What Are You Expecting?

“What Are You Expecting?”

Jesus teaching

Luke 6:17-23 (6:18-19) – February 17, 2019

Have you ever been expecting something, with all your heart? Perhaps, getting to a stadium early, and expecting a great ball game? Or, arriving at the church, expecting a wedding of two people who are dear to you? Maybe, finally going to a concert you’ve been waiting for, for many months. You are there with many other people. And, all of you have such expectations!

Expectations—of what?

We see something so similar with the scripture reading Eileen just read to us, from Luke chapter 6. Yes, this was early in the Rabbi Jesus’s ministry, but there already was talk about this promising young Rabbi. He not only teaches with authority, but this Jesus heals people’s diseases, too! And, He even casts demons out of people!

Wouldn’t that be something to travel a long distance for? Just imagine—a Rabbi, a high-profile teacher who spoke with authority. On top of that, He’s a healer and miracle-worker, too! That is something to see, indeed!

We need to step back a bit, and look at the bigger picture. Did you know that Luke chapter 6 contains much of the same information that Jesus preached in Matthew, chapters 5, 6 and 7? Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount—leading off with the Beatitudes—is summarized in about one third of the space, right here. In Luke’s Sermon on the Plain.

Both sermons contain much of the same information, except sometimes in different phrases and from a slightly differing point of view. Matthew was one of Jesus’s disciples, he was Jewish, and an eye witness. Dr. Luke was a Greek, he was writing his Gospel some years later, and relied on the testimony of a number of first-person accounts. Just so you can see these two sermons side by side.

Instead of diving into the sermon right away, I want us to look at the people who were hearing it. Dr. Luke is quite particular in his wording: he wants us to know that people from all over are listening, from down south in Judea and Jerusalem (good, God-fearing Jews), as well as people from the coast in the north, from the cities Tyre and Sidon. This second group of people was more mixed, some Jews, but secular, pagan Gentiles as well.

Luke mentioned the disciples, specifically. These were the twelve disciples, recently hand-chosen by Jesus. Moreover, “there are the larger crowds of disciples who are followers of Jesus, who have responded to His ministry, but who have not received a special call from Jesus.”[1] Quite a diverse group, indeed. And, Jesus preached to them all.

Have you ever been in a crowd of all different kinds of people? At a ball game, or, in a crowd at a concert, perhaps. I’ve been there, and I have felt the camaraderie, the fellowship and general good nature of certain kinds of crowds.

Reading again from Luke 6: “Jesus went down with them and stood on a level place. A large crowd of His disciples was there and a great number of people who had come to hear Him and to be healed of their diseases. Those troubled by impure spirits were cured.”

Expectant? I suspect that is exactly how this crowd was feeling. Even before Jesus can start preaching, people surged around Him. Listen, again from Luke: “and the people all tried to touch him, because power was coming from him and healing them all.”

People not only wanted to see Jesus, they wanted a word of comfort or encouragement from Jesus. And, people wanted to be healed by Jesus most of all! Did you notice that Jesus did not just heal people from their physical problems, but also their spiritual and psychological difficulties, too? Such miracle-working activity must have brought people many miles to see the Rabbi Jesus.

As the Rev. Ernest Lyght mentions, “Perhaps there are some similarities between the crowd on the plain and the crowds that come to our churches. When you look out into your congregation, whom do you see? What are their needs? Who are the people who come to our churches? Do they reflect the neighborhoods around the church? Surely, they are folks who want to hear a Word from the Lord, and they want to be healed. They come with certain expectations.”[2]

Which leads to the next question: what are your expectations for the worship service, this morning? Were you expecting a warm, familiar service, with nice, familiar hymns, and a warm, comforting sermon? Or, were you surprised and even taken aback when we heard the testimony about a lovely ten-year-old boy with autism who wrote that wonderful poem for his English assignment? (I had tears in my eyes when I first finished reading that poem. God bless that boy, and God bless that teacher, too.)

Does Jesus challenge you – challenge me – in our daily walk with Him, or are you just looking for a nice, easy, quiet stroll with Jesus? What are your expectations?

Let’s look at some of Luke’s version of the Beatitudes: “’Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. 21 Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. 22 Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man.’”

Whoa, wait a minute, Jesus! I thought You were warm and cuddly, like a teddy bear. At least, that’s what I heard. From Sunday school, or somewhere. Where did Jesus come up with all this about hungering, and weeping, with people hating me, excluding me, insulting me, even rejecting me. What gives, Jesus? What happened to that warm, fuzzy Christianity I thought I knew?

Christianity is not a religion, being a Christian is a relationship. It’s a series of relationships. Jesus and me, vertically. Sure! But, it’s Jesus and all of us too. Plus, it’s the horizontal relationship between you, and me, and you, and you—and all of us, with each other. That is what Jesus came to offer all of us. A radical change in relationships between God and humanity. And, in how we all relate to each other. No matter who.

Have you told anyone about this radical, out-of-this-world friendship between you and God? Have you been changed in how you relate to everyone you meet?

Bishop Lyght is now retired from the United Methodist Church. The UMC has for its advertising catch phrase “open hearts, open minds, and open doors.” Great images! Wonderful things to strive for, too. We can take that phrase to heart, and ask ourselves: do we have open hearts? Are our hearts open to everyone who may walk in to our church? Do we have open minds? Are our minds open and accepting of everyone, no matter what ethnicity, mental challenge, sexual orientation, or other kind of differences they might have?

Finally, do we have open doors? Who are the people who do not come to our church, on this corner? Do we truly welcome all people? In our church? On the street or at work or at line in the grocery store? In our neighborhoods?

What are your expectations? Check with Jesus, and see who He would welcome.

 

(Many thanks to the Rev. Ernest Lyght and http://www.umcdiscipleship.org for ideas and assistance for this series on discipleship.)

[1] http://www.crivoice.org/lectionary/YearC/Cepiphany6nt.html

Lectionary Commentary and Preaching Paths (Epiphany C6), by Dennis Bratcher, at The Christian Resource Institute.

[2] https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/worship/season-after-epiphany-2019-part-2-worship-planning-series/february-17-sixth-sunday-after-the-epiphany-year-c/sixth-sunday-after-the-epiphany-2019-year-c-preaching-notes  

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Who Is a Disciple?

“Who Is a Disciple?”

Jesus fish

Luke 5:1-11 (5:10) – February 10, 2019

When did God become real to you? Were you sitting in Sunday school, when you felt deep within that God was real, and you felt wonder? Or, were you at a camp or retreat, around a campfire, when something let you know God was the real thing, and you felt nothing but awe? Or, perhaps, were you praying next to a loved one’s bed in the hospital, and you powerfully understood that God is real, and you felt deep comfort? Have you had a God-encounter?

The situation here today is where God becomes real for these people. Eileen just read the Gospel lesson from Luke 5 to us, and we heard about Jesus calling the first disciples. But, we need to back up in this reading, before the Rabbi Jesus calls anyone to be a disciple.

We break into the action quite early in the public ministry of Jesus. So early, in fact, that He has not even called anyone to follow Him, to be His disciples. We see Jesus, alone, teaching, preaching, healing, and beginning His ministry. Luke starts off with the phrase “One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret.” I think Luke meant this to say that this was a typical day in the life of Jesus. Teaching, preaching, doing miracles. All in a day’s activities, for Jesus.

But, this is early on. The crowds who have gathered to hear Jesus teach and preach—and watch the miracles!—I suspect are filled with wonder, curiosity, and questions. Who is this rabbi with such clarity in teaching the word of God? Who is this rabbi with such power and authority? Yes, we see the people crowding around Jesus so much that He got in a boat by the seashore, put out a little way, and then preached to the crowd.

(Did you know—little known fact—that Jesus was using the natural amplification of the water to make His voice heard better? When someone is out in the water a little distance from shore, their voice can be heard as naturally amplified because of the sound waves bouncing off or echoing off of the surface of the water and traveling on towards the shore.)

Back to Jesus. The boat Jesus used to preach was Simon Peter’s boat. He and Simon Peter must have been acquainted a little, as we can see from their interaction. “When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.” Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything.”

Have you ever worked hard all night, with nothing to show for it? How about all week, or all month? Or, even, all year, with nothing concrete to show for it? Like, in the fisherman Simon Peter’s case, no fish at all?

There are some professions where there are fewer concrete markers to show how much a worker has done. At least Simon Peter had a definite marker to show “success” in his profession: the number of fish caught. However, he also must have had periods of time when he caught no fish, or very little fish.

Do you think Simon Peter got depressed, or frustrated, or anxious, or just plain angry? How did he deal with failure? He was a professional fisherman, after all. He had fished in those waters for many years, so I suspect he knew the territory, was familiar with the places the fish liked to hang out, and understood when was the best time of day to go fishing. Which leads us to the next comment by Simon Peter, made to the Rabbi Jesus: “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”

Remember, “Peter, a fisherman, might have known that Jesus was a carpenter. He might have thought that a carpenter did not know anything about fishing.  But he surrendered his prejudice and let down the nets. Peter was the one who sat on the boat with Jesus while he was preaching and heard the good news of Jesus.” [1] “But because you say so.” Against his better judgment, Simon Peter agrees to traipse out to the deep water to go fishing, even though they have worked hard all night, because Jesus requested that he and his co-workers go out and try fishing again.

We know what happened. Hardly had the nets gone into the water, but the fish came swimming into the nets. The nets were filled to bursting! It was a miracle. Simon Peter and his co-workers experienced it—were eye witnesses.

What was the surprising response? Continuing from Luke 5: “When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, 10 and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners.”

Yes, we can see that Simon Peter confessed he was a sinful person. But, I want to lift up another deep feeling within Simon Peter. God became tangibly real to him, at that moment. Too real, because he was filled with feelings of sin and inadequacy,

We already know some feelings going through Peter’s head. He felt ashamed and guilty of falling short of God’s mark. He came to Jesus in sorrow—probably with frustration, fear and sadness. He suspected that Jesus would indeed be able to forgive him his sins.

What happened? Simon Peter had a God-encounter, there in the boat. God became real to him. Simon Peter deeply experienced God as very real to his life, but couldn’t handle it.

What is Jesus’s unexpected response? Jesus tells Simon Peter and his co-workers, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.” Jesus calls them into a God-encounter.

I ask again: do you remember when God became real to you? When did you encounter God? This is just the first of many occasions that God became real to Simon Peter. Can you remember a situation where God showed up in power, or in encouragement, or comfort? For you, or for a loved one?

For Simon Peter and his co-workers, his friends, this was decision-time. They decided to drop their nets on the shore, leave their boats where they were, and follow Jesus. There were many, many people in the crowd who also had the opportunity to follow Jesus, but they did not. At least, not at this time. They only stayed for the good preaching and the miracles, not the following-Jesus-part.

How about you? Has Jesus struck you to the heart and soul, like Peter? Has God become real to you, through this Scripture reading today? If you have never taken the step of following Jesus, I encourage you to follow Him today. Thank Him for forgiving your shortcomings and sins. Thank Jesus for inviting you to come with Him for the journey.

What can we do with this newfound, exciting relationship with God? Become a disciple. Go out and talk about how God became real in your life. Talk about God’s Good News, today, to anyone you meet. God will be wonderfully praised by all who tell how God has become very real to them, and changed their hearts and lives.

How has God become real to you? Become a disciple. Go and tell.

[1] https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/worship/season-after-epiphany-2019-part-2-worship-planning-series/february-10-fifth-sunday-after-the-epiphany-year-c/fifth-sunday-after-the-epiphany-2019-year-c-preaching-notes

(Many thanks to the Rev. Dr. Kwangki David Kim and http://www.umcdiscipleship.org for ideas and assistance for this series on discipleship.)

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2019: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

The Most Excellent Gift

“Love: The Most Excellent Gift”

1 Cor 13 love, ring

1 Corinthians 13:4-8 (12:31) – February 3, 2019

In less than two weeks, the yearly holiday of romance and love will be celebrated. Yes, the holiday of Valentine’s Day is right around the corner. According to the popular women’s magazine Woman’s Day, people here in the United States spend a lot of money on their Valentines: an estimated $18.2 billion in 2017, including 144 million Valentine’s Day cards. [1] Gifts, cards and chocolates are wonderful for that special someone in your life! But—is this idea of love what the Apostle Paul had in mind when he wrote the Scripture passage we read today?

As we come to the end of our series of gifts from God, we can think back over the past month. As we celebrated Epiphany the first Sunday of January, we not only saw the gifts the foreign-born Magi gave to the toddler Jesus, but we celebrated the greatest Christmas gift of all time: the gift of God’s Son, Jesus Christ. We also rejoice as we remember our baptism and the tremendous gift of God’s grace bestowed upon all of us.

We consider what Paul was talking about in the previous chapter, 1 Corinthians 12. Spiritual gifts! We spent two weeks discussing the generous gifts God gives each of us—all of us. Gifts of helps, service, teaching, healing, wisdom, understanding—and then some. What is more, Paul encourages us to put these gifts into practice for the common good of others. And last week, we explored the interconnectedness of each of us and each of the gifts that we bring to this family of faith. We learned that we need one another in a fundamental way. [2]

Which leads us to our Scripture reading for today, from 1 Corinthians 13. Paul caps off this discussion of spiritual gifts with the most excellent gift of all: love.

Many people relate the reading of the this “Love chapter” with weddings. Romance and hearts and flowers—and Valentine’s Day—seem to go hand in hand with this chapter. That is, on the surface. But, when the Apostle Paul really gets going on the depth and breadth of God’s love, he does not mean hearts and flowers and candy at all. God’s love is what is offered to all of us.

What does God’s love look like? Paul gives us some vivid examples. Reading from The Message: “If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all God’s mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, ‘Jump,’ and it jumps, but I don’t love, I am nothing. 3-7 If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.”

Forgive me. I’ve just told you what God’s love does not look like. This is what happens when a person does not have God’s love living within him or her. A very sad, despairing state of affairs, to be sure.

Paul does tell us what love is, however. Again, from the Message; “Love never gives up. Love cares more for others than for self. Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have. Love doesn’t strut, Doesn’t have a swelled head, Doesn’t force itself on others, Isn’t always “me first,” Doesn’t fly off the handle, Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others, Doesn’t revel when others grovel, Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth, Puts up with anything, Trusts God always, Always looks for the best, Never looks back, But keeps going to the end.”

This description from Paul tells us what love is.

Very sadly, if we read the newspaper and turn on the news, we see another expression of God-talk. This kind of black-and-white thinking, all-or-nothing talk comes from rigid or extreme religious groups. You know the groups I mean. Groups that say unequivocally “I’m on God’s good side, and you’re not. I’m going to heaven because I do the things God wants. You don’t, so you are going to hell.” It doesn’t matter whether they are stringent Christians, fundamentalist Catholics, extreme Muslims, or radical Hindus. Such hurtful thinking and corrosive speech lets us know these religious groups have likely not experienced God’s life-changing, wondrous love. You know, all of the wonderful, life-giving parts of love that the Apostle Paul just described to us.

Father Richard Rohr, Franciscan priest and director of the Center for Action and Contemplation in New Mexico, has written and taught extensively on God’s love. He spoke of these hurtful religious groups, and then asked, “How can we do better? To begin, we might put ourselves in the other’s shoes and imagine why someone is so hateful.”

