Stillspeaking Bible Study:
Nine short Bible studies which illustrate what the United
Church of Christ means when it says, "God is still speaking."
hath yet more light and truth to break
forth from God’s Holy Word”* – John Robinson
The phrase “God is still speaking”
as a 21st century version of this historic quote
from John Robinson, pastor to the Pilgrims who
set sail from Holland for the New World in 1620.
"Stillspeaking Bible Study," Anthony B. Robinson
Genesis 28:10-17, Bill Green
Exodus 3:7-15, David Schoen
Joshua 1:1-9, Tina Villa
Isaiah 43:15-19, Anthony B. Robinson
Luke 18:35-43, Rev. Guillermo Márquez-Sterling
2 Corinthians 4:3-6, Lillian Daniel
Acts 10:34-38, Martin B. Copenhaver
John 2:1-11, Donna Schaper
John 16:12-13, Ron Buford
About the Writers
Stillspeaking Bible Study
A single tone infuses the nine different voices we hear in these Bible studies. It is a tone of urgency.
Nine different voices interpreting nine different biblical passages urgently saying one thing: we serve a living, loving God who is still speaking, who is not finished yet, who has more truth and light to break forth, and who is calling you and me to respond this day. Right now.
This urgent message is not new. It is old, very old. It is woven deep into our Scriptures, tradition and story as Christians and as the United Church of Christ. And yet it is at the same time totally new, because God's living word is always new and alive. To say that "God is still speaking" is to connect us with our past for the sake of our future.
How might you-pastors and teachers, church educators, small group leaders, and church members-use these nine, brief Bible studies? You could:
Here are some things not to do with these Bible studies. Do not:
Anthony B. Robinson
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“Jacob left Beersheba and set out for Haran. When he reached a certain place, he stopped for the night because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones there, he put it under his head and lay down to sleep. He had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. There above it stood the LORD, and he said: ‘I am the LORD, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring. I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.’ When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, ‘Surely the LORD is in this place, and I was not aware of it.’ He was afraid and said, ‘How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.’”
With nothing but a stone for a pillow, estranged from the angry brother he had betrayed who was now planning to kill him, amid the desolation of the wilderness late at night, Jacob found "the gate of heaven," experiencing a God who was still speaking amid so much that said God wasn't. At a vulnerable moment when all the odds seemed against it, God becomes real for him as never before. And Jacob finds himself chosen to carry on divine promise to bless "all the families of the earth." An ordinary stone and an unholy place prove to be the house of God, a place where heaven meets earth and God's presence becomes known.
There was nothing in Jacob's own past that could have prepared him for this experience. He came from a pious household only to learn, in the words of contemporary poet, Jack Gilbert: "God does not live among the church bells, but is briefly resident there. We are occasional like that. A lifetime of easy happiness mixed with pain and loss, trying always to name and hold on to the enterprise under way in our chest. Reality is not what we marry as a feeling. It is what walks up the dirt path, through the excessive heat and giant sky ...." ("Music Is In the Piano Only When It Is Played")
For Jacob it was not the excessive heat but the cold of the desert late at night. This was no reality he would court as blessing and the gate of heaven!
We are not confined to visions of God as victories of faith, any more than was Jacob. God speaks within the shadows of our lives, not only the sunlight. We may trust the God who still speaks beyond what we ourselves have known, and even in our wildest dreams. We do so, not alone, but in the company of others through the ages who have found that this is a God whose magnificence is the more extraordinary by becoming known in unproven places-including a jerkwater village like Bethlehem, where Jesus was born.
God is still speaking amid all we feel and face, and perhaps never more so than when we wish we were in some better place facing instead what we want to feel, not whatever "walks up the dirt path."
Surely the Lord is in this dirt path. "Surely the Lord is in this place-and I did not know it." In the original Hebrew the verse literally reads, "and I, I did not know." The sense is, "and me, I didn't know." Meaning, "and I wasn't full of myself" or "I wasn't so busy paying attention to my own feelings that I missed it."
