Don’t Worry—Rejoice!

“Don’t Worry—Rejoice!”

Philippians 4:4-7 (4:6) – September 13, 2020

            I love Bobby McFerrin. His way of recording acapella music is absolutely brilliant. No instruments, but just him, as he sings, whistles, and makes other kinds of sounds.

In 1988, a song was released that went straight to the top of the billboard charts. Not only in the United States, but worldwide. That quirky song “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” had no instruments, but just Bobby McFerrin singing, whistling and making other sounds with his body.  

            Today’s Scripture reading has almost exactly the same message. The apostle Paul tells his friends from Philippi, “Don’t worry—rejoice!”

            These verses from chapter 4 are where Paul gives his personal remarks and admonitions to a very special community of believers. Stand firm! Be of the same mind! Help each other! Rejoice! Be gentle! Don’t worry! And, pray!

            Of Pal’s words, what particularly strikes me at this time is “Don’t Worry—Rejoice!”  That is a tall order for anyone at any time. But, now? With all that is going on in the United States right now? Not only the COVID pandemic, but also the uncertainty, fear and anxiety with our country’s general condition. Plus, the racial tension, the problems with the weather and the wildfires, and the political uncertainty all add to the general anxiety of many in this country.

            Seriously, where does Paul get off, telling me NOT to worry? He doesn’t know what I am going through! Or, does he?

We have talked about Paul in prison, throughout this sermon series in Philippians. Imagine, awaiting his trial for a serious offence. Shackled at the wrist to a Roman soldier night and day, Paul had absolutely no privacy. What a miserable situation! Or, was it?  

            Let’s look more closely at Paul’s admonition. Or, if you like to think about it in this way, a part of Paul’s home improvement description.

Plus, some of these seem so difficult to accomplish. I can’t do this stuff that Paul tells me to! As Alyce McKenzie comments, “I would read [this admonition] and try to psyche myself up. “Let’s do this! No anxiety! Who needs it? I am a competent adult. I just need to breathe deeper, summon more faith, and I can achieve this anxiety-free life Paul talks about. Let’s do this!” [1]

            But, anxiety and fear continue to rise up and threaten to swallow us alive. Especially with so much uncertainty swirling around so many, few of us find it easy to do what Paul advises. So often, our attitude can be the exact opposite of that rejoicing and trust in God that Paul commands of us.

            Let’s think about the people Paul was writing to, in Philippi. Many of those people were probably unlikely to have comfortable lives. Most were poor, many were slaves or indentured servants. Few would have had any idea of what we know today as peace, joy and security. Yet, Paul encouraged all of them to rejoice in the Lord. [2]

            Let me tell you, Paul was hardly in the prime place to be a quality motivational speaker. From a worldly point of view, that is. Face it, we who live in comparative security, wealth and luxury today are so much more likely to be the most worried and anxious – especially with the sizeable fear and anxiety swirling around us for the past number of months.

            So, how on earth do we do it? How do we rejoice in the Lord always? And again, Paul says, rejoice!

A few years ago, commentator Alyce McKenzie went to a fitness class twice a week taught by an excellent instructor. As she says, “She is both fit and motivating. She is so pleasant that we don’t even hate her when she is making us do the tenth round of squats that are the reason getting up and down from my writing chair today is so painful.

“When we are flagging in energy in the middle of a round of chest presses or push-ups, she’ll call out “C’mon, people! You’ve got this!” I can’t deny that it has an energizing effect. Class members will call out things like “Yeah!” and “Woo-hoo!” I don’t call out anything. I’m busy trying to keep breathing, but I do feel a surge of internal confidence. “I’ve got this! I can do this!”

            Here is camaraderie, teamwork, and togetherness at work. And, the togetherness, the teamwork of the Christian life is what Paul recommends to us in verses 2 and 3. Remember? Be of the same mind! And, help each other!

            All of Paul’s commands dovetail into his urging to pray—with thanksgiving. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”   

            All too often, our prayers are just a ‘shopping list’ we bring to God, without thanksgiving and seasoned with anxiety and fear. We are urged to be grateful, to count our blessings. While the apostle Paul would express himself differently, I think Paul would appreciate the laid back, trusting attitude of Bobby McFerrin and his song “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.”   

Rejoice! Pray! Stand together in the faith!                                                                        Alleluia, amen.       


[1] https://www.patheos.com/progressive-christian/lets-do-this-alyce-mckenzie-10-06-2014.html

“Let’s Do This!” Alyce M McKenzie, Edgy Exegesis, 2014.

[2] Hooker, Morna D., “The Letter to the Philippians,” The New Interpreters Bible Commentary, Vol. XI (Abingdon, Nashville, TN: 2000), 540-41, 547.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2020: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

Toward the Goal!

“Toward the Goal!” – September 5, 2020

Philippians 3:12 – 4:1 (3:12-14)

I love going to sporting events. Don’t you miss the camaraderie, the togetherness at the Cubs game? Don’t you miss the shoulder-to-shoulder swaying and singing during seventh inning stretch? I know I do.

Baseball, football, hockey, soccer, or basketball. Sure, these sports involve going for the goal, or the basket. Hitting one out of the ballpark. And, fans are certainly involved in the games. Many have greatly missed sports recently, and missed rooting for our favorite teams, too.

The apostle Paul has been isolated and kept away from the church and the friends in Christ that he loves. His social isolation is not due to a pandemic, but due to being thrown into a Roman prison.

The sports image of the athlete is an image the apostle Paul uses several times in his letters to churches. Paul uses exactly that language, in Philippians chapter 3. “12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.”  

You and I may not be very coordinated, or in top physical condition. I don’t think Paul meant for all of us to be Olympic athletes. Of course, he was making a comparison. Just as top athletes press on and keep going as they train and as they compete, Paul wants us to press on and keep going as believers, too!  

Paul was benched for preaching the Word of God. I suspect he misses being in church with his church family. I suspect he misses welcoming strangers, newcomers into the Christian life. Last week, we learned that he trusted his friends – his teammates to hold the line, when he wrote about Timothy and Epaphroditus as they helped him and came alongside of him.

However, problems can come up. As you know, even the best athletes sprain joints and break bones. If they habitually train outside, a spate of bad weather can mess up their training schedule. But, if they have a great coach, they press on. They keep going, keep training.

We can get turned aside, too. Not only physical difficulties like sprained joints and broken bones can get in the way – other, serious diseases and problems can happen. Difficulties sideline many people. But, our coach Jesus is right next to us, in these challenging times.

When you and I get discouraged and find it difficult to keep on, to continue to run the race, that can be a big obstacle for us. It is such a temptation to look over our shoulders, to long for what used to be. What is behind us? You and I may want to go back to familiar things, or at least things that we know how to deal with. But, we are reminded right here that looking backwards – living in the past – is not the way to reach forward to the goal of the upward calling.

Do you hear the sports analogies that Paul uses? Paul wants us to be like athletes and “press on.” He acknowledges that he has not “already obtained his goal.” Even though he is knocked down and benched, he shakes it off and tells us that he is still in the game.

“I press on toward the goal to win the prize.” While sports achievements can be short lived, Paul wants us to focus on the long run, “heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

During this pandemic, have you kept in training, in the Christian life? Do you press on, continuing to reach for the goal, the heavenward goal? Do you keep on working, striving, training – like a dependable, steady athlete for Christ? Or, are you a fair-weather fan, only rooting for Team Jesus when it’s easy and doesn’t cost anything?  

Paul is our Team Captain, reminding us to “forget what is behind and strain towards what is ahead.” Paul’s image of the Christian life as a race is not the kind of race where just one single person wins the prize, where only one elite athlete can succeed. No! It is possible for everyone who takes part to win and for everyone to receive the prize of the upward calling.

We are reminded: none of us have already arrived at the goal. None of us can rest on our laurels and get lazy. The laurel wreath was one of the great prizes of Paul’s day. The wreaths would be awarded to only the swiftest, the strongest, the one who threw the javelin or the discus the furthest. But, in the Christian life, all of us can win the prize of the upward calling, where our Lord and Savior waits. Christ Jesus is cheering us on!  

As believers in training, we are called to communicate, to demonstrate the love of God to the world. “St. Teresa of Avila described this task well when she said: ‘Christ has no body on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which Christ’s compassion is to look out to the world. Yours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good. Yours are the hands with which he is to bless us now.’” [1]

Christ is calling us, today. Go into the world, and be Christ’s eyes, hands and feet. Amen!


[1] Hooker, Morna D., “The Letter to the Philippians,” The New Interpreters Bible Commentary, Vol. XI (Abingdon, Nashville, TN: 2000), 537.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2020: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

Know Joy – Know Jesus!

“Know Joy – Know Jesus!” – August 30, 2020

Phil 3-10 That-I-may-know-Him

Philippians 3:1, 4-11 (3:8)

What is really important to you? Some people value family or friends. Others think material possessions are important. Some consider a marvelous resume to be valued above all else. Each of these can make some people satisfied, and that’s only the start of the list of important things. Many things hold value to many people, and cause them to be satisfied in life.

Is being a rule-follower important? When we dot every “I” and cross every “T” – carefully making absolutely sure that we are obeying every law; is that the thing some people value the most in their lives?

The apostle Paul said that this description described him exactly – a rule-follower who dotted every “I” and crossed every “T.” He gives us his marvelous resume, in some detail. We find out that Paul was born to a well-respected Jewish clan in the tribe of Benjamin. He was properly brought up in the Jewish faith, and even chose to live as a Pharisee, as one of the strictest followers of the Jewish Law that it was possible to be. The old Saul went overboard in his devotion to God, too – so devoted that he even persecuted the early Church.

Do you know anyone like that? Anyone who is so strict at following the rules that they even frown and get angry at their friends and family – regularly? What would the old Paul, the Pharisee Saul, have been like as a friend? Always trying to be super-righteous, always working hard at being perfect – Paul tells us straight out that he used to be a miserable person while he tried as hard as he could to be super-righteous.

I wonder what kinds of bullet points Paul – or as he was in his Pharisee days, Saul – would have on his letters of recommendation? “Pharisee Saul is one of the most righteous people I know.” Or, “The highest praise I can give to Pharisee Saul is he never, ever makes a mistake.” If anybody could possibly save himself through his own super-strict efforts at living according to the Mosaic Laws, I bet it would have been Paul, or as he was before, Pharisee Saul.

But – Paul found his own self-righteous actions and trying to make himself righteous enough for God just did not work. There was no way he could earn enough “brownie points” to be acceptable to God.

In other places in the New Testament, Paul describes what an awful mess he was in when he realized this! The Pharisee Saul had lived his whole life acting self-righteous, putting on a show. But here, in Philippians, Paul cuts straight to the chase. He tells us that he no longer trusts in himself or his qualifications. Instead he trusts in Christ! Absolutely, one hundred percent.

I am not sure whether you get excited about accounting. You know, the language of numbers, statements of profit and loss. But, that is exactly what Paul uses here. He uses accounting terms! “The end of a profit and loss statement shows the net loss or net income, indicating the extent to which a business, craft or household is profitable.” [1]

Paul is saying here that all his trying to be super-righteous, in his own power, got him absolutely nowhere! As far as the profit and loss statement of his life before God, he was absolutely bankrupt! There was no way he could possibly even approach God – except through trusting Jesus Christ as Lord.

And then – and then! Paul uses accounting language again. Paul counts knowing Christ as “gain.” When Paul wrote down the profit and loss statement for his life before God, ALL the gain, ALL the profit was credited to Jesus! As Paul came to understand what a miracle happened when he put his trust and hope in Christ Jesus, he became more and more excited.

Paul willingly, eagerly left behind all of his marvelous religious resume. Marvelous as far as the world is concerned. Paul actually uses a swear word here, in verse 8. “I consider everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things.” – meaning, putting aside all his training, and superior resume, and everything else – “I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ.” We might think of a four-letter word to use here, and that is exactly what Paul uses in the original Greek.

“Paul regards ‘everything’ of little value in comparison with the far greater worth, the supreme advantage, of knowing Christ.” [2] To gain Christ – to have Jesus one hundred percent on the profit side of our profit and loss statement before God – is the most marvelous thing in the world to Paul. He is so, so joy-filled about this, he almost bursts with joy!

Paul told the friends in Philippi about his boundless joy at knowing Christ Jesus so closely, and so well, even though he was in prison, chained to a Roman soldier 24/7! He still overflowed with joy! Is that true for us? Are we in the same joyful position as the apostle Paul? Are we overflowing with joy because we know Jesus? Or, is our joy being blocked or diverted?

Life was certainly no walk in the park for Paul, especially now. Yet, we can almost feel his joy right through the printed page. Even though, hardship – yet, there was joy! Even though, trials – yet, Paul felt joy! Even though, sickness – yet, Paul and his friends were joyful!

I realize you and I are probably not in the happiest of places right now, with uncertainty and anxiety all around us. Yet, Paul reminds us, we can have joy! If we place our trust and hope in Jesus Christ, His joy is available to us, any time! What a marvelous promise. Be joyful in Christ Jesus. No matter what.

[1] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1592

Commentary, Philippians 3:4b-14 (Lent 5C), Elizabeth Shively, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2013.

[2] http://www.lectionarystudies.com/lent5ce.html

“The Prize,” Rev. Bryan Findlayson, Lectionary Bible Studies and Sermons, Pumpkin Cottage Ministry Resources.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2020: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

We Can Be Friends, Too!

(This week, we are celebrating in Sunday Worship with a Children’s Service: a service oriented toward children and young people. We pray for them as they begin a new school year, whether online, in-person, or something in between. This sermon from Philippians 2:19-30 is geared toward all ages, especially for our younger friends.)

“We Can Be Friends, Too!” – August 23, 2020

Phil 2-20 work of the Gospel

Philippians 2:19-30 (2:28-30)

Paul wrote a letter to the Philippian church, when he was in prison. Paul tells about his two close friends who are with him, supporting him while he is in prison.

What if your friend was in real big trouble? Would you be there to help your friend who was in a desperate situation? Or, would you want to hide and stay away? Would your fear keep you from helping? I bet you would be like Timothy and Epaphroditus and would be there to help your friend!

So many church members just stay out of the way. Can you – can I be a friend of Jesus if we hide and stay out of the way?

As Paul wrote this letter to the Philippian church, he was in prison. You and I might think that Paul wasn’t able to do anything in prison, but just hide and keep out of the way. He couldn’t go where he pleased. He was locked up!

Here Paul talks further about being a good friend. Paul tells about his two close friends who are with him, willingly supporting him while he is in prison.

Would you – or I – be there to help our friend who was in a desperate situation, even in prison? Or, would you want to run to hide and stay out of the way? Could our anxiety and fear make us super scared? Or, would we continue to be there for our friend?

The friends in Philippi knew Paul’s friend Timothy from when Timothy was one of Paul’s companions. Paul had the highest praise for his young friend, saying that Timothy was genuine, faithful and could certainly be depended on, no matter what. Especially when he was telling other people about God’s Good News.

Isn’t this the best kind of friend to have with you, if you are in a difficult spot?

I know that going back to school is usually not such a challenging time. However, we haven’t had Coronavirus around before. Having Coronavirus is almost like being in jail! It is keeping us locked away from our friends. It is very stressful for all of us. But, none or us are alone. God is always with us, is always fighting for us, and has great plans for each of us.

Are you willing to be genuine, faithful and dependable for your friends? How about for your fellow classmates or co-workers? Paul reminds us, we can all be like Timothy, willing to be friends for others, no matter what.

Paul’s other friend, Epaphroditus, was a church leader in Philippi. He hand-carried an important financial gift to Paul.

Epaphroditus also was very, very ill while traveling, and after he reached Rome where Paul was in prison. However, he overcame those difficult times. Paul praises his friend Epaphroditus for working just as hard as Paul did himself! Plus, while Paul was stuck in prison, his Philippian friend took excellent care of Paul. I suspect he was Paul’s hands and feet, and really helped the ministry while Paul was in jail.

For all of those reasons, Paul really praises Epaphroditus. But, at the same time, Paul needed to send him back to Philippi with this very letter. (The one we are reading.)

Do we understand how much it cost Epaphroditus to go visit Paul? Weeks, perhaps even months on the road. He was deathly ill while traveling, and after he reached his destination, too. Of course Paul was grateful and thankful for both his good friends!

Do you know anyone who has had the Coronavirus? You cannot go and see them. They are alone. Yet you can be a good friend and send them messages, right? And, if you were sick, you know that God is your good friend. No matter how things are going, how unhappy you are or how troubled your life seems, God will be right next to you. We have God’s promise on that! God is true to those who believe.

Are we supposed to be friends to others in a similar way? I think Paul would say, “Yes!”

Our hearts can be filled with gentle words, kind deeds, forgiving hearts and peacemaking. Jesus is depending on all of us! Did you ever think Jesus was depending on you? You might be the only way God could show love to some of the kids, families, co-workers, and neighbors you meet every day – in class, or in the office, or at the grocery store, or at the park. [1]

Just as much as Paul was thankful for Timothy and Epaphroditus being his good friends, you and I can be thankful that God is our good friend. No matter how things are going, how happy we are – or not, or how bumpy or steep the way is ahead, God will be right next to us. We have God’s promise on that!

Paul encourages each of us to come alongside of all our friends, and be there, just in case. That is truly something we all can be thankful for. Alleluia, amen!

[1] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2013/07/back-to-school-2013.html

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2020: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

Joy in Humility

“Joy in Humility” – August 16, 2020

Phil 2-5 same mind

Philippians 2:3-11 (2:3-5)

When you see a child dressing up like their mom, dad, older brother or sister, or other trusted adult, what immediately pops into your mind? What I immediately think of is that this dear child is dressing up as a beloved older person because they really want to be that person! It’s not just wearing Mom’s or Grandma’s high heeled shoes. Whether it’s dressing up in a nurse’s scrubs, a mechanic’s coveralls or a scientist’s lab coat, that child is trying their hardest to be just like that grown-up.

As we consider the Scripture reading read to us today, we might think of something like this – imitating our beloved grown-ups. But, can you and I actually do what Paul suggests here? Paul, you are making a huge leap, expecting us little, insignificant humans to be like – have a mindset like – think the same way as our Lord Jesus! That is asking for the moon! Isn’t it?

That is what Paul says in verse 5, yes. Let’s go back further. He says a similar thing in verses 3 and 4: our attitude – on the inside! – is supposed to change. Radically!

We are not just to play dress-up, we are not supposed to simply put on a nurse’s uniform or a firefighter’s coat. Paul calls each of us to be humble. Paul wants us to pay attention to our insides! It’s an internal job, where each of us changes our attitude to one of humility.

What is humility, anyhow? If we examine the cultural backdrop of Paul’s words more closely, humility had a very different connotation in the first century. Humility – the act of being humble was not considered in a positive light, at all! The widespread, worldly view of being humble went along with being a menial, a servant, even a slave.

However … that was not the way the Bible looked at this way of thinking. No, some religious groups viewed being humble as “the appropriate attitude both toward God and toward other members of the community.” [1] Plus, the apostle Paul here reminds the Philippian believers to consider others before we think about ourselves; to recognize the abilities, rights and achievements of others! This is exactly how Paul describes Jesus Christ several verses later.

Paul tells his friends – and by extension, us! – that we are to have the same attitude and same mindset as our Lord! That completely blows me away. Wow. Double wow!

Lots of situations, differences and conflicts can pull people away from the Lord. We can see these happening all around us, on a regular basis. Some of these feelings, emotions and situations are so powerful! Not only pulling us away from each other, but also away from the Lord. It is so difficult to focus, to have our mindset and attitude the same as our Lord Jesus!

Paul’s words “seem carefully chosen, no doubt to make a lasting impression on his readers. He then evokes by contrast some of the root causes of division and finally returns to the image of having a ‘same mind’. Only now, this mind is not theirs but Christ’s.” [2]

Paul was not just speaking to an individual here. The word “you” Paul uses (every time!) is a plural “you!” This attitude, this mindset is for the whole group of the Philippian believers. Paul did not mean for his friends, the believers in Philippi, to be solo Christians. No Lone Rangers! It’s possible to lean on each other when some get tired. We all depend on each other. We seek to be Christians together, and to have a mindset like Christ, together!

One of my favorite expressions is “What would Jesus do?” What would our Lord do in a situation like this? How would He react? How would He treat others? Would Jesus be selfish? Would Jesus be mean? Would Jesus snub people or be disrespectful to others? I think we all know the answer: certainly not!

Paul does not stop here. These next verses are among the most significant and moving descriptions of our Lord Jesus Christ in the whole New Testament. Paul goes back in time, to the time before the human Jesus was born in Bethlehem, and he talks about the pre-incarnate, eternal Son, the Second Person of the Trinity. The Eternal Son, the Word that was in the beginning, voluntarily gave up all Godhood. Jesus became the Word made flesh, setting aside the form of God. Jesus emptied Himself and became a helpless human baby.

Jesus humbled Himself! Just as Paul tells us to do! We are to strive to have the attitude, the mindset of our Lord Jesus Christ!

But, wait! That is not all. Not by a long shot! After Jesus became obedient to God, even to the point of death on a cross for our sins, God highly exalted Him! Jesus was—is given the name that is above every name! At the name of Jesus, every knee should bow, and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord, to the glory of God!

Do we believe that? What does that mean to you? To me? What does it really mean? Are you – am I ready to bow the knee and confess that Jesus is Lord? Are we to strive to have the mindset and attitude of Jesus? Conventional, worldly attitudes scoff at this humility. What, be a servant? Where does this guy Paul get off, telling me to act like a slave, a menial, and not do anything for myself? That’s plain silly! That’s stupid, even!

Except, that is EXACTLY what Paul is saying here. We are not to act selfishly, have out-of-line ambition, or act in a conceited way. Again, “what would Jesus do?” Jesus would have concern for all people! Jesus would serve and love and care for all people, whether He is humble or exalted. No matter who, no matter where, no matter what!  

Let us strive to have the mindset and attitude of our Lord Jesus. Remember to check: “What would Jesus do?” And then, go! Have an attitude like Jesus, to the glory of God.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2020: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

[I would like to express deep appreciation for Dr. Hooker’s invaluable commentary on chapter 2 of “The Letter to the Philippians.” (Hooker, Morna D., “The Letter to the Philippians,” The New Interpreters Bible Commentary, Vol. XI (Abingdon, Nashville, TN: 2000). I have used several concepts she wrote about in sections 2:1-4 and 2:5-11. Thanks so much for contributing to my personal understanding of this foundational passage for the study of the person of our Lord Jesus Christ.]

[1] Hooker, Morna D., “The Letter to the Philippians,” The New Interpreters Bible Commentary, Vol. XI (Abingdon, Nashville, TN: 2000), 499.

[2] https://www.taize.fr/en_article167.html?date=2009-10-01

“Living As Friends,” Commented Bible Passages from Taize, 2009.

Joy Through Difficulty

“Joy Through Difficulty” – August 9, 2020

Phil 1-12 advance Gospel

1:21-27 (1:21, 27)

When bad things happen to you, how do you react? What about when really unpleasant things continue to go wrong – what then? Do you feel down in the dumps? Depressed and anxious? What about your general attitude towards life – is that affected, too? Who am I kidding? Of course our whole lives are affected.

What about the apostle Paul and his attitude? The apostle Paul wrote this letter to the believers in Philippi as a thank you note, and a whole lot more. But, let’s take a look at Paul’s immediate situation? Where was he as he wrote this letter?

Let’s look more closely at verses 12 and 13: “12 Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel. 13 As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ.” Wow! We can see, right here, that Paul was locked up, in prison.

That would be an awful situation for most people – in fact, for just about anybody! However, I know that Paul was repeatedly locked up, thrown in prison, put into stocks, beaten on a number of occasions with rods or with a whip – and I could go on. Paul himself tells us about many of these difficult situations that happened to him in 2 Corinthians, too.

During this sermon series, we will highlight Paul’s focus on joy! Again and again, Paul mentions either “joy” or “rejoice.” We know that Paul was considered a saint, and he traveled a great distance as a missionary. Plus, he certainly had perseverance. Even what some call stubbornness. And, he let his abundant joy shine through.

If we try to compare ourselves to Paul, some might say, “I’m no saint! At least, not like St. Paul! He was a real saint, and extraordinary missionary, and powerful pastor.”

Scripture – the Holy Spirit – couldn’t be talking to me through this verse…or, could it?

Sure, we see Paul in these verses, in prison, locked up. He is in chains, chained to a Roman soldier, and still, he’s joyful with the joy of Christ! What on earth…?

You and I may not be in as dire circumstances as Paul’s, but, surely there are some lessons to be learned from Paul. How can we imitate him, today? What can we do to show God’s joy to everyone, despite difficulties and big challenges in our own lives? I’m glad you asked.

Sometimes life does get particularly rough. You and I know that. Maybe really difficult times have hit my family or yours. Maybe we know friends or acquaintances who have dealt with similar challenging situations. You know these things as soon as I mention them. Serious accidents or horrifying diseases? What about when death hits close to home – repeatedly? What about natural disasters, fires, floods? Or, God forbid, armed conflict? And, what if our family has a member in the same place as the apostle Paul, in prison? What do we do then? How do we keep the joy of God front and center in our lives?

In case we haven’t noticed before, Christ is a big deal to the apostle Paul. Jesus Christ is the reason that Paul is now imprisoned. Christ is not just a sideline or an afterthought. Paul has not stopped talking about the claims of Christ even in prison. He has that deep of a relationship with Jesus Christ that he wants everyone to be similarly related to Him.

Do we – you and I – have that kind of deep, intimate relationship with Jesus Christ? And if not, why not?

I’d like everyone to imagine. And as I said last week, you can close your eyes here if it helps you to imagine. Think of your best friend. I mean, your best, best friend, whether you two are still in touch, or whether you haven’t seen each other for years and years. Is everyone thinking of that special relationship? That relationship is as close as the one with our Lord Jesus.

At least, Jesus dearly wants that very special relationship with each of us.

We know Paul already praised his friends for being partners in preaching the Good News of God. Moreover, “Paul writes from prison (Phil 1:7, 13-14, 17), uncertain whether he will die (verses 19-20), hoping only that “Christ will be exalted now as always in my body, whether by life or by death” (verse 20). The circumstances have not dampened Paul’s joy (see 1:18; 3:1a; 4:4, 10). Perhaps [the circumstances] have even clarified his focus.” [1]

How can we have that dearly close relationship with our Lord Jesus, too? What can clarify our focus?

Paul tells us again and again that we are not to be focused inwardly, not to be focused on ourselves. Our call is to be focused in an outward direction. Think of others. Do things for others. Tell others about Christ, and how much a relationship with God can change their lives. Has that relationship changed your life? As we live out the Gospel – the Good News – in our lives, that is the absolute best invitation we could possibly have for others who have not heard about the close relationship our Lord Jesus wants to have with them.

There is an added bonus, too. “The Lord’s people who are discouraged will see our faith in God in the midst of trials and be encouraged to trust God and bear witness for Him.” [2]

Let’s all pray that we can have this incredibly close friendship with Jesus Christ, not only for the sake of others, but especially for us! As we are drawn closer to God, vertically, others around us see our lives shining like a bright light. Then, we can tell many about the love of God through Christ Jesus our Lord. Is there anything better than that? Paul doesn’t think so. God will be pleased, too! Go! Do! Think of others more than of yourselves, in the name of Christ. Amen.

[1] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3431

Commentary, Philippians 1:21-30, Troy Toftgruben, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2017.  

[2] https://bible.org/seriespage/lesson-6-happiness-through-circumstances-or-christ-philippians-112-18

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2020: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

Encourage Like Paul!

“Encourage Like Paul!” – August 2, 2020

Phil 1-3 thank God words

Philippians 1:3-11 (1:3-6)

Do you remember a time when someone encouraged you? I mean, when you were feeling downhearted or down in the dumps, and a friend or relative gave you a real, sincere word of encouragement? I am afraid to say that my words of encouragement often do not measure up when compared to this encouraging letter Paul wrote to his Philippian friends. Paul really meant what he said in this letter to Philippi – every word!

We are starting a sermon series on the letter to the church in Philippi this week. This letter is one of the most heartwarming and personal letters written in the New Testament. Philippians is one of my favorite Bible books, too.

Just to remind us all, the apostle Paul traveled around for years. As an itinerant preacher and missionary, he was often on the move. Although, Paul did settle down from time to time, and stay in particular towns for a number of months. Like, right here, in Philippi.

`           I know today we might be encouraged by a family member over the telephone, or by a co-worker in a Zoom meeting, or by a friend through email or Instagram. But in the apostle Paul’s day, there were only two choices: either face to face, in a personal encounter, or in written form. Paul was far away from his friends and former parishioners, so he used a letter.  

Paul’s affection and care for his Philippian friends went much deeper than a nodding acquaintance, such as we might see in casual, continued encounters like in line at a grocery store, walking in the neighborhood, or in a polite exchange at the office.

Let’s look at exactly what Paul said here. This was a thank-you letter for a financial gift sent by the Philippian church. Since Paul was in prison, he was doubly thankful for the gift! I suspect it provided for his food, clothing and other needs while he was locked up. Let me remind people that if a prisoner’s friends or relatives did not supply these necessities, the prisoner was sadly out of luck. The prison did not supply anything. At least, not for free.

So, you and I might think this was a sad time and puzzling situation for Paul to have positive words to say about anything – much less to send such a positive, uplifting letter to his faraway friends in thanks for their financial gift.

Paul is fairly bubbling over with gratitude and thankfulness as he begins this letter. I wanted us to especially notice the 3rd verse. Paul thanks God every time he remembers his friends in Philippi. Do you have friends you can say that about? Do you or I have even one or two friends who are so special to us that we remember them to God with such warmth and excitement? What a marvelous thing to say about a friend. A good friend. Even, a best friend.

Verse 4 tells us that Paul always – always prays with joy when he prays for these special friends from Philippi. This is the first of many times Paul uses to word “joy” in this letter. He uses either the noun “joy” or the verb “rejoice” fourteen times! When I first took the course Bible Study Methods decades ago in bible college, we were told that if a passage or a book of the Bible repeated something, there was a really good reason for it. I believe, and commentators and Bible scholars agree, the apostle Paul means joy to be an overarching theme in this letter.

And, verse 5 tells what fills Paul with such joy: the Philippians not only were supporting Paul in prayer, but they also supported him in the partnership of the Gospel. They shared the Good News of Christ, too! That really filled the apostle Paul with joy.

How do you feel when you are especially encouraged and affirmed? What if that someone who encourages you is someone very special? Someone who means a whole lot to you? Doesn’t that make that encouragement and appreciation even more meaningful?

Let’s imagine. Close your eyes, if that helps you imagine. You and I are among this group of believers in Philippi, and we have just received this letter from our Pastor Paul in prison. Let’s listen again to these three verses: “I thank my God for you every time I think of you; and every time I pray for you all, I pray with joy because of the way in which you have helped me in the work of the gospel from the very first day until now.”

Paul is thankful for the money his friends sent. But, I hear these words saying how incredibly thankful and grateful Paul is for the caring and love of these people, friends from far away. Have you ever been encouraged and affirmed, with these amazing words?

