December 13, 2010
Entering into Advent's third week, many of us are hitting one of the dreaded seasonal deadlines: shipping gifts in time for Christmas without paying premium rates! Personally, I'm too stressed about finals to worry about it so Dan is pretty much taking on all the out-of-town packing and shipping chores. I figure all of us could use some deep breathing and chair yoga right about now or it would be very easy to overload. OK, I'm speaking for myself. I need some deep breathing and chair yoga in order to prevent overload. Would you like to join me?
First, remember how we let our hands hang comfortably down at our sides, feet flat on the floor. Inhaling, lift hands above our heads, palms together. Exhale, bringing arms down again to your side. Sit tall at each exhale, as if a string fastened to the top of your head is gently lifting you up toward the ceiling. Repeat 6 times, always breathing slowly and steadily through the nose.
Prayer: "God, when the world and so many within it are in need of your healing touch, remind us through your word that you are always there, actively engaged wherever true healing occurs. Amen."
Acts 5:12-16 (New International Version, ©2010)
The Apostles Heal Many
" 12 The apostles performed many signs and wonders among the people. And all the believers used to meet together in Solomon's Colonnade. 13 No one else dared join them, even though they were highly regarded by the people. 14 Nevertheless, more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number. 15 As a result, people brought the sick into the streets and laid them on beds and mats so that at least Peter's shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by. 16 Crowds gathered also from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those tormented by impure spirits, and all of them were healed. "
At church as I've listened to our Advent services for these past three weeks, I've appreciated our pastor's sermon series on the Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations, after the book of the same name by UMC Bishop Robert Schnase. The book outlines and discusses such issues as radical hospitality, passionate worship, intentional faith development, risk-taking mission, and service. Bishop Schnase opines that these concepts, when put into practice by a community of faith, result in a truly transformative congregation. In other words, real lives are changed. People encounter God, develop their spiritual lives, grow meaningful friendships and mutually supportive relationships, and change the communities in which they live. Others outside the church come to know God. Good fruit comes of such engagement.
If you look at the young Christian church, the church which is described in the book of Acts, it isn't difficult to see that the ideas my pastor has been talking about and Bishop Schnase has been writing about are essentially the same ideas that Peter and the apostles practiced. In fact, they were so engaged and passionate that the Holy Spirit filled their little community, and lives were transformed in ways that could only be called miraculous. People so believed that they were God's people doing God's work that they thought they would be healed just by lying under Peter's passing shadow! That is pretty strong faith.
While we don't have the same kind of expectations of the church today, the church still is a body in which God's spirit runs wild, just waiting for the opportunity to change peoples' lives in miraculous ways. Healing takes many forms, and God is willing to act today to bring God's best to all who long for transformation. Prayer still has the power to bring us into ever deeper relationship with God and with one another!
Lives can be changed. Sometimes it can be radical, as subtle and quick as a shadow passing over us. Sometimes it takes more time and persistence. But God's longing to heal our lives is authentic. We can believe it when we look upon the manger and the child who arrives there.
By the way, if you're curious, Solomon's Portico was one of the two important colonnades of the Jerusalem Temple. It became common knowledge that Peter and the gang hung out there every day, something which the growing group of Jesus-followers came to depend on. Wouldn't it be great to know there was a place to go where you could find welcoming like-minded people who would offer you radical hospitality, you could worship God, be transformed spiritually, and stand up for social justice today?
Actually, there is. I go there every Sunday. You can too!
Further reading for today: