Archives for July 2014
This meditation is from Brian Crisp. Brian has recently served as a Sunday school teacher and chair of the Missions & Outreach Council at Pullen. He is leaving Raleigh to begin a PhD program at Vanderbilt Divinity School this fall.
Be sure to welcome our friend Phoebe in the way of the Master, with all the generous hospitality we Christians are famous for. I heartily endorse both her and her work. She’s a key representative of the church at Cenchrea. Help her out in whatever she asks. She deserves anything you can do for her. She helped many a person, including me.
Say hello to Priscilla and Aquila, who have worked hand in hand with me in serving Jesus. They once put their lives on the line for me. And I’m not the only one grateful to them. All the non-Jewish gatherings of believers also owe them plenty, to say nothing of the church that meets in their house.
Hello to my dear friend Epenetus. He was the very ﬁrst follower of Jesus in the province of Asia.
Hello to Mary. What a worker she has turned out to be!
Hello to my cousins Andronicus and Junias. We once shared a jail cell. They were believers in Christ before I was. Both of them are outstanding leaders.
Hello to Ampliatus, my good friend in the family of God.
Hello to Urbanus, our companion in Christ’s work, and my good friend Stachys.
Hello to Apelles, a tried-and-true veteran in following Christ.
Hello to the family of Aristobulus.
Hello to my cousin Herodion.
Hello to those who belong to the Lord from the family of Narcissus.
Hello to Tryphena and Tryphosa—such diligent women in serving the Master.
Hello to Persis, a dear friend and hard worker in Christ.
Hello to Rufus—a good choice by the Master! —and his mother. She has also been a dear mother to me.
Hello to Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas, and also to all of their families.
Hello to Philologus, Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas—and all the followers of Jesus who live with them.
Holy embraces all around! All the churches of Christ send their warmest greetings!
One ﬁnal word of counsel, friends. Keep a sharp eye out for those who take bits and pieces of the teaching that you learned and then use them to make trouble. Give these people a wide berth. They have no intention of living for our Master Christ. They’re only in this for what they can get out of it, and aren’t above using pious sweet talk to dupe unsuspecting innocents.
And so while there has never been any question about your honesty in these matters—I couldn’t be more proud of you!—I want you also to be smart, making sure every “good” thing is the real thing. Don’t be gullible in regard to smooth-talking evil. Stay alert like this, and before you know it the God of peace will come down on Satan with both feet, stomping him into the dirt. Enjoy the best of Jesus!
And here are some more greetings from our end. Timothy, my partner in this work, Lucius, and my cousins Jason and Sosipater all said to tell you hello.
I, Tertius, who wrote this letter at Paul’s dictation, send you my personal greetings.
Gaius, who is host here to both me and the whole church, wants to be remembered to you.
Erastus, the city treasurer, and our good friend Quartus send their greetings.
All of our praise rises to the One who is strong enough to make you strong, exactly as preached in Jesus Christ, precisely as revealed in the mystery kept secret for so long but now an open book through the prophetic Scriptures. All the nations of the world can now knowthe truth and be brought into obedient belief, carrying out the orders of God, who got all this started, down to the very last letter.
All our praise is focused through Jesus on this incomparably wise God! Yes!
Romans 16 (The Message)
In a few days I will sit in a basement classroom on Vanderbilt’s campus and suffer through an exercise that I have detested since early childhood: roll call. I would like to say my impatience stems from my consternation with names being read alphabetically, each one being followed by a lilted inﬂection and a pause that awaits the common response, “here.” Having a last name that ends with an early letter of the alphabet provides ample time to sit still and listen. Yet, that excuse would only be marginally accurate.
Although my body is fairly still during the roll call, hearing each surname preceding its accompanying given name launches an inward screenplay worthy of an honorable mention at a local ﬁlm festival. I speculate about academic abilities wondering of my classmates’ posh pedigrees at elite schools. I imagine their lives chock full of exotic travel where they enjoy perfect meals surrounded by perfect laughter while sporting perfectly coiffed hair unaffected by humidity. I contrive their family lives are complete with attractive partners and pristine pets all pleased by their seeming ability to master difﬁcult thoughts and their practical ability to overcome common household improvements. My body may be still but my mind is shouting. Underneath this cacophony I hear the familiar voice asking, “Do I think I am anything like these folks? Why am I here? Will I be able to do this? Can I just take the next step?”