I am reminded of when I taught piano lessons, some years ago, before I started seminary and several years into it. I taught for about ten years. I remember one student in particular. Her parents were going through a nasty divorce that lasted for many months. I taught this girl for a whole year. Her mother wanted her to continue with lessons until the end of the school year, as a stabilizing factor, because she saw how encouraging I was to her daughter in each lesson. And, I really tried to be a caring encourager for a troubled time in this girl’s life.

We all have had teachers, coaches or mentors in our past. Who has taught you about the Christian faith? Who has mentored you along the way, and encouraged you to become a more faithful believer? Do you have an apostle Paul in your life? Or, perhaps an encouraging and faithful Barnabas, one of Paul’s companions? Or, maybe an excited and eager John Mark, another companion of Paul? [1]

Whatever kind of teacher, coach or mentor in faith you have had, praise God for this beloved person. Thank the Lord for the impact this dear one has made on your life, and on mine. And, perhaps you can be that person who has a lasting impact on someone else. Please God, may it be today!

[1] http://www.word-sunday.com/Files/c/2Advent-c/SR-2Advent-c.html

“A Letter from a Mentor,” Larry Broding’s Word-Sunday.Com: A Catholic Resource for This Sunday’s Gospel. Adult Study, Children’s Story, Family Activity, Support Materials.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2020: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

 

We Are Convinced

“We Are Convinced” – July 26, 2020

Rom 8-37 conquerors, water

Romans 8:33-39 (8:37-39)

Shel Silverstein wrote some wonderful poetry for children. (His poetry is enjoyed by all ages, in fact!) You may be familiar with two of his books of poetry called “Where the Sidewalk Ends” and “A Light in the Attic.” This poem is called “Whatif.” I will read most of it:

Last night, while I lay thinking here,
some Whatifs crawled inside my ear
and pranced and partied all night long
and sang their same old Whatif song:
Whatif I’m dumb in school?
Whatif they’ve closed the swimming pool?
Whatif I get beat up?
Whatif there’s poison in my cup?
Whatif I start to cry?
Whatif I get sick and die?
Whatif nobody likes me?
Whatif a bolt of lightning strikes me?
Whatif I don’t grow taller?
Whatif my head starts getting smaller?
Whatif the bus is late?
Whatif my teeth don’t grow in straight?
Whatif I tear my pants?
Whatif I never learn to dance?
Everything seems well, and then
the nighttime Whatifs strike again!
[1]

 

Whatif? Many people are haunted by all kinds of fears that a school-age child might have. We can relate to some of them, perhaps even most of them! The commonality of these fears crosses borders, and connects us all in a powerful way. Does this remind you of our Scripture reading at all? Whatif? Whatif God is against us? Whatif God condemns us? Whatif the devil stands in front of us, telling God all the sins we have ever thought, said or done? And, then – Whatif God tells us we can’t get into heaven?

You need to understand something about the apostle Paul’s writing style. He wrote some really long sentences. Some of his sentences went on for a whole paragraph! Plus, it is typical of Paul to interrupt himself in the middle of a point he’s making, add some more details, and then pick up where he left off in the first place. What is more, every phrase in this 8th chapter of the letter to the Romans has marvelous information for our salvation!

We can watch as Paul assembles his argument. In verses 31 and 32, he asks, “who can be against us?” Paul’s answer: no one, not even God, who did not spare His own Son from death. In verse 33, who will bring a charge against us? Again, the answer is no one. God justifies – or makes it just-as-if we had not sinned. Then, in verse 34, Paul asks, “who will condemn?” The ringing answer is: no one! We are looking around for more accusers, but no one steps forward. Christ Jesus died for us, was raised for us, and intercedes for us. [2]

Did you hear? Jesus intercedes for us, too! Not just once or twice, but Jesus is continuing to intercede on our behalf! That is amazing. I almost cannot believe it, but Paul says so. In verse 35, Paul describes many physical hindrances that may separate us from the love of Jesus Christ. This rhetorical statement continues, piling up more and more bricks. You and I really need to listen to the apostle Paul when he tells us something so important, point blank.

I do need to remind us that Paul does describe here the kinds of sufferings that he and his fellow believers did go through. These were (and are today, too!) very real sufferings – danger, threat and struggle – of countless people throughout the world.

However, our salvation is NOT our doing. Bryan Findlayson tells us exactly what Paul is building here. Paul knows full well that “our standing before God is not dependent upon our love, obedience, perseverance or faithfulness, rather it rests on what Christ has done for us. At this moment we stand perfected before the throne of the Almighty God. We are eternally secure.” Do you hear that? Do we have any idea what fantastic news that is? You, I, all of us “are being daily renewed into the image we already possess in Christ. This is not our doing, but rather it is a gift of grace from a loving and merciful God.” [3]

As if all that is not enough, Paul adds the marvelous icing to the top of our salvation. It is almost as if he gets more and more outrageous with each pair of things he references. Sure, these strenuous pressures are powerful, sure to cause many people to stumble and fall. But – let us listen to them again: Paul says, “neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation.” He continues to mention all of these threats, elements, and all of space and time spread out before us – and yet, nothing – NOTHING can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord!

The love of God transcends all things. The love of God reaches into the depths of human despair, embraces those who live in the shadow of death, or the overbright light of present life. The love of God proclaims to the world that Jesus the Messiah is the world’s true Lord, and in Him and through Him, love has won the ultimate victory! [4]

Paul started out this chapter by telling us that “therefore there is no condemnation for those who are “in Christ” Jesus. He ends by telling us that therefore there can be no separation from the love of God for those who are “in Christ” Jesus.” [5] All this is Good News indeed.

Amen, alleluia!

[1] Silverstein, Shel, “Whatif,” from A Light in the Attic (Harper & Row: San Francisco, 1981), edited.

[2] Wright, N.T., “Romans,” The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary, Vol. X (Abingdon: Nashville, TN, 2002), 613.

[3] http://www.lectionarystudies.com/sunday18aee.html  “The Love of God,” Rev. Bryan Findlayson, Lectionary Bible Studies and Sermons, Pumpkin Cottage Ministry Resources. Includes detailed textual notes.

[4] Wright, N.T., 619.

[5] Findlayson, “The Love of God,”

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2020: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

Life on God’s Terms

“Life on God’s Terms” – July 12, 2020

Rom 8_11 Spirit of God

Romans 8:1-11 (8:10)

Does anyone know what this is? [motioning towards the garbage can] You’re right. This is a garbage can. Good for being a container for all the garbage – refuse – junk – from our homes, workplaces, and communities. All kinds of worthless garbage that is not needed or wanted goes right in here. The apostle Paul talks about all kinds of garbage in our lives, on our insides, here in the letter to the church in Rome.

Imagine, if you will, all the internal junk in a person’s life, and mind, and heart. All of that meanness, and selfishness, gossip and swearing, bullying and arguing. And, what about the times people cheat? Or, blow off assignments or obligations? Or, stretch the truth just a little – or, perhaps a lot? Oh, it’s not much. But, do you think God keeps track of each and every time?

Just think of a person’s life. Perhaps, your life, or mine. If all the years and decades of those junky, selfish, stubborn, or mean thoughts, words or deeds were piled in this garbage can, I’d imagine it would be pretty full. Even, perhaps, full to overflowing.

Life on the inside, our internal selves without God can be pretty hopeless. Worthless. Just like garbage – refuse – junk that goes into this garbage can. Another word that Paul uses for all the stuff in these garbage cans is sin. I suspect many of us here can quote Romans 3:23, where Paul says “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Paul does not say, “For some have sinned,” or even “For many have sinned.” No, we all have our internal selves filled up with meanness, selfishness, gossip, swearing, bullying, arguing. And, then some.

God does have laws. Many of these laws are common sense, and others are in keeping with moral codes that many civilizations have held for millenia. We know the big 10, the Ten Commandments, and many of the other laws of Moses that are found in the Hebrew Scriptures. Right before Paul writes these marvelous words in Romans 8, he talks about the huge problem with law and sin. We know about that. Sin and the law of God do not get along.

What do I do now? I know a lot of these laws of God, sure. But I still fall into sin, even though I know the rules. Another way of looking at sin is separation from God. When you—I—when all of us sin, we are separated from God. What’s more than that, sometimes people don’t even think of the Lord. God does not even enter their minds. Can you imagine? Ignoring God? Yet, so many people do just that.

So many people today are running on that treadmill of self will run riot, of selfish, mean, resentful living. I have seen a number of these kinds of persons, and they keep running, running, running on that treadmill of separation from God.

I have one particular person in mind. An acquaintance, from some years ago. To all outward appearances, she was very successful. She had designer clothes, a successful job, a luxury car, a fancy house. But, on the inside? All kinds of resentment, anger, greed, envy, gossiping and backbiting. She cut corners on her integrity and honesty, and just did not have a moral compass. Do you know someone like that? I have a feeling we all might have more in common with this unhappy lady than any of us might like to admit.

I’d like all of you to think of a sin in your life. I suspect you have thought of a sin that is really obvious to you, right now. the one thing you feel worst about. The one regret or misdeed or misfortune that you wear like a snail does its shell. The one part of your life that forever threatens sin and condemnation. Could you write it down? Or, if you don’t have a pen and paper, could you think really hard of that particular sin right now?

Paul does not leave us in that horrible place. Yes, all of Romans chapter 7 is talking about sin, and separation from God, and how much difficulty all of us have with these sinful thoughts, words and deeds. We might think that we are stuck at the bottom of one of these smelly, stinky, filthy garbage cans, with no way out. Who will rescue me from this body of sin and death? How can I – can we – get in a place where we can possibly have access to God?

Paul has good news for us. In fact, it’s great news! We do not have to stay in this garbage dump for the rest of our lives. No, Jesus reaches down from heaven and rescues us from sin and death. Jesus takes each of us out of that separated, filthy garbage can and brings us into the glorious presence of God!

Here is the best part of all. God’s Holy Spirit helps us to stay free from the power of sin and death. We no longer need to reflect on what we have done – or said – or thought that was wrong. No! Jesus Christ delivers us from sin and the Law.

I want to invite all of us to—virtually—toss that sin we wrote down into the garbage can right here. Jesus can clean us up from the inside, and help us to sin less and less. Amen!

One last thing. I invite each of you to take another piece of paper, and write what you are free to do now that you do not have that condemnation in your life and inside your very self. What challenge will God bring into your life, now that you know you are beloved by God and filled with God’s Spirit? What kindness or generosity will you attempt? What will you do with all the love and grace God can give you? [1]

God promises to be with us, yes! And, even more, God promises to use each of us for the sake of the people and the world God loves so much. Go out into the world for God, today.

[1] http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=1571

“What Willl You Do…?” David Lose, Dear Working Preacher, 2011.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2020: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

 

Rest for the Weary

(I am on vacation this weekend. Thanks to the Rev. John Lewis of The Presbyterian Church of Hamilton, Ohio for preaching for me at St. Luke’s Church!

This is a sermon from 2008 on the Lectionary passage from Matthew 11:28-30.)

“Rest for the Weary” – July 6, 2008

Matt 11-28 rest, bench

Matthew 11:28-30

I was born here in the city. My parents were born here, too, in Chicago. I have only a vague idea of what goes on in the country, on a farm. My information about farming activity comes chiefly from material I have read, and a bit from stories I have been told. By my father-in-law, for example, who grew up on a small farm in southeastern Iowa during the 1930’s.

So, when I read a scripture passage like the one we have before us today, I have to take a really close look at it, and work hard at fully understanding it, because I am not that familiar with oxen, or yokes. But burdens—I am familiar with burdens. And our Lord Jesus talks about burdens here in this reading from the Gospel of Matthew.

Burdens come in all assorted shapes and sizes. Burdens can be solitary things, with each of us, on our own, struggling with our separate burdens. It is difficult indeed for me to carry a burden on my own. And I am heavily laden. Let’s face it. We are all burdened with something. Perhaps several things. A few of us carry a lot of heavy difficulties, whether psychological, emotional, or physical. These all can be heavy burdens, to be sure.

If I thought I was having problems before, I did not even consider this next complication: I am naturally separated from other people here in this world. Just as much, if not more, I am also separated from God above. I not only have a wall of isolation separating me from other people, I also have that same isolating wall separating me from God.

The Bible has a name for this horrible wall of isolation, and this name is sin. As the Apostle Paul says in Romans 3:23, all have sinned and come short of the glory of God. The verse is not that a few have sinned. It does not say that some have sinned. The letter to the Romans says that all have sinned. So that wall of isolation has been erected between me and God, and me and other individuals. And that wall is there for you, too.

Think of different kinds of loads: burdens of pain and suffering, burdens of loneliness and isolation, burdens of other kinds of losses. If we think about it, on top of the other burdens that each of us is carrying is the burden of sin.

So, not only is each one of us separated from God and from our fellow human beings, but each of us is heavily burdened by countless other things. And I could imagine lots of people getting virtual hernias, because they are carrying their burdens all by themselves.

The truly good news is that we do not have to bear these burdens all alone, any more. Our Lord Jesus has reconciled us to God. Each of us is no longer separated, isolated. But Jesus brings us back into a proper, friendly relationship with God. Each of us has the opportunity to be called a child of God.

And Jesus not only reconciles each of us back to God, this is where He mentions the yoke. His yoke is easy, and His burden is light.

What is a yoke, anyway? How does it work? What does it do?

You all remember that I am a city girl. From my reading, I have found out that a yoke is used by a farmer to harness two animals—often oxen—to a piece of farm equipment, usually a plow. Yokes were made of wood. When the yoke was made, it was adjusted, so that it would not chafe. And the significant thing about this is that a yoke was custom-fitted to the particular ox that pulled with it.

Jesus mentions a yoke here. Remember, all of these people Jesus was talking to understood about farm life, and oxen, and especially about a good fit on a yoke. So when or Lord Jesus mentions “My yoke is easy,” He means that His yoke for each one of us fits us very well—it’s tailor-made, in other words. And even more important, one ox alone does not pull in a yoke. The load would be unbalanced if there were only one ox. Instead, each of us is in a team . . . in a yoked team with Jesus. If our Lord is right with us, pulling at our burden—whatever it is—at our side, then each of us is on a winning team.

Just imagine. I no longer need to pull at my burdens all by myself, isolated and alone. Jesus is right there next to me, helping me, pulling by my side. Praise God! Jesus comes alongside each one of us. Jesus is there to encourage us. And He will bring rest for our souls. Is there any better news than this best of all Good News?

Alleluia, amen.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2020: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

Cup of Cold Water

“Cup of Cold Water”

Matt 10-42 water, words

Matthew 10:40-42 (10:42) – June 28, 2020

I have several friends who are wonderful hosts and hostesses. They love to have friends and relatives come to their homes, and provide such excellent hospitality. In fact, I had the great good fortune to be the recipient of such fine hospitality a few months ago, at the home of my niece Josie’s uncles (on her mom’s side), in Washington state. Jeff was a marvelous host!

What does hospitality have to do with this bible reading from Matthew 10? At first glance, this reading talks about prophets, or God’s messengers. Jesus tells us how it’s important to accept, or to welcome the messengers of God.

Hospitality was huge in the Middle East. It still is, today. If someone comes to your home, you go all out for them, making them comfortable, feeding them, and otherwise supplying their needs. That hospitality has been a hallmark and a highlight of visiting this region of the world, for centuries.

When the Rabbi Jesus made this statement about receiving the prophets, God’s messengers, what do you immediately think of? What is the first thing that comes to mind? The first thing I thought of was an old-fashioned Sunday dinner after church, where one of the prominent families at the church invites the minister over for a fine meal following the morning services. Well, that cannot happen now, because of COVID-19. Not the socializing at each other’s houses, and not the in-person worship services.

But – can this reading mean more than that?

Somehow, I don’t think the Rabbi Jesus was thinking about the chief rabbi from the most prosperous synagogue in town. I don’t think Jesus had the hot-shot leading elders of the largest congregation in mind, either.

I suspect you can immediately think of someone—maybe a couple of someones—who is absolutely marvelous at hospitality. Putting on parties and get-togethers, gathering friends, relatives, acquaintances. I know, I have been at a few of these gatherings. They are almost always wonderful times to connect. Wonderful times for eating and drinking, too.

What about you? Are you grateful to friends or relatives who have the spiritual gift of hospitality? This absolutely is a spiritual gift, listed among the other more acknowledged or appreciated biblical gifts. Some have that gift of hospitality in abundance.

Except, the words of Jesus do not excuse some of us who are not so hospitality-gifted. No, Jesus’s words are intended for all of us. That means every believer has the responsibility to extend hospitality, whether they have that spiritual gift or not.

I could expound upon the gifts of the Holy Spirit that are given to each believer when they come to believe in Jesus Christ. The apostle Paul has written several lists where he runs down a good number of these gifts: in chapters Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, and Ephesians 4, among others. Gifts like teaching, discernment, helps, and administration.

I can hear some people say, “Oh, I just don’t have a hospitable bone in my body. I can’t welcome people into my tiny apartment. I’m all thumbs when it comes to spreading a wonderful table, and I don’t know the first thing about throwing a big party.” Well, guess what? Jesus did not say, “This command is just for the people among you who really like Martha Stewart.” Or, “This command only applies to the people who can throw the best parties.”

Jesus wants ALL of us to be hospitable. He wants ALL of us to extend a welcome. But, to whom? Who is it Jesus wants us to welcome in such a way? It’s just our friends and relatives, right? It’s just the people from my church, or from my side of town. It’s just the people who look like me. Isn’t that who You mean, Jesus?

Let’s read verse 10:42 again. ”And if you give even a cup of cold water to one of the least of my followers, you will surely be rewarded.” Acts of mercy and deeds of compassion, no matter how small. My goodness. Is Jesus talking about being kind to – anyone? Everyone? No matter what? No matter who? No matter what they look like? Or, where they were born?

Yes, mercy and compassion are two of those spiritual gifts the apostle Paul talks about. Except, Jesus commands all of us to show compassion and mercy, right here. By doing these compassionate things for anyone and to everyone, we give witness to the unconditional love of our Lord Jesus. Jesus does not make this expression of compassion and mercy something exclusive to “only our kind.” No, He specifically says that we are commanded to show mercy and compassion to “the least of these.” Some translations use the words “these little ones.”

Okay, Jesus. I guess I get the idea. You want me to show mercy and compassion to just about everyone who needs help. But, I need some ideas.

Dr. David Lose, one of my favorite commentators, gives us some excellent suggestions. He says: “at other times, Jesus seems to say, it’s nothing more than giving a cup of cold water to one in need. Or offering a hug to someone who is grieving. Or a listening ear to someone in need of a friend. Or offering a ride to someone without a car. Or volunteering at the local foodbank. Or making a donation to an agency like Luther World Relief. Or…you get the idea.” [1]

Jesus does not simply make a suggestion. This cup of cold water, this mercy and compassion is something He is really serious about. Let us take our Lord’s words to heart, and put them into action. Now. Go, do, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

[1] https://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=3265

“No Small Gestures,” David Lose, Dear Working Preacher, 2014.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2020: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

Live a New Life

“Live a New Life”

Rom 6-4 nwness of life

Romans 6:1-5 (6:4) – June 21, 2020

I have a friend who should have been on the debate team in high school. On occasion, he loves to discuss and debate points of history, or whether this or that point of politics has merit. He is quite good at expressing himself, and often enjoys a good, rousing discussion.

My friend reminds me of the apostle Paul. Paul talks at great length in his letters about such wonderful doctrines like sin, death, grace, baptism and salvation. He discussed several of them in chapter 5 of his letter to the Romans.

Paul argued and debated a lot with his fellow Christians. We are familiar with that, today, too. Theologians, church leaders and ministers debating back and forth, this way and that.

Different denominations have different “rules and regulations” about living the Christian life. One group tells believers that all true Christian people have to abstain from eating meat on Fridays. Another group tells all believing women that they have to wear skirts and are never permitted to wear pants. A third group says that musical instruments in worship services are evil, and only the human voice is fit to be used to praise the Lord.

Some of these rules and regulations might seem petty, or over the top, but they make sense to the people who follow them. The apostle Paul had to deal with some of these well-meaning but legalistic followers of Christ, too.

Paul used to be one of these super-legalistic followers of the Lord. He says it himself: he was a Hebrew of the Hebrews, as to the law, a Pharisee. A strict follower of God, blameless and righteous according to his observance of the Mosaic Law Code. (according to Philippians 3)

I am sure many believers are familiar with Romans 3:23, and can quote it word for word: “For all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God.” Yes, that is in the middle of Paul’s discussion about sin. Then, Paul brings the theological concept of grace into the continuing argument, and adds additional layers to the ideas of sin, grace and forgiveness.

But, what does he say here in Romans, in the follow-up to his discussion of sin and grace in Chapter 5? I love the translation of Eugene Peterson, from the Message. This is his version of what Paul said: “So what do we do now? Keep on sinning so God can keep on forgiving us? I should hope not! If we’ve left the country where sin is sovereign, how can we still live in our old house there? Or didn’t you realize we packed up and left there for good?”

Oh, Pastor Peterson, you make these complex ideas of sin and grace from the apostle Paul so clear and plain.

Our old house on Transgression Avenue, in the Country of Sin, was a rattletrap of a building. Sin lurked in every part of that house—under the stairs, in the closets, and especially in the bedroom, basement and attic. That was before we met Jesus, and before He became the general contractor on that old sinful house. Jesus didn’t do just a cosmetic paint job. No, He started major work, inside and out. The work on some houses—some people—went more slowly, some more quickly, but sooner or later we moved out of the old neighborhood. That old, sin-filled neighborhood on Transgression Avenue.

Can you see how this analogy of an old house fits in to our new life in Jesus Christ? Sure, our old life—when we were still filled with sin—is like that old sin-filled house. But, after we met Jesus, He became the general contractor. Jesus started to tear down sagging walls, replace the plumbing and electrical systems. Jesus came alongside each of us. Jesus wants us to see that He can help us out with all kinds of components in our spiritual houses—in our lives.

How does Jesus go to work on our sinful selves? With His righteousness, that He freely gives us when we believe in Him. Jesus’ “righteousness, his faithfulness is ours as a gift of divine grace through faith, and this apart from obedience to the law. There is nothing that we can add to what Christ has done for us.[1]

Did you hear? Nothing. We add nothing. It’s all a gift, that Jesus freely gives to us. Some people still think they need to earn brownie-points with God for being good, before they can reach God’s heaven. Some people argued with Paul, saying they opposed his teaching about grace—God’s free gift of grace, because they still wanted to earn brownie-points.

Paul’s comeback? Yes, we have died to sin. Yes, we are buried with Jesus Christ in baptism. And, yes, we have been resurrected with Jesus to new life! Eternal life, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Plus, it’s all from Jesus, and nothing from us!

I repeat the wonderful translation of Eugene Peterson, of our Scripture today: If we’ve left the country where sin is sovereign, how can we still live in our old house there? Or didn’t you realize we packed up and left there for good? That is what happened in baptism. When we went under the water, we left the old country of sin behind; when we came up out of the water, we entered into the new country of grace—a new life in a new land!”

Praise God, we have a new life. We—each one of us—is a new creation in Christ Jesus. We no longer live in that tumbledown, sin-filled house on Transgression Avenue, in Sin Country. Even though we get pulled back sometimes, and turned around by temptation, we have moved into a new house for good. Jesus laid the sure foundation! A new life in a new, forgiven, redeemed country: Grace Country!

Remember who you are. Remember who you belong to; we have died to sin and now we live a new life in Jesus Christ. Remember! Alleluia, amen!

[1] http://www.lectionarystudies.com/sunday13ae.html   “Buried and Raised with Christ,” Rev. Bryan Findlayson, Lectionary Bible Studies and Sermons, Pumpkin Cottage Ministry Resources

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2020: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

Lost Sheep

“Lost Sheep”

Matt 9-36 sheep, shepherd people

Matthew 9:35-10:1 (9:36) – June 14, 2020

In college, I can remember times when I heard fiery sermons about missionaries, and about how God provided the world as a harvest field for the followers of Jesus. I can remember how the preacher would thunder “the harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few! Pray that the Lord will send out many into God’s harvest fields!”

I attended a Christian college, and I did hear a number of sermons like that. Yes, that Bible reading is from Matthew 9:37. Perfectly appropriate for preachers to take this verse and highlight it in a sermon meant to urge people to go out to the mission field. The very next verse is where our Lord Jesus chooses the 12 disciples, and commissions them to go out into the villages and towns and heal, preach and do just what Jesus had been doing.

However, when I read these verses from Matthew to prepare a sermon for today, I was drawn to the previous verse, verse 36. When Jesus saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”

I am NOT going to focus on the harvest being plentiful, and the workers being few – in that case, this would be a very mission-oriented sermon. I do preach mission-oriented sermons when I feel God leading me that way, but for this Scripture reading at this particular time, I see a different picture. Instead of God sending followers out into the world, I see Jesus full of compassion and caring. I see Jesus as a loving Shepherd, caring for His lost sheep who don’t even know they are without a shepherd.

Many, many people around the country have not been in physical contact with anyone else for a long, long time. In some cases, for months. People are still suffering from social isolation, from limited and limiting conversation from behind a mask, at a socially-acceptable distance of six feet—or more. Have you felt isolated and alone? Have any of your extended family, or loved ones, or friends been in that situation? Jesus would be able to give you a hug, for sure. As a Shepherd, Jesus would certainly lift up and carry little lambs in His arms.

Can you imagine how comforting that would feel, to be held in the arms of our Lord Jesus? What a wonderful feeling, to be protected and made secure by our Heavenly Shepherd.

For those who did not know, I am in the middle of a 4-part community video series involving the recent months, the pandemic and the shelter-in-place order in Illinois. This series is in collaboration with the Morton Grove Chamber of Commerce. I am the host and narrator for the project, and we are very grateful to the Village of Morton Grove and associated departments for all their help in making this series a reality.

As I think back a month, to the beginnings of this idea for a video series, it all started with a conversation. Or rather, two conversations, with Father Dennis and with Mark, the Director of the Chamber of Commerce. In both, we talked about how disconnected and discouraged many people felt. All three of us – Father Dennis, Mark, and I – had many people sharing with us how disheartened they were, for a number of reasons, all stemming from the pandemic, the shelter-in-place, and the social isolation that gripped so many across our nation.

Which leads me back again to this verse from Matthew 9:36, where the Rabbi Jesus spoke of compassion, and nurture, and how Jesus cares for each of us as His sheep. Jesus did not just preach from a pulpit, or up front on a raised platform, separated from all the other sheep—I mean, people. No, Jesus had compassion on these lost sheep.

Jesus felt such love and compassion towards these members of the house of Israel, He felt it deep down to his “splachna,” down to His guts, or bowels. According to the original Greek, in the first century, to be moved right down to one’s bowels was to be moved with compassion, or to have compassion inside. The bowels – or guts – were thought to be the seat of love and pity at that time. This expression denotes the very heart of Jesus’ understanding and personhood.

With Jesus, His compassion was not impersonal or disembodied. He did not simply see abstract problems that could be explained away. Instead, Jesus had compassion on real people. He saw each individual, the real self inside, and considered each one worthy of compassion and care. To know that someone has seen the real self, hidden underneath and still manages to love and accept us. What a profound difference that makes in our lives, in our hearts, in our self-image. Can we do less when we seek to engage the community around us?” [1]

What an earth-shattering thing, for Jesus to see us, to know us deeply, down to our hearts. We can praise God for this wonderful certainty, even as we are in the midst of such anxiety and fear. As a community, we can gather together to name our stresses and losses, and to grieve and mourn. Yet, Jesus shows us how to have compassion on ourselves and on others.

Morton Grove and the surrounding neighborhoods are finding resilience, togetherness, hope and even joy. Praise God for the example of our Lord Jesus. We can join (virtual) hands in community. Is there any better, more holy calling than to make friends with everyone we meet?

Remember, God loves everyone, no matter who. And, we might be surprised at who becomes our new friend in the Lord as we show compassion, too.

[1] https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/worship-planning/open-our-eyes/second-sunday-after-pentecost-year-a-lectionary-planning-notes/second-sunday-after-pentecost-year-a-preaching-notes

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2020: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

Live in Peace

“Live in Peace”

 

2 Cor 13-11 God of love peace words

2 Corinthians 13:11-14 (13:11) – June 7, 2020

Did you ever try to grab the fog? I did, when I was a youngster. I’m sure all of us remember foggy mornings, when the fog was so thick you couldn’t even see fifty feet ahead of you. But—did you ever try to grab hold of that fog in your hands? Well, it can’t be done. For regular human beings trying to lay hold of that fog is almost the same as us trying to explain the doctrine of the Trinity. People may try. Yes, it is a difficult concept for Christians to grasp.

However, God’s comforting, welcoming presence is not difficult to hold on to, especially in complicated, troubled times like these. We turn to our Scripture passage for this morning. 2 Corinthians 13:11-14 is the close of a letter Paul wrote to a church very much conflicted, very much in pain. Yet, these final words are words of encouragement, comfort and blessing.

Did the multi-layered situation in First Church Corinth have any similarity to the tumultuous situation in the United States today? In a way and on a smaller scale, yes. The two situations do not have a one-to-one correspondence, true. But, can we find some insight, encouragement and comfort for today in Paul’s final words to his fellow believers in Corinth?

I have two sisters. Before they retired, both worked as managers for a number of years in two different corporations. Over the years, I heard from them both about difficult situations both had to deal with. I am sure everyone here knows of a complex situation that blew up in your face, or your friend’s face, or at your workplace. This kind of uproar can raise tensions, too.

Does this sound familiar? This complex group of situations was the uproar in First Church Corinth. Paul needed to address these situations in this second letter to the church.

I felt God nudging me to speak to this current great racial divide in our nation. It is bubbling over, even while many sit in our homes, sleep in our beds, and go about our daily business. Yes, this inequity has been present for a long, long time. The deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery are simply the most visible among those horrific deaths that have been sad, desperate realities for countless numbers of families, for centuries.

We are not going to look through a magnifying glass at the complex situation in Corinth. It is enough to say that there was considerable strife among church members, including factions inside the church. I suspect this strife had spilled over into relations with others in the city. Perhaps, even, into relationships in the area of greater Corinth.

Paul did end up speaking sharply to the whole congregation, as well as to several specific people. Yet, in this second letter to the Corinthians, Paul also gives us tremendous understanding about the reconciliation we receive from Christ that we are also commanded to go out and share with others. What a command, after quite a rebuke and commentary!

Referring to factions in the church, Paul stated in verse 1:10 of his first letter, “that you be united (katertismenoi) in the same mind and the same purpose.” And Paul comes back to this concept in his closing words in 2 Corinthians 13:11: “’mend (katartizesthe) your ways,’ ‘agree with one another,’ and ‘live in peace.’” [1]

Paul expresses the wish, the desire that his fellow believers might live in unity, mending their ways, finding agreement even in disagreement, and above all living in peace.

This earnest desire of the apostle Paul’s heart seems more and more evasive ad elusive in this turbulent time, indeed. Like the fog I referred to, a few minutes ago, so difficult to grasp hold of. I see the demonstrations, the rallies, the protests and yes, the looting of these past days, the bubbling over of widespread racial inequities that have existed for a long, long time.

My friend, Presbyterian pastor Russell Smith wrote, “by our society’s actions, it’s clear that we as a culture treat Black lives as mattering less. This devaluing of life is a devaluing of the image of God that every human being carries. It is sinful and wrong.” [2] Friends, I agree with Russell. Every person created on earth is an image-bearer. All deserve to be lifted up. All deserve to live in peace. No matter who. Period.

