St Andrew Blog

Learning to Receive at Church Beyond the Walls

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 The Affirm class went to Providence on Saturday, April 30th to worship with Church Beyond the Walls—a specialized mission of the Episcopal Dioceses of RI in partnership with the New England Synod. It’s a street-church that looks to build a community from all walks of life, including people without a home. The students made sandwiches, put cream cheese on bagels, and prepared the meal that would be enjoyed after worship. 
 
Pastor Linda, the missioner at Church Beyond the Walls, spoke to the class about walls that put barriers between people. She told them that they may meet people who have a different story than they do, but in Christ, there are no differences between us. Before worship, a few of the students were in charge of handing out bulletins. Almost every person in that park was welcomed to church and handed a bulletin.  
 
The students went to Providence with the idea that they would be serving others, but they learned an important lesson. It’s just as important to allow someone else to give to you as it is to give to others. They didn’t serve the sandwiches they made. Instead, they were served by those who worshipped. They stood in line, received a sandwich, and ate. It’s uncomfortable to receive sometimes. By seeing that every person has something really important to give, it allows us to see Christ in one another.

Open our Lives

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Our lives are ordered by rules. Those rules that are spoken or silently assumed in our homes. The laws that keep order in society. When we think about opening our lives, it seems to make sense that there would be a list of rules that we would follow. But that’s not what we find. Instead we have moments in our lives where we are opened. Moments where we realize we aren’t perfect. Moments where we realize our need for God. 
 
Paul, an Apostle who wrote quite a few books in the Bible, had one of those opening experiences in his life. A man who knew the law well, who persecuted others for not following the law, was opened to a new way. He writes in Galatians, "What actually took place is this: I tried keeping rules and working my head off to please God, and it didn’t work. So I quit being a “law man” so that I could be God’s man.”
 
Here’s the deal: we have a God who opens our lives, who willingly saves us, not because we follow all the rules all the time. But because God loves us and always meets us with grace and forgiveness. 

Open Your Heart

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Sometimes we are “cracked wide open” by life; by the experiences we have; by the suffering that happens to come our way.  We know this is part of life.  We know that God doesn’t somehow single us out for pain or loss.  It’s just the way the world works.  Some of it is the result of the choices, good and bad, that we make.  Some of it just IS. 

We’re cracked open in different ways.  Sometimes it’s the loss of a relationship.  Sometimes it’s the loss of a dream—a dream of who you thought you’d be and what you thought you’d do.  Sometimes an illness is what breaks us open or the experience of cancer and treatments or an accident that changes everything. 

Whatever the cause, we often feel defenseless.  We are taken down to the most elemental level.  We are stripped bare.  These moments focus us on what’s essential in our lives.  They show us what—and who—matters most. 

And this is why there is such a deep spiritual dimension to having our hearts opened—or even broken.  An open heart is a sign of our willingness to be vulnerable.  It’s an indication that you are not withholding a single part of you.  It’s an announcement that you are “all in.”  It’s like saying to God, “I give my whole self to you.”  And that’s when God can really get to work.  That’s when God can lead and shape and work with us.

So if you feel brokenhearted sometimes or if you feel like life has laid bare your heart, take comfort in the fact that God is with us as much in our vulnerability as in our strength.  God is with us as much in our pain as in our joy.  God enters our open, sometimes broken hearts.

Open My Hands

There are books of the bible that I turn to more often than others.  Like everyone, I have my “canon within the canon,” so to speak.  I love the gospels, but probably favor Luke for its insistence on Jesus’ preferential option for the least of these, for those on the margins.  I also look to Romans for a theology of grace and to Philippians, where Paul exhorts a Christian community in Greece to encourage one another, to pray for one another, and to rejoice together.  I have to say,I DON’T generally turn to the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible book of Deuteronomy.  I’ve always thought of the book as a book of laws.  So somehow through the years, I’ve missed this gem of a text which was our scripture reading for Sunday:

Deuteronomy 15:7-11

7 If there is among you anyone in need,

a member of your community in any of your towns

 within the land that the Lord your God is giving you,

do not be hard-hearted or tight-fisted

towards your needy neighbor.

8You should rather open your hand,

willingly lending enough to meet the need,

whatever it may be. 9Be careful that you do not

entertain a mean thought, thinking,

‘The seventh year, the year of remission, is near’,

and therefore view your needy neighbor with hostility

and give nothing;

your neighbor might cry to the Lord against you,

and you would incur guilt.

10Give liberally and be ungrudging when you do so,

for on this account the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake.

11Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth,

I therefore command you,

 ‘Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land.’