Father Rohr continues: “While working in the Albuquerque jail for over a decade, I met many men who had been raised in a punitive, authoritarian, absolutist way, often with an absent or abusive father. Understanding another’s story can teach us compassion. It doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t set some healthy boundaries. But it does open our hearts and help us recognize that other people are victims, too. They’ve been wounded, too. Yet they are still objectively an image of God, created in God’s image.” [3]

We are not all called to work in prisons, like Father Rohr. But, God has gifted each of us to offer our gifts to others. Each of us have been given gifts to reach out to our friends and neighbors with the love of God. Remember what we talked about last week, how all of our spiritual gifts are interconnected? Each of us is needed by the others in this family of faith. And, God’s love is one of the greatest connectors of all.

One of my absolute favorite people ever is Mister Rogers. Fred Rogers was a Presbyterian minister, ordained to ministry in television and mass communication by the Presbytery of Pittsburgh in 1963. He had a marvelous, moving ministry to children—and to adults—for decades—in public television.

One of the ways Mister Rogers reached out and communicated to children with his television show was through music. He wrote over two hundred songs about important things and things that concern children very much. Like this one: “There are many ways to say I love you. There are many ways to say I care about you. Many ways, many ways, many ways to say I love you. Cleaning up a room can say I love you. Hanging up a coat before you’re asked to do it. Drawing special pictures for the holidays and making plays.” [4]

Important words from a loving, honest, generous man, Fred Rogers. He let us know that love can be as simple as hanging up a coat—or doing the dishes—or sending a greeting card. Mister Rogers would definitely agree that showing love is being kind to others, and being your honest, caring self. No matter what.

A reminder, from the Message: “[Love] Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth, Puts up with anything, Trusts God always, Always looks for the best, Never looks back, But keeps going to the end.” That is the kind of God we have. Love is a gift God offers to all of us, freely.

It doesn’t matter how each of us expresses God’s love. God gives many gifts to all of us, freely. Let us give love away to everyone, no matter what. Just as freely as God gives to us.

Alleluia, amen.

[1] https://www.womansday.com/relationships/a4702/10-fun-valentines-day-facts-103385/

[2] https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/worship/season-after-epiphany-2019-part-1-worship-planning-series/february-3-fourth-sunday-after-the-epiphany-year-c/fourth-sunday-after-the-epiphany-2019-year-c-preaching-notes

[3] Adapted from Richard Rohr, Exploring and Experiencing the Naked Now, disc 3 (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2010).

[4] http://www.neighborhoodarchive.com/music/songs/many_ways.html

(Many thanks to the Rev. Jeff Campbell and http://www.umcdiscipleship.org for ideas and assistance for this series on spiritual gifts.)

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2019: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

Interconnected Gifts

“Interconnected Gifts”

1 cor 12-27 part of the body

1 Corinthians 12:11-31 (12:20) – January 27, 2019

Have you ever seen a Mr. Potato Head? A children’s toy, with a plastic potato body, and different holes you could stick different parts in. Eyes, ears, hat, nose, mouth, hands and feet. Can you imagine a Mr. Potato Head with all hands and no eyes, nose or ears? Or, how about a Mr. Potato Head with several mouths and no feet? I suspect some people would laugh at that children’s toy. Can you hear children saying, “Look at that silly Mr. Potato Head!”

Let’s take a closer look at our Scripture reading for today from 1 Corinthians chapter 12. We have been talking about gifts for the past few weeks. Not only in the weekly sermons, but also in other parts of our worship service, too. Here the Apostle Paul is continuing his discussion on gifts that God gives to every believer. Willingly, generously, God blesses each person with at least one spiritual gifts, and sometimes many gifts. And, as Paul tells us, the Holy Spirit decides who gets what, and when.

Let’s go back to our Mr. Potato Head. We can all see how the different parts fit into the toy. Any child could tell us that we need diverse parts. Eyes, nose, ears, mouth, hands and feet. Eyebrows, too. And mustache, and hat. All different parts, with all different functions.

Reading Paul’s words from 1 Corinthians 12 from Eugene Peterson’s translation The Message, “You can easily enough see how this kind of thing works by looking no further than your own body. Your body has many parts—limbs, organs, cells—but no matter how many parts you can name, you’re still one body. It’s exactly the same with Christ.”

So many parts, many pieces, many functions. And, one body, or one church.  Let’s let the Apostle Paul elaborate: “Each of us is now a part of Christ’s resurrection body, refreshed and sustained at one fountain—his Spirit—where we all come to drink. The old labels we once used to identify ourselves—labels like Jew or Greek, slave or free—are no longer useful. We need something larger, more comprehensive.”

Sounds like the Apostle Paul has already heard about a church or two that has had arguments or disagreements about their spiritual gifts. You would think these individual Christians would be thankful they have been given one special way to identify themselves!

In the past, and even in the present, Christians might identify themselves differently. They could concentrate on separate differences. For example, some of us here were born in the United States, and some were born overseas. There’s one difference. Some of us identify as male, and some as female. Some of us are right-handed. Some of us have brown eyes.

There are lots of ways to identify the people in this room. We could line up under these different signs, Or—and this is the important part—we could all identify as Christians.

What does the Apostle Paul have to say about this very question? Paul approaches differences from a functional point of view. “I want you to think about how all this makes you more significant, not less. A body isn’t just a single part blown up into something huge. It’s all the different-but-similar parts arranged and functioning together. If Foot said, “I’m not elegant like Hand, embellished with rings; I guess I don’t belong to this body,” would that make it so? If Ear said, “I’m not beautiful like Eye, lovely and expressive; I don’t deserve a place on the head,” would you want to remove it from the body? If the body was all eye, how could it hear? If all ear, how could it smell? As it is, we see that God has carefully placed each part of the body right where he wanted it.”

When Paul often talks about church to his friends in Corinth, he means them—the local church. That’s what Paul means right here. He is talking to the local churches. He is talking to me and you. He means St. Luke’s Church, right here on this corner in Morton Grove. Rev. Jeff Campbell, United Methodist minister, says “In the body of Christ, all of us and the gifts that we bring to the church are indeed interrelated. We cannot succeed in our mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world, unless we are working together, truly valuing and depending on the gifts that each disciple offers for the good of the whole.” [1]

Some parts of the Bible are confusing or troubling; they don’t make much sense. Strange and mysterious passages! This Scripture reading from Paul is not. It talks common sense. Understandable and clear. But, these instructions are not always simple and easy to follow. Sometimes, something inside does not want us to work together.  Something inside might not want to ask for help, or be willing to be a Good Samaritan, and give help to whoever needs it.

The Rev. Campbell suggests taking a not-so-very official poll, to let us understand a little better what he is talking about here. For the following statements, rate how much you agree or disagree. Be honest! You may keep the answers to yourself. But, try to be truthful, in your heart.

  • It is okay to need another person’s help.
  • All that I need I can provide.
  • Don’t ask me for help. I’ll offer help when I can.
  • I would come close to death before I would consider asking for help.
  • It makes me uncomfortable to ask for help.

This thoroughly unscientific poll reveals a few possibilities:

  • We are uncomfortable being vulnerable.
  • We are uncomfortable asking for help.
  • We don’t have extra time to help. [2]

Asking for help, even in the church, can be a challenge! Accepting help can be difficult, too. All kinds of things can get in the way. As Rev. Campbell says, “When it comes to recognizing the interrelated nature of our gifts, we must come to terms with our own vulnerability and dependency; and we must declare that it is okay to need one another!