How, then, can we as followers of Jesus live in peace? As Professor Works reminds us, “the appeal to peace is also a marker of the Spirit’s work. In short, the presence of joy and peace are the indicators of the Spirit’s transformative work to reveal God’s kingdom: Paul’s closing in 2 Corinthians is not simply an appeal for the church to get along, it is an exhortation for the Corinthians to be the new creation that the Spirit is equipping them to be.” [3]

What a wonderful follow-up to our Pentecost celebration last Sunday. Paul is indeed calling every believer to be all that God through the Holy Spirit is helping us to be. No matter what, no matter who. No matter whether we live in city, suburb, rural, or any other community. No matter what our skin color happens to be.

God willing, we can all strive to become more and more like Jesus. Who would Jesus love? Every one. Every single person in all creation. No matter who.

Paul ends this letter with a benediction. It is called a “Trinitarian benediction,” because it refers to God the Creator, Forgiver and Comforter. Receive these words of the apostle Paul:

May Jesus Christ who forgives us,

God who created us and loves us always,

and the Holy Spirit who is with us helping us and caring for the world through us

be with you all today and every day. [4]

[1] Commentary, 2 Corinthians 13: 11-13 (Trinity A), Carla Works, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2014.

http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2081

[2] https://russellbsmith.com/2020/06/05/black-lives-matter/

[3] Commentary, 2 Corinthians 13: 11-13 (Trinity A), Carla Works, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2014.

http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2081

[4] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2014/05/year-trinity-sunday-first-sunday-after.html

Worshiping with Children, Trinity Sunday, Including children in the congregation’s worship, using the Revised Common Lectionary, Carolyn C. Brown, 2014.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2020: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

Come, Holy Spirit!

“Come, Holy Spirit!”

Acts 2-3 pentecost

Acts 2:1-4 (2:4) – May 31, 2020

My parents grew up in the 1920’s and 1930’s. That was the golden age of radio. When I was young, my mother used to tell me about radio serials she used to follow. Serials like the Lone Ranger, Little Orphan Annie, Buck Rogers, and the Cinnamon Bear. I know many people all across the country followed these programs closely every week, and listened to even more.

I think of our friends, the followers of Jesus on that hilltop. Like in the radio serials, when last we left our intrepid heroes, we saw them with heads toward the sky. They watched the risen Lord Jesus ascend into heaven. Fast forward to this week. Thank you, Levi, for reading our Scripture from chapter 2 of Acts.

Only a few days have passed since that miraculous happening. Jesus disappeared into heaven. Yes, Jesus gave His followers their orders. Marching orders! But—where are the disciples now? What are they doing? Are they fearlessly marching out into Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the world? Come on, guys! What gives? What’s the matter? The followers of Jesus—both men and women—are waiting for something; something that Jesus foretold, something big that had not happened yet. Everyone was together in one place—waiting.

At least they all were in Jerusalem. After all, another religious festival was right around the corner. Fifty days after the Feast of Unleavened Bread (or Passover) the Festival of First Fruits, or First Harvest was celebrated. This festive day was also a glad ceremony in the Temple, and many Jews from hundreds of miles around were in Jerusalem to celebrate.

At least the Jews did not have a pandemic to worry about. No, Jerusalem and the surrounding area were packed with visitors ready to celebrate at the special worship services at the Temple, ex-pat Jews from all across the known world at that time.

And, where were the followers of Jesus? Up in that upper room, presumedly the same room where Jesus and the disciples had celebrated that Passover dinner the night before Jesus was crucified. They were there, but yes, they were shut away. Presumedly behind locked doors, for fear of what the authorities might do to them, even weeks after the crucifixion of their leader, the Rabbi Jesus. Or, is that the Messiah Jesus? Or, the risen, ascended Jesus?

The disciples of Jesus were all gathered together in one place. When, on that Harvest Festival morning, a noise like the rush of a mighty wind blew through that upper room. Apparently, it was loud enough—surprising enough—so that people on the street heard it, too!

The Holy Spirit came with full sound effects, with heavenly flames over each head and I suspect with some kind of noise, music or something that caught everyone’s attention for some distance. After the energizing of the Holy Spirit, the followers of Jesus couldn’t help themselves. They spilled out into the street, and started speaking other languages, as the Holy Spirit gave them knowledge and utterance. Surprising? Amazing? Miraculous? Yes to all three!

I think the Holy Spirit moved mightily upon the disciples, and the very breath of the risen Jesus was felt by many—on that day of Pentecost, through the centuries, and to the present day.

The disciples of Jesus were all gathered together in one place. I envy them.

Because of the pandemic and the shelter-in-place order I have not been able to gather together with a number of other believers for almost three months. And, neither have you.

Sure, we have had online worship, Zoom bible studies and prayer meetings, and telephone conversations. Perhaps individual Christians have met each other in the neighborhood, taking their dogs for a walk or running into each other at the grocery store. We remain socially-distant, to be safe and caring for others who are elderly or in fragile health—but it is not the same as in-person worship, IRL. Not the same, at all.

However—do we depend on a structure, a building, a tall steeple to witness to the Resurrection? Or, is the Church something more, something much bigger than this building?

The COVID-19 pandemic did not surprise God. I am not here to tell you this is a judgement of God upon the earth, or upon one group of people or another. I do not believe a good, gracious, loving God works that way. But—I want to suggest something else. Is it possible that we, as followers of Jesus, can also serve God by being separate, socially-distant, apart and still caring for one another? Can we follow the final instructions of our Lord that He gave just before He ascended, to go to Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and even to the ends of the earth?

The newly-energized disciples spread the Good News of Jesus and His Resurrection, and of God’s reconciliation. Boy, did the Good News travel! The authorities in and around Jerusalem got seriously worried, so upset that they eventually started to crack down on anyone who called themselves a follower of the risen Jesus. The disciples needed to move out from Jerusalem, and started taking the message of the Good News out to the ends of the earth.

God did a new thing at Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came with power! I wonder if God is doing a new thing now, today? It’s possible that “God will use such a time as this to blow new life through and among and into and upon us. For our own sakes, yes. But even more so for the sake of those to whom we are sent.” [1]

We, the Church, are on assignment—out among the people God wants us to minister to. Feeding the hungry, comforting the afflicted, welcoming the stranger, taking care of the least of these. We can all tell people about the Good News—the wonderful news of God’s reconciliation and healing. Alleluia, amen!

[1] http://dancingwiththeword.com/all-together-in-one-place/

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2020: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

Coming Attractions

“Coming Attractions”

Acts 1 ascension_of_jesus

Acts 1:6-11 (1:11) – May 24, 2020

When I used to go to the movie theater, I would be excited about the feature film. Of course! That is why many of us buy tickets and go to a theater, to see the big feature! What’s more, the feature film is usually billed as something special, indeed! Except – what about what happens before the feature film is shown? My children used to call them “commercials,” short teasers of movies coming soon. Another word for these? Coming attractions.

As we turn to the beginning of the book of the Acts of the Apostles, we find our resurrected Lord Jesus with a group of His disciples. He rose from the dead some weeks before, and I suspect this special time has been a time of intense learning. Similar to a condensed intensive course of study, if you will.

To be sure, the weeks after the Resurrection have been a time of training for the disciples. I am sure our Lord went over passages from the Hebrew Scriptures, pointing out how He fulfilled the promises given so long ago. I also suspect Jesus went over some practical things, too. What seminarians and professors refer to as practical theology – the every-day life and practice of being a follower of Jesus.

Now, Jesus is about to say good-bye. But, before He does, the disciples can’t wait to ask one more burning question. I get the feeling that this question just bursts out of them! “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”

I imagine our Lord stifling a big sign, and almost saying to His followers, “You’re asking Me this again? Haven’t I explained it thoroughly to you guys and girls before? I mean, many times before?” I can just see a meme of Jesus doing a facepalm, on social media. The disciples still haven’t gotten it. They still just don’t get the full picture.

Before we come down too hard on the disciples, we need to remember that they did understand a great deal of what was said in the Hebrew Scriptures. Yes, after the Resurrection, everyone certainly expects God to do something.

Some of Jesus’s disciples must have expected to be clothed with power, and deputized as Jesus’s right-hand men and women. They understood that their leader was in fact the Messiah! In large part, “their question to Jesus about the restoration of Israel is perfectly reasonable. The Messiah is expected to purify the land and rule over the nations. Is this finally the time?” [1]

“Listen, Rabbi, we know a huge miracle happened, and God raised You from the dead. But now, aren’t You going to become the greatest King of the whole world? That’s what we remember from our Torah study as kids, and from the preaching and teaching You did, too. So, when is that going to happen? Soon? Right now? When, Lord?

Jesus doesn’t go into a long discourse the way He did in the Gospels, to explain His position more thoroughly. No, instead, He gives the disciples an outline of what they are to do. A short how-to statement, after the weeks of intensive learning.

Isn’t that what practical theology is all about? I loved my practical theology classes in seminary. In those classes, I learned how to put the theological learning I got in my other studies to work. Classes like preaching, or what I’m doing right now; like pastoral care—what I use in talking with church members or as a chaplain in the hospital. And, I learned more practical things, picking up great tools for my pastoral tool belt in those practical classes. I learned the every-day life and practice of being a follower of Jesus—in the classroom.

The disciples must have learned things about the every-day life and practice of following their Lord Jesus, too. Except, there is a big difference between the classroom and real life.

As Jesus responds, “He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” This is the real thing, Jesus! No being just an apprentice. Not practice, not any more.

After these words come out of Jesus’s mouth, He ascends to heaven. Another miracle, accompanied by angels, even!

This to-do list from Jesus Himself ought to be a highlight for all of His followers. First, look at where we start. Jerusalem, or home. Where we stand, right here and now. Next, Judea—or our neighborhood. Is there anyone next door or down the block who needs to hear the Good News about Jesus? Maybe it’s kinda difficult. Maybe we hesitate. Really, Lord? Invite my neighbors to worship with me? Why not? Remember, Jesus said so. And then, to Samaria. What, Lord? That’s where those different people live—different from me, I mean. Sure, I know it’s nearby, but I’m just not comfortable!

Now, wait a second. The ends of the earth? Seriously? Some days I have enough problems getting out of bed in the morning, much less going to the ends of the earth. Yet, this is what our Lord Jesus commands all of us to do.

There is no “end of the earth.” “The world is my parish” John Wesley said.

The work of proclaiming that Good News, that salvation to all people is still going on today. The exciting thing to realize is that the ascension of our Lord meant that the promised Holy Spirit would come to the disciples, soon.

Coming attractions, indeed! Stay tuned for the next installment: Pentecost! The coming of the Holy Spirit. Get ready!

 

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2020: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

[1] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=884

Commentary, Acts 1:6-14 (Easter 7A), Matt Skinner, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2011. 

No Longer Orphans

“No Longer Orphans”

John 14-18 not leave you

John 14:15-21 (14:18) – May 17, 2020

When I used to read lots of fiction novels, especially when I was young, a favorite theme was making the protagonist an orphan. Sometimes abandoned, sometimes ignored, sometimes desolate, this setting provided a rich background for the author’s writing.

Today’s Gospel reading from John 14 seems especially pertinent in these uncertain times of pandemic. Here Jesus promises the Holy Spirit’s coming to be with us. The Holy Spirit now is present with believers, both with them and in them. Jesus says He will not leave us all alone, the way orphans are left all alone.

When some people think of orphans, they think of children, huddled in orphanages, housed in drafty attics, or in poky little rooms. Imagine Orphan Annie at the beginning of the musical “Annie,” or Harry Potter in the first few chapters of “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.” Just thinking about orphans in that way feels desolate.

Except—most of us are orphans, too. We lose parents to many things: to cancer, strokes, diabetes, or accidents, among others. Most people are at least half-orphans. I was—my dad died when I was in college. In July, it will have been forty years since I lost my dad, and became a half-orphan. At least I had my mom until the early 2000’s. But, that loss of my father to cancer was a sad blow. I missed my dad very much, and now I miss both of my parents.

When Jesus said to His disciples “I will not leave you as orphans,” I would imagine that Jesus’s words were comforting to many if not all of His disciples.

Death and sickness were everyday facts of life 2000 years ago. I don’t read very much about the individual disciples in commentaries and other reference books, for the main reason we are not told very much in the Biblical record. But, I do know the human condition, for people in the present day, and other common situations many people are familiar with.

Thinking again about the human condition, and people we encounter every day—whether in person, on social media, or in the news—what is their situation? What are they dealing with?

We are all sadly familiar with people dealing with financial trauma, job loss, physical illness, spiritual desperation, emotional isolation, instability, want, disrupted relationships, abandonment, violence … the list goes on and on. These elements of the human condition are bad enough. But, when we add our current emotional and psychological climate, especially in this unprecedented time of pandemic, individuals can feel overwhelmed. Whole communities can be disheartened and desolated, particularly in hot spots affected by the coronavirus. Interesting that Jesus uses the word “orphaned” in this week’s text, as it is such a potent metaphor for what he was about to do, which was to leave his beloved disciples and go and die. [1]

Jesus just got finished promising the coming of the Holy Spirit. Many people love this promise, and grab onto it with both hands. Yes, it is a marvelous reality in believers’ lives.

But—sometimes—especially in uncertain times like right now—individuals can feel like orphans! Isolated, alone, disheartened, even desolated. I am particularly thinking of seniors I know who are in fragile health, confined to their homes or apartments. I shop for two households of seniors right now, in this time of shelter-in-place in Illinois. A senior couple, and a widower. Two of my relatives are both seniors, both living alone in Chicago. I’ve heard expressions like squirrelly, stir-crazy, isolated, even though we live in a time of computer access and social media connections.

Is this what Jesus was thinking of?

Jesus, I want to be able to communicate to people some hope, some feeling of togetherness, some kind of kindness, compassion and coming-alongside.

I know, the promise of the Holy Spirit may sound like an empty promise if you’re locked down and in quarantine. But, perhaps one way the coming of the Holy Spirit can be expressed is when we look at the words and actions of Jesus’s followers. Maybe another way to look at the work of the Holy Spirit is a way that animates and encourages people to reach out to one another.

Before I came to St. Luke’ Church, when I was a hospital chaplain, I was a listening ear to patients or loved ones or staff. I came alongside of these people in difficult situations – like a Paraclete, in a similar way to the Holy Spirit coming alongside each of us in difficult times.

In a practical sense, the way the Holy Spirit sometimes works may be the kindness we extend to each other. Yes, the Holy Spirit is with us and in us. And, yes, in these times when many people find themselves desperately alone or lonely, the Holy Spirit moves or sends others to be God’s hands and feet, God’s listening ear, the person who shows up at your door delivering groceries, or the volunteers who drop off baked goods or canned goods at a food pantry.

I am blessed with a pleasant smile – it just happens. I was told a number of times by patients and loved ones that my smile lit up a hospital room. Could your smile, your kind words, your compassion and helpfulness be the Holy Spirit’s working in all of our lives?

Listen to Jesus—God will give us another advocate to help us and be with us forever— the Spirit of truth, the Holy Spirit indwelling each believer. The Holy Spirit works through each of us, through all of us, sometimes at the most unexpected times.

Are we called to be the hands and feet of Jesus? Is God pleased when we spread kindness and help others? As we show love to each other, we show love to Jesus. And, the Holy Spirit bears witness within. What a wonderful promise from Jesus. What a wonderful opportunity to do God’s work. Go, and do likewise.

[1] https://www.patheos.com/progressive-christian/orphaned-anna-hosemann-butler-05-20-2014.html

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2020: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

Together with Christ

“Together with Christ”

John 14-3 prepare a place, words

John 14:1-7 (14:3-4) – May 10, 2020

When I was in middle school and high school, I attended a Girl Scout camp in Wisconsin for several years. I vividly remember the girls who got so homesick while they were there. Several really missed home, and needed lots of TLC, tender loving care, for a few days. Have you ever been homesick? Can you relate to the frightened, heartsore feelings of these girls?

I don’t remember being homesick, but I can remember feeling scared at camp. I can remember being really scared on other occasions, too. I wonder if the disciples got scared while they traveled with the Rabbi Jesus from place to place? From what we know about Him, Jesus was an itinerant Rabbi, with no real home, no place to call home base.

What must that have been like, not having anywhere to call home? The Rabbi Jesus and His followers, His disciples kept moving from place to place. Different people react to being on the road a lot in different ways. It can be stressful and cause people considerable anxiety.

Added to that, all of the disciples knew very well that their Rabbi was not viewed positively by many Jewish leaders. Repeatedly, prominent Jewish teachers and lawyers had argued with Jesus. A group of leaders actively opposed this upstart Rabbi with the radical ideas and preaching, even if Jesus was a miracle worker.

The situation when the band of disciples entered Jerusalem must have been tense, to be sure. That Passover dinner on that Thursday night was not the most comfortable, I imagine. Yet, what does our Lord Jesus say to His disciples at that meal? How does He deal with this tense situation? Jesus says, “Don’t be worried! Have faith in Me!”

Have faith? Don’t worry? Listen, Jesus, Your friends have been on the road with You for many months. They are tired, they are tense, they have no home base to go back to. What do You mean, saying to them, Have faith and don’t worry!? Isn’t that expecting a lot from these guys? Isn’t that expecting a lot from us, Your followers today?

The next words are nothing but reassurance, comfort. He says, “There are many rooms in my Father’s house. I wouldn’t tell you this unless it was true. I’m going to prepare a place for you. And if I go, I will come back and take you with Me. And then, we will be together.” Total reassurance and comfort. Jesus encourages His disciples just as much as He encourages us.

However—Jesus’s disciples just don’t understand. They can’t get their minds around the metaphor Jesus is using. They mistake His reference to a heavenly house to a real, geographical space. Thomas—who likes concrete explanations, remember—asks for exact directions to plug into his GPS. [1]        How often are we like Thomas?

How often do we need (or want) exact directions, or latitude and longitude, or a detailed list of bullet-pointed things to do? And how often are we told by Jesus that we already know the way? We know Jesus, who is the Way. Precisely because Thomas knows Jesus—precisely because we know Jesus—we cannot become irrevocably lost.

Last week was Good Shepherd Sunday. We talked about the psalm for that week, Psalm 23. I can see definite tie-ins for that beloved psalm with this week’s Gospel reading, as well. Who does not relate to the idea of God shepherding us when we are lost? Who yearns for God to spread a feast in front of us, and to welcome us to the Good Shepherd’s heavenly home?

This week is the Fifth Sunday of Easter. Today is also Mother’s Day, traditionally celebrated on the second Sunday of May. This heartwarming adaptation of Psalm 23 is not only a reminder of that beloved psalm, but also a celebration of mothers.

It was written by Laurie Hays Coffman, and is called A Child Learns to Trust. [2] It says:

“My Mom is my shepherd; I shall not want. She makes me lie down under cool, downy comforters. She watches me play beside still waters. She restores my soul. She leads me in paths of respect, responsibility, and goodness, for I am her namesake! Yea, even though I walk past monsters in the dark, I will not be scared, because my mom is always near me. Her hands and her voice, they comfort me. Mama sets the table and cheerfully calls me to dinner even in front of big, mean bullies. She anoints my skinned knees and broken heart with kisses. She smiles and throws me a towel when my cup runneth over. Surely God’s peace, power, and mercy shall uphold me all the days of my life, for my Mother taught me to dwell in the house of God forever.

Yes, this is an imaginative way to think of Psalm 23. And, this adaptation gets across several of the same ideas that Jesus communicated to His disciples at that Passover dinner, too.

Do we take Jesus’s word as true? Even though it’s an anxious time right now, do we trust Jesus to carry us and remain with us—walk with us, even through the dark valleys?

We are in uncharted territory right now, quarantined, apart from each other. Can we hold on to Jesus’s promise that between now and whenever we are all together again, Jesus is showing us the way? His way! Yes, we may walk through dark places and shadowy spaces now, but Jesus our Good Shepherd stays right by our side.

Jesus also said He’d prepare a place for us—a room for us in His Heavenly Father’s house. Jesus assured us we would be reunited with Him at that heavenly banquet. What a celebration that will be! Jesus said so. We can count on it. Praise the name of Jesus!

 

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2020: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

[1] http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=3218

David Lose, Dear Working Preacher, 2014.

[2] https://www.desperatepreacher.com/mothersday.htm

Calling by Name

“Calling by Name”

John 10 parable-of-the-good-shepherd_lg

John 10:1-10 (10:3-4) – May 3, 2020

Have you ever felt lost? Lonely? Like everything was dark and stormy? I know I have, from time to time. Especially right now in this time of the coronavirus pandemic, that is the big difficulty with being separated from our friends and from one another: we run the risk of feeling lost and alone.

On a number of occasions, our Lord Jesus talked about being lost and alone—or rather, about being found, about living in community, in a group. Several times in the different Gospels, Jesus compares Himself to a Shepherd. Our Scripture reading today from John chapter 10 is one of those situations.

This is familiar territory, a common metaphor in the Bible. God is the Shepherd, and the nation of Israel is the flock of sheep. Though most of us today in suburban Chicago don’t know much about farm animals, this topic was an everyday subject to the people listening to Jesus. In villages and small towns, most families had a few sheep or goats. There were a few shepherds who would take all the animals from the different townspeople’s houses out of town to pasture.

As Jesus taught the people, He made sure to give a detailed account of the bad things that could threaten the sheep. Thieves and robbers sometimes waited to grab a lamb. They might even lie in wait to come over the wall of a sheepfold at night, and steal a couple of sheep away. That was one important reason for the shepherd to guard the sheep and sleep across the entrance to the sheep’s pen at night. In other words, to serve as the door for the sheep.

I know many today are fearful and anxious at such an uncertain time. Some people do not even want to hear another word about the topics of coronavirus and COVID-19. Radio, television and other social media have broadcast every variation of news about the pandemic for many weeks. Are coronavirus and COVID-19 robbers and thieves of our peace and security? Do these fearful and very real threats seek to heighten danger to all the people? All the sheep? These are things for all of us to think about and ponder in our hearts.

I attended a number of intensive summer seminars taught by the retired professor and Presbyterian pastor the Rev. Dr. Kenneth Bailey. Sadly, he died four years ago, but he greatly enriched the general understanding of Christianity and the Bible. He drew upon his many decades of familiarity with the culture and practices of the Middle East, and strongly encouraged his readers to view the Biblical texts through a Middle Eastern cultural lens.

In his book The Good Shepherd, John chapter 10 is one of the chapters in the Bible Ken Bailey tells us about. As he so often does, Dr. Bailey gives example after example of Middle Eastern accounts, described in the reading. A Syriac bishop from the 12th century discusses the thieves and robbers coming after his sheep—his parishioners—so realistically. [1] I almost was persuaded that he was describing evil and greedy fake ministers of today, out to “fleece” the unsuspecting sheep who were shepherded by the Syrian bishop Ibn-al-Salibi.

As this book describes the voice of the Shepherd, we come to see how the sheep quickly learn to recognize their own Shepherd’s voice. Even though there are other shepherds in the same area, the Good Shepherd’s sheep hear that distinctive voice and follow the one they know.

“But, wait!” you say. “Other voices might be just as loud,” or “Other noise can drown the Good Shepherd out.” Perhaps, even, the sheep get confused or anxious or downright lost, and wander away from their Shepherd. What then? What about a situation like right now, in a pandemic, where lots of fear, anxiety, emotional and economic uncertainty, worry, grieving and mourning distract us from the voice of our Good Shepherd? What about loss of jobs, loss of homes, loss of loved ones, loss of all kinds of things people hold dear?

Jesus, our Good Shepherd, knows about every situation. Nothing surprises Him. Jesus will stay by our sides and walk with us through each scary situation, each grief-filled event, and each dark valley we cross.

I know—from experience—the malicious, nagging murmur in my ear that says, “Why should the Shepherd want to call me? I’m not important. He probably does not even have a name for me, let alone know who I am.” The Syriac bishop has an answer for that. Reaching across the centuries to reach us today, Bishop Ibn-al-Salibi tells us “The shepherd expresses his true knowledge of [the sheep] by calling their names. For the one who calls another by name makes clear that he knows him.” [2]

Just think. Our Lord Jesus describes Himself as the Good Shepherd. Jesus knows the name of each of His sheep. It isn’t just a “Hey, you!” or “What’s your name?” No! Jesus calls each of us, His sheep, by personal name. Jesus knows each of us so well, He knows everything about us. And, what’s more, He still loves us!

Praise God, just as the risen Christ called Mary by name in the garden that Easter morning, so Jesus calls each of us by name. I rejoice in the knowledge that I am a much beloved sheep of our Good Shepherd. We all have a beloved relationship with Jesus! Each one of us is His dear sheep—we can trust Jesus’s word on it. Praise God! Alleluia, amen.

 

[1] Bailey, Kenneth E., The Good Shepherd (InterVarsity Academic: United States of America, 2014), 216-17.

[2] Bailey, Kenneth E., 218.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2020: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

Recognizing Jesus

“Recognizing Jesus”

Luke 24 road-to-emmaus-rembrandt

Luke 24:13-35 (24:16, 26) – April 26, 2020

Have you ever run into a good friend you haven’t seen for a while, and not recognized him or her? That is, at first? Exactly that happened to my son earlier this week, at a store near our house as he picked up a few things. He wore a mask—as is appropriate. About six or eight feet down the aisle was another young man, wearing a mask, too. The other man bumped something off the shelf and said, “Oh, no!” My son recognized his friend’s voice! But, the masks they were wearing kept them from recognizing each other—at first.

Something similar happened after the Resurrection, to two disciples. The two even heard the witness brought to them by the women disciples, that their Rabbi Jesus’s body was gone from the tomb! But, these two disciples couldn’t quite accept the women’s witness. (Apparently, the other men disciples had a hard time believing the women, too.) We don’t know why they decided to leave Jerusalem a few days after the crucifixion, but they did.

Perhaps the two disciples were nervous, or anxious. Their leader had just been arrested by the authorities and condemned to death! What if the authorities started rounding up the friends and associates of this radical, rabble-rousing Rabbi? Why else might they have left? All of the disciples were grieving. The loss of such a wise, strong, loving person like the Rabbi Jesus must have been devastating! And, different people have different reactions to grief—reactions all over the board, from anger to depression to desperate tears.

I think everyone is grieving right now. Who is not missing things from their life before the lockdown? What about school? School children miss their classmates, teachers miss their students, and parents miss the structured, ordered classes. What about adults who cannot go to work? What about closed businesses, blocked services, rules against close proximity, and—most of all—the lost income? The economic impact? What about the desperate isolation and loneliness some people experience now, with the widespread lockdown? Not to mention the grief of having loved ones in hospital and care centers, much less dying from serious illness?

These are just some of the losses and griefs countless people are experiencing right now!

Wasting no time, the two disciples hit the road early in the day, and who did they happen to meet? We know, since our Gospel writer Dr. Luke tells us: the resurrected Jesus Christ. The risen Stranger begins to walk with them, and they fall into deep conversation on the way about all that had happened in the past week or so in Jerusalem.

What about us, today? How much would you give to have Jesus take a walk with you and tell you all about Himself? What would it be like to hear about the witness of Scripture from the author of all that is holy, the Living Word, Himself?

Dr. Luke tells us that the two disciples were kept from recognizing Jesus during that whole journey from Jerusalem to the nearby town of Emmaus, about nine miles down that dusty road. Their eyes may have been closed through fear and anxiety, which certainly can cause a great deal of upset and disturbance inside. Trauma, too, which we now see as a very serious thing, indeed. The disciples might have been confused and off kilter. Death of a dear friend or loved one can do that to you! I know. I’ve experienced it. I suspect you have, too.

What about us? Is there anything keeping us from recognizing Jesus? We have already talked about grief, which is a huge thing in some people’s lives—especially now in this time of pandemic. But, other strong emotions can keep us in a fog. Living in a constant state of fear can disturb our thoughts and even our brain function. People who study the effects of trauma tell us so. What about confusion and bewilderment? Anger and frustration? All very valid reactions, and all very human feelings, too.

Any one of these can keep us from recognizing Jesus, and if two or three are going on at once, our distress is that much greater. Our distancing grows, and some even start walking away from Jesus. Believe me, it happens much more often than we realize.

I see Jesus being gentle and straightforward as He walks and talks with these two disciples. He lays out all the truths from the Hebrew Scriptures for these two men. We don’t know for sure, but they might have been like Thomas; we looked at him last week. These two disciples may have needed to hear the Truth from the ultimate Source of Truth, Himself.

At the end of our narrative, Jesus is finally revealed to the two friends at dinner. When Jesus takes and breaks the bread, the disciples see, recognize, and realize that it is indeed their Rabbi come back from the dead, the risen Christ sitting with them at the table.

And then—Jesus disappears! The two friends look at one another, saying, “What just happened?” “Was that truly Him? Really and truly?” They finally recognize Jesus for what He was. The encounter changed their lives. I wonder—when we recognize Jesus, does that encounter change our lives, too?

When we recognize Jesus—I mean, truly realize what He means in our lives—it cannot be just a casual greeting, a mild how-do-you-do and then we merrily continue on our way, without a thought more about Jesus and His Resurrection. Jesus means much more! We need to recognize all that He is, all that He means, and all that He offers freely. Resurrection! Life everlasting! And, Himself as our brother and best friend.

Praise God, Jesus can walk by our sides even now, through trouble, grief, pain, fear and anger. He has promised never to leave us nor forsake us, wherever we may journey in life. And, that is a sure and faithful promise from our resurrected Lord and Savior. Amen! Alleluia.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2020: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

Are We Fearful?

“Are We Fearful?”

John 20-28 st-thomas

John 20:19-29 (20:19, 26) – April 19, 2020

Have you ever been afraid? I mean, really scared? I am talking about so scared that you wanted to hide away from the people in charge, permanently? Maybe it was you, maybe it was some acquaintance or friend, but some people have really been scared so much that they stay holed up in some hiding place, some attic or some upper room—just like the disciples, after they watched their Rabbi Jesus get arrested, beaten and then crucified.

Two thousand years later, we all know the rest of the story. Jesus rose from the dead on the first day of the week, that first Easter morning. What was it like for the disciples? I mean, the men disciples? Sure, they had heard from the women disciples that the tomb was empty. Peter and John had even checked things out at the tomb for themselves. It was true! The tomb was empty! I am sure that news caused a great deal of excitement, discussion, and wonder!

But, what about other feelings? What kinds of other emotions were happening to the disciples? How did they feel on the insides? Were their stomachs doing flips? Were their hearts in their mouths? Were they filled with amazement? Fear? Doubt? Or all of these emotions, all at once, or in stages? Could the disciples be hiding out behind locked doors because they were afraid, embarrassed and ashamed? What were they doing as Jesus died? They certainly were not with Jesus at the cross—except for John. Were they afraid of what Jesus would say to them about all their desertions if He really were alive again? [1]

John’s Gospel tells us, plainly, that the disciples were afraid. Fear is a legitimate emotion and reaction to a dangerous, scary experience.  Sure, the disciples knew that the tomb was empty, but that did not stop them from being afraid. I also suspect that they feared that the Roman authorities might come after them, as known associates of the Rabbi Jesus. The disciples did have good reason to be afraid and anxious of the people in charge.

