These are exciting times in the life of the University Park Church of the Brethren! We have called a new pastor, have a strategic vision and plans, and a heart for serving our community far and wide! As exciting as it is, it’s also a little daunting. We know it won’t be easy to accomplish all that we wish to accomplish.
The Book of Acts tells us that the first days of the Christian Church were also exciting. And a bit daunting as well. As you can imagine, creating a new religious experience irritated the existing religious authorities around. It wasn’t long before Peter and John, the leaders of this first Jesus church, were arrested, held in jail overnight, and then brought before the Church Council.
When they were hauled in front of the council, scripture says that they spoke with such boldness that those gathered were amazed and recognized them as companions of Jesus. The council, not having anything to charge them with, let them go, but with a warning: “If you keep this up you won’t get off so easily next time.”
Now, we can only imagine how daunting it must have been to face the religious establishment—who also had civil authority to jail you–to get thrown in jail overnight and threatened. Remember, this is the same religious leadership who had just colluded with the Romans to execute Jesus. But they had a message that could not keep inside, and so they prayed. Pay attention here to what they prayed for and what happened.
And now, Lord, look at their threats, and grant to your servants to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.’ When they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God with boldness.
They prayed for boldness. The valuable resource that they asked God for was boldness. This is so fascinating to me. They didn’t pray for Jesus to come back and save the day. They didn’t pray for God to change the ruling powers, or for the Council to have a change of heart, or for the money so they could move somewhere else. They prayed to God for themselves, so that they could keep being conduits for God.
As our congregation calls a permanent pastor, continues to move forward with strategic goals, and yearns to reach out to the community and the world, we too pray for boldness!
Dorothy Day has been called an American saint. She took her Christian faith right into the most dreadful slums of New York City in the 1930s. There she established the first Catholic Worker House, a place of radical Christian discipleship. That house became a place of hospitality for the down and out — for men Day later described as “grey men, the color of lifeless trees and bushes and winter soil, who had in them as yet none of the green of hope, the rising sap of faith.” Not long after, the Catholic Worker House began welcoming women and children as well.
One day, a wealthy socialite pulled up to the house in a big car. She received the obligatory tour of the mission from Day herself. When she was about to leave, the woman impulsively pulled a diamond ring off her finger and handed it to Day. The staff was ecstatic when they heard about this act of generosity. The ring, they realized, could be sold for enough money to take some pressure off the budget, at least for a while.A day or two later, though, one of them noticed the diamond ring on the finger of a homeless woman who was leaving the mission. Immediately, the staff members confronted Day. Why, in heaven’s name, would she just give away a valuable piece of jewelry like that? Day responded: “That woman was admiring the ring. She thought it was so beautiful. So I gave it to her. Do you think God made diamonds just for the rich?”
As we move towards and beyond Easter, we are drawn towards the extravagant love of God. And not just in and through Jesus. Many Bible stories are premised in a love that gives with no expectation of return. The woman (or women? Different names in different gospels = many different events?) who pours out an extravagant gift of oil anointing Jesus with love and sorrow and hope for what may yet be. The Prodigal Son, which should really be called the Prodigal Parent for the forgiveness and love shown by the father.
There are many more of these stories in the Bible, but each and every keeps reminding us that God’s math is not our math. That true justice is not tit for tat. That real life is not measured by what we’ve brought in but that true beauty is found when we pour ourselves out. Sometimes our pour is well-measured and thought out. Sometimes it is impulsive and extravagant. Always generous. God made diamonds for everybody.