and into our church and leaving us all a little confused. Pentecost is the celebration of the Spirit and the birth of the church. Unlike the Genesis creation story which happens sequentially day after day and brings order out of chaos, this creation of the church story heaps chaos onto chaos. It brings visions, new languages and new people into the mix of believers.

In the Pentecost story, the Spirit doesn’t work decently or in order but with drunken-like exuberance. We can rest assured that in this case the Holy Spirit is not acting like a Presbyterian –it’s, well, Pentecostal—a little wild and ecstatic and blowing every which way. Can you imagine if we had someone in our congregation begin to speak in tongues? We’d be dialing 9-1-1 before someone had the chance to interpret.

I love the story of Pentecost because it’s chaotic and messy, just like our lives. In the stories leading up to today’s celebration, our traumatized disciples mourn their crucified leader. Then he comes miraculously back to life. Then, after a few more teachings he ascends to heaven on a cloud, body and all.

The disciples retreat to an upper room to pray and wait. What do you think they were praying for? If it were me, I’d be praying for a little peace and quiet. I’d be praying that my life might settle back to normal so that I could go home and wake up every morning for a month and not have to face anything out of the ordinary or supernatural. But that doesn’t happen.

Instead of getting easier, the lives of the disciples get even more difficult. The Spirit roars in and fans the flames of passion for the gospel. 

Suddenly all that weird supernatural stuff isn’t happening to Jesus, it’s happening directly to them

What does it mean?

The disciples must have been surprised with their new abilities. The crowd around them was bewildered. It’s a newsworthy event that everyone is talking about.

It’s as if the message erupted on cable TV, Twitter, Facebook and Snapchat all at once. Maybe throw in a little skywriting as well in case someone doesn’t have a phone. Nobody was left out. They all hear it at once. The gospel goes viral.

We talk about the power of social media in our culture, about how it allows so many people to have access to information so quickly. We are watching today as it empowers people who once had no voice suddenly be able to reach tens, hundreds or thousands of people all at once. Citizen journalists are taking the place of network news anchors. Anyone with a phone can videotape a news event and post it minutes later.  Our messages spread quickly, whether it’s #yesallwomen or #bringbackourgirls or #Benghazi or #Pentecost. Virtually anyone, anywhere can participate. 

We look at our computers, phones, emails and tweets and see cats and news stories and silly pictures make their way around the world and wonder,  What does this mean?

What does it mean when our sons and daughters and grandchildren talk about things in the world that we don’t see or understand. Are they our prophets? What does it mean when our elderly people dream of a different reality? What does it mean when the people who have been marginalized—slaves, women, minorities, people with disabilities, people who are gay, people who are poor—what happens when they suddenly have a voice that that other people can hear?

The Pentecost story shows us. When change happens as dramatically and quickly, some people are amazed, some people are perplexed and some people sneer.  Some people are ready to consider the change. Some aren't sure. Others are oppose it.

A similar thing happens in the Old Testament story about Moses. Moses takes the spirit that is upon him and places some of it upon the elders and they to began to prophecy for a time. Reading that story, it doesn’t seem chaotic, but intentional. Moses gathers the 70 chosen people, takes them to the tent and give them each a portion of the spirit.

Each person in worship got a card to carry with
 them to remind them that they are prophets outside
the bounds of the church. The back of the card has
Moses desire for prophesy.
But, there are two who did not go to the tent. These two are outside the bounds. They have the audacity to prophecy in the camp. Joshua runs to Moses and says, stop them! It’s out of control. They aren’t following the rules! But, Moses refuses to stop this out of bounds prophecy and instead says, 

Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit on them!

Moses wants there to be more people full of the spirit and prophesy.

In both of these stories we see a Holy Spirit that cannot be contained or controlled. We see a Spirit that circulates in and among people causing them to minister and prophecy in new ways. The Holy Spirit doesn’t wait until we have a degree or session approval. The Holy Spirit doesn’t care whether we have enough money or volunteers.  The Holy Spirit may not even care if we’ve read the Bible, though it typically inspires us to read it after an encounter. 

The Holy Spirit instigates change. Our Holy response is to ask: What does it mean?

What does the presence of the Holy Spirit mean in Acts? It means that Jesus’ gospel is coming to life. It means that gospel is going viral, catching fire. Gospel “happens” when we come together as wildly different people of God. Gospel “happens” when we discover our unity in Christ despite our diversity in nationality or income or ethnicity or denomination. Gospel “happens” when the boundaries between people are fluid and we learn to love and forgive beyond our borders and minister out of bounds. Sometimes this happens in a church. Sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes it’s inspiring. Sometimes it’s downright traumatic.

One of the most powerful and scary experiences in my own life begins like a joke…

An atheist, a Jew and a Christian were standing by a pool. We were at a big birthday party for our daughter Abby’s friend the summer she was between first and second grade. We were doing the mom thing, chatting about life and kids, stretching our faces toward the sun, enjoying the grown-up conversation. It was a pretty swanky affair and it seemed like half the people there were doctors. Abby and her friends had gone inside for the cake cutting and Sarah, my third grader, was still swimming with a few other siblings. Because there was no lifeguard, I stayed to keep an eye out. At one point the woman next to me called out to Sarah.

“Sarah, can you help that boy over here I think there is something wrong with him.”

One look and I knew something was beyond wrong. The boy was on his back with his arms splayed out. He was three inches under water. His eyes and this mouth were open and his lips were blue. The little boy was dead in the water.

My next memory is of being underwater, fully clothed, with my keys in my pocket and my shoes on.  Looking up was like a dramatic movie shot with sunlight sparkling on the water and the silhouette of his small body floating against the bright sky. I frantically kicked and pushed and dragged him to the edge of the pool with Sarah's help. Hands were reaching for him and yanking him out of the water. As I hung on the side of the pool I watched people encircle him and begin CPR. I could hear a mother’s hysterical screaming.

When I got out of the water, the boy was breathing crying. Alive and terrified.

The next day I received a note and gift. The note had two messages, a child’s scrawl, “Thank you for saving my life” and a women’s script, “We are so thankful Allah used you to save our son.” Did I mention that the boy was a Muslim?

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve revisited this story wondering, What does it mean? What does it mean that there were people of different faiths? What does it mean that I can’t remember jumping in? What does it mean that the depth of my spiritual life seems to be divided into a before and after this time of full immersion and trauma? What does it mean to be an instrument of the Holy Spirit? Of God?

Shortly after that, I decided to go to seminary. Now I’m here asking the same question. What does it mean? What does it mean when the church leadership adopts the mission of reaching out to ALL God’s people and then people who don't think or act like us come into our communal life?

What does it mean that the Spirit is calling the young people who have been showing up to start a ministry group for themselves? What does it mean to be the body of Christ in this time and place?

The Holy Spirit is here with us. Leading us, guiding us, and maybe even traumatizing us with its power. Things are happening. Let’s embrace what the Spirit is doing and see how it leads us into God’s glorious future.