And right into the middle of all this fear and anxiety—even though the disciples knew about the empty tomb—Jesus walked through a locked door into the upper room, greeted the disciples, and they were suddenly overjoyed! As if a modern switch were flipped, the disciples’ emotional expression flipped, too.

Except—for some reason, the disciple Thomas was not present in the upper room on that occasion. We don’t know why. The Gospel of John does not say. The other disciples told him, excitedly, “We have seen the Lord Jesus!”  But, Thomas was skeptical. He responded, “I need proof for myself. Unless I see the nail marks and put my hand in the wound in His side, I will not believe.” I can just see Thomas crossing his arms across his chest and turning his back to his friends. “Nope. No way. That is too big a whopper for me to swallow.”

Do you know someone who needs concrete proof in order to believe something? Different people’s minds work in different ways. Certain types of people need concrete evidence in order to convince them of the truth, or of the facts, or of someone’s honesty. Thomas was that sort of a person: a “show me” sort of guy. He needed that kind of proof in order to truly believe.

Whether we are talking about two thousand years ago, or about today, people have not changed. One type—one size does not fit all. Some people hear about the Gospel and believe right away. Other people hear about heavenly coincidences, or “God-incidences,” and then come to believe. We can compare Thomas’s skepticism before belief to Paul’s Road to Damascus experience, where the apostle Paul had a sudden “come to Jesus” moment. (Literally.) The New Testament holds up both of these very different experiences as valid.

I have heard sermons about “doubting Thomas.” As if there is something shameful or wrong with being skeptical! I suspect Thomas didn’t know whether to believe or not to believe; there is no shame in being skeptical! We can see that different people come to their own sense of belief in their own individual way, because God has created each of us as unique individuals. Is it any wonder that each of us comes to God in our own personal way?

When you and I think about this Gospel narrative in light of today’s events, there is indeed a great deal of fear and anxiety. Just as there was with the disciples, so it is right now. All over the nation, all over the world the virus COVID-19 makes all of us afraid and anxious. This virus is even more dangerous than the Roman authorities, forcing vast groups of people all over the world to curtail their travel, their interaction, even to the point of quarantine.

Yet, just as our risen Lord Jesus spoke to the disciples and declared, “Peace be with you!” He says the same thing to us. “Peace be with you!” Jesus has declared His peace to fearful people and to dreadful situations over and over again, throughout history. In times of serious illness, in times of conflict and war, in times of natural disaster—Jesus has these hopeful, heartening words for us: “Peace be with you!”

Jesus can come alongside of each of us, through fear, through anger, through desperation, and through grief. And if Jesus is at our sides, walking next to us even though we walk through dark valleys, that is peace, indeed. Jesus gives us His peace, no matter what.

Amen, alleluia!

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2020: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

[1] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2014/03/year-the-second-sunday-of-easter-april_13.html

Worshiping with Children, Easter 2A, Including children in the congregation’s worship, using the Revised Common Lectionary, Carolyn C. Brown, 2014.

Who Are We Looking For?

“Who Are We Looking For?”

Jesus and empty tomb

Matthew 28:1-10 (28:5-7) – April 12, 2020

Are you living in the midst of uncertainty? Not sure of what is happening from day to day? Sometimes, not even sure of which day it is? I talked with my sister yesterday, and she admitted she lost track of the days of the week a few days ago. I know for many, the “right-now-time” throws many people into a tailspin, and knocks them down. The “right-now-time” of quarantine is an uncertain, uncomfortable time. A time of not-knowing!

That is what it was like for the followers for the Rabbi Jesus, immediately after the crucifixion. They were in a tailspin, knocked down and uncertain what was coming next.

Their Rabbi, their leader and guide had just been killed in a particularly gruesome fashion on Friday afternoon. Joseph of Arimathea had gotten the body of Jesus released to him late Friday, and they quickly put Him in the tomb before night fell. It was the Sabbath night, too, so they had great reason for the big hurry. Friday night and Saturday day were—and are—the Jewish day of rest, especially made holy because of the Passover observance.

At such an uncertain, uncomfortable time, what do you think the disciples did on that Saturday, on that Sabbath day? Some may have cowered in fear, afraid that the Roman soldiers would come after Jesus’s close associates, too. Some may have been too grief-stricken even to move, to eat. Some may have gotten angry—angry at the Roman overlords, and angry at the Jewish authorities, but felt impotent to do anything about their anger.

What about us? What are we doing in the midst of this quarantine period, this “right-now-time” of the pandemic? Some today may also be afraid, fearful, anxious about ourselves and our loved ones. Some—whose lives have already been intimately touched by this virus—are grieving and mourning because of loved ones who are very sick or have already died. And then, there are those who are downright angry! Angry with an invisible virus, angry at the various responses to the pandemic, but feel personally impotent to do much about their anger.

Our Gospel writer, Matthew, tells us of the two women disciples who come to the tomb early Sunday morning. They come where they laid Jesus’s body on that desperate Friday afternoon. They grieve and mourn, and have spices to anoint the body properly, since on Friday there hadn’t been enough time for a proper burial. Except—Jesus is not in the tomb!

Can you see the two women, thunderstruck, as they stand in front of the empty tomb? The stone has been rolled away, showing the hole in the rock. Plus, on top of the stone sits a miraculous sight in its own right. An angel, dressed in bright, shining white, waits to speak with the women. Can you imagine their surprise, shock, even fear at the angel’s appearance? The angel says, “Don’t be afraid!” I can just see the shining figure, hand outstretched, comforting words calming their fears and anxiety.

Here we are in 2020, in the midst of the “right-now-time” of the pandemic, and we need an angel to come and reassure us! Some today have even forgotten what the presence of God feels like. We badly need comforting words to calm our fears, anxiety, anger and confusion.

The angel did exactly that. The angel tells the women disciples not to be afraid, and repeats the words of Jesus—“He is not here, just as He said!” And then, “Quickly, go tell the other disciples Jesus is risen!”

Those women had their fear, grieving and uncertainty disappear in a moment! Alas, it won’t be quite that miraculous or quite that sudden for a recovery from this pandemic.

My journalist husband makes memes from time to time, and they sometimes have biting social commentary. He recently made a meme with a grandfatherly-type man reading to two young children, with a snarky comment about “the before-time.” But, what about the “right-now-time?” That tense time between the diagnosis and the treatment? Or that worried time when others have lost the job that provides income for their household? Or, that anxious time when we fear for loved ones who are essential workers? Or, that waiting time when some cannot even sit next to an ICU bed in the hospital because of COVID-19?

We are living through tumultuous times, indeed. I suspect, when people look back on the year 2020, there will be a clear line of demarcation between the “before-time,” the “right-now-time” in the midst of the pandemic, and whatever comes after. We hope, we pray that this next time may be known as the “recovery-time.”

As the angel told the women and men disciples, Jesus is no longer in the tomb! Jesus is risen! Yes, those were desperate, anxious times for the disciples, and yet Jesus said He would be with them. There have been fearful, anxious times throughout history, yet Jesus has conquered death. Disasters, famines, floods, and yes, pandemics have come upon great numbers of people at times—yet Jesus tells us, urges us “Don’t be afraid!”

Yes, the women were afraid, yet full of joy! We can take heart that Jesus gives us the assurance that He is alive!

“God is not finished yet. We might recall that, indeed, God’s favorite thing to do is to show up where we least expect God to be and to surprise those who have given up on God.” [1] Jesus has promised; He will be with us! And, His peace can never be taken away from us, no matter what. That is Good News, indeed. Amen, alleluia!

 

(I would like to thank Rev. Dr. David Lose. For this sermon, I have borrowed several ideas from his commentary on Holy Saturday, from his online article http://www.davidlose.net/2020/04/the-forgotten-day/ )

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2020: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

[1] http://www.davidlose.net/2020/04/the-forgotten-day/

Remember Through Generations

“Remember Through Generations”

 

Exodus 12:1-14, I Corinthians 11:23-26  – April 9, 2020

Jesus Last Supper, 2

Do you look at social media much? Maybe, Facebook? Instagram? Or perhaps, Twitter? In case you are not as familiar with these social media sites, there is a popular Internet trend that has been circulating for about ten years. It’s called (Hashtag) Throwback Thursday, or #TBT.“ This hashtag is used by people all over the world to share and relive their past experiences with anyone they want—both positive and negative experiences.

As I considered the Bible readings for this solemn evening, I could not help but think of #ThrowbackThursday. Perhaps the main reason is because when our Lord Jesus was at dinner with His disciples on that Thursday night 2000 years ago, it was Passover they commemorated with that special dinner.

That event was when Moses led the Jewish people out of Egypt, out of slavery, into freedom. But before Pharaoh was convinced to let the Jews leave, the Lord sent plagues upon Egypt. It is at this point we take up the narrative. The Lord is going to send a horrible last plague; the firstborn son in each household across Egypt would die. In order to escape that plague, Jews were instructed to smear blood from a lamb on the lintel of each house. Then, the angel of death would know not to kill any in that household. The angel would pass over that house.

Have you had Bible experiences duplicated in your life? Like, right here, here and now? Not necessarily a Passover dinner with a roast lamb—although some modern-day Jews are kind enough to invite non-Jews to their homes for a Passover dinner, or seder. But, have Bible experiences happened to you?

We are going to remember the dinner that Jesus shared with His disciples that Thursday night, 2000 years ago. Why? Because Jesus told us to remember Him.

Morgan read about the details of the Passover lamb from Exodus as our Scripture reading tonight. Holy Week and Easter as two springtime festivals, but they do not always coincide. This year, as sometimes happens, they do. As Christians mark some of the holiest days of their religious year, so do Jews. Remember #ThrowbackThursday? #TBT has special significance this year. Not only for our Lord Jesus as He remembered the Passover with His disciples, along with Jews in that time and place, but Jews today still remember, still look back to that Exodus event.

This spring is also a very different season because of the coronavirus pandemic. This health emergency has made everything more difficult for everyone. With these shelter-in-place orders for everyone’s safety and well-being, people are more anxious and fearful than usual. For some people, of whatever faith, even their faith wears thin sometimes.

How are you holding up, with Easter on hold this year? Doing things differently? Perhaps some of your friends or acquaintances are celebrating Passover in a very different way this year, too. How are they doing? People snap at each other, especially when they are forced into close quarters together. What is more, with so many restrictions on our movement—at least, here in suburban Chicago, as well as other major cities—life feels closed-in, and claustrophobic. Have you or your family felt that way? This is a great concern during this quarantine, especially for people who track spousal abuse, child and elder abuse, and violence in households. Help is available. If you or someone you love can use the National Domestic Violence Hotline, the toll-free number is 1-800-799-7233. In such tense times, I am glad caring, helpful people are at the other end of the phone.

Where else can we turn, but to God? As the Bible describes to us time and again, God has been there for others, in Bible times, throughout history, throughout similar crises of war and strife, of deadly illness and pandemic, of natural disaster, and of famine and starvation. Yes, all these things have happened, and yes, Jesus has been here through it all, right by our sides.

We come to this night. We come to the table, this table. Jesus gathered with His friends around another table, in that Upper Room. He said the words that Paul gave to us in a letter to the Corinthian church, those words we know today as the Words of Institution. Yes, Jesus, on the night He was betrayed, took bread. He took the cup. He blessed them, and passed the bread and cup to His disciples. He said about that event, “Remember Me.”

There is such a deep connection. The command in Exodus tells the Jews to remember. The words of Jesus tell His followers to remember. And each time we gather around a table like this, we repeat the Words of Institution, urging us to remember. We remember the gracious promises of God, throughout the generations. We remember the mighty power of God, the comforting presence of God, and the saving grace of God, throughout the generations.

I know that my faith falters, at such a difficult time as this. Some of my friends and acquaintances shyly admit the same. That is why it is so important to come together—virtually, if need be. We can perform the centuries-old practice of Communion on Maundy Thursday, where we remember those words Jesus spoke to a room of friends around a table. We can be strengthened spiritually by the Body and Blood of our Lord. Even though separated physically, we can pray for God’s holy presence to be with each of us in a special way tonight.

As we come to the table, let us also come to God with our hearts open wide. Let us come to the feast with Him who died for us, giving praise and thanksgiving for this great gift, as we all remember. Amen.  

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2020: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

 

Who Is This Jesus?

“Who Is This Jesus?”

Jesus Palm Sunday, Armenian manuscript

Matthew 21:1-11 (21:10) – April 5, 2020

Do you remember watching a parade? Some might think of a small, neighborhood parade, or a large, elaborate one. I remember watching old newsreels, the kind that used to be shown in old-time movie theaters, with a cartoon before the feature film. Some of the tickertape parades I saw on the newsreels were huge spectacles, with massive crowds waving as the guest of honor came by, usually in an open convertible.

You understand the picture? That is the scene from the Gospel we are talking about today. Except, instead of confetti and tickertape, the crowds in Jerusalem waved palms. Some even threw their coats or cloaks in front of the guest of honor. Both the long-ago crowd and the modern crowd yelled and hollered and made all kinds of noise.

The Rabbi Jesus had been in circulation in the area for three years. He had been preaching with power and healing people for all that time. I suspect that great crowds wanted to welcome Jesus into the city of Jerusalem, for a number of reasons. And, a great number of people used a word from the Hebrew Scriptures to welcome Jesus. Hosanna!

Hosanna! Let’s say it again. Hosanna! Today, that word is familiar to many from church. From Palm Sunday. It’s something that people say—what children say when they wave their palms. Isn’t it? Isn’t that what it means?

The word “Hosanna!” comes from Psalm 118, meaning “Save us!” It was used when the crowds welcomed the Jewish hero Judas Maccabeus to Jerusalem, more than a century before Jesus lived in Palestine. “Isn’t the Rabbi Jesus a prophet? A healer? Didn’t He have all kinds of power? I haven’t seen it, personally, but I’ve heard about Him from all kinds of people! He’s a wonderful Rabbi, too. Don’t you think He might be the Messiah? He’s come to save us!”

I can just hear the crowd: “Save us!” “Please, bless us! Make us prosper!” “Hosanna!” In this single word, “Hosanna!” the crowd communicates a whole lot of things!

What did the crowd think of Jesus, two thousand years ago? Who did they think He was?

Today, people have lots of opinions about Jesus. Can you hear some of these ideas when people cry out to Him? Some consider Jesus to be a prophet, even a miracle worker. They certainly honor Jesus. Others think of Jesus as a very good man, one whose words, deeds and teaching were a cut above the rest of humanity. Some think the man Jesus exemplified the best of God as Jesus understood God. Or, is Jesus God incarnate, God come to earth in human flesh?

What did the crowd think of Jesus, two thousand years ago? Who did they think He was? Remember, Israel was under Roman domination. The Jews were a conquered people, under tight control by the Roman army. There had been rumors and whispers of a coming Messiah among the Jews for decades, even for centuries.

“Isn’t the Rabbi Jesus a prophet? A healer? Didn’t He have all kinds of power? I haven’t seen it, personally, but I’ve heard about Him from all kinds of people! He’s a wonderful Rabbi, too. Don’t you think He might be the Messiah? He’s come to save us!” With such urgency, such expectations, it’s no wonder the crowds cried “Hosanna!” “Save us, please!”

In the last number of weeks, not only in this country, but worldwide, vast numbers of people look calamity stark in the face. We have the loss of jobs, loss of income, loss of freedom of movement. What have we got in exchange? More fear and anxiety, more anger and confusion, more mourning. What about first responders, medical workers, janitorial staffs, grocery store workers, and people who pack and ship everything from A to Z? Front line workers all. I cannot begin to tell you about fear, worry, sorrow and anticipatory grief in operation here.

We need someone to come and be our Savior, the Rock of our salvation.

The corona virus is not quite like a physical enemy, one we are able to fight through the force of arms. Not like the Roman army, or the armies the United States fought in the wars over the past two hundred years. Would we, today, have reacted much differently than the crowds that greeted and shouted at the Rabbi Jesus? Or, would we be blinded by our fear, anxiety, confusion and profound grief at this current, horrible pandemic? Are we hearing “Hosanna!” differently this Palm Sunday? How can we walk with our Lord Jesus through this Holy Week?

Let me suggest things to do to help each other, at this desperate, anxious time. Can we show each other more kindness, help each other, be more selfless? Perhaps, even be more like Christ in our daily lives and daily activities? We can all do small, caring actions, each day. Call or text a loved one or friend. Offer to take out the garbage for a neighbor, for those who are able. Check on a senior who lives down the street—using appropriate social distance, of course.

As we call on God in our great need, can we see how God in the flesh comes to us? Humble, gentle and riding on a donkey, not charging in on a white stallion, or riding in a late model tank. Our Lord Jesus comes in vulnerability, and weakness, to join with each of us and be with us through our trials and tribulations. God comes to love us and redeem us, no matter what our situation may be. No matter what.

Praise God! Hosanna! Thank You, Jesus.

 

I would like to thank Rev. Dr. David Lose. For this sermon, I have borrowed several ideas from his commentary on Matthew 21:1-11 from his article Palm Sunday A – The Greater Irony

Posted: 31 Mar 2020 11:12 AM PDT http://www.davidlose.net/2020/03/palm-sunday-a-the-greater-irony/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+davidlose%2FIsqE+%28…In+the+Meantime%29

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2020: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

Godly Weeping

“Godly Weeping”

John 11-35 Jesus wept, rain

John 11:1-45 (11:35-36) – March 29, 2020

Who has ever grieved for a loved one when that loved one has died? All of us can remember times when we grieved a close relative or a close friend. Such a common response. Whether outwardly or inwardly expressed, it is difficult to deal with mourning and grief.

When Lent started this February, not many people expected the corona virus to become so serious, so quickly. So many people becoming sick, hospitalized, and even dying. Imagine the helplessness of relatives, friends and other loved ones when someone so abruptly falls ill. Added to that, what do friends and loved ones do when they are not allowed to see patients in the hospital, in intensive care, even on a deathbed? It’s a difficult complication to grief.

For our Scripture reading today, we have the raising of Lazarus from John 11. The apostle takes us through a series of scenes. Jesus and His disciples arrive in Bethany after several days, and Lazarus has already died. Lazarus was a dear friend of Jesus, along with Lazarus’s sisters Martha and Mary. Several days before, the sisters urgently sent to Jesus, begging Him to come and heal their brother, Jesus’ friend. Then, Lazarus was dead, in the tomb. Mary and Martha were devastated, and their community gathered around them, to grieve with them.

What about dying, mourning and grief today? “When someone dies it is generally publicly acknowledged. Friends and family gather, life is celebrated, love is celebrated, the bereaved feel supported while their community gathers. Healing begins in time, and the lives of the ones that are living go forward still carrying the grief. Grief out of loss is validating, our society tells us that it is right and acceptable to experience anger, sadness, depression when a loved one dies.” [1]

We note specific mourning and grieving practices in the first century. The Gospels mention funerals and grieving several times when Jesus performs miracles. Like, for example, right here. Mary and Martha’s friends, acquaintances and community gather around, even four days after the burial of Lazarus. They come together to mourn with the sisters, and weep.

As I have been meditating on John 11 this week, I see that Jesus wept. He wept in company with Mary and Martha, He wept because He mourned Lazarus’ passing, and He was surrounded by people who were grieving. Added to that deep emotion was the anger from some who thought (or openly said), “This Jesus could have come back a couple of days ago, before Lazarus died! Jesus healed others…why couldn’t He heal His good friend?”

Anger, yes. Sadness, depression, hopelessness, even paralysis. All of these are expressions of grief. But, grief can come from many different things, many different losses.

Today, vast numbers of people are grieving. “Disenfranchised grief comes when we experience loss that is not associated with a death. Many in our community are grieving the distance between family and friends and sometimes that distance is as much as a house or a few blocks away. Disenfranchised loss comes when our loss we are experiencing is not validated by our community, when it is not publicly acknowledged. Grief many are experiencing in light of COVID 19 can easily be dismissed because we have all had to give up the running of our daily lives, in whatever capacity that involves.” [2]

Jesus truly, deeply grieved with Martha and Mary. Reading along, we see that He wept. Those around Him said, “See, how much the Rabbi Jesus loved Lazarus!”

When I was a hospital chaplain for almost ten years, I worked nights and weekends. I would be called to emergencies in intensive care, cardiac care, end-of-life care, and thrust into heartrending situations where I scrambled to be present with grieving people. I needed to come alongside of traumatized loved ones at the absolute worst times of their lives. It is a humbling, devastating experience. But, I never had to be a hospital chaplain in the face of a pandemic.

Do we remember that Jesus said, “I am the Resurrection and the Life” before He wept with Martha?

He goes on to say, “The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; whoever lives by believing in me will never die.” Martha makes that great statement of belief, “Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.” Even at the grave of her newly dead brother, Martha makes that ringing statement of trust. Even in the face of desperate losses from loss of a job, or loss of a spouse, loss from a disaster, or loss of a sense of home and of place—can we echo her words today?

But, this is not the end of the story. After Jesus weeps with the sisters, sharing their grief, He performs another mighty miracle. Jesus tells Lazarus to come forth, out of the tomb, and Lazarus does exactly that. Alive!

Jesus conquered grief, mourning and loss. Both here in John 11, with the raising of Lazarus, and in the Resurrection, when Jesus triumphed over death once and for all. Praise God, we can believe Jesus. Praise God, we can trust in Jesus, and although we may weep and grieve for the present time, our weeping will ultimately turn to joy. Amen.

[1] Jess Swance, meditation on “Disenfranchised Grief in Our Communities” (personal article)

[2] Ibid.

(I would like to thank Jess Swance. For this sermon, I have used several quotes and ideas from a personal, unpublished meditation she wrote. I appreciate you, Jess!)

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2020: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

Godly Seeing

“Godly Seeing”

 

1 Sam 16-7 The Lord Looks at the Heart

1 Samuel 16:1-13 – March 22, 2020

What does a hero look like? Can we describe them? Are they good-looking? Strong or attractive? How much does their image and appearance affect us? How much does what someone looks like cause us to judge that person—positively or negatively? These are all great questions, and questions I’d like us to explore today.

Let’s get right to our Scripture reading. We look at King Saul. Saul had done some really unwise things.  We see the prophet Samuel directed by God to anoint a new king of Israel. Samuel is hesitant…because Saul is still king! However, Samuel is instructed to go to the town of Bethlehem under cover of deception, to the house of Jesse, supposedly to make an animal sacrifice to God.  That is the background of the story thus far.

But what about the deeper meaning of this narrative from the Hebrew Scriptures? For that, we need to go back a few chapters in 1 Samuel. At first, Samuel and the people of Israel were very glad that Saul was their king. He was tall and broad-shouldered, and pleasing in appearance. Saul looked like a king! He was the very image of what people thought a king ought to be. Everyone said so!

But, after some time, Saul’s true nature—on the inside—became evident. He was not all he appeared to be on the outside. He made some very unwise choices, acted foolishly, and God finally rejected him as the king of Israel.

When Samuel met with Jesse and his sons, Samuel looked them up and down. He thought he knew which one God had chosen. The one who appeared big, and tall, broad-shouldered and good-looking. That was the one the Lord wanted, wasn’t it? Or—was it? Did Samuel have discerning eyes? Could he see what God sees?

The writer of 1 Samuel particularly highlights the words “see” and “appearance.” “In the Hebrew, the verb ‘to see’ occurs three times in v. 7 while the noun ‘appearance’ is related to the verb ‘see’. The focus is on how one sees when choosing leaders, and especially on how the Lord ‘sees’ as compared to how humans see. The Lord ‘sees the heart.’[1]

It was just as true when King Saul was chosen as it is today. Just think of the superhero movies—and television shows, and comic books—that are so popular in recent years. We just do not see any skinny, scrawny runts as superheroes. No, it’s all about the outward appearance. That is the all-important factor for human beings today. Plus, add some handsome or beautiful attributes, and we have a definite winner.

What is important to God? What kinds of attitudes and ways of thinking are pleasing to the Lord? Are we “looking” but not really “seeing” as God sees?

All of Jesse’s older sons were presented to the prophet Samuel, but God was silent. Samuel needed to ask whether Jesse had any more sons. “Yes, I do. But, he’s the youngest. He’s out watching the sheep,” said Jesse. Sure enough, God chose David, the youngest of eight brothers. God sees differently from human beings.

We settle for the outward appearance, for what we think the “image” of a king ought to be. However, the Lord looks on the heart. The heart has to do with our will, our attributes, and our internal character. God chose David because David had shown he was a person after God’s own heart. God chose David because David had bright possibilities even when others could not see them.

This bible reading from 1 Samuel is a great source of encouragement for children and young people, who feel left out and left behind by the big and powerful. We see that God finds possibilities in the most unexpected places and through the most unlikely persons. We see the Lord lift up Jesse’s youngest son David to be the anointed king of Israel. In a similar way, God can lift up the marginalized, the downtrodden and the rejected ones today to a place of prominence. God can, and God does just that.

Many people are still fooled by appearances. What kinds of possibilities are there in your life and heart today? Are you a person after God’s own heart? Be comforted and encouraged that God does not see us as the world sees, but God sees past all that. God sees our very hearts.  

It’s amazing to know that the Lord sees inside each of us, down to the “real person” inside. Let us pray that our hearts become like God’s heart, more and more, each day.

 

(I would like to thank Dr. Bruce Birch. For this sermon, I have borrowed several extended ideas from his commentary on 1 Samuel 16:1-13 from The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary, Vol 2. Abingdon Press, Nashville, 1998.)

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2020: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

[1] http://hwallace.unitingchurch.org.au/WebOTcomments/LentA/Lent4A1Sam16.html

The Old Testament Readings: Weekly Comments on the Revised Common Lectionary, Theological Hall of the Uniting Church, Melbourne, Australia.

Living Water

“Living Water”

John 4-14 word cloud

John 4:5-42, Exodus 17:1-7 – March 15, 2020

In any group of people, you will certainly see several at least with disposable water bottles or the more expensive refillable kind. So many people today understand the importance of drinking enough water. My daughters remind me: “Hydrate! Hydrate!”

If we know the importance of drinking water today, in this temperate climate where water is readily available, just think of what it was—and is—like for people living in a semi-arid region like Samaria. Sources of water were not plentiful, at all. Having a deep well near a town, especially a well dug by one of the patriarchs of old, would be considered a great community asset. That well would be a valuable material resource, too.

John tells us it’s the middle of the day, nearing the hottest part of the day. The rest of the band of disciples goes into the Samaritan town of Sychar to find food, but their Rabbi Jesus stays behind at the well. We don’t even know the name of the woman who comes to the well, but Jesus engages her in conversation.

Hold on, here. Fetching water was and is a task that women have done, for ages. For thousands of years. There is a togetherness, a community feel to fetching water; I suspect it was similar for the women of Sychar. All go with their water jars, fetching their loads in the morning, before the heat of the day. But—what about this straggler, coming in the middle of the day? This particular woman’s lifestyle sets her apart from the others!

The Rabbi Jesus starts to talk with her. Imagine, a respected Jewish rabbi, talking to some outcast woman? That shouldn’t be! And moreover, this woman is a hated half-breed Samaritan! Worse and worse! Jesus, what are You thinking of? This activity is really culturally and socially disgraceful. That would be what any respectable, observant Jew would think about Jesus’s words and actions. Shaking their heads, saying, “Shame, shame! There is SO much wrong here!” However, Jesus does not allow social or cultural conventions of His day to dictate to Him.

Jesus had something important to communicate. He talked to the woman at the well about Living Water. Water from heaven, Godly water that gives eternal life! What is more, he treated this outsider, this “loser” of a woman with kindness and respect. What an example for us to follow, too. Imagine, treating all people with kindness and respect, because each one is made in the image of God. Jesus gives us another challenge, to treat each person we meet with respect and kindness, just as Jesus did with the woman at the well.

What are you thirsty for, these days? Sure, we might have one of those fancy refillable water bottles, and try to keep it full most days. As my daughters tell me, “Hydrate, Mom! Hydrate!” We might satisfy our physical thirst, true. But, what about our spiritual thirst? Are we even aware of this deep-down thirsting, yearning for something to fill us up from the inside out?

In Jesus’s case, He told this woman some significant things about her life, things that rocked her to the core. In fact, when she ran to tell the people in town about this marvelous Rabbi, she said 29 “’Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?’ 30 They came out of the town and made their way toward him.”

Different people have different reactions. Some people scoff when they hear about the Rabbi Jesus—“He couldn’t possibly be the Messiah! You’re pulling my leg!” Others are just not sure. They might like to believe, but they might be fearful, or anxious, or have their minds on too many other things. And, then, there are those who hear about this Jesus, this promised Messiah, and come running to see Him. That is the woman at the well. She brought a whole bunch of people with her, to check Jesus out. To have the possibility of drinking from this Living Water.

Remember, Jesus says “13 “Everyone who drinks this water [from Jacob’s well] will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” How are you reacting to your spiritual thirst? Are you anxious or fearful, angry, distracted or discouraged?

Jesus promises to give this Living Water to anyone who asks. What would it be like to enjoy Living Water from Jesus in each of our lives, on the inside? Let’s get even bigger. Imagine what it would be like to have Jesus supply each of our congregations with this Living Water, providing a supply for all our spiritual thirst? Filling us up on the inside, so we aren’t anxious or fearful, angry, distracted or discouraged?

We have the opportunity to supply others with Living Water, in the same way that Jesus can. With God’s help, we can fill others with this wonderful spiritual water from the well that never goes dry. I ask again: What are you thirsty for?

Jesus has an amazing spiritual well. God willing, Jesus can fill us, from the inside up.  Amen.

 

(Thanks to Dr. Hongsuk Um of the Church of Scotland for several ideas I used in this sermon.)

https://www.churchofscotland.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0011/62984/15-March-3-Sunday-of-Lent.pdf

Third Sunday in Lent – 15 March 2020 The Faith Nurture Forum would like to thank Dr Hongsuk Um, Faith Nurture Forum Development Worker, for his thoughts on the third Sunday in Lent.

 

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2020: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

Stepping Out (in Faith)

“Stepping Out (in Faith)”

Gen 12-5 God-calls-abram

John 3:1-17, Genesis 12:1-4 – March 8, 2020

Is faith an important part of your life? Your everyday life?

Faith is complicated, for many reasons. Sometimes, people can have a lot of faith in someone or something. Other times, those same people can choke up, or get scared or anxious. And, sometimes, those same people can step out in faith, taking big chances—or opportunities.

We have two stories of faith this morning. Miss Eileen read them to us. The first is the calling of Abram by the Lord, and the second is the nighttime visit of Nicodemus to the Rabbi Jesus. In both of these we see faith, and the need for faith.

I ask again: is faith an important part of your life? Your everyday life?

We look first at Abram, in Genesis chapter 12. He was living in a big city called Ur, and at this point he probably did not know very much about the Lord, the God who made heaven and earth. Abram was fairly well off, with flocks and herds and other resources. In other words, a man of substance. Similar to someone in the upper middle class here in the Chicago area. Can’t you see a well-off executive, or business owner, or entrepreneur, getting acquainted with the Lord for the first time? That is the situation for Abram here.

We have a different type of man in Nicodemus, presented to us in John chapter 3. Nicodemus was a renowned teacher in Israel and a member of the religious council in Jerusalem. (Probably what we would call a full professor of bible and theology at one of the leading universities today.) He was curious and intrigued enough to visit this new upstart Rabbi Jesus, to have a one-on-one conversation with Him.