God is still speaking! Amid the din, often the dullness, also the disappointment of feeling that so easily consumes us, are we listening? Can we hear? Will we, like Jacob, let our "stones" become the gate of heaven? Like so many of our forebears, will we, too, hear the stillspeaking God addressing us in ways we haven't heard or heeded before - and even amid circumstances we'd rather avoid?
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“The LORD said, ‘I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey - the home of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them. So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.’ But Moses said to God, ‘Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?’ And God said, ‘I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain.’ Moses said to God, ‘Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, “The God of your fathers has sent me to you,” and they ask me, “What is his name?” Then what shall I tell them?’ God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: “I AM has sent me to you.”’ God also said to Moses, ‘Say to the Israelites, “The LORD, the God of your fathers - the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob - has sent me to you.” This is my name foorever, the name by which I am to be remembered from generation to generation.’”
Moses heard the still speaking God out of the burning bush, calling and sending him to God's people. The still speaking God is still calling and sending us, today. The still speaking God has a question for me every day when I drive to work in Cleveland, through a billboard that asks, "Where will you be in 2020"? Every day, that sign makes me wonder what the future might hold for the church: a question that pastors often ask, wondering if there is a future for the church, a future for our congregations, a future for our United Church of Christ ministry and witness.
God calls Moses to go back to Israel to lead the people out of bondage to freedom. When Moses asks the question "When I go to my people and to Pharaoh, whom shall I say has sent me?" the still speaking God responds, "Tell them, Yahweh has sent you".
Yahweh is a name of God that is often translated "I am what I am." But those who know Hebrew know that the name is wonderfully rich and engaging because it can be translated in many ways. Although we know that the name Yahweh is made up of the repetition of the verb "to be" with a conjunction in between, we don't really know what tense the verb is or what the conjunction is. Yahweh can be translated as "I will be what I will be," or "I will be what I was," or "I was what I will be," or even "I will be what I want to be."
The translation of the name of God in the Hebrew Torah that I study speaks powerfully to me. It translates Yahweh as "I will be what tomorrow demands." What a great name for the still speaking God! I am struck by how this translation of Yahweh speaks directly to my questions about the future.
God was the future that the Hebrew people needed in the exodus. In Jesus Christ we see God meeting our future needs and overcoming sin, fear, destruction, even death to prepare and claim a good future for us and the world.
An answer to our fear and anxiety about the future comes from the still speaking God who will be what our tomorrow demands. That knowledge and remembrance of past times when God was what my tomorrow needed encourages me each day. I want to share with others the good news, welcome and hope of the still speaking God who will be what tomorrow demands.
The question is not whether there is a future. The still speaking God has a future for us, for the world and the church, for the United Church of Christ and our congregations. The question becomes whether we will be people of the future, not people of the past or even the present, but the disciples that the future demands because, like Moses, we hear and follow a still speaking God.
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“After the death of Moses the servant of the LORD, the LORD said to Joshua son of Nun, Moses' aide: ‘Moses my servant is dead. Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the Jordan River into the land I am about to give to them - to the Israelites. I will give you every place where you set your foot, as I promised Moses. Your territory will extend from the desert to Lebanon, and from the great river, the Euphrates - all the Hittite country - to the Great Sea on the west. No one will be able to stand up against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you. Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their forefathers to give them. Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.’”
The Lord your God is with you wherever you go." This passage ends with reassurance, but not only reassurance. Before the comfort comes a command: "Be strong and courageous." God's reassurances, God's "I will not fail you or forsake you," are paired with the words, "I hereby command you."
"God is still speaking" is another expression of reassurance, another way to say that God is still there, for anyone who wonders if God has abandoned them, or the world. Since life is full of things that make us wonder whether God is really with us-or whether God is really anywhere at all, what makes this piece of scripture believable? And when we say "God is still speaking," what makes that more than a slogan?
Before the reassurance, God gives instructions to Joshua on what the people must do in order to be strong and courageous in the certainty of God's presence. If the people do not want to live in the fear and dismay of a life without God, they must be "careful to act in accordance with all the law that my servant Moses commanded you .... This book of the law shall not depart out of your mouth; you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to act in accordance with all that is written in it."
