Palimpsest 5th Sunday of Easter

Acts 11:1-18

When hostility is converted into hospitality then fearful strangers can become guests revealing to their hosts the promise they are carrying with them. Then, in fact, the distinction between host and guest proves to be artificial and evaporates in the recognition of the new found unity. Thus the biblical stories help us to realize not just that hospitality is an important virtue, but even more that in the context of hospitality guest and host can reveal their most precious gifts and bring new life to each other. – Henri Nouwen, Reaching Out

Observance of the dietary laws was not just a matter of obedience to law, it was a matter of religious identity, a symbol of who Jews were as people of God. I once asked a Reformed Jewish rabbi if he kept kashrut, the dietary regulations. I was not surprised that he responded yes, but I was unprepared for his reason. He said that he could eat pork if he wanted, that there was nothing sinful or wrong with eating pork; it was not a matter of law. However, he went on, he had chosen not to eat pork and to observe the other kosher restrictions as a way to honor those before him who had risked and given their lives that he might have the freedom to make that choice, to be Jewish. For him, it was a matter of who he was as part of that community...And yet, the heart of the issue here for the early church is not really about unclean food. The real issue is about what such regulations about clean and unclean food, regulations that divide the world up into insiders and outsiders based on conformity to certain rules or regulations, does to other people and community. ---www.cresourcei.org/lectionary/YearC/Ceaster5ac.html

There is a sense in which this text generates a certain kind of terror in the heart of the reader, for it makes clear the fact that it is the nature of the Spirit to remain free, bringing to bear the intention of God in the most unlooked for ways. If those early disciples who stood much nearer the Christ-event than we were not prepared for the Spirit’s fresh initiatives, how much less prepared are we? If Peter’s generation of Christians could be astounded, what might the Spirit have in store for us? – Texts for Preaching

A first step in resisting top-down perspectives is to realize that others are always already part of who we are, whether we realize this or not. Our identities are shaped in relation to others, whether positively through the guidance of our parents, teachers, and friends, or negatively through repressions in which we identify ourselves negatively as being unlike poor people, ethnic minorities, or people of other sexual orientations. – Joerg Rieger, Grace Under Pressure: Negotiating the Heart of the Methodist Tradition 

  • What do you think might have happened if Jesus’ message hadn’t been shared with the Gentiles? Would you be a Christian today?
  • What groups might be represented by the Gentile and Jew dichotomy in our culture? What strangers might become beloved guests, and community?


Feed My Sheep: Peter

Acts 9:36-43

Sheep on the Isle of Iona, 2012 (Michelle Hargrave)

After breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?”
“Yes, Master, you know I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”
He then asked a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?”
“Yes, Master, you know I love you.”
Jesus said, “Shepherd my sheep.”
Then he said it a third time: “Simon, son of John, do you love me?”
Peter was upset that he asked for the third time, “Do you love me?” so he answered, “Master, you know everything there is to know. You’ve got to know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. I’m telling you the very truth now: When you were young you dressed yourself and went wherever you wished, but when you get old you’ll have to stretch out your hands while someone else dresses you and takes you where you don’t want to go.” He said this to hint at the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. And then he commanded, “Follow me.”
– John 21:15-19, The Message

Even then this wasn’t over. He kept looking at me. And now I knew what was coming, and it did come. For the third time he said, “Simon son of Jonah, do you love me?” I bowed my head and started to cry like a child. He was asking and he was telling, both. He knew. He knew. He knew how many times I said I did not even know him. He knew. 
I couldn’t raise my face to him. I said, “Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you.” There was a great silence after that. Someone was moving, but no one said anything.
And then I felt his hand on my shoulder. Jesus was kneeling in front of me. He crooked a finger beneath my chin and lifted my head, and I looked through my tears and saw his eyes filled with such kindness that I only bawled the harder. He said, “Feed my sheep.”...So then he stood up, and he said to me all over again what he had said at the very beginning. He said, “Follow me.” – Walter Wangerin, The Book of God

Dorcas. called a disciple, was loved and revered among the widows of Jaffa, a Mediterranean port city to the north of Jerusalem. Widely praised for her talented sewing and many charitable works, she died after an illness and was raised to life again by Peter. The name Dorcas is Greek – the Aramaic is Tabitha. 
The only person to be raised from the dead by an apostle was a woman, Dorcas, and many became believers because of this miracle. Peter’s actions call to mind Jesus’ raising of Jairus’s daughter, which he had witnessed. The word “disciple” used to identify Dorcas is the only occurrence of the feminine form of that word in the entire New Testament. In this context, “disciple” seems to describe those with authority. – Miriam Therese Winter, WomanWord

  • How much did Peter change between the end of the Gospel and this chapter in Acts? How was he different? Did Peter “feed my sheep” as Jesus requested? How?  Did he follow Jesus’ instructions, finally? 
  • What has Jesus told you to do? What do you need to be able to live that out?


Palimpsest: Paul

Acts 9:1-6

Generally, under Minnesota law, people can change their legal name through marriage, divorce/legal separation, or by filing a name change action in court. Changing a legal name through any of those processes requires that you do specific things. The process of filing a name change action involves filling out court forms, appearing before a judge, and it may also involve notifying third-parties.