Abram had a one-on-one with the Lord, too. The Lord of heaven and earth had a command for Abram: “Go.” Go out from your comfortable house and stable place of living, Abram. Go into the wilderness, and I won’t even tell you where your destination is. Just, go, Abram. Go because I tell you to go.

In Nicodemus’s one-on-one conversation with Jesus, the set-up was a little different. We see Nicodemus—the well-respected, senior teacher of Israel—coming to the young upstart Rabbi by night. Sneaking away to see Jesus, because it probably would not be good for his reputation. Imagine, a highly-placed, scholarly professor, actually having a conversation with this young guy with the wild and crazy ideas? Sure, this Jesus is a Rabbi, and He is knowledgeable about the Bible, but, some of His ideas are way out there. Yet, as we see from reading John chapter 3, Jesus has just as much authority as the Lord of heaven and earth.

We see Abram and his reaction to the Lord. When the Lord says, “Go!” Abram packs up his bags and tents and flocks and herds, and his wife Sarai and nephew Lot, and does just that.

We hear much more of the conversation between Nicodemus and Jesus. We hear the marvelous words of John 3:16-17, which is part of Jesus’s response to Nicodemus. We do not find out much about the response of Nicodemus—at least, not yet.

In the children’s time today, I talked about Abram and how much faith he had. Abram went when the Lord told him to go. And, Abram did not even know where he was going to end up. He had faith in God. Isn’t this another way of explaining faith? Faith is more than what Abram thought. Faith is what Abram did and where he went. Faith is believing God.

Is faith an important part of your life? Your everyday life? Is faith more than just what you think? Is faith what you do and where you go? Just like Abram?

Nicodemus is a little bit different from Abram. Abram actually stepped out in faith. The Lord told him to go, and he went. But, Nicodemus was more cautious. Isn’t it difficult to jump in with both feet? Or, step out, the way Abram did? Nicodemus didn’t want other people knowing about him going to see this young Rabbi Jesus.

Sure, we might know lots of things about Jesus. We might think Jesus was right about a lot of stuff He said, too. Jesus even did a whole lot of miracles! At least, people said He did. Or, do we sneak around and visit Jesus by night, under cover of darkness, just like Nicodemus? Are we willing to stick our necks out and tell everyone we are Christians, in broad daylight? Or, are we afraid people might make fun of us for believing some of that stuff about Jesus, including that part about the resurrection from the dead and His ascension into heaven?

Sure, Abram shows us what it means to believe the Lord, and to act on that belief. Faith is having our Godly sandals on, and stepping out. Faith is what we do and where we go.

But, before we criticize Nicodemus for not having “enough faith,” this is not the end of his story in the Gospel of John. No, we see him again, twice. In John chapter 7, Nicodemus came to Jesus’s defense when the religious authorities tried to defame Jesus. And again, in John chapter 19 after the crucifixion, Nicodemus assists Joseph of Arimathea with burying Jesus.

We see Nicodemus as he steps out in faith, listens to Jesus’s words, and watches Jesus’s actions. In his everyday life, faith becomes what Nicodemus does and where he goes.

It’s true that having faith can be a challenge to you and to me. We are not necessarily people of great faith. As commentator Karoline Lewis states, “Believing for the characters in the Fourth Gospel is a verb. And as a verb, believing is subject to all of the ambiguity, the uncertainty, and the indecisiveness of being human.” [1]

Did you hear? Yes, it is only human to be unsure. And, yes, believing—even in God—is something that is a journey. A stepping-out-in-faith journey like that of Abram, in Genesis 12, even a hesitant, journey-by-night, like that of Nicodemus, starting in John 3 and continuing throughout the Gospel of John.

For over 100 years, starting in 1859, the Sunday School Times was published. This was a Christian family magazine. Features, articles and vignettes were all included in this publication, including the following:

“There was once a good woman who was well-known among her circle [of friends] for her simple faith and her great calmness in the midst of many trials. Another woman, living at a distance, hearing of her, said, “I must go and see that woman, and learn the secret of her calm, happy life.” She went, and, accosting the woman, said, “Are you the woman with the great faith?” “No,” was the answer, “I am not the woman with the great faith, but I am the woman with the little faith in the great God.” [2]

We believe that God can love us and forgive us, even when we mess up. How can such things be? Because we believe in a great God.

Is faith an important part of your everyday life? We may not be giants of faith, like Abram. We can still step out, in our uncertainty and our hesitancy. We might just be stepping out at night, under cover of darkness, as we strive to have more faith, like Nicodemus.

We might have little faith, but we believe in our great God. And, that’s enough. Amen.

[1] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=43

Commentary, John 3:1-17 (Lent 2A), Karoline Lewis, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2008.

[2] http://www.moreillustrations.com/Illustrations/faith%208.html (Sunday School Times)

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2020: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

Temptations

“Temptations”

Jesus The-Temptation-of-Christ-Botticelli

Matthew 4:1-11, Genesis 3:1-7 – March 1, 2020

Different people are tempted by different kinds of things. I suppose most everyone here has been tempted at one time or another. Not necessarily with big stuff, or important things, but somewhere, sometime, there has been some kind of thing that has tempted you sorely. Maybe it was something as simple as a plate of freshly baked cookies on the kitchen counter. You knew that dinnertime was in only half an hour, but that plate of cookies looked so tempting. Or, perhaps cutting corners at work in order to save time, not quite following procedure. Or, maybe telling a little fib. You know, something that nobody else would know about. Except for you.

Of course, these are small kinds of temptations. Not quite the big, huge temptations we just heard about in our two Scripture readings this morning: the original temptation, with the special fruit and the snake from Genesis 3, and our Lord Jesus at the beginning of His ministry, tempted by Satan from Matthew 4.

This is the first Sunday of Lent, and we begin our journey with Jesus through these next weeks, until Holy Week, that time we remember the Passion of Christ. In these weeks of Lent we will look at different Scripture readings that hold the “Stories that Shape Us:” our Lenten series for this season. Today, we take a closer look at Temptations.

Are you and I tempted by the things we do, say, and think that really aren’t “too bad?” You know, all that stuff that the world tells us is okay? What about telling little fibs? Or, actions that seem like little speed bumps, or that we explain away by saying “everybody’s doing it—it’s okay! Isn’t it?” Aren’t those temptations, too?

Today we are going to zero in on our Lord Jesus, just after His baptism, as He withdraws into the wilderness to fast, pray and prepare for His years of ministry.

While Jesus is there, He’s tempted by Satan. That part is important, too. Just like the original temptation, of Eve and Adam at that special tree in the garden, so long ago.

Let’s look at Matthew’s take on the temptation. He doesn’t waste any time, but plunges right into the meat of the narrative. Verse 1: “Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” Here is the ultimate faceoff, between the Son of God and Satan, the tempter, trying to make Jesus fall or trip up.

Again, in our second reading from Genesis, we find ourselves at the tree, with Eve and the serpent. This is Genesis explaining the origin of sin, true. But, isn’t it also a way of showing each of us how human we are? Sure, God showers many blessings upon each of us, every day. But, the serpent questions that blessing, that trustworthiness of God, even quoting God’s own words back to Eve with a sly smirk in its beady eyes.

Aren’t both Bible readings communicating similar narratives? There is a lack, a hole, a need for something in our lives. And, Satan—the devil—the serpent can give it to us. Or, show us where to get it.

Think about Madison Avenue, and advertising on television, in print media, and now, on the computer. More and more, advertising plays upon our emotions, showing us our supposed “needs” or “lacks,” and then quickly following up with just what we need to fill that hole!

Jesus must have been the most self-assured, self-possessed human being, ever. He wasn’t like the typical human, feeling alone, incomplete, having a hole inside our heart and spirit. Isn’t that what each of us typical humans feel like, at least some of the time? Maybe, even, a lot of the time? Yet, our Gospel reading today tells us that Jesus was, indeed, tempted by the devil.

The first temptation was hunger. Or rather, for Jesus to use His power to take care of His own needs, His own hunger. I can just hear Satan say: “Come on, Jesus! You’re miles from anywhere. No one will see You do it! C’mon, turn these stones into bread. After all, You’re human. You’re hungry. Feel those hunger pangs in Your stomach? You know You want to.”

Yet, as commentator Carolyn Brown said, Jesus had been led out into the wilderness to learn something important. He wanted to be obedient to God and do as God asked, even if it meant being hungry in the wilderness. [1] And what was Jesus’ response? ““It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

The second temptation was Satan encouraging Jesus to use His power in stunts, almost like a circus performer, to get attention and show everyone how important He was. Satan even added the heavenly icing on top of this temptation: saying that angels would come catch Jesus if He threw Himself off the top of the temple. What was Jesus’s response? “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

Again, Carolyn Brown tells us that God did not want the human Jesus to show off in such a flashy way, or prove how powerful and mighty God is. Instead, Jesus was sent to love and forgive people, have caring relationships, and be a visual example of what God was all about. [2]

Satan’s last temptation must have been tempting, indeed. Sure, lots of kings and rulers had tried to rule large parts of the world, but they were all fallible humans, with sins and shortcomings and all kinds of flaws all over the place. When Satan offered Jesus the opportunity to be King over the whole world, it must have been some temptation. Since Jesus was the perfect human, He would have been the absolute best King of the world. Oh, yeah. Plus, Jesus needed to bow down and worship Satan in order to become an instant King.

But, this wasn’t in God’s timetable. And, Jesus knew that.

What was Jesus’ response?  Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’”

We can see how Eve and Adam were persuaded by the serpent to give in to temptation, and eat the apple. We can see how Jesus defeated Satan, the tempter. Jesus trusted and obeyed God His heavenly Father. This struggle, this faceoff with Satan was the important thing. He showed that to Satan by responding directly and clearly, quoting Scripture passages with which all believers in Israel were familiar. [3] And after the tempter left Him, Matthew lets us know that Jesus was ministered to by angels. Like a boxer, after a hard-won fight in the ring.

For us, today, temptation is a regular part of our lives. “I’m only human!” some say. Our lives as Christians do not eliminate doubt, lacks, needs, or a sense of incompleteness. Satan will zero in on those so often! However, we can embrace our relationship with God as that place where our needs are indeed met, where our lives and very selves are made complete.

Sure, we are descendants of Adam and Eve, and as such we can be needy and lacking, searching for that God-shaped filler for the hole inside each of us. Thanks be to God that Jesus has come into our lives. We can trust Him to pick us up when we fall short from temptations’ snares. We can confess our failings and sins, and trust through the crucified and risen Jesus we indeed have the promise of forgiveness and eternal life. Amen!

 

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2020: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

(I would like to thank the Rev. Dr. David Lose. For this sermon, I have borrowed several extended ideas from his article http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=1488  “Into Temptation,” David Lose, Working Preacher, 2011.  Thanks so much!)

[1] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2014/02/year-first-sunday-in-lent-march-13-2011.html

Worshiping with Children, Lent 1, Including children in the congregation’s worship, using the Revised Common Lectionary, Carolyn C. Brown, 2014.

[2] Ibid.

[3] http://www.taize.fr/en_article167.html?date=2007-03-01

“Jesus Put to the Test,” Commented Bible Passages from Taize, 2007.

Cleanse Me, Wash Me

“Cleanse Me, Wash Me”

Psa 51-2 wash me, cleanse me

Psalm 51:7 – February 26, 2020

Some people do not care for washing clothes. I don’t mind it. In fact, I rather enjoy the whole process. I remember both of my parents—who grew up in Chicago during the 1920’s and ‘30’s, told me about their moms who had wringer washers. Their moms would wash the families’ clothes, and wring them out down in the basements of the buildings where they lived. My mom had a wringer washer, too, until she died in 2002. I used to run clothes through the wringer sometimes, when I went to her house to help out.

As we read the Psalm for this evening, I wonder—did King David think of the times he watched his mother and other women washing the clothes in the village where he grew up? The words David uses are so vivid and descriptive, I can’t help but wonder!

But more than just washing clothes, King David was dealing with some pretty serious sins. He had lusted after a married woman, summoned her to his palace, slept with her and gotten her pregnant, and then killed her husband. All with little or no apparent guilt—at first.

When the prophet Nathan called out King David for all of these compounded sins, David finally gets it. He finally is overcome with the audacity and hugeness of his sins. It is then he comes to God and begs God to forgive him of his sin.

As I just said, I do not think any of us has committed sins of the magnitude of King David. However—that does not change the fact that all of us, each of us, sins. Each of us does things, says things, even thinks things that displease God.

I suspect when King David was a boy, he would watch the women of his village washing their clothes in a stream, or perhaps in a vat of water. Perhaps if the clothes soaked in a vat of soap suds, the village boys might be asked to lend a hand and stir the wet clothes awhile, to agitate them and loosen up the dirt. When we consider ourselves and the sins we commit against the Lord, is this similar? Are our sins agitated by a heavenly agitator? Is all that dirt and sinfulness loosened up in the soapy suds of our lives?

What about the things we do, say, and think that really aren’t “too bad?” You know, all that stuff that the world tells us is okay? All of the sins or transgressions that are just little fibs, or seem like little speed bumps, or that we explain away by saying “everybody’s doing it—it’s okay! Isn’t it?”

Here in Psalm 51, David is filled with remorse at the gravity of his sin. True, fornication, adultery and murder are pretty big whoppers in anyone’s book. But, if we read the words of this psalm, they are hauntingly familiar to us and our broken hearts. “Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight;”

I don’t know about you, but when I read these words, I feel the sin and yuckiness of my iniquities all over me. I need to have the forgiveness of God wash me clean and make me whiter than snow. That’s what King David asks for, too.

David goes even further, and asks “Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.” The plant hyssop was used in David’s day as an aromatic purifier, in a similar way that people used mint, marjoram and similar scented herbs. When Martin Luther translated this psalm, he used the phrase “un-sin me with hyssop.” Take my sin away, Lord! Make me smell minty fresh and clean again!

I know for a fact that Martin Luther had many, continuing struggles in his life with his personal sin. He regularly confessed his sins to God and to his spiritual director, his father confessor. Translating Psalm 51 was probably a very intense, personal experience for him. We can say with Martin, “un-sin each of us with hyssop, Lord. Cleanse us, loosen the dirt of sin with Your heavenly agitator, and make us whiter than snow.”

Please turn to hymn number 436. Let us read together the first verse of that hymn, “Whiter Than Snow.”

“Lord Jesus, I long to be perfectly whole; I want Thee forever to live in my soul. Break down every idol, cast out every foe. Now wash me and I shall be whiter than snow. Whiter than snow, yes, whiter than snow—Now wash me and I shall be whiter than snow.”

The best part is that our God welcomes everyone who comes with a contrite heart and spirit. Come to God now, confessing those dark places and spaces in our lives and hearts, those times we have said unkind words, and done thoughtless actions, even thought evil thoughts. Bring them to our Lord, knowing that if we confess our sins, God is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Amen, and amen!

 

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2020: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

Jesus Says Don’t Be Afraid!

“Jesus Says Don’t Be Afraid!”

imandoa001p4

Matthew 17:1-9 (17:7) – February 23, 2020

Have you ever been really scared? I know I have. Most of us can relate when we hear about people being terrified. I mean, shocked, totally frightened out of your shoes!

What is it that terrifies you? Is it gunfire? Perhaps a gang shootout, on the street? Thankfully, most of us are fortunate to live in safer neighborhoods. What else could scare you to death? A huge fire in your house or work building? Or, what about a natural disaster here in Illinois, like a tornado, or in the Philippines, like a volcanic eruption?

Any of those events could terrify people. We heard about an event today that terrified the onlookers, too: the Transfiguration of Jesus. Peter, James and John were scared out of their sandals! Our Gospel reading from Matthew 17 tells us so.

Let us step back from this reading, and take a long view on the situation in Matthew 17. Jesus is not too far from the end of His ministry, His final trip to Judea and to Jerusalem. It’s only a matter of months before the culmination of Jesus’s time on earth. For the past three years, the itinerant Rabbi Jesus has been preaching, healing, performing miracles, telling parables, and generally doing the things we are used to Jesus doing.

I know Jesus’s typical daily schedule might seem different to us, today, but Jesus had been doing the same thing for quite a number of months.

Yes, He might be an itinerant Rabbi, traveling from place to place, but Jesus had a number of back-up people, ready to take care of His itinerary and check out possible places to stay and eat, not to mention travel. Did you ever think about that? There must have been at least a few people in Jesus’s traveling group of disciples who must have had some expertise in travel arrangements, and setting up food and lodgings.

And, that isn’t all. We understand from references in the Gospels that Jesus regularly took time out for prayer and meditation. At the beginning of our Scripture reading this morning, we see Jesus taking His inner circle of disciples away with Him to the top of a mountain. Did the three disciples have any idea of what would happen later that day? Do we? Do we really know what happened, there on that mountain?

Whatever the event in Matthew 17 was, it was absolutely amazing to see. Our other reading this morning from Exodus 24 also took place on a mountain. Try to see this scene in your imagination. If you will, picture it on the video screen in your head.

In Exodus, the Lord invited Moses up to the mountaintop, to get the tablets of stone with the Ten Commandments inscribed on them. Also, Moses was supposed to be on the Mountain with God for some time. Both events took place on top of a mountain, in the presence of the glory of God. As the face of Moses shone with that glorious light, so also shone the face of Jesus. Matthew tells us so!

But, it isn’t only the face of Jesus that gets all lit up. No, His clothing becomes brighter than bright, too! A Transfiguration is how the Gospel writer translates the word. In Greek, this word is actually “metamorphed.” We might recognize that word from metamorphosis, the changing of a caterpillar into a butterfly, from an earth-bound creature into something totally and radically different. That is how much Jesus transformed.

For us, today, this sort of transforming effect is not too uncommon. With modern stage lighting, and special effects in the movies, and fancy costuming, we here in the United States in the 21st century might be surprised, but not scared. Certainly not terrified. But, Peter, James and John knew nothing of elaborate lighting or fancy costumes, or even electricity. Imagine, if you can, what an absolutely unbelievable – preposterous – sight Jesus showed to His three disciples. Plus, Moses and Elijah showed up next to the transfigured Jesus, on top of that mountain. Far, far beyond the disciples’ experience. No wonder they were terrified!

If you remember, we had a wonderful Summer Sermon Series in 2018 where we focused on many times in the Bible where people were told, “Be not afraid!” Here is another instance of those powerful words. Powerful, because they almost always come as a result of people seeing the glory of God or the presence of an angel. Memorable, because our Lord Jesus said them to His friends, to Peter, James and John.

We might wonder: how could the disciples possibly relate to Jesus again with any sort of naturalness? Any kind of normalcy, after this clearly supernatural experience?

The answer? Jesus transformed back into regular, human form, and touched His friends. He encourages them with the words “Don’t be afraid!” By touching them and reassuring them that it was really and truly Him, just as He was before? It wasn’t the glorified, “glowing” Jesus who touched them, but the all-too-human, relatable Jesus.

The Rev. Janet Hunt tells us that, as she understands it, “when Jesus tells them to ‘get up’ he is using the same words he also used in raising the dead.  No, Jesus does not leave them there ‘dead’ in their terror and their confusion.  For while they may find themselves in the midst of something unlike anything they have ever seen before.  They may be so afraid that they are as paralyzed as though they were in fact, dead. And yet, Jesus does not leave them there.  He tells them to get up and to leave their fear behind.” [1]

Fear of what, I wonder?

  •   Fear of the unknown?
  •   Fear of the incomprehensible power of God?
  •   Fear of their own inadequacy in the glare of that overpowering bright light?

How many of us are frightened or anxious, and need to hear those words today? How many of our friends or family members find themselves in difficult places, or walking through scary situations, and could be encouraged by those words today? Listen to Jesus! Hear His words to the disciples. Hear His words to us, too.

Sure, we, today, can be dazzled and awestruck as we see the marvelous, miraculous event unfold on the Mountain of the Transfiguration.

How much more do we need this healing, life-giving, transforming touch from our Lord Jesus? The words of Jesus—“Be not afraid!” are surely for each of us, too.      

Alleluia, amen.

 

[1] http://dancingwiththeword.com/get-up-and-dont-be-afraid-revisited/

(janet@dancingwiththeword.com)

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2020: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

Jesus Says Relationships Matter!

“Jesus Says Relationships Matter!”

Matt 5-22 angry, bird

Matthew 5:21-26 – February 16, 2020

The Psalm reading for today tells us all about the Bible, and how wonderful it is. Every single verse of Psalm 119 – and it is the longest psalm in our Bible – mentions the Word of God. We get just a taste of this with our reading today. The first eight verses, talk about the law, the statutes, the decrees and the commandments of God, using different names in each verse for the marvelous book, the Bible.

These words from Psalms are all describing God’s Word. I want us all to get this concept in our heads: this psalm praising the Bible is describing God’s Word as God’s rules for living life.

Some might already know one or two verses from Psalm 119. These two verses are extremely meaningful to me, and I have memorized both of them. The first, Psalm 119:11 – “I have hidden Your Word in my heart, that I may not sin against You.” The second, Psalm 119:105 – “Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” In other words, it’s all about the Bible, the Word of God.

The same with our Gospel reading today. In this part of the Sermon on the Mount, the Rabbi Jesus is giving an extended talk on the Law of Moses, part of the Word of God, the Bible. But, what do we do when the words of Jesus are difficult to swallow?

What gives, Jesus? I can understand a murderer getting sent to hell. That’s what Jesus said in verse 21: 21 “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’” Okay. Depending on people’s views on capital punishment today, they may not exactly agree with the Law of Moses and its rules and punishment on murder, but few people would have serious discussion with the Rabbi Jesus for stating this rule from the Law of Moses.

Here is the part that is hard to swallow. Listen to the next verse, the next thing Jesus says: “22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Idiot!’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.”

Seriously, Jesus? Really? Look here, Jesus, You have got to be kidding. Aren’t You? I mean, Getting sent to hell for losing my temper and calling someone an idiot? That’s only human. We are all fallible. We all lose our tempers and get angry, once in a while. Don’t we?

Let’s go back to the idea of the Bible described as the rulebook God gave us for our lives. We all know about rules. Good, clear rules make a great deal of sense and make lots of things easier. If it wasn’t for traffic rules, the rules of the road, there would be lots more accidents and lots more people getting hurt on the road.

What about rules for playing games, and rules for different sports? I bet we all know lots of rules. For baseball, a basic rule is “three strikes and you’re out!” In football the ball proceeds down the field ten yards at a time: “First down!” And, in basketball, the object of the game is to get the ball through the opposing net. If players did not follow these basic rules, they would end up in the penalty box – like in hockey! And, if we do not follow God’s rules for life, what happens? Is there a heavenly penalty box that we can end up in? Or, something even worse?

“That isn’t fair!” How many times have we heard that, either on a playing field or over a board game? Following the rules can be a tricky business. Some people take rule-following to an extreme. But, isn’t there a way to follow the spirit of the rules – or the spirit of God’s laws?

That is what I think Jesus is getting at here in Matthew 5:22. My goodness, if God decided to throw everyone into hell for name-calling, getting angry and calling each other “idiot” and “stupid,” would anyone end up in heaven? I seriously doubt it. I don’t think Jesus means this literally – He is exaggerating to make a point, like He did a few verses further on, in verses 5:27-28. Jesus talks about cutting off hands or plucking out eyes to keep from sinning. Plus, many other commentators believe this, too. Jesus is using hyperbole here, exaggerating to make an important point: Jesus cares about relationships between people. He cares, and cares very deeply!

One of my favorite commentators, Dr. David Lose, said exactly this: “our God cares about our relationships—cares deeply and passionately, that is, about how we treat each other because God loves each and all of us so much.” [1]

If we acknowledge that our relationships with one another matter deeply to God, we are being faithful to the spirit of this reading. We agree with the nature and the purpose of God’s commands and God’s rule-book. Jesus doesn’t just heighten the force of the Law of Moses, He broadens it. Jesus makes this relational command all-encompassing. “It’s not enough just to refrain from murder. We should also treat each other with respect and that means not speaking hateful words.” [2]

What a profound concept. Jesus gives each of us a basic lesson on how to get along with each other in the next verses—how to reconcile with each other.

Jesus knows people get angry. What is a common saying? “I’m only human!” A shrug of the shoulders, and people try to sweep their anger and bitterness under the rug. Not deal with it, and avoid it. (This is not psychologically healthy.) However, Jesus gives us an excellent suggestion on how each of us can cope with anger. Everyone does get angry, sometimes. As commentator Carolyn Brown says, it just happens. “Good people get angry as often as bad people do. Adults, teenagers, and children all get angry. So the question is, ‘what do you do when you get angry?’” [3]

Jesus says not to wait too long to do this. (We all know that anger and bad feelings can fester if left alone for too long.) Name the problem that makes us angry, and figure out something each of us can do about it. Jesus wants us to be reconciled with the person who made us angry. That means for each of us to work it out together, to figure out how to solve the problem between us. That is not easy, and it may help to get advice or help from other, trusted friends. [4]

Commentator and preacher David Lose has a suggestion. He would like each of us to call to mind one of the relationships in our lives that is most important to us. One that is healthy, whole, and good, and sustains each of us regularly. What makes that relationship good? Why is it important? We are invited to give God thanks for that person and the relationship we share.

Second, think of a relationship that is also important, but has suffered some damage. Please don’t concentrate on the blame for that hurt. Let us hold that person and relationship in prayer, right now. Let us offer that broken relationship to God as an offering, and ask God to help us and heal that relationship. What might each of us do to move that relationship to great health and wholeness?

Each of us, let us pray that God would continue to use both God’s commands and God’s Good News of the Gospel to heal and restore ALL our relationships. [5]

Alleluia, amen.

 

(I would like to thank the commentator David Lose for his article on “The Relational God,” and Matthew 5 from Dear Working Preacher in February 2014. For this sermon, I have borrowed several ideas and quotes from this devotional. I also thank Carolyn Brown and her excellent blog Worshiping with Children, for the week of Epiphany 6. I used some material from her blog, too. Thanks so much!)

[1] http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?m=4377&post=3071

“The Relational God,” David Lose, Dear Working Preacher, 2014.

[2] Ibid.

[3] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2014/01/year-sixth-sunday-after-epiphany-sixth.html

Worshiping with Children, Epiphany 6, Including children in the congregation’s worship, using the Revised Common Lectionary, Carolyn C. Brown, 2014.

[4] Ibid.

[5] http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?m=4377&post=3071

“The Relational God,” David Lose, Dear Working Preacher, 2014.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2020: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

Shine the Light

“Shine the Light”

Matt 5-16 light so shine

Matthew 5:13-16 (5:16) – February 9, 2020

My family lives in Evanston, not too far from Lighthouse Beach. Yes, there is still a working lighthouse standing on the lakefront. In fact, a number of working lighthouses still are shining their lights over Lake Michigan, and the other Great Lakes. Less so today, with all the electronic and computer-assisted help, but in years past, lighthouses had an essential purpose in helping navigators stay safe on stormy water.

I suspect Jesus knew about lighthouses and navigation lights, living near the sea of Galilee as He did. Navigation lights help sailors a great deal, giving them direct knowledge and understanding about how to stay safe on the water. In our Gospel reading today, Jesus talks about light. He’s talking directly to the people listening to Him, who I suspect are mostly His followers. And—Jesus makes this remarkable statement: “You are the light of the world.”

Some might think that our Lord Jesus is just expressing a pious platitude, or perhaps a devout wish. Oh, I wish people could be the light of the world! Wouldn’t it be nice?

However, Jesus not only is saying that about the people listening to Him at the time, 2000 years ago, but He is also saying that to everyone who reads these words in Matthew’s Gospel. Jesus says those words to us, here, today. We are the light of the world.

Now, if we are light, that implies certain things. Jesus means that the world is in a state of darkness. What is it like to be in darkness, with no light? Let me tell you, when I was younger, I used to go to rural Wisconsin and do tent camping a long way away from any electric lights or settled places. It got really dark at night, and I sure was glad I had a flashlight! I suspect some of you have had similar experiences in the dark. It gets really dark at night, far from the safety of electricity and steady sources of light. It can be scary and dangerous, too.

I’ve never been out on a stormy night on the water, but I suspect people can be very scared of dangerous conditions on the ocean or on a big lake, too. That is one reason why people have depended on lighthouses and navigation lights for safety, security and direction, for many centuries.

As we have mentioned before in weeks past, light and darkness both have their places in God’s world. Darkness can be gentle and needed at times. During Advent and Epiphany, we thought about different aspects about darkness that are warm, friendly, even inviting. We thought about nocturnal animals, gestating animals, and growing seeds underground. All in the warm, nurturing, friendly darkness. These examples give us a whole different view of darkness as opposed to light.

Except, we do not want there to be no light at all in the world, ever, and only perpetual darkness. Perpetual darkness can be a downright scary idea. Jesus told us clearly that we are the light of the world, bringing light into dark places. Can you think of times and places where light is much needed?

As I read the words of one of my favorite commentators this past week, Rev. Janet Hunt, this concept struck home to me. See whether her words strike you as true, too.

“Light helps us to distinguish difference and to celebrate diversity.

Light can deepen understanding.

Light works on cellular structures to promote growth.

Light heals.

Light helps us find our way.

Light. And today Jesus says, “You are the light of the world.” [1]

I don’t know about you, but I suspect Pastor Janet Hunt would absolutely agree with us when we also add lighthouses and navigation lights to the list of things that help each of us to find our way in the dark. Yes, darkness can be gentle and welcoming, but darkness is also scary, producing anxiety. Darkness can cause fear of the unknown, and even make people shrink to engage and interact. And, on dark and stormy nights on the water, we all sure are glad to see lighthouses and navigation lights that show us the way to go.   

When Jesus tells us that we are the light of the world, that means that Jesus is describing our inside nature as followers of Him. After all, He also said He is the light of the world in John chapter 8. Just as Jesus came into the world to bring light to people who walk in darkness, just so Jesus has given each of us that light. Jesus gives us power to display that light of His like a lighthouse brings light to a dark, dangerous coastline, providing hope and direction.

Now, wait, some people might say. I know that professional Christians are supposed to bring people the light of God. Professional Christians have learned how to do that in school, haven’t they? Well, yes. But, Jesus is not just talking to professionals here. Jesus means this description of our inside nature to be for all of us—for every believer in Him.

How are each of us supposed to shine the light of Jesus? That’s hard. That’s scary.

I remember a friend of mine—Miss Rose, who I’ve mentioned before. I came to know and love Miss Rose over thirty years ago at another Chicago-area church. She was a church member all of her life, and her special ministry was working with the children. She loved being a Sunday school teacher, and she would eagerly and willingly tell children and young people about the Lord. She never shied away from letting people know that she shined the light of Jesus as much as she possibly could.

When I think about this verse from Matthew 5, I often think of Miss Rose, shining the light of Jesus, and bringing hope and direction to many young people.

Imagine my delight at meeting Miss Rose again, when I was a chaplain intern at the Presbyterian Homes, a senior retirement community in Evanston. While I was in seminary, one of my field education positions was as a chaplain intern in the large healthcare unit there.

Miss Rose was a resident living there. And lo and behold, Miss Rose shared her love of the Lord with everyone in the healthcare unit. She was the light of the world in her little corner of the world. Even though she was in constant pain, Miss Rose never let that stop her shining the light of Jesus. When I grow up, I want to be like Miss Rose.  