In other words, we know God is with us when we live by what we learn in church. This scripture tells us that we can't just make up how to live on our own. It tells us that God's presence is not found in a private or personal relationship with God. We get the strength and courage of knowing God is with us only in the midst of life with others. "Law," after all, is what enables people to live together.
God is still speaking-but don't expect a personalized message that you can get without leaving home. You take the message home from church. The message is in Scripture: heard and learned in church, where it's publicly acknowledged as authority by all present. In church, no matter who you are or where you are on life's journey, you hear the same Word. It's an equal opportunity, always available.
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Anthony B. Robinson
“I am the LORD, your Holy One, Israel's Creator, your King. This is what the LORD says - he who made a way through the sea, a path through the mighty waters, who drew out the chariots and horses, the army and reinforcements together, and they lay there, never to rise again, extinguished, snuffed out like a wick: Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.”
How odd that God should say, "Do not remember the former things," especially when the two preceding verses point so unmistakably to a "former thing," that is, the Exodus. God brought the people of Israel out of slavery and bondage and through the Red Sea. And yet the word is very clear, "Do not remember the former things."
Had the people of God become fixated on past "glory days"? "Remember the good old days, when we were God's beloved, when God led us through the Red Sea and went before us in the wilderness?" Or had they become stuck upon days of shame and iniquity that led to their present situation, exile in Babylon? "Our sins were so many that there can be no hope, no possibility of redemption and return home!"
Either one - a fixation on the good old days or on past failure and present decline - shall blind Israel to God's capacity to do a new thing. In all likelihood, the Exodus story is cited to remind the people that God can do an utterly new, a completely unexpected thing. God can hold back the river. God can set the captives free. God can bring the exiles home. God can do a new thing.
Can God do a new thing in our churches, in the congregations of the United Church of Christ? Can God turn anxious congregations into confident ones? Can God raise up leaders who speak boldly? Can God turn congregations that have become clubs for "our kind of people" into communities of faith and transformation that invite all God's people to find a spiritual home and new life in Christ? Can God make water to flow in the dry deserts that our congregations and our lives have at times become? Can God do a new thing?
Absolutely! But how, how is this to happen? Look back to the very first words of this passage. "I am the Lord, your Holy One." What the prophet asserts is both simple and profound: God is God, and there is no other.
If God is to do a new thing among us, it will be because our trust lies in God and not in countless other things, even though some of those other things have great value. Still, they are not God. "I am the Lord, your Holy One." The other things to which our hearts cling may include "the way we do things here," former glory days, a church building, particular church programs, our financial resources or endowment. These may be wonderful gifts of God, but they are not God. None of these have the power to save or make new. God alone has that power.
Other "former things" or "things of old" may include our experiences of sin and failure, loss and betrayal. But in verse 25 we read, "I, I am He who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins." God too will not remember the former things. The former things are important and need to be taken seriously, only not with ultimate seriousness. God is ready to make a new beginning.
Is the sovereign God of heaven and earth still speaking? That is the fundamental question. Do we serve a living God who is powerful in our midst? The prophet answers, "God is doing a new thing, now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?"
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Rev. Guillermo Márquez-Sterling
“As Jesus approached Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard the crowd going by, he asked what was happening. They told him, ‘Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.’ He called out, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’ Those who led the way rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’ Jesus stopped and ordered the man to be brought to him. When he came near, Jesus asked him, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ ‘Lord, I want to see,’ he replied. Jesus said to him, ‘Receive your sight; your faith has healed you.’ Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus, praising God. When all the people saw it, they also praised God.”
It was a beautiful Miami day in early March. My mother, whose aging mind was weighing her down, needed more attention from me than I was accustomed to giving. Due to circumstances beyond my control, she drove with me to the University of Miami where I was to provide a prayer for the janitors who worked there.
These were Latino men and women, and they were demanding fair wages from the university. These were oppressed people, living a lifetime of poverty, who had found their voice and had gathered enough courage to stand up to the forces of the university. They were demanding fair wages, but most importantly, they were asking to be recognized. The leadership of the university was refusing to dialogue with them. They did not want these Latino janitors to have a voice.
