By Pastor Ted Jungkuntz
The message this week caught us up in the story of how God extended Peter’s vision (via a “vision”) to include far more adaptability in his behavior as a witness to Jesus than he had anticipated (see Acts 10:1-23). And when that includes a lifetime of eating habits, you realize that this is getting serious!
My family re-discovered this beginning about 25 years ago when Jesus further “opened our minds so we could understand the Scriptures” (see Luke 24:45). It seemed that Jesus wanted to show us how He was right in the middle of the entire “Pro-Life/Pro-Choice” debate then swirling through Washtenaw County and our entire nation.
Before that, while a graduate student in Germany, Jesus had taught me how He was in the middle of the issue surrounding the Jewish Holocaust during the Nazi years. Then later, while a theology professor at Valparaiso University, Jesus taught me how He was in the middle of the “Civil Rights” issue provoked by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and others following his lead. Again, my “vision” needed to be extended.
But now, a few years later, I was pastor of a congregation with a name longer than our numbers warranted – “Cross and Resurrection Lutheran Church.” And all around us in the progressive climate of Ann Arbor, a fresh debate was swirling and again words like “holocaust” and “the civil rights of women” were being bandied about. What was a pastor to do? The “Peter” in me wondered and I believe God began to “extend my vision” once again.
This time it involved how Jesus indeed was in the middle of the “Pro-Life/Pro-Choice” debate. He used a variety of “angels” (peaceful protesters) to get my attention. Though dressed as ordinary people, I more and more recognized it was God trying to get into my “vision” as I thought and prayed and taught and preached and finally acted on what I sensed God was saying to me and to us his people.
The “Peter” in me wondered and I believe God began to “extend my vision” once again.
This resulted in some brief experiences in jail (the shortest, two days; the longest, ten days) not as a visitor but as an inmate. My good wife, Lois, was an “accomplice” (as well as my children on a couple of occasions) Our “crime”? – trespassing and disturbing the peace, and finally, failure to pay bond.
Now to fast-forward the story a bit and to ask about the “fruit” of all this activity. Did the light of Jesus Christ burn any more brightly and were lives changed for the better because of our “witness” (Luke 24:48)? – There are some testimonies and the ambiguity will only be removed in the final judgment, but there is one in particular which I want to share with you.
Given everything that has been said above, would you expect that within a couple years of these events I would be sitting in the Starbucks on Washtenaw drinking coffee and eating scones with the then Director of the local Planned Parenthood? We almost looked like friends, and, in some very strange sense, we were. Here’s the story as briefly as I can tell it.
A few months after being released from the jail the last time with the threat that a repeated offense would put me in jail for a long, long time, I sought wisdom in the midst of my trepidation and sensed the Lord was simply wishing me to participate in a weekly prayer vigil at Planned Parenthood, which Lois and I and others did for about fifteen years (and which continues with new leadership to this day).
We almost looked like friends, and, in some very strange sense, we were.
Come rain or shine, sleet or sub-zero temperatures, we were there for an hour, singing God’s praises, interceding for the folks entering the facility, and holding our signs. On one particularly cold and windy morning, the Director came out with hot coffee to share with us, admitting that despite our differences, she admired our grit and perseverance.
On another occasion several months later, she came out again drawn by what she perceived as a loving, peaceful spirit and asked us whether we would pray for her. She had been diagnosed with an aggressive breast cancer and she feared she would die before her two young adopted children would reach maturity. She actually joined us for prayer several times after that.
Yes, even while I continued to hold a sign that read, “Jesus, do not hold this sin against them,” (Stephen the Martyr – Acts 7:60).
She actually joined us for prayer several times after that.
A number of years later (after a period of remission), she came out again and said the cancer had returned, and she needed more prayer. This time I asked whether she could meet Lois and me at Starbucks after our prayer time. She agreed to do so and that’s what we did.
While talking about the development of our relationship over the years, I asked whether I could explain to her briefly why I was a Christian. She agreed and I grabbed a napkin and drew a ladder. I explained Her response was: “That makes sense.” But that was as far as she would go at the moment.
A year or so later she died. The memorial service was held at a church that was within walking distance of my home. I went to express my respect, not knowing what I would all encounter. The service seemed to be in the complete control of the leadership at Planned Parenthood and a Universalist pastor.
I asked whether I could explain to her briefly why I was a Christian.
This meant that what we heard was a long laundry list of the wonderful good works the former director, my “friend,” had accumulated during her lifetime and especially during her tenure at P.P. However, at the conclusion of the service this is what happened.
The M.C. said that the now deceased “Director” had made one request for this service and they wished to honor the request. She wished a specific African American colleague of hers from P.P. to sing “Amazing Grace.” – Yes! “Amazing Grace!” (Please reflect on all the words.)
Wow! That sure felt like a “sign.” At least for me this was a “wow moment.” It seemed that despite the current of opinions extolling her work, her own bottom line looked more like the second ladder (the Jesus/Grace ladder) I had drawn for her at Starbucks that day over coffee and scones.
It seemed that despite the current of opinions extolling her work, her own bottom line looked more like the second ladder.
Like Peter who was called to go to the home of a gentile Roman soldier, God had called me, of all things, a Lutheran pastor and pro-life activist, to have coffee at Starbucks with the director of Ann Arbor’s Planned Parenthood. – Amazing! “Amazing Grace!” “Vision Extended!”
Who is God texting you to “friend”?
Just a question from Pr. Ted Jungkuntz