For the rest of his life he never doubted that the Lord Jesus had made his last resurrection appearance to him, to Saul, “as to one born out of due time.” So the story was true. The man repented of his persecutions. Three days later he was baptized. To indicate the radical change within himself, he changed his name to Paul, and after a period of preparation and prayer, he, too, began to tell the story – in Greek, to the Greeks.– Walter Wangerin, The Book of God

The modern evangelical notion that conversion is an instantaneous, momentary phenomenon is not rooted in the thought of the Reformers nor, we might add, in the thought of Luke. Even Paul’s dramatic encounter upon the Damascus road (reported three times in Acts–with significant differences in each account), required interpretation, reflection, and the confirmation of the community. Presumably, we never become too old, too adept at living the Christian life to be exempt from the need for more conversion, additional turning. The Christian life is akin to the way in which Luke organizes the life of Paul– a series of journeys, pilgrimages, excursions out into some unexplored territory where all that is known is the faithfulness of God. Conversion is a process more than a moment. 
– William H. Willimon, Acts

I was breathing out murder,/I was seething with rage, 
I was plotting disaster,/For the ones in the Way 
I was stunned by the brightness /And by what I'd become 
I was cornered by greatness,/With nowhere to run 
But I saw your glory,/And it's brighter than the sun 
I encountered a man/Who had rose from the dead 
He left my religion/All tattered in shreds 
My world was destroyed/A new life had begun 
And I put my faith/In Christ Jesus the Son, 
Because I saw his glory/And it's brighter than the sun 
Seen your glory,/Seen your glory 
I waited to hear you /And the visions they came 
Of suffering glory/And preaching his name 
I will follow you Jesus/Till your will be done 
I will trust in your strength/Until my race is run 
Cause I see your glory/And its brighter than the sun
– Ali McLachlan, “Brighter Than the Sun”

  • Have you ever changed your name? Why? How? Did you feel changed?
  • There is no specific mention in the Bible of why Saul changed his name (if he did) to Paul. Why do you think Saul became Paul?
  • Have you ever known anyone to be changed as much as Saul was?
Artwork: by He Qi


Palimpsest 4-7-13

John 20:19-31

Put your hand, Thomas,
on the crawling head of a child imprisoned
in a cot
in Romania.
Place your finger, Thomas,
on the list of those who have disappeared in Chile.
Stroke the cheek, Thomas,
of the little girl sold in prostitution in Thailand.
Touch, Thomas, the gaping wounds of my world.
Feel, Thomas,
the primal wound of my people.
Reach out your hands,
and place them at the side of the poor.
Grasp my hands, Thomas, and believe.
– Kate Mcllhagga, from Eggs and Ashes, Wild Goose Publications

Why do we say creeds? Unlike some churches that require affirmation of a strict list of beliefs as a condition of membership, The United Methodist Church is not a creedal church.
So why do we recite creeds during worship?
The United Methodist Hymnal contains nine creeds or affirmations. Only two of these (Nicene and Apostles') are strictly considered to be creeds because they are products of ecumenical councils.
The remaining affirmations are taken from Paul’s letters (Corinthians, Colossians, Romans and Timothy) along with affirmations from the United Church of Canada, the Korean Methodist Church and the United Methodist Social Affirmation.
United Methodists are not required to believe every word of the affirmations. Church founder, John Wesley himself did not agree with a historic (Athanasian) creed, because he disliked its emphasis on condemning people to hell.
Affirmations help us come to our own understanding of the Christian faith. They affirm our unity in Christ with those followers who first wrote them, the many generations who have recited them before us and those who will recite them after we have gone. – Rev. J. Richard Peck, 
Why do we say creeds?

But the fact that we have no simple answer does not mean that we can evade the questions. We have also seen the hazards–even terrible harm–that sometimes result from unquestioning acceptance of religious authority. Most of us, sooner or later, find that, at critical points in our lives, we must strike out on our own to make a path where none exists. What I have come to love in the wealth and diversity of our religious traditions–and the communities that sustain them–is that they offer the testimony of innumerable people to spiritual discovery. Thus they encourage those who endeavor, in Jesus’ words, to “seek and you shall find.” – Elaine Pagels, Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas

  • How do you feel about Thomas’ request for verification of the resurrection? Was he wrong? Why or why not? What would you have done?
  • Do you ask a lot of questions about the Bible and theological ideas? Do you feel supported in asking questions? How do you find answers?
  • Is Thomas a role model or a warning?


A palimpsest is
1: writing material (as a parchment or tablet) used one or more times 
2: something having unusually diverse layers or aspects apparent beneath the surface

I first read about palimpsests when I started preaching twenty-two years ago. The idea fascinated me - a multilayered document that could be read more than one way. Sounds like scripture to me. Like poetry. Like preaching.

For about sixteen years I have been putting together weekly readings and questions to go with my sermons (or Sunday's text if I am not preaching.) It helps me organize my thinking for preaching, it gives me a way to provide source material in a written form for my congregation, and it is a place to put a variety of texts together that are tangentially related to the sermon. I think of it as a way to read the sermon with more than one layer. So I call it my palimpsest, and I include it in the bulletin each week for my congregation.

I intend to start posting my weekly palimpsests here on the blog. I hope they poke your brain a little.