My mother and I entered the room where the janitors were assembled and we saw people who were tired from years of hard manual labor. The skin on their hands was weathered from years of having to work with chemicals. Their eyes reflected the oppression of having to labor too hard for far too little money.
I sat my mother down, who began to converse with an elderly janitorial worker. I smiled. Leave it to my mother to make friends within seconds of sitting down. We read from Luke: a blind man calling out to Jesus, "pay attention to me; Jesus, Son of David, heal me." This was a passage about a man finding enough courage to call out and be heard. I told the people who had gathered to pray that this was a passage about them.
The words of Jesus, "what would you like from me?" spoke to us on that day, and the janitors knew that God's presence was with them on their struggle for fair wages and fair labor practices. On that day, something happened to each and every one of us. The Spirit of God touched us as it moved through the hands of a community seeking for God.
On our way out, the people hugged and thanked me, but they also hugged my mother. Two women laughed with her, and I realized that my aging mother had made two new friends. They exchanged phone numbers and giggled some more. The janitors assembled to hold their picket signs, and I guided my mother back to the car. A doctor's appointment was waiting for her.
I smiled, teary-eyed, knowing that God is most definitely still speaking.
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2 Corinthians 4:3-6
“And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake. For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.”
Our churches, forged in the rebellious heat of the Protestant Reformation, fleeing religious oppression in lands where the reforms had not taken hold, hold a history of respecting each individual's relationship with a living God. When we claim the right to interpret scripture for ourselves as individuals, this is not "anything goes" cultural relativism. It goes back to teachings of the great Protestant reformer, John Calvin, who in the 16th century introduced the doctrine of the perspicuity of scripture, meaning every individual has the right and even the responsibility to engage scripture for herself.
I do know that "the perspicuity of scripture" is not a catchy slogan for the church. But how about John Robinson's words from 1621 instead? "There is yet more light and truth to break forth from God's holy word."
Or how about this? God is still speaking.
"God is still speaking" is just a clear and simple way to reflect our Reformation tradition, history and witness. It is not some trendy thing we just came up with. It's a deep theological truth that stands for the best of who we are. It allows the United Church of Christ to be a church in which you are not required to drop your brain at the sidewalk, but are actually expected to bring it into church with you.
God is still speaking. Let light shine out of the darkness. Tell your stories of faith. Do not be embarrassed to admit that God lives in your church, and that we are always listening for God's word.
We are a Christian church shaped by the scripture, tradition and teachings of those generations who came before us, who proclaim Christ as lord of both the living and the dead, and who aspire to follow a moral and ethical code that brings glory to God.
But we are also a church that believes God is still speaking, and that there is always more light to come out of the darkness. So we balance that rich sense of history and tradition with an openness to new things. It's really an openness to the Holy Spirit, which is hardly a new idea.
No, the tradition itself, being based upon God's new revelation in Jesus Christ, incarnate, has been open for two thousand years, and shame upon any modem Christian Pharisees who try to shut it down.
It's time for the veil to be pulled off the gospel, because - and here's the rebuke we receive from scripture - the gospel is veiled to those who are perishing.
And who are those people? They are people who are distant from God, hurting and in pain. They are people who were injured somewhere by a Christian church. And not realizing that there are other options, they languish, lonely for God and separated from the Christian family.
So if the gospel seems to be veiled, covered up, hidden to those people, whose fault is it? It's ours. We need to take responsibility. Because if we can proclaim that God is still speaking, we better remember that we need to be speaking as well.
We need to live as though the most important person in the church is the one who has not yet walked through the door.
And how are they going to get here? You're going to have to tell them. Even a television ad cannot take the place of one person talking to another.
We need to tell our Christian story, not just within the walls of this church, but out there in the world, because people are perishing. As the scripture puts it, "In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel," and God help us, sometimes the church has helped. It's time for the great unveiling.
We've got to pull the veil off for the person out there, blinded by the gods of the world but longing for the light of Christ, longing for a church where respect for the individual is balanced with the covenant to be a real community, and where no one is judged except by God Almighty.
