Daily Prayer :: Water

Encouragement for a lifelong journey of faith

August 24, 2019 — The surprised couple

Today’s Bible reading

Read Acts 5:1-11

Immediately she fell down at his feet and died. When the young men came in they found her dead, so they carried her out and buried her beside her husband. And great fear seized the whole church and all who heard of these things. …

A great number of people would also gather from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing the sick and those tormented by unclean spirits, and they were all cured.

More thoughts for meditation

The famous story of Ananias and Sapphira is told in Acts 5. They band together to support each other in withholding the proceeds of their property while appearing to give it all. Their  intimacy is achieved at the expense of the larger community. In his commentary on the passage, Willie James Jennings does not mince words about them:

Here is the energy that drives the most powerful forms of cultural, social, or economic boundaries. Here is the fortress that resists the new order most consistently. Here is where the worship of possessions and money come fully to life: in the two made one flesh. Together they imagine they can do anything. Together they believe in their sovereignty.

Being materialistic or deceptive might not be worthy of death. It was the threat of the sovereign couple that needed to be challenged for the community to survive and flourish.

Jennings seems to think this narrative speaks more powerfully to the present era than the ancient. He writes to us,

We have not had the courage to face the idolatry of the couple…Modern coupling is an energy-draining vortex that seeks to capture all our imaginative capacity for intimacy. 

The Holy Spirit takes back from the couple what rightly belongs to God and to the community formed in and through the resurrected Jesus. No longer will the couple be the keeper of the secret, the owner of the intimate, or the custodian of the closed field of dreams, both personal and private. The community of Jesus confronts the couple with a new truth: you belong to us; we do not belong to you.

In short, alongside the first sense of the revolution of the intimate that we saw in Acts 10, where those who are distant are made close, there is also this second sense: the revolution of the intimate must revolutionize the way intimacy is usually practiced.

Suggestions for action

We couple in many ways. The most “sovereign” way is our marriage and the kingdom of our families. Consider this surprising look at the surprising incident of Ananias and Sapphira. Is your family subject to the resurrected Jesus? Ask Jesus about it.

Consider the secrets you and your mate keep, married or not. Do you have  a tacit agreement to keep your distance from God? Do you feel your mate would object if you were wholeheartedly a member of the new community in Christ — would they feel they “lost you” to Jesus or are in competition with the church? Ask each other.

August 23, 2019 — A story of generosity

Today’s Bible reading 

Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. There was a Levite, a native of Cyprus, Joseph, to whom the apostles gave the name Barnabas (which means “son of encouragement”). He sold a field that belonged to him, then brought the money, and laid it at the apostles’ feet. — Acts 4:32-37

More thoughts for meditation

This is certainly not a new passage to Circle of Hope: we’ve all seen and heard it before. But it’s still startling and provocative and surprising. If you can, turn off your expectations of how this works practically or technically, maybe turn off your cynicism, and read this passage again, waiting on the Spirit to surprise you. Read it slowly. Read it quickly. Read it hungrily. Let these words shock you with a glimpse into the community that God is joining.

Jennings writes that “too often in our reading of this story our view is clouded by the spectacular giving and we miss the spectacular joining.” (50) I think I’ve generally described this story as one of “generosity” because I have a great deal of fear of losing what I have; I’m loss-averse. But it’s not really a story of giving, but simultaneously one of receiving and joining. A community is formed, and in my view, that mainly consists of me giving up my things. Even as someone who’s lived in all kinds of communities, that’s clearly a ridiculous understatement of the kind of radical joining taking place here!

Suggestions for action

  1. What kind of joining is the Spirit inviting you into? Where have you underestimated the welcome of God to God’s table? Take some time to write down ways in which you feel invited deeper into God’s community.
  2. What are some specific ways in which you could extend this joining to someone today? Maybe someone you already share extensively with (like your immediate family) or someone you’re less strongly connected to (like someone at a different Circle congregation) or someone you might meet for the first time today. Take some time to write down a few ideas and brainstorms along this train of thought. If you have time now, get started on one or two of them.
  3. Again: try moving through your day with your senses open for the ways in which the Spirit might be inviting you into something surprising.

August 22, 2019 — The common is the gift

Today’s Bible reading

After they were released, they went to their friends and reported what the chief priests and the elders had said to them. When they heard it, they raised their voices together to God and said, “Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth, the sea, and everything in them, it is you who said by the Holy Spirit through our ancestor David, your servant:

‘Why did the Gentiles rage,
    and the peoples imagine vain things?
The kings of the earth took their stand,
    and the rulers have gathered together
        against the Lord and against his Messiah.’