“The reality is there are many parts of the body that aren’t always functioning, and those parts often don’t realize how it hurts the whole. This is not about guilt or telling you to do more. No, this is to say — with honesty and love — that we need you and we need one another. God has gifted you in ways that God has not gifted me. I need you to show up and share your gifts, because without your gifts, this body will not function the way it was meant to function.” [3]

Remember that Mr. Potato Head, with all hands, and no eyes, ears or nose? The apostle Paul tells us that everyone—each person in a local congregation has their role, and their gift. It may not be a prominent gift, it may be a humble gift, but every gift has its place. Each Christian has their place in the body of Christ, too.

We all need each other to show up, and to be here as a community, to use our gifts for the glory of God. There is no such thing as a solo, Lone Ranger Christian. We are a community of Christ! Paul reminds us of that blessed fact: mutual care, concern and encouragement of each other, and ministry to those who need to know about the Lord. Let’s get going, and do the work God has intended for us to do!

Alleluia, amen.

[1] https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/worship/season-after-epiphany-2019-part-1-worship-planning-series/january-27-third-sunday-after-the-epiphany-year-c/third-sunday-after-the-epiphany-2019-year-c-preaching-notes

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

(Many thanks to the Rev. Jeff Campbell and http://www.umcdiscipleship.org for ideas and assistance for this January series on spiritual gifts.)

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2019: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

Suit Yourselves

(I would like to post this sermon from October 2004. It seems applicable today. Sadly.)

“Suit Yourselves”

2 tim 4-3 ears tickled

2 Timothy 4:1-5  –  October 17, 2004

Have you seen the comics lately? I’m sure everyone here is familiar with the comics section of the newspapers–the daily comics in black and white, and the Sunday comics in full color–even if you don’t read them regularly.

Can you picture this scene from the comics? A single panel, showing two business men by an office water cooler. One looks like a boss, and he says to the other, “If there’s one thing I hate, it’s a yes-man. Isn’t that right, Baxter?”

We chuckle, because we all are familiar with that kind of attitude. I’m sure we can recognize that tendency in other guises, other forms. Getting some yes-man to tell us what we want to hear . . . not what’s good for us to hear, not what we need to hear, but instead what we want to hear.

Many people have a yearning to hear good news today. With all the worry and anxiety, trouble and danger in this modern world, people are actively searching for good news. Many don’t know where to start. Many are searching in all the wrong places. Commercialism and consumerism are rampant, with many people accumulating more and more stuff and always needing to get something else, something more, something new. Oftentimes, these people are trying to fill a hole deep inside.

Sometimes, some people search for thrills, for that adrenaline rush, for some kind of excitement in life. It doesn’t matter if thrills come from drag racing, gambling, or risky behavior, like a wild bender at the local bar. Regardless of how hard people try or how much they want a good time, something is lacking.

Other people turn inward, searching for spiritual fulfillment. There are many ways of experiencing some kind of spirituality, like through the martial arts, or through meditative practices. Fung shui, the Chinese method of arranging furniture (and other things in this material world) is an attempt to try to find balance and proper order in this life. Sure, doing an inside job, concentrating on the inside of ourselves is a great place to start, but . . . searching for inward, spiritual fulfillment on our own just won’t work. Anyway, not without God.

We have the assurance, from our scripture passage today, that Timothy had the opportunity to know God. He had the opportunity to read some of the same texts we have to read today! Timothy was instructed, from the time he was very young, in the way of salvation through Jesus Christ. His mother and grandmother were both women of faith, and Timothy grew up in a believing household, a household that put God first.

As we read further in our passage today, we find there are people who will not put up with sound doctrine. They will not even want to listen to the truth! Even when the truth is as clear as day, and presented to them in a straight-forward manner, still, some will turn away and disregard the truth.

You probably are all familiar with that modern phenomenon–tele-evangelists, some of whom are worthy people of God. However, there are those who are frauds. Charlatans. Fakes. Preaching not of sound doctrine or biblical teaching, but instead telling their listeners exactly what they –the listenerswant to hear.

Are you familiar with the health, wealth and happiness gospel, which focuses on only a few isolated passages from scripture? Most renditions of this false gospel tell the listeners that God wants us all to be healthy, wealthy and happy! All the time! And even shows us the example of Job–why, didn’t God give back to Job everything that was taken away? And in good measure, overflowing, in superabundance? But . . . and this is a big but here . . . we must have faith! And if anything is wrong in our lives, or if our house burns down, or if we get sick, or if someone we love loses a job, or if our child gets in trouble, or . . . or . . . or . . . you get the picture. Well, then, we just didn’t have enough faith, that’s our problem. Oh, and we didn’t send enough money to the tele-evangelist, either. So, God apparently must be withholding His blessing because of our lack of faith and our stinginess.

Not so!! No way!! This is a perverse, yet skillful, twisting of the truth! I bet you can see parts of the true Gospel here in what I’ve just described, but the rest is so skillfully bent and twisted!! It sounds so similar to the Good News of God we have come to know and to understand and to love. Like, and yet unlike. The true Gospel tells us that God does indeed want to bless us abundantly! And, it is an inside job! God wants to change us, to help us change ourselves, to make us new creations from the inside out, through faith in Jesus Christ.

This twisted health, wealth and happiness gospel is just one of the horrible perversions that is out there, on television, on the radio, on the Internet, just waiting to snare unsuspecting folks, and especially people who want to turn away from the truth in God’s Word.

What did our scripture passage today say about this sort of people? It mentions that they have “itching ears.” This is a Greek phrase that can be translated several ways–another way is “having their ears tickled.” In other words, having the preacher tell you exactly what you want to hear! These people with the itching ears, who wanted nice, warm, soft, fuzzy things, nonthreatening, reassuring things preached to them from the pulpit, these people turned their backs on the truth of God’s Word and of sound doctrine.

These rebellious people with the itching ears had an agenda–and that was to hear only what they wanted to hear, at all times. None of the challenging words, none of the admonishing words, none of the emotional words of Scripture. This is another form of idolatry–putting themselves first, putting God aside as an afterthought. You know the attitude–me, me, me! I’m the most important person around here! Everything needs to go my way! Nobody else counts!

As I was thinking and praying about this text over these past days, it came to me–what would Calvin say? John Calvin was one of the foremost theologians in the Reformed tradition, the tradition we as Presbyterians follow and adhere to. What would Calvin say about these false teachers, preaching a “health, wealth and happiness” gospel, or any other sort of false gospel, for that matter?

I would like to give you some background about me, since I am still new around here. In my early 20’s, I had a strong sense of God’s power and presence in my life. I read all kinds of books on bible and theology. One summer, I especially remember reading Calvin’s Institutes, his great systematic presentation of the Christian faith. I said an internal “yes!” to the biblical and theological concepts as presented by Calvin, and since that time, my personal theology began travelling down a Reformed path in earnest.

Since that time, I have always had a great appreciation for the great number of writings that John Calvin left to us. And so, it is natural for me to wonder, what would Calvin say? How would he deal with these false teachers, leading people astray? Checking the Institutes, I find that Calvin spoke strong words against these false teachers, saying that they, in fact, pose the greatest danger to the church! These false teachers take the lead! They lead people away from true scripture and sound doctrine, and are responsible for bringing in destructive heresies!

But . . . that’s not what we learned. That’s not what Timothy learned. We have the “sacred writings that are able to instruct us for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” We have the opportunity to come into a relationship with Jesus Christ. We have the Good News, in and through Jesus Christ our Lord. How wonderful, how awesome, and how sobering that Jesus entrusted us with the message of His Good News.

 

Now what? I’ve been teaching the adult Sunday school class here for several weeks, and I’ve said this phrase–now what?–each week as I’ve taught. The different New Testament letters do indeed tell us definite things about doctrine, about theology . . . but then . . . what do we do with all of this information? How do we put it into practice? How do we live the Christian life? Now what, in other words?