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Martin B. Copenhaver
“Then Peter began to speak: ‘I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right. You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, telling the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. You know what has happened throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached - how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him. We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen - by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.’ While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles. For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God. Then Peter said, ‘Can anyone keep these people from being baptized with water? They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.’ So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days.”
Revelation may occur in a flash but it can take time for the full implications to be understood. In Jesus' day there was great enmity between Jews and Gentiles. Not only was a Jew forbidden to eat with Gentiles, if a Gentile were to walk into the kitchen of a Jewish household while a meal was being prepared, the entire meal would have to be thrown out because it was believed to have been made unclean by the Gentile's presence. But Jesus surprised and confounded his contemporaries by sharing meals, sharing his life, with Gentiles.
Nevertheless, Jesus' revelation of God's radical welcome to all people was not immediately understood by his followers. In the earliest days of the church it was assumed that to be a follower of Jesus one must be a Jew. There was not yet any sense that Jesus' teachings, his life, his death and resurrection were for anyone but Jews.
Then one night Peter had a startling dream featuring a large sheet coming down from heaven, laid out like a table cloth, with every manner of animal that a Jew is forbidden to eat. He heard a voice saying, "Get up, Peter; kill and eat." Peter probably thought that this voice was posing some kind of spiritual test, and he was sure he had the right answer: "By no means, Lord; I have never eaten anything profane or unclean." The voice said to him, in a kind of rebuke, "What God has made clean, you must not call profane."
Peter could not conceive of something so inconceivable, nor could he accept anything so clearly unacceptable. While he was still pondering these things, however, there was a knock at his door. There he met three messengers who asked him to visit the home of Cornelius, a Roman army officer who, though he was a Gentile, was known as an ''upright and God-fearing man." It seems that Cornelius had also been having strange dreams and in one he had been told to send for Peter.
When Peter was ushered into Cornelius' house he was startled to see all of Cornelius' relatives and many of his friends gathered there, a sea of Gentile faces, all eyes on Peter, eager to meet this visitor and the God he worships.
Peter said, "You know, of course, that it is unlawful for me, as a Jew, to associate with or to visit a Gentile; but God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean." The meaning of Peter's vision had become clear. It is not merely that there is no food that is to be declared unclean, but-a much more far-reaching revelation-no person should be understood as unclean. God's embrace is wider than our own. The welcome of Jesus extends further than we usually allow.
Given what Peter believed about the relationship between Jews and Gentiles, it would have been remarkable if he had said, "1 truly understand that God does not want us to hate one another." It would have been startling if he had said, "I truly understand that God wants us to accept one another." It would have been revolutionary if he had said, "I truly understand that God wants us to be in relationship with one another." But Peter says more than any of those things, and more than all of that combined. Peter says, in essence, "No one is in and no one is out. We are the same in God's sight."
That story is such a pivotal one, not merely because it traces an important moment in the history of the church, but also because it reminds us that that history continues. God is still showing us things we would not have seen on our own. God is still extending a wider welcome than we would be inclined to give. We are still trying to penetrate the significance of the scriptural witness that Jesus Christ is Lord of all.
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“On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus' mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine was gone, Jesus' mother said to him, ‘They have no more wine.’ ‘Dear woman, why do you involve me?’ Jesus replied. ‘My time has not yet come.’ His mother said to the servants, ‘Do whatever he tells you.’ Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, ‘Fill the jars with water’; so they filled them to the brim. Then he told them, ‘Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.’ They did so, and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside and said, ‘Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.’ This, the first of his miraculous signs, Jesus performed at Cana in Galilee. He thus revealed his glory, and his disciples put their faith in him.”
We are no longer the church we were. The Stillspeaking Initiative has changed the story that we tell about ourselves. We are no longer the people of membership decline but instead the people of extravagant welcome. We are no longer defining ourselves by what we are not but now define ourselves by commas, etched in red and black, punctuation that says God's revelation is ongoing and we are lining up to hear the new.
As a church of firsts, an "early" church, we know what it is like to make history. We ordained the first free black slave, the first woman, and the first gay person. We made noise about the Federal Communication Commission and the need for airwave justice before most people knew there was an issue.
