Sunday, April 22, 2018

Who are God's Chosen?

Acts 9:13-15 (NRSV): God’s Chosen

But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about [Saul of Tarsus], how much evil he has done to your saints in Jerusalem; and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who invoke your name.” But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel.
Denver Moore was a poor sharecropper from Louisiana, living his life in a shack and in debt to his boss. He lived much of his life as a “modern” slave, unable to break free from the debt piled on him by the farm owner for whom he worked. Losing almost all of his family over the years, Denver decided to leave everything behind and hop onto a boxcar headed to Fort Worth, Texas. There, he lived for decades as a homeless man, surviving on the streets with nothing but the ragged clothes on his back and the free meals he ate at the local mission or out of dumpsters. Denver became a callous loaner, bitterly rejecting the company of all people. The last years of Denver’s life, however, were formed in the company of a living saint, Deborah Hall. She and her husband Ron nurtured a nearly impossible relationship with Denver. This slowly unfolding friendship led Denver to become one of the most loving, self-sacrificing people to those around him, including those people at the Fort Worth Mission he once shunned and ignored. Denver’s story is recounted in the book Same Kind of Different as Me: A Modern-Day Slave, an International Art Dealer, and the Unlikely Woman Who Bound Them Together; it is a tale of radical transformation. It is a story, moreover, of God’s grace and how he chooses those we least expect to be his agents of mercy and love in this world.
In Acts 9, Ananias cannot believe that God chooses Saul of Tarsus, a man who has done evil to Christ’s faithful and has imprisoned many in the early church. No one at that time would have chosen Saul to be “an instrument . . . to bring [Jesus’] name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel.” Saul was the last person anyone in the early church would have expected to become Christ’s voice.
God often chooses the least likely to be his ambassadors of love in the world. Both Saul of Tarsus and Denver Moore exemplify this.
Who, then, is God calling? The question is twofold: Not only should we question our own calling from God, but we should consider who God has called from the least likely among us. Let us examine our day-to-day lives and those we encounter with the eyes and heart of Christ. And let us think who just might be the Saul and Denver among us.
Heavenly Father, our eyes are often closed to the miracles around us, the least likely who are called to do your will. Please grant us the grace to see, love, and support those who are called to be your agents. And when you call each of us, kindly grant us the grace to respond in love. In Jesus Christ we pray, amen.
Have a blessed week!
Stan

Sunday, April 15, 2018

To Be a Witness to the Risen Jesus Christ

Luke 24:36-48 (NRSV): To Be a Witness
Then [the risen Jesus] opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.”
As a father, I face the daily challenge of witnessing to what is good. I want my children to understand the difference between virtue and vice. And it is my prayer that they choose virtue. Now, I can talk the talk, but my children do not hear my words as much as they observe my actions. Practicing is far more important than preaching. Some might even say that we preach through what we practice.
In the above passage from Luke, Jesus commissions the apostles to go out and preach the good news “to all nations.” The message is simple yet profound: Through faith in Christ and turning away from the vice of our sins, we are forgiven. But this commission is not just for those initial apostles 2,000 years ago; it is a commission for us today. Through our lived experience, we are to be “witnesses of these things.”
To be a witness for Christ is multifaceted, but it all starts with God’s free, unmerited grace. Through grace we are given the gift of faith, and in that faith it is our choice to live out lives of love, imitating the agape (self-giving love) that Jesus modeled for us all the way to the cross. The agape that we are called to imitate, however, is related to our position in life. Are we praying for the holy Spirit enlighten us? What might our witnessing call be in this life?
As servants to others, we are called to give our time and talent to the individual and group. This is not a half-hearted call, although I often do not give my whole heart to it. It is why repentance is such an important part of the Christian life. Each day, I have to ask for the grace to be better, to serve with the unconditional love of my God who offered himself up as a condemned criminal for my sins. Whenever I ask: How much is enough, Lord? All I have to do is look at a crucifix. The answer is plain.
Where is God calling us to serve? It is not usually the in grandiose religious context we envision, but it is in the small spaces of our lives and with the people closest to us. For it is those spaces and people that I most take for granted.
Heavenly Father, grant us the grace to serve with love and attention those whom you place in our midst. Allow us to be fully-committed witnesses to the love and healing grace of your Son, Jesus Christ. Amen.


Have a blessed week!

Stan