I consider the commands in this passage to be good advice to anyone wanting to follow Christ more nearly. We are to proclaim the message. Communicate the Good News! In whatever way we can.

This command may give some people pause. How can  I  preach the Good News? Am I supposed to go to some cable television station and get on the air as yet another tele-evangelist? Or how about standing out on a street corner, preaching with a megaphone? Both of these are perfectly valid ways of proclaiming God’s Good News, but I don’t think most of us here in this church could ever see ourselves doing either of these things. But there are other ways to proclaim the message.

Preach the Gospel. Proclaim the message. Every believer in Jesus Christ is told this! Another way of thinking about it is . . . telling what God has done in your life. What has God done for you? How has God made a difference in your life? How has God made a difference in mine? What new things have you and I learned from the Lord lately? What an opportunity it is to share these things with others, with our friends, with those who might not know God in a personal way.

Do we need advanced degrees in divinity or theology to do this? To share what God has done for us? No!! Oftentimes, we are excited to tell people about other things, like who won the latest ball game, or about the neighbor next door spraining her ankle, or what exciting story we just heard on the news. Why can’t I tell people about Jesus, and what He’s done for me?

 I  can tell about answers to prayer I’ve gotten recently–and I have gotten some exciting ones! And if anyone wants to hear about them, I’d be happy to tell you after the service. I can tell about God’s faithfulness in my busy, hectic life. I can praise God for helping me to walk the Christian walk, one day at a time.

Thank God we have been given this Good News! What a opportunity! What a thing to celebrate! Praise God, we have been granted salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. That’s truly something to celebrate. That’s truly Good News to share.

Alleluia, Amen.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2019: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

Infant Holy, Infant Lowly

“Infant Holy, Infant Lowly”

Infant Holy, words

Luke 1:39-45, 56 (1:45) – December 9, 2018

The meanings of names are a fascinating subject. The particular meanings of certain names are more well-known. Just think of Peter—Greek for “rock” and Irene—Greek for “peace.” Three names from Hebrew, Rachel (“lamb”), David (“beloved”) and Daniel (“God is my judge”). Then, there is my own name, Elizabeth, which comes from the Greek and means “God is my oath” or “God’s promise.”

My parents did not have any particular person on either side of the family who they were thinking of, or who they wanted to name me after. They just liked that name. I have always really liked my name, too.

I don’t know whether you have ever thought about the meaning of your name. Did your parents name you after a beloved aunt or uncle? Or perhaps a dear grandparent or godparent? Or did they just happen to like your name when you were born?

There is another Elizabeth in the New Testament. Our Gospel reading from Luke 1 talks about her. She was the mother of John the Baptist. She was the older cousin of Mary, living some distance away in the hill country of Judea.

In the verses just before this reading, we meet Mary, a teenaged girl who is visited by the angel Gabriel. Of course, the angel informs Mary that she will become the mother of the Messiah; Mary is to name the baby Jesus, Yeshua, or Joshua, which is Hebrew for “he saves.” As the angel says, “He will save His people from their sins.”

The angel Gabriel gave Mary some important information about her cousin Elizabeth. Elizabeth, as well. Apparently, Elizabeth and her husband the priest Zechariah had tried to have a baby for years, but could not. Finally, when Elizabeth had just about given up hope, she found she was indeed pregnant. This was called a miracle by everyone. Imagine—Elizabeth pregnant at an advanced age. God certainly works miracles, mighty acts and acts beyond the explanation of human eyes and ears.

What about Elizabeth, and about her younger cousin Mary? They are both women. Females, usually discounted and considered second-class by the cultures of their day. What do we find that is different about Elizabeth and Mary?

”All four gospels support the equality of women, but Luke is the one who is most obvious about it.  The male in the story, Zechariah, had been visited by an angel, but he did not trust [the angel’s word] (1:20) and was made mute.  His wife Elizabeth, however, who was an older woman, turns out to be the heroine of the family and she, in stark contrast to her mute husband, speaks under the influence of the Holy Spirit (1:41).” [1]

Elizabeth greets her young cousin, and says “God has blessed you more than any other woman! He has also blessed the child you will have. 43 Why should the mother of my Lord come to me? 44 As soon as I heard your greeting, my baby became happy and moved within me. 45 The Lord has blessed you because you believed that God will keep his promise.”

We could list several facts. Elizabeth spoke by the power of the Holy Spirit. She announced that Mary was richly blessed, as was Mary’s baby, Jesus. She also stated that John, the baby inside of her, had responded to the nearness of the very young infant Jesus. Finally, Elizabeth praises Mary for believing in God’s promise. And, we can be sure that God does keep God’s promises.

When I was in grade school, I was fascinated by the meanings of names. It was at around this time that I happened to start attending a Lutheran church in Chicago, brought there by my older sisters. They attended sometimes because of several friends from high school in the church youth group. They stopped attending when they left for college, but I kept going to that church.

I was a voracious reader. I would read just about anything, and as I mentioned, one of the books my parents had on their shelf had many lists of names and their meanings. I would pore over that book, and I sincerely wondered about my name. “God is my oath,” or “God’s promise.” It was at about this time that I started learning a great deal about the Bible and theology, and about the various promises of God. Especially the promises fulfilled at Christmas, in the birth of the Messiah.

What an earthshaking event, the birth of that Infant Holy. What a marvelous miracle, lifted up by Elizabeth in our Scripture reading today.

Here we have two strong women. Two women who know their own minds, and two women who are not going to be put in the background. These are two women—one younger, one older—who have been chosen by God to do great things. Not only to be the mothers of John and Jesus, but also to have the responsibility of raising them.

What stands out even more is that Mary has unshakeable faith in God’s promises. Can you imagine? I do not have complete faith and trust in God. A pretty good faith, but not one hundred percent, not doubt-free.

Rev. Bryan Findlayson has an intriguing comparison. He talks about seeing faith in Jesus as if it is a good bet. “If we are wrong, we lose nothing, but if we are right, we gain everything. Jesus is certainly a good bet, but the bet is not faith.” [2]

Mary’s faith is faith in God’s promises. She took God at God’s word. Sticking to God’s promises, firmly resting on them, this is what the Bible means by faith. Isn’t that what we lift up in these weeks of Advent? We have faith in God’s promises, and we rely on the Bible’s words, both in the Hebrew Scriptures as well as the New Testament.

Tonight is the anniversary of the first showing of the “Peanuts Christmas Carol” in 1965. We can watch this Christmas television special and laugh as we watch the Peanuts characters. We can also take the Christmas message to heart, as read by Linus, when Charlie Brown wanted to know what Christmas was truly all about.

God deeply wants to send abundant peace into the world. The birth of the Prince of Peace helps us to welcome Jesus for ourselves. He may have many different names, like Jesus, Joshua—”He saves,” Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God—but our Lord Jesus is the one and only Savior. As we prepare to celebrate “God with us,” Emmanuel, we also can lift our voices to praise the Prince of Peace.

Alleluia, amen!

[1] https://www.progressiveinvolvement.com/progressive_involvement/2012/12/lectionary-blogging-luke-1-39-55.html

Lectionary Blogging, Luke 1:39-56, John Petty, Progressive Involvement, 2012

[2] http://www.lectionarystudies.com/studyg/advent4cg.html

“Mary Visits Elizabeth,” Rev. Bryan Findlayson, Lectionary Bible Studies and Sermons, Pumpkin Cottage Ministry Resources.  

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2018: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

O Come, Emmanuel

“O Come, Emmanuel”

O come Emmanuel

Luke 1:26-38 (1:31) – December 2, 2018

Have you noticed when you saw or heard your first Christmas commercial this year? On television, or on the radio? Or, perhaps it’s the first piped-in Christmas music at the store or at the coffee shop. Do you remember where you were? This expectation we go through every year; we pause, we watch the commercials, we hear in the music, we see in the displays of holiday lights and lighted figures outside of our neighbors’ houses.