We also threw some tea into the Boston Harbor, making a kind of history that school children now must learn. We know what it is like to be early - and we know the temptation that entails. Many of us think our best years have already been and gone. They are wrong. God has yet more light and truth to shine forth, as John Robinson said, and, comma, he wasn't kidding.
Consider the real message of the story about Jesus, the water and the wine. It is a warning away from famine into feast, away from scarcity into plenty. It is also a story about the end time. What it says is that even better things are coming than have come before. For those of us who live in times of spiritual famine - most notably expressed in the epidemic time famine of first world people - and those of us who live in times of doom - as in when will the next bad thing happen and how - this story is a glorious antidote.
It says two things on two levels: one is that feast will (miraculously) beat out famine as metaphor and actuality for life. It also says that things at the end will be better than they were in the beginning. The good wine is saved till last. No doubt Jesus was also letting this incident say something about who he was to become, but that is another story. For now just reconsider the feast that the United Church of Christ was, is and will be. Replace the myth of decline and running out of wine and time with the myth of hope for a beautiful future. Know that God is still speaking and that the best is yet to come.
Prayer: God of the comma, God of the grape, God of the surprising future, draw near and bless our church, not with arrogance about how great we have been or will be but with a humility and gratitude born of the feast that is set before us. In the name of Jesus who came and who will come again, Amen.
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have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the
Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on
his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to
Long before the Internet, Jesus reassures his followers that when he can no longer be with them physically as master teacher, they will have something even better - the presence of a Divine teacher so close as to be a virtual teacher running alongside them. Jesus goes on to say their new teacher will be even better than his physical presence because they will have access to a perpetual Presence as teacher, coach, and comforter, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Such a teacher could only be God's own presence with us, the Holy Spirit.
Perhaps the Church is tentative when it teaches about this virtual teacher because of the natural fear of losing control or fear of change. How can we maintain the Faith amidst continually changing understanding?
Jesus seems more interested in creating an expectation for dynamism and continuous learning about life, the world around us, and God than he is about control. When Jesus says, "I still have many things to say to you but you cannot bear them now," He does not stop there. He goes on to promise the comfort and guidance of another, the Spirit of Truth who will declare the things that are to come. In other words, the Way Christ taught will never become obsolete . . . as long as we look and listen for the Spirit in the moment who makes us relevant in each generation. The Spirit will not only impart words that may be challenging, but comfort as well amidst the change.
This passage creates a picture of dynamism. The Spirit speaks Divine words in the moment, sending impressions for you and me when we need them, when we're ready to understand them and put them to use. Thus the church, the life, the organization, the individual and relationships that embrace the Spirit, embrace God's continually unfolding future, are continually re-created. God efficiently makes us ready for whatever lies ahead - just in time.
Is it any wonder Jesus said continually, "Be not afraid?"
Prayer: Gracious God, help us to be ever mindful of your Spirit Presence each day. Sometimes there is so much change that we simply want the change to stop. Help us to recognize when your Spirit calls us to change. Thank you for the many times your Spirit Presence has come and helped us adapt to changes all around us. Help us to look for and wait upon your Divine Presence.
Like the dawn of each new day, may we be the re-creating and re-created people you call us to be. Amen.
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ABOUT THE WRITERS
Ron Buford is Coordinator and Team Leader of The Stillspeaking Initiative, United Church of Christ.
Martin Copenhaver is Senior Pastor, Wellesley Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, Wellesley, Massachusetts.
Lillian Daniel is Senior Minister, First Congregational Church, UCC, Glen Ellyn, Illinois.
Bill Green is Minister and Team Leader, Stewardship and Church Finances Ministry, Local Church Ministries, United Church of Christ.
Guillermo Márquez-Sterling is Associate Pastor of Coral Gables Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, Coral Gables, Florida.
Anthony B. Robinson is a speaker, teacher, author and UCC pastor.
Donna Schaper is Pastor of Judson Memorial Church, New York, New York.
David Schoen is Minister and Team Leader, Evangelism Ministry, Local Church Ministries, United Church of Christ.
Tina Villa is Minister for Stewardship Resources, Stewardship and Church Finances, Local Church Ministries, United Church of Christ.
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God is still speaking.