Community Conversation on Acts 3 & 4

Sermon Notes for 020109

The community of knowing in common is the seed of our life in this place. ~ Wendell Berry from “At A Country Funeral”

Acts 3: 1 One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, at three o’clock in the afternoon. 2 And a man lame from birth was being carried in. People would lay him daily at the gate of the temple called the Beautiful Gate so that he could ask for alms from those entering the temple. 3 When he saw Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked them for alms. 4 Peter looked intently at him, as did John, and said, “Look at us.” 5 And he fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive something from them.

6 But Peter said, “I have no silver or gold, but what I have I give you; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up and walk.”

7 And he took him by the right hand and raised him up; and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong. 8 Jumping up, he stood and began to walk, and he entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God. 9 All the people saw him walking and praising God, 10 and they recognized him as the one who used to sit and ask for alms at the Beautiful Gate of the temple; and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him. 11 While he clung to Peter and John, all the people ran together to them in the portico called Solomon’s Portico, utterly astonished. 12 When Peter saw it, he addressed the people, “You Israelites, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we had made him walk? 13 The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our ancestors has glorified his servant Jesus, whom you handed over and rejected in the presence of Pilate, though he had decided to release him. 14 But you rejected the Holy and Righteous One and asked to have a murderer given to you, 15 and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses. 16 And by faith in his name, his name itself has made this man strong, whom you see and know; and the faith that is through Jesus has given him this perfect health in the presence of all of you. 17 “And now, friends, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. 18 In this way God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, that his Messiah would suffer. 19 Repent therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out, 20 so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Messiah appointed for you, that is, Jesus, 21 who must remain in heaven until the time of universal restoration that God announced long ago through his holy prophets.

Thoughts for conversation –

When have you seen someone suffering, wanted to help, but felt that you had nothing to offer them. In this story, Peter and John do not offer what the man is requesting, but what they believe he truly needs, or atleast all they believe they have to give – God’s redeeming love. Where have you neglected to offer God’s redeeming love to someone when it may well have been the power that would set them free, but to speak or act presented too great a risk (of embarassment, shame, ostracism, offense, real danger). Remember this Peter is the same one who denied Christ 3 times and was forgiven and reconciled by Jesus himself.

As you read further into the trial scenes, how well do you relate to Peter and John and their predicament? What do make of Peter and John’s conversation with the high priest: 18 So they called them and ordered them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. 19 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; 20 for we cannot keep from speaking about what we have seen and heard.”

What happens in your community of knowing in common when you follow completely what God is asking of you?

Community conversation ~ 012109

Sermon Notes for 012509

The community of knowing in common is the seed of our life in this place. ~ Wendell Berry in “At A Country Funeral”

Acts 2: 42 They joined with the other believers and devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, sharing in the Lord’s Supper and in prayer. 43 A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders. 44 And all the believers met together constantly and shared everything they had. 45 They sold their possessions and shared the proceeds with those in need. 46 They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity – 47 all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their group those who were being saved. (NLT)

Acts 4: 32 All the believers were of one heart and mind, and they felt that what they owned was not their own; they shared everything they had. 33 And the apostles gave powerful witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and God’s great favor was upon them all. 34 There was no poverty among them, because people who owned land or houses sold them 35 and brought the money to the apostles to give to others in need. 36 For instance, there was Joseph, the one the apostles nicknamed Barnabas (which means “Son of Encouragement”). He was from the tribe of Levi and came from the island of Cyprus. 37 He sold a field he owned and brought the money to the apostles for those in need. (NLT)

Thoughts for conversation –

What feelings are stirred in you as you hear these passages?

List some of the attitudes & behaviors that characterized these first Christians’ shared life:

How are those things present in your life? How are they absent? What might you do now?

How might you illustrate (words, pictures, actions) this story to someone who had never heard it:

        to a child

        to a tean

        to an adult

At a Country Funeral

by Wendell Berry


Now the old ways that have brought us

farther than we remember sink out of sight

as under the treading of many strangers

ignorant of landmarks. Only once in a while

they are cast clear again upon the mind

as at a country funeral where, amid the soft

lights and hothouse flowers, the expensive

solemnity of experts, notes of a polite musician,

persist the usages of old neighborhood.

Friends and kinsmen come and stand and speak,

knowing the extremity they have come to,

one of their own bearing to the earth the last

of his light, his darkness the sun’s definitive mark.

hey stand and think as they stood and thought

when even the gods were different.

And the organ music, though decorous

as for somebody else’s grief, has its source

in the outcry of pain and hope in log churches,

and on naked hillsides by the open grave,

eastward in mountain passes, in tidelands,

and across the sea. How long a time?

Rock of Ages, cleft for me, let me hide my

self in Thee. They came, once in time,

in simple loyalty to their dead, and returned

to the world. The fields and the work

remained to be returned to. Now the entrance

of one of the old ones into the Rock

too often means a lifework perished from the land

without inheritor, and the field goes wild

and the house sits and stares. Or it passes

at cash value into the hands of strangers.

Now the old dead wait in the open coffin

for the blood kin to gather, come home

for one last time, to hear old men

whose tongues bear an essential topography

speak memories doomed to die.