These four weeks of Advent are weeks of preparation, of anticipation, of expectation. All these things are announcements of an impending arrival. Little reminders of the anticipation of the narrative from the first chapter in Luke. Ours is a fraction of the expectation that Mary had, beginning with the announcement from the angel. The teenage Mary had the angel Gabriel burst in on her, unannounced, giving her the very first Christmas commercial.

The anticipation we feel today is only a shadow of that we find in the Bible. I suspect, the teenage Mary was surprised out of her sandals by this unexpected visitor. Mary is told to expect the birth of the Son of the Most High.

If we go back several centuries, to the time of the prophet Isaiah, we notice the prophet writing about a young woman bearing a child, too.  In the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures, Isaiah 7:14 reads “a virgin will conceive and give birth to a son.” The Gospel of Luke shows this prophecy being fulfilled. But—not quite yet. Mary needs to go through a nine-month waiting period, a period of anticipation, expectation, and preparation.

As one commentator says, “Let’s be honest. Perplexity is exactly our response when the Lord shows up. To me? Why me? Why now? I think we underestimate the impact of what it means to know that God is actually around. Here. With us. Doesn’t God have better things to do? Bigger things to take care of? More major issues to maintain besides me?” [1]

Mary has a problem. She is not only a virgin (which the angel tells her not to worry about). However, she thinks she is merely a common, ordinary, every-day-type young woman. There is nothing special or extraordinary about her! It is “only after expressing her wonder and dismay, and then hearing again Gabriel’s affirmation and promise, does she manage to summon the courage to believe that God is indeed favoring Mary by working in her and through her for the health of the world.” [2]

This week is the first week of Advent, and we are going to focus on songs during these weeks. The Advent and Christmas seasons have marvelous carols, hymns and songs written during a number of centuries. This week, appropriately, we highlight the Advent carol “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” An excerpt from a fine article on this carol is found in your bulletin.

If you look at the article, notice several things. This is one of the oldest carols we have in our hymnals today. Christians have been singing it for over 1000 years. Originally written in Latin, it was translated into English by the scholar and priest John Mason Neale in the 1800’s. The translation of this hymn lets us know how much theology was written into the original lyrics. Each verse mentions a number of biblical and theological references.

You know what this ancient Latin hymn reminds me of? Young Mary. Eileen did not read Mary’s song from the first chapter of Luke, the Magnificat, but Mary does exactly that—after the angel leaves her, she breaks into song, and praises God. Not only that, she must have been biblically knowledgeable, because her song is chock full of biblical and theological references.

We know Mary was an introspective young woman, thoughtful and contemplative, since Dr. Luke tells us so in chapters 1 and 2. Does it surprise us that she knew a great deal about the Hebrew Scriptures, as we can tell from reading her song, her response to God?

Quoting from this wonderful song, the Magnificat:

“My soul glorifies the Lord  47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me—holy is his name.
50 His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation.
51 He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. 52 He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble.
53 He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful
55 to Abraham and his descendants forever, just as he promised our ancestors.”

A modern setting of this song of Mary is the Canticle of the Turning, by Rory Cooney. I keep reminding myself not to get political in my weekly sermons—except when the words of the Scripture we read from the Lectionary are clearly lifting up some direct calling from God. Through Mary’s words, we are called to stand up in this neighborhood, this country, this world, and stand with the humble, the hungry, with those who fear God. We are called to stand against the proud, the rich, and the rulers.

In the Canticle of the Turning, this new retelling of Mary’s song is, indeed, about the birth of a baby. It also talks about how this birth turns a family upside down. Yet, this whole event—the birth of the Son of the Most High—is about God turning the world around. It is through God’s Son, Jesus, God welcomes us all. Not just welcoming the rich and privileged, but everyone, male, female, rich, poor, slave, free, whatever difference one person has from another. All means Jesus welcomes everyone. No matter what, no matter who.

Perhaps God did an extraordinary thing through Mary—just as the angel said—to show the world that through God all things are possible. Just as it was for the prophets, so it was with Mary, and so it is with us. May we all respond like Mary—“Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to Your word.”

[1] http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=3462

Advent as a Way of Life, Karoline Lewis, Working Preacher, 2014

[2] http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=1611

“Favored Ones,” David Lose, Dear Working Preacher, 2011.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2018: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

Proclaim Good News!

“Proclaim Good News!”

Luke 4:14-21 (4:18) and Romans 12:1-13 – January 20, 2019 – Ecumenical Prayer Service for Christian Unity, St. Martha’s Catholic Church, Morton Grove, Illinois

luke 4-18 proclaim good news

[The (Ecumenical) John 17 Fellowship is an informal group of Catholic and Protestant churches in the northwest Chicago suburbs. We celebrated the Week of Ecumenical Christian Unity with a prayer service for unity this afternoon, on Sunday, January 20. I was asked to preach. Here is my sermon.]

What do you want to be when you grow up? That is a familiar question to many children and young people. I dare say lots of people wonder what they will be as adults, today.

I wonder whether Jesus was asked that question while He was growing up? In our Gospel reading today from St. Luke, our Lord Jesus makes some bold statements while at worship with His fellow townsfolk in Nazareth. But first, we ought to set the scene.

Sure, this was the very beginning. Jesus was just starting to make a name for Himself as an itinerant rabbi. And, He came to His hometown, the place where He grew up. Maybe where the butcher and baker down the street were good friends with His parents from way back. Maybe the real estate agent across the square sold His parents their house some years before, the house where His mother Mary still lives. In other words—I suspect everyone in that town was there in the synagogue that day to hear what the Rabbi Jesus—their hometown boy!—had to say.

Jesus already had generated some buzz in the greater Nazareth area. “Have you heard the latest about that Jesus? The one who says He is a Rabbi? The one who was baptized in the River Jordan by that Baptizer fellow? And, there was something about the heavens cracking open, a dove flying out of a clear blue sky—and a voice from heaven! I’m not saying all this was for real or not, but that is what people are saying about this Jesus. You know, the guy from our town.”

Our Lord Jesus had hardly started to do His public ministry, and people were already talking about Him and what had happened in His life. Especially in Nazareth, the town where He had grown up.

In this scene from the synagogue in Luke chapter 4, the townsfolk did what they habitually did every week in worship. In addition to the prayers, the townsfolk read from the Bible, and then someone made an interpretation of the reading. Biblical exegesis, or midrash.

Isn’t that what we do in worship each week? In addition to the prayers, we also read from the Bible, and then someone (usually the priest or pastor or minister, but not always) makes an interpretation of the reading.

The Bible is so important, to all of us. Here in our Gospel reading today, the Rabbi Jesus reads from the book of the prophet Isaiah. Ecumenically, all of us here from different church traditions and even various places across the globe can agree that the Bible—the Word of God—is one important way that God communicates with us all.

When I was younger, a teenager and in my twenties, I memorized a number of verses from the Bible, from both the Hebrew Scriptures and from the New Testament. I have not kept up with my bible memorization, but I still remember a good deal. Like, for example, two verses from Psalm 119. Verse 11, “Your Word have I hid in my heart, that I may not sin against You.” And Verse 105, “Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”

These verses are just two of the many places in the Bible that remind us of the importance of God’s Word, and what a central role the Bible ought to have in our lives. Our Lord Jesus tells us so. What’s more, He shows us what we are to do.

Our Lord Jesus was attending worship services—as was His custom. He was reading the Bible. What’s more, Jesus always lived out what the Bible said to do. Always.