Like life, biblical roll calls never inspire insights. These lists offer cryptic lineages and somewhat-political salutations. Thus, a ﬁrst glance at Romans 16 greets the reader with, at best, neutrality. At ﬁrst, it seems Paul, the radical reformer, is simply calling the roll. In true Pauline style, he is not simply taking attendance, but acknowledging members of this important burgeoning community. There is a couple, a single man, a single woman. There are older people, younger people, cousins, twins, workers, veterans, a woman whom he calls “mother,” a convert, and a deacon; this is no nuclear family. These are people drawn together committed to live in community with each other and be inﬂuenced by the ways of Jesus. These are people doing their part to feed the hungry, care take for widows, and make peace with the world and each other.
Paul’s greetings are bittersweet. Older and tired, Paul is not staying in Corinth but leaving for Italy and Spain with a contentious stop in Jerusalem. Preparing for this last journey, he sits down with his life and begins to remember. Surely, he is feeling the tension of leaving a place that has been so vibrant and the call to a new work in a very unknown place. Unsure of what this new life will be and of his impending troubles in Jerusalem, Paul surely hears that ever-present and sly voice, “Why am I here? Will I be able to do this? Can I just take the next step?”
His response is to write a letter. In his penning, Paul misleads the reader with his greetings placed at the end. Greetings are never used for ending, only for beginnings. I imagine, like most of us, Paul cannot muster the ﬁnality of saying goodbye and prefers the joy of a familiar welcome. Yet, Paul is doing something much more complex. He is reminding himself how much this community has inﬂuenced him and his work. He is remembering the lessons learned in this community. He is pleading for all these followers to accompany him. His roll call is screaming, “be with me, pray with me, walk with me, work with me, help me.”
It is as if that Great Light returned and heard Paul’s pleading and whispered, “Do all these things in remembrance of me.”
I will remember Paul’s strategy when I sit in the Vanderbilt basement and await my name to be called. When those questions of self-doubt slither across my head, I will breathe and think:
Say hello to Sue who laughed with me and fed me and represented love so fully.
Hello to Jane and Grace and Ginny and Thom and Allen and Beth and Jack who read and questioned with me.
Say hello to Cathy and Felicia who sat with me and discerned with me. They are thoughtful friends.
Say hello to Sarah and Sophie who laughed and played with me.
Hello to Laura who dreamed with me.
Say hello to Mary and Bill and Max—to Max who reminded me to be wild in my thoughts and life.
Hello to David who is always open and gentle and persevering.
Say hello to Erin who sang with me and Suzanne, her mother. She has also been an inspiration and a dear mother to me.
Say hello to Carolyn who marched and protested with me, and to Curtis who supported me and was wise with me.
Hello to Muriel, Ed, Jenny, Roger, James, Mark, Kathy, Kash, Walker, Vickie, Sally, Anne, Laura—all wonderful models.
Say hello to Nancy who created a space at the table for me, and to Karla who whisked me away to play.
Hello to Case, Olivia, Marilyn, Shirley Jim, Brooks, Pat, Susan, Mike, Sarah, Jonathan, Amy, Aaron, Dan, Annette, Chris, Claire, Rob, Karen, Jon, Linda, and Bob.
Hello to Susan who taught with me and challenged me to follow Jesus.
Say hello to Pullen. You taught me to be church.
These are the greetings that keep us truly silent and strong while we wait for our names to be called.