But our memory of ourselves, hard earned,

is one of the land’s seeds, as a seed

is the memory of the life of its kind in its place,

to pass on into life the knowledge

of what has died. What we owe the future

is not a new start, for we can only begin

with what has happened. We owe the future

the past, the long knowledge

that is the potency of time to come.

That makes of a man’s grave a rich furrow.

The community of knowing in common is the seed

of our life in this place. There is not only

no better possibility, there is no

other, except for chaos and darkness,

the terrible ground of the only possible

new start. And so as the old die and the young

depart, where shall a man go who keeps

the memories of the dead, except home

again, as one would go back after a burial,

faithful to the fields, lest the dead die

a second and more final death.


Wendell Berry, “At a Country Funeral” from The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry. Copyright © 1998. Published and reprinted by arrangement with Counterpoint Press, a member of the Perseus Books Group ( All rights reserved.

Source: The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry (1998).

Listening to Acts 2

Sermon for 011809

Read Acts 2:1-41

What words or phrases stand out for you in the text? Make a note of them in your journal. If the text prompts you to think of something else outside the text – another scripture, or a story, or idea about God (theological concept), make a note of that in your journal and return to the text before you.

Read Acts 2 again, this time attending to your feelings. What do you feel in the text, about the text, or from the text? Mad, Glad, Sad, Scared, Angry, Confused? Imagine yourself in the story, knowing only what those present might have known. How do you respond? What is your reaction if you are one of the disciples who is suddently gifted with this new power to proclaim the might works of God in foreign languages? What if you are Peter, suddenly sensing an urge to preach publicly about something new and unknown. What if you are someone in the crowd – one of these visiting Jews from another secular culture and you witness this strange experience and then hear Peter’s sermon giving new meaning to your ancient faith? Have you ever asked, when confronted with a deep and startling truth, “What do I do now?” How about when Peter says, “Save yourself from this corrupt generation!” What did he mean then? What might he mean now? How do you think the church has misinterpreted that over the centuries and to what effect?

Finally, as you go back over all this, perhaps even reading the text for a third time –
What virtues are stirred in you, if any – faith, hope, love?

Listening to Acts 1

Sermon for Sunday, 011109

Acts 1:1 In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning 2 until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. 3 After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. 4 While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. “This,” he said, “is what you have heard from me; 5 for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”
6 So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” 9 When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10 While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. 11 They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”

12 Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day’s journey away. 13 When they had entered the city, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying, Peter, and John, and James, and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. 14 All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.
Things that stand out for me:
4 While staying with them – Several translations, including NIV & NLT, phrase this as a meal time probably in the upper room in Jerusalem?
4 …the promise of the Father….  5 …baptized with the Holy Spirit…. 8 … you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” — In the gospels, this power is that which flows through Jesus to accomplish miracles, including that wonderful story of the woman reaching out and touching the hem of Jesus’ robe (Luke 8) as well as given by Jesus to the disciples (the 12 and the 70) when they go out on their mission work (Luke 9 & 10). That which enabled Jesus to move and teach and do his ministry with such humble authority and power will come upon the disciples – how wonderfully frightening that must have been.
13 …. they went back to the upper room – a place of familiarity, comfort, security, as well as the place they had known the Lord’s powerful and prayerful presence with them.
14 All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer…. — Some translations read that they were constantly together, which is not actually what the Greek manuscripts suggest. Rather, that they were constantly unified in their prayer efforts, wherever they were. Often, of course, they were together, as this particular scene, and the two that follow, suggest. The upper room was quickly outgrown, so that they met together in some courtyard or other outside gathering place, and on Pentecost Day (Acts 2) which was the Jewish Spring Harvest Festival, they were together near a public place such as the market outside the Temple, perhaps? But that’s for next week.
One of the questions Andrew asked us to consider on Wednesday – “What do the disciples talk about as they travel from the Mt. of Olives to Jerusalem?”
Other questions I ask of myself:  What stirs in your heart as you think about this story? What might God be inviting you into as you wait for God’s next big move in your life? What does it mean to be of one accord in prayer? How do we enter into that and allow the Holy Spirit to lead us even there?
I look forward to what the Lord might speak to us together.

Ministry Opportunities for 2009 and beyond….