I want to provide a challenge for all of us. As Pastor Janet Hunt says, we are all called to go into dark places with the light of Jesus. Sometimes, we are even called to shine the light of God onto an unfair or sad situation, and bring comfort, direction and friendship.

  • Where have you seen such ‘light’ bringing hope, direction, and promise to a world that is too often dark?
  • Where will you seek to bring such ‘light,’ to be such ‘light’ in the days to come? And, how might you do this together with others who are called to ‘be the light of the world’ with you?

All great questions. I pray that we might go forth from this place, all of us shining the light of Jesus in our particular corner of the world, each and every day.

Alleluia, amen.

[1] http://dancingwiththeword.com/you-are-the-light-of-the-world-2/

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2020: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

[I would like to thank the Rev. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones and his superb book Studies in the Sermon on the Mount (Eerdmans Publishing Company: Grand Rapids, MI, 1971). For this sermon, I have borrowed several extended ideas from Chapter Fifteen, “The Light of the World.” Thanks so much!]

 

 

 

Blessed Are We

“Blessed Are We”

Matt 5 beatitudes, word cloud

Matthew 5:1-12 – February 2, 2020

This Thursday afternoon, my husband and I are taking a short trip to St. Louis to see our daughter. Before we leave the house, we are going to print out some maps on our computer. Lots of journeys begin with a road map. There are signs to follow and road maps we can consult, just in case. We have landmarks we know along the way. I wonder, when you are on a journey, do you have a road map to follow?

In the previous Gospel reading from Matthew chapter 4, our Lord Jesus gives a summary statement of the message He wants to get across to everyone. “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” That message is—in brief—a headline for the whole of the next three chapters of the Gospel of Matthew, the Sermon on the Mount. These three chapters tell the world what God wants them to do, how to act, even what to say.

Today, Eileen read to us the first twelve verses of Matthew 5. These verses have a particular name: the Beatitudes. In these statements, our Lord Jesus tells us about His followers’ road through life. In other words, Jesus gives us a road map which will guide us to the kingdom of heaven. (In other parts of the Gospels, this is identified as the kingdom, or the reign, of God.)

This is great! Isn’t it? We have a road map to heaven! If we follow the signs and landmarks that Jesus describes for us here in the Beatitudes, we will make it to heaven, for sure! Won’t we? Or, will we? How easy is it to follow the signs and landmarks that Jesus tells us about?

Hold on just a minute. Following Jesus is more than just a pleasant walk in the park. Let’s take a look at who benefits from being selfish, who gets the lion’s share of attention, and how the faulty, selfish world wants people to act.

In case you and I haven’t noticed, there is a huge difference between what God wants and what the selfish, self-centered world wants. This is the first detour we are going to take from the road God means for all Christians to take.

Let’s look at a topsy-turvy, cynical, worldly view of the Beatitudes. In today’s faulty, selfish world, things are good for the rich, they can buy whatever they want. It’s good for the strong, they can take whatever they want. They will also make the team. Things are good for the winners, they get all the prizes. It’s good for the smart, and the smart-alecks. They get straight A’s, go to the best colleges, and get great jobs. It’s good for the beautiful. They will get their pictures in magazines, on social media, and get to be in movies. Things are good for the important people. They get to make all the plans and all the decisions. [1]

But, is that the way God wants people to live? Is that what Jesus tells us here, in the Beatitudes? Is that how God wants us to live? If you and I live in that selfish, self-centered kind of a way I just described, will we be traveling on the road to the kingdom of heaven?

We know the selfish, self-centered world rewards the powerful, the wealthy, the attractive, the ones who push others out of the way and trample the weak and poor and sick ones.

Now that we have figured out the topsy-turvy, twisted detour way of looking at the Beatitudes, let’s look at a second detour some might take when they consider the Beatitudes.

Sometimes, certain people think that only super-holy people can possibly follow God’s way to heaven. You know, only real saints of God. People like Mother Teresa, or St. Francis of Assisi, or St. Augustine, or Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer. The rest of us cannot possibly measure up to such a high standard. I am sorry, but you and I are only going through the motions. Some say we are much too weak and sinful to ever be able to follow God’s high and lofty recommendations in the Beatitudes.

Now, this detour around the Beatitudes is a bit closer to the true road map that God marks out for us, but still not quite on target. God wants all of us—each one of us—to have an opportunity to walk more closely with the Lord, and to follow God in each of our individual journeys through life in this selfish, self-centered world

But, wait! Does that mean that you and I need to follow each of these items on the road map of the Beatitudes, to the letter? We have already seen how selfish, self-centered people often live, disregarding all of God’s recommendations. How instead would Jesus want us to fit into His world and His kingdom?

Jesus says that in His kingdom, it’s good for those who know they do not know everything. They belong in God’s world. It’s good for those who are terribly sad. They will be comforted. It’s good for those who obey God. They will be in charge, according to God’s way. It’s good for those who don’t get justice now. Sooner or later, they WILL get it—God says so. It’s good for those who forgive and care about others. God forgives and cares about them. It’s good for those who are pure in heart. They will see God. It’s good for the peacemakers. They will be praised as God’s own children. It’s good for those who are hurt because they stand up for God’s ways. They will be called heroes and heroines. It’s even good for you and me when people come after us in anger because we follow Jesus. We will be rewarded by God in heaven. [2]

Some people will scoff. How do any of Jesus’s suggestions work properly? If I do any of that stuff, I’ll be laughed out of my workplace! People will taunt me and ignore me, or even worse. Well, I think that is just the point. Our Lord Jesus said these things might happen. In fact, Jesus tells His followers, point blank, that these kinds of things will undoubtably happen. And, Jesus also tells His followers which people are His precious ones, His dear sisters and brothers.

There is a kicker—a high point in this section of Jesus’s sermon. When you and I follow the road map Jesus shows to us, He calls us blessed. This is our Lord’s description of every single Christian. In each Beatitude, everyone who follows God is declared blessed.

Are you mourning for a loved one right now? Jesus said you are truly His sister, His brother. Are you poor, and especially poor in spirit? Jesus says you are really on the road to heaven. Are you meek and humble? Then, the world will be in your hands—in this world or the next. And what about those who work for peace in our neighborhoods, our cities, our country? What a wonderful thing to be called God’s children—God’s daughters and sons. And, God promises to abundantly bless us as we journey with Jesus.

This road map of blessing, this road map to the Christian life, shows us a God who delights to create, bless and redeem. May we always remember that we—all of us—have been abundantly blessed with the Beatitudes, for now, and for always.

 

[1] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2014/01/year-fourth-sunday-after-epiphany.html

Worshiping with Children, Epiphany 4, Including children in the congregation’s worship, using the Revised Common Lectionary, Carolyn C. Brown, 2014.

[2] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2014/01/year-fourth-sunday-after-epiphany.html

Worshiping with Children, Epiphany 4, Including children in the congregation’s worship, using the Revised Common Lectionary, Carolyn C. Brown, 2014.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2020: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

Light and Salvation

“Light and Salvation”

Psa 27-1 fear, afraid, words

Psalm 27:1, 4-8 – January 26, 2020

How many times have you been somewhere when the lights flickered off? When the electricity stopped working at night, and everything went dark? I have vivid memories of times like that. When I was a little girl in Chicago, sometimes the wind and the rainstorm were raging outside, and the lights suddenly went away. I wasn’t too afraid, even though I was small, but some of my friends and classmates at school were. Light is so needed in our homes and our lives. You could even say light is a foundation, a fundamental to our existence.

Our psalm today shines a light on that very thing: light. King David wrote this psalm, and the very first statement he writes down is “The Lord is my light, and my salvation.” A commentator says “The opening verse describes the Lord with language that suggests God’s presence is life-giving and protective. The Lord is called ‘light’ because light drives darkness away. Light is a basic category of order and stability that recalls the first act of creation (see Gen 1:3; and Exodus 10:21).” [1]

This summary statement echoes so many other verses in other parts of the Bible, but I wanted to focus next on the Gospel of John, chapter one. The Word—the Messiah—is called the Light. Referring to God as Light makes this psalm particularly appropriate for the season of Epiphany. This is the time we especially celebrate God’s presence, and the Light of the world coming to earth.

Our Gospel reading from Matthew 4 has much the same idea. Matthew even quotes from the prophet Isaiah: “the people living in darkness have seen a great light; those living in the land of the shadow of death, on them a light has dawned.” Again, the divine Light breaks into the world and allows us, for all time, to come to be close friends, even sisters and brothers of our Lord Jesus Christ.

When you or I come home at night during a storm and the lights suddenly flicker off, what is the first thing we do? Almost always, we light a flashlight, or a candle. We restore some light to that dark room we are standing in. With light comes safety and salvation.

When I was a young child, I knew I was safe in my house at night with our big dog, even if the lights could not go on. But, what about children who are afraid of the dark, and a big storm shuts off all their lights? Shuts down all the electricity. And, the nightlights can’t go on for those frightened girls and boys. There might be dangerous monsters creeping around the bedroom, or in the attic or basement. What happens then? Wouldn’t the children need the reassurance of a loving parent in the scary darkness of night?

What about King David? What does he say about the dark spaces and dangerous places? He comes right out and tells it to us like it is. Verse 2: “When evil men advance against me to devour my flesh, when my enemies and my foes attack me, they will stumble and fall.” Sure, David had a lot of enemies, and sure, the bad guys were actively pursuing David, for years.

Reading about parts of the life of David is like being on a roller coaster—so many ups and downs, and terribly exciting, most of the time. David was on the run from King Saul in the wilderness, for years. I bet you anything that as David wrote this psalm, he was thinking about those times, those years that he was pursued by the finest soldiers in Israel, the best in the business of being a soldier.

Even though we are not pursued by a whole bunch of military personnel, I suspect from time to time you and I feel pursued by a bunch of other evil circumstances, or horrible people. Perhaps it is someone at work who makes your life miserable? Or, maybe it is a continuing health situation for yourself or a loved one that just won’t go away? Or, like several of my friends, underemployment, where they just cannot make ends meet, no matter what? When we are in predicaments like these, God can seem really far away. God might never even hear us when we call! At least, that is what we might feel in our hearts—sometimes.

I suspect King David had his moments of fear and trembling, moments when he doubted that God would come through for him. Such moments are only human. Throughout the centuries, countless people have cried out to God in distress and despair. We today have a lot of those moments, too. I don’t think anyone could manage to live life in this world and not have those kinds of doubts.

Thank God that David thought of this, too. David not only called the Lord his “light,” but he named the Lord his “salvation,” too. Again and again in the Hebrew Scriptures, the various writers refer to and remember that part of God’s identity as they remember the Exodus from Egypt. God delivered Israel numerous times with a mighty hand. And, David knows very well that God has delivered him, personally, from King Saul’s soldiers—again and again.

As David celebrates the presence of the Lord with the words of this psalm, he asks to “dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple.” What a joy, what a privilege to be able to come to the house of the Lord on a regular basis.

We have the assurance—as David tells us—that we will be in God’s presence, hidden in the sacred shelter of God’s tabernacle. What a promise! What a God. How can we help but praise the Lord? Alleluia, amen.

[1] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=4358

Jerome Creach |

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2020: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

In Whom I Delight

“In Whom I Delight”

Matt 3-16 baptism word cloud

Isaiah 42:1-8, Matthew 3:13-17 – January 12, 2020

Most people are familiar with job descriptions. A job description for a bus driver would highlight their ability to be able to transport people safely and efficiently from one place to another. A job description for a magazine editor would feature their skill at editing and synthesizing copy for publication. But, what would the job description be for the Messiah, the Chosen One of the Lord?

We turn to our Gospel reading for this morning, from Matthew chapter 3. We meet Jesus at the very beginning of His public ministry at the River Jordan. He presents Himself to John the Baptist, along with a whole crowd of other people. They all want to be baptized, yes. But, what will Jesus do after baptism? What is His ministry going to look like? Do we know the requirements of His position as Servant of the Lord?

If we step back from this close-up view of Jesus and His cousin John the Baptist, we might be surprised at what we see. John had made a big splash in Jewish society, and in fact that whole geographical region. There were many, many people coming to where he was stationed at the River Jordan. Sure, many of them had heard the fire-and-brimstone way he preached. Many others wanted the first-hand experience with a true prophet of God. He called for serious repentance! Not a simple, breezy “I’m sorry” sort of thing. No, John preached a genuine, heartfelt, sometimes gut-wrenching repentance.

Isn’t that what you and I are supposed to do, before we come to the waters of baptism? Repent? Follow God? Or, if we are bringing babies or small children to be baptized, aren’t the parents and godparents supposed to answer for the children and affirm that these little ones are going to strive to follow God all the days of their lives? Serious matters. Serious vows.

But, Jesus was sinless! He did not need to be baptized! Why on earth did Jesus do this? Two of the reasons I believe Jesus went through the waters of baptism: He publicly inaugurated His public ministry, and He closely identified with the penitent people of God. How better to let people know that He was one of them than to experience all things in the same way that they did, go through all of life’s ups and downs, striving to live life as God would have Him live it.

Yet, John also prophesied the coming of the Lord’s Messiah—or as translated into Greek, the Christ. The Servant of the Lord, as mentioned by several prophets in the Hebrew Scriptures. There has got to be a job description in one of those Servant-of-the-Lord sections. Isn’t there?

Many organizations and businesses have detailed job descriptions for each of their positions. In want-ads on line, you can see details of each job, listing required qualifications, desired expectations, practically everything an applicant would need to know in order to apply for the featured position.

In our Hebrew Scripture reading from Isaiah 42, we see a clear description of the prophesied Servant of the Lord. In other words, a job description for the Messiah. We can also think of this as a checklist for the several years of the Rabbi Jesus’s public ministry.

The first qualification the prophet talks about? “I have called you in righteousness.” This is answered directly by Jesus, in Matthew 3. Why was one of the reasons for Jesus’s baptism? As Jesus said, “to fulfill all righteousness.” I suspect Jesus may have had this very section in Isaiah 42 in mind when he responded to John the Baptist.

We hear this job description repeated again and again, by various prophets in the Hebrew Scriptures, as well as prophecy fulfilled in the Gospels. Sort of like a first-century job board. Is it any wonder that many people already knew what was ahead of the Rabbi Jesus as He begins His ministry among the people of Israel?

The prophet Isaiah writes God “will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles,” We go back to that jam-packed chapter 2 of the Gospel of Luke. After the angels and the shepherds went away, Mary and Joseph took the eight-day old baby Jesus to be presented at the Temple in Jerusalem. When he saw this Baby, the devout man Simeon also made a prophesy about this Gift from God. It is almost word-for-word out of Isaiah 42. Simeon said “For my eyes have seen [God’s] salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.” As Luke said, Simeon had been told by the Lord that he would live to see the Messiah. Lo and behold, when Mary and Joseph brought the Baby into the Temple, Simeon was there, to be a witness.

Another phrase from Isaiah 42: “to open eyes that are blind.” A number of times in the Gospels, we see Jesus healing people who are blind, restoring their sight. One of these healings is recorded in John 9, where Jesus publicly heals a man born blind, and argues with the religious leaders while He was doing the healing. (Plus, an editorial comment: I cannot believe Jesus would heal anyone’s sight to less than 20/20. Perfect sight.)
The prophet Isaiah foretold that the Servant of the Lord would “free captives from prison and release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.” When Jesus proclaimed in His hometown synagogue that He was the Servant of the Lord, He read from another section of Isaiah. Jesus said these same words: He would free the captives and set the oppressed free.
Last but certainly not least, Isaiah 42 begins with a summary statement: “Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight.” Could this be any more clearly the voice of the Lord, echoing across the waters of the River Jordan? “A voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” What love. What affirmation. What blessing.

If only we all could have that approval from our earthly parents and families. As one of my favorite commentators David Lose said, “Baptism is nothing less than the promise that we are God’s beloved children. That no matter where we go, God will be with us.” [1]

Certain job descriptions designate people with specific titles or names. I suspect you are familiar with a number of them, too. “Nurse,” “doctor,” “judge,” “teacher,” and even “pastor.” Jesus had the job titles “rabbi,” “teacher” and even “Messiah” or “Christ.” Names or titles are important; some lifting up, and others tearing down.

Think of the various titles or names you have had in your life, as will I. Were all those names or titles positive, good, or helpful? Or, were some of these hurtful, hateful, or demeaning? Some of these names or titles can stay in the memory for years, or even longer, when said in a mean or nasty way. Think of names or titles like “Stupid” or “Egghead,” “Fatso” or “Ugly.” Names like “Loser” or “Prissy,” “Know-it-all” or “Victim”.

As I remind all of us about these negative, hateful names or titles, and we sit with them for a moment, it is just for a moment. Each of us has a God-inspired job description, too. Each of us has the title or name of beloved child. Think about it. We may hold this title, this name, to our hearts—Christian. What an affirmation. What a blessing!

Just as Jesus had the title God’s beloved in His job description, so do we. We have God’s word on it.  

(I would like to thank the commentator David Lose for his article on the Baptism of Jesus and Matthew 3 from Dear Working Preacher. For this sermon, I have borrowed several ideas and quotes from this devotional. Thanks so much!)

[1] http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=1580

“The Power of a Good Name,” David Lose, Dear Working Preacher, 2011.

 

 

Star Light, Star Bright

“Star Light, Star Bright”

Matt 2-11 Epiphany star, Magi, angel, 12th century carving, Autun Cathedral

Matthew 2:1-12 (2:9) – January 5, 2020

When I was little, we always kept our Christmas tree up in our living room until Epiphany, January 6th. We did not always have this particular decoration, but sometimes, there would be a small star ornament my mother would place at the top of the tree. And, I can remember sitting in a darkened living room with my mom, filled with wonder. The only lights lit in the room would be the colored lights on the Christmas tree. What wondrous lights!

I wonder, were Christmas lights a big part of your Christmas celebration? They certainly were, where I grew up, on the northwest side of the Chicago. Christmas lights in the front yards of houses, and in the windows, as well as on the Christmas tree inside. And, I can remember hearing from a very young age that these bright, shiny Christmas lights all over were shining to remind everyone about the Christmas star, the Star of Bethlehem.

But, what about the original Star? Somehow, I suspect only a few people at the time of the birth of Jesus really understood the reason for the bright shining Star. That is, until it was shining over Bethlehem for a number of weeks.

Let’s look at what Matthew tells us, again: “After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” What do we know about these Magi, these scholars from the east?

Biblical commentators and historians tell us that these scholars were astronomers who spent their lives studying the stars and planetary movements, among other natural events. They were probably well-to-do, if not members of royal houses themselves. They most probably came from the general area of Persia—that is, in the area of modern-day Iraq, Syria and parts of Iran.  In their studies, consulting contemporary books and writings, these Magi had discovered that the appearance of a wondrous star meant that an important king—or ruler—had just been born. That Star—that Light—beckoned to these scholars. So, what did they decide to do? Go and visit that newborn king, of course!

While on their way, they needed directions. What to do? It only made sense for some well-born VIPs from another country to ask directions at the local palace.

We do know what happened when the Magi got to Jerusalem after following this Star for some weeks; Matthew tells us so. “When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied.”

Do we see what a traumatic reaction these scholars had on many people in the area of Jerusalem? Lots of people were upset, especially King Herod! However, I do not know whether these scholars understood that Herod was a particularly nasty guy. At least, not at first.

Today, when you and I talk about Advent or Christmas services at our church, I wonder how people react to us when we talk about the Baby in Bethlehem? Have you recently invited people to our church for the holidays? Perhaps our acquaintances are just as cautious or bothered by our invitation as these people were, so long ago?

And, all this was happening because the Magi followed a Star. They had deciphered passages from books and manuscripts about something (or Someone) promised, whose birth was foretold in the skies. The Star was inviting them to follow, to journey into the unknown. These Magi must have been really excited at the prospect of seeing a prophecy come true.

After Herod directed the scholars to Bethlehem, down the road from Jerusalem, the Star moved again. As Matthew mentioned, “After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him.”

The Star—the Light from on high led them directly to the young King, where they bowed and worshiped. Can it lead us to draw near to our Lord Jesus? Is this Star, this Light a beacon of hope and joy for us, too?

All that was two thousand years ago, but Epiphany is still with us today. The word Epiphany means manifestation, or appearance. Epiphany is when Christ appears among us, offering hope and joy to all who might need it.

This brilliant Star encourages us to leave the darkness and despair behind and to come into the Light. God does, indeed put directional signals where we can see them. Sure, the sign of the Star of Bethlehem pointed the way to the Holy Child in Bethlehem two thousand years ago. But, doesn’t God use directional signals or signs to point to Jesus now, today? We can count on God’s love and presence with us, in Emmanuel, God-with-us.

Yes, Jesus appears when you or I need Him most. May He appear to each of us during this season of Epiphany, in spirit and in truth.

Alleluia, amen.

 

“During these weeks of Epiphany, dare to ask that Star some questions.

  • Where are we being led in this New Year?  Is the Star offering some course correction? Should we be like the magi and experiment with a “different road” that will lead us to new experiences?
  • What might we need to leave behind in order to start on this journey? What burdens or expectations can you and I set aside to lighten the load?
  • As the Light shines into our lives, what might we discover about ourselves? What do you and I value? What new parts of myself do I want to explore?
  • What does the Star—the Light reveal in our world? What needs or injustices are calling out for compassion and kindness?” [1]

(I would like to thank the Rev. Sue Foster for her Epiphany post “Into the Light!” For this sermon, I have borrowed several ideas and quotes from this devotional. Thanks so much!)

https://fosteringyourfaith.com/2019/12/30/into-the-light/ On December 30, 2019 By fosteringyourfaith In Epiphany

[1] https://fosteringyourfaith.com/2019/12/30/into-the-light/ On December 30, 2019 By fosteringyourfaith In Epiphany 

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2020: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

Fleeing to Egypt

“Fleeing to Egypt”

Matthew 2:13-21 – December 29, 2019

Matt 2-12 Flucht_nach_Aegypten_Meuhlhausener_Altar_Bamberger_Dom

I have been puzzled by the week between Christmas and New Year for some years. Yes, it’s still the holiday season, and yes, lots of people are on reduced schedules, or even taking the whole week as a holiday. But, I realize some people need to keep working regular shifts, to do necessary things that keep the wheels of society rolling and things continuing to happen. As we all know, holidays do not last forever…or sometimes even for a few days.

Remember back to last Sunday? The fourth Sunday of Advent? I talked about the shepherds, and how they got ready to visit the Baby the Angel told them about. Only thing—the shepherds couldn’t afford to take a lot of time off to see the Baby. I doubt whether they could even take more than a few hours, at most a day, to go and see the Baby in Bethlehem. And, the angels in the angel chorus? The angels had gone back to heaven in an instant. They had already left before the shepherds even decided to check out this fantastic story.

Between last Sunday and today, Christmas happened. We sang “Away in a Manger,” “Silent Night” and lit our candles around the Advent wreath. But, what does our Scripture reading say happened? How on earth did we get from shepherds adoring the Baby at the manger to the horrible reading we had just now, from Matthew chapter 2?

Thank goodness for the Angel, again! Thank God the Angel came to Joseph—again—in a dream, and told him to flee to a different country, with Mary and the Baby. The Holy Family was fleeing for their lives; or, at least, for their Baby’s life.

Today, when young couples here in the United States have a new baby, even a toddler, usually the extended family, good friends, and often the church family members gather around in a fond shower of gifts, sometimes bringing dinner or other good things to eat. Somehow, I doubt whether Joseph, Mary and the Baby Jesus had much of a baby shower before Mary went into labor. Our reading from Matthew 2 tells us a whole lot more serious than just not having a baby shower. Matthew describes an evil, manipulative king who was extremely jealous and anxious. He worried about attacks against his power structure.

From all accounts of Herod and his life and reign, he was a tyrant. Looking at writings from contemporary authors of that period, Herod was cruel and bloodthirsty. He was also two-faced, as we can see from a few verses before our lectionary passage today, from his response to the Magi. He sent the Magi to Bethlehem, and requested that they come back after they find this “King of the Jews,” because Herod wished to “worship” this King as well.

I have a pretty good idea of exactly what Herod wished to do to the baby Jesus from what follows. What is even worse is King Herod has demanded that his soldiers go and slaughter all infant and toddler boys in and around Bethlehem. This reading of the slaughter of the innocents? Why this massive horror and carnage to happen? Why now? Isn’t it still the holidays? Didn’t we just celebrate Christmas? We just sang “O Little Child of Bethlehem” just a few days ago.

Sure, those soldiers were military men. I know those in the military have to do some really unpleasant things. But, ordered to kill babies and toddlers? Well. Just look who was giving that horrible order: the cruel, bloodthirsty King Herod.

We can see why the Holy Family left Judea. They fled. They became refugees.

As I have been thinking about this Scripture reading from Matthew 2 this past week, I wondered about the term “refugee.” I know many people use this term, not only in this country, but also internationally, and some of these people are misusing the term. What is the actual definition of the term “refugee?”

For this definition, I went to the United Nations website, where the UN describes and defines a great many words and terms that concern millions of people, worldwide. According to the migrant and refugee section of the official website, “Refugees are persons who are outside their country of origin for reasons of feared persecution, conflict, generalized violence, or other circumstances that have seriously disturbed public order and, as a result, require international protection.” [1] From everything described in Matthew chapter 2, that definition of refugees describes the Holy Family all too well. Sadly, too well.

As one of my favorite commentators Carolyn Brown said, “It would be nice if everyone had gone happily home and watched Jesus grow up safe and secure with angels watching over him and no problems for anyone.  But it didn’t work that way.  It doesn’t work out that way for any of us.  We all have all sorts of problems to worry about and work on.” [2]

Here in the United States, people are sometimes forced to relocate or are made homeless because of natural disasters or floods or fires – which certainly are on the UN’s list in their definition of the term “refugee.” We know about these refugees, or migrants.

A young man was shot on the Howard St. El platform just a few weeks ago. He had moved from the Englewood neighborhood on Chicago’s south side to Rogers Park, because he did not want to be actively recruited by gangs. And—he was shot in the back, execution-style, by a rival gang member. He tried to migrate. He tried to get away from feared persecution, conflict and violence by moving to the relatively safer area of Rogers Park.

This is not the sweet story of Christmas we heard on Christmas Eve. This wasn’t the gentle story of a young woman giving birth to a Baby, and angels giving a birth announcement to shepherds, including the words “Peace on earth, and good will to all!” Where—we heard about God breaking into the world, coming to be Emmanuel, God-with-us.

The narrative from Matthew 2, though jarring and heart-breaking, helps us know that God is truly with us. Just look at the state of the world, and the sad—even violent situations people encounter all over. Day in and day out, the days are dark more often than not. People like this young man from Englewood get shot, and stabbed. So many feeling separations of race and class and religion and so many other dividing lines.

Yet—nothing surprises God. Yes, the Holy Family did need to run away to escape from Herod the King. “So God understands when we and our families have scary problems.  God is with us and loves us not just when things are Christmas Eve wonderful but also when nothing is going right.  Right now, on the Sunday after Christmas, that is really good to know.  Christmas is over for this year.  But, soon it’s back to school [and work] and all the old problems and people we will struggle with.  It’s a good time to remember that God was with Jesus and His family in the peaceful stable AND on the scary road to Egypt.” [3]
            He is able to not only help us through our times of trouble, but also to be God with us. Jesus is there with us, even though homes are destroyed and children are slaughtered. Jesus is there with us through all the pain and suffering, through all the wailing and lamentation. We have His word on it. Jesus said “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” What a precious promise! What a wonderful Christmas gift! Jesus is our Emmanuel, God with us.

Alleluia, amen.

[1] https://refugeesmigrants.un.org/definitions

[2] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2013/11/year-first-sunday-after-christmas.html

Worshiping with Children, Christmas 1, Including children in the congregation’s worship, using the Revised Common Lectionary, Carolyn C. Brown, 2013.

[3] Ibid.

@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!

Moved into the Neighborhood!

“Moved into the Neighborhood!”

John 1-14 word made flesh, circle

John 1:1-14 – December 24, 2019

A long time ago, in a galaxy close by—even, in this galaxy right here, the Word was first. The Word was present before anything else. What came into existence was Life, and the Life was Light to live by. The Life-Light blazed out of the darkness; the darkness couldn’t put it out.

All right, I have a confession to make. I saw the new Star Wars movie on Saturday. I love the original Star Wars trilogy. I did not love the prequel trilogy, however I really liked the last trilogy of movies. And, the last of the current trilogy, “The Rise of Skywalker,” was a satisfying end to the story—thus far.

What does Star Wars have to do with Christmas? Especially during the past week, I was intrigued by the juxtaposition of Light and Dark in the Star Wars universe; the two flip sides of the Force, that ultimate dyad of positive and negative energy, where Light is Good and Dark is Evil.  I saw a few differences to what we have highlighted this Advent season here at St. Luke’s Church—the Light and the Dark.

Except, different from the Star Wars universe, this galaxy’s kind of Light and Dark are both positive, both are needed. Both are made by the same ultimate Source, or Force, or heavenly Creator at the beginning of all things.

The beginning of the Gospel of John is modeled after the beginning of Genesis 1—except John goes much deeper, and gets theological right away. John chapter 1 tells us a lot about the Word—the Light—the Life—and then, brings those descriptions down to earth. The cosmic Light—the Word spoken before anything was created—that Word—or Light—or Life comes down to earth and gets up close and personal. How much more personal can you get than becoming flesh, becoming a tiny Baby?

I think everyone here is more familiar with the narrative of Luke 2, where we hear about Joseph, and Mary, and the census, and the awkward situation the young couple was in—being still fiancés, still pledged to each other, and not yet married. But wait, there’s more! We hear about the shepherds, angels and their heavenly birth announcement. The shepherds run to visit the newborn Baby, and afterwards go and tell everyone in that town of Bethlehem: “Alleluia! The Messiah is born!”

Somehow, the narrative told by Luke seems a lot more relatable than the first chapter of John. I mean, who can relate to the eternal Word spoken before anything was created? And, the cosmic Light that is also Life? Isn’t that a mixed metaphor, John? Couldn’t you get your metaphoric descriptions straightened out before you set it down as Gospel truth?

This Scripture reading from John 1 is the reading for Christmas Eve, where John tells us of the Eternal Word, part of the everlasting Trinity, becoming flesh. As Luke would say, Emmanuel, God with us, becoming a Baby born in Bethlehem.

Jesus was the name that Mary and Joseph gave to their Son, and John tells us He is “the Light of all people” coming into the world. After a month of Advent, of waiting and longing and talking about the miraculous birth, Jesus is now here! We have also been talking about how Light and Dark are both positive things, both created by God.

As we reflect on the two narratives, the familiar one in Luke 2 and our reading for tonight, John 1, both readings talk about the Light of the world come to earth. Yet, Jesus is both human and divine. “Those two things coexist in him, just like light and dark. John tells us darkness does not overcome the light. The darkness is there alongside the light as it shines. Darkness helps light stand out, just like the stars shining in the night sky.” [1]

We have already talked about how darkness can be warm and friendly. Just think of baby animals and their mothers. Puppies, kittens, calves, lambs, all kinds of animals resting with their mothers. And, think of human babies. They rest with their mothers in the warm, welcoming darkness of night. Not like the good versus evil, light/dark split of the Star Wars universe, but instead all creation created by God, and all is named good.