Text: Matthew 13:24-30; 36-43
At home, my desk faces a window that looks out into my front yard. As I look out my window these days I can see so much goodness. The thick clusters of deep pink flowers on the crepe myrtle to my left—its branches laden with the fullness of blooms eloquently draping as if they are making an arch by which to pass under. To the right of the crepe myrtle is a gingko tree with its near-perfect symmetrical branches, full of those unique and divinely designed fan-like leaves that have inspired artists of all types. Birds—yellow finches, cardinals, blue-jays—flitter from tree to power line to tree as their songs serenade no one or anyone who will listen. And then there are the colorful flowering plants that fill the hell strip between the sidewalk and road—beautiful reminders of God’s goodness and imagination and love of diversity. Across the road sits a house wrapped by a white-picket fence that can only be described as a Norman Rockwell illustration that depicts a slice of Americana—children playing in the front yard and in the background an American flag proudly displayed on the front porch column waving gently in the summer breeze. Everything that I can see when I look my window these days proclaims the goodness of the world. Life, happiness, continuity, and love.
What I can’t see when I look out my window is the drug deal going down two blocks over—the same block where some evenings the sound of gunshots pierce the silence of the night-time darkness. The view from my window likewise does not take in the housing project three blocks away where children go to bed hungry and mothers lie exhausted because they have worked three jobs just to be able to pay the rent. Looking out my window, I can’t see the dead bodies scattered across a wheat field because the plane they were on got caught in the crosshairs of two countries who can’t break the cycle of military violence. Where I live I look out my window and see children playing in the safety of their front yards and another mother thousands of miles away living on the Gaza strip looks out her window to see children playing amid bombed streets and buildings not sure when the next explosion will occur or what damage it will do.
Pullen held Vacation Bible School on June 23-26. Our theme was Hunger Awareness, and we learned about some of the causes of and solutions to hunger in our community and world. Below is a picture tour of some of our activities. The goals of the VBS program at Pullen are twofold. One is to learn more about our faith and how we can make a difference in the world. The other is to strengthen the bonds of friendship and community among the participants. It was an amazing week. We learned a lot, had a lot of fun, and definitely made some memories with our friends.
Text: Matthew 13:1-9
We have cucumbers in our garden this year – lots of them relative to the very small raised beds I plant each summer. The tomatoes in a similar bed aren’t doing much, but we’ve got cucumbers – so many that every evening, the dinner question is, “What are we having with the cucumbers tonight?” We’ve got lots of cucumbers this year and I really don’t know why.
Our back yard is very shady and that has been my challenge for some time. So we got someone to do some trimming over the bed where I planted the cucumbers. But the tomato bed has better sun than the cucumber bed, yet my appetite for a home-grown tomato sandwich isn’t getting fed very often. Honestly, I really don’t know why we have cucumbers this year. I planted three varieties in my tiny plot of dirt and all have done well. I’ve been grateful for every one of them since I’m a big cucumber fan, but it’s a mystery to me.
It seems that under the surface beyond my sight, something generative and life-giving, something nourishing has been happening in order for those tasty cucumbers to appear. I know it’s a combination of light, nutrients and water. I know the process of photosynthesis turns light into food. And to a degree I have contributed to our abundance. I tried to enrich the soil, loosened it, planted, watered and fertilized – not insignificant contributions for sure. But something miraculous turned my efforts this year into the makings of many a tasty cucumber sandwich, and it’s a miracle.
When Jesus told the parable of the sower, he’d had an incredibly busy day. Our text begins with the words, “That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea.” It’s no wonder he needed to sit on the beach for a while. We can all identify with how he felt. Sometimes we just want to get a chair and sit – on the beach, or on a porch overlooking the mountains, or in our backyard among the trees.
In the case of Jesus, it’s a bit difficult to figure out when the “day” began, but it appears that this “same day” was the Sabbath. He’d been through the fields picking grain to eat because his disciples were hungry. But then he had to answer for it when challenged by religious leaders because you weren’t supposed to harvest on the Sabbath. Next he went to the synagogue and was met by a man with a withered hand. Jesus healed him and then had to justify why he broke another rule by doing this kind of work on the Sabbath. After he left the synagogue, crowds followed him and he cured a bunch of them including someone with mental illness. With each act of healing Jesus shared a teaching with his growing audience. Then the synagogue leaders asked him for a “sign” that he was really speaking for God, so Jesus had to explain that he didn’t do tricks on command. He was told his family was waiting for him and he had to clarify that his “family” went beyond his relatives to include all who follow God. [Read more…]