I presented my work schedule in the Fall of 2007, based upon a 60 hour work week with roughly 20 hours of involvement with FGCC folks, 20 hours in prayer and study, and 20 hours out in the community in various ways. I am asking for your prayerful consideration and feedback as I continue to explore this allocation of time. Included in this discussion are some new ministry opportunities that have been presented to me by our Area Minister, Rev. Dr. Larry Ross. Below I’ll try to outline them in my present situation.
In 2007 I began to experience a new movement of ministry extending some new opportunities for our ministry to extend out from the local congregation of Forest Grove in ways consistent with the vision and mission of the church.
Existing Work:
The most dramatic of those was the Barnabas Ministry, where I began to serve as a Coach/Mentor to two pastor developers of new Disciples congregations – one in Georgia and one in North Carolina. ( I have finished my work with those two projects and have been asked to come to Indianapolis for a conference where I would meet and begin working with two new projects, as well as help to lead several workshops at the conference. That event is February 23-27. From my earliest discussions at Forest Grove I heard that planting new congregations was part of the long-term vision of the congregation, and this Barnabas ministry is a way for us to be a part of that work. This ministry came into my life through an encounter I had at the NEW07 leadership event, and General Assembly in July of 2007. These encounters led to an invitation to participate in this ministry, and a feeling of being called to do so. ( This work involved two trips during the year out of town, and two hours of phone conference per month per project.
During 2008 I began serving 5 hours/week as the Chaplain of Twin Creeks Rehabilitation Hospital. My work there largely involves providing a listening ear and spiritual support to individuals who lack a local faith community to provide such ministry. ( This ministry began as an opportunity to prepare a proposal for the CEO of the hospital for him to use with his development team as they considered “what it means to provide for the spiritual needs of our patients.” He later asked me if I would consider in fact taking that position as the hospital’s first chaplain. This work began in July of 2008.
New Opportunities:
Back in 2006 I began serving on the NTA Committee on the Ministry (COM). This committee of laity and clergy works with Licensed Ministers of the North Texas Area Disciples of Christ congregations. My commitment to that has concluded. I have just been asked to consider serving as the chair of that committee, which meets 4 Mondays during the year at the NTA office in Garland. In addition, the role of chair of the Area committee also places one on the Regional COM (RCOM), which meets for three sessions of three days each during the year in Ft. Worth – for a total of 12 days per year average. This would be a two year commitment. The RCOM works with lay people or licensed ministers who are candidates for ordination – most typically Seminary Students – over a 3-4 year period. Candidates typically meet with RCOM once per year during that time. RCOM also meets to address clergy misconduct issues.
Second, I have been invited to serve as the Dean of the Lay Ministry Training Program, of which Shirley Johannsen is a graduate, and Gary Rodenbaugh, Tish Franz, Andrew Anderson, and Terri McDonald are currently participants. This would be a two year commitment of 4 Saturday sessions, plus the time involved in preparing for the sessions – maybe an additional 6 full days per year. An interesting note about this opportunity, as Larry Ross has described it – our denomination is in the process of revising the Order of Ministry ( The proposed new Order will include a non-seminary track toward ordination requiring at least 250 contact hours of training leading to competence in 15 areas of Pastoral Ministry. This position of Dean of the LMTP will have an opportunity to help shape that new training track.
You also should know that in August of 2008 I concluded my commitment to direct the NTA Chi Rho Camp program and will be taking at least a two year break from that ministry to focus on these other opportunities.
To sum up –
1) Recent ministries that are concluding:
a) Camp Director – included 1 week / summer, 2 weekends, plus approx. 40 hours prep work.
b) NTA Committee on the Ministry – 1.5 days / quarter
2) Existing ministries beyond the local congregation
a) Barnabas Coach to New Church Planters thru New Church Ministries – 8 days of travel + 8 hrs/month phone conference – pays $1000 stipend per project – 2-3/year.
b) Chaplain – Twin Creeks Rehabilitation Hospital – 5 hrs/week – pays $35/hr – max $750/month
3) New opportunities to serve
a) RCOM & NTA-COM – total of 12 days/year plus a few conference calls – non-compensated, but expenses are covered for travel, housing & meals
b) Dean LMTP – 4 Saturdays + approximately 40 hours/year in planning and preparation – non-compensated but expenses reimbursed.
4) Other Local Community Ministries in which I’m actively involved
a) Allen Area Chamber of Commerce participant
b) Convener of the Allen Area Ministerial Alliance
A few final pieces of ‘context’ – As I think about preparation of our Sabbatical Grant Proposal ( and their guiding question – “What Will Make Your Heart Sing?” I think about the ministry that I currently do in and thru FGCC, and what I hope for the future. I will be increasing my time commitment to prayer and spiritual disciplines, particularly at present following the model outlined in Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises. The two things I find most rewarding in my ministry beyond my study, prayer and devotional life with God are the ministry of Preaching/Teaching, and serving as a Mentor/Guide/Coach to people seeking to discern and grow in their call to ministry and the gifts and graces God has given them. You may have encountered some of my thoughts on ‘A Center for Suburban Spirituality’ driven by the question – What would it mean for our congregation to understand itself primarily as a community of Spiritual Formation and Theological Reflection?” (See for an introduction to that discussion.) My most rewarding ministry lately has been in conversation with folks on that journey of discovery in their own lives and living and growing their faith, spirituality, and ministry in the local congregation and beyond.
I envision this discussion to be one that unfolds over time. My goal will be to discern how I can best glorify and serve God with my ministry efforts and in so doing, to serve Forest Grove as the base of my ministry. I wish to be increasingly transparent with this conversation in the spirit of words by poet Wendell Berry “The community of knowing in common is the seed of our life in this place.” ( As proverbs says: Without counsel, plans go wrong, but with many advisers they succeed. (Pr 15:22) I wish to live more fully my belief that God works thr
ough the wisdom and counsel of the gathered people of faith when they come together in prayer and seek God’s leading.
Any place you see to jump into this conversation, you are welcome.