Listen again to what our Lord Jesus read: “He found the place where it is written:  “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because God has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

In another sermon two and a half years ago, I preached on this same Gospel reading. I told my congregation that this was where our Lord Jesus preaches His first recorded sermon. It is quite a bit like political campaigns. The various candidates all have their position distilled down to a simple message. What they stand for. What they will strive to do. Just so, with Jesus. Jesus is here to proclaim the Gospel. Share the Good News, indeed!

The Apostle Paul was so moved and energized by the risen Jesus that he made it his life’s work to share that Good News. Paul went to endless places and preached the Gospel to just about everyone he met. What is more, he used his organizational skills to help the growing gatherings of believers, as we can see from our second reading from the book of Romans today.

These words from St. Paul not only tell his fellow believers about their gifts and how much God has blessed each of them, individually, but also to let them know how they ought to live together, and bless each other as a church community. We can take that one step further, and see how Paul’s fellow believers—that is all of us, as Christians—ought to live in love and justice in our neighborhoods, and with our fellow citizens.

Let’s go back to Luke chapter 4. My first thought is, I’m not poor! Or, a prisoner, or blind, or oppressed, either. I am not any of those things. Seriously, what is the Rabbi Jesus saying here? Does He have some kind of secret message? If these are the types of people Jesus says He is going to preach and minister to, I am not sure I would be comfortable with it.

All that talk about the poor and blind, grief-stricken and oppressed, that is giving me some hesitation about following this new Rabbi Jesus.

But, let’s take a closer, deeper look. Here Jesus is addressing the poor. Could that be the poor in spirit, as well as poor, materially-speaking? Next up, He addresses the prisoners. Perhaps, prisoners of sin? Then, speaking to the blind; blind to the love and gifts of God in their lives? And, our Lord Jesus came for the oppressed. Oppressed by anxiety, doubt, fear, anger, self-loathing, self-pity, self-righteousness. (I could go on, but I think you all have the idea.)

That is why Jesus has come to earth. That is His message. Our Lord gives His purpose statement, distilled down to the pure essence.  

Our Lord Jesus speaks to each one of us, as individuals. The Apostle Paul speaks to us as a group, to the church.

So—what do you want to be when you grow up? Do the words of Paul or the purpose statement of Jesus make a difference to you? Do these words change your life or your path? Following God’s Word can make all the difference in the world. It did for our Lord. It did for Paul. Will following God’s Word make a difference for you and me today?

            God willing, may it be so.

Alleluia, amen.

 

Discover God-given Gifts

“Discover God-given Gifts”

1 cor 12-7 gifts given to all

1 Corinthians 12:1-11 (12:6) – January 20, 2019

When my children were little, from time to time we would go into toy stores—usually on the occasions when they were going to birthday parties. We would choose a present for them to take to the party. My children would not only enjoy giving gifts. All of their friends would see all the other presents given to the birthday boy or girl when they were opened at the party. And sometimes, they would tell me about some extra special gift given at the party. What gift-giving opportunities we all have had, whether at birthday parties, holidays, or other occasions.

We have been talking about gifts for the past few weeks. Not only in the weekly sermons, but also in other parts of our worship service, too. God gave us all the most wonderful gift of all at Christmas in the gift of God’s Son, the baby Jesus. We can all praise God for that super special Christmas gift.

Two weeks ago, the first Sunday of January was the day of Epiphany. Some might know this day as Three Kings Day, or the occasion the Wise Men came and brought gifts to the toddler Jesus. Whatever you call it, that was the day the foreign-born wise men came with their rich gifts to lay before the young Jesus. Last week was the celebration of the Baptism of the Lord Jesus. Another gift-giving occasion. What is a good reminder of God’s gift poured out upon us all. God’s grace. God’s rich, full and abundant grace, given to us all. Baptism is an outward sign of that God-given grace.

After all this talk about Christmas and birthday gifts, and how marvelous and generous our God is, there is even more to say about gifts. The Apostle Paul talks about gifts to the believers in Corinth in our Scripture reading today. God gives Christ-followers spiritual gifts.

I am certain everyone here has seen public service announcements on television, or heard them on the radio. These are announcements about public health, or about the public good. This is exactly what Paul was doing here. Paul made a general public service announcement about spiritual gifts. God is gracious, and God gives out spiritual gifts generously. Paul made sure that all his friends in Corinth—and all of us, by extension—knew this.

As is so often the case, Paul was making this announcement about gifts for a definite reason. Some Christians don’t even know about spiritual gifts. They might not be aware of them. Perhaps they have a great many things going on in their lives, or the lives of their families, and are too distracted.

Some Christians do know something about spiritual gifts, but think that they are for someone else. Not for regular folks like me, or maybe like you. Spiritual gifts are only for the superstars of the faith, for people like St. Francis of Assisi, or Mother Teresa, or perhaps Billy Graham. Everyday people can’t get spiritual gifts. Not much, anyway.

And, every so often, some Christians even think they are not good enough for spiritual gifts. Not worthy, or not saintly enough. They know they mess up, and do bad things, and say things that make God sad. There is no way—God couldn’t possibly give them spiritual gifts.

Guess what? I have good news for all of us. In fact, great news! God gives spiritual gifts to everyone. To you, to me, to the members of St. Martha’s Catholic Church, to the friends at Morton Grove Community Church, to the folks at Christmas Lutheran Church in Bethlehem and St. George’s Cathedral in Jerusalem. God freely and generously gives spiritual gifts to all of these folks. All Christians, all throughout the world.

This list of spiritual gifts here in 1 Corinthians 12 is not exhaustive. More spiritual gifts are listed in other passages. In Romans 12:6-8, Paul lists prophecy, serving, teaching, encouragement, giving, leadership, and mercy. Ephesians 4:11-13 has apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers. And, even these three lists are only partial lists. God is endlessly inventive and full of generosity. If we were to check out modern assessment tools for spiritual gifts, we would find many more gifts.

Just like Paul and his friends, we would find out that spiritual gifts all come from the same source: the Holy Spirit. What is more, these gifts all have the same purpose: “the common good.” As commentator Carolyn Brown says, “we identify and celebrate all the gifts God gives us and recognize that we are meant to use these gifts not just for our own good but for the good of the people around us.” [1]

So, we all have spiritual gifts, and these gifts are a joy for us to use for others.

Except—what if we never use these gifts, and they sit in the bottom of some drawer, or in the back of a closet? What then? The Rev. Jeff Campbell uses a distinctive analogy to help us understand more thoroughly. He says, “Activation of your spiritual gift is essential. Activation is putting your gifts into practice “for the common good.” What good is a gift if it is never shared for the good of others?

“I have a few credit cards in my wallet, as I am sure many of you do. When you receive a new credit card, you usually find a sticker on it that provides an 800 number to call in order to do what?  To activate the card. Have any of you ever received the card and placed it in your wallet, never calling to activate the card? Not if you need to use the card! So why do some disciples clearly recognize a spiritual gift but leave the sticker on and never use it?” [2]

Our friends at the United Methodist Church have developed a bible study especially for this bible reading, and using this section of spiritual gifts. In it, the members are urged to listen for their own personal gifts. Discern the signs, and ask others.  “You may wonder what your spiritual gift is. God will help you discover it.”

“You may already know what your spiritual gift is. That’s good; keep sharing it! All of us should “be on the lookout” to help one another recognize their spiritual gifts. In this way, God encourages us to contribute to our community of faith in Jesus Christ.” [3]

So—what do you have in your spiritual wallet? What spiritual gift do you have? Find out, today. And if you already know, use it for the common good, for the community of faith, and for everyone you can.

[1] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2013/01/year-c-second-sunday-after-epiphany.html

Worshiping with Children, Epiphany 2C, Including children in the congregation’s worship, using the Revised Common Lectionary, Carolyn C. Brown, 2013.