For in this city, in fact, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. 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. — Acts 4:23-31

More thoughts for meditation

Yesterday, we reflected from the position of the religious council members. Today, let’s again return to the perspective of the disciples. 

A quick note on the word “gentiles:” it’s easy to gloss over or look past this language, because it uncomfortably reminds us of a long and brutal history of Christian supercessionism and anti-Semitism. This is not of God. We as Christians are guests, called to Christ’s table, witness to the joy and power of the Spirit as it is poured out on all flesh. Reading this text helps us understand the provocative and unbelievable joining that God is bringing into the world, even across such lines as indicated by the word “gentiles.”

Here are some reflections from Willie James Jennings’ commentary on this passage:

The modern lie of individualism is most powerful when we imagine that boldness comes from within. It does not. It comes from without, from the Spirit of God. The disciples gathered together to ask for what comes from without: “now, Lord, look at their threats, and grant to your servants to speak your word with all boldness…” (v. 29). They see the threat, they pray, and they ask for boldness. This moment sets the template for the movement, for any movement that is of Jesus. We saw it in the civil rights movement. We see it in movements today. There will always be threats because they are the central currency of this world. Threats reflect the anxieties of the powers and principalities having migrated in the hearts of those who believe that they must control religious and political movements, rendering them innocuous or exploitable. We should never marvel at threats. We should marvel here at the action of God witnessed in this template-setting moment.

They prayed and God shook the place. Again the Holy Spirit comes and fills the disciples as they speak, but this speaking is already a joined speaking, a chorus of faith. They speak the word of God with boldness. This shaking of the Spirit is not simply a sign of power, but of pleasure. God’s excitement is evident here. Here and now God’s people are one — calling on the faith and boldness of Jesus to do the divine will. Here and now the new order confronts the old order and God sees the unfolding of divine desire in and among God’s creatures. This is the Spirit’s quivering joy exposed in the impartation of holy power. Yet what comes to the disciples now is not simply boldness. In fact boldness is not the ultimate gift but the intensification of the common. The common is the gift realized in the Spirit. (49-50)

Suggestions for action

  1. Try praying exactly the prayer written in this passage. Read it through, out loud. What does it feel like to pray that boldly for this kind of power and boldness? Do you feel God’s delight and joy, like Jennings describes? Do you feel boldness?
  2. The common is the gift. Are you reading and praying as an individual or as a member of the body?
  3. Again: try moving through your day with your senses open for the ways in which the Spirit might be inviting you into something surprising.

August 21, 2019 — Looking at it from the other side

Today’s Bible reading 

Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John and realized that they were uneducated and ordinary men, they were amazed and recognized them as companions of Jesus. When they saw the man who had been cured standing beside them, they had nothing to say in opposition. So they ordered them to leave the council while they discussed the matter with one another. They said, “What will we do with them? For it is obvious to all who live in Jerusalem that a notable sign has been done through them; we cannot deny it. But to keep it from spreading further among the people, let us warn them to speak no more to anyone in this name.” So they called them and ordered them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in God’s sight to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge; for we cannot keep from speaking about what we have seen and heard.” After threatening them again, they let them go, finding no way to punish them because of the people, for all of them praised God for what had happened. For the man on whom this sign of healing had been performed was more than forty years old. — Acts 4:13-22

More thoughts for meditation

Let’s flip our perspectives from reading this story as Peter and John to reading it as the members of the religious council. Some of us reading this may indeed be in legitimate positions of influence and power religiously over our community(ies). Watch the reactions of these council members closely: first, they (we) were amazed and recognized the disciples as companions of Jesus. Then, after seeing the man who was cured, they have (we had) nothing to say in opposition. So far so good.

But then they (we) say to each other: “What will we do with them?” Their (our) intent now turns towards suppressing these stories and squashing this energy. Why? Why do we squash the beautiful and vital energy of the active and moving Holy Spirit rather than letting that energy grow? What is it that flips us from faithful attentiveness to God’s movements to fearful resistance of the Spirit’s surprising power?

I don’t mean this figuratively: I know that I am routinely so judgmental and locked in my own way of thinking about the world and about God that I deny the actions of the Spirit even when they are standing, literally, right in front of me. I don’t think I’m alone in this. Perhaps this sounds familiar to you as well.

Suggestions for action

  1. Take some time to write about times this story has reflected your own attitudes towards the movement of the Spirit. When have you been judgmental rather than receptive, closed rather than open?
  2. Again: try moving through your day with your senses open for the ways in which the Spirit might be inviting you into something surprising.
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