Ritual is Just the Beginning: Acts 15.1–18

2017.5.14 our courseDelivered at Ames UCC
on May 14, 2017

©The Rev. Eileen Gebbie

Sermons are written to be
heard rather than read.
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AVOIDANCE
Since resurrection day I’ve focused on a succession of new characters in our passages from Acts of the Apostles: Cleopas, Stephen, Philip the Evangelist, and the Ethiopian. Today we have two more, Paul (though we saw him briefly, earlier, under the name Saul) and Barnabas. But there have been two recurring characters or elements that I have avoided until today: male genital modification and the Holy Spirit.

PENISES AND SPIRIT
The Ethiopian is a eunuch. He is a man who has been castrated. This week we have Jewish followers of Jesus stating that the Gentile followers of Jesus must be circumcised as they had been. We have also had talk of metaphoric, or spiritual circumcision. Stephen decries his co-religionists:

You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you are forever opposing the Holy Spirit, just as your ancestors used to do. (Acts 6.51)

Stephen is saying they have failed to cut away what prevents them from hearing and loving God, from being led by the Holy Spirit.

Paul is also concerned with the work of the Holy Spirit. When he pushes back on the Jewish followers of Jesus, it is through Spirit:

 And God, who knows the human heart, testified to them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as God did to us; (Acts 15.8)

Throughout the Acts of the Apostles there are moments when the Holy Spirit comes upon people, sometimes at baptism, sometimes later. Sometimes the Holy Spirit “falls upon” a whole group at once, sometimes on individuals who have been physically touched by those who have already received the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is, by this account, wholly unpredictable.

PREDICTABILITY
Predictability may be one of our biggest problems as humans, at least for we humans who want to rise above our humanity, even just a little bit. The Bible is, in its entirety, a testament to our predictable shortcomings. We want so badly to do better, and yet…

Remember how Abram and Sarai went out into the wilderness to show their faith in God? For decades they wandered. And for decades God promised them a child. But they became impatient. Abram and Sarai let their impatience over take their faith, so they forced the slave Hagar to bear their next generation. As a result, their wanderings extended.

When God made the promise of a child again, it came with two markers: a change in their names to Abraham and Sarah plus circumcision for Abraham and all the men in his household for all time forward.

It is as if our Biblical forebears are saying we need to have some literal skin in the game or we will be lost and aimless forever.
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With Raven’s Help: 1 Kings 17

watchingweirdDelivered at Ames UCC
on November 6, 2016
©The Rev. Eileen Gebbie

Sermons are written to be
heard rather than read.
Please join us for worship
at 10:30 a.m. on Sundays.

A NATION
A nation was born. Its people had been unwelcome in their previous home land. They escaped persecution and poverty. They came to a new land, not an open or unoccupied land, but a new one.

They warred, they built a government, and lifted up leaders. They had a formal statement of values which, in theory, guided their actions.

But over time, things fell apart. Or, at least, the nation did not live up to its potential. The people who should have been protected by the founding rules were not. Corruption didn’t just occur, it was broadcast. Unity was impossible. Factions broke away and denied, rejected, any relationship with the others.

Sound familiar? Sound like America on the brink of this presidential election? As Qohelet wrote in Ecclesiastes (1.9), “There is nothing new under the sun.” This is the context for today’s passage in the first book of Kings.

The Hebrew people, freed from slavery, made a home through conquer and colonialism. The Ten Commandments, a testimony to respect and relationship, should have guided them to create a community of care and wisdom. Instead the people cried out for a king so that they could be recognized in international politics.

The kings acted as kings do, selfishly. Over time the nation broke in two, with Israel to the north and Judah to the south. Now Ahab is the king of Israel in the north. Ahab “did more to vex the Lord, the God of Israel, than all the kinds of Israel who preceded him” (1 Kings 16.33).

ELECTION
I cannot speak for God, but I feel pretty vexed right now. This election season has brought out the worst in us, us as Americans and as individuals. The violence has crossed all party lines. There seem to be no more social consequences for writing off people of a certain race or religion or geographic origin. Threats of violence no longer need be anonymous—you can tweet them right under your own name. It feels as if any awareness of shared humanity, even if not shared experiences, has been tweeted and talking head-ed out of existence. The concept of what constitutes a fact is now unstable.
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