We can see how there is a natural bridge connecting John 1 (talking about the Eternal Word/Light/Life), and the narrative of Luke 2, telling about the common, every-day birth of a Baby—yet miraculous, too. Both are integral parts of the Greatest Story Ever Told.

“But note: when God decided to get personally involved, God came to tell us that we are loved, deeply, truly, and forever. God loves all of us, but especially wants those who don’t feel loved or lovable, those who regularly feel like they’re on the outside looking in, those who feel forgotten, and those who wonder what the point of life is, to hear the “good news of great joy” that God loves all of us.” [2]

Is it any wonder that our Scripture reading for this evening tells us, in the wonderful translation by Eugene Peterson, that this Wonderful Counselor, Almighty God, Prince of Peace, Word become flesh, “moved into the neighborhood.” Jesus became one of us, a human being.

That is the meaning of Christmas: Jesus has moved into our neighborhood, and become one of us. As the angel said, Jesus is born for you. For me. For each of us. That is the miracle, come to earth. Glory to God in the highest! Amen.

 

(I would like to thank illustratedministry.com for their Advent devotional “An Illustrated Advent for Families: In Light & Darkness.” For this sermon, I have borrowed several ideas and quotes from the Christmas Day devotional. Thanks so much!)

For further information, see info@illustratedministries.com

@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!

[1] Advent devotional “An Illustrated Advent for Families: In Light & Darkness.”

[2] http://www.davidlose.net/2015/12/christmas-eveday-c-keep-it-simple/

“Keep It Simple,” David Lose, …in the Meantime, 2015.

 

While by My Sheep

“While by My Sheep”

 

Luke 2-10 angels, shepherds, Rembrandt 1635

Luke 2:15-20 – December 22, 2019

Christmas is a wonderful time of the year, with all of its opportunities to acquaint ourselves with our Lord Jesus once more. Whether in church on an Advent Sunday, or experiencing the wonder of preparation with an Advent calendar, we have many opportunities to prepare our hearts for the arrival of Christmas during the Advent season.

But, now is two thousand years after the first Christmas. We have developed a great many rituals and observances surrounding the birth of a Baby in Bethlehem. The liturgical year has been instituted, with the season of Advent celebrated for four weeks before Christmas even happens; Advent being the time of preparation and waiting before the birthday of the King.

The shepherds around the village of Bethlehem did not even know anything special was happening, that first Christmas night. They were simply going about their normal nightly activities with the sheep. When—suddenly, as Luke tells us, the whole night sky was lit up, as bright as noonday.

Do we remember what the social situation of the shepherds was, at the time Jesus was born? I mentioned it last week, in my sermon. I mentioned that shepherds were among the lowest of the low, as far as social class was concerned. Shepherds were on the outskirts of society, the same way they usually lived on the outskirts of a town or village. A shepherd was not highly regarded by common, decent Jews at that time, at all.

This narrative from Luke chapter 2 becomes all that much more valuable, that much more unusual, with the shepherds among the first to hear about the birthday of a newborn King.

We looked at the arrival of the angel of the Lord last week, delivering a heavenly birth announcement to these most unlikely recipients, the lowly shepherds. The shepherds were so astounded by the Good News of the angelic chorus that after the angels left they talked among themselves. After discussing the news, they determined to go check things out. Or, as Luke said, “When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.’”

That is one thing our observance of Advent is supposed to heighten: just like small children, Christians are supposed to get more and more excited about the approach of Christmas. a whole month of Advent is supposed to make us look forward to the birth of the Baby in Bethlehem so much more.

Since we live in the northern hemisphere, the coming of Christmas means winter—cooler temperatures, shorter days and longer nights. This time of year is also known as the Winter Solstice; that is, the time of the shortest day and the longest night of the year. Do you think people were (and are) looking forward to the approach of more sunlight, of longer days and shorter nights? This is also an integral part of the Christmas celebration, a celebration of the return of sunlight and warmth, a harbinger of growth and green and all the things that light and life bring back into the world.

And, here we have the shepherds, stuck in the middle of all of this celebration, all this foretelling and forth-telling of God’s Good News. Isn’t that the message the angels brought to the shepherds? “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Good news, indeed!

Although the shepherds were not aware of the deeper meaning at the time, God’s angelic witness was first delivered to those of low station. These who were outcast, the lowest of the low by society’s standards formed for us a view of God’s redeeming love.

In the same way of His ancestor, the shepherd king David, our shepherd king Jesus would shepherd His people through the lineage of His earthly father Joseph and the Oneness with His heavenly Father. The lowly shepherds who were shunned by society, yet responsible for keeping the safety of temple’s sacrificial sheep in the area surrounding Jerusalem, were thus caused to be the first to see and hear God’s great Good News. [1]

As the shepherds excitedly discussed this angelic birth announcement, they did decide to go into Bethlehem and see this newborn Baby. And, as Luke tells us, “When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.”

Tell me, does anyone here want to get on a street corner and tell others about God’s Good News? That was exactly what the shepherds wanted to do! The people on the outside, on the outskirts of the town of Bethlehem, the outcasts of society were so very excited by the Good News and by the miraculous sights they had seen.

Does that make you want to go and tell? Getting so excited about the miraculous, and yet every-day?  At once, wanting to bow in worship at the manger, and at the same time wanting to jump up and go and tell the blessed truth about Jesus?

Yes, our dear Lord Jesus is creator of al that is dark and all that is light. He is the Light of the world and the Lord of the day, and all that is green and growing. He is the Lord of darkness, too. Lord of all that is scary and fear-filled, yet also Lord of the night and nocturnal creatures, and the warm, welcoming darkness of nurture and strength.

Let us go and tell others about the blessed truth of Christmas, about how Jesus is so much more than just a Baby wrapped in swaddling clothes, laid in a manger. Our Lord Jesus is also Emmanuel, God with us.

Glory to God in the highest! Christ is born in Bethlehem. Our response? Go and tell!

Alleluia, amen.

 

(I would like to thank illustratedministry.com for their Advent devotional “An Illustrated Advent for Families: In Light & Darkness.” For this sermon, I have borrowed several ideas and quotes from Week 4 of this devotional. Thanks so much!)

For further information, see info@illustratedministries.com

@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!

[1] http://beambiblebounty.blogspot.com/2015/12/shepherds-joy.html

“Shepherds Joy!” Thomas Beam, 2015.

Bringing Good News!

“Bringing Good News”

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

Luke 2:9-10 – December 15, 2019

Have you ever spent two hours in a dark movie theater, and come outside into the bright sunlight? When people are in the dark for some time, their eyes adjust and become used to the warm, friendly darkness. And, being in a movie theater can also transport people into a whole new world. Then, when the movie is over and they step into the real world, into sudden bright daylight, the stark difference in dark and light can be a shock to the system, can’t it?

That was a little what it was like for the shepherds, so long ago on the hills at night around Bethlehem. Not too far from Jerusalem, only eight or ten miles down the road. That was a much different time, and much different place. Electric light had never even been heard of! Sure, after night fell and the sun disappeared under the horizon, people had candles and oil lamps. Although, those were expensive. If people did not have much money to spare, they simply went to bed with the sun, and woke the next morning when the sun rose.

Our Gospel writer Luke tells us that “There were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.”  I am certain the shepherds had some kind of night vision, especially if there was some moon shining and a clear night. I suspect they had grown comfortable with the darkness, keeping watch over their flocks by night.  

I wonder whether anyone here can remember back to a time when they were outside at night, far, far away from the city lights and civilization? Perhaps, far north in Wisconsin or Michigan? Or, maybe in the mountains of Colorado? Then, you might be familiar with that kind of night vision, being aware of all kinds of things happening around you in the dark.

Except – these shepherds had no understanding whatsoever about bright lights! I mean, like spotlights, flood lights, lighting up the whole sky! Suddenly, “An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.” What on earth – or, outside of the earth – was this sudden appearance of the angel?

Some people in the 21st century probably are so accustomed to the Christmas story that their idea of shepherds keeping watch over their flocks by night is somehow associated with Christmas cards. But, it was life as usual for these working people. An everyday way of life in Palestine. What’s more, being a shepherd was not a particularly high class job. The lowly vocation of shepherd was on the outskirts of society. A possible comparison today is to think of a person selling “Streetwise,” the paper sold for $2.00 outside of grocery stores, drug stores and coffee shops here around the Chicago area.

And suddenly, the angel of the Lord came to these shepherds—came to people in homeless shelters, people selling “Streetwise,” people down on their luck, people on the edge, on the outs of society. The angel of the Lord came to them with good news. Good news. Lighting up the sky in a way the shepherds had never seen before. We can see God breaking through, in an unexpected way, to an unexpected group of people.

The message of God’s Good News certainly did not come to the people we might expect. Are they influential members of the community? Rich movers and shakers? Leaders of the local synagogues and teachers of the Law of Moses? Those would be the kinds of people who I might expect to have an angel sent to them. But God doesn’t work that way. Again, God does the unexpected, and chooses the most unlikely people to receive a hand-delivered angelic message from the Lord of Hosts, the King of Kings.

One of my favorite commentators, Carolyn Brown, is a retired Children’s Ministry educator and writer. It is her confirmed opinion that children and families need “To hear the story read or told in an important way on the ‘night it happened’ – Children like hearing the story of their birth on their birthday and celebrating other big events on ‘the very day it happened.’  So, the story which may have been acted out in a pageant and discussed in church school and read at home, feels more ‘real’ when read [at Christmas time] in the sanctuary.” [1]

Last Friday, I was so pleased to be able to welcome the families of the preschoolers here for their holiday program. The highlight of the program was a visit from Santa. Since there are children from such a variety of faith traditions at the preschool, and since this is a preschool that gets help and funding from the state of Illinois, they need to be careful not to make it all about Jesus. It’s fun to think about Santa, but how do we here in the church deal with the tales and legends about Santa?

As Carolyn Brown reminds us, “If Santa is all there is to Christmas Eve once children learn ‘the truth’ [about Santa], Christmas is just a greedy gift grab.  But, if Christmas Eve has always circled around the story of Jesus told in the sanctuary, the truth about Santa can be fit into that context and the Christmas celebration gets richer.” [2]

We can tell our children, our grandchildren, about the bright light seen by the shepherds. We can tell how the angels came to bring the shepherds the Good News that the Baby born in Bethlehem is indeed Emmanuel, God with us. Jesus is the Light of the world, God born into this world as a Baby.

Alleluia, amen.

 

(I would like to thank illustratedministry.com for their Advent devotional “An Illustrated Advent for Families: In Light & Darkness.” For this sermon, I have borrowed several ideas and quotes from Week 2 of this devotional. Thanks so much!)

For further information, see info@illustratedministries.com

[1] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2013/12/why-children-need-to-get-to-church-on.html

Worshiping with Children, Christmas Eve/Day, Including children in the congregation’s worship, using the Revised Common Lectionary, Carolyn C. Brown, 2013. Why Children Need to Get To Church on Christmas Eve/Christmas Day.

[2] Ibid.

@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!

God with Us!

“God with Us!”

Matt 1-23 Emmanuel Greek

Matt 1:18-24; Luke 1:26-38 – December 8, 2019

Have you ever had something unexpected happen? I mean, something huge. Something you never would have expected in a hundred years. Maybe, even a thousand. I know that, with statistics, we can figure out just what are the chances of having something happen. Like, a car accident, or a fall at home, or catching a rare disease. We can even figure out the statistical chances for getting hit by lightning—and a few people have even been hit by lightning twice, and lived to tell about it.

But—what about being visited by an angel? At night, when you are sleeping? Picture this—our Scripture reading from Matthew 1 tells us about Joseph receiving a visit from an angel of the Lord. Statistically, that angel probably would not even factor, because angels are not material, they are not able to be quantified by any earthly scale or system.

Regardless of whatever statistical system is used, I doubt very much whether Joseph would have been considered “the one most likely to see an angel.” And, especially when we consider what the angel had to say to him.

I wanted to focus on the sleeping part. The angel came to Joseph while he was asleep. That reminds me of someone creeping up on Joseph, trying to surprise him. Perhaps, even trying to scare him. I do not think the angel meant that at all, but the first words out of the angel’s mouth are “Don’t be afraid!”

We are considering light and dark this Advent season. Last week, we thought about different aspects about darkness that are warm, friendly, even inviting. We thought about nocturnal animals, gestating animals, and growing seeds underground. All in the warm, nurturing, friendly darkness. These examples give us a whole different view of darkness as opposed to light.

This week, we look at the angel of the Lord coming to Joseph in a dream. But, before we even start with the angel, what was the background to this Scripture reading?

We know Joseph and Mary are engaged—or, pledged to be married. I suspect that it was more than just an engagement thought up by the two young people themselves, with no one else involved. No, at that time, in that part of the world, a marriage was much more. A marriage was an alliance between two families, a merger, a joining of one extended family with another.

When two people got married, it was a long, drawn-out affair. First, both families needed to talk and negotiate. Most times, money or other kinds of valuables changed hands—some kind of dowry or bride price. The man and woman were seen to be engaged, promised to each other. But the actual, official marriage ceremony had not taken place yet. From what I see in the Scripture passage today, this is the point we are at. This is what is going on. Joseph’s family and Mary’s family have arranged the marriage; Joseph and Mary are engaged to be married.

This is where the story starts getting sad, or weird, or surprising—maybe all three. Mary tells Joseph privately, confidentially, that she is pregnant. And, this pregnancy is special. Super extra special! Mary told Joseph that God was the father of her baby.

Now, what did she say? Wait just a minute. What did Mary say? Joseph could not believe this tall tale Mary tried to tell him. And, this certainly seemed to be a whopper, in Joseph’s eyes.

What do you and I do when we have something happen that is statistically unlikely? Even, impossible? What would you or I do if we had someone tell us that they had heard from an angel, and they were pregnant. And, all this had to be kept confidential?

I suspect Joseph had really unsettled sleep for the next few nights. (Wouldn’t you?)

The Gospel reading tells us “Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.” Seriously, if Mary were tried under the law of Moses, and found pregnant before she went through with the marriage ceremony with Joseph, she could be stoned for adultery. Serious, indeed.

This Scripture reading focuses on light and darkness, too. Sailors and other travelers used the light of stars at night to find their way. The stars, of course, were made of light, but the night—the darkness—enabled the sailors to see stars clearly enough to navigate their path. Light and dark worked together to illuminate the way.

It was during one of these nights of agitation and discomfort that the angel of the Lord came to him. In both Joseph’s and Mary’s cases, darkness plays a significant role. Night tells our bodies it’s time to sleep, and sometimes, we can even have dreams. Light and dark can work together in surprising ways.

Do you remember how I started this sermon, and talked about figuring out the statistical chances for getting hit by lightning—and a few people have even been hit by lightning twice, and lived to tell about it? What are the statistical chances of two engaged people each getting visited by an angel?   

I want to remind us all about the words of the Gospel of Luke, chapter 1. “The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” 29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus.”

Mary and Joseph, both received word from the angel of the Lord, both at home, and both were scared out of their wits. In both angelic visits, the angels say not to be afraid.  We begin with two people who both did not understand—both were in darkness, except the angel brought light and understanding to both people.

The angelic message offers peace, even as Mary and Joseph face an unexpected future. Like the night sky for ancient sailors, these holy visits to Mary and Joseph point the way when they don’t know what to do. And we know, of course, their message is very good news.

What about us, then, today? Would we receive this same news in the same way?

Each one of us is encouraged to ponder our selves, our lives. Let me suggest that in this pondering, we have the opportunity to offer our thoughts, feelings and emotions to God. Each of us can think of times of regret and sorrow, the deep feelings, the difficult memories. And, what about those times of anxiety and deep sadness? Of desperate loneliness and fear.

Like Mary, like Joseph, each of us today has the ability to ask God to take away the distress and anxiety from us. Just like in Mary’s situation, where she accepted the angel’s news with joy. Just like Joseph, who was persuaded to continue with the engagement by the words of the angel. The angels spread light and life wherever they went.

The angels delivered important messages to Mary and Joseph. Another word for angel is “messenger,” and we can all be messengers of hope, light and life. How can you or your family deliver a message of good news today? Take a moment to think of someone who could use a message of love and hope. Then write a note, send a photo by Facebook or Instagram, draw a picture, or send a text to that person or family.

God willing, we can all be messengers of God’s light, life and hope to others.

Alleluia, amen.

(I would like to thank illustratedministry.com for their Advent devotional “An Illustrated Advent for Families: In Light & Darkness.” For this sermon, I have borrowed several ideas and quotes from Week 2 of this devotional. Thanks so much!)

For further information, see info@illustratedministries.com

@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 Light Will Shine!

“The Light Will Shine!”

John 1 1-14 word cloud

John 1:1-5 – December 1, 2019

Light versus dark. Good versus evil. The powers of the Light pitted against the powers of Darkness. And, think about the Good Witch, all shiny and light, in the Wizard of Oz, as opposed to her sister the Bad Witch, all black and dark. Think of movies, and television, and fairy tales, and folk tales. All of the stories we have ever heard tell us the same thing. Everyone knows the good guy wears a white hat, and the bad guy wears a black hat.

The Gospel Scripture reading this morning comes from the first chapter of John, John 1:5, where we are told “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” But, what if we do not think of this contrast as a good versus evil set-up? What if we don’t think of this as a sharp duality, where light (or, white) is good, and dark (or, black) is bad? What then?

I know we have a number of people here in this congregation who are familiar with several languages. I suspect you are aware that sometimes it is a challenge to translate from one language to another with exactly the right words. Sometimes, the words and phrases of one language just do not quite fit the other language. So, you approximate. You give it your best effort, and try hard. But, translation is not an exact, word-for-word science. Sometimes, translation is more of an art.

That is the case with our verse from John 1, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” The Greek word translated “overcome” here in the New International Version of the Bible sometimes is translated as “did not comprehend.” As in the New American Standard Version of the Bible: “The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.”

Remember, in the beginning? Way back, at the beginning of creation? John hearkens back to that beginning right here. He starts his Gospel with verse 1: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.”

God made everything that was made. All things! Yes, God made the light. Yes, God made the dark. And – this concept may blow our minds, but at the end of Genesis chapter 1, God called everything in creation very good. Everything! That includes light and dark!

John uses a comparison, a metaphor, comparing “the Light of all people” to the darkness, which could not comprehend the Light. I have heard this comparison lifted up by preachers and commentators many times in the past. Yes, it’s a vivid concept, that of Light and Dark. In fact, Jesus Himself uses this metaphor when He says “I am the Light of the world.” But, that is a whole different conversation, in a different place.

I want us to reflect about creation, and how God made all things in the beginning. God created Light and also Dark. What is more, God called them both very good!

But, wait a minute! What about all that stuff from movies, and from television, and fairy tales? What about all we have ever learned about light being good, and darkness bad?

People often thought that meant Jesus banishes the darkness. But actually, the darkness is still present. Jesus works in the midst of them both. Dark and light coexist together.

Let’s think more deeply about the dark; it is good for a lot of things. How about nocturnal creatures? Bats, opossums, cats, and owls all like the night. There are many creatures who have a thriving life in the hours between dusk and dawn. And, God made all of these creatures.

What about many baby mammals? Puppies, kittens, horses, elephants, mice, and dolphins. All of them are mammals, and all of them gestate in darkness. So often, mama animals go to a dark, quiet place to give birth. Think of a dog or cat looking for an enclosed closet or a cupboard where they can give birth to their puppies or kittens.

Darkness is not always frightening! Sometimes, the dark can be friendly and warm. As humans, we gestate in darkness, too. Comforting, calming, friendly darkness.

But, some people might still be puzzled. What did the prophet say in our Scripture reading this morning? From Isaiah 9:2, “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.” That sure sounds like light versus dark, good versus bad.

I would like to suggest that the prophet is using a similar metaphor, using light to express hope. Hope and goodness given by God.

What if people twist such verses, and cause them to mean painful and twisted things? Like, for instance, believing that darkness is always bad and evil—and dark or black. And sometimes, some people have the false belief, the mistaken assumption that people with lighter skin are better or more loved by God than those with darker skin. This false belief is untrue, and so damaging to so many people!

When I was a child in Sunday School, we learned the chorus “Jesus Loves the Little Children.” I wonder, do you know it, too? “Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world, red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world.” Just reminding everyone: Jesus was Jewish, and a person of color, too.

I have a good friend, a fellow pastor. He does not live here in the Chicago area any more, but moved to Oregon about a year and a half ago. He was born with sight, but due to a progressive eye disease, he lost all of his sight shortly after he turned 30 years old. He’s now in his early 60’s. and has been completely blind for decades. Is my pastor friend somehow “bad” because he is blind? Or, because he is always in the dark? No, light is not necessary for my friend to live life to the full and to pastor a church and love his children and grandchildren.

God made all things. God made all people. Everything God created, both the bright light of day and the darkness of night, are called “very good.” We have God’s word on it, from Genesis 1:31. What is more, all people—each person—is equally beloved, equally created for good, and equally made in the image of God.

When we believe that black-and-white thinking that light is only good, and darkness is only evil, we miss so much in life. Nocturnal animals, gestating babies, seeds growing in the ground. All of these are living life in the warm, friendly, nurturing darkness. Think about the good gifts of God, giving us both bright, radiating light and comforting, friendly darkness.

John chapter 1 hearkens back to that first chapter of Genesis. Yes, in the beginning God did create everything, and every person, and God called it all very good. Including the light, and including the darkness.

We can look forward to the Light of the world, God coming to earth in the Baby Jesus. We can reflect on the growing Baby inside of Mary His mother, gestating in the warm, friendly darkness of her womb. And, we can praise God for the birth of that Baby in Bethlehem, God with us, Emmanuel.

Alleluia, amen!

 

(I would like to thank illustratedministry.com for their Advent devotional “An Illustrated Advent for Families: In Light & Darkness.” For this sermon, I have borrowed several ideas and quotes from Week 1 of this devotional. Thanks so much!)

For further information, see info@illustratedministries.com

@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!

God Gives Us Good Things

“God Gives Us Good Things!”

Deut 26-1-11 words

Deuteronomy 26:1-11 (26:11) – November 24, 2019

This season we are in right now I call the thankful time of the year. We give thanks for the harvest just brought in to the barns across the country. We give thanks for fruits and vegetables harvested from our back gardens in cities and suburbs. And, we give thanks for God’s wonderful bounty of gifts poured out upon us all, regularly.

Our Scripture reading from the book of Deuteronomy lists a thanksgiving for the harvest for the Jewish people. It’s not only a thank-you to God, but chapter 26 lists a required offering of first fruits all Jews ought to bring to God. The first fruits—or harvest—of the season we bring to God, as an expression of gratitude and thankfulness.

What is more appropriate for our reading today than this Scripture reading, especially at this thankful, grateful time of the year?

Deuteronomy 26 begins with these words: “When you have entered the land the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance and have taken possession of it and settled in it, take some of the firstfruits of all that you produce from the soil of the land the Lord your God is giving you and put them in a basket. Then go to the place the Lord your God will choose as a dwelling for his Name.”

Talk about making an actual, physical offering of the first fruits you have gathered from your farm, or orchard, or dairy, or hen house. Whatever we have the opportunity to gather from our harvest, that is what we are to present to the Lord

Yes, showing our gratitude and thankfulness to our God is truly important. But—does this Scripture passage say more than just a duty-bound thank-you operation? Our biblical commentator certainly thinks so. “God gave the unexpected and free gift of a new life to a group of stateless persons, making of them a people with a special relationship to him and giving them a ‘land of milk and honey’ to live in.” [1]

I can understand how this presentation of first fruits was so important for the Jewish people—finally with a land of their own after centuries of having no place to call their own. Wandering and landless. Just as Moses gave one of the biblical patriarchs as an example: this reading even mentions a “wandering Aramean.”

Moreover, the manner in which the Jews are to say “thank you” to God for material and spiritual gifts is important. That is what I hear when I listen to this chapter read: it has not only the instructions for presenting the first fruits of our harvest to God, but also the underlying reason why, in the first place.

“The members of the nation are invited to respond to this divine initiative by showing their gratefulness, and to do so by returning to God part of what God has given them. But how can we give a present to the invisible God? Here is where the institution of organized worship comes in, to enable human beings to make a symbolic offering to God and in this way to express their relationship to him.” [2]

So, we are not only to give God thanks individually, but we are instructed to do so in organized worship services. This is a way to gather together and to jointly—as a worshiping body—lift our voices to the Lord in gratitude and thanksgiving.

This is not just for adults. Families can give thanks. We ought to look for opportunities to get our children and grandchildren involved, too. An excellent bible commentator I often reference, Carolyn Brown, mentions how we might possibly get our children involved in the giving of thanks. “Involving children in community services is a good way to draw a crowd and to introduce children to their community’s religious base.”  She also suggests that we “provide paper and crayons or markers for children (and older worshipers) to write poems or draw pictures of where they see God all around them.” [3] These are imaginative and creative ways to celebrate God and give God our thanks.

There are many ways we can celebrate at a joint Thanksgiving service to God. One way is to sing hymns of thanksgiving and celebration and thank God for the wonderful harvest, as we are in this service today.

Can we think of a better way to have everyone in our community gather together to give thanks for all the blessings we enjoy? Just like on this coming Wednesday, when our wider Morton Grove community will gather here in this place to give thanks.

I know that several people here in this service have attended many of the past community Thanksgiving Eve services. I would like to remind everyone that the giving of thanks is a universal expression of gratitude. We have a tremendous opportunity for everyone to gather together and give thanks, despite our variety of backgrounds and despite our religious differences.

Just as we collect an offering at the close of each service on Sunday mornings, so we will gather an offering on Wednesday night. Not only are we making a symbolic gesture of our worship through the gathering of people from diverse faith traditions and various world cultures, but we all can lift thanksgiving and gratitude together as a community, no matter when each of us separately and regularly praise and worship God.

Is there a better and more praiseworthy way for us today to give thanks to God? What is more, is there a better way for us to show God how much we care for and love God? The Jewish people have gathered for millenia, in regular praise and worship of God, and especially in thanksgiving for all God has done for them in the past.

Deuteronomy 26 tells us that each individual citizen was told to rejoice with the priests (or, in this case, Levites) and foreigners. God wishes everyone to come before the Holy One with thanksgiving, including foreigners. Just saying, but God repeated informs Israel that they are to treat the foreigners who live with them exactly the same as any citizen of Israel. God makes no distinction, and tells the people of Israel those exact words.

How wonderful to have that continuity across the ages. From the Jews, wandering in the wilderness, through the time of the Temple and what formal worship happened there, up through the times of the foundation of the Church and more recent centuries—we have always had occasion to gather together to give praise and thanks to our God.

Everything, even life itself is a gift from God above, enabling us to give thanks to God in all things. Isn’t this what the apostle Paul told us in his letter to the Philippians?  “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”

[1] http://www.taize.fr/en_article167.html?date=2014-10-01

“Giving back to God what God has given us,” Commented Bible Passages from Taizé, 2014.

[2] Ibid.

[3][3] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2013/09/year-c-thanksgiving-day-october-14-2013.html

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

@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!

We Know the Ending!

“We Know the Ending!”

Isa 65-17 new-heavens-new-earth

Isaiah 65:17-19 – November 17, 2019

Who likes to watch movies? I’m thinking in particular of scary movies. There’s the plucky heroine, the brave protagonist, the encouraging older character actor, the quirky supporting actor. I bet you recognize these typical parts of the horror movie formula. And, have you ever found yourself yelling at the screen, “Don’t go down in the creepy basement!” or “Don’t go up to the scary attic!” You and I could almost guess what was coming, couldn’t we? Many of them are so formulaic we already know the ending.

In the scripture reading from the end of Isaiah 65, we find out how things are going to end, at the end of all recorded time. It’s the end of the ultimate scary and suspenseful movie. Sure, there is a lot of scary stuff that happens in each of our lives, as well as really sad things and even some overwhelmingly traumatic happenings. But, there is no ultimate surprise ending to the overarching story. We already know the ending. God wins, and the whole world is re-created!

Let’s take a step back. What came before chapter 65 of Isaiah, in the original creation?

We all remember the blessed words of Genesis 1: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” That was the time of the first creation. God created everything in this world, and God made it all very good. We have God’s word on it – it says so at the end of Genesis 1:31. “God saw all that He had made, and it was very good.”

The sad—even traumatic—events of Genesis 3 happened so soon afterwards, where the spotless creation was marred by sin, and the whole world was changed, turned topsy-turvy.

Just think—creation, blessed and sanctified by God in the beginning, was indelibly altered, leaving a huge upheaval in the whole order of all created beings and created places. We are still in that in-between time, dealing with the aftermath of Adam, Eve and the apple.

All this fall, I have done a part-time chaplain internship in a busy downtown hospital. There is nothing quite so intense as a critical care unit of a busy hospital to get across the sorrow, agony and mourning of the human experience.

Here at this church last week, we prayed for a senior who was scheduled for a delicate procedure the next day, last Monday. I have not checked up to see how that dear senior is doing now, but there are several serious continuing health issues in this dear one’s life and body. I do not know whether or not there are additional concerns in this situation. All I know is that I promised we would pray for this prayer request for four weeks. That is what I could do for this dear senior, to encourage and come alongside of this dear one.

But, we all are still in the time of the first creation. We all know about that time; still in the time of imperfection, of fallenness, of crying and suffering and sorrow.

I have mentioned Rev. Janet Hunt before. She is a Lutheran pastor in DeKalb. She is dealing with a real-life experience right now, where one of the families in her congregation is reeling from the unexpected news of cancer. This heart-breaking diagnosis affects not only the young person medically affected, but the whole extended family as well.

Rev. Hunt is correct when she says that this loving family has resources, both material and spiritual. They have adequate health insurance, and live near wonderful medical care and excellent hospitals. This youth’s particular medical diagnosis is the most common, and the most treatable form of that hated disease, cancer. And still—and still, Rev. Hunt’s heart breaks “to be living in a world where mothers weep, and dads stand stoic so as to emit a sense of much needed calm, and [young people] try to hold back tears of confusion and fear.” [1]

While here in this flawed world, we groan, and we struggle; we cry and we mourn. Why me, Lord? Why us? Why are there many children and young people in horrible circumstances, both in and out of the hospital? For that matter, why is anyone suffering? Why do bad, negative, even traumatic things happen to good, loving and compassionate people?

Why, Lord? Why, oh why? Please let me know. Please, please, dear Lord, act in all their troubled lives, relational difficulties, and medical situations

As we consider today’s Scripture reading from Isaiah 65, Rev. Hunt says, “I want the world the prophet promises now:

  • Where the sounds of weeping and distress are simply no more.
  • Where little ones (and children) never die and where life is still short when we live to be 100.
  • Where hard work is rewarded with adequate shelter and enough to eat for everyone.
  • Where sworn enemies —- the wolf and the lamb — eat together.

Oh, what a world that would be, will be where not one is hurt or destroyed on God’s holy mountain.” [2] This whole reading incorporates God’s wish for the entire world. When God describes Jerusalem, God means the whole world.