[2] https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/worship/season-after-epiphany-2019-part-1-worship-planning-series/january-20-second-sunday-after-the-epiphany-year-c/second-sunday-after-the-epiphany-2019-year-c-preaching-notes

[3] https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/worship/season-after-epiphany-2019-part-1-worship-planning-series/january-20-second-sunday-after-the-epiphany-year-c/second-sunday-after-epiphany-2019-year-c-faith-formation 

(Thanks to Rev. Jeff Campbell and the other friends at http://www.umcdiscipleship.org for help and ideas for use in this sermon.)

Baptism: A Gift of God

“Baptism: A Gift of God”

luke 3-21 african depiction baptism

Luke 3:21-22 – January 13, 2019

When I was a small child, I remember being so excited about gifts. Christmas gifts, birthday gifts, it did not matter. I remember how wonderful it was for me to receive gifts. I also remember when I was in middle school, when I first bought my mother a birthday present, a little vase from a gift store. I believe it was the first birthday present I had ever bought and given to anyone. I really hoped she would like it.

I also remember when I was a little older, being so excited to share my newly-opened gifts with one of my best friends. I would bring over to her house the sweater or special socks or wonderful book I had received, and be so happy when she rejoiced with me over my awesome gift. Can you think of any wonderful gifts that you wanted to share? Perhaps a brand new bicycle, or an engagement ring, or some extra-special news from far away. The wonderful joy of receiving the gift was made even more special by sharing the joy.  

One very special gift-giver is God. God gives wonderful gifts to God’s people. We can hear about that gift in our Gospel reading from Luke 3. “When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too.” When John the Baptist urged people to come forward and be baptized, Luke’s Gospel says all the people were baptized. That means all of them. All who heard John’s message and invitation came forward to receive God’s wonderful gift of grace through baptism.  

Who among us is perfect, here? Who never sins? Who never does anything wrong or never says mean or angry things, or never steps out of line? Not me. I know I fall short of where God wants me to be. I am hesitant to accept this free gift of God’s grace, at times. I know I sin, I know I miss the mark of God’s righteousness that is set for me in the Bible.

This is the case with you, and with everyone in the world, whether they admit it or not. Romans 3:23 tells us “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” This is a heavy burden to lay on anyone. Yet, what does the Apostle Paul tell us in Romans 6:23? Yes, the wages of sin—our payment for sinning—is death. Yet, the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

As we watch in the baptism service, some may wonder. As we see, in Luke 3, some wondered there, too. Luke tells us they were questioning in their hearts whether John the Baptist might possibly be the Messiah. John redirected their questioning and their gaze by pointing to one who would come after him. John pointed to Jesus.

The Rev. Jeff Campbell relates, “A loving God is constantly reaching out, wanting to be at the center of our lives. And although we might still have questions, we are directed to Jesus, just as John directed those gathered who were seeking a Messiah.” [1]

Baptism is a sign of this marvelous, free gift of God. God’s rich and abundant grace is poured out. As we can see from our reading today in Luke, all the people present received this marvelous gift. Jesus was an extra-special case, since He already had an intimate relationship with His Heavenly Father. Looking at today’s reading, we can see what happened, from Luke’s account: “And as [Jesus] was praying, heaven was opened 22 and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

Jesus showed, in part, that by being baptized He was dedicating His whole life to following His Heavenly Father. The Holy Spirit descending on Jesus was a visual sign of the gift of grace freely given that descends upon each one who is baptized. What a marvelous visual sign for all of us to treasure!

Then, as a sign of love and response, we strive to love and to serve God in Christian fellowship and service, all the days of our lives. Freely and without obligation.

I want to caution everyone here. Baptism is not something we do on our own, not some rung of the ladder we are building to get into God’s heaven. No, us building a ladder of good works will never work. God’s grace covers everything, and the free gift of God is given on our account. It’s not us at all. It is all God. God’s amazing love and indescribable gift.

When a baby is baptized, the parents tell God and the church, “Our child belongs to the Lord.” When an adult is baptized, he or she tells God, “I belong to you. I trust you with my whole life.” At Jesus’s baptism, God’s voice said aloud that Jesus is God’s beloved Son. Jesus is God’s well-loved Child. It pleases God that Jesus trusts and obeys God. That makes God glad beyond measure. [2]

Rev. Janet Hunt, ELCA pastor from DeKalb, relates the following: “Jesus’s life did not measure up to much by those standards you and I often hold dear. He never married or had a family. From all we can tell he owned no property, had no wealth to pass on once he died. The results of his work were awfully hard to measure: unless you kept track of the numbers healed and taught and fed. A whole lot of the time the crowd he hung around with was not the sort that could help him ‘get ahead.’ In fact, they were those most respectable folks then and now might mostly avoid. In the end, Jesus died a painful, shameful death, abandoned by his closest followers….being claimed and loved by God brings power and purpose — to Jesus, yes, but also to each and every one of us who have heard even a whisper of the promise Jesus hears today: “You are my Child, the beloved…” But that power and purpose are not only for this life alone. Oh, these must be promises which extend far beyond the physical and must carry us not only through this life but into life eternal, don’t you think? And isn’t it ours to begin and end each day wondering at the meaning of having been called by name… and belonging to God.” [3]

What wonderful gifts, to all of us. What an indescribable gift of grace, given freely in baptism, to us all!  

As the Holy Spirit descends like a dove from heaven, we all can hear the voice of God, whispering to each of us, “You are my son. You are my daughter. My beloved one. With you I am well pleased.”

Each of us can say, “I am God’s beloved.” Remember our baptismal vows, and rejoice!

[1] https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/worship/season-after-epiphany-2019-part-1-worship-planning-series/january-13-baptism-of-the-lord-sunday-year-c/baptism-of-the-lord-2019-year-c-preaching-notes

[2] https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/worship/season-after-epiphany-2019-part-1-worship-planning-series/january-13-baptism-of-the-lord-sunday-year-c/baptism-of-the-lord-2019-year-c-preaching-notes

[3] God’s Claim, God’s Protection…

http://dancingwiththeword.com/gods-claim-gods-protection/  January 6, 2019

Water Drop Words – Star Words

Marci Auld Glass is the pastor of Southminster Presbyterian Church in Boise, Idaho. She wrote a post several years ago in her blog Glass Overflowing where she said, “The premise is this: the magi followed the star to find baby Jesus, bringing their gifts. We are also seeking Jesus, trusting God can/does use many signs [or gifts] to guide us closer to the Divine presence.”

Marci says, “People are invited to take a star in worship. On each of the stars is a word. I invite people to trust the word that selects them, but we do not police the star choosing, so if people need to trade out a word, they are free to do so. When we first started doing this, people weren’t sure they wanted to trust the words they drew. Now it has become an important part of our congregation’s liturgical year.”

Here at St. Luke’s Church in Morton Grove, for the past few years we have been celebrating a Reaffirmation of Our Baptism on the second Sunday of January, the Sunday after Epiphany. Instead of star words, some churches have used water drops, and passed out water drop words to their congregations. That is what we are doing today.

The water drop gifts are passed around to the congregation using the same offering plates that we use later on in worship to gather up the tithes and offerings. As people help themselves to a water drop word (without looking—just reach in and grab!), the significance is not lost. In this moment, people are not asked to give; they are invited to receive. It reminds us that this is always the order of things in God’s kingdom—God always gives first, and then we are invited to respond with our gifts and ourselves.

As the Holy Spirit descends like a dove from heaven, we all can hear the voice of God, whispering to each of us, “You are my beloved one. With you I am well pleased.”

Each of us can say, “I am God’s beloved.” Remember our baptismal vows, and rejoice!

 

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2019: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!