Remember how I started this sermon, talking about scary movies? We wanted to warn the characters of the dangers.  But, what if we have already seen that movie for the second, third, even fifth time when we knew the ending?  Once we knew the ending we sometimes might want to tell the hero not to worry during the scary parts and sometimes want to warn the heroine to be careful when everything is going well.

In our Gospel reading from Luke 21, the disciples ask, “Teacher, when will these [dire, horrible] things happen? And what will be the sign that they are about to take place?” The Hebrew Scripture readings for this week tell us God’s final ending.  The New Testament readings advise us on how to live until the ending comes. [3] Yes, we could concentrate on the disheartening Gospel reading, and look at all the bad, awful, and even worse things that are going to happen – and even happen right now. However, I wanted to look at God’s truly happily-ever-after ending. Let us all know and look forward to God’s ultimate, Good News ending.

Yes, creation is part of God’s continuing work today, and the continuing reality of the world today. Remember the prophet’s words in verse 65:19, that sorrow and crying will be taken away as God re-creates the world. Never fear – God will wipe away every tear from every eye. No more sorrow! In this reading, we see real celebration! Praise God, we will have joy in the morning on that day! In the words of that joyful gospel song, Soon and very soon!

Isn’t that God’s ultimate Good News? Alleluia, amen.

[1] http://dancingwiththeword.com/new-heavens-new-earth/

[2] http://dancingwiththeword.com/new-heavens-new-earth/

[3] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2016/10/year-c-proper-28-33rd-sunday-in.html

Worshiping with Children, Proper 28, Including children in the congregation’s worship, using the Revised Common Lectionary, Carolyn C. Brown, 2016.

@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!

 

Our Redeemer Lives

“Our Redeemer Lives”

Job and his friends - Ilya Repin, 1869

Job 19:23-27 – November 10, 2019

Have you ever thought that God is just not fair? Look at the world today. With natural disasters, wildfires, hurricanes, earthquakes, torrential downpours, and flooding, some insurance policies still today list “acts of God” as a factor in their settlements.

Many people throughout the world live with debilitating illness or long-term disabilities. We may know several of them, personally. We may even be some of them, with illnesses like multiple dystrophy, polio, lupus, fibromyalgia, ALS, and complications from AIDS; not to mention the disabilities we see Jesus healing on a regular basis—people who are blind, lame and mute, to mention just a few.

Yes, there is a whole lot of bad and awful going on in the world. Many, many people think—and outright say—that God is just not fair. Do you ever feel that way? I know I have.

Job definitely felt that way; he expressed his feelings openly in the book named after him, in his discussions with his friends as well as his discussions with God. This book squarely brings up the question: is God fair? I ask again: is God fair? Job wanted to know. I think, so do we.

If people want comfort, they turn to the Psalms, or the Gospel of John, maybe parts of Isaiah, or the encouraging sections from the letters in the New Testament. Not the book of Job.

Perhaps you only know Job as a character in the Hebrew Scriptures who was very rich, and then through a horrific series of circumstances and through no fault of his own, had everything taken away. How many here know the basics about Job? And…that is about it? Oh, there is a sort of postscript to this book, where Job gets all of his wealth returned to him, plus additional children are born to him and his wife, but that does not come until the very ending of the story—a real happily-ever-after ending.

In the middle of Job’s disputing and arguing with his friends, the middle of his traumatic loss, paralyzing grief, and horrid debilitating physical condition, Job is really hard-pressed by his circumstances.

Plus, Job’s so-called friends are ostensibly there to try to comfort and help Job out. Talk about kicking a man when he’s down! Essentially, his friends wag their fingers in Job’s face and tell him to confess his secret sins. He is repeatedly, verbally beaten up by these three.

Poor Job slogs through his desperate life, one day at a time, one hour at a time. He goes through all manner of crap, from his circumstances, his health, and the people around him. Can we blame for saying, “God is not fair!”

Coming closer to home, we might consider the holiday tomorrow, Veteran’s Day. This day is set aside to remember veterans, and honor all veterans everywhere for their duty and sacrifice for our freedom. As we remember the horrors and deprivations of armed conflict throughout the world, what can you and I do about it? I feel powerless, puny and insignificant in the face of such things as conflicts and wars. Maybe you do, too. We also might say, “God is not fair!”

Seriously, I know I have thought God isn’t fair, sometimes. I suspect you have, too. Or, one of your loved ones has, or one of your close friends. If we assess the world today, it is enough to make even a sensible person throw up their hands and walk away, shaking their head.

Earlier in chapter 19, Job says that he repeatedly cries out to God, but God just doesn’t answer! The commentator James Limburg has the heartrending paragraph: “Job’s further complaints: and it is all God’s fault! Job says his life is miserable. He finds no support from family or friends (verses 13, 14, 19, 21). Even little children do not like him (18) and his wife finds him repulsive (17). Job is certain that God is behind all of this (13, 21, 22).” [1]

If we are looking for a poster child for miserable, suffering humanity, Job is definitely a finalist. But, wait. In the midst of all of Job’s cries for help and his complaints to his friends and to God, we have this shining jewel of verses in 19:25-26. What does Job say? I will read it again, so we can all savor the words: “I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth. 26 And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God;“ I’m amazed at Job, having the gumption and the perseverance to make this proclamation. What a statement! James Limburg says about these words that this is “Job’s declaration of faith: I know that I have one who will rescue me from this mess!” [2]

We all agree that Job complains! He kvetches and complains to his friends and to God. Yet—Job does not quit. Some people we know may very well feel like quitting, and Job certainly was a candidate for throwing in the towel, yet—Job makes this shining declaration of faith.

In this unexpected verse he talks about a Redeemer. In Jewish usage, this term might be used for buying back a field or a person sold into slavery. Perhaps in modern terms we might “redeem” a musical instrument or piece of jewelry from a pawnshop. This same Hebrew word (go’el) is used in Exodus for God redeeming God’s people from slavery in Egypt, or in Psalms for God delivering an individual from death. God is the Redeemer! God will save Job! [3]

We might feel captive to our debilitating illness, or our desperate continuing situation, or shattering emotional state. It might seem like no one could ever reach down and help us out of the deep, dark pit we are in. Just like Job. Yet—God can reach down. God can save us. God is our Redeemer, just as God was Job’s Go’el, Job’s Redeemer.  

I would like to quickly add: Job was a realist. Job came right out and said he might die first, because he said his skin—his body—could very well be destroyed first before he was redeemed. Nevertheless, Job had the confidence to say “yet in my flesh I will see God.“ As James Limburg says, “Job expresses his conviction that there is One living who will eventually rescue him from the suffering and mess his life has become. As that One once rescued Israel, or the exiles, so the Redeemer will one day put Job’s life back together.” [4]

Does anyone doubt that this Redeemer can put our lives back together, too? In part three of the well-loved oratorio Messiah, the soprano soloist begins with Job’s words “I know that my Redeemer liveth.” I fully agree that the other Scripture passages Handel used in this part of the Messiah explain Job’s words so well.

For now is Christ risen from the dead, the first fruits of them that sleep.  
(I Corinthians 15: 20)  
Since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.  
(I Corinthians 15: 21-22)  
Behold, I tell you a mystery; we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.  
(I Corinthians 15: 51-52)  
The trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption and this mortal must put on immortality.  
(I Corinthians 15: 52-53)
But thanks be to God, who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.  
(I Corinthians 15: 57)  
If God be for us, who can be against us?  
(Romans 8: 31)  
Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth, who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is at the right hand of God, who makes intercession for us.  
(Romans 8: 33-34)  

Where part three of the Messiah began with Job’s words “I know that my Redeemer liveth,” is there any way more fitting and more glorious to close this meditation on Job’s shining declaration of faith than the way Handel finished his oratorio? The words of Revelation 5:12-14:

Worthy is the Lamb that was slain, and hath redeemed us to God by His blood, to receive power, and riches, and wisdom,
and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing.
Blessing and honour, glory and power, be unto Him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb, for ever and ever.
Amen.
 
(Revelation 5: 12-14)  

[1] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=735

Commentary, Job 19:23-27a, James Limburg, Pentecost 24C Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2010.

[2] Ibid

[3] Ibid

[4] Ibid.

(Many thanks to James Limburg, Professor Emeritus of Old Testament at Luther Seminary, Saint Paul, MN, for the use of his excellent commentary article on this passage from Job 19.)

@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!

Have Hope in God

“Have Hope in God”

1 John 3-2 like Him, stars

1 John 3:1-3 – November 3, 2019

Some days are everyday days. Ordinary, run-of-the-mill days, days where nothing particularly special happens. Some days are like that. We all are familiar with those kinds of days. But, today is a special day in the life of the Church. Not only in the life of this church on this corner, but in the lives of all churches that observe All Saints Day or All Saints Sunday.

The day for the commemoration of All Saints started only a few hundred years after the beginning of the Church on Pentecost, to remember all the saints who were persecuted as well as the martyrs who had died for their faith. “All Saints Day was established as an opportunity to honor all the saints, known and unknown.[1]

But, what does that have to do with you and me, right here and right now? What about people who are still mourning, and grieving the loss of loved ones who have died? What can this day of remembering and commemoration possibly do for those who mourn and love and long for their loved one who has died?

I lost a dear brother last December, my brother Mike. His photo is on the table with the others, near the altar. Yes, this All Saints Day remembrance is personal for me, today. I think there might be some others here who have a very personal connection, and might even be struggling with their memories. That is the whole reason why we have gathered her today—to remember together, and to lift up these loved ones, along with all of the other friends in Christ who have died. Not only recently, but all throughout the years, throughout the centuries.

Instead of going with one of the primary Bible readings for All Saints Sunday, I felt drawn to an alternate reading, the second reading that Eileen read today. It is just a little, short reading, but it means a great deal to me. I will zero in on one particular verse, 1 John 3:2, where the elderly apostle John says Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.”  

The elderly John has been traveling around for years—as best as he could—and preaching the Good News of his Master, Jesus Christ. He knows life has been tough for these scattered believers in Christ. So, he encourages them again and again in this letter.

How many people here have gotten discouraged? Perhaps you have been all alone, working at some thankless task. Or, perhaps no one is noticing you, and you feel left out, out in the cold? Or maybe even someone has been bugging you, pestering you for your faith, for standing up for what you believe in? Whatever sad or awkward situation you find yourself in, believe me, the apostles were familiar with a similar situation.

The apostle John was writing to some friends who had been dealing with some very difficult things, including the loss of some of their own congregation, their loved ones and friends. John specifically wants to lighten the hearts of his friends with these words.

Have you ever been down, and had someone blithely give you a super-sweet saying and just walk away without even seeing how you reacted to it? Perhaps even a verse of Scripture? I have. I had someone—thirty years ago, now—just breeze up to me and blurt out a verse of Scripture, and toddle away, oblivious that I was really hurting. I was devastated, and he did not notice me at all. He did not notice the true me, standing right there in front of him.

But, the apostle John is not that way at all. John hears the emotions of his friends, and he encourages them. John is honest and up front. He freely admits what he does not know. John does not know how Jesus will appear or what Jesus will be like when He returns. However, what John does know is that when Jesus does return, “we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.”

I don’t know about you, but this verse gives me comfort. All of it. From John’s honesty in his not knowing, to his assurance that we shall see Jesus in that day, when Jesus returns. I do not know whether God will give us special insight, or whether our eyes will be changed to brand-new heavenly eyes. Regardless, John’s words reach down deep inside of me. John’s words comfort me in my mourning and grieving, and penetrate through my suffering and pain. John’s words encourage my heart, and give me heavenly assurance and hope.

As we remember all the saints, we might think of the “big” saints, like Mother Teresa, or St. Francis of Assisi, or St. John, St. Luke or St. Paul, the apostles. However, I want to remind everyone that Paul in several of his letters refers to all believers as saints. We all are saints, every one of us. Young, old, big, small, believers of every race and kind and way of being.

For the closing hymn today, we will sing a lovely hymn. “A children’s hymn, popular in Great Britain, “I Sing a Song of the Saints of God” suggests that ordinary people, going about their business, can be saints, that is, revealers of God’s grace whose faithfulness changes the world.” [2]  I suspect that the apostle John would wholeheartedly agree with these words.

I love the letters of John, written in the New Testament. Simple words, simply written, but oh, such profound thoughts! Listen again to verse 2: “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.”

I close with some gentle words from the Rev. Janet Hunt, a Lutheran pastor in DeKalb. She writes for this special day:

May the promise and hope of this All Saints Sunday lift you.

May the music carry you.

May the familiar words hold you, filling you with comfort and confidence.

May the flickering candles remind you of the light Christ is and ever shall be: a light which we, in turn, hold and carry and pass along.

Oh, may the mystery of promise and hope and grace surround you and fill you.

And may you have at least a moment when you can simply stand still and receive all that God has for you. [3]

Alleluia, amen.

[1] https://www.presbyterianmission.org/ministries/worship/christianyear/all-saints-day/

[2] https://www.patheos.com/resources/additional-resources/2010/10/remembering-all-saints

Remembering All Saints, Bruce Epperly, Patheos, 2010.

[3] http://dancingwiththeword.com/all-saints-sunday-standing-still-in-the-mystery/ 

@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!

Keeping the Faith

“Keeping the Faith”

2 Tim 4-7 kept faith, purple

2 Timothy 4:6-9 – October 27, 2019

Happy Reformation Sunday! Yes, we celebrate and commemorate the beginning of the Reformation on the last Sunday of October each year. It is that time of year when the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther tacked up his 95 Theses, or complaints, against the Catholic Church. He put them up on the chapel door at the University of Wittenberg, where he was a professor of theology, on All Hallows Eve, 1517—or, Halloween, October 31st.

Among other things, Martin Luther wanted the Catholic Church to be faithful to God in many practices. Being faithful was really important to Martin Luther! You know who else being faithful was important to? The Apostle Paul. Eileen read the end of the second letter Paul wrote to Timothy, and Paul strongly stressed being faithful to God. Just like him. Just like Martin Luther. Just like countless saints throughout the centuries. Keeping the faith, through thick or thin, through good times or bad, no matter what.

I always get sad when I read the second letter to Timothy, and especially the fourth chapter. That is the part where Paul is being up front with Timothy. He realizes he does not have very much time left here in this world. Paul was in prison in Rome for the second time, and this time, Paul did not have much hope of being freed. This is one of the last letters he expects to write to his good friend and protégé Timothy. What kinds of important things does Paul say in these last few paragraphs?

When other people know they are going to die soon—because of illness or other tragedy, somehow time becomes much more precious. Their internal and external focus becomes more acute. I think this was happening with the Apostle Paul, right here, where he told Timothy what was most on his heart.

What did he want to communicate to Timothy? Looking at this last chapter, we find so much on Paul’s mind. I would like to focus on two verses in chapter 4: “For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”

Paul had been through the wringer, as we read when Paul wrote about many of his experiences in the second letter to the church at Corinth. He lists that he has been put in prison repeatedly, been whipped, beaten with rods, given thirty-nine lashes, shipwrecked, then adrift on the sea for a day and a night, not to mention being cold, starved and thirsty repeatedly, in danger and on the run from all manner of people, for years at a time. What is more, Paul said he would do it all again for the sake of preaching the Good News, and knowing Jesus Christ crucified.

I don’t know about you, but when I hear Paul describe everything he has been through, I am in awe. And yes, I feel so insignificant, so unworthy even to be in Paul’s presence. Paul’s whole life is one huge example of keeping the faith.

As we come forward through the centuries, and learn more about Martin Luther, we can see that for years Martin was on the run from a bunch of different groups and from people sent by the Catholic Church. These wily guys wanted to prosecute Luther before a church court, and he argued his case again and again. Martin Luther was put through the wringer repeatedly.

True story: 1521, Martin was put on trial yet again, and finally offered the “opportunity” to say he recanted what he said and had written. Luther knew his response would get him in even deeper trouble, but that did not stop him. He boldly told the emperor, his officers and some leaders of the Catholic Church that he would not move. Martin said he was captive to the Bible, the Word of God, and he could not go against God. Many people remember Martin’s famous words, “Here I stand. I can do no other.” Martin kept the faith and stayed true to God.

Have you—have I—ever felt put through the wringer for the sake of Jesus Christ? Just thinking about what the Apostle Paul and what Martin Luther went through, being put through the wringer is definitely not fun. Standing up for what is right and Godly and the God-honoring thing to do, or a certain way to pray, or even a specific way to worship God? All over the world, for centuries, any of these things could get you imprisoned or perhaps even executed. I am serious. This is not a joke.

According to Professor Dirk Lange, “Faith is not faith in one’s own abilities but God’s faith planted within us that turns us, despite the upheavals and setbacks and failures of life, into faithful workers in the vineyard.” [1] God-given and God-planted faith helped Paul and Martin to keep on going, and to keep the faith. Can that God-given faith help us to continue on, as well?

Professor Michael Jackson had such an intriguing idea about this verse. Let me share it with you: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith… all three verbs are in the perfect [tense]. Even though Paul is still alive and writing these words, he views his life lived for Christ as complete… and as my Greek teacher, Roger Hahn always loved to point out for the perfect tense – completed action that has continuing and ongoing repercussions… I like that idea – our finished lives continue to speak, to influence, to make a difference in the lives of those we have served. That’s how we leave a legacy!” [2]

Whether we have been on this earth only a few years or are in the later decades of life, how have our lives been used for God? What kind of legacy are you and I leaving? Have we—as Paul commanded Timothy—fought the good fight? Finished the race? Kept the faith in Christ Jesus? These are not simple questions. They are reflection questions, questions to ponder, and questions that I hope and pray we all bring to God.

I would like to close with some words of reflection from Joseph, Cardinal Bernadin, Cardinal of this Chicago archdiocese for a number of years. He was diagnosed with a rapidly moving cancer, which took his life. In the months before he died, Cardinal Bernadin wrote a final, short book: The Gift of Peace. I’ve read it, and it is so poignant.

I would like to read from the last chapter. “As I conclude this book, I am both exhausted and exhilarated. Exhausted because the fatigue caused by the cancer is overwhelming. Exhilarated because I have finished a book that is very important to me. As I write these final words, my heart is filled with joy. I am at peace…. I will soon experience life in a different way. Although I do not know what to expect in the afterlife, I do know that just as God has called me to serve Him to the best of my ability throughout my life on earth, He is now calling me home.” [3]

So similar to what Cardinal Bernadin wrote, Paul tells us God is leading him home, in these verses we are considering today. Just like Martin Luther, Paul tells us to keep the faith, just as he did. Just as Martin Luther kept the faith, just as Cardinal Bernadin did, too.

What is Paul’s charge to all of us, on this Reformation Sunday? Keep the faith. Know the faith, preserve the faith and see that faith in God gets passed on.

God willing, I will follow Paul’s charge. Will you, too?

Alleluia, amen.

[1] Commentary, 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18, Pentecost 22C, Dirk G. Lange, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2010. http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=740

[2] Commentary, 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18 | Michael Jackson | Associate Professor of Homiletics, TNU | A Plain Account, 2016, http://www.aplainaccount.org/copy-of-proper-25c-psalm

[3] Bernadin, Cardinal Joseph, The Gift of Peace, (Image Book: New York NY, 1998) 151-52.

@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!

“Suit Yourselves!”

2 Tim 4-3 itching ears

2 Timothy 4:1-5 – October 20, 2019

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 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.

With all the worry and anxiety, trouble and danger in this modern world, people are actively searching for good news. 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.

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. Oftentimes, these people are trying to fill a hole deep inside.

Other people turn inward, searching for spiritual fulfilment. 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 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. 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.

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. Preachers 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? 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? But . . . 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, we just didn’t have enough faith. Oh, and we didn’t send enough money to the tele-evangelist. So, God apparently must be withholding His blessing because of our lack of faith and our stinginess.

Not so!! 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.

But, what about unsuspecting folks, who get turned 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 said to them, 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 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 about this text over the 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 in the UCC 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?

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. They lead people away from true scripture and sound doctrine, and are responsible for bringing in destructive heresies. [1]

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. How wonderful, how awesome, and how sobering that Jesus entrusted us with the message of His Good News.

Now what? 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!

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 valid ways of preaching 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 Good News. 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 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? Why can’t you?     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.

[1] Calvin, John, Institutes of the Christian Religion, edited by John T. McNeill (Westminster Press: Philadelphia, 1960), IV.9.4.

@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!

Were Not Ten Made Clean?

“Were Not Ten Made Clean?”

Luke 17-18 rembrandt

Luke 17:11-19 – October 13, 2019

Sometimes, I talk with people in recovery—alcoholics and addicts who are not drinking or using substances, one day at a time. I used to do this more often, when I was regularly facilitating a weekly spirituality group at an inpatient drug and alcohol rehab unit at a nearby hospital. One of the suggestions for staying clean and sober one day at a time is to keep a gratitude journal. You know, a running list of things we are grateful for.

A writer for the Hazelden/Betty Ford Clinic, Michael G., tells us “The Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius famously said that our lives are what our thoughts make them. In other words, by simply changing the way we think and our focus, we can change our lives. Bearing this in mind, choosing gratitude can have a huge impact on your life.[1]

What on earth does a gratitude journal have to do with our Gospel reading today from Luke 17? To better understand that, we need to look at the background of the situation. Jesus and His disciples are on their way to Jerusalem. The time is growing nearer for Jesus to enter into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday—very near, now. While on the road on the border between Samaria and Galilee, Jesus is met by ten lepers—ten people with various sorts of skin deformity.

Can you see this scene? On the road at the outskirts of a town, Jesus and His disciples are walking. Perhaps, entering the town, hungry, thirsty, wanting a place to rest. When all of a sudden, ten lepers interrupt Jesus while He is on His journey. They stand some distance away, but they still make themselves heard—“Jesus, Master, have pity on us!”

Have you ever had the unexpected opportunity to meet someone special, someone important, perhaps interrupting them on their journey? That is exactly what happened.

These ten men, the men with serious skin conditions, were living a very lonely existence. They could not have any direct physical contact with any healthy or “clean” person, for fear of transmitting their skin condition or illness. Even touching a person who had leprosy or touching something they touched might be dangerous—might get someone infected.

Whenever someone developed a serious skin condition centuries ago, they had to be separated, and go live outside of their community. In the Law of Moses, the book of Leviticus devotes a whole chapter (chapter 13) to that situation, and is quite specific. ““Anyone with such a defiling disease must wear torn clothes, let their hair be unkempt, cover the lower part of their face and cry out, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’ 46 As long as they have the disease they remain unclean. They must live alone; they must live outside the camp.”

How horrible! Imagine never being able to hug your children, spouse, parents, or brothers and sisters again. Imagine never being able to enter the market or the house of worship you regularly attended, much less being banished from your home. This was life, in an ongoing and sad reality for these ten lepers. How incredibly lonely!

Especially to an observant Jew, the religious and spiritual separation must have been awful. As Dr. David Lose tells us, “That disease made them ritually unclean, which meant that they couldn’t participate in the Temple services and rituals at the center of their faith. And not able to practice their faith, these men stood on the outside of their community as well, likely feeling alone, abandoned, and desperate.” [2]             But, there is unexpected hope. I don’t know which of these lepers hears that the Rabbi Jesus is in town, but Jesus had been healing people throughout Israel and Galilee for about three years by this time. Wouldn’t you ask for healing, if you unexpected met the Rabbi Jesus?

As I considered this reading during the week, I wondered how addicts and alcoholics felt. Are they considered “Unclean!” and ostracized? Shunted aside? Ignored? Does their disease of alcoholism or addiction cause them increasingly to live alone and isolated, in poorer and poorer health?  These two situations from Luke 17 and the condition of addicts today do not line up completely, but there are some close parallels between our Gospel reading and the sad, lonely, debilitating condition of countless people who are afflicted by the disease of addiction.

I want us to begin to understand the hopeless, helpless sense of these ten lepers, ostracized and isolated, suddenly and unexpectedly getting hope for the first time in a very long time. “The Rabbi Jesus! Coming to our town? I’ve heard about Him! Isn’t He the Rabbi who heals the blind and lame? And, didn’t He raise that widow’s son from the dead? And—and—that Rabbi has healed some lepers. I know, I heard the stories. Maybe—He might heal me!”

Hoping against hope, you know what happens. Jesus does stop, and He does talk to them. He says, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” That’s puzzling, at first hearing. But, not if you are someone living by the Law of Moses. When a person was healed from illness, they were routinely supposed to go to the Temple or to the priest and show themselves. In today’s terms, the priests were similar to physicians’ assistants in the role of certifying people’s return to good health. Jesus told the lepers to go even before they were healed. And as they were obedient and started on their way, a miracle happened. They were healed, cleansed, and their skin conditions were totally gone. Imagine how excited and delighted those former lepers were!

Here’s where the problem is: ten were healed, but how many came back with thanks to Jesus? How many were truly grateful? Yes, ten lepers left Jesus, and along the way to the priests became clean, healthy, and whole. Only one ex-leper truly recognized the incredible healing and gave thanks to the Rabbi Jesus. In giving thanks, he became what God had intended all along.

That is the answer. That is the secret to life: gratitude. “Noticing grace, seeing goodness, paying attention to healing, stopping to take in blessing, and then giving thanks for the ordinary and extraordinary graces of our life together. This is the secret to a good life and the heart of saving faith.” [3]

I started off this sermon quoting from an article on recovery. I’ll end it the same way. Michael G. says, “When I first came into recovery more than 30 years ago, my sponsor told me to buy a notebook and write down 10 things I was grateful for, and then add three things to that list every day. I stopped numbering my list when I got to 5,000 items.

Why did I write a gratitude list? Because I didn’t want to be miserable, and if being grateful was the solution, then that’s what I would do. And importantly, a grateful heart doesn’t drink. I learned very quickly that the struggle stops when gratitude begins.” [4]

I don’t often end with a challenge, but I am today. This is for me as well as for you. What practices ought we undertake, with what stories might we surround ourselves, with what rituals might we allow ourselves to be shaped, so that we might respond to God with gratitude and joy?

Dear Lord Jesus, help all of us to search for the answers to these sincere questions, and follow Your way in our daily lives, perhaps even writing a daily gratitude list.

Alleluia, amen.

 

[1] https://www.hazeldenbettyford.org/articles/sober-dad/gratitude-early-recovery

[2] http://www.davidlose.net/2019/10/pentecost-18-c-the-secret/

[3] Ibid.

[4] https://www.hazeldenbettyford.org/articles/sober-dad/gratitude-early-recovery

@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!

God’s Children

“God’s Children” – July 19, 2020

Rom 8-14 children of God

Romans 8:12-19 (8:17-19)

Many people know what it’s like to be part of a family. Parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins. For many, this is a warm and happy feeling! For others, not so much. What would it be like to have an unhappy childhood? Perhaps, to grow up as an orphan or in foster care? Or, with a parent or close family member who is an active addict or abuser? This is a sad reality for many, many people throughout the world, who do not experience the same warm, comfortable feelings about family that many of us here do.

We are in the middle of a short series about the Lectionary readings from Romans chapter 8 this month. Before I get into the wonders of salvation that Paul talks about in this chapter, we are going to take a short detour. Our Hebrew Scripture reading from this week concerns Jacob, from Genesis 28. Jacob was not a particularly honest guy. He was a sharp customer, who connived with his mother Rachel to steal the blessing of the firstborn from his older brother Esau. He also pulled the wool over the eyes of his dishonest father-in-law Laban, who did the same to him.

These are the things that are reported about Jacob, in the book of Genesis. I wonder what Jacob’s family life was really like? How were his relations with his father and mother, and his brother? We just don’t know for sure, but we can guess a good deal from his actions.

This was a very human, very fallible family we see from Genesis. Not at all like the Godly family the apostle Paul tells us about in Romans chapter 8.

Paul does not say that you and I are God’s employees, or servants of God. No, certainly not! The Lord could have said, “Oh, I’ll keep you around as long as you do things My way, as long as you behave and don’t put one toe out of line.” That is what many worldly people would have said! No, Paul tells us that those who are led by God’s Spirit are God’s children. Can you believe it? I can hardly understand why God would do such a thing for a such a sinner like me, but I do believe it. That is a blessed fact, and a promise from the Lord.

Now, wait a minute. Let’s think about Jacob again. He was not honest. He deceived people, was cowardly, and wasn’t a nice guy. But, what did God do to Jacob? Do you think the Lord kicked Jacob out of God’s family for doing all that sneaky, rotten stuff, for years? No!

“Instead, God promised to stick with him throughout his life and even told him that through him everyone in the world would be blessed. Jacob is a good person to remember when we feel like we should be kicked out of God’s family.[1]

Because we are part of God’s family, we can expect to enjoy the happy, easy days in the family.  But we must also be ready to stick with the family when the going gets hard.  The sufferings of Christ are very real. Paul says in verse 17 that we are going to have our share of suffering and suffer with Christ. Some suffer with cancer, or with diabetes, like my father and siblings. Some suffer with economic hardship, or a bad car accident, or paralysis. Perhaps we all are suffering right now, with the COVID-19 virus. I don’t know. That is one of the things we are going to need to ask God about when we meet God after we cross that River Jordan.

As David Lose, one of my favorite commentators, mentions, “Paul describes the difference it makes, being considered God’s children, adopted by God. Rather than being afraid – of the future, of what people may think of us, of our status, of our standing with God – Paul invites us instead to imagine a life of courage, the courage of those who have been adopted by God and invited into the full measure of God’s blessings and riches.[2]

Even if you or I or our friends had a less-than-perfect growing-up time, God calls us children. Even though some may not feel comfortable with the idea of an earthly parent or grandparent, or other members of the extended family, even though some may be orphans or foster children, abandoned by those who brought them into this world, God calls us heirs with Christ! Not employees, not servants, not someone who can be simply dismissed or ignored. We are God’s children! That is huge! Can I hear an amen? Isn’t that the best news you’ve heard all week? Even, all month? Perhaps, all year?

Paul tells us in verse 17 “Since we are God’s children, we will possess the blessings God keeps for his people, and we will also possess with Christ what God has kept for him; for if we share Christ’s suffering, we will also share his glory.” Praise God, we ARE God’s children, no matter what! And, God is going to shower us with blessing and glory! Amen! Alleluia!

Now, I have a challenge: what difference does it make NOW? What difference does being God’s child make to you? To know that you are unconditionally loved? That you have immeasurable value in God’s eyes? That no matter what to do – or is done to you – and no matter where you go, yet God always loves you and cares about you? [3]

I hope this blessed truth makes a huge difference to you – to you, to me, to all of us! Again, praise God for God’s declaration that we are God’s children! In this world, and in the next. Amen, alleluia.

 

(I would like to thank Carolyn C. Brown for her superb commentary in Worshiping with Children. This is a marvelous series, and I so appreciate her insights and wisdom. I have borrowed freely from this week’s Lectionary study on Year A – Proper 11, 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time, 6th Sunday after Pentecost.)

[1] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2014/06/year-proper-11-16th-sunday-in-ordinary.html

Worshiping with Children, Including children in the congregation’s worship, using the Revised Common Lectionary, Carolyn C. Brown, 2014.

[2] http://www.davidlose.net/2015/05/trinity-b-three-in-one-plus-one/

“Three-In-One Plus One!” David Lose, …in the Meantime, 2015.

[3] http://www.davidlose.net/2015/05/trinity-b-three-in-one-plus-one/

“Three-In-One Plus One!” David Lose, …in the Meantime, 2015.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2020: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!